Mercurion launch (finally!)

The seventh book of the After Atlantis series is finally available, after long delays and a major rewrite. Here it is!

Tane Casak, Guardian of Mercury Island, has been framed. Already accused of being a supervillain because of his defense of his team and his island, Tane is present when the governor of Atlantis is assassinated. Now the military and HeroTube are coming for him, and Tane awaits them with grim purpose.

James Chase, Islesworn, is part of the team sent to apprehend Tane. Recognizing him as the Guardian he’s searched for for months, he plans to stop the superhero team before they can harm Tane or capture Mercury Island.

But when a team of Atlantean Exiles attack both Tane and James’s team, alliances shift and enemies become allies. Because if they don’t, Mercury Island will fall into the hands of the evil Exiles, and not even the healing powers of Jayesh the Bloodbound will save them.

Available at most retailers, or will be soon:

AmazonKoboNookApple iBooks

I’m working hard to get the whole series available as paperback. In the meantime, here’s the rest of the series:

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After Atlantis 1After Atlantis 2After Atlantis 3

After Atlantis (Superhero)
After Atlantis 4After Atlantis 5After Atlantis 6After Atlantis 7
Vid:ilantes (Superhero, part of After Atlantis)

The Guardian books follow the adventures of the crew on Mercury Island, and their battles with Dr. Regulus, genius engineer who repurposes abandoned Atlantean magitech and sells it to the highest bidder. Islesworn picks up with the American heroes and their encounters with the other two Lost Isles of Atlantis, and the culture of HeroTube. This culminates in Mercurion, where the Vid:ilantes team cross paths with the Guardian team. Explosively. After this, the series will move on with everyone working together and it is delightful. The whole series is actually urban fantasy with superhero trimmings, and it’s appropriate for all ages.

Superhero fiction: a writing experiment

Last year, I wrote a novella and two novels back to back. But you wouldn’t know it, because they were fanfics. I’m hugely proud of them … but they have a very limited audience.

So I started wondering how hard it would be to change the names and make them into fantasy. After all, most of the setting and a lot of the characters are my own.

So I’ve been undergoing the labyrinthine task of changing a story from fanfiction to original fiction. Can we say I underestimated how difficult it was going to be? With fanfic, your readers already know the setting and characters. With original fiction, they don’t, and you have to establish them. Doing that without dropping a slab of exposition on the reader has been massively difficult. Fortunately I have a group of patient beta readers who can look at it and go, “Nope, it’s not there yet.”

As I’m chewing on this massive revision, I look at authors like Kathy Tyers for inspiration. Her Firebird series is renamed Star Wars fanfiction. Supposedly there’s a plot line in there about “what if Jesus came to the Jedi?” But what I got out of it was, “When a Jedi Psychic finds his Empire royal soulmate, things get hot.” They use crystal swords instead of lightsabers and use psychic powers instead of the Force. If you didn’t know it was Star Wars, you might not ever pick up on it. It’s just Romance In Space. It’s skillfully done. That’s the kind of thing I want to pull off, here.

Trouble is, when you take the kind of stories I’ve been writing and turn it original, it comes out as superhero fantasy. Small-town superheroes with moderate powers who get way, way over their heads with foes beyond their strength. So I started looking up superhero fantasy on Amazon.

First off, there’s not really much there. Second, it all looks like this.

superherobooks1superherobooks2

It’s either licensed novels, comic book anthologies, or indie offerings that … aren’t really that great. In my sniffing around, I found the Gender-Swapped Iron Man Saga, the X-Men Fanfic Saga, the Hey Guys My Hero Is Cool books, and Look Guys Aliens books. I even read the middle-grade Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain. The first half was great. The second half devolved into “Spot who’s carrying the idiot ball in this scene!”

Nobody really does small-town heroes who do anything but do the regular plot of “look I have powers! Look, I have to save the world now!” It’s kind of discouraging. Either nobody reads this genre, or nobody writes anything good for it. (I’m leaning toward the latter, because I saw lots of reviews from people who said that they adore the genre and will read anything in it.)

