alanajoli: (mini me short hair)
A few weeks ago, Bill Bodden, one of my fellow contributors to Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror, graciously hosted me as a guest post on his blog. Today, I'm delighted to return the favor! Bill is a fantastic writer and was a driving force behind getting Haunted attention online, and it's been a delight to work with him. So without further ado: here's Bill!

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Myths and Mysteries

I've been thinking about mythology quite a bit lately. Much of my more recent writing work has involved the Cthulhu Mythos; I've been doing quite a bit of work for Modiphius Entertainment at their Achtung! Cthulhu tabletop role-playing game line. This mythology, created by H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton SMith, August Derleth and many others, postulates that the universe is a vast place and that human beings are not the center of it, as we had supposed for centuries. This was a new concept in the 1930s, and as one can imagine, not a popular one with scholars, academics and the clergy. Regardless, it caught on with readers to some degree, and was rediscovered -- thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of August Derleth to keep Lovecraft's writing alive -- in the late 1960s.

One of the more interesting aspects of this mythos is its inclusivity; anyone can add to it. There are no official high priests to declare what is and is not canon -- only self-appointed ones. That others could build on his work was Lovecraft's wish, stated explicitly in letters to friends who had also contributed stories and ideas. I believe it was the first shared-world concept in literature, and remains a successful one to this day. That inclusivity has brought new blood and new ideas to the fold -- not all of it good, of course, but the vast majority of the material is well worth reading, if you like reading that sort of thing to begin with.

I cut my teeth on classic mythology: the Greeks, the Norse, the Egyptians, the Aztecs, all had fascinating stories designed to explain why Things Are The Way They Are. In this day and age we have a greater understanding of science -- mostly -- and have a better grasp of which things are natural phenomena and which are not. Science itself has nearly become a religion, supplanting the hazy explanations of the past with facts and logic of today. As our knowledge increases, we will doubtless learn more about the supernatural and paranormal, and when we do we may find, like so many of the protagonists in Lovecraft's work, that the real story is both far more interesting and vastly more terrifying than we had imagined.

***

Bill Bodden has been writing in the tabletop gaming industry for more than a decade. His latest works include material in the Achtung! Cthulhu Keeper's Guide, and is currently working on a project for White Wolf Publishing/CCP. His most recent fiction is the story "In The Shadow Of His Glory" in Sidekicks! from Alliteration, Ink. Visit Bill's website at www.billbodden.com
alanajoli: (mini me short hair)
When I asked friend of the blog Brian LeTendre to write a guest blog about his latest novel, Lovecraft's Curse, I didn't expect myself to appear in his entry! Since Brian's been so vital in helping me find an audience for my writing -- Brian has been a huge supporter of the Redemption Trilogy since Into the Reach first came out, and was one of the first reviewers (and definitely the first interviewer!) to cover the book -- I'm excited to know that the support and inspiration travel in both directions.

Without further ado, Brian LeTendre!

--

Lovecraft's Curse Front Cover Drive Thru

My pal Alana Abbott graciously offered to let me guest blog over here on Myth, the Universe and Everything to celebrate the release of my new horror novel Lovecraft’s Curse. Before I tell you about my book though, I want to talk a bit about inspiration.

Alana Abbott has been inspiring me to write since I met her in 2006. We were first introduced to each other right around the time Into the Reach was released. After interviewing her for my podcast (Secret Identity) and doing some playtesting for the Chronicles of Ramlar RPG (which she was working on), we continued to stay in contact. Alana did some guest gaming segments on the podcast, and we even covered WoTC’s D&D Experience event with our pal Max Saltonstall in 2007, chronicling the release D&D 4th Edition. The rest, as they say, is history.

I fell in love with Alana’s writing when I read Into the Reach. I read to escape, and my favorite stories are the ones that feature worlds I can immerse myself in. Alana’s attention to every detail in the worlds she creates makes you want to live in them. She puts so much into the culture and history of the characters she creates that you can read her stories multiple times and always find something new to dig into.

In many ways, meeting Alana and reading Into the Reach inspired me to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2007. I completed the 50,000-word challenge and came out with the first draft of what would become Courting the King in Yellow, my first horror novel. From that point on, I was on the path to taking my own writing seriously. I began doing freelance writing for a major comic news site covering games, and working on my own projects on the side. In 2010, I launched a webcomic called Mo Stache, which is still going strong today. Last year, I finally published Courting the King in Yellow, as well as a hot-to book about podcasting called Making Ear Candy. Which brings us to the here and now, and Lovecraft’s Curse.

