Saturday, 30 October 2010

Announcing The Second Dun Scaith Blog Carnival

Now that the blog tour is done, and done well, I thought it would be a good time to announce the Second Dun Scaith Carnival. The last blog carnival I did went really well - about eighteen people blogged on why they went Indie.

I personally had over 200 readers spread over 3 days, and my blog was really knew and had never had as many as thirty readers i a day before that.

If you were involved in that carnival, you know the rules. Write a post and I'll link to it. The last time the posts had to all go live the same day - it was a complete nightmare. This time put your post up on Friday or Saturday, I'll do mine on Sunday, and we can all do Monday Mentions on Twitter and Facebook on the Monday.

The Blog Carnival has a subject: If I knew then what I know now... essentially, if you were starting out Indie right now, but had all the knowledge you now possess, what would you do differently?

And if you want involved, post a comment here or shoot me a message on Facebook, Twitter, or by email.

And the date of the carnival is probably going to be... the 13th of December.

Spread the news, people.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Guest Post - Editing - Vix Philips

Right. My name's Vix, and it's Friday down under, and lor' bless those wonderful things called timezones since this guest blog post is due today, UK time. Hello from the future. Anyway, I've been editing a book since July, so when my wonderful host asked me to do a spot over here I did a lot of hand-wringing and head-scratching as to what on earth I could possibly write about before the little lightbulb went on over my head--bing! there it is--oh yes. Editing.

So, editing. Editing, editing, editing, editing. I'm not going to talk about weaving the perfect plot, or description, or characters, or any of that stuff. This is all about what happens *after* you've sent your wee bairn AKA manuscript off to the wilds of beta readers, editors, or simply let your gut (or whatever part of you that hurts the most when it gets punched) make the thing as perfect, story-wise, as you can get it. This is about the part that comes between that and you formatting the thing to go off into the world, with the idea that if you follow at least some of these steps, the amount of expletives you'll need to utter when you see the thing in print/e-book form will be markedly reduced. A how-to guide for the reduction of those niggling little errors I've heard many authors complain about after the fact, in other words.

1. Find and replace.
Wonderful little function, this one. Comes in pretty much all word-processors, as you no doubt know by now. Not just good for changing Jims to Jills, or vice versa, but also for picking up nasty little formatting errors like double spaces after periods, no spaces at all after periods (or commas) and so on.

Found at
Everyone has those words they overuse. This is where wordle comes in handy. You copy and paste your novel into the box, click submit, and back comes a lovely little tag-cloud type thing with the most commonly used words in a nice colourful font right in your face. It ignores the "invisible words" like 'the', 'and', 'then', etc. I do one pass for the entire book (to get a good overview), and one per chapter, in case I've unintentionally overused a more unusual word in a short span of pages. If you see words like "eyes" coming up in a giant font, it may mean you're relying too much on one form of conveying emotion. The main character(s)' names popping up may mean you've gone a bit "Heathcliff!" "Cathy!" in your interactions through dialogue. Other times there are the old bugbears like "just". In general, you can ignore the smaller words--just pay attention to the ones that really stand out as being potentially problematic.

3. Text-to-speech.
Built-in on the Mac platform (Edit menu/Speech/Start Speaking); not sure about Windows, though you can probably download about 20 programs for free that will do the same thing (only one of which is bound to attach a naked picture of Bill Gates every time you send an email to your mum.) And if you're running Linux, well, what do you care, you'll probably write your own program to do it. Anyhow, sit back, relax, and let the dulcet tones of Stephen Hawking read each of your chapters aloud while you follow along on the screen. What this is going to do is immediately pinpoint any words you've missed out that your brain automatically fills in no matter how many times you read the darn passage, and also remind you that you wanted to say, for example, "revise" rather than "revile" right there. It will also help pinpoint repetitive words/phrases.

4. Hunt the Cliché!
There are plenty of trite phrases in common usage. But what about the really clever ones you come up with all on your own, the ones your brain looks at and says, "That's bloody brilliant, that is; I'm gonna use that again." And so it does. On page 10, and page 55, and page 103, and page 229, and-- Anyway, you get the picture. This program runs on Windows, so I've not yet given it a whirl, but apparently it's just for such an occasion (and includes your garden variety clichés), and it's free to try out for up to 20 files. It's called Cliché Cleaner and you can find it at

So, these are some of the best ways I've uncovered to get a cleaner-looking final product. I hope you guys find it useful!

Bio: Vixen Phillips is an Australian writer of dark, mythic, confessional, lyrical fiction, and runs her own indie publishing project Lost Violet Press. Her first full-length novel, Trapdoor, a dark homoerotic love story, is due to be republished before the year's end, and her steampunk series is due out next year. You can find more info about her books at, or stalk her on twitter: @lostvioletpress.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Guest Post - Writing Real Sex - Selena Kitt

This was supposed to be yesterday's guest post however my laptop died yesterday. A virus ate it and now it won't even turn on... boohoo. Originally this guest post was a two-parter, with Zoe Winters writing about "How to write love between characters." Zoe is currently on a sabbatical, and will be doing her guest post in November. Today I'm on Kait Nolan's blog.

"How do you write such hot sex scenes?”

This is the erotic writer’s equivalent to the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

My response? “Hell if I know!”

I’m an intuitive writer. I sit down and I write. I’m not entirely sure how I do what I do, and when someone asks me to try to break it down, I’m often at a loss. For me, it’s like telling someone how to breathe. You just…do it.

But if I’m forced to try to explain how it is I get from point A to point B (I’m having scary ninth grade “show your work” math flashbacks now) I can do it. Eventually. So this is how I do it. It may not be how you do it, or how anyone else should do it. It’s just how I do it, and maybe that will help you, or someone else, get there too.


Your characters are alive and they are not the sum of their parts. They aren’t measurements or hair color or penis size. I’ve done sex scenes without mentioning any of the above. Don’t ask, “What would my character do in this situation?” Let them act. Let them decide. Let them speak. Let them feel. Especially let them feel.

If you’re bored writing a sex scene, your readers will be bored. If you’re turned on, your reader will be turned on. The emotion you are feeling will be conveyed on paper. It’s a natural law of the writer universe. (This applies to any scene, not just sex ones, by the way. If it moves you to tears, it will move the reader as well).

If you’re turned on during a sex scene, really getting into it, your fingers flying over the keyboard, unless the house is on fire or we’re under nuclear attack, DON’T STOP. Never, ever stop in the middle of a sex scene. (This rule also applies well to actual sex). You will lose your momentum, and it won’t be the same when you come back to it. Your mood will have shifted, and the reader will feel it.

Human beings want. Our entire culture and economy is based on desire. We lust after the things we want. We dream about them. We fantasize about them. We want. And we want. And we want some more. Our bodies and our brains are hardwired for desire. We don’t just eat once and then we’re done. We don’t just have one orgasm and then it’s all over. We continue to crave what we want. Our emotions rule us, especially when it comes to sex. They’re naturally going to rule your sex scene, too. We don’t insert tab A into slot B because we’re following a blueprint manual. There’s a reason behind our physical responses, and that reason is always, always tied to emotion. Remember that. Use it.

Desire is what makes the sex hot. Make your readers wait for it. Foreplay begins with seduction, not with sex acts. It begins with eye contact. Flirting. Innuendo. It progresses, but slowly. Tease your readers. Tease yourself. Draw it out. Make it a long, slow burn. The best orgasms are the ones we wait a long time for. It’s no different when writing sex than it is doing it, really.

Don’t be afraid of the sex. Don’t be afraid of the fluids, the flesh, the human expression of our bodies. It is what it is. Some writers will tell you not to ever speak of bodily fluids. They’re above all that messy stuff. Thankfully, erotica and erotic romance have come a long way, baby. We can use the words cock and pussy now, and I would encourage you to do so. I wouldn’t suggest using the medical terms, however (i.e. penis and vagina) or euphemisms like “member” or “sheath.” Cock and Pussy are good. Think of them like peas and carrots. They go together. A few (and I mean a FEW) other words can work for a little variety. Prick or dick for example. Or cunt. No, don’t be afraid of the words we use during sex. It’s okay to talk dirty. “Please,” or “Now,” or “Suck me,” or “Lick me,” or “Harder. There. More.” These are words we’ve all spoken (I hope!) They naturally arouse. That’s a good thing. I’m not afraid of cum – I’m not even afraid of spelling it “wrong.” You shouldn’t be either.

Once you reach the point of no return, you’ve built up to the sex, you’ve teased your readers (and your poor characters) enough, now it’s time to give them what they want. This is not the time to skimp. You can’t gloss over the orgasm. (Or orgasmS). We all (hopefully!) know what an orgasm feels like. Description doesn’t have to be technical here. There are spasms and contractions, there is throbbing and trembling, gasps, moans—the combinations are endless. You can and should include those, but don’t be afraid to move into the realm of metaphor. Sex can be like flying. It can be like falling. It can be like dying. This is the culmination of everything, the point you’ve been waiting for, working toward. Let your imagination go as wild as you would during an actual orgasm. Let yourself free.

