Friday, June 29, 2007

Pickup Truck Chivalry

Yesterday proved to be fun and exciting, and not always in the good way. First, I met up with my parents to go to lunch and see Spamalot. Monty Python and the Holy Grail remains the only movie that has made me laugh until I cried just with the opening credits, and they somehow managed to replicate the opening credit effect by doing something silly with the Playbill, so Spamalot is now the only show that has made me laugh until I cried from reading the Playbill. I was sitting among a group of little old ladies who were worried they wouldn't get the show because they didn't know anything about Monty Python, but really most of the humor in the show requires more of a knowledge of Broadway, so they ended up getting all the jokes and thoroughly enjoying it. I had to restrain myself from quoting along with the more famous Monty Python lines.

Then on the way home I got caught in a traffic jam, one of those where you inch along, moving maybe half a mile in half an hour. And then steam started coming from under the hood of my car. I was in the left lane and was afraid I'd have to pull into the center median to get off the road. The guy in the lane next to me signaled me and said he'd block that lane, and then he got the guy in the right lane to stop and let me across, so I managed to get across three lanes of traffic, then drive down the shoulder to the nearest exit to get off the highway. I guess chivalry isn't dead. It just drives a pickup truck these days instead of a fiery steed.

I sat in a parking lot for a while to let the engine cool off, and fortunately I'd brought a cooler with me because Dad had brought me some tomatoes from his garden, and on a whim I'd stuck a can of soda in there before I left the house. I also had a book for reading during intermission at the theater, so I sat for a while, read, drank my vanilla Coke, and watched them try to clear the wreck that had caused the traffic jam (it was the kind of wreck that they almost had to have been trying to cause, or at least someone was driving with rampant stupidity, because you don't achieve that level of twisted flippage from ordinary driving). And then I made it to a gas station a few blocks away and put antifreeze in the car so I could drive home. So, in the same incident I managed to be both a damsel in distress and an independent, capable modern woman.

It turns out that my water pump failed, and the pressure caused by that caused a crack in the recovery tank for the coolant system. Joy. So, um, go tell a few people to buy some books and get my numbers up so someone will be interested in buying something new from me. I'm either going to have to get a new car eventually or start paying more regular repair bills as things reach the wear-out point. I don't know why things are starting to fail. I only hit 100,000 miles on it last week after ten years of no problems at all other than battery replacements. Instead of sending my car birthday cards (yes, they really do that), Saturn now sends me "have you looked at our new models?" brochures. I'm hoping the car is ready by mid-day Saturday because I did want to go somewhere Saturday night. Why is it that I can be perfectly content sitting at home for days, but the moment I don't have wheels, I suddenly want to go places?

Fortunately, none of this happened in the torrential downpours we've been getting lately, though the traffic jam was made worse by the fact that the alternate route that could have helped me avoid the wreck area was closed because the road was under water. In a normal summer, I have to be careful when I open the front door because there are little lizards that sit on the doormat and try to rush into the house. These days, I have snails sitting on the doormat, apparently trying to get to a drier place. My reflexes are generally good enough to allow me to shut the door before the snails can rush inside. I'm surrounded by flooded areas, but my neighborhood has been safe so far because it's a flood control district with a canal system to handle runoff. The canals are pretty high, but they have a long way to go before they flood. The mosquitoes are going to be fun this summer. Instead of spritzing my wrists with perfume before I go anywhere, I'm spritzing my ankles with Off (mosquitoes always seem to bite my ankles).

Now I have a book proposal to wrap up, and then I'm giving myself the weekend to relax and read Harry Potter books.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Tanya Lee Stone

And now for something completely different (and that's an appropriate transition line, since I'm going to see Spamalot this afternoon). Though, actually, today's topic isn't too far off the archetype path, as it's a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit post about Tanya Lee Stone's novel, A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, which is now available in paperback.

I must say that the Bad Boy is one archetype I haven't worked with much, as I'm much more drawn to his opposite, the Best Friend. I can't even think of a Bad Boy I've written, not even as a secondary character. I must have been a parent's dream as a teenager because I never went for the dangerous tough guys. I was more likely to be swooning over the Eagle Scouts. Maybe writing a good Bad Boy I can understand and even end up liking is the next challenge I should set for myself (after I find a way to send a Best Friend on a vengeance vendetta).

So, anyway, about the book:
A BAD BOY CAN BE GOOD FOR A GIRL is a cautionary tale. Teens are dealing with sex, whether we’re ready or not. This novel is about three very different girls who date the same player guy. About how the choices they make shape who they want to be. About empowerment.

