Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The dreaded "info dump" is deadly

Okay, if you know me at all, you know that I loves my TV. Yes, love it. I am the first to admit that I watch way too much of it, but I own that fact, so it can't hurt me, right? :-)

One of my Monday night musts is Teen Wolf (MTV). If you've never watched it, I suggest you do. Especially if you love cliffhanger episodes and angsty teens and over-the-top writing. It's one of my new faves, and I get all excited when Monday rolls around because I know I'll get an episode full of action and drama and surprises that leaves me anxious for next week.

Except for the 7/22 episode. Yeah.

Writers the globe over know that if there is only one "rule" that can't be broken (bent maybe, but not broken), it's that you never fill a page/chapter/novel with nothing but information. Have a backstory to tell? Do it with dialogue. Need to tell the reader why someone does what they do? Show them instead. This applies to novels, movies, and yes, TV shows. 

Teen Wolf has, to me, always been at the top when it comes to good storytelling. They've kept a great pace on the show, moving characters forward and advancing their plots each season like pros. Sure the show is far-fetched and oft times insanely ridiculous--that's what makes it fun. But Monday's episode knocked that pedestal right out from under them and brought them to the floor (my opinion, people; don't start rioting in the streets). 

The episode was centered around Derek, the hotter-than-should-be-legal Alpha who did something detrimental last week. Several characters were placed in familiar settings at the episode's beginning, poised to ask questions about where he may have disappeared to. Que the info dump. 

Two characters we don't see much of on a regular basis were the messengers charged with explaining why Derek is the way he is, why things that are happening are happening, and why a new pack of evil alpha wolves is suddenly ready to rip the town apart. Now, let me say that the info we got in this episode was good, and I loved learning about Derek's past. But for the sake of TV (and a novel), this was not a good way of giving it to us.

Nothing happened. Yeah, there was some action that played out as the story was being told, but it was all in the past, mainly with characters we as viewers don't really care about. Two alternating stories were being told, but they ultimately tied together in the end (which deserves a kudos to the writing team for that), but I would have been so much more on-the-edge-of-my-seat happy if I could've learned all that while Scott (MC) and his friends were actually out searching for Derek, instead of sitting in rooms talking about him. See what I'm getting at? Show, don't tell.

That's a standard in writing. Show us what you want us to know, don't tell us. Now, I'll admit that I'm guilty of telling instead of showing (who isn't), but I know that I shouldn't do it, and actively try to avoid things like Monday's Teen Wolf. Which is why I was so surprised that that episode aired the way it did. For a show on the cutting edge of teen dramas, those writers made a boo-boo.

So, the moral of this post: Don't bring your readers (or viewers) down by filling a chapter or scene or even half a novel with nothing but information being thrown at them. Make it exciting. Make it fun. 

Show it.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Timing is Everything

By Dan Haring

I have a confession to make. I don't really like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In fact, I enjoyed the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version more, other than those horrible songs.

I know. Crazy, right?

Before you pull out the tar and feathers, hear me out. I didn't grow up with the Gene Wilder movie. In the days of VCRs and lousy cable television, that was one movie my family never got around to watching. So it wasn't until AFTER watching the Johnny Depp version and my wife telling me how it paled in comparison to the Gene Wilder version that I finally watched it.

Let me just say that I was underwhelmed. In fact, I wasn't even close to being whelmed. From "Cheer up Charlie" to the obvious sound-stage look to the factory, it just didn't do anything for me. And as creepy as Johnny Depp was, Gene Wilder was much stranger/creepier to me.

I mean, look at this guy:

That part was in the movie, right? My point is that the movie was just strange and didn't do anything for me on an emotional level. But if nothing else, it's responsible for the Condescending Wonka meme, which is actually quite enjoyable.

I might be alone in my Wonka feelings, but how about this? You go up to a couple of your friends who are laughing about something. They tell you why, and maybe you give a courtesy laugh because it's really not funny. But to them it's hilarious. And one of them says something along the lines of "guess you had to be there."

The point is that just like events in our lives, the stories we consume are often rooted to the time we watched/read/listened. Is Alf a good show? Probably not. But I grew up with it, and even if it doesn't hold up, you can bet I still have fond memories of it.

I'm 34 years old. I'm married and have kids. I even have a 401k, as ridiculous as that may be. If I picked up Jack Kerouac's On The Road for the first time today, I might think it was interesting, but I guarantee it wouldn't connect with me the way it did when I was 21. It's one of my favorite books not only because of what's inside it, but also because the first time I read it I felt like Sal Paradise was talking to me. It made me want to take on the open road. And I did.

The same goes for something like Harry Potter. While it definitely holds up, there was just something special about reading those as they came out. I will always remember the anticipation and excitement of picking up a copy of Deathly Hallows at midnight and reading if straight through. My 8 year old son is reading the Harry Potter series right now, and although he's loving it, I don't think he'll have quite the visceral connection to it that I do. But it's all right. He's going to have his own Harry Potter. He's going to listen to music that makes me do this:

And that okay. That's just how life works. I just hope my kids find books and movies and music that truly speak to them, so that when they're ancient like me they can look back fondly and draw from those experiences. Because the right stories at the right time can change your life.

Friday, July 26, 2013

What YA Book Movies Are You Looking Forward To?

Jordan Dane

In no particular order, I am looking forward to THREE movies that originated as YA series books. From everything I have seen, the casting looks really good and I am keeping my fingers and toes crossed that the screen adaptation is as solid as the Hunger Games screenplay that Suzanne Collins had a hand in writing. Can you imagine what a thrill it was or will be for these authors to see their books on the big screen? For readers to see it? Woot!

Hunger Games #2 – Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins)
Casting Jennifer Lawrence really made this movie perfect for me. I saw her in Winter’s Bone and loved her acting chops. As an actress, she has made some really amazing choices in movie scripts. Silver Linings Playbook was a great film too.

