Friday 30 July 2010

Kelley Armstrong & Marjorie M. Liu Talk Comics and More

Guest Post by Elena Stokes of Wunderkind PR.

Kelley Armstrong and Marjorie M. Liu talk to each other about writing novels and comics and writing strong characters―male and female. For the latest from these two urban fantasy greats, check out the synopses below. Kelley’s new novel, WAKING THE WITCH, and Marjorie’s latest novel, A WILD LIGHT both hit stores Tuesday, July 27th!

Kelley, in addition to your novels, you write comics too. How did that happen for you, what do you enjoy about it...and what was the transition like for you? Has it affected the way you look at your novels? Or do you think writing novels helps write comics? What's your next project?

Kelley: I was asked to write a 5 issue story for Joss Whedon's Angel. The series ended with a cliffhanger in season 5. Season 6 was then in comics, and I was contributing to that. Before that, I'd done the script for an online graphic novella for my website, and I can say that writing my own characters is MUCH easier. I've never done fanfic or anything with another person's creations. As much as I love the Buffy/Angel universe, I quickly realized I wouldn't ever know enough to be an authority on it, and I felt like I should be if I was writing in it. So it was a great experience, but part of what I took from it is that I'm much more comfortable sticking to reading about other people's worlds and writing only my own.

My next project, not surprisingly, is a 4 issue comic story set in my universe. It's an original script I wrote for Dabel Brothers and Dynamite Entertainment. Forbidden is a Clay and Elena story and is due to start late this year.

I love writing comics because it really forces me to focus on showing instead of telling. My writing is already more action and dialogue focused, but writing scripts shows me that I still fall back on the crutch of telling far too often!

Marjorie, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your current comics projects? And do you find one form, novels or comics, easier to write?

Marjorie: At the moment I'm working on Black Widow, Dark Wolverine, and X-23. My hands are full! But I love writing comics -- because of the stories I get to tell, but also because of the medium. Collaborating with artists who can bring a story to life is incredibly exciting.

As for the rest, I'll always be a novelist first -- but I don't find writing comics to be that much easier. You still have to focus on telling the best story possible. I haven't found it all that difficult, either, to slip into the minds of the Marvel characters that I've been writing for the past couple years. The key, for me, is to find something really interesting about them, and then go from there. Luckily, these are characters that are quite complex in both history and personality, so getting excited about the adventures I can take them on hasn't been difficult.

Kelley, I have another question for you -- one of the most frequent craft-related questions I get asked by aspiring comic book writers is: "How do I write an interesting female character?" It doesn't matter how often I hear that question, it ALWAYS takes me off-guard. My gut response is, "Just write an interesting PERSON, and don't worry about gender." But I don't always know if that's the best answer. How would you (or how do you) respond to questions like that?”

Kelley: Well, I know I've had that question and tried a similar answer, and had the writer excitedly reply "So I can just take one of my guy characters and give him a woman's name?" Um, no. It's a little more complicated than that... The problem is that writers make it too complicated and tie themselves in knots worrying about sounding authentic. Guys will ask how they can create a female character if they themselves don't share similar experiences, like enjoying shopping and wearing high heels. I tell them I hate shopping and can't wear heels. In other words, drop the stereotypes, relax and just write characters the way you see them, male or female. Then get some beta readers of both genders to tell you when you go horribly awry!

Interested? Here are teasers for their new releases:

WAKING THE WITCH, by Kelley Armstrong:

Golden girl of the supernatural world, orphaned daughter of a dark witch and a conniving sorcerer, Savannah Levine has nothing to lose and everything to prove on her first solo case as a paranormal investigator.

She’s got a wide arsenal of spells at her fingertips, many that only she knows.
She’s got a tough-as-nails attitude and an even sharper wit.
She’s got one problem though . . . no one thinks she can handle this on her own.

Savannah has the power . . . and she’s not afraid to use it.

A WILD LIGHT, by Marjorie M. Liu:

Obsidian shadows of the flesh…tattoos with hearts, minds, and dreams. By day, they are my armor. By night, they unwind from my body to take on forms of their own—demons of the flesh, turned into flesh.

For too long Maxine Kiss has felt an inexplicable darkness around her—a force she channels into hunting the demons bent on destroying the human race. But when she finds herself covered in blood and crouched beside her grandfather’s dead body with no memory of what happened or of the man she loves, Maxine begins to fear that the darkness has finally consumed her.

With blood on her hands and her sanity in question, Maxine must face the truth about who she really is and embrace the love of the only man who can help her—before she loses what she cares about most: her family.

Thursday 29 July 2010

Ed Greenwood Blog Tour

Toronto based author and creator of the Forgotten Realms Fantasy Setting, will be doing a blog tour in August and this blog will be a part of it.

Ed Greenwood is one of the authors who got me interested in reading (and writing) fantasy.

