Cover reveal for Valknut: The Binding

My poor blog has languished over the last two weeks and I apologize for that. But I have an excuse. (Don’t we always have an excuse?)  I’ve been working hard on the final touches of my urban fantasy thriller, Valknut: The Binding, which will be released at Amazon in early December. If all goes well.

I’d go so far as to say it will be released December 1st, but that feels too much like commitment.

Before I blather on much more, I want to show you the cover art created by the talented, versatile, and otherwise wonderful Vanessa Chan.

Now try this: Put the artwork on full screen, if you can. Get up from your chair and back slowly away while you stare at the picture. See what happens? Maybe I’m projecting too much, but I find the phenomenon rather metaphorical, if you’ve read the novel.

And now, I will re-handcuff myself to my desk and try to finish the novel so you can read it and find your own metaphors.

Posted in Books, Marie's Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

I can’t believe this happened to me (or “Nightmare Makeover”)

I didn’t get a blog written this weekend.  I didn’t get my copyediting done either. It wasn’t my fault, though. See, I went out to check the mail yesterday afternoon, and I heard this noise behind me. The slow clomp-drag-clomp-drag of someone with a bad limp.

I didn’t think anything of it. I mean, it was broad daylight. Kids were playing in the street. Dads were walking the family yorkie-poos. Why would I ever suspect…?

Well, anyway, I smelled something really bad, like day-old road kill. Then someone came up behind me, grabbed my arm, and bit me.  Bit me! Can you believe it? I felt the teeth pop right through my skin.

I turned, and there was this guy gnawing on my arm. He had the worst eczema I’ve ever seen—skin sloughing off by the handful. It was gross. Naturally, I kicked him where it counts and made a break for it. He was kinda slow and seemed stupid, so I made it home okay. But by nightfall, I looked like this:

I gotta go to the doctor or something. I mean, my left pinkie fell off while I was typing this note and I’m getting this putrid goo all over the keyboard. It’s mortifying!

But before I go, I did want to tell you that the randomly selected winner of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes is Cathy Hedge.

Happy Halloween!

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Halloween’s not all about being wicked…

This beautiful Halloween story came in from Catherine Hedge, who doesn’t yet have a blog.  I decided to use it as a guest post.  

Reading her story and the comment from Merry Simmons, I start to feel that there’s as much family in Halloween as in Christmas…

There’s still time to post a story in the comments of my October Country post.  You might even win Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes!

Money was tight when I was a kid.  Our Halloween costumes were  usually Mom’s dresses hiked up with a belt or a paper bag with eye holes…often in the wrong place.   One year, though, I had the best costume ever!

I was twelve, the fateful year when our family traditions said, “You’re getting too old.  This is your last year!”

I was already 5’4”, about 105 pounds, flat chested, and middle school awkward.   No way was I going to wear Mom’s clothes and stuff in tissue breasts.  Sheets were too precious to cut up for ghost costumes.  My little sister snagged the gypsy beads and scarf before I could.   It was already 6:00 and my siblings had finished their hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.  I was desperate.  If I didn’t find something fast, I’d lose any chance for those precious Milky Way bars and Tootsie Rolls.

I was on my way to the paper bag collection with a pair of scissors when my dad saw me.  When he asked if I was okay, I started sobbing.  It seemed a great injustice that it was my last year for trick or treating and I was going out as a Safeway bag head.

Some kids are lucky. Their fathers don’t say things like, “Stop being such a baby!” or “If you’d only planned ahead, you wouldn’t be in this predicament!”  I was lucky.

My dad took me back into the folk’s bedroom and opened up the cedar chest.  He pulled out a package wrapped in brown craft paper and string.   I still remember the slight mothball smell.  I stood there sniffling while Daddy revealed his WWII sailor suit;  deep blue wool bell bottoms, a heavy v-necked top with a ribbon trimmed back flap, and a white cap.  He left the room while I tried it on.

