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.

Teachers can make all the difference

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Beverly K. Sheline
August 9, 1947 – January 10, 2015
Kokomo, Indiana

Miss Beverly Sheline was an English teacher at my high school. She taught my first creative writing class. I was fourteen, still painfully shy, and a serious bookworm. Now most writers read voraciously when they’re younger, but I was still using books to hide from the social anxiety of dealing with too many other people. By the next year I’d begin to force myself to break the prison of my shyness by joining speech team and drama, but that year I was still very much letting books be my shelter. I mean, if you’re reading people are much less likely to try and talk to you, so you don’t have to worry about talking to them. I was still very much in hiding, and only decided that summer that I wanted to be a writer, but not just a writer, I wanted to write horror, dark fantasy, and heroic fantasy. I was this shy kid from the middle of Indiana farm country that had decided she would be a horror writer as her profession. Can you imagine how badly that could have gone if I’d gotten the wrong teacher at the very beginning? But Miss Sheline was very much the right teacher.

She let her students write whatever type of story they wanted without judging the worth of the topic. I would get a lot of judgement on the fact that I wrote genre fiction in college, but in that first precious class there was no judgement, no classifying of one type of story being morally superior to another. That was a gift, to just let her students fly and be who they were as writers, a gift that far too many creative writing classes don’t give their students.

I’d been writing since I was twelve but had only finished a story beginning to end that summer. It was a horror story, a mystery and slasher flick really, because everyone died horribly except for the baby who crawled away into the woods with the implication she would starve to death with no one to care for her. My Uncle Monk, who I think was the only one I gave it to for reading, did the best thing possible. He patted me on the head, said it was good, and didn’t get all freaked out that I was writing about torture and dismemberment. It was the best reaction he could have given, I think. The year I was thirteen- fourteen was a very big turning point for me creatively. I discovered Robert E. Howard’s short story collection, Pigeons from Hell, which solidified what kind of writer I wanted to be and I’ve never wavered from that decision. It led me to find other horror authors to read including Stephen King and Anne Rice, which would both influence my own writing, especially Salem’s Lot and Interview with the Vampire.

I wrote my very first vampire story for Miss Sheline’s class. I’d grown up watching the old Hammer vampire films, had read Salem’s Lot, Interview with the Vampire, and I think all that helped me be ready to write that first story. The other ingredient was a friend I rode the school bus with let me have the cover off her Teen Beat magazine. It was a picture of Parker Stephenson who played one of the Hardy Boys on the then TV show. Yes, I had a crush on him, but it was the image, not the crush, that made me want the picture. I couldn’t explain it to my friend, but I knew it was important for me. I told her I’d use it in a story, she was dubious, but she let me have it, making me promise to show her the story afterwards.

I used that picture to base my first master vampire on, but the main character of the story was a petite, black-haired vampire herself who had made friends with a human girl that the charming but evil vampire had seduced and killed. The main character used a crossbow to kill the other vampire and avenge her friend. I no longer have a copy of that story, but I remember it in startling detail all these years later, and yes the first shape of Anita was in that main character. The vampire loosely based on Parker Stephenson’s picture never showed up in my stories again; strangely dead is dead for me with characters.

It never occurred to me that Miss Sheline might be disturbed by my subject matter. It would only be years later that I realized how differently it could have gone, but instead she read it, gave it an A, and said, “You scared me.”

I’d scared a grown up! I’d scared a teacher! That was heady stuff and just the kind of ego boost that I needed to keep me going forward with my dream.

I learned just two days ago that Miss Beverly Sheline died of cancer recently. She is being laid to rest today and family and friends are gathering to say goodbye. If I’d been thinking more clearly I would have sent flowers, but it hit me strangely harder than I thought it would, and I didn’t think about flowers, I thought about writing. I thought I would write about the teacher who helped start me on my way to being a writer. There were other teachers at Oak Hill High School that were influential on me as a writer and a person, but I’ll save those stories for another day. Today is about Miss Sheline. I did tell her, and say in my very first newspaper interview which was for the local paper where I grew up, how much she had helped me. She read the interview and she and several teachers that I’d mentioned came out to the signing at the local mall. I’m doubly glad she knew that she’d made a difference to me and that I got to tell her in person years ago. Good teachers inspire, lead, but sometimes the best thing they do is to let the students know they matter, and that their first efforts are rewarded. I still remember the thrill I got from her words, “You scared me.” Now, I scare people professionally, but few moments have been as important to me as that first one. Thank you, Miss Sheline.