I remember reading the first book of his Shandril series, Spellfire. I bought it because I liked the cover, and enjoyed the world so much I went back to it on many occasions.

So come back on August 9th and read the interview he did with me, and check out the other stops on the blog tour as he promotes his newest book, Elminster Must Die.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Daybreakers - Movie Review

Directed by: Michael & Peter Spierig, 2009

Pros: brilliant opening that explains the history of the film in a few stark scenes, shows the breakdown of society at all levels and class structures, post-apocalypse vampire plague becomes new apocalypse as human food source disappears

Cons: the cure to vampirism is unbelievable, extremely gory, the middle of the film drags a bit

The year is 2019 and a plague has turned most humans into vampires. The humans who remain are hunted down and farmed for blood while researchers, including Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), at one company attempt to create a blood substitute to stave off the coming apocalypse.

Dalton hates being a vampire. He hates the animals vampires become when they're unable to feed. He wants to find a blood substitute so the remaining humans can live, not feed the elite.

When the blood supply runs out all hell breaks lose and Dalton discovers, not a blood substitute but a cure for vampirism.

The film examines a lot of what will happen in the world when natural resources (food, oil) run out. The elite will still get their needs met while everyone else suffers and dies. I particularly liked the message that you can force change on people but not acceptance. Something done for that person's "own good" isn't normally appreciated by the recipient. And can have horrific consequences.

The movie is very gory, but the cinematography's worth it. At times it reminded me of Unbreakable, a film I think all filmmakers should see, because no shot is wasted. And while Daybreakers doesn't have that film school feel to it, it has some well thought out scenes.

The trailer, from hollywoodstreams.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Watch, Book Trailer

Robert J. Sawyer's promoting his newest book, Watch, with a book trailer that looks amazing. I've heard great things about the WWW series so far. Take a look and tell me what you think.

Friday 23 July 2010

Gemma Files - Author Interview

Novel: A Book of Tongues

Short Story Collections: Kissing Carrion, The Worm in Every Heart

Poetry Chapbooks: Bent Under Night, Dust Radio


> What's A Book of Tongues about?

A Book of Tongues takes place in an alternate universe version of the Wild West (the Weird West, more like), just after the Civil War, where it’s established knowledge that some people occasionally and randomly develop magical powers so strong they can pretty much just think a thing and see it done. Commonly called “hexes”, these magic-workers―who otherwise would’ve undoubtedly taken over the world long before now―are thankfully prevented from working together by an instinctive drive to parasite off each other, draining each other’s power until injury or death; “Mages don’t meddle”, the received wisdom goes, and all normal people are damn thankful for it.

As our story begins, the Pinkerton Detective Agency has sent Ed Morrow undercover with an outlaw gang headed by one such “hexslinger”, “Reverend” Asher Rook―who uses his knowledge of the Bible to create curses which allow him to rob trains, bring down buildings and turn whole villages to salt―and his lieutenant (and lover), Chess Pargeter. Morrow’s supposed to use a newly-invented gadget to measure the scope of Rook’s magic, so that Pinkerton and his pet mad scientist Dr Herbert Asbury will be able to create a scale which will allow them to identify potential hexes, recruiting them before they erupt painfully into their full power.

What Morrow doesn’t know, however, is that Rook is being haunted/courted by something even more dreadful than he is―Rainbow Lady Ixchel, the Mother of all Hanged Men. She wants the Rev to help her resurrect the dead Mayan-Aztec pantheon, and will stop at nothing to gain his cooperation…

> Why did you choose to set your horror novel in the Wild West?

I’ve always enjoyed setting stories in different eras―literal period pieces. What happened here, however, is that I’d already spent a year or so slightly obsessed with the James Mangold remake of 3:10 to Yuma―particularly the performance of Ben Foster as Charlie Prince, which provided the initial inspiration and physical template for Chess Pargeter―and, before that, Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, which meant I’d done more than enough research to feel secure writing about the 1860s.

Then it occurred to me: Why not combine my horror/dark fantasy impulses with my historical ones, like Naomi Novik inserting dragons into the Napoleonic Wars in her Temeraire series? And I’ve always loved the Aztecs and Maya, whose demented Blood Engine view of the universe really goes very well with the “you get what you pay for” rules of magic, black or otherwise…

> In the book, who is you favourite character and why?

Oh, I love everybody, but Chess is definitely the most fun to write. His best and worst quality is that he makes absolutely no apology for anything―he’s both a total bad-ass and unabashedly gay, and his attitude is: Well, if you’re gonna try and kill me for something as stupid as likin’ who I like, then bring it! Of course, he’s more an antihero than a hero; he’s done genuinely terrible things, and deserves to suffer for them. But he’s got great potential, too―that’s what draws people to him, me included.

> What role does music play in the writing of your novels?