Lovecraft’s Curse is my homage to the man I consider to be the greatest horror writer of all time--H.P. Lovecraft. It’s sort of a “What if?” story about his legacy and the things he wrote about. Here’s a quick teaser trailer for the book:



Lovecraft’s Curse combines my two favorite genres, fantasy and horror. Parts of the story take place in the Dreamlands, one of Lovecraft’s more famous creations and a place where worlds intersect and can be accessed through dreams. My main character Fela Barton is a young woman who has a connection to the Dreamlands that she doesn’t understand, and it has put her and those around her in great danger.

If you think that sounds interesting, you can grab a digital copy of Lovecraft’s Curse on either Amazon or Drive Thru Fiction, where you can get the print version as well.

Thanks to Alana for her continued support and inspiration!
alanajoli: (mini me short hair)
I should have known it wouldn't last when our D&D characters had no chemistry. I speak of my very first boyfriend, whose paladin once quipped "But all priests are good" to my suspicious, cynical elf bard. The character my elf did have chemistry with? An equally cynical elf fighter with a mysterious past, the player of which I married seven years after our characters flirted across the game table. Geek love, baby.


"La Belle Dam Sans Merci," by Frank Dicksee


Over the past week, I've been thinking about what I prefer in fiction and interactive fiction -- I'm a characterphile (rather than a plot hound), and I like stories that revolve around inner turmoil and decisions rather than events driving the characters forward. What's interesting to me is those inner stories, and sometimes those involve romance. Or avoidance of romance. Or both. And I express that in games as well -- I'll replay a BioWare game just to see if I can achieve all the relationship unlocks with the NPCs. I have trouble thinking of more than a handful of my D&D character who weren't romantically involved with an NPC/PC in the story. (Heck, even the NPCs in games I DM often have a love interest at the table, known to the PC or not.)

So you'd think that when I'm writing games, the romantic interests would come easily for me. My first attempt in Choice of Kung Fu had two actual romance stories, then some extra NPCs thrown in just to be spouses, without having much character of their own. For Showdown at Willow Creek, I made all the romantic interests recurring NPCs, and I think it's better done -- although one of my playtesters showed that the coding didn't allow for quite as much snogging as she attempted. (There's still time to fix those bugs before it launches next month, so hopefully, you'll all have a seamless play experience!) I'm starting work on my next Choice game, Choice of Pirate, and I'm thinking about how the romances might work even more smoothly.

But along with accommodating for a number of romance options, it's also important to me to have an option to not get involved with romance at all. Several of the players I've DMed for over the years have run away from romantic hooks like the plague. (And sometimes the hooks were actually plague-bearing monsters of some kind or another, so they weren't wrong in that play style...) So, without losing out on any fun, the option to skip romantic entanglements should be there, too.

I started thinking about this last night after my second Black Gate blog post, which actually had nothing to do with romance, but a lot to do with interactive fiction.

How do you like romance in your games? If you write games, how do you create compelling romance stories?
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A friend of mine and I were talking a couple of weeks ago about how the stories we tell ourselves shift our worldviews, and it's continued to come up in conversations lately, so I figured I ought to write about it. I heard not too long ago about a therapist who prescribes watching certain types of TV shows or movies to his patients for just this reason. Example: a patient only dates bad boys and keeps getting hurt in relationships. She likes mobster movies. He prescribes watching romantic comedies, where the nice guy often finishes first. There are most likely other elements going on, but eventually, the patient starts seeing nice guys as a positive and stops going after relationships that will eventually turn destructive. Changing the story becomes part of the therapy.

Art by Jason Chan



Kameron Hurley wrote about this in "We Have Always Fought," an essay about changing the stories we tell ourselves about the role of women, over on Aidan Moher's A Dribble of Ink. (And also llamas. The cannibalistic llama metaphor is brilliant.) And Neil Gaiman talked about the idea of fiction making us see other possibilities for the way the world works at a Book Expo America talk, summed up by Chris Lough at Tor.com. (Gaiman also contended that this is why fiction is dangerous -- because it makes us think new things and question our assumptions.)

This makes me conscious of the stories I'm telling, not only as a writer, but as a mom. I caught myself the other day, playing puppets, having the princess puppet be grossed out by a frog. I realized this error quickly -- why should girls be grossed out by frogs? -- and had the queen compensate for the princess's initial reaction by talking about the awesomeness of being an amphibian. In my writing, I know I tend to think of my characters first as individuals, and then as a product of their genders or races. This may mean that my characters end up being less accurate to their cultural backgrounds -- something I'm always working to correct -- but it does reflect my worldview. Growing up, my parents stressed the importance of thinking of other people first as people, and then as their modifiers. I know I fall into thinking with stereotypes (as I think everyone does now and again). But that story -- of unique individuals -- shapes my thinking and the stories I tell others.

