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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Time Period Settings

Agent Mary Kole has a great post today on choosing your time period in YA fiction, and it's well worth reading. There's so much to like in it, especially Kole's urging that we not put books into the past just because we want to "write what we know" to the point of alienating the reader. This hits close to home, because don't we all want to spend some time waxing rhapsodic about whatever time period we grew up in? But unless a story has a darn good reason for taking place in the 80s, my high school story needs to happen today.

She also spends some time on the need to reference current technology, no matter how much it messes up your plot:
Here’s the reality: Kids today are attached to their cell phones and their computers. There are fewer and fewer places on this planet where we are cut off from communication, achieving that total isolation that lets evil characters and conspiracies and mysterious plot twists work their machinations. But technology and connectedness are, for better or worse, how kids relate to the world today. While this is at odds with a lot of good and suspenseful fiction, writers are going to have to adapt, especially in the future, as information becomes more and more accessible. You have to figure out your own solutions to cutting characters off from information, because in 20 years, all of our mystery novels just can’t be set in the 80s to take the shortcut around it. That’s not realistic.
What Kole is referring to here is something all writers have to deal with: a lot of thrillers of past decades work they way they do because the main characters don't have access to Google, much less their cell phones. Writers have to take these new capabilities into account; otherwise the reader will constantly be asking, "wait, why didn't she just look that up?"

Check it out.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Editorial Letters

I've just restarted editing Alex Van Helsing Book 3: The Triumph of Death, as it's currently called. Will it be called that when it comes out? Who knows? The book that became Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising was originally called Icemaker, and Book 2: Voice of the Undead was originally called Ultravox. Book 3 is called The Triumph of Death because there's a lot of activity involving the famous Bruegel painting by that name. This book comes out in Summer of 2012.
You're probably well aware that the first step in writing a book is the first draft, although that's a loose term. The first draft I turn into a publisher is still a far sight cleaner than the first rough draft of a book, and in fact the "first draft" may be many versions into the process. But there comes a day when you've been slaving over a first draft and finally turn it in, when the publisher reads it for the first time.
That can take time. Publishers have a lot to do, so your editor might have several other books to get out the door before they can get around to reading your manuscript.
I turned in a draft of The Triumph of Death at the beginning of March. Now, just six weeks later, I get a response. The response from HarperCollins is always formalized in an editorial letter, seen here for no reason next to a red Swingline stapler.
Editorial letter with red Swingline stapler
The letter runs about six typed pages, and in it the editor goes through the book's strengths and weaknesses. The point is to give some idea of what she'd like to see changed, sometimes with suggestions. ("Maybe he has a conversation with X about what is going on with him. There's some of that here and there, but let's see it developed more.") The editor tells you what's working, what could use some strengthening, and what she feels needs to go.
Six pages-- lots of notes. As a writer, you actually don't have to do all of it-- and in theory you could be a prima donna and do none of it, although you'd risk the book being rejected. (All manuscripts have to be "accepted" by the publisher before the contract is considered fulfilled.) Anyway, that would be profoundly foolish, because the editor has a vested interest in making the book better. The way this actually works is: I write up some notes based on the letter, and then we have a phone conversation and debate some of the larger points back and forth-- not actually debating with each other and more weighing options. (Should this subplot get bigger or be deleted entirely?)
In the end, it's my book, so after a quick conference with the editor, I walk away with a new deadline for revisions-- in this case, two weeks later.
And we're off!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Signing Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead ARCS at TLA Thursday!

Join me at the HarperCollins Booth #1823, TLA, Thursday April 14 at 11:30
This is a big week for writers because the Texas Librarian Association Annual Conference is going on in Austin, Texas. But it's a *huge* week for me, because I'll be doing my first signing with HarperCollins, my publisher for the Alex Van Helsing series. I am so honored to work with those guys and getting to be at their booth is a big deal for me.

I also will be signing with Texas Overlooked Books, a book distributor that provides books to schools and libraries around the state, from bestsellers to hard-to-find gems.

DO YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN ALEX VAN HELSING: VOICE OF THE UNDEAD? Well, come by the Harper booth Thursday at 11:30 and you can get an early copy. And find out about the (spoiler) fire.