In the continuation of the series, more key secondary characters will be added and I look forward to seeing how closely this next movie sticks to the books. Here is the IMDB link to the movie and the release date is November 22, 2013. In my opinion, I was a little disappointed that Catching Fire was so similar to the first book. It felt as if Collins wanted to get #1 right and took another stab at it, like another Rocky movie. she played up the love triangle more in book #2, to set up book #3 – Mockingjay. I find it interesting that Suzanne Collins did not write the script on book #2. My speculation is that this film will diverge from the books to set up the final conflict.

Sam Claflin looks like a good choice, physically for Finnick Odair, a key player in the series. He’s gorgeous. And hopefully we will see more of Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson as Gale and Peeta.

Sam Claflin (Finnick)

Mortal Instruments – City of Bones (Cassandra Clare)
Cassandra Clare is listed as a writer on the screenplay. I’m excited about that. The strength of her books is her characterizations and her amazing story arcs for all the characters, even secondary ones. Her world building is amazing too, but as a writer I loved how she kept every character growing over the series.

From what I’ve seen of the cast, there will be some extreme eye candy for everyone. Lily Collins is perfect as Clary and I love Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace, even though I know he wasn’t people’s first choice. I think moviegoers will fall in love with this guy once they see him in the part. Here is the IMDB link. The movie will be released August 21, 2013. I can smell the popcorn now. My niece and her mom, my spectacular sister, go together to see movies made from YA books. I gave this series to them as a Christmas present and we’ve had this movie on our radar for a long time. Can’t wait.

Lily Collins (Clary)  & Jamie Campbell Bower (Jace)

Divergent (Veronica Roth)
I saw an interview with the lead actress today, who will play Tris. Seeing Shailene Woodley on Jon Stewart The Daily Show inspired this post. She did a great interview and was very entertaining and well-spoken. I don't see her as the image of Tris in my mind, but actors can bring so much to the table that I would love to see her in this role.

So I looked into the movie. OMG, Theo James will play Four. He is PERFECT for this role! Here is the IMDB link. The movie will be released March 21, 2014. Veronica Roth is only listed with a credit for her novel, so she didn’t contribute to the screenplay as a writer with credits there. The strength of these books is Roth’s world building and the way she ramped up the stakes in these novels, especially with her endings that foreshadow things to come that make you want to grab the next book, but the plot structure within each book wasn’t as strong (screenplay-wise) as Suzanne Collins or Cassandra Clare’s books.

I’m sure Roth had input to the screenplay treatment (the preliminary adaptation summary of the plot structure that the script will attempt to follow) and with popular books like this, filmmakers will want to stay true to the world they are trying to build into a movie franchise. Hollywood had a lot to work with in Roth’s books, so fingers crossed on this one too. Can’t wait to see it.

Theo James (Four) & Shailene Woodley (Tris)

So let’s take a quick poll in comments. Which of these movies are you most anxious to see? If there are other movies coming up that were adapted from YA books, please share them in your comments. I’d love to hear about them.

On the side bar to our YA blog, I have a poll set up for these three movies. Vote for one. Polling ends Aug 4th at NOON. Let your voice be heard here!

Monday, July 22, 2013


Earlier this week, a blog on what I would call "trilogy-itis" appeared on YALSA's The Hub.  I think the author of the piece has some very valid points although for me, most would apply to movies.  (Red 2.  Fast and Furious 4.  IronMan 3.  Die . . . Whatever.  Seriously?)   And even stringing folks along with endless sequels isn't new; just think back to the old Saturday matinee serials, like Captain Marvel and The Perils of Pauline (which are, really, more legitimately considered continuations rather than sequels but go with it).  Heck, if you want to blame someone for creating a recurring series character, go talk to Arthur Conan Doyle.  Yes, pretty much each story was a standalone, but over time, reader familiarity bred an expectation of more of the same.  Doyle didn't bother to keep track of every detail, but his readers sure did and still do.  That poor guy couldn't get clear of Sherlock Holmes--and even so, Doyle's embrace of a recurring character owes itself to a) Poe, a writer Doyle quite admired and who wrote two stories featuring the same detective and b) the well-established practice of novel serializations/installments, something Dickens and many other writers did because that was the industry back then.  In a way, they had to; it's how they made their living because they were paid by the word or installment.  Dickens and Collins and their ilk were the pulp fiction writers of their day.

So, really, multiple parts to stories that stretch over long periods of time is nothing new (or even confined solely to literature).  Serialization, continuations, and recurring characters are part and parcel of the mystery and thriller genres. 

Anyway, I'd encourage you to read the piece (it's relatively brief).  For those of you not so inclined, the gist of it all is that, in the author's opinion, there are just way too many trilogies out there these days--and, more importantly, not all of them seem justified.  That is, the story being developed doesn't seem to support or call for that much material and, by extension, an investment of time (and money) by her, the reader. 

Okay, I can sort of see that in certain cases and, like I said, the author raises some good points.  (Tell the truth, did you really expect a sequel to the original Star Wars?  The answer is no; the production company manufactured the need.)  But I can also categorically say that three of her contentions are dead wrong.  Of course, we're only talking about my experience; I can't vouch for other authors.  But here's where I take issue.

One is with this notion that keeping track of long, over-arching plots after a year's absence is so hard.  Come on, really?  Are you telling me that you really didn't remember what happened between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back?  Return of the Jedi?  The whole Lord of the Rings trilogy?  Yes, I picked movies, but they're not necessarily "easier."  Really, if you've connected with a character's story, I'm not sure why it should be that tough to get back there in a sequel (and without a dreaded recap).  To a certain extent, thriller and mystery writers routinely expect that readers will recall pertinent details about recurring characters and previous plot lines (and again, without the need for a recap) even if what they're presenting is a (sort of) standalone.  I say "sort of" because many mystery series feature characters with families or friends, who all change over time--and you, the reader, have to keep up (or invest some energy and read the earlier books--or just gloss over what you don't know and go on with the story).  My own prejudice, I guess, is that if a writer does her job, there's no need for an info dump to clue you in on what's gone on before.  (Certainly Dickens didn't think it was necessary.)  When people become invested in a character, they tend to remember the important bits.  

