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First, the kitty, because I know that Kelly likes them (and is owned by one).

Second, the reasons why I bought Three Days to Dead:

  1. I heard about it on Kelly’s Blog and decided to support a fellow writer,
  2. Wanted to expand my U/F scope beyond The Dresden Files.
  3. It had an interesting premise

Third, the review.

First and foremost, it is an fast and furious ride which is over before you can even blink. From the moment you say GO! it doesn’t stop, it even barely slows down. The characters are engaging, in fact, the author manages to create a well balanced female lead that is tough yet vulnerable without being either bitchy or whiny.  You feel for Evangeline Stone from the get go and those feelings are enhanced by what she has gone through. Not only that, the romantic subplot meshes seamlessly with the main story instead of hobbling it.

And special mention goes to the tact and skill in handling a particular scene. In the hands of another author it would have either a) averted all together, or b) given way to much information. Instead we get just enough to imagine the horrors alluded too without needing to vomit afterward.

The downside(s)?

The end was a bit too quick for me, I almost missed it and it was too neatly wrapped up, which smelled of deux machina and so did the coincidences (which are lamp shaded in the books several times). Also, the background seems a bit generic, the variations on archetypes were interesting (specially the goblins) but not enough to make them stand out from the norm. But no worries, no major info dumping occurs either, so the action flows without any major interruptions.

One last thing, which is a critique of the book, but not of its content.

The cover.

You can read my full argument against cliche covers (with bullet points) if you fallow the link above, but suffice it to say that had I know specifically looked for it, I would probably would never had bought this book just by looking at the cover. It’s interesting on its own, but fails to stand out among the rests of the offerings in the shelf. I know that as a first time author, Ms, Meding doesn’t have a lot of control over such things, but this book deserves better.

Overall, it is a good solid piece of Urban Fantasy, well crafted and above all else, entertaining. Well worth the money. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

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In the spirit of full, honest and complete disclosure, I am a liberal.

Why did I just write that?

Because it informs my worldview and by extension my writing. So does my religion or lack thereof (I am an agnostic).

Anyone that thinks that you can write anything without a trace of bias is deluding themselves. And Speculative Fiction is riddle with great stories written by authors that showcase their religious, philosophical and political views.

Heinlein

H.G. Wells

C.S. Lewis

Rod Serling

George Orwell

These are but a few of the authors who have used speculative fiction to explore and engage their readers along political, religious or philosophical lines. There is something about creating your own world universe that allows the author too expand on his views, mainly because said world works under the rules he created for it, thus it is malleable to his worldview. When done well the author engages in a thoughtful conversation with his audience, one that allows the audience to question the material and engage in their own quest for understanding.  When done poorly, the reader feels like the author dropped an anvil on his head while screaming “I’m right! I’m right! I am always motherfucking right, you ignorant turd!” in his face.

So, what is an author to do?

  1. Be upfront about your positions: You don’t need to repeat them every chance you get, but being upfront about them means that you are not disrespecting your audience with some stealth morality lesson or political view.
  2. Somebody, somewhere will disagree: Specially on the interwebs. It’s the nature of the beast. Know how to separate the genuine concerns/critiques from those that use your work as a straw man for their views.
  3. Do the research: If you don’t want to sound like a doofus talking about the evils of Capitalism/Communism/Evangelism etc, do the research, specially if your mocking/criticism those views.
  4. Don’t let your bias get in the way of the story: Story first, second and always. Let the story reflect it’s own values. Write the story, and let the readers figure it out.

Whether you want it or not, and whether you admit it or not, your writing is a reflection of who you are and that means that your views will seep in. It’s the nature of the beast.

Indeed I have. Not one but two books which every aspiring fantasy writer should have in their reference library:

A word of caution, these are reference books, the stuff that they professor’s back in college warned you were second tier sources. If your looking for in depth studies of myth cycles, ancient history and the like you might want to start with The Hero with a  Thousand Faces and go from there. Or grab copies of El Cid, The Odyssey and Le Morte d’Arthur.

But if your looking for a quick answer and don’t want to spend the next 6 hours in a wiki walk then these books are the answer.

The first, as the title suggest, is an encyclopedia of myths and legends from around the world. It concentrates on Ancient Europe but it does cover the rest of the globe in some details. It also tends to cram a wide series of subjects under certain meta-headings which works most of the time although I found that dropping the Arthurian Mythology under the Celtic setting heading was inaccurate to say the least (Arthur has its own mythos created in Post-Roman Western Europe). Plus a few errors and false assumptions creep here and there but as a well research reference guide to all things mythological you could do far worse. Especially if you pick it up under $10 in the bargain bin, as I did.

The second book is a collection of essays geared for the fantasy writer searching for research material on medieval settings. Like the first it concentrates largely on medieval Western Europe (500 CE to 1600 CE with some material extending to the modern era). It has some fascinating essays on magic, sources and uses as well as handy list of terms.  Again, it does not make the claim to be the end all and be all of sources for writers but it is a compact enough to sit on your desk while you work on your latest WIP.