What stories do you tell yourself? What stories do you wish you could change?
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I had a conversation last week with John Andrews (whose tech articles I've linked to on the blog) about freelance life. He sent me a link to an article about copywriting, which advised how to always get paid for your work. The writer's answer? Get paid up front. Ben R. Palmer-Wilson, writing for Design Taxi, probably makes more money than I do -- he clearly works on the higher end of the copywriting industry, based on my read of his April 30, 2013, article, "How to Always Get Paid as a Freelancer." Which is to say, he works for businesses, not directly in the publishing industry. Back when I first started as a freelancer, I read about pursuing clients outside of the publishing industry and decided not to do so, though it would mean a lower income on my end, because I wanted to stay as close to books and literature (and games!) as I could.

At my end of freelance writing, things work more like this:

idothejob

Well, without the guns.

But I don't often get paid up front for anything. I sometimes get paid an advance, or part up front, which is great! But what I do get at the beginning is a contract. When I'm working for larger companies -- or small, trustworthy ones -- that contract is a binding agreement that's a reliable indication that I'm going to get paid at the end.

Sometimes, though, this happens instead:

idontgetpaid

That mostly happens with speculative work, where the company or editor is very forthcoming about the possibility of rejecting work even after it's completed. Sometimes it happens with large companies where they lose an invoice in the shuffle -- I've been able to recover all of those, but it can take awhile. And it's definitely happened with small companies that then evaporate.

The Kickstarter for Regaining Home is actually my first, paid-in-full in advance project ever. It's a novelty! I don't have any sage wisdom for always getting paid, but I do think it's worth noting that Palmer-Wilson's sage wisdom wouldn't work in my neck of the industry. I'd just get laughed right out of my contracts.
alanajoli: (mini me)

Nara, by Lindsay Archer

The Regaining Home Kickstarter has hit $1000 is are about a third of the way to our goal! In honor of that, we've added a new backer reward for $75: Improv Snippets by me. Backers who donate $75 can send me a genre, setting, and two characters (named or given by profession), and Alana will create a unique scene featuring those elements. The Improv Snippets will be compiled into a backer-exclusive e-book. (I may choose to use the snippets for another project in the future and retains any pertinent copyright, but the backer's name will be listed along with the snippet wherever it appears, in perpetuity.) To pad the Improv Snippets collection, I may choose to include original snippets of my own creation, or original snippets as they appeared in the Empty Room Studios Art Book project.

I hope this will be a fun mini project -- I've written romance novel blurbs for friends and really enjoyed creating the scenes for the ERS Art Book, so this seems like a great way to involve people in the creation process and create a unique reward that's worth that high backer level!
alanajoli: (mini me)
I love good crossover fiction. I'm sure that's part of the reason I love The Avengers. (Also, Joss Whedon, I'm looking at you.) So I was really excited to see that Rick Riordan has announced he's doing a crossover short story featuring Percy Jackson and Carter Kane -- heroes from his two major mythology series. (Shannon Maughan's Publishers Weekly article with the announcement and full details is here.) It's planned as a short story, and it's currently only being published in the back of a paperback book (the hardcover of which I already own), but I have hopes that as the pub date approaches, we'll see an option to buy an e-version of the short for 99 c. Because I would totally spend that on a short story.

greek_vs_egyptian_by_spiralninja05-d4n99r6
(Cute crossover art by SpiralNinja05 at Deviant Art, found by my Google Image search.)

I got to interview Rick back in 2006, when I was writing for Literature Community news, when the first two Percy Jackson books were out, and Rick had more adult novels published than YA titles. I look at that article and think how much his world must have changed in the past seven years.

Rick isn't the only writer doing crossovers. Ally Carter crossed over her two brilliant series -- The Gallagher Girls and the Heist Society books -- in Double Crossed, which, best of all, she gave away for free. I grabbed it the day it came out and read it on my computer, since the nook edition wasn't up yet, and it's delightful. If you haven't checked out either series, this isn't a bad entry point into the worlds -- and it should definitely get you intrigued about both series.

In other news, the Regaining Home Kickstarter hit 21% in the first 24 hours. Woo! I'm very hopeful that we'll make the goal -- and I even posted the first stretch goal, re-editing the first two books and publishing them in multiple e-book formats, this morning. Thanks to everyone who has already contributed or spread the word, and thanks to those of you who are planning to do so!
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I admit, I have largely stopped doing volunteer writing. When I first started doing game-writing, I worked for free, or worked for product credit. To me, this was doing time: eventually, by doing enough volunteer work, I'd get some writing gigs. And largely, that process worked. Which meant that I stopped volunteering.