So maybe what we're really talking about here is that this is a new request?  demand? investment? on the part of the writer for the YA reader.  I agree with the author here.  For heaven's sake, if you don't feel like expending the emotional energy or brain space to keeping track of this and that, don't do it.  But just because some writers do info dumps doesn't mean all do (I didn't), and that's because I trust that my readers have a brain.  The trick is putting in pertinent details to jog memories (for example, I don't give a blow by blow about a character having been shot in a previous book; that would be boring: "Well, you know, Bob, I really thought you were a goner when the bad guys popped out from behind those bushes.  Do you remember when that happened?"  "Why, yes, Stan, I do.  Near around April, wasn't it?  Yeah, and by golly, gosh, I took one in the leg. Want to see my scar?"   But if I show a character having some trouble with a bum leg or massaging a scar or whatever . . . I trust that this is enough to help the reader recall: aha; right, he got shot.  See?  No info dump.  That was a show, not a tell.

A second point the author makes is that she figures a 
writer can't sell sf or fantasy these days "if you're not willing to divide it into pieces."  Nope; not true.  I know because I have and plan to keep doing so.  [In fact, my fans complain because they want sequels to books like Draw the Dark (a paranormal mystery) and Drowning Instinct (a contemporary, but I'm just saying).]  

Further, her statement presupposes that an author has somehow got some huge book that's only waiting to be divided--and, uhm, that would be no.  I can't imagine any writer plopping a twelve hundred page manuscript on an editor's desk.  (Well, okay, Stephen King did that with The Stand--he really did; I was in the audience when the editor told that story--but I'm talking us mere mortals.)  More often than not, I'll bet that trilogies come about as a result of an author having finished only the first book of a projected story (notice I say story not trilogy) that she hasn't really developed all the way or even begun to write.  Anything else is just a vague idea: a six-page synopsis or, maybe, only a few paragraphs.  It was that way with JK Rowling (in fact, I don't believe she really envisioned some huge series; she wrote a modest little middle-grade fantasy that did only okay and then she tried a couple other stories and then things took off).  

With ASHES, I had a finished book and an idea of where the story ought to go and that's it.  I said as much in an article that came out late this week on PW.  [That piece featured nine authors (including me) whose series are coming to an end and what that feels like and is all about.  You can read the first part of the article here; for those of without a subscription, you unfortunately can't read what we authors had to say, although I did post my portion on my Facebook page.]  

With ASHES, I had a big story, with multiple plotlines and characters, to tell.  But I only written the first installment and originally planned on one other book.  It was a (very gifted) editor who understood, even before I did, that I had much more going on in the ASHES universe than I knew at the time.  

But I hasten to add that this is not the same as the author's other point with which I take issue: that editors somehow wring three books out of authors whether they're ready or not.  No way; listen, an editor would be putting his job on the line if he pulled crap like that.  Publishing houses spend money to acquire these things; people don't realize the amount of work that goes into the production of even a single book.  No editor's going to pay a writer for a story that might turn out only half-assed or crappy.  That's ridiculous.  

For me, if the ASHES story hadn't supported or needed three books, I wouldn't have agreed to write them (and, again, my ASHES editor had nothing to do with crafting or demanding or writing the story).  In a way, that trilogy grew as I came to know and understand my characters--something that can only happen when you've got the luxury of time to let things spin out.  I was so incredibly fortunate to have that time, too; I can't tell you.  These characters truly took on lives of their own.  Now, I know I could tell more stories in that universe.  I've got the rudiments of a fourth book in my head; I know where I'd go next.  But for that series as a whole, I've done pretty much what I set out to do--and, as I said, even that changed over time.  

For me, I think the bottom line is that I write as much as the story requires.  Sometimes that's a standalone; sometimes that's a trilogy and at other times, as with my forthcoming WHITE SPACE, that's two books.  Could I write more books in either the ASHES or DARK PASSAGES series?  Sure.  For example, I am only now beginning the WS sequel, and it's possible that the ideas churning around in my head could expand and beg for a third book.  Not planning on it--I know the end I'm working toward here--but you never know.

Because characters and their stories really surprise you.  They do, and sometimes you have to give them the time and have the patience to allow their stories to grow.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Aberrant Adults and Irregular Juveniles... UNITE!

Happy Saturday!

I have yet to find an appealing definition of strange. I have been described as such, but I am not quite sure that there is a certain one meaning to the word. There is no strangeness in a physical form, rather it lies in the habits portrayed physically from our intellects. Is it in the way some pronounce caramel, or how some fold their laundry? It could be in the way people feel towards rain; loving its calming noises or hating the darkness it brings, maybe preferring it to sunshine and vice versa. 

Could it be enjoying little social interaction, or even none at all?
What about reading your five-hundredth book and it was over self-hypnosis from the nineteen-forties? Maybe enjoying coffee past eleven at night, or possibly fancying looking up synonyms to words you use constantly just so you can have something new to say. After all, words are precious and should be chosen wisely. Is it aberrant, an example of two lines prior, to collect old things that one averagely would not even consider valuable? Could carrying around a book in your bag in case you get bored of your company be a newfangled idea? What about being overly concerned about what is to come, or being overly concerned about everything? It is truly mystifying to think about what is strange. Do those who are not called odd ever wonder what we oddballs find irregular? Like shallow relationships, and impressing those who treat one terribly. It is common among the average, but dumbfounding to the outlandish souls.

