Migrating the email newsletter!

I’m moving from Mailchimp to Mailerlite, so if you’re a subscriber, be looking for an email with the new links. If you’re not a subscriber, this would be a good time to stick your address in, as I’ll be revamping the entire system with new features, like book recommendations.

The Agony of Sorting My Books

See Life, and all that for my last general update.

Well, it’s been some time. Again. And for much the same reasons I had already shared. Life crept up on me, and work crept up on me, and the future bludgeoned me with a frying pan while I was distracted by the other two.

Progress has been made, though. I know where I will be living, come fall, which is always reassuring. I will have a steadier income during the academic year than I had anticipated, so my savings have breathed a sigh of relief.

And I have begun the process of packing up all my worldly possessions to schlep across the Great State of Texas. (There really isn’t any word that encompasses the soul-crushing tedium of moving better than “schlep”.)

Now, please understand, I don’t actually own all that much in the way of furniture and such.

The bulk of it is books.

Books are heavy.

I had come to the conclusion late last year that the collective mass of my books was probably too great to be moved across Texas, and so I started sorting them then. The problem is that my stacks were labeled something like this:

TO KEEP — TO KEEP — TO KEEP — TO KEEP — TO KEEP — TO KEEP — TO KEEP — WHERE DID THIS COME FROM? BETTER KEEP IT.

I don’t have a problem. It’s not hoarding if it’s books. (I stand by this firmly, even though at last count, I had about 300 in my bedroom alone.)

But now I have to get to it in earnest. I can’t bring myself to throw away a book, so they’re all going to the shop at my local library, which adds some books to the library’s shelves and sells others incredibly cheap to give people a chance to grow libraries of their own. It’s a good system. I’m pleased to contribute to it. But it’s still painful to watch a box of my books disappear into their back room. It’s like saying goodbye to friends.

My old friends can make someone else happy, now. That’s my comfort as I part with them and hope I can whittle the collection down enough to fit into a single U-HAUL.

What book in your collection could  you never bear to lose?

REAL vampires don’t [insert thing here].

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research, and I thought I’d share some of the interesting tidbits I’ve come across as I create The van Helsing Legacy (which you can read free HERE).

Whenever new vampire media comes out, it’s common to see strongly-worded objections in the comments section of all the reviews – something along the lines of “A REAL vampire doesn’t [insert thing here].”

Common complaints include sparkling, failing to burst into flames in the sun, not being a corpse, being capable of, ah, engaging in hanky-panky with humans, being able to consume the blood of animals, being too pretty, being too ugly… The list goes on and on.

The reality, though, is that our idea of what a real vampire looks like is extremely recent. Even when Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula,” ideas of vampirism were only just beginning to consolidate. The folk beliefs from which our current ideas have grown are… shall we say, “loose” at best.

For example, in many regional traditions, the distinctions between a vampire and a witch are casual or even nonexistent. A witch might become a vampire after death, but she also might prey on other people even while she’s alive, sometimes by changing her form into some predatory animal or by leaving her body as a spirit and attacking people as they sleep. Whether or not she is considered a vampire before she dies depends entirely on which old person is telling the story. And of course, while this predatory creature usually seems to do her predatory thing at night, she usually spends her days trying very hard not to be burned at the stake, hanged, or stoned to death for witchcraft, all of which tend to be more immediately dangerous than sunlight.

The dead kind of vampire catches fire in the sun, though, right? Actually, no. There is no folkloric support for sunlight destroying vampires. That bit of our modern myth comes from the 1922 film Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens, and even in the film, it’s not the sun itself that kills Count Orlok, but the noble sacrifice of a pure woman. In folklore, it’s true that vampires usually do their nasty work at night, but many also attack humans in their sleep, which has been known to include daytime naps as well. Others simply vanish when the sun comes up, with no mention of what would happen if they stuck around.

But they can only drink human blood. Sorry, this one is recent, too. Traditional vampires do an awful lot of harassing livestock, and often took the blame for plagues among cattle and sheep. On the other hand, the monsters of folklore never go after livestock because they have any moral compunction against going after humans, as contemporary vampires often do. In fact, a European peasant was likely to be just as devastated by attacks against his livelihood as by attacks against himself, so killing his cows was certainly not a decision of mercy.

