Thursday, February 28, 2013

What is a romance novel?: Part 1 of an examination of the romance genre

What is a romance novel?  I think you could probably ask a dozen people for a definition and nobody would have the exact same parameters.  I’ve seen the genre defined broadly enough that it includes everything from Gone with the Wind to Fifty Shades of Grey.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  I’m all about inclusion and pushing boundaries.  But, personally, I don’t see either of those books as “romance novels” in the modern sense.  I would argue that the genre has specific conventions that must be met for a book to qualify.

At their core, romance novels are about relationship.  For example, Gone with the Wind is much more about Scarlett O’Hara’s experiences than it is about her relationship with Rhett.  He’s in there.  He’s important.  But, the heart of story isn’t “them” the couple, it’s “her” the character.  There’s not a criticism of Margret Mitchell, it’s just an example of why GWTW isn’t a “romance novel,” to my mind.
Some of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ books are the same way.  Take Hot Shot, which is one of my favorite books ever.  Personally, I classify it as more “women’s fiction” than “romance novel.”  The heroine Susannah’s journey spans the rise of the computer age, as she deals with the men in her life and comes into her own.  There is a romance and the book would suffer if you removed her eventual husband, Mitch.  But, it’s really her relationship with Sam, her first love, and even her father that drives the story.  Editing Mitch out would hurt the story, but you could still have a story, because Susannah’s journey is the central plot.
Contrast this with SEPs, Heaven, Texas or Nobody’s Baby but Mine.  Two more great books, but I’d argue that they’re definitely romance novels.  The heroines (and heroes) also undergo a journey.  They redefine themselves in fundamental ways over the course of the plot.  But, the heart of the story is their relationship.  They grow together and because of each other, and that’s the real meat of the story.  You take Bobby-Tom or Cal out of those books and your story isn’t much of a story anymore.  It’s not about Gracie and Jane.  It’s about Gracie and Jane falling in love with Bobby-Tom and Cal.  There’s a difference there.
A happy ending is another way I would define a romance novel.  I consider this essential for the genre.  Would you want to read a murder-mystery that didn’t solve the murder in the end?  No!  Traditionally, that’s not how the genre works.  Likewise, I expect all romance novels will end with a marriage, proposal, and/or promise of forever.  Is Wuthering Heights a romance novel?  I would argue no, for several reasons, not the least of which is the ending that sees the central couple miserable and dead.  (That’s no slight on Emily Bronte.  She wrote one book and it was Wuthering frigging Heights, for crying out loud.  But it’s not a romance novel.  It’s not meant to be.)
Sometimes, romance writers play with the HEA convention.  (As there are certainly murder mysteries where the killer gets away.)  But, when authors take chances and gives non-traditional endings, they still have to keep it satisfying for the audience.  Take Jude Deveraux’s A Knight in Shining Armor .  I’ve seen polls where this time travel book ranks as the readers’ favorite romance novel ever and (SPOILER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) the hero “dies” at the end.  See, he’s a medieval Earl, who’s in love with a modern day woman.  The inevitable result?  She’s alive in the present, knowing that he’s dead in the past.
But, Deveraux fixes the “WTF?!? Nickolas can’t have died alone?!  Who wrote this crap?!” shrieking of her fans but having his soul reincarnated into a modern man’s body.  The book ended on the upbeat scene of the heroine meeting New Him and knowing who he really was.  This seems to satisfy most people.  (End Spoiler!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)  Personally, I’m still not completely happy with A Knight in Shining Armor’s ending, but I think it’s clearly a romance novel.  If I gotten to the end and she left Nickolas dead-dead, I’d have burned the damn book on my barbeque grill.  An author’s got to give some kind of happy ending or it’s just not a romance novel.  It’s like a pact with the reader.
In my opinion, the grandmother of all romance novels is Pride and Prejudice.  (Somewhere out there, someone is reading this and thinking, “What about Jane Eyre, Cassie?  Come on!  Rochester has influenced every third hero in romance section of the library.”  Fair point, but I think Darcy influenced every second hero and, besides, Austen came first.)  Anyway, I would argue that Pride and Prejudice is a romance novel, in most respects.  Strip it down and it’s all about the relationship of Elizabeth and Darcy.  Seriously, I dare you to try and take him out of that book.  The whole thing would fall apart.  It’s got other stuff going on, but emotional push-pull of Darcy and Elizabeth is the main plot.
However, one argument as to why Pride and Prejudice might not be a “romance novel” in the modern sense of the world is the lack of sex scenes.  Most romance novels have sex, no doubt about it.  But, is it a requirement of the genre?  I would say no.  For instance, several of Lynn Kurland’s books have the “hotter” parts of the love scenes off screen, but I can’t imagine a straight faced argument that they aren’t romance novels.  There’s no sex in the first Twilight book, but I’m certainly willing to hear arguments that it’s romance novel.
On the other hand, I don’t see Fifty Shades of Grey as a romance novel.  I see it erotica.  To me, sex in a romance novel is a part of the relationship, but it doesn’t define the relationship.  I’m certainly willing to see this as hair splitting.  After all, I’d classify Lora Leigh’s work as “romance,” and she writes some very steamy stuff.  But, looking at books on a “Just Sex vs. Just Emotions” spectrum, a true romance novel tips towards the emotional end, in my opinion.  You can have a romance novel without sex.  You can’t have a romance novel without feelings.
Obviously, this whole post is full of stuff people can disagree with.  Like I said, it’s hard to define what a romance novel “is” with any clear cut restrictions.  You just know it when you see it.  A while back, Tami Hoag’s Cry Wolf was repackaged as a “suspense” novel, with a different cover and the love scenes edited down.  I assume this was done to make the book seem less like a romance novel and that annoyed me.  You can’t make a few halfhearted changes and change a book’s genre.  Why would you even want to?  Let a book be what it is!  Romance novels are as viable and interesting as any other literature out there.  They deserve to be celebrated for what they are.