Here's my schedule for Thursday if you want to come by, say hello, ask questions or get a book signed:

  • 10:30 - 11: Overlooked Books Booth #1342, signing Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising
  • 11:30-12: HarperCollins Children's Booth #1823, signing BOTH-- Alex Van Helsing: Vampire rising plus GALLEYS of Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead!
  • 1:30-2: Overlooked Books Booth #1342, signing Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising
  • 2-3: Texas Teens for Libraries event, where I'll get to meet not only a bunch of teen book enthusiasts, but also some of the awesome people I work with on the Alex Van Helsing series
So! Come by! Ask me questions! Challenge me to a duel or something! (Wait. Scratch that. But do come by!)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Join me at Eastfield College

I'll be at Eastfiend College Monday near Dallas. Come by to hear about the launching of a YA series, from idea to shelves!

Jason Henderson, author of the Alex Van Helsing series, will visit Eastfield College in Mesquite for the college's annual Literary and Fine Arts Festival.


Henderson will be speaking on the main campus at 3737 Motley Drive, Mesquite, TX, 75150, between 11:15 a.m. and 12:10 p.m. His presentation is entitled "Alex Van Helsing: Launching a Book Series from idea to Shelves," and is meant to encourage apsiring writers.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Now Playing Podcast Rocks

I have become a huge fan of the Now Playing Podcast, a show that records hour-long (sometimes more) entries on each movie in a series until they complete the series and move onto the next. This is wonderful listening for when you're driving-- right now I'm listening to them discuss the Terminator series, and their current series is Jaws. They've already done (and you can get them on iTunes) Tron, Star Trek, Friday the 13th, Back to the Future and more.

The great thing about listening to these is that, although the guys might not care for an entry in a series, they're giving a certain amount of respect, by spending an hour on each, to the work that's been done. Even for the least impressive movie in your favorite series, someone out there-- a lot of someones out there-- dedicated their lives to it for many months.

The other really cool aspect is that, by running these episodes back to back, you and the team can learn about threads and themes that get dropped and re-occur throughout a series. Wonderful stuff.

The Now Playing Podcast website is here.
Find their Facebook page here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Remembering Jess Franco's Dracula

Charles Butler-- a wonderful chronicler of Dracula movies-- turns in an article worth reading that looks at Count Dracula AKA El Conde Dracula, Jess Franco's 1970 film.

I have great affection for Count Dracula. As Butler points out, the movie is terribly paced, insensibly acted, and suffers from some of the least frightenning puppy-dogs-subbbing-for-wolves ever. It makes extensive use of day for night and seems to have been edited with no regard for logic. Christopher Lee himself, lured to the Dracula role by promises of a script that would be "true to the book," appears to think he is performing a one-man show about Dracula into which annoying other actors keep wandering.

Chris Lee, lookin' like Dracula.
And yet, and yet. I love this movie! It was the first film that really did attempt to invest in Dracula the gravitas that Stoker gave the character, and the first I'm aware of that made the character look the way he looks in the novel, with white hair and moustache.  As fodder for still photos this is a fine film-- if Gary Oldman had been made up to look like Christopher Lee looks in this movie, his movie would have been far, far better.

Also, the music from composer Bruno Nicolai is awesome. Here's a great cut of the score.


Here's a trailer for El Conde Dracula. I heartily recommend you regret seeing it soon.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead Giveaway!

I Live, I Laugh, I Love Books is giving away a copy of Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead! Check out the post and sign up before April 30, and we'll send you an advance reader copy!

This was a fun interview, by the way, with a blogger from one of the high schools I went to: Clear Lake High School in Houston, TX. Thanks Lucia!

We need editors (The Ancient Editor)

Barbara Lalicki has a new post over at The Ancient Editor on the vital importance of editors. You should read it.
Only the rising clamor about pricing e-books–they should be cheap because there’s no paper involved–and the excitement about self-published books makes me feel it may be necessary to “sell editing” (not to mention the other vital and unseen components of the traditional publishing process.)
No kidding. Writers absolutely need editors-- the e-book has made it appear easy to get a book ready for market, but the truth is that what an editor brings to a book is all but impossible for the writer to provide for themselves.

At HarperCollins, the editor I worked with on the first two Alex Van Helsing books was an irreplaceable part of the team. She was the one who would argue with me about plot points when I would not have argued enough with myself. No side always wins these debates-- and they're usually less debates than an array of what about this? Did you think of this-- but the books benefit from that. You cannot do it alone. Sure, you could try getting your best friend, spouse or writing group to do it, but the problem is this: if no one is as invested in your book as you are, the very next person is your editor. It's their job to get it as right as they can. That's not true of your friends.

