Announcements!

It is just way too bright and sunny today. And it’s a good thing I’m damn stubborn, or I would have quit after three miles today and not had that awesome endorphin-kick runner’s high. Not to mention the drift of honeysuckle, the cheerful “good morning”s from other runners–I content myself with a “Morning!” in return, because I can’t be cheerful while struggling to stay upright and moving. I would have also missed having the shaded park all to myself for a few glorious circuits. That was nice.

So, announcements!

* If you’ve ever wondered how Selene returned to Saint City, you can read the brand-new Selene and Nikolai story, Just Ask in the upcoming Mammoth Book of Hot Romance.

* Also upcoming is Reckoning, the final book in the Strange Angels series. The end of August will see a bindup of bboks one and two, Strange Angels and Betrayals with an all-new, lovely cover.

* November will also see the final Jill Kismet book, Angel Town.

* You can now buy all five of the Dante Valentine novels in one smoking-hot omnibus. (Personal demon not included, sorry.) Also, Graphic Audio has released parts one and two of Working For The Devil, I believe part 1 of Dead Man Rising is also available.

* I will be attending SpoCon in August. Not quite sure what my schedule will look like, but I’ll be there on panels etc. I will also be at the Cedar Hills Crossing Powells annual SF/F Authorfest in ?November?, more details on that as it gets closer.

* There’s an interview with me up over at the Gatekeeper’s Post.

* I can’t really talk about this yet, but it’s up on Amazon. Tempty tempty.

* A big “welcome home” shout-out to TP, back from the wilds of Europe. *evil wink*

…I’m sure there’s something I’ve forgotten, but I haven’t even finished my coffee yet, so forgive me. Off I go to find a name that means “a hunter” for a wooden garden-boy. He wants Calhoun, but I’m not sure he should have it. He’s not the protagonist, so he doesn’t really get what he wants as far as names.

Damn characters. Over and out.

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Good News, Bad News, Farewell

The good news is, I’m up to the lower limit of my pre-injury speed during my morning runs. The bad news is, I’m only allowed to run three miles. Two steps forward, one step back. At least I’m running again, and the endorphins are smoothing out jagged edges. Thank God.

I am slowly chipping away at reading Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. The first book (Titus Groan) I only made my way through by the skin of my teeth. The second, Gormenghast, is already much more palatable. I suspect this was where the story wanted to start anyway. I am completely in shameful love with Steerpike; he is such a marvelous Machiavellian with perfectly-nuanced motivations. And Peake’s naming of his characters! By far this is the aspect I enjoy most. Prunesquallor the doctor (who I suspect very much is Peake’s unconscious authorial insertion, even though Titus seems like a more-conscious one), Deadyawn the Headmaster, Flay and Swelter, Sepulchrave the Earl of Groan–the names, they do EVERYTHING.

Also, I tremble to report I’ve finished the second round of revisions on Angel Town. I feel…ambivalent about this. The process of saying goodbye to Jill as a character is a pretty damp one. The snapback of finishing a book is compounded by the snapback of finishing a whole series. I’ll send the revisions off later this afternoon. I am giving myself that long to bid farewell.

Anyway, the spring rains are moving in, there are errands to be done, and I really should do something about the hoovering and the laundry that piled up while I was working in sprints this weekend to get the revisions done. That might help the spinning engine in my head wind down a bit.

See you around, dear Readers.

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Why Would You Kick The Sh!t Out Of Your Characters?

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there’s advice, giveaways, or cool things every day.

It’s time for another Friday writing post! I promised I’d talk about fight scenes, didn’t I. Well…it turns out I have more to say about action scenes than I thought, so I’m going to break it up over a couple Fridays. Today I’ll be talking about why you would possibly want to beat the shit out of your characters.

*pause, evil smile*

It’s not just because it’s fun. Or because one is sadistic. (Although those are considerations.) There are several reasons why you might possibly have to write a fight scene.

* Raising the stakes. There’s nothing quite like fisticuffs or a blaster battle to tell the reader that things are Getting Real, or Getting Desperate. There’s nothing like a surprise attack for making two characters who might loathe each other realize they have common cause. Pacing and tension pull a reader through a story, and several little crises along the arc of tension keep a reader interested. If you are not raising the stakes throughout your story, how are you planning on holding the reader’s interest? Sure, raising the stakes can be done in other ways…but a good fight is sometimes the best way.

* Breaking a character. When I set out to write a Jill Kismet book, part of the process is figuring out just how to break her. How physically tired and miserable I can make her, how far I can push her, and what a person’s mind and body does under that sort of strain. I’ve written before about how fascinated I am with the mechanisms of the human mind and body and how they react to extraordinary situations, how the mind breaks down or is reinforced by training. (If you’re interested, a good place to start researching might be Grossman’s On Combat.) I don’t think you really know a character until you break them, and I am perennially fascinated by the question of endurance and why and how some people endure.

