Friday, April 25, 2008

The Action Heroine's Handbook

The Action Heroine's Handbook by Jennifer Worick and Joe Borgenicht

From the back cover:

"For every woman who wants to be as tough as Lara Croft, as nimble as the Bionic Woman, and as babe-a-licious as Charlie's Angels, The Action Heroine's Handbook shows you the essential skills you'll need to conquer the bad guys and save the day without breaking a sweat.

"Find out how real action heroines do it, directly from a host of experts, including stuntwomen, jujitsu instructors, helicopter pilots, detectives, forensic psychologists, survivalists, primatologists, and many others."

Do you write romances or mysteries or urban fantasy with kick-ass heroines? (Yes, we're all tired of that phrase, but it is an understood keyword for a certain type of female protagonist.) If you do, then you need this book as part of your research library. Where else can you find instructions on how to go undercover as a prostitute in a brothel, recognize the undead, profile a serial killer, be a Mob wife, choke a man with your bare thighs, fake your own death, and outrun a fireball? Really, step by step instructions on this and much more.

The book sections are:
~ Tough Chick Skills (including How to Win a High-Speed Chase in High Heels and a Bustier)
~ Beauty Skills (like How to Seduce the Enemy)
~ Brain Skills (How to Investigate Your Spouse/Lover)
~ Brawn Skills (How to Subdue Your Opponent With a Whip)
~ Escape Skills (How to Escape When Kidnapped)

The appendices list what your girl should be carrying in her purse and how she should style her hair.

So if you've got an "action heroine" in your book, this handy-dandy reference can help you make your story a lot more plausible and realistic.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thirteen Things We Did Instead of Last Week's Thursday Thirteen

When the cat's away... One of the last things I said to the editorial staff as I left the office last week for a convention was, "Mind the blog." When no Thursday Thirteen appeared, I assumed they were all so busy with their first priority of editing that they just couldn't get to it. Now I find out what they were really up to...

Editors Gone Wild!

1. At 9:01 a.m. we staggered through the doorway, bleary-eyed, and began the arduous trek toward the coffee pot.

2. At 9:34 a.m. we played Paper, Rock, Scissors over who got to wield Raelene's whips for the day.

3. At 10:15 a.m. we argued over the finer points of wereduck romance.

4. At 11:45 a.m. we were still arguing when our stretch limo pulled up to take us to lunch.

5. Noon to 1:00 is sort of a blur. We dined on bull testicles and had our first three rounds of martinis.

6. At 1:12 p.m. we were still drinking martinis, save for the unnamed editor who had passed out facedown in her drink.

7. At 2:21 p.m. we arrived back at the office to find all of our red pens missing and the dictionaries taped shut. The ransom note indicated that it was the work of the nefarious warehouse staff.

8: At 2:22 p.m. we launched a full-out attack to secure the return of our pens.

9. At 2:56 p.m., suffering from multiple paper cuts, we crept back downstairs and finally fired up our computers.

10. At 3:13 p.m., exhausted from firing up our computers, we took a nap.

11. At 4:39 p.m. we began to wake from our naps, sluggishly peeling Post-It note eyemasks off of our faces.

12. At 4:55 p.m. we shut down our computers and congratulated ourselves on a day well-spent.

13. At 5:01 p.m. we trekked out to our cars...and realized too late that with all the work we had been doing, somehow we had forgotten to post a Thursday 13.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Conference Connections

by Raelene Gorlinsky

I was at the RT convention last week for less than 48 hours, but it was enough to remind me of a very important and enjoyable benefit to conference attendance by publishing company staff. Yes, we go to promote our company, to share our knowledge through workshops, and to reach aspiring new authors via pitch appointments or other meetings.

But so important is the opportunity to talk directly with our existing authors, the people who already write for us. We communicate a lot via email and online discussion loops, sometimes by phone. But in-person contact is pretty much limited to seeing them at conferences. (And let me apologize here for my very poor ability to match names with faces. My mind has a list of many hundreds of author names, and a "mental database" of faces - but very few connecting lines between the two.)

There were about one hundred ECPI authors from our three imprints at the RT convention. In my two days there, I had conversations with them in the hallways and elevators, sit-down meetings in the lobby and in my room; I had breakfast, lunch and dinner with our authors.

