Monday, July 21, 2008

Seaborn in the wild contest

Seaborncoverfinal
Okay, it's officially open. Seaborn will be showing up on store shelves sometime this week, and I'm giving away a few things to those who send me pictures of the book on a store shelf.

(My email: chrishoward.author@gmail.com)

1. The first person to send me a picture of Seaborn in a store wins a 13 x 18 inch print of my watercolor, Syren Tears, or the digital scene painting, Sea Dragon, which is from Sea Throne, the sequel to Seaborn. Email me a pic and you choose which one you want me to send you.



Click the images for the large view:



Syren Tears (watercolor, 13x18 in. print) Sea Dragon (digital, 13x19 in. print)



Syrentears5crop Seadragon16






2. The second person to send a pic wins the painting not selected above.



3, 4, and 5 pics of Seaborn in the wild, and you get smaller but equally cool art print.



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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Adulation, Fantasy, Creative Procrastination

Ever had the feeling that something has passed you by? Or ever jumped on a bandwagon when it's a bit too late? Well there I was, working away on The Constant Tower when I decided to go youtubing. I spend waaay too much time on youtube sometimes. I'll admit first that I have always loved fantasy. Deep fantasy, painful fantasy where you feel the deepest part of your heart is being yanked out for some great and noble good. The soul pain in fantasy, the psychological pleasure of seeing beautiful noble people doing beautiful noble things, the sexual and warlike passion! Ah the joys of fantasy!

So when I happened upon some wonderful soul-feeding Final Fantasy videos --Wow!!! A forum/clique/enclave of creative folks who looooooove Final Fantasy capture videos from Final Fantasy games and use popular musical tracks to do a kinda theme and variation kinda thing. Often, they use the same songs..but wow, the subtle differences! So, okay, I was never into Final Fantasy but after watching sooo many of these videos yesterday I am a total fan. I wish I could get into playing video games and creting videos like these.

But, of course, I got to thinking. It's such a fine line for me to walk. I think I've mentioned somewhere else that I love beauty --especially male beauty. I could just stop and stare at beautiful men all day. Very close to loving the Creature more than the Creator, very close to falling into the sin of adulation and idolatry. So on the one hand the beauty, the heartfelt passion, the utter lack of restraint of the creator of these videos and the creator of these games....were just totally awe-inspiring and helpful in my losing my soul and restraints in my present WIP, The Constant Tower. For lack of a better word, I love the naked emotions of these videos. Heck, I love naked emotions period. Especially the painful emotions found in fantasy literature. But on the other hand, dangnabit, I am now in love with a couple pixellated character. There is a joy and a passion that touches the soul and can also taint the soul. And there is a joy and a passion that touches the spirit. I always try to get both soul and spirit in my stories. By which I mean, I want to talk about human pain, grief, longing, etc...but I also waht to talk about the human relationship to God. I would hate to write a purely soullish book. May God help me with this new book as He did with the other.

Anyway, for your enjoyment, here are some of my favorites. They're favorites mostly because they were done so well and because the tracks over the videos are some of my favorite songs and performers. (Don't waste too much of your time as I did, though.)

Final Fantasy The Way of Love Cher
Final Fantasy Don't cry Guns and Roses
Evanescence - Bring me to life
Final Fantasy The Way Clay Aiken
Final Fantasy Invisible Clay Aiken
Truly madly deeply
Truly Madly Deeply another creator

Sunday, May 18, 2008

See, I get to take credit for that

"See, I get to take credit for that."

That's one of my favorite author quotes.

In order for you to understand it, I guess I should tell you about the circumstances in which Edward Albee came to say it.

He was being interviewed by someone about one of his plays. The interviewer said, "Oh I love the way you brought in this myth and this religious allusion and this societal issue."

Sorry, I don't remember the specifics but you know what I mean. There are times when you write a book or a story and reviewers find such lovely things in it...things you had never consciously put into it. When I wrote Wind Follower I was aware of a few of the myths, social history, historical and political events I was addressing. But when the reviewers and critical text analysts got to it, wow!!!!! They saw such glories in my book.

Well, I suppose when notified of all the wonderful subtexts happening in my novel I remembered Edward Albee's words and said, "Actually, I wasn't even aware that that was in there, and I had no conscious plan to put it in the book. Thanks. I get to take credit for that."

I don't know about other folks but I was a lit major. I like analyzing stories in the larger context and I like being analyzed. Makes me feel valid. Some of my stories are thin, mind you and they have no resonance. But it's so wonderful when a story has all these layers and readers can see such interesting cultural, religious, and social issues in them.

Most writers tend to be pleased to see that their stories are rich enough to carry so many subtexts. When a reader finds stuff in a story that the writer didn't consciously put into the story, it shows the writer is A) listening to the universal unconscious B) allowing true creativity to flow through him and through his own experience of life C) taking part in the great creative communal conversation of his time, D) well-read and E) downright deep.

It is that odd writer who says, "no, my work is not that rich. My work doesn't connect to these primal, or cultural, or social issues. My work only goes to this area and I refuse to see in it what I myself did not put into it."

Who wants to write stories that don't resonate? Who wants to write stories that echo only what one consciously puts into them? What is the glory of a story that is utterly man-made and lacking the true spirit of the universal subconscious?

-C

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Thing About Living at The Beach

The thing about living at the beach is that you have to actually LIVE at the beach. You have to go through the everyday-ness of life, while you're living 2 blocks from the beach.

I still have to get up and sit down at my desk and write my pages. I still have to go to work. I still have to cook dinner and wash laundry and scrub bathrooms and pull weeds (though the weeds are winning in the back-yard rose bed...) (And since it's really humid and takes everything a long time to dry out, the bathrooms have to be scrubbed a lot because that black stuff grows everywhere constantly--ugh!)

But the thing is--today (and Monday) I got to sit down at my desk after going out to walk along the beach. Not just along the beach, but actually in the water. I get to look at the birds (I really, really need to remember to look up those kildeer-like plover things) and the rocks and the shells and the sky. The wind blows my hair every which way, and the salt makes it stick like that. And I'm at The Beach.

No, I can't spend all day hanging out there, floating in the waves or digging in the sand--I could, I suppose, if I wanted to. Some Saturday could be available. But it's probably a good thing that I don't really have all day, because every time I spent all day at the beach in the past, I got sunburned. Badly, if it was pre-sunscreen days. Even these days, I'd get sunburned, even with the sunscreen, because I'm that susceptible to the sun. So, yeah. An hour or two, when the sun's on it's way down, or up--that's probably best. And then I can go home and clean up and eat sand-free supper.

I simply need to remember not to take it for granted. Remember to spend time there, walking on the sand or in the water, biking down the Seawall, floating on the waves.It's my happy place, in this town. My place to commune with nature and God and to just...be. Where's yours?

Clockwork Heart trailer

I totally loved the trailer for Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliasotti! Published by Juno Books.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Character artists

X-posted from http://theophrast.us

How many of the characters in the stories you write are artists? Any kind of art. What do they do? How deep do you get into it as part of the story? Do you find—or think it's the case—that visual arts would be more difficult to portray in writing—or is it pretty much the same? Unless your character's a writer or poet—in which case, you can simply include some of their work to pull it off—or you're writing a graphic novel, it's tough to get the art across to the reader.

I have three different artsy characters in Seaborn. One who paints and draws, one who dances, one who's a composition major at a music college. I'd guess these abilities or interests help define a character. A dancer would certainly be athletic, someone who plays music, paints or draws might be thoughtful.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Book Publishing Timeline

Or, What happens between the acceptance of your manuscript and the launch of your book from someone who barely knows what he’s talking about.

What does happen to your manuscript after the publisher accepts it? I've always been curious.

What follows is my documented ordering of the events, editing, extra work, writing, pitching, and other stuff an author has to do before one precious copy of the book hits the shelves in a bookstore.

Anyone writing for years and breaking into the published market, reading the blogs of authors, agents, editors, will have heard all the terms and processes, things like copyediting and ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies--books printed ahead of the release date specifically for book reviewers, sometimes handed out by the thousands at conventions like Book Expo America).

But I've never understood the order of the activities clearly. When a writer says his book's "gone into copyediting," where exactly is that in the process? How far along the road to release is it?

What I've done--and I'd love some feedback from those who know a lot more than I do--is mark the road with all the various things I've had to do, attend to, understand, agree to, and receive in order to get to that glorious release day...July 20, 2008. (Obviously some of the stuff in the timeline has not yet happened, so I'm guessing with the dates there).


Click the image below to view the readable version.

Here's what the process looks like from my perspective:


Seaborntimelinepublishing_2

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wiscon

It's that time again. Wiscon. THE feminist speculative fiction convention.

Several Juno folks will be attending.
Sylvia Kelso, author of Amberlight, will be there.



As will Chris Howard, author of the forthcoming Seaborn. Yeah, a novel about sea sirens. I really want to get this.



As will Lori Devoti another Juno author.

If you're there, look them up. Hopefully, they'll give us a detailed report of their time there.

-C

Monday, April 21, 2008

Shapeshifting anyone

Juno Author Lori Devoti has made a great post on Shapeshifting Romance about the definition of shapeshifting. Check it out.