I love music, so it only makes sense that it would be a guiding, inspiring force in my creative life; a lot of my short stories are even named after specific songs (“Ring of Fire” and “Blood Makes Noise”, for example, from my collections of short work, Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart), or even lyrics (“When I’m Armouring my Belly”, from EDGE’s Evolve anthology, or “each thing I show you is a piece of my death”, which was reprinted in Night Shade Books’ The Best Horror of the Year 2, and nominated for a 2010 Shirley Jackson award).

But when it came to writing A Book of Tongues, I found that this link was even more pronounced than usual. You can actually find a sort of playlist for the novel up at my professional site,, so check it out―try listening to it while you read.

> What are some advantages of getting published by a small press?

Being consulted on the cover art―there’s usually a complete separation of church and state when it comes to packaging, and the writer’s hardly ever involved. I, on the other hand, got to write my own back cover text, pick out the pull-quotes…and edit my own manuscript down from roughly 120,000 words to roughly 100,000, too. I cut a hundred pages out of my own book, and I enjoyed it!

> What are your favourite three books?

In terms of influence, I’d say probably Night’s Master by Tanith Lee, Skin by Kathe Koja, and Stainless by Todd Grimson. All three are hellbent-propulsive, poetically immersive and polymorphously perverse, three qualities I definitely aspire to. Unfortunately, I think the latter two are also currently out of print, though a newly restored version of Night’s Master was just released by Norliana Books.

> What made you want to be a writer?

I don’t think there was ever a “want” about it. I’ve always told myself stories―it seemed only natural to eventually want to get paid for telling them to other people. Better living through lying, I always say.

> What was the first novel that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

You’re looking at it. I mean, I’ve certainly started a lot of other novels over the years―but no, this is my first official book, and my first official book sale. I began it on January 2, 2009, sold it in April on the strength of seven chapters and an outline, and finished it on October 28 of the same year. But I will point out that it took roughly twenty years of professional writing―short stories, journalism, film reviews, screenplays―for me to be able to write this book as efficiently as I did, and I’m told that’s about normal.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

Chapter Twelve, hands down―the confrontation in the desert between the Rev and “Grandma”, a Dine Hataalii who isn’t sure if she should take him on as her apprentice, or kill him and pick his bones. It took me two months to get through.

> If you still have one, what’s your day job?

I’ve pretty much been a contract worker for the last fifteen years―I reviewed films for eye Weekly, then taught film history and screenwriting, first at the Trebas Institute, then the Toronto Film School. Due to economic upheaval, the TFS shut down around the same time my son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and I effectively became a stay-at-home Mom. So being his support system and writing are my “day jobs” now, though I sure don’t support myself doing either; luckily, I have an amazing husband with an equally amazing office job (and during his spare time, he’s a writer, too―the co-writer of “each thing”, to be exact).

> What is your university degree in and does it help with your writing?

I graduated with a B.A.A. in Magazine Journalism from Ryerson University. It taught me the importance of research and gave me the confidence to interview sources, but it also taught me a lot about editing, time management, and the absolute myth of “writer’s block”. When you’re on deadline, there’s no such thing as not being “able” to write―you write as badly as you have to, but you get the damn thing done, and then fix it up later.

> When and where do you write?/How do you discipline yourself to write?/Any tips against writers block?

At home, when my son’s at school. It gives me about five hours to play with, and I use those to write about 500 to 1,000 words a day. If I’m having trouble with production, I use the same time to transcribe notes, organize, outline, or do research. The timeline itself provides its own discipline. And like I said, there’s really no such thing as “writer’s block”―you can always be scribbling down something: Dialogue, description, plot-points, whatever. You lay these in like bare bones, put them in order, then watch them develop flesh and skin.

> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published and do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

No one is actually looking to steal your ideas, so stop worrying about that. Besides which, everything seems derivative of something else even if it isn’t, so don’t worry about that, either. What you bring to the table is execution, not inspiration, so just keep writing―finished product trumps everything. Write enough, for long enough, and you’ll become a competent professional. The rest is all about getting stuff done, packaging it up and sending it off, over and over again.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

In the immortal words of Kiefer Sutherland (when asked by a Rolling Stone reporter if he was going to drive his own car while out on an all-night drinking excursion): “Uh, no…that’d be bad.”

Thursday 22 July 2010

The Bad Writer's Tripping Point For Me

I came across this post a few days ago by Jason Sandord called The Bad Writer's Tripping Point. He basically asked at what point you, as a reader, stop reading bad writing.

Under normal circumstances my tolerance for bad writing is pretty low. I have too much to read to spend time on something I'm not enjoying for whatever reason. But sometimes I'll push on, despite a main character I don't sympathize with or plot points that don't make sense. If the concept of the book is original enough, I'll even ignore bad writing.

But there comes a point when enough is enough. I debated doing a review of this book for a while. I wasn't able to finish it, which generally precludes a review. On the other hand, it's a great illustration of how far a reader will go for an interesting story, regardless of how bad certain things get. Up to a point.

