Monday, August 18, 2014

What About Me? The Fabulous Five Blog Post

Gillian St. Kevern tagged me for this talk-about-myself blog hop. The hop invited me to answer the five questions below. I encourage you to check out Gillians blog to find out what shes up to. As for me:

What am I working on?

My current project, Thick as Ice, is nearly finished. The book continues the adventures of Vorgell and Madd from Thick as Thieves. Vorgell takes on winter goblins—in the heat of summer—and gets closer to Madd’s ass. I really enjoy this pair’s company, and their growing relationship plucks at my jaded heartstrings. Fans will be happy to learn Petal continues to be fierce, is now a teenager, and has mysterious bumps on her shoulders. Here’s a snippet of the boys:

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Taking advantage of one of the shadows, Madd pressed Vorgell toward a building wall. It was a clumsy move, as much a product of mead as of lust, but he brazened it by cupping his friend’s well-endowed groin and grinning when what felt like a serpent moved under his hand.

“You can’t resist me, you know.”

“Never could. And tonight I can’t get you to a bed fast enough. This way.” Vorgell dragged him out of the shadow and cast a watchful glance in every direction. Thieves Wart boasted a surplus of villains.

“It’s better in moonlight.”

“What is?”

“Cock sucking, you oaf. It’s better then. All cocks are pretty in moonlight.”

“I do not think you could be any drunker and still walk on two legs.”

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I’m also writing a standalone short for the boys. It should appear later this year in a charity anthology.

But wait! There’s more! I’m writing another short—about a spider shifter—for an April Fool’s Anthology early next year. I’ve set the story on a remote island in northern Wisconsin where the natives are hostile to newcomers, especially those they invite to join them for dinner.  After that? Let’s just say I don’t lack for WIPs needing attention.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Other people can probably answer that better than I can. No writer sees their own work clearly. One thing I bring to my work is long experience with reading and writing science fiction and fantasy. I learned my craft at the knees of some amazing editors and writers and I’m pretty exacting about genre elements. My magic systems aren’t flimsy. My settings are detailed. But so are those of other writers and I couldn’t tell you precisely how mine differ. 

My main love is building worlds and invoking a sense of wonder and place. My readers will enter lush worlds, fully developed societies with clear rules, and inhabited by characters who fit seamlessly into their surroundings. They belong there and the story belongs there. I think that’s true even for my recent contemporary story, The Last Cannoli.

Oh, and there’s humor, some books more than others. But rumor has it Thick as Thieves and The Last Cannoli have made people laugh.

* By the way, if you know a way my work differs from others, could you please tell me in a comment? I would be eternally grateful.

Why do I write what I do?

I spent my childhood being continually uprooted. We moved from place to place, state to state, and I never lived in the same place more than two years. Every time I made friends I had to leave them behind. One reason I started making up my own worlds was to have control over something. In addition to accumulating a rich trove of landscapes, people, and social values, I devised a certain way of looking at the world. I was always the other. The new kid. The outsider. Imagine being the tallest (and blondest) person when walking through crowds in Bolivia. So I became fascinated by otherness. My favorite stories still feature characters in unfamiliar settings, or from exotic backgrounds. After I discovered The Lord of the Rings and the books of Thomas Burnette Swann, I was hooked. Fantasy and science fiction completely suited me.

What’s so great about fantasy and science fiction is that any idea is possible and can be developed, examined, and explored. A completely frozen world. An imprisoned god. Women who need men for only one thing—and it isn’t reproduction. Humanity meeting a form of life it cannot subdue. And it’s not necessary to leave human emotions and passions behind. Human characters, in any setting, will fight, love, fear, and strive for something. We can crawl inside the alien, visit societies Earth has never seen. Every story I write is a model used to explore and show the immense power of being human, of finding those other people we can trust and love.

