Monday, March 30, 2009

More on UF as a genre

Okay, a couple of quick things first:

First, and most importantly. Last night I noticed Mrs. Giggles--whom you all know I adore--linked to my Jade Goody entry and wrote an excellent and very informative post about Pap smears and the types of cells/cell abnormalities found in them. It's well worth a read; great information there. But more importantly, Mrs. G. makes a point that I neglected to make: whether or not you are sexually active, you should be getting your pap smears annually. I don't care if you're a nun, once you reach a certain age--Mrs. G suggests 18--you need to do them. And she is 100% correct. I'm ashamed that I didn't mention this myself. Please...get the test, whether you're having sex or not. I need you to live so you can buy my books. :-) (No, seriously, buy my books or don't, but get the test. It could be the most important thing you ever do.)

Second, this will be my last bloggy-type blog post for a while. Thursday I'm just going to post some scheduling/update things and possible freak out a bit more. Next Monday the movers are coming; I will probably pop in for a very quick post, as I plan to open the blog to reader recommendations, which I'd like to start doing once every few months. After that we'll be in transit for the next few weeks.

Third, we had a lovely time in London this weekend. Got to meet up with fellow writer, the excellent Kaz from lj, and have a couple of drinks on Friday night, and share some giggles and gossip. Unfortunately, thanks to the vagaries of the transit system on Sundays, I did NOT get to see my friend Yeyo from lj, which I'm very unhappy about; she's been a good friend to me for almost seven years, and I'm heartbroken that I didn't get to say goodbye to her and her wonderful hubby in person. But we did get to the British Museum and the Natural History museum, and to just be in London one more time; I do love London. Sigh.

Okay. Remember my post about UF as a genre, and how it's changing? I had no idea when I wrote it that the post would be such a big deal; it's still getting comments and was actually quoted in an NPR interview with Mario Acevedo, which was pretty exciting.

Anyway. Like I said it's still getting comments, and I want to address a couple of those here in a new post.

First, a very nice lady posted the URL to her UF/paranormal mystery Yahoo group, which I haven't joined yet but fully intend to. At the time she posted they had over 400 members, all avid readers. So groups like that are, IMO, great places to join and be a part of, in addition to reading blogs like Urban Fantasy Land (of course!) and Bitten by Books, or livejournal groups like Urban Fantasy Fans. (And please, if you belong to or know of another fan/reader community, leave it in comments!)

Second, I had quite a few comments about the level of sex in UF, or where the line is between paranormal romance and UF. This is a really interesting question for me, because I know the Demons books come pretty close to straddling that line. In my mind they're UF, because although the Megan/Greyson relationship is a big part of the first book (and figures prominently in future books), ultimately the book is about Megan vs. the Yezer & the Accuser. She has to defeat the Accuser on her own. It's about her and her story and how she changes, and the second is the same.

The Downside books are definitely UF. There is some romance and some sex--I'm going to get to the sex part in a minute--but ultimately Chess solves the mystery and Chess has to fight the bad guys, every time. She may get a little help from her friends, and she may fall in love along the way, and she may deal with a lot of issues related to her sexual or relationship choices, but in the end it's just her doing what she has to do. And the romantic subplot stuff is a much smaller part of the books on the whole (with the possible exception of the third book, which it looks like we now might be calling SPELLBOUND GHOSTS.)

Now, one of the most recent comments the entry got was this:

I hate picking up a UF (and sometimes a SFF novel) and finding a thinly veiled romance. I am simply not into romances as a rule and really don't care to read about someone having teh hawt sexxorz.
While I appreciate that people head in the UF direction precisely because of the copious sex and romance, it is not for me. I have even taken to picking up a book in the store and skimming page by page counting the sex scenes and considering the length of the scene. 0-1 is ideal, up to 3 dependent on the length and detail. Anything above that is an automatic 'no'. I have no problems with relationships, searching, acquiring, troubles and what not. It can provide interest. I like things to be a bit more realistic than the standard romance instant lurv. I just wish books were better labeled. I have picked up novels listed as paranormal romances and found a great story with little to no sex and a more or less realistic approach to relationships. I have also picked up books labeled Scifi, fantasy or fiction with more insta-lurv and sex than a skin-a-max late night movie marathon. Hence the page by page skimming in the store. This is not to say that I haven't purchased books with, in my opinion, too much sex, I have. The story just has to be very good and I can just flip past the areas that to me, aren't important. These are very rare. I do have to laugh at myself though, wanting realistic relationships in novels which have nothing to do with reality.

I was going to reply to this in the comments but it interested me so much I thought it would be a good separate entry in itself.

First, I've gotten a few comments along the lines of "There's too much sex for me." And what troubles me about it--one of the things, anyway--is the way the commenter always seems to feel kind of sheepish about it, or like they expect to be attacked. Guys, there is no reason in the world why anyone, anywhere, should have to apologize for their reading tastes. Never. Ever. (Unless you like reading kiddie porn or something, of course.) But just because you don't want to read erotica? You have every right not to read erotica if you don't want.

I'm kind of the opposite, because I won't buy a romance if there's no sex scene and I'll skim in the store for that. :-) If there's no sex it goes back on the shelf. And I don't apologize for that. As readers of The Strumpet Series know, I believe sex scenes are important; I outlined my reasons in this entry specifically. In a nutshell, though, they are that I believe sex scenes--if well-written--show us something about the characters and their relationship that we couldn't see any other way, that they are fulcrums on which entire plotlines and character arcs can shift, and that leaving them out in essence hides things from the reader and leaves them out of important parts of the story.

But let's be honest. Not every sex scene is going to do that. They should, but they don't always. And let's be honest too, some readers just don't find them interesting or appealing. I think that's a shame, because I believe a well-written sex scene is a thing of beauty and adds a lot to a story, but I would never tell anyone they HAVE to read them if they don't like them.