Orphaned copyrights -- so-called

Call me paranoid and suspicious but this bit of legislation makes me raise my eyebrows. Will corporations be able to keep an orphaned "document" after they have done a "reasonable search" and been "unable" to find the creator of the work? Contact your senators and representatives.

http://www.copyright.gov/orphan/

Saturday, April 19, 2008

strange author benefits

One of the flakiest side-effects I've encountered since becoming a published author is the many many emails I receive from kids who pretty much want me to help them with their homework.

The email generally goes like this: "Dear Ms McDonnell, please I really need help. I have an assignment on writers (or an assignment on career day) due tomorrow and I need to do research on what it's like to do your job. Please, please, please, help."

There are also a few who mention that they have read Wind Follwer and were asked to analyze or review it. And could I please, please, possibly, tell them what my book's theme was all about?

Now, what do I, a former teaching assistant at a high school, think of all this?

I'll just say that I pretty much behave like a typical mom who sits down at her computer to writer her kid's term paper because heck, the thing is due today. (Okay, okay, once I wrote a paper so well that my son's college teacher suspected he had not written it and failed him for the class. I learned to write less writerly after that,) I simply can't help it...I'm a sucker for kids who bring in their homework late. Heck, I do a little procrastination myself. The only time I DO find myself getting a little annoyed is when the student is a graduate or undergraduate. I suspect because I'm thinking that by that time they should be able to think a little clearer about stuff and to at least attempt to analyze the book themselves. But even then I give them my help. I can only hope they really appreciate it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

RIF needs your help

Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF), founded in 1966, motivates children to read by working with them, their parents, and community members to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life. RIF's highest priority is reaching underserved children from birth to age 8. Through community volunteers in every state and U.S. territory, RIF provides 4.6 million children with 16 million new, free books and literacy resources each year. For more information, and to access reading resources, visit RIF's website at www.RIF.org

From Carol H. Rasco, president and CEO, of Reading Is Fundamental (RIF):


"President Bush’s proposed budget calling for the elimination of Reading Is Fundamental’s (RIF) Inexpensive Book Distribution program would be devastating to the 4.6 million children and their families who receive free books and reading encouragement from RIF programs at nearly 20,000 locations throughout the U.S."

“Unless Congress reinstates $26 million in funding for this program, RIF will not be able to distribute 16 million books annually to the nation’s youngest and most at-risk children. RIF programs in schools, childcare centers, migrant programs, military bases, and other locations serve children from low-income families, children with disabilities, foster and homeless children, and children without access to libraries."

To find out how you can help, visit http://www.rif.org/get-involved/advocate/what/


Check out RIF’s third annual Program Excellence Honors .

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Over at the juno blog

There's a great definition of urban fantasy. It's over at the Juno Books blog and it's great.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Wars, small, great, undeclared, and recurrent

Yesterday I stayed in bed all day and watched movies. I saw two movies I hadn't seen before. One was called Tomorrow (by writer Faulkner by way of director Horton Foote and actor Duvall) and the other was called Constantine with my lifelong crush Keanu Reeves. (In fact I have had such a jones for Keanu for such a long time that in Wind Follower I actually named my character Kaynu after him.)

Anyways, Constantine --despite Keanu's gorgeous self-- just had me rolling my eyes. Hey, I'm okay with folks fooling around with Christian theology but what a mish-mash it all was! I mean...he had to look into the eyes of a black cat in order to enter hell. What's that about?

"Tomorrow" on the other hand touched me -- although I think the actual Faulkner story would have touched me more. I can't help it. I'm a Black Jamaican but I have always had this fascination with poor white folks in Appalachia. Supposedly --at least this is what I pick up from the media-- these salt of the earth types would be the first to lynch me. I can watch movies about city sophisticates having all kinds of angst but the stories that really touch me are those about poor, country people, whatever culture they're from: China, poor white, Africa, Latin America, African-American.

So there I was watching it and reminding myself that I haven't seen The Apostle in a while when it suddenly dawned on me that all my stories are about wars. Wars, small, great, undeclared, and recurrent. In Wind Follower, my main characters thought the human war was over and they figured that as long as they avoided the spiritual war, the spirits would ignore them. In Constant Tower, there's a war of a different kind going on. And in Inheritance, wars also abound.

Of course all stories are about conflicts...and conflicts are another word for war. War against the self, war against nature, etc. Each author has her own opinion about what wars abound in this life. Romance writers concern themselves with the emotional wars at home and the wars between the sexes. Sometimes status and race are thrown in but for the most part, the characters in a romance story are dealing with their home culture and emotional inheritances and how their cultural inheritances conflict -- war with-- that of the one they have come to love. Other writers, on the other hand, deal with more political and social wars. And Christian fiction writers often deal with spiritual wars: the conflict between the self, the soul, and the spirit....and how that inner conflict is compounded when it encounters the world, the flesh, and the devil.

I totally believe that a great romance is the best kind of story possible. Why? Because it concerns itself with love --which is eternal and which changes the soul-- and with the creation of a new family/community while retaining the best of one's self and one's community. In Romances, relationships are ultra-important.

Now all this is tough for me to balance in a fantasy story which aims for action from the get-go. I, unfortunately, am fascinated by normal life --the normal life of the world we know, and the normal life of the fantasy world an author has created-- and what makes normal life tick. This means that even when I create a fantastical world, if I'm not careful I'll find myself wandering leisurely among the poor folk of that culture, ambling along the country lanes...and not pushing the plot along. Romance writers and Christian fiction writers are used to this kind of slice-of-life stuff. They are used to slow country rambles with subtle small conflicts and stressors. Most fantasy lovers, on the other hand, are more into Constantine-type stories. They want a lot more action upfront...like 30 pages of mucho drama, death, external warring. So I'm trying my best to get into that groove. What to do?

Work at figuring out how to work with cross-genres, maybe. Thank God I'm still growing as an author. I hope that whatever path my stories take -- the gentle ramble or the page-turning adventure-- that my fans will walk lovingly and patiently with me. Thank you all.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Antagonism or Antagonist?

Theresa of Editorrent has been doing a series of posts on her blog about the origin and development of protagonists and antagonists. At its beginning, in Greek drama, the protagonist was simply the Main Character. And the antagonist was the thing that opposed the main character.

And the thing is, maybe the antagonist is a character, and maybe not. Maybe the antagonist is different characters at different times. Maybe the protagonist gets a turn at being the antagonist. Maybe the antagonist is something intangible like the weather, not a character at all.
And I've been thinking about this idea. Especially about the one where the antagonist is different characters at different times.

I've had some editors tell me that stories should have three characters. The hero, the heroine and the villain. But wow, isn't this limiting?

In a romance, the hero and the heroine often act as antagonists for each other, driving the other on to change. Sometimes there's another villain, especially if there's another plot, as there would be in a fantasy romance or romantic fantasy. I like the idea, though, of floating the antagonist role around.

I actually haven't thought about this long enough for a real blog post. But I do find it very interesting, especially at the developing-the-story phase of writing. So. There it is.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Envelope-pushing

Who came up with this metaphor of "envelopes"?...and of "pushing envelopes"? It's an interesting metaphor. Up there with, "thinking outside the box" and "broadening the mind" and all those other catch-phrases which imply, for us writers, the fooling around with cross-genre stories.

Well, I'm working away on my current Work-in-progress, Inheritance.

When I start a novel, my aim is always to make it fully totally myself. Not because I'm so unique but because there are so many African-American Christian folks with First World issues....and I want to do my part in contributing to the emerging genre fantasy stories made for and by us. I can think of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi, Tobias Buckell's Science Fiction novels Ragamuffin and Crystal Rain, Robert Fleming's Havoc After Dark...among a few but honestly, considering there are so many Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and South east-Asian folks in the US, there really ought to be more contemporary fiction (of whatever genre) on bookshelves that speaks to these cultures. Add to the mix that some of these folks are very religious --Christian, Buddhist, African tribal, Taoist, Shintoist-- and the main religion in fantasy seems to be Wiccan or Druidic... well, there is a major envelope that needs pushing, I think.

So that's my main purpose in my stories: to be as real and as fully me as possible. To be brave and put as much of myself into a story, in spite of the fact that the reader might not be prepared for such a world. In Wind Follower I wanted to be as Christian, as folklorish, as First Peoples, as High fantasy as possible....to see what such a book would look like. Just enough of the Euro-fantasy world to make it fit into the envelope. But enough to push the envelope a bit.

So there I was working on Inheritance. Inheritance is a book I want to be as Christian, as demonic, and as erotic as possible. The same envelope pushing. I wanted a succubus but I wanted a succubus that was really connected to Christianity, a female demon whom you hated, a demon who so intoxicated the sense of my main (good and noble) character that he would be tempted to rape any woman to repeat that pleasure. In short, I wanted to take my succubus seriously and do a modern-day version of The Exorcist with Christians fighting demonic possession. IN ADDITION, --because I wanted to put all myself in this story-- I wanted to deal with sexual-woundedness and make the story erotically-charged. And of course, all this had to happen to a black female Christian character.

