Nine Fun Facts about SHAKEN

ShakenCoverSince SHAKEN came out yesterday (and a HUGE thank you to those of you who pre-ordered and ordered yesterday — you guys made my day!), I thought I’d share a few fun facts about its inception and creation. Wheeee!

  1. The San Francisco where Mitzy lives is pretty significantly different than the San Francisco in this world. I won’t go into too much detail about this here, since I wrote about it on Spellbound Scribes last week, but Mitzy’s San Francisco includes some fictional locations and some cemeteries that are no longer in use. Because magic is a part of the physical landscape of Mitzy’s world, I needed to restructure San Francisco to reflect how that might have shaped history.
  2. I worked as a reporter in Berkeley, covering Oakland and a little bit of San Francisco, too, and the Bay Area is one of my favorite places in the world. My very first job out of graduate school was working as a reporter, first as an intern and than as a police-beat reporter, in Berkeley. That job was difficult and fun and exciting and terrifying, and I think it shaped the trajectory of my entire career. I’m not a newspaper reporter anymore, but working as a reporter in Berkeley and elsewhere made me a significantly better writer than I could have been without that time of strict word limits, careful research, and tight deadlines. It also instilled in me a love of that area and its residents that I’ll never get over.
  3. When I first thought of SHAKEN, it wasn’t an urban fantasy: it was a straight-up detective novel. And it didn’t involve a serial killer. Actually, it had almost no resemblance to the book that you can now read. I thought I’d try writing mysteries to get the hang of plot and structure, but I kept getting stuck on the lack of magic and fantasy elements. I didn’t want to be a mystery writer. I wanted to write fantasy. I’ve always wanted to write fantasy, and I don’t think I’ll ever not write fantasy.Somewhere along the way of writing SHAKEN, I got the idea of a world where everyone has magic. Urban fantasy was peaking right around then, and, well, put those elements together and you get the odd little book that is SHAKEN. I’ve since gone on to write a cozy mystery (no magic! really!) and thoroughly enjoyed it, but fantasy will always be where I live.
  4. I set out wanting to write about a female addict. This was a part of my vision for the character of Mitzy from the beginning, pre-magic, pre-urban fantasy. I knew she would be from a privileged background and be forced to deal with letting go of the advantages given to her by birth. The addict-detective trope is actually pretty familiar to anyone who likes Sherlock Holmes, but that character is usually a man, not a woman. Women are addicts, too, and have to face the consequences of the choices they make while under the influence. Mitzy is my exploration of these issues.
  5. I have a Pinterest board where you can see a bit of my vision of the novel. I used it to collect faces and items and locations, and sometimes I like to peek at it and remember back when I was a baby writer and hunting for the perfect pictures of Eva Green and Nestor Carbonell. I never found my Li, sadly, but I’ll bet she’s out there somewhere.
  6. There’s also a Spotify playlist of music I listen to while writing in Mitzy’s world. This list has evolved since I wrote SHAKEN and includes some of the tracks I listened to (on a loop!) while writing DIRTY, book two of the series.
  7. I finished SHAKEN as a NaNoWriMo project. I distinctly remember starting the book in the summer–this was in (gulp) 2011?–and then it languished for a couple of months around the midpoint. I decided to buckle down in November and get it wrapped up. I’m pretty sure it took me a month or so into December, but “cheating” at NaNo and writing 50,000 words on a project I’d already started gave me a HUGE boost. You absolutely can’t beat NaNoWriMo for giving yourself an exciting, encouraging environment in which to write, and I try to at least dip my toe in every year. I suspect I’ll be NaNo-ing again this year with my current work in progress.
  8. SHAKEN isn’t my first novel. Or even, technically, my second. But it is the first book I wrote to completion and recognized as worth editing for readers. The first book I really completed is a 250,000 word monstrosity that takes place in a pseuo-steampunk fantasy world. It’s about a pair of thieves who get mixed up in a political conspiracy. Someday I’d like to rewrite it, but I have too many new projects I want to pursue.
  9. You can get SHAKEN now from Amazon!

