Monday, November 30, 2009

It's the End of the World As We Know It...and I Feel Fine?

The apocalypse has been on my mind lately, and not just because I watch Buffy every day and she's always busy stopping them.
Mostly it's because I've been reading Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games and Catching Fire. I cannot stop thinking about them. These books are amazing and deserve their own posts (which will soon be coming).

But it's also because last night I went to see 2012. My husband and I are rabid fans of disaster movies, particularly apocalyptic, nuclear, zombie, there will be few humans will be left variety. The over-the-top, lacking good acting and feasible plots content of these films always makes me giddy. But last night as I was watching human race scramble to save itself, I began to wonder - why is the apocalypse so popular (I mean, how many disaster movies do we get in an average year? Plenty. And that number only goes up when we're nearing some possible date of "real" apocalypse danger - i.e. 2000, 2012). What is it about watching cities leveled and nature becoming predatory that draws viewers to the big screen?

Because, hey, "morbid much"?

I have two knee-jerk responses to this query:

1) Disaster movies make us feel safe. In the context of real disasters that happen each year - tornadoes, hurricanes, fires - this security is obviously misplaced, but still I think seeing mass destruction somehow reassures us that this crazy scenario surely is so far-fetched that we must be safe, that could never really happen.
2) Disaster movies make us treasure the world that we do have. The one moment in 2012 where I choked up a little (um...yes, I'm serious) was the brief shot of animals being air lifted onto the arks. In that single clip the film made survival not just about the silly, stupid-decision-making actors on the screen, but about the the world as we know it. Suddenly disaster wasn't just about 'us' it was about this little blue planet and how precious and fragile it is.

So what do you think about disaster movies? Do they have anything of value to offer other than spectacle?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

May you steer clear of stealth duck attacks

And if you're wondering about why Thanksgiving is a 'ritual sacrifice...with pie,' just click here.

Wishing you all a day full of delights and good eating.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I'm having a bad day. When that happens, I go to music for help. Here is my new favorite song:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Twiddle (Thumbs)

My life usually feels like the tea cups ride at Disney World, spinning out of control, with the threat of other flying objects nearby almost crashing into me ever present.

Though it leaves me in a perpetual state of exhaustion, I like life this way. When I asked how I manage to do all the things I currently do, the answer is simple. I am a crazy person.I am the most productive when I have too much to do and deadlines that are rushing up at me like the ground after a parachute jump.

So when at last I finish big projects the world comes to a screeching halt. The stillness is eerie, making me wonder what I'm forgetting, what I might have overlooked.

But for now it's done. Of course, there's always more creeping over the horizon. That next book to write, the grant proposal to outline, the emails to answer, the papers to grade. But the big projects, those swinging pendulums rocking their vicious blades down towards me, those are done.

So this current sense of accomplishment should be a relief, right? Instead I feel like I've been set adrift. The world has stopped spinning, but I'm still dizzy. I'd like to shake this sense of bewilderment and find a way to appreciate this calm before the next storm.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Das Book

More exciting news - NIGHTSHADE and WOLFSBANE have now sold in Germany! Squeee!

I'm thrilled that I'll be published by Egmont-Lyx, a wonderful imprint that is home to the German translations of Richelle Mead, Lilith Saintcrow, and R.A. Salvatore.

While I hope that the NIGHTSHADE series will be translated into as many languages as possible, this sale is particularly meaningful because my husband went to high school in Berlin and my father-in-law lives in Bavaria.(No, this is not my father-in-law's house, but this nice castle is in Bavaria)

In other happiness, my web site's opening splash page is now up and running and it is SO COOL. Thanks so much to my amazing web designer, Lindsey!

Here's wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving week. May you have much turkey goodness. Remember it's not just dinner, it's "a ritual sacrifice...with pie." (More on that later.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Is There Such a Thing as Too Evil?

When I moved to Minneapolis, my soon-to-be-former colleagues gave me a lovely going away party. My favorite gift was a book (big surprise); its title: How To Be a Villain.

