Saturday, January 30, 2016

Character Development and Pacing--Make Room for Quiet Moments

Before I even start this post, I want to thank everyone who has been so supportive of my Los Nefilim series. Your reviews, good or bad, mean the world to me, because while I am sure of my story and skill, I still enjoy seeing what resonates--or what doesn't--for the readers. The fact that all of you are just as busy as I am, and still take those few minutes to comment, simply makes me appreciate your reviews that much more.

One thing everyone seems very unified about (so far, anyway) is the relationship between Diago and Miquel, and the quiet family moments that involve Diago's son, Rafael. These are what some readers might call the boring bits, but I never do. I place these familial scenes within the story, not just for character development, but also to help the pacing.

When I worked in radio--many, many, many years ago--I was told to think of the musical segments as waves. Begin with a soft tune, then choose songs that gradually build the tempo until the third or fourth song was upbeat and fast before moving the pace back toward softer music.

The technique was all about pacing the music so that the sounds would be pleasing to the listener. We do the same thing in stories by making the action rise and fall in a logical manner.

Even in shorter works, such as novellas, readers need a little breathing room between the action scenes, or in cases such as The Second Death: Los Nefilim, Part 3, before the action takes off. Most often, I use these scenes as a break from the action, but every now and then, I start the story with them, especially in one like The Second Death.

The logic behind beginning with an intimate scene in The Second Death was to bring the reader back up to speed with what had transpired in Without Light or Guide: Los Nefilim, Part 2 while adding enough new content to keep the reader engaged. My key to making these scenes work is keeping them short and intimate through the use of dialogue.

In this snippet, which is about 600 words, I am reminding the reader of how other members of Los Nefilim view Diago, and by extension daimons, through the peripheral character Lucia, an angel-born Nefil who hates daimons. Since I didn't want to give any spoilers, I had to choose one of the more innocuous conversations for this post.

For those new to the series: Rafael is Diago's six-year-old son, and Miquel is Diago's partner.

Diago followed Rafael into the bathroom and picked up his comb.
“No! No!” Rafael ran his wet fingers over his unruly locks. “You don’t need to comb it, Papa. I’m Gitano.” He shook his head. “My hair is wild like my spirit.”
“Wild spirits in this house comb their hair.” Diago grabbed a towel and wiped his son’s damp fingers. Stray hairs drifted into the sink’s basin and joined those of Miquel and Diago. He wiped the strands off the porcelain. “It looks like a family of bears lives here.”
Rafael giggled and raised his arms over his head, hands clenched like claws. He roared until the comb snagged a tangle. “Ow!”
Diago leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “Then stay still. Even bear cubs don’t wiggle when their papas comb their hair.” 
“Bears don’t comb their hair.” The child’s busy fingers found a chip in the sink’s porcelain. “When I’m grown up, I’m never combing my hair.”
“Don’t you want to look nice for Ysa today?”
He picked at the sink’s scar. “I want to stay home today.”
“You can stay with Lucia and Ysa for a little while.”
Rafael said nothing.
“Don’t you like playing with Ysa?”
“Yes.” Rafael rubbed his thumb around the chip.
“So?” Diago worked his fingers through a snarled lock and held his breath. Had he and Ysa fought? A generous girl, Ysa could sometimes be overbearing, but Diago had never known her to intentionally hurt another person. “Why don’t you want to go?”
He shrugged.
Diago kept his tone even as a suspicion caught up with him. “Is it Lucia?”
A moment passed and Diago thought Rafael wasn’t going to answer him. Finally, his son nodded.
“And what does she say?” Because it was Lucia, it had to be something out of her vicious mouth.
Another shrug. “Just things.”
“What kind of things?”
“She said I should never go to Morocco, because I am small and dark like a monkey. She said someone would see that I am daimon and stuff me in a bottle and make me a jinni. Then she laughs like it’s a joke, but her eyes are all hard and mean.”
Lucia. Ysabel’s governess made no secret of her hatred for Diago, which was fine with him, but taking her pettiness out on Rafael was a step too far.
Diago was careful to keep his anger out of his face and voice. He didn’t want Rafael to think he was upset with him. Instead, he took his son’s shoulders and gently turned the child so he could see his face. He realized a river of tears would be preferable to the hurt he saw in Rafael’s eyes. “You know what? You can come with us this morning. I’ll bet Father Bernardo has someplace where you can sit and draw pictures while we talk, hmm?” He smoothed Rafael’s hair and glanced into the hall to see that Miquel had joined them. How much had he heard?
Diago didn’t have long to wonder.
Miquel came into the bathroom and stood behind Diago. “Pick him up.”
Diago lifted Rafael so he could see himself in the mirror. Three faces, three shades of skin that passed from Rafael’s light gold to Diago’s tawny flesh, and finally Miquel’s dusky brown.
Miquel made a great show of assessing their faces. “You know what, Rafael? I am darker than you.”
“Miquel is Gitano, too,” Diago whispered in Rafael’s ear. “And everyone thinks he is very, very handsome.” Including me, he thought as he examined his lover’s reflection.
A ghost of a smile touched Rafael’s mouth.
“And your papa is part daimon like you,” Miquel said. “No one has stuffed him in a bottle and made him a jinni.” He reached around Diago to touch Rafael’s chin. “No one is going to mistake us for monkeys, or jinn.”
“That’s right,” Diago said. “We’re a family of bears.”
Rafael gave a soft roar and the mischievousness returned to his eyes.
Quiet moments don't have to be boring. Just remember to use them to keep the story moving forward and the reader will remain engaged. This particular snippet precedes a very violent scene, which has a lot more impact, because the reader is allowed to experience a gentler moment with the family prior to the violence. By seeing how Diago, Miquel, and Rafael interact here, their subsequent actions, and the risks they take, are believable to the reader.