- Cassandra Gannon

Monday, February 25, 2013

Advice to self-published romance authors on Kindle: dealing with bad reviews

One of the most frequent questions I see from authors is how to deal with negative comments from readers.

My own personal opinion on this is that the customer is always right. They are always right because they’re the one paying for the book. They’re the ones who paid to be entertained, so if they have a problem with the book, then that’s on me. It doesn’t matter if their complaints are factually accurate or not, it’s their money. If the comments were in the form of a review here on Goodreads or on Amazon, I would just ignore them. If they were on a discussion board and some reply was expected of me, I would probably try to keep it short, and simply apologize that they feel that way and let the readers who liked the book make my counterarguments for me. I can’t think of anything less professional than getting into a flame war with someone over their review. Even if I agreed with the author, I’d still kind of be shocked as a reader to see someone do that.

I personally haven’t received a negative review (note: that is not self-promotion or bragging, merely a sad testament to the low percentage of people who leave comments on books they read at all), but one of my sister’s books received a very low rating. While I completely disagree with the reader’s objections and to the personal attack, neither of us replied to it. At first, I worried that the 1 star rating would drive readers away, but surprisingly, the days after the comment was posted saw a surge in sales which I can’t explain in any other way. I think people saw the bad rating and it told them that people were actually reading the book, and that the other good ratings weren’t socks accounts, and decided to give it a try. So, in retrospect, I think the reader ended up doing her a favor. It still hurt her feelings, but it was a blessing in disguise.

If you aren’t an author, I don’t think you can understand what it’s like to anxiously check Goodreads and Amazon every day to see if a reader has left you a rating or comment. In many ways, writers work blind. We can’t watch the reader as they read it, and have no idea what parts they like or dislike unless they tell us. As such, authors are already emotionally hyped up. Add to this fact that I think most authors consider their books to be their babies, and passions can get the best of them when they think someone is criticizing their work. It can’t end well to attack a reader in response though. You really can’t argue with someone’s personal opinion of your book. I mean, what’s the counterargument to “your book was terrible”? “No, it wasn’t”? “You just don’t understand it”? “Shut up”? None of them is very persuasive, and all come off as conceited. Best to just listen to what they’re saying and see if it’s something you can work on in the future. A bad review is about the book. The worst that can happen is that someone won’t buy it as a result. If you turn it into an argument against the reader, then you’re making it about yourself, and the worst that can happen is that people won’t buy any of your books as a result, and tell their friends to do the same.

Now, if the reader forms their comments as a question to the author, then I don’t think it should be ignored. If the reader is genuinely asking for clarification or confirmation that the book has a certain theme or that a certain plot detail is what the reader thinks it is, then the author should comment in those circumstances. One of the main reasons for an author to be active online is to answer reader feedback.

I like to think that most readers are smart enough to only place stock in real reviews, and ignore ones which misconstrue the book or make personal attacks against the author though. All books have the occasional bad review (not even the Bible has a perfect rating on Amazon.) Consumers are pretty good at ignoring negativity which is clearly wrong or has an obvious ax to grind. Part of your job as an author is to accept criticism (even if it’s clearly wrong) and move on.

…Unless it’s about one of my books. If you don’t like my books, then you’re clearly an idiot and I’m fully within my rights as an author to tell you so, and then utterly dismiss your delusional ramblings. ;)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Elemental Phases Character bio: Kingu

Kingu wasn’t actually supposed to get a book.  When I introduced him in Guardian of the Earth House, I just conceptualized him like a henchman for Kay.  It wasn’t until later that I realized that, underneath his contempt for Elementals and dragon-like exterior, he was actually a good guy.  He just needed the right heroine to help him see that.  So I wrote Treasure of the Fire Kingdom, where he finally gets his Match.

