Writing Boys

For the last month and a half I’ve been working on edits for my young adult novel, Heart Blade. A good part of the process included digging deeper into my characters. I spent a lot of time on my main male protagonist, seventeen-year-old Ash. James Asher Deacon is a complicated bundle of anger, fear, sorrow, sweetness, and sense of duty, and I hope that when Heart Blade comes out next year my readers will like him as much as I do.

I handed in the first big round of revisions to my editor yesterday, and since then I’ve been thinking about some of the fictional boys I’ve enjoyed reading about and what makes them appealing as characters. By ‘boys’, I mean that interval between late teens and early twenties; the ‘growing-up’ years, the defining years, the years when life is so full of urgent questions and – well – urgent everything. You find them all over YA, and a good bit of regular ‘adult’ SF/F too. They fuel fan art, and fanfics, and heated debates. They can be lovely, and frustrating, and stubborn, and inspiring. Here are a few of my favorites.

*Note: not all the books mentioned below are YA, but all the characters are in the YA range and share that ‘coming of age’ vibe. Feel free to add your own faves in the comments!*

 

Han Alister (The Demon King, Cinda Williams Chima) – Heartless streetlord, loyal friend, waif, leader, lover, healer, mage. The blond and blue-eyed hero of the Seven Realms series wears many different faces for many different people, and Chima does a spectacular job of showing him to us through different lenses as she builds on all these facets. Han is a compelling character who is not afraid to fight and suffer for what he believes in, and who will go to extraordinary lengths to defeat the villains and save the girl.

Darrow of Lykos (Red Rising, Pierce Brown) – What’s not to like about Darrow? Fiercely determined to do the right thing, free his people, and avenge the love of his life, the Helldiver of Lykos can be hard-hearted and unforgiving when necessary. But the talented military leader in Brown’s trilogy never loses the ability to love those who surround and follow him, and this faith in his friends is ultimately what saves him, time after time.

August Flynn (This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab) – August is sweetness personified. A beautifully gentle soul – who just happens to also be a monster who needs to kill in order to survive – he’s one of the prettiest characters I’ve seen in a long time. He’s brave, loving, and utterly committed to doing the right thing, even if everyone else is against it. He’s a bright candle flame in the dark world that Schwab has created in her new series, Monsters of Verity.

The Raven Boys (The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater) – I’m totally cheating here, but how am I supposed to choose just one? In the first book of the Raven Cycle series we’re introduced to the loyal and eccentric leader, Gansey; to Adam, handsome and broken; shy and mysterious Noah; and prickly Ronan, whose tough exterior hides a caring heart. The four ‘Raven Boys’ from Aglionby Academy come as a package deal, complementing each other and weaving their personal stories into one rich tapestry.

Jorg Ancrath (Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence) – Jorg is definitely the bad boy of this bunch. Cruel, ruthless, very often unfeeling, and damaged beyond belief, Jorg is also brilliant, determined, and an inspired leader to his equally damaged men. The dazzlingly dark hero of the Broken Empire trilogy may be one of those love-him-or-hate-him characters, but there’s no doubt he makes for an extremely exciting read.

Martris Drayke (The Summoner, Gail Z. Martin) – I’m only halfway through the first book in Martin’s Chronicles of the Necromancer series, and already Tris has made it onto my faves list. Tall, slender, and handsome, Tris is also sweet and loyal, always trying to protect his friends and loved ones from harm. When tragedy strikes, Tris is forced brutally into a coming-of-age journey that brings out his still-nascent summoning magic. But even with everything he loves ripped away from him, he still retains an essential niceness that’s very endearing.

Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch

I’ve had Ben Aaronovitch on my to-read list for a while. Somehow he kept getting pushed down the list, until the other day I spotted Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the USA) at my local library and thought, ‘why not?’

I was hooked by the end of the first page.

