Sunday, September 28, 2014

The stuff I do in the name of fiction.

So I asked my friend, Autumn, last week if she wanted to come help me find a place to hide a body.

I mean, who could turn down an invitation like that?  But Autumn being Autumn, was all, “OF COURSE I’M IN.”  Also, she made it clear that she was going to enjoy telling her boss why she wanted Friday off. 

In some author interview or other I gave some time ago (wow, how’s that for vague?), I was asked what my favorite and least favorite aspects of writing were.  I answered, “Nothing.  I don’t have a favorite or least favorite part because I love the whole process.”  And if I didn’t say that at the time, it’s the answer I would give now.  But research is especially awesome—especially when it involves road trips. 

So Autumn, Patrick and I piled in the car bright and early Friday morning ("bright and early" in Lauren-parlance meaning anything before the noon hour), and hit a bunch of small towns in northwest Missouri.

Black Antler Farm, one of my current works-in-progress, is going to be set in a fictional town in Daviess County, MO, so we made sure to hit the county seat of Gallatin, as well as Smithville, Trimble and Maryville.  I was completely serious about wanting to find a plausible place to hide a body.  I mean, sure, there’s plenty of fields and forests in that area, but I thought it would be lame if I said a body was dumped, say, near the University of Maryville campus and have it turn out that that's not plausible at all.  Also, I wanted to get a feel for those towns we drove through, and stopped and took pictures in.  They ranged in population from 200 to 1,700.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time in similar-sized towns in Kansas, where my husband grew up, but small towns in northwest MO do have distinct differences.  It's amazing what a difference a hundred miles or so makes. 

Here are some of my favorite pics from the excursion:

A neat building on the square in Gallatin, MO.  There was actually a lot of impressive architecture in these small towns-- not just business and civic buildings either, but in stately old Victorian homes and farmhouses.  Less impressive?  Getting caught behind a combine on a two-lane highway.


 See what I mean about cool houses?


It really says "Shave & Haircut."  ("Two bits" sadly omitted.)  I didn't get a good shot of it, but a hand-drawn sign in the window said, "Hours: When I get here."


A cat lady with her herd o' felines.  I would've like a better shot, but I don't think she appreciated my snapping photos of her. 


 Like so many rural areas, the town is impoverished, with lots of abandoned, moldering properties.  I thought this porch swing and the moss-covered step was picturesque.


 Another beautiful building-- upon closer inspection, we found that it was actually an historic jail.  It was closed, with no visiting hours posted.


This not-at-all creepy figure in the jail window.  Don't get too close; it might eat your soul.


 I can't remember when the last time was I saw a payphone.  It works too-- a sign on the side said, "Local calls free."


For me, it was a very productive outing.  As I mentioned, I am more familiar with small KS towns, and there were definitely similarities: Casey's gas stations, trailer parks, struggling farms and businesses, and an abundance of churches.  But there was a great deal of dignity and beauty, as well.  Almost everyone who passed us waved hello, and we were delighted to discover that the Casey's where we made a pit stop had moonshine on their shelves.  We bought a jug and drank a toast to the day when we got home to KC.  

If you want to see more of the pics from the outing, check out my photostream on Flickr.  

In the meantime, I'm working hard to get the book finished.  I hope to have a complete draft in early 2015.  



  




Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fall Sale & Other Tidbits

Happy fall to everyone!  Of course, it's my favorite time of year-- brisk weather, warm sweaters, and horror, horror, horror.  I'm already quaffing daily cups of hot chocolate and counting the days until trick-or-treaters and Day of the Dead altars.

And that's the way the skeletons have their picnic . . . Wait.  That's not how it goes.

Anyway, to celebrate, we've marked down Books II and III of The Order of the Four Sons series until All Soul's Day.  (That's Nov. 2, to all you heathens.)

Book I, of course, is already permanently free on several outlets.

Buy O4S books on Amazon HERE.

Buy O4S books on Smashwords HERE.

So grab your copies and get ready to battle hordes of evil undead and all sorts of nasties running loose in the O4S verse!

Also, I wanted to share with you, we've had several kind reviews over the past few weeks on the O4S series:

"A fun, action-filled read. I love stories that interweave history with paranormal and the unexpected. . . The authors are good at crisp dialogue, energetic action sequences, and the building drive toward a cliffhanger of an ending that makes you want to read the next in the series." -Goodreads reader

"With characters like old friends and realistic villains, this makes for a wonderful read.  The authors' attention to detail in this medieval-style setting is top-notch.  There is great action and mystery thrown in as well." -Amazon reader

"Excellent storytelling. All three volumes are great!  Definitely recommend these to anyone who likes sci-fi or magic and supernatural stories.  Hurry up with volume 4, please please!" -B&N reader


We're working on it, dear reader, I promise!  In the meantime, please enjoy some other horror-ific stories, like Our Miss Engel, La Tutayegua, and Zombies, Anonymous.

