A Thief of Nightshade

“We ascribe beauty to that which is simple; which has no superfluous parts; which exactly answers its end; which stands related to all things; which is the mean of many extremes.”  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Some of you, who are on my FB page, are likely REALLY tired of seeing this image. If so, my apologies for sharing it here again.

But, I LOVE … no, I LURVE it!!!!

This is Aubrey from A Thief of Nightshade, whose cover copy is a few posts down. Eve Ventrue finished the final wrap cover last week and too much has gone on and I just never got around to posting it here.

Geesh, covers are SO important.  And what never ceases to amaze me about the artists I’ve had the pleasure to work with, is that they seem to pull things out of my head that I hadn’t known were there. This IS Aubrey. I didn’t tell Eve very much about her. Perhaps a few facts and physical attributes. But, here she is, looking out at me from her place in the cover, with those big sad green eyes.

She’s like my daughter.

If you click on the full cover wrap image, it should blow up on your screen and you can see all the detail work. It’s really stunning …

 

 

 

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Natural Selection: Writers Edition

“Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.”
-Oscar Wilde

Oscar, I love you, but for once … I don’t agree with you. Not after reading about an author’s book review meltdown on Best Damn Creative Writing Blog. I took a good, lengthy read, and couldn’t get over how simple a discussion this could have been had Ms. Howett kept her cool. If you go and look at Amazon, that book has gotten (as of 9pm my time) nine 1 star reviews TODAY. Ouch. {Update: 4:20am. There are now 20 1 star reviews} {{second update 4/28 9:55pm 46 1 star reviews}} {{Third update 4/29 7:23pm 64 1 star reviews}}

And what’s worse, is that the review wasn’t particularly scathing. In fact, there were places in the review where the reviewer pointed out what he liked about the novel (I think it’s a he).

At this point I don’t read reviews. I try my damnedest not to go over to Amazon or Goodreads at all. I am aware of a handful of not-so-awesome reviews for Son of Ereubus, and that’s totally normal and to be expected. It isn’t my place to whine or complain. In fact, if you don’t have any negative ratings or reviews, I would wonder if you’re getting enough exposure. Meaning, is your novel getting reviews beyond friends/family members and FB friends?

I shouldn’t have to remind you that every author who makes it will have readers who will loathe them. Period. Almost every major author who has become vastly successful has been sued—for something or other—so go ahead and get used to the dark side of this industry. None of this is changing anytime soon. If you can’t handle a couple negative reviews with dignity, then there’s no way in hell you’ll make it in the long haul. Natural Selection will throw you out of the game before you’ve had a chance to score a single point.

Don’t ever do what Ms. Howett did. REALLY. It isn’t worth it. Not even a little bit. Controversy sells, but not nearly as well as a well-written novel will sell. In my not-so-humble opinion, this was a career-killing move. If I were an agent or publisher, I wouldn’t touch her with a ten foot pole. And yes, I know she is an indie author. But, considering how she responded to anyone who commented, I’d gather she’s this fiery with readers. Who wants to deal with that?

Further, who wants to support that kind of nastiness? Reviews are important to writers. Even though I don’t read most of them, that doesn’t mean that I don’t deeply appreciate each and every one of them. I will occasionally comment—if a friend or my publisher sends me the individual link. I did so just a few days ago when a reader who’d downloaded the book from our free ebook event gave it a fantastic five star review. But, I will ONLY say something, if that something is positive.

SO, writing tip #327: Don’t tank your writing career by biting the hand that feeds you. Say unto others, as you would have them say unto you.

Got Writing?

“I try to help people become the best possible editors of their own work, to help them become conscious of the things they do well, of the things they need to look at again, of the wells of material they have not even begun to dip their buckets into.”  ~Tobias Wolff

If you’ve been a regular follower of The Asylum, you’ll know that at one point we’d had the ambitious idea of producing an anthology. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a serious lack of publishable material, we decided against it in the end. One reader, whose story had been accepted, responded that this move on our part didn’t surprise him and that for future reference, we shouldn’t promise something that we can’t deliver.

Frankly, we never promised anything. Sometimes, believe it or not, shit happens. I was heart broken over the decision. I’d previously extended the deadline for submissions because I didn’t want to let the idea go (this is likely why said reader responded so negatively. I suppose he thought I was pissing my time away, when in reality, the fact that I pushed the pub date out was my polite way of saying that all I’d received was unpolished material). He wasn’t alone in his negativity. Several contributors were curt in their response to my email. Why do I mention it now?

Because I was just graciously offered the position of Associate Editor at Suspense Magazine.