Celebrating being #1 on the New York Times List!

The newest Anita Blake novel, Jason, is #1 on the New York Times List! Thanks to everyone that bought the book and showed how much they loved Jason the novel, and Jason the character! Thanks to all the booksellers virtual and brick and mortar!

When I sold my first story, my first husband took me out to a fancy dinner. When I sold my first novel, Nightseer, it was my Dungeons and Dragon group that surprised me with a party to celebrate.

When Guilty Pleasures, the first Anita Blake novel, sold, my writing group, The Alternate Historians, made me a cake shaped like it’s cover and we had a party.

When I hit the New York Times List for the first time I was alone on tour for A Kiss of Shadows. I thought I was being calm, cool, and collected until the room service waiter brought my hot tea. I had about an hour before I had to get ready for the signing that night, so I’d ordered tea to relax. I was so calm about the news that I accidentally gave the waiter a fifty dollar tip. I caught my mistake and fixed it explaining I’d just learned about the Times List, and then added, “If you came back with a fifty dollar tip they’d think you did more than just deliver tea.” He didn’t think I was funny. My media escort took me out later to a very nice restaurant with a view of the sea.

When I cracked the top five with Narcissus in Chains, my second husband, Jonathon, was on tour with me. It was our first tour together. In fact, it was the first time I’d brought anyone on tour with me. We used up the cell phone batteries in his phone, my phone, and our media escort’s phone calling his family and my writing group to tell them the news. We were in San Fransisco, because we went into China Town there and bought a necklace to commemorate the event.

When I made #2 for the first time with Cerulean Sins, I went to a wonderful local bakery and bought three to five cakes of flavors that they didn’t make cupcakes in, so we could finally taste them. We invited Jonathon’s parents and other friends over and had a cake tasting party. This was before I started exercising again, or watching my nutrition. Though honestly, I have a serious weakness for cake, not sweets, but cake is yummy.

I made #2 with A Lick of Frost for the Meredith Gentry series. There were other times that the Merry books hit the List, but I honestly don’t remember what I did to celebrate for each book. But there was only one Anita Blake novel, Incubus Dreams that hit #2 before Micah brought home the gold medal.

How did I celebrate that first #1 with Micah? Which, incidentally, was my last original paperback novel; like Jason, it was a shorter piece featuring the title character though it was a mystery complete with zombies and mob connections and background on Micah that even Anita didn’t know. Years before this I’d told my friend Joanie that if I ever made #1 I’d take her family and we’d all do a trip to Disney World. When I called to tell her the news, she reminded me of the promise and that’s what we did. Joanie, her husband Jim, and their daughter, Melissa went with Jonathon, our daughter Trinity, and me to Disney. Yep, that’s right, I celebrated my first New York Times #1 book by going to the Mouselands.

I can’t remember precisely what I did to celebrate my first hardback #1 Blood Noir. I know we did dinner somewhere nice, but after going to Disney World for Micah, it was just hard to top that, especially because I was deep into writing the next Meredith Gentry book, so there wasn’t time for a trip.

So how did I celebrate Jason hitting #1? I got the calls from my Agent, Merrilee, and then my editor, Susan, while I was changing for gym. I continued getting dressed, and when I got off the phone the first thing I did was tell Genevieve and Spike. This included much jumping up and down, hugs and kisses. Jonathon wasn’t at home. I debated on texting him, but waited until I could tell him in person, much kissing ensued. Then . . . then I went to gym. I had a great workout, came home, showered, and celebrated with my happy polyamorous foursome. My real life has become special enough that my normal plans are a celebration. Realizing that truth made Jason being #1 a very special milestone.