On a practical note – your characters shouldn’t defy the laws of physics. Women cannot take twelve inches of hot man meat down their throats. An average vagina is only eight inches deep. 44DD breasts cannot defy gravity. And if you’re using any of the above descriptions in your sex scenes, you need a basic writing course, not a primer on sex scenes. Also, don’t let your character’s clothes go missing. She can’t be wearing pantyhose one second and be taking it from behind the next. The clothes have to come off and be accounted for somehow. Trust me, your readers will notice if they aren’t.


So that’s it. It’s not rocket science (or ninth grade math). That’s how I get from point A to point B—from a blank page to hot, sweaty sex scenes. Really, it’s no different from any other type of writing. I don’t write sex scenes any differently than I do scary ones or sad ones or violent ones. It comes from a place within me that is beyond me, beyond all of us, and I think as writers, we all know when we have tapped into that place. It feels a little like flying. Like falling. Like sex. Trust yourself. Breathe. And write. If your characters are alive, if you live and feel the sex scenes in the story yourself, I promise you that they will also come to life for your readers.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

10, 000 Hours

How many hours of writing do you think you’ve done in your life?

There’s a rule that says that to become a master of any field requires 10,000 hours of practice. The true greats, the best at what they do, the people driven to succeed, will put in this practice time. That’s what separates the truly great from the merely... talented.

The rule is based on studies by psychologist Dr. K. Anders Ericsson and was popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book Outliers: The Story of Success. The remarkable thing about the rule is that it seems to apply everywhere, for people who are experts in all sorts of different fields. Boris Becker started playing tennis at age six, and 10,000 hours of practice later was playing in Wimbledon at age 17. Maxim Vengerov picked up a violin at age four and 10,000 hours of practice later won his first international violin prize at age 15. Studies find that the story is repeated over and over.

What’s magic about 10,000 hours? Nobody seems to know. 10,000 hours breaks down to approximately three hours of practice every day for about 10 years. Many people who are truly dedicated to a craft (such as athletes and musicians) will start around age five, practice three hours a day every day of their lives, and begin to gain recognition in their late teens – 10,000 hours later.

Does this apply to writers? Sure, why not? If you want to be a great writer, practice writing for three hours a day every day of your life for ten years.

Whoa, wait a minute. Three hours a day? Every single day?

I can see you looking down at your keyboard with trepidation. I mean, three solid hours sitting at your screen every night? After you’ve already put in a full day of work (or school), you come home, you’ve got chores to do, you have to eat dinner, maybe have a bath... even if you cut out every other leisure activity, how are you going to find three hours of spare time every night?

(And that’s every night, remember. No holidays. No sick leave.)

Wait a minute, I answer in return, you mean you’re not already writing for at least three hours a day every day? And what’s your keyboard got to do with anything?

You see, writers are really lucky. Violinists need a violin to practice on. Tennis players need a racquet and court. Writers only need their heads to practice writing. And by a useful coincidence, we carry those everywhere with us!

Yes, it’s true, writing has very little to do with typing words on a page. Writing is the act of creation, and that all takes place [taps forehead] in here. And if you’re serious about writing, it takes place every minute of the day.

What did you do while you were cooking dinner tonight? I was wrestling with the plotline for “The Hell of Green Mist”. While walking at lunchtime, I outlined the backgrounds and goals of a team of super-villains for a comic story. The other morning a cute girl wearing a really cool coat got on the bus. By the end of the journey, I had a reasonable start on the series bible for “The Girl in the Really Cool Coat” (working title, subject to change). None of these things are written down. Probably none of them ever will be. But it’s still writing. In my head I’m sifting out what works and what doesn’t, learning from what doesn’t, and filling my head with ideas that might be useful somewhere someday. Isn’t that the definition of “practice”? I might not be typing anything, but still I’m practicing the craft of plot, characterization, world building. And I’ve easily racked up 10,000 hours doing it.

Oh, and this thing about starting at age four or five? Don’t worry, you did. At least, you did if you were a normal child. Even before you learned the rules of grammar, if you picked up a toy and imagined what it was doing... you were writing stories. That’s what children do.

So, now how many hours of writing do you think you’ve done in your life?

David Meadows lives with a large number of books on the North East coast of England. He makes his living writing rather tedious technical documents but his ambitions are to rescue a beautiful princess, have his fiction published, and become a grumpy old man. So far, he has realised all but one of those ambitions. When he remembers, he puts up some random writing on his website.

(He's also my favourite writer. And David, going by the title alone, you'd better write the Hell of Green Mist).

Monday, 25 October 2010

What's in a Name?

When Chris asked me to blog about steampunk, I was a little nervous. You see, I have a novella coming out with Carina Press in February that's being billed (as far as I know) as steampunk, but I also know some of the die-hard steam set is going to balk at the label, because it doesn't entirely fit the genre. (Of course, some romance readers are going to balk about some of it too, but that's another issue entirely :P)

At the end of Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld says, "the nature of steampunk (is) blending future and past." In my experience, not everyone agrees fully with that definition though.

You see, most hard-core steampunk fans I know want the tech to be the driving force in the story: the steam engines, the scientists, the clockworks. Which is great and can make for some crazy-good tales.

Badlands (my novella) isn't that. It has steam engines, and a power-mad scientist and clockworks, and while the latter are huge parts of the story, they aren't the story. Instead, my tale revolves around a non-tech nation's fight to restore their sovereign to the throne and the romance between the woman tasked with doing so and the man helping her.

So…steampunk or not?

I've been calling it steampunk/alternate-history romance just because I don't want to argue with those who will come back and say it isn't steampunk. Gail Carriger's books are often referred to as gaslight fantasy instead of steampunk, and I've even heard some people say any story not set in Victorian Europe isn't steampunk. My response to that is why do these people want to subdivide the genre so much?

Steampunk is growing in popularity to be sure, but it's still a relatively small genre. If everything that doesn't fit perfectly into the steampunk box is cast aside, yes, it will remain an exclusive club. Maybe that's the goal. But if all those things that are kind of, sort of steampunky are allowed into said club, they have the potential to draw new readers to all the authors involved.

More readers means more sales means publishers will keep buying which means more books for people to read.

To me, as both a reader and an author, anything that gets sales moving is good for everyone. But that's just me, reader of many things and author of an upcoming alt-history romance with dirigibles, clockworks, and evil assassination plots. Or maybe I'm an author of steampunk.

I'll let the readers decide.

Seleste deLaney believes in writing romance with a healthy shot of something other: paranormal, steampunk, sci-fi. Her debut erotic paranormal short, Of Course I Try, is currently available from Decadent Publishing, and a holiday sequel, The Ghost of Vampire Present, is coming soon. In addition, her steampunk/alt-history romance, Badlands, is coming from Carina Press in February 2011. You can find her at her website, blog, facebook and twitter where she tends to talk about whatever pops into her mind (and sometimes it's even writing).

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Guest Blog - Mari Miniatt - "World Building (the short form)"

When you are writing fiction, you have to make the setting believable. Especially, if you are writing fantasy, or even horror. If you can make the setting believable, then no matter how strange your story gets, the reader will have something they can relate to.
How do you make a believable world?

World building can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. You don't need to make a world, to understand how to build one. You don't have to come up with everything all at once either. I think it's better if you do not, so you can fill the items in as you write and edit.

For simplicity, I will show you how to make a city. You can take some of these same principles and expand on them, if you are making a whole world..

For my series The Coiree Guardians, I decided to make up the city that most of the action takes place in. Where to place it was simple, in a sense. It was on Earth, in the United States, somewhere in the Midwest/rust belt area. Because I had a general idea where it was, the weather patterns, the type of people, buildings, and basic layout were already there. For example, palm trees would not be in the city.

Deerbow City became a mis-mash of cities I had lived in, places I had visited, and other places I had never set foot in, but knew about. Yet, that was just a general idea. What do you need to fill it out, to make it seem real? The same things that you would find in a city; streets, neighborhoods, landmarks, parks, and businesses.

I made a map. As of right now, the map is not fully filled in, and might never be. I started by drawing out the river that bordered one side of the city and it's namesake. Because of some of the things I had written, I knew there were three areas that had to be placed into the city. I didn't draw anything, but I wrote notes about where the places could be on the map.

At the same time, I came up with sketches of some of the important neighborhoods. Like a character sketch, I came up with the history of the neighborhood. I did not have to write an entire history, just a brief overview.

Konakove: First settled by Eastern Europe immigrants Most of the people that lived there worked in the lumber mills along the river. Over the years groups of new immigrants will come to Konakove and first settle in the neighborhood. It's a blue collar

As I wrote the story, I would name streets and places. When I came up with one, I would add it to the map. Not precisely where I thought the places would go, but a general area.