I’d heard plenty of good things about Ben’s Rivers of London series, also called the Peter Grant books after the main character. I’d heard that they were well written. Fast-paced. Exciting. I certainly agree with all of those, but somehow I missed out on how funny they are. I wasn’t expecting funny. He had me constantly grinning as I zapped my way through his first, second, and third book in quick nail-biting succession.

In his first book, Rivers of London (Midnight Riot), we meet PC Peter Grant, a lowly constable in the London Metropolitan Police Service. Peter… Well let’s just say he isn’t headed for great things. In the words of his friend and co-worker PC May, he’s just too easily ‘distractible’. But distractible turns out to be a good quality when it leads to an interview with a murder witness…who just happens to be a ghost.

From here on, Peter’s life grows steadily weirder and more interesting, in equal proportions. Pretty soon he finds himself working for a secret branch of the police force under the supervision of England’s last official wizard, Inspector Nightingale. The plot jumps and leaps and twists between river gods and vengeful spirits bent on mayhem and murder in this absolutely delightful book.

I had to have more. Soon I was diving into Aaronovitch’s second book, Moon Over Soho. This one delves into the world of jazz with an investigation into the mysterious death of a number of musicians. Ben’s third book, Whispers Under Ground, takes us into the tunnels and sewers underneath London’s streets when a murder victim is found at the end of Baker Street tube station.

I finished the third in a bit of a fangirl daze, thinking why haven’t I read this before!!! Luckily for me, there are more published books in this great series, just waiting for me to pick them up.

If you like your supernatural police novels to have a decidedly cheeky approach to apprehending a number of not-your-usual sorts of suspects, then Ben’s work is definitely for you.

 

 

 

August Updates

August tiptoed in yesterday all ninja-like and sneaky. July went by so fast it was a blink-and-miss it month. Probably because I spent most of it buried in my laptop. So, what’s new on the writing front? Plenty!

I received my edit notes for Heart Blade and I’m deep into rewrites. Revisions are hard work, and mean digging a lot deeper into scenes and characters than you’d ever imagined you possibly could. But I’m confident that the story will be all the better for it. And to tell the truth, I’m actually really enjoying the chance to polish up Heart Blade under the expert  hand of my editor, Teresa Edgerton. I can’t wait to share the results next year.

The big Heart Blade news, however is that I now have a cover artist! Woodbridge Press will be working with the very talented and lovely Merilliza Chan. I’ve had a sneak peek at some of her sketches and am so excited. I just know that Meril will produce something amazing for Del and Ash’s story. Keep an eye out for more cover news!

thumbnail teaser

Teaser…………. Because I’m evil like that!

Check out Meril’s art on Instagram and Deviant Art.

Weird Curvy Edges

A couple of evenings ago I was reading an online discussion – as you do on a Saturday night when you’re at home with kids, a dog, and a Harry Potter marathon on TV. However, different from many other debates that I nod along to and promptly forget, this particular discussion stuck in my brain.

In the forum thread, the poster asked, “How do you handle feelings of competition with other writers who are more successful/more prolific/working in the same genre as you?” The overwhelming majority of responses mentioned the incredible support writers give each other, and how one person’s success does not hinder another’s, but helps them along instead.

I admit to getting a little teary-eyed as I read the replies, but I’ll blame that on a particularly poignant scene in Prisoner of Azkaban, which happened to be on at the time.

I started writing novels almost exactly four years ago, in August 2012. At the time, I’d just signed up to a science fiction and fantasy forum with an active community of writers. That’s where I learned about the importance of feedback and found my first treasured beta readers (waves at Jo, Mouse and Abernovo). I moved to the USA and discovered a second, equally supportive family in the kid lit world through the SCBWI. I joined critique groups and went to my first writing conferences and conventions. I spread my wings and found a whole world of like-minded people who were willing to share, and to care.

Over the years, I’ve followed the journey of a number of writing friends who’ve published work. I have been thrilled for each and every one of them. I’ve bought books, tweeted praise and, when possible, written reviews. Tentative online connections have become firm friendships, and my own life and work has become all the richer for it.

