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Interview and Comment Chat with Karen Lord!

Karen Lord wrote the fantasy novel, REDEMPTION IN INDIGO, which is inspired by West African folk tales and Caribbean legends. She won the Frank Collymore Literary Award of 2008 for Redemption in Indigo, and then won it again in 2009 for a science fiction novel called The Best of All Possible Worlds. REDEMPTION IN INDIGO was released last week.

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Please tell us what REDEMPTION IN INDIGO is about and how you were inspired to write it.

Chapters 2, 3 and 4 of Redemption in Indigo are based on a West African folktale about a woman who leaves her husband. He comes looking for her and causes trouble, and she has to deal with him. Her happy-ever-after is based on the fact that he leaves again for good – quite the opposite of gaining Prince Charming, but still a happy ending in its own way. It was one of my favourite stories when I was little, and I liked her character so much that I decided to give her a larger story.

The entire book is about making choices, making mistakes, improving, and not giving up. It’s also about the problem of suffering, and the power of the ordinary. That sounds a bit heavy, so let me add that this all unfolds around a supernatural adversary, talking animals, an adventure-filled journey, love at first sight, fireworks, family and food!

Were the djombi (or undying ones, who are deity-like entities) inspired by any myths, or are they your own invention?

They were inspired by every myth. Jumbies. Djinni. Wood, water, earth and animal spirits in mythologies around the world. And quantum mechanics. Imagine sentient groupings of subatomic particles and forces … but branes, not brains!

I took the baccou name from a Caribbean legend, but I adapted it to fit my story.

REDEMPTION IN INDIGO won the Frank Collymore Literary Award for 2008. Could you tell us about that?

It’s one of the most coveted literary awards in Barbados. Frank Collymore was a teacher, author, poet and editor, well known for his own work and for promoting the work of other writers in the region, like Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, George Lamming and Austin Clarke, among others. You can read more about him and the award here:

http://www.fch.org.bb/fch/fcdata.shtml

I was advised to enter by Dr Peter Laurie (published author, diplomat, former colleague), who had given me excellent advice when I was reshaping my first draft. I’d already had the manuscript rejected by about four publishers and one agent, so I was mainly hoping for feedback. I certainly didn’t expect to win.

How did REDEMPTION IN INDIGO come to be published?

I have to thank Nalo Hopkinson for that. She posted the news about the award on the Carl Brandon Society blog (http://blog.carlbrandon.org/2009/01/barbados-frank-collymore-prize-goes-to.html). I think it caught her eye that the winning manuscript was a fantasy novel. I was shocked and delighted to see my picture on the Carl Brandon blog! I emailed her my thanks. Small Beer Press later contacted me through her and asked to have a look at the manuscript. They read it and they accepted it!

You also won the 2009 Frank Collymore Award for a science fiction novel named The Best of all Possible Worlds. Is it going to be published any time soon, or if you have anything else that we could look forward to?

I hope to get The Best of All Possible Worlds published soon.  I’ve also got about 45 000 words written of the sequel to Redemption in Indigo, and I’m pushing to finish and edit that before the end of the year so it can go out to publishers as well.

You break some so-call writing rules in REDEMPTION IN INDIGO, such a speaking directly to the reader. But it works so well, and the narrator has as much personality as anyone else in the story. How did you decide to tell the story in this unorthodox manner?

I didn’t realise I was breaking rules! I thought I was following convention. It’s an old storytelling trick, to address the audience from time to time. I wrote it that way because it’s a folktale at heart, and folktales are always told by storytellers, not novelists. Even C. S. Lewis does it in the Narnia Chronicles, like when he pauses the story to tell his young readers/listeners that it is very, very foolish to step into a wardrobe and close the door behind you.

Do you have a favorite part of REDEMPTION IN INDIGO, or a part that was a particular joy to write?

As much as I love my main characters, I really enjoy the side scenes with the minor characters. The parts that are tied for favourite are the Storyteller and Kwame talking in the village courtyard, and the Trickster buying a round for Rahid and Pei in a town bar. But I also like when the Trickster first encounters Kwame, and when Kwame finally meets Paama. Perhaps it’s the wonder of first-meetings, especially meetings between strangers who already have a connection and may not even realise it.

Why did you write such a short novel?

The first draft was planned out and written for NaNoWriMo, which is why it’s so close to 50 000 words.

Please tell us a little about yourself. What inspired you to start writing? What books were especially influential to you?

Voracious reader. Fast reader. Always reading at the dinner table, read all the books assigned for Eng Lit before term began, spent all my allowance on books. When my mother realised that, she gave me a book allowance, quadruple the original amount. She also got the Caribbean Examinations Council’s reading list, and gradually bought me almost every book on the list from year one to year four (ages 11-14). That’s a lot of books. It was a great list, with lots of Caribbean authors: Andrew Salkey, Edgar Mittelholzer, Samuel Selvon.

Year five we didn’t worry so much about because by then I was choosing and buying my own books. Speculative fiction galore, starting from the Narnia Chronicles, moving into Tolkien’s Middle Earth, checking out Ray Bradbury’s surreal alternate 1950s of rockets, Martian colonies and unusual people. Mind you, Ray Bradbury and John Wyndham (The Chrysalids, The Midwich Cuckoos, The Day of the Triffids, Chocky) were already on the schools’ reading list. Add to that Asimov and Clarke in the school library (also borrowed and lent between friends), and Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula Le Guin and Madeleine L’Engle in the Public Library. Should I mention the X-Men? Why not. There were some great stories in those early 1980s issues.