The other overriding theme that runs through this section is Diago's dual nature, which is an important part of the story. While Diago is growing more comfortable with his both his heritage and his place within Los Nefilim, he is sacrificing the daimonic side of his nature in order to fit in. Before it's over, Diago will be forced to rely on his daimonic nature to deceive an angel. In doing so, he discovers the birth of a modern god—one that will bring about a new world order from which no one can escape.

So stay tuned, on March 29, 2016 The Second Death is coming ...

The year is 1931.
The city is Barcelona.
The war between the angels begins in earnest.
Whose side are you on?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Rules for Being a Girl who Geeks

I talk a lot about internalized misogyny. Largely, I struggle with it, and I suspect I'm not the only one. I still find myself tripping over it. And hey, I can only imagine how rough it is when you add in race, religion, class, disability, and non-cis genderedness. Oppression is a system, and it isn't even a creative one.[1] Chances are if one group is affected, another one will be as well using almost exactly the same words and images. Which brings me to Geek of the Female Persuasion. This is going to be a bit rambly. I'm sick and haven't recovered enough brain power to be concise. Sorry.

As a girl I grew up believing the following:

1) Geek Girls/Tomboys are not like other girls. We're better. We aren't all the silly, stupid, weak, girlie things that girls are. We don't even associate with girls who are because that shit is catching. Boys like us because we are like them. Don't do girl things.

2) Girls who are not girlie are safer and more successful. If you're one of the boys, you're less likely to be treated as a sex object. You aren't percieved as threatening--provided you aren't too good at boy things, nor are you threatened--provided you overlook anything offensive said in your presence. If you voice an objection, you will remind the boys that you are not as they are, and they will turn on you. Hiding is your safest option. Living in fear is better than not living at all.
3) Do not join with other girls even if they're like you and not like other girls. To do so draws attention to your girlness. See rule 2. You must be an exception. An exception is only an exception when there is only one. Too many girls in a group will be percieved as a threat.[2] No matter what, do not group together. If you try, there will be competition among you.[3] There must be a Final Girl because there can only be one Girl Not Like Other Girls in a group.

4) Being attractive means that you will be harassedThus, be attractive but not too attractive. Non-attractive girls do not get abused or assaulted, but at the same exact time they are ignored. You need attention to survive, but not too much.

No one sat me down and told me these stupid things. These rules are what I learned through observation and example. They're also damned near impossible to root out of your brain once planted there, and they are planted in most (western) womens' brains.

This weekend I was at a convention, and I had a wonderful, wonderful, lovely time. It was-thanks to the efforts of the con volunteers-full of all the people I usually don't see unless I'm at WFC or WorldCon. However, I found myself struggling with a number of lessons. Mind you, they were good lessons, and I'm thankful for them. I learned a great deal over the weekend. Kameron Hurley has made it clear that I'm not the only one. And I'm also thankful for John Scalzi. Y'all, John uses his super powers for good. I admire that. Both gave me the courage to introduce myself to all sorts of people I'm usually too shy to approach. Anyway..some other things happened.