In other words, there is a lesson to be learned here: Be professional no matter how much something disappoints you. I recall those names quite clearly and I assure you, I’ll remember them if they show up in my inbox. It isn’t retaliation. It’s my unwillingness to work with that sort of an attitude. If you can’t grant me grace during an experimental project (which I was CLEAR about up front when it came to the anthology), then I’m not going to extend you any grace, whatsoever, now.

There are some folks, whose stories/essays were accepted, who I will likely solicit material from because of how they handled themselves.

It’s kind of like those kids in High School who were picked on, only to become their bully’s boss later on. You never know where you’ll run into someone again. You never know what bridge you’ll need to cross back over to reach your goal, so it is in your best interest to refrain from burning them.

I responded as gracefully as I could to the negativity. I’d already apologized for any disappointment I’d caused, so I went on to assure one writer in particular that there would never be a next time. I wasn’t ever going to attempt an anthology again. And I meant that. I’m not. I am now, however, involved with a well-known, established, magazine that needs good writers … with good attitudes.

Oops … guess who I won’t be emailing?

SO, what am I personally looking for? (disclosure alert: if your feelings get hurt easily, stop reading now)

Damn good short stories in the thriller/horror/mystery/dark fantasy genres: And when I say damn good, I mean it. My name is now attached to this stuff, so unless I’m excited about giving my recommendation, I won’t accept it. Period. I might love you like a sibling. Doesn’t matter. So, don’t send me stuff unless you know it has a clear beginning, middle and end. If it doesn’t, then the writing itself must be strong enough to carry the narrative. I’m OK with excerpts from larger works so long as they can carry their own weight. Teasers are fine too. But don’t send me some random snippet of whatever from your unfinished work. If it’s an excerpt, I want to see a publication date attached to it (it’s OK if you’re publishing it yourself, I’m cool with that).

Pieces on the craft of writing. I LOVE stuff that looks like it ought to be a guest post here. If you’ve got something genuinely inspiring and helpful to say, then PLEASE send it my way and let’s make me look good, lol. Don’t send me the stuff you read everywhere else: The Pitfalls of Praise, etc. I HATE that crap. If it’s glaringly obvious, then leave  it in your ‘filler content’ file on your computer.

Interviews. Right now, anyone who manages to track down Bentley Little, will be on my hero list for life. I’m working on it, but if you can track him down first I will owe you a serious favor. Will I accept interviews from debut authors? Sure! But please remember that I need really thought-invoking stuff. It’s in their benefit and mine for you to ask the tough stuff. Dig deep. Make it interesting. If they sound like stock questions (where do you get your ideas from?) then don’t ask them!!

Artists. You’d better be Oliver Wetter or Eve Ventrue calibre if you send me stuff for consideration. Just because your grandmother bought you colored pencils for christmas doesn’t mean anyone else wants to see your stuff. Oliver and Eve work their hind-ends off, so don’t expect to do a half-ass job and have it work out for you. This, above all else, annoys me the most. Why? My mother is a professional artist. I’ve grown up in a house full of oil, acrylic and water color paints. I know what good art looks like and if you think your stuff is high enough calibre to submit it to me, then you’re tough enough to hear me tell you it isn’t. SO, before you hit submit, check your pants to see if you’ve got the balls for this. I won’t be kind if you send me one of those anime/manga sketches that you drew in chem class. And for the record, I’m OVER wolves. So unless yours has Red’s cape hanging out it’s realistic-looking mouth, I don’t want to see it.

Opinion/Essays on the industry, your experience as a published author (successfully self-pubbed or traditional), or on being an author in general. This is a little different than the whole, ‘stuff on the craft’ bit because it deals directly with you, not the craft. In other words, if you got shit for years from family and friends, before becoming a full time writer, I want to hear all about it—juicy details and all. Got an, I Told You So that you want voiced to the world? Let her rip.

What do I NOT want to see?

Stuff that hasn’t even been spell-checked. I don’t care about your learning disability. I’ve got one too, but I’ve learned how to deal with it. If you can’t turn in a polished, professional piece, then you won’t get my recommendation. End of story. I’m not talking about typos. Hell, I make typos ALL THE TIME (I’m sure there are some in this post). I’m talking about consistent issues and laziness. If I see it, I WILL tell you it’s unpublishable.

Poetry. Yeah, I know … there is a trend right now to crank out story-length dark poetry, ala Poe. But unless you are Poe, then I don’t want to see it. No, I mean this utterly. You aren’t an exception.

Graphic erotica, tons of cursing, or anything else I’m not allowed to turn into my own publisher. Look, I just spent two hours taking most of the F-bombs out of Icarus. I’m not saying you can’t curse or slip in an act of gratuitous violence here or there. But, it has to have a point. The fewer words you have to impress a reader with, the stronger your narrative has to be to hold their attention. In a short story, you can’t waste 15% of your verbiage on pointless vulgarity.