Why It Might Actually Suck to Live in the Harry Potter Universe

Some of you may regard this post as rank heresy, but I assure you, it’s all meant in good fun.

My husband and I like to play a silly and very geeky game I affectionately call, “Would You Live In That Universe?”

Okay, I don’t actually call it that, and it’s not really a game, just an ongoing discussion we pick up every few weeks or months, usually when we’ve read or watched something new and interesting. It basically just involves analyzing whether or not we’d live in a particular universe and why. Neither of us would live in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica universe, for example, but we’d both consider living in the xxxHolic world. We’re iffy on the Star Wars universe, and we’ve agreed to steer well clear of Westeros. I’d pick up and move to Hyrule, though, and Drew would probably tag along.

But the Harry Potter universe is a point of contention.

harry-potter06

I, with my Deathly Hallows tattoo and yearly reread of the books, would obviously be down with living there—at least, if I got to be a witch and not a Muggle. My husband isn’t really in favor of it, though, and after my most recent reread… well… I’ll admit he has a few points.

  1. Wizards have a shockingly lackadaisical approach to basic education and real world skills. How on earth did someone like Ron learn to read? And Mr. Weasley can’t even identify basic British currency by the numbers written on the notes? That’s some frightening ignorance, right there. We get the impression that wizard children don’t have much exposure to the Muggle world, and while I’m not a huge fan of public education, I can admit it has its values. Socializing children and teaching them to recognize basic numerals and, you know, LETTERS, is pretty important.

    And it shows, guys. It shows.

  2. Every single witch and wizard is packing. Seriously. Think about it. Wizards describe guns as a sort of metal wand that Muggles use to kill each other. Wands = guns. Every single person in this universe is carrying concealed (or waving the damn thing around in the air). At any moment, someone could hook you into the air by your foot or stupefy you or silence you or much, much worse.. If that’s not a recipe for disaster and serious bullying, I don’t know what is.

    “Oops.” Yeah, right.

  3. Animal cruelty has been institutionalized and is taught in schools. We don’t hear a lot about what happens to those hedgehogs that are getting transfigured into pincushions, but we do know they feel pain—a poorly transfigured pincushion will curl up in fear. How sick is that? And what happens to the disembodied rat tails and vanished kittens? How do we know that tail isn’t feeling unbearable pain? I don’t know about you, but I’d feel really uncomfortable transfiguring another living creature without its consent or a confident, scientific assurance that it’s not feeling any pain.

    totslly barbaric

    Killer chess pieces? Barbaric. Disembodied rat tails? Totally fine.

  4. A huge percentage of wizards are classist or ableist or racist. Okay, this one isn’t that much different than our world, but it’s still disappointing. Ron is constantly bullied for being poor. Hermione is called Mudblood how many times? Squibs are essentially disowned and banished to the Muggle world. And Muggles are regarded as precious oddities at best and disgusting animals at worst. I’ll admit that our heroes are far kinder to these subgroups, but a huge number of wizards we encounter take a very poor attitude to people who don’t look and act exactly as they do. Birth is everything in this world. Pity the Mudbloods, man, but pity the Squibs even more.

    Manners matter, Malfoy.

  5. The government is everywhere. Everyone is magically tagged until they reach the age of 17, and after that point, the magical government is still watching to make sure you don’t take one step out of line. Characters are imprisoned at the drop of a hat, or just to make people feel better (Hagrid in Azkaban? SERIOUSLY?), and the government has a hand in everything from education to medical care to journalism. I know the books are set in a time of war, but the whole question of the Trace makes me feel a little iffy about just who would be watching me.

    …because we’ll sure as damn hell be listening!