The flowers in the picture on this blog are from my U.S. publishing team at Penguin Random House, thanks guys!

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New Blog – Jason, the novel, is here!

Today is the official on sale date for my latest book, Jason! It’s the newest Anita Blake novel, and the first original paperback since Micah, thus the title being the name of one of the leading characters in the book. My publisher and I are very into naming conventions. Before you ask, yes, I do have ideas for other short novels featuring other major, or even minor-major characters in Anita’s universe, but currently I’m finishing up the next hardback original for Anita and the gang, Dead Ice.

In fact, Dead Ice woke me at 5:20 this morning according to Spike, who is as light a sleeper as I am, so he was very aware when I tried to creep out of bed and not wake anyone else. Genevieve and Jon usually sleep very soundly, but I learned at lunch that even they knew when I got out of bed. One of the unforeseen downsides of being polyamorous is that when ideas wake you up at odd hours you disturb more people. Or maybe that’s a downside of sleeping with a writer, regardless of your relationship style.

The book was very loud in my head, I knew exactly what came next and exactly how to write the scene. I’d gone to bed knowing what came next, but not how to get from A to B, and suddenly I woke in the dark and I knew. I also knew I couldn’t wait to get to the computer and start typing it. I’ve learned that when inspiration knocks that loudly you need to answer it quickly, because otherwise you end up knowing you had this great idea, or the perfect way to work this scene, but now you can’t remember most of it, just a vague sense you lost the wave that would have carried you further in the book. I hate that feeling, so I was typing before dawn, trying to keep up with my muse. We’d done 12 pages yesterday, so to be this pumped again today was a very good sign that the book is gaining momentum.

I’m happiest as a writer when I’m writing fast. I joke that I write as if the monsters really are chasing me and if I hesitate too long they’ll catch me. For all of you reading this that are wondering why I didn’t give myself a day off to enjoy Jason coming out, well first, I spent many years on tour for every book. It sort of conditioned me that I didn’t get the on sale date off, and in fact traveling across the country to promote a book can be pretty grueling. My record for grueling is still 26 cities in 28 days, that book tour still lives in infamy for Jon and myself, because he traveled with me on every last day of it. We hadn’t met Genevieve and her husband, Spike, at that point.

It is a wonderful thing for a publisher to spend money to send a writer on a book tour, it really is. But I’ve done my time and it’s a blessing to stay home, too. Thanks to the internet there are so many ways to promote your book now that don’t make you get on a plane to travel the country. Because if we were on tour for Jason, I wouldn’t be writing on Dead Ice. I can write on planes, while I try to pretend that I’m not flying (Yes, I shared my fear of flying with Anita), but I lose the thread of a book when I tour. I know some writers can continue to write a new book through a tour, but I’ve never been one of them.

Being home I could take the day off and just enjoy that Jason is on the shelves, but I didn’t. Instead I did what writers do, I wrote. Writers write; that may sound simple, but a lot of beginning writers don’t seem to truly grasp the concept. Writers write when we’re happy. We write when we’re sad. We write when we’re inspired. We write in order to get inspired. We write when the outside world has moved us to spill some reality onto the page. We write when the inside of our head is so loud that it seems almost more real than reality. We write to understand ourselves, to understand others, or to just admit on paper we don’t understand either. We write to make sense of the world and to share fiction that is often tidier and more logical than real life. Some of us write to escape logic and put the fantastic on the page so that everyone can hunt dragons from the safety of their homes. Writers can help you hunt down a killer, solve a mystery so baffling and dangerous that the death toll is frightening, all from the safety of your armchair. Writers write about what moves them, outrages them, intrigues them, makes them laugh out loud, or weep. Writers write; and if they’re very lucky, what they write moves the rest of the world as much as it moves them. I celebrated the release of my newest book, Jason, by working on the next book, because I’m a writer, and writers write.