So, where do I submit?

jschancellor@suspensemagazine.com

I’ll respond to you within two weeks. I WILL RESPOND. To everything. If you don’t hear from me, don’t bitch about it, send it again. A lack of response means there is something wrong with the correspondence. I’m not ignoring you. If you don’t hear from me after sending your sub a second time, track me down on FB or here. On FB you can reach me under my pen name J.S. Chancellor (fan page) or my real name, Breanne Braddy.

Thanks guys! I look forward to seeing your stuff!

A Conversation With Jack Ketchum

“Who is the scariest guy in America? Probably Jack Ketchum.” ~Stephen King.

It’s been a damn good week for me.

Yeah, I know … I just posted. I’ll likely lose a subscriber or two for posting twice in one day, but the good news is … you’ll live. You oughtta be stoked that the reason I’m posting again today is because I’m bringing you a conversation with one of my all-time favorite horror authors, Jack Ketchum.

1. As authors, seeing our novels transformed into movies, where flesh and blood people are acting out scenes we’ve already seen played a hundred times over in our heads, is something few of us will ever experience. What has that been like for you? If I recall correctly, you’ve been able to get a little more hands-on in a couple of the films, what was that like ?

When it’s good it’s a total kick in the head, when it’s not it’s…disappointing.  I’ve had more of the former than the latter, happy to say.  It’s pretty amazing.  You write a book in the privacy of your own room, it comes out of one mind and one mind only — or in the case of THE WOMAN, two —  and then you get this whole group of talented people all bring their own skills and minds to it, their own energy.  I’ve been on the set for at least a day or two with all my films and it’s always amazing.  With THE GIRL NEXT DOOR I probably spent over a week on set in several locations.  And on THE WOMAN was there for nearly the entire shoot.  That was an experience.  Working with Lucky McKee and watching actors the caliber of Pollyanna McIntosh, Angela Bettis and Sean Bridgers bring these people to life.  You want to see a couple of writers smile!

2. What is your greatest fear as an author? As a human being?

As an author?  That crazy sonovabitch will shoot me in the head for writing THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.  As a human being?  Alzheimer’s.  I think in general we mostly fear an old age in progressive lingering pain.  That and the aforementioned crazy sonovabitch.

3. The first novel I read of yours was the uncensored version of Off Season. From the outside, it appears as though you’ve moved into a place in your career where you aren’t at the same kinds of mercies that you once were in terms of censorship and word count, etc. Did you know, or have faith, back then that you would arrive at the place you are now, or was there a fear that you’d always be fighting to keep things as you’d originally penned them?

The only books I really had a censorship problem with were OFF SEASON, because of the sheer degree of violence and SHE WAKES, where I had a secondary but important character who was a male transvestite.  Berkeley Books said “you can’t do that!”  And I was new with them and had already been dumped by Ballantine and Warner so I buckled and changed it.  I think I’ll always have a problem with word count among the major publishers because I tend to write short and tight.  But maybe not.  E-books seem to be changing that, making shorter offerings acceptable.  We’ll see.  And you’re right, I don’t have to fight much these days, and pretty much knew that the day would come when I wouldn’t.

4. I promised not to ask you anything too cliché, but selfishly I have to ask: Do you have a favorite story that you’ve written?

I’m not choosing a favorite daughter.  Sorry.

5. One of my personal fears as an author is that I’ll die before I get all of the stories out of my head that need to come out. This is ridiculous of course, because we never truly run out of stories. In some cases, there are stories that refuse to be written, despite how hard we try to pen them to the page (pun intended). Do you have any stories like this? If so, how long have they been lingering and do you think they’ll ever come to fruition?

A quote I like a lot comes to mind.  “Take your time,” he would say to himself, “if the cat’s in a hurry she has peculiar kittens.”  That’s Louis de Bernieres, from BIRDS WITHOUT WINGS.  Some stories just leap out at you, beg to be written right away.  Others gestate — or in my case, sometimes fester — for quite a while.  You can’t rush them.

6. Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction have, for too long, been the redheaded stepchildren of the literary world. How have you dealt with criticism from that elitist society, and what kind of advice could you give those of us who are in the midst of, or about to be bombarded with, the same sort of cold reception?

Feggeddaboudit.  Write what you need to write and what you enjoy writing.  It’s important to keep in mind that writing’s just high-level play.  You’re doing the same thing, basically, that you did when you were just a little kid, inventing games for yourself.  They’re your games, and sometimes the other kids will want to play along and sometimes they won’t.  So long as you’re having a good time, so what?

