Things Change

Posted: March 22, 2015 in Uncategorized
Rainy Spring in Greenwood

Rainy Spring in Greenwood

When I moved into the greater Greenwood area around nine years ago, I fell in love. In fact, this was the subject of a post on this very page just over two years ago. I like neighborhoods. I fell they are what defines a city. But neighborhoods change. It’s the nature of the world that nothing is eternal.

The coffee shop I made my second home was forced to close due to fire, eventually moving to a different location. The game store is gone. The pirate-themed brew pub has been replaced by a sports bar. Two antique stores have closed, one of them still vacant, the other now an organic cafe. The Greenwood Market was bulldozed, the site incorporated into a giant rebuild of the neighboring Fred Meyer store. Change is healthy. It keeps things from stagnating.

And sometimes, change hurts.

The first time I went to the Yen Wor Garden, it was for dinner. All I wanted was greasy chicken chow mein. It was pretty horrible. But I found myself between buses craving Chinese food some months later and gave them another chance and got some beef dish…orange beef, possibly? It was even worse. The beef was spongy, like it had been frozen, thawed, then frozen again one too many times. I vowed never to eat there again. The sign that read they did delivery read as a threat rather than an endorsement.

Then a good friend suggested I go there for karaoke some night. Prior to that, I got my karaoke fix at the Baranof across the street, a place that was no less divey than the Yen Wor, but I loved the restaurant in the front, so it was just my place. But unlike the Baranof, the Yen Wor had karaoke seven nights a week. So I gave them a try. That night, the Yen Wor Garden became my karaoke place.

Over the last 3 years, it has become my second home. I know the bartenders, the hosts, and many of the regulars on a first name basis. I’ve shared beers with a broader slice of humanity than I’ve ever met elsewhere. Some of them have ended up, in whole or in part, in one of my novels. I’ve gone to no less than three memorial services in my life, all of them there, all for regulars. I expected my own service might even be there eventually. Morbid, maybe. True, absolutely. In the last three years, I’ve gone there to celebrate birthdays, finishing novels, and just about every holiday on the book. On my birthday two years ago, my best friend called them from Thailand to wish me a happy birthday. And I’ve had nights when we packed the tables facing the bar with people eager to sing. I had my phone stolen out of my pocket there and never considered changing karaoke bars. I cultivated a set list of more than 170 songs, most of which I worked out on the stage of the Yen Wor Garden.

I have coffee shops that are my weekday third places, but the nights belong to the Yen Wor. It is a joy I have come to share with dozens of so-called “Yen Woriors,” many of whom made a regular mid-week pilgrimage there for “Yensday.” We even have matching t-shirts, making this the first organization I’ve represented with matched apparel since my high school gang the Vorpal Bunnies.

So it was with great sadness that I found out this morning that they have been sold and will be closing down in the next 2-6 weeks. Honestly, I can’t say I’m too surprised. While I’ve found things on the menu that I actually enjoy, the restaurant side has always been a ghost-town with a handful of tables occupied at most. And the bar is usually dead during the day and not much busier on most week nights.

It remains to be seen what will take over that space. It’s some small comfort that the footprint of the building is too small for them to put in high-density housing, so it will almost have to be retail or restaurant space. Maybe it will even have a bar with karaoke. But even if it does, it will not be the same.

Things change. We evolve and move on. Life continues.

But if you’ve ever wanted to do karaoke with me at the Yen Wor, your time is running out.

Karaoke starts at 9 every night and I’m 3 block away. Hit me up. Let’s put in some song slips and get a drink that is famously “Yen Wor strong.” Let’s row our boats to shore and burn them. Let’s give the Yen Wor Garden the send out it deserves.

My dressing up as an alien monster days are far behind me.

My dressing up as an alien monster days are far behind me.

Norwescon, the Seattle area’s premiere sci-fi/fantasy convention, is upon us again in less than a month. April 2-5th. No matter how much planning I do, it always seems to sneak up on me. Maybe it’s the fact that its schedule is tied to Easter weekend, and that date shifts around in a manner that will mystify me until the day I die.

True story, my first reminder that we’re nearing Norwsecon season is seeing Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs in the store. So, typically the day after Valentine’s Day.