Reading inspired me to write. It was almost impossible not to go from one to the other.

Which books were influential? So many. Better to say which authors. C. S. Lewis – not just for Narnia, but for a lot of his later works, both fiction and non-fiction. Till We Have Faces is my favourite Lewis, and possibly my favourite novel. Ray Bradbury for the humanity in his stories. The short story ‘The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit’ is a classic. You’ll find it in his speculative fiction anthologies, but the only magic there is the magic of people learning to become fully themselves.

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You can purchase REDEMPTION IN INDIGO here. Karen has promised to come by every now and then to reply to comments, so if you’d like to chat with Karen, or if you can think of a question I neglected to ask, please do so in the comments.


Interview – Liz Fichera, Author of Captive Spirit – Plus Giveaway!

Liz Fichera is an author living in the American Southwest by way of Chicago.  She likes to write stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things, oftentimes against the backdrop of Native American legends.  When she’s not plotting her next novel, you can find her hanging out on Facebook and Twitter, dishing about writing, books, LOST reruns, and the best brands of chocolate.  Please visit her web site at http://www.lizfichera.com/.

Liz’s novel appealed to me because I used to live in Arizona and I’ve visited many of the same places she has, many times. Reading her novel will be like visiting my former home!

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Your main characters are Hohokam Indians.  Please tell us about the Hohokam and how they inspired your historical romance debut, CAPTIVE SPIRIT.

Well, first of all, CAPTIVE SPIRIT is set at the dawn of the sixteenth century in what we now know as Arizona in the American Southwest.  The Hohokam Indians are considered the original inhabitants of the Sonoran Desert, particularly to Phoenix, Arizona.  They arrived around 300 BC from ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures and existed peacefully as farmers and master canal builders until around 1500 AD when their population vanished for reasons unknown.  And that’s the little-known piece of history that inspired me to write CAPTIVE SPIRIT and include it as a storyline in my novel.  Why would the Hohokam vanish? There are lots of theories—fire, famine, drought, migration, war—but no one knows for sure.

Please give us a teaser about CAPTIVE SPIRIT.  What’s it about?

Here’s the back cover summary:

Sonoran Desert. Dawn of the sixteenth century.

Aiyana isn’t like the other girls of the White Ant Clan. Instead of keeping house, she longs to compete on the Ball Court with her best friend Honovi and the other boys. Instead of marriage, she daydreams of traveling beyond the mountains that surround her small village. Only Honovi knows and shares her forbidden wish, though Aiyana doesn’t realize her friend has a secret wish of his own…

When Aiyana’s father arranges her marriage to a man she hardly knows, she takes the advice of a tribal elder: Run! In fleeing, she falls into the hands of Spanish raiders and finds herself being taken over the mountains against her will. Now Aiyana’s on a quest to return to the very place she once dreamed of escaping. And she’ll do whatever it takes to survive and find her way back to the people she loves.

The book trailer for CAPTIVE SPIRIT will also give you a good sense of the setting, along with some additional cool photos of Hohokam petroglyphs and the Sonoran Desert where the story takes place.  Plus, I think the music that accompanies it is pretty awesome.  J  Many of the shots in the book trailer were taken near my home.

Tell us about the names of your characters in CAPTIVE SPIRIT.  How did you come up with them?

All of the characters in the book are Native American with the exception of three.  Naturally, I chose Native American names for the others and I chose them based on their meanings.  Aiyana, the heroine in the story, her name means “Eternal Blossom.”  Honovi, Aiyana’s love interest, his name means “Strong Deer.”  Then there’s Eyota, Chenoa, Sinopa, and Manaba and many others.  Each name means something special.  J  I got lucky with Aiyana, though.  Not only do I think the name is lovely but its meaning is just as lovely.  Perfect for a heroine.  She definitely grew into her name.

Do you have any favorite parts of CAPTIVE SPIRIT that we can look for as we read?

If I had to pick a favorite, I’d say that I love the part when Aiyana, Honovi, and Diego meet up with the Apache.  Writing the chapters with the Apache was a blast.  There was so much tension and build-up in those scenes.  My fingers practically exploded getting the words onto the page.  And it took place in an entirely new setting, much different than the Sonoran Desert that Aiyana was used to.

How about any parts that were difficult to write?

CAPTIVE SPIRIT was just one of those stories that flew into my laptop from my fingertips.  It was like I could see the story in my head and I couldn’t get it on the page fast enough.  I love it when that happens! I could immediately “see” my characters too, their personalities, conflicts, idiosyncrasies.  So, the first draft was relatively easy.  All of the editing and fine-tuning that followed was a little more tedious and difficult but that’s par for the course.

Did you try to sell any other novels before CAPTIVE SPIRIT?

At the time I wrote CAPTIVE SPIRIT, my agent was trying to sell a young adult novel that I had written and loved dearly.  And that young adult novel was getting kicked in the teeth and rejected by editors all over the place, unfortunately.  I tend to write stories that are out of the norm—my young adult novel did not include the currently very popular vampires, werewolves, zombies, and fae.  While I love a good vampire story as much as the next person, that’s not what my heart desires to write.

How difficult was CAPTIVE SPIRIT to sell?