7. I’ve never read a horror novel of yours that didn’t have depth behind it. In fact, I’ve seen more depth in some of your novels than I have in most of the purely literary novels I’ve had to read for professional review sites. I can’t help but to wonder, psychologically, how it is that with seemingly little effort, you get straight to the heart of so many unmentionable issues. You’ve tackled subjects such as rape, incest, drugs and violence, fluidly and without the need for overly ornamental prose. What do you think the differences are between works such as yours, and works that deal with similar subject matter, other than the obvious? Could it have anything to do with the fear of ourselves—the fear of what we’re truly, utterly capable of?

Thank you.  I think the key here might be that I don’t want to waste your time, or mine.  That is, I don’t want to write pure escapism — fancy-dress vampires and such.  I’d like to engage us both in a bit of dialogue about something important while at the same time telling you a good story.  I think all good writing, literary or genre — and both of these should be in quotes, to my mind — should remind you that the world is so much bigger and more diverse than your own, richer than just your experience of it for better or worse, that people are like you and not like you at all.

8. What is your definition of evil?

Lack of empathy and conscience.

9. If you could go back in time, to the days when you were writing merely for your own pleasure—before you were published or even submitting—is there any advice you’d give yourself?

Yeah, don’t try to be so fucking literary.  Don’t try to reinvent writing.  Just write.

10. The darkness of human nature, in my opinion, seems to be a common theme throughout your works. This begs the question: Do you think we are born inherently good or evil? Is it all in how we’re raised? Or a little bit of both?

I’m an optimist about human nature.  There are those among us masquerading as humans — those are the sociopaths, the ones without empathy and conscience — but they’re by far the minority.  We should watch out for them, but not despair because they happen to be there.  Most of us do as the Greeks say, go with the good. Whenever you get too down on human nature, ask yourself what other species on earth tries over and over to protect the existence of other species?  We’re still new, still evolving, and we reinvent ourselves every ten or twenty years or so.  We’re communicating right now via computer!  Good grief!  We’re practically magic!

** A HUGE thanks goes to Jack for taking time out of his seriously hectic schedule to drop by The Asylum! We sincerely appreciate it and of course, as always, thank you for sharing your awesome work. The world of horror simply wouldn’t be the same without you!!

Icarus (and other vampish things)

As I’ve been hinting on Facebook for a couple days, I have some news I’d like to share with you: that vampire novel I’ve mentioned, oh-so-casually-here and there over the years, has just been signed with Rhemalda as the first in their Ebook First line. It will be available in print as well, but they’re putting a rush on the Ebook part. But, I digress … the title of said novel is Icarus. Jessica Slate (the main character), is the stunning gal to your left. The cropped picture you see is a part of what we hope to use as the cover.

For the record, this book has been written for a LONG time. I started on it before most Twilight fans were even born. No, I’m not kidding. I’m not jumping on any kind of band wagon here, so on the off-chance that someone gets that impression, allow me to correct you in advance. Jessica Slate, is where the J.S. in my pen name comes from. This novel is more than a little near and dear to my heart. In a way, it is my heart because the original draft (which no one will ever see, so don’t ask) was written before Guardians was even conceived. Two years prior, to be exact. The plot has since been tossed and rewritten, but Jessica herself remains, along with a couple other key characters.

Instead of me giving you a blurb (’cause I totally don’t have one yet), I figured I’d let Jessica give you the 411 on her world, herself. She’s kind of a do-it-yourself gal anyway. SO, without further ado …

***

“I liked my mortality just fine. Don’t get me wrong; immortality does have its perks. Take dieting for example—kind of hard to do when you’ve only got two choices: fresh blood and slightly less fresh blood. The media makes it all out to be glamorous. Romantic even. But the books, movies and witty television shows have it wrong. Especially the ones that make a big to do about not being wrong (you know, the ones that spell vampire, Vampyr, like it’s original).

And don’t think for a second that I was turned in some amazing, soul-binding, body-meshing way either. I don’t think my libido is damaged enough to forget that kind of rendezvous. Though, to be honest, I don’t recall anything about it. As soon as you’re turned, as soon as anyone is turned, the powers that be rush in like witness protection agents and whisk you off, never to see your family or friends again. Your life changes in ways you never imagined that it could.

Like, the fact that I was kidnapped last night. Totally didn’t see that coming. Not being the Covenant level assassin that I am (did I mention that already? I didn’t get much of a choice in that either—the profession I mean).

Oh, and get this … the creeps who grabbed me claim that my mentor/should-have-kept-it-professional, boyfriend Trinity … is the vampire equivalent to the anti-Christ.

Nice. And to think it’s only Tuesday.