Meet Josie, Nicolette, and Aviva. Three very different girls who all meet the same bad boy with an irresistible knack for getting into their blood and under their skin.

Three girls. One guy. Who will come out on top?

In A BAD BOY CAN BE GOOD FOR A GIRL, Tanya Lee Stone takes a hard look at love and sex and asks the questions: “When can a bad boy be good for a girl?”

Now, some interview questions:
What inspired you to write this book?
The title. I had been experimenting with my style, branching out from the things I had been publishing, when I attended a short story workshop. George Nicholson was talking about wanting short story submissions for an anthology theme of "bad boys" and I immediately scribbled my title, A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, in my notebook. The title invoked so many questions for me, I was on a roll.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
There are three heroines and, like the readers who have been emailing me, I find pieces of myself in all of them. I love hearing who sees themself in Josie, or Nicolette, or Aviva--and it's often parts of all three.

Do you really find the bad boys appealing, and if so, what is so appealing to you about them?
I found many a bad boy appealing when I was in school. I think it's less about them and more about learning about ourselves--testing our own boundaries to see where they are; see who we are.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
I had the time of my life writing this book! It was important to me to present strong female characters who weren't afraid to express their sexuality, and who wouldn't be punished for it. I wanted to capture that heady time of first love/first times without heading into the territory of anyone suffering for their choices--no one gets pregnant, dies, or gets sick. There are emotional consequences to the choices some of the characters make, but I wanted the emphasis to be about the characters learning more about who they were, what mattered to them, and who they wanted to be. What's interesting to me is that the title can scare off certain readers at first; until they see what the book is really about. Then they want to buy it for their girlfriends, sisters, or kids. That's incredibly gratifying to me.

For more info, visit Tanya's web site. Or, you can buy it at Amazon.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Archetypes and Interesting People

It's still cool and rainy. I can't believe this is June in Texas. I've used the air conditioner less than half the month. Yesterday I got chapter two in the new project written pretty quickly, so I was then able to enjoy part of the rainy afternoon on the Great Harry Potter Re-Read (those books are just made for rainy afternoons), and then it was absolutely perfect at night for a mini Supernatural marathon. Rain outside, the lights out, a few candles lit, and curling up on the sofa with popcorn for some spookiness. Good times. I got the Japanese copies of Once Upon Stilettos yesterday, and they're just as cute as for the first book. It looks like the cover artist has actually read the book because there are little things from the book depicted on the cover. I'll have to dig out the scanner to post the image, unless someone has better Google-fu than I do to find an online image (I just keep finding the US edition on Japanese Amazon).

So, more about archetypes, and this may be my last post on the subject for a while because I probably need to talk about something else. I've said that the archetypes are about why someone does something, which sounds like motivation, but it works on an entirely different level. A character usually has some kind of goal, and most of the time, the character is aware of that goal. There's also a motivation, the reason why the character wants that goal, and usually the character is at least partially aware of that motivation. But the archetype is more about a deep underlying need, often subconscious, that then affects all the other goals and motivations. A character may go through a number of different goals with their own motivations through the course of the story, either changing the goal as the situation changes or moving on to the next goal after achieving -- or sometimes failing to achieve -- the original goal. The underlying need that defines the archetype never actually goes away unless the character goes through something so profound and life-changing that he evolves to a different archetype and then has a new need.

For instance, the Lost Soul needs a sense of belonging or to find his place in the world. His story goal may (or may not) also have something to do with finding a family -- like finding a missing parent/spouse/sibling. But even if he does find something like a home or family, that need is still going to be there, and so he's going to always feel a little insecure about his place in that home or family, and he may do drastic things in order to protect that home he's found.