The peer support I’ve seen out there in the cold, hard world of publishing is phenomenal. Writer friends get it: they’ve struggled with first drafts, endless revisions, and plot holes galore. They’ve bled ink, and woken up at 3am with a brilliant solution for chapter 10 which has to be written down immediately or will be forever lost. They can always be counted on to send virtual cake when needed.

Writer friends are priceless.

And now I have an upcoming book release of my own. I should be terrified (and I am, really), but I know that I’m not alone. I know I’m just one small piece of a much larger puzzle. And all us puzzle pieces, we’re not in competition. We complete each other – with our many odd curvy edges – and share our strength with one another.

So for all my writing and publishing friends, the ones I’ve met and the ones still to meet: thank you for being there, and thank you for being you. Weird curvy edges and all.

Have Book, Will Read #11

July already, and where the flip-flops has the year gone to? In June, I took a long break from reading and instead binge-watched Supergirl and Vikings between heated discussions of end-of-season Game of Thrones episodes. This means that lately I’ve been reading ALL THE BOOKS to make up for it. Here are a few…

Recent Reads: Love, life, death…and toilets.

Somehow I missed that Benedict Jacka’s latest Alex Verus novel came out in April. I’m a big fan of this series, so I quickly remedied this by rushing out to buy Burned and reading it in one afternoon.

In Burned, Jacka sets Mage Verus upon a dark path when a race to save himself and his friends from an execution order leaves Alex with no good choices to make, only ‘less worse’ ones. This was an exciting yet also heart-wrenching read, and it’s going to be a long year before the next book, Bound, is released in April 2017. If you like urban fantasy and haven’t tried the Alex Verus series, do yourself a favor and pick up the first book, Fated.

I spent a highly enjoyable evening reading Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson, which takes us to an alt-world 1738 France where a former soldier tries to reach fame and fortune through the wonders of indoor plumbing with the help of a little water magic.

This delicious Nebula-nominated novella is short enough to slip in between your other summer reads and, seriously, toilet stories don’t get any more sweet or charming than this blend of historical fiction and magical realism.

The first two books in Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy had been sitting on my shelf for a while, and last week I finally picked them up. Them, plural, because I enjoyed the first, A Thousand Pieces of You, so much that I jumped straight into the second, Ten Thousand Skies Above You.

Pitched as ‘Orphan Black meets Cloud Atlas’, Gray’s dimensional travel tales have it all: intrigue, love, betrayal, heartache and adventure follow Marguerite as she dives into alternate realities and alternate versions of herself on a journey of revenge that becomes a mission to save her world and all others in the multiverse.

I’d heard good things about Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series, so this week I picked up the first book, The Raven Boys. It definitely lived up to the hype. The characters are gorgeous, the plot intriguing, and Stiefvater’s writing style an absolute delight.

Psychic’s daughter Blue has been warned that if she ever kisses her true love he will die. But despite her best intentions to stay away from guys, she can’t help being drawn to four of the ‘raven boys’ of a nearby private school, and before long she becomes involved in their quest to uncover a local ley line and the grave of an ancient king.

The last on my list is special… The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone is a contemporary novel, not a genre my sff-obsessed brain usually dips into. But this book and I go back a couple of years. When I first met Carrie she was at the agent query stage. Along with the rest of our writing group I’ve followed the submissions, the rewrites, the line edits, the excitement of the cover reveal. So I was thrilled to read the final polished version, released on June 6th.

And it was just as lovely as I remembered. A really fun read, though heartbreaking at times, and one that made me laugh and cry all over again as though I was reading it for the very first time. This is the story of seventeen-year-old Maddie, who accompanies her family on a death-with-dignity cruise at the request of her dying grandmother. Maddie’s family is a loud and wonderful splash of color, and Maddie gets a chance to make new memories, forge new friendships, and fall in love.

Now Reading: Deserts, deserts, everywhere.