This book is hilarious. Replete with quizzes, name-building exercises, suggestions of what type of lair would best suit you as a villain, it keep you laughing from start to finish.

It's also a great commentary on the type of villains who work well in a Bond film, but won't hook your readers in a meaningful way. These villain are caricatures - they may have nasty-looking minions and terrifyingly giant electro-ray guns, but at the end of the day we know they won't win. We can't take them seriously.

Villains have to be seductive - and I don't mean in a romantic way. Evil focuses on the accumulation and retention of power for its own gains. It promises dreams fulfilled, goals achieved but with a price.

In order for a villain to be compelling, the reader has to understand what kind of allure the 'dark side' holds, even for our most pure-hearted MCs. The thought that our hero/heroine might indeed cross over at any point should be a constant, nagging worry.

A good example: Voldemort. Now you might be thinking - how could you get more evil than Voldemort? I agree. Voldemort is a super-duper big bad. But if you remember a key moment in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Voldemort is able to tempt even Harry - offering him power, the promise of parents restored. Harry resists, but the temptation of dark powers is clear. The reason Death Eaters exist stems from their desire to share in the power that Voldemort wields, to rule over others even if by wielding terror and pain.

What I think may be the best example of evil's true nature to this day is Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray. This story illuminates the double-edged sword of villainy. It has to allure, compel, always beckon. The risk of the hero or heroine falling into temptation must be ever-present, and his or her ability to overcome said temptation is as much of a triumph as the longest chase/explosive fight scene in any book.

And once that temptation is overcome, when evil has lost its chance at winning by seduction - that's when the facade of beauty crumbles away to reveal the villain for what he or she really is: EVIL.

Dorian Gray offers close to a literal exposition of such a moment. And hey, what do you know, they're remaking the movie.

Cannot wait (sidenote: if I could pick, Ben Barnes would play my character, Ren, in a film adaptation of Nightshade. Sigh.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Sidekick is Not Enough

Supporting characters (SCs) have a range of roles to fill in a novel. They can be the loyal best friend, the comic relief, the wise mentor. I'm sure we all have a favorite SC 'type' that we hope to find in the books we read, and recreate in the books we write.

Like MCs supporting characters must display that essential quality trademarked by the Transformers: they must be 'more than meets the eye.'

A pet peeve of mine in books are those narrative that offer intriguing, dynamic MCs (and possibly villains - they'll have their day tomorrow), but SCs who only serve as foils, fillers, and mechanisms by which to move the plot or just serve as another mirror through which to better understand aforementioned MCs.

The best books have SCs in whose lives, hopes, and dreams you're just as invested as what's happening on the main stage. They should be the opening act of show that leaves you breathless, wondering if they actually might upstage the main act. (Note: I had this experience when I saw Calexico open for The Shins a couple years ago.)

Harry Potter demonstrates the essential roles of well-developed SCs. As much as I love Harry, Ron, and Hermione (and yes I think all three are MCs not, SCs), my favorite characters from the series have supporting roles:

Hagrid. What would Harry Potter be without Hagrid. He's an interesting character who combines characteristics of bumbling comic relief with strong warrior protector, making him lovable and reliable at once.

Remus Lupin. Okay, who didn't see this one coming? Everyone knows I have a soft spot for wolves, and Remus is well, just wonderful. His character is compelling because like, Hagrid's, he has a mixture of traits. On the one hand he is a benevolent, witty mentor, but on the other his dark secret makes him edgy and dangerous.

Arthur and Molly Weasley. The parents that Harry never had; quirky, lovable and demonstrative of class conflict in the wizarding world. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley have their own problems to deal with (and we care about those problems) as much as they help with shepherding Harry through his perilous world.

While I've mentioned just a few of my favorites above, J.K. Rowling created an astounding number of SCs who populate Harry's world in substantial ways (I purposely didn't write about Fred and George above because I wouldn't have been able to stop they do so much for the books!) and I firmly believe it's the power of this amazing cast of characters that kept the series lively and enormously successful for its run (and beyond).

