Posts from 2007
This is Mike (Patty's husband). With Blood Bound soon hitting the shelves, I thought I should update the site just to prove it hasn't been completely abandoned. Patty is frantically working on Mercy 3, which is due at the publisher's next month, and biting her nails about Blood Bound. In all honesty, I think it's a stronger book than Moon Called: same great characters, tighter plot. Ultimately, however, it's the readers who decide whether a book was worth their hard-earned money or not.
Speaking of criticism . . . the other day we were having lunch with another author, Diana Pharaoh Francis, and the topic of reviews came up. It's a touchy topic among authors. The hard truth is that nobody likes a negative review. After working for months or years on a manuscript, the author has vested words and paper with a bit of themselves, and it can be devestating, particularly to new authors, to see that work shredded by a callous critic. On the other hand, as readers, we've all had the experience of paying good money for a story we're excited to read, only to be bitterly disappointed. Furthermore, reviews are always a bit subjective. I hugely enjoy Lois Bujold. A few years ago I read A Civil Campaign, and at the time, it left me flat. Had I written a review at that time, it would have been lukewarm. However, I read the book again more recently, and found it every bit as good as the rest of her writing (which is to say absolutely amazing). I have no idea what was wrong with me the first time I read it! In addition, no book, however well conceived and executed, will appeal to every reader.
Authors often pay particular attention to the negative reviews. Why didn't the reader care for the book? Was the reader just a curmudgen, or are there valid complaints about the world, characters, or plot? Ultimately, it is criticism that facilitates improvement. I say that with some hesitancy, because harsh criticism has probably cost the world as many great authors as it creates. At one convention my wife and I attended, a writer's workshop was offered which provided unpublished authors an opportunity to have their work reviewed by several of the attending professionals. The guest of honor at this particular convention was well-known, successful and highly respected. An individual we know and love had submitted a manuscript for review (a manuscript which both Patty and I had read and been very impressed with), and was eager for comments. This individual has attended numerous writer's groups, and is no stranger to constructive criticism. What she got, from someone she admired, was a tirade; a stream of vituperence calculated to wither and blast the creative voice within, undermine her confidence, and guarantee that she never wrote anything more than a grocery list again. We'll never read that story, or countless others that might might have been produced by authors who have given up due to such treatment.
Some authors, I've been told, refuse to read any reviews of their work, fearing that the damage caused by the caustic reviewer outweighs the benefits of constructive criticism. I remember, a few years ago, watching an interview with Luciano Pavarotti. He had given a sub-standard performance, and both the critics and the public had been rather sharp with their criticism. The interviewer asked Pavarotti what he thought of these uneducated people taking it upon themselves to criticize a man of his reputation. I wish I could remember his response well enough to quote it, but the gist of it ran something like this. "These people work very hard for their money, and spend it generously to support the opera. Many of these people maintain seats and booths for generations, passed down as cherished inheritances. They give of their money and their time to come to the opera, to have their cares lifted, and when the performance does not go well, they think they have the right to complain. I think they're right."
So, the next book is nearly out, and Patty's waiting for the first reviews to trickle into Amazon or Barnes and Noble. I like Patty's philosophy on reviews. When you spend your money for one of her books, you effectively enter into a virtual contract. The author promises to weave a pleasing tale, to take you away from the cares of the world for a few hours, and try to leave you happier than when you started reading. Patty works very hard to try to uphold her end of that contract. A review is an opportunity to tell the world whether she was successful, and if not, why not.
Well, I've nattered on long enough. Thanks to everyone who reads her books, and to those who provide feedback to her. We'll see you in the bookstore (or at RadCon, in Pasco, WA over valentine's day, if you happen to be there).Warm Regards
Jan 22, 2007
My husband finally guilted me into updating!(grin) However, I left his comments up, because they've only been up a couple of days, and I thought you'd all like a chance to read them.
Lots of things have been happening on the home front. First of all, of course, is that Blood Bound is going to be on the shelves at the end of this month. I have been hearing from early birds already (since about the 19th), and the response has been pretty positive. I really do think this is a stronger book -- though I am of the fond delusion that I'm becoming a better writer all the time, rather than a worse one. Mostly, I think the plot resolution was cleaner, and the writing a little tighter. Judge for yourself (grin).
Foreign sales of the publication/translation rights have been just coming left and right. Dragon Bones is the most widely traveled. It is already available in Russia and (a very kind lady from Serbia informed me) in Serbia. My agents talked with the nice folks at Serbian publishing house who were happy to negotiate for the rights to translate, as they had already published the book -- and they also bought translation rights for Dragon Blood. So all is well there. Additionally, Dragon Bones is scheduled for translation rights into German and Japanese. German rights have also been granted for Dragon Blood, Raven's Shadow, Raven's Strike and Moon Called and Blood Bound. The Mercy books are also being translated into Polish -- so for the nice person who wrote some time ago to ask, now a couple of my books will be available in Polish.
Most of you probably don't care too much about all of this -- but I'm pretty excited about it. First, I actually can read German (ahem). Okay, I can mostly sort of read German with a dictionary and a translation at hand. It has been twenty years or so since I got my degree, and I wasn't too good at it then! So that's pretty cool. The Czech copy I have of Steal the Dragon and the Russian version of Dragon Bones make pretty awesome conversation pieces, but, alas, I suspect that my copies will never be read. But, mostly, I just find it very flattering that some poor person . . . er . . . kind translator is going to take the time to go through my story and make it work in a different language. I feel the same way about the cover art, too.