I gave a draft of the first few chapters of the book to my mom, who is pretty reliable in telling me when she doesn’t think something is working.  (For reference, Cross from Warrior from the Shadowland, is her favorite character.  In the first draft of that book, he wasn’t the hero, but a secondary character.  Mom handed it back to me and simply said, “I like Cross,” which necessitated a total rewrite.)  Anyway, this time she told me she didn’t like Kingu.  Well, no, that’s too harsh.  She told me she didn’t see him as a hero, yet.  So, I reread what I’d written and made some changes.  Next time I gave Mom a draft, she loved Kingu.  She told me he was the most sympathetic character in the series.

The ironic part is I didn’t change Kingu, at all.  Or, at least, it was just very minimal stuff.  I changed Hope.  In the earlier drafts Hope was less decisive and self-confident.  I mean, she was always a Fire Phase, but she wasn’t quite so assured about it.  Lesson I learned:  You can do a Beauty and the Beast style book, but the “Belle” character is the one who holds it all together.  She’s got to be the one who does the saving.

I think this is the key to all romance novels.  When I’m writing, I usually call the unfinished book “Kingu’s Story” or “Gion’s Story” or whatever, which is really kind of silly.  I see all the heroines as equal partners in the book.  Maybe equal and a little bit more.  51/49 women.  I can’t stand it when heroines are just cardboard cutouts there to make the men look good.  As much as I love the heroes, I like it much better when the women are the ones driving the action.

As soon as Hope took over and Kingu was swept along in her schemes, their relationship made sense to me.  The “Beast” was actually the sane one.  The “Beauty” character was a kooky, violent nut who was determined to take over his life.  With that paradigm in mind, the whole book became more balanced and, in my opinion, more fun.  Kingu, quite frankly, didn’t give a damn about the Phases or their problems.  He just cared about her.  So he wasn’t going to drive the larger story arc.  If anything was going to get done in the Cloud Kingdom, Hope was going to have to be the one who instigated it.  And, once she had full reign to cause havoc, the plot progressed nicely.

When I was a teen addicted to romances, I read one where there heroine was kidnapped/captured/held prisoner thirteen times in three hundred pages.  Thirteen!  She spent the whole book waiting to get rescued.  No way am I writing that story.  When my heroines get kidnapped/captured/held captive, they usually find a way to escape on their own or turn the whole situation to their advantage.

In no way do I make any pretense about my books having social relevance, but I don’t want any younger readers scarred for life over heroines who faint at the word “gunshot” or passively endure jackass heroes who hit them in the name of love.  I’ve actually dealt with those situations as a romance fan and we’re moving beyond it as a genre.  So, I take a lot of pride in the positive feedback I get about my heroines being smart and strong.  I find that my heroes like it better, too.

- Cassandra Gannon

Monday, February 18, 2013

Advice for authors self-publishing on Kindle: starting over

When you’re an independent writer, each word you have to erase can feel like it’s costing you money.  You’ve put time into crafting that sentence or page or fifty pages.  Once something’s written down , it seems crazy to delete it and start again.  On the other hand, though, sometimes you intuitively know when something’s gone wrong with your story.  Not excising the problem will just snowball into more problems and threaten your whole book and possibly your mind.  So what do you do?