This year I’m going to be a bit more active than in recent years. in fact, I put together the Horror track which was a sheer delight. And if it all crashes and burns, well, it will be less of a delight. I guess time will tell.

But I’m currently optimistic. We have a good lineup, some great guests of honor (George R. R. Martin and artist par excellence Julie Dillon). I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of folks I don’t see often enough. And I’m staying on site, sharing a room with a dear friend who was fundamental in me taking this writing thing seriously a little over a decade ago.

So, without further preamble, my scheduled appearances, with notes:

Thursday, 3pm (Cascade 9): Worldwide Dead–I’ll be moderating an all-star panel in which we discuss death, afterlife, and ghosts from a non-western perspective. Recognizing that this panel is early on the first day of the convention, I’ve prepared special enticements for those who attend.

Thursday, 9pm (Cascade 9): Horror Cage Match: Short Story vs. Novel–Is there a preferred length for horror? What are the strengths and weaknesses of short vs. long form horror?

Friday, 10am (Cascade 7&8): Overlooked Horror Classics–You all know the huge hits, but what are some hidden gems of the genre? Our expert panel has some suggestions for you. Prepare to take notes!

Friday, 6pm (Cascade 3&4): Denied: A Story of Rejection–I’ll be moderating this cheerful little hour in which our all-star panel will share stories of rejection, perhaps showing that when Cthulhu closes a door, he opens a window. And it’s best to scamper out quickly and not read any ancient tomes on the way.

Friday, 9:30pm (Cascade 1): Reading–Come spend a little time hearing the meanest little story I’ve ever written, “Hell is a Parade.” Ribbons will be awarded for the strong of heart. It’s a very short story, so I’ll have some time for questions.

Saturday, 6pm (Cascade 7&8): When is it No Longer Horror?–I’ve always maintained that the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise stopped being horror with the 3rd movie. We’ve got some industry insiders together to weigh in.

Saturday, 9pm (Cascade 3&4): Why Do We Love Superheroes?–This is going to be a romp. I’m friends with most everyone on this panel, and I expect a spirited discussion with lots of insight.

Sunday, 10am (Cascade 9): Independent Horror: Savior of the Horror Film?–I’ll be moderating a discussion on whether bigger means better or if stronger horror can be constructed free of studio limitations. A perfect way to kick off your hungover Easter morning!

In addition, I will likely be hunkered over notes and coffee around the coffee kiosk in the morning and off and on in the bar, as tradition dictates. I’m always happy to chat.

Come witness the unfettered delight that is Norwescon. I will not be peddling books during this trip, so if you want something signed you would be advised to bring it with you. Or if you have a Fringe Candy you’d like to see reviewed, bring it along.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have panel notes to get prepared!

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

My dad was always one of the biggest supporters of my writing. A librarian and dedicated student of existentialist philosophy to the bitter end, he read pretty much everything I ever wrote. He always encouraged me to keep writing, keep working on my craft, and more importantly to believe in my passion.

Trust me. This is going somewhere.

When he died in early April of 2005, my only publications had been in the literary journals at school. But that didn’t matter to him. He believed in me. He never lived to see my first story, “Kid Gloves” published in less than a year later.

From time to time, I’ve reached certain milestones and wished he could have been around to see it. I typically shake it off and move on. There’s no changing the past, after all.

So it was strangely poignant when I sold my novel Ink Calls to Ink to Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing last Tuesday. Yes, they’re a small publisher, some might even consider them a niche publisher. But they’re the perfect people to take this novel to the audience I’ve been trying to find for a few years now. Actual release date and cover will be announced eventually. These things take a bit of time, after all. I’m just thrilled this story gets to be told. in part because of the three point of view characters, one of them is a librarian.

Ink Calls to Ink is a celebration of books and the impact of fictional characters in our lives. More than that, it touches on existential themes such as self-determination and what it means to be human. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of my father in this book.

So, as thrilled as I am that my novel found a good home, I couldn’t deny that it was bittersweet. I have yet to really celebrate the sale, despite having spent time with most of my friends, writers and non-writers alike since then. It’s like I hadn’t fully embraced it yet–hadn’t wrapped my brain around “what next?”