But wait, it gets better. See, there is one fact about vampirism that everyone gets correct: our bodies can’t biologically process natural light. Past that, all I know is that if I don’t partake of my usual dose of Icarus every seven days (provided via injection by the powers that be), I’ll lose my existence as I know it. It allows me to bask in the sunlight, keeps us from exploding into flames and I’ve heard rumors that it’s what makes us immortal. You know, little things.

And I was happy having a tan. I was happy not going through the violent withdrawal that takes place if you miss a dose. I was happy not committing treason.

Now, since Head Creep removed the dosing disc from my arm, whether I had anything to do with it or not, I’m guilty of betraying High Coven. This fact not only sucks (pun intended), it means I’ve been condemned to death.

An assassin … condemned to death. Seems like kind of shitty deal if you ask me.

Really, this guy’s a nut job. I don’t care that he’s hot, or that he gives Christian Bale a run for his money. He claims that Icarus is part of some massive conspiracy, that vampires are a perverse mutation of beings from another universe, and that Trinity (along with some dark army he’s supposedly in charge of) plans to exterminate the human race. Of course, he says this will occur in less than a week.

And damn, wouldn’t you know he’d kidnap me on day 6 of my dose?”

COMING SPRING 2012 !!! From Rhemalda Publishing

Lies, Love and Two Threads of Time

“It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style.”  ~Oscar Wilde

Literary novels are usually full of style and grace. I’ve seen novels take a span of ten years of total, utter nothingness, and turn them into sheer wonderment. I’ve seen tragedy turned into rose petals and perfume. Problem is, real tragedy, rarely has that kind of beauty. So, I have trouble reading that sort of stuff when there isn’t a little make-believe involved.

Take Pan’s Labyrinth for example. One of my favorite movies of ALL TIME. I loved it because it was fantasy, yet it had all the makings of a literary masterpiece. Who says you can’t have both?

Why don’t I read literary novels? Well, actually, I do. Just not too often. I just read a fantastic one by Sherri Wood Emmons, titled Prayers and Lies. It takes place in Coal River Valley West Virginia, near an area where my mother grew up. The drama, religion, prayers and lies really struck a chord with me because I’ve grown up hearing tales of life in a coal town. Emmons’ style isn’t your usual literary fluff. It has grit. It has substance. In Prayers and Lies, she didn’t spend paragraph upon paragraph portraying the exact color of the wood that the dining room table was made of in an effort to symbolize the darkness of the underlying theme. She didn’t insert expertly described awkward pauses for effect, or add stifling silence into dialog to make poignant the emotional distance between two characters.

So, what is literary, if it isn’t a style? Has it come to indicate when a work has a deeper meaning than what’s on the surface? Perhaps. I’m not actually looking to the blogosphere for an answer here. I’m merely musing aloud, if you will. Literary means, to me, when a novel blends the here and the now, with the should have been or should never be. What happens when you add fantasy into the mix?

Well, you get the could have been, mixed with the never should have been, added to, the never can be. How’s that for a mouthful?

A Thief of Nightshade, set to hit the shelves next Spring (2012), could be considered either plain ole fantasy, or literary fantasy, depending on your degree of elitism. What makes it literary? Well, I can assure you it isn’t my writing style. I’m as elemental as ever. What’s different, is the obviousness of the underlying themes of the novel, in comparison to my epic work. Before I go any further, let me show you the unedited blurb:

“Avalar isn’t real.

At least, it wasn’t supposed to be. 

Aubrey never expected to fall in love with, and marry, her graduate writing professor Jullian. His life’s work, a grim fantasy titled A ‘Thief of Nightshade,’ encompassed everything Aubrey hated about fairy tales and make-believe.

After Jullian goes missing and is eventually presumed dead, Aubrey discovers just how make-believe the world of ‘Nightshade’ is …

Not only is Jullian alive and well in Avalar, he’s at the mercy of the Dark Fae, condemned to a fate worse than death, with no memory of Aubrey or his time in her world. In order to save him, she’ll have to confront more than just the demons in her past, but the very real ones that await her in a place she never thought could exist.

All of them will do everything in their power to stop her.”

Aubrey grew up with Vanderbilt kind of wealth—old east coast money. Child abuse happens all the time in upper scale, well-to-do families, but is rarely reported because the victims are kept quiet in order to spare the family name and whatever legacy it supports. Aubrey’s past and her future collide at the exact moment where the world we all know and appreciate as real and tangible, collides with the one she always thought her beloved husband had created for his novels. Problem is, he’s not the hero in this new tale. There is no prince on the other end waiting to rescue her. And if she is to have any hope of ever seeing Jullian again, Aubrey is going to have to take up the mantle of heroine herself, and lay to rest fears that have controlled most of her adult life.