As you weave your tale don't forget the fine details of SC creation. Your SCs won't help you or your readers if they're cardboard cutouts. Give them breath and being, give them their due - and believe me, they'll give back.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Real Character

Main characters (MC) he or she is the one we're supposed to love, loathe, relate to. How can writers construct an MC that readers become invested in?

The Screaming Guppy is doing all of us a wonderful favor by sharing experiences from Donald Maass' 'The Fire in Fiction' workshop, and has a great post up about MCs.

In my own writing, the key to a great MC is identification. In some way the MC has to develop an intimate relationship with the reader. This connection can only be maintained if the MC is accessible. Translation = he or she cannot be perfect or larger than life.

Let's revisit Buffy once more, because Buffy teaches such lessons so well.

Buffy is the Chosen One. If you're the Chosen One it might seem like blessings from the Power That Be rain down without ceasing, making life full of perfect rainbows and never-ending bliss...right?
Nope. Buffy may be the Chosen One but, to steal a line from another great MC, Spiderman, 'with great power comes great responsibility.'

Buffy makes some very poor choices. She runs away from home. She lies to her friends. She sleeps with an abusive vampire (okay, Spike fans, I'm with you, I know he reforms later...but still initially, not a good choice for our Buffy). To quote Clem (one of my favorite supporting characters from BVS...more coming tomorrow on SCs) on Buffy's flaws: 'She's a nice girl. But hey...issues.'

Heroes and heroines that draw readers in are inherently flawed. Even wielding their exceptional super powers, they're burdened to desire and doubt, struggling between self-interest and the greater good.

The journey through a book is about secrecy and revelation; readers need to be compelled forward, struggling with the MC to make progress, to discover. If the MC is perfect from page one, what challenges could possibly lay ahead. Without flaws dogging our MCs steps, the plot lies limp on the page, failing to convey the tenuous condition that is life, unable to capture that essence of human experience that makes us turn the page...the breathless hope that things will get better, against all odds, despite the lack of perfection we humans embody every day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Art

I don't know if I've ever been so mesmerized by a You Tube video. Plus the soundtrack is Ratatat's "Gettysburg," which I love.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Have Seen the Future, and it is Good

All my best intentions of blogging more about characters have been railroaded by big book news. BIG BOOK NEWS. One piece of which I can share, the other of which I have to be mean and just post a teaser, leaving you all annoyed (sorry!)

Let's start with sharable joy: NIGHTSHADE and WOLFSBANE sold in Brazil! Eek! The publisher is Grupo Editorial Record and I'm thrilled to be rubbing elbows with the likes of Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, Eoin Colfer, and LJ Smith at this house. Carnaval here I come!

And don't get me started on how incredible it will be to see my book in Portugese! Squeee!

Also, my web site just went live. Check it out!

So onto what I cannot share - I have seen NIGHTSHADE's cover...and it is phenomenal. But if I showed it to you, I'd have to kill you. So for now, know that it is wonderful. I'm dying to share it with the world and will do when able.

Happy weekend (I swear there will be substantive discussion of characters very, very soon).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Buffy Lessons

I'm devoting my next few posts to the creation and maintenance of exceptional characters. One of the best compliments I've received about my writing came from my amazing crit partner, Lisa Dez, who wrote in response to a draft of NIGHTSHADE, "You're clearly a character writer." And I was thrilled. (Thanks Lisa!)

The characters who populate my written worlds are almost closer than friends. As I write, I feel what they feel, fear what they fear, understand their motivations, and cringe when they make poor choices.

In Twitter's #kidlitchat last night, the topic was "What makes a strong character?" Some chatters took that literally - talking about physical strength over feebleness and fragility, but I considered the prompt a call for characters that are built by the author in such a way that they grab onto the reader and don't let go.

I'll be spending a day on the following character types: MCs, Supporting, and Villains (bwaaah-haa-haa).