They do drink blood, though. Weirdly enough, not always. The stories lumped together under the ‘vampire’ umbrella cover all kinds of depredation, and not all of it centers on the blood of humans or of animals. Eviscerated livestock was blamed on vampires. Failing crops, dying trees, noises on the roof or in the chimney, disappearing money, dry wells, bad dreams, good dreams that made people feel guilty, unexpected pregnancies in unmarried women… Heck, vampires even took the blame for eating their own bodies. Essentially, if there’s any kind of trouble in the neighbourhood, you might have a vampire problem.

So the next time someone gripes at you about contemporary media getting it wrong, you can head them off with a “Well, actually…” The only real constant in folklore is that it’s constantly changing. I, for one, am interested to see how it changes next!

Further reading:
For an interesting and informative read, check out “Vampires, Burial and Death” by Paul Barber.

Life, and all that.

It’s been a while, and I’m sorry about that, but I’ve been doing things! I really intended to post here more, it being winter break – I’m a university instructor – but break also seemed like a good time to cross a lot of things off my to-do list, so I did that, instead, and the blog fell by the wayside.

First of all, The Mage is out in both digital and paper forms. [Click!] Hurrah! It was delayed, but Amazon’s support teams were, well, supportive, and the technical difficulties have been surmounted.

Second, there’s a new project in the works, one unrelated to Lost Knowledge. I was teasing it all last year. The van Helsing Legacy: We Shall Not Sleep. There’ll be more information soon, and there are chapters beginning to go up for subscribers on Patreon.

Finally, this year is going to be a cyclone. We Shall Not Sleep will be coming out at some point in 2017, but I can’t yet venture a date. Instalments of No Cage for a Crow will also be releasing regularly. I intended to have Liminality #4, The Martyr out, too, but… I’ve been accepted to a PhD program. Elsewhere. This means that my year is going to be a sledgehammer-blow of seeking housing, seeking employment, moving, starting classes, starting a new day job, etc. I’m over the moon, of course, but I also have no illusions about the impact this will have on my time. It’s going to be greatly diminished, as will my disposable income, and publishing is both time-consuming and expensive.

The result is that everything, publication-wise, is up in the air. I will still be writing, though, and sharing that writing, so if you were thinking about contributing on Patreon, now would be a great time to sign up, to help me continue turning stories into books as my life changes course.

I’ll keep you updated as this journey continues. Wish me luck!

An update, and an apology

My sincerest apologies, readers, but it is 10:40 PM and I am experiencing technical difficulties, and I don’t have the time to sort them adequately. Believe me, I am working on it, but I have to contend with wait time between emails with tech support and with the general life issues (just general, don’t worry) that have sprung up abruptly these past few weeks.

As a result, The Mage is unlikely to release tomorrow, 30 November. I do NOT anticipate these difficulties lasting long at all, and will do my best to have your book to you within a week. It may even be out tomorrow, if the situation miraculously sorts itself, though I don’t think that will happen.

I’m very sorry about the delay – yet again. This seems to happen often with this series. It would be strangely appropriate to find out that it’s hexed.

I promise further updates soon. Please forgive me.

A Writing Meme – 5

The Writing Meme – Part 1
The Writing Meme – Part 2
The Writing Meme – Part 3
The Writing Meme – Part 4

23. How willing are you to kill your characters if the plot so demands it? What’s the most interesting way you’ve killed someone?

Oh, perfectly willing. In fact, I’ve just… Ah, but no. Spoilers. Mwahahaha.

24. Do any of your characters have pets? Tell us about them.

Kim had an obese cat named Bud. He got old and died, because even wizard cats get old. If you’re following the Liminality Series, you’ll soon be introduced to Erin, who has a squad of buff men she calls her “entourage,” though they’re actually thralls, which is what you call it when a faerie keeps humans for pets.

There may be more miscellaneous pets in the future.

25. Let’s talk art! Do you draw your characters? Do others draw them? Pick one of your OCs and post your favourite picture of him!

bashful_by_justleftofcenter13-d34dw92Well… I do. Just very, very poorly. I used to keep a file of sketches of my characters, until I realized my descriptions were more useful than my doodles, most of which looked like unidentified marsupials.

I like it a lot better when other people draw them for me.

Here’s Lenny, as envisioned by my dear friend Jennifer.

26. Along similar lines, do appearances play a big role in your stories? Tell us about them, or if not, how you go about designing your characters.

As in, are they significant to the plot? Eh, some. Morrigan, for instance, is not a conventionally pretty girl. She looks startlingly like her brother Sherlock in a wig and will, in a much later book (not a major spoiler) be arrested for posing as female for the purpose of felonious solicitation. Hard to make the charge stick, of course, after an undignified strip reveals that she is a bit female.