However, the story goal may not be what defines the archetype need. I realized I had an example of someone who looked like a Lost Soul because of his story goal when that wasn't really his archetype, and yet again I'm disagreeing with the book. They classify Agent Mulder from the X-Files as a Lost Soul, but the more I think about him, the more he seems like a Professor to me. Yeah, he had the whole issue with the sister who vanished and the family that fell apart in the aftermath, but I don't feel like his quest was about restoring his family or finding his place in the world. His quest was about finding answers and solving the puzzle. He was an outcast because of his obsessions, rather than the other way around. Whenever anyone questioned what he was doing, he dragged out the missing sister story, but especially as things went on, what he was doing wasn't really about his sister. It was about finding the truth ("The Truth is Out There" is a very Professor motto). I don't think a real Lost Soul would have spilled his whole painful backstory so quickly to his new partner, as he did with Scully (though I guess that bit of exposition was necessary for setting up the story). But if he's a Professor obsessed with uncovering the truth and seeing that he might be able to get assistance instead of opposition if his new partner understands him and maybe feels sorry for him, then it makes more sense to spill his guts like that. He didn't stop his quest even when he (sort of) found out what happened to his sister because what he really wanted to find was the truth about everything that was going on. Another clue that he wasn't really a Lost Soul: he found out he had a half-brother he never knew about and he didn't seem to care about that. A real Lost Soul would have been all over finding a long-lost brother and would have done everything he could to win his brother over to the good guys so they could be a family (on the other hand, now that I think about it, Jeffrey Spender may have been a Lost Soul because he ultimately did find his own way to side with his brother and ended up siding with the good guys).

Another really good example of the difference between a goal and a need might be Daniel Jackson from SG-1. Again, he has a lot of Lost Soul traits, given that he was orphaned as a child, never had a real home, and then his wife was kidnapped by alien bad guys and later killed, and his initial goal in joining SG-1 was to find his wife. But what really drove him was the quest for knowledge, so he was a Professor. His wife's death changed his goal, but all along, his driving need was knowledge. How many times did he have to be practically dragged bodily away from some place that was about to blow up/collapse/disappear because he wanted to record one last detail or get one last translation? He pursued knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself, even when he wasn't sure of the practical application for it and even when he knew he might lose that knowledge in the end. He did end up finding a kind of home and family in the team, but I never got the feeling that this was a deep need he was trying to fill. It was almost a happy accidental byproduct.

I've seen some discussion in other places about certain actions being out of character for certain archetypes, but I don't think there's any such thing. Certain types may be more likely to do certain things or reaction to situations in a certain way because of their instincts. For instance, if there's a person in some kind of distress, the Best Friend, the Lost Soul and maybe even the Charmer would be more likely to make a cup of tea and offer comfort, while the Chief would start delegating assignments for dealing with the situation, the Professor would try to get more information and the Swashbuckler and Warrior would look for something to fight. But any character could take any action if you motivate it enough, and individual characters are going to have things that matter to them or that they're good at, regardless of their types. Dean Winchester on Supernatural may be a Swashbuckler who just likes action and who doesn't take much of anything seriously, but where his baby brother is concerned, he can get very serious and it's not fun and games anymore. On Angel, Wesley the Lost Soul turned out to be a very good leader without being a Chief -- he initially got into leadership from wanting to hold the group together after Angel went astray (a very Lost Soul motivation), but he proved to be good enough at leadership that he was even chosen to be the general of a rebel army in an alien dimension.

Actually, one of the best ways to come up with a really interesting situation to put a character in is to think of something that he absolutely would never do, then find a reason that he would absolutely have to do it, and then find a way to create the motivation, working through his archetype needs, to make it make total sense for him to do it. Make the Best Friend have to go on a vengeance vendetta, for instance.

I guess the point there is that archetypes are only a starting point to provide the core of the character, and from there you can build on things like life experiences, talents, circumstances and interests to create a unique character. Another example I forgot from my list of Lost Souls trying to be something else proves that point. Michael Scott on The Office wants desperately to be a Charmer, and he may even be deluded enough to think he really is one (he's not the most self-aware person around). He wants to be the life of the party, the one with the great jokes, the person everyone loves and wants to be around. Unfortunately, by putting on that act, he's actively sabotaging himself in meeting his Lost Soul needs because he manages to turn everyone off by going so over the top.

Now, as you may recall from yesterday, the Lost Soul putting on the Charmer act was also how I described Dr. Chase on House, but they're obviously two very different characters. You'd have to be insane to want Michael as your doctor. Can you imagine his bedside manner? He's so self-centered and insensitive. But Chase is a very good doctor with an excellent bedside manner. Some of that is personality, some of it is training and some of it is life experience -- Michael trained to be a salesman, while Chase went to seminary and medical school. The only similarity these two have is that their core inner need is belonging and acceptance and they try to hide that vulnerability by acting like a smooth, glib Charmer (and even there, they're different kinds of Charmers. Michael is very in-your-face, while Chase just puts on a Teflon coating).

I just had a Lost Soul sneak his way into the project I'm working on, and I'm looking forward to finally getting a chance to play with that type. I thought I had my cast all worked out, and then I found this guy lurking around the fringes as a face in the crowd who clearly didn't belong there, and next thing I know, he's becoming a major part of the book and shoving aside the guy I had pegged as the major male character.