So, I’m going to take a shot at contributing to the badly underdeveloped superhero genre and see how it goes. You know, once the thing is in a readable state.

Meanwhile, it has crossover potential with the other urban fantasy series I was planning, so we’ll be reworking the worldbuilding on that, too. So much fun!

A sense of wonder

David Farland says that all stories need the following beats in varying amounts: wonder, humor, horror, adventure, romance, mystery, suspense, and drama. Depending on the genre, you might have more suspense or more romance, more humor or more horror.

One that I enjoy and don’t find very often is the sense of wonder.

Dave Farland gives the reason for this.

When you’re a child—between the ages of 0 and 11—you’re in what I will call the “discovery” phase of life, a time when much of the world seems strange and new to you. In some ways, the world seems boundless, because every time that you turn around you learn about some new wonder or some new region of the world that you have never heard about. And so children in that age are predisposed to what I, and a few others, call “wonder literature.”

In wonder literature, the main emotional draw (outside of the essential story itself) is typically that it arouses a sense of wonder. Hence, stories set in fantastic settings are extremely interesting to children. But when you encounter something new—say a new animal—there is more than one possible outcome to the encounter.

1) The encounter can in some way be more satisfying than you had imagined. (In which case a sense of wonder is aroused.)

2) The encounter can twist away from your expectations in a way that is neither wondrous nor terrible. (In which case a laugh is usually evoked.)

3) The encounter can be more painful or traumatizing than you had imagined possible. (In which case terror or horror are aroused.)

Because of this young readers, by virtue of age alone, are biologically predisposed to be drawn to works of wonder (fantasy or science fiction), humor, and horror. Those are the largest draws for them.

Source

Maybe it’s because I have kids in this age range who are really into wonder literature, but I like it, too. I want some wonder mixed into my mystery or romance or fantasy. Something new and unexpected that makes me sit up and go, “What is this? Tell me more!”

sagittarius_by_sandara-dbv6svo
Saggitarius by Sandara. What is this?? A sci-fi faun??

One of my favorite things in urban fantasy is when a myth, creature, or historical period is given a new twist. A Minotaur who has become a Buddhist? The conquistadors used black magic to subjugate the Native Americans? The number of people who disappear every year are the same percentage as herd animals eaten by predators? Hitler was a werewolf? TELL ME MORE.

I love this genre because it’s fantasy, mystery, wonder, and drama all in one package. Its also a very glutted genre, full of copycats. Like a copy machine trying to copy a copy of a copy, about all that’s left is the darkest of the lines. Urban fantasy has gotten darker and grittier, the detectives ever more hard boiled, the monsters ever more nonsensically sexy. Lighter strokes, like wonder and humor, have fallen by the wayside. The humor has become darker and meaner.

Yesterday I was clicking through a promotion page of urban fantasy books on sale. They went like this:

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The art of Don Dos Santos for the novel Black Blade Blues

A woman/man has fire magic/is half-demon/is a vampire/is a dragon/is some other magical creature. They have just moved to a new city/lost a job/broken up with a partner. Then an assassin finds them/they find a mysterious magical item/they are hired to find something/kill someone. But that mission will damn the main character/empower the villain/doom the world.

Dozens of books. Same plots. Same characters. Maybe the summaries were bad at conveying what made their books unique? But there’s no hint at wonder, or fun, or the other experiences I want from this genre.

When I wrote the Malevolent books, my goal was to invert the expectations of vampire romance novels. I lampshaded the heck out of the tropes, sort of like elbowing a friend and going, “She’ll never figure out he’s a vampire! Eh? Eh?”

As I’m rewriting this new Spacetime book, I’m kind of doing the same thing. Sure, James and Indal are running around Phoenix and hitting clubs. They’re also exploring a mysterious island in a pocket dimension that exists on the other side of a door in James’s apartment. The island keeps spawning new terrain–mountains, forests, monoliths, and so on. There’s a huge silver disc-clock-thing that changes when the island does. The bad guys are very interested in it, but the heroes have no idea what any of it does. The island and its secrets will drive the whole series.

magic-disc-wip
A very early conceptual version of the disc, made by me.