  6. Everyone seems to get married, have kids, and die really, REALLY young. Lily and James were, like, 20 when they had Harry. And in the epilogue, Harry is 36ish with three kids. That’s awesome, and great if it’s what you want, but where’s the magical birth control? Are witches and wizards at least being taught how to practice safe sex? And while it seems like Hermione and Ginny go on to have interesting careers, we don’t hear a lot about what other generations are doing. What’s Fleur doing after her marriage to Bill? What did Lily Potter do? And where on earth are Harry’s grandparents? Life expectancy in this world can’t be much more than about 50—and that’s with people like Dumbledore and Bathilda Bagshot throwing off the curve. I’d be a little concerned about burning the candle at both ends, if I lived in this universe. I’m 30 and I’m not an Auror OR a parent yet. What am I even doing with my life?

    With middle age comes… bags under the eyes?

See what I mean? Would YOU live in this universe?

Kristin’s Big Announcement

There’s a big announcement and a dancing Ewok at the end of this post, but first I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a little while.

Most of the books I’ve written have been, somehow or another, about hope.

The stories I’ve told have been about learning to believe in ourselves and our power to shape the world around us—sometimes literally. My characters find themselves or land themselves in dark places, and then claw themselves back up, because that’s what stories do: stories take us apart, with a character as our stand-in, and then they put us back together, brick by brick, until we can stand up again, even if what’s inside of us has changed a little.

Fiction shows us what we are and what we can be.

tatooine

When I set out to write SHAKEN, the very first book I queried, the book that got me my first offers of representation, I wanted to write a dark-but-funny urban fantasy about a wealthy addict, a woman named Mitzy Maddox, who has to learn that privilege and luck only get us so far. In the end, our hard work and our friends and our passions are what drive us toward our goals, and Mitzy has to discover, through fire and tears, that expecting things to happen and making them happen are two very different ways of living.

Maybe that’s not quite what I set out to write, but that’s what ended up on the page. Over the last two months, I’ve been rereading SHAKEN for the first time in more than a year, and it’s spoken to me in ways I never expected.

Most of us, over the course of our lives, will reach a point at least once when we no longer believe in ourselves. When our dreams seem like they’ll never come true and hope is fled and the Dark Side has won forever. And it doesn’t always take the extermination of a lawful good monastic cult to cause our personal universes to crumble into chaos. Sometimes the Dark Side wins because of the small, insidious voices inside of us that say, “You’re not good enough. You don’t deserve this.”

saw dark side

Mitzy faces that. I’ve faced it, too.

Luckily for both of us, we have people in our lives who pick us back up and tell us that we are good enough and we do deserve good things. Sometimes getting through the day requires a conscious choice, every second, to believe those people. When we can’t believe in ourselves, we can trust people we respect to do the believing for us.

Traditional publishing (with an agent and an editor at a big house) is good that way. Ideally, your agent is the person who believes in you every step of the way—and most successful agent/author relationships work that way. I don’t have an agent right now, but that’s a result of circumstance and not because of an unsuccessful relationship. I’ve been flying on my own for awhile now, and it’s been damned scary, like flying an X-Wing down a trench with my eyes closed. (Somehow, this post about Serious Business became an extended Star Wars metaphor, but I’m pretty okay with that.)

luke-leia-star-warsLuckily, I have people in my life who have held my hand and kept me going, and, when things got really bad, bundled me up in a warm blanket, gave me a cup of tea, and told me that they had never stopped believing in me, not even for a second.

Every single day of my life, I am grateful to those people.

But ultimately, it’s belief in ourselves that gets us from Point A to Point B on the road called life. Sitting on the sidelines of our own lives, waiting for things to happen—well, that’s the road to madness. I am the only one who can actually change my life. Han and Leia can tell Luke he rocks all day long, but Luke’s the only one who can master his anger and fight Darth Vader and… Yeah, okay, the Star Wars metaphor fell apart a little.

The point is, sometimes we have to take a chance… on ourselves.

And that’s what I’m doing. dancing

On October 13, SHAKEN will be available to the world. Yep, I’m joining the wonderful world of indie authors! In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to see the cover, find out where you can read a snippet or two of the book, and even get a chance to receive an eARC! Wooo! But for now, if you want, you can hop on over to Amazon and pre-order the ebook.

