The Research Conundrum

By Katriena Knights

For some reason, I keep developing plots for my stories that require a ton of research. I don’t know why I’ve been doing this. I guess the need to just learn stuff overcomes the desire to get a book done quickly and efficiently. For example, my current WIP is a sequel to Necromancing Nim, which took place in Denver and Urbana, Illinois. Both places I’m pretty familiar with. But the sequel, Summoning Sebastian, sends my little vampire/vampire/human ménage off to the wilds of Siberia.

I’ve never been to the wilds of Siberia. I’m not sure I ever want to go to the wilds of Siberia. But the book ended up there. So I have to do research.

The conundrum comes when I try to figure out how to do research. My first instinct is to learn EVERYTHINGALLOFITRIGHTNOW. So I buy a ton of books, print out a bunch of websites, and collect a metric whackton of information.

And then almost never read it. Or at least not all of it.

I go ahead and plow through my story, stopping here and there to look up items, but mostly extrapolating from what I actually have managed to read from this information-collection orgy. So the story gets written. But then when I’m done I feel like I have a ton of research gaps.

So we go back to LEARNEVERYTHINGALLOFITRIGHTNOW. That creates a vicious circle.

I’m working on a piece now where I’ve constructed the plot based on some things I already know will work, but that I’ll need to do a bit of research on to clarify. When I go back to do the rewrite on each section (this is a really fast turnaround job), I do the research on just the bits I need to know about, make whatever additions or changes I think are going to work, then move on.

When I started Summoning Sebastian, I collected a ton of books about Russia. (In all fairness, I’m doing research on I think two, maybe three other WIPs with the same materials.) And yes, a lot of what I learned in the initial reading made it into the story. But when it came down to it, I did a lot more on-the-spot research, writing sections in a fairly vague, generic way, then coming back and filling in details as I got to individual scenes that needed them.

I really have no idea which is the better approach. I know I tend to over-research. In the midst of researching for several stories set in Russia or with Russian protagonists, I ended up actually learning a bit of Russian. Which is overkill in the extreme. On the other hand, while I was cleaning up bits of Summoning Sebastian, it was really handy to be able to read menus of airport restaurants in Chelyabinsk without having to run everything through Google Translate. Your mileage may vary.

What are other ways to approach research? Is binging an acceptable method, or should I reconsider my life choices? Has anybody else been crazy enough to learn an entire language just to write a foreign character? Talk to me below. I promise not to judge.

Photo credit: “Old Books” by zdelia, from freeimages.com

Words and Pictures

By Robin D. Owens

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or is it?

The following is a true story.

One year I had a calendar from Harper that features heroes from their book covers every month. Now Mr. January, a Tudor sort, intrigued me. He seemed to issue a subtle challenge, but I couldn’t quite figure it, or him, out. So I decided to do what I usually do when I can’t solve a thorny problem in my writing, present the issue to my critique group. (Note the cover is the ORIGINAL book cover for The Greatest Lover In All England by Christina Dodd).

I knew Sharon Mignerey, who hosted our critique group, had the same calendar, and that we tended to congregate in her office before critiquing officially started. And so it was on the first Saturday of February that year.

We had been talking of this and that when the calendar caught my eye, still showing Mr. January. I brought up the idea that it would be interesting to do a character sketch of the man — and his subtle challenge.

“Challenge” was the wrong word. Adjectives shot through the room. He was welcoming, generous. No, he was selfish, conceited. On the contrary, he was debonair. No, wily, dangerous — as many adjectives as there were people.

“He’s sensitive,” someone said.

This man does not have a sensitive bone in his body, I thought.

“Hey, he’s arrogant,” I said. “He’s got his hand on his sword hilt.”

“Where else would he put it? He doesn’t have any pockets,” Liz retorted. This is true. The guy is only wearing boots, thigh-hugging tights, a white, billowy shirt baring his manly chest, and a sword belt.

More discussion. I was astonished. No one in the room had the same view of the hero that I did. If we had all sat down and done a character sketch, showing strengths and weaknesses, secrets and hopes, we would have ended up with seven very different heroes. And seven very different stories. How fascinating. How wonderful.