So why were we meeting, what was the point for them or me? After all, I'm not their editor, so we weren't discussing their current book in development. And I maintain a business, not personal, relationship with authors, so this wasn't social chit-chat about their families or lives or whatever. I'm their publisher and represent the company, and they generally want some dialogue based on that.

Some authors just needed reassurance and encouragement. "Are you happy with my sales? Am I a good author? Does my editor love me? Am I doing things 'right'?" (And btw, my personal definition of an author doing things right comprises only two items: you are producing books that sell well, and you are behaving in a professional and reasonable manner in all aspects of your "job" as author.) Others wanted to talk about their career planning: the trend in their sales, what types or genres of stories would be most marketable for them to write, promo ideas. Several said "I have this great story idea that I want to run by my editor, but could you give me your opinion first?" Some wanted to hear firsthand about upcoming company activities, or wanted a chance to tell my their ideas and opinions. And yes, some wanted to complain or to tell me about problems. And that is perfectly fine and valid - I can only fix things if someone tells me they are broken, and I accept and appreciate all opinions even if they don't match what I or the company decide. A few wonderful authors just wanted to say "thank you" to me or the company.

I'm not a touchy-feely person. Even the social hugs so common at these events are hard for me. But I absolutely love meeting our authors, connecting with them directly, talking to them about their books. Yes, authors are a representative subset of human beings - there are nice and not-nice; the reasonable and the unreasonable; the ones I don't feel sympatico with and the ones I think "If we weren't business associates, I'd love to have her as a personal friend." But we share our involvement in the publishing industry overall and in our specific publishing company, our need to figure out how to succeed in this career. So the chance to deal directly with "our" authors is for me the best benefit to attending industry conferences.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Getting the Specs

We’ve talked about urban fantasy, and we’ve talked about the tropes of speculative fiction. We’ve even touched on how to flesh out a world and why it’s important that you create a compelling universe for your characters to inhabit.

Maybe, though, you’re one of the people sitting in the back, wondering why we care so much about this speculative nonsense, anyhow. Maybe you don’t see the appeal of vampires, can’t imagine a world under the subway, and would really not think about the myriad ways the world could go terribly, terribly wrong. Or, heck, what do I know—maybe you write speculative fiction, but you’ve never really thought about why it appeals.

Obviously there’s the escape aspect. Often times you’re reading about a world that’s very clearly not yours, however close it may be. Part of the appeal, for many people, is just that we like what-if stories. What if vampires tried to take over Los Angeles? What if the bombs came? Going a little deeper, though, part of it might be that this sort of story often allows us to look at our own world in a less threatening light. After all, who’s not afraid of things that go bump in the night, or of the idea that things might go so wrong with the world that it would cause humanity to mutate or die?

Even beyond that, I’d argue that what speculative fiction does more than anything else is open a dialogue. It provides a frame for social commentary and a way of illustrating and understanding viewpoints that are not necessarily one’s own. It is not, I don’t think, a coincidence that speculative fiction as a genre was very popular in the Sixties and early Seventies. Its popularity faded some after that point, but in recent years it’s resurged and gained an even broader fan-base than it had then.

It seems that the more politically charged the zeitgeist is, the more popular speculative fiction becomes. The reason is probably twofold: first, speculative fiction often gives us a way to cope with our fears. Reading about things makes them more real than just thinking about them, but it also allows us to talk about things, even if we’re doing so indirectly. Second, the nice thing about fiction is that it’s rare that the book ends negatively. Even tales of the most horrific possibilities generally end, if not on an up-note, than at least on the idea that there’s hope for some of the characters, hope for the future. Maybe these characters won’t be okay, but someone, somewhere, will. And sometimes we need that; we need to be able to think that eventually, somehow, things will work themselves out.