What I also ponder every now and again, could strange ever be insult? Some who may be considered common might think so. How dreary must a life be, where being unique is not embraced? The thought churns my stomach, knowing that is a reality for some. There should be a sense of hope in most who await the day judgment dies; there must not be a fear of that day never coming.

I picked up a book over psychology a few weeks ago at a thrift store and finally got around to flipping through it today. Being curious of why people care so much about others thoughts of them and why people judge one another, I browsed about it thoroughly in the social section. I came up with development being the leading factor in a persons’ amount of self-consciousness. Judgment comes from our brain’s constant need to categorize things, including traits. This must lead to assumptions coming naturally. This may become avoidable if we can learn to relate a little more than we do at the moment. 

Just a few ramblings from the early morning thoughts that run through my mind at two o'clock. I started on a new idea for a story, and it is coming along quite nicely. It is intended to be finished before I see JD in San Diego next summer, so send some good vibes my way because I have a surprisingly optimistic feeling about this one. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cthulhu: Horrible or Huggable?

Ever hear of a writer by the name of H. P. Lovecraft?

Even if you haven’t, I bet you’ve heard of Stephen King, who called Lovecraft “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale,” and cited Lovecraft’s work as his own greatest inspiration for horror fiction. There is no better blurb in the world.

Lovecraft created a whole mythology of strange and alien creatures that has never truly been matched since his death almost 80 years ago. His most famous short story, The Call of Cthulhu, is a great representation of this as it presents us with a cosmic evil so far beyond our mortal understanding that his mere existence is enough to drive men mad.

Just take a look at this guy’s ugly mug and tell me you wouldn’t lose your marbles if he came to you in a dreams:

Cthulhu is only one of Lovecraft’s many bizarre and haunting creatures, and his images of groping tentacles and internal corruption have inspired countless movies, books, and games. In fact, because Lovecraft died without heirs, his writings and his mythos are public domain, making them free to read, adapt, and update.

In fact, there is a whole cottage industry built around bringing Lovecraft’s works to life in the 21st century. Anybody who knows Lovecraft can see his ideas popping up in some of the greatest horror films of all time, like the Necronomicon in The Evil Dead and the shape-changing alien in The Thing.

The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society has also directly adapted some of his best stories into very compelling movies that mimic the silent films of Lovecraft’s era. In fact, there’s even an annual H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in two cities.

There’s another side of the Lovecraft fan world, though. Here, Lovecraft’s beasties are treasured as funny and cute. In fact, the more nightmarish the original, the more people want a cute-ified version. Take this little plush Cthulhu, for example:

I’ve seen Cthulhu bobble-heads, funny shoggoths and fish-men t-shirts, and even a plush Necronomicon complete with fuzzy teeth (presumably to consume the fuzzy souls of any teddy bear who reads it). One of my favorite spoofs is a set of mythos holiday songs such as “Death to the World” (sung to the tune of “Joy to the World”) and “Harley Got Devoured by the Undead” (to the tune of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”)

And then, of course, there’s my SUPER soft and fuzzy Cthulhu pillow, whom my cat loves to snuggle with:

My question is whether these two approaches can exist together. Can Cthulhu be both horrible and huggable at the same time?

Personally, I like both versions, but I have a friend who hates the cute stuff. He says it undermines the intended experience and draws the life out of one of the most interesting mythologies of the modern world.

Maybe he’s taking this whole thing too seriously. Or, maybe my laughter at “Cute-thulhu” is really just a psychological defense against the horror.

Even if you’ve never heard of Lovecraft before now, I wonder if you, gentle reader, have ever had an experience where you enjoyed a cute spoof of something harsh?
Or, have you had the opposite experience, where the seriousness of a book or movie was undermined by a funny parody?

In short: how do you Cthulhu?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Procrastination Station, Retirement Parties And The Growing Of A Beard.

Lexi Brady
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It is something we are all guilty of. And recently something that I have been incredibly guilty of. My schedule is incredibly rigorous constantly pushing me to new extremes of exhaustion.

I constantly have six separate titles that I am working on. One for every day of the week and then an editing day which rotates between the six. Every day I write a minimum of two thousand words, even if I know it isn't something I will like the next time I go to work on that project I get a wonderful feel of accomplishment to reach this daily goal.

After six months of this schedule I found myself becoming less and less inspired to reach that many words in one day, so I gave myself a new challenge. If I can make it to three thousand words I won't have to clean my room that day. If I can make it to four thousand words I can buy myself a new book (and I really, really enjoy new books). ECT. ECT.

These guidelines I have set for myself are incredible and I am so glad that I adhere to my schedule. But recently I haven't wanted to. On top of my creative writing I work two incredible jobs that just love to keep me busy. I have one full day off a week and a few partials. This doesn't allot much time for my writing, LET ALONE the things that keep me sane. Like Skyping my cousin Morgan, showering, eating, breathing, reading, tumblr. 

Enters the procrastination. Last week for the first time in a year since I started my writing regimen I did not write one single word for a story. I told myself a lie I am sure many others tell themselves, " I will do it tomorrow."

And maybe you do! And that would be great, but that is not how it went down in my story. Instead I kept pushing off my writing and suddenly an entire week had gone by.

I spent my week working, and in my few spare moments I went to the lake. My eyes and skin screamed at me for days saying they much prefer my room in the dungeon (okay so I live in the basement, but where is the fun in that word?)  of the house.

I slept some and had some crazy borderline psychotic dreams that I am sure are the result of repressing my imagination for an entire week. Maybe I am a masochist? Because that surely seems like self induced torture to me. AND I DIDN'T EVEN REALIZE WHAT I WAS DOING TO MYSELF.