Ah, but Alana, you say. You blog. You write reviews you don't get paid for. You guest blog. You post free fiction from time to time. How does that gel with your aforementioned mercenary disposition?

In truth, it doesn't always gel, and that's why a lot of those free projects get pushed aside for contract work. But while I don't have a great answer to that question, I thought that Ilona Andrews did a fine job describing the free vs. paid conundrum here. She (or, really, they -- Ilona Andrews is a husband/wife team) are currently publishing a free serial (link on the cover image), which eventually they'll turn into an e-book for pay, but in the meantime are doing it for-the-love.



Here's where I think this works in their favor. When I get free stuff from a writer, and I like their stuff, I'm far more likely to shell out for their books, e-books, heck even t-shirts based on their work. I think a lot of free writing (blogs included) creates a sense of community, ownership, and loyalty. This is absolutely true of Web comics -- just look at the Kickstarter success of Rich Burlew's Order of the Stick -- and I think it works for fiction writers, and even publishers (look at Tor.com), as well.

At any rate, the Andrews's thoughts are quite insightful. Clearly the topic has been discussed whenever Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day comes around (link is to James Patrick Kelly's Asimov's article on the debate), but with all the interesting ways of getting content to readers that are growing and changing (crowdfunding, donation-driven, free, traditionally paid), I think it's a conversation that continues to be worth having.
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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (or at least a life that was far, far different), Nat Rowe introduced me to a lot of writer types he'd gone to Yale with. Not to be outdone, I sought out some writer types from Simon's Rock, and [livejournal.com profile] notadoor/S. K. Gilman and I joined the throng of Yalies to create a very awesome and fun crit group that hasn't met in far too long.

Or, rather, that I haven't attended in person in far too long. Almost everyone in the group relocated to Boston area, leaving those of us in Connecticut and New York to our remote attendances when possible. (That's me and Thomas Scofield, for what it's worth.)

But I have been thinking about Substrate quite a lot lately, in part because I got a fantastic rejection letter (I say this without a trace of sarcasm -- it was a full on critique from the editors) from Tor.com. I'll be giving the piece I submitted another look with the help of the Substraters, and will see if I can't find a good home for it once I've applied some additional feedback to it.

The other thing that has me thinking about Substrate is, of course, Max Gladstone's release of his debut novel Three Parts Dead, which I cannot rave about enough. I loved it as a manuscript, and the physical book is a beautiful product that is even nice to hold (as you can see I'm enjoying doing in the photo below).

My first print run copy of Max's book!

So in honor of Max's publication, I cleaned up the old Substrate group blog, which had apparently been hacked by a Polish blogger. I'll be posting news about Max and other Substraters (as we have news to share) over at that blog, which does have a livejournal feed. You can follow us here at livejournal or over at Virgil & Beatrice.

And if you're in Bethesda, MD on Monday, you can catch Max at the Barnes & Noble doing a signing. More detail's on Max's page.
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While I'm not keeping up with blogs, I do keep up with the articles on Tor.com from time to time. Today I read a great one by Liz Bourke about why saying "it's the past, it was just like that" isn't a good excuse to make all of your female characters simpering, or all of your characters heteronormative. It's well worth reading, and some contributors in the comments section had other interesting historical tidbits that defy the "it's history, it was like that" argument on non-gender issue topics.

In completely different news, I've been having a little anxiety about my black belt test coming up in less that two months. I've also been meaning to rewatch Kung Fu Panda as inspiration for my Choice of Games kung fu project (among other live action films -- although a kung fu practitioner friend of mine claims Kung Fu Panda is the best kung fu film ever made as far as films that reflect actual kung fu philosophy -- take that as you will). The result: not only am I even more excited to get in the zone on Choice of Kung Fu (tentative title), but I encountered a quote that drained my anxiety:

Kung-Fu-Panda-Oogway-Prophecy

Quit, don't quit? Noodles, don't noodles? You are too concerned about what was and what will be.

So: stop worrying. Live in the moment. "Noodles, don't noodles," will now be my mantra.
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Seems to me that there was a time, not so long ago, that I used to keep up with dozens of bloggers, who I liked and felt a kinship with. That also used to be the time when I updated my own blog with some regularity. Clearly, that time has passed.

It was a very busy, and fantastic, summer here in Connecticut (and surroundings -- this summer marked my first ever trip to the Bronx Zoo!).

