Category: Guest Post
by December 4th, 2013-
“For the first time ever I was writing the same story in two different media at the same time.”
I was a comics writer before I was a novelist, and a novelist before I was a screenwriter. Although actually I was scrabbling at the edges of all three of those forms before I got a handhold on any of them. I just knew I wanted to write – and what sort of stories I could write. As far as media went, I wanted to work in pretty much all of them. Stories are stories, right?
I’m not quite so blasé these days. I’ve got a sort of league table of media that I can work in and media I definitely can’t. I love prose, TV and movies, comics, and I’ll probably always want to have feet in all those camps (if I run out of feet, I’ll borrow or rent some). But I turned out to have no skill at all for radio, and games writing was a nightmare I’m still trying to wake up from. As Clint Eastwood said in Magnum Force, a man’s got to know his limitations.
There’s one particular pleasure, though, that you can only experience as a writer in multiple media – the pleasure of adaptation. I’ve been lucky enough to be commissioned several times to do comic book adaptations of novels and movies, and once to do a movie adaptation of another writer’s novel. In each case, I had a blast.
With the story structure already in place, the creative process and the creative challenges are very different from the ones you face when you’re making something entirely new. What you have to do is to dismantle the story – break it down into its component parts – and then think about what each part is doing. I’m not just talking about plot points, I mean characters arcs, themes, even key lines of dialogue. You do this because it’s not possible, ever, simply to move a story into another medium scene by scene, the way the town of Springfield was moved in that Simpsons episode by putting all the houses on wheels, driving them a mile down the road, and putting them down again in the same configuration of streets.
Okay, it is possible to do that, but it’s usually a bad idea. Every medium has its own native vocabulary, or palette, or whatever you want to call it. Its own biases. Things it does brilliantly well and things it can scarcely do at all. So when you adapt, you’re finding different solutions to the same set of narrative problematics. You’re making the story talk in its own voice but in a different language. And if you do it well, and if you’re lucky, the original writer will still recognise his or her progeny despite the pork pie hat, rah-rah skirt and Groucho Marx moustache.
When I was writing The Girl With All the Gifts, an opportunity came up that was completely new to me. An opportunity that was – well, probably not unique, but I’d be willing to bet fairly rare. Read the rest of this entry »
by December 3rd, 2013-
So I’m sure there’s at least a few people out there (or at least I’m going to pretend there is) curious about my transition from ‘self-publishing idiot’ to ‘an idiot being published by Orbit’. I should probably make something clear first. Coming in from self-publishing, I’d heard plenty of…let’s call it propaganda. Traditional publishing is evil! It’s the devil! They’ll buy your soul, run it through a paper shredder, make you change your characters into bland rip-offs of something else that’s popular, then feed your soul back to you in quarterly intervals. Also they’ll never do anything to help sell your books, treat you like scum, ignore your calls, and probably murder your puppy while they’re at it.
Now I’m sure there’s at least one puppy-murdering publisher out there, but I’d never actually quite bought into all of this. It’s one thing to believe a business is acting like, you know, a business, another to believe they were cartoon level villainy needing to be conquered by G.I. Joe. But even if I didn’t believe it, I still heard all the horror stories, the examples, the warnings… and it builds up a bit of an expectation. So after signing with Orbit and beginning the editing process, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any butterflies in my stomach as I got to peek behind the curtain. Read the rest of this entry »
by November 29th, 2013-
Ever since I decided to use Francis as my pen name, the subject has cropped up. Why? Is there some gender reason? Is it because you’re writing from a male first person perspective? In part that’s true – although Francis is a family name, which is why I chose it initially.
Writing as a supposed male has had some interesting side effects though. I’ve surprised a few people who thought I was male, which I’m taking as a compliment about getting the character right. And the other area that surprised me was the idea of author inserts, and the assumptions that come with that.
As a reader, I completely understand the temptation to assume a character (especially in first person) is, somehow, a representation of the author as they are, or who they wish they were. Perhaps because first person is so personal and you get so far inside the character’s head, that it’s difficult to see how they could possibly not be some sort of self-insert. Read the rest of this entry »
by November 12th, 2013-
I have a confession to make — I like characters that are flawed. I like them bitter and acerbic, and as capable of evil as they are of goodness. I particularly like those who are a little…unhinged. Not so much crazy-dangerous as crazy-reckless.