And there's some updating to the site as well. Mike was so kind as to put up the covers to On the Prowl, the August 2007 anthology in which a novella about Samuel's brother Charles appears, and Silver Birch, Blood Moon the World Fantasy Award winning Datlow and Windling anthology that I had a short story in. I've only ever written three stories that weren't novels; the third is called "Wishing Well" and appeared in the magazine Swords and Sorcery the same month and year that the Datlow/Windling anthology came out. I'm just not a short story writer. Someday really soon now, I'm going to revamp and update the FAQ pages, which are pretty out of date. But first I've got to finish the third Mercy book (due in February) -- and find a good title for it.Patricia Briggs
Feb 20, 2007Once again, this is Mike (Patty's husband) making a quick update. I'm taking over more of the web-site maintenance, both to keep things a bit more up-to-date, and to keep Patty doing what she does best, writing books. First, let me say thank you to everyone for the overwhelmingly positive feedback to Blood Bound. The good reviews and unexpectedly strong sales are greatly appreciated. Blood Bound spent three weeks on the New York Times and Patty is ecstatic.
We've just returned from RadCon, a wonderful science fiction and fantasy convention in the Tri-Cities Washington. This year's convention was another unmitigated success. Congratulations and thanks are in order to the organizers -- we had a ball. Larry Niven was the guest of honor. He's amazingly friendly and outgoing, and we had a wonderful chat with him in the hallway between panels. On the other hand, he's smart enough to be intimidating regardless of his friendly demeanor -- the guy has a brain that focuses like a high-wattage laser. We also got to chat with a lot of old friends, and meet some new ones. All in all, it was a great, if largely sleepless, weekend.
When we returned home last night we checked our email, and found another wave of mail from folks who've read her books. This is amazing, and we're not quite sure how to handle the situation. Fan mail is important, and we love to read it (sorry, I read most of it too!). Both the compliments and the criticisms are valuable and appreciated -- but suddenly there's a lot of it, and it takes time to answer.
Patty is still wrestling with a deadline on Mercy III, now titled Iron Kissed. The manuscript is supposed to be off to her editor by the end of the month. The book is coming along nicely: she's past the "mid-novel doldrums" and into the final hundred pages or so, but the days are ticking by pretty quickly as well.
Speaking of deadlines. . . we learned a few things at RadCon. One interesting thing about being an author is that you only see a very small part of the machinery of publishing - putting the words on paper. It's a bit like working in a factory, and only seeing the mail room. Alas, being ignorant of everything else can have career-damaging consequences. We had an opportunity to attend several excellent panels featuring Claire Eddy, one of the editors at Tor. She's an exceptionally articulate and well-spoken woman who really knows the business end of publishing. We also had the opportunity of speaking with Dean Wesley Smith who knows more about the publishing industry than anyone I know. Between these two people, we learned something about deadlines and publishing. Authors often hear the mantra "Never, never miss a deadline." Why? Is this some silly power game, with the publisher trying to show the author who's boss? The reality is far more interesting . . .
It turns out that the publishing industry is like a giant machine, and it turns pretty slowly. Why does the publisher need the manuscript a year (or more) before publication? All they need to do is correct a few typos, slap a glossy cover on it, and ship it out to the distributors. This should take three weeks tops, right? As it turns out, it's a bit more complex than that (isn't everything) and there's a great many wheels and cogs that must mesh properly. Cover art, for example, isn't just art, it's marketing. There's a whole science of color, font and imagery. What's the difference between an urban fantasy, and paranormal romance and a contemporary horror novel? The cover plays a big role in that. Editing is far more extensive than most people imagine, and then there's the marketing machine. . .
Books aren't just printed and pumped into some magical funnel, there's a shadowy, somewhat mysterious marketing and distribution industry busily doing . . . whatever they do. But apparently it involves time and money, and a fair bit of both. In order to keep the business afloat, these expenses must be planned and allocated in advance. And that's where deadlines come in.
When a release date is selected for a book, the marketing wheels begin to turn. Contracts are signed, money exchanged, deals struck -- all based on the premise that, at the appropriate moment, the text of the novel, edited and ready for publication, will magically appear to be wrapped in the glossy covers and dropped into the waiting trucks. The bigger and more popular the author, the bigger and more extensive these contracts, and the further ahead of the book's delivery they're signed. If the author fails to deliver the novel on time, people get jittery and late-night meetings get called. If the manuscript is further delayed, some of these contracts (which are intended to market this author's book, remember) may be canceled or altered. In extreme cases, the publisher may be unable to recover marketing costs that may far outstrip the author's fee for the book. Apparently, publishing houses have actually been bankrupt when a mega-blockbuster novel is not delivered. Publishers, when all is said and done, run on very thin margins, and they only make money when the whole process of publishing the book goes as planned
Suddenly, the editor's desire to have a manuscript in their hands by the due date makes infinitely more sense, as does their rather negative reaction to tardy authors.
So, Patty's at the office, typing away like a madwoman, determined that if the manuscript is tardy, it won't be by much. It's a funny thing -- she'll spend days and weeks kind of staring out the window, making little notes when she's planning, and then "hunt and peck" her way through the first few chapters. The middle is usually a slow-but-steady process of setting the events in motion and following the characters through the action. In the end, it always seems to come down to a few weeks of frantic writing to wrap it all up and smooth the story out to something presentable.
This time, there's also the steady accumulation of unanswered fan-mail in the inbox -- like snowflakes slowly building to an avalanche. We don't know how to handle this, but I'm open to suggestions. How should an author handle a growing audience? She LOVES to read mail, and it's very important to her that everyone that sends her a message get one in return, but she never expected so many. Writing individual replies is cutting into her writing time pretty heavily, and she's falling further behind. Shall we do form letters? News letters? mailing lists? Have our kids answer her email? I'm at a loss. As Dean Smith pointed out, authors always wish for an ever-bigger audience, but when fortuitous happenstance grants that request, it brings a different set of problems. How do we avoid offending all the kind people who have taken the time to write?
Well. Wow. I just found out some amazing news. Blood Bound has made it to the big time. For the week of Jan 28th (yes, that's the week before it was officially out) Blood Bound is #12 on the New York Times list (in print Feb 11th) -- which puts in on the print list and not just the extended list. To add frosting to the whole thing, it also is #35 on the USAToday list (which, unlike the NYT does not break books up into fiction/nonfiction and hardback/paperback catagories). I'm told it will also be on the Publisher's Weekly list, but not what number.