Other main areas had to be thumb nailed, as I went along. Cemeteries, forests, nightclubs, etc. I treated each one the same way.

What if you wanted to make a new world?

First question to ask is; What type of world? Earth-like, Mars-like, artificial, goes through space on the back of a turtle, the possibilities are endless. In the case of the world, you would have to come up with the weather and topography as well.

After you have the general idea of what type of world you are making, zoom in and start small.

Most stories will not encompass a whole world, most will deal with a small portion of it. Start by writing down some ideas.

Perhaps your story starts in a seafaring town.

What size is the town? How busy is the port? Do they offer safe harbor to pirates? Are there pirates? What are the natural dangers, monsters, animals, sea?

If that doesn't spark your imagination. Take your main character on a walk through the town.

Write down what they see and do on a normal day. This will give you a good starting place that you can build upon.

Luckily on the internet, there are sites that can help you design a town, city, country, or even a world. Most of the places cater to role players, but the ideas you can get, should help you if you ever are stuck for a small town in the middle of nowhere. if you need names, concepts, or any other random help. if you need a name for a town. for a map of your world, to fill in. And other generators.

Of course if you need to find out anything, like how oxygen works in the ocean.

It could take years to develop a fiction world to the completeness that some fans of the genre like to see. Yet, you do not have to have every little detail worked out to make the world believable. In your stories you are only showing a small part of it. Work on that section, fill it out, and have fun.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Guest Post - Kait Nolan - "A Different Kind of Strength"

Guest post today, but no blog tour. This is about strong heroines, and was written by Kait Nolan. She's strong and kinda heroic herself, and definitely female. Enjoy

Being an avid paranormal romance and urban fantasy reader (and writer), I really dig strong heroines. Women who can kick butt and take names, who don’t wait around for some man to fix their problems or rescue them—these are the stuff of my plots and my fantasies. Sometimes when I get bored in staff meeting, I’ll envision a hostage situation from which I save everyone with Matrix-style martial arts that leave the kidnappers drooling. What? Don’t tell me I’m the only one with that fantasy. I digress… I love independent, hard-headed women. The kind of women who are lynchpins, who hold families (conventional or not) together. Women who can do for themselves and aren’t afraid to take risks, be they emotional or physical. But there are lots of ways to build a strong heroine and many qualities with which they can be imbued that aren’t learned in a dojo or on a firing range.
Take Buffy, for example. Everybody’s favorite slayer (and yes, I would totally have a And then Buffy staked Edward. The end. T-shirt). She had incredible butt kicking power given to her, but she had to grow into being able to deal with it and accept it and all the responsibility that came along with it. The whole with great power comes great responsibility shtick. Yes, I said it. It’s a classic for a reason.
Then there’s Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody. Here’s a woman who’s tough as nails during a time when women were supposed to be delicate flowers in corsets. She fights to get in on Egyptian excavations (a man’s provenance in the Victorian Era) and is constantly telling people what’s what with no nevermind about conventions of the day. She’s the queen of pragmatism and even when she’s wrong, she has everyone’s best interests at heart. And she’s deadly with that parasol.
Claire Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels. I love her because she has Jamie Fraser. What? I wasn’t supposed to be talking about big, strapping, sexy Scotsmen? You’re kidding, right? He’s the reason all women read this series. :looks around for notes: Oh right. Where was I? So Claire I love because she’s another woman who is literally out of her time--a modern woman, thrust back into Jacobite Scotland, whose modern sensibilities occasionally get her into some serious trouble. She doesn’t back down, doesn’t submit, and I really love that.
Aisling Grey from Katie MacAlister’s Guardian novels, is another character who has great responsibility thrust upon her (often in the form of accidents and craziness). Over the course of the series, she’s put into countless impossible situations that lesser women (and men) would have quailed at. Aisling perseveres in the face of great odds (and hilarity). Sometimes that’s because she doesn’t know any better and sometimes it’s because it’s the right thing to do. She protects those she considers hers, no matter what.
Patricia Briggs holds claim to one of my all time favorite heroines, Mercy Thompson. I love Mercy because she’s so fiercely independent. A coyote shifter raised in a pack of werewolves, she is in a constant battle to maintain who she is, to remain separate from the pack that she nevertheless has messy emotional ties to. She’s gutsy and principled. She’s another chick who won’t back down, won’t submit to the alpha males in her life (are you seeing a theme here?).
The theme, in case you missed it, is acceptance of responsibility, which is something that I do on a daily basis. At work. At home. I’m the one everyone comes to when something needs to be done, like yesterday. I’m the one who puts out the fires and organizes everything in my corner of the world, making sure that everything gets done. These heroines are who I’d like to imagine myself to be if I were as cool as fiction and was thrust into one of these wacky situations. I can really identify with them.
And that’s the clincher really. Identification.
We don't have the luxury of waiting around to be rescued. Real life women have to have these strengths, just for the day to day grind. Whereas when we have to put out all those fires and make sure things get done, it feels like drudgery, when they do it, it's full of win. Maybe that makes us feel a little win too.
Kait Nolan is a writer of action-packed paranormal romance that features a fresh and inventive mythology. No sparklay vamps here! Her debut release, Forsaken By Shadow, is available on Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Sony, Scribd, and SpringBrook Digital. It is also available in audio from Crossroad Press, and SpringBrook Digital. She can be found at her blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, MySpace, Pots and Plots (her cooking blog).

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Guest Post - David Dalglish - "Likable Villains and Imperfect Heroes"

I’ve noticed two schools of thought in how people see a character. One goes by their actions. The other decides by the intentions. If both are in sync, it’s fairly easy to make snap judgments. It’s when things don’t match up that it gets interesting. Steal something for money? You’re a criminal. The act and the intent are both seen as evil, and you’ll have unanimous opinions from your readers. But stealing to prevent starvation? The act is the same, but the intention is seen as noble. Now your readers have to decide what to think. Now you’ll get divergent opinions.

Too often I see writers decide ‘Jack’ is going to be a bad guy. They want him to be an awesome bad guy, the baddest of the bad. So Jack cheats around, beats his wife, and finally shoots an innocent man. Sure, it might be fun when Jack finally gets punished, but he’s hardly interesting. Every choice, every decision, this Jack might make is predictable; it’ll be the one that’s clearly wrong. What’s his intent? Who wakes up in the morning thinking “I’ll be a total jackass today.” It’s the fairy tale villain yanked into the real world. It doesn’t work.

You want to make a villain memorable, even likable? Give him traits traditionally viewed as good. Love, compassion, forgiveness, humor, kindness, self-sacrifice: the boring villains wouldn’t know what these even are. Make Jack cruel to his children but loving to his wife. Make him funny and charming at work, but a wretched junkie once out of sight. Have him pray sincere prayers to be a better father just before beating another father to death just because that man is black. Want to make a real sicko? Let the sight of blood cause him joy. Let the act of murder fill him with elation, not for causing harm but for the instant feeling of being god. Twist emotions against your readers. Too often the villain is the dark, brooding, angry man with no friends. Give them charisma. Give them faith. Give them certainty.

Now step back and think of a likable character, one you want to have commit terrible things yet keep their humanity. The strategy is reverse. Associate feelings and ideas of wrongness with this character whenever they do the deed. Imagine two men shoot another innocent man. One feels elation. One feels horror. Which one is easier to sympathize with? Which one makes you wonder what terrible situation forced him to do such a thing? Yes, the act is horrible, and perhaps there isn’t any sort of justification or explanation…but what if there is?

One of my characters kills children. This is about as low as it gets, and I don’t try to hide it. This character has justifications for the act. He’s had his head filled with lies, with how his killing is actually a form of mercy. I then have him thoroughly miserable during the act. I have him ashamed and uncertain afterward. He doesn’t want to talk about it. Many times, he doubts what he’s been told. Every one of these things gives the reader this gut feeling that this character is NOT some cruel, heartless monster. But his actions make him a monster. It’s twisted together, and most often my readers pity him and hope for better. How different could he be if I removed those emotions, that doubt? If I left him with just the certainty and justifications, what would I have left?

A villain.

That’s how narrow I want to walk the line. That’s the character I want to raise from the muck, to pull out from the darkness and give a second chance. There will always be readers who judge by act and act alone. To them, the world is black and white; there is no gray. You can’t write for them. If you do, you’ll be stuck with fairy tales and children’s books.

