Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mystery Matters Interview

As a nice balance to the euphoria I've been experiencing (see yesterday's post) I'm now back into my routine. As in: trudge into the Super Target at 8:47 a.m., buy food, retreat home. I did a lot of grinning in the process, which made the employees nervous, but other than that it's a normal day here. I've found that zooming over and buying sustenance at an early hour allows you to pretty much have the store to yourself, with the exception of those stocking the shelves. Once home, I logged in to watch the stock market and see if I'm making any money. Today I am. Other days I don't. Such is life.

Tomorrow, however, will be great fun. At 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time I will be on the Mystery Matters: Where Murder is an Open Book podcast with Fran Stewart. Fran writes cozy mysteries and we've known each other for a long time. In fact, I interviewed her for one of my podcasts a few years back.

If you wish to send interview questions (and you know you do):

To listen to the interview, click here - select channel home page on the left of the screen to turn on the Internet radio.

Fran kindly supplied the following details:

Mystery Matters airs live Friday mornings at 10 Eastern/ 7 Pacific.
The one-hour interview is re-broadcast 12 hours later.
All shows are archived on her host web page for 24/7 access and MP3 downloads

She also hosts a blog about what happens behind-the-scenes of a radio show:

If you want to learn more about Fran and her books, here's the link.

This is your opportunity to ask why it is I alphabetize my spices and how I come up with those really complex mysteries. There will no stock tips, however. I don't need the guilt when you lose your shirt.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Dream Realized

One of the traits of a successful author is that you just have to believe in yourself enough to keep rolling that rock up that mountain. You receive a rejection, you keep going forward. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. More times than not that dogged persistence pays off in the end. And so it has in my world.

I'm thrilled to announce that St. Martin's Press has purchased the first three books of my DEMON TRAPPERS Series, a Young Adult Urban Fantasy set in a dystopian Atlanta. My agent believed in this series as much as I did and found it a wonderful home at SMP. She rocks! I don't have publication dates yet, but I'll keep you posted as to when you can find my first NY-pubbed book in the stores.

As you can guess, there is much rejoicing in this household. The reality of this big step will come home to roost soon enough. Right now, I'm just glowing with the news.

So for all those writers who are aiming for this moment, keep trudging up the mountain. The view is breathtaking.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Romantic Times Orlando

While my other buddies are at RavenCon in Richmond, VA I was in Orlando at the Romantic Times convention. This is a nearly week long blow out. Unlike the Romance Writers of America annual convention, which tends toward business, this one is fun. Think stag party for women. It was smaller than in previous years due to the economy sucking, but being held in Orlando certainly didn't hurt.

Melody (a dear friend of mine) and I motored down to Florida on Monday. It was an eight-hour trip. Tuesday we were off to Universal City to plough around and try some of the rides. I can recommend the Terminator show. Way cool. Unfortunately some of the rides had specific warnings about those of us with head/neck issues so I didn't get to give some of them a try. Bah. From that point on Melody went on a crusade for beads for her art projects and I dove head first into RT.

Wednesday I attended a few panels with one of my writing buddies, Jeri Smith-Ready who writes that fab WVMP "Lifeblood of Rock n Roll" vampire series.) We'd met earlier in the day and she was kind enough to introduce me to Rachel Vincent and (squeeee!!!!) Ilona Andrews. I've made no secret of my adoration of Ilona's most excellent Kate Daniels Series. So I gave her fair warning, went momentarily fangirl, and then chilled back out. I even got my copy of MAGIC STRIKES signed at the book fair. Grin. I have also made a note to read Rachel's new Y.A. book that should be out soon -- teenage banshees. Should be a kick.

Wednesday afternoon was the e-pub, small press booksigning. I handed out sample copies of SOJOURN, which I term a "gateway drug". If folks like the first three chapters, they're back buying the series. Which they were on Saturday during the big signing (see more later).

Thursday morning was the Mystery Chix and Dix breakfast. We had a blast! Lots of readers and booksellers showed up to nosh their way through the food and listen to us talk about our mysteries. Great fun. Later in the morning I was on my only panel for RT: How to Write A Mystery. It went very well. I also got to catch up with Carole Nelson Douglas. Later in the afternoon I attended the Y.A. panel Robbing the Cradle: How YA is Taking Urban Fantasy By Storm. It was very informative, especially since my agent is currently shopping my Young Adult Urban Fantasy in The Big Apple(TM). It was great to finally meet some of the big name authors who pen Y.A. Nice folks.