But I do think this points to the other thing which troubles me, and it's one where I think those blogs and groups I linked to above can help. Because UF is a fairly new genre--which is to say, it's been around for a long time but has just gelled into "UF," everyone seems to have a different idea of what exactly it is. There are people who believe UF is exclusively first-person heroines, for example. There are people who believe that if a human is in love with a paranormal creature, it's a paranormal romance no matter how much or how little of the book is devoted to the relationship.

So it's hard to label the books correctly. It's hard to know exactly where to look and what to look for. I've seen a few people who feel PERSONAL DEMONS is a paranormal romance rather than UF.

The thing is, what used to define genre romance was the HEA--the Happily-Ever-After ending. That separated romance from anything else. But now there are books sold as romance that don't have it. There are books sold as UF that do.

And the level of sex isn't really a good indicator of genre either, as the commenter pointed out. PD has one sex scene; DEMON INSIDE has two. UNHOLY GHOSTS and the further Downside books have at least one each; two at the most. Because I do believe they're important; they're part of the story. But PD skirts the line of paranormal romance whereas UG doesn't at all, I don't think.

All of which is a rather long and convoluted way of saying this is a complex issue, and one that will probably get more so as time goes on, which is why groups and blogs and communities are important.

I dislike the mislabeling of books in general. Books should be easy for readers to find; you should get what you want without having to hunt around too terribly much. While I am absolutely an advocate of trying new and different books, it's hard to try new and different books when you don't know where those are either. This is why I want to open the blog to recommendations on Monday and why I want to keep doing so on occasion; it's why I recommend various genre blogs and groups.

But I'm really interested in your thoughts on this. How do you as a reader decide what genre is which? Where do you make the distinction? What do you look for in UF and how is that different from what you look for in para romance, if you read both?

Like I said if you know of a UF group or blog that I don't have, please leave it in comments. I'd like to keep specific titles out of this one, as we'll do that next week and hopefully that thread will keep going while I'm away.

So you tell me. What do you think?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Some news and things

Okay, I have a few bits and pieces today!

First, yes, I am pleased to announce a deal has been made for a third Megan Chase novel. From PM:

Stacia Kane's DEMON POSSESSED, the third book in her Megan Chase paranormal romance series, to Paula Guran at Juno, by Chris Lotts at Ralph M. Vicinanza (US).

I'm very excited about this third book; I think it's going to be a heck of a lot of fun to write, and we're going to answer a lot of questions and resolve some Big Things in it. I don't have an exact release date but Paula and I are hoping for early spring 2010; since you guys had to wait so long (and waited so kindly and patiently) for the second book we want to get the third one out as quickly as we can. It's going to keep me pretty damn busy for the next few months, but that's a good thing.

I also have cover art for DEMON INSIDE, the second book in the series:

I just finished copyedits for that book last night, and was pleased overall with the story and writing; as I've said, it's darker than the first, and believe me if I'd realized when writing it (I wrote it before PERSONAL DEMONS was released, remember) how popular Malleus, Maleficarum, and Spud would be I would have tried to feature them more heavily, but in DEMON INSIDE edits Paula and I both tried to see ways to give them a little more on-stage time and just couldn't; there just want's room. They're still there, of course, and two of my favorite moments in the book involve them, but you MM&S fans will have to wait for DEMON POSSESSED to get a massive fix of the Misters Brown; the book was plotted before PD came out, too, but I missed the Misters myself, when writing DEMON INSIDE, and so was really happy that the events of DP will give them plenty of room to play.

I have some sort of stomach bug or something that the Faerie brought home from her school, and so feel lousy, ugh. And I was going to do something fun today but since I have news and a cover to post I'll hold on to it until next week.

Could have sworn I had something else, though, but... I guess not. So there you go, anyway. There will be a third Demons book next year--less than a year from now, in fact, is the plan--and the second book has a cover as you can see above.

Monday, March 23, 2009

drumroll...Cover & Copy for UNHOLY GHOSTS...drumroll

OCTOBER 27, 2009...


The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen and constantly attack the living. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Consequently, there are many false claims of hauntings from those hoping to profit. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully-tattooed witch and freewheeling Debunker and ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for nailing the human liars or banishing the wicked dead. But she’s keeping a dark secret from the Church: a little drug problem that’s landed her in hot and dangerous water.

Chess owes a murderous drug lord named Bump a lot of money. And Bump wants immediate payback. All Chess has to do is dispatch a very nasty species of undead from an old airport. But the job involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and crossing swords with enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust with a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

(squeeeeee! I LOVE this cover so much I want to marry it, look how awesome!!! It's lost alittle clarity as I had to shrink it in my cheapo Photoshop knockoff program, I think, but...squeeeee!)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

So Jade Goody has died.

Of cervical cancer.

At the age of 27.

Cervical cancer is one of the slowest forms of cancer there is. If caught early, cervical cancer is nearly 100% treatable.

But Jade Goody's cervical cancer was not caught early. You know why? Because Jade Goody was unfortunate enough to live in England, where regular (not annual, I hasten to point out, but regular, by which the NHS means every three years) pap smears are not given to young women until they reach the age of 25. Twenty-fucking-five.

Many forms of cervical cancer stem from strains of HPV, HumanPappillomaVirus. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease.

That's why in the US, pap smears are recommended for all women once they become sexually active. Because sexual activity automatically increases your risk of HPV exponentially. And because even without HPV, you are still at risk (I get irritated when I see people behaving as though HPV is the *only* cause of/risk factor for cervical cancer. It's NOT) once you become sexually active.

A loose scan of my memory gives me the names of three or four of my female friends, including myself (I'll get to that in a second) who were treated at one time or another for cervical dysplasia--precancerous cells on the cervix. To a woman treatment was short and simple, and fairly non-invasive. Easy.

Pap smears save lives. Period. End of fucking story.

