Where I Write

I’m a bit of a homebody. My favorite weather is rainy. I like cheap coffee’s and expensive teas. My preferred pet is a over-sized, super cuddly cat. When left to my own devices I am likely to turn my couch into one big nest where I can curl up and never leave.

Okay, not never-never, but pretty darn close.

You’d think that this quirk of mine would lend itself easily to writing. Newsflash: it doesn’t. From the sanctity of my nest I can read just a couple more chapters of that paperback I picked up. I can play my DS or watch another episode on Netflix. Seriously though, whose gotten anything done since the invention of Netflix?

So, when I get into a writing rut I have to get out and write.  I hit up all the normal hotspots for literary hopefuls. The local library, the bookstore, the coffee shop and panera bread. But my all time favorite is a family owned burger joint called hotrodders.

The decor is throwback fifties Americana with sparkling red booths that tend to sag in the middle. Their wifi connection is liable to go out when new customers pop in the door. The checkerboard floor is in constant need of sweeping and on the right day you can catch the family in the middle of a scwabble.

So why do I go there? Because they handmake the buns for their burgers, the cook is a certified chef, and the entire family welcomes me by name with my favorite drink. I never feel like an intrusion no matter how long I linger.

Okay, it’s more than that. The entire atmosphere is ripe for personalities and people. It never feels like you are walking into a restaurant. It feels like to are walking into a families kitchen to sit down and enjoy a meal. The owners know a good portion of the community and offer military and law enforcement a discount on their food. There are just so many kinds of people who come through here…it’s hard not to get inspired by them.

As I sit here two gentleman have come through the door. They smell of paint and sweat and the musk of rain. One is slim, the other is fat. The slim one has the dark weathered look of a man who spends a great deal of time in the sun. His bleached hair hands around a slender and worn face. The sleeves of his pink floyd t-shirt are just short enough to reveal the ink of old tattoos.

The larger man keeps tugging at his pants. His wide legged posture takes up a great deal of limited space and his companion is forced to stick his legs under his own chair. The ash brown curls around the fat mans face are short enough that they turn his head into a perfect ball shape.

They talk about the old ladies house they just got done painting.

There is a good chance I will use these two in a story somewhere along the line. I’ve already added their descriptions to my notebook and will tug at that when I need someone interesting…

I guess what I’m saying is that this place inspires me and for all my writers out there I encourage you to find your place. Just don’t take this one. It’s mine.

Literary Elitistism

I dislike literary elitism. No, I am comfortable enough to say I that I loathe it. There is not point to it. No one has any right to pass judgement on the books that inspire someone else’s happiness.The fact is, I hear it all the time. Heck, I’ve even been guilty of it.

I bring this up today due to a recent personal experience.

I found the most incredible used bookstore a few weeks back. It’s just under 200,000 books packed into 800 square feet of literary bliss organized by genre. From the moment you walk in you wonder if you are overwhelmed or dead…maybe both.

My first visit was two hours of wandering around going ‘whoa’ as I struggled to figure out what to spend my rather minuscule funds on. I made friends with the owner and we talked for an hour about the pros and cons of running an independent bookstore. She confided that she wasn’t sure how long she’d be open. She’d made less in the past year than she had in the previous few. It was disheartening to hear since I had so recently fallen in love.

My most recent visit was less than appealing. It was not the owner manning the counter; it was her daughter. The girl is within my age bracket and had always been fairly quiet before. Today, however, she seemed to be in a mood that I can only describe as persnickety. She was currently organizing a series of paranormal romance books to go back up on the shelves.

I asked her if they had gotten in anything by one of the authors I prefer. She began talking loudly about how she wouldn’t know because she was busy going through, and I’m quoting here “These shitty vampire novels are taking up all my time.”

I am one of those people who smile when I’m feeling kind of awkward. I don’t mean to. It just happens. I did so then and she took it as agreement and continued to rant about how paranormal romances were killing modern literature.

During this rant she did not notice another girl, a few years our junior, returning some of her near-purchases to the shelves.I did and it bothered me a lot. Between the price of the books and the number the girl placed back I’d average that the girl behind the counter lost her business about $20.

It may not seem like much, but to a small business $20 is nothing to sneer at. I couldn’t help but wonder how many other times the girl behind the counter had cost her owner money and if that was part of the decreasing profit margin over the past year.

There is a good chance that girl who liked the vampire novels is going to look elsewhere for her business. I know I would.

Now, don’t mistake me. I’m not saying a person doesn’t have a right to their opinion. You don’t have to read about paranormal sex if you don’t want to. If you think a certain book is the bane of all literature everywhere…that’s fine. Talk about it when you are with your buddies or on a date. What I’m saying is that is it really worth making someone else feel like crap for the things that make them happy especially when you are on the clock.