One last thing…say you want a character to be redeemable. You want him to do something bad, yet not lose the hearts of the reader. The key is, as the writer, to absolutely adore that character. Treat them like your spouse, your brother, or your friend. You’re watching them do these terrible things, and the whole while you want him to stop. You want him to change. It breaks your heart watching him kill or steal or use. And if the readers can feel that, and feel that same heartbreak and desire in the character, then they’ll hope for better. The lure of redemption is powerful. There’s great joy in the return of the prodigal son, not because the son has earned it, but because the son fell so far yet the father feels nothing but love.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Guest Post - Samantha Anderson - Distractions: The Handicap of the Procrastinator

A really interesting and, to a lot of people, important guest post today as Samantha Anderson describes the ways she avoids distractions whilst writing. From what Samantha has told me before, her home-life is (trying to find a nice way to put this...) hectic, as she explains below.

This is a blog swap again, like Fridays, and I'm at Samantha's blog today writing about my mum hating my book. Her blog is here.

So Chris has asked what it was that I did to finish a book, how I found time to write amid constant distractions. I could give you a simple list (whichI will), and explain in a little more detail as to what exactly I mean. Being the queen of procrastination has its upside but not when it comesto writing. And when you are in a home with a boyfriend, his disabled mother, four kids at the age of 9 and under, two cats and a moose of a dog in one home, distractions are never ending. But I’ve done it. I managed to write a book in under 6 months, by following a few simple guidelines…

My Personal DOs and DON’Ts For Staying Focused:

1. Do try to set aside at least 30 minutes a day for writing. Don't limit yourself to 30 minutes.This 30 minutes doesn’t have to be a block of thirty minutes,unless you personally need to do it all at once. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve written a sentence or two here or there while on hold on the phone or via the notepad on my Blackberry while outside on a smoke break. If I got more time than the 30 minutes, great, but I rarely went under that mark. If you have the ability to go over that then do so, use it as an ‘at least’ phrase, not ‘at most’.

2. Do try togive yourself a 1 or 2 hour window one day a week to be left alone to write. Don't count this as a total of 4 days of 30 minutes.I actually did this more than one day a week and started using my lunchbreaks at work to write. At work I didn’t have access to the websites that ultimately aided in distracting me so it was very easy to put in the headphones and just write. Weeks that I couldn’t, then I would set aside time on the weekends. The main point was to have one block of time to focus solely on writing. And I didn’t count two days of 30 minutes here or there as my one hour.

3. Do carry a notebook and pen at all times or keep one within good reach. Don't procrastinate on writing ideas down as they come to you no matter how insignificant they may seem. I have come to love the voice notes function on my phone. With a 45 minute commute to work, the same back every day, I was running out of time to write down ideas. One push of a button and I could speak all my ideas, thoughts on dialogue and save them for when I had time to write them all down. For those that work better at jotting stuff down, thisis why I recommend the notebook. I’m the type of person that a line in a song on the radio can trigger a flash of creativity. I once wrote 2 chapters in under an hour and a half just because of an instrumental song I had randomly played. We are our own worst critics, so even if you’re telling yourself that the idea is stupid, write it down anyway.You never know when and where it might come into play later down the road.

4. Do find your writing atmosphere. Don't write in front of a TV. Finding your writing atmosphere is almost as important as finding the time to write. If you’re not in a place that inspires your creativity, how can you expect to write? For me, I needed music and it had to be loud. Headphones worked wonders. Also I found that if I was by a lake or a pond at all, I could write for hours, given the time. The downfall to this was taking my laptop, sitting in the recliner in front of the TV. Sure I was comfortable, but I found myself distracted by the shows that were on and would pay more attention to that.

5. Do see writer's block for what it really is. Don't use it as a crutch for your own procrastination. This is my biggest pet peeve of writers today. They all whine about writers block. This is because I don’t feel they understand what it really is and entails. From talking to writers, and yes I have worked with several that are well on their way to being published authors, they would hit a road block and it would stop them. They believe that every writer struggles with it and that if they don’t stop and let it hold them back, at least for a brief period of time, then they are not true writers. They are afraid to take detours. If you’re writing dialogue and it’s not flowing how you want, instead of stopping, move on. Start writing the next scene and come back to it. I cannot tell you how many times I would write in bits and pieces and come back to tie it all together. People I feel, use it as a crutch and a cop out to not actively write. These are just a few things in the grand scheme of writing a book that I adhere to in my own world. Sure if I would stay away from Facebook and Youtube (apps on Facebook are my Achilles Hell.. er… um HEEL), I would probably be further along in my next two novels than I am. But for the procrastinator in me, these rules/guidelines helped immensely. The biggest above all of these is that if you are working on writing something, you have to want it. You’re the only one who can determine your success.

Samantha Anderson is an aspiring writer who has found that achieving her dream seems just around the corner. Her ultimate goal is not fame, but rather just to be published. If success finds her, that would be good too.

She is on facebook and twitter.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Danielle La Paglia's Guest Post - Starting Over: a flash fiction

The second flash fiction on my blog, and the last for now, Starting Over is no less than I've come to expect from Danielle La Paglia. Her Seven Deadly Sins flash fiction is awesome, and there's tonnes more on her blog. You can follow her on twitter as Dannigrrl5 or friend her on facebook.

This is a blog swap, so you can find my short fiction, The Egg, on her blog.

This was written using the following quote as a prompt: There is a special sadness in achievement, in the knowledge that a long-desired goal has been attained at last, and that life must now be shaped toward new ends. – Arthur C. Clarke

She sat at her desk staring at the blinking cursor. The glow of the blank page her only light. Her hands were poised and ready, but she couldn’t find the strength to tap a single key. Ideas that had once flowed through her so freely were now frozen in her mind. The beautiful stream of creativity now held captive beneath an icy wasteland.

Her heart ached at the thought of starting again. A process that once brought so much joy, now left her feeling hopeless and alone. Tears streamed down her cheeks. So many words, so many hours, so many ideas.

How can I ever do it again?

She had given so much, and now it was all over. Her hopes, her dreams, her everything was bound neatly on a shelf and sold at discount prices.

There was nothing left to give. With a heavy heart, she pushed away from the desk and picked up the book from her coffee table – its glossy cover and bold title mocking her. Collapsing on the couch, she curled up and cried herself to sleep.

Danielle is an urban fantasy junkie who writes horror of every kind, be it ghosts and werewolves and vampires, or monsters of the human variety. She participates in #fridayflash on Twitter and posts weekly flash fiction on her blog. She is completing final edits on her paranormal romance novel, The Watchers, and is hard at work outlining her next urban fantasy project.

Starting Over pretty much describes how I feel now my book has been released. Time for a new adventure.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Laura Cummins Guest Post - Flash Fiction "Adventure"

Today there's a rare treat, a flash fiction. As I don't write flash fiction generally, you won't find many on my blog. This one was written by Laura Cummins. You can follow her on twitter as @jacsmom. Her blog, Tangled Yarns, is an eclectic mix of flash fiction, book reviews and loads of other interesting things. She recently posted a photographic recipe!

I'm lucky enough to be in a writer's group with Laura and Dani, the second flash fictioner, who is posting tomorrow. The two stories themes run together, so I hope you enjoy them.

I add another log to the fire, the flames dim before slowly engulfing the latest offering. Blessed silence settles in the house. Cocoa steams from my favorite oversized mug. The laptop is charged, ready and waiting on the end table. Grabbing a lap blanket, I stretch out on the chaise, giddy with anticipation as the computer boots up. I never know what will happen.

It’s a trip through a closet of fur coats, or a stumble down a rabbit hole. Only better. The words and the worlds are mine. Mostly. A chorus of voices clamors to lead the quest. Three or four are more insistent than the others. A few key strokes later, and we’re off to see the wizard. Or slay the dragon. Perhaps we’ll save one this time.

My fingers fly as we take the road less traveled and blunder through undiscovered territory. My blanket is abandoned in the excitement. The mug is in need of a refill. Blessed silence sneaks off, defeated by a gleefully clattering keyboard. The last log in the fireplace pops, pulling me back to this world.

My legs are stiff, my back is sore; my arms are heavy from exertion. Writing is an awfully big adventure.

Laura Cummins is a new arrival to the writing scene. Not yet aspiring to be a published author, but toying with the notion. For now she's happy to explore the world of words through flash fic and blogging.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Biopunk Interview with John Sundman

So I recently the chance to interview biopunk former indie extraordinaire author John Sundman, and I picked his brain on just what exactly biopunk was. Yes, I did say former indie - John has went mainstream, and bagged himself a publisher for Acts. Is a film deal in his future?
Who knows...

Edited: as John corrected in the comments, two of his books are still indie, so he's only a little mainstream, then... and I'm not suggesting mainstream is a bad thing. His book will hopefully now get the audience it deserves.

So, John, could you introduce yourself to my readers, and tell them about yourbooks?