Mar 15, 2007 [Mike]
Thanks for dropping by! Things have been really busy lately. Patty is still wrestling with the last few pages and first-round edits of Iron Kissed, the third Mercy Thompson novel. A few weeks ago I wrote about why, from a career standpoint, it's important to get your novel finished by the deadline. There are also some very practical reasons. A smart author sets up signings, classes, conventions etc. for the weeks immediatly following the due date, knowing they'll be mentally exhausted and ready to celebrate. Guess what happens when you're late with the novel? Suddenly, you not only have the 800-pound gorilla of an unfinished novel (with the contractually-attached editor) on your back, you have a swarm of social obligations eating up your time. Stress-o-meter readings go through the roof, which causes the creative part of your brain to shrivel into a raisin. Oh, and Edsel Murphy can be counted upon to make his presence known just to round out the party!
Patty's editor, Anne Sowards, has been exceptionally nice and very patient. Not all editors are -- in fact, one of the major functions of a good agent is to keep tempermental authors and irritable editors away from one one another so that the books get written and published. There are numerous horror stories of editors and authors clashing with career-damaging resultsover things like, as a non-random example . . . missed deadlines [cue scary music].
At the end of this month, Patty will be attending ConBust,
a lovely convention at Smith College. Anne Sowards will also be attending. Patty's agent won't be there to run
interference. Hopefully Iron Kissed will be safely in Anne's hands by then, but if not:
[Announcer Voice] Place your bets folks, it the fight of the century. . .
I wonder if the good folks at ConBust can come up with a referee?
Here's whats been keeping us so busy over the past couple of weeks:
- We've sent our son on a mission to Cleveland. You wouldn't believe how much running around that entails. We managed to put something like 2500 miles on the car in two weeks, including a 900-mile trip in one day.
- Patty has done a couple of book signings. Barbara at the local Hastings, set up an amazing display. Many book signings end up being very. . . quiet. The bookstore owner and the author sit around and make nervous chit-chat while a few wary customers circle widely around the signing table seeking sanctuary in the stacks. Sometimes owners don't even bother to order any of the author's books, so there's nothing to sign even if a bold and curious customer should gather the courage to approach. Having a sufficient number of books, a bit of advertising, and a nice table set up makes a world of difference -- thank you.
- Patty taught a two-day class on writing for publication. There were a surprising number of people attending, and
they were a hoot to talk with. This class was particularly challenging, as there were some students who were curious but
completely new to the idea of publishing their work, and others who were very knowledgable. Patty ended up teaching the
basics, which kind of left the more informed students chewing their proverbial pencils. Her rationalle, when I asked
her about it, was that the newbies are the ones most likely to fall victim to the predators out there.
When people have a dream they really believe in, they're willing to go to amazing lengths in the pursuit of that dream. Sadly, there are some nasty, predatory folks just looking for starry-eyed authors and more than willing to peddle false hope and bilk these folks for every penny they can. The damage they do is far deeper than merely financial, they are the destroyers of dreams. Words can't express my contempt for these folks, and Patty is adamant that she'll do everything she can to steer young writers safely away from them.
- We've had some minor health problems (just a flu, nothing serious).
- Our trusty Volkswagen had some mechanical trouble. Yes, we drive Volkswagens -- we've owned quite a number of them over the years. They're engineered a bit differently than most others, so if you drive one you'll need to find a mechanic who specialized in VW's. Butte doesn't have one, so I'm taking a drive to Bozeman tonight to pick up parts. . . I sure wish Mercy lived around here! Being in an area without a VW mechanic, and nearly a hundred miles from the nearest source for parts, I suspect our VW days are about over. My son managed to crunch the old Jetta, and the Passat is getting too old to be entirely trustworthy. Sigh.
Thank you to everyone who wrote with suggestions about how to deal with Patty's growing fan base. Rest assured that READING your mail is a great pleasure. Each night when we come home, there's a rush for the computer in the dining room, and Patty gleefully reads all of your comments. ANSWERING that email, however, takes time she simply doesn't have at the moment. And there's the rub. I suggested, early on, a templating system that would let her build responses containing pre-generated paragraphs for most questions. I was actually happy to see several other people suggest similar ideas. Patty says that, if someone takes the time to fashion a thoughtful letter to her, they deserve a thoughtful, hand-written letter in return, not a generic mass-produced response of some sort. That makes sense to me, but it doesn't solve the problem.
So, here's the solution we're looking at. Patty will write a weekly letter, and adress the most common questions/comments she got in her email that week. We'll post these letters on this site, and archive them. She says she'll start doing this sometime after she finishes Iron Kissed. I think she's resolved never to be late with a manuscript again. She'll also try to reply to some folks personally as time permits. I think it's probably more informative for her to write one nice letter every week than a hundred short "thank-you" notes.
March 24, 2007 [Mike]Iron Kissed is finally done and off to the editor, as of about 3:00 a.m. this morning. Yeah! Now maybe life can get back to normal around here. I haven't read most of this one yet -- Patty doesn't like me to read the really rough drafts. So, later today we'll fire up the big printer and generate a few hard copies to hand out to her writer's group and myself. For now, the electronic version is off, and my exhausted spouse wants to go play with a yearling we bought in Helena. The "horsie-gene" is a terrible thing -- there's a small herd of Arabs running around my back yard, there's a full rack of saddles and tack in my bedroom (whatever will the neighbors think?), and she can't wait to go play with even more horses. Well, it's her reward for a job well done, so I'd best "saddle up" and get on the road <grin>.
March 30, 2007 [Mike]
Patty is off to Conbust, and is going to be very busy over there -- they've scheduled a host of really great paneling, and as a small convention they don't have the "cast of thousands" to draw on. Also, as I was looking at their web-site I was very impressed by how affordable they are. Most conventions are about $30 for three days, and Saturday-only passes are often $20 or so. Conbust is $8 for a Saturday pass, or $18 for all three days, and it's even cheaper if you pre-register. Having helped with other conventions, I can tell you it's not cheap to put on a convention, and it's pretty tough to recover the costs on small conventions. Here's kudos to the Conbust concom.