Friday I hob-knobbed with a few of my readers at the Club RT function, then sat in on Alex Sokoloff's Screenwriting Tips and Tricks for Novelists and Screenwriters. Alex(andra) is a screenwriter and novelist, so she knows her stuff. We met at Left Coast Con (a mystery convention) a few years back. It was grand to run into her again.

Later Friday afternoon I got to attend another panel I'd been anticipating: The Good, Bad and The Paranormal which Ilona moderated. The ladies (and one gent - Mark Del Franco) discussed kick butt heroines in Urban Fantasy. It was a fun panel!

Now for those of you who have attended RT you will have noted that I didn't mention the evening's festivities such as the Ellora's Cave Party (billed as for adults only), the Faery Ball or the Vampire Ball. I blew all those off. My roomie and I would go out to eat, then come back to the room and settle in. I know others had a lot of fun at those events, but I was just happier to chill out with a good book (in this case it was WHITE WITCH, BLACK CURSE which is Kim Harrison's latest).

Saturday was my final day at the convention. The big booksigning was from 11-2 and I sold a LOT of books. 15 to be exact, which is pretty awesome given my books retail for $19.95. Folks who had read the sampler came back for the series. WOW. I bought Melissa Marr's latest (FRAGILE ETERNITY) and chatted with Ilona for a time before we hit the road. My roomie, who is a thoughtful sweetie, handed me a bag full of munchies the moment I got in the car. She knew that I'd be wasted from 1) no lunch and 2) schmoozing with the fen. So she fed me. I love friends like that.

We had such a fine time we're thinking of hitting RT in Columbus, OH next year. Great town. And maybe by then I'll have a vampire costume worked up. Who knows?

Off the road for a week and then hubby and I are vacationing in Chicago. Wheee!!! And then it's back to work on the Y.A. book. Must get some words on page just in case someone buys the critter.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Of Weekends & Wildlife

Ah, what a lovely weekend. Hubby is visiting his mum in scenic Iowa so I've had three days to myself. Usually I'm on deadline for my next book, but right now I'm not under contract so I decided to kick back and enjoy my time off. Besides spending some time in the basement Friday evening (Atlanta got some nasty weather) reading another one of Artemis Fowl's adventures, I've putzed around the house, watched movies and cleaned. Movies, you ask?

Okay, I admit it, I finally broke down and watched TWILIGHT. I wasn't a fan of the book. It just didn't do it for me, but the movie worked. The pacing might have been a bit slow, but the movie corrected some of the characterization issues I had with the original source material. In particular, Bella (Isabella Swan the heroine) came across as far more with it and than in the book. The Book Bella was wimpy. The Movie Bella had some stones. The vampires were suitably creepy and the visuals nice.

But I think the highlight of the weekend were the foxes. Hubby spied a red fox on our porch the other morning. What he didn't realize is that she came equipped with four kits. ADORABLE critters. Why they're living under our porch (we're in suburbia) I have no idea, but watching the little guys bounce around and rough house is really great fun. I have pictures, but can't edit them until I get my other computer running again. I will attempt to get a video and post it. I am worried some neighbor will get upset about the critters and call someone to dispose of them. Then there's the dogs and the coyotes. Since foxes eat all sorts of annoying things, I'm fine if they stay. They're a lot cooler than possums and far more tolerable than skunks. And the little ones are just so darned cute. Here's a UK link about urban foxes and how they're thriving.

So how goes your weekend?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

David B. Coe on Characterization

As promised, today my guest is David B. Coe and we are going to savor his wisdom regarding characterization. It seems I've known David forever, though it's only been a few years. We don't get to see each other at the conventions very often, but when we do it's always a pleasure to catch up on what's new in our respective lives. Since David has plenty of experience creating memorable characters, he is the perfect candidate to tell us how he goes about one of the trickiest aspects of novel writing.

Hi. I’m David B. Coe. Jana invited me here today to discuss my approach to developing characters for my books. Thanks, for the invite, Jana. It’s good to be here.

