Award Consideration or Gently Begging

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It’s closing in on the end of the year which means that it’s award consideration time for the Science Fiction/Fantasy world. All the authors I know post up blog pieces as a gentle reminder to everyone what they wrote and what’s eligible for various awards. This could easily be taken as a kind of self aggrandizing, but it really isn’t. In fact, most of the writers I know need to be prodded to do this. In my experience, authors as a group, especially newer authors, tend to be less than cocky about their work. Anyone who knows me is aware I’m an exception, I know how purely awesome my work is. Yes, that was sarcasm. In truth, here’s my take on it. If you’re eligible, let the world know. You might not think your work is award worthy, but you’re not the one (or at least not the only one) who decides on awards. Maybe the world doesn’t agree with you and wants to give you an award.
THE RETURNED_Small
This year I published The Returned, which I sincerely believe is my best writing to date. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Do I think it’s a Nebula or Hugo worthy novel? No, but it’s not up to me. So if you are someone who nominates for the Nebula, the Hugo, or any other award, I humbly ask that you consider The Returned. Thank you.

Giveaways Continue!

So far this year I’ve been giving away copies of The Stolen and The Forgotten. Next up is Three Promises! There are twenty copies up for grabs. It’s simple, all you have to do is click here, follow the simple single step, and find out if you’re a winner! Be sure to share the joy with your friends. Who doesn’t love a free book?

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World Builder’s Charity Auction, Again!

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Last year I was invited to help out with Patrick Rothfuss’s World Builders charity. I’m delighted, and proud, to say I’m taking part again this year. If you’re unfamiliar with World Builders, it’s a great charity that raises money to fight hunger and poverty worldwide. For many people, this is a rough time. I think it’s always good to remind ourselves what we have, and remember there are people all over much worse off. If you can, I encourage you to participate. For as little as $10, you can enter the lottery giveaway for a chance to win some truly awesome books (including mine), games, and generally fun stuff. If you’ve got a little more cash to spare, there is a charity auction as well, with some truly cool stuff available. Last year I donated a tuckerization (naming a character after the winner), and was beyond amazed by the generosity. This year I’m offering another! This time, you’ll get your choice of two supernatural characters, and I’ll also mention you in the dedication. It’s a good cause, and good fun. If however you can’t spare the cash for even the lottery donation, I hope you have someone to help you, and that you holiday season is warm, safe, and filled with love and the hope of tomorrow.

My Auction Item
World Builder’s Auction

Who Do You Write For?

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As writers we often have one eye on our intended audience as we write, even if it isn’t conscious. Like a lot of art, if you ask a writer about his book, either you or he will compare it to something else: “It’s Harry Potter meets A Tale of Two Cities.” Inadvertently, or perhaps quite intentionally, this book’s audience has been identified. It is the very small but dedicated group of readers who enjoy books about child wizards during the turmoil of the French Revolution. Most of us don’t intend such comparisons to define our intended audience, but it happens and permeates what we write. No matter your genre (including literary fiction), odds are you have a set of preconceived notions that go with your selection of an audience.

As a fantasy writer, I tend to take for granted that my readers will know that elves have pointed ears, dwarves are short and bearded, magic spells are cast by wizards, and countless other small things. I’m assuming those readers will have enjoyed other fantasy novels, particularly what is considered the canon (Tolkien especially) and thus have some context. But, our assumptions can cut both ways. Experienced fans of our genre might read in a mystical explanation to something completely mundane. Conversely, the uninitiated might be completely mystified by something that is canon to most fantasy readers. How do we as writers prevent this?

For me, the answer is simple: assume your reader has never picked up a fantasy novel before. That’s right, nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. This has two benefits. The first is that you prevent any confusion or frustration on the part of your reader. The second is that you’ve just opened your book up to countless readers outside your genre. That’s not to imply this is an easy feat. What is easy, is to be so proud of the complex world you’ve created that you can’t wait to show your reader and you inundate her with information. In my post, Too Much Information! Knowing What to Reveal and When I go over the “how” of exposition, so there’s no need to rehash that here. What I will delve into, is the “why.”

Let’s ignore the obvious: you don’t want your reader to be bored by a dissertation before getting to the story. That’s important, of course, but what I want to discuss here is the second reason. I take Ms. Rowling’s lead and assume ignorance on the part of reader: a broader audience. Really, in the end, don’t we as writers want our stories to be read, and enjoyed, by as many people as possible? I certainly do. I’m sure there are those who think of themselves as purists and unless you know the arcane details you’re not “worthy” of reading the story, but that’s not for me. I want my tales to be enjoyed by anyone who picks it up, even if their usual preference is romance, mystery, biographies, printer manuals, math books, cereal boxes, newspapers, well, you get the idea. I believe if you strip out the supernatural aspects of my stories, or replace them with mundane aspects, the plot and characters still hold together. At least, that’s what I strive for. That, and no readers left scratching their heads when they’re done.

This is something all of us should strive for. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a book about faeries, or the Founding Fathers of the United States. After all, your readers might not be American or aware of American history. See? There I just assumed the readers of this blog were mostly American. I could’ve deleted that line, but I think it serves to show all of us that we have to strive, constantly, against those sorts of assumptions. Don’t limit yourself, or your work, by not inviting someone in to enjoy it. Be a good host and make your party as inclusive as possible, and ensure each guest is as welcome as possible.

