Friday, February 25, 2011

A brief ramble

Sorry for the late posting. We've been hard at work spending some of our tax refund money today. Clothes, kitchen implements, towels, some stuff for our dog, and my two favorite purchases: a cover for my Kindle and three new paperbacks. Ha! Yes, I love my Kindle and I love ebooks but I will always love browsing in a book store. And if I'm going to browse, well, I don't think I've ever gotten out of a bookstore without making a purchase. Although I know I'll be buying more and more ebooks, I know I'll also continue to buy physical books. Most readers will probably have a mix, due to availability and pricing. The books I bought today are books 3-5 in a series that I have the first two books in paperback, so I figured why not stick with the same format for that series. It's the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost. If you like paranormal romance with a heavy dose of urban fantasy style action then I highly recommend this series. Cat is a terrific, likable heroine, but frankly it's her vampire lover Bones that makes these books for me. He is ... well, let's just say he reminds me a lot of a certain other English vampire with dyed blond hair. This is a Good Thing. (There's a reason why Chapter 32 of the second book is legendary.)

Oh, and during the trip I read a novella on my Kindle. We live in a small town and have to drive an hour for the kind of major league shopping we did today. Living that far from a book store is why I've been an Amazon customer for years, as well as being part of what makes ebooks so attractive. That free super saver shipping for orders over twenty-five dollars is great for books, but it seems to take longer and longer for those orders to arrive. One-click ordering and it downloads to your ereader in moments is mighty convenient. Potentially dangerous to the bank account, too, so I have to practice restraint. So far, so good.

There's a couple of links I'd like to share. First, Sara Townsend has a great guest post on Julia Knight's blog about how to keep your editor happy. As always, Sara's got some great advice. Second, I got a new review for Bring on the Night. It's a good one, and I was really excited to get it because it's been quite some time since I got a review. You can read it here.

Now I'm off to dive into a Night Huntress book, At Grave's End.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Them deadlines

Deadlines. A dreaded word, but I think it’s important to consider how vital they are to an author. I’ve been employed in the media industry for more than a decade now. It’s a scary thought, and deadlines are a big part of my world. Can’t escape them and the wheels really come off without them.

When I wrote my first novel, I didn’t set myself a deadline. I’d write maybe once or twice a week. Most of the time I just mucked around playing computer games and didn’t have any clear idea of where I was going with the writing. Oh, and I spent a lot of time talking about writing a novel.

It took me just over a year to finish my first novel and the cruddy thing was that the story suffered for it until I tightened it during the editing phase. Why? Precisely because it was written over 12 months, there were patches in the story where I dropped threads, forgot where I was going with some ideas.

I tried something a bit different at the start of this year. I gave myself a crazy deadline: to write and revise a 90 000-word novel in time for Angry Robot’s open door month in March. I started writing Inkarna on December 28. I completed it at the start of February. It was pretty intense, pretty crazy but one thing I realised while I was chasing that deadline was that the story condensed during such a short space of a few weeks meant that it was always at the front of my mind.

Writing Inkarna, as opposed to my debut novel, Khepera Rising, was PRESENT. The story arcs were tighter. I knew where I was going. While doing a double-whammy compared to the NaNoWriMo vibe (you try writing almost 3 000 words a day as opposed to about 1 700) you’ll see what I mean. It’s not easy. Life conspires against you to keep you away from your computer.
But that feeling of accomplishment, and now, while I’m revising and I see parts where the prose shines, it’s all worth it. Even if Inkarna doesn’t make the grade for Angry Robot, it’s still there. I can proudly step back and say, “I’ve done it!”

The real work starts now, however. What I’ve learnt with Inkarna I can now apply to revisions of my earlier novels. It’s called deadlines. My next big project after I complete edits on my next contemporary erotic release will be to take a dark fantasy novel that’s been languishing on my hard drive for almost a year, and I’m going to be merciless. I’m going to give myself two months to polish that manuscript to within an inch of its life.

And then I’m going to get back onto the submissions mill. Writing is a thankless task. While everyone else is watching telly or maybe hanging out at the mall, we authors are plugging away at our machines during every spare minute.

Why? We have stories to tell.

Set yourself deadlines, get your bum on the chair and work. That’s the only way to do it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"The End"

These are the best words a writer can write. "The End" means the first draft is finished.

Even if the first draft is rubbish, which it generally is, it is something to celebrate. A completed first draft means that the rest of the writing process doesn't involve staring at a blank page. The foundation is in place. All you have to do now is build on it.

