Absolutely adore them. I have woven many a scarf and stitched many a pattern to the charming yet dangerous village life of Midsummer Murders and Father Brown. The very slightly grittier settings of Endeavour and Grantchester live in my DVR, saved to watch at my leisure like perfect after-dinner treats. Even my audiobook accounts are filled with Christie and Conan-Doyle, Sayers and Marsh and Allingham.
I couldn’t write a mystery to save my life.
I don’t think I’m meant to.
This bothers me not at all. I love writing romance. Fun, light, action-filled romance with swoony heroes and smartass heroines. But there’s never a mystery involved. Those are not the turns and twists I write into my stories.
So why don’t I, or won’t I, write mysteries? And really, should I care?
Because writing a mystery would take all the fun out of it for me.
Any genre that you write becomes an object of study. We read other authors in our niche to see how they do their job and what the job entails. Genre is sort of a self-policing enterprise. We define our terms based on rules that we create as a group within the niche. The “whodunit” types of stories I enjoy have their own pacing, language, and arcs.
I can deconstruct a romance faster than you can say billionaire rancher bear shifter hero, but that amount of study means that I’ve taken some of the, well, the mystery out of the process. I can see all the ins and outs of how the whole thing is put together. I’ve drawn back the curtain and alas, the writer is only human.
But with mystery, I can still sit back and enjoy the magic. I don’t really want to see how the trick is done, I just want to watch and smile and clap. I want to be a spectator at the show, not the one behind the scenes.
There is, I think, such a thing as knowing too much, and it can take the joy out of the small things. I’ll always love writing romance as the work I do, but in my off time, I’d rather keep my small happinesses.
So let’s start another season of Inspector Barnaby’s trials while I put the kettle on.
SELA CARSEN is an award-winning author of paranormal and sci-fi romance — with or without sex and dead bodies. Your pick. She maintains a permanent nerd-on for fairytales and mythology, and openly hoards reference books about obscure folklore. Born a wanderer, she and her family have finally settled in the Midwest. Until they move again, at least. Find out more at selacarsen.com!
While not my best known work, most widely distributed work, or fan-favorite work (all three distinctions held by A Year and a Day, I believe), The Blood of Angels trilogy remains my best-selling work (well, the first book, The Convent of the Pure, is my very best selling, even making a couple of Amazon bestseller categories back in its heyday).
And it was all more than a decade ago, so well past its time to be put out to pasture and go out of print.
This is the second piece of my early works to go out of print, but one that stings the most, I think. I have the option of bringing the novellas back at any time; in the world of self-publishing nothing is truly ever out of print. After making the announcement that they’d be sunsetting at the end of August. there was a bump in sales and the inevitable questions.
Will you self-publish this afterwards?
And I can’t say right now that I will.
I could potentially request the rights to the covers and interior illustrations, brought to gorgeous life by the tremendously talented Melissa Gay, and I might even get them. And while steampunk isn’t the cultural phenomenon it was a decade ago, it still has its fans. Maybe even enough to buy enough copies to offset the cost of setting everything up for the Kindle. I do keep hearing that nephilim are so played out, though, and all I can say is that they weren’t in 2008 when I pitched this series!
Time is another thing, and it is something I am in dreadfully short supply of right now.
And the last hurdle is, how much do I want these relics to hang around, cluttering up my professional closet?
I was, and still am, super proud of the work I did on these books. But if I were to write them now, they’d be better. They’d be the work of someone who has written four more novels (I am totally counting the one I wrote twice, it ended up changed enough to be something entirely new).
I would want to dig in and rework stuff, bringing the problems up to code, so to speak, even if I didn’t recognize them as such initially. Especially if I didn’t recognize them as such initially.
And then, what? I’m not the same person now who wrote these books. The world is not the same place it was when I wrote them. Why would these books still matter?
Why should these books still matter?
Unlike endless Hollywood reboots that clog out media, I don’t feel like rehashing the past, at this time (covering my arse). I feel like these books had their moment in the sun and it is time to move on to newer things, different things, and ultimately better things. (It’s totally ok if these books are your favorites, though!)
No one is going to round up all the old copies and destroy them or wipe every ebook from every device (unless the sunspots get them with everything else). The books will still exist. You will still be able to buy them for months, if not years, to come. LitUnd has good stock of physical copies and so do I.
And certainly with my rights fully reverted, I can do whatever pleases me with them. And right now, this may change, but right now it pleases me to have a good cry at the end of an era, and then set my sights on what kind of future I can make for myself.
SARA M. HARVEY lives and writes fantasy and horror in (and sometimes about) Nashville, Tenn. She is also a costume historian, theatrical costume designer, and art history teacher. She has two spoiled rotten dogs and two awesome children; her husband falls somewhere in between. She tweets @saraphina_marie, wastes too much time on facebook.com/saramharvey, and needs to update her website at saramharvey.com. Check out her Patreon!
