Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Interview with Michael Meyerhofer

I've got another interview with a fantasy author for you all today, so I know you're super excited! Michael Meyerhofer is the author of Wytchfire, the first book in the Dragonkin Trilogy, and he's here to tell us all about it! Be sure to enter the Wytchfire blog tour giveaway at the end of the post!

Sales pitch time! Tell us a little bit about Wytchfire and why it should be the next book added to everyone’s to-read list.  

Glad to… but first, thanks for having me!  I’m happy to be here to talk about Wytchfire, a dark/epic fantasy novel set in a world of murder and political intrigue, where magic is more curse than blessing.  The story is mostly told from the perspective of Rowen Locke, a sardonic mercenary who just so happens to have a conscience, though we also get to see through the eyes of an eclectic cast of characters who inhabit all sides of this mounting conflict.  While the novel is fast-paced, hopefully with enough twists and fight scenes to satisfy a pay-per-view fan, I wove in a lot of moral ambiguity and social commentary, too.  Oh, and dark humor.  I’m a huge fan of dark humor, too.  I guess if I had to boil the novel and its sequels down to one sentence, I’d say “Think Game of Thrones meets The X-Men.”

Wytchfire is first in the Dragonkin trilogy, but I know when I plan “trilogies,” they tend to, um, expand. So do you have all three books planned out? Any possible spinoffs and/or sequels? Or will you be visiting an entirely new world next?  

It’s funny you ask that because just the other day, I was looking over my series notes (which, were I to print them off, would kill more trees than lightning), and thinking about how I’d originally planned this to be a five book series.  Ultimately, I decided to condense it to a more fast-paced trilogy, but I also left plenty of room for a second trilogy to follow.  Having already written Book II of the trilogy and started Book III (titled The Knight of the Crane and The War of the Lotus, respectively), I have this first trilogy pretty well laid out.  I have some notes on a second trilogy, plus some ideas for a stand-alone novella or two, but those are still mostly floating around my brain at this point.  Meanwhile, I’ve also started working on a completely separate fantasy series.  That book is “done” though I haven’t quite ironed out where that whole series will be going yet.

Other than your own, who are your favorite fictional dragons? And fictional (or real!) witches? 

Oh, that’s a tough one! The kid in me still has a soft spot for Vermithrax from the 1981 movie, Dragonslayer, along with Heart’s Blood from Jane Yolen’s Pit Dragon Chronicles and Fireflash from the Dragonlance books.  As for witches, I think some of the creepiest were in Rosemary’s Baby and Dune, though I also have an affinity for Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter.  I also currently love/loathe Melisandre from the Song of Ice and Fire books (and the Game of Thrones TV series). As for real witches, I’m afraid I’m sworn to secrecy.  

In addition to being a novelist, you are also a poet! Do you prefer writing poetry or fiction? And which is easier to edit? 

Honestly, since both have been a big part of my life for so long, I don’t think I could choose one over the other.  They’re both my children.  They both bring me joy—and they both have their own special ways of throwing tantrums so bad that I have to pull the car over.  When it comes to editing, it obviously takes a lot of hours to comb through a manuscript of prose, then do it again, then again… then maybe do it four or five more times.  With poetry, though, the editing process is less global but still intense.  You can spend hours tinkering with just one single line.  So when it comes to editing, my cop-out answer is that both probably take the about the same effort, though they require it in different ways.

As writers, we often have preferences about language that I would hesitate to find neurotic. How about you? Any favorite constructions or punctuation marks? 

I’ve always had a soft spot for sentence fragments.  I love using them to convey action and tension, though obviously, they’re also very risky because the reader has to be able to tell that you’re using them on purpose.  If they think it’s just a typo, you lose credibility.  I’m also a near-rabid fan of em dashes, both in prose as well as poetry, so much so that I usually have to go back and force myself to take some of them out.

You’re magically transported to a medieval-esque fantasy setting. What’s one modern invention you hope you’re holding onto and can take with you?  