Without risk, no reward, for the character or the reader. Pushing a character toward (or over) the edge, especially when that character is the reader’s point of entry into the story, makes the risk higher and the reward, when it comes, that much sweeter.

* Because life isn’t fair. Life is not all rainbows and ponies and butterflies. Bad things happen. Every human being knows that sometimes, shit just happens. It’s not fair, it’s not right, but it’s the way it is. Art is a way of transforming the world, and a lot of the impetus for art, for that transformation, is the fact that the world is messed-up and sometimes shit happens. Being relatively honest about this fact will give your story depths it might not otherwise possess. If there is no real risk, if you create a world on the page where everything is fair and there are no real consequences…well, you can write that story, you have a perfect right to, but I prefer not to. Writing that sort of story doesn’t feel real to me, and reading that sort of story doesn’t generally set me on fire.

* Unresolved issues. This is a tricky subject to talk about gracefully. Sometimes, writing a combat scene can help a writer process a trauma. For example, a few Decembers ago I was in a car accident (twisty road, dark and rainy, a deer with a death wish, voila) and it gave me fuel for nightmares (never a huge trick) until I wrote a car-crash scene or two. Something about writing that helped my brain and heart say, okay, that was awful, but it’s over and we can put it on this shelf now.

I’ve had some dreadful experiences, and writing has been a chain to pull me through the soup of nasty lingering trauma plenty of times. Exorcising my demons on the page hasn’t always been fun, but it works. And afterward, those experiences became much less scary for me to think about, because (this is my personal theory, YMMV) I had exercised control over them through transmuting them into words, and I had found a meaning in them. (Thank you, Viktor Frankl.)

* Pacing and practice. You may need to speed a story up, get its heartrate revving and build momentum for the big finish. Alternatively, you may want to trip your character and send them sprawling so you can get a word in edgewise and slow things down. Both are things a fight scene can do. Fiddling with a book’s pacing is largely a matter of practice, and combat scenes are great practice for both for intra- and interscene pacing, as well as overall.

There are other reasons you might want to kick the everloving hell out of your characters. But only one more bears mentioning, and it is the single most compelling reason. All the other reasons are in addition to this precondition, without which there is no combat scene:

* The story requires it. It’s nice to have combat scenes and they’re fun to write. But, just like sex scenes (which, I suppose, a lot of the same skill set for writing combat could be used for), they must be germane to the plot.

Here is an Ideal Law of Writing Well: every piece of dialogue/sentence/paragraph/chapter/section/book must ideally do three things: build character, give the reader a sensory cue, and move the plot along. I call this an “ideal” law because it’s something to aim for even though we live in an imperfect world and are working with imperfect tools. (If you can manage to do at least two of the three necessary things consistently at the sentence level and above, you’re a frickin’ genius and you don’t need any bloody advice from me. I’ll probably read your books and weep with grinding envy.) It will not always be possible to do this, but (especially when you are revising) this is a wonderful clarifying concept to keep in mind.

A combat scene is no different. It must give the reader sensory cues, it must show us something about the characters, and it must also move the plot along. If it’s just thrown in for the hell of it, or thrown in the wrong place, or shoehorned in because “all these types of books have to have a combat scene”, the scene (no matter how beautifully written) has a virtual certainty of failing for the reader. We don’t want that. We want to maximize the reader’s chances at every turn. So first, critically and crucially, before you write that combat scene, take a second to think about if it’s necessary and what kind of pacing you’re trying to accomplish.

You are the best judge of this while you’re writing. If you’re going hot and heavy and a fight scene falls out of your head, don’t sweat it. Take it as a gift and move along. If you decide you need a combat scene but haven’t the faintest idea of where to begin, don’t lose hope. Next week we’re going to talk a little bit about what a good combat scene consists of.

Can’t wait. Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

A Very Fond Farewell

I am not my characters, and I am under no illusion that they are objectively real, but while I’m creating, they are real to me. And when we are done with each other, it’s like a good friend is moving to another planet–someplace where the communication isn’t frequent or even feasible.

Last night I sent off the first draft of the final Jill Kismet book, Angel Town, to agent, beta reader, and editor. I cried when I finished the zero draft, I cried when I finished first-revision, and I cried right after I hit the “send” button and the first draft took its first few toddling steps into the world.

I’ll see it again, of course–there’s edits, then copyedits, then proofs to get through–but in a very real way, Jill is gone. Her story is done. I had more to say, certainly, but six books is enough. I can say what remains in other ways. Or, if I can’t, maybe it should remain unsaid.

