Love, Hate, Security, and the Writer

I’m on the plane flying from England to America. We’ve been gone for a month. It is the longest I have ever been away from home, except for the infamous tour for Narcissus in Chains which was twenty-six cities in twenty-eight days in October just after 9/11. I’ve never done another tour that was that long again. Part of it was the fact that no one seemed to know what to do at the airports. I got the business end of an automatic weapon pointed at me in St. Louis for trying to take a picture of airport security measures by a very nervous man in camflouge. He literally ordered me, “Don’t move, drop the camera!” It was like a comedy skit, except the gun was real and I said, “Yes, sir, but how do I not move and drop the camera?” I wasn’t trying to be funny, I was honestly not going to do anything to make him freak out more, the freak out level was high enough; thanks. 

  
I’m not sure what would have happened if another man dressed in camo with more rank on his shoulders hadn’t come up and told him to lower his weapon and explain himself. At that time I was still wearing the designer skirt outfits and high heels, so I looked like a lot of business travelers and very unlike a bad guy, though bad guys can be tricky and look like everybody else. 
The officer said, “No pictures in security.”

I said, “Okay, no pictures, got it, can I put my hands down now?”

“Yeah, and put the camera away.”

“Absolutely,” I said, happy to have orders I could comply with.
That pretty much set the tone for the tour. Jonathon would check the FAA report every morning trying to figure out what we were allowed to take on board and what was no longer allowed. At one airport they took our nail clippers as a weapon, at another they took my eyelash curler.
I said, “If I can take over the plane with an eyelash curler it deserves to be hijacked.” The desk attendant was not amused.
We were in San Fransisco for a bomb scare that closed the airport down for hours while we all stood in a line outside the building. The suspicious package turned out not to be all that suspicious, but by that time we’d gotten used to seeing people dressed like trees telling us what to do. Jonathon and I discussed options as we stood with our huge cart of luggage in case we saw the National Guardsmen run out of the building. A month on the road with no stop long enough for laundry, or dry cleaning, means it was a lot of luggage. We were going to use our suitcase pile as cover against the glass of the building behind us, depending on what part of the building we were creeping in line beside determined which side of the suitcase mountain we hid behind. Once the glass cleared, run like hell for the Jersey barriers and try to keep up with the Guardsmen. I remember really regretting the high heels for running possibilities.
This was also the tour that I was jumped by a disgruntled fan in the ladies room. A rather tall woman, she may have not been over six feet tall, but only seemed that tall after she slammed me up against the wall, and forced me in a corner (people often seem taller when they’re threatening you). She was angry about the new book, angry about Anita having sex with someone that wasn’t Richard, and angry with me for adding new men to her life, and basically not happy with the way my series had turned in book ten, Narcissus in Chains. Lucky for me I’d talked to a police friend ahead of time due to some other threats online, and took his advice to heart.
Never argue with the crazy person, never, ever destroy their delusion, just agree with it, or they could grow more violent. Okay, I told the crazy woman that I was unhappy with the way the series had gone, too. I’d written Richard to marry Anita, and I hated that they weren’t working better as a couple. I wasn’t happy about the greater sexual content, either. I agreed with pretty much everything she said, and she finally blinked at me, fists lowering to her sides. Why? Because most people want to be the good guys, and that means they want their victim to do something to give them an excuse to up the violence. They need to blame the victim, she made me do it, it was her fault, so they don’t have to see themselves as the villain. 
I didn’t give her an excuse, or a “reason” to hurt me more, so she wandered away. She didn’t stay for the signing. I actually didn’t tell Jonathon what had happened until after we did the Q & A and signing, I think I was in shock. I mean someone had attacked me because my fictional character had dumped her favorite fictional boyfriend, Richard. It was too surreal, nonsensical even; I mean, who does violence because they don’t like how an author is writing her own series? As it turns out, more than you’d think.
The woman who attacked me was the only one who actually did something actively violent on that tour, thank goodness, but she wasn’t the only one that was furious about the new book and the new man in Anita Blake’s life. We had the angriest and rudest questions on this tour – ever. This was the beginning of fans asking how well-endowed my husband was, yeah you read that right. The first time they ask it, you’re just shocked, now, we’re sort of used to it. We’ve even managed to turn it into a light hearted moment when someone asks on tour, because it’s asked at least once every tour. Jonathon helps me make it into a joke, and no, we don’t answer the question. Nor do I answer the question for Jean-Claude, Richard, or Micah, which are almost always the men that they ask size on. I say, “If they were real, and truly my boyfriends, I wouldn’t tell you how well endowed they are,” or, “I don’t kiss and tell.”
This was also the first tour that someone called Anita and me a whore. Again, shocking the first time, now my answer is to the nice lady (always a lady) as she clutches her signed book to her chest (they always wait until I sign the book first) and leans in so most of the other fans won’t overhear, is, “Whore implies that a person takes money for sex. Neither Anita, nor I, take money so technically we’re not whores.” The woman blinks at me, thinks it through, then nods, agrees with me, and walks away satisfied in some way. Slut is a little more complicated, but that happens, too. I’ve got my answer for that one, but you get the idea.
Almost all the really rude or angry questions in the open Q & A stopped once we had visible security with us on tour, which means everyone chose to be mean, chose to vent their rage my direction. On the Narcissus tour I had so many people angry that Anita dumped Richard that I actually reread the scene I’d written, convinced I must be remembering it wrong. Nope, Richard dumps Anita, not the other way around, but a certain portion of the fans didn’t see it that way.  
I have had other threats, against me and people I love. Enough that we’ve had the authorities of various flavors involved over the last decade and change. I remember one local detective when we went to him with some threats people had been so incautious as to leave up where we could get a print out of them:
“Did you write about their families?”

“No.”

“You wrote something religious they didn’t agree with?”

“No.”

“Political?”

“I write about vampires, zombies and werewolves, oh my, which is about as fictional as you can get.”

“And they want to kill you because of it?”

“Apparently,” I said.

He looked at me, shook his head, and said, “That’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever heard.”