Well, I wanted to say my Keurig because I have a feeling I’m going to need some extra energy, but I suppose I’ll go with the obvious answer and pick some kind of handgun with an absurdly large capacity magazine, since I might have trouble finding electrical outlets.

What’s one question you wish someone had asked you on your tour that you haven’t gotten to answer yet? Question and answer, please! 

Ha, thanks! I’ve been waiting for someone to ask about the biggest inspirations behind all the different realms and city-states in my fantasy world, along with some of the different races.  Being an unapologetic documentary nerd, I’m always collecting historic tidbits and trying to work them in, or reimagine them somehow.  

In Wytchfire, the Lotus Isles obviously have some similarities to Japan, though especially with the Isle Knights, I tried to portray them less like the samurai as we see them in movies and mythology—wholly honorable, undefeatable—and more like how they actually were.  Ivairia is my take on medieval Europe, especially France.  The Dhargots (who take a more prominent role in the sequel, The Knight of the Crane) started out as a cross between the cultures of Rome and Carthage, though as I further developed their culture, I really emphasized the Roman ambition for bloody overexpansion.  

The Free Cities are patterned somewhat after ancient Greece, with a lot of influence from Archimedes, though the southern city of Atheion is probably more of a synthesis of Venice and ancient Alexandria.

As for the Sylvs of the Wytchforest, though they’re similar on the surface to fantasy Elves, I also wanted to avoid the obvious tropes and freshen up my portrayal.  The Sylvs are haughty isolationists, sure, but they’re also very different from the pristine Elves of Tolkien’s Middle-earth.  In fact, in Wytchfire, many of the Sylvs are paranoid to such a degree that they routinely engage in infanticide in order to protect their bloodlines.  That figures heavily into their conflict with the Shel’ai… those Sylvs born seemingly at random with the ability to work magic.  

I mentioned earlier that magic is seen more as a curse than a gift.  That’s because even centuries later, the whole continent is still trying to recover from the brutal reign of the Dragonkin (a previous generation of sorcerers who literally gained their powers by draining the life-essence of dragons).  The result is that even after the Dragonkins’ defeat, it’s simply taken on faith that magic is a bad thing.  An unquestioned, universal mistrust of magic permeates all social and political dealings, along with a general dislike of foreigners, leading to the core conflicts of the series.  Since the paranoia and bigotry of Rowen’s world really aren’t so different from our own, hopefully this will give the audience a special insight into a place that is not only savage, but also quite beautiful and exotic.

Ha, I just realized that my response turned into a mini treatise.  Thanks for indulging me!  I appreciate your invitation to talk about Wytchfire and I hope your good readers will give it a try.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Self-Publishing & the Brownies All Brownies Dream of Being

If you follow me on facebook and twitter, you know about a big announcement I made almost two weeks ago. But before I get into that I want to talk about something very important: Brownies. 

Several weeks back, my doctor put me on a low salt diet, which has been a tragedy to the world of baking. Or at least my coworkers and fellow gamers, who were getting used to the variety of exciting treats I literally cooked up. So I went on a quest to find recipes without a lot of salt in them, which excluded anything with peanut butter, marshmallows, baking powder, baking soda, buttermilk, candy pieces... Basically anything. But! Then I discovered that brownies had very little salt in them. And really, if you use unsalted butter and leave out the tiny bit of salt, Presto! You have delicious salt-free baked goods.

But I had this problem. You see, the Safeway near me used to make the most amazing brownies. They were amazing. I had to stop buying them because I'd eat them too fast. So when I went to make brownies, I wanted to find a recipe that was just as good, but it was hard. But I persevered. I combed the internet looking for pictures that looked like my beloved Safeway brownies, and eventually I found these. I was nervous about doing them for a while, because they require a makeshift double boiler, and that seems awfully fancy for my rudimentary skills, but I gave them a shot. I added half a cup of sugar, because the notes at the bottom seemed to suggest I would like that better, and OMG. They were amazing. The best homemade brownies I have ever had ever. I will probably now make them too much. I might even be a little bad and try them with peanut butter chips.