I know this feeling well.  I wrote 84,000 words of Isaacs’ book for my Elemental Phases series before I realized it wasn’t working.  The average book length I shoot for is 70,000-100,000 words, so that’s an entire book I scrapped.  Months of work.  I went through a lot of emotions, as I sunk deeper and deeper into the quagmire, not the least of which was panic.  What was I going to do?
I could feel the story not gelling into a cohesive whole.  The plot was too bulky.  I wasn’t sold on the romance.  In order to reach any kind of reasonable finale, the characters would have to start doing something pretty quick, but they weren’t too interested in trying.  As I scrolled through all the neatly typed chapters, I knew none of those 84,000 words were “right.”
If you find yourself in a similar situation, save yourself the trouble of trying to rearrange deckchair.  Here’s how the ending goes:
The logical part of your brain, which still hasn’t forgive you for not being doctor or a bond trader instead of a writer, reminds you that deleting what you’ve written means backtracking.  It means you’ve just wasted time.  It means you’re lost and doomed to failure and why is the world so hard?!?!?  All you want to do is finish this book, so you can finish the next book, so you can pay for groceries.  Your logical side says, “Don’t be an idiot.  It’s not that bad.  Just leave it all be and move on.  Oh and look into some MBA programs, while you’re at it, because you’re never going to get anywhere with this ‘writing’ thing.”
That’s when your artistic side starts reminding you about integrity.  Isn’t it your responsibility to tell the best story you can?  Do you want to put out something you’re not satisfied with?  (I’ll go out on a limb and say no writer is ever 100% satisfied with their work, but you know when it’s “right” and when it’s not.)  Don’t your characters and readers deserve your best work?
Answer:  Yeah…. They do.
So, if you can’t make the book work on a fundamental level, you might have to accept that and start over.  If you’re anything like me, your artistic side is going to win that argument, anyway.  Even your logical side will start grudgingly admitting that it’s probably not a good idea to disappoint fans with a substandard story.
I stopped writing Isaacs’ book, which was supposed to be book four, and regrouped.  I reimagined the series with a different book four, Treasure of the Fire Kingdom.  Different plot, different hero/heroine, and different direction for the arc.  And you know what?  Treasure of the Fire Kingdom, turned into the fastest selling book of the series.  Was it really, really, really hard to make that call?  Yep.  But, I knew that it had to be done.  Isaacs will get a book, but it’ll be the best one I can give him.
Now, I read an anecdote by Linda Howard once, where she talks about burning a manuscript she wasn’t happy with, so she could start with a clean slate.  That’s gutsy.  I’m not sure I could do that.  I do understand why someone might want to, though.  Destroying the book means a complete break with the past version.  If that works for you, I envy your ability to work without a net.  I would start to cry.
On the other hand, there’s something to be said for holding onto your “failed” book.  Chances are there’s some good stuff buried in there that you can reuse later.  Love scenes, maybe.  Some funny lines.  A character you want to go back to.  If you just save the book, you can revisit it later and reassess.  Maybe some lightning bolt of inspiration will strike and you’ll be able to cut-and-paste your way to something new.  For instance, the chapter with Mara’s funeral in Queen of the Magnetland was originally in Isaac’s version of book four.  I had to change around the characters and POVs, but the idea was the same.  When I had to write that flashback for Mara, I was glad that I still had the original text as a starting point.
A lot of problems in a book can be fixed, if you give it a little time and work.  I would ALWAYS advise that you think long and hard about alternatives before you walk away from a book.  Sometimes you’re just stuck and, given time, you can work through the problems.  I wrote alternate beginnings to several books, before I inevitably went back to my first one, again.
But sometimes the problems with a story are so big that the only path is a complete do-over.  In those moments, don’t despair or talk yourself into publishing something you’re not proud of.  Believe in yourself and your talent.  Make the call you can feel proud of.
-Cassandra Gannon

Friday, February 15, 2013

Romance Authors' guide for Independently Published books: Dealing with Writer's Block

For me, writing isn’t a 9-5 gig, where I can just sit down and type nonstop until quitting time.  There’s an ebb and flow of creative highs and “I give up” lows.  Some days the characters are “talking” and sometimes they’re not.  This post is mostly about the days when they’re not.

Usually, when I’m supposed to be cleaning the garage or walking the dogs or doing something un-book related, I know exactly what should happen in a story.  The characters are chattering away in my mind faster than I can type.  I don’t feel like I’m writing, at all.  I’m just typing out the conversations as they happen.  These are the Good Days, when I am all “Yay!  Everything is rainbows and unicorns and sparkly happiness with all my sparkly happy characters.”  At times like this, I can’t image why I don’t write fifty pages a day!  I could put out a book every week!  I could retire next year!  Everything seems easy and perfect.
Then there are the Bad Days, when the characters aren’t talking, and I’m just staring at the glowing blue screen of my laptop for hours.  I listlessly search the internet for the etymology of my cat’s name… Become suddenly and deeply interested in some random TV cooking show, even though I don’t cook… Paint each of my nails a different shade of pink… You know, all sorts of vital activities that will absolutely help pay my rent.  At times like this, the act of stringing words together in a sentence seems impossible.  Even when I try, I end up erasing it everything in disgust.  All life seems hopeless.
I guess you would call this “writer’s block,” although as the poor innocent writer, I find myself more likely to blame the uncooperative characters.  Why don’t they just do something interesting I can write about?  Why are they being so quiet?  Why do they hate me?  Why is Kitchen Nightmares so compelling that I must watch it -right now- rather than work?  Clearly, none of that is my fault.  I’m the victim!
Still, there are only so many years you can be stuck on a book before your sister begins to mock you for it.  (True story: Book four of the Elemental Phases series had at least 12 drafts, spanning all sorts of different plots, characters, and ideas.  Liz would just start laughing when I told her I’d started a new version.)  So, in order to jolt myself out of my Bad Day ruts, I’ve come up with a few simple things to try to beat writer’s block:

1)      Read someone else’s book- Reading a great book reminds me of why I love to write.  Or maybe it just reminds me how to write.  Either way, seeing a beautiful finished product inspires me.  “See?”  I tell myself.  “It can be done!”

2)      Write something else-I usually have two or three book ideas in my head, at any given time.  If one of them gets stuck, I move onto another for a while.  I wrote Not Another Vampire Book and Warrior from the Shadowland at the same time.  When Cross was being difficult, I’d go hang out with Damien for a while.  It’s not that I’m giving up on the first book, I’m just taking a break to regroup.  If you don’t have another book percolating, try writing a different chapter of the book you’re currently working on.  No one says it has to be written in order, so try writing the epilogue or a love scene or something.