At least, it's the end of the story for Jade Goody, dead at twenty-seven, leaving her two small sons behind. Who wants to be the one to explain to those boys that their mother is dead now because England couldn't be bothered to spend the money for a simple test that would have saved her life? And, far worse, that rather than simply admitting they can't afford it but urging women to get them anyway, by not even recommending the test until age twenty-five they imply strongly that the pap is a waste of time, that there's no point in getting one before you hit twenty-five, even in a country with one of the highest teen birth rates in the world (Goody surely could have afforded private insurance or to get the test on her own, but she'd been told it was unecessary)? Which would certainly imply a very high rate of teen sexual activity, wouldn't it? A country which decides to save money by crushing the lives of young women and treating them as though their health is unimportant, that the pap smear is unecessary and silly? Do you want to explain that to them? I sure don't.

It's not just paps, either. Right after we moved here my husband asked his doctor about getting an annual physical. At thirty-three, with histories of cancer and heart disease on both sides of his family, he'd been getting annual check-ups for three years as recommended. The doctor laughed at him. "Oh, yes, well, that's just insurance companies in America wanting to make more money," he said. "You don't need an annual check-up until you hit fifty."

(No, this is a different doctor from the one who told him, when he went in with bronchitis and could hardly breathe, "You look healthy enough. Give it a few more days, and if you start coughing up blood come back." But the point is the same, isn't it?)

So Jade Goody is dead at twenty-seven, because she grew up in a country that told her pap smears were a waste of time. Whereas I consider her death to be a waste of time; time she could have spent raising her children and living a life.

I got my first pap smear at eighteen, because I knew I was supposed to get them once I became sexually active; it was something which had been drilled into my head by teen magazines and Health teachers and the world at large. Because I didn't have health insurance I went to Planned Parenthood and paid $35, if memory serves (they bill you on a sliding scale there. Years later I also went to PP for an HIV test, don't remember what I paid for it; I didn't think I was at risk for HIV and I wasn't, but I am a bit of a hypochondriac so wanted to be certain.) It wasn't too bad; it didn't really hurt or anything. They sent me my results; all clear.

I got another at nineteen. Another at twenty, and twenty-one. Twenty-two I skipped, but went again shortly after turning twenty-three.

That's when they dinged me.

I had moderate-to-severe dysplasia, confirmed by a biopsy done with a colposcopy (which is like a really bright light and a dye or something that shows the doctor where the "bad" cells are during the examination so he can take samples from those spots). My gynecologist--a fantastic man who went on to deliver both my children--booked me in for a LEEP biopsy, whereby a loop of wire with an electric current running through it was used to remove the cells. The only really unpleasant thing about it was the lydocaine shot; not painful, but I had an uncomfortable reaction to the lydocaine. It took about an hour.

I did not have HPV, by the way.

I went back every six months for the first year or two to get another biopsy & colposcopy. After three years I was considered "clean" and could go back to regular annual paps. Those have been clean too, ever since, although of course I've only had one since I've been (not pleasant; no chair with stirrups, you have to lie down, tilt your hips up and spread your legs, with no little paper blanket or anything, which is both uncomfortable and undignified) here because history of cervical cancer or not, the NHS considers women's health to be unimportant (another friend of mine came up against a stone wall when trying to get a mammogram at thirty-five, after every other woman in her family had been disganosed at various times with early-onset breast cancer.)

My other friends who'd also had cervical cancer, who'd had crosurgery (freezing) or LEEPs like I had or cone biopsies? All had the same outcome. One incidence; closer checkups after, eventually sliding into regular annual checks again. We were all very lucky to live somewhere that paps are taken seriously. We were all very lucky indeed.

We were also all, to a woman, under twenty-five.

The youngest was eighteen. The oldest was me, at twenty-three.

Think about that for a minute. If I had grown up here instead of there, I might very well not be alive now. I might be alive but without my two children; had the cancer spread I probably would have ended up with a hysterectomy.

Dead or infertile by the age of twenty-five. All of us. All because in order to save money the NHS pretends there's no point in doing a test, an important test which has been proven to save countless lives. Think for a minute about the women you know; have any of them had it? How old were they?

There's been a movement here since the Goody diagnosis to lower the age for pap smears to twenty, in accordance with what the other UK countries do. Which is better, but not enough.

Pap smears should be done annually once you become sexually active. End of story. On a message board a little while back some women were having a discussion about this, and one was saying (at twenty-one, I think) that she was terrified to go get the pap, that she cried at the thought of anyone who wasn't her fiance seeing her ladyparts, that she was panicky and sick and blah blah blah. And you know, I felt bad for her; I can't imagine what that kind of fear would be like. It's not one I've ever had. A doctor is a doctor. To me it's no different than having my hands examined.

But I told her something. She didn't like it and probably still thinks I'm a big old bitch for it, but I didn't apologize then and I won't apologize now, because it's true. If you're not mature enough to suck it up and get a pap smear, you are not mature enough to be sexually active.

Seriously. Responsibility is part of it (the same holds for birth control). Pap smears are part of being a grown woman and not a child. I have two daughters, and you bet your ass they're going to get their paps every year when the time comes, if I have to drag them in and hold them down on the table myself. Because they are so, so, so hugely important.

It's just too bad the NHS doesn't think so. And that now another young woman is dead because of it. I never watched Jade Goody on TV or really knew very much about her; reality TV isn't my thing, in general. But I am absolutely furious that she is dead, when she didn't have to die. I am furious that her government killed her by pretending she wasn't at risk for a disease which strikes thousands of young women every year. I am furious that they behave as though my experience and the experience of so many others is unimportant or an aberration; I cry to think of all I might have missed had I been born and raised here instead of America.

A young woman is dead today, of an entirely preventable and treatable illness. And I feel sick about it. And I hope the NHS does too, because they should be fucking ashamed of themselves.

PLEASE, if you are reading this and you are female, or if you're reading this and you know some females :-), PLEASE encourage them to get their pap smears. Please. It is so important.