Most others work off certain archetypes, or common-sense extensions of their personal habits, genetics, etc. Lenny is nonthreatening: small, untidy, blond, but with unusually bright blue eyes. Daniel is severe and has an ascetic, angular appearance to match. Kim spends an awful lot of time sitting and reading, so she has thick, soft hips and thighs. She has the black hair and warm, dark complexion that comes from her mostly Indian ancestry. Jadwiga has the brown hair and eyes that are prevalent in Poland. Her scars prevent her from re-entering a society that largely frowns on extensive body modification, even though it wasn’t voluntary.

27. Have you ever written a character with physical or mental disabilities? Describe them, and if there’s nothing major to speak of, tell us a few smaller ones.

A few. In the small stuff, Daniel has such poor eyesight as to be non-functional without glasses. He can perceive large, blurry shapes, but wouldn’t be able to identify an object on a table three feet away, unless it was producing a distinctive sound or smell. With glasses, though, he can see just as well in the dark as in daylight.

Lenny suffered a brain infection as an infant and was totally deaf until his teens, except to the voices of ghosts and other dead beings. When he was fourteen, he began to regain some hearing and could perceive loud noises as a buzz. Becoming a vampire restored it completely, but left sensitivity and the inner-ear damage that prevents him from balancing. Other vampires would still consider him disabled, since the lack of balance means he can’t move superhumanly fast without hurting himself. Also, though not in the category of disabilities, I write him as non-neurotypical and asexual. A few readers have asked me if he’s on the autism spectrum, and while not precisely correct, it’s a useful analogy. His brain is designed for effective interaction with the dead, and as a result, interacting with the living is often difficult for him; likewise, his body is designed to facilitate moving spirits out of the world, not into it, so no sex drive.

Now you know.

A Writing Meme – 4

The Writing Meme – Part 1
The Writing Meme – Part 2
The Writing Meme – Part 3

18. Favourite antagonist and why!

Signe, hands down. At least in Lost Knowledge, though I have a contender coming up in a future publication.

She’s not a primary antagonist, or anything. She’s not a bad guy, exactly, though she’s certainly awful. She just does a great job of poking at everybody’s insecurities, harassing them endlessly, and failing to put up with anybody’s rubbish.

19. Favourite minor that decided to shove himself into the spotlight and why!

It’s a duo: Lenny and Kim. Shadow of the Mountains was the first Lost Knowledge book I planned, and originally, it was supposed to be the only. Everything in Liminality was intended to be backstory, plotted but never written. But Kim and Lenny elbowed themselves into center stage, and I couldn’t say no when I realized that their story was really so much bigger than I had ever imagined.

20. What are your favourite character interactions to write?

I sort of already answered that without realizing that this was coming up, so I’ll go with a different answer.

Right now, I’m drafting The Van Helsing Legacy, and I am really digging the interactions between Meg and Chessie, the monster-hunting flatmates around whom the story revolves. Sort of without my consent, they acquired a bit of a buddy-cop vibe. You’ve got to admit that a bluestocking and a flapper chasing down vampires has a certain appeal.

21. Do any of your characters have children? How well do you write them?

Well… yes. Jeremiah’s got Cynthia, and Cynthia’s got Kim. Nobody’s got young children, though.

There’ll be more parent-child interaction in No Cage for a Crow, but it’s still mostly at a distance. Morrigan doesn’t get on well with her parents.

22. How long does it usually take you to complete an entire story—from planning to writing to posting (if you post your work)?

This is impossible. Everything I’m writing now has been percolating in the back of my head for ages. The Medium started brewing in 2005 or so, about the same time I began writing the atrocity that eventually became In the Shadow of the Mountains. The Morrigan Holmes series occurred to me when I was five. Yes, five. I’ve had The van Helsing Legacy rolling around in my head since the first time I saw a Hammer Dracula film, and I don’t even know when that was. I can’t possibly trace a story from inception to completion. The writing is variable. I was writing ItSotM for eight years before publication. The Medium brewed forever, but only took me a year to write, edit, and publish, probably precisely because so much thought had gone in beforehand. I drafted The Wailing in less than a month, but it’s short. There is no consistency in my time frames.

The Writing Meme  – Part 5

A Writing Meme – 3

The Writing Meme – Part 1
The Writing Meme – Part 2

12. In what story did you feel you did the best job of world building?

Hm. No clue. I’d have to ask a reader. But, well, the Lost Knowledge world is growing with each story. The building won’t be complete until the last book comes out.