Wind Follower got certain Christians annoyed with me because of six small sex scenes. Would I be willing to include the sexuality and alienate those folks again? And then there were the core fantasy fans. Many fantasy readers really liked Wind Follower but others were upset at its Christian content. Was I willing again to challenge the separation of genres? Did I want to push another envelope when Wind Follower had yet to prove that folks actually would read a book with a pushed envelope?

And what if I wasn't skillful enough to bring that book to fruition? If one speaks to pentecostal Christians, Native American non-Christians, Native American Christians, or Christians from Latin America, Asia, etc....talk of demons, spirits, and possession is fairly common. The problem is that although the demonic is ever present in the fantasy genre, most fantasy writers don't really really believe in demons. Heck! Some American Christians don't even believe in demons. Not to the extent that other folks do.

I've gotten some interesting correspondence re Wind Follower. Folks telling me that it connected them to their life in the old country, or that it reminded them of stories their grandparents told, or that it was a book that "didn't seem like a made-up book" because stuff like that happened to them in their old villages or in some weird town in Louisiana. I like that phrase: "didn't seem like a made-up book." So, for some folks, Wind Follower felt intensely real.

So, back to Inheritance: Can I write it? Can I ride on that edge again and cause the story not to fall flat? And if I do have the skill to write a story that is totally paranormal and totally sexual and totally ethnic, do I have the fearlessness to actually write it? The effect of bad reviews of Wind Follower (there have been about five, I think, that I know of. Five out of 23 isn't so bad but hey)can really make an author pull back from pushing that envelope.

When I read the Bible, I don't see it telling me to abandon my sin-stained culture to take on the European sin-stained culture. It wants me to be myself, a Christian of African-American descent. But when I read American fantasy, I feel as if I am called to abandon that culture and take on Elvish and Wicca. By the year 2057, the majority of citizens in the United States will be non-white. (The growth will be fueled by Latin American immigrants and their children. Most of these immigrants are Roman Catholic, Evangelical and even mormon.) Will fantasy books continue to call us to worlds of vampires, elves, wiccans? Worlds that have little to do with us? (I can deal with shapeshifters because shapeshifters such as werewolves occur in many ethnic cultures. I'd like to see less European shapeshifters, though.)

I'm hoping that writers of color and that my little book Wind Follower will help to push the envelope a bit...to create space on those fantasy bookshelves for books that reflect the ethnic and religious differences of the America that we are becoming.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Pedestal of Author

Yesterday, I received a sweet little e-missive from a fellow author. In it, she lovingly but firmly told me about the concept of The Pedestal of Author. Backstory: I've gotten mostly good reviews on Wind Follower. When I have gotten bad reviews, I let it slide. Everyone has an opinion. When I get a really, really, really bad review....where the reviewer obviously hasn't written the book....well, I actually try to defend myself. Which is a no-no in writing circles, I'm told.

Anyway, the concept of The Pedestal of Author now has me thinking. What do I as an author think an author should be? What do I as an author expect my readers to think of me? What do I as a reader expect an author to be?

In some cultures certain kinds of vocation and work are considered important or honorable or "great." Nice job if you can get it. For instance, teachers are generally honored in many cultures. Doctors and Actors are honored in the United States.

In the black community, there is always so much pride and joy in great achievers. When I used to work in the high school I thought this pride in greatness was a bit dangerous. Kind of like an ethnic Cinderella Complex. Poor kids didn't want to be regular folks with normal jobs. They wanted to be famous rappers, great singers, sportscasters. It was as if their lives had been so bad that they only way they could overcome it would be to be in-your-face-famous with tons of bling, ho's, boy-toys, etc. I totally understand that. (And yeah, I'm actually cool with all those women wanting to hook up with Flavor Flav or Bret on VH1. You gotta do what you gotta do to get by. And hey, nice job if you can get it. But most people aren't gonna be famous. Fame is so important in our society. The nature of fame is that some folks simply are....and some folks aren't.

But I'm an author. Plodding work, a work of endurance, a work that revolves around ideas. I'm not particularly famous, though. Although you'd think from the way some folks in the hood behave, I'm the hottest thing since Vanilla Chai.

Hey, I don’t mind representing. What really makes my day at signings, etc is the love and appreciation my people have for me. They’re glad that I – a Black Woman– succeeded. If they are little old ladies, they ask where they can buy my book. When I tell them “from any bookstore!” they just smile and rejoice with me. Yes, I'm in a bookstore! When I say it's not self-published, it's from a traditional publisher, they really smile. When I say the book has so many religious stuff in it and so many racial stuff in it, but a secular publisher published it, they shout, "Praise the Lord! HE is able!" As a culture we have seen so many failures and struggles, that many of us still have a genuine joy and appreciation for those in our culture who have succeeded. Poor folks in the hood -- even the white ones-- love the idea that I'm an author.

Yeah, I’ll admit it. I get all teary-eyed when some Public Service Announcement pops up which states, “A black man created this…” “A black scientist discovered that…” And, yeah, I’m glad when I enter a room of little old Black ladies and they get teary-eyed over me.

Should we try to keep the mystique of Author Greatness? Do I OWE it to my people to behave like a real author, someone who symbolizes wisdom, persevereance, polish....and uh, maturity? If I DO try, how long can I keep up with it? Will I be able to be that other person long enough until it becomes second nature? When it become second-nature, will I become a pill, a know-it-all, or an object of pride and a help to all who know me?

Lord, help my people to continue to do great things. I'm trusting you to help me write this new WIP. Amen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Favorite Film: Die Hard

I can't really call this post just "Favorite Film"; I don't really have one specific favorite. I have a loose, revolving Top Ten list. But I'm pretty sure that at least in the last fifteen years or so, this movie hasn't left the list, so I can definitely call it A favorite film.

It's not hard to say why I love it--I'm certainly not alone in that--but it isn't easy either. It just works on every level. I don't care if there are moments that are a little schmaltzy (when Al the cop kills Alexander Gudonov [RIP] at the end, for example). It simply is, in my opinion, one of the greatest film ever made.

Oh, yes, I hear you scoff. Die Hard is light entertainment. It's an action movie. It's not Citizen Kane or The Godfather (which is another that stays high up on my list. LOVE The Godfather with a passion.)

But why does a movie have to be deep to be great? (Besides, I don't agree. I think Die Hard has some very deep moments and meanings.) Die Hard shows us what film can do; not just a slow, quiet movie about someone's death, not a character study, but really what film can do: transport us. Show us things that even now, 20 years after the film's original release, still make our eyeballs pop from the sheer ecstatic audacity of it. It shows us what a good script, surefooted direction, and outstanding performances can create. Not a step is out of line in Die Hard, not a moment is wasted.

One of the reasons why I think the sequels failed to live up to the original (other than simply the truth, which is sequels almost never do live up--the exception of course being The Godfather Part II which is so good I want to cry) is they lack the claustrophobia of the first. Terrorists in the building. Hero in the building. Nobody else gets in or out of the building. The entire film takes place there--in an office setting so familiar to us all, rendered unrecognizeable by the violence. Yes, we have scenes right outside the building, but even then, the Nakitomi Tower looms in the background. We never forget for a second what's happening in there--even the film's many moments of levity don't allow it, as they carry that same claustrophobia (even if it's simply the tight walls of a closed mind.) It's the sheer perfect tension of the set-up that enables everyone else to concentrate on the rest of the job: entertaining us. And they do it with confidence and ease. It's a beautiful thing.

Last year when my stepdaughter came to visit, the hubs and I decided it was time to start her film education. She's old enough now to handle most R-rated films (with the exception of stuff like Fast Times, which we'll probably wait a little longer on) and frankly, she doesn't get to watch a lot of good movies in her house.

The first movie we picked to show her was Die Hard. She's a little older now than I was when I first saw it (in the theatre on its original release), so it seemed like a good time.

And wow, was that fun. Every once in a while I'd glance over at her and watch her, her eyes saucer-wide, glued to the screen, her mouth slightly open. She was completely enraptured; I think I could have thrown things at her and she wouldn't have noticed.

That's what a great movie can do. It can capture us and hold us so tightly that for those few hours we forget everything else. And that's why Die Hard is a great movie.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Big Bookstores versus Little Bookstores

Big bookstores versus little bookstores

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for small bookstores. Well, let’s amend that. I USED to have a soft spot. Now I have a dilemma.

I live in a relatively small town with just two small bookshops. One handles all second-hand books; the other is a mixture of second-hand and new. When Master of Shadows was published, I approached the bookshop that handles the mixture to introduce my book and to arrange for a signing. I also gave them a flyer that listed where booksellers could order the book.

The signing was scheduled for mid-January when the local population swells with visitors from the cold north. A few days before the signing I received a phone call from the bookshop. They claimed they had been unable to get my books from Ingram, and they wanted to cancel the signing. Of course that meant I also had to call the local newspaper and ask the editor to put the article about the novel that would have been published just before the signing on hold.

When I e-mailed the publisher to find out about Ingram, I was told there would have been no problem rushing books to the bookshop for the signing, AND although there appeared to have been a computer glitch at Ingram a couple of weeks earlier, it had been fixed immediately and there were currently no problems.