And even if the worst case scenario occurs, and you end up tearing that foundation down - well, you've still got the hole.

So finishing the first draft is a reason to celebrate.

And I am celebrating now because I have finished the first draft of the second book in the amateur sleuth series (working title is DEAD COOL, but it's also known as THE CASE OF THE DEFENESTRATED ROCK STAR). Yes the first draft, at less than 48,000 words, is ludicrously short. Yes, it's full of plot holes. It's woefully short of sub-plot, and character development, and the plot lurches about all over the place as I changed my mind about the way it was going.

There was also a radical revelation from the main character that she wanted to go off in a completely different to that I had envisaged, and an epiphany that the killer actually turned out to be someone I wasn't expecting it to be towards the end of the book, both of which are going to require some major revision to the plot arc.

But even, in spite of all that, there's still reason to celebrate. The first draft might be rubbish, but it's done. Everything else can be fixed in the rewrite.

Lots of work to do in draft 2, of course. But before I go there, I think I'm going to turn my attention back to the other WIP, the urban fantasy. It's been calling out to me of late, and I've neglected it far too long.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Coming Full Circle (Confessions of a Former Literary Snob)

Confession time.

Yes, I’ll admit it. I was one of those literary snobs who turned up my nose at genre (or commercial) fiction.

It didn’t start out that way. During my middle school years, I devoured mysteries, fantasies, horror, and thrillers. When I first starting writing (again, in middle school), I wrote a horror anthology called “Tales of Terror.” There were three issues, composed of short horror stories penned on notebook paper and stapled together. On the back page of every “anthology” was a place for feedback. During that time I also wrote three YA mystery/thriller novellas.

High school found me writing stories about 1920s gangsters and poetry. Encouraged by my English teachers, I enrolled in college with the intention of graduating with a degree in English.

Around that time I also had the lofty (if delusional) idea of writing literary fiction. But not just any literary fiction. Pulitzer Prize quality literary fiction. (Yeah, told you it was a delusional idea.)

I continued writing poetry and a few short stories. A writer friend tried to persuade me screenplays were the new American novel but I wasn’t as yet convinced. I think I tried my hand at writing some awful plays. I also served as editor of the literary magazine (one issue) and the college newspaper. (It’s not as impressive as it sounds.)

Now journalism occupied my time, particularly the alternative press. Another friend loaned me copies of In These Times and Sojourners. Instead of the current pop favorites, my musical tastes ran to political bands like Midnight Oil, Johnny Clegg and Savuka, Billy Bragg, XTC, Peter Gabriel, etc.

My goal was to now write Pulitzer Prize winning articles. I even planned to go to graduate school for journalism, Columbia being my first choice.

I graduated from college with a B.A. in English and a minor in creative writing. I never pursued my Masters. Nearly 13 years would pass before I started to write again. Why? Because every time I started a project, my inner critic silenced me. Not only was I not writing literary quality work, I wasn’t writing creatively at all. (I was, however, working as a freelance writer for a couple of local magazines.)

In 2003, I decided to write a novel. The catch? I didn’t allow myself to edit until the first draft was complete. And I did finish it, a 50k YA horror. The following year I participated in my first NaNoWriMo.

Since then, I’ve written one novel, three short novels and one novella. I also have three short novels in progress and several ideas for future books. Guess what? They’re all genre fiction: horror, mystery, paranormal, urban fantasy, etc. Well, you get the idea. The point is I’ve written more since I returned to my writing roots.  

Maybe I should’ve stuck with genre writing and not been a literary snob.

Lesson learned.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Revision Tips for All Writers

Writers, both published and unpublished, must carefully revise after finishing their work. This week I've decided to post some helpful hints on polishing your work prior to submitting it to an agent or publisher.

1. Spell Check
Though, don't just rely on your word processor's program. Although spell check is very useful, it can not catch all the mistakes when revising writing. It is very important to proof read along with spell check.

2. Read Aloud, Especially dialogue
When revising, it is extremely helpful to read the writing aloud. You often read slower when you read aloud and are less likely to skim over a mistake. Reading aloud can help you catch mistakes that you have made. You can also listen to the flow of the sentences and if the piece makes sense and in the case of dialogue, you can tell whether or not it sounds stilted or natural.

3. Print the Piece
Its easy to miss mistakes when reading on your computer screen, because its the same format you wrote it in. Your brain will actually interpret what's there for what you meant to say, this is where reading it in a different format can be really useful.