I like assassins in fiction. I find them interesting. So I was excited to see Jon Sprunk's Shadow's Son. The cover was fantastic and the back blurb looked good. I'd read a review that mentioned the vocab got a bit heavy for a fantasy novel but didn't think that would bother me.

Little did I know. When the narrator uses words you don't hear in everyday speech it's a bit jarring but not a novel killer. When the street urchin turned mercenary turned assassin uses a word like 'victuals' rather than 'food' or 'grub', that's problematic. And Sprunk used a LOT of words that aren't common use words. "A blanket of clouds occluded the stars." "...the cool steps wended beneath her feet" (which I'm convinced is an inaccurate use of 'to wend', meaning to go or to travel). I actually started turning down pages when I encountered something odd, and I'm not one for defacing books.

In addition to individual words, he also used a lot of metaphors, and metaphors that, while graphic, stay with you for all the wrong reasons. Here are two. "Once he started talking, it all gushed out of him, like pus from an infected wound." Now I understand the idea of talking about a problem and feeling better afterward. But I've never compared that to draining pus from a wound, and would rather not have had to. Yes, it is original, but, well, I physically recoiled from the book when I read that line, and that's not something that happens too often. My second example also stayed with me. "The terror of her situation crept over her like an army of biting ants." Again, it's a unique picture, but not one that works for me beyond my thinking it's a strange image.

I still thought I could handle the vocab, annoying as I found it. It was the next two points, in quick succession that made me finally put the book down for good. These happen near the end of the book, so it's MAJOR SPOILER time.

1. We find out the main female character is really the daughter of the Emperor, who was deposed 20 or so years previous. The girl, a spoiled 17 year old who knows nothing about governance as she's spent her life shopping and waiting for her adopted father to find her a husband, immediately decides she wants her throne back. I'm left wondering how she could possibly be better than the current government, corrupt as it might be. Even if she could mount a rebellion, she could never keep power or rule well.

2. Here's where I ultimately stopped. I can accept a lot of things but this stretched even my credibility too far. In order to leave the city the assassin takes the girl to a secret exit in the cemetery. It's a fake grave commissioned 50 years previous by "...the various thieves, con artists, sellswords, and other scum..." "Workers were smuggled inside the crypt night after night for many long months to work on the clandestine project." It seems to me that any secret involving so many people would have been found out long since. Who were the workers? None of them talked? No one noticed construction work going on at the cemetery at night for MONTHS? City officials never wondered how these people entered and left the city?

If I hadn't wanted to like the book so badly I'd have stopped reading around a hundred pages in. As it was, I made it to page 187 before throwing in the towel.

What gets you to stop reading a book?

Wednesday 21 July 2010

I Am Number Four, Sci-Fi Thriller

I just got a press release from HarperCollins for their summer sci-fi thriller I Am Number Four, by Pittacus Lore. It's already being adapted for a film. The book comes out August 3rd.

In the beginning they were a group of nine. Nine aliens who left their home planet of Lorien when it fell under attack by the evil Mogadorian. Nine aliens who scattered on Earth. Nine aliens who look like ordinary teenagers living ordinary lives, but who have extraordinary, paranormal skills. Nine aliens who might be sitting next to you now.

The Nine had to separate and go into hiding. The Mogadorian caught Number One in Malaysia, Number Two in England, and Number Three in Kenya. All of them were killed. John Smith, of Paradise, Ohio, is Number Four. He knows that he is next.

I AM NUMBER FOUR is the thrilling launch of a series about an exceptional group of teens as they struggle to outrun their past, discover their future—and live a normal life on Earth.


Here's the book trailer, from Harperteen's Youtube site.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Transformer Owl

This is an animal video that's been making the rounds recently. It's a clip from Japanese show talking about a Republic of South African owl. From a writerly perspective, it's good to remember that animals have reactions to various predators, and that those reactions can be different, depending on what the predator is. This owl puffs itself up to look larger when faced with a 35 cm owl, but thins out and looks menacing to larger owls. (It's Evil Owl face is hilarious.) I grabbed this from angryclamdotcom's youtube site.

Saturday 17 July 2010

Star Wars Reboot II

My husband found the video I alluded to yesterday, so here it is. Another spoof from the Dead Ringers.

Friday 16 July 2010

Star Wars: A New Hope Reboot?

Let's hope not! That film should have been left alone to begin with. The last thing we need is a new 'updated' version. But if they do update it, I hope they use some of these casting suggestions (covering a fictional April 2010 to December 2014) rather than these.

I saw a hilarious video yesterday that showed a potential rebooted version of the lightsaber duel between Obi Wan and Vader, designed to join A New Hope to the prequel universe, wherein they both agree that they like Jar Jar Binks. Unfortunately I can't find it again, so instead here's a video by Improv Everywhere entitled Star Wars Subway Car.

