Reaching Higher

PW says paranormal isn’t dead yet. I am, of course, happy to hear this.

Here’s something that resonated strongly with me: Issendai on sick systems. Been there and done that, in retail and in relationships. I think I’ve achieved enough in the way of age and self-knowledge that I’m a little less likely to buy into it anymore. Of course, saying that is just an invitation for the Universe to whomp one upside the head. *braces self, eyes the sky suspiciously* But seriously…knowing it and naming it is a prerequisite for not falling for it. I’ve had enough of being exhausted and living with crazymaking people. I’d rather strike out on my own.

The first day of summer vacation is proceeding apace, with videogames, bicycle riding, and much relaxation for the wee ones. I remember those first few glorious days of freedom, when the entire summer stretched out in front of you, terra incognita and delicious. It does me good to see them enjoying themselves while I’m tapping at the keyboard. I don’t wish for a comparable vacation–I’d write all through it anyway. But I can live vicariously.

Climbing this morning was awesome. I tried a 5.8 I’d never tried before, and I’m starting to think with my body on the rock wall. I can’t explain it any better than that–it’s the point where your body learns what’s going on and suddenly starts moving without thought, a sort of trained instinct. It’s damn beautiful to feel. I love the solitary nature of rock climbing–even with a belayer, it’s just you and the rock face. You can’t measure yourself by anything other than yourself. For someone who hates team sports, this is as close as I’ll get to them. It helps that my regular climbing partner is incredibly supportive, and we’ve worked together enough by now that I know without a doubt exactly what she’s thinking when she’s on the wall, and vice versa. There’s something to be said for feeling the belay line tighten and knowing that your belayer has seen you’re getting tired and needing a reminder that the rope will catch you. There’s also something really nice about reaching the top of a difficult climb and hearing everyone around you cheering you on and appreciating the nature of what you’ve accomplished.

Like I said, I’m not much into team sports. But I’ll take it.

I’ve reached the last difficult point in Dru 5. It’s the point of the book where nothing seems to be working right, you’re running out of room, and the entire thing feels like crap. The only cure for it is pushing through and trusting the work to catch you, like that belay rope. Leaning back a little, looking at the holds in front of you, and knowing that it may not look like it, but you can reach the next one. You just have to go for it. If there’s one thing writing has taught me, one lesson I keep learning over and over, it’s that I can reach higher than I ever thought I could. Just going for it works out an amazing amount of the time. I suspect the Universe is built that way.

Over and out.

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

Good To Be

Want to see how the cover for the new Dante Valentine omnibus was shot? There’s a behind-the-scenes video over on the Orbit site. Pretty cool, huh? The omnibus will be out in March ‘11, and as soon as preorders are available I’ll let you guys know.

Yesterday I was pretty much an action hero. I made 10 climbs, 4 of them on 5.8s, which are about the top of my ability right now. Next week my climbing partner and I are going to attempt a 5.9, which will involve a lot more technique and I’m sure a great deal of those sharp sounds of frustration I make when I fall off the wall. But 5.9 is where the serious amateurs start seeing difference in the climbs, I’m told, so it will be challenging and fun. But that’s not why I was a hero–I took people to the airport and saved the day in a situation involving an oil change, for which I was kissed. On the cheek, but still. It’s nice to be appreciated–and it’s good to be competent.

Today is the last day of public school before the summer break, and I’m kind of glad. I miss my kids something fierce during the day. I do cherish my alone time, but it’s going to be a lot of fun to have them home and underfoot. Come September I’ll be glad of a break from having them underfoot, sure. But they’re amazing human beings and they’re young for so short a time. I kind of want to cherish every single bit of it ow that they’re both past those first three years.

The first three years of motherhood are akin to endless Navy SEAL training. Except there’s no R&R time and you can’t drop out if you want to. These little humans are depending on you for everything, and it’s a real trial by fire even if you’re prepared for it. I’m glad I did it, I wouldn’t take a single day of it back, but…I’m still glad that hill is behind me. Next come the foothills of adolescence, where I’m sure I’ll be utterly cool one day and utterly uncool and the Worst Person In The History Of The Universe the next.

“This may surprise you,” I told the Princess the other day, “but I was, indeed, your age once. And I haven’t forgotten what it was like.”

Gods grant that gives me the strength and the sense of humor to deal with her navigating those rocky waters. Heh.

And as usual, there’s a ton of non-writing work, and the writing work. All in all, I’m looking at a gallop straight for the finish line today, and will probably fall into bed exhausted.

Which, well…I like. It’s good to be me today.

I hope it’s good to be you today too.

Over and out.

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

On Characters

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there are giveaways, fun, and other writing advice. It’s a party over there!

“I don’t know where Danny Valentine came from,” I told my writing partner morosely, staring at my water. “She’s just so…damaged.”

The Selkie raised one eyebrow. “You don’t? A person that driven, locked in that tiny little box and going nuts? You’ve got no idea? Really?”

Well, when she put it like that, I had to concede she had a point. But still. I am not my characters.