I’ve since learned that you never want to be on a police officer’s list of, craziest, or worst thing, they’ve ever seen, heard, smelled, walked in, or experienced.
The police told me not to write about any of the above all those years ago because it might spread the craziness, but there comes a point where you just say, enough. I got well and truly spooked when all this was happening. I remember standing in a book store realizing that they knew what I looked like, but I didn’t know what they looked like, and feeling incredibly vulnerable. That was the year that I, ‘saw the elephant’ as they used to say of pioneers who tried to go West but went back East because it was just too much. Seeing the elephant means you’ve seen something so big, so frightening and unexpected, that you give up. I didn’t give up touring. I got security. I didn’t give up writing my book series the way I wanted to write it or the way the characters wanted it written – I hit the gym and got my carry permit. I started dressing more aggressively with the rockstar-stomp-your-ass boots, and my on stage persona got much more aggressive, too. I took my cue from stand up comedians and have now backed down mean-spirited fans from coast to coast, because verbal heckling will be met kind for kind. 
I’m glad that so many of you love my books and that my characters seem so real to you that you are emotionally invested. I never pictured ever being the #1 Best Selling Book in the country, or being #1 on the New York Times List, or Publisher’s Weekly, or USA Today. I never dreamed of being translated into more than twelve languages, or selling millions of books. I never imagined that I’d be able to keep my family in the style to which they’ve become accustomed just from writing fiction. Most writers don’t even make minimum wage, and here I am. It’s pretty awesome, and totally unexpected. Thank you for reading and loving my books so much that my imaginary friends have become your friends, too. 99% of my fans are the nicest, best people on the planet. You are amazing! So why talk about that fraction of a fraction of a percentage? Because I’m ready to talk about it, and because maybe reading this will help someone else, either save another author from enduring this, or make a fan that could tip from positive to negative a rethink. Haters are going to hate, nothing changes that, this isn’t aimed at the haters, but the people who see the hate and think, “Oh, it’s just words. They’re not doing any harm.” Really? That’s the same reasoning that people who tell lynching jokes, say, “I’m not racist, it’s just a joke.” But if just one person hears the joke and they are a racist, you’ve just confirmed for them that they aren’t alone, because you’re like them, you’re a racist too, because otherwise you wouldn’t have said that joke. And if you’re very unlucky, the racist that hears you make the joke is insane enough to think if you joke about it, maybe it would be all right to do it for real. Trust me, the crazies are out there listening for enough echoes of their delusion to turn their violent thought into real life action. Still think your hate mongering online doesn’t do any harm? Well, then I can’t help you, you go on hating; as for me, I know that people are listening for someone to make them feel less crazy, to make them feel justified, to make it okay that they do something awful – you told them it was okay, because you hate just like they do.

A few of my favorite things . . . from Ireland and England

A month long trip to Ireland and England and the most asked question since we returned to family and friends in the states is this: What was your favorite part? I’ve answered it differently, by simply throwing out whatever first comes to mind like a word association. 
What was your favorite part of the trip?
The Wicklow Mountains in Ireland. 
  
One of the many waterfalls we saw in Glendalough, in the Wicklow Mountains.
What was your favorite part?
Writing in Dublin. (I wrote better there than anywhere else.)
What was your favorite?
Introducing Spike and Genevieve to pate in Dublin. They have dubbed it smooth, creamy, spreadable meat butter. 
Your favorite?
Eating at Gordon Ramsey’s flagship restaurant, Restaurant Gordon Ramsey, in London. It has three Michelin stars and now I know why. An amazing experience and will likely get a blog of its own later.
Favorite?
British Museum. Jonathon summed it up, “Every little emperor’s dream of avarice.” It was beyond amazing. It will also be getting it’s own blog later.
Fav?
Glastonbury Abbey, where the calling of crows led me to my first ever badger sett hidden under a huge oak tree. It turns out I followed the birds in the wrong end of the path. If I’d come in the proper way there was a sign to tell me the badgers were there, but honestly I prefer having found it the way I did. I followed the birds trying to see what they were fussing about, and then suddenly, badgers! I often find the most magical moments are the unplanned ones. 
?
That moment when I stood in a town I’d never known about, at a ruin I’d never heard about, and knew that my muse had been right. This was the place to put the monster. My imagination had whispered the name of this place to me when, to my knowledge, I had never known it even existed. I haven’t had that happen since the ninth Anita Blake novel, Obsidian Butterfly, when Edward insisted he lived in New Mexico, even though I’d never visited the state. I remember arguing with him, “I created you, how can you live somewhere I know nothing about?” I lost that argument, because he was absolutely right and I knew it the moment I stepped off the plane in Albuquerque. He still lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Ireland took me longer to get my research feet under me, and I’ll be blogging in more detail about that process later, but once I got into the swing of things it was like that moment in New Mexico – this was it. I know where the monster is, where the bodies are buried, where the crime will happen, and who Anita follows to Ireland.  
Are the above really my favorite moments of the trip? Yes and no. They are some of my favorite moments, but not all of them. I’ll be blogging about more highlights and moments of inspiration, craziness, research, and sheer happy accidents over the next few weeks, but this gives you a taste of the trip. Yes, I have been deliberately vague about where the Irish book, as I called it for a long time, is set, because I’m not ready to share exact locations yet. I have a book to finish writing and it feels like if I give too much detail now on the blog that it will derail some of the energy that is driving the book forward. I need to be immersed in the fictional version of the town, countryside, ruins, etc . . . before I discuss the reality too much. In fact, I have pages yet to write today, a scene to complete, a fight to finish, but first, the reality of dogs and breakfast for them and myself and then back to my fictional world where dogs never interrupt and breakfast rarely seems to happen.

Going, going, gone . . . at the end of August!

  

 Sign out front of the British Libarary commerating the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  

Totally seperate from the British Library, except for Alice, I had an amazing interactive theater experience here in London: Alice Underground is a fun, nightmarish, carnival ride of a play that ends at the end of the month, so if you hesitate you will miss it! It is a grownup version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, complete with a full bar served briefly before the show and after the show until, I believe, 2AM. Please check their website to confirm the time. If you get a token for a drink during the mad tea party it will be alcoholic, so it’s not for the kiddies. It’s really too scary for young children, and older children are okay, but it’s really designed for adults to rediscover their own sense of fun, and I don’t know about you, but when I’m having to be mum, I can’t relax and play and be mum. They even encourage you to dress in red and black to match the themes, which we totally forgot about it in our rush to make our ticket time. Though if you dress for a nightclub, please wear shoes you can walk in, run in, and go over topsy-turvy floors in, because you move from room to room following the cast members, and it’s a funhouse, or a madhouse, to walk through, so be prepared. Also, you will likely get wet, not soaked, but wet enough that silk might be a bad idea. 