And maybe sometimes, thinking that things will be okay will allow us to work things out for ourselves. I’m not saying that fiction can change the world, but it might point us at somewhere to start.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Urban Fantasy Explored

by Nick Conrad

First and foremost: what the heck is urban fantasy?
In a nutshell, urban fantasy is any fiction in a contemporary or near-future Earthbound setting—most often in a city—wherein paranormal characters such as vampires, werewolves, aliens and zombies coexist with “ordinary” humans. The conflict is generally centered around extraordinary circumstances that contribute to the emergence of close relationships (romantic or otherwise) between human and nonhuman characters. The otherworldly characters can either exist openly as an accepted part of society or live in secret, with only a few human characters becoming aware of their paranormal status in the course of the story.

What’s the difference between urban fantasy and regular fantasy?
“Regular” fantasy is a vastly inclusive genre with lots of subtypes. But the main difference between UF and traditional fantasy is that not only is Earth the setting instead of a different world, but the story takes place on turf that is familiar to the reader. Even if the paranormal characters are based in a realm that humans don’t know about, they will end up interacting with humans in the humans’ world at some point. If the paranormal characters exist in a separate realm from humans, such as deep in the woods or on a parallel plane with little or no human interaction, the story is more contemporary fantasy than specifically UF.

Why does it have to be in an urban setting?
These stories very frequently do fall in metropolitan settings—especially those that are easily recognizable to a wide range of viewers, such as New York or Tokyo. But the key word isn’t really “urban” so much as “recognizable”. If the setting involves the hustle and bustle of the modern world, it’s UF. Frequently, some problems of contemporary society (such as class issues, racism, war or disease) are addressed. Some “What if?” fears about the modern world might also be addressed, especially if the story is set in the near-but-still-recognizable future.

What’s the difference between UF and plain old paranormal?
The paranormal category encompasses stories about vampires and werewolves, but the dominant elements in a paranormal can be less tangible. There can also be more of a gray area between fantasy and accepted reality in paranormal. In UF, the dominant paranormal elements are the paranormal characters and their abilities, whereas paranormal fiction might be centered around the paranormal aspects of more “real” characters, such as people who practice white magic, have psychic powers or communicate with ghosts. Most people accept that vampires and werewolves are not a known and active part of human society—there’s little doubt that they aren’t real. The paranormal genre, however, can focus on concepts that, while not scientifically provable, aren’t as easily dismissible as pure fantasy.

What about angels and demons? Paranormal or urban fantasy?
If the angels and demons are only viewed in the abstract sense—making suggestions to people, appearing to them in visions, affecting people’s daily lives without being seen—many people would testify that this actually does happen. Many mainstream religions certainly accept such happenings as possible. So these are gray-area paranormal elements. But if the angels and demons are a visible, tangible part of society, actively participating in it for better or worse, the story becomes UF. The same would hold true for ghosts. Ghosts making appearances in your kitchen, paranormal. Ghosts running a restaurant that’s patronized by other ghosts, UF.

What are some examples of UF through the ages?
From a technical standpoint, UF has existed for centuries as a popular means to deliver moral messages and social commentary. Grimm’s Fairy Tales could be considered UF because paranormal characters such as witches, giants and anthropomorphic animals existed side by side with ordinary mortals and the use of magic was widely accepted throughout their society. One of the earliest twentieth-century examples of UF came to us by way of a German actress named Thea von Harbou and her husband, the film director Fritz Lang. In 1927, their screenplay hit the silver screen as the silent film Metropolis. This film depicted a futuristic Earth with strong science fiction elements, but it qualifies as urban fantasy because the setting very clearly paralleled modern society in a way that was readily familiar to the viewers, addressing such issues as capitalism and socialism.

UF didn’t actually become labeled as a genre until the early to mid 1980s, when author Charles de Lint began to popularize the concept. Some other familiar names in the genre include Mercedes Lackey, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris and Patricia Briggs.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Color Your Paranormal World

by Briana St. James

Authors often hear about world building in science fiction and fantasy novels. These books need to show a vibrant world instead of the barest bones of a society. Paranormal romance needs an equally colorful world and this is something many new authors fail to achieve. It isn’t enough to take paranormal characters and place them in a world identical to ours without additional details to make the story shine.

Readers and editors want to know what makes your world different and unique from any other paranormal world out there. It isn’t enough to have a vampire hero or a witch heroine, a werewolf clan, or a fairy princess that the reader knows nothing else about. What will pull the reader in are the richly imagined details of your world.