But to start us off, I'd like to give a nod to my favorite, Jedi-Master character builder: Joss Whedon. Joss gives us the best kind of characters - sharp, engaging, and multi-faceted. Scott Westerfeld wrote a great essay on Whedon's strength in world building, and I've seen many posts about how amazing Joss is at dialogue. His characters deserve equal attention.

This post was inspired by my shock and horror at a Tweet I saw claiming that Buffy has no brains. Wrong, wrong, and wrong.I don't need everyone on this planet to be a Buffy fan. I'm a believer in personal taste, and Buffy is not for everyone. I don't care for the Beatles (no, really, I don't), but I can appreciate why others do and I understand what their contribution to the music world was. I respect that contribution and their art - I still don't like listening to them.

So if you don't wake up each morning and watch Buffy over breakfast like me, that is A-Okay. But if you insult Buffy broadly and disparage her as a character while demonstrating you know nothing about the show other than a one-glance write off...then I iz angries!!

It's exactly that Buffy does have brains, but that at first glance you wouldn't know it, which demonstrates why Joss is a master character writer. All the outward modes of Buffy (including her name) point to bubble-gum snapping, shoe obsessing, vacuous girlhood. But scratch beneath that surface and you find a complex, always evolving young woman who constantly balances a desire to belong with the isolation of being the Chosen One.
And in answer to the claim that Buffy has no brains, let me just say:

1)Her teachers always note her intellectual aptitude, but other things get in the way. (It's not her fault nice science teacher got eaten by a giant praying mantis and that her favorite college prof turned out to be a crazed bio-demon engineer whose creation made Frankenstein look like My Little Pony.)
2)She kicks ass on the SAT and is admitted to Northwestern (duty alone pushes her to attend the local branch of UC-Sunnydale).
And 3) She changes over time (and is still evolving as a character in the Season 8 comics) - and isn't the ability to grow as an individual the clearest sign of an open mind and intelligence?
But if you don't want to believe me, well "that's your purgative." (Ahem, that's a quote from Buffy's kid sister, Dawn (Season 6, 'Tabula Rasa.' And in case you were wondering - Buffy corrects her language.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Let's Take a Moment

So I had these great posts about characterization planned, but then I found out I have an official publication date.

NIGHTSHADE will be in stores OCTOBER 14, 2010!

I went to an awesome show at the Triple Rock Social Club last night, and the music made me full of joyous jumpiness. So here's a snippet to celebrate my release date!

Characters to come tomorrow...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Happy Birthday Sesame Street!

In case you hadn't heard, Sesame Street turns 40 this week. I've been delighted by articles and images of my favorite Sesame Street characters popping up hither and thither (thanks Tricia for point out Google Oscar!) All the Sesame Street love got me to thinking about writing for children. I usually think only about books when I talk about writing, but Sesame Street is a great example of one of many other sites where children's writers are hard at work, making the world a better, and child-friendly place to learn and grow.

I also wondered about the ways in which Sesame Street left an imprint on my creative self.

I learned that imagination offers endless possibilities.
That friends make our lives more joyful.
And that Kermit the Frog is the best newsman of all time.

I also wonder if youth vampire love might have Sesame Street origins...

Did Sesame Street mold your world as a child and beyond?

I'll leave you with my favorite Sesame Street duo and say THANK YOU to the Children's Television Workshop for all they given for the last 40 years. Here's to the next 40!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cannot Stop Laughing

If it hasn't been obvious from previous posts, I love Twilight and can't wait for New Moon. I also love parodies. So last night's SNL made me very, very happy.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I Have No Clothes (But I Have a Contract!)

I find myself in a strange liminal space.

My book is edited, copy edited and has been handed over to the incredible Penguin sales juggernaut.

The cover shoot just happened and I'm thrilled: amazing photographer, perfect concept - but I won't see results for another couple of weeks.

My web site is about to go live - but not quite yet.
I hesitate to ask the faceless man how it's going (he scares me).

