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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The Bittersweet

In July, I wrote a guest piece for Katherine Harbour called, “The Awesomeness of The Bittersweet.” Recently, I was invited by Gail Martin to join in the #HoldOntoTheLight campaign. September/October are the months for Depression Awareness, Suicide Prevention, Bullying Prevention, Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness, World Mental Health Day and Domestic Violence Awareness. Several authors are participating, you can check out the Twitter Hashtag, or the Facebook page to see what others are sharing. I hope to post more, but this post seemed like a perfect way to start my participation.


The Awesomeness of The Bittersweet

As someone who has struggled on and off with depression since my adolescent years, it’s probably not a shock–and some would argue less than healthy–that I just love the bittersweet. Not the chocolate, though that isn’t bad. I’m talking about music, movies, books, and art in general. I love scenes, songs, or images that are sad, but filled with hope, and the promise of tomorrow, a new day where anything is possible. The power of the emotion, the magic and the power of it fuels me, both in my life and in my creative endeavors. Music, books, movies, 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. I can relate to the bittersweet moments. That’s probably why I love the songs of Sarah McLachlan, The Cowboy Junkies, and Tom Waits. Each of them excels at wrapping sadness around a glimmer of hope that can’t be extinguished.

Of course there are moments in life of pure, unbridled joy: hearing someone say they love you, the smile of your child when they look at you, or achieving a hard won success. Those moments are treasures to be sure, but rarely is bliss ever an immaculate conception. Often it’s born from hard work, pain, turmoil, sadness, or grief. Life tends to be complicated and messy, but there is beauty in that mess. And I think we all see it. I believe we all know that the pain will end, and in the ending there is a happiness all its own. There are all sorts of cliches, but the one that has stayed with me the longest is: if you weep because you miss the sun, you also miss the stars. Like all cliches, there is something profound in the simplicity.

When I was really struggling with my depression, I found a book titled Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. It’s about his time at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. He is taken there, separated from his wife and sees the utter worst humanity has to offer, and I use the word humanity in its loosest possible sense. During his time there, never knowing the fate of his wife, parents, or siblings, he struggles to find meaning, a reason to continue on. After reading this book I knew that if this man could find purpose in a nightmarish place like that, surely I could as well. So I set to find happiness in the cracks and crevices of the everyday, and that became my purpose.

But as I matured I came to see that every emotion had value. They all could be debilitating if not tempered by another. Haven’t we all rolled our eyes at the sickly sweet, lovey-dovey couples of the world? We all know that past a certain age, there is no perpetual state of happiness, and those who seem to achieve it often come across as delusional. Sometimes it’s okay to be sad, to be angry, to grieve, to weep. And isn’t there a special kind of happiness in offering comfort to someone who needs it? The key is not to let those darker emotions overcome you, to slip from merely experiencing them into wallowing in them.

That’s why I love the bittersweet. It’s like an entire life experience all in one dose. I recently watched Inside Out with a friend, and we both got a little misty eyed when Bing-Bong fades away. Sorry, spoilers. It’s a sad moment, one we can all probably relate to. It’s a piece of childhood slipping away, losing a friend you know you’ll never see again for the first time. But there’s more to that scene. There is also the hope in the understanding that it’s also the beginning of another journey. That the sun might be setting, but it will rise again on a new world, and they will both be beautiful, filled with possibility.

We all listen to sad songs when we’re sad, at least everyone I know does. So often we chide ourselves for it, seeing it as wallowing in self-pity. But that’s not really what we’re doing. We’re grieving for something, or someone, lost; for a future we hoped for that won’t ever come to pass. More than that though, we’re remembering. So often we forget that, which is ironic really. When we listen to that same song, or watch that same movie, over and over, we’re reliving the joys of the past. We think we’re grieving for their loss, but we don’t lose them. What we’re really grieving is that there won’t be more like that. And we’re right, there won’t be, but there will be new joys.

It’s that feeling that I try to capture in my books. Each ends on a hint of sadness, but with the light of hope just visible on the horizon.If you finish one of my books and you’re crying, that’s okay, but I also hope you’re smiling as well. There is no darkness that won’t eventually end at sunrise. There is always hope. That’s what the bittersweet means to me. It is the happiness we find, that we hold on to, and carry with us for our entire lives. Sure, we might find some sadness and carry that for a time as well, but we have to eventually let it go. When we do, there is more room for new happiness. So listen to sad songs, watch sad movies, but always find the bliss behind that sorrow. Experience the latter because it reminds you of the former, and always be looking to the horizon for the rising sun of a new day.