Then yesterday, after two separate writing groups, I crossed the street to this little dive named Shorty’s in Belltown where I like to go after writing at Bedlam Coffeehouse. (If you’ve never been to Bedlam, I maintain it’s the best coffeehouse in downtown. Well worth the visit. If I lived in Belltown, I’d be there all the time.) Shorty’s has an old-school arcade aesthetic and a circus clown motif. Both of which are appealing, but the two selling points for me are the Chicago dogs and the fact that they have Miller Hi-Life by the bottle. Call me a cheap date if you want, but Hi-Life is hands down my favorite cheap beer, and it’s uncommon to find it around micro-brew happy Seattle.

I sidled up to the bar, ordered my dog and a Hi-Life, and a few minutes later was served the wrong beer.

Now, I can’t fault the bar tender. It was noisy in there. It was busy. And the names were awfully similar.

Instead of my favorite, I was served a bottle of Miller Lite.

So, here’s a few things about Miller Lite you may not know: finding Miller Hi-Life is difficult in Seattle, but I’ve never, ever seen Miller Light available (though to be fair, I haven’t looked that hard), and two, Miller Lite was my dad’s beer of choice. He once said fancy micro-brews were wasted on him. He knew what he liked, and that was it.

So, no. I can’t fault the bar tender. in fact, he got a healthy tip. Because clearly he’s a psychic medium.

It’s not every day someone’s dead dad orders a beer for them to congratulate them on their first significant book sale. But if anyone’s dad could do it, it would be mine.


Time is never on our side.

Time is never on our side.

It was a pretty typical Saturday morning writing group–some writing, some socializing, some knocking ideas around. In discussing how some town names are more common than others, a story idea was born.

Well, less an idea and more of a seed. A McGuffin.

And when it was suggested that I write that story, sooner rather than later, I might have snapped a little. I got…defensive. Like, weirdly defensive.

This morning, I figured out why while doing bookkeeping. Not balancing my check book or doing my personal taxes. No, the kind of bookkeeping that is an essential part of being a working author. The care and feeding of creative projects kind of bookkeeping.

Once I broke it all down, I could see why I cracked.

As it stands now, midway through February I have on my docket:

  • My urban fantasy novel Ink Calls to Ink which has been looking for a home for over 2 years now.
  • The pulp sci-fi novel from a few years ago that I recently did a rewrite on that needs one more pass before I send it out into the world.
  • The orphaned urban fantasy/horror novella I wrote last year that was intended to be part of a trilogy. I’ve done two strong passes of rewrites. Now I’m wrestling with whether I want to sell as a novella trilogy or write the other two parts and combine them into a single novel.
  • The first part of the epic fantasy Ravensgate triptych, Rooks and Ravens, which got a solid second draft that wrapped up a month ago. It needs one more edit pass before I consider sending it out, but I might want to find beta readers for it first.
  • The new Cobalt City novel, Thicker than Water that I wrote last fall. I did a second pass on it earlier this month, but will need to do another close pass and need to get an editor to look at it prior to the planned September release. On top of that, I want to get copies out for early reviews, etc. And I need to get the cover and other promotional material ready for it.
  • The SECOND part of the Ravenstage triptych, Redemption of the Yellow Wolf is now halfway through the first draft. It’s what I’ve been spending my time on in the last week. After nothing but editing the previous two months, it feels nice to write again.

Now, keep in mind that Norwescon is coming up the first week of April. I’ll be running the Horror track which includes moderating a panel or three, so I want to do some prep for that. Two weeks after that, I’ve got a writing retreat on the books, so that will help balance things out a bit, otherwise I might be crying right now.

Time is never on our side. There are 168 hours in a week. Once you take out the hours spent at the day jobbery (including time too and from) and sleep, there’s about 50-55 hours in which to cram in everything else. Some of that will be eaten up by basic adulting stuff: minimally some housecleaning, eating, interacting with people that keep you from stepping in front of a speeding bus, and at least a little bit of down-time.

I used to try to write every day. Every. Single. Day.

It was a recipe for burnout. At least for me.

Now, I still carry my notebooks around with me everywhere. I’m constantly jotting down notes for existing projects or ideas for future projects. Sometimes I get scene set pieces. Sometimes I get dialogue. I’m making an effort to do something creative every day. But I can go days without opening up my work in progress documents.