I'm a 57 year old guy who lives on the island of Martha's Vineyard, 5 miles south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I'm a freelance technical writer, volunteer firefighter, food pantry worker and novelist. Before moving to the Vineyard I spent 15 years in the computer industry--in Massachusetts and in Silicon Valley (and on a seemingly infinite number of transcontinental airplane flights between them). Before that I studied agriculture and spent time in west Africa doing development work. Although I've lived in this fairly remote spot since 1994, I have had stints ranging from weeks to years working for high tech companies from the comfort of my living room, so altogether I've spent 25 years or so in or near the computer/software industry. I've also done plenty of low-tech work here on the island-- from truck driving to construction work to being a pallet jockey in a warehouse. In the unlikely event that that is not enough background, you can check out this recent interview with me on Jane Friedman's blog on Writer's Digest.

My first novel, Acts of the Apostles, is a geek/hacker thriller about nanomachines, neurobiology, Gulf War Syndrome, and a Silicon Valley messiah. The book it's most often compared to is Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, but it's really a thriller in the mold of The Bourne Identity or Day of the Jackal. Only, it's not about assassins, it's about little machines that rearrange your DNA and take over your mind.

My second book, a novella called Cheap Complex Devices, is about -- or pretends to be about--a storytelling contest between two artificial intelligence programs. It's similar in some ways to the novel Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov, and it's deeply influenced by Douglas Hofstadter's book Goedel, Escher, Bach.

CCD is also kind of a metafictiony commentary on Acts of the Apostles; in fact, according to one interpretation, the novella Cheap Complex Devices is the output from the brain of a comatose character in Acts, as modulated by a computer with a faulty, self-aware floating point processor. In other words, it forms kind of a binary star system with the first book. This review, I think, gives a pretty good sense of what CCD is all about.

The Pains, also a novella, is an illustrated dystopian phantasmagoria that kind of re-imagines the story of Job --a decent man who is obscenely tormented by a cruel God or an indifferent universe, or whatever--in a world that is an amalgamation of Orwell's 1984 and Ronald Reagan's 1984 (and some weird place I went a long time ago after smoking some opiated hashish and drinking LSD-spiked sangria). In some ways The Pains is a meditation on chaos theory, and it's also kind of an oblique commentary on my other two books.

Although each book stands alone I consider them parts of a single work, which I call Mind over Matter.

The books are available for sale as printed books from my website and through Amazon, and as ebooks in a variety of formats from my website and Amazon and a bunch of other ebook distributors.

This interview is actually about the genre you write in: could you explain what biopunk is for people who have never heard of it?

Well, if "cyberpunk" is the genre that looks at digital systems from a hacker's point of view, then I guess biopunk looks at biological systems, and in particular, brains, from a hacker's point of view.

Hackers look at complex systems as challenges; they are things to be broken into and manipulated for personal gain, for political reasons, to fix things that are broken, for bragging rights, and, perhaps mainly, for fun.Most non-biohacker people make a distinction between, for example, living, carbon-based biological systems and silicon-based digital systems. Biopunks don't make that distinction. A system is just a system, and the question is, how do you hack it? Let's mix this frog genome with this butterfly genome and graft it into a cyborg! Cool, right? To most people the answer is, um, no. To a biohacker, the answer is, yes, cool!

Now if the system is, for example, *you*, your brain, you may like it just fine the way it is, and you may not want somebody else (where "somebody" might be the government or some squicky corporation) to hack it. So then the challenge becomes, How do I define who I am? How do I maintain the integrity of my system?Depending on their ethical stance, hackers don't always care who a system "belongs" to, they may even think that ownership is a bogus concept. Mountain climbers climb mountains "because they're there". Surfers surf waves "because they're there." Hackers hack systems "because they're there."

In Acts of the Apostles, there's talk of "biodigital convergance", in which the techniques of biology are increasingly brought into the digital realm, and biological approaches are brought to the digital realm. Consider, for example, the idea of an "artificial chromosome" that is designed on a computer and then built nucleotide by nucleotide in a submicroscopic factory and used to create a new form of life.

All of my novels deal with themes like these. In Acts of the Apostles the story is about nanomachines that manipulate DNA. In Cheap Complex Devices, it's never entirely clear who the storyteller is -- it might be a person, it might be a computer program, it might be a brain in a vat or even a swarm of bees. And at the center of The Pains there is a mysterious laboratory of frozen heads, which are probed and manipulated with (what I hope are) interesting and unexpected results.Still, I don't really consider myself a biopunk author (and I'm certainly not a biopunk or biohacker myself). I consider myself a modernist, or maybe a postmodernist novelist who writes about the concerns of our times in light of what modern science tells us about who and what we are, as human beings.

All meaningful literature, I think, examines the human condition with some seriousness of purpose. Maybe I've been contaminated by the hacker worldview, but I don't find it possible to write about the human condition without at least some acknowledgment that we are, in some ways, systems. We're chemical systems, we're biological systems, we're logical systems. What are the implications of this fact?For a non-fiction investigation of these topics, see my essay How I Decoded the Human Genome. (link at end)

Checking online, I see William Gibson's Neuromancer is touted as the father of biopunk. Which biopunk novels or films have influenced your work, and how?

As much as I like Gibson, I don't think he gets credit for creating biopunk. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein gets that honor. All biopunk is in some sense a variation on Frankenstein, so let's not disrespect Ms. Shelley! (And yes, Frankenstein does influence at least two of my books; in some ways all three of them.)

I did read Neuromancer before I ever set pen to paper as a novelist, but I'm not sure how much it influenced me. Frankly I had not read a whole lot of science fiction, or speculative fiction, before I accidentally became an SF writer.

Philip K. Dick is another pre-Gibson SF novelist who goes deep into bio-punkish territory. Among contemporary writers, I think China Mieville (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, etc) and Jeff Vandermeer (Veniss Underground, etc) are leading practitioners. Their most biopunkish books came out about the same time mine did, however, and I didn't read them until after I had written my books, so I don't claim them as influences.

My main influences, I think, come from another direction. Douglas Hofstadter's "Goedel, Escher, Bach" ("a metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll") was a major influence; Hofstadter's concept of the "strange loop"

pervades all my books individually and the set of them as a whole.Similarly, self-aware novels of the kind analyzed by Robert Alter in his book "Partial Magic" have had a big influence on me.

Some of these are "modernist"-- Nabokov's Pale Fire was the direct model for Cheap Complex Devices. But self-aware books from all eras, such as Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy, Ulysses, Notes from Underground, and Heart of Darkness are the kind of ghosts that float in my mental space when I'm writing.

And for some reason the Jesus story as conveyed in the Christian Gospels keeps cropping up in my books. I have no idea why that is, other than, I guess, that's kind of a quintessential story that examines questions like "what does it mean to be good?", "what does it mean to be human?" and "what happens when we transcend our current biological constraints?". Which is not to say that my books are allegorical or anything like that; they're not. But I do have a deep fascination with questions how mind and matter relate to each other, and the Jesus story has that in spades.

You mentioned nanomachines amongst several other things there. Nano-machines is something darpa, as one example, is very interested in. Do you think its likely that we will see lots of the tech in your books come topass in real-life?

Nanotechnology, as a general field is already well established, although when I started writing Acts of the Apostles 15 years ago very few people had heard of the term and there were only a few books written on the subject. As for nanomachines that rearrange DNA in place -- like the "Feynman machines" of Acts of the Apostles: yes I think we'll see such things within a decade or so. Already there are programmable machines that can find specific DNA sequences. (That announcement was made just a few months ago, so I was a good decade ahead of the curve on that one.) As yet, I don't think there exists anything which can not only find a particular DNA sequence, but change it into something else. However I was chatting recently with Dr. George Church, director of the Center for Computational Genetics (a Harvard/MIT laboratory), and he said the the basic ideas in my book were not far off the mark at all, and that people were actively working on such things in laboratories around the world.

Now, the part about using such tools to create an Overmind? Well, that's pretty much hocu pocus, so I'm not counting on that too soon. Although, on the other hand, people ARE actively studying how to read minds by looking at brain activity. Once that happens, of course, we'll be in the proverbial "singularity" territory, which means that by definition what happens then will be incomprehensible to mere humans like us now.

In The Pains and Cheap Complex Devices I didn't really imagine any new technologies, I merely extrapolated from the ideas in Acts, took them to absurd extremes in order to get at their philosophical implications. In Cheap Complex Devices I was looking at some of the ideas from the field of artificial intelligence and what it means to be a self-aware system. In The Pains I was looking not only things like chaos theory and the nature of thought; I was also trying to understand the "imperative to control" that seems to be at the root of so many social systems. In The Pains, with its melting frozen heads and so forth, I was making fun of the whole Transhumanism movement because I think some of its premises are ridiculous. On the other hand, who knows? Maybe someday you will be able to freeze your head and reconstruct it molecule by molecule using nanomachines like those in Acts. So maybe my mockery is misplaced. If so, I probably won't live long enough to see it -- unless, of course, somebody freezes my head and then revives me centuries down the road just to prove to me that I was wrong.