Carina Press was the only publisher that I queried about CAPTIVE SPIRIT.  I queried Angela James last January when I saw a tweet where she said they were “hungry for historicals.”  I figured it was a sign.  By March, she called to tell me Carina Press was interested in buying my novel.  I got lucky.  Selling CAPTIVE SPIRIT was pretty easy.  And working with Carina Press has been a dream.

Why Carina Press? Why digital books?

Well, for starters, I love how Carina Press is not afraid to shake up the traditional publishing model.  Their motto intrigued me from the start: “Where no great story goes untold.”  They seemed less about trends and more about publishing stories and good writing.  Plus I think that it’s only a matter of time before more and more people begin reading books on e-readers.  I don’t think that hardcovers and paperbacks are going to disappear overnight but I do think demand for them will decrease while people will opt for the convenience and cost of e-books, especially as the cost of e-readers continues to plummet.  It’s already happening.

Which e-reader do you own?

I went for the Nook.  And I love it.  At first, I didn’t think I’d warm up to an e-reader.  But I said the same thing about email years ago too! Things change.

Final question: Tell us about yourself.

I live in Phoenix, Arizona, although I was born and raised in Park Ridge, Illinois, just outside of Chicago.  I never in a million years thought I’d wind up living in the desert but here I am.  And I love it.  I write full-time, although I teach the occasional writing class at a local college near my home.  When I’m not writing, I like to travel (money and time permitting), visit museums, support local theatre, and I’m one of those freakazoids who actually likes to run and hike in the desert.  But it balances out my chocolate habit.

Giveaway!

Liz is here to answer your questions, and she’ll give a copy of CAPTIVE SPIRIT to a random commenter.

Debut Graduate: David Williams on Completing a Trilogy


David J. Williams writes hard-hitting, military science fiction. The first novel was Mirrored Heavens, which I reviewed at Fantasy Debut. Since then, he’s written The Burning Skies and his final book, The Machinery of Light, comes out today. When I asked him to pen a guest post, I never expected this subject, which has not come up on any of my blogs before. Here is David Williams on completing a trilogy.

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A novel has a certain mystique.  A trilogy, perhaps even more so.  Though as Oscar Wilde once said, anyone can write a trilogy, so long as he/she is deaf to life and art.  (People look askance at me when I tell them that – um, it’s supposed to be a joke.)  At any rate, with Bantam’s release of THE MACHINERY OF LIGHT, my Autumn Rain trilogy is officially d-o-n-e…. and it’s been a long strange trip.  Not just since the release of the first novel, THE MIRRORED HEAVENS, two years ago .. . but, really, since I started writing, almost ten years back (in September of 2000, to be precise).  I have no massive trunk of unsold novels/stories; these novels are the only ones I’ve ever written–they constitute my journey thus far as a writer.  And finishing them up is a very weird feeling.  In three ways in particular:

1.  Now I have to say goodbye to my characters. I didn’t think it would be so tough, because in a sense I never said hello to them in the first place.  They are, after all, imaginary.  And yet it’s hard all the same.  They took shape in my head across so many years — went through so many iterations.  I’ve heard the French writer Honore de Balzac inquired on his deathbed as to the health of characters in his novels; I think I know where he was coming from.

2.  I can’t change anything anymore. Anything I hadn’t handled in the first book, I could handle in the second.  Anything I hadn’t wrapped up in the second, I could get to in the third.  But now that the third’s in stores, it’s going to be awfully difficult to make any more revisions.  Not that I want to make any. . . but you know how it goes.  Writers don’t exactly write.  They just revise.  Until they no longer can…

3.  The secret’s out. The books built toward a huge reveal that redefined everything that had gone on across the trilogy.  A trillion dollar enchilada moment, as it were, one that my evil subconscious cackled maniacally over for years.  But now it’s seen the light of day.  And in fact Publishers Weekly blew the whole thing in its review a few weeks back.  So don’t google it.  Just read the books.

Anyway.  I’m sure more weirdness will be settling on me in the next few days and weeks, but that’s probably enough for now.  Thanks a ton to Tia for the space, and all of you for reading!

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David will be hanging out, answering comments so don’t be shy. He’s a very approachable guy.

Check out this book trailer for The Machinery of Light, which is available today at stores everywhere.

THE MACHINERY OF LIGHT trailer from Claire Haskell on Vimeo.

Interview with Sonya Bateman!

Sonya Bateman is the author of the very fun urban fantasy, Master of None, which comes out next week. I thought I’d try out a conversational email interview on her, and she agreed to be experimented upon.  We had lots of fun with this. Enjoy!

I thought I’d start this conversational interview with a pretty standard question — your path to publication. Can you tell us how MASTER OF NONE came to be a published novel, how long the publication journey was for you, and about any bumps or detours along the way?

Ah, the Big Question! Here’s where I decide whether to give you the long answer or the short answer… 🙂 I’ll start with the long one.

I’d been writing for ten years before I managed to sign with an agent, and piled up hundreds of rejections for eight or nine different novels, and a lot of mistakes along the way. I also managed, apparently, to drive one publisher insane and one agent into a nervous breakdown.

Things didn’t really start working for me until I decided to write urban fantasy. When I finished the manuscript, a funny thing happened – agents actually requested partials and fulls. There was a blurred period of a couple weeks, and I ended up signing with Cameron McClure, who works in my “dream agency” – the Donald Maass Agency, home of Jim Butcher. Bliss!