I pulled on the pants.  They had  a square flap in the front with at least a dozen anchor shaped buttons.  A draw string like shoe laces inched up the back.  I pulled the string tight.  Without looking, I knew the uniform fitted me perfectly.  Cinched up to my small waist, the fabric accentuated my newly curving hips.  I didn’t look like a boy at all.   My mom came in the room.  (She was more the “If you’d only planned ahead” type.)  But when she saw me, she smiled and said, “You’re growing up so fast!”

My brothers and sisters were making a fuss, hollering at me to hurry.  I rounded the corner.  As one, they seemed to gasp, “You get to wear that?!”

Very ceremoniously, my dad took his white sailor cap and showed me how to wear it just right, a bit to the side, pulled to the front into a V just about touching my eyebrow. Then, surrounded by my jealous siblings, I strutted out the door.

Yes, it was my last Halloween costume, but I’ll never forget it.  Even dressed up like a boy, for the first time  I felt I was beautiful.

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Fenrir: Monster or simply misunderstood?

As a member of Sommer Leigh’s League of Monstrologists, I’m going to tell you about Fenrir, the great wolf of Norse mythology.

Even if you’re not a fan of Norse mythology, you’ve probably heard of Loki. He’s shown up in all sorts of movies, comic books, and literature. You may already know that Loki is a trickster and the father of lies. But you may not know that he is also an adulterer. (Did you even know he was married?)

Loki stepped out on his wife Sigyn to spend time with the giantess Angrboda. Together, they had three children: Hel the half-rotted woman, Jormungand the giant serpent, and Fenrir the wolf. If you said that these were three of the most fearsome (not to mention ugliest) children that a god ever had, you couldn’t be far off the mark.

The Norn (Norse counterpart to the Greek Fates) warned the other gods that these three were destined to cause trouble. Odin immediately arranged to have Hel and Jormungand imprisoned, but he chose to let Fenrir (who was just a wolf, after all) roam free. Odin’s son Tyr befriended Fenrir and fed him hunks of meat to keep him off of the sheep and cattle (and villagers).

But when Fenrir started getting big, the gods became nervous. Odin lost all sympathy for Fenrir when the Norn foretold that the wolf was destined to open his great, big mouth full of great, big teeth and swallow Odin whole.

It was time to bind Fenrir.

Why they didn’t just kill him, I’ll never understand. Something about not spilling evil blood in Asgard. But honestly, I think I’d risk a stain on the carpet to get rid of something that was likely to eat me in the future.

The gods boldly set off to find a way to trap Fenrir without actually having to come near his teeth. They made a heavy, iron chain and challenged Fenrir to break it. Confident in his strength, Fenrir allowed them to wind the chain tightly around him. When they were finished, he sucked in a huge breath, flexed his beefy wolf muscles, and popped the iron links apart.

Feeling more nervous than ever, the gods made a heavier chain, twice as strong as the one before. They dared Fenrir to test his strength against it. Naturally, he accepted the challenge. And naturally he burst the links, though he had to work at it a bit this time.

The gods were genuinely worried now, so they sent a messenger to the dwarves, promising gold if they could build bindings that Fenrir couldn’t break. (You may recognize some of the dwarves’ names: Nar, Nain, Niping, Dain, Bifur, Bafur, Bombor, and Nori.) The dwarves rubbed their hands together at the thought of all that loot and set to work. The end result was a light and supple ribbon called Gleipnir.

When the gods dared Fenrir to break this fetter, he eyed it suspiciously. Suspecting magic was involved, he refused the challenge, even when the gods promised to set him free if he couldn’t break it. They taunted him (I wouldn’t be surprised if they double-dog-dared him), but Fenrir only agreed to the challenge when his good buddy Tyr volunteered to put his hand in Fenrir’s mouth.

This time, Fenrir couldn’t break his fetters. The gods found their promise to free him much easier to break. Everyone was happy—except Fenrir, who was now bound, and Tyr, who’d lost his hand.

"The gods were so delighted they began to laugh." - George Wright

Thus the brave gods of Norse mythology succeeded in binding Fenrir, who now awaits the end of the world, when he will be set free to gobble up his betrayers.