I’m fond of saying that if you try to find time to write, you’ll never find it. Something else will always soak up those hours. You have to make time.

Currently, I spend most of Saturday, from around 8am, sometimes until as late as 6pm, working on my writing. I also write on Sundays, every-other week from around noon until 5pm or so. (I run a D&D game on alternating Sundays, so I set aside those afternoons to get the game prepped and ready for my players). I have a writing group that meets every Thursday for a few hours, and if I’m feeling in the zone I can get a solid 2-4 hours of writing in then. I also have the option of a writing group on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays that I hit when I have the time.

That gives me somewhere around 12 hours of writing time on a sub-optimal week, and around 25 on a really ambitious week. When I’m in the zone, I can write pretty fast. And editing, well, it takes the time it requires, and that varies depending on a lot of factors.

I still don’t have enough time. I’ll never really have enough time. But finding more comes with sacrifices I’m not comfortable making. Day jobbery and commute is kind of non-negotiable because bills have to be paid. I have some flex with sleep, but that’s no long-term fix unless I’m wiling to sacrifice my health and sanity. And there’s only so much I can cut social time before those relationships suffer, and the relationships I have now are too valuable to let atrophy.

So no, I’m not going to write that story right now. I’m not going to write that story soon, even. Because I don’t know what the story is yet. But the seed is there, notated with crisp block lettering in my Field Notes notebook in purple ink. And if the seed takes root, we’ll see. Until then, I have books to work on.

Two ingredients and an owl!

Two ingredients and an owl!

Have you ever watched the TV show Leverage? If not, you really should because it’s perfection. Basically Oceans 11, the series, but there’s only 5 of them. Or a modern Robin Hood. Or…you know what? I’m getting off track. The leader of the merry band is an alcoholic, and he sets up shop, for most of the series, upstairs from a bar.

It’s pointed out to him what a bad idea that is.

When you have a problem, ease of access to your given vice is, to put it mildly, a bad idea. But hey, that kind of tension creates some good stories in the world of fiction. So bad idea, but good entertainment.

A high-end, nay, FRINGE candy store opened up in my neighborhood by the name of Violet Sweet Shoppe. It’s on my bus route. I pass by it every night on the way home. In fact, there’s a stop right goddamned in front of the store. The same stop I get off at when I go to meet friends of mine who live a block away. (It is, in fact their second location which only sells candy. Their primary store is not as convenient and is a vegan bakery. It looks delicious. Fucking Seattle. It is what it is.)

So, in general, fuck my life. I know my strengths. I know my weaknesses. And I knew that eventually I was going to end up going there. And if you haven’t been paying attention to the world of fancy candy in the past few years I have some news for you: it’s a hipster fringe candy geek’s Garden of Earthly Delights out there.

I’m not even going to go into the goddamned preciousness of the name. (Shoppe? Sure. Because when I’m buying expensive candy, I want to think of motherfucking Chaucer.) The interior has shelves along the sides and two small, round tables stacked high with chocolate bars I’ve never freaking heard of before (along with glass containers of taffy-like chews and other delectables). The clerk was helping the other sole customer for a bit, and when done, turned her full tattooed charm upon me.

“Can I help you find anything?”

Gotta admit, I was overwhelmed. Maybe she saw me drowning and was lowering me a branch. Usually I can recognize most brands of sweets. Not the case here. I hadn’t heard of most of the chocolatiers represented there. And they had no white chocolate which I’ve been on the lookout for on account of my cohort’s recent white chocolate cravings. So I got handful of chocolate chews because I like that kind of thing, and a single bar of chocolate.

Why the Parliament Chocolate bar, you may ask?

Other than instinct, which is usually pretty good when it comes to candy, I liked the simplicity of the design. Nice font choices. An owl (which what I can only assume is a walrus mustache) done in the same black ink on an eggshell white cardstock with a nice tooth to it. Plus, it’s from Redlands, California where one of my brothers lives. I like Redlands. It’s a cool town. I’ve since gone to their site and checked them out and I love their mission statement, their commitment to fair trade and artisanal, small batch chocolates. I would totes share a craft brew with these guys. Maybe a regional wheat beer with slice of orange straight from the groves in Redlands while we talk about the Kimberly Crest Manor or something.