It suddenly clicked in my head that writing wasn't a job that I felt obligated to do.  It is something my mind and health REQUIRES me to do every day. Or I might just go crazy. Or maybe I already have? That is up for debate I think.

Now I have become one with my inner cave woman needs to realize that my priorities are in no particular order, as follows : sleep, skyping with my lovely spectacular cousin Morgan, eating, showering, breathing, tumblr, reading and WRITING.

When I realized how off not writing made me feel I made a major decision. On my next birthday I am retire from working my two jobs. I will write full time and most likely be a slightly saner human being.

This will be a huge change in my lifestyle, and I am already pumped to possibly triple my daily word counts! I will spend my days happily inside my house, most likely curled up in my bed with my most beloved Tiberius (my laptop, and yes he is named after James Tiberius Kirk....) writing and reading and reviewing books! Maybe even growing a beard in the process! ;)

So I suppose if someone suffered through this post of mine they will have come to the same conclusion that I have, sometimes procrastination station is the place to be.


Until next time my little loves.


Friday, July 12, 2013

How Greek Myths Inspire Us to Be Heroes

Jordan Dane

My ADR3NALIN3 guest today is Eva Pohler. She is a lecturer in writing and literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio and also a teen and adult fiction author. We met online through social media with a face-to-face meet at one of my books signings. I’m honored she could join us. I’ve had the pleasure of reading the first book in her Gatekeeper’s series and loved her passion for Greek mythology. Here’s Eva to share that passion with you.
 Gatekeeper's Daughter Saga ebook

In The Gatekeeper's Sons, Therese and Thanatos, the god of death, met and fell in love. In The Gatekeeper's Challenge, they did everything they could to be together, even break an oath on the River Styx. But the Olympians don't tolerate oath-breakers.

In this third book in the saga, The Gatekeeper's Daughter, Therese may have finally succeeded in becoming a goddess, but if she wants to remain one, she'll not only have to discover her unique purpose, but also make some allies among the gods. Artemis sends her on a seemingly impossible quest across the world, while Than searches for a way to appease Ares. To make matters worse, her baby sister's life depends on the outcome of her quest


I fell in love with Greek myths in the eighth grade, when I read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Later, after studying Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, I better understood why most people are drawn to myths: They help us to project and symbolically play out our own fears and desires. Carl Jung wrote of universal archetypes—such as the Madonna, the soldier, and the rogue. Sigmund Freud wrote that art was the opportunity for adults to continue childhood play in a socially acceptable way. Joseph Campbell built upon the works of both Jung and Freud to describe The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which inspired George Lukas in the creation of Star Wars.

As a writer, I, like Lukas, wished to tap into that universal consciousness where fears and desires are shared. Myths make it possible to project universal fears, or what we often call our inner demons, into monsters that can be externally fought and defeated. The most universal fear is death. I created a saga for young adults in which death is not only faced and, in some ways, battled, but also embraced and transcended. 

In the first book of this contemporary fantasy, The Gatekeeper’s Sons, fifteen-year-old Therese Mills meets Thanatos, the god of death, while in a coma after witnessing her parents’ murder. She feels like the least powerful person on the planet and is ready to give up on life, but the story forces her to fight. As she hunts with the fierce and beautiful Furies (the deities responsible for punishing the bad souls) to track down her parents’ murder and avenge their death, she falls in love with Thanatos and symbolically accepts her parents’ and her own mortality. 

In the second book, The Gatekeeper’s Challenge, Therese has the opportunity to transcend death by accepting five seemingly impossible challenges issued by Hades, the god of the Underworld. All five challenges represent the universal fears of rejection, culpability, disorientation, death, and loss in the forms of a box not allowed to be opened, an apple that shouldn’t be eaten, a labyrinth meant to confuse, a Hydra that wants to destroy, and the allure of bringing back the dead. These same myths are recycled again and again through the centuries because they help us to recognize our inner demons and inspire us to defeat them. 

The third book of the saga, The Gatekeeper’s Daughter, forces Therese to look inward. All gods and goddesses serve humanity or the world in some way, and in order to remain at Thanatos’s side, she must discover her unique purpose while protecting her loved ones against antagonistic forces. Throughout mythology, heroes have gone on long quests, often seeking an object. The object is not without importance, but self-actualization is the true victory in any hero’s quest, and Therese’s is no exception. 

The fourth book, The Gatekeeper’s House, begins with an attack on the Underworld, and now that Therese is just like any other god, she is without the special favors afforded to humans. She’s on her own in this epic battle to rebind the unleashed souls and save the House of Hades while helping the Furies discover the identity of the attacker. She has to learn to put her big girl goddess panties on and run with the big girl goddesses if she’s going to be relevant. Think of Odysseus when he returns to Penelope after his long journeys. Heroes must remain relevant when they return home. 

The fifth and sixth books of the series, The Gatekeeper’s Secret and The Gatekeeper’s Promise, depict Therese transcending from the status of rookie god to become a key player among the Olympians. Her journey parallels those of the demigods in the ancient myths; however, unlike them, she has managed to become fully god, an immortal among the Olympians, and that is not without consequences. 

As young adults negotiate through adolescence and adulthood, they struggle with the same universal conflicts portrayed by the ancients. As modern readers, we should revisit those stories to help us with our own epic battles—both internal and external ones.
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Eva Pohler loves to interact with people. Here are a few places you can find her:

Website, Facebook, Amazon Buy Link, Goodreads, Twitter

The first book of her saga is free in all ebook formats and is also available in audiobook!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Collective Consciousness and the Color Green...

by A.G. Howard

My favorite poem of all time is Christina Georgina Rossetti's "Goblin Market." In fact, it's played a very big role in my writing career.

For one, it taught me to use sensory description to pull a reader into my MC's head. Upon reading the poem the first time, I was THERE, trying to fight the allure of the cursed and luscious fruits, forging a relationship w/my sister, grieving as she withered away before my eyes and I struggled to save her. Christina's words flowed like magic waves on the page, catching me in their tide until I was eternally enchanted.