So what’s it all about?

Inspector Mitzy Maddox is one of the lucky few: she can see other people’s magic, use her trust fund to buy any shoes she wants, and drink her way through a fifth of vodka in the time it takes a fairy to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

But when a serial killer surfaces in the Bay Area who drowns wealthy women in the bathtub and drains them of their magic, Mitzy discovers she can’t use any of her gifts to track the murderer. With a tight-ass half-fairy for a partner and the less-than-legal help of a sizzling reporter, Mitzy sets out to find the murderer—and to discover how he’s stealing his victims’ magic.

Now Mitzy must learn to stay afloat without her magic and her flask long enough to catch the killer—or she’ll be the next to drown.

Available October 13, 2015: preorder now!

 

 

Why I No Longer Write Book Reviews

I’ve had some folks asking me lately why I don’t write book reviews anymore. The short answer is, “I’m lazy.” The long answer has to do with sensitive authors, Goodreads bullies, and my own strange mental categorization of the books I read.

You can read elsewhere about fake reviews, Goodreads bullies who gang up on authors just for fun, and petty author reactions to reviews, so I won’t talk much about that. The truth is, I’ve had little but positive experience writing reviews here on my blog. When I included David Anthony Durham’s Acacia on my list of fantasy novels I should read, he sent me a very nice note encouraging me to finish his book. (BTW, Mr. Durham, I finished it and it was fantastic!) My readers here are awesome, and you all generally engage in polite, thoughtful discussion of what I have to say. Go us.

So the truth is, my stubborn refusal to write book reviews, even on Goodreads, is due more to my own inability to distinguish between a good book and a great book, and my reluctance to publicly say, where the author can read it, “YOUR BOOK SUCKS OMG YOU SHOULD DIE IN A FIRE.” (Not that I would say it like that.)

Really, I just love books and authors. I rarely read a book I would rate below two stars, and I’m a voracious enough reader that I’ll plow through just about anything in a few days. (And then, once I’m done, I want to READ MOAR, not spend time navel-gazing about what I just read. I’m all about the instant gratification. So sue me.) Because of my attitude toward reading and writing (YES, MORE PLEASE!), I end up wondering how to distinguish between the books I adore and the books I just really loved.

How do you compare Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, which I read this summer and completely adored, with Tiffany Reisz’s The Mistress, which I just finished and could hardly stand to put down? One is a five-star book because the writing was flawless and the content practically life-changing, and one is a five-star book because I love the characters and the plot held me in its slobbery teeth for 400 pages. But even though I loved The Mistress, I just wouldn’t put it on the same shelf as The Dispossessed or Tigana or Possession or even Words of Radiance, all books whose honor I would protect with fisticuffs. And where the hell on the spectrum do Jane Austen’s books fall? How do I compare the books that are practically my Bible with anything else I’ve ever read?

I think I need a sixth star just for books that are so good, I hug them tenderly when I finish them.

 

 

Maybe I’m over-thinking it, but I really just can’t do it. I can’t distinguish between the love and REALLY SUPER LOVE.

Do you write book reviews? Do you use Goodreads? How do you rate books?

A Bosom Release and Giveaway

It’s here! IT’S HERE! IT’S HEEEEEERE!

weekend-update

What, you ask? Why, only the release day of my bosom friend Emmie Mears’s debut novel, THE MASKED SONGBIRD!

Pretty exciting, right? My little bosom writer friend has grown up into a superhero, book-releasing author friend, and I couldn’t be more proud. For those of you who don’t know, Emmie and I “met” through our blogs almost three (or was it four?!) years ago. We quickly bonded over shared love of awesomeness like Buffy and gaming, and, you know, that crazy thing we do called writing. Before we knew it, we were talking almost every single day via G-chat or text and “introducing” each other to our families (read: felines) on Skype.