Jill’s been a difficult character. Not as difficult as Dante, certainly, but aching in her own way. It was hard to say goodbye to Danny and Japh, too. I suspect a lot of it is just that when one spends a long, long time inside characters’ heads, sharing their triumphs and failures, one is bound to feel a certain amount of grieving afterward. I grieve for Jill and Saul, for Galina and Theron, for Anya Devi and even, a very little bit, for Perry.

So today I’m a little raw and tender. It’s a day for listening to the rain on the roof and watching Romeo!Jay and Juliet!Jay at the birdfeeder. Maybe some easy cookie-making with the kids later on in the afternoon. That sounds good.

Vaya con Dios, Kismet. And thank you. You got me through some rough spots, and it’s been a Hell of a ride. (Get it? Arf arf…)

Over and out.

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Small Graces

I literally have not stopped running since I climbed out of bed this morning. I even braved the post office, picking up a package–now there was an inspiring moment. Everyone was quiet, calm, smiling, and well-behaved. Considering that most trips to the post office during the holiday season are brutal survival-of-the-fittest scrums, I felt lucky to witness a half hour of strangers standing in line and making small talk, grinning at the antics of a small child, and actively helping other people out.

Today is for beating on a zero draft to finish getting it in respectable shape. I already know two major changes I have to make, but they were things I suspected would end up changing when I wrote them, so I’m not stressed. The most difficult part of this is saying goodbye to characters that have occupied my headspace for multiple years now. That part is never easy, especially when one suspects one could have told their story better, if one had just known.

Anyway, I finally managed to eat something and get some more coffee down, and now I have a whole afternoon to spend in the laborious process of revising and bidding farewell. I probably won’t cry until I get closer to the end.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m going to be a leaky spigot. Fetch me the Kleenex and pay no attention to the sobbing. This is still the greatest job in the world.

Over and out.

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On Rereading

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

Here’s one thing about the life of a working writer: there is nothing quite like rereading five books in one of your series so you can make the sixth and final a reasonable first draft, tucking in all loose ends and making sure all things you want to resolve are nice and square, and the things you don’t want to resolve are done well.

For me, it’s kind of a Purgatory. It’s not quite hell, but it’s not comfy either.

I am not generally fond of rereading my own stuff. For one thing, after revisions, copyedits, proof pages, and reviews, sometimes I just get exhausted with a book. For another, writers are inveterate fiddlers. If not for deadlines we would continue polishing things forever. (Or maybe that’s just me.) I’m always seeing things that could be better, or catching little things I want to fix but can’t. It upsets me.

There’s the fact that while reading the book, I re-experience the emotional cost of writing it. I remember where I was when I wrote certain passages, what I was thinking about, what was happening around me. This particular series holds books that I wrote under acid-test conditions (to put it kindly) and remembering how I crawled into the story as a sharp-edged refuge is…well, a little difficult. Not only that, but I re-experience the characters’ emotional cost. Yes, I’m terrifically hard on my characters (no risk, no reward, remember,) but I suffer right along with them. Their hard-won victories make me feel good, the prices they pay for those victories are to some extent paid by me. (Though I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, my characters, thanks.)

Add to that the fact that I’m saying goodbye to a character I’ve literally bled with, and no wonder I’m wanting to take this easy. I make notes on my trusty legal pad, I fold down pages in my working copies (I keep one copy of every book to write notes in or check when I need to) I do my best to read critically, even though I’m still too close to the work to see everything. And I think about what the series has meant to me, if I pulled off what I meant to, if I didn’t punk out.

There are good things, too. I sometimes (not frequently enough, alas) run across passages I like. I usually don’t remember writing them, there are occasionally chunks where I hit the sweet spot and the words came through me without any interference. And every once in a while I am surprised into a laugh when a character makes a comment. (If one can’t find one’s own books occasionally funny, well…)

So I’m in a very reflective mood this Friday. I am bracing myself for the plunge through the fifth book this weekend; in many respects, the next-to-last book is the hardest to write, and this was no exception. Plus, I was incredibly stressed while I wrote it, and I don’t want to revisit that time. It’s still too raw. Too bad. Got a deadline. Gotta make it.

If you’re contemplating life as a working writer, just be prepared for the fact that the books don’t go away even after they’re published. They hang on your shell like barnacles, and sometimes you do have to scrape or feed them, or arrange them in different patterns, or just get them out and look at them. Wince at their imperfections, but try to be gentle with them and with yourself. Each book that makes it to the finish line is a victory; each book that makes it through the publication process is a double victory. To look back and say I could have done that better, yeah shows a certain amount of growth. That growth is a good thing, even if uncomfortable. Try to be gentle with yourself, and give yourself some credit for enduring, if nothing else.

I’m going to try to take my own advice on this. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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