Also, this deep appreciation for Goblin Market helped bring my agent, Jenny Bent, and me together. We talked about the poem once just before I decided to sign with her. She loved it as much as me, even directed me to several images via the internet -- Pre-Raphaelite paintings by Christina's brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti -- which complimented the masterpiece.

Knowing how much Jenny loved Christina's lush and evocative attention to detail was a big selling point for me. Since I'm a very descriptive writer, I knew Jenny would get that side of my writing.

So I guess it stands to reason, since this poem holds such a special place in my heart, that I hope to one day pen a YA based on some of the elements, in tribute to Christina's vivid imaginings; similar to how I wrote one in tribute of Lewis Carroll's masterpiece.

Currently I'm working on a different YA WIP, but in the back of my mind I've been toying with the Goblin Market spinoff for some time. I've come up with some interesting ideas, and was starting to get very excited about the concept until the other day, low and behold, I see a book review on someone's tweet about this self-published debut:

(click on cover for a blurb; it sounds FAB)

Curses! Foiled by collective consciousness! But I refuse to let jealousy rear its ugly head. Nope, there will be no green here today, except on the lovely book cover above.

As a writer, I have to embrace reality. This isn't the first time this has happened, and it won't be the last.

When I was querying Splintered I had an agent reject it on the grounds that there were several reinventions of Alice in Wonderland recently bought so she feared the market would be inundated with them. She scared me so much I researched PublishersMarketplace and found them:

Alice in Zombieland (about a girl named Alice who’s in a car accident; wakes up, her family’s dead, and she’s in a post apocalyptic world where zombies run rampant)

Alice À Paris (about an American girl abroad in Paris; non-fanstasy)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (a fantasy YA similar only to Alice in Wonderland in that the girl has an adventure in a fairyland).

At first I was worried, until I took a really good look at the synopsis for each.

None of them have any actual ties to the Lewis Carroll world. Mine is an adaptation/continuation of the original story. I pay tribute to the Victorian/Carrollian elements--tinging his characters a darker shade and twisting whimsical situations to pure creepiness. So that sets my book apart. Just like other elements set theirs apart.

I'm glad I didn't give up after that agent put the fear in me, because Splintered found a publishing home and an audience, just as those other Alice books did. And now there's going to be a sequel.
So with that in mind, I'm still planning to write my Goblin Market spinoff one day. My premise is different from the other author's, and I believe there's room for each of our books. The world we live in is made up of many different readers who want many different things. Subjectivity, which during my querying years seemed a thorn in my side, is at long last my hero.

How about you? Have you ever had a book idea and realized someone else was writing something similar? Did you let it stop you, or did you keep writing your story because your heart believed in it too much to quit?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Perfect Cast

So many times I've come across the question if you could cast your own characters for the movie version of Girls & Monsters, who would it be? that before starting my thriller for young adult KILLER GIRL, I asked myself: who would I want to cast as my characters? Then I found this poster and almost died under the weight of inspiration.

First, I had to go with one of my favorite actors of all time (and near neurotic devotion): Gary Oldman. Our relationship (one-sided, needless to say) started with Sid & Nancy. Raw, brutal, addicts in love, he got me the second I laid eyes on him... and he looked so much like Sid Vicious that I had to remind myself this wasn't a documentary but the fictional rendition of the Sex Pistols’ bassist final days. Then, there was Dracula (my one and only) and Harry Potter (oh, to bear the name Black) – The Professional, Romeo's Bleeding, Immortal Beloved...so many, too many to even remember. And for Killer Girl, he's my nemesis, he's my monster: a man named Barnaby who turns kids into killers. Perfection.

Growing up, I wanted to be Winona Ryder. Oh no, not only because she played Mina (Dracula, again. I see a theme, here), Lydia in Beetle Juice or Kim in Edward Scissorhands, but also because she dated Johnny Depp and Christian Slater and was so beautiful and talented. Obsessed by her big doe eyes and that porcelain skin, I so wanted to be her... until what happened happened and the glass around her world shattered, a little. But fear not, she's back, she's creepy (hello, Black Swan) and she's my Kate: broken, fragile, but never a victim. A reunion with Oldman in my imaginary movie? Yes, please.

Then there's my kick-ass girl lead: Roe: not afraid to shout about what’s right and wrong, she's ready to take down the world, especially Barnaby. So I'm thinking Elle Fanning (with the help of Black #1) just because she's pretty but not candycoated sweet... and she could go dark in the blink of an eye (I'm talking about her soul, now). Also, there's something about her that screams 'don't make me say it twice' that's just alluring to me – no Disney or rainbows, but rain and darkness, just the way I like it.

And now I need YOU guys to help me pick my pretty boy, Dev: sensitive but not a wuss, he's a fighter with an edge - as in you don't want to mess with him, ever. I've settled for black hair/grey eyes combo, but I can’t find anyone matching that description. If you do, please step forward, and who knows, I might thank you in the acknowledgements. ♥

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sit down and write...

Anyone who is a writer knows how difficult writing a book can be. It's painful, heartbreaking, exciting, thrilling, soul-crushing...and so much more. As a famous book begins (worded a bit differently), It's the best of times, it's the worst of times. So, so true.
But exactly how does a book get written? Do magical faeries climb into a writer's head, pull out the words, and drop them onto blank paper, moving them and shaping them into beautiful prose? Or maybe writers slip into states of catatonia, feverishly writing down stories in the midst of beautiful darkness?

Of course not. Nothing's that easy.

No, a book is written just as any other "job" is done: with hard work. It takes time, and patience, and skill, and creativity, and on and on and on. The list of requirements really could become endless if you let it. But above all these things, the one thing that sits higher than any other is this: write.