Part of the story takes place in the real world (whatever that is), and the other half in Avalar. I couldn’t start the story at the beginning, when Aubrey and Jullian meet, because as a reader, frankly, you wouldn’t care what happens to them. But, by starting at his funeral (you’ll understand when you get there) and working my way backwards (and forwards) through two threads of time, there is immediately something at stake.

While I’m hesitant to tack the word, ‘literary’ onto anything I put out there for criticism … I can’t deny what this novel is. The familial deception, the secrets, the lies, the love and the sacrifices, are all a part of what made this novel such a pleasure to write. I hope, in turn, they will make this novel a pleasure to read as well. Time will tell, but like I always say: woe is the writer who mounts their merit on the masses …

Guest Blogger: James Thayer

A character’s weakness is a story’s strength.

“Your characters are going to make or break your story,’” Stephen Coonts said.  No matter how deftly the plot is put together, not matter how exotic the settings, no matter how vividly written the story is, readers won’t become involved with the story unless they are attracted to a character.  Novelist Sol Stein said, “Readers value and remember extraordinary characters long after tricky plots are forgotten.”

Sometimes creating that magnetic character is difficult.   James Michener said, “I have tried every device I know to breathe life into my character, for there is little in fiction more rewarding than to see real people interact on a page.”

Here’s a proven technique; give the character a weakness.  Nobility, intelligence, determination, wisdom, humor: all of these attributes can work well in fictional hero, but nothing endears readers to a character more than a weakness.  And Simon & Schuster editor Michael Korda said, “Characters’ weaknesses are more interesting than their strengths.”

An example is Sherlock Holmes, who was brilliant, daring, and witty.  But, as Sol Stein points out, Holmes’s “drug addiction worried his friend Dr. Watson.  Watson is critical of Holmes’s habit, but does not condemn him for it.  The reader wishes Holmes would abstain, and knows he can’t.”  Holmes can sometimes be arrogant and waspish, but Stein says the addiction helps the reader feel compassion for the detective.

Even well-crafted superheroes have weaknesses.  James Poniewozik said that we need superheroes “to suffer our heartbreaks, reflect our anxieties, embody our weaknesses,” and notes that Clark Kent’s “sad-sack personality is as essential to fans as Superman’s ability to turn steel girders into pasta ribbons.”  Stan Lee of Marvel Comics listed Spiderman’s weaknesses: “Despite his super powers, he still has money troubles, dandruff, domestic problems, allergy attacks, self-doubts, and unexpected defeats.”

What about more down-to-earth characters?  In Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara’s weakness is blind love that makes her fail to find true love and happiness. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein’s weakness is an amoral scientific curiosity.  Macbeth was undone by arrogance, and Othello by misplaced trust.

In Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander novels, Jack Aubrey’s weakness is befuddlement regarding how the world works on land, as opposed to the sea where he is indeed a master.  In John LeCarre’s novels, George Smiley’s weakness is his baffling tolerance for his wife’s affairs.

Anne’s weakness in Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is a touch of haughtiness.  In I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe, Charlotte’s weakness is naivety,  Same with Jim Hawkins in Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island.  In Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, d’Artagnan is plagued by a prickliness to insult stemming from a sense of inferiority.

A weakness endears a character to readers because we aren’t perfect, and so we see ourselves in character’s weaknesses.  We root for people with whom we sympathize, and so we want to accompany the character on her adventures, cheering all the way.

**You can find out more about James, and get more of his sage advice at his website here. I haven’t personally read his book yet (as I just recently had the pleasure of ‘virtually’ meeting him through comments on Best Damn), but if it is anywhere near as excellent as his blog, then it ought to be well worth the money to purchase it!

In the In-between

“Sometimes when I think how good my book can be, I can hardly breathe.” ~Truman Capote

Authors have love affairs. Some of them are lasting, life-long affairs that wax and wane like the cycles of the moon. Others are short bursts of passion whose fires fizzle out as quickly as they were lit. We don’t … however, marry.

I’m talking about our writing, of course. I’ve been happily married in real life for nearly 10 years.

And I’m not talking in general terms about our storytelling either. I’m speaking literally of how we feel about our ability to write. We crush on it at times, especially when we get a particularly glowing review from a blogger or critic, or better yet from an agent, our editor, or our publisher.

But we don’t love it.

We love the act. We love the stories, the characters … the worlds we create. We even think we love our writing at times. But, like all affairs, the truth comes out in the end and we, being the fickle lovers that we are, we change and look for other mistresses. Other mistresses, being however you chose to interpret this analogy. It’s different for each of us.