Also, I finally got a chance to read Iron Kissed. It's still got a few rough spots, but that's what myself, her writer's group, and the excellent editing staff at Ace are for! However, overlooking the odd misspelling or grammar error, the story is great. Since I'm smart enough to know I'm not a professional editor, my role in the process is really simple. Read the book, and then provide detailed, painfully honest feedback on it. I've always been the first person to read her manuscripts -- and sometimes that means I'm the first to find serious problems. So, my job is simple, but not always easy. I'm delighted to report that the story rocks. I won't give any huge spoilers, but I will say that everyone who's been stressing over the love-triangle can relax and take a deep breath. Mercy makes a choice, and it's good!
April 17, 2007 [Mike]
Life continues to blur by at an unabated pace. The page proofs for On the Prowl are done, and the first-round edits of Iron Kissed are in progress. Conbust was attended, and greatly enjoyed. The snow is finally gone, so the work of turning barren land into a usable horse property begins in ernest. Naturally, the horses are anxious to "help" by destroying anything within reach. A hay barn is nearing completion, and I'll be fencing soon. Yippee!
MisCon, our favorite little convention (and to the best of my knowledge, the only one in Montana) is just around the corner. It's very small, but always a great time -- almost more of an extended family reunion than a convention. It says something about Miscon that many attendees travel 7 or 8 hours one way to get there. Come and join the party!
There are some very interesting developments on the writing front. Patty recently submitted a proposal for a couple of books set in Mercy's world, but featuring the characters from On the Prowl. . . Ah, but let me digress for a moment.
Most, possibly all, beginning authors start by selling books they've already written. After all, how else can the editor judge whether or not they're capable of producing publishable work? After an author has written several books, they may be able to sell a work based on specification (called "on spec"). The author benefits by not spending a year working a book in the hopes that it can subsequently sold, and gets the advance money early. The publisher benefits by knowing that a promising author's next work won't be sold to a competitor.
The specification, or proposal, is basically a book report on the book you're planning to write. It tells the editor what the book is about, which can be useful for marketing, cover consultations and even scheduling. Patty, unfortunately, has a terrible time deciding in advance what should happen in a book. So many things are changed and altered over the course of writing it that the final novel scarcely resembles her early ideas. Because of this, she has a terrible time writing a proposal -- and her proposals aren't the gems of the literary world such things are supposed to be. Fortunately, she has a wonderful and understanding editor who trusts her to produce a good final product, even if the proposal was less than stellar.
So, back to recent events. Her editor was very enthusiastic, and returned a generous offer to buy not two but three books in the series. Even more surprising, she also presented a completely unexpected offer to pruchase three additional Mercy books!
Patty was in shock -- and spent most of the afternoon in a happy daze. After some consideration, she has accepted both offers.
Writing has always been kind of a paying hobby. Suddenly it's turning into a full-time job, and there are going to be a lot of adjustments for our family. She's now committed to two books a year, which is going to put considerable pressure on her time. We've gotten used to having Patty be primarily a mother and wife, who happened to write books on the side. Now things will be . . . different. It's an odd feeling. On one hand there's the euphoria of her growing popularity, and the enticements of additional money. On the other hand, we're already sinfully happy, so I view any change with a certain distrust. It's a bit like coming to the top of a rollercoaster, and seeing that first dizzying drop. It's fun and exiting, but also a little frightening. We're not sure where this road will lead, but the thrill of the unknown is what makes the future exciting.
Wish us luck!
May 14, 2007 [Mike]
Chat Room Opening
I've mentioned in previous posts that Patty doesn't have time to answer all the email she's gotten, which is something that really bothers us. Hopefully we have at least a partial solution -- we've added a chat room to Patty's website to allow her to communicate with everyone. Neither Patty nor I do much on-line chatting. Our teenage daughters practically live on-line, and it's obvious we'll need some coaching in the abbreviated shorthand they use to communicate: "OMG, NBD IMHO. C'YA."
Our plan is to have a regularly-scheduled weekly chat once we get the bugs out of the system. Patty will be on-line this Sunday, May 20 from 8:00 to 10:00 PM (or whenever!) Mountain Time. The chat board is visible here [link removed, chat has been disabled]. Check it out, kick the tires, and leave comments if something is broken. We'll be checking the board and email for comments, and trying to make sure everything works properly. So, stop by this Sunday and chat for a bit . . . I'm going to feel really dumb if nobody shows up <grin>.
Patty was up late last night finishing the first-round edits for Iron Kissed. There's really no way to save time in novel writing. She rushed the last bit of the manuscript because she was overdue on delivery. Naturally that meant that there were numerous bits that needed to be added, rewritten or just smoothed over. Overall, she added about thirty pages to the manuscript and she's very happy with the result.
One of the odd things about writing is that it's really difficult to see how the whole piece will read while writing it. It's the classic case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. While buried in the details of plot, scene and character your focus is too tight to honestly evaluate the work as a whole. After the work is finished, and edited into something that resembles a book (and after a couple of weeks doing something else) then it's possible to look at the manuscript with fresh eyes, and address problems with pacing, foreshadowing or nuance. Patty finished these edits at about ten last night, closed her laptop and said "That's going to be a good book." She's seldom satisfied with her own work, so that's a very good sign!
Patty is starting to do her homework for the Anna and Charles books. Actually, there's a surprising amount of homework involved. While both of us grew up in Montana (which is where the book will be set), Charles has more native-American culture that Mercy. This brings up a delicate balancing act. Montana has a lot of reservations, and a large number of native peoples, with very different cultures and backgrounds. I grew up thinking pow-wows and rendezvous were a normal part of summer vacation. The books won't deal heavily with native cultures, but it's important to get the details right. Even harder than specific details is getting the cultural overtones right. We have a very good and patient friend who's a traditionalist, and he frequently tells me "That's a very white thing to say." We look at the world differently, and that's a hard thing to capture subtly and accurately. We'll be spending some time this summer at various pow-wows, and have some friends read through the manuscript, just to keep from doing anything stupid.