4. Take a Break
Before you start revisions, its a good idea to take a break from the manuscript so that you can tackle it with a pair of fresh ideas. Some people suggest a few weeks, others at least a month. However long you need, you should take it. Also, don't try to edit the whole manuscript in a day. You're going to feel the burn of fatigue and will be more likely to miss things.

5. Revision Partners/ Beta Readers
Beta Readers are wonderful. They help you find all the plot holes,grammar issues, and other issues that you may be missing. I don't suggest choosing your mom or other family member for this role. While they can tell you if they like the piece or not, chances are they won't be able to offer helpful suggestions on what's wrong and how to fix it.

Keep in mind that everyone has their own way of doing things. So as you go further into your writing career, you'll develop your own methods. These are just tips that I hope will help.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Trunk treasures

I don't want to think about how much paper and ink it would take to print out the contents of my "trunk" folder. The fabled trunk - where false starts and unfixable stories languish, hidden away like the embarrassing relatives you don't claim. Tucked away in my trunk I have two novels. One is a hundred-thousand word meandering mess that was the first completed novel I wrote, the other is a fifty-thousand word mess I wrote for National Novel Writing Month in 2009. There's also several chapters of an unfinished novel that was my first attempt to write a book. Ten thousand words of this, five thousand of that, a handful of pages that never went anywhere. No matter how embarrassing I might find these attempts now or later, no matter how bad the writing is, I will never delete this folder.

There are hidden treasures in a writer's trunk of abandoned stories. An idea that floundered one month, or one year, might eventually evolve and bloom into a story with legs. A character too compelling for the mess you first stuck them in might one day find a home in a far better story. Little bits and pieces, images and snapshots, might break out of the trunk and find their way into that new book you're working on, a book that avoids the ill-fated trunk. Even though it pains me to see some of what's in this trunk folder, I don't delete it. Sometimes I open it up and mine it for gold. On those occasions when I strike it rich I know it's worth keeping all these odds and ends.

No matter how frustrated you might get - NEVER delete anything. Text files are small and don't take up much room on a computer, so there's no need to get rid of anything just because it didn't work out. You never know what treasures you might accidently be throwing out with the trash.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Madness of Writers

I think it might have been Freud who said all writers are mad. Sometimes I wonder if he had a point with that one.

A recent advertising campaign trying raise awareness of, and dispel the stigma attached to, mental illness stated that one in four people have a mental illness of some kind or other. Amongst writers, I think that figure must be much higher.

All the people I've met who've been formally diagnosed with a degree of some mental disorder or other have - without exception - been writers. And there are many more of us who, although outwardly sane, have those weird little habits that might seem odd to other people.

I have to include myself here. I know I have a touch of OCD - otherwise why would I indulge in those little rituals that are so much a part of my daily routine I barely give them a second thought? I have to check three times that the hair straighteners are unplugged before I leave the house, otherwise I worry all day that I've left them on and they'll set the house on fire. Before I go to bed I check my bag to make sure my mobile phone, season travel ticket and wallet are there, and I put it by the coat rack ready for work in the morning. Before I leave the house the next morning I check again, in case one of these essential items has miraculously disappeared overnight, even though logically I know no one's been near my bag and everything is still in there.

I can't leave my keys lying around on a counter. When I get home I hang them up in the key cabinet. On the correct peg. I can't leave books all higgedly piggedly on a shelf. They have to be categorised. By genre, then author. And if it's a series, the books have to be stacked in chronological order - book 1 of the series first.

And then there are the occasions when I fall into a deep dark hole of depression, for no apparent reason, and wallow there in misery for a while, before eventually crawling out of my own accord. I don't think this could officially be classed as clinical depression. I don't entertain suicidal thoughts, or stay in bed for days at a time. I get up and I go about my usual routine. I just do it feeling rather miserable for a while. Then one day I'll wake up and everything is hunky dory again.

Many writers I speak to confess to having similar feelings. Which in a weird way is reassuring, and fuels my theory that you have to be just a little bit mad to be a writer.

It could, of course, be that you have to be a little bit mad to be human - and that we are all full of these little foibles and peculiarities, and they are not unique to writers.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

So You Wanna Write a Mystery

This past Saturday I attended my first Sisters in Crime meeting. I’ve been an avid mystery/crime reader since childhood, leaving my fingerprints on the pages of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys before moving on to The Three Investigators then The Saint and The Cat Who series. Doesn’t matter if  they’re hard-boiled, police procedurals, or cozies, I love whodunits. When I found a copy of Murder Ink at my local Peddler’s Mall I was ecstatic. Every Saturday afternoon, I watch Ellery Queen match wits with Simon Brimmer. For several Sundays, my eyes were glued to PBS Mystery! particularly the Inspector Lewis and Sherlock series. To say I’m overjoyed that Sherlock is continuing is an understatement. And yes, I own the Inspector Lewis and Sherlock DVDs.