Two months later, the bliss evaporated when it became apparent the book wasn’t going to sell. It was not quite YA and not quite adult, and no one knew which shelf it should go on. So I could give up and get a job as someone’s secretary (and how very tempting that option was, because it had been such a long slog), or I could write another book.

Somehow I talked myself into writing another book. I still wanted to do something different, so I ran with the djinn. I finished the manuscript, my agent and I did some revisions and decided on the title MASTER OF NONE, and out it went on submission.

Fast forward about a year and a half. There had been a few editor requests for the manuscript, but no bites. I was looking at the strong possibility that this one wouldn’t sell, either, and I’d have to go again – another year writing and revising, another year or two waiting. I didn’t think I could face it all over again.

It was after the holiday season, the middle of winter, and I was working three part-time jobs and treading water. One of them was at the local McDonalds. One Thursday, I reported just before noon for a four-hour shift, and I got a phone call. No one ever called me at work with good news.

It was my husband. He said, “You have to call your agent. Right now.” I was eating a jelly donut that one of my co-workers brought in, and my hands started shaking so bad that I smeared it all over myself. We couldn’t make long-distance calls from the office phone, and I don’t own a cell phone, so I ran out of the office with red jelly all over my hands, screaming, “A phone! I need a phone, right now!” The grill manager thought I was bleeding to death. There was a long moment of confusion before someone finally gave me a phone.

I called my agent. I didn’t hear much beyond “two-book deal with Pocket Books”. I was shaking and crying, and I called my husband back and shouted something unintelligible, which he miraculously understood. Then I washed the jelly off my hands, and proceeded to spend the next four hours making double cheeseburgers.

So – twelve years, eleven novels, and a boatload of angst, and here I am about to become a debut author. At least I don’t work at McDonalds any more.

That’s the long answer. 🙂 Let me know if you’d rather have the short version for space reasons – I do love that bleeding-to-death story, though. It was the funniest thing!

Are you kidding? That was hilarious!

So it sounds like going outside the box worked for you.  Tell us a little about MASTER OF NONE – a little about what it’s about and your inspirations.

Also, is there any interest in your unsold novels now that you’ve made a sale?

Thanks! That was a great day, bleeding to death and all.

MASTER OF NONE started out, like most of my novels, with a character: an unlucky thief with an unlikely name. Gavyn Donatti doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue – nor is it culturally correct – but it fits him. I knew I wanted to write urban fantasy, and I wanted to base things around djinn rather than vampires or werewolves. I began the book with the idea that it would be something like a modern-day Aladdin (the Disney version, with lots of humor), only Donatti’s djinn wasn’t going to be the cooperative wish-granting type.

Of course, it didn’t turn out exactly like I’d planned. The book still has a few things in common with Aladdin – there’s a thief and a genie, and a Jasmine (Jazz – my naming her Jasmine was completely subconscious, I swear!), but the similarities end there. Basically, Donatti has to work with Ian (the djinn), who hates his guts, in order to save the the family he never knew he had, not to mention the world. And everything bad that can possibly happen to him along the way, does.

My other novels (at least the ones that didn’t suck too much) are currently available or being released under my pen name through a couple of great small presses. So, those didn’t turn out to be a complete waste of time. 🙂

Do any parts of MASTER OF NONE stand out as your favorite scenes, or scenes that were particularly hard to write?

The car chase sequence was tough. There was a point where I thought I’d never get it right! My agent had problems with parts of it – I rewrote it, and after it sold, my editor had different problems with it. I ended up including parts of the original scenes, parts of the revised scenes, and some new stuff. Ultimately, I think the sequence is stronger because of their input.

I think my favorite moments are the early interactions between Donatti and Ian. They hate each other so much in the beginning – it was just a blast to write.

Did the fact that they resolved their differences give you any trouble for the sequels? I’m assuming this is the start of a series, of course. If it is, please also give us a hint of what is to come. Will we see Quaid again?

It’s definitely a series! And as far as resolving things… well, they haven’t, exactly. They solved one set of differences, only to run into a few more. I’m not sure Donatti and Ian will ever truly get along. 🙂

The next book, Djinn’s Apprentice, features a cult, a curse, a kidnapping, and some serious blurring of clan lines among the djinn on Earth. Donatti discovers he’s more powerful than he thinks, and Ian learns a thing or two about trust, and why blind revenge isn’t always the answer.

Unfortunately, Quaid didn’t make it into the next one. But I have a feeling he’ll be back in a future installment.

Oooh, learning about trust? Blind revenge not being the answer? I’m intrigued already! Do you have any idea of the release schedule for the next few books?

And does it surprise you when minor characters like Quaid turn out to be a big hit? I just love his whole mannerly bounty hunter demeanor.

Thanks! I don’t have a definite release schedule, but somewhere during the contract stage, the phrase “every ten months” was mentioned. Djinn’s Apprentice is written and awaiting revisions, so if that schedule is used, it may be out around January 2011.

I’m thrilled that you like Quaid – I’ve got a soft spot for him, myself. 🙂 My minor characters always surprise me. I never plan them. They just kind of show up and say, “Here I am! Do something with me.” Lark and Tory were also a complete surprise – both their existence, and their relationship. But it definitely made sense once I figured them out, and they made it into the next book.

It’s cool that their relationship was a surprise to you because it did make sense to me. I also think Jazz is a wonderful character — tough, but a mom, with that necessary soft mom side.