I’ve been a little flippant in this report, but Fenrir truly is a fierce and potentially devastating monster. He’s one of the few things that can strike fear into the heart of a Viking (right up there with running out of beer). It would be a very bad thing for the world if Fenrir broke loose. Which is exactly what happens in Valknut: the Binding (hopefully available at Amazon in November 2011).

The Norse Myths, by Kevin Crossley-Holland was my main source for this report.

Posted in Books, Myth in fiction, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Ruminations on Spam

Those of you who don’t maintain a blog may not know this, but there are people out there who think it’s fun or somehow productive to spam comments on blog posts. The spam never seems to have anything to do with the post. They often don’t make sense in any context.

However, the WordPress spam filters are not always perfect. Today, I discovered these two lovely comments incorrectly identified as spam. The first one was directed at my soon-to-be-released novel, Valknut: The Binding, under “What’s My Fiction.”

I was very happy to seek out this net-site. I wished to thank in your time for this glorious read! I definitely enjoying each little bit of it. Can I simply say what a reduction to find someone who actually is aware of what they are talking about on the internet. It’s laborious to search out knowledgeable individuals on this subject however you definitely know easy methods to convey an issue to light and make it important. Extra folks have to read this and perceive this facet of the story. I cant believe youre not more standard since you undoubtedly have the gift. however you sound like you understand what you’re speaking about. Additionally, I simply gave this onto a colleague who was doing a little analysis on this. And he reality is bought me breakfast outcome I discovered it for him. So let me reword that: Thanks for the deal with and for spending the time to debate this, I really feel strongly about it and love studying extra on this topic. If attainable, would you mind updating your weblog with more particulars? Its highly helpful for me. Big thumb up for this blog submit!

See, isn’t that affirming?  I’m so glad this person found reduction from my post.  I would certainly enjoy having extra folks read about Valknut: The Binding and perceive its many facets. Really, I can’t understand why the WordPress filters thought this was spam!

Here’s another comment that showed up as spam today, this one posted to the Rose in Winter page.

Bacon always tastes better in the fresh air!

I’m not sure what made this person think of eating bacon outside when he/she read about Rose in Winter, especially when most of the story takes place indoors. But I do think he/she has hit on one of the world’s universal truths. Big thumb up for this comment submit! 🙂

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Pondering the whims of editors (a history of Marie’s “Rose in Winter”)

If you’ve visited my site recently, you might have noticed Vanessa Chan’s lovely artwork in my sidebar. This is actually the cover of my newly published e-book, Rose in Winter, a 20-page short story that was originally published in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress XXI.

For those unfamiliar with this anthology series, MZB’s goal was to collect stories featuring strong female characters. The protagonists were generally butt-kicking female warriors or powerful sorceresses. Sometimes both at the same time.

The protagonist in my story is none of the above. She is not strong, or any kind of fighter, or magical in any way. In fact, she’s an ordinary young girl living a normal life. (Well, normal for young nobility in a medieval fantasy world.) Worse, this is a fairy tale love story about a girl who must choose between two men, both of whom are the “perfect choice” in completely different ways. This is not the type of story I usually write. And it certainly is not the type of story that appears in the Sword and Sorceress anthologies.

Furthermore, only authors who had published in MZB’s previous anthologies were invited to submit stories to this volume. The closest I’d come to publishing in the Sword and Sorceress series was to read a few stories in one volume to see if Rose in Winter was a good match.

It wasn’t.

My probability of publishing with MZB’s anthology was not significantly different from zero. But I stuck my jaw out and sent it anyway, muttering, “Well, there is a sword in the story…and sorcery, too…” as I licked the envelope.

A few weeks later, I got the letter. For some reason I still can’t fathom, the editor selected the story and it did indeed appear in volume XXI. And I am grateful.

At this stage of my narration, you probably expect me to start pontificating on the virtues of perseverance in the face of poor odds and so forth, but I think that point is plenty obvious. Instead, I want to ponder why Diana L. Paxson (who was the first editor of the series after MZB’s death) chose the story.