Sweet dreams!


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Author David Temrick on fantasy, writing, and publishing


I’ve always been a bit of a gypsy when it comes to my career. I’ve done a little of everything and while I tend to find a way to succeed, nothing really felt like it mattered to me beyond a new challenge and a regular paycheck.

In 2008, my wife asked me why I just write short stories and flash fiction for websites rather than trying to put pen to paper for a whole novel. As always, I took her simple query as a challenge and wrote Draconis’ Bane.


The initial idea was to take fantasy fiction back to its roots. I love fantasy, but it’s become somewhat elitist. When I consider that storytelling dates back to mythology and the stories of how our world came to be, I can’t fathom why fantasy can’t have a wider appeal. So I did away with needlessly complex names with more apostrophes than vowels, I ditched the “party” system, I did away with long-winded introspection and instead opted for action and character development.

Fantasy is my favorite fiction genre by far and even when I imagine other genres, I tend to supplant them into fantasy. I wrote a steampunk novel called Daughter of Vengeance that employed more magic than science. I can’t seem to ever go with the flow, mostly because I find following the herd so infuriatingly boring.


It was in 2008 that I started keeping my stories as well. I’ve been writing for more than 20 years, but I’ve never bothered to keep the things I’ve written. I primarily wrote content for friends, both online and off, for their websites, blogs and news sites. Since I started keeping my fledgling ideas, outlines and short stories, I began gathering a mixed bag of some rather odd tidbits.  In retrospect, I have no idea what the purpose was. I guess I was inspired to write something and did, that seems to be the only rhyme or reason.

Since becoming more serious about writing as a possible career though, I’ve had to funnel my ideas into topics that could potentially hold a reader's interest for an entire novel. I don’t believe in fluff or waxing philosophical about a button, not that there is anything wrong with that, it just isn’t my style. As a result, my novels tend to hover around the 100,000 word mark while the serials I’m working on will likely be 10,000-word multiple part series.

There are so many avenues for writers these days, with a myriad of options and concepts that could keep anyone feeling overwhelmed. After almost six years, here is what I’ve learned:

  • There is a market for everything
  • No one is an authority on literature
  • Quality counts


Obviously, the market and quality concepts are fairly universal. However, the authority statement always seems to get me into trouble. So I’ll explain a little with an example.

Fifty Shades of Grey was turned down by everyone, no one wanted to take a chance on a subject as risqué as romance that blossoms out of bondage…even though it’s a fairly common concept taken to the extreme. Yet, that novel outsold every traditionally published book that year. There was a market for it, the author tapped into that market and ended up with a book deal after blowing the competition out of the water.

Not everything is going to have that success.  However, if you have a story and feel passionately about it…spend the time working on it. If you want to be traditionally published, but can’t seem to make headway…publish it yourself. There are dozens of options available. Don’t let “no” be a final answer if you believe in yourself.

If you do decide to publish yourself, as I have, make sure the book is as polished as possible. Even professional editors miss grammatical faux pas and there will never be a shortage of people to point out yours while ignoring others. At the end of the day, if you can carve out a market for yourself, write for them and others will follow.

I’ve written three novels to date, and with each I learned something valuable. Draconis’ Bane and Deadly Intentions are very much traditional fantasy fare. Tristan Vallious is a spoiled prince who uses his station to bully those around him, but after he’s brutally attacked by a cult hellbent on the eradication of the draconic species (including half-breeds like him), he begins to understand that the world is far larger and more delicate than he’d ever thought possible. As he sets out to right the wrongs perpetuated by this cult, he’s confronted by terrible choices that leave him feeling less and less sure of himself and his abilities.


After building the world of Amesdia, I decided to use conflicts large and small, personal and global, to drive the story forward concentrating on the characters rather than allowing the genre to dictate the pace or tone of the story. Sure, there are heroes, dragons, sorcerers of both good and evil, but each of them has a voice of their own with their own rationale and a unique perspective that drives them.

My latest novel, Daughter of Vengeance, is a coming-of-age tale about a young lady who becomes apprenticed to an assassin. Through her training and experience she becomes less the child-like victim of a depraved minor earl and more a confident and strong woman. As with everything else I do, the status quo just doesn’t work for me. Even today, the only writers giving us female leads who aren’t Amazonian brutes or demure damsels in distress are themselves female authors.