The Blood of Angels series
CONVENT OF THE PURE
Secrets and illusions abound in a decaying convent wrapped in dark magic and scented with blood. Portia came to the convent with the ghost of Imogen, the lover she failed to protect in life. Now, the spell casting caste wants to make sure that neither she nor her spirit ever leave. Portia’s ignorance of her own power may be even more deadly than those who conspire against her as she fights to fulfill her sworn duty to protect humankind in a battle against dark illusions and painful realities.
LABYRINTH OF THE DEAD
Imogen is all that matters.
After rescuing her lover from the forces that trapped her in The Convent of the Pure, Portia Gyony has lost Imogen once again to the darkness that surrounds them. The only way to reunite is to walk through the shadow-worlds of the dead and bring Imogen back to the body that awaits her—a journey no nephilim was meant to take.
Still seeking out the boundaries of her own power, Portia descends into a realm where all trade is in souls and the machinations of the world itself are coming undone. Her quest for Imogen becomes a battle of angels and demons, where clockwork warriors and shattered souls battle to keep the shadows of the dead from bleeding into the land of the living. The cost of saving one world from the other may be the sacrifice of Portia’s lover once again.
TOWER OF THE FORGOTTEN
The final installment of Sara Harvey’s steampunk trilogy finds Portia Gyony trapped in a circus cage. Her ghostly lover, Imogen, has been resurrected to corporeal form, but a happy reunion must wait. Dark forces still lurk in the land of the dead, and they are bent on stealing the energies of the living to power a machine that will break the barriers between the realms of the living and the shadowlands beyond.
This time, Portia may not have the full support of the Primacy behind her as she battles to save humankind from powers beyond the understanding of mortal man. Deceit and disaster abound, bringing Portia and Imogen closer to each other and to doom than ever before. Old allies and old enemies converge in this final chapter of the nephilim’s power struggle over the world.
“Sara M. Harvey writes suspenseful, romantic and exciting steampunk that is not to be missed. An absolute delight!” — Lavie Tidhar, World Fantasy Award nominee and author of The Bookman and Camera Obscura
“The Labyrinth of the Dead is a sensual, apocryphal nightmare — an exquisite adventure that manages to be both epic and personal, sweet and vicious.” — Cherie Priest, Hugo Award-nominated author of Boneshaker, Fathom, and Four andTwenty Blackbirds
The Blood of Angels trilogy is available as a full set for a limited time only! Click here to buy all three books for $25!
A few years ago, I came out trans. I began to make the Change socially, online and professionally. The problem is, I have a substantial body of work under my deadname. So now what?
The first step was to decide what needed to be re-issued. All my publishers had gone belly up, and I had a bunch of novels and shorts, a few self-published collections and a shiny new name with no negative associations.
So I took stock. There is stuff that will never see the light of day again. It was fine for its time, but I am no longer where I was. I am less experimental, less willing to take risks. The stories I want to tell are different.
Some books made the cut. I decided to continue the Roaring 20s, the Dark Future and the Paranormal Memphis series. Since my collaborator was dead, I opted to leave the Cyberpunk universe where it was.
I’ve poked around the edges, done a couple short stories under Nick Rowan. But I haven’t had a major publication.
I am proud to announce the first Phoenix, rising from the ashes of the Closet, the first novel to be re-issued, rewritten and under my real name (or some of it, Nicholas Wyatt Rowan-Sparrow is a little unwieldy) is Curse of the Pharaoh’s Manicurists.
In which Charlie Doyle, the ink barely dry on his degree, takes service as a secretary to World War I flying ace and noted adventurer, Edward Kilsby, Lord Withycombe. He finds himself contending with seasickness, abduction, jilted fiancees and lovers, malaria and mummies, not to mention a side trip to the Egyptian Afterlife (most discomforting for a good Presbyterian boy).
The characters have been made more interesting, the plotting thicker. The sex… has evaporated. The book went from 25 percent sex (by word count) to one scene, done mostly as a religious ritual. Charlie is still hot for Edward. Edward is still a bit of a satyr. But they are interested in other things besides the contents of their trousers.
So enjoy a scene from the rewrite, and keep your eyes on my website for the announcement that Dreaming Big productions has released it.
From Curse of the Pharaoh’s Manicurists:
The reed torches on the wall flared to life. Khnum-ho-tep sat up and looked around with living eyes. There were odd memories of being someone called Charlie or Charles. Beside him, Ni-ankh-khnum—looking much different—shook his head and crawled over to him.
“Are you well, my love?”
“Better than the day they laid me beside you.” Khnum-ho-tep embraced his lover and touched noses in a kiss, just as he had made the tomb artists paint them in the inner chamber.
“I have missed touching you.” Ni-ankh-khnum held him for a long moment, and touched his nose again. “You look so different, love.”
Khnum-ho-tep traced the small mustache above his beloved’s mouth. “As do you. You never had this before.” He stroked the thick, wavy hair. “Yours was always shaved and it was black and curled tightly.” He paused and touched the odd bits of clear stone that sat before his eyes. When he took them off, the world and even his beloved Ni-ankh-khnum went blurry, as if seen through water or a heat shimmer. “And these.” He put them back on and could see clearly again.