Maybe she chose Rose in Winter because it was reasonably well written. That’s a nice thought. But the Sword and Sorceress series was popular.  Seems unlikely the editor was desperate for good writers.

Maybe the colorful characters or the general tone of the story appealed to her. Or maybe she had exactly 20 pages to fill and my story fit the space the best

Maybe.

But I prefer to think she chose the story because she saw beyond the love story and realized Rose in Winter is really about choices and how they can affect your life. And sometimes making those choices is a lot tougher than swinging a sword or doing a little magic.

Rose in Winter is currently available at Kindle Books (Amazon) for 99 cents. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can get Kindle app for iPad, iPhone (and many other smart phones), and for your PC or Mac. (for example, google “Kindle for PC” to find the download link.)

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Welcome to the October country – Giveaway (Or “I wanna be Ray Bradbury”)

Jack-o-lantern by the lovely & talented Hannah Loughin

It makes perfect sense that Halloween should come at the end of October, the month when our gardens die and the birds flee.  When we shiver in our last breath of sunlit air before scurrying into our caves to watch football and dream of Christmas. What better time to celebrate all that is scary than the birth month of skeleton trees that will rattle our windowpanes in the dark of January?

And who celebrates this eeriest of months better than Ray Bradbury?

In particular, no book captures the mood and spirit of Halloween better than Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, a tale of two boys caught by the mysteries of Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. It’s a story of choices, of the pull of darkness against the light. Of the dangers of always looking ahead…or always looking back.

This is not an action book.  You don’t turn the page to see what happens next. You turn the page to soak it in, to live the eerie October days of another time, when boys ran free at night and the only monsters were of the supernatural kind. You turn the page to see Jim Nightshade teeter on the edge and to teeter along with him, the tingle of danger dancing along your spine.

And so, in celebration of the October country, where dark things dwell in shadows, I offer you, dear Reader, a trade.  Share a Halloween memory with me via a comment on this post. If your story is too long, then post it at your own blog and copy the link to a comment here. Or, lacking a blog, you can e-mail your story to me (marieloughin@gmail.com) and I’ll include it in a future post (if you wish).

In return, I’ll enter your name in a drawing for a brand new copy of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. If I receive more than 10 stories, I’ll give away two copies*, in honor of the new All Hallow’s Read tradition. I’ll announce the winner(s) on Monday, October 24, 2011.

*I couldn’t find an e-book version, so winners will have to give me an address.

Posted in Authors, Books, Ruminations | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Marie Meets the Publishing Industry: Do I wanna be a publisher?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the shock I felt when I emerged from my writing cave to find that the publishing world had gone mad. I’ve (mostly) recovered from that trauma and have been pondering the question: “So what are my options?”

As I see it, I have three choices. (Well, four—if you want to count “Quit writing and take up painting ceramic frogs.”)

1. I can continue to fling my novel against the great wall of the publishing industry and hope to draw attention to myself. 

If you visit Querytracker, you’ll still see plenty of hopefuls pursuing that route. This could be the faster road to fame and money. Winning the lottery would be another fast road. But I’m a statistician—I don’t like the odds either way.

Plus I know myself. Trying to be creative in the face of such odds would be the death knell to the writer in me, especially when I know my work will likely be rejected for reasons that might have nothing to do with quality.

Finally, bookstores are closing all over and large publishing houses face major setbacks. It seems unwise to load your eggs into a truck that’s about to crash.

2. I can circulate my novel among the small press and indie publishers.

This seems like a more appealing option. Small press publishers are more willing to take chances on work they believe in. Many of them hire quality cover artists, provide editing services, and set high standards for production value. Plus small press publishers can be more nimble than the big houses. Perhaps they can more readily adapt to changes in the industry.

I looked into this option and found that small press publishers tend to operate with their doors shut. Some will only look at agented material, which sends me back to the line of writers running the gauntlet of agents. Others open for submission only for brief intervals. Most don’t have enough resources to publish more than ten or fifteen books a year.