In the Immortal Empire series, I created Xandra Vardan who I think is a delightfully twisted character. I don’t want to go into spoiler territory, so I’ll say only that Xandy is a monster — even amongst the werewolves and vampires that populate her world. She’s a good-hearted person (for the most part). She’s loyal to those she loves and would do anything to protect them. She’s also snarky, petty and sometimes a raving bitch. And sometimes, she’d like to eat your liver — maybe open a vein. It would be entirely too easy for Xandra to kill, and she’s pretty certain she’d like it. In most stories she’d probably be the villain. In Long Live the Queen (and the first two books in the series, God Save the Queen, The Queen is Dead), she’s the hero.
I don’t think I’m alone in this preference for slightly mad characters. There’s a reason why Faith was so popular with Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans. She was predictable only in her unpredictability — a wild card. I loved it when Willow went dark, or when Spike and Dru came out to play.
A common mistake amongst authors — new and experienced — is to make our main character(s) so ‘good’ that they lack depth. That depth tends to then go into secondary characters who end up stealing every scene they’re in because they’re much more interesting and complex than the hero. In other cases, it simply doesn’t make sense for the protagonist to be that twisted. Buffy was a little of both. She didn’t have the luxury of being mad. Buffy had to be responsible and strong and righteous. That doesn’t mean she was always good, however. After all, she seem to have a thing for emotionally unstable men… One of my favorite episodes, though, is the one that had you wondering if Buffy really was a vampire slayer, or a poor delusional girl in a mental hospital. Either way, she’s screwed.
The bottom line is that characters need a balance of unpredictability to go with that predictable behavior. Everyone has a code by which they live, but we’re all capable of horrendous things. However, in a protagonist, that balance needs to be really clear — your narrator needs to be at least a little bit reliable. The most fascinating characters are good people capable of terrible things.
Or not so great people capable of great things. A great example of a recent character who made being twisted work is Captain Jack Sparrow. Not the most heroic of men, but when it comes right down to it, he can usually be depended on to do the right thing — or something that will lead to the right thing.
Xandra tries to be a good person, but sometimes she falls short. She’s not really that nice — she’s selfish and petulant, and sometimes she’s a raving bitch. There were times when I worried for her sanity, and those were the times I loved her most. The monster in her wants blood and violence and maybe a little song and dance to go with it. In the movie Con Air Steve Buscemi’s character Garland Gray is an absolute nutcase — a psychopathic killer who once wore a victim’s head as a hat. He’s twisted. He’s also the most compelling character in the whole movie, and when he walks away in the end, you’re rooting for him even though you know he’s a monster. In fact, if you want a great example of twisted characters, watch ‘Sons of Anarchy’ — almost every one on that show is exactly the sort of character capable of both good and evil. I think Xandra would feel right at home.
In LONG LIVE THE QUEEN (US | UK | AUS) Xandra comes up against a character even more twisted than herself. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Ally was incredibly fun to write. She was also heart-breaking. The more whacked I tried to make her, the more attached I became. My favorite characters in the series are the ones that are monsters and accept it — maybe even like it. At the very least, they make no excuses.
by November 6th, 2013-
If you look at the early reviews of my new novel, FORTUNE’S PAWN (out now, by the way! [US | UK | AUS]), you’ll find one word repeated over and over again: fun. This word also appeared in reviews of my fantasy series, THE LEGEND OF ELI MONPRESS (written as Rachel Aaron [US | UK | ANZ]), so much so that I was actually joking to my husband that I should call myself “Rachel Aaron, the fun author!”
And you know, I’m okay with that.
Fun is a seriously underrated novel component. There are plenty of serious books that make you cry or think in a different way or show you something beautiful and deep. I strive for all that in my works as well, but never at the cost of a good time. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a cathartic cry as much as the next person, but the books I come back to over and over again are the ones that left me smiling and exhilarated and hungry to read more.
Too often, we say “escapist reading” like it’s something lesser. Like we should be ashamed that we’re enjoying something just because it’s fun. I think that’s absurd. It’s like saying ice cream is lesser because all it does is taste delicious. We need delicious, because life is hard. Bad things happen even to the luckiest of us, and the world can too often be a stressful, dark, unfriendly, unkind place. A good, fun book is like an escape hatch from all that grim reality. It’s a safe space where we can run away and have a good, dramatic, thrilling time, and sometimes, when you really need to a respite, that can feel like a miracle.