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New Blog – FaerieCon East 2014, After Action Report

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First, thanks for everyone being so welcoming at our very first FaerieCon. You East coast fey are a very friendly lot. The vendors area was full of more wings than I’ve ever seen anywhere. Got some more great jewelry at The Crafty Celt, and two new places: Seth Maranuk Designs, and Remnants of Magic. Blonde Swan was there with the hats of awesome, and next door were the most charming fairy houses. They looked like things I used to make up in my head when I was in fifth grade and what my daughter loved for years, as well. I think I may need a tiny one for my office, and another for our daughter for Solstice.

The wonderful SJ Tucker was there to perform her musical magic along with Faun. SJ and I have known each other for years, and exchanged many hugs, though by the time we hugged on Sunday my voice was gone thanks to con crud that Jon and I both came down with. Got to wave at the members of Faun as we were all trying to leave for the airport.

I was on panels with Bruce Coville, Tamora Pierce, and Catheryne Valente, with surprise guest Melissa Marr who showed up for the Researching Your Fiction panel. Bruce and Tamora could do a delightful panel just the two of them. Their decades of friendship, being neighbors, and writing buddies totally shines through when they are on stage together. Emma Casale was on all our panels with us, at least briefly, as she ran all the writing panel track, the bookstore, and all the signings. She brought me hot tea on Saturday using her grandmother’s tea caddy. I was fearful I would drop the wonderful strawberry covered creamer once I learned it was a family heirloom. Jon made certain that he either carried it back to her between panels or stayed with it for her to return for it. Thanks again Emma, the tea was most welcome.

We had more hot tea with Melissa Marr and our shared agent, Merrilee Heifetz, between panels, and then they went back to World Fantasy Con which was just down the road. I’d actually forgotten that the two cons were the same weekend; it’s been a busy year. Tamora, Catheryne, and I had a panel on, “Why are Strong Women in Fiction Still a Surprise?” We talked to a packed room about a lot of different questions. What divides men and women? Is it society more than actual physical gender? What brings us together? Is feminism a dirty word that divides women, or is it a perfectly okay word and thing to be? Is it true that younger is automatically more attractive? Is it true that getting older means your looks “go”? Tamora and I had to agree to disagree on the last two questions. I don’t believe that younger is better or that older is worse. I believe it is a false idea put out by ads and entire industries wanting us to buy their products to look younger, and thus, better. I find that as long as I hit the gym hard and watch my nutrition, that decade number five is pretty awesome; and I’m finding that holds true for my friends as they hit their thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties. I’m not a gym rat because I’ve always loved to exercise, I’m in the gym because I started asking the people older than me that looked fabulous and had almost no health problems, “What are you doing?” The answer, almost without exception, was serious gym and nutrition. My doctors are telling me that muscle around the joints is how I stay out of knee surgery, so that pretty much capped it as a plan of action for me.

Sorry, I digress, but I learned things on the panel that I didn’t know, like it’s still not considered cool for little boys to read books. Really? I asked my husband and best male friends and they all said that as boys they’d gotten made fun of for reading. I had no idea. The men in the audience confirmed that reading is still not cool for boys and men. That’s sad and ridiculous. Tamora said that if more fathers would read to their children, especially little boys, that it would help close this reading gap between girls and boys. Her point was very sound that most boys want to be like their dads, so if they read and enjoy reading with their sons than they can go into the world armed with stories and knowing that reading is cool, because their dads read, too. Since I grew up without a father, I had no idea there was a gender gap in reading. I’ve only dated men who read, usually men who read a lot, so I had no idea there was a double standard for reading. If you enjoy reading, you should read. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about loving books. Stories are part of what makes us human, as far as we know it’s one of the only things that we do that the other living beings on this planet don’t; although since they’ve proven that animals will lie, maybe they do tell each other stories? Now wouldn’t that be cool, to hear the stories that whales tell each other and be able to understand them?

It was a very thought provoking panel for all of us, I think. When I say, us, I mean men and women, everyone in the room. I’ve decided that maybe I’m a feminist and a masculinist. I’d like everyone to be able to be who and what they are with no preconceived social baggage making us afraid to enjoy, love, hope, do, and be ourselves whatever that means for each of us. Remember that anyone that makes fun of you for doing something you love isn’t really your friend anyway, so what does it matter if they don’t like you? They don’t like you anyway, so screw it, screw them, or rather abstinance them, because you certainly don’t want to sleep with anyone that makes you feel bad about yourself or who limits the things that bring you joy.