And then there’s sex. Every permutation of human sexuality is beautiful and worthy of being explored, including the way sex is misunderstood and manipulated. In fact, sexual landscapes can be among the most challenging, and rewarding, to visit. Once you get past physical attraction, what really pulls another person in and makes them want to share their bodies and secrets not just for a night but forever? The combinations are endless.

How does my writing process work?

A story usually begins with a character. Almost always the character has a problem. In one of my MF WIPs, when the heroine meets the hero, she’s pregnant with another man’s child. Can a pregnant woman attract a hot man? Thick as Thieves germinated from the idea of a perpetually oversexed barbarian (how much fun could I have with that!?) who falls for a prickly male witch. The main character and narrator in The Last Cannoli was suggested by a prompt, but I knew I had my story when I envisioned a relocated Midwesterner finding work at a Philadelphia Italian bakery famed for its cannoli. His problem was stepping into a business run by a family of passionate Italian Americans. Trust me, that’s a problem—it took me a couple years to figure out the one I married into.

Naturally, there are exceptions, but in most cases once I have a character I create a conflict. Because conflicts provide direction. A fun conflict guarantees a fun story. An intense conflict, or a sexy one, creates a different kind of story. With every story I make a conscious decision what kind of story I want it to be, and devise a suitable conflict. If the story is deeply focused on the main characters, I make the conflict be about them. They are part of the conflict. What they do, why they do it, what happens as a result, all comes from some flaw or virtue within them that drives everything else. Sean Whelan, in The Last Cannoli, wants to express his creative side—and then wants to help the bakery he’s come to love by using his creative side—and the end result is a cannoli war. Madd Moondark doesn’t want to be controlled by anyone, which is why he puts the brakes on Vorgell’s lusty pursuit and also why they end up in a creepy castle trying to find a way to rid Madd of a cursed love collar that puts him in the bad guy’s power. Conflicts are the engine of the story.

Everything after that is gravy. I’m a pantser and it’s a bit like I’m in a video game, following my characters around, meeting new characters, and creating environments suitable for their adventures. I custom make worlds to suit the characters, rather than fit my characters to a world I’ve created. The exception, of course, is a series. The Uttor books all have the same world in common.

Setting is the third pillar. I pull landscapes from my memory and use them as foundations. The Prince of Winds owes its sweeping settings to the Andes of Bolivia and Peru, where I lived for a time as a young adult. Sorcerer’s Knot’s desolate storm swept island was inspired by cruises to St. John, New Brunswick, supplemented with research on the Faroe Islands. The Last Cannoli? I worked in a bakery in high school and did research here in Philly. Settings frame a story, give it color, shape, and meaning. The oak groves in Thick as Thieves represent natural power and interconnectivity. Madd’s connection to the oaks and the moon—to the setting—roots him deeply into the story. Vorgell is a visitor to Madd’s world. He is my alter ego, the Other.

And if I am giving the impression I’m very deliberate… I’m not. I’ve just been around long enough to have figured out what I do. My writing is terrifyingly spontaneous. Sometimes I come up with ideas or images in advance, but more often than not I create them on the spot, as needed. My heroes could use a bath and it would be fun to get them naked, of course, and clean, and have sexy fun—so how do I do that? I come up with a bath that also introduces a new character and advances the plot, because everything must advance the plot. My heroine is competent and her society accepting of such, but I need a way to show it. Let’s see… the hero can see her adjudicating a difficult case that—you got it—advances the plot. Writing is a constant process of finding solutions that move the story forward.

That said, I often get amazing ideas—even entire scenes or complete dialogues—when in the shower. Those end up getting scribbled on scraps of paper by an unclothed, dripping author. For everything else? I’m probably wearing jeans and sipping coffee.

Who’s Next on the Blog Hop?

Anyone who wants to be! I must be late to the game because I’m having trouble finding friends who haven’t already been tagged. Just saying this is a fun event and I encourage folks to join in.

Remember to comment if you can tell me how my work differs from those of other writers in my genres. That question really does come up a lot and I never have a good answer! 