Top Ten Urban Fantasy Books

I have a weakness for books that mesh the modern world with a fantasy one. There is something about reading about werewolf mothers in the PTA, or fae working their cell phones, or even a vampire opening up a nail salon that just makes me want more. It’s the genre that I write in. It is the one I am most inspired by.

Below are the books (usually the first in a series) that I love. The criteria for being on this list is that they have fantasy elements and (mostly) modern settings. The books could have romance in them, but romance was not the main theme. That’s a whole other list.

10. Three Days to Dead, Dreg City, Kelly Medine

Not many authors would have the gumption to start their novel with a dead hero…but Medine does just that. Three Days Dead revolves around paranormal Hunter Evagaline Stone trying to piece together her broken memory and her slandered reputation among the other hunters while on the warpath to vengeance. What makes this novel different from a slew of other books in its same field is the timeline and the way it unfolds. Evangaline only has three days to solve the mystery of her own death before she…well…dies again.

9. Dark Fever, Fever Series, Karen Marie Moning

Karen Marie Moning is well known for her highlander-centric paranormal romance series but in my less than humble opinion the Fever series blows it out of the water. Southern lady MacKayla Lane is not satisfied by the investigation into her sisters death. So she quits her job, packs her favorite outfits (complete with pink nail polishes), and heads to Ireland to look into it herself. She discovers; with the help of super mysterious dude; that faeries are real, that she can see/hunt them, and that they had something to do with her sisters demise. Good times? Heck yeah.

8. Soulless, The Parasol Protectorate, Gail Carriger

I’m pretty sure this book is actually the love child between Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett, and Jules Verne. It’s just that awesome. Alexia Tarabboti is a soulless woman with a quick mind and a desire to smack people with her parasol. She’s is volun-told to investigate the disappearance of certain undead members of society and does so with an elegance and wit that has endeared her to me forever. So it’s a little less ‘modern’ than others…there is steampunk…close enough.

7. The Wild Wood, Fearielands, Charles de Lint

I’m always a little surprised when people haven’t heard of this book…then I remind myself that neither had I till a well meaning librarian shoved it in my hands. Considered one of the first urban fantasy books of the era Charles de Lint fashions a tale about a Canadian artist who isn’t sure if she is seeing fearies or going crazy…maybe both. It’s a wonderful book that makes a reader pause and wonder how they might feel if the paranormal world reached out to them for help.

6. Storm Front, The Dresden Files, Jim Butcher

It took me a really long time to pick up the Dresden Files. I had received a pretty bad review from a friend whose opinion I trusted on the matter…that was my bad. I like well done settings. I love reading someone who has thought about how the magic in their universe works, how people really respond to it, and how someone can work with it. I also like the main character. The problem I have with a lot of action based fantasy is the main characters tend to be practically perfect in every way…this is especially true if the main character is male. The main protagonist here falls into the cliche of investigator but is a very realistic character…for a wizard. Pick ’em up. You’ll love it.

5. Mind Games, The Disillusionist Trilogy, Carolyn Crane

Remember what I said earlier about imperfect characters? I also tend to feel that way about MC who have names with alliteration. I call them Comic Book names (Peter Parker, Lex Luthor, Pepper Pots….) Well in this series we have Justine Jones. I picked up and put this book down several times just for that. Shame on me. Ms. Jones is a hypochondriac who is pretty sure she’s gonna die like…any moment now. Fun fact: for magic reasons she can impart this particular feeling of sickness and dread on other people which makes for fun times. I loved this book not just because of its interesting take on the world of magical investigations but because it shows a form of mental illness that is often used a the butt of a joke and turns it into a super power.

4. Moon Called, Mercedes Thompson Series, Patricia Briggs

I love urban fantasy books with a female lead. The market is currently saturated with them so I can get overwhelmed by my choices. I looked over Patricia Briggs novels on many occasions not because I didn’t want to read them but because there were so many other things to read. Don’t let this happen. Mercy Thompson, mechanic and sometimes coyote is a wonderfully endearing character that I grew slowly attached to. While she does fall into the tropes of having multiple men interested in her for the things she can do rather than the person she is…she is aware of it and calls people on their BS. Love her.

3. Dark Currents, Agent of Hel trilogy, Jacqueline Carey

I am a Jacqueline Carey fangirl. I can’t help myself. She builds great stuff with her words and I just can’t seem to get enough but I have to admit that I was surprised when I found out she was doing something…you know…urban. Daisy Johannssen is struggling against accepting her demonic birthright, protecting her hometown, and answering to Hel…you know…the actual goddess, Hel. It makes for fun and quirky times that can get pretty serious.

2. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman

No one needs to be told that Neil Gaiman is an excellent author. It’s pretty much a known fact; it’s right up there (down there?) with gravity. But Neverwhere is by far my favorite of his books. It is the companion book to the television series of the same name. It all takes place in the underground of London, following the misadventures of businessman Richard Mayhew. I think what endears me to the book is that it pulls Richard from his maudlin everyday and into a realm of fantasy that lives in time with our own.