3)      Erase the last page-  I know this one will hurt, but hear me out.  Sometimes, when I’m not sure what happens next in a story, it’s because what’s already happened is “wrong.”  If I erase the last page and go at it another way, sometimes it surprises me what the characters come up with.  (For all those interested, this is why there are dragons in Not Another Vampire Book.)  When I’m feeling uninspired, I do something unexpected and then write the fallout.  Even if it doesn’t stay in your finished work, it’ll get you typing again.

4)      Try a different character-  Obviously, this depends on your personal style, but I usually write books from various POVs.  Sometimes, I start a chapter from one person’s POV and can’t get anywhere.  When I flip it to another character’s perspective, though, the writing flows better.  Sullivan in my Elemental’s Phases series is a life saver during these times.  His “outsiders” voice changes the way I have to set-up chapters and that sparks some creativity. 

5)      Don’t give up!- It’s important to remember that writing is a creative process.  There will be days where it’s all clicking together like magic and days when you have to erase ten thousand words in a fit of despair.  You can’t force your way through a block, but you can work through it.  Believe in yourself and know that, pretty soon, the characters will once again be talking so loudly you’ll wish they’d just shut-up and let you clean that garage.
- Cassandra Gannon

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Superhero Romance Character bio #3: Tyrant

I was going to do another post on the writing process today, but I’ve taken too much cold medication and I’m feeling a bit out of it.  Thus, we’ll stick to character bios.  Today we’ll do Tyrant, who first appeared in Yesterday's Heroes, and has his own book, The Son of Sun and Sand

Kasos Octavio Victavious IV AKA “Tyrant” is head of the Consortium’s Inter-Dimensional Activities Department.  He claims to be conquering the entirety of existence, one dimension at a time.  This allows him an understanding of others even if he has just met them, as he has encountered other versions of them before in his travels. 

Kasos has black hair and gray eyes.  He is sometimes described as having an odd accent, which is understandable, as he is from another dimension.  He dresses in black leather and chainmail armor, inlayed with gold or silver designs.  He also wears a crown, which signifies him either as ruler of his own country of Victavia (which he took control over several years ago) or simply as an egomaniac.  His primary weapon of choice is his double-sided guan dao, which he treasures.  Strictly speaking, a guan dao is supposed to have a counterweight on one side, but I decided that a second blade would be more interesting.  I actually tried several different weapons, from halberds to different types of ax, before settling on the guan dao.

He spends most of his time arguing with his ever-present hostage, Princess Rayn of the Fairy Folk of the Meadow.  He kidnapped her centuries ago, and both of them seem pretty content with the relationship.  She travels with him in a small cage which he keeps clipped to his belt, and yells advice, insults or demands that he read her Nicolas Sparks books. 
Kass is an egomaniacal, homicidal, megalomaniacal, Omnicidal Maniac, who claims to be immortal and who routinely threatens to kill his teammates.  For their part, most of the other members seem to dismiss his threats as entirely empty, despite his insistence that his “Day of Days” will soon arrive.  He does seem to be religious at time, but since his religion appears to be worship of himself, that’s probably not saying much.
Of the Consortium team, besides Rayn, Kass is probably closest to Stacy and Hazard.  I don’t know why exactly, he’s just always singled them out, from his first appearance on.  Their behavior annoys him on a deeply personal level, which I always find interesting.  He can be oddly paternal, even through the death threats and cruel insults though.  In his own crazy way, I think he’s genuinely confused as to why they just won’t listen to him and do what he says.  It never occurs to him that they don’t listen because he’s crazy, so he keeps trying. 
Kass has a variety of mystical powers, which he never really bothers to use, besides occasionally blasting people with blasts of green energy.  It’s hard to gauge the power of this ability, or the limits of his physical strength, as his claims on the matter are almost certainly exaggerated.  Since only he knows what he can actually do, and he’s an egomaniac, it’s difficult to get a handle on his powers.  Even if you’re the one writing him.
Kass is what happens when you sit down and make a concerted effort to write the worst human being you can.  Just cram in everything about the human race which bugs you, and wrap it all up in some armor and a “tacky crown.”  Originally, I wanted there to be an “other” to Wyatt.  Someone who was simply evil, and who didn’t want to listen to Wyatt’s opinions at all.  Thus, I tried to create the least likeable person I could.  In his first draft, he would have been a kind of Nero, mad emperor kind of thing.  He didn’t get to do much though, and when I decided to add Rayn to the team, I stuck her with him and his character really blossomed. 
I’m not entirely sure why I named him what I did.  I usually just write down interesting words or names on a list in case I ever need one, and his was on there.  I don’t know where I got it from.  His name was originally “Kasos Octavious Victors,” but I changed it.  I honestly don’t remember why, but I still agree with the decision.  I’ve always found the “IV” in his name interesting, given his backstory (I’ll avoid spoilers for “The Son of Sun and Sand”).  I’m unsure why he always makes sure to include it.  If I had to guess, and this is only a guess, I’d say that it’s either just something he made up because it sounded cool, or else, he is signifying that he is the fourth version of himself (I could hypothesis on what versions one and two were, but have no idea on what three would be).  Or it could just really mean that his father, grandfather and great-grandfather were also named Kasos.  I’ve always kind of wondered about that, but it never came up in his book. 
Typically, I write books out of order, and on a whim one day, I gave him his own chapter while I was writing Yesterday’s Heroes.  I don’t know why; I think I was just bored one day and decided to see what he could do if I gave him the chance.  It ended up being one of my favorite chapters in the book though, and I began to really like the guy, despite his terrible personality.  Some of his ideas are just so crazy that they’re almost endearing. 
In a comic book sense, Kass represents the “cosmic ruler” character type which became popular in the industry in the late Bronze Age (70’s to 80’s), early modern age of comics.  This character is usually insanely powerful, but still fails in his galactic conquests for a variety of reasons.  They also have a tendency towards melodramatic and boastful speeches, filled with bombastic dialogue.  Overlaid on this character type is also the standard tropes of the video game villain (always capturing the same girl again and again, the exaggerated weapon, etc), as well as the grandiose egocentrism of a classic silver age villain (60’s).  Kass is after pure unadulterated control over everything in existence, which is the kind of big-thinking that any self-respecting silver age villain would respect.    
One thing I’ve always wanted to write is a scene in one of the dimensions where he wiped out the other Consortium members.  I think that would be cool, but again, it just never came up in his book.  One of these days though, I’ll find an excuse to throw that into a book somewhere.  :)
Kass is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever created.  He’s just such a terrible person, but so much fun!    