Tiger, Tiger

There has not been a whole lot to report writing-wise. I am currently at work on a project for Choice of Games, featuring a kung fu theme. Considering I am also preparing for my black belt test in kempo (to take place in November), I have a lot of martial arts on the brain. I've been meaning to write about the process of creating a text-based interactive novel game, but I have been spending more time writing than writing-about-writing. (And also learning how to balance my work-from-home time as Bug is deciding that naps are no longer a guaranteed part of the day.)

Here is the news in a nutshell:
Writing
My newest article for Dragon magazine, "Songs of Sorcery," is out in the current issue. As usual, it's myth based, but it's also got a lot of silly lyrics that I wrote to common tunes. Quite a lot of it ended up being cut from my original draft, and some additional fun lyrics got added by the designers (I suspect developer Tanis O'Connor should be credited with some of the new work!), which makes it feel (to me) like a fun collaborative effort. I'm quite pleased with the final result (though I am a little sad that the hero theme song to the tune of "Funiculì, Funiculà" didn't make the cut).

Reading
This summer has included several book birthdays of those blogging writers I used to keep up with. I'm pleased to be entirely caught up on three current urban-fantasy series (instead of the most recent installments sitting on my TBR pile): Ilona Andrews's Kate Daniels series, which had Gunmetal Magic come out in July; Devon Monk's "Age of Steam" series (July's release was second installment Tin Swift; and Kalayna Price's Alex Craft series, which also had a July release (Grave Memory).

I'm also really excited about the launch of three new series:


Since I am at the moment one step ahead of my paid-review pile (I do have several books for unpaid lounging around the office), I'm trying to catch up on both review books and books I just really want to read. I'm currently at 116 books read in 2012 -- three short of last year's total -- but in order to make my specific reading goals I posted on January 1, I've got sixteen non-review titles to choose and read before the end of the year. Four moths to do it in? No problem.

If anyone has a recommendation for a non-SFFH, non-romance, adult fiction book they read this year and would endorse without hesitation, I'm all ears. I made it a goal to read two books outside my genres this year, and while I've picked one, I'm still undecided about the other.
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Remember how I mentioned doing author interviews for PW and Kirkus? Well, both of my most recent author interviews are up online. The first, for Kirkus, was with Arthur Mokin, a documentary writer who has published a tale of the Exodus in Meribah. The book uses a main character who is an Egyptian, and whose outsider view allows him to give commentary on the Hebrews in exile. I think it's a pretty insightful book, and Mokin was a lot of fun to interview.

For PW, I interviewed Kij Johnson, whose short story "Ponies," which blew me away when I read it on Tor.com, is featured in her new collection, At the Mouth of the River of Bees. The print portion of the interview is here, but it's probably behind the paywall until next week. The rest, and longer, portion of the interview is over on Genreville. Kij is one of those writers who, when I read her, I thought, How have I not read her work before? Her back list isn't terribly long, but it's one I look forward to fitting into my schedule.

Speaking of PW and Kirkus, both of which I review for, I am still inundated with review books at the moment, with three graphic novels due on Friday, another two due next week, and two more novels for July, as well as a pile of books I've been meaning to review for Flames Rising and an ARC for Black Gate. Whew! It's a good thing I read quickly!
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Apologies for the long blog absence without warning! I was off on a family vacation that involved not one but two family weddings in beautiful Michigan. We had a lovely time, and when I returned home I jumped right into finishing up the last round of autobiographical essays, which included an original piece by Tananarive Due. Due and her husband, Steven Barnes, who has also written an autobiography for the autobio project, ought to be considered one of the power couples of the SFF world (if they're not already). They're both amazing. If you've not read either of them, you're missing out. (Luckily, their books are pretty widely available, so it's a loss that can be rectified pretty easily at your local library.)

So the last round of autobio has wrapped up, I got to do a cool secret project for Wizards of the Coast, and a computer crash didn't stop me from completing an assignment of obituaries. All in all, things are good on the work front, and I'm looking ahead to the assignments that come next! The Steampunk Musha Kickstarter's success means I'll be doing some adventure writing with Rick Hershey and maybe a short story or two coming up!

I'm also catching up on Eureka. Since my writer-buddy Margaret Dunlap worked on that show, I ponied up and bought a season pass on Amazon so I can watch it on the television. I just finished watching episode 4, which involves a scene where two characters start a D&D game, basically functioning as a step toward helping one of them cope with grief. I thought it was an incredibly touching moment and a wonderful way to celebrate the power of shared storytelling.

Speaking of writer friends, several writer friends of mine are already on to the next project, and here's their news:

  • Since in writer-time, Eureka wrapped ages ago, Margaret's been keeping busy working on a new project, the web show The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. It's a modernized Pride and Prejudice, and it sounds right up my alley. More when I've had a chance to catch up on the already-existing episodes!