1 .  Guilty Pleasures, Anita Blake Series, Laurell K. Hamilton

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter. This is Hamilton’s quintessential work and it pretty much rocks. Anita is an animator who sometimes works with the police as the preternatural expert and is the licensed vampire hunter of her area. She’s a busy lady who stretches her morals to protect the people she cares the most about. The series comprises almost 25 books and novellas and even has a comic series that follows the books…word for word. Now, I’m not going to say the books are perfect. There are flaws. What I am going to say is that Hamilton creates a word that you can almost taste…and it’s delicious.

Musings of a Millennial

In less than a week I will be 29 and I am freaking out a little.

No, it’s not because I think that I’m old. I play D&D and video games. I wont really think of myself as old until I am screaming at kids to get off my lawn while running around in cheetah print leggings trying not to spill my sarsaparilla. Even then I’ll probably be doing it ironically, or at least drunkenly.

I have student loans and a college degree. I’ve accumulated almost 15 years of work experience and yet never been paid more than $9 an hour. I don’t own my own car. I’ve never had my own health insurance and I have to live with several other adults to sure we don’t all drown in debt.

It’s not the life I dreamed for myself.

I did great in school. My report cards were littered with A’s and a couple of low C’s in math. I did German Honor Society, lettered in Theater, had a part time job as soon as I was able. I did everything that they told me I had to in order to me a successful adult. It’s not really working out how I thought it would.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Most of the time I love my life. I have great friends, I love most of my family, and I am privileged enough to be in love with an awesome human being. But this isn’t the life that I pictured for myself.

The Word Count Problem

I hate word counts.

There. I’ve said it. Shoot me. But it’s true. I cannot stand when people are like “Romance novels are usually around 75,000 words in length” or “Oh no, that’s 100,000 words. It’s too long for the Young Adult genre.”

Oh my freckin’ frackin’ frick. I’m gonna need ya’ll to stop. This frame of mind is toxic to creativity and causes at least two problems. Maybe more. I haven’t thought that far yet because I can’t see past my writing rage.

The first problem: it causes is undue stress and literary lethargy in authors. I know, I know…how can it possibly be both? It’s okay. I’m gonna explain myself. I promise.

Let’s say I am writing a fantasy book. I, with all due diligence, go about researching the realm of fantasy and eventually find out that my genre tends to run between 90,000-100,000 words.

Neato! So now I have a guideline. I go about typing my merry little behind off and after sweat, tears, and agony I produce a book about magic and orcs roughly based off that D&D game I played way back when.

I go to check my word count…and it’s only 70,000 words. Well crap. I must have failed somewhere, right? I surely left off several awesome scenes of glorified battle and elfish songs. I guess I’ll add a subplot to help fluff things out. That’ll make it sellable for sure.

So I stress myself out and force another 30,000 words and am just over the mark…but you know what? That’s fine, it’s cool. I don’t even really wanna look at it anymore anyway. I am certain now that achieved my goal I have accomplished literary awesome.

But…well…that’s not true either. Making your word count the main criteria for which you measure your work is a crutch. By adding an extra subplot to fill out my work there is a chance that I actually buried the purpose of the story I was writing in the first place.

Not great.

Now if I had gone the opposite way, flew off the deep end, and wrote a fantasy story that hit the 150,000 mark and then scaled it back to a more appropriate length there is every chance I am cutting out things that would have added to the setting, the story, and the overall theme of the work.

Which brings me around to the second problem I have with strict adherence to the Law of the Word Count. You ever notice how a lot of things are beginning to sound the same? You pick up a couple of romance stories by two different authors and you will distinct similarities between the two works? It’s not just the FMC and the MMC meet, have the fuzzies, smooch, have problems, more smooches, more problems, then happily ever after. It’s mind-numbing.

I feel that this is because word counts have limited what people feel they can do to fit into a specific genre. They have to have these things happen in a specific shape in roughly the same amount of time. It’s like giving everyone the same recipe, the same ingredients, and expecting vastly different results.

I guess what I’m saying is that you should take the guidelines into consideration but don’t let them cage you and don’t let them give you a false sense of security either.

Cat Happens

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Saturdays are the days when I get my rough drafts written. Not the entire rough draft, mind you. More like a really thorough outline. It’s my time to sit down and get all the thoughts in my head out so that I can worry about adding in detail later.

That was my plan for this morning. I had settled into my favorite chair. I had a cinnamon-sugar bagel and the sun was just coming in the window to keep my feet warm as I wrote.

The cat figured this was an excellent time to purr in my ear.