In cyberpunk, the punk part refers to the dystopian future. The world that technology was supposed to improve has steadily gotten worse. Is therea part of biopunk that relates to the punk aspect?

Oh, absolutely! My books are dystopian and creepy as all get-out -- although I do try to make them "light" too. In a way, I think that I started writing novels because I was so uncomfortable with all the technological utopianism that I saw all around me -- this whole idea that "technology" will solve all of our problems. That's why my first book is called "Acts of the Apostles" -- the "apostles" in the book believe in their technology in the way that earlier peoples, and some varieties of religious people today, think that God will solve all of our problems -- if not in this life, then in the next.The malicious computer hacker creates malware for all kinds of reasons, from profit, to revenge, to sport, to the simple desire to fuck shit up. I don't see any reason to believe that the same kinds of impulses won't crop up when designer DNA and ab-initio life creation becomes commonplace. In fact this is the subject of the novel I'm working on now, Creation Science.

Touching on a question you yourself asked, from a biopunk point of view, what does it mean to be human?

Sorry, I'm going to take a pass on this one. As an artist, I think it's my job to ask hard and important questions in a way that will make people want to discuss and find answers for them. I'll leave the answering part for others. However, so as not to seem a total chicken-shit I won't cop out completely. If you read my two-part essay in Salon, "How I Decoded the
Human Genome", you'll see, at least, how I personally approach the question.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Independent publishing reveals our long neglected mass creativity - Tracy Falbe Guest Post

Is talent rare? Well, extraordinary genius-level talent is certainly rare, but good old down home talent is abundant within humanity. Just go to any local theater production at a community college or other amateur club. Most of the performances will be adequate, but there's always someone who really shines.

It's like this with writing too. Most people are reasonably literate. Some of them enjoy writing as a creative outlet. And, from that group, some of them will write books that are great to read.

Because self publishing, or indie publishing as it now styles itself, has become a feasible outlet for many writers, the talent is escaping from the confines of a traditional and orderly literary universe. From all quarters, people are writing and publishing without waiting to be tapped on the shoulder by a high authority that once was able to glamour every writer with the illusion of respect and success.

The gates of the publishing kingdom have been breached by a clamoring horde banging away with laptops and Kindles and POD contracts and a vast host of websites. People never realized so many people were capable of writing books. Why? Because they used to never get published. Before computers and the internet were widespread, aspiring authors had to sadly file their rejection letters or burn them in a fit of petulant rage, pack manuscripts away in boxes, and move past their foolish idea that anyone wanted to read their novels. Novels were written by talented people, and publishers knew who talented people were because they conducted exhaustive searches. Just like professional baseball, publishers have scouts lurking around writing groups and MFA classes and rummaging through the trash bins of lonely frustrated-looking people. Wait, no they don't. There I go writing fiction again. How dare I?

The truth is more people write books than publishing businesses could possible produce. Creativity is one of the defining features of humanity. I recently read Richard Florida's book The Rise of the Creative Class, and his demographic research discussed the tremendous potential of creativity in people and how that creativity is the great engine of our modern economy. For example, the creative work of computer scientists launched entire new industries. As a result more people than ever before feel entitled to pursue their creative interests and express them.

Florida wrote:

"Creativity has come to be valued - and systems have evolved to encourage and harness it - because new technologies, new industries, new wealth and all other good economic things flow from it. And as a result, our lives and society have begun to resonate with a creative ethos…It is our commitment to creativity in its varied dimensions that forms the underlying spirit of our age."

The human population contains a great deal of creative capital. The sheer numbers of people participating in independent publishing reveal the extent to which old technology, attitudes, and business models stifled writing as an outlet for people. Now word processors, digital distribution, social media, and major online retailers willing to list independently produced content mean writers have an outlet and an audience. They don't have to wait around for rejection anymore.

Of course just because a person produced his or her writing independently does not mean fame and fortune will follow. There will be a few stars, many modest successes defined in subjective personal terms, and I suppose a multitude of embarrassing failures. But at least people get to try now. They get to actively seek an audience for their writing. Like the actors in community theater, writers can at a minimum earn polite applause and make their mothers proud in a public venue.

And a few with appreciable talent might even get to develop their craft and profit from a following of readers. A tiny few might even get picked up by large companies and put in bookstores. Someone might even get a movie deal.

With indie publishing, any writer who is interested gets a chance. Not everyone can win the lotto, but we can all buy a ticket and play now.

Author's statement: I have been independently publishing my fantasy series The Rys Chronicles for five years now. I was making sales before there was any Smashwords, or Kindle, or Nook, or iPad, or any ceaseless internet chatter about ebooks. I'm so excited to see indie publishing becoming part of the mainstream market for readers. To see if my fantasy novels suit your style go to and download for free Union of Renegades: The Rys Chronicles Book I at

P.S. And thank you Chris Kelly for the opportunity to be a guest writer. May you have much success with Invictus.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Evolution of Female Vampires

Female vampires have been around for just as long as their male counterparts in literature and film. Their role has changed immensely over the past two centuries. Today I am taking a look at six of the most memorable female vampires. These characters go beyond being Mary Sues for their respective creators and advance the role to another level.

1. Carmilla (novella) – Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella was written in 1872, twenty-five years before Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The title character was a vampiress who terrorized the Austrian country side. The vampire falls in love with a human girl, leading to her eventual downfall.
Carmilla’s theme of latent homosexuality in vampires is repeated again and again in vampire literature and film. She is also unapologetic and evil, killing without remorse to ensure her continued survival yet risking her very existence to try and win the affection of a human to take as her immortal companion.

2. Brides of Dracula – Dracula (novel) – Stoker’s novel was heavily influenced by Carmilla’s setting and muted sexual overtones. The three females who dwell in Dracula’s castle are never referred to specifically as his brides, but this is how many readers interpret their existence. In the novel, both Jonathan Harker and Abraham Van Helsing are strongly attracted to the brides but repulsed by their abhorrent actions. They exist by the whim of Dracula, surviving off of the babies and villagers he brings them. They are sensual yet depraved, showing little or no ambition to do anything other than serve their evil master.

For better or worse, the stereotype of the submissive female vampire devotee was born from these three vampire women.

3. Mekare and Maharet (Rice’s Vampire Chronicles novels) In their human lives, Mekare and Maharet had the uncanny ability to speak with spirits. After drawing the wrath of a king and queen, Mekare summoned a minor demon to frighten the monarchs. The demon fused itself with the queen, creating the first vampire. The queen turned her king into a vampire and removed Maharet’s eyes and Mekare’s tongue so they could never communicate with each other again. A vampire servant of the king and queen turned the girls into vampires in order to raise an army against the evil vampire duo. They were captured and set adrift in stone coffins in opposite directions. Maharet follows her human offspring though the years and Mekare lives wild in the jungle for nearly six millennia. Eventually, they come together with others of their kind to kill the vampire queen, Akasha, with Mekare consuming Akasha’s heart and brain to become the new “Queen of the Damned.”

Mekare and Maharet are never depicted as evil. They are a marked departure from previous female vampires in that they act to protect someone other than themselves.

4. Drusilla – Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Angel (series) - Once a pious young woman so faithful that she had the potential for sainthood, Drusilla is tormented and made a vampire by Angelus, the most evil of vampires. She immediately becomes a dangerous predator, taking on the very worst characteristics of her maker. Throughout the Buffy and Angel series, Drusilla was a powerful antagonist, displaying ruthless and sadistic joy in killing and maiming her victims. She also creates the vampire, Spike, who would later become one of the primary heroes of the series.
Drusilla is powerful and evil yet fragile at the same time. Her volatile mental state and tortured existence make her one of the most three-dimensional female vampires of all time. She is more than simply evil, yet far from good.

5. Eli – Let the Right One In (Swedish film) - Eli is a centuries old vampire who looks like a twelve year old girl. She does whatever it takes to survive, even murdering the man who served and protected her for years. Despite her evil nature, she forges a friendship with a bullied eleven year old boy, Oskar. Their friendship is so strong that she kills to protect Oskar from his bullies when their actions become potentially fatal.

Eli is both vulnerable and frightening as she struggles to find a way to exist in modern times. She adds another layer to the female vampire formula by exhibiting that the duality of good and evil can still exist in a supposed “evil” being.

6. Seline – Underworld series (films) – Seline is a death dealer: a vampire charged with eradicating werewolves. In the first Underworld film, she learns that all she has been taught about the “werewolf menace” was a lie. She becomes the reluctant protector for a human who has the potential to unite the two species, vampires and werewolves, with his unusual blood.
Seline represents the most recent iteration of the female vampire: the heroine. She is powerful, sexy, and morally ambiguous, but still acts to save the day in the end.
These are six (well, eight since there are three brides) of the most memorable and influential female vampire characters of all time. The role of the female vampire has evolved from subservient sexpot to butt-kicking warrior. I look forward to seeing the next step in the process.
Agree? Disagree? What characters would you add to the list?