But another thing to ponder is that a writer has more ability to direct the reader than the artist or photographer. By fashioning our stories, presenting certain characters and throwing light on their actions and thoughts, we can hopefully guide the reader. We can wring emotions, we can point out truths, we can make a point, state a theme. And while photos and pictures can do this as well, in writing there is less chance that seven different people get seven different points.

Readers may identify with some characters more than others, recognize and emphasize some themes more than others, but all would have the same general understanding of the basic story. A picture is not worth a thousand words — not when it can’t convey precisely what the photographer/artist wants. But when we deal in words, a point can be skewered home.

The critique group never did agree on Mr. January. When we continued to argue, Sharon wisely flipped the calendar to Mr. February. (Note: the cover is for the paperback anthology Tall, Dark, and Dangerous by Catherine Anderson, Christina Dodd, and Susan Sizemore).

“Ugh!” someone said. “Too tough,” someone else agreed, as we filed downstairs to start our session.

I looked at him. A Western man — unshaven, narrow-eyed, and with his hand on his gun-belt. His build, hair and eye color were wrong, but there was something about his expression, something subtle, that reminded me of my last hero. Too tough? Nah.

Limiting Grants of Rights in Anthology Contracts

By Susan Spann

Last month, my #PubLaw guest post took a look at important legal issues authors face when writing for anthologies. Today, and in the months to come, I’ll be taking a closer look at anthology contracts, and at the special issues unique to anthology writing.

Today, we start with a look at the grant of rights in anthology contracts, which differs significantly from the grant of rights in a standard book-length publishing deal.

The following are all normal or standard grants of rights which authors can expect to see in anthology contracts:

1. Grant of “first” print rights (or, sometimes, “non-exclusive print rights”) — and limits those rights to use in the specified anthology only. Many anthologies want “first print rights” to the stories they contain, which means those stories cannot appear elsewhere, in print or electronic formats, before they are published in the  anthology. (Most of the time, publishers of book-length works want first print rights as well.) For this reason, the grant of rights in anthology contracts typically reads: “Author hereby grants first English-language publication rights” or “Author grants first English-language anthology publication rights.”

When the work has appeared somewhere else before, the anthology contract may modify this language by removing “first” and inserting “non-exclusive,” or “second” or some other appropriate identifying word.

Note: if the work in question has appeared in print or electronic form somewhere else (including publication on a blog) in whole or in significant part, you must let the publisher know before you sign the anthology contract, to be sure the grant of rights is properly phrased (and that the publisher is willing to take previously published work).

Be careful to ensure that the grant of rights enables the publisher to publish the work as part of a specified anthology only. The grant of rights is for anthology publication, not for standalone or other unspecified purposes.

2. Grant of continuing, non-exclusive print or publication rights (as part of the specified anthology only). Authors writing for anthologies should always be careful to ensure that the contract’s grant of rights contains the word “non-exclusive” and clearly states that the anthology’s publisher has the continuing, non-exclusive right to reproduce the author’s work as part of the specified anthology only.

Publishers need “continuing” non-exclusive rights so the work can be included in future editions or subsequent printings of the anthology.

Never surrender your rights to publish the work in other formats, other anthologies, or in other collections. Some anthologies may require the author to wait for a stated period of time before publishing the work elsewhere (6-12 months is reasonable–go longer only if you decide you want to agree to a longer term). That’s okay, and reasonable if the time requested isn’t too long. However, beware anthologies that bar you from ever publishing or using your work again in other places. That’s not reasonable, and not something authors should grant.

Note: NEVER grant or transfer your copyright in your work to an anthology publisher. We’ll deal with “anthology copyrights” in next month’s post, but for now, remember: an anthology publisher DOES NOT NEED to own the copyright in your story. The author should always retain copyright ownership in his or her work.

3.   Grant of English language rights only (no translation rights). Unless the anthology’s publisher regularly translates anthologies into foreign languages (and this is rare), the publisher needs only English language rights to the author’s work. Retaining foreign language (and translation) rights enables the author to sell those rights elsewhere, or arrange for foreign-language publication in foreign anthologies, without limitations.