Friday, February 8, 2013

Marvel Comics enters the superhero romance novel game

Saw this article this morning:

To summarize, Marvel and Hyperion Publishing have entered into a deal to put Marvel's super-heroines (Rogue and She-Hulk) into their own romance novels.  I was excited about this possibility until I read the fine print and saw that Rogue's was going to feature some guy named "Jame."  What the hell is a "Jame?"  What about GAMBIT?  I haven't followed their relationship for decades to see some person named "Jame" step in and ruin it.  Nope.  I think I'll skip that book, thank you very much.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Consortium of Chaos character bio #2: Holly Claus

For our next bio, I choose another character entirely at random.  Let’s do Holly, who first appeared in Yesterday's Heroes, book one of the Consortium of Chaos. 

Holiday Season Claus AKA “Missile-Tow” is head of the Weapons Department for the Consortium.  She claims to be the daughter of Santa Claus, although the other characters have different views on the truth of that assertion.  The series itself has remained silent on whether she actually is Santa’s daughter or not, but I currently have no reason to doubt her word.
Holly has green eyes, and white-blonde hair, with a small streak of red running from her bangs.   She dresses in a little Santa themed outfit, complete with hat and jingle bells.  Her suit has a skirt rather than pants though, which I imagine coming down a little passed her knees, flaring out like a poodle skirt and trimmed in white fur.  She has black leather gloves, and she wears candy cane striped stockings with her patent leather boots.  She travels around in a flying sleigh (which she spells “slay”) driven by her “paindeer.”
Holly is arguably the happiest person in the C of C, and gets a real thrill from doing bad things.  She is one of the loudest proponents of the idea that the team is still evil despite their current work as heroes, and expresses a deep commitment to villainy.  She once put it as having made the “empowered choice to be evil,” and she really had no intention of backing out on that.  I’m not actually sure why she’s evil, or what her father might think about it, but judging from her frequent mentions of him, I would guess that he has come to terms with her choices, to some degree.  She evidentially promises to get all the other villains in the C of C on her father’s “good list,” although she is the only one who ever gets what she asks for.  Every Friday she makes gingerbread cookies for the company meetings, has the habit of giftwrapping anything not nailed down, has a killer hot chocolate recipe because she makes her own marshmallows, and is only two appearances shy of having the all-time record for most appearances ever on the America’s Public Enemies TV show.  She’s also the only member currently wanted in all fifty states. 
Holly does have numerous brothers and sisters, although none of them have appeared on canvas yet.  I get the sense that she spends most (possibly all) of her time with the Consortium crew, so I don’t know how close she is with her siblings.  She’s Harlot’s best friend though, and a frequent part of the other woman’s schemes.  Holly is also one of the most against working with the Capes, mostly due to the fact that she feels that the heroes don’t like her.  She claims to have beaten them so many times that they hold grudges against her, although she doesn’t appear to really care about their anger.  I do think she’s trying to behave though, and tries to hide the occasions where she “falls off the wagon” and goes back into villainy from the other members.  
Holly has magical abilities the precise limits of which haven’t been established.   She can evidentially make ordinary toys into weapons though, and have them do her bidding.  She can also use her magic to do more physical things, such as close doors.  In addition to that, she seems to have an extraordinary ability to create weapons and munitions, usually with a Christmas theme, from just about anything.  She has built several “doomsday devices,” although none of them have worked.  Whether they were incorrectly designed or were simply destroyed by the heroes before being activated has never been clearly answered in the series.      
Holly is probably one of my favorite characters, because I never have to think about what she’s going to do.  In fact, sometimes she even surprises me with some new insane idea or crazy line.  She was among the first characters conceived for the Consortium when I first began writing the series, probably only after Cynic and Librarian.  She’s always been there, and in my mind, has always had the same seat at the Consortium’s meeting room table: third from the head of the table, next to Harlot.  She has one of the clearest “voices” in the series. 