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Cover Reveal: Faithful by Michelle Hauck

Michelle Hauck is a fellow Harper author and today she’s revealing the cover of the second book in her Birth of Saints series, Faithful, and it’s an awesome cover. More than that, I’m sure the story will be even better! Her first book, Grudging, was an excellent read.
Added bonus, an exclusive excerpt and a chance to win a SIGNED copy of Grudging!
 
On to the reveal!

Title: FAITHFUL (Birth of Saints #2)
Author: Michelle Hauck
Pub. Date: November 15, 2016
Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse
Formats: eBook
ISBN: 9780062447173
Find it: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Goodreads

Following Grudging–and with a mix of Terry Goodkind and Bernard Cornwall–religion, witchcraft, and chivalry war in Faithful, the exciting next chapter in Michelle Hauck’s Birth of Saints series!

A world of Fear and death…and those trying to save it.


Colina Hermosa has burned to the ground. The Northern invaders continue their assault on the ciudades-estados. Terror has taken hold, and those that should be allies betray each other in hopes of their own survival. As the realities of this devastating and unprovoked war settles in, what can they do to fight back?


On a mission of hope, an unlikely group sets out to find a teacher for Claire, and a new weapon to use against the Northerners and their swelling army.


What they find instead is an old woman.
But she’s not a random crone—she’s Claire’s grandmother. She’s also a Woman of the Song, and her music is both strong and horrible. And while Claire has already seen the power of her own Song, she is scared of her inability to control it, having seen how her magic has brought evil to the world, killing without reason or remorse. To preserve a life of honor and light, Ramiro and Claire will need to convince the old woman to teach them a way so that the power of the Song can be used for good. Otherwise, they’ll just be destroyers themselves, no better than the Northerners and their false god, Dal. With the annihilation their enemy has planned, though, they may not have a choice.

A tale of fear and tragedy, hope and redemption, Faithful is the harrowing second entry in the Birth of Saints trilogy.

Exclusive Excerpt!

 
Not for the first time, Claire reconsidered her decision to stay when Ramiro had asked her. She’d lingered out of curiosity—and truthfully because it felt good to be needed—but they didn’t need her now with the Northern army defeated. She could return to the swamp and away from so many people. Despite her hopes of friends and community, she felt awkward here. Reason said she’d get used to their ways, but being around so many folk made her want to hide. Everything pressed down. The walls of the tent shrunk, pinning her in, and smothering her. It became hard to breathe.
She reached for a fresh strip of cloth, only to have her hand shake. She snatched the material and began to roll it, trying to shut out everything else, including her own doubts.
Before she could find a semblance of peace, though, someone shouted. Ladies screamed. Claire looked over her shoulder at the noise. A brown-bearded man in a poncho and a floppy hat ran in her direction. “My family is dead, because of the evacuations. Because of you.”
Claire gasped. He seemed to be talking to Beatriz, then his gaze found Claire.
“Witch!” His outstretched hand suddenly held a long butcher knife. “Witch! Stay away from us! Murderer! Abomination! Die!”
Fronilde dropped to the ground, but Claire couldn’t move. Surprise robbed her brain of a Song to stop him. Even the words of the Hornet Tune, which she knew as well as her name, deserted her. The man closed as everyone scrambled out of his way. Then Beatriz sprang from her chair to stand over Claire, holding up her hand. The tall, black-lace mantilla atop her head waved like a flag. “Stop.”
Something about the authority in the First Wife’s voice—or maybe her simple resistance instead of cringing or scrambling away—brought the man up short, making him pause for a moment. Just the moment the bodyguard needed to crush the lunatic to the floor and overpower him, wrestling free the knife. More guards came running from outside.
Breath rushed back in Claire’s lungs. Beatriz sniffed and touched a spot on her chest over her heart and then her forehead and stomach areas. “Imbecile. He didn’t know who he was dealing with.”

About Michelle:

 

Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling
metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two teenagers. Two papillons
help balance out the teenage drama. Besides working with special needs children. By day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. A book worm, she passes up the darker vices in favor of chocolate and looks for any excuse to reward herself. Bio finished? Time for a sweet snack.
She is a co-host of the yearly contests Query Kombat and Nightmare on Query
Street, and Sun versus Snow.Her epic fantasy, Kindar’s Cure, is published by Divertir
Publishing. Her short story, Frost and Fog, is published by The
Elephant’s Bookshelf Press in their anthology, Summer’s Double Edge.
She’s repped by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary.

Giveaway Details:
2 winners will receive a signed  of
GRUDGING, US Only.

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