And an older spoof by the Dead Ringers wherein Obi Wan tries to buy a car. Love the ending.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Takaki - Fantasy Artist

When I was in Japan I went by a Kagaya store to get some of his artwork. Unfortunately, it was an Aquarius Stage store, which only stocks gems for jewelry making. They did have postcard books of a few of his series, so I picked up his Starry Tales post card collection (which thankfully included Artemis, Pegasus and Phoenix, my 3 favourites of the collection). I also picked up another set with pictures I didn't recognize. The artwork style was the same as Kagaya's so it wasn't until I got home (I'd packed the sets away so they wouldn't get damaged) that I realized the second set way by a different artist, Takaki. She doesn't have an English website, so here's the link for her gallery so you can check out her work. She uses a lot of angels. Here's a sample:

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Net Galley

Someone emailed me a while ago asking if I'd review their book, as an e-ARC on offer at Net Galley. At the time I wasn't interested because I had no comfortable way to read e-ARCs. Now that I do, the situation has changed. I requested a few books (starting with a cookbook that's a lot of fun so far). Today I'll start reading my first fiction e-ARC download.

Net Galley is free for librarians, booksellers and reviewers, etc. The publishers pay to have books put up on the site. You request a book and see if the publisher deems your request worthy (I've received all 3 books I've requested) and if so, give you their viewing options. They include a kindle edition, *epub and DRM protected PDF. You are under no obligation to review the books you request, though publishers would like you to notify them if you do post a review.

It seems like a good program and prompted me to restart my Wyvern's Peak Writing blog so I have a place to blog about my cooking experiences (among other things).

*It turns out what I remembered as epub was actually an unprotected PDF download.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus, Book Review

By Mary Shelley

Pros: a must read for the genre, fascinating idea

Cons: long introductory frame story, dry prose by modern day standards

I read this on my trip to Japan. Not a good choice. I picked it because I have 2 copies and figured I'd leave one there. Then we got the kobo and i-pad...

Anyway, I thought I'd read it before and therefore had strange ideas of what should happen. I'm not sure what book I was thinking of but it definitely wasn't Frankenstein. Needless to say, it was different than what I was expecting, and I knew it didn't follow any of the films.

The book is narrated via a frame story detailing Robert Walton's quest to explore the North Pole in letters to his sister. While his ship is trapped in ice and he wonders at the wisdom of his tenacity towards pursuing his goal at all costs, the crew spot a pair of dogsleds, several hours apart. The second one is driven by Victor Frankenstein, who has been pursuing his own goals (as it were).

In an effort to prevent Walton from repeating his mistakes, Frankenstein tells the story of how he, as a driven man, discovered how to give life to inanimate objects. He decides, for his first test, to make a man. Later, horrified by the beautiful form he gave this giant of his creation, Frankenstein casts his creature out. Little does he know his trials are just beginning.

There's a definite moral being taught about the dangers of reaching beyond one's understanding and playing God. It's not subtle, but it's also not invasive to the story. As with other gothic stories, you can ignore the moral if you'd like and enjoy the action in its own right.

Modern readers will find the opening dry and wonder when Frankenstein will enter (several letters into the narrative). Once he starts telling his story it digresses at times to detail the creatures actions and mention minutae that alternate between being interesting and boring.

It wouldn't be my highest recommendation for a good read, but given the influence Frankenstein has had on modern literature, it is worth reading if you want to consider yourself well read in the field.

Friday 9 July 2010

K. A. Stewart - Author Interview

Novel: A Devil in the Details


What's A Devil in the Details about?

It is about a modern-day samurai who fights demons for a living, wagering his soul in order to retrieve the souls that others have sold.

What are your favourite three books (not by you, either in the field or out of it)?

This changes on a weekly basis. I would list pretty much anything by Jim Butcher, both his Dresden Files series and his Codex Alera series. My newest favorite is Stacia Kane's Unholy Ghosts.

What made you want to be a writer?

The first "real" book I ever read was Tolkein's The Hobbit, when I was in 1st grade. And I distinctly remember wanting to be able to DO that, to be able to draw people into a completely different world with just the power of my words.

In the books you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why?

In the Jesse James Dawson series, my favorite would be a toss up between Jesse and Axel. Really, they're two sides of the same coin, one light and one dark.

If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

No way! Have you seen what I do to them?

What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

My first novel (never to see the light of day) was written when I was in middle school/high school. It was an embarrassingly cliched fantasy epic, and if I recall, it took me about a year to write it. I've since scavenged a few salvageable characters from it for other things.

What was the hardest scene for you to write?

So far, Jesse hasn't put me through the emotional wringer yet (it's coming, I promise!). But on another project I'm working on, I had to write a scene where a child died. And that one was...rough.

If you still have one, what’s your day job?