Gah! It’s hard to think of questions that aren’t spoilers!

Sometimes it’s hard to keep the romantic tension going between characters who have worked out their problems. Some authors have resolved this by setting up love triangles (Janet Evanovich, Kimberly Frost), other authors draw the romance out over many books (Victoria Thompson, Anne Perry). However, some authors, such as Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series), manage to keep the reader’s interest in a committed couple’s relationship. Since we know by now you have already written at least one of your sequels, can you tell us if this has been a challenge for you, and perhaps give us a little teaser on how you solved this?

I hear ya – it’s hard to think of non-spoilery answers! 🙂

The thing I love about relationships is that they’re rarely static, even in real life. I think committed relationships can be just as interesting and tense, especially in urban fantasy, where there can be a great contrast between the ordinary problems in a relationship and the fantastic things that happen to the characters.

Jazz and Donatti started off on rocky ground, and they’re probably going to be there for a while. This helps in keeping up the tension. I’ve also given Jazz a few surprises of her own in the second book, so she’s going to be able to grow and evolve as a character within the dynamics of the core series group.

The first-person POV is probably my biggest challenge as far as showing their relationship – I never get into Jazz’s head! Fortunately, she speaks her mind and doesn’t pull punches.

Yes, that’s one of the limitations of first person . . . but I still love reading first person novels because it’s the best way to get into a character’s head.

Do you have any advice for the many aspiring writers who haunt this blog, which they may not have seen before?

And, is there any question you wish I had asked?

I’m glad you like first person! I’ve seen a lot of anti-first-person sentiments tooling around the Internet, and it surprises me – but I suppose it shouldn’t, since I’m anti-present-tense myself. Gives me hives, present tense does.

Hmm, advice. I always have a tough time with writing advice, because I remember what I was like while I was still trying to break in. Nobody could tell me anything. I was convinced, like many writers, that agents and editors were all out to get me. The problem wasn’t my writing, it was the Evil Industry. Fortunately, I got over that (only took me ten years!).

So, I guess I’d say this: never think you’re amazing. Not even the most successful authors ever are amazing to everyone – and if you believe you’re already fantastic, you’ll never try to improve. Also, if you have an idea for a series, that’s great…but don’t write the whole series. Write the first one, start querying, and then write something completely different while you’re waiting. I wasted a lot of time (many, many years) writing sequels to a book I couldn’t sell in the first place, and while the volume of writing helped improve my craft, it didn’t get me any closer to published, because I didn’t have anything else to sell.

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Want a taste of Master of None? Here’s the first chapter. Be sure to let us know what you thought. You’ll find out what I thought of the entire novel when it comes out next week.


Guest Post: Part 2: A Manifesto of Imaginative Literature by Justin Allen

For the Love of Pete, Don’t Mix Your Genres;
Or… The New York Times Book Review Hates YOU, but I Don’t;
Or… Why Where Your Book Gets Shelved Determines Your Intelligence, Work-Ethic and Value to Society


Read Part 1 at SFSignal

Part 2: The New York Times Book Review Hates YOU, But I Don’t.

We have just seen how we, the prejudiced book-buyers, are at least partially to blame for the state of the publishing industry. But why are we so prejudiced in the first place? Simple, we have been taught to be prejudiced! By whom, you may ask? Well, by everyone, of course. As readers we tell each other that the greatest strength of all, the most important thing to be, is critical – and by this we almost always mean deeply, embarrassingly prejudiced. I don’t know that we mean to do it. But we do. We take sides. EVERYONE takes sides – including both publishers and reviewers. I’m not sure why publishers do it. I have some theories, but nothing that makes sense from a business perspective. As for reviewers, they do it because they are human beings, and so labor under a host of imperatives and misconceptions that arise both as a result of the needs of their peculiar business and their prejudicial upbringing as readers.

Let’s start (and more or less end) with the BIG reviewers, publications like The New York Times Book Review (I choose that rag because it’s my hometown nest of vipers, and because it’s a good representative, not because they are the only such publication), henceforth to be called the NYTBR for laziness reasons. What a great many of us (maybe all of us) know is that the NYTBR is deeply conservative in their absolute fealty to that aforementioned monolith, ‘literary’ fiction. They throw a bone to the imaginative types every once in a while – likely to keep us from kicking their doors down – but at heart they are deeply prejudiced against fantasy, sci-fi, horror, YA, romance and all the rest of the so-called ‘genres.’

Don’t believe me? Just for fun, let’s see what the NYTBR thought of The Name of the Wind, a book that was all the buzz of the fantasy world just a couple years ago. It won awards, was almost universally praised by readers and online reviewers, and given all sorts of stars by pre-publication reviews like Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. So what did the NYTBR think? Hmmm… You know, they don’t seem to have reviewed that book. It was on their best-seller list… but no review. Still, they can’t review EVERY book. Even good ones have to get left off once in a while. So let’s make it easier on the poor NYTBR. I know; I’ll link to their very best review for any book by Janny Wurts. She’s got so many books. Surely they’ve reviewed at least… What’s that? Not even one review? But she’s an almost universally admired fantasist! Obviously I’m being too tricky. Let’s try a really easy one. Let’s look for the NYTBR of the first Harry Potter novel. Hooray! We found a genre novel that the NYTBR seems to have found worthy of reviewing! http://www.nytimes.com/1999/02/14/books/children-s-books-199338.html I feel good about this. I really do. Maybe the NYTBR isn’t quite as prejudiced as I thought.