Okay, so now that we've gotten the important thing out of the way, let's talk about my upcoming book! The title is Catching a Man, and it's the first book in the Valeriel Investigations series. The story is about Kadin Stone, a female detective in a 1950s-esque monarchy where women are oppressed and the police force is a privatized series of for-profit companies. If that sounds a little "different" to you, that was my goal. I wanted to write something completely different than had ever been written before. To that end, I think it is very different from the Earthbound Angels series. But, then, I have seen many interviews with authors where they said their new books were big departures from their old work, and I couldn't see a stylistic difference. So I don't promise different, but if you liked Oracle and Chaos, that's all to the good.

So, self-publishing. I wrestled with the decision to do this for quite a long time. There's still a lot of stigma against self-publishing in the industry, and to do it professionally is costly. And I'm trying to do it as professionally as possible. I've hired the same cover artist and formatter who did Oracle and Chaos, so I know he's good. I have contracted with a professional editor who will be rigorous with my work. I'm looking into promotion opportunities now---Net Galley, blog tours, etc. Of course, with none of that is there any guarantee that I'll actually sell any books, but I'm actually okay with that. I mean, I definitely want to sell books, and I'm going to try my darnedest to do so. But the most important thing to me is to put out a product I can be proud of.

I've considered self-publishing from a lot of angles, including the state of the publishing industry, the marketability of Catching a Man, my own expectations and capabilities in terms of writing and publicity, and the time it would take to get into the hands of my readers. And I decided that self-publishing Catching a Man was the best choice for me and this book at this point in my life. And hopefully it will work out, because once I publish the first book, I'm going to have to write and publish all eight in the series.

"Hold up a minute!" I'm sure you are now saying. "Forget this self-pubbing or not self-pubbing. Tell us about this eight book series you have planned!" 

Sigh. Yes, my series do get to be on the long side. This week I came up with something awful to do to Carrie in the twelfth Earthbound Angels book. And I write slowly. (I'm working on Earthbound Angels 3, I promise! Just... slowly.) But I think Valeriel Investigations has a really great story arc that will unfold over the course of the 8 books. And unlike Earthbound Angels, I'm pretty sure the series will stop there and not stretch into infinity.

So when will Catching a Man hit the e-shelves? I'm hoping for November at this point, because I'd like to have it for Chessiecon, but I want to make sure I take the time to give it the editing it needs. I should have a cover later this summer, and I plan for it to be gorgeous enough to tide you over.

So. Yeah. New book. New series. Self-publishing. Wish me luck!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Guest Post by J. Leigh

So I was thinking about writing a post for you all this week, and I knew you'd go into shock. Because an author interview AND a post? In one week? But I was going to do it anyway. For you. But then I realized that I had another guest post scheduled for this week, and I knew if I put up three posts in one week, you might keel over dead. Or, you know, start expecting that kind of posting from me. So I decided to hold off on the post until next week. Bright side, you will still get everything I want to say about the new book I announced this week without the whining about being sick you would have gotten otherwise. Unless I'm still sick next week. Because then there will be whining. Oh, yes, will there be whining.

Anyway, today I am not talking about me. Today I am talking about J. Leigh and her new epic fantasy Way Walkers: Tangled Paths, recently released from Red Adept Publishing. Lovers of epic fantasy will definitely want to check out Tangled Paths, as well as Ms. Leigh's interactive adventure Way Walkers University, available from Choice of Games. And lovers of prizes will want to check out the blog tour giveaway at the end of this post.

Ms. Leigh has elected to write for us today about something we have in common. No, not being among the greatest fantasy authors known to man, though we obviously share that. I am talking about our love of small, furry felines. Included are pictures of Ms. Leigh's cats---Ra is the black one, Athena is the tortie, and Isis is the grey one. So without further ado, I give you

Why Cats Are Amazing,
and Why Every Author (Unless Allergic) Should Own One
by J. Leigh

If you're on the internet, you are probably very well-aware that cats need no help from me in being adored for their cuteness and general furry-awesomeness. However, as an author and cat guardian myself, I have discovered that there really are a number of writer-specific benefits to owning a cat or two. So, here are eight reasons why I believe every writer (unless allergic) should own a cat:

A cat on your lap makes you write longer.
Really, I can't tell you how many times this has happened to me. I'm typing away, not really feeling it and then, bam! cat jumps into my lap. Now I have to keep writing, to delve deep and push through whatever issue it is I was just contemplating procrastinating till later. It seems silly, but it works. Because cats usually aren't automatically affectionate, when they do bestow upon an owner their affection, there's an appreciation, if you will. This means you don't move right away when they cuddle up to you. You stay longer, you work harder, and have better writing habits because of it.