I was determined to try again. I returned to the bookshop and arranged for another signing, this time scheduled for mid-February to correspond with Valentine’s Day. After all, MOS is a romantic fantasy. I also figured that gave me enough time to make sure the books would arrive for the signing and to get the news story rescheduled.

The owner of the bookshop confirmed that the new date would work, BUT I would have to supply the books. Yes, I would have to buy the books for the bookstore to sell, and we would split the profit – 60% for me, 40% for them!

I thought this had to be a fluke! After all, I wrote the book, I worked hard to find a publisher, and I am certainly willing to give publicizing the book my best shot. Was I now going to have to act in the capacity of a bookseller as well? What was the bookstore going to have to give up besides a place for me to sit and sign?

So I went to another small town nearby where there are a couple of bookshops. I ran into exactly the same problem. But they were a little more businesslike. They confessed that very few small bookshops have the capital to purchase a large quantity of books. They didn’t want to be stuck with books that might not sell.

I was stunned. This wasn‘t how it had worked with Barnes & Noble and Borders. The big chain bookstores didn’t expect me to buy the books for them.

In the end I cancelled all local book signings.

Fortunately the newspaper has printed the article about Master of Shadows. And I’ll be attending the Romantic Times Book Reviews Convention in Pittsburgh in April. They expect over a thousand attendees and the final Saturday there will be a Book Fair. Over 200 authors will be signing, including me!

But back to the beginning, and my dilemma with small bookshops – at least the local ones. They want authors to support them, but on the other hand, it appears they don’t always support their authors. I wonder, is my experience unique?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Fave Film: Rope

So there I was...waiting for the schoolbus to arrive when I start playing around with the remote and what do I see? One of my favorite movies, Rope, is on at 5 pm Eastern Time. TCM Turner Classic Movies. Talk about the intense joy I feel. I LOOOOVE this movie

Ah the joys of favorite movies! If I try to figure out what I like about the movie, I guess I could talk about Aristotle and the three unities but dang, that's not it. Sure all the action is scrunched up in one little night in one little place but that's not really it. The entire film feels scrunched. The actors seem squeezed together to fit into the scene, the actors are flustered as they rush to fit all their words into Hitchcock's articial "one take" and there is all that panning and all that sooming into and stopping the camera onto the back of a suit to change the reel.

But what really gets me about this film -- and yes, I have a major Farley Granger crush and have had it all my life it seems-- is how jumpy and stressed the film makes the viewer. I've seen modern flicks try to tighten the screws on characters and make a film which leaves the viewer on the edge of his/her chair unable to breathe. DOA, Torque.

But somehow they don't quite work as this one does. Because what makes it really work, i think, is the relentlessness of it all. There is a deep desire in the viewer to let the bad guys get away with their crime. The minute they do it, we know their personalities will be the downfall of them. Guilt is gonna get one of them, arrogance the other. Even then, although they are utterly unheroic characters, we want them to ...get away unpunished. Because they are human.

But our desire is thwarted, and it's like watching one's friends do something stupid ....and one simply cannot stop them in time...or save them. This, i think, is one of the things that makes this story essentially Christian. Watching one guy make a really bad arrogant decision and watching his stressed-out wimpy friend be dragged along for the ride. ...and thinking...oh my god, oh my god, there is no way out for them now..... unless a miracle occurs. And all the time wanting the bad guys to succeed, not because they are such nice people, but because they are so like us sometimes...on a train with no turning back... and the only thing we can do is to beg and pray and hope that they get away with evil. Perverse joy, i know...but joy nevertheless.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Shameless Self-promotion

Please check out the podcast of my story, Homecoming at the Borderlands Cafe over at Escape Pod. It takes about fifteen minutes to listen to. Please comment if you can. It's a story about race and religion in an alternate America.

-Carole McDonnell

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Aging

Okay so I'm almost 50. 48 years and three months old, exactly. And lately, I've found myself writing about older women characters. Interesting (to me at least) because I have always written about young characters.

I think we humans always identify with our young selves. It's natural. Our bodies betray us. Inside, we feel twenty...but outside we look....sixty, seventy. (Well, actually, my hubby tells me I look like I'm in my mid-30's. Is the guy sweet or what?)

Perhaps we write about young characters because the world has trained us to. After all, it's the young who do the great feats of derring-do. Or perhaps we're afraid of getting old or we just can't identify with old characters.

I suspect I'm writing about older women because I'm feeling my age. (still don't look it, though.) Whatever the reason I'm doing all these old fogey ladies, I find myself still writing about youngish male characters. And these young guys have crushes on these old fogey ladies? Is there a need for serious psycho-analysis here? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Latent pedophilia aside, I find that some adversarial pain-in-the-neck argumentative part of me (which actually is a very big part of me) wants to do something about the ageism I see on television. Subtle racism mixed with ageism(the non-sexy, grandmotherly, Aunt Jemima-ness of the black woman) and dang! we black women are put outside the romance pool a bit too early. (At least in the media, not real life.) Upshot: I end up writing books where the cute blonde white woman doesn't get the young guy and the older black woman goes off with him to the marriage bed. (It's always gotta be marriage. I'm a Christian, after all. No premarital sex, alas. Except maybe the night before the wedding, like I did in Wind Follower.)

I hate to admit it cause as I said, I'm old now. But, I'm still wounded from seeing all those fifties, sixties, seventies films where black women weren't considered really beautiful. (yep, even in the 2000's. Remember last year when everyone kept saying two of the black women singers on American Idol were "plain.") As a writer, I want to see how much I can get away with. And, hey, (speculating here) maybe I'll affect the greater American culture so wonderfully that young guys of all colors will start lusting for older women of color instead of the cool icy "All-American" blonde ideal many have been trained to admire. Dare I believe that because of my influence (okay, and the influence of others like me) ten years from now Oprah will be considered the sex symbol and Michelle Pfeiffer and younger white starlets will all be catching up? Hey, one can dream.

My hubby says that the way I talk sometimes people will think I'm prejudiced against white folks. I'm not. My friends are mostly white. All my boyfriends were white. They were cute guys too. But the world would have a hard time believing that. Heck, they'd have a hard time thinking of Oprah as a sex symbol or a love interest. Yep, they'd hink it was fiction beyond the ordinary. -C

Monday, March 3, 2008

March is Personal Demonstravaganza Month!

Yes, that's right. If you're looking for much actual content from me this month, you won't get it. Or rather, you will, but in a different way.

Because Personal Demons releases next month--less than thirty days from today!

And I'm having a bunch of contests and stuff!

Now, I will be holding another contest or two next month, after the book comes out. But right now we're working on advance stuff. So here's what you need to do to enter:

1. Do you have a review blog? Do you want a PDF ARC to review? Email me (staciakane AT gmail.com) and let me know! One review equals one entry.

2. Create an Amazon Listmania List and place the book on it. That's one entry. You get an additional half entry for placing books by any of the following authors on it:

Mark Henry
Caitlin Kittredge
Anton Strout
Richelle Mead
*or any Juno author

(Please, guys, keep the lists serious. I will be checking, because you'll be emailing me the link to your list. So if the list is called, say, "The List I Made to Win a Prize" it doesn't count. We're looking for urban fantasy, paranormal romance, that sort of thing.)

3. Tag the book on Amazon. Again, please be respectful with the tags. One tag, one entry. Click boxes for current tags and get half an entry each.

4. Preorder the book. From Amazon, from B&N, from your local independent, from wherever. One preorder, two entries.

5. Blog about the book. If you don't have a review blog, you can still mention it. Link to it. Talk about it. I'll be running excerpts from the book every Wednesday this month on my own blog, so hopefully you'll be able to formulate an opinion enough to genuinely tell your blog readers how much you're looking forward to it. One mention, one entry.

6. Belong to a forum where books are discussed? Mention my book. One mention, one entry.

The thing is, I realize this may sound like kind of an odd contest (though I'm really hoping it doesn't). But Juno/Wildside is a smaller publisher, and we're trying to get the word out any way we can.

Oh, and there is one big rule: NO SPAM. PLEASE don't start mentioning the book in odd or inappropriate places or clogging up comment threads on review sites or, especially, other writers' blogs. PLEASE. Your entries will be discarded if I find out about it. There are lots of ways to win and chances to win legitimately. Let's try not to piss people off. :-) (And no, I don't really think any of you would do that, but I did want to mention it for the record.)

So...what are the prizes? The prizes are many and varied!

*Two signed copies of Personal Demons
*One box of Cocktail Demons
*Six Personal Demons magnets

In other words, nine people will win prizes here, just for mentioning or helping to spotlight a book you hopefully would already want to mention!

I'll be doing a release-month contest as well, with even more prizes, including more signed books, Amazon gift cards, demon keyrings, more magnets and cocktail demons...all kinds of things. So this is certainly not your last chance to win! But this month is our last chance to build pre-release awareness of the book, so join in and have fun!

Email me your entries--links, or the copy&pasted relevent bits from your preorder receipt (I don't need or want your credit card info)--to Staciakane AT gmail.com. I should respond to tell you I got it within 24 hours. If I don't please email again!