Again, statistician + bad odds = try something else.

3. I can self-publish.

I already know the arguments against this.

Self-publishing is the mark of someone who can’t make it in traditional publishing. 

Yeah. So. What’s your point?  I believe I’ve already explained why I can’t (or don’t want to try) to make it in traditional publishing. Besides, we all know that traditional publication is not a mark of excellence. The true mark of excellence is highly subjective:  it is the ability to engage readers. Indie writers are engaging large numbers of readers, these days.

But you’ll have to do all that marketing and promotion yourself!

Guess what, Sugar Plum – most traditionally published writers already have to do their own marketing. As far as I can see, if you’re a newbie or midlist writer, publishers package your book with some level of editing, provide a cover that may or may not be suitable, and put your book in a catalog from which book sellers choose inventory. That’s about it. (Well, sometimes they throw okay parties at conventions, too.) Self-publishers can hire editors and artists, and getting your book in a catalog becomes less important as bookstores become an endangered species.

It’s true, self-publishing is a lot of work, and writing is only part of it. But you have the opportunity to produce a novel that is as true to your vision as your skills and pocket allow. That feels a lot better than making changes and accepting “compromises” that you don’t necessarily believe in. And the book will be published. Maybe only friends and relatives will buy it, and maybe most of them won’t actually read it. But it will be out there, which is better than letting it gather dust in a drawer.

You’ve probably sensed this coming, but I’ll say it out loud: I’ve decided to dip my toes in the waters of self-publishing.* For now, I’m letting go of the agent-publisher minefield, of the anxious waiting and second-guessing, and focusing on that which I can control.

Trust me, it’s a liberating decision.

*If you want to learn more about changes in the publishing industry, spend some time at the Passive Guy’s blog, especially posts from the summer.  If you want to read a more thorough explanation why indie publishing is a viable option, see this post from J.W. Manus.  You can learn her first-hand experiences with problems in traditional publishing in some of her older posts.  And while you’re there, you might check out the first eight chapters of her novel, Dead Crazy.  It’s a well-written, fun read, if you like forensics and zombies.

Posted in Books, Writing | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Borrowed Ruminations on Shannon Mayer’s “Sundered”

Today, I’m doing something a little different. I have asked Author Merry Simmons to guest post a review of Shannon Mayer’s debut novel, Sundered. Merry began her career writing for science fiction and fantasy markets and has recently turned to writing Romance novels, so she seems ideally suited to review a novel I’d loosely categorize as paranormal romance. 

Before I turn to you over to Merry, I’d better tell you a little something about Sundered. The story begins with the revelation of a new drug called Nevermore, which seems to cure most chronic ailments suffered by humanity. Mara Wilson, a young wife longing to be a mother, joins the throngs swarming the medical clinics in hopes that this miracle drug will cure her infertility. She is shattered when a twist of fate stops her from taking the drug. But what seems like cruel misfortune becomes her salvation as the world discovers that the drug is not what it seems and everyone who has taken it begins to change . . .

And now, here’s Merry’s review.

With the advent of indie e-publishing, books no longer have to fulfill the specific genre requirements demanded by traditional publishers. Now stories don’t have to fit neatly into a box called Romance or Horror or Fantasy or Mystery. Writers are free to mix genres in order to better tell their tales.

Shannon Mayer has done just this in Sundered (Nevermore Trilogy). So, while this book was recommended to me as a Paranormal Romance, that’s not exactly what it is. The paranormal is there in spades. Ms. Mayer has used a scenario similar to that introduced over fifty years ago in Richard Matheson’s apocalyptic horror novel, I Am Legend, but she’s added her own twists and turns. The romance element is present, but it doesn’t follow the standard pattern of a couple meeting and falling in love. Instead, this first installment of the trilogy is very much a love story between husband and wife. The author has deftly woven all of these strands together into an intriguing and sometimes poignant tale of love, loss, and survival.