NOTE: Last night I noticed Mrs. Giggles--whom you all know I adore--linked to this entry and wrote an excellent and very informative post about Pap smears and the types of cells/cell abnormalities found in them. It's well worth a read. But more importantly, Mrs. G. makes a point that I neglected to make: whether or not you are sexually active, you should be getting your pap smears annually. I don't care if you're a nun, once you reach a certain age--Mrs. G suggests 18--you need to do them. And she is 100% correct. I'm ashamed that I didn't mention this myself. Please...get the test, whether you're having sex or not.

(I'll be in a better mood tomorrow, I promise, and I'll post the OMFGAWESOME cover and back copy for UNHOLY GHOSTS, and you do not want to miss those!!!)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Some thoughts and updates and stuff

So. It occurred to me earlier that my blogging is going to be a bit sketchy for a while.

Our move is almost upon us. We leave the UK in about three weeks. I am totally freaking out.

Here's the thing. I *hate* change. I am the only person I know who once seriously considered giving up a promotion at work because it meant rather than being downstairs, my desk was upstairs. It took me a couple of weeks to get over that. No, really. Two weeks of feeling sick at work, and wrong, and missing my old cubicle buddies (who, let me emphasise, I still had plenty of contact with).

At another job, they redecorated and I cried about it. No, really. (Privately, of course; I didn't snivel where people could see me. But it just felt so wrong. It wasn't the same! It wasn't familiar! Waaaah!)

So as you can probably imagine...I am having a difficult time. I haven't slept more than four or five hours at a stretch in over a week (and yes, part of this is the aftermath of finishing the book). My stomach is in knots. Tears constantly tingle the back of my eyes; everything is changing. Our girls will have their last days at their respective schools in a few weeks; we're dropping off letters to the administrators confirming it and all that. We're going places and thinking "We're probably only going to be here X more times."

Have I mentioned that I'm totally freaking out and that I HATE change?

It's not that I'm not excited. I absolutely am. I can't wait. It's not that I don't think we're doing the right thing, because I absolutely do. And while there will be some things I'll miss...yeah, not that many, really. (Except fish & chips. Oh GODS how I will miss that, because I love it so much. Okay, that's making me want to cry.)

The worst part about all this freaking out? It's making me a bit...odd. I had the same issue before our wedding; about a week and a half beforehand I, who am (is that right? it doesn't seem right, but "is" doesn't either. This is a perfect illustration of my point, btw) usually pretty good at picking up on others' moods/attitudes, become totally incapable of doing so. I literally cannot tell if someone is joking or being bitchy or what. This makes me irritable. I don't like the way it feels.

Anyway. All this wordiness can be summed up with; I am not a happy camper at the moment and am thus trying to tread lightly. Please be gentle with me?

It can also be summed up with the following:

*I will be away next Thursday

*I will try to keep my regular Mon/Thurs schedule but can't guarantee it; as we get closer to the time I will be freaking out even more, which is boring to read about, in addition to having all kinds of stuff to do (including actual work; I still have an April 1 deadline)

*I will probably NOT be around, here or elsewhere, from April 7th-April 17th or so. I will try, but we'll be traveling for most of it. (This is actually one of the things I'm totally excited about; we'll be in NYC briefly and I get to have lunch with Agent Man, and lunch with editors, and meet the absolutely amazing people at Del Rey and Pocket, and I'm really, really so excited about it I might scream like a little girl).

*I'll try to check in at least once when we stop off at my Mom's place for a breather.

*I will be at the Romantic Times convention in Orlando; I arrive April 21st. I will be at the big EC party Wednesday night, I will be at the Saturday signing. The League of Reluctant Adults is doing a Club RT event Thursday morning with some great prizes; I'll be there. I'm doing a panel on creating an online presence on Friday at 12:30 (I think). I'll probably be in the bar the rest of the time.

*After RT I'll be visiting family and friends; so again, more sporadic posting. I hope to be all settled and ready to be Back by the second week in May.

You guys are going to totally abandon me, aren't you? I'll be gone so long you'll just forget about me. Sigh.

Anyway. I *will* have my BlackBerry the whole time, so I will still be reachable by email, but seriously. If it's not really important, you probably won't get much of a response if any (it's hard to type on that tiny keyboard. Easier than texting on a regular phone, yes, but still). Please don't take it personally if I don't reply; I have no idea how much time I'm going to have. That doesn't mean you shouldn't feel free to email me. Please do if you like. It just means I might not be able to reply.

So there you go.

Have I mentioned that I am totally freaking out? Seriously. Panic.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thoughts on finishing a book

I was going to blog today--well, tomorrow, actually, because it's 12:25 am right at this moment--about pantsing, and how sometimes really cool stuff just appears, and I've had two incidences of that in the last two days and it was awesome. And I might go ahead and blog about that at the League in the morning; I probably will.

But right now...right now I feel awful.

I just finished the book.

It should be a good thing. And it is, really. Finishing a book is a Good Thing. We *should* finish books. Especially contracted books.

But this one--new title DEVOURER OF GHOSTS--is the third Downside book. The last contracted Downside book. And I have no idea if I'll get to write more.

I certainly hope I will. I hope the series is popular enough, sells well enough to justify another contract. But there are no guarantees, as we all know; especially not in this business.

So right at this moment, instead of celebrating, instead of gleefully sitting back and having a cocktail, I am bereft. Totally and completely.

Sure, I'm not done done. I have edits. I have a subplot to strengthen and a Baddie to make badder. I have copyedits for DOWNSIDE GHOSTS. Heck, I have edits and line edits and copyedits for this book. It's not like I never get to visit this world again, or play with these characters I love so much--and I do, I really, really love them. I'm looking forward to actually reading this book first page to last, as I haven't done that yet.

But I don't know how much more playing I'll get to do. I don't know if I'll get to create new stories for them, to expand what's there. I have some scenes already waiting in my head, some plot twists and moments and scares; I have no idea if I'll ever get to write them. I have full plots for the next two books, in fact, including an entire weeklong ceremonial celebration complete with blood sacrifices and roaring fires and haunted streets...and I might never get to write any of it.