Nevertheless, despite my enthusiasm for reading murder mysteries, I’ve never written any. I have an idea for one involving an NTSB agent but so far that’s all it is, an idea. The closest I ever came to writing a crime thriller was a screenplay, Final Curtain, about a widowed homicide detective and his retrocognitive partner hunting a serial killer who dressed victims as historical figures who’d met a violent end.

Do you want to write a mystery? Perhaps this tongue-in-cheek advice from Edgar-nominated mystery writer Parnell Hall can help you get started. Warning: contains graphic violence. But of course you’d expect that in a murder mystery, right? Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Let's talk about (the) sex

A writer never stops learning about their characters. Case in point: I recently finished the editing process for my next release, Mojo Queen, and even though it was late in the game I wound up adding to an important scene. Re-reading the scene over and over, I felt like it was incomplete. When I got the line edits back and found a comment from my editor where she basically said the same thing, it really got the wheels in my brain turning. I knew if I was going to give this scene what it needed it would be a challenge in more ways than one. Because you see, this was the scene where my two main characters Roxie and Blake finally sleep together. (That means they had the sex. Not just "sex" but "the sex." No, I don't know what the difference is, either, but it's fun to say. Go ahead, give it a try - "the sex." Okay, I'm through being silly.)

In the original version of this scene the sex (oops, didn't mean to say it that way) happens off the page. I had two reasons for writing it this way. One, I'd never written anything like that for publication before and only done it a few times in short stories that will never see the light of day. (One of them was crossover Buffy / Supernatural fan fiction featuring a strip poker game between Faith and Castiel. Faith wanted Cas out of his trench coat. Don't judge me.) The second reason was that MQ is in first person. Every time I tried to write a real sex scene in first person, it just did not work. So I gave up and went the "off the page" route.

I had one last chance when the manuscript came back to me after line edits. I did my usual thing, which is to say I worried, and fretted, and worried some more. I kept asking myself a series of questions. By keeping such an important moment in their relationship off the page, was I cheating potential readers? Was I cheating the characters? What could be revealed about them both as individuals and as the couple they are becoming in a more detailed scene? What did Roxie and Blake need emotionally that first night together? I thought a lot about those questions, making notes and going through other parts of the story as well as the first part of that scene. As I discovered the answers and started to form ideas about what the scene would entail I found myself learning so much about my characters. I learned what Roxie and Blake each needed from the other, as well as what they had to give. I saw a glimpse of what their future relationship might be like, both in and out of bed. Some of what I learned was a little surprising, which brings me back to my original point: you never really stop learning about your characters.

A well-written sex scene is about so much more than just bodies, even if the characters aren't in love yet. Or even if they'll never be in love. Strip a character down for some hot lovin' and you will find out - and show your reader - what that character is made of. Who they are as a person, without pretense and hopefully without whatever emotional armor they wear to protect themselves. It can serve as a window right into a character's heart and soul.

As for the scene I wrote for Roxie and Blake, I hope I did right by them. I hope readers find the scene sexy, and that they gain a little insight into the characters as well. As far as edits go, my editor and I did another quick round of edits to smooth out the scene's rough edges and now the manuscript is done.

And as for what I have learned as a writer: basically from now on all of my characters will be having the sex. In the interest of learning about them as characters, of course.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Archetypal Fears

What do you see when you look at this picture? Do you see cute toys? Or do these dolls give you the creeps?

I've always been very fond of dolls, to the surprise of my friends, as I am very un-girly in most other aspects. As a child, I had dozens of dolls. They all had names, and personality traits, and family backgrounds. Dolls, to me, have always been characters. I am still fascinated by dolls, and those in the picture above represent part of my collection.

However, a lot of people get creeped out dolls. I think I understand why. They are a parody of humanity, with cold hard skin and unblinking eyes. They are lifeless objects that make a mockery of life. And they are an archetypal fear. Why else would they be the subject of so many horror stories?

My collection of dolls used to occupy shelves in the dining room (or 'roleplaying' room, more accurately, as we play D&D in there more often than we dine there). But some of our roleplaying friends do get creeped out by dolls, and they objected to spending hours at a time in the same room as the dolls.