This concept intrigues me. It fires up my sense of wonder. I want to know what will appear on the island next, what new wonders or dangers the heroes will encounter. Sure, there’s the usual urban fantasy trappings–werewolves, demon satyrs, vampire elves, protagonists who kid around and make jokes. The whole package all together is like candy to my brain.

I’m going to send the first chapter to my newsletter subscribers on Friday. If you’d like a sneak peek, sign up! I’m trying to ramp up my newsletter, turn it into a fun thing to read. I’ll include pretty art and progress reports on how writing is going, as well as exclusive sneak peeks.

You guys can also help me pick a title, since I have no idea what to call this book. The working title is Island of Elements, but that’s more of a series title than an individual book.

How about you? What flavors do you prefer in your books: wonder, humor, horror, adventure, romance, mystery, suspense, and drama?

The phoenix in urban fantasy

The phoenix is a mythical bird that dies in fire and is reborn from the ashes. It’s pretty well known as fantasy creatures go. There’s one in Harry Potter, for example, so of course everybody knows them.

I’m plotting a book where the hero has to stop an evil phoenix from stealing a magical artifact of some kind. Since I’m writing urban fantasy, the phoenix will be human-shaped most of the time, the way vampires, werewolves, and most other monsters appear human until pressed. That’s no problem–I’m having so much fun dreaming up powers for him to use against the hero. Bad guys are fun.

The trouble is, I’m not sure a phoenix can actually be killed. That’s their shtick–they resurrect. So I went poking around to find out more about the original myths.

phoenix_by_ei_en-d4fe5hn
Phoenix by NekroXIII

1. They seem to originate in ancient Egypt and Phoenicia. The bird was said to be the same rich purple as the expensive dyes the Phoenicians produced. They were the bennu bird, some kind of stork or heron.

2. In Egypt, the phoenix worked like the dung beetle. After it was reborn, it gathered up its parents’ ashes and carried them to Heliopolis in a ball plastered with myrrh. (Source: Wikipedia)

3. It’s a symbol of peace and prosperity. They’re always considered a good omen, or a symbol of a benevolent god of some kind.

4. When they burned up, it was always on fragrant wood, like cinnamon twigs, so a burning phoenix was basically incense.

The death and rebirth of the phoenix is part of the myth. I don’t think they could be killed permanently, but then, they were considered good luck and I don’t think people killed them anyway.

So, as I’m planning my story, I’m wondering if I should bother having the hero trying to kill a phoenix. They only come back. Maybe have the phoenix be a recurring character in other books? (“That annoying phoenix guy, back again from the dead!”) Should the phoenix not be a bad guy at all, but rather be working for the Greater Good, but with goals that go against the hero’s? (Like stealing magical artifacts.)

I needed ideas, so I went and hunted around for other urban fantasy books that feature phoenixes. These are the ones I grabbed samples for.

The Nix series by Shannon Meyer. Girl with phoenix powers fights the oppressive bad guys, mafia, other magic users, and has her family slaughtered in the first chapter of book 1. Eh. Not really what I want to read right now.

Souls of Fire by Keri Arthur. Girl is a phoenix, but the worldbuilding is set up in such a way that she always has to have at least two lovers. Eh. Infidelity doesn’t strike me as an outstanding character trait. Pass.

Phoenix Blood (Old School series), by Jenny Schwartz. A girl with the power to find things runs into her old flame (ha ha!) who has phoenix fire in his blood and a week to live. I kind of liked the setup for this one. The reviews say that it’s not over-the-top with bedscenes, and the hero and heroine are “emotionally mature adults”. I’m down with adult characters who act like adults without panting after each other all the time.

I’m seeing lots of other books, like book 3 in a series, that features a one-shot phoenix character. I don’t want to have to read a whole series to understand it, though. I’m also seeing some YA and epic fantasy with phoenixes, but they use the actual bird. I kind of wanted the humany kind.

Any suggestions of books to try? Or suggestions of how to write a humany phoenix in a way that makes sense?