 

Magna Carta is on display at the British Library to celebrate it’s 800 year anniversary! What the heck do you buy someone for their 800th anniversary? I don’t know, but give yourself a once in a life time present and go see this exhibit. Unless you think you’ll be around the next time it goes on public display, if so wait for another thousand years and see it then, but for the rest of us mere mortals, this is it! I’m a history geek, but I learned a lot about Magna Carta that I didn’t know. If you’re a theater buff it might be worth it just to see the oldest known Shakespearian film in existence is a small section of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s stage production of King John. The film was shot in 1899, and for that alone was amazing to me. Plus it was interesting to see one of the leading actors of the day doing one of the roles he made famous.   Did you know that Britain almost offered America the Magna Carta if we would join the allies for World War II? I didn’t. The plan was scraped, obviously, but that’s just one of the juicy bits of trivia in the exhibit. I love knowing that putting your likeness on merchandise was part of the publicity of the day in the 1700s. I’m barely skimming the surface, but seeing the Magna Carta, or should I say, Magna Cartas, in person was truly something not to be missed. (Yes, I did say, plural for Magna Carta. If you want to know what I meant, go see for yourself; and if you must, Google it, but if you look it up on line, you still owe it to yourself to see this exhibit before it’s gone.)

Ireland Here We Come!

Blog – Irish trip & research

I wrote this blog before we left for research, but security issues being what they are, I’m going to be posting some of the blogs out of order. It’s a shame a few bad apples spoil things, but there it is.

I’m sitting in my office, just after dawn. The sky is still all light and shining with the blue color only now fighting its way through all that LIGHT! The air feels cool and calm, the day stretching ahead full of promise and possibilities, and yet . . . but . . . There’s always an, and yet, or a but, or so it seems of late.
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We are supposed to be getting on a plane for Ireland today, yes you read that right. We are headed to the Emerald Isle. We’ll see you all in London in August, but we’re leaving early for research. The book I’m currently working on is mostly set in Ireland, and because I’ve never, ever been there I’d put off this story for years. Wait, I kept telling it, and it waited. Don’t push, I said, and it didn’t push. Other ideas pushed hard and fast and paid no attention to my orders, or my requests, or even my pleading with them, because they were ready to be born, so I wrote them as they clamored to be written. Story ideas for me are like baby birds in a nest, the loudest voice and tallest held mouth gets the worm, and will fledge first, but unlike real life where the tiniest nestling can starve and die while it’s bolder siblings thrive, ideas don’t die for me. They live, they wait, and they bide their time. 
This book has found it’s time. It’s eager, excited, demanding to be written, and the damn thing is set in Ireland. It’s set in a specific part of the country that I have never seen or even read about before the book decided it was set mostly there. I’ve only had this happen once before and that was with my book, Obsidian Butterfly. It is set in New Mexico, which I’d never visited. My character, Edward, insisted that he lived in New Mexico. In fact he insisted he lived somewhere between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico. I argued with him. “You’re a fictional character. I made you up. You cannot possibly live in a place that I’ve never seen or even read about. You’re part of me, how can you go some place I’ve never been?”
When I stepped off the plane in New Mexico and saw those low, black mountains, that desolate, near alien landscape, I said, “Well, son of a bitch, you do live here.”
I have no idea how Edward, alias U. S. Marshal Ted Forrester, decided he lived in a place I’d never seen or read much about. He’s always been a character that went off on his own, and then would come back and tell me what he was doing, and some of what he had done. He keeps his secrets, even from me. Which is a very peculiar feeling for a writer, since I’m supposed to be making him up as I go, but somehow he has enough life of his own that he tells me what he’s doing, and surprises the hell out of me, a lot. 
I should have known that Edward would be in a book that was insisting on being set in a part of the world I had never seen. I can’t say I haven’t read much about Ireland, because I have been a serious lover of this section of the world for a long time. I’ve read the myths and folklore of Ireland, Scotland, England, and though I know they are part of England now, Cornwall, Wales, and almost every part of these myth-ridden islands. I was a serious Anglophile in my teens and dreamed of visiting all of it someday, though I don’t think I ever believed I’d manage it. Traveling to such far off places was for other people, not for girls living in the middle of farm country, raised below poverty level, so it turned out. I knew we didn’t have money, but I never felt poor in the sense that the word, “poverty”, makes me think. I never felt impoverished, I just knew we didn’t have money. I’m not sure anyone I ever knew as a young child ever traveled out of the country for anything except military service.
I’ve been to England twice. I’ve seen Rome and Milan in Italy. I’ve been to Paris and found it as romantic as advertised, which I didn’t think possible. Admittedly, I was with Jonathon and almost anywhere I go with him is romantic. But we both really enjoyed Paris and look forward to going back and taking Genevieve and Spike with us. I could live for a few months in Rome, or Paris, but strangely didn’t enjoy London all that much. What captured me in England was the countryside. Glastonbury, Avebury, and all the Salisbury Plain area spoke to our heart.
The closest we came to Ireland on that trip was seeing it from the air. I remember thinking, wow, it’s so green. This time we get to see all that verdant green in person. I’m so excited, and a little intimidated. First by the flight, because I’m terrified of flying, and second, by trying to write about a country I’ve never seen before. There’s always a pressure to get it right on paper. I’ve already started making contacts with people I need to help me with researching the book I’m writing, the book you’ll read next summer, and research in England for a book after that. Though both of these books are Anita Blake books, I’ve also had Merry Gentry whispering around in my head, or rather other characters from her books. Merry is silent, content with her new babies and trying to find happiness after grief. But her world is moving around in my head as I look over the books on Ireland that I used for research in her stories. This trip might make the Merry fans get the next story sooner, might, I don’t know yet. All I know for certain is the two books I am absolutely researching while I travel across the pond. 