I realize protestations of sanity coming from someone who spins lies for a living and talks to imaginary people while crouching over a computer keyboard may be a tad unbelievable. Nonetheless, I insist. I’m wound a little tight and I’m weird, but I don’t confuse myself with my characters.

I don’t know where characters come from, really. Sometimes they just start talking and I shrug and take dictation. Sometimes I see them on the movie screen in my head, and the fun of the game is figuring out who they are, what they want, and what happens to them. Sometimes I get an idea–wouldn’t it be really cool IF… Basically I take character much the way I take the stories they’re a part of–as a gift, spun into whole cloth by the Fates in my subconscious and handed up through a chute that only opens when I’m sitting down and ready to receive.

I had lunch with a young writer today, K.B. She’s one of the bravest young women I know, and is practicing her writing. We got to talking about characters, so I’m going to tell you what I told her, with (possibly) a few additions.

* Don’t confuse yourself with your characters. Sometimes, if you’re a genius, you can pull off an authorial insertion and make it work. You can even make it a classic. But don’t bet on being a genius and producing a classic. You have more chance of winning the lottery or having an airplane part fall out of the sky and onto your head.

Treat characters like you would an extreme sport–with appropriate caution and care for your own safety. Don’t get roped into believing they’re you. This is a tough one, because so much of good writing (at least, the way I practice, whether it turns out good or not is another question) is kind of like method acting. It requires getting inside your character’s skin. This is part of the Mystery of the Mask, but try very hard to remember that the mask is not YOU.

* You’re in charge. Ilona Andrews mentioned this at the Night of Pwnage At Powell’s, and it’s a good point. You’re writing the story, you’re in charge. Moaning that a character isn’t obeying, or is being recalcitrant, is often a way of Avoiding The Damn Work. Or it’s a sign that one isn’t heading in the right direction and needs to let go of some cherished notions about the work. If a character isn’t cooperating, see if you’re resisting the way the story wants to go.

* Hurt them. A lot. A lot of writers are downright afraid to hurt their characters. This is, I think, partly a function of identifying with them and partly a function of just being a Reasonably Well-Adjusted Person, or at least one with protective social coloration. Try to overcome this fear, because:

* No risk, no reward. Without the heart-in-mouth risk, there is no reward when a character surmounts an obstacle. If it comes too easily, a reader could care less. The characters we cheer for are the ones who run the most risk. Conversely, the villains who risk everything get our grudging admiration. Stack the deck. Throw a curveball. Make it an uncertain thing.

One of the nicest compliments my friend Monk ever paid me about my writing was that he didn’t know who was going to survive. “Like the end of the Valentine series,” he said. “Here’s this character who’s now half-demon, she’s now got the power and the Big Powerful Weapon, and if this was a regular fantasy she’d vanquish the evil. But with you writing it, there’s this sense that it might not be enough.” (Here he paused, the spoke wryly and with great affection.) “I hate you for that. I didn’t know if she’d pull through.” Which leads me to the next point.

* There’s always a cost. If your character has a magical power, a magical weapon, or even just an ordinary human talent, there MUST be a cost involved in its use. A magical system is more easily believable if the energy comes from somewhere. If it’s going to save the hero’s ass, there needs to be a cost paid for that saving. Otherwise it’s just a useless gimmick, and one that will weigh down your writing besides. Always, always consider what the cost of every character’s ability/gift is.

* Make the bruises count. If your character gets into a fight and the next morning they don’t feel like groaning when they haul themselves out of bed, I’m not going to believe you. Part of hurting your characters is taking into account the lingering of pain while things heal. If your character has superhuman healing, that’s a gift and (say it with me) there must be a cost. Make me believe it, or I’m not going to care. Bruises, pulled muscles, emotional and mental trauma, take time to heal. This will add a layer of risk and complexity to your story. Cheap? Sure. Effective? Of course, or I wouldn’t advocate it.

* Think about your villains. Don’t make them cardboard. A good hero deserves a good villain–and a good villain needs to have depth, motivation, and reasons for why s/he does what s/he does. The best villains are the ones we can understand and live vicariously a little bit through, the ones who have reasons we can understand. Ask yourself what every character’s cup of water is. Then use that information to make things difficult for them.

* Last but not least, feel compassion for these people. Yes, I know I told you to hurt them. That still applies. But if you don’t suffer for your heroes and your villains, you have no chance to make me believe I should. It’s a fine line to walk, between the need to make it risky and the need to have empathy so you can make a reader care about these people enough to keep reading.

You do not have to like your characters. I think I can count the characters I’ve created that I actually like on one hand and have fingers left over. But I definitely empathize with them. I aim to understand why they do the things they do, and my job–the hat trick, so to speak–is to clearly convey that understanding to the reader. (This is, incidentally, where an editor is sometimes most helpful. That’s another blog post.) The understanding does not have to call forth a specific emotional reaction, like love or hate. It just has to call forth any emotional reaction. If you get any emotion at all from a reader, you can consider your job at least decently done.

For example, I still get hate mail from people who get to the ending of Working For The Devil and feel a shock of loss and grief. “How could you?” one woman wrote me. “How could you do that to Dante?” Which meant I’d done my job. Incidentally, if I hadn’t ended WFTD that way, it would have been only a one-book deal. The rest of the series was predicated on what happened at the end of that book, something I was very clear about all the way through.