Thanks to Robert for all the trips to the airport and the wonderful restaurant recommendation. Thanks to Tiger Torre, her wolf, and friends who redeemed Baltimore sushi by taking us to a fabulous place that washed away the memory of the awful sushi we had delivered the night Jon was too sick to go out and have fun. We all stayed in and took care of him, because that’s what friends and spouses do. You do not go out to concerts, or parties, or whatever, and leave your sick sweetie, or good friend, alone. We actually watched the new Hercules with Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson in the room the night of not good sushi. We all liked it, and I liked it enough I want to see it again. You do need to not expect the Greek mythology and history to be exact, but not as much was changed as in a lot of versions. *cough Disney cough* I actually liked some of the changes and how they explained the labors of Hercules in a fresh way. There were also some of the best fight training scenes for actual shield wall and formation practice I’ve seen in a movie in a very long time, maybe ever. There was even a double mystery plot that made total sense at the reveal, and I can name a lot of suspense movies where that is so not true.

Last and most importantly, thanks to all the fans that came to FaerieCon to see me. You were some of the nicest people and very understanding as I used a microphone on panels to try and not lose the rest of my voice. To the fans that said they’d come here just to see me, I’m still honored, but I hope you got to enjoy more of the con and see some of the other great guests.

New Blog – Happily Ever After is the Beginning

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Twenty, our daughter Trinity is twenty today. There’s something about this birthday that seems momentous to both her and me. She’s no longer a teenager. Yes, she’s been a legal adult for two years, but somehow neither she, nor I, thought childhood had been completely left behind, but twenty is the end of the teens and the beginning of a decade that is absolutely, positively an adult number. But that’s not all of it, Trinity also attended her cousin, Kay’s, wedding earlier this month. Kay is already a mother of a baby girl of her own, and only a few weeks older than Trinity. I remember when I and both of my sisters-in-law were pregnant at the same time. All the girls were born within weeks of each other. Now one is a mother and married, another has decided on her career and is off pursuing that, and Trinity is in college; Trinity also caught the bouquet at Kay’s wedding.

People told Trinity that she would be next, and she loved that so romantic idea. She’s always been of a more romantic turn of mind than me. I double checked that she wasn’t dating anyone seriously, so a wedding was unlikely anytime soon. I remained calm, though what I wanted to say, was over my dead body would she be getting married anytime soon. Then, my daughter, who I thought of as fairly logical, proactive, and level-headed in most situations, just beginning to explore all the possibilities of her life, talked about her wedding day. She’s talked about her wedding day after every wedding she’s seen since she was about six. I guess it’s normal for most little girls, but when she was six I didn’t worry about it. Now she’s twenty and suddenly it’s not cute anymore, its a little frightening to me. I’m the mom, I’m supposed to worry.

I had grown up never planning to marry, so I had never dreamed of my wedding day. I was too busy writing my stories and collecting my first rejection slips, because I was going to be a writer. I didn’t have time to plan weddings, or moon over boys. Trinity had never done much mooning either, so I never worried about her falling into the trap that marriage and romance are the biggest things in a woman’s life. I’d shown her that men and weddings were not the be all, end all, for her life. She understands that, but suddenly the whole wedding thing seemed a little too real for me, and for the first time I thought of how differently she had seen marriage than I did growing up.

I had fallen in love for the first time in college and married at twenty-one to her father. It had certainly surprised the hell out of me. I’d planned on being a happy writer without any of those complications from “relationships.” They just distracted an artist from their goals. I actually didn’t let marriage distract me from my goals and was a successful novelist by the time we divorced sixteen years later. I vowed never to marry again, and then promptly fell in love with Jonathon. We are now blissfully happy at thirteen years and counting. Was it the fact that I had married twice and was actually happy that had made Trinity feel more positive towards marriage and romance? Trinity had been one of the flower girls at our wedding, so this more romantic attitude might be my fault. Was it letting the flower girls ride in the horse-drawn carriage with us? Don’t blame fairytales, because I was raised on those, too, and the romantic bug didn’t get me. But then, I had only my mother’s unhappiness in the brief marriage to my father, and was raised on tales of my grandfather beating my grandmother, who she had divorced after twenty years. Marriage didn’t seem that great to me, and men seemed like extras I didn’t need in my life. My grandmother and I got along fine without one. I did the heavy lifting around the house, what the heck were men needed for? Then I fell in love, and married, twice, and Trinity grew up seeing that the right man with the right woman could be pretty awesome, so in a way it was totally my fault. My happiness had actually fed into the social message that romance and marriage are important; damn it.