4. No grants of subsidiary rights. Film, TV, apps and gaming, merchandising, and other subsidiary rights don’t generally belong in anthology contracts, except to the extent the contract specifies that they belong to the author alone.

5. A statement that the author retains all rights not expressly granted to the publisher in the contract. This is standard language, but should appear in all contracts an author signs, just to ensure all parties are clear that the only rights being granted are those the author states, clearly, that (s)he is licensing to the publisher.

Some of these terms resemble the ones in a book-length publishing contract, but authors need to ensure that anthology contracts contain only the limited grants of rights the publisher needs to publish, print (and reprint) the work as part of the anthology in question. Anything beyond that should remain with the author alone.

Susan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, released on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Kickstart This, Reprise. Five Lessons Learned.

By Kerry Schafer

Last month I blogged on Kickstarter basics. At that point I had just hit the launch button on my Kickstart Nothing project for the third book in my Between trilogy and had no idea how things were going to turn out. Thanks to a lot of support from friends, readers, and total strangers, I am happy to report that the Kickstarter campaign successfully funded!

I’ve used the word “happy” but let me shade in relieved, exhausted, elated, and maybe even vindicated. The fact that there are people out there who want to read The Nothing enough to put money behind the unfinished book feels incredible to me. It makes me want to be a better writer, because it feels like this book belongs to everybody who backed it and not just to me.

So now that the campaign is over and done, let me tell you a little more about what I’ve learned, just in case you’re inclined to attempt this venture on your own.

1. Pick a launch date and build some momentum This is a tip I got from Jeff Seymour, and I’m glad I took his advice. Once I finally got my video done and the project written up I wanted to just click that little button and end my pre-launch anxiety. Thing is, it’s better to have a few people excited about the project in advance. Just like anything else online, a few excited people backing the project from the beginning and tweeting and/or face booking about it can go a long way toward getting other people buzzed. An initial surge of momentum to get the project underway is hugely important, so talk to your friends and readers in advance and make the launch an exciting event. Just as you would with a cover reveal or book release.

2. Kickstarter has an algorithm.  What exactly this algorithm is remains a secret, possibly involving the blood of rare chickens found only in the Amazon Jungle. Okay, it’s probably (slightly) more accessible than that, but I never figured it out. There were hints dropped (mostly by strangers popping up in my inbox offering to solve this riddle for money) that more backers and more people leaving comments on the Kickstarter project raises its visibility at the Kickstarter site. Sort of the same idea as favoriting authors on Amazon, I’d guess.

3. Kickstarter is a time suck. Be prepared to spend a month funneling much of your time into updates, social media, and staring at the Kickstarter page, willing the funding amount to rise. Unless, of course, you are the Potato Salad Guy. And then, I’d guess, you just snack a lot and laugh every time you look at your screen. Because, apparently, people will give thousands of dollars to help you make potato salad.

4. People are incredibly generous. You will be touched and humbled by the unexpected backers. People you know just a little (or not at all) who will drop a hundred dollars on your project (or two hundred, or more) and the people who you know are tight on money who still share two, or ten. This, more than anything, makes me want to be a better writer.

5. Add some excitement midway. There’s a plateau at the middle of a Kickstarter where nothing seems to be happening. I felt for a bit like maybe I’d inadvertently murdered an albatross. You know, the old, “idle as a painted ship; upon a painted ocean” thing. I thought maybe it was just me, but since I got a formulaic email from Kickstarter at about this time letting me know it was normal for things to slow down here, I figure it’s a common trend. Fortunately I had a brand new cover ready to reveal at this point and started splashing that around. People like covers, and this got the momentum rolling again. If I was ever inclined to do another crowd sourced project I would deliberately have something big to reveal about half way through.

And that is about it for my lessons learned. Now it’s back to the writing cave for me, because with this success comes the towering responsibility of getting a damned good book out to my readers on time.