Also, do you have a blog? Are you lazy, and so enjoy having guest bloggers because you don't have to come up with a topic of your own? Why not have me come blog at your place? I'm clean, and mildly entertaining. I will even blog on any topic of your choice (trust me there. I blogged about pigeon sex once because a blog reader wanted me to.) Email me! Then sit back and enjoy the day of rest.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

the ethics of reviewing

In one of his critical essays, C S Lewis pointed out some ethical dilemmas reviewers are apt to get involved in. For instance, a reviewer once slammed one of Lewis' book in a publication and months later, the editor of the publication gave Lewis the slammer's book saying something to the effect of "Turnabout is Fairplay." Lewis didn't think it was. He declined the opportunity to review. I suppose he could have been all noble and ethical and praised his enemy's writing....but what if he honestly didn't like the work? Wouldn't people think he was being retaliatory.

In the essay, Lewis also talked about the ethics of reviewing a friend. Almost as stressing as reviewing an enemy. Again, what if one honestly likes the work? Remember the big hullabulloo years back when it was discovered that several judges "knew" which manuscripts in contests were written by their friends? Quite the todo! Especially when the judges said, "But his (my friend's) manuscript was genuinely the best of the bunch. Ah, me! dilemmas! I remember reading a comment by John Updike in which he said something to the effect of, "I haven't got the ethical strength to pan a friend. Actually, let me restate that: I have the ethics not to pan a friend."

Another thing C S Lewis mentioned in the essay -- whose title truly escapes me but which I think was called "On reviewing"-- is that a reviewer should never review a genre he does not like. Now, it's not as easy as all that to figure out what one doesn't like. Some folks are very pernicketty about their genres. But in a day and time of sub-genres, cross-genres, mixed genres....well, there is bound to be some aspect of a story that simply bothers a reviewer. My question, should the reviewer continue reading the story if it doesn't suit his rigid notions of what he expected in the genre.

I recently received a review from a reviewer on Fantasy Forum where he stated he didn't like the first 150 pages of Wind Follower because it was romance. Why then did he read a paranormal romance? He also said it was too heavy-handedly Christian for a Christian novel. What does one do with a reviewer like this? Interestingly, he's the only one so far who thinks the book is heavy-handed. Neither feminists, atheist, academics or Christians have said this. Heck, the book has been read by a Yemeni-muslim, by several atheists, by narcissitic teenaged kids, by my angry-with-Christians-Orthodox neighbor and no one else saw the book as heavy-handed. So, what's going on?

But WF is not the only book that has gotten strange comments from so-called reviewers. So then, what are we to do? As artists, we value input and we are not going to say that only experts can review books properly....but it does make a person wonder.

I'll say that I'm a reviewer and I haven't always been the perfect reviewer either. I once slammed a book because the writer said something very snide about Christians. Other than the snideness the book was actually well-written. I also get pretty impatient with stories about blonde frontier types taming the west and claiming the land. But, like a fine wine, I've aged. Recently, I was reading a YA book where certain sexual issues just didn't sit right with my Christian conservative mindset. I told the editor of the publication I review for that I simply couldn't be fair to the book but there was no way I was going to slam it because my problem with the book was well....my problem. when I encounter a book or (God help me!) am in the middle of a book that I suddenly realize is not my cup of tea....well, I do the honest and ethical thing. I toss it aside and I keep my opinion to myself. After all, sometimes the problem isn't with the book...it's with the reader. And a good reviewer should be knowledgeable enough about himself, his tastes, his imperfections, and the state of the art... to fess up....instead of blaming the book. -C

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Serendipity

As a writer, I need to know all sorts of arcane stuff. When I'm writing fantasy, of course I get to make a lot of it up--but I have to have a bit of an idea where the stuff I'm making up comes from. However, fantasy isn't all I write.

I'm currently working on a historical novel set in WWII, in China and the Pacific. There's a LOT of research involved.

So, last night I had a banquet to go to. The fella is in higher education, and we got invited to the local Chamber of Commerce awards banquet. This year, it was held in an airplane museum, which is in large part a series of interconnected hangars full of vintage airplanes. Unheated hangars.

Now, we're on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, so it's not like we battle a lot of snowstorms. Or even much in the way of cold weather. But when it's 60 F outside (or slightly below), and the inside isn't heated--that's just a little too cold to be sitting around eating dinner. It got cold in that hangar. But that's really not the point of this post.

See--there were all these old airplanes. I got a big kick out of wandering around looking at them. There was a B-17 bomber--the old Flying Fortress--those are some big birds. And an RAF Spitfire. There was a PBY Catalina "flying boat." And then I saw it. A plane with its wings folded up, almost making an A-frame over its long body. The EXACT plane flown by the hero in the book I'm working on.

I got all excited and went to walk around it, studied how the anchor bars holding the wings in their folded position were fastened on, looked at as many details as I could try to grab hold of.
Then, when I mentioned that it was THE plane, one of the ladies at our table mentioned that she was friends with one of the higher-ups at the museum, and could probably get me a close-up look at the cockpit, maybe even arrange for me to take pictures.

Serendipity happens like that. When you need a particular thing, so many times it just falls in your lap. I wasn't even looking for information when I went to this dinner. It just appeared.

Sometimes it's an opportunity. Sometimes it's information you need. Sometimes it's a person. What kind of wonderful thing has happened to you like that? Share your serendipity.

Monday, February 25, 2008

thinking of the magical negro

Recently, I did an interview with Geralyn Beauchamp about her book, Time Masters: Book One, The Call.

Then, later, in yet another discussion among black specfic writers, I actually found myself defending the magical negro. Ah gee, how did that happen? Actually, it's not as if I defended that type of character. I just kinda excused white writers who use them. Yes, i do groan whenever this kind of character pops up in a book written by a white character. But I don't get...well...as bent out of shape as some of my black colleagues do.

Okay, okay, I've heard the arguments against these characters:
1) characters like these pretend to be making us minorities look like good people but it's just another way of dehumanizing us and taking away our individuality.

Yeah, yeah...

As I said to my black friends -- and I was resoundedly challenged and put down for this-- sometimes white writers are trying to do a quota thing. In an email recently with Sylvia Kelso, she mentioned that Connie Willis did not mention any black people in the novel Lincoln's Dreams. Sylvia thought a black character was needed. I, on the other hand, thought... heck, if there was no room for a black character in the story... why put a black character into the story?

And yet, I DO kinda have patience with white writers who feel they need to put a person of color into a book. I remember hearing a Jewish author talk about how annoying it was to see Jews pop up in books merely to "mean" something or to be a symbol. I have seen so many books in which black folks and Jewish folks and Hispanic folks are in books simply to "mean" something.

So there are two reasons for this Magical Negro inclusion bit:

One, a white writer needs to symbolize a triumphant, noble, suffering person...and who best to put in to "mean" this kind of thing but a black person or a Jewish person or a spiritual Native American tree-hugger?

Two, the white writer sometimes needs to put in a black person because the white writer wants to say something about racism. Okay, sometimes it's done badly. Sometimes we're stuck with a poor starving black child of a drug-addicted black mom and they are rescued by a liberal kind-hearted white person. That is the "we as whites are put on earth to raise up the blacks" mentality. Of course this kind of thing is offensive. The "take up the white man's burden" kind of liberality or the "take up the white female's burden" type of liberalness and feminism does make a minority woman of color (whether the white woman is "helping" an Iranian women wearing a hajib or a poor little suffering latina escaping to El Norte or a deluded innocent Christian woman who has been oppressed by the evil patriarchal Christian world or a poor little uneducated black woman with great faith).

But what if the white writer wanted to do something against racism? Stephen King, for instance, is from Maine. I have no doubt -- no doubt, whatsover-- that he does these magical negro types because he lives among folks in Maine who well....may or may know any real Negroes...and who may very well have racist ideas about us. (One day I'll tell you my story about a trip I had in New England. Right now, sufficeth to say, Stephen is probably doing a great job of enlightening certain folks.) I mean...some groups have actually benefitted by being shown as magical. I have yet to hear a gay person complain about the use of the magical gay person in movies, TV, and books. That magical, funny, quirky, witty, idiosyncratic, and just-so-cuddly eccentric magical gay person and the suffering, noble, triumphant gay person has done a lot for making homosexuality more acceptable in modern society. And I have no doubt that all those wise-cracking jolly fat women who roam television have also helped (in some weird way) the black cause. And I am sure that all those movies in which an illegal alien from Mexico is shown as a sweet-faced oppressed person...have colored our view of the immigration degate. So there is some kind of benefit in these portrayals. Heck, even if they can't see us as humans, they at least see us as objects of humor or pity.

But back to my point...reasons for possibly excusing the magical negro. There is the question of honoring a person. By which I mean...what if the white racist actually did come from some lily-white town and actually knew a lovely kind black or minority person who was a symbol of strength and peace. Folks, this kind of thing still happens in this country. This is what Geralyn mentioned in her interview. In her small little town in the west, she had a black teacher. There are black folks all over this country doing the magical negro stuff in their daily lives. (Okay, in real life, they probably are as weak as anyone else...but in their public life as the only black person in the middle of nowhere, they dang well are triumphanting nobly.) What do we do with a black writer who wants to honor such a person?