Angels, Demons, and the Writer

The hardest thing about writing is that you are alone with your personal demons. Now let’s define terms; when I say demons, I mean personal issues so large, so painful, so intimately damaging, that it either cuts your soul to face them, or heals it. You don’t have to be writing about the issues that make up your personal demons to have them torment you as you write. Oh no, it’s more insidious than that, just as writing will call the muses to you, the angels come to dance around you in shining choruses, so creativity calls the demons. I’m sure there are writers out there that are so mentally and emotionally healthy that only angels come to dance around them when they create, but I’m not sure I’ve ever met one of those writers. Most of us are fairly self-torturing, emotional angst seems to come with the job description. I don’t mean we all go through life doom and gloom, oh woe is me. Some of us are fairly cheerful people, actually. What I mean is that when we sit down to write we are alone with our thoughts.

 

If the idea of being alone with your thoughts doesn’t give you a twinge of panic, then I’m not writing about you, but for most of the writers I know we both crave to be alone to create and dread it. Some days it’s all muse-driven inspiration and the pages flow like the proverbial water from the cleft rock. Those are the days that I love the best. The days that make me think being a writer is a great career and all I was ever meant to do, or be. Then there are days when nothing is coming down the muse-highway. I sit and I stare at the screen for hours, literally sometimes, or I write and erase, or I write and rewrite, and its all terrible. Or the writing is good enough, but it’s like dragging each word out of the void one painful inch at a time. Those are the days when I think, maybe I should have bought that horse farm, or become a field biologist, or . . . runaway and joined something, somewhere, anywhere but in this one room in front of this damned computer, trying to draw words out of thin air.

  

 “If you can’t stand your own company alone in a room for long hours, or, when it gets tough, the feeling of being in a locked cell, or, when it gets tougher still, the vague feeling of being buried alive–then don’t be a writer.”

― Graham Swift

 

Your angels tell you positive things and hold hands with your muse, or sing behind her like upbeat backup singers, but your demons . . . they sing other songs. They start out with actual issues from your past, and most writers have things that haunt them, its part of what fuels most of us, but after they hit the real issues the demons move onto other things, false things, lies. Demons are those voices in your head that tell everyone, “You’re not good enough. She’d/he’d never go out with you. You’re too fat, too thin, too short, too . . . something. Your thoughts aren’t important enough to fill a whole book? That’s boring, you’re boring. People will hate your writing. They’ll reject you. She/he will reject you.” See, everyone has those negative voices in their heads that I call demons, its just that some of us have louder ones, or more persistent ones, or maybe we just don’t know how to shut them out as well as you do.

 

I never sweated rejection either in dating, or in writing, I accepted it as a given in both. But it was just one boy saying, no, he didn’t want to go out with me. Okay, there, done.  Now I knew he wasn’t interested so I could move on and find someone who did want to date me. I always saw it as their loss, not mine.  Dating you have a fifty/fifty chance, but writing is much harsher odds.  Writing is designed to get you rejected.

  

  “My first Anita Blake novel, Guilty Pleasures, was rejected over two hundred times.”

 

“The first thing you have to learn when you go into the arts is to learn to cope with rejection. If you can’t, you’re dead.”

― Warren Adler

 

 

I like writing quotes, they help me realize that what I’m feeling is felt by a lot of wordsmiths. I am not slogging in the literary salt mines alone, or at least while I’m digging in my mine, I know others are getting just as tired and discouraged as I am. I find that comforting, and one of the reasons I’m doing this blog is to reach out to other writers, especially the beginning ones and say, “Look it’s hard, even for me, but if I can do it, you can do it.” You are not alone.

 

 

But we are alone while we create, and most of the time that’s great. In fact a certain amount of solitude is absolutely necessary for most of us to write a novel, or even a short story. We need to be uninterrupted by real flesh and blood people while we play with our imaginary ones. But the rub is, alone with our thoughts means there’s no distraction from what’s in our heads, our hearts, our souls. We try to pour all that onto the paper and turn into fiction and share it with others, but . . . You knew there was a but, didn’t you? But the personal demons come like vultures on days when the writing is slow, and the muse is reluctant or missing in action. On days when the writing flows and shines, and it feels like magic, you can almost feel the brush of angel feathers on your cheeks, but on the other days, the hard days, if there are feathers anywhere around you, they’re black. Black isn’t a bad color necessarily, Odin’s ravens are black and He is a God of inspiration, poetry, language, and magic, so black wings can inspire and lead you to greatness, but they can also pick over the corpses of your dead dreams like carrion crows.  

 

My demons don’t have wings of any color, or pitchforks, or any of the traditional Western ideals of devils and demons. My demons are the voices in my head that tell me, I can’t. That I’m turning perfectly good paper into garbage, or back in the day when there was no internet and everything had to be printed and mailed, “I was killing trees to no purpose.”

 

 

Those are the days when I’m most likely to post things on twitter about fighting dragons, but dragons are not demons. The latter come wherever they smell hesitation like blood in the water for sharks, they gather when they feel you weaken. A moment of doubt is all the negative voices need to whisper horrible things in your ear. One of the ways I chase them back, force them to shut up and leave me alone to create is to pick up my metaphorical shield and sword and go hunting the dragon. I see it as taking the fight to the monster, rather than letting the monster have the upper hand. On a bad day, the dragon wins, but I know that I will take up my sword, my pen, my keyboard, the next day and I will fight on.  

 

I’m going to stop writing the blog now, because that can be a distraction from the actual purpose of writing novels. Blogs are so fast and so much easier than writing a novel, especially on days when the demons are loud in my head. I’ll leave you with some more quotes that seem appropriate for the topic of inspiration, personal demons, personal Angels, and dragons.

 

“If I got rid of my demons, I’d lose my angels.” 

― Tennessee Williams, Conversations with Tennessee Williams

 

“An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why.”

 

 

― William Faulkner

 

 

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

 

– Jack London

 

 

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

 

― G.K. Chesterton

 

 

People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.

– Harlan Ellison

Dead Ice: Anita Blake

This is the last blog before Dead Ice hits the shelves here in America, you lucky fans in the U.K. already have your copy, but on this side of the pond we’re still waiting and in anticipation of that wait here is Anita. Because if there’s just one more blog left before the pub date, it’s got to be Anita.

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Question: How did you come up with the character of Anita?