All of this raises one more point for writers -- be very careful when you're creating characters. Characters don't always stay neatly in the roles you'd originally envisioned for them. Charles was originally supposed to be a bit-part player in the Mercy series. Having him be half native American made good sense then. Making him a natural-born werewolf raised in an Indian village also made good sense. All the potentially inflammatory issues of land-grabs, wars, and cultural identity were far removed from the character Mercy would see. When Patty was asked to write the novella in On the Prowl he was a natural choice -- a character obviously bigger than the role he was originally created to play. Again, most of the cultural issues can be neatly ignored for a hundred pages or so. An then, WHAM, there's an offer for a three-book series, with Charles as the protagonist! Now, all the issues that have been carefully hidden in the wings will have to seep subtly into the books. He's a great character, and an interesting one, but he's going to be a very hard character to get just exactly right.
May 21, 2007 [Mike]
Chat Room Success!
Last night was Patty's first attempt at using a chatroom. It was a great success, and we had a wonderful time. There were somewhere between ten and twenty people present for the chat (varying a bit over time, naturally), and a very animated discussion. Patty was a little out-gunned by all the thoughtful questions, but managed to keep a steady stream an answers flowing, and had a big smile on her face the whole time. I can only hope that the other participants had as much fun as she did. So, all of our worrying was for naught, everything worked like a charm. We did learn a few things -- just before the chat started I had to re-write the smiley configuration -- they were showing up everywhere! Also, we'll be scheduling future chats a bit earlier, in deference to the poor folks on the east coast who stayed up till midnight last night! For those who missed it, I've posted a transcript of the chat. The smiley codes were lost when I transformed the logs to HTML -- but I'll see if I can't do better next time. Once again, THANK YOU to everyone who showed up. We'll schedule another one next month sometime.
June 24, 2007 [Mike]
Oops! Chat Room Crash
As many of you know, Patty has fallen way behind on aswering emails, and we've been trying to schedule monthly chats to give her a chance to talk with everyone out there. Tonight we learned that the best laid plans of mice and men can still be confounded by a computer.
Patty showed up right on time, and was informed that the fans had come with a method to avoid the shotgunning of questions present in the first chat. Everyone who joins the chat is shown in the visitor list, so they suggested that we work down that list to give everyone a chance to ask questions of Patty. It's actually a pretty good system, and was working quite well. After about an hour, I left Patty at the keyboard, and went in to take a shower. I had just worked up a good lather, when suddenly the kids are yelling that Mom wants me. A minute later,Patty then came in and informed me that the system was crashing. It turns out that our web host has recently implemented a system to 'prevent users from consuming excessive CPU', and the chat room was working their processer pretty hard.
There was nothing I could do, and the chat kind of broke up as folks were dropped and were unable to log back on. I called our hosting service of several years, and they explained that they planned to offer a premium service for processor-intensive solutions at some future time, but that they had no intention of accomodating our monthly chat. So, we're looking for a new hosting service. Hopefully I'll be able to make the appropriate arrangements in a timely fashion. I'm very sorry, and Patty and I both offer our sincere apologies to everyone who took time out of their day (or night) and was unable to chat as we'd hoped.
The chat room is still working (as long as only a few people log in!), and Patty told the folks who were still able to get on-line that we'll use it like a mini-forum for the next few days. Go ahead and ask questions on the chat site, and Patty will post answers. In fact, maybe it's time to add a real forum system to the site . . . but I'll leave that until AFTER we get moved.
Thank you once again to everyone who was on tonight, and I promise we'll try to get the situation resolved in plenty of time for next month's chat. I'll keep everyone posted as things develope.
June 29, 2007 [Mike]
Old Books, New Covers
Patty got a nice call from her editor, Anne Sowards, this morning. Apparently someone in marketing was looking at Patty's backlist, and decided that the covers were looking a little dated. Someday I'll write my whole "cover art as a science" piece here, but for now take it as a given that covers are carefully chosen by the marketing department to appeal to the target audience. The problem is that the world doesn't stand still. Think of all the great pulp-fiction covers featuring many-tentacled aliens and tall silver rockets. They told the target audience just what kind of book they were looking at, but you won't find many modern science fiction novels sporting similar covers. In Patty's case, the playboy-pinup covers that were in vogue ten years ago would currently be appropriate on a substantially racier tome. So, the new covers will apparently feature close-ups of the main characters, and should be less embarrassing for junior high students and commuters to carry. Patty's always had very good luck with cover art, so I'm excited to see what these will look like.
Chat Room Fallout - Forums?
Following last weeks rather spectacular failure of the chat room, we called a few web-hosting sites asking about hosting an application that may consume substantial CPU for a couple of hours each month. Nobody wants to touch it unless I spring for a virtual private server (vps). We'll probably go that route, but it's going to take a month or two to get the finances sorted out (contrary to popular opinion, we're not fabulously wealthy!). I think the chats are a great idea, but we'll have to hold off for a bit. I'm leaving the chat room up, and you're welcome to drop by and chat with one another whenever you'd like. When the chat failed, Patty asked folks to go ahead and post their questions to the board and she'd answer them later. Naturally, the chat scrolls along, and soon neither the questions nor the answers can be seen . . . Today I pulled the logs, and wore out my "cut-and-paste" fingers adding the questions and answers to the chat transcript. Patty still needs to answer a few of the later questions.