I love that they have 3 flavors of chocolate bars differentiated not by additives (mint, nuts, tortilla chips), but by where the single origin cacao comes from. Yeah. That’s right. Their flavors are Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Guatemala. And if the tasting notes are accurate (and I have zero reason to suspect otherwise), each are distinctive.

The Parliament bar is small. Only 1.7oz, but it’s rich like Scrooge McDuck with flavor. It has only two ingredients: cacao and cane sugar. The cacao (or cocoa to you neophytes) of the one I tried is ethically sourced from the Dominican Republic and is a nice, mellow 70%. The chocolate has a nice, sublime bitterness but isn’t overwhelming, and it melts smoother than satin. It has a complex finish and deserves to be savored.

This sumbitch will transport you. This is the kind of chocolate that can end a feud.

At around $6 a bar, it’s too pricey for every day consumption. But who says chocolate needs to be an every day treat? This is a chocolate to be shared among loved ones, broken out for special occasions like a great day at work, anniversaries, or when you just want to spoil yourself. Pair it with a good, bold red wine and turn it into a party. You’re an adult now. Live it up.

I mean, shit, you probably can’t afford that new Audi, but you can spring for the fancy chocolate. You deserve it.

If you can find it.

That will not be a problem for me. No, my problem now will be too much access.

Pray for me.

Onward Ho Into 2015!

Posted: December 31, 2014 in Novels, Random Geekery, Short Fiction
The devil rides tonight!

The devil rides tonight!

Well, it’s the end of the year again, and you know what that means. Yep. Buckle up, me hearties! It’s time for yet another look back at the year that was and some hints about the year to come.

On a personal front, my daughter got married in August, meaning I got to wear a rented tuxedo in St. Louis at the end of August. The wedding was lovely. St. Louis had some charm. Their pizza is a cautionary tale.

Oh, and something else was happening in St. Louis around that time, namely the systemic racism of our institutions. While the underlying situation wasn’t exactly new to the people who had to navigate it daily, for most of white America, it was like Nosforatu had been dragged out into the midday sun, killed a few people, then skittered back into the sewers to fester. A lot of people wanted to deny what they were seeing, rationalize it away. And then there were the allies who started laying in supplies of wooden stakes and holy water to kill this fucking beast. I was gratified to see many of my friends on the side of justice, calling for an end to brutality at the hands of police and complicity of the legal system. I was disheartened by those who remained silent, or worse, tried to justify the murders of citizens.

2014 was a year for exposing vampires: racism, sexism, transphobia, economic oppression, the ugliest aspects of nationalism…

I hope that 2015 is the year that we drive the stake through the heart of some of these blights, leave it staked out in the sun to wither in its ugliness for all to see. Maybe 2015 will be the year that no reasonable person will start a sentence, “But not all…”

The rest of my travel was an interesting mix of planned and last-minute. World Horror in Portland in May of 2014 was a blast. I always love going to Portland. And then about a week or so after returning from St. Louis, I had the chance to go on a writing retreat to Port Townsend for several days. It was a short-notice sort of affair, and it was exactly the kind of “vacation” my writing needed. The year was capped off with a post-Christmas trip back to Portland with my partner-in-crime to introduce her around, hit up Powell’s, Pok Pok, and some wineries. We even added in a stop at the Doug Fir and Salt & Straw, so it was a great way to end the year.

Speaking of Powell’s, this has been a great year for reading for me. I tend not to read as many books as many of my literary friends. This year I saw a significant uptick, including several books that I made me want to be a better writer. My reading highlights included (in no particular order):

  • Tim Powers–Three Days to Never
  • Max Gladstone–Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise
  • N.K. Jemisin–The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (If you haven’t read this, you’re missing out)
  • Jeff Vandermeer–the Area X trilogy (Annihilation in particular floored me)
  • Richard Kadrey–Devil Said Bang
  • Huey P. Newton–Revolutionary Suicide
  • David Grahme Shane–Urban Design Since 1945 – A Global Perspective

Now, as for writing, it was a mixed year.

For the first time in ages, I had only one short fiction sales this year. “Goat” which appeared in the superlative That Ain’t Right: Historical Accounts of the Miskatonic Valley, was accepted just a week into 2014 and that’s been it.