In some ways I feel like my book just vanished. That I have all this excitement but no physical manifestation as yet of the book itself to help me believe. It's floating out there in New York *waves, hello New York!* with amazing people, but sometimes I blink and worry what if none of this has actually happened? Thank the stars I get to keep a copy of my contract.

But maybe the strange sensations of a world out of place isn't the result of the in-between place of publishing I'm living in. Maybe I'm just still in shock from seeing this:
No, you're not wrong - it is, indeed, Twilight Barbie.

And WOW in the space of writing this post I gained two more followers. Welcome!!!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Happiness is...

Dinner that's a phenomenally delicious sandwich from Cecil's deli

mail that brings your book contract from Penguin!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Role Models

Author Maggie Stiefvater just released the cover for LINGER and it is stunning. Plus she gave a sneak peak of the first paragraph.


This is the story of a boy who used to be a wolf and a girl who was becoming one.

Just a few months ago, it was Sam who was the mythical creature. His was the disease we couldn’t cure. His was the good-bye that meant the most. He had the body that was a mystery, too strange and wonderful and terrifying to comprehend.

But now it is spring. With the heat, the remaining wolves will soon be falling out of their wolf pelts and back into their human bodies. Sam stays Sam, and Cole stays Cole, and it’s only me who’s not firmly in my own skin.

I loved SHIVER and can't wait for the follow up. Go wolves go!

And Aprilynne Pike posted an amazing guide about first-time authors, publishing, and goals that any aspiring author should take a look at.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


It's one of those days. On the morning walk with dogs, leaves glittered with frost. Winter's approach wraps around me like a cloak and all I want to do is hibernate.

My brain's creativity has already departed for napland. So all I can offer today is the Halloween creature feature I somehow missed in my week of spooky posts:

Night of the Living Dough

Monday, November 2, 2009

Good Luck & Godspeed, or Why I'm Not Doing NaNo

I've been feeling a little left out. All my bloggerly friends are embarking on the month-long writing frenzy that is NaNoWritMo.

One More Day

I love the idea of NaNo and maybe if I were more of a planner I could make it work for me. But my writing is like a fever that grips me and doesn't let get. I can't really plan for it. (Except for copy edits, I've now learned that I can plan for copy edits. Thank goodness.)

I'm also nearly finished with WOLFSBANE (Nightshade Book 2) and will need to keep my focus on revision of that beast and getting it into the hands of my lovely critters.

But I'm feeling a little lonely, wishing I could be in the NaNo frenzy that has gripped the writing work for this newborn month of November. I'll follow fellow authors' progress with interest and cheer them on from the sidelines.

Maybe next year.

Speaking of NaNo folks who I admire, thanks so much to Carrie Harris for the honorable mention in her Twilight + Classic title mashup contest!! Carrie's contests are a blast, I'd highly recommend perusing the entries and entering yourself in the next round.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hallo-Week Wrap Up

It's November 1. Thank you for all the great Hallo-week comments!

Your reward: a very short story!

The Dogs of All Hallow's Eve
(Featuring Gwyn the border collie and Rocco the pug)

Trees stripped bare stretched toward the full moon as Gwyn and Rocco waited.
With patient eyes and wagging tails they donned their costumes, transformed into a creature from below and the world's most dangerous pug.
Flickering candles gleamed within the jack-o-lanterns on the doorstep. And then...doorbell! Devil Gwyn and Karate Rocco run to the door, instantly becoming the highlight of our household - better even than the candy.
And so it went on as dozens of children appeared at the door: the classics - fairies, witches, Death himself, to the current - Batman, Spiderman, Optimus Prime, G.I. Joe. So many costumes.

Gwyn tried to sneak away and go trick or treating with the crowds of little ghouls and goblins tramping down the block. Devil dog indeed.At last the bell fell silent. Costumes were shed.

Exhausted from the busy night of greeting, wagging, showing off their Halloween style - there was only one thing left to do.