So, we've proven that chat software doesn't impersonate forums very well. Several people have suggested adding a forum section to the site, and we're thinking about it. I really have two concerns. First, my wife is a fan of Laurell Hamilton, and we've spent some time on her forums (which are very professional). I'm appalled at how nasty some of her fans can get. Patty's a sensitive lady -- constructive criticism is always encouraged, but personal insults can leave her pretty raw for a day or two. What's more, it can shake her confidence in her work badly enough that she's unable to write for a couple of days. My second concern is the time required to maintain the forums and answer the comments there. So I'm thinking, but haven't reached any firm decisions. If you have an opinion, drop us a line!
Mercy's Garage Shirts
One benefit of having the chat room available is that readers sometimes have really good suggestions. The cover for Iron Kissed shows Mercy from behind, working on a car and wearing a shirt emblazoned with a "Mercy's Garage" logo. One of the chat-room readers asked me when I was going to make that shirt available to him. It had never occurred to me that we could do such a thing, but as I thought about it I started asking "why not?". I think it would be kind of fun to wear a shirt from Mercy's Garage, especially driving my old Volkswagens. So, I contacted Daniel Dos Santos, the cover artist, and asked what kind of license we'd need to make some shirts. He very graciously granted permission -- thanks again, Daniel! I talked to a silk-screening company in town, and it looks like we're going to go ahead and make a few. Initially, we'll probably make a small batch just for friends, but I'm thinking we may do a larger run just before "Iron Kissed" comes out, and sell them to readers at our cost, just for giggles. So, I'm waiting for the graphics company to show me what they've got, but within a few weeks I expect to be wearing a new shirt!
July 18,2007 [Mike]
Patty's editor, Anne Sowards, just sent us the final covers for Iron Kissed, and they're lovely. The book seems so much more real one the cover art is in! I've posted the cover to the site (check the books page) so you can have a look. Hopefully seeing the cover will make the entry below regarding making "Mercy's Garage" shirts make a bit more sense.
With regards to the Mercy's garage shirts. We've had a number of people express interest in them -- I'm kind of thinking that this may be letting the proverbial genie out of the bottle. We starting to think about who was going to package and ship these things, and how to take payments . . . The problem with this little brain-storm is that, while we're explicitly trying not to make money from Patty's fans we end up having all the same considerations as a business. So, here's where we're at. The art work is done, the silk screens are built. We're going to order just over a hundred shirts in a couple of styles. When we were trying to figure out how to package and ship things, my eldest daughter volunteered to take care of it, for $1 per shirt. I'm sold on that plan -- kids are cheap labor! We had intended to place the order this week, but other circumstances intervened . . .
On Saturday we were planning on heading over to Bozeman for the latest Harry Potter movie. In the morning we had to grab some hay over in Dillon, then put it in the (nearly complete!) hay barn, and run a few errands. Early afternoon found us a bit tired, but on the road to Bozeman in our aging VW Passat, which promptly had a radiator failure. We've been talking about getting another car, and since Butte has no VW dealership or trusty shade-tree VW mechanics, we had to part with tradition. So, after 20 years of owning and driving VW's, we found ourselves, grubby and sweating, in the local Toyota dealership. Having decided to purchase a V6 Camry, shopping was surprisingly simple because there was only one V6 Camry on the lot! Patty and I have never purchased a new car before. My modest wrenching skills have usually dictated that we were better off finding something five or ten years old with some major mechanical failure, buying it for a reasonable price and fixing it. Unfortunately, cars are no longer engineered to be repairable, and certainly not by anybody without the full line of expensive diagnostic computers available at the dealerships. So, flying the flag of surrender, we now own a lovely new car. It's got more whistles and bells than I'd really wanted -- but as I said, it was the one available, and is fun to drive. On the downside -- the unexpected down payment wiped out our budget, so the "Mercy's Garage" shirts will have to wait a short while longer. Oh, and we did make it to Bozeman, and thoroughly enjoyed Harry Potter!
I spoke with Patty about putting forums on the site, and she's pretty well decided against it. I think the vituperence of some of the folks posting on Laurell Hamilton's forums kind of scared her off. On the other hand, we've gotten several emails from folks urging us to give it a try. Since I think it could be a positive thing, I'm going to do something I seldom do, and ignore my lovely wife. I've installed a basic forum system at www.hurog.com/forum. I'll log every day for the next week or two to take care of any minor maintanance. Now, everybody go log in, try it out, and post to your heart's content. If you have problems drop me a line at this address firstname.lastname@example.org. By the time Patty finds it in a couple of weeks (as she seldom reads her home page), I hope to have something positive to show her. If not, yours truly will be buying a large number of flowers, and taking down the forum from the dubious comfort of the doghouse.
July 24, 2007 [Mike]
Just a couple of quick updates.
Chat: Patty had a great chat on Saturday. We've moved her site to a server with higher-cpu capacity, and everything worked perfectly this time. Of course, we only had a few people attending (everyone must have been reading the Harry Potter novel . . .) so we not sure it will hold up to a serious load. Maybe we'll find out next month. The chat transcripts have been posted for those that missed it. Oh, and Patty finally answered the questions that were asked at the end of the June chat. They're on the transcript.
Forums: I installed a very basic forums system on the site, which you can reach from the top-line menues. Patty spotted it before the chat on Saturday, and was very happy with the comments etc. being posted. The forums aren't customized (yet) and I've had several suggestions for improving them. I'll work on the forums as time permits, but remember, I work a real job too! And speaking of my time (or lack of it) we may be appointing my oldest daughter as offical moderator of the forums. The good news is that everyone has been very kind, and other than answering a few questions, I haven't had to do any real moderation. Hopefully our good fortune will continue in this regard.
July 31, 2007 [Patty]
We just got back from touring around Aspen Springs area this weekend. All right, there is no Aspen Springs. But we went to Eureka which is about an hour's drive from the area where I decided Aspen Springs was and less than ten miles from the Canadian border. Beautiful . . . and not as remote as it used to be. On the way back home we encountered a forest fire by the side of the Interstate and heavy smoke most of the way home. I'd feel worse about all the forest burning, but we have such a bad infestation of Bark Beetle killed trees that it is probably good -- unless you have breathing issues like asthma. The smoke is still pretty heavy, even in Butte where we are about 90 miles from the nearest forest fire that I know about.