That said, the coolest piece of information I’ve dropped so far (in my opinion) comes in The Medium: 

“Conscious access to memory is a unique trait of living things, but memory itself is not. It’s encoded in the minute vibrations between elementary particles. Our entire universe is built of information given shape. Part of that is its history. Its memory. Now watch.”

13. What’s your favourite culture to write, fictional or not?

Oh, golly, you can’t ask that of an anthropologist. Pick a favourite culture? Can’t be done. But, as mentioned previously, I’m always in love with whatever shiny new thing is currently going down, and right now, I’m researching Polish history for that nameless gothic thing. It seems that, whenever anybody decides to take over the world, they always start with Poland. In-depth research is a bit tricky for someone with only a high-novice understanding of Polish; there’s less literature in English than I would like. Ah, well. I found a volume of translated fairy tales, and that’s entertaining me, for the moment.

14. How do you map out locations, if needed? Do you have any to show us?

I do have a pile of fantasy maps somewhere, for a project that was shelved several years ago. Everything else takes place in our world, though, so I just print things out from the internet and scribble on them in Sharpie. I’m sure I can dig up some examples, but they’re likely in the very bottom of one of my file boxes and will take some time to locate.

15. Mid way question! Tell us about a writer you admire, whether professional or not!

I am (fondly) jealous of Jodi Lamm’s ridiculously fine ability to turn a phrase. I am so in love with her Titan Magic trilogy and look forward to the third book’s release. Gorgeous, subtle world-building, fascinatingly flawed characters, spine-tingling twists… Am I gushing? Go buy her books. She’s also loads of fun to talk to.

16. Do you write romantic relationships? How do you do with those, and how “far” are you willing to go in your writing?

Eh, a bit. Not much that’s yet been published. There will be a touch of romance in The Van Helsing Legacy and in that unnamed gothic piece. I don’t like the glorification of infatuation, though. Being in love is enjoyable in the  moment, but has no lasting worth at all without a deliberate commitment. Otherwise, it’s just a fling, with all the depth that word implies. If it’s a fling, I write it as a fling. If it’s love, though, the decision is more important than the emotion.

Sex doesn’t interest me in the least. You won’t find anything beyond implication in my writing.

17. Favourite protagonist and why!

Oh, definitely Kim. She gets things done. She’s determined and efficient and has a sense of humour, and she isn’t impressed with Daniel’s whinging. I’ll be sorry to leave her behind when Liminality is done. But hey, that’s what Patreon is for, right? I’ve got loads of deleted scenes and backstory that’ll have to come out somewhere.

The Writing Meme – Part 4
The Writing Meme – Part 5

A Writing Meme – 2

The Writing Meme – Part 1

6. Where are you most comfortable writing? At what time of day? Computer or good ol’ pen and paper?

I always have a notebook with me, because you never know when or where you might find yourself with ten minutes and nothing to do. If I have a choice, though, I prefer early mornings or late nights at my desk. A burning candle is nice, too. I always draft on paper. Always. Transcribing from paper to screen constitutes my first round of revision.

7. Do you listen to music while you write? What kind? Are there any songs you like to relate/apply to your characters?

Sometimes, but only instrumental. I’m a fan of Peter Gundry and Philip Glass for writing. There are certainly songs that remind me of my characters, but I don’t make playlists for them, or anything.

8. What’s your favourite genre to write? To read?

The bulk of my writing so far is paranormal. I’m really enjoying mystery, as well, but I have no plans to branch out beyond Morrigan Holmes. Future projects – The Van Helsing Legacy and that gothic back-burner – return to paranormal, though in time periods other than the contemporary. I guess I just like a real-world setting with slight, ah, embellishments.

I read anything I can get my hands on. About equal parts fiction and non-fiction, the fiction about equal parts mystery, horror, paranormal, science fiction, historical, satire, YA… More picture books now than previously, since I collect them for use in my classes.

9. How do you get ideas for your characters? Describe the process of creating them.

I hate this question. I think most authors do. There is, in fact, only one character whose origin I can pinpoint to a single moment. John, from The Siren, was inspired by a comment on a Youtube video. Everybody else evolved sort of organically. I’m thinking about stories for a while, telling myself stories, and suddenly realize I have a character.

I can describe how they develop, though. Most of my Lost Knowledge characters were involved in role-play around the internet for years before I began publishing the books. I can’t think of any better way to really get to know a character than to have someone else throw situations at them.

10. What are some really weird situations your characters have been in? Everything from serious canon scenes to meme questions counts!