I work in the banking industry.

What is your university degree in and does it help with your writing?

I have a degree in English with an emphasis in literature. I find that, in order to write well, you have to learn to read well, too. Being able to identify the building blocks of any story helps you in constructing your own.

When and where do you write?

I manage to write at my Real Job on my lunch breaks, or in the evenings at home, while my kiddo is in karate class, wherever I can fit a few moments in. I prefer to write on my computer, but when I have to, I'll scrawl things down in the notebook I always keep with me.

What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

The best thing is having someone say "Oh my god, I was so freaked out/mad/scared/etc." Knowing that I was able to make them feel those emotions is amazing.

The worst thing is the times when I know I'm almost there, it's almost how I want it, but not quite. And I can bang my head against that wall for days before it clicks into place.

What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

How unbelievable SLOW everything moves. Publishing time is like NFL time, it doesn't really follow the normal laws of physics.

Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Don't be afraid to write crap. You can edit anything to make it better, except the words you haven't written yet.

Any tips against writers block?

I find that reading tends to loosen up my brain cells. When I'm feeling stuck, reading someone else's words helps a lot.

How do you discipline yourself to write?

Part of it is just putting my butt in chair and forcing myself to get X number of words every day. Another part is accepting that sometimes, it just ISN'T going to come, and you can't beat yourself up over it. Agonizing is only going to make it worse.

How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

I wrote five novels before A Devil in the Details, but Devil was the first one I ever felt brave enough to submit. Out of 28 queries, I had 9 outright rejections, and another 4 that were rejected after they'd requested more material. My results were not typical, though. I have friends who racked up over a hundred rejections before they found the right one.

Thursday 8 July 2010

On Basilisk Station - Book Review

By: David Weber

Before I go into the actual review let me just state that the reading experience impacts the book, and with the problems I had reading this book on the Kobo (view my previous post), I didn't like the book as much as I believe I would have otherwise.

Pros: well developed galaxy, Honor Harrington is a great protagonist

Cons: a lot of detailed explanation of ship and weapons schematics, prologue gave too much away

Honor Harrington's finally been given command of a decent ship. Little does she know, that ship's had most of its armaments removed to test new weaponry, weaponry that requires getting so close to the target she'll be blown away before she can even get a shot off.

She proves both the weapon's efficiency and its liability during fleet war games, a result that has her and her increasingly bitter crew shucked off to Basilisk Station. But Honor's willing to do her job and do it well, even if it's at the station careers go to die.

I'll start with the prologue for my critique. I didn't know it was there until I'd read 3/4 of the novel. At which point it gave away the enemy and greatly lessened the suspense of the novel. The prologue gives the reader information that Honor doesn't have, so instead of wondering if she's right about what's happening at the end of the novel and stressing about her decisions, the reader sits back and wonders what the fuss is about, we know the enemy so she should stop wondering and do something about them.

I found there was so much background information about how the ships work, how the weapons work, how wormhole transport works... zzzzz. I know it's necessary, but it was a bit much for me.

Tech specs aside, the writing is great. Honor's an interesting protagonist who has to fight for her crew's respect after things go bad at the war games. She's cool, competent and honourable. The supporting cast was also realistic, each with pros and cons to their personalities. I was impressed how well I got to know numerous crew members given how populous the ship was. With a few scenes you feel like you know how the various people think and how they're going to act under pressure.

The political maneuverings were interesting, as was Honor's work in the Basilisk area.

A great book, Kobo and formatting problems aside. Now that I know more about the characters, ships and galaxy I imagine I'll enjoy the next book more.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Kobo E-Reader Review

As promised, here's my review of the Kobo E-Reader after having read a novel on it.

First, some of my points are no longer valid as the company has come out with a firmware update. Some of the things they're addressing, quoted from this post:

1. Font scaling
A number of people have had issues resizing fonts on epub files they have imported into the eReader, especially files from other stores/sources. Font issues have been tricky. [Warning: content of a technical nature] They are most often caused by hardcoded absolute font sizes in the epub CSS. Doing wholesale overrides of CSS can earn us bad karma with publishers. And while we can easily override some CSS elements (font face, for example, since we have a limited number of fonts on the eReader), the Adobe SDK actually prohibits override of absolute font sizes. (Grrr…) So we have had to do some crafty things behind the scenes to get around that limitation. We have tested the new release of firmware with every file that users have sent us with font resizing issues and it has worked in all cases we’ve tested so far.

2. Title Management
The biggest irritant we heard from lots of users was “I don’t care about *&@^#$# Jane Eyre! Get it out of my Library!” Totally understandable: some people feel it clutters up the Library or makes it harder to find purchased books. (Others love having a reader that is full of books as soon as you plug it in. That’s the way it goes…) There is a short-term fix in the new release while we work on a longer and more complicated one. In the short term, you’ll be able to hide pre-loaded books on the device — get them out of the way so you can look at the other books you’ve added. That definitely won’t address all issues, but it will address the biggest pain point while we work on a wider range of library management features for a subsequent release.