As far as backstory on her creation, I don’t really have much of one.  I would have to say as far as inspiration goes, I probably drew from Santa’s Twin by Dean Koontz.  The book was first released when I was a teenager, but I was struck by the idea of an evil Santa (although, I never actually read the book… Great.  Now I have to go look for it on Amazon…  :- ) ).  I remember thinking at the time that a comic should run with the concept of an evil Santa, but I’m unaware of any Christmas themed villains in a comic book.  The occasional guest spot by some bad guy dressed as Santa, but no one with a real Christmas “theme.”  By the time Futurama had their evil robotic Santa, I had already decided that if I ever did a comic book, I’d have an evil Santa character.  Originally, I recall briefly considering having a gruffer evil Santa; like a big, mad trucker sort of person, with ripped off shirt sleeves and a team of evil elves in sunglasses.  When I sat down to actually write Yesterday’s Heroes though, I changed the character to Santa’s daughter.  I’m not entirely sure why, except that I’ve always thought he should have one, and I liked the idea of her being evil but still really jolly. 
I struggled with her name, both code and real, and went through several different versions.  She was “Holly Ivy Claus” for a while, and then “Holiday Ivy Claus.”  Shortly before release however, I hit upon “Holiday Season Claus” and liked how ridiculous it sounded.  I still wonder if “Holiday Cheer Claus” wouldn’t have been better though… 
As a side note, I ended up liking Holly so much that I briefly considered just switching out her part with Harlot and making her Wyatt’s love interest instead.  I decided against it pretty quickly though, as I didn’t really get any sort of chemistry between them.  She actually hooked up with Troubadour at the end of the first draft of the Yesterday’s Heroes, but I took that part out in the finished book.  I thought they each needed their own books, and I didn’t really get a romantic vibe from them.  It was just something I did because I wanted to have Gabe make a musical pass at someone, and in retrospect, it was a mistake.  Aside from the fact that she likes his music, I don’t think their relationship goes deeper.  But I’m never quite sure what Holly’s going to do, so I don’t know for sure.
In a comic book sense, I think Holly is a silver age character (from the 1960’s).  She’s not entirely B&W as far as morality goes, but she doesn’t have any real excuse or motivation for her crimes.  She’s not after world-domination, she’s just a villain because she likes it.  She enjoys evil, and I don’t think she even has a goal in mind for her schemes.  She’s like a lot of silver age comic book villains in that she has a central theme around which all her crimes revolve (Christmas), but she’s not quite as cut and dry one-dimensional villain as would be found in the golden age (the 30’s and 40’s) or as conflicted and sympathetic as would be found in the bronze age (70’s and 80’s).  Her adherence to her little clichés and her characteristic jolly attitude keeps her from being part of the more moody and dark world of modern comics, although her tendency towards violence would certainly allow her to understand their way of thinking.   
I find her interesting, and she’s one of those characters who I’m always glad to add to a scene.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Character bio #1 and deleted scene: Commodore Cruel

I thought it might be interesting to do some character bios from the Consortium of Chaos series.  I've always been someone interested in deleted scenes and DVD commentary and such, so I thought I'd share some of my own.

For no particular reason, I thought we'd start with The Commodore.  The Commodore is the patriarch of the group, and one of the few people whom everyone seems to like.  Even Tyrant treats the man differently than he treats the others.  The Commodore is Harlot's father, and as far as I know, she is his only child.  The identity and whereabouts of Harlot's mother has never been revealed in the series, mostly because I've never really given it much thought.  Given his crusade against "the communist contaminant that is Canada" though, it's somewhat surprising that she has been identified as being French-Canadian.  I'm unsure if she taught him the error of his ways as far as Canadians go, or if his vendetta against her homeland is the result of a bad breakup, but whatever the case, he is currently single.

The Commodore is a barrel-chested man in his mid to late 50's.  He has a handlebar mustache, and dresses in a chartreuse Napoleon style military outfit, bicorne hat and saber. 