  • Fellow Substrater Max Gladstone just announced his fantastic news that he's sold an additional two books to Tor. This comes on top of his first two book contract -- his debut novel releases this October and is available for preorder now.

  • I can't remember if I linked back to Francesca Forrest's "Tilia Songbird," which was published in Gigantosaurus at the beginning of May. If not, here it is! If I did, and you didn't read it the first time, I hope this inspires you to go check it out.

  • And for a celebration of meta-text, John "jaQ" Andrews just had his e-book guide to Castle come out! (It's a book about a show about a guy who writes books -- it gets awesomely circular, and I can't think of a better person to write about it than John.) Check out Quicklet on Castle Season 3, in which John has promised to explain the conspiracy behind the death of Beckett's mother.


I love good news like this!
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Here is something I've learned about myself. When I am doing marketing (viral or otherwise) for someone other than myself, I have no problem bringing the topic into conversation and gushing about it. The example of the day: I am less comfortable promoting a class that I teach than a class I enjoyed taking. In the latter case, I'm recommending something to people because I think it will enhance their life experience. In the former case, I'm promoting myself, even if I am teaching the same class I'd recommend when taught by another teacher. I do the same thing with books: I, of course, love it when people read my stuff. I'm happy to tell people about what I write and what my books (now hard to find) are about. Other writers, especially folks that I know (like a certain friend whose debut novel is coming out from Tor this fall), I will plug rampantly with no shame.

Given how much my professions (teaching and writing) require me bringing the audience to my work, this realization is somewhat troubling. It is probably a good thing that I didn't go into sales.
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I've been working with Scott Colby for some years now -- he's been my editor for several of the Baeg Tobar pieces I've written, all of which have been better for his input. Now, he's just released his first self-published novel as an e-book! (It also features cover art by the awesome Jeremy Mohler, who was my editor on Cowboys and Aliens II.)

Shotgun is now available at Amazon, and if it's anything like the quality of Scott's short stories for Baeg Tobar, it will be well worth checking out. You can also keep up with news on Scott's novel on facebook.

In honor of the recent release, Scott wrote up a guest blog about his writing process. Without further ado: Scott Colby!


--

When I self-published my debut novel, Shotgun, a few weeks ago, it was the culmination of years of hard work, several dozen gallons of coffee, and lots of time spent staring off into space debating whether my latest idea was a brainstorm or just a brain fart. I wrote the first version of the story ten years ago, in the back of my high school classrooms, when I should've been taking notes. Following several rewrites later and a decision to finally get serious about it this summer, I've got a story I'm very proud of and a world I plan to play with for a while.

One of the most fun parts of this process has been looking back at how my work has changed. I'm not sure what happened to my original spiral notebooks, but thanks to the magic of technology, I can look back at what I wrote in college and directly after. I didn't do much thinking ahead back then, but for some reason I had the presence of mind to save multiple versions of Shotgun rather than just overwriting my previous attempt at literary stardom. I can find the point where, after reading Frank Herbert's Dune, I introduced a reluctant traitor and commoditized an item that had previously just been a plot device. There's a few discarded documents where the comedy went way over the top, and there's a version where I brought it back down to Earth–well, as close to Earth as contemporary fantasy with a dash of very silly magic can get. There's the point where I ditched my terrible original first chapter which featured my main character singing along to “Sweet Home Alabama” as his pickup truck bounced along a dirt road on his way to meet his soon-to-be-murdered friends in a hunting cabin. And there's the time I decided to stop taking my elves too seriously and just let them fall off the rails. I've got fifteen chapters of an unfinished sequel that doesn't work at all anymore and another twelve of a prequel that might be salvagable with a bit of finagling and a strong pot of coffee.

What I've got is a complete record of my favorite hobby. It's proof that even though I don't know all there is to know about writing, at least I'm improving. It's an in depth look into a corner of my psyche throughout the years, flavored with elves and magic and terrible, horrible ideas I'm glad I got rid of but which I know seemed awesome at the time. Nullet the talking donkey? Pike's live-in groupie? Good riddance! None of you were as good as the pound cake summoning scene that's survived three iterations.

Anyway, to the point: keep copies of what you write, even if you think it's absolute garbage. Maintain files for different versions, too, rather than just overwriting what you've all ready done. I've been lucky with my computers, but I'm not foolish enough to keep anything in just one place anymore. I'm a big fan of Dropbox and I suggest you find something that works for you. Losing work is one thing; losing memories is another.