I got close to publication with a novella trilogy project I worked on middle of the year, including sending it out to beta-readers for feedback. But sadly that fell apart and I’m not entirely certain what to do with that project now. One plan is find a publisher for the original novella trilogy format, while another is to write the other two parts and turn it into a novel.

I also got close with a comic book project late in the year that, despite going nowhere, at least cut me a decent check for the work I’d done. I can’t complain about that.

As for Ink Calls to Ink, it continues to be floated around various places. I’m growing increasingly tempted to publish it myself.

As for the work I had planned to do in 2014, well, shit.

I had thought I’d finish Rooks and Ravens by the end of LAST January. Then it was decided to change the POV from 3rd to 1st person POV, which made the rewrite much more intensive. I’m still deep in the rewrites. Maybe I’ll finish those rewrites in the next few months. They’re my priority, so we’ll see what happens. Maybe then I can get back to Redemption of the Yellow Wolf and finish that draft in 2015.

I also put out my short fiction collection Dark but for the Stars, and re-released Dark Carnival and Chanson Noir as e-books.

In Cobalt City news, Cobalt City Los Muertos went live on schedule, and I’m very happy with it. It’s even gotten some good reviews. The next Cobalt City book, Thicker Than Water was written in November and I’ll get it rewritten, edited, and polished in time for a September release this year. Featuring three women POV characters, two of whom are Asian, it’s a good reflection of the diversity I want to see more of in the genre. Increasing visibility is a big theme for me in 2015.

That’s a bit of a hint of what I’m planning for 2015: creating the diversity I want to be seeing. If all goes as planned, I’ll finish several projects this year: Rooks and Ravens, Thicker than Water, the novella trilogy/novel, and Redemption of the Yellow Wolf. Only one of them features a cis hetero white dude as the hero. I’m not sure what I’ll be writing for next November’s Cobalt City NaNo, but I guess we’ll see what happens. While I’m at it, maybe I’ll find homes for some of my weird orphan stories, too.

If time and circumstance permits, I might resurrect the Anwat RPG sourcebook and re-tool it for D&D 5th edition. Stranger things have happened.

I figure maybe it’s best not to over-plan things.

On Writing Dialogue

Posted: December 17, 2014 in Novels, Short Fiction
Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

“Shit. That’s not a job. That’s a hustle!”

I love writing dialogue. It is, arguably, one of the the more finely honed skills in my writer’s tool box. Being able to bring characters to life with natural, unforced conversations, just makes me happy.

The trick is to listen.

It’s that simple.

It’s that difficult.

We’re social creatures by nature. Even the most introverted of us deals with people occasionally. And in doing so, oftentimes certain aspects of our dialog degrades into shorthand and common phrases. I never used the word “totes” until I made a good friend who used it all the time. Until about a year ago, I never used the word “legit” the way I do now, but I picked that up from another friend. We influence each other, whether we like it or not.

If we rarely venture outside of that communication circle, it can be easy to forget that not everyone sounds like us. And different groups will have different cadence and even different words. It’s an entirely different song, and it helps inform who they are, and how they sound around their peers.

For that reason, you need the occasional field trip.

I suggest bringing a small, unobtrusive notebook and pen (Field Notes are my personal favorite–great size, so they can slid into just about any pocket, and a good grade of paper that takes ink well). Alternatively, if you have a good recorder on your phone, you can use it instead–I find mine particularly useful for capturing the rants of people talking to themselves on the bus. But whatever tools you take with you into the field are kind of secondary.

The key is to go somewhere people are talking and listen. Really listen. Be conscious of where you’re staking out, and who is clustered around the watering hole. A food court in the business core will score you all kinds of office drone conversations. The bar in a fancy hotel gets you different conversation than a dive bar down the street. The McDonald’s with the PlayPlace™ in the suburbs will likely get you a different kind of conversation than the McDonald’s at 3rd and Pine that a lot of locals point to as “everything that’s wrong with downtown Seattle,” because it feels unsafe.

For the record, I’ve never felt unsafe at that particular establishment. It’s one of my favorite places to get a quick meal and listen to people.