I recommend both books as excellent places to start your research and as handy guides to all thing ancient, fantasy and fantastic. See if you can snatch them in your local book store (search the bargain bins first) or ask for them in your local library.

If you have any books to recomend, please do so. I’ll like to check them out.

That’s all for now folks, see you around.

Oh and before I forget, here is a video for ya!

I noticed that some authors post  “trailers” for their latest release (like movie trailers) on their websites consisting mostly of stock images done to music. Which makes me wonder about a few things:

  • Media Rights: If you’re using music, pictures or even video from other sources how much do their rights conflict with your own.
  • Effectiveness: Do people really buy books based on these?
  • Sources: Connected to media rights. I mean where do you get the music and pictures from anyway? Public domain or do you commission them, and at what cost?

I mean fans make their own trailers for movies, video games (from simple rip/edit jobs to full fledged machinima) and even create their own stories using game software, but can you extend that to books as well?

What do you think?

Are they worth it or just a waste of time?

Here is an example of World of Warcraft inspired machinima so you can see what I’m talking about:

(Oops! I posted the same video twice! Doh! Here is a different one.)

Years ago I thought up an epic saga, two thousand years in the future with vast star ship armadas, legions of mechanized soldiers and double dealing noble houses. I spent many an hour writing the back story, going so far as creating a “Encyclopedia Galactica”.

So where is this great story of mine?

In a drawer somewhere?

Perhaps a lost computer file?

I wish.

It remains all in my head. I wrote a paragraph at most only to annihilate it with the dreaded backspace button.  Yes, I fell victim to the bane of oh so many would be speculative fiction writers, world building disease.

Although, truth be told, it is not really a disease, per say, but an addiction. What really happens is that writer’s get addicted to the act of world (or universe) creation.  There is always something new to create; a race(s), country, time line, key characters, monsters, magic items, technology, etc.

I have three ways of breaking the cycle of addiction to this God-like power:

  1. Forget about world building and just write the story. The story’s universe will be come to life as you write.
  2. Mine what you already have.
  3. Look for work where world building skills are useful.

That is what I did for my second novel. True, I did cheat by placing it in a near-future setting and borrowing heavily from history (both real and mythological). Yet I had to create organizations, magic, demons and the like.

So I did a bit of world building, but only so much. I’m not a outline writer, instead what I do is I scribble a few notes to set my “universe” boundaries. I ask myself a few questions about the scope (planetary, star system, galaxy), technology (giant robots, magitech, steampunk) and characters. These form the outer edges of the canvas I will work with, as well as the basic palette of colors. As I write the story I take notes of the stuff that comes up, expand where needed (research, research and when in doubt research some more). That way I kept writing and ended up with a complete work that included a fair amount of back story.

The second strategy is to mine what you already have. As Howard Tayler suggest in the latest episode of Writing Excuses podcast, write a story about the people already in your outline.  Somebody had to create the fabulous Sword of Unbending Truth, defend the Pass of No Return or assault Garesh VI, right? You don’t have to write a whole novel around them, but a short story would do. It also shifts the focus from telling (world building) to showing (writing a story). At the very least you are creating a living framework for your universe, one that will hone your skills as a writer and may even be publishable in their own right. Not all 600 page books are made up of one story,  many are omnibuses/anthologies.

This brings me to my third point; you might not be a writer…of novels. Your talent may well lie in creating fertile fields for others to explore. You might still write in your universe, but that doesn’t mean your the only one that has to. You can share your idea with your writer’s group or get a job with a gaming company (paper/pencil or computer). They are always looking for the next “campaign setting” to serve as the basis for an existing or new franchise.

Just look at the many books already published in pre-existing franchises. Most of them are based on RPGs, comic books or other preexisting works. George Lucas created Star Wars, but dozens of writers have worked on the Expanded Universe. Same thing with D&D (all versions), World of Warcraft, Star Trek, and so on.  Just look at the Dragonlance series of books.

Whatever approach you decide to take the key is to be productive. World building is necessary, but it should not stop you from doing actual writing. At some point you have to stop telling me about the genealogy of the great kings of Adtmadar and start showing me who they are and why should I care about them. That means more than a dissertation or a time line. It means characters, dialogue, plot and action.

It’s the difference between a house and a home.

A house it’s a structure. Nothing more, nothing less.

A home is place that people live in.  A place that has meaning and consequences.

Time to turn your house into a home.

This book has wars, mass murder, high caliber ammunition blasting heads open and zombies but no sex.

Say what now?

You mean to tell me you have no problems with eviscerated bodies, gigantic explosions and blood sucking vampires but you can’t write a decent sex scene?

Is this book for ages 5 and up?

Listen to me, very carefully:

OBEY THE NARRATIVE IMPERATIVE!

In other words, if the story calls for a sex scene, write a sex scene. Even if you’re not writing a torrid Harlequin book, it is only natural that the adults in your story, if they have hormones and functioning sexual organs would want to use them, preferably with each other.

Also sex comes in many guises, not all of them pleasant. The horrors of sexual assault, the bliss (real, imagined or feigned) of first teenage coitus, or the lackluster once a week romp in the sheets of past middle aged married couples.