I took a few days to think about why I’d had such an issue with her innocent, and perfectly normal, remarks about weddings. I finally realized what I wanted to say not just to Trinity, but to all the young women everywhere.

I hope my daughter’s wedding day isn’t the biggest and most important day of her life. I hope that she has so many days that make that one day, pale in comparison. I hope she finds someone so wonderful that their days together will be full of such happiness that the wedding is what it’s supposed to be, the beginning of an amazing adventure and a real life love story that will rise in action from that day forward. I hope for her a person at her side that brings joy to her life, everyday. I know they will fight, I know she’s not perfect, nor will her spouse be perfect. The trick is to get enough good stuff from the relationship to offset the irritating stuff, because that’s all it should be, just irritating stuff. If it’s truly bad stuff; addiction, abuse, I trust my beautiful, strong daughter to understand that you can’t love them enough to change certain things and not to ever marry someone who is cruel when they say they love you. True love is not cruel, or controlling in a way that hurts you.

When you fight, and you will fight, remember that list of things you know would hurt them the most, don’t say them. Don’t say the unforgivable list, because once uttered it can’t be taken back, and though you say, I forgive you, you never forget and it damages your pair bond.

I hope my daughter understands that it is the every day joys that make life worth living, not the big moments. The big stuff fades and cannot last, but the joy of waking up beside someone you love and renewing that love every day in a dozen small gestures that say, better than any fancy dress, or church full of flowers, I love you.

I hope she understands what that means, love, to her may not be the same as her spouse, and that part of the challenge is to find out what their language of love is both individually and together. To some men, playing their favorite video game with them means you love them enough to try. To others dressing in their favorite outfit is love. To some women helping with housework means love, and to others sexy naked time is love. For Trinity, I hope she finds another video game and anime Geek and that she never falls in love with someone that rolls their eyes and belittles what she finds such fierce joy in, and the same for her future spouse. Let them honor what each finds joy in, and understand that it doesn’t always have to make sense to you, you just have to understand that the love of your life adores fall mornings, or bird watching, or sleeping in late, hitting the gym, scuba diving, or watching cheesy horror movies. Whatever fills their face with light and joy, honor that, and honor the things that fill your own heart with the same light. Do not give up your hobbies, the pieces of yourself that bring you happiness, because your spouse fell in love with the girl, or boy, that thought Pokemon was cool; don’t lose that. Don’t let the idea of love and being a grownup steal yourself away. Love, true love, honors who you really are and never makes fun of it. Honor each other, care for each other, be kind to each other, have fun together, and above all know that there will be moments when you fall out of love, or are so irritated by that small thing they always do that you just want to scream. Remember in those moments how much you love that thing they do that always makes you smile. Remember how they held you when you were sad, or how they cry at Christmas commercials, or how hard they work at their dreams, and how they help you work at yours.

I hope that my daughter’s wedding, when it comes, if it comes, because if she never marries that’s okay with me, as long as she’s happy, but if she chooses to marry, I hope she looks back and thinks it was a beautiful beginning to an even more beautiful life in partnership with someone she loves, and who loves her as much as I do. It’s not about a certain ceremony, or a certain goal, or milestone, those will come and go, it’s about the day in, day out, are you there for me – do you have each other’s backs? That’s what it’s about, I hope my daughter and all the young women out there understand that is more important than a thousand designer dresses, or the perfect flowers, or how many bridesmaids you have – your wedding day will pass, but if you all work at it, and are lucky, then it just gets better from there.