And now, of course, I've also thought of another archetype topic to address, but maybe I'll wait until next week because there's other stuff I want to talk about in the meantime.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More Archetypes: Internal vs. External

It's a nice, cool, rainy day, which is good for writing. I got chapter one of this new project rewritten yesterday, and I'm already eager to hit the work again today.

I'm still blathering on about archetypes (this is clearly one of my "don't get me started" topics), and I really like today's topic because it's my own personal theory that I came up with all by myself. I was noticing how easily audiences can fall into stereotypes when assessing characters, so that they misread who the characters really are -- considering that people writing a book on the subject managed to misclassify Harry Potter when that one seems really obvious to me.

There are some types that are often confused with each other. I see a lot of confusion between the Professor and the Lost Soul because they both tend to be solitary and often have some special interest, especially books. The difference, as usual, is in the WHY. Is he solitary because he'd rather focus on his books or other special interest (Professor), or does he turn to books or his other interest out of loneliness (Lost Soul)? There's also some confusion between the Lost Soul and the Bad Boy, because the Lost Soul often tries to develop a thick skin and an attitude as a way of hiding his vulnerability. The Swashbuckler and the Warrior might be confused because they're both men of action, but the Swashbuckler goes into the action for fun and the Warrior does it for a higher purpose. There's also a fine line between a Charmer and a Swashbuckler because they both have that twinkle in the eye. A Charmer, though, is more about sliding by and getting others to do things for him, while the Swashbuckler is more about taking action.

It stands to reason, then, that if audiences can mix up the types, then the characters within the world of the story might also, and that opens up all kinds of possibilities for conflict. You might also have characters trying to be something they aren't or hiding what they really are, which also means the other characters may be dealing with them on the level of the wrong archetype. There's the public or outer archetype the other characters see and respond to, and then there's the core of what the character really is and what really drives him. I mentioned this theory in a seminar with one of the authors of the archetype book, and maybe I didn't explain it too well, but she thought I was nuts and totally wrong. So I could be nuts, or I could be brilliant.

Anyway, the argument we had was that I saw Wesley on Angel as the Lost Soul, while the other characters responded to him as a Professor (she also disagreed with that and insisted that Wes was a Professor). The Professor hints are all very obvious and right out there -- he wore glasses, was always around books, and was a real whiz at research even during times when he was incompetent at just about everything else -- while the Lost Soul hints were more subtle, trickled out gradually, and were things that the audience saw while the other characters usually weren't in on that information. Because of that, the other characters misread him entirely, and that created a lot of the conflict surrounding the character. For one thing, it meant his actions were always judged more harshly. A Professor acts on logic and reason, after much thought and consideration. That gives his actions a sense of coldness about them. If he does something, it's very deliberate, and the action was chosen after a lot of thought. But a Lost Soul makes emotional decisions that spring out of the need for belonging and acceptance. His decisions are mostly about pain. As a result, when Wes made a rash, emotional decision out of his need for belonging and acceptance, he was judged by others as though he'd very carefully considered what he was doing and had studied all the angles before deciding what to do. Even back on Buffy when he was a comic antagonist, that's what happened. All the stuff he did involving Faith when she went bad was about proving himself to the Watcher's Council, which would then have earned his abusive father's approval, but the gang saw it as him being cold, logical, and so caught up in rules that he couldn't see the shades of grey in the situation. Then later, when he was finally really loved and accepted by the group on Angel, the fact that they misread him entirely meant they could never meet his emotional needs. They saw him as a Professor, so the way they showed their love and appreciation of him was to give him what they thought he wanted -- things to translate, old books, puzzles to solve. And then he saw that as them only wanting him around because he was the only one who could do that work. He thought they were keeping him out of the way of really being part of the group by locking him up with the books, while they thought they were giving him what he wanted. The results of that disconnect were ultimately quite tragic.

Then there are the characters who try to be or act like something they aren't as a way of protecting themselves. All my examples here are of Lost Souls, and I think that makes sense because this type feels very wounded and vulnerable, and he doesn't want others to see him that way. Others might pity him or use his vulnerability against him as a weapon. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that if a character openly acts like a Lost Soul, he probably isn't one (just as a character who dresses like the stereotypical Bad Boy probably isn't one). The characters who act very Lost Soul are most likely Charmers who know that chicks dig the vulnerable act, or perhaps Professors who are trying to get sympathy for their obsessions. To spot a Lost Soul, you really have to look at the motivations and the subtle clues.