Yes, it really is that easy (once you peel away all the layers of "stuff"). Simply, write. Pull out a pen/pencil and paper, or boot up your PC or Mac, and start writing. That's all it takes. That story that's rolling around in your head, competing for space with bills and kids' commitments and tonight's dinner, simply needs to be let out. So let it out, already. Trust me, once you start, you won't want to stop.

And don't be scared that your work won't be as good as someone else's, or that a publisher or agent won't like it, or that you've never written anything before so you shouldn't start now. None of that matters right now. That's not the reason you wrote it all down in the first place. You write because it's thrilling and exciting. You write because it's a release for your emotions. You write because you have a story to tell. You write because you like it.

You write because you have to.

So quit reading this lame blog post and start writing...you'll be glad you did!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Satisfaction Guaranteed?

First true story:  About two weeks ago, I decided to try out the Kobo app, not because I'd succumbed to any of the company's bazillion emails for sales--most were books I wouldn't read--but because I wanted to support independent booksellers who partner with the company.  Deal is, you go to the store's web page and then click through to the Kobo site to buy the ebook, and your favorite indie gets a split of the profit.  (Yes, before you ask: this was the same thing Google Books tried.  That tanked.  Nuff said.)

Bottom line is the thing only sort of worked.  Yes, I could buy a traditionally pubbed book, put out by a standard publisher.  But, no, on my iPod Touch and iPad, I couldn't really read the zillions of other ebooks, many self-pubbed, that can only be read if they're paired with Adobe Digital Editions, which the Touch and iPad (not to mention the iPhone) does not support.  I have an Android phone, and the app only worked fitfully there as well (and required sign-ins through Kobo and Adobe for me to read anything).  And forget previews: I couldn't see a one.  Not one. And books I did purchase weren't showing up on my various devices either.  Couldn't get the darned things to sync.

So I said a lot of stuff that I really shouldn't (the cats covered their ears, and we were all good) and then I emailed Kobo Customer Service with my questions and problems.  At the same time, I went on Facebook and Twitter and ask around to see if there were solutions or work-arounds.

I'll spare you the agony, but let's just say that a NUMBER of emails and almost four days later, nothing good was happening, and Kobo's replies didn't cut it.  One even helpfully suggested that for me to read books, gosh, I really needed the app . . . which meant the guy or gal hadn't bothered reading my original email which was all about the app.

Contrary to my normal way of doing things--I tend to suffer in silence--I vented a tad on Facebook and Twitter.  People tried to help; they really did.  Finally, after something like five days, I did something I've never done: went on Facebook and Twitter--even found the Kobo Twitter handle--and said I was through with Kobo and told them why.  Even now, I'm not sure why I did that, but I was just so frustrated with NO ONE bothering to solve the bloody problem for which I'd already spent money I really didn't want to see pissed away.  But I don't normally do these things.   Except this time, I did--and the results were shocking.  Within something like . . . wuh . . . fifteen minutes, the Kobo Help Desk people were talking to me through Twitter, asking for incident numbers and all that (I had, like, three).  In thirty minutes, they'd kicked everything up to their "Tier Two" team.  In less than two hours, the entire issue was resolved.  (Part was my screw-up, and part was theirs.  Like . . . ready for this?  You can't read previews on any Apple device, period.  You can only read them by putting the book on a wish list . . . except not every book can be put on a wish list.  So, pretty much, you are NOT free to preview every book on Kobo--and I'm sorry, but I'm not paying for a book I can't at least leaf through a little bit, you know?  I suggested that it might be nice if they put that  little nugget up someplace where folks with Apple devices might notice.)

Anyway, problem mostly solved, but because of, what is for me, a ridiculous escalation.  I hate doing crap like that, I really do.

Read on.

Second True Story: This morning, I decided I'd like a gander at a discounted book that just happened to be free for Amazon Prime members through the Lending Library.  Having used the library only fitfully, I thought, Cool.  So I hit the "buy" button.

Bet you know where this is going.

So I get charged.  I'm surprised; Amazon always seems to keep track of my Prime-ness . . . so what gives?  I immediately dash off an email query. I figured, okay, I'll hear sometime tomorrow.

Eh . . . no.  Amazon popped back with a reply in five minutes.  They fixed my goof within twenty, and educated me in the bargain.  I thanked them--and I got a note back, thanking me for thanking them.

But it was painless.  No escalation; no frustration.  No public venting.  Mostly importantly, no wasted time--and guess where I'll likely go for my next e-book?

* * *

Now, why bother with these examples?  Well, it's pretty simple, actually: not only are we talking about customer satisfaction, the Kobo episode, in particular, speaks to public shaming.  As a tactic to force another party to respond, shaming is nothing new. All you have to do is look at the latest public protest in whatever city or country you choose--or, say, the brouhaha over James Frey's fabrication of a memoir and Oprah's dressing-down--to understand the tactical power inherent in public shame as a motivator.  Standing up and having my one-woman protest march on Twitter and Facebook got Kobo's attention right quick and a resolution where days of (clueless) email replies only left me increasingly frustrated.  Put simply, Kobo cares about saving face in a highly public forum.  In this, they are no different than any other company--but it took an act of public shame to get their attention and provoke a response.

The same is often asked of us writers because readers broadcast their opinions in highly public forums; they engage in mass praise or public shame and degradation in a big way.  Like any company, though, a writer needs to be responsive to her customers.  No, no, you don't write to committee; you don't do what fans tell you to, and for heaven's sake, you don't apologize.  You wrote the book you wrote, and it won't be everyone's cuppa.  But people diss books on a regular basis; sometimes the attacks are personal or can get nasty.  Worse, these are carried out in highly public forums like Goodreads and Amazon, venues that, in many ways, certainly provoke responses from other readers--if you think about it, a crummy review might be all the permission that the guy who also hated the book but  wasn't going to say anything needs.  (That is also a true fact: people frequently engage in behaviors they normally don't if other people do it first.)  But because this is all so public, a writer might feel motivated to say something back. 