If you’re a commuter like I am, take the headphones out. There is almost always a conversation happening on the bus or train. Listen to the cadence. Listen to the sentence structure. Listen to word choice. Listen for repeated words, because you’ll hear them. People don’t speak in complete sentences all the time. Contractions abound. Don’t listen for specific content so much as the nature of the content. The details of their lives aren’t important, really. But sometimes context is. A person generally talks differently with a friend than they would with a stranger or authority figure.

You might have some reservations about this. Might think of it as eavesdropping. And it is, sort of. But to help cut through the sense of guilt, remember–your not listening for gossip or tidbits of what they’re talking about. You’re not writing about them. You’re listening to how they’re talking about what they’re talking about. Also, as long as you’re doing this in a public place and not being overly intrusive, the odds of them talking about anything really personal are next to zero.

Also, just like any good note taking from school, don’t write down everything. If you try and do that, you’ll be paying more attention to writing and trying to keep up. Instead, just pay attention. If something catches your ear, a sentence or two, jot it down as accurately as possible. Capture the pauses and inflections with punctuation and underlining. Heck. While you’re at it, take notes about the people–quirks or characteristics that help make people unique, whether they’re a one or two phrase visual hook or some kind of mannerism.

Eventually, you’ll get a better feel for how a wider range of people talk just by listening and paying attention. But be prepared to take notes (a general writing tip I follow whenever I can). That will help translate into more natural, and more diverse dialog. And that will make your writing better.

Chanson coverThe origin of Cobalt City as a literary entity is a strange one. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe all mythical places start small, a seed unaware of the tree that sleeps, coiled inside.

The first Cobalt City tale was a short story, maybe 8,000 words or so. On a challenge, i wrote the first novel–Cobalt City Blues. It had been intended for friends, but spread out of that circle to other readers unfamiliar with the characters at the heart of the novel. They suggested a prequel, and I obliged, writing Chanson Noir (which was recently re-released as an e-book after having been out of print for a few years).

At that point, I had it in my mind to turn the Protectorate story into a three-book arc. A trilogy, as was the style at the time. So when I commissioned covers for Cobalt City Blues and Chanson Noir, I commissioned a cover for the third book as well (Requiem of Ash), and listed them as a trilogy.

I don’t have many regrets in life, but that is a big one.

See, Requiem was meant to be the final book, the closing chapter on the Protectorate Era of Cobalt City. And there are far too many stories left to tell in Cobalt City. Between the three anthologies (Cobalt City Christmas, Timeslip, and Dark Carnival), the books that take place during the Protectorate Era (Los Muertos and the recently completed Thicker than Water), the post-Protectorate de la Vega novels (Greetings from Buena Rosa and Ride Like the Devil), and the post-Protectorate books written by others (Jeremy Zimmerman’s Kensei, Rosemary Jones’ Wrecker of Engines, Nikki Burns’ Tatterdemalion, Erik Scott de Bie’s Eye for an Eye, and Minerva Zimmerman’s The Place Between), I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface. Hell…and that’s even with the award winning audio dramas.

And that’s not a bad thing.

See, the three Protectorate books (ok, two and projected third book), aren’t really a trilogy in any real sense. Yes, they take place in order. But they are not one big story. They’re more like a triptych: three separate novels that tell big stories of the team of superheroes known as the Protectorate at the beginning, middle, and end of that era. And there are a lot of smaller stories that take place in between those novels. The Protectorate has, at its peak, eight active members and two reservists. The Protectorate novels are full-team stories. More epic in scope. The other novels are smaller and include fringe characters who are not part of the Protectorate. For example, Los Muertos features three heroes, of which only one, Mister Grey, is a member of the Protectorate, while Gato Loco is a solo vigilante and the Tatterdemalion is even less of a team player. The all-women cast of Thicker than Water, which I will be publishing next fall, features only Velvet from the Protectorate, while Roberta “Bantam” Pak and Xia Lo enter the story from other directions.

I still intend to write Requiem of Ash. I have the story sketched out, and I’ve dropped some hints as to what happens in Greetings from Buena Rosa. But I’ll be honest with you: that book is a long time away. And that’s intentional. If you’re waiting for the third book to come out to start reading the others, it really isn’t necessary. I admire your dedication, but each novel is meant to be read as a stand-alone.