So, I dunno.... I'm still kinda on the fence when it comes to whether I actually think magical negroes are a totally bad thing. Or maybe I just think that white writers who use them are not so very bad. And honestly, I'm not gonna jump down the throats of any white writer who includes in her novel something that makes me cringe. Of course, I do kinda groan when I see how religious people are treated in books by secular writers. And I'm hoping that whether my books are overtly religious (as in Wind Follower) or subtly so, that those who read my books will finish the book saying, "I know now what a real black person is like. I know now what a real religious person acts like. I will never again indulge in stereotyping them...as magical people, as stupid-in-need-of-enlightenment people, or as evil people." IF I can do that, then I will have succeeded. -C

southern gothic

Yesterday i saw Monster's Ball. I haven't seen that film in years. Totally had forgotten how Christian the thing is. It's up there with The Apostle, Tender Mercies, Come Early Morning, Miss Firecracker, and a few others as really great spiritual stuff happening in everyday working class settings.

Of course, there are sexual and racial issues in some of this stuff...and I'm not saying that all movies about southerners dealing with their spirituality is free from racism....but these truly are films that delve into grace, persevereance, soul-searching and Christian spirituality.

Of course there are other great films out there that deal with spirituality: A prayer for the Dying, Festen, and the like. And I have to see the film The Bad Lieutenant one of these days (weird sex scenes and all). But what I like about this Southern Gothic thing is the way the authors just unabashedly drop you into the characters' spiritual world. That takes a lotta balanced world-building. The screenwriter has to show a possibly unlikable character (to American viewers who seem to have been trained to judge the likeability of story characters), the writer has to show how the character's religiousness exists side-by-side with the characters' crappy sinful traits. This is often tough because religious readers/viewers are always ready to judge religious characters and reject them for either doctrinal or behavioral reasons. And it's also tough because non-religious people are always ready to see Christians as deluded evil hypocrites anyway. The writer might also have to put in some supernatural stuff into the novel. And all this has to be shown in a casual normal natural way.

I'm glad I saw it. It's inspiring me with my present Work-in-Progress, the novel presently called Inheritance. Am trusting God I can carry it off.

Friday, February 15, 2008

In praise of editors

This in response to Carole’s comments about those mistakes in our books that we only notice when it's much too late ("Book Flaw Meme")


We all need editors (where would Thomas Wolfe have been without Maxwell Perkins?) and good ones, I think, are no longer easy to come by. To have the chance to work with a good one is a matter for much rejoicing. A month of hard slogging on the final draft of my latest young adult historical, in partnership with a skilled and astute editor at a small Canadian literary press, has left me tired but very grateful. I was equally pleased with Paula Guran’s thoughtful, unobtrusive copy-editing of Juno’s Sarsen Witch reissue.

Too often I pick up a book by a well-known author and find it riddled with typos. A recent winner of Canada’s prestigious Governor-General’s Award confused “lie” with “lay” – not once but twice. Clearly the copy-editor had nodded off at his/her desk. A friend reading a novel from a large and respected British publishing house counted something like forty mistakes in the first few chapters. She fired off an indignant letter to the publisher, enumerating the errors. The publisher, with typical British aplomb, wrote back to thank her for the corrections, and suggested that she let them know if she found any others. My friend’s response was, “Certainly – and my editing fee is….”

My first novel back in the eighties got caught up in the publisher’s change of ownership, when apparently there was no copy-editor. When I received the page proofs, I saw that almost every one of my typos had been faithfully reproduced, and a few more added for good measure. On the other hand, there’s the copy-editor from hell, who makes as many changes as possible in order to look productive. I had one of those, years ago. He or she felt compelled not only to correct my mistakes, but to completely change my style. (Fortunately the editor in charge intervened, and allowed me to change everything back.)


So this is a slightly belated Valentine to the good editors of this world – may their tribe increase!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Elegant Neurosis

Balance, balance, balance!

Well, i'm only about 120 pages into Inheritance, The Claimed, or whatever it's going to be called. There I am writing along and sending sex scenes to Sylvia Kelso, the author of Amberlight and to Robert Fleming, the author of Fever in the Blood.

Both of them think the sex scene is cold. Well, ...uh...yeah. I tend to write third person novels very coldly. But also, I write sex scenes very coldly and distantly. Maybe it's cause I'm a little sexually cold myself. (Am just putting that out there but I don't think I am. At least I hope I'm not.) But the other problem, that Rob pointed out, was that I am putting too much of myself into the book.

Now, that is one of my major issues as a writer. I tend to put all my soul and self into a novel. That is the blessing and the curse of my writing. An elementary teacher of mine, my french teacher, Mrs Meyerowitz, used to say that the blessing was the curse. So my blessing, and the beauty of my stories is that I put all my joy, pain, and idiosyncracies into my stories.

For instance: ever since my East-Indian half-sister told me my father liked her better because she was light-skinned, I have never been able to look into a mirror. (Trust me, you would not want to see what I look like now.) I gave this trait to Satha, my main female character in Wind Follower.

Another example: My father cheated on my mother relentlessly. Mercifully, she divorced him. I have such an issue with adultery it isn't sane. So what do i do with it? I give it to Loic, my main male character in Wind Follower. The kid hates his adulterous step-mother even more than his father does...and even his father calls him on it: "You carry my offense as if it were your own." (Something like that. I don't have the book with me.)

My issues about the death of my mother and my existential despair over my own health of course pops into the book in a couple of Satha's soliloquies...even her fear that the Creator or her husband would not abandon her.

So yeah....everything...and I mean EVERYTHING....that goes on in my spiritual, physical, familial, and psychological life ends up in my stories. That's what makes my stories beautiful, i think. Not the beauty of the words, but the honesty and the self-revealing of my soul.

But dang! When I'm writing these things, I have to be very careful. At a storytelling conference, I once heard a storyteller say, "Storytelling is my most elegant use of my neurosis." That's what I aim for....elegance. Yeah, I want my neurosis out there in the book. But I want them to be so wonderfully rendered (nice word that, like clarified oil out of gross fat) that only the purity of soul and the soul's need for God and clarity can shine forth.

So back to this sex scene and to inheritance/the claimed/whatever. I am writing a love story between a kid 27 year old bi-racial Chinese-Native American guy and a Jamaican-American dark-skinned woman who is 48. And I have to see if I a dark-skinned black woman can actually believe that this could happen. (Sure it has happened in real life...and I think it's kinda cute when some cute young thing develops a crush on me. But I never take it seriously...no matter how much the kid takes it seriously.) And that's the problem now. My female character has to take it seriously. She HAS to. She has to get rid of the familial and societal brainwashing and believe she can be loved.

And I have to believe it to. Or else the thing just won't work. The Bible says a true witness delivers souls. So as a Christian writer, I believe I am called to be a witness of what is true about the power of love, spiritual beauty and change. So, I have to make her journey neurotic and true....but also elegant.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Carl Brandon Society Recommended Books for 2008 Black History Month

The Carl Brandon Society is a writing group dedicated to promoting science fiction, speculative fiction and fantasy written by people of color. Their list of recommended books for 2008 are as follows:

THE CARL BRANDON SOCIETY
recommends the following books for BLACK HISTORY MONTH:

• "So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy"
edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan

• "Parable of the Sower" by Octavia Butler
• "Dhalgren" by Samuel R. Delany

• "My Soul to Keep" by Tananarive Due

• "The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad" by
Minister Faust
• "Mindscape" by Andrea Hairston

• "Wind Follower" by Carole McDonnell

• "Futureland" by Walter Mosley

• "The Shadow Speaker" by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

• "Zahrah the Windseeker" by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

And the 2005 CARL BRANDON SOCIETY AWARD Winners:

• PARALLAX AWARD given to works of speculative fiction created by a
person of color: "47" by Walter Mosley

• KINDRED AWARD given to any work of speculative fiction dealing with
issues of race and ethnicity; nominees may be of any racial or ethnic
group: "Stormwitch" by Susan Vaught

Book Flaw Meme

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of my favorite writers, once stated that his book One Hundred Years of Solitude had 99 mistakes. Seeing my experience with Wind Follower, I can TOTALLY BELIEVE this.

Okay, unlike Marquez, I didn't forget I had killed off a character and have said character show up later. (I know better than to write: "All in the house were killed that night." Generalizing like that is just asking for trouble.)

Okay, I'll be the first to be painfully honest here....

I'm not talking about typos...Heck...that's not my fault. It's the copy-editor. Granted I should type and proof better but, well....

I'm talking about errors of continuity: Did I say it was night? If so, why, three paragraphs later, is the sun shining? I did this TWICE!!!

I'm talking memory lapses: Did I give the Third Wife brown hair at the beginning and make it red later on? I can only imagine what I did with eye color.

I'm talking unintentional humor because of bad editing and/or purple prose: "Standing in front of me, his fingers played upon my lips."