But wait, Harry Potter debuted in this country in October of 1998, and they didn’t review it until February of 1999, after it was already a huge success overseas, winning awards by the bushel, and vacuuming up piles of cash. You don’t think the old gray girl printed a review so that she wouldn’t seem totally out of touch? I mean really, how rare is it to have a book four months old getting reviewed by the NYTBR? It must happen all the time, right? No? But not never, surely. Only for books they somehow missed the first time around? But how in the name of Thor did they miss Harry? He was GREAT! Everyone knows that now. Even they know it NOW, it seems. So how did they miss it back in October of 1998?

The answer, of course, is that Harry Potter is a part of two genres that the NYTBR is prejudiced against, namely fantasy and YA. And the NYTBR is not alone. The simple fact is that ‘genre’ work is ghettoized by big print media. It’s not that there’s a lack of excellent science fiction, YA, romance, fantasy or horror being published – I think even the editors of the NYTBR would agree that there most assuredly is – its just that those types of works are not really eligible for those types of big national reviews. The exception, of course, being ‘genre’ works by established ‘literary’ stars like Cormac McCarthy. The NYTBR loved The Road, and well they should. I loved it myself. It was probably no worse than the fourth or fifth best post-apocalyptic novel I have read (none of the others won Pulitzers, however). But let’s face facts, it is a sci-fi novel as sure as anything.

So what’s wrong with big print media focusing on ‘literary’ fiction? Remember the accusations our friend Sonya Chung made? It’s so much easier to be a writer of ‘imaginative’ fiction, right? The ‘literary’ types need their big print reviews or else they’d dry up and blow away. Is this correct?

Let’s be honest, fantasy readers are not one whit more likely to pick up a fantasy novel by a writer they have never heard of than your ‘literary’ type is to pick up a novel by a writer she has never heard of, regardless of the quality of the book. But without a big voice backing them, the kind only big print media has, how exactly is the average reader supposed to hear about new books and new writers in the realm of imaginative fiction? The internet does huge service in that regard (thank god), but it’s a crapshoot at best. Even the most visited sites have only a fraction of the readership of the NYTBR, and are more often than not staffed by a tiny group of dedicated reviewers, nowhere near the numbers necessary to give each and every book a shot. The one way in which internet reviewers truly have it over big print media is that they for the most part do what they do for love, and so are not as irreparably bound in by prejudice as the NYTBR and its ilk. Sure they have specialties, but as they are more like Mom and Pop enterprises there are no corporate sponsors who will cry if they decide to go outside their normal milieu.

Well, now THAT is a horrendous accusation! Am I suggesting that big print media is somehow bought? That they are beholden to some faceless corporate sponsor? I am not. The corporate sponsors are anything but faceless. You need only get a copy of any of those big reviews and glance at the advertisers to get a taste for who really owns those publications. So who are these advertisers? I bet you already guessed it! The publishers themselves.

If you’re like me, the whole sickening nature of these big print reviews is starting to come into focus. But there is one more major player – as usual, the most major player – the identification of which will go that much farther toward explaining why the NYTBR hates You. And that is $$$$$$.

I am going to admit something which may surprise some of you. I used to work in publishing. I worked for an agent. It was a good job, with lots of free books, an inside view of the industry, and the opportunity to converse with loads of talented, dedicated people who all cared about the same sorts of things I cared about (and still do). But one of the things I learned while working at the agency is that book advances are not equal, and really confusing. And this is where the whole pot begins to bubble over.

You see, the bigger publishing houses pay huge advances to the ‘literary’ types. I can remember, all too often, high six-figure advances for first novels. FIRST NOVELS! Unless you’re hugely famous and a proven money-maker, you are not going to get that type of advance for any sort of ‘genre’ novel. But we don’t even need to use those huge six figure advances to see where the problem lies. Let’s imagine that our friend Sonya Chung (the ‘literary’ apologist we so enjoyed eviscerating above), got an advance of $20K for her forthcoming first novel (A lot of my genre friends are salivating, I know – and believe me, in the world of ‘literary’ fiction 20K is NOTHING). If she gets 10% (the standard royalty rate) of the sale price of every book sold at a cover price of $25, she would have to sell eight-thousand copies just to earn her advance (royalty rates do escalate as you sell more copies, but this is a good place to start). If we believe her rhetoric, that ‘literary’ books are so underappreciated and undersold, how in the name of heaven is she going to sell 8000 copies? And what if she has to sell enough to earn back $60K? Or more? How many books do those six figure advances have to sell? The mind boggles, and I think we can all agree that her publisher had better get busy making sure that we all hear about her book pronto!

Of course, that’s where the NYTBR comes in. They may not be willing to review books by relatively unknown fantasy writers like Patrick Rothfuss or Janny Wurts, but they review first novels by ‘literary’ types all the time! (A recent example: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/books/review/Thomas-t.html?ref=books) They have to! If they don’t constantly turn out a stream of information about the ‘literary’ newcomers, the publishers are going to go broke! And then who will buy ads in their publication?