The first day, we had Archery with Authors. It was a brilliant idea and so much fun. We spent the first fifteen minutes signing forms and carefully reading/initialling the safety rules for the range. No one wants to be sued. Ultimately, I did okay. (My first shot was a bulls eye as luck would have it, and it was luck.) I did better once the woman who worked at the range gave me a properly powered bow about halfway through. (With the right bow I consistantly hit within the target rings. I like archery.) She also told me to get my hair up and away from the bow string. So, I knotted my hair on top of my head. This almost always results in spiky hair. I like that. Yay, punk! I practiced for a while. I noticed that the manager of the range kept treating Diana Rowland in a manner that was more than a bit creepy. He kept referring to her as "Blondie" in a flirty condescending manner and handed her the pink bow. It disturbed me, but I figured she would eventually tell him to fuck off. She didn't as far as I could tell. (Hey, we all have to judge how safe it is to push back.) Then the range manager came up really close to me and started fondling my hair and touching my back. "I like your hair. I tell you what. Why don't we stand you up by the targets and see if people can shoot your hair?" This, after all the forms explaining how dangerous it was to be anywhere near the targets. He continues to play with my hair as if this is perfectly okay. I said, "I've an idea. Why don't I practice Juijitsu on you? That sounds like more fun." He dropped his hand and left like he'd been burned. Ultimately, I didn't report it because I felt I'd handled the situation, but I did talk about it and am talking about it because it should be discussed. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that young, pretty women are the only ones who have to worry about harrassment. Rule 4 is bullshit. Men will pull this crap with any woman. Period. Harrassment, abuse, and assault is about power. It is not about sex. Sex is the weapon not the goal.

My first panel at the con was titled How Many Genders? (or something like it) and the moderator was not able to make the convention due to the weather. We had a transgendered woman, two cis women, and a cis male. (It doesn't sound like much but I can't tell you how many of these panels I've been on and it's all cis women.) The transgendered woman volunteered to speak, but I moderated instead because we had two cis women and we needed the transgendered woman's voice on the panel. Also, if the lone cis male had moderated that would have sent some bad messages. All in all, that went great--that is until an audience member addressed a question to the lone cis male like this: "As the only author on this panel..." I stopped him at once. I pointed out what he'd just done.[4] He acknowledged the problematic statement and then went on with his question. To his credit, he came up to me after and apologized. He went on about being from the literary side of things, and how helpful the panel was and so on and then again implied that I was not an author. "Dude. You did it again. I'm an author." He said, "But you didn't introduce yourself as one." My mouth dropped open. "I did too." and then I walked away because I'd had enough of his shit.

The biggest aspect of the weekend for me was learning to open up the circle as Kameron Hurley said. I gave myself permission to invade the Dude-Bro circles when they manifested. As an author of an Epic Fantasy series, it's important for me since virtually the entire genre is a Giant Circle of Dude Bro--particularly if you're writing about military things. Learning how to make space and take the space when it was offered is huge. And that last point is a bigger issue than you'd think. I was raised Catholic. Accepting the positive things (like opportunity) when they are given is hard. Catholicism doesn't teach that. What it does teach--especially to women--is that suffering is best. Pfft! That said, let's circle back.

I used to wonder why I couldn't get all my wonderful SF writer friends together. See those rules up there? The ones I learned as a girl? That's why. And it's not just other women. It's ME. I absolutely know this now. 2016 is going to be the year I fight that crap. It's going to be the year I create a fucking social circle and open it as wide as I can. It's going to be the year I stop and think. Because it's too important not to.
[1] The Irish weren't considered to be 'white' for quite a while. Then it was the Italians. Jews. And so on. White has nothing to do with skin color, not really. It's about power.
[2] See the Seventeen Percent rule: “If there's 17 percent women, the men in the group think it's 50-50,” Geena Davis told NPR. “And if there's 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.” Read more at the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media site.
[3] This is practically instinctual and can be traced back to a time when women were not legally permitted to hold jobs. Thus, marriage to an established, financially stable male was a matter of life and death. And so the need to be attractive carries with it an unconscious competitiveness. You can firmly disbelieve this thing is awful and still find yourself comparing yourself to the other women in the room in a competitive way. It's less so when you're married, but it's still there.
[4] We had one writer early in her career, one non-fiction author, and two established authors.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The trouble with writing trilogies

Or series at all for that matter :)

Last week, I got the edits for Future Found, the first book in the new gadda trilogy (sequel to my Dream of Asarlai trilogy). I'm not as advanced as I'd like to be because I hurt my back a couple of weeks ago and it's hampering my computer time. But on Tuesday I was powering through and I came to a realisation.