Fortunately for me hubby is not in the least bothered by dolls, because they now live in the bedroom. Alongside the shelf with all my Star Wars action figures. Bizarre as it may be, this rather sums me up.

Dolls may not bother me, but there are other archetypal fears that do. But maybe that's a topic for a future post.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

You Can't Do That!

Imagination. Writers are required to utilize it, to bring a unique spin on familiar themes. But what happens when readers, who heretofore demanded originality, cry, "You can't do that!"?

I'm not referring to obvious situations where an action results in a specific reaction. For example, if an ordinary person is shot, he or she will bleed. Now if the person has preternatural abilities then the game plan can change.

What I'm talking about are certain characters, particularly supernatural ones, whose actions have become defined by a set of unwritten rules.

Take the vampire for example. He or she is repelled by garlic, shuns holy water and crosses, turns into dust in sunlight, and is generally evil. A simple basic formula every writer crafting a vampire story should adhere to, right?

Um, yeah. Whatever. If that's true, then how does Miyu, the titular vampire from Narumi Kakinouchi's manga and anime Vampire Princess Miyu, move through the human world with ease? Holy water and crosses have no effect on her. She walks in daylight without fear.

Hellsing's Alucard uses bullets made from the silver of a melted cross. Unlike Miyu, however, he prefers the night. But his agenda is different from hers. He hunts other vampires. Miyu targets Shinma, god-demons who escaped when the gate between their world and the human one was opened.

Angels also seem to be forced into certain roles. Here the rules imply holy angels must always be good. Demons and fallen angels must always be evil.

Why? What purpose does it serve to pigeonhole these characters? If your vampire wants to work on the side of justice (Angel, Nick Knight) then let him or her. If your demon desires to fight evil, why say no? If he has free will then it would seem an individual choice. For that matter, why can't a holy angel become corrupted with power?

When we restrict our characters, we essentially shut off that part of ourselves which probably inspired us to write in the first place. We lose that ability to wonder "What if?"

Remember, you're the writer. These are your stories. Just because someone says your character can't do something, doesn't mean they're right. Challenge their preconceived notions. Give them something different.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Little Fun with Angel

The other day I was watching Angel (a Joss Whedon creation and spin-off to the Buffy series) and I realized that Whedon is a master of integrating setting, plot, and characters.

Angel is set in modern day Los Angeles, which is a hotbed of vampires, demons, and other otherworldly creatures. Now, having grown up in So. Cal, I can honestly say L.A. is the perfect setting for such a show.

Whedon takes Angel, a centuries old vamp with a soul and puts him among these creatures as a detective of sorts. He helps those who can’t help themselves against the darker forces in the world.

In Angel, the setting becomes just as important as the plot of each episode. It is always explained, if it is not obvious why a certain species of demons need to live in the sewers under the city.

Also, for the title character, Angel, Los Angeles is the place he comes to start over and find a purpose. The city of Lost Angels plays host to Angels own quest for redemption and purpose only to find out that he is the “Chosen One” from the Powers that Be. Now, he not only is trying to answer the question of who is he, but he is also trying to find what it means to be a hero.

If you have not seen this series, I recommend you watch it. I’ll leave you with a little of David Boreanaz’s hotness as Angel as he is awkwardly singing karaoke.

*Warning: Angel Can't Sing, but he's cute when he tries

Friday, February 4, 2011

A little Spike-y goodness

Sorry for the late posting, it's been a busy day here at Casa de Clark and I didn't have a post ready to go. I've actually got a couple of good ideas for posts I want to do, but they require more brain power than I'm capable of right now. In lieu of an interesting post I offer you this - Spike making fun of Angel.

Oh, Spike, how I miss you. I really need to start that Great Buffy/Angel Rewatch of 2011 soon.

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Writing Lesson #7: The Importance of Writing Groups

Around the time I started submitting things, it occurred to me there had to be a stage or two between my writing the story and an editor reading it. After all, I had no concept as to whether or not what I was writing was any good – I only had the enthusiastic praise of parents and teachers, who were hardly objective.

I have previously mentioned buying FEAR magazine because it looked like a possible market. In the first issue I bought, I noticed an ad in the classifieds section, from someone in Kent looking to form a writing group for horror writers. This was in the days before email (yes, kids, such a time did exist). There was a postal address. The address was not too far away from where I was living, so I sent a letter off to said address, introducing myself and my writing and explaining I was interested in joining a writing group.