Oh, and check out Shotgun. I guarantee it's worth at least the $2.99 I'm charging. And if you read it and you think it isn't, well, just be glad this easy self-publishing technology wasn't around when I was an even crappier writer.
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In a rare change of pace, I'm a guest blogger today! Alex Bledsoe, fellow Haunted writer and the most recent guest blogger here at Myth, the Universe, and Everything, asked me to write a little bit about "Missing Molly" and how it came to be. Since "Missing Molly" is based on a historical gravestone here in Shoreline Connecticut and its very real disappearance in 2009, the post is both about the grave of Mary Fowler and about how the story made its way into the anthology. I hope you'll stop by his blog and check it out!




I think I've mentioned here that I'm also a blogger over at Backstories, the blog of HighBeam Research. They've just posted an entry I wrote about the Pottermore phenomenon and finding deleted scenes on author websites. I also got to talk a little bit about Pixel-stained Technopeasants; I'll have to make sure I have a story to post to celebrate the holiday this April.
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I was talking to Miss Mary, the storytime librarian at our local library (where I formerly worked), about how my Mom-Baby Fitness class in Branford has started off very slowly. She reassured me that word of mouth is what it really takes to get a class going on the Shoreline in Connecticut, and then gestured around to her baby storytime, the birth to two crowd, which often has twenty to thirty babies/toddlers attending, along with parents. It's a great crowd, and Bug and I love going. I don't think the space we have for Mom-Baby Fitness could handle that size population, but it's nice to think that things do grow by word of mouth.

That said, word of mouth seems to be a really elusive form of marketing that there's no clear way on how to develop it. Now, I haven't taken any formal classes in business -- in another life, that would have been my college major, but alas, that other me can't magically send tips back from the alternate universe in which I was a huge corporate success. I have read about marketing and about the challenges of hitting the right population by the two consumer-driven forms of advertising: word of mouth and (Internet based) viral marketing. Man, when that sort of campaign works, does it ever work! But when it goes nowhere, there's really no telling why it didn't make it.

With Haunted just being released, I've of course been thinking about word of mouth and viral marketing again, in context of the writing world. We had a fantastic review posted -- a four out of five stars, but with such thoughtful comments that it's clear the reader really got what the collection was about. It's just posted up on the product itself, as far as I know, but now word of mouth about books can spread in a multitude of ways: Goodreads, book blogs, facebook, wherever.

How do you reach your target audience? And how do you utilize social networking tools to accomplish what you want (rather than spending so much time on them that you lose work hours instead of gaining consumers)? If anyone out there has already found a balance they like, I'd love to hear about it! Otherwise, I'll just continue wading in these waters and trying to figure out whether or not I'm ready to swim.
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Like some large number of Americans (more than proportionate for any other week of the year), I'm celebrating a birthday this week! For me, birthdays are like New Year's Eve and New Year's Day: a time to look at what I've done that I'm proud of in the past year, and a chance to decide to improve on the things that need improving. So that's the type of thing I've been thinking about -- and hopefully, I'll be increasing my blog presence as one of those areas that needs improvement!

One of the big celebrations this week, however, is not personal but professional: my short story "Missing Molly" was just released in the anthology Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror! It's currently available as an e-book, and the print edition will be available in the near future. Expect to hear more about the anthology here on the blog as we're all getting ready for my favorite holiday (Halloween!).
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A few years ago, I stumbled on Karma Girl, the first romance novel in the "Bigtime" series by Jennifer Estep. I've mentioned it a few times on this blog; superhero romance? What's not to love? I've followed Jennifer's career since then, and she's had some excellent urban fantasy success with her "Elemental Assassins" series. When I found out, via her newsletter, that she was launching a young adult series called Mythos Academy, I couldn't wait to invite Jennifer to do a guest blog post here. Months have passed since then, and the release is coming right up -- and thus, I'm pleased to introduce Jennifer and her new series!

Even better, Jennifer offered to do a giveaway of Touch of Frost, the first book in the series. Answer Jennifer's questions at the end of the post, and you're entered! Give us a second comment with a link to a tweet or blog post where you mention the contest and we'll enter you a second time. (This contest is U.S. only -- sorry international friends!) Only livejournal comments will be counted as contest entries, so if you're reading this on a syndicated site, pop over to lj to comment! Update: Comments must be posted by 7/28 at midnight EST to be counted as contest entries.

If you're interested in a review of book one, Touch of Frost, you can read what I had to say over at Flames Rising, where Jennifer has also posted an essay on her world design for the series.

So, without further ado: Jennifer Estep!

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Greetings and salutations! First of all, I want to thank Alana for having me on the blog today. Thanks so much, Alana!