Answer: The summer after college I read my first hard-boiled detective fiction, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, Sue Grafton, Sara Paratesky, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett. I’m sure there were other male writers in the genre I read that year, but that’s the list that sticks out in my mind. What stood out in my mind then was that the male detectives got to cuss, have sex, and shoot people pretty much without remorse. The female detectives rarely cursed, sex was either nonexistent or sanitized and off stage, and if they had to shoot someone they had to feel really, really bad about it. The difference between the two hard-boiled genders was so unbalanced that it pissed me off, and out of that anger I decided to create a female detective that could even the playing field. At the same time I read a short story with zombies in it, several articles on real life voodoo as a religion, one on Sanataria, and . . . the idea that Anita would be more than an ordinary detective began to take shape.
Secrets to Share: In retrospect I may have done a bit more than just evened the playing field, but then if something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing? *grins* The seed that would eventually become Anita Blake, and spawn a #1 New York Times Bestselling series, began with that sense of outrage at the gender inequality in hard-boiled detective fiction. If I’d stayed with that original idea then I would have tried to sell a seriously violent detective series with a hard talking and sexy female detective, and respected editors in the mystery genre have told me that they love Anita Blake, but the series would never have sold if it had been straight mystery. We may have come a long way, baby, but apparently mainstream mystery hasn’t come far enough to have a female detective that can play as hard as the men. In fact, Anita gets to play harder than most of the men in the plain mystery section. If I hadn’t read the pieces about voodoo and zombies at nearly the same time as the mysteries, then I don’t know if I would have thought to have Anita raise the dead for a living. Adding the horror genre to the mystery was what allowed me to be as violent as the crimes Anita was investigating needed to be; and horror also lets women fight back right alongside the men, more even than mystery.
The zombies came from reading the right things at the perfect time, but I’d already decided to put the supernatural in the series because I thought I’d get bored with just straight mystery. I read a lot of mystery series after those initial ones, not just hard-boiled, but cozy, and everything in between the two. What I found was that most writers seemed to get bored with their series between book five and eight. You could watch them fall out of love with their characters and their worlds. Some authors rallied and were able to find renewed energy and fall back in love with their series, and some were selling too well to stop so they struggled on for more books, but the lack of joy in their work showed through on the page. I decided I’d give myself enough toys so I would never grow bored. I’d read fantasy and horror most of my reading life and I loved old horror movies, especially the old Hammer vampires films. I’d watched them as a child on the late night creature feature show and been enthralled. I’d read all the real life ghost stories and folklore that I could get my hands on from the time I could read, so I decided I wanted a world where everything that went bump in the night was real. More than that though, I wanted it to be modern day as if we went to bed one night and got up the next day with all the monsters being real and everyone knew about them. I wanted to see modern day America have to deal with vampires, zombies, and shapeshifters as a reality, not as a rumor or a ghost story, but real. I wanted to mix the fantastic with the mundane in a serious way and see what happened. That was one of the main things that interested me at the beginning and is still one of my favorite things to write about today.
The fact that I then added relationship tropes to the series just helped me push the writing in any direction the story took me.

Question: Will we ever meet Anita’s family on stage in a book?

Answer: I think so.
Secrets to Share:
I actually wrote the first chapter and planned the mystery plot for a book where Anita goes home for Thanksgiving. The original idea was she would take Richard to meet her family, but by the time I sat down to write the first chapter it was Micah and Nathaniel. Why not Jean-Claude? First, vampires don’t travel as well by car, and that was the original plan. Second, Grandma Blake is crazy religious and prays for Anita’s soul because she’s sleeping with a vampire. We don’t trust her not to do something like open a window so sunlight hits Jean-Claude. The original idea was that Anita would stay in the house she grew up in, like most of us do when we go home for the holidays. Nothing like being surrounded by family and staying in your old room to throw you back into old childhood mindsets. Not sure how much of the plot would change, but every time I try to make it the next book it just doesn’t work. My muse and I aren’t ready, or maybe Anita isn’t ready.

Question: Is Anita you?

Answer: No.
Secrets to Share:
I made Anita my size, because it was easier to choreograph a fight scene if my main character was my size. If I’d made her taller, or in any way that different from me physically, then I’d have had to find a friend the size of my character anytime I went gun shopping or looked at a shoulder holster. She’s my size because the hand I have is the hand I need to fit. It just made sense to me at the time. I gave her my hair because I like my hair, and I figured if I was going to screw her life up with terrifying mystery/horror plots that I should give her something that she might like, too. I’m told that Anita’s attitude is tough, strong, masculine, not very feminine, and in many ways, it is my attitude; but I didn’t think of it in those terms until readers and interviewers started telling me. Anita’s personality and mine were closer to the same at the beginning of the series, but it’s a first person narration so making her sound and think like me was easier as a new novelist. When I sat down to write Merry Gentry years later I would make sure she didn’t sound like Anita, which meant she didn’t sound much like me, and made writing her a whole lot harder. I think it’s one of the reasons that Merry writes slower than Anita, because I don’t think like Merry does, and yet she’s a first person narrator, too. Anita and I have diverged as people because our experiences have been very different. She’s gone on to have one of the highest kill counts in fiction outside of war novels, and I married, moved to suburbia, had a child, dogs, and did a much more traditional approach for the first decade I wrote Anita. She was anything but traditional by any standards. Anita is now decades younger than I am, because I read an essay by Agatha Christie years before where she complained that she’d made both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot too old, and if she could do it over again she’d have started them off much younger. I took that bit of advice to heart and Anita was twenty-four when she stepped onto the page, as was I when I wrote the first short story with her in it. Seven to eight years is all that’s passed in Anita’s world, while much more has passed in the real world.
Anita and I both lost our mothers in car accidents as children. She was eight when her mother died, I was six. Why did I do that? Because when I was twenty-four my mother’s death was still so traumatic that I couldn’t imagine understanding a character that hadn’t had a similar experience. That early tragic loss made me understand just how fragile life was, and took forever the ideal that the adults around me are omnipotent and could keep me safe, because they couldn’t keep themselves safe. That knowledge at such a young age has made me a different person than I might have been, and it’s so intimate to who I am that I gave the viewpoint to my main character, because again, first person narration. They say, write about what you know, so what did I know? I knew death and loss, monsters and lovers, small town American lost in the big city, I knew how to be a strong woman in a man’s world, I knew not to ask for mercy for there isn’t much to go around, save the mercy for someone who needs it more.