If you want big-adventure, start with Chanson Noir, which brings flavors of cosmic-style horror to the superhero mix. Cobalt City Blues isn’t a sequel, but it does touch on concepts introduced in the earlier book and brings in several more characters and is more straight up adventure.

Likewise, each of the individual novels is a stand-alone. They might mention superheroes that don’t appear in the book, but no prior knowledge is required to jump in and enjoy from the ground floor, as it were. The smaller books also let me explore different kinds of stories and different ways of telling them. Los Muertos was a lightly spooky homage to the Weird Hero phase of 70’s comic books that brought us Swamp Thing, Doctor Strange, and the brilliantly strange Dracula comic from Marvel. Thicker than Water gave me the chance to write about human trafficking, modern slavery, and organized crime. On deck, I have books about time-travel and legacy heroes as well as rock ‘n roll refugees from space outlined and ready to go.

Eventually, all of the individual heroes from Cobalt City Blues will get their time to shine. The current plan is to write a Cobalt City novella-novel length work or two every year. I’ve got two done now, and two more fully outlined. I have rough ideas for three more.

Then, and only then, will I consider writing Requiem of Ash. Until that happens, there are a lot of adventures waiting to be shared.

Fresh for NaNoWriMo 2014

Fresh for NaNoWriMo 2014

It’s a multi-billion dollar industry in a country that would rather look away–an insidious crime so horrible that authorities are powerless, or unwilling, to stop it.
Not even Cobalt City, the bright, cosmopolitan center of the superhero world, is safe from human trafficking and sexual slavery. For heroes used to dealing with madmen and megalomaniacs, the decentralized nature of the blight is difficult to comprehend, much less impact. How do you combat not just criminals but the very nature of a crime itself?

Velvet–dillitente by day, hard-hitting heroine by night.
Bantam–a cop on the take, trying to redeem her father’s legacy.
Xia Lo–enforcer for Cobalt City’s vast criminal underworld.

Three extraordinary women against impossible odds and a twisted, thriving culture that survives in the shadows.

Due to be written this November, part of my process involves dream-casting.

So without further ado, the three heroes of Thicker than Water.

Victoria SmurfitFor Velvet I wanted someone who projected sophistication and confidence. Who better than the actress who gave Dracula a run for his money in the NBC series from last year as Lady Jane–Victoria Smurfit.







Hettienne_parkFor Bantam, I really just wanted the amazing Hettienne Park who I loved in the first two seasons of Hannibal. Great actress with solid range, and I really relish the idea of her as a cop with a secret legacy as an ass-kicker.






Zhao WeiZhao Wei is a bit of a wild card, but then again, so is Xia Lo. Zhao was amazing in Shaolin Soccer, and I understand she played an excellent Mulan for Chinese TV. Far as I’m concerned, that’s high recommendation.

Ramping up for my 10th NaNoWriMo

Posted: October 18, 2014 in Novels
Authorial Essentials

Authorial Essentials

It came to my attention earlier this week that this marks my 10th year doing the annual madness that is National Novel Writing Month. I suppose that it’s only natural that I’ve kind of come full circle in a way.

My first NaNo novel turned into Greetings from Buena Rosa. The impulse to write that particular novel was two-fold: I wanted to write a pulpy Gato Loco novel, and I had heard a news report on NPR about a number of unsolved murders of women in the Jalisco/Chihuahua area of northern Mexico. The police were under so much pressure that they were arresting random women and torturing them until they confessed to crimes they knew nothing about. It was outrageous. And it made me wish there was some sort of justice there.

I visited justice upon the border region in the form of Gato Loco. Considering what’s going on there in our world, I suppose I was naïve to think a vigilante and his panda sidekick could change things.

So here I am gearing up to write again. The tenth anniversary of that weird baptism. I had my outlines ready to go. Everything was set.

Then a good friend and fellow author, Jeremy Zimmerman forwarded a piece about sex slavery here in this country. And after a particularly long week where the toxic vitriol of the anti-feminist movement kept trying to out-do itself, it was kind of the last straw.

I wanted justice.

So I scrapped the other story and put together something different. Something darker. Something far more compelling. Something featuring a trio of morally complex and compelling women in the lead. Something that I felt I had to write.

We’ll see how it goes. But I’m excited to see where November takes me.