I’ve never read a single blog post where the author raved about their talent with words. Storytelling, sure. But don’t think for a minute that we don’t all feel that deep-in-your-gut dread that says none too quietly, “Wow, I’m absolutely horrible at this. I’m that girl in the church chorus whom they’ve doled out solos to because they pity her.”

Even the great Capote, who knew damn well that he had a firm hold on the English language (as evidenced by his many self-indulgent quips), had his darker moments. Note that in the quote above, he didn’t say how good his writing could be—how skillful his prose could be. He said my book. Big, big difference.

There are moments, however rare they may be, when we read a paragraph or a chapter (or if we’re really blessed, a whole book that we’ve penned), and we think to ourselves, “That was incredible.” But, it just doesn’t last—that feeling. It fades as quickly as oak furniture in direct sunlight.

So what do we do?

We love like hell in those passionate moments—in the in-between. And we learn. My God, do we learn. And we wait. We wait for the next breathtaking moment.

I promise you … if you are patient, it will come. Remember, feelings are fickle and are apt to betray. Promises however, if you mean them, can last lifetimes. And I promise to stay faithful to my writing, for better or worse.

Do you?

Shit My Muse Says Pt.1

Shit my muse LOVES: Morior by Tom Barczak

“Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing.”
Robert Benchley

What is that thing in the picture?

That, my dear friends/family members/random passer-byers, is a Morior. This particular Morior has a name, Eralos, and he’s a quite a nasty, boorish sort of Morior. He also happens to be a fallen immortal. This is, of course, from my Guardians trilogy. A fellow author, Thomas Barczak did this sketch last week and I’ve stared at it ever since. I fully intend to have Thomas do a series of drawings for me for future use either on the Guardians blog or perhaps additional publications for Guardians (such as an E-encyclopdia). Why am I showing it to you?

Because I can…

No, really it’s because I think there is something to be said for indulging yourself a little as an author—your muse likes it and will behave when you do.  Which per usual got me thinking about what ELSE my muse, specifically, likes. So I thought now would be a good time to start a series about all the shit my muse says. Everyone in the blogosphere is doing “series” these days, so for once in my life I caved to the peer pressure and I’m now doing what all the popular kids are doing. This is my lame attempt at going with the flow. So, without further ado: Shit my muse says…

* You know, when you drink that much coffee, you’re only writing faster—not smarter. There is a difference. The more caffeine you consume in one writing session, the more of a dumbass you make me out to be. I’m not overly fond of this.

* I like split-infinitves. You can sort it out with your editor later. Yes, I know they’re bad. That’s your problem, MRS. Fancy Pants Author, not mine.

* For Christ’s sake will you PLEASE Stop reading reviews on Goodreads and Amazon? Or anywhere else for that matter? Every single time you ‘glance’ at your stats or a group of reviews, you’re effectively clamping your hand over my mouth. Then, you have the nerve to get mad at me for not saying anything?!

* There is a CAA meeting at the local Y next Wednesday. I’m signing you up. What do you mean you don’t know what CAA is? Comma Abusers Anonymous. It’s like AA without the occasional boozing and with, ridiculous, unnecessary, pausing….and a worse hangover.

* Do you realize how often you nod? Your husband nods. Your mother nods. The dude chewing gum at the DMV nodded when you lied and told him you only weighed 110 pounds. Do you have some perverse need to voice aloud every single instance you perform or see someone commit this act of normalcy? No? Then why the hell do you insist on typing it ALL. THE. TIME. (My muse shakes her head, frowning)

*Ahem….same goes with the whole shaking-of-the-head bit. Knock it off already!

* It’s perfectly reasonable to tell you all about other works while you’re trying to write to a deadline. My name is not Motivation, it’s Muse. I’m much better looking, I come around more often and technically I don’t require you to *do* anything. You should be grateful that I feel so inclined as to whisper, ever-so-gently, into your ear.

* I like adjectives and adverbs. So, either learn to use them effectively or fill out an application to flip burgers ’cause I have NO intention of losing my affinity for them. Yes, I know what a word search is and I don’t appreciate the tone you’re taking with me.

* Hot wings … all flappers … with extra hot sauce, extra ranch dressing and extra celery, are all totally necessary to write this next scene. No, seriously, you’re not typing a single word until these items are procured. I don’t care that it’s Sunday or that Willy T’s is closed.

* Still no hot wings? Such a shame. It’d be a PERFECT day to write, don’t you think?