Sneak Peek from Dead Ice:
Lita looked at me, head slightly to one side. “You didn’t worry that it’d make men not want you?”

“No,” I said.

“You didn’t worry that it made you look like a victim?” Kelly asked.

I frowned at her. “No, every time I look at my scars I think that I lived, and I killed what hurt me. These are victory marks, not victim,” I said.

Business, Social Media, Writing, and me

  



Do you put all of your business information out on line for strangers to read? No, me either. My agent and publisher would be very unhappy with me if I did that, and it would be beyond foolish for me to do it. What information I do put on line has to be incomplete because it’s business. What I do is an art, but the business of publishing is just that – business. I’m happy to share bits of my work, my life, my thoughts, with you on line, but I don’t share everything.  I believe that too many people share far too much on line. If it makes them happy, that’s fine, but I believe that real life trumps on line. So I save most of me for my real flesh and blood life. 

 

Twitter can be even more of a problem than the blogs because it’s only 140 characters. I’m trying to answer questions, share information, and reply to other posts in just 140 characters. It means that not all meaning is conveyed exactly. It means some meaning is lost, because it’s too short to be complete. And honestly, if I tried to be too detailed online on Twitter, in blogs, whatever, I’d use up the time I need to write.  I always assume that you are following me online because of my books, my stories, so that you would prefer I use my time to write rather than get sucked into the online world to the detriment of my real life joys and responsibilities. 

 

I was working on an Anita short story the day I tweeted one post but I have since laid it aside for other projects. What I’m writing on a given day isn’t at all what is coming out next to be published from me. Short pieces are especially up in the air until I send them to my agent and say, “Here it is.” It’s one of the reasons I sell completed short stories most of the time rather than specific ideas – it gives me creative freedom and I like that. 

 

Most contracts early in a writer’s career are for specific books, especially if you are a series writer, but I’ve earned the privilege to write what I want to write. If I wanted to write another Merry Gentry book next, I could.  Anita will likely be the next book, but I’ve got this start to a brand new world and that keeps niggling at me, so I honestly don’t know for certain.  If I post online anywhere that I’m working on Anita, or something new, or Merry, then that’s for that day. Now once I’m in to the middle of a story, half-way or more, then that’s a done deal. I will finish anything I get that far into, but short of that, it’s like a my muse is still shopping among the ideas. We do a few pages here, a bit more research there, sometimes just a list of the research that will be needed for a given book, but it’s all part of the preparation for writing a novel.  I rarely write short stories that I don’t have all the “research” in my head and skill set already. Research takes time away from making pages, so it’s worth it for books, not so much for short stories. But there are exceptions to all rules and I tend to write short pieces in a world before I decide it’s novel worthy.  The short story, “Those Who Seek Forgiveness” came before the first Anita Blake novel, Guilty Pleasures. In fact, there are several short pieces with Anita and the gang where I was exploring the world but the stories weren’t complete, or the idea strong enough, it was all part of me exploring the world and getting my feet wet. I’ll often write hundreds of pages that will never be published until I nail the voice and feel of a main character, the supporting cast, the world, the magic/science/mystery that needs to make sense to the reader for it all to work. There’s less wasted pages as I’ve gotten more practice under my belt, but I still often explore in notes, then short vignettes, then short stories, novelettes, novellas, and finally novel length. 

 

 

I’m almost positive the next book will be Anita and the gang, but the new idea, which isn’t connected to the short story I just finished at all, keeps coming into my head. I have this great opening, great world, and reality system, but I think I’m waiting for another idea to come and rub up against it, as if one last ingredient is missing, so I’ll wait. But who knows?


More in Love Than When We Started


I promised myself that I would write something different after I finished the latest Anita Blake book, Dead Ice, coming out June 9, about a month away. So, I wrote a short story set in a new world with brand new characters. It was wonderful, exhilarating, and strangely exhausting. I’d forgotten how tiring it is to forge my way through a brand new creation. It made me hesitate to do the novel that I’d thought I would do next because its also a new world with a brand new main character, magic system, and everything.  The story I just finished has made me rethink, so I decided I’d do the next Anita Blake novel, but which one?

 

I wrote a list of Anita plots that I’d been thinking about for a while. When I got to “Q” I stopped. I had more ideas to write down, but seventeen seemed like plenty to choose from. From the very beginning, Anita had a large list of potential book plots; I think I started with thirteen mysteries.  When I wrote that initial list I didn’t know I’d ever get a chance to pursue them all. The fact that my initial Anita contract with Penguin/Putnam (now Penguin Random House) was for three novels had thrilled me, because I knew there would be at least that many in my series. My first novel, Nightseer, had been planned to be part of a four book series, but my first publisher, ROC, had only purchased one book.  When that one didn’t sell well, like most first novels, they weren’t interested in me continuing the series. Three books was a luxury after that.

 

So, why did I make a list of future plots when I didn’t know I’d ever get a chance to write them? I’m not sure, but the ideas came to me and I’d learned years ago to write down all my ideas. You think you’ll remember them, because they’re so great, but you won’t.  Write the ideas down, all the ideas, so you don’t lose them. Maybe that’s why I did it, and that would make sense, but in retrospect it seemed terribly optimistic.

 

I’ve actually used all the original thirteen ideas that I wrote down, except for a couple. Those plots went away because of character growth, or just the logic of Anita’s world, and my magic system. By the time I got that far into the list I knew that certain creatures of legend just didn’t exist in her world, so some ideas went away on that basis alone. 

 

Yet, here I am with seventeen new book plots, and more I could have listed. Some of the list is just intriguing as hell. Example – Olaf’s return. That’s all, but those two words are enough to make me wonder what a fan favorite serial killer will do when he’s next on stage. There’s The British book, set in England; The Irish book, set in Ireland, where Damian’s maker is waiting; Nathaniel’s book, which is going to be a long, complex mystery; Jean-Claude’s story, but so many ways to structure this one that I haven’t even started an outline; Nicky’s book, where he goes home for his mother’s parole hearing and asks Anita to go with him; New Mexico and Edward’s Wedding, will he actually walk down the aisle; Peter’s first hunt, three bland words with so much pain and possibility; and so many other ideas and characters that want more of their stories told.  I know other writers that struggle for ideas, even novelists with their own successful book series that have fallen out of love with their main character/s. I find that idea leads onto idea and that a finished book will often give me ideas for new books. I feel about Anita, and all the people in her life and in her world, the way I feel about my real life marriage – more in love now than when we started.