There was a lot of things I'd put into that first book that I'd completely forgotten about when writing the second.

Now, there is an easy way to solve the problem of forgetting things in the process of writing a series (which can take years) - that's to plan the entire thing out to start with. And I'm sure that there are smart people out there that do that sort of thing.

I'm not one of them. I do plan some books, and I have a general plan for the trilogy, but not a specific one. So I'd completely forgotten that the Sabhamir identified the three attackers in the first book, and then he spends the second book trying to figure out who they are. I'd completely forgotten that one of the secondary characters is sleeping with every woman he can to try and get her pregnant and if he succeeded that would impact the second book. I'd completely forgotten that I was setting one character up to be the baddie when in fact I didn't want him to be apparent as the baddie at that time.

Thankfully, I got the edits for the first book while I was finalising the second book and planning the third, so I can make the changes I need to. But sometimes, you don't get that luxury. Sometimes, the first book gets published, and then you're writing the second or third and you realise you can't do x or y because of what the readers already know.

Again, a problem solved if you planned the books.

One person that isn't planning his books is, of course, George R R Martin. In fact, he's on record as saying part of the reason the last book ran so late was because he hadn't planned and he'd written himself into some knots that took a lot of working to figure out.

Thankfully, a trilogy doesn't give you enough space to knot yourself up that much. But I do have a friend (who shall remain nameless) who forgot a character for the entire second book of the trilogy and then had to work out how the hell to explain what they'd been doing off-page all that time when they were needed in the third book.

So the moral is - plan your series.

Except I doubt I ever will. Much of the fun of writing is in exploring and wondering what will happen next. That thrill becomes all the greater when it's a story stretching over multiple volumes.

I guess I'm a sucker for punishment.

What are some of the worst mistakes you've seen writers make in a series?

Find out more about my gadda books (urban fantasy romance) at my website.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Why Zombie?

iZombie's Rose McIver
Hi Everyone,

While watching the return of iZombie this week (Method Head, S02E10), it struck me how much these creature have evolved – Zombies, that is, not the CW or TV show runners in general (though maybe them too!).

As I wrote in a 2013 review of Warm Bodies, romance wasn’t the most expected direction the Zombie genre could take.

But maybe social psychologist Sara Sutler-Cohen can make sense of it:
"On-screen zombies have always reflected their era, creating a cultural arc and a ‘mirror image of what’s happening in society at that moment’."
If that's the case, the original attributes of zombies (White Zombie in 1932) including lack of speech or self-awareness, single-minded hunger for human flesh, slow, staggering gait, unstoppable, corpse like physicality controlled by a voodoo master, mirror something of the times. The zombie image didn’t waver much for the next seventy years and might reflect a culture grappling with issues of power, control, freewill and self-determination. Maybe throw in fear of death.

Not until 1985 do we see a change with the first brain-eating zombies (in Return of the Living Dead, directed by Dan O’Bannon). It makes them even more terrifying as the brain (memories, choice, more impulse control) indicates our conscious volition and individuality. Our identity. This might correspond to the the post-modern perception of perpetual incompleteness and deconstructivism where reference to cultural, ideological and moral opinions are reappraised (the death of the author - a zombie ate their brains?)

French TV drama series Les revenants
By the 2000s, we start to see quicker, more dynamic and resourceful zombies. They're becoming a lot more like us. In Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002), these iSmart zombies are the results of infection, not magic. The fear is what can 'get into us' from the outside - AIDS, Bird Flu, Ebola . . .

Then came 2010 with Isaac Marion’s archetype shattering novel, WarmBodies were our hero is a zombie who falls in love and turns into a real boy again.  It was followed by the French TV drama series Les revenants, or The Returned (2012), with deceased teenagers returning home years after her death, complete with memories, self-awareness and angst.

Warm Bodies - a Zombie love story
The latest in the tropes in of highly functional zombies is the Olivia Moor character on iZombie. She's a top med-student and fiancé turned zombie. In this new, DC Comic based, Zombie universe, the affliction has it’s perks in the form of memories (where eating the brains for a victim can lead to solving the crime.) Liv Moore not only can love individuals, she's driven to help others as well. Quite the turnaround from 1932s White Zombie.

Does this mean we, as a reading and viewing collective, are opening up to the perceived, monstrous 'others' out there in the world? Are we connecting with our inner dark side and transforming it through love? Definitely a thought I want to explore

And no, my next book is not a zombie romance, (it's an urban fantasy featuring Ava Sykes - a creature of a whole other kind), but I do think we can learn from this collective shift toward monsters with heart.