My Love of Music

Do you want proof that God has a sense of humor?

I’m a writer, and nothing drives me battier than the sound of typing on a keyboard. I can handle it for a little while, but after five minutes or so, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. Oh, and when I’m not writing (day job), I do a lot of developing and programming. Yeah, the irony is palpable. This, combined with the fact I’m very visual in my writing—I “see” the stories like a movie playing in my head, and transcribe what I see—is why music is so important to me when I write. What’s a good movie without a killer soundtrack? It’s a bonus that it also drowns out the maddening sound of striking keys. Argh, even thinking about it puts my teeth on edge!

For every book I’ve written, I’ve made multiple playlists. They typically surround characters, or specific scenes. Sometimes, when I’m working on a particularly powerful scene, I’ll put a single song on a loop and listen to it continually till I’m done. Music is so important to me that all my characters have favorite musicians and songs. Listening to those artists fuels me emotionally and also helps me get into my characters’ heads. Edward is a Tom Waits fan, followed closely by Diana Krall, Leonard Cohen, and Dave Brubeck. For Caitlin it’s Gaelic Storm, The Elders, Sarah McLachlan, and The Cowboy Junkies. Brendan leans towards The Pogues, The Wolfe Tones, and, despite his anachronistic tendencies, Dropkick Murphy, Flogging Molly, and Flatfoot 56. Dante is more eclectic as a result of his age, and his tastes range from Vivaldi (he’s a sucker for a solid cello concerto) to Daft Punk and The Crystal Method.

Wraith was a bit more complicated. As I worked on The Forgotten, the music was more about the story. The songs were dark and brooding. “Ain’t no Grave,” by Johnny Cash saw quite a lot of play, and if you’ve read The Forgotten, you’ll understand why. It made sense I wasn’t focused on music for Wraith as a character. After all, she was a homeless kid struggling to keep sane from one day to the next. She didn’t have a lot of time to listen to music. That changed when I started writing Three Promises. Wraith came to life in a way I never imagined, or dared to hope. Her story opens in the aftermath of The Forgotten and I knew she’d be battling severe depression and trying to find a sense of purpose. As someone who has struggled with that since I was a teenager,  I knew personally how much music can help. I wanted Wraith to have the same experience, to find refuge, and possibly hope, in music. But what songs? What artists? When I found not just the artist, but the song, it was so perfect, that I knew I had to include some of the lyrics in the story itself. The song was “Wonder (Wonder Woman Song)” by The Doubleclicks.

I was introduced to The Doubleclicks through John Scalzi’s blog when he posted the video to “Nothing to Prove.” It’s perhaps their most famous song; an anthem for geek girls. The song is awesome, and the video is not just powerful, it’s empowering. Fans of Angela and Aubrey, the sisters who make up The Doubleclicks, know that most of their songs are all kinds of nerdy fun. They sing about cats, board games, dinosaurs, burritos, lasers… well, you get the idea. But some of their songs are more personal, and are deeply moving. Their song “Bad Memories” really resonated with me and their cover of “In the Middle” is amazing. I thought about using “Nothing to Prove” to give Wraith hope, but it just didn’t seem right for her. Then I heard “Wonder (Wonder Woman Song)” and I knew that was Wraith’s song. How does a song about a super-powered Amazon inspire a homeless girl fighting depression? You’ll have to read the story, and I suggest listening to the song as well. Not because you’ll need to know it, just because it’s an awesome song.

For The Returned, I wanted something that fit the broad mix of amazing music New Orleans—the setting for the book—had to offer. I chose songs you might hear street musicians playing on the corners of cities anywhere; songs filled with power and emotion. Wraith however is still a diehard Doubleclicks fan. So when a particularly important scene came up, I knew where to turn. This time it was the song “Godzilla.” The song is sad, but tinged with humor, and fit who Wraith was becoming perfectly. For both The Returned and Three Promises, The Doubleclicks were good enough to let me license the lyrics, and I was thrilled to be able to (legally) include them in the stories.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my love of music. Like any art form, it’s emotionally evocative. Most people know the shameless joy of singing to a favorite song at the top of their lungs while driving, not caring who sees you. We find solace and comfort in songs when we have a broken heart. We celebrate with music and dancing; though if you’re like me, it can only loosely be called dancing. We find comfort in our sad times with the perfect track. Songs mark the passing of the years like signposts. And sometimes, just sometimes, you hear a song and it reaches into your soul from the very first time you hear it. For me, those songs tend to be the bittersweet ones; sad, but filled with hope, and the promise of tomorrow, a new day where anything is possible. What can I say, I’m a romantic. The emotion, the magic, the power of music fuels me, both in my life and in my creative endeavors. Music, books, every kind of art, it all serves to connect us. When the artist creates, that creation is imbued with some of their soul, an emotional snapshot of them at that moment in time. The stories in my books are my snapshots and The Returned feels like my best work yet. I hope you read it, and that you enjoy it, maybe connect with it or the characters within. If you’d like, I’d be happy to suggest some music to set the mood before you start reading.

 

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