“The bodies are only borrowed,” Ni-ankh-khnum reminded him. “I don’t know why or for how long.”
“How do we end this interminable exile? I will have forgotten all of my family’s Book, and not be able to find my path in the afterlife.”
“We must appease the gods, somehow. Khnum and Anubis and perhaps Osiris so he may compel Anubis to let us pass, if he is not inclined.” Ni-ankh-khnum stroked his lover’s new body, shoving away the top layer of clothing, so badly woven from poor cotton, and scowled at a second layer of cloth. “I wish to hold you properly and all I find is another barrier. This clothing is ridiculous.”
Khnum-ho-tep drew a little away. “Time is not our friend. These men will want their bodies back. How do we appease the gods?”
“We need Khnum to hear us again., He turned his face from us at our rash words after death.” Ni-ankh-khnum paced through the tomb chamber.
Khnum-hot-tep remembered he had always been better at the religious rituals than his lover. “We were angry. Time may have soothed his pain, as it has soothed our wrath. Khnum, lord of the water, the uniter.. What better offering could we make to him than water and a union of ourselves?”
Ni-ankh-khnum chuckled. “He is dead for four thousand years and suddenly he is the husband.”
Khnum-ho-tep gestured to the painting of him offering Ni-ankh-khnum a lotus., Many wives were painted the same way in the tombs they shared with their husbands. “Water, prayers, and then sacred loving, that Khnum may hear us and lift the curse.”
“Can he do so when Anubis laid it upon us?”
“He can at least gain us hearing with Anubis. Perhaps, after four thousand years, even the Lord of the Embalming Chamber can forgive.”
“We can hope.” Ni-ankh-khnum held up a waterskin. “Some things have not changed.” He took a drink. “Sweet, if a bit warm.”
Khnum-ho-tep found a pot and a bowl. He knelt before a painting of the potter god, the ram’s -headed man, seated at his wheel, making pots and small children of the clay, with stacks of both beside him. Ni-ankh-khnum brought him the waterskin and filled the pot.
Khnum-ho-tep poured water from the pot into the bowl and chanted the Morning Hymn to Khnum, which seemed quite appropriate. It might not be morning, but he and Ni-ankh-khnum were just awakening. Given the millennia they had slept, it was possible that Khnum needed to be awakened too.
NICK ROWAN is a bus driver who lives quietly in the mid-south. He writes and crafts to support his yarn habit, You can follow him on Facebook (NickRowan) or Patreon (NickRowan) or Twitter (@NickRowan16) or Tumblr (nicholasrowan) or blogger (NicholasRowanSp) or Etsy (thecarpenterswyfe). Nick has been writing professionally since 2004 as Angelia Sparrow. Check out his website here.
Trilogies and books in a series have become standard mode-of-operandi for authors in recent years. A trilogy is born when the story is too big to complete in just one novel, whereas books in a series simply continue the adventures of the characters established in the first book, introducing new plot-lines for each installment. The Night Flyer Trilogy is an example of the first.
I chose to pattern the three-novel arc on my two favorite trilogies–the Lord of the Rings and the original Star Wars Trilogy. In both of those celebrated works, there existed one over-arching plot, villain, and mission for the heroes to accomplish while being broken into three self-contained acts. Rather than employ impossible cliff-hangers to lure readers to the next book, I chose to follow the examples of Tolkien and Lucas by ending books one and two with a satisfactory wrap of the crisis at hand while still leaving the ultimate goal unfulfilled.
Some readers and movie goers are disappointed when a sequel does not live up to the original; much of my focus in writing Secrets of Milan was to ensure this was not the case. Thus far I have been relieved to read reviews stating the reader thought it was even better than Merchants of Milan.
The main plot line had already been laid out before I even started to write Secrets, but details emerged as I went along. One example is the heart-to-heart conversation between Madelena and her sister-in-law, Portia. Such an intimate scene was not part of the original conception, whereas big things like the church bombing was; but as I wrote Maddie’s story and saw that she longed so much to have someone to share the secret of who she loved with, I considered Portia–an older woman who shared the same household and was thoroughly in love with her husband, Alessandro (Maddie’s doting brother). If anyone in the cast of characters would be sympathetic to Maddie’s dilemma, it would be the pretty, petite Portia. I tried to broach the subject as organically as possible and hope it came across as such.
This book is somewhat longer than the first, but in the same basic word count range. One challenge was to keep the word count near to that of Merchants of Milan without skimping on anything important. Another decision that vexed me was how long to keep up the separation between Maddie and Florentina in the first segment of the novel. I wanted it to be long enough to create the desired tension and release, but not so long that it became tedious.
If anyone noticed, this book had its own internal trilogy, or three acts. The first was solving the romantic problem between the two lead characters while following some dead ends in the investigation. This culminated in the church bombing and Maddie resolving her issues. In the second act, the Night Flyer hunts down the man responsible for the church bombing while they work together on solving the mystery of the secret society which may have claimed another victim in one of Maddie’s friends. The third and final act is their trip to Rome for the exciting climax. As in the first book, this one ends with one villain defeated while the illusive mastermind is still at large.