But you didn't come here for a travelogue. You came to read about books, right? I'm going to do something I haven't done before - and promote someone else's book. I usually don't do this for a number of reasons. One of which is that I read a lot of books I like well enough to promote. Probably three or four a week (out of one or two a day that I read), which is just too much time writing blurbs for me -- and reading them for you. But the biggest reason I don't promote other people's books is that I have a lot of friends who are writers. Very good writers, too. But not all of them would appeal to people who like my books (and visa versa). And I don't want to offend anyone by ommission, so I just don't do it.
So why am I making an exception?
A few years ago, at a small convention, we writers got together for an evening of sharing our work with each other (since this particular convention had scheduled us so that we couldn't attend each other's readings). A well-known artist joined us, and rather shyly said he'd just finished a book, would we mind listening to him read too? And let me tell you, if there was anyone who minded at first -- two minutes in, none of us did. For over an hour he read, and when he was finished we started talking to him about agents and publishers. I promptly conned him out of a disc copy of his completed novel because I wanted to read the whole thing. Afterward a friend of mine (also a terrific author) and I were pouting together, because here was this artist (and he's a kick*** artist) who had written the book of a lifetime. We fought and scraped to get to where we could be reasonably certain that our publisher would buy our next book, and here was Mark, who was going to make his name with his first published book.
Tor picked it up and is publishing it hardcover at the end of August (which should tell you how good it is) -- and I suggest you all run, don't walk to pick it up. The Book of Joby by Mark Ferrari is destined to be a classic of fantasy literature. Using the framework of the bet between God and Satan in the Book of Job and placing it in a modern setting, Mark tells the story of a man, a remarkable man, named Joby -- as well as a story about magic, hope and finding something worth giving your life for. It is not, as the Publisher's Weekly Reviewer suggested (thus proving he did not read the whole book, which is, admittedly a doorstopper) a "Christian fantasy" though God, Satan and various familiar demons and angels populate the novel freely. It isn't about Christianity at all, really. Its about doing the right thing for the right reason, even when it's hard. It's about the magic in ordinary life. It is triumphant and hopeful -- and just a terrifically readable book besides. Now, go, do yourself a favor and buy it.You can preorder it at Barnes and Noble or at Amazon.
Sept 17, 2007 [Mike]
Patty is rushing to get the final pages to the still-untitled "Anna and Charles" book written and shipped off to her editor. Although set in the same world as the Mercy series the characters and overall feel of the book is significantly different. This book continues the story of the characters introduced in Alpha and Omega a novella in the recently published anthology On the Prowl. Speaking of which, the anthology did pretty well, as such things go, and had several stories by wonderful authors. Just to clear up some confusion, Alpha and Omega is an indepenent story which happens to introduce some characters who were interesting enough to merit their own books. This was not the first chapter of the book, and will not be included with the finished book. In fact, because the decision to write more about the characters was made after the novella was finished and submitted for publication, Patty had a difficult time with the beginning of the Anna and Charles book. It picks up right where Alpha and Omega left off, but she had to gently re-introduce the characters and setting so that folks who haven't read her before can read it without feeling lost. Trying to feather a bunch of back-story into a book without having it feel like the "In a previous episode . . ." info-dump is tough!
ForumsA few weeks ago I added a very basic forum to this site. Although I still haven't found time to do much customization on them, they've become surprisingly popular, and we've manage to attract a very nice bunch of folks who visit there. You can follow the "forum" tab at the top of this page to check them out.
Mercy's Garage ShirtsAs previously mentioned, the cover art to Iron Kissed shows Mercy wearing a "Mercy's Garage" shirt. It was awesome, so we built some to share with Patty's readers. The forum readers got used as test-subjects to make sure we really could manage to deliver shirts, and so far it's gone remarkably well. If you're interested you can read more on the shirts page.
Oct 17, 2007 [Mike]
The first "Anna and Charles" book is finally done, and is tentatively titled Cry Wolf. Patty has been working feverishly for the past several weeks trying to complete the novel, which was supposed to be done a month ago. The ending, as originally plotted, was too predictable so changes were made. Those changes required other changes, and soon the fabric of the novel was being rewoven, which takes time. She's still not entirely happy with the results, but there's time to edit and refine the manuscript prior to publication. Authors are never really finished with a manuscript, or entirely happy with it, and publishers have learned to gently pry the work from the author's fingers.
Cry Wolf picks up the story of Anna, an omega werewolf who spent several years in a dysfunctional pack, and Charles, a powerful werewolf sent to clean up the mess. Their story began as a short story, Alpha and Omega published in On The Prowl, and anothology of urban fantasy stories. Several reviews of the anthology have complained that the stories were nothing but sample chapters of the respective author's upcoming books rather than stand-alone stories. All I can say is that Patty didn't decide to write the "Anna and Charles" books until AFTER she'd written Alpha and Omega. In fact, it was her editor's suggestion!
Other NewsLife continues to blur by. We just returned from another quick run to the Tri-Cities Washington area, which is changing very rapidly. We need to go return periodically so that Patty can make sure to get the details right for the "Mercy" books. Since we've moved away, a combination of continued change and imperfect memory makes it difficult to capture the flavor of the area. It's hard to write about the hot, arid Tri-Cities while looking at the frigid weather outside our Montana windows. Oddly, Butte is at nearly the same latitude as the Tri-Cities, but it's a few thousand feet higher, and much colder! It also has an entirely different culture, and if Patty's not careful, all the characters will sound like cowboys and miners!