The novel was not perfect, however. I felt the author could have made the story even more compelling with some judicious trimming and focusing. Particularly at the beginning, the plot seems to meander when it should immediately grab the reader. Oddly enough, her human to human interactions don’t ring as true as her human to creature ones. (Please note, I’m trying very hard to avoid spoilers – J) And since this story is told in the first person point of view, Ms. Mayer could have delved more deeply into her protagonist’s psyche than she did. None of these things prevented me from enjoying the novel, but I hate to see missed opportunities to make a good book even better.

The only thing that really made my teeth itch was the formatting. Now, there is nothing sloppy about this novel’s formatting (a problem that too often appears in indie books). But the choice of style feels “wrong.” The paragraphs are not indented and are instead set off with an additional blank line between them. This is what I call email or “block” style. It is what I’m using for this review. But then, what I’m writing is an email. A book deserves the dignity of being presented in standard book format. I don’t think this is an evolving trend. I checked the other 30+ books that are currently living on my Kindle. None of them were written in this style.

On the whole, Sundered is an enjoyable read, although the fact this is the first installment of a trilogy should be taken seriously. The tale ends on a cliff hanger.

***

If you are interested in reading the Nevermore Trilogy, the first two novels are available in electronic format at the Kindle Store and at Smashwords. The third and final installation will be released on October 31st, so you won’t have long to wait for the conclusion.

 ***

Merry Simmons has published many short stories, primarily fantasy and science fiction.  Her stories have appeared in magazines such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, and Paradox, as well as in assorted anthologies.  She has recently turned to writing romance novels,  one of which was runner-up in the RT/Kensington Brava Writing with the Stars Contest. Two other novels are currently in the finals for the Unpublished Maggie, in the historical romance category.

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Digitization of Us All (or “The End of Civilization”)

Last week, I droned on and on about how much I love using my iPad as an e-reader. I had good reasons, too.  Admit it.  And I’ll stand behind them for my own selfish reasons.

But there’s a part of me that wonders if digitizing our world is wise.

To get a feel for what I mean, have another look at Joe Konrath’s post. His music has made the transition from cassette to cd to mp3. He’s moving his movies from DVD to hard drive, and his reading material is not far behind. And he’s just one of probably millions joining this mass conversion. It’s easy to imagine the next step, where all such media is transported to a convenient Cloud. No physical presence (other than speakers and screens) to clutter our living rooms.

Salvador Dali with ocelot and cane.

Image via Wikipedia

But why stop there? You don’t have to be stuck decorating your house with the same stagnant paintings by local artists and fading prints of master works, day after day. Why not instead rotate the work of Salvador Dali (left) on your walls using HD displays?

In fact, why render physical artwork at all? Artists today produce fantastic paintings directly on the computer, canvas not required. The same could happen to sculpture when holographic imaging has been perfected.

Are you feeling uneasy, yet?

With all of these advances, our homes can become more peacefully minimalistic and beautiful (unless you have a dog or small children). But it all seems so—so ethereal.  So fragile. Transient.

Will we value that which we cannot hold in our hands?  Will we remember that which doesn’t take physical space to remind us of its existence?

The part of me that reads science fiction, the part that was deeply impacted when I saw Beneath the Planet of the Apes as a wee child, knows that the end of civilization can happen in a single cataclysmic moment. Or perhaps in a drawn out devolution as resources run dry. With power sources gone, the Cloud would evaporate into nothingness. And all of our modern art, literature, and music would evaporate along with it.

Imagine archeologists 10,000 years from now rummaging in the ruins of our society. Maybe they’d find a few miraculously preserved canvases. A bronzed sculpture or two, oxidized and pitted. A rare few works of literature (like, Incredible Hulk #181, vacuum-sealed and stored in a safety deposit box). Dating techniques would show that these relics were created throughout human history. They would also show that creativity suddenly stopped during the first half of the 21st century.

The archeologists might logically hypothesize that the abrupt disappearance of the arts signalled the end of our civilization.

They might even be right.

Even so, I’m not giving up my iPad.

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