3. Battery Life
This was a software problem rather than a hardware one. Even when the device is in sleep mode, there is a negligible amount of activity on the device. The bug: in some situations, power consumption wasn’t tapering off as much as it should have when the device went into sleep mode. We found the bug and fixed it, so people should be able to get the 8,000 page turns they were expecting.

4. Charging Light
Used to: show nothing until it was charged and then turn red when it was done. (Yep, that makes absolutely no sense.)
New release: turns red when it’s charging (so you know something is going on), turns blue when it’s done. Should generally provide a more accurate sense of what’s going on.

There are a bunch of other things rolled up in the update (universal mac builds for PPC+Intel for the Desktop Reader, better indications when the device is off, etc.), but I wanted to flag those four since they’ve been a topic of some discussion here.

The book I read, On Basilisk Station, by David Weber, was, due to the fact I got it from a BAEN CD rather than the kobo store, a bad choice. I encountered the font sizing problem (books from other sources couldn't be resized, and showed up on the kobo on the smallest font). Several people came up with their own fixes and posted them online, so I was eventually able to fix this, but it made reading in bed less pleasant as I had to hold the kobo fairly close to my face.

The reading experience itself is good. The page turns feel slow, but only because computers have gotten so fast that any electronic device that isn't instantaneous seems slow by comparison (and e-ink readers have slower page turns than the i-pad or computer). The quilted backing is comfortable to hold and the size is good for reading (fits the hand and has a decent sized screen, regardless of text size). And if you're just reading straight through, it's a good device.

Other problems I encountered though were discovering 3/4 of the way through the book that there was a prologue I somehow missed, difficulty scrolling back to remind myself of details (I tend to check back to confirm details and remind myself of important events once new knowledge pops up, something that's difficult on the kobo since you can't jump to specific pages, only one page at a time or to chapter openings).

I also encountered a problem with the formatting beyond the sizing - which I hope this upgrade will address. The original file I uploaded (the one I couldn't change fonts on) had paragraph indentation but no page breaks. I know this is a format issue not a kobo issue, but it did cause me problems, not realizing the scene changed (I even checked it against the paperback to confirm it was a formatting error and not an idiosyncracy of this book). When I changed the format so it could be resized, the formatting got rid of the indentations (which I prefer) and started putting a space between paragraphs. On occasion there would be a double break to show scene changes, but not always. So I was more on guard, but still blindsided by scene changes every now and then.

For those of you out there who think putting digital version of books out should be easy, let me tell you, if the book isn't formatted properly it's a royal pain to read. The number of times I had to backtrack and reorient myself made the book feel very disjointed and the reading experience a lot less enjoyable than it should have been. If you want to know what does go into preparing an e-book, here's a wonderful post.

I also spent most of the time reading in a room with poor natural lighting, forcing me to use a lamp (yes, a paper book would require the same thing, but the i-pad doesn't, and so I mention it here).

If you're wondering at the speed of the kobo, I filmed a quick video showing the navigation, page sizing and page turning of the device. And yes, I say 'i-ink' rather than 'e-ink'. I'm blaming that on Indigo and Apple's fondness for 'i' words. :)

Ultimately, I still prefer paper books to electronic ones, but the problems with reading On Basilisk Station notwithstanding, now that I know what to expect I can see myself reading on the kobo again and enjoying the experience. I'll be more careful about checking for a prologue before skipping to chapter one. The page turn speed didn't bother me so much once I got into the book, and my battery lasts a good week between charges, even if it's left on between reading sessions.

For the price, it's a great reading device if you don't want to do other things with the machine. If you do want to do other things... I still prefer the i-pad. For all it's greater size, the i-pad's instant page turns, ability for colour and backlight (great for reading in darkened rooms and at night) is an excellent machine.

Friday 2 July 2010

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in August 2010

As usual, this list is compiled from the Indigo website listings, so if there's an error or omission, please mention it in the comments and I'll fix it. Ben Bova and Fred Saberhaven both have several books being reprinted in August.


Waking the Witch – Kelley Armstrong

Blood & Iron – Tony Ballantyne

Love Bites: Vampyres of Hollywood II – Adrienne Barbeau

After America – John Birmingham

Bearers of the Black Staff – Terry Brooks

Forgotten Realms: Elminster Must Die! – Ed Greenwood

The Evolutionary Void – Peter Hamilton

Death's Excellent Vacation – Charlaine Harris & Toni Kelner, Ed.