I'm talking about "the missing scene" which you should have written but simply didn't think of writing until the book had been published a year: I SOOO wish I had written a scene where Loic finds the body of a discarded decomposing newborn baby.

Now, who will I tag with this meme?

I think I'll tag Stacia Kane,
Greg Banks, moondancerdrake

Then tag three other people.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Embattled

Well, am in the first part of my WIP Inheritance. (Which I might be calling "Til all these things be done") and once again my characters are embattled.

I have to speak a word about embattledness and the dangers of melodrama. I am a total believer that there are a few folks in life who are embattled on many sides, that there is always human darkness, demonic darkness, world issues that get in the way of folks living some kind of a good, happy, or sane life.

The depiction of these kind of characters can either lead to wonderful heroes (in fantasy) or melodrama (in mainstream novels). There's also the question of believability. One wants to push the envelope by holding a mirror up to life -- as some great writer once said-- but at the same time holding up that mirror may not work because some folks simply are not going to believe that all that crap can happen to one person.

Let's say one has had -- or one knows a person who has had-- a really tough life. Then one really has to choose what aspects of that life one will describe and what aspects one will leave out of the story. Or else it won't work for some folks who think you're just engaging in character torture.

I had a Wyoming pen-pal who said to me once, "I don't see why black folks talk about racism. It's as if they think no one has suffered. I've suffered too. I had a child out of wedlock. I was married to a drunk." I realized to my extreme surprise that she thought that the ONLY problem black folks had was racism. She didn't realize that some Black folks have had her problems as well but then race gets added into the mix. Racism is just hard for some folks to understand. I'll just say, "Imagine dealing with having to take one's mother off life support and then add racist doctors and racist social workers in the mix." OR add "Anti-Christian racist doctors." Trust me, folks, it's a trip!

Black writers have to write a story that gives a character the sorrows of regular life ...and at the same time has to slip into the story the sorrows that racism brings. I've read stories that seem to be about either one or the other but not both. And I've read stories that have both of these challenges. Add being a Christian to the mix, or being sickly...and well...folks don't realize you're telling all your heart and sharing your experiences of life. They think you're piling it on.

I suppose one could compartmentalize one's sorrows into different books but what's the use of that? Not that a writer writes to be known by all her readers, but she writes to explain something. And I want to write about being embattled.(With of course some religion and kinky sex thrown in. We're talking succubus, after all.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Carole's body parts meme

Her head and chin resting in her hands, her elbows on her knees, and tears streaming from her eyes and across her cheek, Molly remembered his cheek as he had elbowed her when he saw her eyeing the tear in Fabio's shirt. No, he had not taken it on the chin, telling her that he (k)needed her to love him alone..with all her heart, mind, body and soul. That would mean toeing the line.

(added this as a comment then realized it should've been a post.)
-C

Body parts meme

I'm so close to completing The New Sirens--working title of the sequel to Seaborn, that I took time tonight to go back and look at notes from my writing/crit group for the early chapters. One of the sentences called out as "nice" in chapter one is,

She kicked higher, pulling Shelly by the hand, one foot bounding off Ochleros' arm, up to his shoulder where she set her feet down and leaned an elbow against the sea-demon's ear.

Forget about the context, sea-demons, who Ochleros or Shelly is, or whether this sentence is really "nice," and focus on the hand, foot, arm, shoulder, feet, elbow, and ear. That is a nice pile of body parts in one place, seven of them. I didn't do this on purpose, it came out in the action. She's in the water, kicking to a nice high, comfortable place--and as everyone knows, sea-demons just love to have their ears elbowed.

Okay, it's meme time:

How many body parts can you plausibly jam into a sentence without simply listing them? Internal parts as well. I for one would like to read a sentence with "lung," "earlobe," and "big toe" in it.

Not going to tag anyone. I'm going to x-post. Open to all. Leave a sentence in a comment here, or post it on your blog, journal, or wherever you soapbox.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

DreamCast for Wind Follower

Okay, deep in my heart I want Wind Follower to be a super CGI film, but if we decided to use a human cast instead of an animated one, here is my dreamcast for Wind Follower:




First up, the Pagatsu household.

Loic should be played by Takeshi Kaneshiro




Or James Duval who is of Vietnamese-French heritage and was in the Native American Film, The Doe Boy.

Both of them are good, I think. Except that perhaps they are a bit old for the part. And they aren't animated beings.

The actress Gina Pareno would be Jontay


Andy Lau would make a grea Taer.



Firmine Richards would make a great Monua



Now I have to find a dark-skinned black actress for Satha...although I really feel Jennifer Hudson would be a great Satha.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Personal Demons countdown

A countdown timer for Stacia's next book:






Here's the code to copy and paste if you want to place this on your site:




<iframe scrolling="no" style="width:214px;height:314px;" frameborder="0" src="http://the0phrastus.typepad.com/countdownPersonalDemons.htm" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0"></iframe>


Stacia: I stuck the countdown script on my blog, but you can post it anywhere. You can find it here: http://the0phrastus.typepad.com/countdownPersonalDemons.htm

Top Ten Signals the Book is one of Mine (Sylvia Kelso)

Top Ten Signals the Book is One of Mine (Sylvia Kelso)

1. Most often it’s written in first person, sometimes two or even three voices of same. I like first person for the potential to bias and limit the viewpoint, and even better, produce an unreliable narrator. I also like present tense, much to some readers' protests.

2. The characters are smart – all of them. (I get told this, so I hope it’s true.)

3. The hero has a Very Bad Time, not limited to lots of angst.

4. The fantasies, if not the SF, can often be tagged as moral Swords and Sorcery. The point isn’t having power so much handling it morally.

5. There are some literally explosive endings – volcanic eruptions, that kind of thing.

6. There are always politics, NOT intended as allegories of ours, and they’re complicated.

7. The land – or landscapes – are conspicuous, important, and beautiful.

8. The protagonist can be male or female, no apparent continued bias to either.

9. The style is also noticeable. Apparently you’ll either love or hate it. I don’t plan for that, it just happens.

10. There’s more than a dash of sex, not always straight, and the occasional dash of comedy.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Top ten signs a book was written by me (Chris Howard)

Top ten signs a book was written by me (Chris Howard)


1. Half the book takes place underwater.

2. The other half is no more than three miles from the coast, on board a ship, close to the water, you get it.

3. There's at least one good line in ancient Greek ...têi kreagrai tôn orchipedôn helkoimên es abysson.

4. At least one of the families--the protag's or some other major characters'--is really messed up, capital D Dysfunctional--hell, capitalize all the letters.

5. Someone commits suicide--usually for a cause.

6. There's a brutal internal struggle going on--I love plot lines around characters fighting themselves, fighting some change in themselves.

7. Female protag. I haven't written a male protagonist in the last three novels.

8. Someone is brought back from the dead--sometimes many someones, sometimes many times, sometimes armies of them.

9. One of the characters is from the Azores. (I can't say why this is, some deep fascination with the islands, I'm thinking).

10. Aristotle is mentioned in a favorable light, if not all out gushed over. "Greatest hacker who ever lived, man."

.

Top tipoffs you're reading a Carole McDonnell story

First person with strange narrative or third person with strange narrativeI tend to always write in the first person. Frankly, I'm scared of the third person narration. When I do it it feels flat and banal. I simply cannot write it straight. Plus...when I write in the third person, the characters seem distance. Unless I make the story a fairy-tale or very stylized.

Estranged Brothers/Family Outcast/In-law problems/Isolated from society, clan or casteYes, although I have no brothers. Brothers separated through ideology or family circumstances seem to abound. Seems something external to my own life has so affected my brain that this idea has become a part of my subconscious. I wonder if it was because I read King Lear and loved it so much. This occurred in my short story, Homecoming at the Borderlands Cafe (published in Jigsaw Nation) and in Wind Follower.

Very kind people/Moral TreacheryI suspect that like Blance Dubois, I live trusting in the kindness of people. I love kindness. But I also love moral treachery. Betraying friends. I can only think I was influenced by Tristan and Isolde, and by Wings of a Dove. Manners and societal issues are very important, especially etiquette. As Talking Heads sang, "I hate people when they're not polite."

An ill main character.Whether it's mental illness, physical illness, developmental delay...all my stories have at least one character with a life that has been thwarted by some grievous emotional or physical wound. My story Black is the color of my true love's hair, published in Fantastical Visions III has an Irish knight who is riding home from the Crusades who has been wounded by a sword...and the wound is incurable. My characters also cannot sleep.

Sexual issuesAh me! I think sex is so dang complicated. Sex used as a sleeping pill. Sex used as a means of comfort. Sex used to manipulate. I don't know if any of my characters have ever had any kind of sane sex. Relationships between older women and young men. Loic in Wind Follower had mother issues. In addition, most of my characters truly don't believe they are loved. Often, the love that another person has for them is all they really have.

Morbid introspection/Religion/Existentialism/WorldwearinessMy books always have some religious issue. Sometimes there are political issues fighting against it. Accompanying this religious atmosphere is often a heavy dose of morbid introspection. My characters are too honest with themselves about their temptation and sin.