In the third act, my researched paved the way for details to take form as I learned something new. Before writing Secrets of Milan, I had never heard of the Church of Quo Vadis south of Rome along the Appian Way. Upon discovering this unique landmark, I went back and included a reference to it in the clues so that Florentina would think of it when trying to find the suspected meeting place of the clandestine organization they sought to uncover. It is a small chapel built on the supposed site where Jesus appeared to St. Peter and told him to go back to Rome. Inside is on display a stone that has the impression of a set of human footprints that they claim belong to the risen Christ. The area near that chapel is home to one of many catacombs of Rome. From the original book outline, Florentina would seek out the shadowy cadre in catacombs, but discovering this tidbit provided me with the means by which she would find them. The catacombs dated back well over a thousand years in 1503, but had fallen out of use hundreds of years earlier and were not officially rediscovered until the mid-1500s, so Florentina needed another way to learn of an entrance. Enter the fascinating Church of Quo Vadis.
I have enjoyed researching and writing Secrets of Milan and hope readers think it lives up to my expectations for the second book of a trilogy. Characters and relationships grow and transform while we inch closer to uncovering the mysteries that lie hidden in the shadows. Look for lots of action in the final installment, Chaos in Milan!
Edale Lane is the author of an award-winning 2019 debut novel, Heart of Sherwood. She is the alter-ego of author Melodie Romeo, (Vlad a Novel, Terror in Time, and others) who founded Past and Prologue Press. Both identities are qualified to write historical fiction by virtue of an MA in history and 24 years spent as a teacher, along with skill and dedication in regard to research. She is a successful author who also currently drives a tractor-trailer across the United States. A native of Vicksburg, Miss., Edale (or Melodie as the case may be) is also a musician who loves animals, gardening, and nature.Follow her on Twitter at @edalelane or on her website!
While Florentina as the Night Flyer searches for a mysterious underworld organization that has attempted to murder the woman she loves, Maddie struggles to deal with the danger Florentina is courting. Her brother, Alessandro, has become the most prominent merchant of Milan, but the Night Flyer uncovers a secret so shocking it could destroy them all.
Secrets of Milan is the second book in Edale Lane’s Night Flyer Trilogy, a tale of power, passion, and payback in Renaissance Italy. If you like drama and suspense, rich historical background, three-dimensional characters, and a romance that deepens into true love, then you’ll want to continue the Night Flyer saga.
Today’s guest voice is Michael Williams of Seventh Star Press, one of our partners here at Literary Underworld. Over the past 25 years, Michael Williams has written a number of strange novels, from the early “Weasel’s Luck” and “Galen Beknighted” in the best-selling DRAGONLANCE series to the more recent lyrical and experimental “Arcady,” singled out for praise by Locus and Asimov’s magazines.
Williams’ highly anticipated City Quartet was completed by the publication of Tattered Men in October 2019. The four volumes may be read in any order–four stories that intertwine, centered in the same city, where minor characters in one novel become central in another:
“Vine: An Urban Legend” is the story of an amateur stage production In Louisville’s Central Park, gone darkly and divinely wrong.
“Dominic’s Ghosts” takes up the story of a son in search of his father in the midst of a murky conspiracy involving a suspicious scholar, a Himalayan legend, and subliminal clues from a silent film festival.
“Tattered Men” is the account of a disheveled biographer, writing the life story of a homeless man who may have been more than he ever seemed.
And “Trajan’s Arch” is a coming-of-age story replete with ghosts, a testimony to hauntings both natural and supernatural.
Bringing the stories together
It’s no great wisdom to say that setting is
character. Most writers know this
implicitly, especially if you’re writing fiction that resides in alternate,
changed, or parallel worlds. Tolkien’s
Middle Earth is as much an actor in the epic story as Frodo or Gandalf: it
shapes events, uncovers mysteries, guides possibilities. The same for Martin’s Westeros, Le Guin’s
Earthsea, Ray Bradbury’s Mars.
But also Garcia Marquez’s Macondo, Lawrence Durrell’s
Alexandria, William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. Place is a factor not only in speculative
fiction, but in many of the other stories that shape our reading.
I’ve been asked to comment on how my City Quartet is put
together, how it addresses the primary task of writing interrelated novels that
stand alone—an odd tactic in a publishing industry that is fond of the
series. Because the City Quartet is by
no means a series: instead it is an arrangement of books, a world of four
worlds that the reader can enter from any of its four volumes, can read in any
order. I like to think that in some ways
it is like a musical quartet, in which four parts commingle and interweave,
forming a work that is larger than the sum of its components.
And it starts with setting.
The City Quartet takes place in a modern Midwestern city
that is and is not my native Louisville.