* Oh, wait. One more thing. Have fun. I rather like Stephen Brust’s famous line, the one he recommends tacking up over your computer, or wherever you can see it while you work:

And now, I’m going to tell you something REALLY cool.

Enjoy this. If you’re having a ball, the rest of it will be easier, and chances are good the Reader will have a ball too. Not only that, but when you’re snickering with evil glee, it’s a lot easier to hurt your characters in interesting, diabolical, and downright nasty ways.

In fact, you could say that’s the most fun of all. Which, I suppose, makes me a not very nice person, even if I can protest at being sane and reasonably well-adjusted.

Oh well. Nobody’s perfect.

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

Short Story Madness, and Updates!

Yesterday was pretty productive. I know what happens in the entire rest of Dru 5 now, all that remains is to buckle down and see how it shifts in the actual writing.

I posted an excerpt of Dame Devon’s Magic At The Gate. I encourage you to go take a gander, it’s pretty awesome. Dame Devon posted the only excerpt of Jealousy I will be giving before the book comes out. You can also read the first chapter of Jealousy on the official Strange Angels website; there will be quizzes and lots more cool stuff showing up on that site before long, so stay tuned. And please, if you want to know about excerpts, read this.

I also updated my FAQ (new stuff about Selene and Nikolai, the Kismet series, and Strange Angels) and updated the fan forum. If you want spoilers, the place to look is the forum; I often give tidbits there. Plus, there’s now preorder information for Heaven’s Spite on the Kismet page.

True to form, once I updated everything about Selene and Nikolai, new news came in. I am pleased and proud to announce that the Selene and Nikolai short story Just Ask has been accepted for the upcoming Mammoth Book of Hot Romance. I don’t know exactly when it will be released but the official acceptance has arrived. Just Ask deals with Selene’s return to Saint City, and as soon as I have more information I’ll share. I can also share that I’ll have a story in the upcoming Dark & Stormy Knights, titled Rookwood & Mrs. King. I am also proud as punch to announce that a YA short story, titled Say Yes, has been accepted for the upcoming Eternal: More Love Stories With Bite, also featuring the awesome PC Cast.

I’ve been sitting on the news about the short stories for so long, it’s just about killed me. You just don’t know. There’s yet more news that I can’t share just yet (oh, how I tease) but it’s so totally exiting I can barely sit still. Anyway, once I get all the details, you’ll hear more.

Now, it’s raining and I have a dead body and a burned-down Schola, not to mention a kidnapping and an epic battle, to commence. Sorry to throw the links and run, but that’s what I’ve gotta do.

Over and out!

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

Smackdown Winner Excerpt time!

And now, ladies and gents, it’s the time you’ve been waiting for! Yes, it’s Excerpt Time! Since Dame Devon and I were in a tie for the Dame Smackdown, we’re posting excerpts on each other’s pages. The Jealousy excerpt should be up shortly. (ETA: It is live, and here!; the book is on preorder here.)

Meanwhile, I am pleased and proud to present a snippet from Dame Devon’s upcoming Magic At The Gate, after the jump!

Read the rest of this entry »

Dame Smackdown Winner!

I am proud as punch to announce the winner(s) of the Dame Smackdown!

You read that right. There’s winners all over. Actually, everyone wins, because as Dame Devon says…we have a tie!

That’s right. The readers stepped up and made their voices heard–they love both Dame Devon and me equally. This is very good, because it means ALL the readers win!

Because tomorrow, I will be hosting an excerpt of Dame Devon’s Magic At The Gate, and Dame Devon will be hosting the only excerpt of Jealousy I’m going to be able to give before the book goes on sale.

Now I’ve just got to choose which excerpt to tease you with. That will require some heavy thinking…

See you tomorrow!

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

And Really Bad Eggs…

First off, some really cool news: I can now announce the official Strange Angels website! I think it looks ultra-ducky-cool. The peeps at Penguin are very excited about this, and I am too. Soon there will be quizzes and other super-fun stuff, so stay tuned. You can also hang out on my forum (NOT at Penguin, on my own personal site, there, disclaimer done) and share theories about Jealousy with other fans, as well as hang out and have fun chatting about other series.

We have no word about who’s won the Dame Smackdown yet. The last we heard, Dame Devon and I were tied. Which may mean, if we’ve finished on a tie, that BOTH of us have to post excerpts. *evil laugh* But we’ll see. I’m on tenterhooks.

Otherwise, this morning has been very quiet. It’s one of those mornings that smells like baking bread; I felt like I could run forever on the treadmill. Just point me at the horizon and let me go, let me breathe and run and stretch. It’s nice to feel that way, even if I know it’s just the endorphins talking. I’ll take it. I spent a long time trapped in a very tiny box. Now that I’m out, well, I like the idea of going as far as I can, under a wide-open sky.

Which makes me feel like Jack Sparrow. “Bring me that horizon…”

Oh yeah. I’ve got my ship, my compass that points to my heart’s desire, a song to sing, the wind in my hair and a cutlass at my side.

Bring it.

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