  

The Woods Were Lovely, Dark and Deep . . . 

I’ve gone from 80s & a warm Caribbean Sea to below freezing and snow, from tropics, to the buckle of the Bible Belt, to the East coast, back to the Bible Belt, to upper west coast, all within two weeks.  We’ve been home about 96 hours in those last two weeks. Jon has been with me throughout & we were even able to keep the dogs & our other significant others, Spike & Genevieve, with us until this last trip to Seattle, which helped a great deal to make everywhere we went feel like home. But now with them back in St. Louis with the dogs, I am feeling more cut adrift.

This year is an experiment in travel, in saying yes to adventure & new places. Its our daughter Trinity’s first year in college, in the dorms, so Jon & I decided we’d travel like we’d been wanting to but couldn’t because of being tied to her school schedule. It’s an experiment & Spike & Genevieve have agreed to try it with us for this first year of cohabitation. Thanks to technology their jobs can travel with them and it’s a telecommuting fest.  We also decided to do a major remodel in the St. Louis house, because Jon & I had been planing to anyway & now the space will be our space, all four of us have picked the colors & style of everything. One of the reasons we went to the tropics for me to finish writing Dead Ice was to have a working kitchen, TV room, and living room, while the remodel happened. It’s still not done. We’ve been eating take in, in the Solarium on a table meant for leaning on in the summer, but we’ve done it cheerfully and with a lot of laughter, which bodes well for many things.

We all liked the two months in the tropics, and I may try finishing every book somewhere else from now on, because wherever I type “the end” I want to runaway from it; I seem to need a change of scenery. I think it works better wanting to run to home rather than away from it. I was so happy to walk into my office in St. Louis. It looked beautiful & sunny, surrounded by trees at the top of my three story eyrie.  I miss my ocean view terribly, but I was still very happy to be home.  Usually, I finish a book and don’t want to see the office for weeks afterward.

I’m typing this in Seattle, Washington in our room before my first panel of the day here at MythicWorlds.  It was FairieCon West once upon a time, but they’ve changed their name to reflect a more diverse myth and folklore interest.  All wee and not so wee beasties are now welcome from all walks of the between spaces, not just the wee folk of the fey.  The vendors area is fabulous here.  I’m wearing a necklace I bought yesterday from Touchstone Runes.  We have already committed much commerce! Fairecon East, that we did earlier in the year, had a fabulous vendor’s room, too.

All the huge, dark trees here in the NorthWest make me think of the Robert Frost poem, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.”  Especially the line, “The Woods are lovely dark and deep . . .” indeed they are here, so the poem’s title was more appropriate than ever.

The edits for Dead Ice come back from New York on Monday, maybe a few hours before we land in St. Louis, and we finally get home.  I’ll have a week to see what the copyeditor, and my editor, Susan, have noted in the book.  I know that I’m already reaching out to my police friends that help me keep my mistakes to a minimum, because I know I didn’t do one of the police scenes exactly right.  I’m just not sure what I missed, but I finished the scene and then had that niggling feeling I’d dropped a ball along the way.  That’s what edits are for, to catch the dropped balls and put them back into play

Genevieve has sent us pictures from St. Louis of the fish pond frozen so solid the big dogs can walk across it.  Jon says, he’s never seen a pond frozen that hard there in twenty years, and he’s lived in Missouri all his life.  We keep telling her and Spike that it’s never this cold in St. Louis, I think they’ve stopped believing us. *cross my heart* I say, and Genevieve gives me that look, you know the one, your wife/girlfriend has one, too.  The one that says, she loves you, but . . .  We’ll be home Monday and do our best to make it up to her and Spike.  We’ll find ways to keep them warm through the long winter nights, but first – edits.



Down the Rabbit Hole and into the Maze:

The White Rabbit from 'The Nursery Alice' by John Tenniel, Held and digitised by the British Library, and uploaded to Flickr Commons. A higher resolution version may be available for purchase from BL Images Online, imagesonline.bl.uk, reference 065443

The White Rabbit from The Nursery Alice by John Tenniel, Held and digitised by the British Library, and uploaded to Flickr Commons. A higher resolution version may be available for purchase from BL Images Online, imagesonline.bl.uk, reference 065443

I fell down a rabbit hole this week, not a literal one, but a literary one. No, I didn’t reread ALICE IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carrol, but that’s where the original idea of following a strange rabbit down it’s hole and falling into something, or someplace, totally unexpected came from. I first heard the term ‘rabbit hole’ used for writing by Emma Bull on a panel at Archon, a science fiction convention here in St. Louis. I was in the audience back then because I had yet to sell a single story of my own. I had read and loved Emma’s book, “War for the Oaks,” and listened to any bits of writer wisdom from her with great attention.

She and her husband Will Shetterly both explained that for a writer to fall down the rabbit hole meant an idea, or subplot, that led you off your plotted path. They seemed to think rabbit holes were always a distraction and the writer should climb out and get back on their plot path as soon as possible.

Years later with my own writing group, The Alternate Historians, we continued to use the term in much the same way. If you are a writer that plots and outlines heavily then rabbit holes are truly a bad thing, but if you are an organic writer like me, sometimes the rabbit is right. I believe George R. R. Martin calls them gardeners as opposed to architects.

What does it mean to be an organic writer? For me, it means that sometimes all I know is the first sentence of a short story, but I’m going to sit down and write that sentence and see where it leads me. It means that once the world building is done, or sometimes in the midst of it, I’ll often start writing the first draft of a book because I learn things about my world and my characters by actually writing. What I learn goes into the character building, or even the world building. I often find that what looks good in notes, or plot outline, doesn’t work at all when you are in the middle of the story. I’m very much a throw it out if my characters have a better idea that comes more naturally to them and their world. A word of warning here: do not edit heavily as you write your first draft, especially as a beginning writer. You do not know how your process works yet, so don’t do what I do, be cautious, save everything, and edit once you have a complete draft.