The worst part about this is that, during the six years I spent working at the agency, there were only a handful of times when these ‘literary’ works actually managed to earn their advances. I won’t name names, but suffice to say that there are biggies in the field of ‘literary’ fiction who have likely never received a royalty check, and never expect to. Which means, undoubtedly, that the big ‘genre’ writers – folks like Dean Koontz, Nora Roberts and Dan Brown (the very writers Sonya Chung so damns) – as well as a whole army of struggling lesser-known imaginative writers, are in essence subsidizing the losses incurred by all those poor ‘literary’ types like Sonya Chung! And she has the gall to hate us?

You may ask yourself, why don’t the publishers simply stop giving out those huge advances to unknown, underperforming and underwhelming ‘literary’ writers? Then ‘literary’ fiction could take its rightful place as one genre among many; the NYTBR and its brethren could begin to review based on quality rather than prejudice; and as readers we could all hope that the cream of real literature might rise to the top, regardless of what color cow the milk came from. You know the strangest part? Holding back the huge advances would, in the long run, help the vast majority of the ‘literary’ writers as well, most of whom find themselves laboring under ever-growing records of low sales and losses, which even the publishers begin to see as odious (making future books that much more difficult to get published at all, regardless of quality. Remember this, oh hopeful writers, ALL failures are ultimately laid upon the head of the author!). It sounds so easy! So why don’t they just stop giving all those debilitating advances? Now that is a question I can not answer. In fact, no one can. No one knows the answer to that question. At any rate, don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. Nor should you expect the NYTBR to begin to see the light of openness, impartiality or artistic achievement in the ‘genres.’

So let’s all give a big hand to our master-mixologists, John DeNardo, Tia Nevitt and John Ottinger, as well as to all of their fellow philosophers of the fantastic, fun and imaginative, for keeping some tiny spark of hope alive for the new ‘genre’ writer. Without them, frankly, our side would be sunk.

And just to finish this topic off completely, keep in mind that there are ‘genres’ where the problems of prejudice and publicity are even more acute. Fantasy does pretty well for itself, all things considered. Think what would have happened in the present climate to some of our classics? JD Salinger died the other day. What do you think would have happened to his classic novel, The Catcher in the Rye, if it came out tomorrow, labeled and shelved as YA? What would have become of our poor friend Huck Finn, if he’d been published last year? Would the NYTBR give either Holden or Huck the time of day? You can bet your life that it would NOT.

This brings me at long last to that bit of advice I promised for all the up and coming writers hoping to make a first sale. I offer no writing tricks, only a word of warning about what to write if you hope to get published and sell a big pile of books . . .

Read Part 3 and Official Comment Thread at Grasping for the Wind

Links to Buy page at IndieBound

Justin was born in Boise, Idaho in 1974. He graduated from Boise State University with a degree in philosophy, and from Columbia University with an MFA in fiction. He is the author, most recently, of Year of the Horse, an all-ages fantasy-western that tells the story of sixteen-year-old Yen Tzu-lu, the child of Chinese immigrants and one of a band of treasure hunters brought together from every corner of the continent to recapture a stolen gold mine. Leading Tzu-Lu and his gang is the gunslinger Jack Straw, a figure who is as much legend as reality, as much magic as lead. Ultimately, this band of outsiders finds it must learn to live together, trust and care for one another. If they make it across a wild continent, they’ll be rich; if they don’t, they’ll surely be dead. Get your copy at Indiebound (why not support your local store?), BN.com, or Amazon.

Justin is roughly six feet tall, weighs somewhere around 185 pounds (often more, to his chagrin), has dark-brown hair and eyes, and suffers from near-sightedness, motion-sickness, and a tendency to get angry at airport personnel. His wife, Day Mitchell, a licensed master social worker, is trying to help him overcome this last item, but finds the going hard.

He can be contacted via justin-allen.com.

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If you have comments or flames for Justin, he will be hanging out at Grasping for the Wind. Don’t leave them here unless you just want to talk to me.

Guest Post – Jennifer Estep, Author of Spider's Bite – Plus a Contest!

Jennifer Estep is the author of the paranormal series, Bigtime. Three books were published in the Bigtime series, including Karma Girl, Hot Mama and Jinx. Now she’s changing gears with an extremely gritty urban fantasy about an assassin named Gin. The first novel, Spider’s Bite (which is available next week), received favorable advance reviews and Jennifer has just sold books four  and five in the Elemental Assassin series.

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Greetings and salutations! First of all, I want to say thanks to Tia for having me back on the blog. Thanks so much, Tia!

So today, Tia asked me to talk a little bit about what it’s like to change genres as an author.

As some of you might know, my first three books – Karma Girl, Hot Mama, and Jinx – were part of my Bigtime series. The paranormal romance series was basically a comic book spoof, set in a city full of sexy superheroes, evil ubervillains, and smart, sassy gals looking for love.

But I have a new book – Spider’s Bite – coming out on Jan. 26. It’s the first book in my Elemental Assassin series and focuses on Gin Blanco, an assassin codenamed the Spider who runs a barbecue joint in her spare time. Spider’s Bite (and the Elemental Assassin series overall) is as dark and gritty and violent as the Bigtime series was goofy and campy and over-the-top.

Yep, I’ve gone from penning light, fluffy paranormal romances to writing dark, gritty urban fantasy books about an assassin. And you know what? I didn’t find it all that hard to switch genres.

I know a lot of writers struggle when they switch genres. They struggle with the voice, the characters, the setting, even the plot. So why didn’t I? Well, for one, paranormal romance and urban fantasy aren’t all that different. Authors cross over from one genre to the other all the time. I’m certainly not the first. It’s not like I went from writing sci-fi space operas to historical non-fiction. Now that would be a big leap.

