Friday, March 28, 2008


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 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, 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 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


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 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 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 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'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