Bouchercon Delivers the Thrills

By Liesa Malik

Bouchercon, the world’s largest fan-based crime, mystery, and thriller convention was held in Long Beach, CA this past weekend.  Colorado’s literary community was well represented, and several RMFW members attended, including writer-of-the-year, Shannon Baker, Programs chair, Mark Stevens, and authors like Mike Befeler, Christine Goff, and Susan Spann.  As one fan said, “What a party it was!”

What is Bouchercon?

Malik_Bouchercon3Bouchercon (or B-con) is best understood by looking as much at what the convention is not, as what it is.  B-con is not a writer’s only event.  There are no technical sessions on POV, or filling in the middle of your story.  Nor are the casual discussions centered around whether or not Indy-publishing is going to take over the writing world, how to find an agent, or how you’ll get going on that next manuscript.

But the convention is still packed with information important to anyone who writes or aspires to write a great story. And the big reason for this is found in the attendee list.

Who goes to Bouchercon?

photo courtesy of Mike Befeler

photo courtesy of Mike Befeler

The guest list for this event is huge.  Approximately 2000 authors, editors, agents and fans come together to talk, sell, and acknowledge great writing.  It is not unusual to have a conversation with such greats as Jeffrey Deaver, Sue Grafton, or Deni Deitz.  Just as important, are the conversations you have with librarians and heavy duty readers, many of whom read as much as a book a day.

Photo courtesy of Mike Befeler

Photo courtesy of Mike Befeler

“This convention doesn’t have just over-the-top fans,” said Mark Stevens. “They aren’t hunting down the famous writers, but are thoughtful readers. ”

“It is a very humbling experience,” said Rocky Mountain Mystery Writer of America author, Catherine Dilts.  “I’ve had a few readers tell me that this is their big vacation of the year.  That thought reminds me to keep trying my best to write a good story.  I’m in the entertainment business and my books are for these readers.”

The Anthony Awards

Malik_Bouchercon1Catherine is right, both figuratively and literally.  Each year at Bouchercon, attendees vote for their favorite works of crime fiction.  These votes result in the Anthony Awards, named after Anthony Boucher, a science fiction writer who was very influential with his many years of writing mystery reviews for the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times.  This year’s winners included William Kent Krueger, best novel, for Ordinary Grace; Matt Coyle, best first novel Yesterday’s Echo, Catriona McPherson, As She Left It, and John Connolly, best short story, “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository.”  More Anthony awards can be found at Crimespree Magazine’s website.

If You Go

Bouchercon is an annual event, and well worth the effort to attend.  Many conference attendees reserve their places for “next year” while still at the current convention.  If you decide to go, here are some tips from one newbie to another:

  • Wear comfy shoes and clothes.  Even if the event is in one or two buildings, there is a lot of walking.
  • Bring SWAG. There are many opportunities to hand out your information.
  • Go to the panels.  These showcases of authors’ works add an extra dimension to your own efforts, and the moderators ask insightful questions that you can mull over when you get back to your writing desk.
  • Network.  If you’re looking for readers, you’ll find them.  If you want to work on building your author presence in our community, again, there is a lot of bang for your buck here.
  • Bring a little cash.  Rumor has it there is a poker game going on here and there and someone willing to lighten your load.
  • Have fun.  The biggest names in the industry seem to focus on this, and it seems a good lead to follow.

And as was echoing throughout on Sunday, “Had a great time!  See you in Raleigh!”

Just Right?

By Pamela Nowak

So what is it that makes a writing group just right?

As a current member of four different writers’ organizations and a former member of others, I’ve discovered each has its unique flavor and that I get something different from each one of them.

One of the groups I belong to provides broad industry support. It is a large organization, genre-specific, national in scope, and focuses primarily on the business of writing. Development of craft and marketing tools are offered as well. There is a monthly publication for members, multiple on-line loops/list-serves targeted to specific information sharing, and local chapters. A national conference is held annually but it is costly and so many people attend it that it feels impersonal. It is what I think of as my professional organization. But it is not a writing family.

I joined another group at the suggestion of a writer friend. This is a smaller group, regional in nature, also with an annual conference. I am a member but have little involvement in the group.