November 18, 2007 [Patty]
Okay, Mike was a little quick with his "the first "Anna and Charles" book is finally done". Not his fault since that's what I told him. But I'm back to work editing it. Or rewriting it, which is probaly a better term since I'm moving pages and adding a lot. I'm really, really happy where this is going. Revisions are my favorite part of writing, because that's when the book really starts to work for me and all the neat bits and the funny parts come in. Charles is . . . just Charles. I don't think there are words for how much fun Charles is to write. He has this unusual outlook on the world and the people in it that I just enjoy. Anna is more difficult for me sometimes. She speaks to me in whispers and sometimes I write right over the top of her -- and then I have to go back and try again. I'd be a lot happier if I weren't late.
It' s snowing today, and this time the snow looks like it might stick around for a while -- which is okay by me. We have the horse shelter built (not finished, but functional), the freeze proof faucet has a plug-in right next to it for the water heater (to keep the horse's water from freezing). There's 16 tons of hay in the shed and we're ready for winter this year. I like snowstorms and the way the outdoors feels when the flakes are coming down in fluffy puffs.
It looks like I'm going to be doing some signings for Iron Kissed. First I'll be at the University Bookstore in Seattle on January 3rd at 7pm, and then at Powell's in Portland on the 4th. I'll also do some signings in and around Montana (Missoula, Butte and Bozeman for sure). It seems unreal that Iron Kissed is only a month and a half away from hitting the shelves. I hope you like it. Publisher's Weekly gave me a very kind review (yes!). And the pre-orders look good.
I think I'll see if I can get Mike to put up a new tab for appearances so that people will know where we'll be. My Convention list for 2008 looks like: RadCon(Pasco WA) in Feb, ConBust (MA -- at Smith College) in April, MisCon (Missoula) in May, and Mile High Con (Denver) in October. I look forward to seeing some of you either at the Cons or at a signing or two.
Dec 3, 2007 [Mike]
Patty's STILL re-writing Cry Wolf. Deadlines and due dates are in the rearview mirror, her editor is starting to chew the eraser off her pencil, and I'm getting a little white-knucked, but she found a couple of things that didn't work for her in the originial story, and apparently they required substancialy altering the remainder of the book to fix to her liking. Better to write good books slowly than produce schlock quickly I suppose!
World Building 101: The details
One of the skills involved in writing speculative fiction is world building -- making the setting seem real and lived-in. Naturally, if an author wishes to write a book set in Berkeley in 1971 there is a certain amount of research needed to make that setting believable. After all, many of the readers will have been there at the time. The better-known the place and period of your book is to the audience, the more important it becomes to do your homework.
One of the pervasive myths in writing is that writers of science fiction and fantasy have it easy, since they're typically writing in worlds that either never were, or haven't yet been discovered. Nothing could be further from the truth. In speculative fiction, the author needs to paint a believable world that's often quite different from our own. .
The set designers for theatrical productions are masters of world building. With a few broad strokes of a brush on canvas, a bit of paper mache and some bits of fabric the audience is almost magically transported to regency England, the deepest jungles of Africa or a cottage in the forest. Stage designers choose their props and their placement very carefully. And, if you think of world building like set design, suddenly it becomes apparent why the details are so important. An author may well fill notebooks with the details of their world. In the end, however, those notebooks full of details make their way to the reader in ghosts and shadows, a turn of phrase, a brief description of architecture, a detail in dress or grooming. Getting a detail wrong is like leaving a fake palm-tree on stage for the castle scene . . . the illusion is dispelled, and rather than Camelot the audience sees paper mache and grease paint.
In the "Mercy Thompson" books, Zee is supposed to be a fae who originally came from Europe, and he occasionally mutters phrases in German. Many years ago, Patty earned a degree in German, and she figured she could at least come up with a few phrases. They sounded OK to her writers group, and they made it past her editors and into print. And then we started getting fan mail from German readers, who recognized problems with the German, even in those few phrases. The details were wrong, and the illusion was ruined. Suddenly, Zee wasn't an ancient and powerful Fae, he was a flawed construct speaking bad German. In the next books, all of the German phrases will be run past a couple of nice native speakers who have kindly volunteered their services.
The advice "Write what you know" is really an attempt to help authors get the details right. If you attempt to write outside your experience, you need to do your homework. Here's some exaples of Patty's efforts:
In Cry Wolf the characters spend considerable time snowshoeing in the mountains of Montana. There's a recently-purchased set of snowshoes of just the type mentioned in the story currently dripping on the floor of our bedroom, and Patty's got a much better shot at getting the details of the experience right.
If Mercy shoots a gun, we either own or have borrowed the exact same weapon, taken it down to the range, and had Patty shoot a number of rounds through it. Every gun is a little different, the heft and action distinct. Most of the details are never mentioned on paper, but it's important to know them.
Recently, I was given the homework of building some silver bullets. Mercy is supposed to cast her own, and we needed to work through the process. I've cast my own lead bullets -- how hard can it be? As it turns out, the high melting point of silver would ruin conventional bullet molds, it's far too hard for a normal resizing die, and achieving the precision needed for bullet making would be difficult with the methods usually employed for making silver jewelry. In short, silver bullets aren't nearly as easy to make as we had supposed. Suddenly a minor detail in the book has me calling machine shops, silver founderies and our resident circle of hard-core reloading friends. Stop and imagine these conversations for a minute:
"Hello, Eagle Forge? I'm interested in having you cast some .44 caliber bullets in silver."
. . .
"Yes, I'm serious. I want you to make silver bullets. "
. . .
"Yes, I know Hornaday makes bullets with a high silver content, but they're still mostly lead. I'd like these cast in sterling."
. . .
"No, I'm not interested in dummy rounds, or something for a silly necklace. I need to be able to shoot these things, so I'm going to need them accurately sized."
. . .
"Yes, that's correct, I'm going to shoot them. Yes, out of a gun. I need to see if the silver will engage the riflings on the gun correctly. Otherwise they may be terribly inaccurate. . . ."
. . .
What do you mean 'Why does it matter?' I need to know what my maximum effective range would be if I were shooting a werewolf.
. . .
Hello? Hello? Sir, are you still there?