Composed of the streets and neighborhoods, the suburbs and the sites
that would be recognizable to any native or visitor, the fictional city is
nonetheless a bending of the actual one, layered in time and in alternative
versions, but ultimately anchored in the very real city I remember, work in,
and visit. And as every city has its
lore, from history to urban legend, so does mine, and it intersects with that
of the actual Louisville, draws from the stories I heard in childhood and read
about in newspapers and local chronicles; nevertheless, a lot of my city is
invented, made up by and around the characters I put in the books.
Each of the books is a self-contained novel. Each has a narrative arc that I hope is successful. Whether you read Trajan’s Arch or Tattered Men,
Dominic’s Ghosts or Vine: An Urban Legend, you get a
beginning, middle, and end to a story; you have characters who change and grow
because of what happens to them; I hope you turn the pages eager to find out
what those changes are.
You get that if you read only one of the novels.
If you read a second, and a third or fourth, you get the
design and pattern and weaving of the books.
Primary characters in one book appear in secondary roles in another,
perhaps about the business of one of the stories you are not reading at the
time, glimpsed in an excerpt or a cameo.
Or perhaps they’re on an adventure only implied in a third book, or you
see the same scene from a different point of view: an encounter you saw in Trajan’s Arch you will see again in Dominic’s Ghosts, but from a different
point of view, so that it feels differently and means a different thing, and
the meaning of that encounter complicates and deepens.
But if you see the encounter only once, only in one book,
it should still make sense. You should
understand it in terms of one version without needing to refer to another novel
to find out what the hell is going on.
The novels relate to each
other more than they depend on each
other: their connection is more textural and musical than linear and causal.
So you can enjoy each by itself; taken together, however, you get more of the jokes, see more connections, and slowly come to the conclusion, I hope, that our stories, like ourselves, are part of each other.
Dominic’s Ghosts is a mythic novel set in the contemporary Midwest. Returning to the hometown of his missing father on a search for his own origins, Dominic Rackett is swept up in a murky conspiracy involving a suspicious scholar, a Himalayan legend, and subliminal clues from a silent film festival. As those around him fall prey to rising fear and shrill fanaticism, he follows the branching trails of cinema monsters and figures from a very real past, as phantoms invade the streets of his once-familiar city and one of them, glimpsed in distorted shadows of alleys and urban parks, begins to look uncannily familiar.
Amateur theatre director Stephen Thorne plots a sensational
production of a Greek tragedy in order to ruffle feathers in the small city where
he lives. Accompanied by an eccentric and fly-by-night cast and crew, he
prepares for opening night, unaware that as he unleashes the play, he has drawn
the attention of ancient and powerful forces.
Michael Williams’ VINE: AN URBAN LEGEND weds Greek Tragedy and urban legend with dangerous intoxication, as the drama rushes to its dark and inevitable conclusion.
Gabriel Rackett stands at the threshold of middle age. He lives north of Chicago and teaches at a small community college. He has written one novel and has no prospects of writing another, his powers stagnated by drink and loss. Into his possession comes a manuscript, written by a childhood friend and neighbor, which ignites his memory and takes him back to his mysterious mentor and the ghosts that haunted his own coming of age. Now, at the ebb of his resources, Gabriel returns to his old haunts through a series of fantastic stories spilling dangerously off the page–tales that will preoccupy and pursue him back to their dark and secret sources.
When a body washes ashore downstream from the city, the
discovery saddens the small neighborhood south of Broadway. A homeless man, T.
Tommy Briscoe, whose life had intertwined with a bookstore, a bar, and the
city’s outdoor theater had touched many lives at an angle. One was that of
Mickey Walsh, a fly-by-night academic and historian, who becomes fascinated
with the circumstances surrounding the drowning.
From the beginning there seems to be foul play regarding Briscoe’s death, and, goaded on by his own curiosity and the urging of two old friends, Walsh begins to examine the case when the police give it up. His journey will take him into the long biography of a man who might have turned out otherwise and glorious, but instead fell into and through the underside of history, finding harsh magic and an even harsher world. Despite the story of Tommy’s sad and shortened life, Walsh begins to discover curious patterns, ancient and mythic, in its events—patterns that lead him to secrets surrounding the life and death of Tommy Briscoe and reveal his own mysteries in the searching.
Congratulations to Underlord Denny Upkins, who has recently joined PEN America! PEN stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression, both in the U.S. and worldwide. “We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world,” reads their mission statement. Denny is their newest professional member, and we’re looking forward to what that cooperation may bring!
Denny also has a new piece up on 30up.tv, analyzing “Marvel’s most important superhero.” “The Perfect Storm” went live last month, and begins thus:
“Nine years old. That was the age of this Catholic Altar Boy when he saw God… or one of her manifestations, to be more precise.”
Of course, if you’re interested in more of Mr. Upkins’ work, you can snag his novel West of Sunset from Literary Underworld!
For Brecken Everett, there’s never a dull moment. When he’s not dealing with a demanding course load and honing his magic as top student at Lightmage University, he’s working as a private investigator and using his skills to protect the innocent from the darkest forest.