As long as you are writing what the story requires and to the right audience you will do fine. After all they haven’t plastered ratings on book covers yet. Besides, if you want your books sales to go to the roof, getting a few thousand request for book banning at the local library (or a good old fashion book burning) will work wonders.

Remember boys and girls, people are still having sex!

Were in:

The first villain (MC) meet(s) is the weakest, and the last is the strongest. In theory, as the heroes get strong enough to defeat their current enemy, a new enemy will emerge that forces them to reach another skill level.

A very common trope found at the heart of most comic books, action based TV series, RPGs and games (with a level system).  Serves as a plot extender of sorts. If you met the final Boss in the first chapter then it would be a short story not a novel.

From the villain point of you sending his strongest henchman to finish off the hero (if he even knows that he exists) might not be the logical first choice. First off if a disposable minion can do the job, why not send them, especially if they have a good track record. Also it would be easy to follow the trail back from the henchman back to the Big Boss, especially if the henchman is captured and made to talk.

For the writer the Algorithm of Evil helps in several ways:

  • Keeps the Big Boss hidden until it is time to reveal him
  • Allows the hero to grow through experience without the villain suffering from villain decay
  • Keeps the fights interesting. After all if the hero gets to strong compared to his rivals then they offer no challenge to him and the tension slacks to nothing.
  • Allows for a bit of detective work on the part of the heroes/MC(s). They have to go through the low(er) level mooks just to figure out who the Big Boss is.

When done right it proves the old adage that there is “always someone stronger”. Of course you may end up with something like Bleach or Dragon Ball type anime were an endless parade of more insanely powerful enemies come along to fight the already insanely godlike heroes (also common in certain high powered superhero comics like Superman).

I found myself doing the exact same thing in SuD but hopefully I avoided the pitfalls by:

  • Teaming up the MC with other heroes. Thus while the hero does get stronger, he certainly can’t fight all the bad guys by himself.
  • Brain over brawn: Both heroes and villains use more than raw muscle to survive. In fact the villains prefer not to get their hands dirty unless they can help it and the hero will certainly use other means to achieve his goals if they are at hand. Even within a fight sequence, the hero tends to use tactics and strength in equal measure.
  • Even mooks can hurt you. Just because you can dispatch a horde of X type of opponents doesn’t mean that they are still not a risk. If they score a hit or two, the hero will get hurt.

Well, I hope that I can navigate the waters of this trope safely and end up with a fun story at the end.

H/T to Marian for introducing me to the TV Tropes Wiki which served as an inspiration for this post.

Nancy Hightower over at her blog asked her readers about their definitions of  urban fantasy. Since SuD  fits the genre I decided to reprint my answer(s) here.

Urban fantasy (I prefer the term contemporary fantasy) is  a fantasy themed story (magic, monsters, quests, etc.) in a contemporary setting. BTW, a lot of the non-fluff Mall/Valley Girl YA stuff falls into this category. All Urban fantasy that I have read (and I’m writing right now) has several of the following elements:

1)World in the Shadows: Magic and monsters co-exists with technology but it resides in the dark places, such as alleyways, basements, backrooms, abandoned buildings.

2)Hidden in Plain Sight: This world co-exist with ours but either because it’s denizens (or the government or some other organization) work hard to hide it or we are blinded by our disbelief it is hard to see it for what it is.

3) The Hero Has a Gift: From the simple gift of Sight (the  ability to see the Shadow World) to wielding reality altering powers, he or she has the POWER. BTW, the POWER happens to be the source of all of the MCs problems. Hey vamp princess, not so sexy now with that stake stuck between your…well you know….eveil twins! 😀

4)The Setting: Urban really means “contemporary”, guns, computers, the police, modern communications. Chicago’s only listed Wizard packs a staff and a .38 caliber.

5)Black & White with a lot of Grey in between: You have your Good guys, your Bad guys and your Innocents. Except that the Good guys bend and break the rules, the Bad guys are not entirely nihilistic and the Innocent, how Innocent is the Hooker with the Heart of Gold, really? It is also a grimy environment and most of the dirt is moral.

6)Whatever the season Red is always in style: And by Red I mean blood, gore, and the like. Border-line horror story, except that the MC gets to kick back even harder.

7) Language and Sex: These are the elements that separate Urban Fantasy from their creepy crawly YA counterparts. People use the word fuck (shit too, as in “Ah shit!” or “Holy Shit!” or “The Shit Hit the Fan!”) a lot, and they mean it. Strip bars, prostitution, and a good roll in the hay (or three) with the local Vampire Prince are not out of the question.

That’s all I can come up with right now.

That’s right. Only 8 days left and I haven’t even reached 30,000 words. It is still possible that I could reach 50,000 by Sunday at midnight , if I write about 4,000 words a day for the next 7 days straight. That is a big if. I have the story, long enough for at least 60k to 70k words and the first part of a trilogy (or one 150k to 250k book).  Even if I don’t make it, I enjoyed the neurosis that is NaNo and will certainly finish this book and try to do it next year. Count on it!