Intellectually I know I'll get over it. That after a few days I'll have found something else to work on--I'm actually 17k into a new project and I am looking forward to making some heavy progress on that--and, hey, if things don't work out I can spin those ideas into a new world and it just might work, right?

Intellectually I know I feel this way when most of my books end. It's worse for the non-series books, when you really *are* done with those characters when you write THE END. I've never cried after finishing a book until now, but I usually feel like it. Writing a book takes an enormous amount out of a person, or at least, out of me. By the time it's done I'm usually sort of a drooling goon, unable to think or talk about anything else, unable to see anything else, I'm so focused on bringing a good ending home; my eyes burn, my hands ache, my right arm is sore from moving the cursor, my knees stiff from being folded in one position for so long. I haven't gotten a solid night's sleep in a week; I wake up three or four times, jerked from dreams in which the characters act out scenes in my head. It's always like that for me as the book starts wrapping up, but this one has been worse.

So I know all this. I know I'll get over it and be okay, that I'll go to sleep now and wake up feeling much better and ready to start editing. But it doesn't help, not right now. Not when I'm facing saying goodbye. This is the series that got me an agent and my first NY deal; the one that paid for us to go back home in a few weeks. And I just love it so much and I feel so lonely and uncertain.

The part that was up to me, the real heavy lifting, is done. I know pretty much what needs to be done in edits. Aside from the subplot and strengthening it's just fine-tuning: fiddling with sentence structure, eliminating redundancies, etc. I've done what I can do, what I needed to do, and I'll continue to do so, but soon it won't matter at all. It won't matter what I think or how I feel. Because the book will be out there, in the hands of readers (um, or not, which of course is the real fear), and what they think of it will make all the difference. That's scary. Very scary. This is a very dark series, about drugs and poverty and ghettos; in this climate, are people really going to want to read about my punk-rock ghetto no-hopers? I sure hope so, but there's no way to tell, is there.

So there you go. My unvarnished thoughts on finishing a book, specifically this book, which is the last book under contract. I hope I get to write more. I want to write more, desperately.

But I might not get to. And it's hard to think about and it makes me sad. And that's where I am at this moment; just sad. And hopeful, and nervous, and scared, and wishing I could start it all over so I don't have to say goodbye.

Sorry, everyone. I'll have cheered up by Thursday, I promise.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

New Secret Sunday Snippet from UNHOLY GHOSTS up over at the Livejournal, so go check it out!

I'll be deleting it first thing tomorrow morning, probably around 2 am EDT, so...get it while it lasts. :-)

Tomorrow I'll be crowing about the joys of pantsing and the new title for the third Downside book.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

What does silence mean?

While spending a few minutes checking my lj friendslist yesterday, I came across Jim Hines's post about some big race discussion that's apparently been happening right under my nose and I wasn't paying attention.

I've seen this mentioned in passing elsewhere but given that I was on two deadlines and am trying to make heavy progress on a new project, AND have agreed to participate in a Mentoring program at the Romance Divas forum (yes, I am a mentor now; scary, huh?), my internet time has been even more limited than it usually is. Well, hell, I don't have to tell you guys that; I've been blogging regularly for, what, three years now?, and missed two scheduled posts last month because I simply didn't have time.

So I don't know what all this is about. I've spent some time following links but am still rather confused about the whole thing. And frankly I'm not sure I want to know; I avoid internet drama whenever possible, so generally when I see posts that seem to be referring to such things, at best I skim them.

There are subjects we don't approach here on the blog. We don't generally discuss politics, as you know; and if you're new to the blog, you might want to check this short post about keeping the blog light and fun, or, especially, this post about why politics are not a part of my blog and never will be. (Interestingly enough, I discovered a link to that post a while ago from a gentleman who referred to me as "that person" and said I was wrong because those of us who are educated and know the facts have a responsibility to educate others. Which amused me highly, it really did; I especially liked his bland and arrogant assumption that people who disagree with him or anyone else do so because they're stupid and uneducated, and not because they simply have different values or ideals or, you know, their own minds. And thus need to be lectured by someone who views himself as so much more clever and informed and valuable than they are; another one who must be a real hoot at parties. Which illustrated to me the point I made in that post perfectly. Anyway.)

In fact, that political post is pretty helpful as background reading here, I think. Because again, the purpose of this blog is to be fun. To have fun. To entertain. Yes, I do posts about writing and publishing, and those are meant to educate--but hopefully in an entertaining fashion. I don't see it as my job to tackle big issues or be some sort of guru (even if I actually thought myself capable of being such). I don't see this as a place to expound my political or religious or moral or whatever views--we do dip into morality on occasion, yes--because I want the blog to be an inclusive place where everyone feels welcome. Everyone. Because you are. I think and have long thought that my readers are awesome; smart, friendly, fun people, and that we're always happy to see someone new pop in and comment. There are too many places where that doesn't happen; where new commentors are ignored, where commenters who disagree with the blog's admin are ripped into and made fun of, are called names, are followed back to their own blogs and picked on there. Where questions are answered with vitriol and respectful comments with insults. This is not one of those places and it never will be. I hate those places. No matter who runs them I have never liked them, and avoid them.

All this is my way of saying that I genuinely had no idea all this drama was happening everywhere.

And I say that because in following some of the links left in Jim's posts I noticed several people bemoaning the lack of comments or support by fantasy writers.

I hardly think I'm important enough to count. I am essentially unknown; I'm not a "big voice" in any genre--I'm hardly a voice at all. So I really don't think anyone is watching me or my blog and being disturbed by my silence, but I'm going to break it anyway simply so there will be no doubt.

And really, my link-following has only skimmed the surface. I don't know how the discussion started or who did what to whom and why; I have an idea based on the bit of reading I did but how it all snowballed and blew up everywhere I don't know. And I'm not posting this in order to take sides or join the fray.

And I will say this as well. I love this blog and I love my blog readers. They are wonderful, warm, intelligent people. I'm not going to tolerate people coming here and starting shit with them. I doubt that will happen. But I'm saying it anyway.