I’d had China Miéville’s Railsea on my to-read list for some time, so when I won a flash fiction competition on the sffchronicles.com I claimed this book as my reward (thank you Brian Turner!). I’m not far in, and as with the other two Miéville novels I’d previously read, it’s taking me a while to immerse myself in his world. But that’s just fine. Some novels are for gulping down in one glorious race for the end, others are for dipping into slowly, and enjoying each page as a work of art.

I’ve also started reading Sunset over Abendau, the sequel to Abendau’s Heir in Jo Zebedee’s Inheritance trilogy. This somewhat dark space opera series will definitely appeal to those who prefer their happily-ever-after’s to have a large dose of fallout on the side. Jo writes excellent characters, and I’m enjoying being back in Abendau’s world.

To Read: The end of things.

I picked up a couple of library books this week, which by necessity have jumped to the top of my to-read list. Can’t keep all those other readers waiting! The first is one I’ve been meaning to get to for ages: Half a War, the last book in Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy.

The other is also, coincidentally, the last in a trilogy: Brian Stavely’s The Last Mortal Bond, conclusion to his Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. I’ve enjoyed both of these trilogies so far, and it will be nice to see how they end.

So that’s it for July. Happy summer reading to those in the northern hemisphere. May your beach towels be sand-free, your pool chairs perfectly angled, and your picnic spots quiet and shady. To those down south, may your winter be mild and your blankets soft and cozy. Read on.

 

Write ’Em Up(dates)

True fact: once I wrote an entire novel to a 2-song soundtrack consisting entirely of Fall Out Boy’s Immortals and My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark (Light Em Up). There, aren’t you glad you know that now?

So what’s new or old on the writing front, soundtracks aside? I handed in the final pre-publisher’s-edits version of Heart Blade around a month ago. Sometime over summer I should be getting revision notes back from my editor, the lovely and very talented Teresa Edgerton. This is both exciting and terrifying. I’ve had lots of great peer beta readers and critique partners, but this will be my first professional edit. Gulp.

In the meantime, I have a short story to revise for a fantasy anthology that will be out at the end of the year with Heart Blade’s publisher Woodbridge Press. The anthology has a truly great line up of authors, and I’m thrilled to be in it. I also have a new novel I’m working on, a science fantasy YA. I’m coming up to the halfway point on this one, and hoping to get a first draft nailed down before things start to get real with Heart Blade.

In blogging news, I’m putting my Spotlight interview series temporarily on hold. But only because I’ve joined the sffworld.com team and will hopefully be doing lots of interviews for them instead. I’m really pleased about this, since I love their website, and am looking forward to working with the SFF World team.

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Writing perch during a quick June trip to visit family in Brazil.

 

One last snippet of writing news I forgot to share back in May: I won the April 300-word writing challenge on sffchronicles.com. This is really cool as there are so many talented writers on the Chrons, and competition is always fierce! The 300-word challenges are open to any speculative genre and run off a visual prompt. This time the prompt was a photo of a bird’s skeleton. Here’s my winning entry; it’s a bit dark and not very summery, but I hope you enjoy it.

  

Tiny Bones

I crouch down in the garden, poke them with a stick. Small things, wispy and fragile. “Just a bird,” they would say. “Leave it alone, Sarah. It’s just a dead bird.” 

It’s raining again. There’s been nothing but grey since the Weeping began. I haven’t seen the sun in over two years. I hate this rain, the feel and the smell of it. It trickles off the bird bones and sinks silently into the moss. 

The bones are truly minute. If I picked them up, I could cradle them in my hand.

I wanted to cradle Sam, too, but they wouldn’t let me. He was so small when he was taken. Not even a proper baby yet. He never felt any pain, they told me. But what do they know? What do they really know of tiny bones and hearts and souls? 

He was the fifth, this year alone. Since the Weeping, no child lives in this aging compound of ours. One by one, fading, failing. In this diseased world, we scream and rage, but still the silent killer strikes, deadly accurate, picking off our young ones one by one. 

We bury the bones, bury them deep in the hidden place so they can’t come back, not like Marion’s Ava who killed three people before we trapped her in blankets and ran her through the wood chipper.