11 comments:

  1. Okay first... *squees and flailing* for the snippet. I've made no secret about how excited I am for the next book!

    *clears throat* Okay, onto the serious stuff. I love the sense of fun and adventure I get from your books. The sometimes outright and sometimes underlying humor is wonderful. I have to admit I don't read a lot of SF&F but those books that I have read don't always have that. Perhaps I'm not the best one to answer your question though as I'm not a big reader of the genre?

    At any rate you don't have to enter me into the contest I just wanted to flail and then let you know what makes your books different for me. :)

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    1. Thanks, Allison. :) This question comes up when I talk with publishers, editors and agents. They ask what's different about my work. I would like to impress them with an actual answer (i.e. something is different) but... I never know what to say! If I have even one thing to say, that's actually true and not me being hopeful, then I can at least be confident.

      And if you change your mind about the swag, let me know. I have unicorn horn soaps, Thick as Thieves coin purses and notebooks, and Last Cannoli ribbon and charm bookmarks. :D

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    2. Okay, you twisted my arm, I'll put my name into the hat. ;)

      aahickmanathotmaildotcom

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    3. It's not a drawing. :) You answer, you get some swag. Anything in particular you you'd like?

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  2. Yay, more from the boys! I love your writing for several reasons, but what makes it stand out for me is the very slow build of romance, if any, between characters. Sometimes it's just sex, and that's okay. Relationships don't always end with hearts and flowers. Very often your characters have been mistreated or shunned by society. They learn to live without love or kindness from others, so they take companionship, however brief, when they can. They are slow to trust and one can't blame them. This adds a layer of realism to your books, even when the story is about magicians or fantastical beasts.

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    1. That's interesting. I work to make characters believable but always wonder if I've succeeded. That's one of the challenges of fantasy, where characters can have very different cultures or abilities. They need to feel like people we might know, but within their differences. Realism is a good word for it. They should feel like they could be real. Thanks!

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    2. Oh! I like this answer. I agree. Especially "They learn to live without love or kindness from others..."

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  3. Oh Tali - your sentences make my day!

    "All cocks are pretty in moonlight"

    That really needs to be on a t-shirt, or a mug, or jammies, SOMETHING!

    I think the thing I appreciate most about your stories is the balance you strike. Your MC's have gone through some serious dark and heady stuff, yet you balance that so well with humor and witty banter. They don't think themselves too seriously but don't become a joke either.

    I know when a balance isn't struck well the characters can feel disjointed, the story becomes confusing and it's hard to connect with the MC's. Instead your characters have more depth because they are more fully fleshed out and have different moods that are easy to follow and easy to connect with.

    Madd and Vorgell are definitely on my list of all time favorite couples and I can't wait to read Thick as Ice. Plus all your other WIP projects! Thanks for keeping us posted and I love reading how authors get their inspiration.

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    1. Thanks, Ann. I rather like that sentence, too. :) And it's nice to know Madd thinks cocks are pretty.

      Hmm... characters again. It's great to hear readers are enjoying some of the nitpicky stuff I do about motivation and emotional layering. Thank you!

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  4. I'm trying to put my finger on it (not THAT *smack* Your characters are flawed, which makes them relatable and interesting. But so are those of other writers. Your settings are rich and clear and easily imaginable. But so are those of other writers. Your worlds are well built and believable, but that's not unique. Your dialogue is fluent and appropriate, your plot is cohesive and moves at the right speed. There's not too much sex, and what there is, is integral to the plot. There is humour. There is rich detail. None of these are unique. It's the way you combine them that's unique. It's like a great cook working with a complex recipe. Other cooks have made the same dish, used the same ingredients, but no one has spiced it in quiet the same way. That's what makes it stand out.

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    1. I'm with you, Nephy. I mean, about all those things every good writer does well, so just being pretty good at something isn't the same as being unique. What's unique is the way the writer does it. And that's what makes it so hard to define. I'll just tell the next agent, "I cook up a hell of a good story!" LOL But that's pretty much the gist of it.

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