* Readers, some of them, don’t think writers ever make mistakes. The well-read ones will realize that, while ideal, this ridiculous concept is not true. AT. ALL. So do the best you can and learn from your errors. You have an editor at Rhemalda who will catch 99% of the things you miss while drafting your fiction. Learn from that instruction. But, DON’T let your fear of the public’s perception hinder you from blogging as honestly as you always have. You will make mistakes. You are only human. Whoever has an issue with it can come take it up with me in private. It won’t be pretty.

* 3am is a perfectly reasonable time to send you inspiration. Perfectly. Reasonable. Why are you asking?

* I know I’m getting on your nerves, but that major info dump you just dropped into chapter five isn’t going to make me go away.

* YES?!? You have to write down the verbal picture I’m painting rightdamnow! I’m only giving you this idea once, and then that’s it. Your time with that idea will have passed and I’ll hand it off to someone else’s muse who will listen to them.

* OK, I lied about the too much coffee thing. WE NEED COFFEE NOW!

Part II coming next week. Meanwhile, what kind of shit does your muse say?

I’m Just Saying…

“Having the critics praise you is like having the hangman say you’ve got a pretty neck.”
Eli Wallach

I just read ANOTHER post on the pitfalls of praise. It even had a cute trendy title and came from a, gasp, respected trustworthy source.

Why is it that somehow praise is always to be regarded with a skeptical attitude, but criticism is not? I realize that this is rarely stated as being 100%, but it still seems like every other blog post I read these days is all about gleaning nuggets of wisdom from the negative reviews and “plugging your ears” when the praise comes around. I’m not saying that there isn’t some truth in being cautious with how you interpret reader reaction, be it positive or negative, but this #trendy topic I think has grown a bit big for its britches.

You know how small our percentages are as authors, how much we get paid in reality (even those of us on bestseller lists), and yet the one thing we get to really enjoy … we’re to plug our ears to? This was a great post that I just read, and I understand where she was coming from, just like I’ve understood the perspective of every other post on this subject. Yet, it still chaps my ass a little. Why?

Because we grew up in a world where things like 5th place exists. Because every other profession gets to celebrate, regardless of where they fall on the continuum except, it seems, for authors. Honestly, I’m a little tired of it. Who really stops growing as a writer because they think that they’re made of awesome? Seriously, are there that many authors out there who are throwing all their forward momentum into the trash because their latest novel was well received and they’re reveling in it a while?

I doubt it. Maybe one or two … but it’s hardly the epidemic that the blogosphere is making it out to be. If the temperature of the literary community is in any way related to how bloggers see this subject, we’d all be proclaiming our own worth like Capote on steroids. But, we aren’t.  No one writes blog posts about how much they rock (no author I’ve ever heard of anyway).

Unwarranted praise? I believe in the existence of unwarranted criticism, but a wealth of praise from the anonymous public without cause seems … um, legendary? I can’t even think of the right word for this. I get what she’s saying if the praise is coming from friends and family, but give us some credit for not being totally brain-dead here. We know genuine praise from total crap. And even if it is from family, it depends on which member of the family the praise is coming from. If your uncle has told you that your stuff is shit, 9 books out of 10, then you’re more than free to take that 10th book’s praise to heart.

I’m SO tired of hearing this chanted like a mantra for newbies. The Pitfalls of Praise. It’s cute. It’s catchy. It’s everything you’d want in a viral blog post. It probably even looks good printed out and posted over an aspiring author’s desk, but I can’t bring myself to agree with it. I think if you’re in-tune enough with your voice, as an author, and your editor, as a professional, then you’ll be just fine.

If, for some ungodly reason, there is a giant steaming batch of unwarranted praise hanging out there for a novel, your publisher/agent and/or editor, will tell you not to let your head get too big over it. I’m sure. Can’t say that I see that scenario actually happening in real life, but perhaps for someone the words, “All those comments about how strong your characterization is, are total shit. You need to seriously work on it in the future,” have been spoken.

Whatever. All I’m saying is that I doubt Stephen King takes advice like this. Or J.K. Rowling, or Dean Koontz. Or hell, even James Patterson. Maybe they just don’t care and I’m too bitter to see the forest for the trees … or, just maybe, we’ve let Twitter and Google Ads overtake our want for genuine writing guidance and sound mentoring. Most things worth hearing don’t fit into the viral scheme, so that stuff doesn’t get blogged about all that often. It doesn’t easily fit into packages with shiny ‘totes fave’ Blogger of the Week badges, or into the top five sponsored Twitter topics.

Real gold takes a little searching. It doesn’t pop out at you from a laminated sticky note above your desk. It comes from inside your head or your heart. The real gold is you, your special gifts, and your unique voice as an author. It’s the stuff only you’re capable of telling yourself.

So, instead of shunning praise and scouring criticism … how about we spend a little more time invested in finding out who we really are as authors?

I’m just saying …