My name is Jennifer Estep, and I write the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series for Kensington. The books focus on Gwen Frost, a 17-year-old Gypsy girl who has the gift of psychometry, or the ability to know an object’s history just by touching it. After a serious freak-out with her magic, Gwen is shipped off to Mythos Academy, a school for the descendants of ancient warriors like Spartans, Valkyries, Amazons, and more.



First Frost, a prequel e-story to the series, is available now. The first book, Touch of Frost, will be out on July 26, while the second book, Kiss of Frost, will hit shelves on Nov. 29.

So today, Alana asked me to talk about how I’m using mythology in my Mythos Academy series. The thing I love about writing fantasy books is that you can take elements from mythology, fairy tales, folklore, or whatever other kind of stories that you like and put your own spin on them. Creating a fantasy world is a step-by-step process, and when I get one thing nailed down, it seems like it always leads to something else. So here’s how I did some of the world building for Touch of Frost and the other books in my Mythos Academy series:

I use bits and pieces of various mythologies and more, but mostly, the book draws on Greek and Norse mythology. The bad guy is Loki, the Norse god of mischief, and I draw on the myth of Loki’s tricks leading to the death of another god and Loki being imprisoned for that. But in my world, Loki managed to get free and decided to try to take over the world. So he created an army of followers known as the Reapers of Chaos, and he plunged the world into the long, bloody Chaos War.

But the other gods and goddesses banded together, forming a group known as the Pantheon. Led by Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, the members of the Pantheon defeated Loki and imprisoned him a second time. Ever since then, the Reapers of Chaos have been working to free Loki so he can plunge the world into a second Chaos War.

So you have two gods struggling for control of the world. Once I had that set up as my backdrop, I figured that Loki and Nike would both need something to help them in their epic battle – warriors. So I populated the book with Spartans, Amazons, Valkyries, Celts, Romans, Vikings, and many other types of warriors. I thought using such a wide range of warriors would give me the chance to come up with some interesting powers for the various warrior whiz kids, as my heroine Gwen calls them.

As for Gwen herself, she’s a Gypsy, and she doesn’t know what that really means or where her power comes from. Those questions get answered in Touch of Frost, though. The answers surprise Gwen, and I hope that readers will find them interesting too.

Of course, warriors need to be trained, and that’s how I came up with the idea for Mythos Academy, a school where the modern-day descendants of all these ancient warriors train with weapons and learn how to use their magic to fight the good fight – or the bad fight, since some of the students are really Reapers of Chaos. Also, putting Gwen and the other warrior whiz kids in a school setting let me come up with a landscape where a lot of the action in the books can take place.

But warriors need something to fight, and that’s when I thought about monsters. There are tons of monsters in mythologies all over the world – everything from gargoyles to gryphons to dragons to sphinxes. Again, I decided to use a variety of monsters just because I thought they would be fun to write. Plus, I think having statues of these various monsters on all the academy buildings adds some creepy atmosphere to the Mythos campus.

So there you have it – a little bit about the mythology and world building in my Mythos Academy series. I hope everyone has as much fun reading the books as I did writing them. Happy reading, everyone! ;-)

What about you guys? What are some of your favorite myths and monsters?
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Monica Valentinelli, a fellow contributor to Flames Rising, posted a contest on her blog asking people to post about their passions, and I immediately thought of the first time I'd really tried to pin mine down. When I attended the Denver Publishing Institute back in 2000, [livejournal.com profile] jeff_duntemann was one of our guest faculty members. He talked about a number of issues in publishing (things he's still discussing over at ContraPositive), but the thing I remember the most wasn't really about publishing at all. Jeff talked to us about finding your passion and living it. As a young college grad, I remember writing to him afterwards about not being able to narrow down my passion any further than stories -- I wasn't completely enamored of any one type of publishing, necessarily, and not being passionate about a very narrow field made me nervous. But the idea of being passionate about stories made sense, and it's something that remains true for me.

Fast forward eleven years later and the same thing is, roughly, true. I have my fingers dipped in various types of publishing -- and while they're not all story related, most of them are. Writing obituaries ends up being about telling the story of someone's life, capturing all the bits that will be important to readers. Writing about history for "The Town with Five Main Streets" has a whole range of types of stories -- all of them that somehow impact the current landscape of the town where I live. Writing for Dragon ties in with helping other people tell stories. Heck, even teaching Mom-Baby Fitness has an element of sharing stories and experiences with other moms.

Monica's contest runs through midnight tonight, so write about your own passions and go over to her blog and leave a comment!

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Alana Joli Abbott

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