Another of my groups exists to promote women writers. It is small, represents multiple genres in both fiction and non-fiction, and has traditionally focused on member networking. There is an annual conference, a loop/list-serve, a Facebook page, and opportunities for promotion in an annual catalog of publications. I’ve made some good friends among the membership and make efforts to support fellow members but I often don’t feel a daily connection to the group.

Nor do I with the various list-serves/loops that I belong to. They assist me in gathering knowledge about particular topics and connect me to others who as seeking the same information, but they are not nurturing and I know almost none of the other “members” personally.

In RMFW, however, I have a completely different bond. In my early years of membership, I relied on this group to guide my craft development. I found educational opportunities abundant and critique groups invaluable. Classes, newsletters, conferences all allowed me to grow as a writer. Early on, this was the organization that I most identified with. Friendships grew within critique groups, then with those I met at conference, and I have discovered some of my closest friendships within RMFW. Once I began volunteering, I discovered an even deeper link to the group and fellow members. For me, RMFW is a family.

But there must be something that makes each one of these groups different–something which makes one appeal more than another.

Logically, a group that represents a single genre or gender group or region should be more of a family. A small group should have a closer membership than a larger group. But that’s not necessarily the case. Each group has its own character and each of us looks for something special within a group. Some of us may love the genre-association of a large national group or the social-focus of a networking group or a gender-based organization. Fellow members of the same groups I belong to may feel very differently about them. I have friends who claim one or another of them as their “family” while I do not.

So, I guess that means there really is no answer to my question.

A writing group is just right when it’s just right.

Here’s hoping each and every one of you has found the right group!

Write Deliberate Dialogue

By Karen Duvall

We’re deliberate about everything we write, so why should dialogue be any different?

Here’s the thing: Remember when you wrote your first story? As soon as your characters started talking it became a “wow” moment. The words flew onto the page as if your fictional people had taken on a life of their own. They’d become like real people having real conversations. Writing dialogue was (and still is) fun and you considered it your strongest writing skill. Perhaps you still do.

Writing down those conversations was the easiest thing in the world, and we were damn good at it. How could we not be? We talk to our friends, our spouses, our kids, the neighbors, the clerk at the grocery store… We know how to talk because we talk all the time. So writing dialogue is the most natural skill ever.

And then we discover it’s not as easy as we thought.

There is a skill to writing dialogue and I think it’s one we improve with practice. Lots of practice. It’s not just about ditching the dreaded speaker tags, or using “beats” to create natural pauses and add character actions to conversations that bring them to life.

There’s also planning involved. Which is what I mean by deliberate.

Most of us started out writing by instinct, probably because we’ve read so much over the years that some aspects of the writing craft were absorbed by our subconscious. This could also be why we assume writing dialogue is so easy. It feels easy. Planning it, however, takes more thought.

I recall one of the first lessons in dialogue I ever learned was more about what not to do than what should be done. First rule: don’t be boring. In other words, don’t write a conversation like this:

“Hi, Mary,” John said. “How are you today?”

“I’m fine,” Mary said. “How about yourself?”

“I have a cold,” John said.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mary said.

Yeah, pretty bad. But what makes it bad? Well, for one thing, their conversation isn’t going anywhere. It’s not adding anything of value to the scene and it’s not revealing anything about the characters other than John having a cold. Big woop. If it were Ebola, maybe we’d have something there, but even then, it’s the presentation of this bland conversation that gives it a D-. Point is, this is not the kind of dialogue you want in your story.

Let’s say it’s important to establish these two characters greeting each other. It’s pivotal to the plot. Things can’t progress without Mary and John saying hello and confirming he has a cold. It’s a short greeting that has purpose. So if the conversation is going to be boring, do we have to use it? What other choice do we have?

Here is where being deliberate comes in. There are two kinds of dialogue: direct and indirect. Most of the time you want to use direct dialogue to show the characters interacting. You want to see them in action, hear their voices. But when the action isn’t important, or the details are superfluous, you use indirect dialogue. Basically, it’s a summary of the conversation.