So here is my basic statement. It's based on what I've read and it's based on seeing readers wondering why more fantasy authors haven't spoken up (and to be fair, I am certain that the vast majority of my pals have no idea this is going on either). I don't want there to be doubts and questions about why I haven't said anything. It's because I didn't know. And now that I do I am going to say something, but again, this isn't a topic I wish to have endless discussions about. I'm not joining anything. I'm just saying my piece, because even the small ampount of reading I did showed me that some truly horrible things have been said and done and I don't want there to be any doubt that I disapprove of such things.

Judging people or stereotyping them based on the color of their skin is wrong. Implying, even if you mean it kindly, that all people of a particular color or ethnicity think or feel the same about any given issue is wrong; there is as much diversity in minorities as there is anywhere else. Because we're all people.

Treating people like shit is wrong. Treating them as though they are less than human, as if they exist for your personal gratification, as though their feelings don't matter and you can just do whatever you want to them, is wrong. Ignoring the possible consequences of your actions on another person's life and/or livelihood is just wrong.

Threatening people is wrong.

Taking petty revenge on people is wrong.

Refusing to listen to other people is wrong. Discounting them and/or their veiwpoints because you don't agree or don't like what they have to say is wrong.

Judging people or calling them names simply because they don't agree with you is wrong.

We're all human. And being human means we're kind of scummy. We all have thoughts of which we are not proud. Whether it's socialization or simply the fact that at heart we all still have a greedy little "Mine! MINE!" baby who is jealous and hateful, we ALL sometimes have thoughts of which we are not proud. The human mind is a bizarre and wonderful and terrifying thing.

When I was three years old I grabbed a metal spoon from a kitchen drawer and bashed my brother over the head with it. For no reason, at least not that I can recall (I actually don't remember the incident at all). He was just sitting in a chair watching TV.

What was going on in my mind? I don't know. What I do know is, I had a thought--to bash Ray over the head with the spoon--and I acted on it. Today, I might still have the same thought; one of those crazy things that just pops into your head, like wondering what would happen if you walked up to a stranger in public and said, "You know what? I fucking hate you," and walked away, or if you pushed someone for no reason, or any number of crazy things that pop into my mind and I am pretty sure pop into everyone's minds at one time or another. But today I would not act on it. I might be secretly amused or horrified, but I wouldn't act on it. Because I'm not three anymore.

I believe racism, sexism, discrimation or whatever in any form, among reasonable people, are the same thing. We ALL have unpleasant, embarrassing, or downright hideous thoughts from time to time. Hopefully not many; hopefully not too bad. But you can't control the crazy, unlike-you thoughts that pop into your head, any more than I can control the fact that once every few years I dream I kill someone and am trying to hide the body, and the sick, horrible sense of shame and despair that dream engenders, and the intense relief on waking and realizing I have not in fact killed anyone (this generally leaves me feeling great for days: I didn't kill anyone!)

What you CAN and SHOULD control is the expression of those thoughts. And what you can and should control is how you react to having something you said commented on. You offended someone? Just apologize. Why do we all need to be right all the time? What difference does it make, really? Even if that's not what you meant. Even if you think the people interpreting your words are batshit crazy for thinking that. Just apologize. Try to figure out how or why you offended them. And let it go. Period.

It's easy. It doesn't matter. You can still think you're right, even, if you insist. But just apologize. It's not being a doormat. It's not admitting you're a racist or sexist or you discriminate against unattractive people or mice or Weeble-Wobbles. It's just apologizing, and everyone gets to move on. And I think if we all consider it we'll realize that most of the big problems in our lives could be avoided if we'd just quit having to be fucking right all the time and allow other people to think and feel their own thoughts, in their own wacky brains, where they are at any given moment probably contemplating running naked through the office or fucking the elderly receptionist or peeing in the hallway, because those are the kind of loony uncontrollable musings their brains create. (What? I can't believe I'm the only person in the world who's ever wondered what people would do if I peed in the hallway. You know, acting as though nothing was wrong and everyone does it; just lean against the wall, lift my skirt and push my panties to my knees, and have a go right there on the floor. I'd never actually do it, of course. But I can't be responsible for the bizarre fantasies in my head--as long as they remain in my head--and neither can anyone else.)

It's not pleasant to be called on those thoughts. It's not pleasant to be called a sexist or a racist or a sizeist or anti-gay or whatever else, when you firmly do not believe you are and do not want to be. But it's also not pleasant to be the one on the receiving end of a comment or action that hurts or offends you, or makes you feel less than human. So in that situation you have two hurt and confused people, and the best thing to do is for the one who did the hurting, no matter how inadvertent it was--and we've all hurt people inadvertently, every one of us--to apologize. "I'm sorry. I really didn't mean to hurt you." It's very easy. Note that there's no "I'm not a purple-jean hater!!" outrage attached to that. It's simply "I'm sorry."

And it goes both ways. The one receiving the apology could also apologize thusly: "I'm sure you didn't mean it that way, and I didn't mean to hurt or insult you, just to point out that your comment could be construed in a way you didn't intend." See? Again, it doesn't matter who's right or wrong, or what anyone meant. What matters is both people have been accorded the dignity every human being should be accorded, and both parties have a chance to move on with dignity, and reach a new and deeper understanding.

This is what being an adult is, to be frank.

And that's basically it. Like I said I'm not aware of the whole discussion. And to bring myself up-to-date would take hours and hours of time which I frankly do not have. In fact, not only is it time I don't have, but I get the distinct feeling that those hours would be spent growing more and more upset and disillusioned and frustrated and sad, and would leave me unable to focus on work or anything else, and I still have two books to finish and a website to build and an apprentice to mentor. ("Apprentice" is the term the program in which we're participating uses.)

And really, does it matter if I know the whole story or not? I've said my bit. I'm tired of anger and entitlement and the idea that other people don't matter. I'm sick of seeing it everywhere. I don't want to see it anymore.