But mainly, I think that the reason I found it so easy to switch gears is because the Bigtime series and the Elemental Assassin series have a lot of the same core elements in common. Both feature sassy, kick-butt heroines, a cool magic city/world, and lots of action/fight scenes. (I really love writing fight scenes.) Everything in the Elemental Assassin books is just dark, gritty, and bathed in shadows, instead of being dazzling, neon, and candy-coated like in the Bigtime books. I still think the Elemental Assassin books are a lot of fun, though, just in a darker, different way than the Bigtime books are.

I really didn’t approach writing Spider’s Bite that much differently than I did Karma Girl or any of the other Bigtime books. Once I created my gritty southern metropolis of Ashland and figured out what kind of magic/powers I wanted my heroine Gin Blanco to have, I could concentrate on giving her a really strong, tough voice and persona to match the dangerous world that she lives in. Once I got Gin squared away as a character, the rest of the book just flowed.

Now, of course, I know that some folks won’t like the switch. I’m fully prepared to get e-mails from readers who are disappointed by my change from light paranormal romance to gritty urban fantasy. But I had been wanting to write a darker story for a while, and Spider’s Bite gave me the chance to do that. Not to mention that the darker urban fantasies and paranormal romances are what seem to be especially popular with readers right now. I do hope that fans of my Bigtime series will give Spider’s Bite and the rest of the Elemental Assassin series a chance – especially since I think that I’ve done some of my best writing to date in them.

And I don’t want to stop at urban fantasy. I’d love to write a contemporary romance, a really elaborate heist book, an epic fantasy young adult, and even a western one day. Yeah, my muse is all over the place – and that’s just the way I like it. 😉

What about you guys? Do you like it when an author switches genres? Why or why not? Share in the comments.

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As an added incentive to comment, Jennifer is giving a way a copy to a random commenter. This contest is open to residents of the United States and Canada.

Guest Post – Upcoming Debut Author Kelly Gay

Kelly Gay_website photo
Kelly Gay, author of The Better Part of Darkness

We’ve been following Kelly Gay‘s fledgling career since shortly after her sale was announced last summer, and she has appeared at Fantasy Debut in a series of guest posts on her milestones as an upcoming author. The first post was called “ Switching Gears” and was about going from query mode to contracted author mode. The second post was about signing that contract. And the third post was on revisions and copyedits. Tomorrow is release day for The Better Part of Darkness, so here she is with her last post as a pre-published author.

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It’s your intrepid, and slightly harried, debut author here. It’s been a while since my last ‘Milestone’ post, so we have a lot to talk about. We’ve covered what it’s like to switch gears from the aspiring writer mindset to that of working writer, getting the contract, as well as revisions and copy edits.

In the last few months, I’ve worked on book 2 revisions, held my first book in my hands, gained experienced in promotion, stressed over reviews, and am now biting my nails over the release. I’m not afraid to tell you that I turned a very nauseous shade of green when my editor told me that Amazon and B&N had started shipping their pre-orders.

So let’s start with 1) Revisions: Now that I’ve had some experience with revisions, I know I can handle the notes on book 2, though, the fact that I’m working on them in the midst of Book 1’s release is something new—some days are definitely harder than others when it comes to concentrating! 2) Holding my book for the first time: An incredible feeling, and, for me, a very quiet moment of affirmation. 3) Promotion: I’m getting the hang of it. I love interacting with readers and writers, but I never realized how time-consuming it would be. It has made me improve my time management skills, for sure. 4) Reviews, the topic of today’s post: Totally nerve wracking to consider, but also a necessary and vital part of the book industry. Without reviewers, without readers expressing their opinions, a lot of books would simply go unnoticed.

I hoped and prayed for months that my first review would be decent. If just one reader out there liked my book, then I could handle the rest. And when it came, I was griped with such dread and anticipation; it felt like I was standing on a bridge with a bungee cord about to jump. Thankfully that first one was pretty decent, and my relief, as you can imagine, was overwhelming.

Once the reviews start rolling in, they spawn a rush of emotions: hope, fear, dread, hesitation . . . I hold my breath, I tense up, preparing myself against the bad, and then I dive in and read like a speed demon. If it’s a good review, I go back and read it again, absorbing all the wonderful words. Good reviews are big, glowing, wonderful boosts in confidence, and I feel like I can accomplish anything.

But, with over a decade of writing and several manuscripts under my belt, I’ve had my share of harsh critiques and judge’s feedback, too. In some ways, harsh reviews are like harsh critiques only made public. And that’s where the real fear comes in. It’s public. It’s out there for all to see. And that is scary. When someone doesn’t like my work, whether it’s presented in a nice, gentle way or a malicious way, it still hurts on some level. Writing is so personal, how can it not hurt?

One of the keys to handling the not-so-great review is to realize I can’t do anything about the review, but I can control how long I let it affect me. It’s also great to have a support system of other writers that I trust. People I can rant with, commiserate with, and jump for joy with.

So, as the reviews come in, I’ll try to remember that it’s a subjective, creative medium. And like any art medium, some people will get it, some people will be baffled, some people will hate it with a passion, and some will love it so much they plaster the bathroom walls with my pages. (My parents need to redo their bathroom anyway).

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As for me, it’s been a delight to follow Kelly from signing to publication! Best of luck, Kelly!