A few weeks later, I got a response, naming a date and location for the proposed first meeting. This was, as I recall, some time in 1989. I was 19, and I hadn’t been back in England very long. My boyfriend of the time was really not happy about my traipsing across South London alone to meet a bunch of people who were complete strangers, and insisted on driving me there, even though he had no interest whatsoever in horror and thought it a strange fad I’d eventually lose interest in (that’s a story for another time, but suffice to say he’s very, very, ex).

So, the group met. There were about half a dozen of us, of varying ages. I had never before been in the company of so many horror fans – and most of them were fond of far, far sicker horror than I. For the first time in my life, I thought maybe I wasn’t so weird after all.

In these days before email, the format for the workshops was that people would hand out hard copies of their work, to be workshopped at the next meeting. After a couple of meetings, I felt brave enough to hand out my first offering – “The Top Floor”. I’d already submitted the story to FEAR magazine at the point it was workshopped, and, indeed, the acceptance letter arrived before the workshop date did. So I turned up at that meeting, and listened to everyone going around the circle, pretty much trashing the story, trying to mask my smugness. I have to say I probably failed. At the end, when the last person had had their say, finishing with something along the lines of, “I really can’t imagine anyone wanting to publish this,” I was able to say, “funny you should say that, because it’s just been accepted by FEAR”. There followed a moment of silence, and then some reluctant, envy-laden congratulations. Because everybody wanted to be in FEAR magazine in those days, and nobody in that particular group was.

Eventually this writing group evolved into the T Party, which is another story in itself (and if you really want to read it, there’s an abbreviated version on my website here). Things have changed over the years, but it started as a group to critique sf, fantasy and horror, and that mission statement still holds.

We are a lot bigger these days, and stories go out by email, instead of hardcopy. Over all this time, what has not changed is the group’s ability to dish out honest feedback. It can be pretty harsh, there’s no doubt about that. But what I’ve learned over the years has been invaluable in improving my writing. Sometimes I’ve come away from meetings feeling completely flayed, when something I’ve been working on for ages has been figuratively ripped to shreds. At those times I feel a little wounded, and often very depressed. But I’m normally not able to disagree with those criticisms. It’s usually a case of my thinking, “This is hard to hear, and I don’t want to admit it, but this person is right and there is a problem there.”

Being with the writing group has also helped me immensely in developing the thick skin that one needs to keep on submitting one’s work. I face rejection after rejection, and stuff just keeps going out again. Nothing that any editor or agent can say to me has ever matched the brutal honesty of the T Party.

And I’m actually proud of this. In spite of the fact that sometimes newcomers find this brutal honesty hard to deal with, I’m glad it exists. It’s made us all much better writers.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Exploring the Writer’s Subconscious: Writing and the Tarot

As a writer, you think I would know everything about my characters, from hair color to backgrounds, even hopes and fears. Wrong. You see, I don’t “create” my characters. It’s more like we meet and I learn about them little by little.

But these are people from my imagination. How could I not know anything about them? I have vague ideas of course. For example, I knew Karla would have one blue eye and one green eye. And I envisioned Xariel as having blue-violet eyes and long dark hair. Not because long-haired guys are trendy in paranormal romances (which I guess they are and which Death Sword is not), but because that’s how they appeared to me.

Sometimes, though, I’m not quite sure about a character and need a launching pad. One resource I use is the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. Not only do I use the Tarot to set up a (nearly) complete character profile but also to plot the story and delineate any subplots.

Since the Tarot focuses on the reader’s subconscious, the cards I lay out for my characters show how I feel about them, even if I’m not aware of it. I drew the Devil for Karla when creating her profile. Considering she wasn’t the antagonist nor a Capricorn the card made no sense. That is, it didn’t make sense until recently when I was writing the first draft of the third book, The Devil Inside. Then I realized why Karla and Samael were so similar in attitude and yet why their personalities clashed. It also explained why Samael was a misogynist. I hadn’t understood this during the initial reading of Karla’s tarot spread because I hadn’t yet reached the point where it was necessary to put two and two together.

My most recent use of the Tarot helped me work out my plot outline for the Zaphkiel Project.

With the Tarot I can go as far in depth with a character or storyline as I want. I can do basic three-card spreads or a detailed Celtic cross. I’ve even done character interviews based on a card.

Incidentally, it was my husband who first introduced me to the Tarot. But it wasn’t until years later that I realized I could use it to help my writing.