Since then, I had the great pleasure of flying out to stay with her for Capclave, where we met George R. R. Martin and got to have in-person shenanigans for the first (but definitely not the last) time. Our friendship has blossomed, and Emmie is one of the more important people in my life these days. (That title comes with a special t-shirt, you know…. okay, I lie. It doesn’t. But it should!)

To celebrate her release day, I thought we could have a little digital release party right here on my blog, where the adventure began. I’ll be giving away THREE copies of the book, and, believe it or not, it gets even cooler than that.

You see, Emmie’s book is part of an urban fantasy box set from Harlequin, and if you win the giveaway, you’ll receive THREE OTHER BOOKS as part of the deal. Pretty awesome, right? Check it out:

Reap & Redeem by Lisa Medley: A reaper who has given up on salvation, Kylen lives for nothing more than destroying demons. But when he accidently saves a dying woman, he rediscovers his mission—and his heart. Now all he has to do is fight off an invasion from Hell….

The Masked Songbird by Emmie Mears: As a mild-mannered accountant, Gwen Maule’s biggest worries were her crap job and her loser boyfriend. After sipping a fizzy drink that gives her superpowers, though, she has to figure out if she has what it takes to save Scotland’s capital from a crazed villain.

Protective Ink by Misty Simon: Lissa MacLaughlin’s inking skills go beyond beautiful drawing. Her tattoos give the wearer the ability to tap into their own special powers. But when a mysterious enemy appears, Lissa’s longtime friend and one-time crush Jackson Freeling will need some protective ink of his own.

Mine Tomorrow by Jackie Braun: Devin Abernathy has turned her love of the past into a thriving business. Of course she never imagined that one of her vintage finds could actually transport her back to 1945—and into the arms of the man of her dreams. Is the past where she’s meant to be?

Are you excited yet?! You totally should be! So what do you need to do to win?

1. Comment on this post, and tell me which book you’re excited to read and why! Or what superpower you’d like to have. Or what INK you’d like to get! Or where you’d go back in time. Or how you’d last in a demonic invasion! Really, tell me anything about your interest in one of these four books.

2. Make sure you post before midnight EST, when I’ll close commenting, do the drawing, and update this post with the winners.

3. There is no step 3! Just do step 1 in accordance with step 2, and if you win one of the three copies, I’ll contact you for your email address so I can have Amazon send you the books.

Finally, let’s all join in and congratulate Emmie, Lisa, Misty, and Jackie on the release of a fantastic collection. I know I can’t wait to dig in! Congrats, all!

The Power of Partnership: Guest Post by Emmie Mears

Greetings, dear readers! Today we have a guest post from the awesome Emmie Mears, whose debut novel, The Masked Songbird, will be released from Harlequin on July 1. Check out what she has to say, and then be sure to run on over to Amazon and pre-order your digital copy today! 

The Masked Songbird_FC (2)The Power of Partnership

Many parts of life require partnership. We all know the saying about how no one’s an island, yadda yadda, but when you’re in a creative profession, you can often feel like one. In my early days of writing, I wrote like an island. I didn’t seek out critique. I didn’t read craft books. I worked in an extreme version of “write what you know.”

It wasn’t until I started really reaching out to other writers that I was able to kick my writing into the next gear. My lovely host and bosom friend, Kristin, was one of those writers.

When I started querying my first novel, I had high hopes. I thought it was ready. I’d written two and a half books and had been over my first one about fifteen times in four years. I loved my characters and my story, and I was sure I was going to get an agent.

“If you’d brought this to me four years ago, I could have sold it in a hot second.”

Those were the words I heard from a powerhouse agent at my first writing conference in New York. I was shocked, but not crushed. I got a few requests from other agents that day, all of which petered into rejections. A couple months later, a bestselling author contacted me and said she liked my blog so much that she wanted to read my fiction. I sent her the first couple chapters of this book, and crossed my fingers. When she called me to talk about it, I heard the best words I think I’d heard to that point in my career:

“I don’t think this is submission ready.”