That role-playing background resulted in some really strange ones. Daniel once wound up married to a time-travelling airship captain from a steampunk alternate universe, living in an interdimensional bubble where they were occasionally attacked by Daleks. Non-canon, of course, but he still hasn’t forgiven me. Lenny’s been turned into a wolf, hit with a love spell, attacked by Umbrella Corp. zombies, and press-ganged into taking care of a magical toddler. Kim and Jadwiga have, for the most part, been spared any particular indignity, except for that one time they both got really smashed and almost came to blows over the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Canon is about to get weird, too. No spoilers.

11. Who is your favourite character to write? Least favourite?

Individual characters aren’t that interesting, to me. I like to play characters off one another. Current favourite is having Kim and Daniel in the same room, snarking at one another, closely followed by Signe tormenting Daniel.

hated writing Sebastian. It was incredibly emotionally taxing, and I am forever glad that I ultimately decided not to give him the status of point-of-view character. That would have killed the series.

The Writing Meme – Part 3
The Writing Meme – Part 4
The Writing Meme – Part 5

A Writing Meme – 1

1. Tell us about your favorite writing project/universe that you’ve worked with and why.

To be honest, my favourite is usually whatever shiny new thing I happen to be working on currently, and my various projects are different enough that it’s a bit apples-to-oranges trying to compare them.

I love my Lost Knowledge world, because it’s flexible enough to incorporate almost any new folklore I come across, and I have fun working with monsters who are basically just screwed-up people.

I love dipping into the Victorian world of Sherlock Holmes in the Morrigan Holmes serial I’m working on. I love the contrast between the glittering upper classes, the stolid middle class, and the starving, tubercular masses upon whose backs the other two build their lives. It’s all very pretty, but only until you actually start paying attention.

I  love the classic horror world in which I’ll be playing with The Van Helsing Legacy, based in part on my deep and painstaking folklore research and in part on the old Hammer films. The post-war attitudes of absurdity and cynicism will be tough, but I welcome the challenge.

And there’s one more on the back burner that I won’t discuss too much too soon, except to say that it’s had me reading lots and lots of old gothic fiction, and I’m very excited.

2. How many characters do you have? Do you prefer males or females?

There are 832 documents in my combined “Character Profile” folders. It’s possible I have a problem.

I don’t have a real preference. There’s a roughly equal number of males and females in the work I’ve published so far. The Liminality Series follows two women and two men, all of whom are pivotal. Women are outnumbered in No Cage for a Crow, but it’s written from a female perspective. Women will far outnumber men in The Van Helsing Legacy (also written from a female perspective), as a result of the dent World War One made in Europe’s male population.

There certainly needs to be more female-driven literature. I may as well contribute.

3. How do you come up with names, for characters (and for places if you’re writing about fictional places)?

I keep a list of names I like, with a connotation analysis and etymology, if I can find one. It’s sorted by gender and origin.

For real-world fictional places, I research trends in place-naming by time period and geography. For instance, a near-future project will take place partly at Blackeagles in Cumbria. There are no eagles in the area, “-eagles” being a corruption of “-eccles”, referring to a church. Blackeagles is named for the burnt-out ruin of a monastery outside the town.

For invented-world fictional places… Boggle.

4. Tell us about one of your first stories/characters!

The first I can remember was a ‘novel’ that spanned something like ten or fifteen black-and-white composition notebooks, begun in… second grade? Third? It was horrible. A girl named Sabrina got sucked into a magical world and was made their princess for no particular reason, and she was the best at magic and had beautiful eyes that changed colour and beautiful hair that changed colour and a magic ring that did I-forget-what, and there were unicorns, and I believe she was able to turn into one at will (though this was never a useful skill). It didn’t really have much of a plot.

5. By age, who is your youngest character? Oldest?

Chronologically, Aaron Margolis, from In the Shadow of the Mountains, is youngest in Lost Knowledge, being fourteen when the story starts. He’s recently been beaten out by Snail, of No Cage for a Crow, who is nine.

Oldest is tough, since I have a few who have technically existed since the beginning of the universe. But I guess they only halfway qualify as characters, so I’ll have to go with Signe the Swarm, first introduced in The Wailing. She’s forgotten how old she is, but the prevailing opinion in the wizard community is that she’s old enough it’s possible she was never human at all.

I came across this interview on DeviantART and couldn’t trace it down to an original post. If you know where this originally came from, please let me know so I can give appropriate credit.

The Writing Meme – Part 2
The Writing Meme – Part 3
The Writing Meme – Part 4
The Writing Meme – Part 5