It seems like such a simple thing, but how often do we run our characters off at the mouth only to discover what they had to say wasn’t any big deal. The big deal was for them to speak to each other. The precise content of the conversation itself isn’t important.

We can do this one of two ways, either of which is far more interesting than a he said/she said conversation. With indirect dialogue, you summarize the conversation in narrative:

I saw John yesterday and he actually said hi to me. I couldn’t believe it. We hadn’t spoken in weeks, then suddenly it’s like the fight we’d had in the store never even happened. And you know what? He looked like crap. Said he had a cold. I hope it’s mono.

Now you’ve skipped the boring part, went straight to the meat of the conversation, and added character development to boot.

Your second choice is to summarize the dialogue within direct dialogue:

John curled his lip in a snarl. “Yeah, I saw Mary. She tried to ignore me, but I refuse to stoop to her level. I said hello. Sure, she said hello back, but in that snotty way of hers, acting all high and mighty. I may be sick as a dog, but at least I have manners. More than I can say for her.”

Boring? No. There’s conflict here. We didn’t need John and Mary to have a conversation on stage, though they could have had one, depending on the needs of the plot. Sometimes you have to move quickly from one scene to the next so that you can get to the important part. The tense greeting between Mary and John is the propellant that ignited whatever flame scorches the root of their conflict. That conflict is more important than the boring banter we skipped to get to the juicy bits.

So be deliberate with your dialogue. Make decisions about what needs details and what can be summed up in fewer words. Then have fun writing it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing as Cory Dale, Karen’s latest urban fantasy, DEMON FARE, will release December 15, 2014.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com

Adventures in Genre Writing: Lesson Four – Character Development

By Jeanne C. Stein

I’m in China the rest of the month on vacation. No laptop. No cell phone. Will I survive? If I’m back next month, you’ll know I did!

Since we spent most of last class discussing rules, here are some of NYT bestselling author Jeffrey Deaver’s regarding characters:

1. They must be likeable
2. They have to do something
3. They have to speak realistically (Lesson Six for us)
4. They have to be multi-dimensional
5. They have to be sympathetic—even the villains

In Lesson Two we took a brief look at character development—deciding whose story we wanted to tell. The protagonist. Generally, she’s the first character we come up with when plotting a new book. How do we make her likeable? We give her a name, we describe her physically, we give her a job, sometimes a hobby, and populate her world with friends and family. We make her sympathetic and interesting.

We set her up in her world and then we tear it apart.

In UF, that often involves introducing paranormal characters or if our protagonist is a paranormal character, introducing a personal threat to her or her world. We give the character a problem or a goal—something that will cause conflict. Something that makes her have to do something. We set her on a quest. Same if you’re writing a thriller, a mystery, a cozy, a romance.

Before we talk about the villain, let’s mentions secondary characters. These are different from “throw away” characters—the waitress at the diner, the bag boy at the grocery store. Throw away characters appear briefly, should have only a one or two sentence description, if any at all, and never appear again. You don’t want to yank the reader out of the story with a long, detailed description of a character that is not relevant to your plot.

A secondary character, on the other hand, might be our protagonist’s sidekick or mentor. A romantic interest. A secondary character should never overshadow the main character, but rather reflect something about her. A secondary character might be the object of the conflict—our protag must save him or her from the big bad. It’s often the relationship of our protagonist to this secondary character that makes her multi-dimensional.

As for our villain(s), Deaver reminds us that even they have to be sympathetic. No, that doesn’t mean we have to make our readers like them, but it helps if we can make our readers understand them. Antagonists often have a huge stake in the outcome of their conflict with our heroine. Sometimes it’s the destruction of one world to allow another to take its place, sometimes it’s revenge for a real or imagined crime committed unknowingly by our protag or someone close to her, sometimes it’s simply to save his own skin. Something has set the villain against our protag, his motivation is as important as hers. It may not be moral or just or even reasonable, but without it, you have caricature instead of characterization.

So, how do we develop our characters quickly? And why do we want to?