In two action-packed adventures, Breck demonstrates that outnumbered and outgunned is when he’s at his best. In Keepers, Brecken is enlisted to aid Jacob and Joshua Phoenix; twins, the last Pyrians, the last of an ancient race. The Brothers Phoenix are on a quest to uncover clues to their past. When they find a lost relic, a pair of demons claim it. With Brecken’s aid, the twins are determined to not only stop the threat, but have some fun in the process.
West of Sunset takes place a year after Keepers. All Brecken wants to do is get out of Atlanta. Heading to Los Angeles with his best friend, he plans a vacation of surf, sun, partying and relaxation… until the boys stumble upon a museum heist connected to a biker gang of vampires with plans to raise a most dark power. Matters get even more complicated with the involvement of a mysterious and powerful witch. Witches, museum heists, arising malevolent forces, vampire biker gangs, even Brecken’s vacations are just another day at the office.
Underlord Dennis R. Upkins recently had the opportunity to interview comics superhero Gail Simone. As Denny says in his prologue to the interview, if well-behaved women seldom make history, Gail has made history in defiance of the male-dominated comics industry.
Gail created the Women in Refrigerators concept, which called out misogyny and the sidelining of female characters in comics as perpetual victims to motivate male heroes. She went on to write several comics lines, including the longest run on Wonder Woman for any woman writer, as well as Birds of Prey and Deadpool.
A few excerpts from Gail’s discussion with Denny:
On Women in Refrigerators:
GAIL: Like most jobs, you get tested, you make errors, choices are given to you where the road isn’t clear, but I think your gut is a fair indicator of what the right thing to do is, most of the time. And I do feel lucky that the Women In Refrigerators AT LEAST named a trope that seemed to permeate adventure fiction on all levels. It was never my intent to tell people what stories are ‘off limits,’ it was just to say, ‘doesn’t this seem a little tired to you?’
It was never even intentional activism, it was a frustration I had to voice, and the wonderful thing is, people of all genders got it, they had the same uncomfortable feeling. So that was worth the constant hate mail and rage that was sent my way. None of that meant very much to me, still doesn’t.
On pushback against diversity in comics:
GAIL: I had great editors on Deadpool when I got started, and we raised sales and fan/critical reaction hugely. But they got promoted and the new editor was just awful. He said my Deadpool, which was literally FULL of shooting and action and boners, “had too much estrogen.” That’s a direct quote, someone actually gave this genius a job.
So that kind of thing happened, I remember a bit of pushback on making a character gay very early on. However, I have to say, DC was really advanced about that at the time, in particular. I don’t remember them ever pushing back about diverse characters, even things like the first Transgender character in a Batman-universe book. They were behind us, and I am very appreciative of that.
On the future of the comic book landscape:
GAIL: I want comics shops to be healthy. Comics will mutate and absolutely SHOULD be in as many venues as possible. But the front line is comics shops, and they’re being obliterated by piracy, rent hikes, and other factors, it all has to be addressed. Other than that, I want more The Walking Dead style hits, books that bring in readers who weren’t reading, say, Spider-Man.
On advice for aspiring creators:
GAIL: I say bring your principles with you. No one wants to be preached at while reading Batman. But acknowledging a wider world is saying, “I do not accept that this world that I love, this universe that I am so deeply entrenched in, has to stay mired in amber since 1940.”
Also, if your plot is dragging, have Spider-Man web some dude.
Dennis R. Upkins is an Atlanta native and member of the Literary Underworld. He is the author of Hollowstone and West of Sunset, and regularly critiques and analyzes the representation and portrayal of minorities in comics and media. When he’s not out saving the world and/or taking it over in his spare time, Upkins’s hobbies include drawing, modeling, acting, photography, cosplay, rollerblading, martial arts and of course writing. His website can be found here.
Today’s guest author is Michael Houtchen, whose debut novel Tybee Island H-Bomb premieres this week from our friends at Seventh Star Press. Here’s Michael’s story in his own words:
Kentucky has always been my home. I was born in Owensboro and raised in Daviess County. Life was simple back then. I grew up with outhouses, hand-pumps, and coal stoves. If you wanted hot water, you heated it on the stove.
Both of my parents have passed on. I have a half-brother, Danny, but most of our younger lives he lived with his father, so we didn’t get to see each other often. Looking back, sadly, it was like being an only child. My closest friends were the cows, chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, turkeys, geese, ducks, and horses my dad kept on our small farm. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out. Farm animals can be so jealous. Our grocery store – mason jars of mom’s canned vegetables and the occasional trip into town to the IGA.
My dad was a woodsman. You could give him a shotgun, a box of shells and
a book of matches, and he could disappear into the forest for weeks. I used to
hunt with him, but I was never the woodsman. I can’t tell you how many deer,
squirrels, rabbits, raccoons and ground hogs I’ve eaten.
My wife, Stephanie, and I have five kids (three boys and two girls) and
eight grandchildren (five boys and three girls). All but one son live here in
town. You should see Christmas day at our house.
I’ve had several jobs during my lifetime. When I was thirteen, I had a summer job. I was a soda-jerk at the Utica Junior High School playground. The school is now defunct. It is not my fault the school went defunct.