I thought it would be interesting to tell a first-person story by a man about a believable female hero. Quite a few feminists were bemused by the concept, but ultimately, after reading the story, had wonderful things to say to me about Michelle and her story. It could have easily gone the other way, but I was confident that I could deliver a heroine that readers could empathize with…even if they had no desire to be exposed to anything remotely feminist.

The story itself offered several challenges, the first of which was tone and content. I wanted to write something that would appeal to a young adult audience. As such, scenes couldn’t be too graphic. In order to create a beaten-down character that had few options when confronted with a career that is morally reprehensible, Michelle had to literally be in hell. The moral flexibility that tends to become more apparent in all of us during our teenage years had to be apparent enough that the reader would have made the same choice. Otherwise, Michelle wouldn’t appeal to them.

I gave the book to a feminist lawyer I know who supports the arts; she called me after reading the emotional climax of the novel in tears. I love reader interaction, but knowing that something I had designed to be emotional accomplished its purpose made the entire work worth the effort.

Take every opportunity that presents itself, even if it’s just once. If a writing group or conference organizer asks you to do a reading, try it. Public speaking might terrify you, but the only way to get out of your bubble is to try new things and expose yourself to new experiences. No exposure is bad exposure; the most glaring example of this is the horribly hilarious dinosaur adult literature that Jon Stewart revealed on The Daily Show a few years ago. It was poorly written, questionable content at best…yet the writer made a lot of money off of the interest it created.

Rumors circulated for months afterwards that the writer had work in his own name and the interest got his foot in the door with a reputable publishing house that released one of his less inflammatory books. I’m going to chalk that one up to wishful thinking, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Stranger things have happened.

While I have dreams of grandeur, my goals are reasonable. I write to supplement my income, though I would like to replace it entirely with my craft but that might never happen. For now, I will continue to thumb my nose at convention and I’ll continue to write the books that I love, luckily I have established an audience and hopefully they will enjoy my next story.


Connect with Dave:
Twitter: @rehabdave


Books available on Kindle:
Draconis' Bane (Blood Feud - Book 1) - http://amzn.com/B00ASON802
Deadly Intentions (Blood Feud - Book 2) - http://amzn.com/B00B8U4I2M
Daughter of Vengeance - http://amzn.com/B00FDULFXS

All also available in the Apple iBook Store, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.







Monday, September 8, 2014

"A brilliant and captivating piece of work."

A Drunken Druid's View has reviewed Under Julia, calling it "a hard hitting novel of truth, redemption and discovery," as well as "a brilliant and captivating piece of work."

See the whole review here.

Read an excerpt of the novel here.

Much thanks to the Drunken Druid team for reading and reviewing my work!



Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Writing the human color wheel

I saw this article the other day, “If White Characters Were Described Like People of Color,” and I don’t agree with it.  Like, at all.

I know, I know.  Take Buzzfeed with an ocean of salt, right?  But before everyone jumps on me all at once, let me get a few things out of the way. 

First, I get that it’s satire, okay?  I just don’t think it’s funny or even on point.  It doesn’t add anything to the greater on-going conversation about race in this country, and it doesn’t even give the appearance of being particularly well-read.  (Again: Buzzfeed.) 

Another thing I’d like to throw out there is that I am Latina, even though I “look” white.  My relatives and I represent a wide range of skin tones, from deep, dark brown to—well, my own Goth-like pallor. 

"That's our human color wheel. It goes from Seal to Seal's teeth." -Community

I bring this up because I grew up being hyper-aware of skin tone and what it means—not just to white people, but to people of color as well.  (Can we also just get out of the way right now that I hate the phrase “people of color”?  To me, it sounds like something a Southern lady would say in the pre-Civil Rights era: “Oh, that’s the colored man who mows my lawn.”  Shudder.) 

Of course, I was treated differently because of how I looked.  I have carried my experiences as a person of color/non-color into my writing.  Do I think there are racist slants in the language?  Absolutely.  Do I think this is one of them?  

No.  No, I don’t.

The very title of the article, “If White Characters Were Described Like People of Color”—if?  I’m sorry, but what’s this IF bullshit?  White people are frequently described as food.  Milk-white, creamy white, peaches-and-cream, olive.  Nabokov described Lolita’s tan as “apricot.”  Hair is described as “honey-colored,” “wheat-colored,” "chestnut," “chocolaty,” “ginger.”  My hair color, according to dye packages I see on beauty store shelves, is “dark mocha.”  