Hearing someone had a blast reading my books is the greatest complement I can receive as a writer. I’m proud to be a trusted provider of quality life escape hatches. And while I can’t guarantee my story will change your world forever, I can promise that it’ll be one hell of a ride. So come have fun in my imagination. Let me entertain you. At the very least, you’ll never be bored.
FORTUNE’S PAWN is available now! Check out the first chapter here, and get ready for even more fun this Thursday. Rachel Bach will be joining authors Daniel Abraham (1/2 of the James S. A. Corey writing duo) and Ann Leckie tomorrow for an evening of science fiction, technology, and space opera. RSVP to the Google event today.
by November 5th, 2013-
I’m worried I may just forever paint myself as a hack by revealing this, but Haern the Watcher started off as nothing more than my own personal Drizzt Du’Orden clone. To those who’ve read my self-published book The Cost of Betrayal, where Haern made his first debut, this probably isn’t much of a surprise (nor to any of you who read my last post where I prattled on about how much I adored R.A. Salvatore). I had little of Haern’s backstory down in my head other than a few key highlights. He was meant to be the awesome swordfighter, the amazing dual-wielding blademaster that could take down any foe I needed to die, and who could train the main hero of the book in the art of battle. If I ever put my characters in a situation a bit too insane, I could always count on Haern to do something stupid/awesome to bail them out.
Well…people liked Haern. A lot, in fact. In that first book, he’d already established his fearsome reputation as the one willing to make the hard decisions even if others weren’t. He was brutal, but had a sarcastic sense of humor. Unstoppable in a fight, yet still shy around the girl he loved. Willing to go headfirst into a fight with a demigoddess… all because he tied a ribbon to a baby’s crib as a mark of his love and a promise of his protection. Honestly, there was a lot of me in him, peeking out from behind the badass persona, and that probably is what kept him from becoming a total caricature.
After two more books with Haern stealing the show, I decided to finally delve into Haern’s backstory. I had plenty of stuff to fill in, for the only real bit of his past I had revealed was that of his father, Thren Felhorn, and how Haern had turned against his brutal training and desires to craft him into the perfect assassin.
So with just that single key idea, of Haern as the son of Thren Felhorn, only to secretly rebel against him under a new name, I began writing A DANCE OF CLOAKS (US | UK | AUS). This was my chance, my way to figure out how such a rebellion might take place. Haern became Aaron Felhorn, a shy child growing up in his father’s shadow. His every day is spent preparing for the eventual takeover of his father’s criminal empire. Yet the influence of others, good men and women also entangled in Thren’s web, helped give Aaron a glimpse at something more, of a life where the strong protected the weak instead of preying upon them.
And then came A DANCE OF BLADES (US | UK | AUS) , fulfilling every bit of promise I’d begun with A DANCE OF CLOAKS. After Haern’s five hard years living on the streets of Veldaren, I finally had my chance to show him become the legend he was always meant to be. His mindless revenge and vigilantism would evolve into something greater. The hope that was always an important part of his character could flourish. I’d drag him up from the very gutters he slept in to take control of an entire city. Yet he’d do it with friends at his side, relationships that would last long into the Shadowdance series and beyond. Suddenly I had a character who sought redemption for his reckless vengeance, who was willing to let go of his hatred and become a better man for his friends, who would risk his life to fulfill the total opposite of the destiny crafted for him by his father, not out of revenge, not out of pride, but simply because it was the right thing to do.
Suddenly I had a character who was no longer a Drizzt clone in my head. Now he was Haern, the Watcher of Veldaren and proud member of the Eschaton Mercenaries, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.
Book two of the Shadowdance series, A DANCE OF BLADES, releases today! If you’re new to the series then check out this excerpt from the first book, and here’s the best news — you won’t have to wait long for the next novel once you’ve finished books one and two. A DANCE OF MIRRORS (US | UK | AUS), releases next month!
by November 1st, 2013-
Historian Bruce Catton, in one of his many books about the American Civil War, notes that civilization is a mask, and war gives permission to remove the mask and reveal the beast that always lurks beneath. I wager that one reason post-apocalyptic stories are so enduring is that the end of the world is one of those times when you find out what you—and your neighbors—are really made of.