Cats give backrubs. (at least, mine do.)
If you are a writer, you're going to have back and shoulder problems. It's sort of inevitable, especially if you've made the choice that this is a career and you're not going to do anything else. About three days into a very bad shoulder injury, I noticed that if I took to writing in my leather chair with the high back, my one cat, Athena, would literally come up behind me, balance her back feet on the back of the chair, and then proceed to do her 'kneading' or 'making biscuits' trick on my sore shoulder with her front feet. Now she's a soft touch and doesn’t use her claws, so the effect was just like getting a decent shoulder rub from a person. I also discovered that she (and her sister cats) will team up and do a full body massage on me if I lay down with a particular fuzzy blanket I own draped over myself. So skip the expensive masseuse, buy a microfiber blanket and let your cats go to town.

Cats can help you write fight scenes.
This also falls into the general category of 'cats are ninjas'. I have often when stuck on a fight scene, grabbed a piece of string, lured out one to two cats and then enacted a move, counter-move saga for the ages. The fluid movements, the unanticipated reactions, the sudden flips, it just helps me to break down the play-by-play options I have when determining what two characters will do in a fight. I highly recommend it, so go, grab a feather toy and get to fencing with your furry literary inspiration!

They serve as an excellent template for villains.
As lovely, fluffy, and sweet as cats can be, they can also be the embodiment of evil. They stalk their prey, torturing their victims once they pounce in brutal heartless abandon as they pull off an arachnid's legs one by one with gleeful, kitty giggles. Okay, well, maybe not, but it's easy to imagine, and that’s my point. They offer us a glimpse into the mind of a killer, because, well cats are hunters, and the ones we feed full of dry and wet food really only hunt to satisfy their instinctual need--ie, for fun. What can be more villainous than that--and what better starting point can you have to craft a fictitious antagonist?

Forced organization
 If you've ever owned a cat, you know when they are bored or want attention, they sit on your papers, eat your pencils and knock important notebooks to the floor. Now while this might initially seem like a drawback, for me it did something that was very necessary.  It forced me to be more organized, to be more neat and methodical with my writing environment. In the past, books and post-it notes were laid out in wanton abandon, but now the fear of these items being shredded or misplaced under other furniture made me put my precious items away in folders and on shelves, far from kitty attack. It also forced me to be far, far more respectful of my laptop. I keep the cord neatly wrapped and in its bag, to avoid cats' natural tendency to chew on it's enticing, string-like appearance. I also don't leave the laptop itself open, as to avoid creative paw-induced additions by kitties seeking warmth.

Help keep you to a schedule
This again, is especially helpful if you're trying to write full-time. Who makes certain you're up every day at the same time without an alarm clock? Hungry kitty, that’s who. Who waits patiently beside your writing chair for you to get going so they may sit on your lap? That’s right, kitty! Cats can be very habit oriented-- mine know about when it's time for me to take a break, and when it's time to finish eating and get back to work. And they are far, far less dictatorial about it than any office manager I've ever known.

Physical therapy for hands
I've been having a terrible bout of carpal tunnel recently, and nothing helps keep down the swelling of my hands like scratching a cat. It's a non-repetitive moment, because the cat's head is always interacting with your hand, and it's very cathartic on top of it. Even full-body stroking of their backs is very helpful as it relieves the numbness in my hands and gets them to 'wake up' again with minimal pain. On that same line, cats can also serve as a substitute for a heating pad in a pinch.

Cats soothe the weary writer's soul. 