Let me begin by telling you a bit about myself: I’m the author of ten published fantasy novels including the LonTobyn Chronicle, Winds of the Forelands, and Blood of the Southlands. My most recent novel, The Horsemen’s Gambit, the second book in my Southlands trilogy, came out in January. The final Southlands book, The Dark-Eyes’ War, will be out early next year. You can find sample chapters of all my books, as well as contests, world maps, and other information at my website,

In many ways, Jana asked me the $64,000.00 question (actually that’s been devalued a bit over the years -- let’s go $64,000,000.00). To me character is the key to a successful novel or story. Worldbuilding and plotting are important, but to my mind really interesting characters can overcome flawed worldbuilding and a lackluster plot. But if your characters are flat, boring, or unsympathetic, no amount of fancy worldbuilding or plot complexity will save your book. That’s my opinion anyway.

So how do I develop my characters? What I’ll outline here applies mostly to lead and major secondary characters, though the differences between what I do with them and how I handle the minor characters are more differences of degree than of fundamental approach.

Step 1 -- Inspiration: I’m often asked where I get my ideas for my books and stories, and it’s a question I kind of hate. The reason is I can’t answer it. My ideas come from all over, they come from everything I experience, every conversation I have, every emotion I feel. They come from that part of my brain that is constantly asking “What if?” But though one book idea might begin with a scene, and another with a magic system, and yet another some aspect of worldbuilding, those initial ideas are always followed closely by the first glimpse of my main character. I won’t get much from this initial inspiration -- a name might come to mind, or some key trait, or perhaps an important detail from his or her past. Just enough to make me realize that a) this is the lead character in my new project, and b) I need to get to know this person better.

Step 2 -- The Interview: All right, I know that sounds weird. I’m going to interview a character I’m making up in my head? Well, yeah, I am. The interview consists of taking that kernel of an idea from step 1 and turning it into a living, breathing person. So I begin to ask questions. Sometimes that’s literally what I do. I open a blank word file and begin to brainstorm by asking myself questions about this person and typing out answers. (For the sake of simplicity in this post and to avoid the “he or she” thing, I’ll assume it’s a man, as it is in my latest work) Where is he from? Who were his parents and what were they like? Does he have siblings? What was his childhood like? What are his best traits? His worst? What does he look like? What does he do for a living? What has been his romantic history? Is he outgoing or a loner? Where has life taken him thus far?

There’s really no end to the questions one can ask, and to be honest, the answer to one quite often leads directly to the next, so that I usually stop “asking” questions fairly early in the process and just let his life story flow. The important thing for me is to get all the background that I need before I begin to write.

Step 3 -- Finding the Voice: More often than not, my lead character will also be my point of view character -- my narrator, in a sense. In my multi-strand novels, several of my major characters will be point of view characters. So the next thing I like to do is begin writing scenes and short stories from the viewpoint of the character I’ve created. Some of these might find their way into the book and in fact at times I merely begin work on the early chapters, though they usually wind up being reworked considerably. At other times, I’ll write a short piece that will have nothing to do with the book but that I might try to sell as a stand alone short story. The primary point of this is to take all that information I’ve gathered in the “Interview” and turn it into a unique and compelling voice for writing the novel. It’s not enough for a character to have a detailed and distinct personal history. He also has to have a personality, and that comes out in the way he tells his story.

Step 4 -- The Quickening: The verb “quicken” can mean, in its more obscure usage, the act of coming to life, and people have often referred to the quickening of a pregnancy as the time when a child is first felt to move. That’s exactly how I mean the word here. There comes a time in my writing when my character(s) begin to act on his (their) own, when I find myself surprised by some of the things they do and say. It’s a wonderful feeling, almost like when one of my daughters expressed her first truly original thought or first said something truly, creatively funny. That moment in a character’s development when he begins to take on the traits of a living, breathing person who is as independent of me as any creature of my imagination can be -- that’s the moment when I know that steps 1-3 have worked. At its best, character development is the creation of people who are capable of interacting freely with each other and with the world I’ve shaped for them. When my work is flowing well, when the characters are fully realized, when they’ve “quickened,” I become little more than a chronicler of their actions and a stenographer keeping track of their conversations. The growth of my characters and the development of my narrative become linked at an organic level so that it seems that the characters are driving the plot.

There’s really no secret to creating good characters, and it may be that your approach is nothing like mine but achieves results that are just as good or better. This is the process that works for me, and if you’ve been struggling with your character development recently you may find that adopting some or all of my method will help. In any case, happy writing!