ICE FORGED (US | UK | AUS) is a post-apocalyptic medieval adventure, set in the unlucky kingdom of Donderath. A devastating war with its neighboring rival has the unexpected—and unintentional—effect of destroying the bonds that made magic a power that could be controlled by people. Not only is the kingdom devastated by fire and storm, but the magic upon which their culture depended is now no longer controllable. In the chaos and anarchy that follow, my characters not only find out what they’re made of, but they discover a world that is now theirs to remake. Of course, they’re not the only ones who have ideas on what the new reality should look like—and that’s when things get interesting.
Whether you call it Catton’s “beast,” Freud’s “Id” or Jung’s “Shadow,” there’s always tension regarding the choices to be made. Perhaps Dumbledore said it best when he talked about the choice “between what is right, and what is easy.” Or maybe Babylon 5 was onto something in the dichotomy between the Vorlons, who asked “Who are you?” and the Shadows, who asked “What do you want?” When there are no rules, no law and no social constraint, men (and women) either rise to be the hero, or sink to their baser nature. Lord of the Flies is always just one catastrophic power grid failure away.
Blaine McFadden, in ICE FORGED, is acquainted with his shadow side. He killed his father, a minor lord, to stop him from abusing Blaine’s sister. Blaine expected to die for his crime, but the king was “lenient” and sent Blaine instead to a brutal prison colony in the arctic north, a place from which no one ever returned. Blaine survived six harsh years, first as an inmate and then as a convict-colonist, during which he learned just what he was made of and what he would do to survive. When the homeland is destroyed and magic fails, Blaine discovers he might be the only one who can restore the magic and put things right. He’s got a choice to make. Read the rest of this entry »
by October 31st, 2013-
John Charming has been fighting the forces of darkness for a long time – a very long time. So you could say that he’s something of an expert on the subject. So before going out tonight, check out these helpful Pro-Tips.
Okay, so imagine that it’s the seventh century. It’s late October although they probably have a different name for that month in your village of Sucksalot, but however your calendar works, it’s that time of year when crops are dying and families are slaughtering and salting livestock so that they’ll have enough meat to survive the winter. There are no antibiotics except for a few plants with mild anti-septic qualities and maybe a few poultices whose ingredients include boiled urine, so now that flu and pneumonia seasons are coming around, villagers are dropping like pants at a Vegas convention. Death is everywhere, literally and symbolically. Souls are travelling through doorways between the physical world and the spirit world a lot more frequently, and this makes it easier for metaphysical predators from the other side to slip through.
So what do you do? Containment and appeasement rituals. You sacrifice some of your slaughtered cattle and toss their bones in the fire so that beings who can’t physically digest the food can still mingle with its essence. Your local priest leads crowds of children dressed like spirits from house to house to collect donations for the dead. You hollow out turnips or pumpkins and carve scary faces into them and light fires in their center because this is symbolic of life surrounded by death, of light surviving in the darkness.
That’s the origin of Halloween. Lighting a candle in the darkness and praying for survival.
So how can we 21st century denizens protect ourselves on a holiday that is traditionally the supernatural world’s equivalent of an office party? Well, common sense rules like staying in well-lit areas and keeping crowds around you still apply. The truth is, on this particular holiday it’s not about protection so much as deflection. You’re never going to make yourself invincible – but you can make yourself less attractive. For the spirit world, Halloween is a smorgasbord. You don’t want to be the banana pudding with vanilla wafers crumbled in, you want to be the pickled fish that probably should have gotten tossed out a day ago.
With that in mind, here are a few basic pointers.
Tip 1: BE GOOD FOR GOODNESS SAKE
It isn’t Santa Claus that’s coming to town, it’s spirits that can’t let go because they have unresolved issues. We’re talking anger management, self-loathing, greed, selfishness, or revenge fantasy type issues. The kind of souls who populate that train station between our life and the life that comes after are basically like the worst ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend that you’ve ever had. And one of the key principles of magic is that like is attracted to like. So on a purely pragmatic level, it might make sense to invite someone who doesn’t run very fast to come with your group so that you can leave that person behind to distract pursuers if things go to hell, but you know what? That kind of thinking is messed up, and not all threats are physical. That kind of thinking will cause beings looking for weak or evil minds to come knocking on your mental door. By the same reasoning, this is a season where the worst types of cunning folk come looking for harvest sacrifices, and it’s not the best time to be a virgin. So on one level, becoming unchaste might be logical, but you also don’t want to do anything that’s going to damage your self-esteem too close to D-Day. There’s a line where being practical is good, but being ruthless and selfish are counter-productive.