And here's what I say to that.  Just two words: Anne.  Rice.

For those of you who need a quick refresher or were just too young to remember--and, God, you do not know how it kills me to type that--here's what you need to know: Anne Rice was a mega bestseller (she may still be; I haven't kept tabs).  Among other things, she pretty much kick-started the whole vampire craze with things like Interview with a Vampire and The Vampire Lestat.  This was back in 1985, okay?  Yeah, yeah, a while ago; ancient history.  Anyway, her Vampire Chronicles did gangbusters; she went on to do stuff with witches . . . honestly, I lost track after a while.  But then she came out with what I guess was a real clunker, Blood Canticle.  Haven't read it, so I can't comment.  Well, readers were not amused and tore her up with horrid Amazon reviews--and, you know, it happens.  It happens to everyone, even my hero, Stephen King.  But, you know, you shrug it off, or you try to.  Actually, you do yourself a favor and stay away from public forums like Amazon where you might suddenly find yourself with a new orifice you really didn't need.

But Anne Rice . . . well, let's just say she reacted very badly to this public shaming.  What she did was post a long--and I mean, long rant on Amazon.  Really, I don't think the lady took a breath.  If you've never read it, take a couple minutes and check it out here; scroll down until you hit the review "from Anne Rice herself."  Go ahead; I'll wait. 

So what was Rice reacting to?  Duh . . . customer complaints, and there were a ton.  Take a couple seconds to read through some of those; you're talking disappointed fans.  Was it the right thing for Rice to do?  Well, not for my money, although whatever you think of her ego--I mean, the woman was on her 25th book, for heaven's sake, so she must've been doing something right--you have to give her points for chutzpah and offering refunds.  But I think my point here is that she reacted to being publicly shamed, and in a very big way.

I think most of us know that it's best not to blast back, right?  You probably adopt this policy all the time without realizing it.  Case in point: you're on Facebook; you make a comment; someone else chimes in that you're wrong.  You then react by reiterating your point or trying to rephrase; the someone else fires back; and before long, you find that you have two choices: continue the argument--or shrug and disengage/walk away.  Me, I walk away because I've been a shrink long enough to know that when someone in the room is yelling or firing back or getting all defensive . . . they've ceased to listen.  And, really, I got better things to do.  Said what I had to say, and I'm outta here.

Same thing goes for public forums, right?  We all know this?  Don't get into a pissing match with readers?  Readers are entitled to their opinions, and no one necessarily asked you to join in the conversation.  No one asked you to like what they say either . . . but, then again, you shouldn't necessarily go looking for trouble (or approval).  I'm serious.  Yes, I know that needy feeling; you work hard for what feels like very little; you send your baby out into the world and watch it get shredded; you and your baby are exposed to public shame.  It's like someone stood up in the middle of a very big, very crowded room and shouted, "Ilsa Bick's book sucks!"  And then, in an even worst case scenario, everyone applauded and high-fived the guy. 

Hard to walk away.  I know.

But then there's the other problem, when someone ups the ante and writes to you, personally: pops into your inbox and yells; or pops into your inbox and throws a tantrum; or pops into your inbox or your website's comments screen and wants to know why you did x, y, z or conversely, how dare you not do x, y, z.

Then what do you do?  Do you approve the comment and respond?  Do you respond to the email?  Because this is different: it's someone coming to you only semi-privately.  Now, emails are easier, of course; I always take the approach that not everything I do will appeal to everyone, but gee, thanks for giving the book a shot.  Mainly, I choose not to argue, and since I know the person's already unhappy . . . well, there's nothing I can say or do that will change that, is there?  We just keep the conversation between ourselves.

But . . . if you approve that website comment, you make the exchange public.  In a weirdly perverse way, you participate in making that shaming public because the person contacting you did so in the expectation that you two would move to a public forum . . . the reverse of taking your argument to a different room, out of earshot, or having a nice quiet chat where you won't be overhead.  So what do you do?  Because if you don't approve a comment, how much you want to bet that person will send you another?  And a third or fourth?  So what do you do?

My fast and simple rule: if the comment's abusive . . . sorry, but you're out of luck, bub.  It's my website; you're in my house; these are my rules.  Unlike customer service reps for Kobo or Amazon or whomever, I have the luxury of deciding if I want to pick up the phone.  Eventually even the abusive bozos get tired and give up.

But if the comment's not a personal attack, I'll post it, even the ones that are less than laudatory--because if you were a guest in my house, you'd be entitled to your opinion.  My own experience with this is that someone who's got a beef will frequently want to have a conversation; if you respond in a polite and even-handed way, things calm down pretty quickly.  I've even had someone with a beef end up apologizing to and reassuring me that he really did like the book; he just wished I'd done things a tad differently.  It was all very civil, and no one screamed or pulled an Anne Rice.

The moral is: you can't solve or resolve disappointment.  But it is important that you recognize that this is the emotion your readers are having if they're upset.  Conversely, it is just as essential for you to understand that you are important enough for them to invest their energy, time, money and emotion in your work.  So take complaints that come to you seriously, and for heaven's sake, answer that email so long as it's within bounds.  (Believe it or not, I know writers who won't respond to readers, period.  The mind reels.  I understand that some writers are just so deluged they'd never get any work done, but then you gotta post that on your site or something.) 

Above all, remember this: I know this feels counter-intuitive . . . but disappointment is also a bit of a compliment.  Understand that if a reader is disappointed it is because he thought or had heard you were so great, or had a wonderful experience with another book of yours. 

Then go write the next book.  That reader's waiting for you to, anyway.