There is a table near the desk where I work. A spot has been cleared away for the cat. It is just large enough to fit his rather impressive tabby colored bulk. He had jumped up there with feline silence while I nibbled on my bagel. Having been ignored he shoved his nose near to my ear and purred at me.

What’s a writer to do? I started off by giving him a cursory scritch on the side of his chin. He lifted his head and nudged my hand with genuine affection. I found myself thinking about cats in general and why I prefer their company to that of dogs.

I found myself thinking about greymalkins and how they are seriously underutilized in the stories of fae and faerie. The feline took advantage of my deep thoughts and snuck into my lap. How a ten pound feline sneaks is beyond me but he did.

Once he was there he began to purr and flopped over against my thighs looking up at me with those big green eyes. He stretched out his neck in the hopes of receiving more scratches. I acquiesced. Thus the next two hours were spent petting a cat and reading a book.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday (caturday?) morning.

To my future editor (should I ever have one) I am sorry if I don’t meet my deadlines. I own cats.

My Top 5 Favorite Fantasy Female Protagonists

There are two things I really enjoy reading about. BAMF female heroes and awesome fantasy settings. So below is a short list of my top five all time favorites…at least to this point in time. This is pulls from both YA and Adult Fantasy and is limited to what I’ve read (duh) and to a fantastical setting.

You know…swords, gods, dragons, fancy language and no indoor plumbing.

5. Sioned, The Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn

If you haven’t read Melanie Rawn I’m not surprised. I consider myself a really big fan of fantasy and I hadn’t heard of her, nor her work, till about two years ago. But now you have so go find some of her work and give it a look-see. She’s awesome. I received this book as a gift and finished the nearly 600 page novel in about two days time. It was fantastic and more than half of that awesome is because of Sioned.

Sioned is a Sunrunner. A type of cleric magician who can use the power of the sun (which is impressive since the setting is a desert) and the moon (also awesome) to do a lot of things. She is a strong woman who accepts her fate as the wife of a prince and a dragon slayer…no stress there. She’s smart, protective, and strong enough to hold her own against a decidedly stubborn lover.

4. Rhapsody, The Symphony of Ages, Elizabeth Haydon

The Symphony of Ages series is broken into a couple parts. The First Trilogy is referred to as the Rhapsody Trilogy and it’s these three book that I will be focusing on.The stories are rather complicated as they involve a bit of time travel, demons, and remaking things via song but they are worth the read.

Rhapsody is part Skysinger-part Human and all awesome. She is a Singer, which mean she can weave magic through song and use the true name of a person to do magic stuff with. It also means that she can never tell a lie. It was perhaps one of the first stories I had read where the female character had such a trait and I wholeheartedly approved.

It helps that Rhapsody has the oddest ‘brothers’ Achmed the Snake and Grunthor, Child of Earth. They are grumpy, not particularly pretty, and they are the mirror by which Rhapsody sees herself. The only downfall is that Rhapsody herself can get a little…mary-sue.

3. Polgara, The Sorceress Polgara, David & Leigh Eddings

Polgara, in case you didn’t read the title, is a sorceress. In the setting created by David Eddings with his quintessential series about the farmboy who becomes King (the Belgariad)we know that this makes her awesome…also immortal.

Born of Belgarath the Sorcerer and a shape shifted Wolf (yeah you read that right) Polgara has a twin sister. While everything that happens with that would be a big time spoiler Aunt Pol is one of my favorite characters of all time.

She’s strong, she’s snappish, she rules with kindness and a strict way. She struggles against her destined love and I really wish more of the stories had been told from her perspective.

2. Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève, Phèdre’s Trilogy, Jaqueline Carey

Okay, I’m going to be upfront. Phèdre is a part angel courtesan in a land descended from angels who has been chosen by the angel of punishment to be a bondage submissive and trained by a fallen courtier to be a spy and a linguist in an alternative history magical earth setting.

Yup. All true. And while that could be the same setting as a terrible fanfiction I have to say that Jaqueline Carey handles it all with a masterful hand. She creates a fully immersive world that is, at once, recognizable and unique. The books revolve around mystery, sex, romance, war, and political intrigues and at the center of it is Kushiel’s Chosen.

1 .  Alana of Trebond, Song of the Lioness, Tamora Pierce

Okay, I told you there were YA novels in here too. While Tamora Pierce’s female protagonists could all hold a place on this list because of their individual awesomeness I chose the very first of her heroines, Alana of Trebond and Pirate’s Swoop.

Alana was the girl that got me through middle school. She wanted to be a knight and in doing so had to hide everything about herself that marked her as traditionally female. In training harder and longer than her male counterparts she becomes one of the best knights of the Realm and earns herself a place of honor…after you know…being outed and struggling with her own identity and saving the kingdom…like you do.

The Song of the Lioness is a quintessential series that I would suggest everyone read. And you know…read all the other series in this setting too…they are awesome.