Every person sitting in front of a keyboard and typing out all those words with which you disagree? They are people. Human beings. Maybe we could all remember that? Just try to keep it in mind, is all. There's no excuse for treating them like they're something less than that. Less than you. Less than anything. I avoid blogs and forums where people are treated that way. I avoid blogs and forums where being vicious to other people is encouraged. Those are not places I want to spend my time.

I write about pain. I write about isolation and disillusionment and the utter and complete lack of belief that life is worth living. I write about blood and magic and filth and evil and death. I write about abuse and hatred. I write about loneliness and misery and secrets and the uncertainty of life and people who have nothing but honor, people who can't connect with other people, people who bleed rivers of pain if you cut their skin.

Quite frankly, my worldview is already twisted enough; there's plenty of misery floating around in my head already. I don't need to go find more. That's why I try to keep the blog a positive place and that's why I avoid getting into arguments etc. online, and avoid visiting websites and blogs where people are regularly turned into cannon fodder.

And I guess that's it.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Books are Out There!

Sigh. Sigh, sigh, sigh.

So, lately I've been seeing a lot of posts and comments and discussions online relating to the idea that ALL urban fantasy has become samey and dull. That it's all circling the were-vamp drain, full of designer labels, with the same worlds and characters and plot devices.

And it puts me in a little bit of an awkward position, in a way. Because I totally, totally, TOTALLY disagree, but saying so makes me feel a little...weird. Like I'm putting readers down--which I never, ever want to do, ever, because readers are awesome--or jumping up and down in front of them screaming, "But, ME!! And ME! Look at ME!!" Which I also do not really want to do.

But, um, look at me. :-)

No, no. I'm going to talk about my books a little bit, yes. But really I want to talk about other writers' books. And I want to talk about how my opinion and image of urban fantasy is exactly the opposite: I believe the genre is about to make a huge, expansive leap, that the days of urban fantasy automatically equalling hot chicks in leather weilding guns and fucking vampires or weres are done with.

And here's where it might sound like I'm scolding or yelling at readers, but that is not the case at ALL. Not one bit, never. But guys...the stuff is out there. The books are OUT THERE. They are. They're coming. They're in stores now. They're in pre-release. They're being signed by agents and they're being bought by editors and they are in the works, and this genre is about to explode and I honestly believe that's the case.

But you have to look for them, and you have to know where to look.

It's not your fault, darling reader. It isn't. You buy books based on a recommendation, or you see a cool-looking cover or read a review or whatever. And that's the way it's supposed to work. You don't have time to play book detective and spend hours running around the internet looking for unfamiliar authors. And nobody expects you to, least of all me.

But here's where I think the problem lies. You, as a reader, know what sorts of things you like, and I think in a way the system itself is geared to make sure you stay in your little reader box, if you know what I mean. Say you buy Caitlin Kittredge's excellent Second Skin, which was just released and you totally should be buying immediately because we all know Caitlin is the awesomest. Anyway, you make this very sensible purchase. Say you make it from Amazon. Now, what does Amazon do? Amazon shows you more books about weres, because Amazon assumes you like books about weres.

This would be the case with any book you buy. But given that, yes, there are a lot of were & vamp books out there, and given that they sell well if they're good (like Caitlin's are) can seem as though that's ALL that's out there. Because it's all you're being shown.

I think the crossover between urban fantasy and paranormal romance is an issue as well. There are people out there who dislike UF because it doesn't have that HEA (Happily Ever After, for the uninitiated) ending which is so necessary to genre romance. And you know, if genre romance is what you're after then I totally understand that. You want a HEA ending. If that's what you want it's what you should get; it's what you as a reader deserve. Why should you have to read something that isn't what you want or are looking for? You shouldn't.

But I can't help thinking...maybe if you tried a non-HEA UF or might find you don't mind the missing HEA so much. You might be happy to wait for it, to get involved in a long and complex emotional relationship (not that genre romances don't have complex emotional relationships, that's not what I'm saying) that spans several books. Why not give it a try? Because if you're looking for paranormal books outside the vamp/were area, UF has them in spades, and you might be surprised by the emotional depth of the stories.

And that goes for the fantasy fans who are unhappy that UF has too much emphasis on romance, that they are somehow a "girl's genre" because the heroines have sex and look for love. Well, you know what? UFs have romance in them because whether you personally feel that way or not, the vast majority of people want romance in their lives. They want to find someone to share their lives with. They want to find love. Hell, they want to get laid. I'm always stunned when I see or hear people comment that they don't like romance in books; to me it's like saying you don't want romance in life either (and by romance I simply mean love and passion, not flowers and soft music, neither of which I particularly like). These are basic human needs, people; why should UF heroines be any different? Most books, in any genre, have some sort of romantic subplot. What's wrong with that?

And, why is it that books written by women are judged by the amount of romance or sex in them, but books by men aren't? Harry Dresden's looking for love; I don't see anyone putting those books down. In fact, it sometimes seems as though UF written by men doesn't even figure into the equation when people talk about samey UFs. The Dresden books are nothing like Mark Henry's fantastic zombies; Mark del Franco's Connor Grey books aren't like Anton Strout's Simon Canderous books; Charles de Lint isn't John Levitt. And none of those books are like my PERSONAL DEMONS, or Jackie Kessler's HELL'S BELLES, or Richelle Mead's SUCCUBUS BLUES. They're just not. At all.

It just frustrates me a little, I admit, to see the genre I love so much reduced to "They're all alike; they're all just rich vampires who own nightclubs and sleep on designer sheets," or whatever. When there are so many stories and world and characters out there, and so many more coming. When I personally feel like we're on the cusp of something so much bigger. In June Caitlin's STREET MAGIC comes out; a fantastic, fantastic urban fantasy about mages and magic and a hidden London, with one of the sexiest UF heroes I've ever read--no, make that THE sexiest. In November (yes, we get to me now) my UNHOLY GHOSTS will be released, and I'm sure you can all recite with me what the book is about: punk rock, greasers, ghosts, black magic, blood rituals, witchcraft, drug dealers, ghettos...and not a were or vamp in either of them. My cast is all-human, baby, with a few ghosts thrown in for spooky good measure. So is Caitlin's. Nicole Peeler has a Selkie book coming out in the next year or so.