 

14 things I learned from urban fantasy

Urban fantasy is fantasy/fairy tales that takes place in modern day, but especially in an urban setting. Buffy, Grimm, and Supernatural are all examples of urban fantasy in TV shows. In books, big hitters are the Dresden Files, Mercy Thompson, and the Iron Druid series. I love the genre and hope to write in it properly. Since my list of fairytale tropes was so fun to write, I thought I’d do one for one of my other favorite genres.

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  1. There are fairytale monsters out there. Sometimes the world knows about them. Mostly it doesn’t. The uninformed populace are easier to eat.
  2. Magic exists. Most people don’t know about it, but a few people find out they can use it, mostly when they blow something up accidentally.
  3. If you have magic, 90% of the time it will be fire-based. This is why there are so many “gas explosions” in the news.
  4. Most magical creatures dislike being burned. This is why if you have magic, fire magic is the best. Flamethrowers for the win.
  5. Werewolves can be good. Hot, even. But a lot of the time, they’ll eat your face.
  6. Vampires can be good. Hot, even. But a lot of the time, they’ll drink your blood.
  7. Zombies can be good. Hot, even. But a lot of the time, they’ll eat your brain.
  8. Fairies and elves can be good. Hot, even. But a lot of the time, they’ll make you a deal you can’t refuse and keep you a slave forever.
  9. Angels can be good. Hot, even. But a lot of the time, they’ll cost you your soul/immortality/magic power.
  10. Demons can be good. Hot, even. But a lot of the time, they’ll eat your soul, your body, your emotions, your friends, your relatives, and your dog.
  11. Any kind of magic involving spirits and the dead is usually a Bad Thing. Except when it’s not.
  12. Fairytale logic sometimes holds true (favors repaid, strange bargains kept, strange instructions followed).
  13. Night clubs are where monsters hang out and eat hot girls, usually in the inevitable alley outside.
  14. Most magic systems are pretty basic–the elements are shaped by the will. If it was good enough for Dresden, it’s good enough for you.

Writing is hard (or why my brain is fried)

I’ve been working hard on the third Malevolent book, Malicious. I’ve almost finished this revision cycle, and the book is awesome. But man, it didn’t start out that way.

I wrote Malcontent and Malicious when I was pregnant with our youngest. She’s seventeen months old now, and I’m just now finishing revisions on Malicious.

Malcontent was easy to write. I knew the conflicts and the villain. But I didn’t know what the heck I was doing with Malicious. The villain changed, the conflict changed, my hero and heroine’s relationship changed. The first draft was me flailing around going, “What am I even writing?”

When I got to the end, the lights came on. I spent the whole book brainstorming my villain. Only when they defeated him did it finally click. Then I had to go back and rewrite swaths of the book to make the villain fit my new understanding. (And a book came out last year that did almost my exact same ending twist. :facepalm:)

So, after pass after pass after pass, the book is finally approaching readability. I’m confident that my editor won’t curl up in the fetal position now.

It’s so weird to finally be finished with this trilogy. I didn’t realize what a huge project it would be when I started out. “Hey, it’s only three books. No problem!”

News flash: writing books is hard. Especially if you want other human beings to read them.

So now I’m in that downtime between projects, unsure what to do with myself. This is compounded by summer vacation setting in. The kids don’t know what to do with themselves. I’m thinking we should sign up for the library’s summer reading program this year. Last year, when it started, the kids book section was empty. I couldn’t figure out why all the books were gone. Surprise! The summer reading program had kicked off. The books were all back a few weeks later.

I’m working through my own TBR pile. Amazing how stuff just accumulates in your Kindle–out of sight, out of mind. Right now I’m reading a shlocky, clunky space opera–but hey, it’s light. I’m also playing some Minecraft mod packs. Amazing how many story ideas you can get from those. Right now I’m learning Thaumcraft, a kind of crazy alchemy pack.

I’m going to read through my Spacetime series, correct the commas and make the dialogue funnier. Then I’ve got to write that fifth book, which is an epic boss fight that wrecks the worlds. I think I need to binge on superhero movies for this one.