The Stainless Steel Rat Returns – Harry Harrison

The Truth of Valor – Tanya Huff

The Last Page – Anthony Huso

Pink Nose: A Posthuman Tale – Leonid Korogodski

Shades of Milk & Honey – Mary Robinette Kowal

Prospero in Hell – L. Jagi Lamplighter

The Skin Map – Stephen Lawhead

The Osiris Ritual – George Mann

The Questing Road – Lyn Mcconchie

City of Ruin – Mark Charan Newton

Stars & Gods – Larry Niven

Labyrinth – Kat Richardson

The Bear – R. A. Salvatore

The Way of Kings – Brandon Sanderson

Coronets and Steel – Sherwood Smith

The Waters Rising – Sheri Tepper

Children No More – Mark Van Name

The Black Prism – Brent Weeks

Do Unto Others – Michael Williamson

Trade Paperback:

Best Served Cold – Joe Abercrombie

Dreams & Wonders: Stories from the Dawn of Modern Fantasy – Mike Ashley, Ed.

The Child Thief – Brom

Lord of the Silent Kingdom – Glen Cook

Eve: The Burning Life – Hjalti Danielsson

Harry 20: On the Highrock – Alan Davis & Gerry Finley-Day

Spiritwalk – Charles De Lint

The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction – Arthur Evans, Ed.

Nova War – Gary Gibson

Prince of Wolves – Dave Gross

Template – Matthew Hughes

Ancient Shadows – William Jones, Ed.

Prince of Storms – Kay Kenyon

Bolos: Their Finest Hour – Keith Laumer

Path of the Sun – Violette Malan

Curse of the Wolf Girl – Martin Millar

Hawkmoon: The Sword of the Dawn – Michael Moorcock

Truthseeker – C. E. Murphy

The Topless Tower – Silvina Ocampo

Enclave – Kit Reed

The Sheriff of Yrnameer – Michael Rubens

Veteran – Gavin Smith

Tomes of the Undergates – Sam Sykes

Gears of War: Anvil Gate – Karen Traviss

Elemental: Destiny's Embers – Bradley Wardell

Mysterium – Robert Charles Wilson

Mass Market Paperback:

Triumff: Her Majesty's Hero – Dan Abnett

Killbox – Ann Aguirre

Sacrifice – Dakota Banks

Merlin's Dragon: Doomraga's Revenge – T. A. Barron

By the Mountain Bound – Elizabeth Bear

Enigma – C. E. Bentley

Moxyland – Lauren Beukes

Sparks – Laura Bickle

The Return – Ben Bova

Voyagers – Ben Bova

Voyagers II – Ben Bova

Voyagers III – Ben Bova

Total Eclipse – Rachel Caine

Eberron: Taint of the Black Brigade – Paul Crilley

The Usurper – Rowena Cory Daniells

War Hammer 40K: Fear the Alien – Christian Dunn

1635: The Dreeson Incident – Eric Flint & Virginia DiMarce

The Darkest Edge of Dawn – Kelly Gay

Ghost of a Chance – Simon Green

The Demon Hunt – Kris Greene

Winter Song – Dolin Harvey

The Winds of Dune – Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson

The Native Star – M. K. Hobson

Seeker's Bane – P.C. Hodgell

Death Most Definite – Trent Jamieson

Conan the Victorious – Robert Jordan

Century of the Soldier – Paul Kearney

Stormlord Rising – Glenda Larke

The Phoenix Transformed – James Mallory

Shades of Gray – Lisanne Norman

Eureka Substitution Method – Cris Ramsay

Kell's Legend – Andy Remic

Unsympathetic Magic – Laura Resnick

Vanished – Kat Richardson

A Question of Time – Fred Saberhagen

A Sharpness on the Neck – Fred Saberhagen

Thorn – Fred Saberhagen

Warbreaker – Brandon Sanderson

Canticle – Ken Scholes

Dungeons & Dragons: Mark of Nerath - Bill Slavicsek

The Terminal State – Jeff Somers

Chosen – Jeanne Stein

Queen of Shadows – Dianne Sylvan

Dream Called Time – S. L. Viehl

War Hammer: Temple of the Serpent – C. L. Werner

The Domino Pattern – Timothy Zahn

Japan Trip - Akihabara

We spent our last two days in Japan shopping. Of course, one of those days was set aside for Akihabara, the place to shop for anime memorabilia, figures, electronics and duty free. Everything we wanted was around the train station, but picking the correct exit proved to be a challenge. So we walked around the outside until we found a store we wanted.

But first, we had lunch at Ginzo for what turned out to be a fabulous meal for a very reasonable price. My husband had a large plate of sushi and a savory custard, I got tempura don, udon and custard - both meals came to $20 TOTAL and were among the best we had (in terms of quality as well as value) in Japan.

We were expecting new and used electronics stores (like this store selling used Macs for an excellent price), but we were both surprised by the number of electronics shops selling base components. And security cameras (love the screw and button cameras).

In the end, our trip to Japan was a lot of fun and a complete success in terms of seeing everything we'd planned. I already can't wait to go back!