He’s generally good-natured (for a super-villain), and seems to have a good sense of humor about life.  He does expect his team (mainly Harlot) perform up to their abilities though, and is displeased when they fail to apply themselves in their evil efforts.
Strangely, the man uses nothing but words which begin with the letter “C.”  I have no idea why.  I would like to say that it is my homage to Allan Moore’s “V for Vendetta,” where V has a short monologue of nothing but “V” words, but I’m afraid I’m not that clever.  The Commodore’s preoccupation with the letter “C” sprung from the fact that I had already decided that his name should be “Commodore,” when I realized that the name of the organization he had founded was “The Consortium of Corruption” (I changed the name to “Consortium of Chaos” before the book was completed, simply because I thought it sounded better).  In any event, I thought since both began with C’s, I might as well make it a theme and turn a negative into a positive.  If there were already two C’s, then there should be more.  Sadly, that innocent idea meant that every word out of the Commodore’s mouth takes ten times as long to write.  Maybe more.  Eventually, I realized that the simplest way to write for the man was to think of what he needed to say, then search a thesaurus word by word for synonyms which began with “C.”  It still takes a long time to write for him, but it’s far simpler than my original method of just trying to think of every word which begins with C that I could and writing it down. 
The Commodore hasn’t showed up on canvas as much since Wyatt took over a lot of his duties, mostly because I’m guessing the man is <i>more</i> than happy to sit around and play his Modern Warfare video games.  Still, he’s the leader of the group, and still has a huge sway with the rest of them, mostly because he rules through force of personality, rather than issuing them orders.  Generally, none of them like being told what to do.           
When I was finishing up the first book in the Consortium of Chaos series, I realized that it was far too long.  As such, many parts ended up on the cutting room floor.  One such scene was a formal introduction to the Commodore, his powers and his backstory.  Since it wasn’t vital to anything in the book, I decided it wasn’t needed in an already bloated chapter.  So, I thought I’d share it here instead.  This exchange takes place during the sequence where Wyatt is reading from his files on all of them, on page 39 of the finished book:

"Wyatt stood behind the Commodore, and pulled out another file.  “Code name: Commodore Cruel.  Real name: Carl Calvin Ceigh.  Age: unknown.  Founder and Chief Chair of the C of C.  Father of Harlot. Tactician, strategist and master planner.  Ceigh was a carpenter who was working on clearing out clutter from a museum storeroom of military antiques and curiosities.  One night, a stray spark led to an explosion and he was trapped inside the burning room with the treasures.  When he was finally pulled free of the wreckage, he discovered that he had somehow obtained all of the military knowledge possessed by the original owners of the objects he had been surrounded by.  It was as if the information had become a vapor as the objects burned and he inhaled it during the fire.  From Alexander the Great to Patton, he knows every trick, strategy, ability and tactic that they ever imagined, and how to properly execute it.  He used that knowledge to go into the military life, but was discharged for his rather extreme views.  He holds several degrees from a few very prestigious military colleges, and even more from some not so prestigious ones.  He is an expert in the arts of war, especially fencing, both swordplay and… also apparently the stuff you put around yards.  Which is weird.  He is a chess grand master, and a skilled carpenter.  Among his long list of crimes, he once toppled the corrupt government of a country in Central America using a 'commandeered cruise ship' simply because he didn’t like the 'color of their currency.'  Huh.  He is currently the most wanted man alive and has the death sentence in every jurisdiction which allows it, and several which don’t.”
The Commodore nodded in approval and let out a bark of laughter.  “Certainly captured my complete criminal career.  They crave my capture in copious countries.  Completely comical!”
Wyatt stared down at him.  “Wow.  You’re really going with that constant use of the letter ‘C’ thing aren’t you, Sir?  Committed, if you will.  I don’t believe I’ve ever really spoken to you for any length of time before, so I never noticed.”
The Commodore frowned and looked uncertain at the question.  “‘C’ thing?  Come again?  I’m confused at your concerns with my conversation.  Care to clarify?”"

Friday, February 1, 2013

Star Turtle Publishing January sales figures

Okay, it's the end of the month again, so time to take a look at the sales figures.

I am happy to report that January was our best month ever!  This month saw the rise of a new top book of the month, as "Queen of the Magnetland" outsold last month's winner, "Treasure of the Fire Kingdom."  Other big news this month, one of my books finally outsold one of Cassandra's, with "The Guy Your Friends Warned You About" outselling "Not Another Vampire Book."

1. Queen of the Magnetland
2. Warrior from the Shadowland
3. Treasure of the Fire Kingdom
4. Guardian of the Earth House
5. Exile in the Water Kingdom
6. The Guy Your Friends Warned You About
7. Not Another Vampire Book
8. Yesterday's Heroes
9. The Son of Sun and Sand

As for overall sales:

1. Warrior from the Shadowland
2. Guardian of the Earth House
3. Not Another Vampire Book
4. Treasure of the Fire Kingdom
5. Exile in the Water Kingdom
6. Yesterday's Heroes
7. The Son of Sun and Sand
8. Queen of the Magnetland
9. The Guy Your Friends Warned You About

Still, Star Turtle Publishing had about double the sales in January that it did in December, so thanks to all our readers!