We need editors-- which means we need to pay for them, which means that we incorrectly express the cost of producing a book if we don't bring the cost of these professionals into account.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Reader Mail: Where Do Vampires Come From and the Power of Dracula

Ronnie Van Helsing
Silver Falcon Writes:
I have a couple of questions about your world of vampires in Sword of Dracula and the Alex Van Helsing books.

  1. How were vampires created in your world? Was Dracula the first or was he created by another? Did he made a deal with the Devil? Was it forced on him? Have you ever thought about how he was when he was human?
    1. Does the Polidorum have the technology to create an injection of some form that could suppress the vampiric virus or nature of a vampire?
    1. When Dracula creates his blood masses of creatures, zombies and whatnot, does he have a hivemind or connection with them that allows him to see through their eyes, speak through them, and control them like puppets?



Silver! What awesome questions.

First thing: you totally don't have to have read the Sword of Dracula comic to enjoy the Alex Van Helsing novels, or vice versa. They are in the same universe, but it's more like a bonus. If you know, you know. But I can answer these questions and they apply to both stories.

Some of this actually gets discussed a little in Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising and the Sword of Dracula trade paperback, but I'm not sure I've ever put it all in one place. And some things are definitely only in unpublished documents.

In the Alex Van Helsing/ Sword of Dracula universe, the first vampires were descended from the Nephilim, Angels who were put on earth to care for humanity but who turned against God. The vampire curse has passed down since, not genetically but through blood and biting. When you get bitten, besides the other changers, the curse burns out most or all of the empathic centers of the brain, making you a more dangerous, more-ready-to-kill person.
Dracula was not the first vampire-- he became a vampire in the 15th century, but has since become one of the most powerful vampires in the planet. If you want to know how he was when he was human, see Ronnie's slideshow in the first chapter of Sword of Dracula, and in my essay "What I Forgot About Dracula" in the back of Sword of Dracula.
Does the Polidorum have the technology to create an injection of some form that could suppress the vampiric virus or nature of a vampire?
They might. It might be possible to capture a vampire and hit them with something to repair the empathic centers or chemically enhance them to render a vampire "nicer."
When Dracula creates his blood masses of creatures, zombies and whatnot, does he have a hivemind or connection with them that allows him to see through their eyes, speak through them, and control them like puppets?
You're referring to Dracula's "blood powers," where he can use blood to create creatures like horses, bats and even augment dogs with extra parts. This all stems from his basic powers of necromancy and remote control, both of which were referenced in Chapter 18 of Dracula.
I haven't gotten  really specific about this, but generally the various creatures follow rules. Blood dogs blood sharks are dogs whose bodies have been augmented with bloodwood (the manipulated blood Dracula controls) to create new creatures that, while not exactly sentient, can function as trained creatures. Zombies are raised human dead and function according to a set of simple rules. My feeling of all of these is that Dracula can mentally wind them up and let them go, but in a pinch could mentally control any one of them.


Note that so far Dracula is the only vampire we've seen who has this blood power, but there may be others like him. Also note that during the events of Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising, Alex is so far not even aware that Dracula or the other vampires alive-- whereas by Sword of Dracula, he is sending Ronnie secret notes with plans on how to deal with the "Lord of all Vampires."

Thanks for the questions!

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Story of Mummy and Creature


Note: I just found this story, which had been lost when I changed blog addresses. And I wanted to share it again.
Mummy and Creature

~a story of two monsters~

Mummy and Creature got tired of their lives as they had been living them, and because they had been friends for a long time, they decided they would live together.



Because they lived in a rather small town not far from a large city, the two of them were able to find a nice house with two stories and enough room for both of them.



Mummy had a cat named Swanson. Creature had a Collie dog named Gil.
They had their disagreements.



Mummy needed to keep the house very dry, which also suited Swanson. This was a problem for Creature, who loved baths and often fogged up the house with extremely hot water.



Mummy only liked to watch educational programming, while Creature preferred to keep the TV tuned to anything with a lot of explosions.



Sometimes the stress of dealing with a houseful of monsters and dogs and cats got the better of them.



Sometimes when there wasn't much to do, Creature would clown around. Mummy never really cared for Creature's humor.



In the evenings, they would relax on the balcony and review the events of the day.



There was always a lot to talk about.



Mummy and Creature and Swanson and Gil remained in the house for a long, long time.