My book, Lucifera’s Pet, is a violent and sexy dark fiction tale of werewolves and vampires. If shiny, abstenant vampires make you vaguely uneasy, connect with me below:

Smashwords (Free eBooks):

Friday, 8 October 2010

Using a Strong Female Protagonist - Kathy Bell

I guess I should start my discussion with a definition of the strong protagonist. She is someone who already has the skills and abilities required to solve whatever problem the author is going to throw at her during the story. She is a woman with a sense of self and purpose. She has brains, perhaps even brawn, and does not hesitate to use it.

You walk a fine line when using an already well-skilled protagonist in any story, and possibly stand to alienate some readers. But, even more worrisome than this issue is the possible loss of a story arc – that of character development. By character development, I mean the learning and growing type of development rather than the slow and steady revelation of the character traits of your main characters. The more competent your main character is to begin with, the less opportunity you have to teach her new skills.

Think of Sarah Connor at the beginning of Terminator. She is unassuming, very feminine, and physically fairly weak. During the story she develops into the woman who will train the leader of the future rebellion. Half of the movie would not have happened if she had been a fully prepared character. So, you must ask yourself, does your character need to be fully developed at the start, or can she learn some of her skills as she goes along?

There are two approaches which accommodate the use of a truly capable heroine. Science fiction lends itself to plot-driven stories anyway, and so often the stories populated with strong female characters are those of that genre. When a story is focused on the dramatic action, there is less of a need to ‘train’ your heroine, and more emphasis on the scenes taking place. If you are an action oriented writer who knows exactly where your story is going before you have even created characters to populate it, then the strong heroine will likely fit well into the story.

Another approach you can use with the well-equipped lead is to place her in a completely untenable position where all of her skills are of little use for, or even detrimental to, the realization of her objectives. For example, in my own story the main character is very skilled and capable because she has actually relived her life a number of times and is able to unconsciously call upon those memories for use in her current life. (Apparently I wasn’t quite obvious enough with that fact, because a few readers took a real dislike to the MC because of her skills, without getting the idea that she developed them through multiple lifetimes)). Even with all of that to call upon, she must give up the family that is dear to her heart because her skills and abilities are needed to save the world. In this case, her strength actually works against her goal of returning to the life she had lived before, and (I hoped) made the sacrifice that much more poignant.

In closing, I think the strong protagonist –female or otherwise – works well in a plot-driven novel but should perhaps be toned down in a story emphasizing character development because you will lose readership if your character begins the story with few flaws and thus has little distance to go to reach her objectives. If things come easy, there is no story to tell!

Kathy Bell's debut novel, Regression became an Amazon Bestseller in Science Fiction and Fantasy as a new release, peaking at #17 on that list and remaining in the top 100 for 28 days. The sequel, Evolussion has just come out and is already receiving rave reviews from early readers. Find Kathy on Twitter @kathybellauthor, on Facebook , or at the Infinion Series website. Follow her blog tour

Pump Up Your Book Blog Tour for Regression!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Writer's Hustle - Rachel Thompson

We are writers.
We write.
We sit at our desks—for some that may be a beautiful antique mahogany beast that grandpa used when he started his insurance business some one hundred years ago. For others it may be the Macbook they carry into their baby’s room while she naps, and for others it may be the good old pen and paper that writers have used for centuries.
While the process of writing has not changed, how you get your words out there has changed so monumentally that even as I write this, PR firms are closing, publishing houses are restructuring, and editors are questioning the job security they’ve enjoyed all these many years.
And why? Social media, baby.
Q: What is social media and why should we as writers even care about it? I imagine you are asking yourself the same questions I asked myself about one year ago—what does Twitter have to do with my story? How does A—my book—have anything to do with T—Twitter?
A: Everything.
Let me break it down for you.
· As of June 2010, about 65 million tweets are posted each day, equaling about 750 tweets sent each second, according to Twitter records (Wikipedia, 2010).
· Twitter is about networking at its most basic level. Everyone in the writing business is on Twitter. Editors, publishers, writers. Here’s but one of many examples of a Twitter success story.
· Twitter is a perfect format to post writing samples. What I mean is not only can you use your 140 characters (really 120—more on that in a minute) to be witty, pithy and wise, you can tweet out a shortened link (more on that also) to your blog or website* where people can get a good feel of your writing style. *Don’t have a blog or website? You should. It’s free and easy. Check out Blogger or Wordpress, the most popular blogging formats.
· Regardless of whether you publish independently or the traditional route, you need to start marketing your book NOW. Social media allows you to do that. Publishing houses no longer have the money to give you the big push; independent booksellers depend on you to fill the stores. The onus is on you to market yourself.
So how do you start?
Twitter is easy, free, and is an excellent marketing tool. Many people are somewhat confounded by it however, due to the character limitations. First off, you really don’t have 140 characters if you have any hope of someone retweeting (RT) you (120 is standard for RTs), so as a writer Twitter is an excellent challenge. Newbie tip: Using or tiny.url to ALWAYS shorten your links helps immensely in meeting the 120 character minimum.

Here are my suggestions:
· Join Twitter with a cool, easily remembered name that relates to who you are as an author. Mine is @RachelintheOC. This easily cements not only my name but also my location in the world.
· Brand yourself up front. Use a picture of yourself. People want to know who you are. If you stick up a pic of your eye or a car, they don’t get the warm and fuzzies. Then, most importantly, stick with that picture. If you keep rotating your pic, you keep rotating your brand. Get it?
· Make it a goal to reach 2,000 followers within two months of joining Twitter. That’s considered the industry standard and is easily attainable if you know how.**
· Pick three words that describe who you are as a writer. Yep, just three. Then write your tweets around those three concepts. If you’re all over the place, people will have a hard time identifying what you represent and will unfollow you. Every unfollow is a potential lost reader of your future book!

For example, my three words are Mancode, coffee, and parenting humor. The Mancode is something I started writing about earlier this year and has become by far my most popular subject in both my blog posts and tweets. My very first Mancode post, Men are from Seinfeld, Women are from Friends has been RT’d over 180 times with over 30 comments and innumerable tweet responses. The interest garnered from this subject has led me to start writing a Mancode memoir.

Point is, people now come to my Tweet stream and blog for my Mancode humor. If I start talking about say, the political situation in China, that might be a problem for me and my over 4,000 Twitter followers could drop like flies.

· Join writer’s groups! I cannot stress this enough. Get yourself out there. Use your genre as a starting point.
· Learn how to tweet. Sounds simple but it’s true. There is a Twitter culture that you need to learn, especially for writers. Gawk for awhile, get up to speed with what other writers are doing, learn about lists, hashtags, shortened links, retweets, and more. Become informed.
· I’m a founding member of @IndieBookIBC aka the IndieBookCollective which is a super resource for any writer, already published or new to the industry, to learn how to get your book published without the middleman. We can teach you more of the techniques learned above in a FREE webinar workshop** format starting in mid-October! Our workshop schedule will be posted on our website and on our stream so check us out and sign up.
· Our founding members @WritingNoDrama and @kaitnolan are indie published (except for myself—I’m at the WIP stage) and bring a wealth of resources to the table. We have guest posts weekly from an array of writers that have been out there, forging their path in the indie world. We’re also working with editors and publishers to help you have the most up-to-date info and resources.
· Why join our collective? I myself have gone from 600 targeted followers to over 4,000 since March using the same techniques we’re teaching you and I prune my stream weekly. My blog hits have gone from 80 to over 2,000/month. I’m building my fan base while I write my book.
I won’t lie to you. Building a social media platform takes work. It’s not hard work though, and clearly the payoff can result in dollars in your pocket when your book comes out. Following = fan base = readers.
Don’t kid yourself--if you’re going the traditional route, agents will look at your Twitter stream and blog to see what kind of following you have. Indie booksellers want to know what you bring to the table and expect you to fill signings. If you can’t answer these questions, you have a real problem. But one that we can help you solve.
Your writing is what gets you noticed, but your hustle is what will sell books.
Contact me at @RachelintheOC or at @IndiebookIBC and I’ll be happy to talk with you further.
You can make Twitter work for you. I have.

BIO: Rachel Thompson is hard at work on her memoir The Mancode: A Survivor’s Tale based on her eighteen-year marriage. When she’s not tweeting, she’s chasing her two kids around, searching for coffee, or attempting to enjoy a vodka martini--dirty, extra olives. Based on the fact that Rachel is a pale redhead living in a sea of blondes in Orange County, CA, and that she doesn’t drive a luxury car or have a plastic surgeon on speed dial, she’s waiting for her pink slip any day now.
You should follow her on Twitter at @RachelintheOC or @IndieBookIBC. You can also find her blog at She’s also on Facebook.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Four Elements of Steampunk - Joseph Robert Lewis

Chris was kind enough to invite me to post a few thoughts on steampunk, so I thought I would talk a little about the genre in general. Because despite its growing popularity, its passionate fanbase, and its rapidly expanding collection of books, films, and other media, I continue to see people struggling to define it. So what is steampunk?