Simple. The sooner we throw our protagonist into the fray, the faster we hook the reader. How do we do it? Show her in action. The scene may or may not have anything to do with the primary plot, but what she does will define her for the reader. It’s also a good way to introduce the world and secondary characters without pages of info-dump to set them up. Action is always better than words.

What else do we need to know about our characters?

In UF, for example, if they are supernatural, what are their powers? Did they come by them naturally or were their powers thrust upon them? Are they unique even among their own kind? How so? Do they have natural enemies? Does the human population know of their existence? Is the protagonist aware of her powers or does something happen to activate them?

Our villain—is he unique among his kind? Does he target our protag for a specific reason? Why is her after her? To steal her powers? To prevent her from becoming…what?

Think about your protagonist and antagonist. Think about how you want to introduce them to the reader. The antagonist may not show up in that first chapter, but your protagonist will. How do you go about making that character as interesting to the reader as possible?

Now, speaking of characters—our interview today is with Mario Acevedo. He writes the popular Felix Gomez vampire series. If you haven’t sampled a Felix Gomez novel, you need to. He has a unique spin on his UF world.

1. You are often included in lists of Urban Fantasy Authors. How do you feel about the tag and do you like it? Why or why not?

As a tag, I prefer Testosterone-laced Macho Supernatural-Mystery-Thriller. Barring that, Urban Fantasy is okay. Stressing the Urban part, my hero likes his neighborhood cafés and he hates being more than stumbling distance from a bar. For the Fantasy part, he thinks the ladies consider him a hot number.

2. What makes your books fit in the UF genre?

By Urban I mean that as gritty and contemporary. Fantasy, well, I’ve got vampires, aliens, zombies, dryads, and efficient government workers.

3. Did you set out to write UF?

At the beginning? No. I tried the idea of a vampire-detective and it stuck. Like mud.

4. Why do you think UF is so popular with readers?

Given the choice, which would you rather do: work retail or fight vampires? In one you wear polyester; the other, leather and stainless steel.

* * * *

You can tell from his answers (and the titles of his books) that humor plays a big part in Mario’s books. To him, it comes effortlessly. To me, it’s daunting. Infusing humor in your story, though, is a way to add another dimension to your characters. Look for Mario’s next Felix adventure coming soon.

For those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, have fun!! This is the first year in awhile that I haven’t. I’ll miss it. Try to join some of the online groups and attend as many of the local write-ins as you can. There is energy in a group of writers!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!! Or as they say in China: 感恩节快乐

World Fantasy Con 2014

The Tears of the RoseBy Jeffe Kennedy

Last weekend I attended the 40th World Fantasy Convention (WFC). In fact, I’m writing this post as I fly home, so I’m in that post-conference phase where everything I heard and learned has melted together in my brain.

This was only the second time I attended World Fantasy—the first being two years ago in Toronto. A lot has changed for me in the last two years. Also, I faithfully attend RWA and RT. Those factors and a few others made this a very different conference for me.

As far as comparisons, WFC is much more like RWA. It’s mainly a professional conference, more on the business and craft side and heavily attended by agents and editors. My agent, Connor Goldsmith, attended. He is still fairly new to me and this was the first time we met in person. Happily, we got on terrifically and he did amazing work for me at the conference. Based in New York, Connor already knows the editors—far better than I do. Especially as many of the fantasy editors are not people I’ve met before. With THE TEARS OF THE ROSE coming out in a couple of weeks (11/25!) and with us in talks to add three more books to the series, the timing worked perfectly. Connor is all the outgoing that I’m not and he dedicated himself over the several days to making sure I met everyone he thought I should.
As a result, I spent a lot of time in the bar, with Connor and his agent buddies, which made for a very different conference experience. Two agents I spent a great deal of time with were Jennifer Udden and Amy Boggs, from Donald Maass Literary Agency. Amy reps Thea Harrison and I’ve been glomming her Elder Races series lately, so we had a lot of discussions about the books and the series. Amy is so smart and just lovely to talk with. Jennifer reps more romance along with SFF and she’s a delight. In fact, we’re hoping to have her out to Albuquerque this fall for my local RWA chapter’s conference, LERA’s Enchanting the Page.