And you know what?  It’s just a color.  It’s just a tangible source of reference, a point of comparison on which we can all agree.  Some people call this kind of description in literature “lazy writing.”  I don’t think it’s lazy.  There’s a difference between a stock phrase and a cliché.  If a writer says someone has ice-blue eyes, we all have the same basic idea of what that means.  Or if someone is described as wearing a wine-colored dress—again, it’s not a slight to the dress or the wearer.  And sometimes it’s not even about originality.  It’s just to help the reader imagine that particular shade of red.  It’s an attempt at accuracy.  If a writer relies too much on stock phrases then, yes, that is bad writing.  But woven occasionally throughout a piece?  I think that’s just about unavoidable. 

Beautiful and/or pleasant characters are described in pleasant terms and seriously, what’s more pleasant than good food?  It makes the reader kindly disposed towards them and paints an evocative portrait.  There is a whole field of psychology related to color and our perception of it.  Our relationship with color is strongly bound to our relationship with foods and whether we perceive that food as palatable or not.  The first bite, as they say, is with the eyes.  And what do we want to do with pretty people, but to devour them with our eyes?  (And with our mouths, too.) 

Humans of all nationalities (and non-human creatures, if you happen to be a sci-fi/fantasy writer) are described in ways that convey skin tone.  It’s not meant to be racist or insulting.  Someone in the comment section on the Buzzfeed article said that they couldn’t wait for white people to start complaining, that we were going to be all butthurt for being called cauliflower and mozzarella.  I’m not butthurt, I’m just pointing out that “fishbelly white” is not a compliment and is frequently used to describe skin like mine.  I don’t think it’s racist; just unkind. 

My own grandmothers used to call me bolilla (white bread), and guera (literally, “empty egg,” a color associated with illness).  When I was in high school, a guy I worked with at an after-school job called me “Ghost.”  That shit is racist. 

Meanwhile, there are plenty of other ways in which white skin is portrayed in an unattractive, but not necessarily racist, light: pale, albino, pasty, sallow, pallid, chalky, papery, etc.  Stephen King describes Carrie as going a “cottage cheesy” color when frightened.  In Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut describes the women of Dresden as having watery, pale complexions, a result of their poor, potato-based diet.  I once described a character as “vampirically white.”  Ruddy and swarthy are usually reserved for those of the Caucasian persuasion.  These are not flattering terms.  Ask any redhead how they feel about being referred to as a “carrot top.” 

Non-white people are fortunate to avoid, for the most part, unbecoming color fluctuations—in the Harry Potter books, Uncle Vernon, when angry, goes a shade of “puce.”  Turning red, blushing, flushing, sunburn, and going green are all unpleasant realities for pale folk.  Excessive tanning makes for Oompa Loompa and Tang orange, and I’ve read lots of descriptions of older white people who tanned too much in their youth becoming “leathery.”  Charming!

I saw another commenter on the article say that yes, there other words to describe white skin, like porcelain, ivory and alabaster, but those are all precious items, whereas people of color are relegated to “common” items.  Like . . . coffee?  That’s a fairly precious item.  I know lots of people who can’t live without coffee, and have a rather worshipful attitude towards it.  And anyway, if you want counterparts to precious materials, I submit: ebony, mahogany, copper and bronze.  As a fair-skinned person, I am not partial to the idea of being compared to ivory.  With elephants being poached to near-extinction for their tusks, I don’t want the color of my skin associated with greed and slaughter.

By contrast, another commenter said that describing people of color in terms of certain food items “exoticizes” them, makes them other.  So which is the problem—that they are described as common items, or uncommon items?  I think coffee and chocolate can no longer be considered exotic-- at least, not in the US.  And again, white people are constantly compared to regular, household items, like milk. 

At the end of the day, this article seems like noise, drowning out more important subjects.  I wish to reiterate that I don’t dispute racial bias in the language.  A man walking down the street in a story is automatically assumed to be white unless the writer specifies otherwise.  As a writer, I try to compensate for this by letting that character walk down the street, then describe him in a way that, hopefully, conveys his race.  Culturally, we have identified black with bad things.  To darken or blacken something is to besmirch it; black is synonymous with evil; white with purity.  By contrast, in Asian cultures, white is associated with death and mourning. I think it would be more constructive to address changing the language as a whole so that the default setting of human is not necessarily white (or male, for that matter).    

Language being the constantly evolving thing that it is, people are welcome to introduce comparisons to mashed potatoes and cauliflower if they wish, and it may well catch on.  In the meantime, in what way am I, as a writer, allowed to describe the various skin tones of non-white people that would be considered acceptable and neither exoticized or too common?  That may be my single biggest gripe with this article: it complains about the ways in which skin tone is portrayed in literature, but offers no acceptable alternatives.