When you create your paranormal characters, there are many things to consider. Before you start writing your book, you may find it helpful to map out the history of your characters. How did they become paranormal? Were they born into this life or created? Is the world known to non-paranormal characters and society at large? What special powers or enhanced senses do your characters have? Do they think and act differently from the non-paranormal characters in your book? Do they look different, have certain substances or metals that enhance or weaken them, do they have a longer or shorter life span than “normal” characters?

If your vampire can breathe deeply, eat and digest food in addition to blood sustenance, and feels warm to the touch, the reader will want to know how these typical vampire conventions have passed your vampires by. A line inserted here and a couple of tidbits there can go a long way to fleshing out the world.

For shape shifters, your canvas is so much bigger. If one character shifts into a dragon and the other a hummingbird, can they possibly interact well together when in animal form? What are the circumstances in which they shift? Is it voluntary or is the shift dependent upon tides, lunar cycles, or something completely different? And what happens to the clothes a character is wearing when they shift? A nice designer dress could never make it intact through a shift to dragon shape, and that hummingbird would become entangled in the fabric and most likely have a very painful landing.

It is a fine line to create the world without veering into over-description or info dumping. In many cases, a little information goes a long way. Tell the reader that there is a shape shifting clan den or witch coven headquarters without describing everything about that dwelling in detail. Stick to the information the reader needs in order to have a clear and vivid picture of the world without bogging down the flow of your story.

Dynamic world building will help your paranormal romance stand out from the pack. Color your paranormal world brightly!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thinking Inside the Box

Things we accept inside the Black Box

1. Faster than light travel

2. Universal translators

3. Artificial intelligence

4. Advanced (intelligent) robotics

5. Time travel

6. Transporters

7. Cross-galaxy communication

8. Similar species of sentient life across galaxies

9. Sonic showers

10. Earth-like planets scattered across the universe

11. The ability of medical techology to reverse natural processes

12. Holographic or virtual reality technology

13. Hyper-advanced weaponry, generally of the laser variety

Monday, April 7, 2008

What's In the Box?

by Mary Altman

In speculative fiction, the term "black-box theory" is typically used to describe a device of which we know or care very little about its inner workings. The entire focus is on its input/output behavior—the result rather than the reasoning. The term is used in aviation (the black box records the last minutes of airplane flight in the event of a crash), engineering, computing, philosophy, psychology and cryptography. Sociologist Bruno Latour describes the black box theory as "the way scientific and technical work is made invisible by its own success. ... Thus, paradoxically, the more science and technology succeed, the more opaque and obscure they become."

Over the years, speculative fiction has adopted the black box theory as its own, using it to create a shortcut for authors of both hard and soft science fiction. It is a device that allows authors to stop reinventing the wheel with every new series—or, in literal terms, it allows authors to stop reinventing the hyperdrive. The black box represents all the necessary tropes of space exploration and speculative fiction writing. Faster than light travel, artificial intelligence, communication over vast distances… These are the things that many authors find absolutely necessary to carry their books; however, because they have become so much a part of the collective consciousness—because they have been used over and over until the reader is willing to accept them as fact without a science-heavy explanation—they have become the background noise of the genre. Most simply: it doesn’t matter how it works. It only matters that it works.

That, in essence, is the black box theory. In speculative fiction, it is the willing suspension of disbelief. It is the automatic acceptance of certain genre tropes. It is, most importantly, a tool that the author may use so that less time is spent expounding on faster than light travel yet again and is instead focused on the meat of the story.

What’s in the box? It doesn’t matter. Mr. Crusher, set a course for our next destination, warp six. Engage.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Start the Story Contest Winners!

Wow, we had a lot of entries in our "first sentence of the story" contest. Remember, the point was to create a first sentence that would completely grab an editor or a reader. The type of sentence that would make a reader plunk down cash to buy this book because they were so intrigued and just had to know what happened next.

Our judging panel of six had a hard time picking our favorites, but we finally got it down to five winners. So, winners, you get a free download of an EC/CP/TLC book. Please email, mention you are a winner of this contest, and tell her the title of the book you want and the format you need.

(in no particular order)

Agatha knew it was going to be a bad week when she found a dead man in her trunk on a rainy Monday morning. - Anny Cook
Editor advice: End the sentence after 'trunk'. It will have more impact.