Angel, as he was on Buffy in the early seasons, was the most stereotypical Lost Soul, but he tried to act like a Bad Boy at first because he didn't want Buffy to see all the pain of his past (that whole exchange in the pilot where she asked who he was, he said he was "a friend" and then later said he didn't say he was her friend is total Bad Boy behavior). He acted all tough and uncaring, and I think she may have even used the term "bad boy" to describe him.

Harry Potter tries to act the Swashbuckler, who gets into all his scrapes because he likes the challenge, which is easier with his Quidditch hero status. He resents it when others play up the poor lost orphan image of him. Hermione, of course, sees right through it, as do some of the adults, but when he and Ron fight, it's usually because Ron is taking him at his Swashbuckler image and misreading why Harry does things (like the whole part where Ron resented Harry for getting into the tournament in Goblet of Fire). The characters who dislike him see him as the big action hero instead of as the lonely lost soul, and while that creates problems for him, he much prefers them to hate him for thinking he wants to be a hero than to pity him as a Lost Soul.

On House, Dr. Chase the Lost Soul tries to act like the Charmer -- he's good-looking, from a wealthy family and has that accent. He lets everyone think he's a slacker just riding on his father's reputation. Even when it would be to his benefit to let others know just how bad his situation has been, he keeps it all carefully hidden because he'd rather be resented than pitied. But the real sign that he's a Lost Soul and not a Charmer is the fact that he never did use his tragic past as a way of attracting Cameron. A Charmer would have totally gone for the whole abandonment/alcoholic mother thing as a way of making her go soft on him, but as a Lost Soul, he kept quiet about that even as he pursued her romantically (I'm not sure she knows about it even now). He's so good at maintaining that Charmer facade that he has the whole hospital convinced that's the way he is, even when he quite clearly acts in ways that don't fit. He's managed to outdiagnose even House himself, and yet there are still those (like Foreman) who think he only got the job because of his father's influence.

The disconnect between the way other characters see the character (whether he intends it that way or not) and the way he really is creates all kinds of opportunity for deep conflict between characters. If the others don't get him on that fundamental level, they're never going to be able to meet his needs, no matter how much they care about him and no matter how hard they try. In fact, the more they try to meet his needs for a type he isn't, the more they may end up hurting him. The disconnect also makes it difficult to deal with enemies, if their foes don't understand what they really want and why, or it may create enemies or antagonists out of people who should be allies (as was the case with Wesley and the Scooby Gang on Buffy). Others might dismiss them because they don't have a lot of respect for the type they see him as (the way Chase is disrespected on House because they think he's superficial since he hides all his depth). Because all of this works on a sub-subconscious level, it's not as though characters are aware of what they really need, so they can't just tell others what it is they want. The point at which another character finally sees the person for who he is creates a real opportunity for bonding.

That also ties into all the identity vs. essence stuff that Michael Hauge talks about in his screenwriting theory, where the "true love" character in a romantic plot is the one who recognizes the true essence of the person that's hiding behind the identity. They have conflict when the other person insists on relating to the essence while the character is still trying to be the identity, even as the character can't help but respond to someone dealing with them on that level of fundamental truth. Going back to Wesley, it's interesting that the only characters who ever seemed to really recognize him as the Lost Soul were essentially villains -- Lilah and later Illyria -- and they both ended up allied with the good guys through him. Even though he was light years apart from them, he ended up connecting with them because they were able to in some way meet his emotional needs in a way his supposed friends couldn't because they couldn't see past their preconceptions of him. If he hadn't been a fundamentally good person, he could easily have been turned to the bad side just because it was only the bad guys who managed to address his emotional needs.

You know, now that I've made that connection between the external vs. internal archetype and the identity vs. essence thing, I'm pretty sure I'm right about this. I have a few more thoughts on the subject for tomorrow, and I'm still trying to think of something I can say about female archetypes. I'm not sure if it's that the way they're defined doesn't work for me, or if it really is that I'm all about the boys.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Archetypes: What vs. Why

I'm home from ApolloCon, and now I don't have to travel again for almost an entire month. I have events to go to, but they're local, so I don't have to pack a suitcase or do a lot of driving. I had such a blast at the con. There was a chocolate tasting that was practically a religious experience, and I sat in on my first filk circle. I didn't get the nerve to sing (and couldn't think of anything to sing), but maybe at the next con I'll give it a go. I was having enough fun that I almost wasn't ready for it to be over, though I am glad to be home now. I also did a lot of brainstorming during the drive, and now I think I'm ready to really start this new book. Again.