As an adult, I started out as a janitor. Loved the work, but not the pay. Mapping came next. In other words, I was a draftsman who created maps from surveys. I did that for over twenty years. Mapping full time and going to Brescia College (it’s now a university) at night, I got a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Career change: I was a computer analyst for over twenty years.
There came a day when I realized I was the dinosaur of computer science. Technology had passed me by. So I up and retired. That was in 2014, and I haven’t missed working a day. Truth be known, I do miss the people I worked with.
Notice: I’ve said nothing about writing. I could tell you a pretty good story, but putting it on paper was another thing. Stephanie, my wife, asked, “And why not?” I had no answer.
I should keep this short, so, I will tease you with two important events
that happened in my life; two events that I haven’t already discussed. When we
meet each other, don’t hesitate to ask me about them.
Monday, September 6, 1965, was a Labor Day, and I was out of school. On
that day, I came in contact with a high voltage powerline. Seven thousand two
hundred volts entered my hand and exited my head and my feet.
That’s not a typo. It was 7200 volts. I was given up for dead for three days. There is a “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. Ask me about it when we meet.
The second event: September 17, 2017, I was ordained a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church. It keeps me busy these days. If you’re not sure what a permanent deacon does, Google it.
There you have it: My life story summed up in 1,000 words or less. It sounds like a writing contest, doesn’t it? There’s so much I left out. I could tell you about riding the rails, or the time I hung myself. But those will have to wait until we meet.
Michael on the elements of a good thriller:
A solid series plot.
I like for each book in a series to be standalone, but the
overall series could have a well thought out plot, a “traveling” storyline, if
you will, traveling from book to book. I
wrote a four book series, and I knew were each book was going and how each book
Without interesting characters, the series could/would get
boring or grow stale. Adding/removing
characters helps keep the storyline fresh.
Yes, after a while, there’s nothing wrong with killing off main characters
or having them move away. People will
hate you, but that’s real life. Never,
never kill a pet! Just look at John
A thriller takes place in the world with real world
situations — no hocus pocus. Even if the
series takes place on, say, one of Saturn’s moons, it should still have real
world situations, like the 1981 movie Outland
staring Sean Connery.
A good series will take you down an expected path, just to
come to a dead end. But don’t drop the
solution in the last chapter, or by the introduction of a new character with
the solution near the end of the story.
Work your way, chapter by chapter, to the solution. Keep the reader, guessing. I love hearing people say ̶ I
thought it was this person until you killed him.
Take the time to do the research. I once had a “scene” where a person was starting a helicopter. I went through all the buttons and gauges just fine, only to find out, I had the pilot in the wrong seat. The helicopter inventor was left-handed, so pilots sit in the right seat. A pilot friend, who flew helicopters in Vietnam, pointed out my error.
Tybee Island H-Bomb
The government lost a hydrogen bomb around Tybee Island, Georgia, in
1958, or is that an old wives’ tale?
If it is only a tale, then why are three young men trying to find it, in
hopes of selling it to make a dirty bomb?
Before the week is out, six friends from Kentucky will get caught up in kidnapping, murder, and treason, while trying to save one of their own and perhaps the citizens of Tybee Island and Savannah, Georgia.
Today’s guest blogger is Joann H. Buchanan, whose latest book is being released this week from Seventh Star Press. Joann was raised in a military family and at the age of 19, followed in her father’s footsteps and joined the Navy. She went to college at OPSU in Oklahoma, majoring in CIS, but the love of writing made her ultimately come back to it. After Dark is Joann’s fifth book. Joann and her husband John have five children and live happily in the heartland of middle America.
The hurdles of being indie
Everyday there are over 500,000 books published on Amazon.
That is the biggest hurdle. How to stand out in a sea filled with water?
The most obvious answer is marketing. There are a lot of indie authors who can’t afford to market a book the way it should be.
There are a few ways to get around this.
One, hire someone who is versed in marketing and can make it easier on you or two, gather a few people who are in the same boat and work together. The second is probably going to end up being the most rewarding because you make friends in the journey and you don’t feel so alone. Also, set your expectations one day at a time. If you receive a review about your book and it’s fabulous, use that to keep moving forward. If you are able to help a friend spread the word, use that to keep moving forward.
That’s the most important thing… keep moving forward. Ultimately you are your own worst enemy. If a new author focuses on the fact that you aren’t a number one best selling author right off the bat, then you are focusing on the wrong thing.
As a friend of mine has told me, this is a marathon, not a
sprint. In other words, be prepared for a long journey and celebrate every step
that moves you forward.
I have been fortunate in this business in that I have not
only made money, but I have connected with some amazingly talented people. They
have given me a map when I was lost, an ear when I wanted to vent and a laugh
when I have felt down. Allow yourself to exist in the moment. Eventually the
bottom line will take care of itself as long as you are existing in the moment.