Or to quote Austin Powers, “Oh, Behave!” Read the rest of this entry »
by October 31st, 2013-
“Some cities are naturally holiday cities. London is a Christmas city. Paris is a Valentine’s Day city. And no place in the world is a Halloween city more than New Orleans.” –The opening lines of “RUSTED VEINS (US | UK)
While I am a huge fan of both New Orleans and Halloween, I not yet had the good luck to be in the Big Easy on All Hallow’s Eve. However, I’ve been to NOLA many, many times over the last decade, and I’ve researched the city’s Halloween traditions extensively (for my book GREEN-EYED DEMON [US | UK | AUS]). Even though we can’t all just drop everything and go to New Orleans to celebrate Halloween this year, it doesn’t mean we can’t bring it to our own houses.
I am not exactly a party planner (except for fictional ones where budget is no object), but I do love to attend a good party, so I’ve put together my dream New Orleans-themed Halloween party. I’m tempted to throw this party to celebrate the release of my Sabina Kane Halloween novella “Rusted Veins.” Since it is available this week and happens to be set in New Orleans, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
- “Bloodletting” by Concrete Blonde
- “Hoodoo” by Muse
- “Voodoo Child” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
- “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” by Tom Jones
- “504” by the Old 97s
- “Louisiana Blues” by Muddy Waters
- “Apache Rose Peacock” Red Hot Chili Peppers
Guests will be invited to dress as their favorite real or fictional New Orleans resident. I’ve included some suggestions below.
For the ladies:
- Marie Laveau, Voodoo Priestess
- Madame Delphine Lalaurie, Famous murderess
- Lulu White, famous Storyville Madam
- Blanch DuBois or Stella Kowalski from Streetcar Named Desire
- Anne Rice, author
- Bella Donna Boudreaux, from X-Men Read the rest of this entry »
by October 15th, 2013-
Ever since I can remember I’ve been a lover of Westerns. From the big themes, big characters and big landscapes of John Ford, through the exaggerated sweat, filth and violence of Sergio Leone, to the used up gunmen and moral ambiguity of Clint Eastwood’s revisionist films. In fact I often site Unforgiven as doing expertly with the western what I try to do with fantasy – to present a modern, gritty, realistic take on a classic form, to perhaps say something about that form and the purposes it serves for audiences, but chiefly to present a great example of the form with all the entertainment value audiences expect.
When you ill-advisedly set out to write a trilogy of big books, finishing seems an impossible goal. You spare very little thought for what might come after. But shortly before finishing The First Law trilogy, I came to the horrifying realisation that if I was interested in writing as a career I might need to write another thirty or more books. I needed some ideas, and fast, and of course the best place to get them is to steal some that have already been successful. I wanted to write some tighter, more focused stories that continued in the same world but to some extent stood alone, and so I went to films for inspiration, and tried to work out what I liked about some of my favourites with the aim of combining my take on fantasy with some other styles of story. So BEST SERVED COLD (US | AUS) was my attempt to fuse fantasy with a gangster revenge story. The Heroes was my attempt to write a fantasy account of a single great battle. And RED COUNTRY (US | AUS) was my attempt to fuse fantasy and western.
Fantasy and westerns aren’t such obvious bedfellows as fantasy and revenge or fantasy and battles, mind you. The western is indivisibly tied to its time and place and in a way is a very strong spice for the reader, summoning up lots of powerful and specific visuals and expectations, one which has to be used with care. For me the essence of the western isn’t in the sixguns and the chaps, the stetsons and the canvas wagons, the saddles and saloons, though. It’s the wild frontier. It’s the place where civilisation and savagery mix, where the rule of law contends with the law of the jungle, where anything is possible. It’s about tough men and women pitted against an unforgiving wilderness. It’s about conflicted men and women struggling to find the right thing to do in a lawless country. And, yes, it’s about narrow-eyed stand-offs in windswept streets while coat-tails flap and terrified observers hold their breaths. In RED COUNTRY I tried to keep what was essential about the western while changing the trappings, if you like: staking out a wild frontier in a part of the First Law world where the first settlers are just beginning to seek out new opportunities in an untamed wilderness, and finding neither man nor nature especially welcoming. And, yes, there is a knife fight on the roof of a speeding wagon. Whatever could be wrong with that?”