The following definition is one that I've been puttering around with for about two years now. I've read many modern and classic novels that various people consider steampunk, and seen more films than I can remember (because I'm over 30 and losing the ability to remember things in general).

I propose that steampunk can be identified by four essential elements. Of course, any book or film might have any number of these elements and thus be "steampunky" and so we might have a spectrum of "steampunkedness." (Note: All words in quotes are trademarked by me as of now!)

1. Steampunk Aesthetics

Like pornography, you know it when you see it. The steampunk aesthetic, or style, is often the first thing people think of when they discuss steampunk. This style includes settings like Victorian England and the American Wild West, machines such as trains and airships, clockworks, springworks, fantastic mechanical computers and prosthetic limbs, and imaginative alternate histories of people such as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Electricity is exciting and new, but gasoline (petrol) is futurist nonsense and the concept of "digital" is just a gleam in Mad Babbage's eye.

Men wear suits (everywhere) and women wear elaborately conservative dresses, hats and gloves abound, and don't forget the brass goggles and leather aviator caps! But of course, to be truly steampunk this cannot simply be normal historical clothing but attire modified to reflect a fantastical pseudo-technical world. Brassworks, chains, cogs, watches, and all manners of gizmos may hide in walking sticks, top hats, long sleeves, and even a lady's bustle.

These clothes and objects are the trappings of the genre, visual markers that tell us we are in steam country. They are most conspicuous in historically oriented media such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Wild Wild West. But they can also appear in futurist materials like The Windup Girl. In fact, the steampunk aesthetic can appear in any time or place. This frees steampunk from being a narrow historical sci-fi sub-genre to a more general type of speculative fiction.

2. Steampunk Heroes

A great steampunk hero is easily recognized by two attributes: he is an inventor (or scientist) and he is some sort of independent free spirit. The first criteria is the more obvious one and we can find great examples in Jules Verne and HG Wells, as well as films ranging from the classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (CCBB) to the modern anime SteamBoy (SB). From these examples, the steampunk hero emerges as an optimistic individual who hopes to create wonderful machines that will make the world a better place. He loves science and machines for their own sake, and may also be an Absent-Minded Professor or have various lovable quirks.

The second attribute, that of independence, is less obvious but just as critical. The hero may be a youth, or a rugged individualist (in America), or the stereotypical man-in-a-shed (in England). Critically, he doesn't work for a company or the government. In CCBB, Caractacus Potts works in his barn. In SB, Ray works in his garage. This hero is probably poor in cash, but rich in family and friends.

3. Steampunk Villains

In typical literary tradition, the steampunk villain is a mirror to the hero. This villain is probably not an inventor or scientist and in fact he probably does not fully understand the technologies at the heart of the story. He may be blatantly anti-intellectual. He doesn't care how the thing works, only how he can (ab)use it. The villain does not see new technologies as wonderful improvements to the world but power to be controlled. In his hands, newfangled tools become dangerous weapons.

To this end, the villain is usually not a free agent but instead represents an establishment, such as the Baron in CCBB or the American company in SB, or the military.

4. Steampunk Themes

Steampunk plays with many classical literary (and not-so-literary) themes: Man versus Man, Technology versus Nature, Freedom versus Control, and even Communism versus Capitalism. The hero and villain primarily conflict over the role of technology in society. Will it be free for all or controlled by the government? Will it be used to make the world a better place or to kill and oppress people?

The villain is often the one advocating a radical technological future (a dirty, mechanical, war-torn autocracy) while the hero looks for a reasonable balance between the pre-Industrial world and the shiny new machines. In CCBB, the Baron takes this to a cartoonish extreme. He actually bans children (how much more anti-human can you get?) and fills his castle with mechanical toys for himself. In SB, Ray's father steals the Steam Castle to be used as a massive weapons platform despite having been built as a flying pleasure palace complete with a children's carousel.

But because the hero tends to triumph, these stories are rather hopeful and utopian. In steampunk, the hero defeats the military-industrial complex and sets the stage for a shiny new future of wonderful machines that improve all our lives.

Another important group of steampunk themes are issues of gender, race, and class. Set against an industrial revolution, many steampunk stories discuss how new technology impacts society in general. Does it create jobs or destroy them? Does it allow women to enter the work force? Does it create a new over-class of industrialists and a new under-class of factory laborers? And when these things boil out of control, don't be surprised to see a riot or two. After all, this revolution is the first great turning point in human civilization since the advent of agriculture.

What use is this?

Of course, this is a rather specific (I won't say narrow) view of steampunk. You may find steampunky stories that focus on biological MacGuffins (homunculus, Frankenstein, clones, and mutants) instead of technological ones. And the villain may be so anti-technology as to be magical or demonic. But I think these sorts of elements not only alter the villain and the aesthetic but the themes as well, pulling such stories away from steampunk and into fantasy or horror. Which can be excellent. I just don't think it's very steampunkish.

So how do we use these elements to think about books and movies? Well, let's take a quick look at Cherie Priest's recent novel, Boneshaker:
Aesthetics? Yes. Airships, mechanical limbs, gas masks, and a giant drilling machine in the Wild West.
Hero? No. Briar is not an inventor or a free agent. She's more of a typical action hero, a working-class mother who goes adventuring to save a loved one.
Villain? Yes. Minnericht uses technology to terrorize the city, and I believe it was stated that at least some of his machines were stolen from other people (correct me if I'm wrong!).
Themes? Sort of. There is definitely tension between technology and nature since the Boneshaker released the Blight. But the story focuses on a family tragedy and the ideas don't really translate to society at large.
Here we have about two and a half elements out of four, making this a fairly steampunky book on our Spectrum of Steampunkedness. Clearly, Boneshaker is also full of horror and action elements.

In closing

I think one of the best things about steampunk today is its optimism. In a world of sparkly vampire teenagers, crime dramas, medical dramas, recycled terrorist thrillers, and dystopian futurism, it's truly a breath of fresh air to read about smart heroes and heroines who literally build solutions to the world's problems.
Especially today as governments and corporations waste resources, damage the environment, hamper technological progress, and keep the masses in a state of anxiety about life in general, it's nice to think you could walk out to the garage, build a marvelous contraption, and save the world all by yourself.

Especially if you get to do it in an airship.

Joseph Robert Lewis uses all three of his names because they're each too boring and common on their own. He's the author of the forthcoming science fiction novel Ghosts of Mars (Jan 2011) and the steampunk adventure Halcyon Burning (May 2011). Visit his blog ( to read the random things he says about science and media.

Just in time

My book has a cover, which is in the column to the right. The Scathach logo needs finished off and put on it, but I'm very happy.

My blog tour starts now...

Monday, 4 October 2010

Blog Tour Season

My blog tour starts in a few days time. Today, an interview with me was posted over at M T Murphy's blog and it is awesome.

I'm not going to post again before my blog tour starts, but there are a few things I needed to clarify. In November I will be moving exclusively to Wordpress, and this blog will no longer be updated.

In the meantime, however, every guest post during Blog Tour Season will be posted both here and on my new Wordpress Blog.

The entire blog here has been altered for the Blog Tour, as you can see.

Enjoy the next three weeks.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

I Haz a Nu Blogz

It is here.

I'd been thinking about moving for a while, but I didn't want to wait until after my book was out.

Friday, 1 October 2010

This Week In Publishing

Taking a leaf out of Nathan Bransford's blogging book, I have decided to release a summary of this week in self-publishing news.

First, a technological update:

Blackberry is introducing the Playbook in early 2011. CNET has a review, here, and I have to say, it is gorgeous. Just like me. xx Check out the youtube trailer.

Good news for childrens authors as the ebook market can only expand. 57% of children aged 9 to 17 want to read an ebook, and a third of all children in that age group would read for fun more if they had a reader, scholastic reports.

Doris Booth, editor-in-chief of authorlink, points out that authors are now earning much less thanks to the agency pricing scheme, but concludes that the current thirst for self-publishing could be fueled by the way publishers treat authors.

The Creative Penn released the September issue of her magazine for writing, publishing and marketing. You should definitely read it here.

I've read one scant report that Amazon may be offering some indie e-books for free, but I'm posting nothing more on this until I know for sure.

And finally, the smart bitches post that sparked the self-publishing is crap debate a few weeks ago has been completely turned on its head by the completely surprising revelation that the "self-pubbed" book that kicked it all of was actually traditionally published. Just goes to show how hard they are to tell apart.

And finally finally, I'll be doing these posts every week, and next weeks will have a lot more info in them.