The day of birthday party hell was the day Harmony Jackson seriously contemplated removing her uterus and having it bronzed. - Gwen Lucas

It infuriates me to find Edmund sitting up at night in that infernal chair, grinning and rocking, grinning and rocking--barely missing the cat's tail--editing that tasteless book of his: Sex for People with Sore Knees. - Millicent Denby
Editor advice: Delete the 'barely missing the cat's tail'. It makes the sentence too long, has nothing to do with the point of the sentence, reduces the impact, and is a cliche. Oh, and is this whole book to be in first person present? If not, fix the tense of this sentence.

When the head of Abe no Seimei was delivered to the palace in a basket, the Emperor and his ministers fluttered into a hysterical and unseemly panic. - Linda Tan

The sealed I.V. bag of blood toppled from its secret compartment inside the fridge and slapped the floor at Zoe Merriweather's feet with sickening little wiggle. - Belle Scarlett
Editor advice: Proofread! Missing the word 'a' before 'sickening'.

No prize, but these caught our attention.

"I can't drink this stuff," Justine said as she lifted a half-empty wine glass to her lips, "it goes right to my crotch."

The lighting [lightning] struck and flowed over her skin in intricate patterns of blue and white, leaving behind the smell of singed flesh and the marks of its passing.

I thought watching him walk away would be the hardest thing I'd ever have to do, until I heard the gunshot explode and his body crumpled to the ground; turns out it wasn't all that hard after all.

"If you kill someone who's already dead, it's not murder, is it?"

Bounding from bed, Sarah woke feeling like Sandra Bullock and looking like Sandra Bernhard.

When I was a child, I didn't dream of growing up to be an international bank thief, but sometimes dreams don't come true.

Hammond picked up our children on Christmas morning, boarded a jet for America, and upon arrival, placed them in an orphanage.

I woke with a jolt, my bleary gaze transfixed by the demon squatting on my chest.

I was having a pretty good day until Neville killed me.

Siobhan Watkins had said she was white, but they didn't believe her until the moment she strode through the automatic sliding glass doors and announced her arrival.

Jolene should've went [gone] for the boob job instead of buying the heavy, solid steel Kirby vacuum cleaner.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

More Arms to Hold You

Yes indeed, as another blog announced for us, were-ducks are the next big fad in paranormal romance! But there are other shapeshifters we would love to see.

1. Were-octopus - Not only are male octopuses totally alphas who will jealously fight to the death for their ladies, they're also the cuddly sort who will hold hands! Also, just think how cozy it'd be to fall asleep with eight strong arms wrapped tightly around you. What's not to like?

2. Were-kiwi - There are a lot of attractive fellas in New Zealand, so why not an actual kiwi? These birds are adorable and are keen to settle down—pairs usually mate for life. Plus, they have really long beaks, and you know what they say about big noses.

3. Were-skunk - We all know a man's natural musk is sexier than any cologne, and these guys have it over everyone. And hey, don't they all live in Paris and have those sexy French accents?

4. Were-gerbil - To hear my cousin's husband's sister's friend tell it about some guy she knew, these fellas are always willing to territory in the bedroom.

5. Were-penguin - No matter where you go, he'll always be well-dressed.

6. Were-donkey - He'll always be the first to admit he's an ass.

7. Were-seahorse - Four words: He. Carries. The. Babies. My hero.

8. Were-koala - His breath will always be fresh from all that eucalyptus.

9. Were-turkey - He's the perfect man to bring home to your family for Thanksgiving.

10. Were-raccoon - Forget a man who always takes out the trash. This guy will just make it disappear—and you won't even have to cook him dinner! Plus, he has that sexy eye mask—perfect for any Zorro fantasies you might have.

11.Were-anteater - Have you seen the tongue on this beastie? Oh yeah, any romance heroine would welcome him into her bed. Also, does your house need an exterminator? Problem solved!

12. Were-whales - For a romance hero, bigger is always better.

13. Were-Corgi - Sucking up is a proven path to success. Using your publisher's or editor's adored pets as heroes or heroines of a novel is sure to make you a best-seller!