Because when they come back, they’re not human. Not any more, not after the Weeping. 

But I don’t care. I want my Sam. I leave the bird’s tiny bones alone and make my way to the hidden place. I sink my fingers in the rain-damp soil. And then I begin to dig.

Spotlight on Urban Fantasy with Pippa DaCosta

A wizard, a goblin, and a fairy walk into a bar… No, not a tavern or a dusty wayside inn. A bar. One of the ones with pool tables, and dartboards, and some TV show on mute behind the bartender. The traffic roars by outside, and somewhere a cell phone rings. Welcome to the wonderful world of Urban Fantasy.

Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy that uses supernatural elements within a real-world setting, usually contemporary. Novels are often set in cities, although small-town environments work just as well; however, the ‘urban’ in question refers more to the urban nature of society than the story’s setting.

Personally, I love urban fantasy. I love the fast-paced plots, usually with a thriller or mystery at their heart. I love those wizard P.I.s, the problem-solving werewolves, and the vampire love interests. The idea that the woman next to me at the grocery store might be a fae warrior in disguise? I’ll take it. I’d even argue that urban fantasy is a form of portal fantasy, a gateway to a world of supernatural magic hidden in plain sight among the coffee shops, subway trains, and dismal stretches of suburban highway.

My lovely guest Pippa DaCosta is the author of the Veil and City of Fae urban fantasy series, besides the Girl from Above science fiction series. Adding an extra dose of adrenaline to her already exciting list, the first books in two brand new series will be out soon: look for Chaos Rises (Chaos Rises #1) on June 29th and Hidden Blade (Soul Eater #1) in July. Pippa is a busy hybrid author, expertly balancing the demands of traditional and indie publishing as she navigates her way through her different series and worlds.

Juliana: Pippa, thanks for taking time out of your hectic writing schedule to chat a bit about urban fantasy. What was the spark that led you to working in this particular genre?  

Hi Juliana. I’ve always loved urban fantasy. For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by the interplay between magic and reality, and how those two forces mix and clash, usually producing spectacular results. Urban fantasy is an opportunity to believe our nine-to-five days might be transformed from the doldrums, to something or somewhere fantastic. Where the normal might in fact be paranormal. I was writing urban fantasy more than twenty years ago, before I knew it was a thing; scribbling on reams of paper, my Sony Walkman headphones on (showing my age!). I am an avid reader of UF too. I can’t get enough of it.  

Juliana: You’re a prolific writer with several distinct storylines on the go at the same time. Where do you start when planning a new series? And how do you keep your worlds separate from each other? 

I’ll answer the easy one first. Keeping my worlds separate. I use playlists. As soon as I start writing a new book in a new world, I create a playlist that builds as the book and series progresses. Every book and every series has its own playlist associated with it. This allows me to switch from writing in one world to another, and ground myself in each by listening to the playlists. I guess it tricks my brain into thinking I’m back in those worlds. My fantasy playlists sound very different to my scifi playlists, for example. If I’m writing traditional fantasy, I’ll listen to Thomas Bergersen or Two Steps From Hell, utilising those traditionally epic soundtracks. My scifi soundtrack has a lot of dance, with a typically scifi synthetic theme.

Planning a new series is a lot more difficult to answer, because it varies. I’m part planner, part pantser. I start when a new series grabs a hold of me from out of nowhere and grips me so hard I don’t have a choice but to start writing. For those first few chapters, I have no idea what I’m doing. I get the ideas out, and clean up the mayhem later (editing!). Once I have a feel for what’s really going on (usually by the time I type The End), I can then start to think about what comes next. How many books, what story arc do I have, how are these characters going to grow and change. All those answers fill out my series outline. The in-between bits might change, but usually the planned ending stays the same. So, it starts with one idea, and grows from there. There’s a quote from me floating around the internet that says, “Ideas take root at the oddest moments. Some grow into novels. The weaker ones with and die.”  