Hanging out with the agents and hearing their conversations lends a different perspective, as they reported back to each other what editors were saying, which pitches they received well and what they just did not want to hear. Over and over I heard them saying the editors pretty much cut short any pitch involving paranormal romance or urban fantasy. Conversely, they all wanted epic fantasy. As we all know, this could change in six months, but that’s where things stand now.

Just saying.

Other than that, I attended my first SFWA business meeting and worked the SFWA informational table. I met so many people I’d only talked to online and I’m happy to report that everyone was welcoming, inclusive and generally delightful. I made new friendships and I’m coming home eager to volunteer to support the organization.

I give WFC a big thumbs up as a professional writers conference. Next year it will be in Saratoga Springs, so still in the US. (They’re talking Helsinki after that, so this is a good opportunity to avoid the international travel ticket.)

Anything I left out? I’m happy to answer questions in the comments!

(P.S. I just landed in Dallas to find out that the RT Reviewers Choice Awards Nominees were announced and THE TEARS OF THE ROSE has been nominated for best Fantasy Romance and THE MARK OF THE TALA for Book of the Year. WOW. I’m just thrilled and verklumpt.)

Winning Advice from a LOSER

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

I’m a loser.

(Hey…even though I can’t see it, nodding in agreement is not very nice).

Let me change that a bit. I am a NaNoWriMo loser. A multiple one. I’ve played for five years, finally taking a break this year in order to keep my sanity. I’ve never won. Never came close unless you count 30k close.

For those who live under a rock, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which happens each November. A bunch of crazy people each writes a whole 50k novel in a month.  Yes, a WHOLE FREAKING NOVEL. Are these people crazy? Well, yes, they are writers so that’s a given.

However, these writers are also my heroes. Win or lose. Anyone willing to try and write a novel in a month deserves respect.

If you’re one of these crazy writers, I have some advice for ways to keep sane over the next month.

  • Don’t worry if you’re not on the road to a win. It’s not like you win a prize at the end (the web badge aside)…you know, other than satisfaction and self-fulfillment. Like that means anything in this business.
  • Even though it feels like everyone in the world is getting more words, don’t ever judge your count by others. We each have our own pace. Some people get to the saggy middle and hit a brick wall. Others run toward the end at full force, and after typing the end realize they have a steaming pile of NaNo. And others will hit 50k with a week to spare. Damn them. I, on the other hand, hit 50k about six full months later.
  • NaNo is the perfect time to try new things, to stretch your writerly muscle. Normally write vampire sagas? Why not try an action adventure cat story? Experiment. Be brave. Be reckless. Be the writer you were meant to be or at least copy someone you love.
  • Leave your expectations on October 31. While I hope you write the best novel ever, the odds are, in a month, the pace alone is going to make this novel less than perfect as a draft. We need time to dream; time to arrange plotlines and characterizations in our minds, to percolate on what comes next. That’s why we spend so much time staring at the ceiling not wearing pants. At least this is what I tell my family and friends. So after you hit your 50k, and are feeling damn good, take time to congratulate yourself and then put the novel away while your mind has a chance to mull it over.
  • Don’t rush to publish. December and January finds a mess (literally) of NaNo novels popping up on indie pub sites. While I respect indie publishing, there is something to be said for the amount of time traditional publishing takes. The process of editing and revision, cover design, copy editing, formatting and uploading takes time. I’m not suggesting you wait 2 years like a traditional publisher, just don’t hurry the needs of your work. Same goes for querying. Honor what you’ve accomplished by making it the best it can be.

I could list plenty other tidbits from the NaNo trenches, but you don’t have time to read them. You need to hit your word count. Heck, what are you even doing wasting time reading this?

If you’re participating in NaNo, please share your username and your word count so far. I’d love to see your progress, and maybe we can get a RMFW support group by friending each other.

Best of luck!

To all those who’ve served in the armed forces, thank you for your service on this Veteran’s Day.

 

Check out my website at www.jakazimer.com or friend me on facebook.