How about you? A fan of the zombie? New or old? Feel free to share in the comments. xxKimmy

Kim Falconer is a Supernatural Underground author writing paranormal romance, urban fantasy, YA and epic science fantasy novels.

You can find out more about Kim at the 11th House Blog, and on FaceBook and Twitter.

She posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month and runs Save the Day Writer's Community on Facebook.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2016: Year of the Like

Happy 2016 Everyone!

I am quickly typing this up as I watch the Bean roll around on the baby monitor, but I wanted to make sure that I got to reach out and type at you guys in this new year.

A New Year! We Did It!

The one thing that I want to leave behind in 2015 is all the negativity. I don't know how many articles, vlogs comments, news broadcasts I watched that were so filled with anger and hate and ignorance. Like Felicia Day, I sort of thought the internet was where we could find your kind of weird, but it turns out, you can also find your kind of hate or prejudice and wallow in it.

There is a function on Facebook that is starting to really bother me. The Like Button. Its a nice feature, but I think we as a Digital culture are getting lazy. Clicking a button was supposed to convey that you agreed with someone or wanted to support their cause. But with a new generation freaking out when only a 10 people like their selfie, I'm wondering if we are getting too focused on counts and not content.
When thumbs-up replace guns, the world is a better place!
(not a comment on gun control- just a funny)

So for 2016, I'm going not only put some nice out on the interwebs, but also explain why I like things. Give Kudos where Kudos is due. I'd like to explain what these TV shows, books, characters, actors, or whatever else inspire my life and what I think they can bring to yours. I want to be the change I want to see in the world. And if a few pictures of pretty boys will do that, so be it!

So for this month I like to 'Like' that we all have a clean slate. We are all given the choice to do something different this year. Resolutions or not, there is something very refreshing about the month of January so I hope you take a little time to figure out what you want to put out into the world this year.

Now go do it! Be the change!


Amanda Arista

Friday, January 1, 2016

Looking Forward To 2016 — And "Daughter Of Blood"

New Year is an exciting time — but even more exciting for me this year, since Daughter Of Blood, the third novel in my The Wall Of Night series will be published on 26 January.

And there is absolutely nothing more exciting than Publication Day!

Although the build-up to publication can be a lot of fun as well. You may recall that the new US covers were featured "side by side" on SF Signal in September —and they still look cool!  As do the UK covers, below. :)

No matter how cool, though, a book is more than a cover: it's also about story and that means the words on the page.

So, again on SF Signal, the very first words from Daughter Of Blood were unveiled on November 16: 

"Tongues of lightning flashed out of a bruised sky, the wildfire flickering along a broken colonnade before splitting apart around a man’s tall figure. Dead leaves drifted to either side as the rift in the air closed, but no ripple disturbed the length of the newcomer’s surcote, white over blue-black mail, or the fall of his long hair as he passed beneath a crumbing arch and into an open court, bounded by twelve paired pillars. A wide pool lay on its far side, with shallow steps leading out onto a stone platform where a woman gazed into the motionless depths. Her gossamer sleeves stirred in a slight breeze, but otherwise she was as still as the surrounding water and did not turn when the man joined her ..."

To read more, click on:



The second chapter featured on B&N SciFi only t'other week

“The three hooded figures came up Grayharbor’s Sailcloth Street just as the rain swept in off the sea for the second time that day. The deluge brought a swirl of leaves and rubbish down the deep gutters on either side of the cobbled thoroughfare, and all three leapt for the portico of Seruth’s temple where Faro had taken shelter. He heard one of the strangers curse as his boot came down in the flood. The fine black leather was soaked in an instant, and the man cursed again as he followed his companions into the porch. Faro moved further back, into the corner closest to the temple door, wary of the long black cloaks and deep hoods that did not fall back even when the newcomers sprang for shelter. They were carrying swords, too. He recognized the shape of hilt and scabbard beneath their cloaks
and knew that likely meant other weapons as well …”

For more, click on:

Chapter 2, The Serpent Prince

And there will be yet more to come — at least one more chapter preview, but possibly two, and I thought we might have some fun with deleted scenes as well.
(Lots of those! O-o)

And there might be a giveaway or two somewhere in the mix. First though, I shall have to see some printed books — and we're not quite there yet. 

It must be close now though, very close...

So as you can see, I have a lot to look forward to early on in 2016!

Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night, Book Three) is forthcoming on January 26, 2016. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, occasionally on SF Signal, and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we