Married protagonistsInterracial/intercultural marriage, odd combinations, or May-July relationshipsRomance is about finding the right and perfect person. Often one of my characters falls in love at first sight. In my story characters are always thinking of marriage. Marriage is the most romantic of journeys. Then there is life versus love. Can the love survive?

Hubby is white and I'm black so I guess that explains why I do interracial relationships. My characters don't fall into the typical physical ideal.

A challenge to my readersI can't help it. I don't like to think of myself as argumentative but I always have to get some political point into my books, and I totally don't care who it offends. Some sections in my books can make a reader angry or uncomfortable.


A poetic normalcyI love normal life. I like sincerity in stories about normal folks. I read a lot of memoirs and nonfiction and my narration feels like a normal person is narrating it. Yet the narration has to be lyrical and beautiful and poetic.

Religion, The Supernatural and GodThe supernatural is such an important part of my life. For some religion is all about dogma and doctrine but Biblical Christianity has a lot of supernatural stuff in it. Plus I'm Jamaican. The Jamaican and the Pentecostal mentality in me always has to make religion supernatural. My characters often need some supernatural event to help them out of their fix. They are also very aware of sin. Redemption and the love of God is very important. Even if religion isn't Christianity, I'd like to think that something in the book shows my relationship with my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Top Ten Signs a Book was Written by Me

This is a little meme that's been going around, I got it from the Fangs Fur & Fey livejournal community (and posted this there too.)

I'd love to see my fellow Juno authors' Top Tens!


1. Third person. I'm not a fan of first person and don't write in it. My romances are, of course, written from third omniscient, but my urban fantasy is strictly from the heroine's POV.

2. Absent Families. Either they're dead or they're just a bunch of jerks, but not one heroine I've ever written has had a warm family relationship. Fathers often sell their kids out. Mothers are cruel and distant.

3. Everybody drinks like they're trying to keep up with Dean Martin. And they drink all sorts of things. The heroes might have a preference for Scotch, but basically, if you show a bottle of booze to a character in one of my books they'll drink it.

4. Twist endings. Not all of my books have them, but the large majority does. Either the villain's motives aren't what they seemed, or the guy we thought was the bad guy isn't. Even if it isn't a major plot point (it usually is), at some point we're going to be surprised.

5. Smoking. Yeah, I know. Not everyone smokes, but enough people do that it's safe to say if you pick up one of my books chances are somebody, some time, is going to smoke a cigarette.

6. Smooth dialogue, everybody is smart. Nobody is stupid (at least nobody we're supposed to like), not even the characters who never had an education. They may not know algebra but they have agile minds, and their dialogue tends to be quick and clean.


7. Manners/the man pays. Oh, yes. My characters use each others' last names regularly and often wait to be invited to use firsts. My men open doors, believe in "ladies first", prepare drinks, and always pay for meals (unless the heroine specifically does the inviting.) They get a little anal about it, too, sometimes. Even my poor uneducated men know how to treat a lady, and that's how they see them, too--as ladies.

8. Everybody has great sex. Like I said, my heroes believe in ladies first.

9. Heroes are dark/heroines are slim. Both personally and physically. I'm another one who just doesn't find blond men terribly appealing as a rule, so my heroes have dark hair and dark eyes. Most of them have Deep Secrets too, or if they don't they're just plain criminals. Also, my heroines tend not to be curvy. They're slim, small-breasted, probably not particularly tall, and average pretty.

10. Violence/stuff explodes/car chases/infernos. Oh how I love action. People in my books are always running, away from the crazy guy with the knife or the evil spirit they don't yet know how to defeat. They're in the car breaking laws as bad guys shoot at them or hordes of vampires chase them. Fire is everywhere. Houses catch fire, warehouses, corpses, heroes are fire demons who can burn stuff to a crisp just by thinking of it--now that I'm thinking of it, if something isn't burning yet in one of my books it's probably at least been foreshadowed. Just give it time. Everything burns.


I have also done a preliminary Stacia Kane website. It's here. If you have a minute, check it out. I think it's pretty blah, but as I said on livejournal last night, I really find GoDaddy's "Web Site Tonight" web builder to be difficult and painful to use. It's slow, it's not very customizeable...argh. Just a pain in the butt. So please be kind. :-)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

In defense of romance

I have a writer acquaintance... a good soul who is way more famous than I am...a good person... except that she doesn't think much of romance. She belittles it often and very often bewails the fact that people feel compelled to put a love story into a novel.

Well, I tend to think romance is important. All the divorces, all the broken-hearted children of divorce, all the grieving lonely folks out there....all attest to the importance of romance (or the lack of romance) in our lives. A good romance lightens the heart. A sour romance destroys the spirit -- usually temporarily, often permanently.

Romance novels are about the pairings between people. In heterosexual novels, they are about the creation of a family. Jane Austen wrote novels about marriageableness because she felt class, personal idiosyncracies, and intellect all must work together to create a good marriage. And why was Jane so interested in marriage? Ever read her life? Ever studied her flaky mother who had pretensions to gentility and who sent off all her children at birth until they were of age to return home? And didn't accept one particular son because he had a mental and physical defect, sending the kid off forever? Ah, of such a life is a romance writer born!

I write romance because all around me I see the effect of love and weird marital pairings. Generally, my characters are married and involved in very loving, very unhappy marriages. Being American, I was taught by television romance that marriages were either loving and happy or unloving and unhappy. But as I grew up I began to realize there was something very untrue about that. I was surrounded by loving unhappy marriages. People with sick spouses, insane spouses, sick children, sick parents, poor lives. The love and faithfulness they showed each other certainly wasn't mirrored often in the stories I saw on television. On television, people gave as reasons for their divorce: "I've fallen in love with someone else" or "my mother-in-law broke up my marriage" or "we married too young" or "I just couldn't take it (whatever it was) any longer" or "we were poor and that just destroyed our marriage."

Honestly, there were a few divorces in my neighborhood but folks just didn't divorce that quickly. Perhaps because they were poor, perhaps because they were very religious (Orthodox Jewish, Evangelical Christian, and Roman Catholic) but they just kinda endured and created an odd kind of deep enduring love. And it's that enduring that fascinates me. What is that deep part of the human soul that enables them to be faithful to someone throughout all kinds of adversity? Why does a woman stay with a drunk husband because she loves him? Why does a handsome gorgeous husband stay with a fat overweight sickly wife because he loves her? What is that love about? Even now, when I walk around my neighborhood and listen to old women whining about their old husbands, I'm amazed at how much love is present in such hard marriages.

I am also very interested in the decisions -- generally, the small decision that ultimately destroys a life...or makes that life harder than it should be. Young folks are always making bad decisions without quite realizing it. And women, alas, when they marry are often pulled into a strange weird ride by their husbands. That's what happens in Wind Follower. That's what happens in many marriages. You hitch your wagon to that horse (or star) or mule (or dull asteroid) and many people stick it out. Why?

I am also fascinated by inequalities in love. There is a french saying, "There is always one who kisses and one who turns the cheek." Loose translation: "one person often loves more than the other." What's that about? I'm still unsure if my character Satha is even in love with her husband Loic. But I am sure that Loic loves and adores her. Hey, I've seen enough instances of my poor female friends hooking up with rich guys simply because they can get a better life. And what's wrong with that? If a poor woman is pretty and has the opportunity to marry a rich adoring single guy...I say go for it. Not feminism, I know. But many of the feminists I know haven't been as poor or desperate as some of my hood friends who grew up without fathers or without a proper home.

That also dovetails nicely into stories about a character's need for an extended family (or not) affects marital choices. I grew up in an extended family, shunted from family member to family member after my father deserted my mother for another woman. What happened? I married into a large Irish clan. I had a choice between a guy with virtually no family and a guy from a large irish clan. Guess what I chose? Luckily I was lucky. My marriage is a good loving one, but I'd say that health issues etc has made it fall into the category of loving-but-hard marriages. Which I am beginning to see is very common.

So that's what I write about. Not that I believe a romance novel actually enlightens us about who or how we love. But at least, we examine it. And that's what romance is about, isn't it? The examination of love in its deepest most enduring aspects.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Juno Books widget update

Here's a no-countdown version of the widget I posted here.

The directions for use are almost the same. A few differences: you can include a blurb in this version and this one uses the cover images from juno-books.com. This one's also a little narrower (180 pixels wide) so it can be used sidebars all over the Web.

1. Download the widget code here. (Right-click, Save Target As...)

2. Open the file up and change the book and link information to your own.

3. Save it someplace on the Web, someplace you can get to it from a web browser (For example, here on FBTO).

4. Change the "src=" link in the following IFrame code to the file you saved in Step 3, and place the IFram code in your blog, web page, anywhere, pass it around to all your blogging friends, readers, fans.

Here's the IFrame code:

<iframe scrolling="no" style="width:180px;height:322px;" frameborder="0" src="http://the0phrastus.typepad.com/junoWindFollower.htm" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0"></iframe>

Here's an example with Wind Follower:




Please post a comment here with questions--if you need help getting your book information, help with placing the widget code somewhere on the web. You can also email me with questions: chrishoward.author@gmail.com