Figuring out that Spacetime has more in common with superheroes than with real urban fantasy has been such a relief. Urban fantasy usually features a tough protagonist in an urban setting tracking down fairy tale monsters.

harry_dresden_by_thegryph
Harry Dresden by theglyph

Superhero fantasy involves people with super powers fighting each other. While there can be monsters, they’re more the “victims of science” kinds of monsters. Genetically-engineered mutants, robots, that kind of thing. Superheroes also get away with having aliens. Urban fantasy? Not so much, unless it’s a Men in Black kind of thing.

superhero-art-example
From Final Fantasy XV, which kind of blends superhero and UF, depending which game you’re playing

I also want to write more cozy dragon mysteries. They’re like curling up with a blanket and a mug of hot cocoa. I’ve got a second one nearly finished. I want to write a third one where my little dragon sleuth is hired by a cat, who thinks her mistress has been murdered but can’t prove it. Because this whole series is one long wishful thinking about talking to animals.

So that’s my long ramble about the various projects I’m working on. How about you? Got any projects simmering away?

The difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy

Urban fantasy and paranormal romance are genre names. They help bookstores and websites know where to shelve titles. They give readers a broad shopping label.

But under the hood, they tend to cross over a lot. Like, ALOT.

alot
The ALOT, courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half

So first, here’s a broad-brush definition of each one:

Urban fantasy: A person in a city has a crappy day job, crappy life, etc. They find out they have magic powers, or had them already. They go off to fight black leather-wearing vampires, totally built elves, zombies of various kinds, demons, other wizards, witches, and a few gods of various mythologies. Cthulhu is usually in there somewhere, too. Nobody knows the monsters exist, because the Populace Must Not Know. The fate of the world is at stake if the hero doesn’t stop the monsters.

The hero usually gets to visit the seedier areas of the city in question, taking the reader on a tour of the exotic locales buried in our very own backyard.

In a podcast I watched, a couple of UF authors talked about how the genre is basically updated fairytales. In the old days, the forest was where the monsters lived. If you went in there, the wolves would get you. But today, the city has taken the place of the forest. We all know that there’s places where you just don’t go after dark.

There’s two kinds of UF:

  • Spunky Girl
  • Unlucky Guy

The Spunky Girl also crosses over into Paranormal Romance. She’s the monster hunter, the savvy witch, the werecat, you name it. She kicks butt and takes names. She has family problems and doesn’t need a hawt monster guy, even though she meets one in the first chapter. They get it on. Sometimes frequently.

The Unlucky Guy is also a monster hunter, a wizard, a detective, or so on. Unlike the Spunky Girl, the guy just can’t catch a break. He wakes up in dumpsters. He gets kicked around by monsters. He often runs for his life, chased by magical gangsters. Often he gets a girlfriend, only to find out she’s a monster out to kill him/use him in her political plans. This is my favorite kind of UF.

bioshock2

Next there’s Paranormal Romance.

This usually centers around a female protagonist. She’s either a moody teenager or a jaded adult woman. Either way, she somehow meets a Monster Guy who is Hawt but Dangerous. He usually brings along the Secret Magic/Monster World. The rest of the story is basically Beauty and the Beast, just with lots of different trappings. If it’s a teen girl, there will be a magic high school. If she’s an adult, there will be sex.

There’s a lot of crossover with UF here in the worldbuilding. Usually there will be a city, but small towns feature, too. If it’s a were-creature romance, there will usually be woods somewhere. Sometimes mountains. Rarely deserts. NEVER are there cornfields. Although a werewolf pack battling through a cornfield would be all kinds of awesome.

Twilight is the PNR book that everybody knows, but Anne Rice was writing vampire books long before Meyer was (although it’s arguable that Rice’s books are closer to UF).

Vampires and werewolves are the primary attractions of PNR, although there’s plenty of sub-factions of monsters. Werebears are particularly popular, for some reason. Under vampires, I personally tried out writing liches, which has worked pretty well. (I’m considering releasing the next book at the end of September, if I can get it edited in time.)

Hopefully that clears up the differences between the two genres. I’ve had to read quite a bit before I started teasing out the differences, and I’m not completely accurate. 🙂