Juliana: In your opinion, apart from the obvious differences in setting, what are the key points in plot and pacing that set urban fantasy apart from traditional fantasy stories? 

There are debates raging throughout many a writers forum regarding what constitutes urban fantasy. Some argue it’s setting, some argue it must be told in first person point of view, or it must set in a city (not a village?!). There are no rules, but there are expectations. Urban fantasy readers expect action, adventure, usually some snark, maybe a love interest (note I say love interest not romance – romance (defined here by a Happy Ever After) treads on the close cousin of urban fantasy, paranormal romance). For me, urban fantasy simply means magical elements in a contemporary setting. For example, the Supernatural TV show is urban fantasy. You could argue Harry Potter is urban fantasy (although much of it takes place in Hogwarts, which would make it fantasy). Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series is technically a fantasy, because it’s set in an alternate world, but to me and you, it’s urban fantasy. Anything with a first person narrator (usually), and magic (definitely), set in contemporary times (for the most part) is urban fantasy.   

Juliana: Love and sex often have a role in urban fantasy novels. How far can an author go before the line blurs and the story crosses over into the paranormal romance genre?

Love and sex? You can go all the way, BUT paranormal romance has expectations such as a Happy Ever After (HEA) or a Happy For Now (HFN). Urban fantasy doesn’t care about happy. It laughs in the face of happy for most of a series and may, or may not, have a ‘happy ending’. Also, paranormal romance books are usually centred around a couple, with the romance being a large part of the central plot. The next book might switch point of views to a different couple, but still be in the same series. It’s rare to find an urban fantasy that switches point of views for different books in a series. Most urban fantasy books don’t revolve around a romantic plot – they may have a love interest, but that’s not technically romance. But, authors and readers alike will always argue over these two genres and what they should/shouldn’t have. I love both, by the way. I adored Christine Feehan’s Dark series, and of course the Dark Hunter books, but these days I look for a little less happy in my ever after (Cue evil author laugh). 

Juliana: One thing that fascinates me in urban fantasy is the space for the multiple re-working of mythologies and folktales. Just as I think there can’t possibly be any new angles on the same creatures, someone shows up and surprises me with a different take on the subject. Your demons and half-demons in the Veil series are certainly unique. Do you have any tips on how to avoid falling into tired old tropes when writing urban fantasy? 

Actually, I sorta like tropes, they’re familiar. I know when I pick up an urban fantasy book, that I’m going to get a dash of tropes in there. And that’s okay. But the same tropes over and over get old real fast. There are so many great books out there, with so many fabulous ideas. To be honest, it’s all been done before. There are no new ideas. But as an author, the key is to put your own spin on a trope. So you have a vampire, he’s ancient, he sucks on veins—meh. Make him or her different in some way, make him unique. Or a wolf shifter? Don’t just stick to the same-old same-old in the story, rub some funk on it, make it different, make it yours. I believe the key to knowing what you can do with tropes is reading widely in the genre, so you can see what’s been done a thousand times already, and how you can make your shifter-vampire different.  

Juliana: One last question, just for fun. If you could be a supernatural being from any of your books for a day, which form would you choose and why? 

That’s actually a really difficult question to answer. I’m not sure I’d like to be a demon, my demons are pretty horrible most of the time. I could be a half demon for a day, that might be cool. Let’s face it, having wings would be amazing. Who cares if they’re leathery? WINGS! Yup, I’d totally be a half demon.  

Juliana: Thank you for stopping by and sharing some insights into the world of urban fantasy. And yes, I’ll take a pair of wings too, leather and all. Sign me up! 

Don’t miss Pippa DaCosta’s new book Chaos Rises (Chaos Rises #1), out soon on June 29th.

Check out http://www.pippadacosta.com for further information on Pippa’s work, as well as book news and giveaways. You can also find Pippa on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter, as @PippaDaCosta.

 

My monthly Spotlight series is taking a break. But I’m joining the team over at SFFWorld.com, so pretty soon you’ll be able to catch my interviews over there instead.