Let's face it, a lot of us writers are sensitive little messes. We fret, we obsess, we ponder and rehash every little turn of phrase and choice of word until late at night. Cats are, by their fuzzy, cuddly nature, therapy. A cat's purr is incredibly calming, more akin to the humming zen meditation chants of monks or crystal singing bowls. There's nothing better than petting soft fur, listening to that purr and forgetting your troubles. Granted, cats will head butt you and purr in your face when they want attention, but even the most persistent cat will leave you be if you peel them off of you and put them on the floor. And when you do get up for a break, they settle in and take your seat, warming the cushion for you while you're gone. They are there for you, day in and out, with their love of strings, warm blankets and you, their owner. You feed them, you rescue them out from the cold or some pet store window, and they rescue you right back.

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Interview with Kate Moretti

I've got another interview for you today, this time with New York Times bestselling author Kate Moretti, author of the aforementioned bestseller Thought I Knew You and her brand new women's fiction thriller Binds That Tie. (Can you have a women's fiction thriller? Well, you can now!) We asked Kate some (not particularly) hard-hitting questions to get into the head of a successful author.

Welcome, Kate! In Binds That Tie, you decided to feature characters who were… less sympathetic than your average protagonists. How did that feel? Did you go all out making them horrible, or did you find little things to relate to them?

I wanted my readers to be conflicted. Ultimately, they both perform horrendous acts, but I wanted their actions to be understandable. I wanted to make unlikeable characters sympathetic. Maggie had a cold childhood. Chris is trying to make amends for mistakes in his past. They’re both victims of circumstance, and prisoners of their choices. 

Your two books, Binds That Tie and Thought I Knew You are pretty different. Now, I know there’s no asking a parent to choose a favorite child, but if you had to pick, which of your books do you like better and why?

Binds That Tie, without a doubt. I learned so much about writing. The craft, the art of subtlety, showing instead of telling, deeper characterization. I truly loved Binds. I thought Thought I Knew You was a good book, and it was a decent first effort, but I was learning. I still am learning. I’m going to love each book more than the next, I hope. It means I haven’t gotten complacent.

Writing a second book is both the same as and different from writing a second book. How have you felt about the process of writing and publishing your second book, compared to your first?

Writing your second book is TERRIFYING! What if people hate it? What if I’m a one hit wonder? What if people don’t like that it’s different than my first? What if I reuse stuff from my first book and forget? There’s so much anxiety. 

I have heard a rumor that you are not a fan of the fantasy genre—or any of the less “real” speculative fiction genres. I say this not to judge, but because I am almost the exact opposite. What is it that draws you more to the stories about “real people”?

I’m sorry. I’m not. I can’t follow it. I feel like an idiot when I read science fiction or fantasy or any kind of speculative fiction. I’ve TRIED. I want more than anything to be supportive of my friends who are really good writers! Mary Fan, you, Paige Daniels! I did read Artificial Absolutes, which is the only true science fiction book I’ve ever read and I really, truly enjoyed it. I just started Non-Compliance, by Paige Daniels and I’m enjoying that, too. I have no idea why I’m drawn to “real people”, other than I can’t get fully immersed in a book if I have to keep wondering about the rules of the world or the technology. I get distracted by it, maybe? You know what? I don’t actually know.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to market your book?

I sent it to Oprah. Not all marketing efforts are successful.

So what’s next from your writerly brain? Suspense? Romance? Something entirely new?

My third novel, THE VANISHING YEAR, is about a woman ten years out of witness protection who locates her birth mother only to discover that someone will stop at nothing to keep them apart. It’s part suspense, has romantic elements but in my weird, complicated way. 

So, I have to ask. Because it is my question. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

I wanna clone myself at will. Is that a superpower. I want three of me. One of me that works. One of me that does great things with my kids so I can stop missing their events at school. And a third one to write.

What’s one question you wish someone had asked you on your tour, but no one did. Question and answer, please.

You already did! You asked me which book I liked better and why. I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to brag about how much I love Binds That Tie.

And we hope all the readers out there do too! Thanks for being with us, Kate! And Happy Birthday!