The other thing, appreciate your fans. They don’t have to
buy your book. So even if they don’t particularly enjoy one book but they loved
another, tell them thank you for reading it. I think some writers forget the
fans. One of my favorite things to do is answer emails from fans. They are
everything when it comes to the literary world.
The question is what is the biggest hurdle for an indie
writer—I think the biggest hurdle is ourselves. We should band together to make
things easier. I’ve seen authors put others down instead of celebrating
accomplishments. Don’t do that. Remember that today it is their turn but
tomorrow it may be your turn. Wouldn’t it be better to celebrate one another
and help one another than to walk all over one another or allow jealousy to
If you are an indie writer and you want to work together to move forward, let me know. I will gladly be part of your group to help one another move forward. To me, that’s what it’s all about.
After Dark: Children of Nox series No. 3
The time of three arrives….
The stained one is revealed.
The dream protector’s power grows.
A demon possesses the body of Jonah.
All the pieces are in place, guided by Trinity.
Gods, goddesses, and supernatural forces converge,
and a clash of powers looms that will determine the fate of the world.
What will come after the dark?
The thrilling conclusion of the Children of Nox Series awaits you!
Saturday morning, a meeting room filled with people from all stages of
publishing. Multi-pubbed award winners to aspiring writers who hadn’t finished
their first draft yet, working in all genres, found their spots and settled in.
Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in business strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential industry newsletter for authors. She also maintains an award-winning blog for writers at JaneFriedman.com; her expertise has been featured by The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, PBS, CBS, the National Press Club and many other outlets.
With those kinds of credentials, it’s
no wonder people were engaged and interested for the day-long workshop called “Are
You Ready for Success?”
The main points included learning how
to build an author platform, optimize branding and messaging to appeal to readers,
and employ strategize in your website, blog, newsletters and social media to
reach and engage your audience.
The first point she made was to
define “platform,” which she equated to visibility. Right off the bat, the
audience was asked to think, not in terms of individual sales, but in terms of
how we reach our audience at large.
And the only way to reach that
audience was to do the work.
In other words, write the book.
Building an author brand. The idea of a brand is to build an expectation in readers for what you deliver in text, design, and action. Presenting a unified, even repetitive image across all your media helps solidify that brand in the readers mind through consistency.
Optimizing your books starts with metadata, which consists of the book description, cover, editorial reviews, categories and keywords. She mentioned that one of the ways readers know what they like is through comparison, which is why you often see phrases like, “If you like X, you’ll love Y!” in book marketing.
Whether or not those comparisons are entirely accurate, knowing who and what is selling in your genre or niche can help you identify your target audience. Yasiv.com is a helpful tool for finding similar books, as well as looking through your also-boughts, checking reviews for mentions of similar authors, as well as Goodreads lists and those media roundups of “Top 10 Whatever Books To Read Next.”
Writing compelling book descriptions
is more than telling the plot. Using headlines, bold type, and white space
effectively, including editorial reviews from bloggers and media, as well as
working in appropriate categories and keywords can help readers find you in
She also suggested updating your book
descriptions periodically to take advantage of new trends. A little work every
few months might bring in fresh readers.
Consider your strengths in generating leads. Are you a good blogger? Can you do a podcast or run a Twitter chat? Maybe you’re great at networking – not all authors are introverts. All of those and more are ways to generate leads, which in publishing translates to finding readers.
One way to discover some of your
possible lead generation avenues is to do a SWOT analysis. Strengths,
Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Focus on maximizing what you can (write
more books!), and taking the chances that come your way.
Platform Assets: Website first, because it’s your official face as an author. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be functional. It should look like you – an opportunity to reiterate your branding – and it should have all the information about your books a reader or a potential contact might need.
Social media is another platform asset, because it’s a way to connect you to the community of readers, as well as a way to network with other authors and publishing professionals. It is not your best selling tool, but it is a way to brand yourself and build relationships.
The final leg of your platform asset
is your email newsletter. When you build your list organically, it consists of
your most engaged readers. They’re the ones who will evangelize for you.
She addressed a few different
strategies for producing original content. For instance, readers enjoy media
content lists — what you’re reading/watching/listening to/streaming right now.
Q&As and interviews with other authors are of interest, as well as behind
the scenes peeks into the writing and publishing process. Finally, funny is
always a good bet for entertaining, value added content.
You can also send out RSS feeds, blog
roundups and automatic digests for newsletters.
One of the biggest keys to
maintaining a vibrant, engaged newsletter list is consistency in frequency,
format, look, and voice.
If you need a priority list for your
platform assets, attend to your website first, then your newsletter, then pick
one social media platform where you can show up regularly.
If you’d like to learn more about the
Missouri chapter of Romance Writers of America, the organization that hosted
the special event, please visit https://www.morwa.org/wp/
Sela Carsen is an award-winning author of paranormal and sci-fi romance — with or without sex and dead bodies. Your pick. She maintains a permanent nerd-on for fairytales and mythology, and openly hoards reference books about obscure folklore. Born a wanderer, she and her family have finally settled in the Midwest. Until they move again, at least. http://selacarsen.com/