And I know there are more. Tons more that I'm just not thinking of at the moment.

Remember my "Heroes" series? The simple fact is, books about dull people doing nothing out of the ordinary don't sell. They just don't. Do you want to read a book wherein your neighbor sits around watching TV all day? Do you want to read a novel about a complicated tax question? No, probably not.

And I firmly believe there is not another genre out there where the characters are as unique and exciting, the world as intricate, and the stakes as high as urban fantasy. And I firmly believe that in the next year or so we're going to see the fruits of all those books that came before; they way they fired our imaginations and made us think of possibilities. Sure, there will always be a place for vampires and weres, because there are readers to buy them. I love vampires.

But weres and vampires are not the only characters in UF. Not at all. You just have to look for others. Visit the League of Reluctant Adults. Check out the Fangs Fur & Fey community on livejournal. Visit the fantasy section at the bookstore if you usually just buy romances, and vice versa. Branch out. Ask people. Ask booksellers. Tell them what you want, like, for example, that they should order twenty or thirty copies each of STREET MAGIC and UNHOLY GHOSTS for all of their stores, because you're going to get all your friends to rush in and buy them the day they're released.

They *are* out there. You just have to look for them.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Movie Time Capsule. Or something.

Hey, so I can't think up a good title today, so what?

Actually, titling is an issue I'm having these days. I'm 2/3 done with the third Downside book and it is still saved in Word as "Chess3" because the title I originally planned, CITY OF GHOSTS, was apparently a major film a few years ago and I'm leery of using something with that many Google hits. So that needs a title, bad.

I'm also just about 1/2 of the way through a new project which Agent Man and I both love, which has no title. It's currently saved as BLOOD AND FAE, which is not really very good. Especially since both blood and Fae figure in the plot, it's not really about either of those things.

So anyway. The hubs and I were discussing titles in the car the other day, which led to movies, which led to movies that piss us off for one reason or another, which led us to A League of Their Own.

I hate that movie. I really, really hate that movie.

Or rather, I hate the ending of that movie. It pisses me off like almost nothing else.

What message are we supposed to take from that horrible ending, where in order to make her bitchy, miserable sister happy--to give her happiness she doesn't deserve, as she is loathesome--the Gena Davis character throws the championship? Is my heart supposed to be warmed by that? Am I supposed to think that's sweet?

Or am I supposed to think that if the Gena Davis character were my teammate, I would have ripped her eyeballs out of her head with a teaspoon?

Or, am I supposed to think that when it comes down to it, women just aren't very good at competing, poor little dears, and they will always make emotional decisions rather than rational ones, and cannot ever get past their personal feelings and live up to their responsibilities?

Seriously. The fact that this ball of patronizing sexism was passed off as a movie for women to enjoy astounds me. It reads like something from a 70's anti-women's-lib screed: You can't trust women because they can't separate their emotions; you can't put them in charge of multinational corporations because they won't do what's best for the company, only for themselves; they're incapable of making sound decisions based on facts and not feelings.

And it was such a cute movie until then. I really enjoyed it. But what the hell good is it to have a movie where women are railing against sexism and determined to prove they can compete just as well as the men can--that all the silly little skirts and make-up tips are a big joke because women are tough and strong and can play a hell of a ballgame just like men--and then have the entire ending turn on the fact that at least one of them cannot in fact do that? So instead of having a film about how women really *can* do things, you have a movie about how women *say* they can do things but really are irresponsible and silly and will let their teammates down to make their sisters happy?

It just frustrates me and irritates me. Gena Davis's character had a responsibility and she threw it away--threw away the hopes and dreams of people who supported and cared about her--in order to please someone who clearly did not particularly care about her because she was too busy caring only about herself.

I think this is doubly on my mind of late because I'm dealing, in the third Downside book, with a lot more emotional crap than I have in the first two, as my MC struggles with the consequences of hurting other people emotionally, and realizes that she herself does have those inconvenient things called feelings and that she can't pretend she doesn't. So there's a lot of facing-up-to-things and a lot of thoughts and worries about feelings that, while they existed in the first book and a bit more in the second--Chess was never an automaton or someone so Tough And Hard she ate nails or anything like that--weren't really focused on then.

And it's difficult to find a balance, between trying to write an awesome, creepy, scary, exciting urban fantasy (trying to write, I said; I'm not claiming my books are any of these things although I certainly hope they are), and trying to write a book where people are having emotional issues and those emotional issues feel organic and real; which is to say, the characters think about them even at inconvenient times, and are confused about them, and hate having them, and want certain things emotionally and feel embarrassed and silly for wanting those things, and generally don't know how to deal with them. Especially as they're emotional issues with which the characters have never dealt before, and that makes them vulnerable.

How do you decide which decisions are practical and which are emotional? How do you handle making an emotional decision when you know you should be making a practical one but can't help yourself?

For me the difference is in how the character themselves feel about the decision they've made. My biggest issue with that stupid League of their Own ending was that we as the audience were seemingly pushed into feeling that Davis made the right choice; her disgraceful, disrespectful, cruel little trick on the rest of her team was played off as the moral and caring choice. I found that offensive, personally; I wouldn't have had such an issue with the film had her character been castigated for what she'd done--the way she deserved to be.

So I work hard, generally, to show that there are consequences to incorrect decisions and that emotions breed complexity. You can't just tell someone you're sorry and have that make everything okay. You can't ask for forgiveness and expect to be given it immediately. You don't get to make all of the decisions in emotional situations involving other people.

It's a fine line to walk, I think. And I hope I'm walking it well, that my characters' emotional issues aren't overpowering the rest of the story but aren't suddenly disappearing and reappearing, leaving the reader to wonder what the heck is going on. I guess we'll find out.

How do you handle your characters' emotional decisions? What is your favorite book or film in which those decisions were made?