Deep down, I’d known that I hadn’t really been editing it; I’d been tinkering. I’d been on my writing island for so long that I’d been writing around in circles without realizing it.

I put that book aside to think. Two months later, I started another book. I finished it six weeks later. That was two years ago. By then, I had a team of fantastic betas and Kristin for a critique partner. In two months, I had it polished up and ready to query.

Kristin graciously agreed to host me today. I couldn’t think of a better place to start this blog tour, because that little book I scribbled out in six weeks was THE MASKED SONGBIRD, which is coming out two weeks from today from Harlequin.

Without partners, I don’t think I would be here right now. Without the feedback of people (some of it hard to hear), my debut wouldn’t yet be happening.

We really aren’t islands; even in creative professions, we need the community of peers who can offer insight and encouragement. While people can go it alone sometimes, having partners who are with you on the same path can help you get to your destination faster.

You can preorder THE MASKED SONGBIRD here (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JD7TWZK)! Released in a box set, you get four great paranormal and urban fantasy books for less than $4!

Follow Emmie on Twitter @EmmieMears or come join her on Facebook!

IMG_7239Emmie Mears was born in Austin, Texas, where the Lone Star state promptly spat her out at the tender age of three months. After a childhood spent mostly in Alaska, Oregon, and Montana, she became a proper vagabond and spent most of her time at university devising ways to leave the country.

Except for an ill-fated space opera she attempted at age nine, most of Emmie’s childhood was spent reading books instead of writing them. Growing up she yearned to see girls in books doing awesome things, and struggled to find stories in her beloved fantasy genre that showed female heroes saving people and hunting things. Mid-way through high school, she decided the best way to see those stories was to write them herself. She now scribbles her way through the fantasy genre, most loving to pen stories about flawed characters and gritty situations lightened with the occasional quirky humor.

Emmie now lives in her eighth US state, still yearning for a return to Scotland. She inhabits a cozy domicile outside DC with two felines who think they’re lions and tigers.

 

A Writerly Proposal: Collectives

This opinion piece from The New York Times, called, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader,” has sparked a small Twitter revolution this evening (one of many, I’m sure), and got my husband and I chatting once again about publishing.

Writers and readers like Colin Robinson, author of that post and—dare I say it—elitist reader, likely detached from “average” readers like myself, the voracious consumers of genre and commercial fiction, argues that the digital ADD of contemporary readers has led to the death of the midlist and the popularization of writing and reading generally, the so-called “displacement of literary culture’s traditional elite.” He says that current publishing models are leading to the death of the midlist author and a general decline in quality, both of written works and engagement of readers with books and each other.

That’s quite a mouthful.

Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan of the “article,” and I’m quite sick of seeing opinion pieces bemoaning the sad state of readership and fiction.

Yes, yes, anyone can self publish on Amazon, and yes, yes, cheap prices may be cheapening content. Yawn. I’m sick of the bitching and ready to start seeing some positive action to make things better.

I’ve gotten myself away from the point I wanted to make—you see, this is the drivel written by easily distracted, untrained female writers like myself!

*grin*

Anyway, husband and I were talking, and my recent infatuation with the marvelous and magical anthology Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells made me think that I’d love to see collectives of writers in similar genres and with similar styles producing serialized novels and/or collections of short stories in digital format.

Writers like, say, the Spellbound Scribes, could work together and release a monthly e-zine of fiction that readers could subscribe to for a low fee, and we split the revenue among contributors. Readers get to read writers they love and meet new authors, follow novel-length stories month by month, and read shorts from writers who aren’t contributing a long work at the moment. If an author I knew I loved joined in on such a project, I’d subscribe in a heartbeat.

Voilà. A new model, right there, one that benefits readers and indie writers. Yes, it’s a commitment. Yes, we would have to police our own quality, and yes, we would need to recruit an artist or two to contribute. But that’s why it’s a collective: authors work together to write, market, and publish their own work.

Easier said than done, but I’m nothing if not a dreamer.