For an organic writer chasing rabbits down their holes can lead to new ideas that help grow your world, your characters, and just make it all into your own Wonderland. Or it can be just a distraction that wastes your time, energy, and derails your book just like I was warned all those years ago. The problem is that you can’t tell the difference from the outside of the hole. You have to crawl inside and risk falling down and down, before you know if you’ll be talking to a hookah-smoking caterpillar, or just trapped in the dark, covered in dirt.

In other words, the hole could lead you to things you need to discover as a writer, or it could just get you lost and covered in rabbit poo. To find out which way it will go you have to chase the rabbit and be willing to climb into the dark and follow where it leads.

The Anita Blake novels, and the Merry Gentry series, have both benefitted greatly from me chasing rabbits through their tunnels. It has led me to some of my most creative and innovative ideas, or most poignant scenes, but it’s also led me to the dark end of a lot of tunnels, where I had to dig my way out, or back track and cut out all the writing I’d done while I was in that particular scene “tunnel”. I’ve lost a week, or more of work this way. Hundreds, if not thousands of scenes, characters, all useless in the end, but I’m still not certain that writing out the useless bits doesn’t shake something lose that I need.

When I was in high school, I read an article by Ray Bradbury, I believe it was exerts from, The Zen of Writing, but I’m no longer certain. I do know that I translated his wonderful, and much more poetic advice into this, “Every writer has about ten thousand words of crap in them, so you better start writing early and get the bad stuff out, so you can get to the good stuff.” I think sometimes books are like that for me, I need to write the stuff that doesn’t work, then cut it, to find the stuff that does work. I can’t prove that this is true, and maybe I just tell myself that to feel better about all the lost pages, but I can’t prove that isn’t true, either. I’ve written over thirty novels this way, so I’m not going to change my creative process, it works for me, but I’ll admit it’s imprecise. I think all creativity is imprecise, if you could measure it out to be precise it would be science, not art, though there is more than a bit of art in most good science.

I don’t mind following the white rabbit when I know that’s what I’m doing in a book. I’ll run the new idea, or scene, up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes. If they don’t then I delete it, probably put it in an outtake file, and go back to the original plot point where I diverged and keep writing. What I do mind is when I don’t realize it’s a rabbit I’m chasing and I think its more unicorn. For a unicorn, which is an amazing idea that will make the book even better, I’ll drop everything and give chase, but I hate it when I see a horn and think unicorn, but it turns out to be more jackalope.

Last night when I finished writing I began to suspect I had fallen down the rabbit hole. I was hoping I was wrong, because my deadline was upon me. I went to bed hoping I’d wake up and it would all make sense, but instead I knew it didn’t. It wasn’t a rabbit hole, it was a rabbit warren full of tunnels and it was all dark, dirty, and even the rabbits had fled. I had to own that I would be throwing out about twenty-five pages, or more. Days worth of work when I honestly can’t afford to lose the time, or the pages, if I am to make my deadline, but there it was, the brutal truth. I was trapped in the maze in the dark, and the only thing I could do was try to find my plot thread in the dark, and follow it back to the last point where the book really worked.

As a beginning writer it was easier for me to tell when the plot thread broke, because the writing wasn’t as good, but as I’ve had more practice, I’ve gotten better. In fact, I’ve gotten so good that my writing is great even when the character development, plot, or world building, has derailed. It all reads well, but that doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make it the best the book, the characters, the world, can be.

I had to go back through this morning and read, painfully, where that character wouldn’t have done/said that. Oh, there’s where the magic system that I have so carefully built and explained to the reader totally imploded. Yes, it was an exciting scene, riveting, but it isn’t the way the magic works, so out it goes. Okay, so that whole scene goes. Wait, that entire plot line is out. It’s far too late in the book to throw in something this big; it will distract from the mystery which we have to solve in ex-number of chapters. I’m not an obsessive outliner, but I do plot my mysteries out in broad strokes, the closer to the end of the book, the more that outline is filled in and eventually becomes fixed. This close to the end of a novel I have to keep my eye on the goal, which is to solve the mystery in a fair manner that helps the reader feel that all the clues were there. I dislike other writers who cheat by pocketing clues and just almost lying to the reader, so I try to play fair myself. Yes, I am aware that some really big names in mystery hide clues from the reader all the time. I adore Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, but Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie are both guilty of hiding clues to keep the reader in the dark. Sometimes it works brilliantly, but it’s still a bugaboo for me as a reader myself, so I try not to do it to other people.

So here I am in the maze, which is the worst possible kind of rabbit hole. Not only am I in the dark, covered in dirt and maybe worse, but it’s not just a straight tunnel. I can’t just back up a few pages and keep writing, because there are tunnels leading off the main tunnel, so many lefts and rights that I’m not entirely certain which is the main tunnel, or if I came this way, or that.

I begin to suspect it isn’t rabbit droppings on my shoes, but Minotaur crap, and that’s much worse for the book, and for my deadline. My plot thread has broken off in the maze somewhere. I only know it’s not ahead of me, so I can’t keep writing the book from here, I must go back. How far back? I’m not really sure, but I have to find where the thread broke, so I can follow it back and rewrite from there, because the thread still in my hand leads to the heart of the maze and the ruin of the book.

I know I will find my way out of the maze, because I’ve been lost in here before. I know I will find my broken thread and trace it back, and then write myself out of the maze. I know, because I’ve done this before, and that means I can do it again. That’s really what an experienced writer has over a beginning writer, we know that we can do it, because we’ve done it. Success is like a shield to protect you from the monsters, both the outside obstacles and your own self-doubt.

So for all you fellow writers out there both experienced and not, if you find yourself lost in the dark take courage. First try to just back up, if it works, then it’s a rabbit hole, and you’ll soon be out. Dust the dirt off and keep writing. If you realize that some of the tunnel was great ideas, then dig your way up and out, and keep writing from there. If the worst happens and you realize you’re standing in the middle of the maze with a broken thread in your hand, and Minotaur crap on your shoes, then keep moving. You will find the other half of your plot thread, eventually. Once you find it, grab it and drop the other end, because the other end only leads to the heart of the maze where the Minotaur waits to smash you to has-been, or never-was pulp, and dance with castanets on your creative soul.