I also did more thinking about archetypes while driving (it's a looooong drive), and since those posts seemed to be popular, I'll continue. A few years ago, I went to a seminar with one of the authors of that book I keep referencing, and there were some group activities where we were supposed to create characters based on archetypes. I found the exercises somewhat confusing, because the whole seminar was supposedly about how it was the motivation that mattered, and yet the exercises seemed to encourage stereotyping. For instance, we were supposed to come up with what the Bad Boy might look like, and most of the answers seemed to involve the standard -- jeans and leather, hair a little too long, unshaven, maybe some tattoos and piercings. My argument was that you can't know what a Bad Boy might look like until you know his environment. The archetype is all about resentment and rebellion, questioning authority and the status quo, but more on a personal level and what it means to him than on a societal level. Society can stay the way it is, as far as he's concerned. He just doesn't want those rules to have to apply to him. So, while you might have this rebel looking the usual way, what if he's in a rebellious type society? Then he might rebel by looking totally clean cut. Really, though, a true Bad Boy isn't going to look a certain way because he doesn't care what people think of him, and the last thing he wants to do is live up to anyone's expectations of him. Anyone who really lives up to that stereotypical Bad Boy uniform is probably a poseur and not a real Bad Boy (he's likely a Charmer trying to pick up the chicks who dig bad boys).

Meanwhile, there are reasons for the other archetypes to have that scruffy Bad Boy look. The Chief might own a construction company and be out in the field. The Best Friend could be the tough guy from a bad neighborhood who manages to have a heart of gold under that scruffy exterior. The Charmer may be aware of the effect the Bad Boy has on women and deliberately cultivates that look. The Lost Soul may not be able to afford new clothes or a good haircut or may have given up on his appearance since nobody seems to care about him anyway. The Professor may have been too sidetracked by his latest project to worry about grooming. The Swashbuckler may wear the sturdy clothes because they hold up well during his adventures and if he's been off in the jungle he wouldn't have shaved or had a haircut, and the Warrior has other priorities than worrying about his appearance, since he's got a world to save.

The example I often use in workshops to show how it's WHY people do things that matters rather than WHAT they do is the reasons each type might become a doctor. They're all doing the same thing, but they have different reasons for it. The Chief might want the power, control and status. The Bad Boy might come from a family of medical malpractice attorneys and becoming a doctor is his way of rebelling. The Best Friend might want to help people. The Charmer knows that chicks dig doctors. The Lost Soul might think that being a doctor is a sure way to win his father's approval. The Professor might be drawn to the science and knowledge. The Swashbuckler might like the rush of having to make life-and-death decisions. The Warrior might be on a personal mission to wipe out disease, perhaps in a kind of revenge after losing a loved one.

To make it more concrete, the cast of House is a good example because all of those characters are doctors and four of the characters are pursuing the same sub-speciality, but they're all driven by different things.

House himself is the Professor. His driving motivation is finding the answer and being right. It's not really about helping the patient because he doesn't seem to care much whether the patient lives or dies, as long as he knows what was wrong with the patient. He has some Bad Boy traits because he does rebel against authority, but that seems to be the way he measures his genius -- his genius is what allows him to get away with things, so the more he gets away with, the more of a genius he must be. He sometimes tries to play the Lost Soul card, but he's a loner because he finds people illogical and annoying rather than because he's truly an outcast.

Dr. Wilson is the Best Friend, and I totally forgot about him in the post on Best Friends, because he's a very non-stereotypical application of that archetype, almost a dark side, because his loyalty has such a negative impact on him, and his support of people in need is almost pathological. He's in medicine to help people, and he's drawn to the hardest cases of need, both as a doctor (he's an oncologist) and as a friend (he's House's best friend).

Dr. Cuddy is the Nurturer (hey, I'm talking about a female archetype!), again in a non-stereotypical way because she's not really about family, except in the sense that the hospital itself and the people in it are her family. She can be the tough, cool administrator, but she reacts emotionally and protectively when her hospital is at risk. She also tends to mother people, treating House like a toddler. Oddly, she's not that effective as a doctor working one-on-one with a patient because that nurturing, protective instinct gets in the way of her judgment, but that same instinct does help her be the kind of administrator who thinks about people in the big picture.

Dr. Foreman is the Chief, who's mostly driven by a desire for status. He wants power and prestige. People have to respect him and listen to him when he's wearing that white coat.

Dr. Chase is the Lost Soul, who got into medicine largely because he thought it was the only way to get his distant father to approve of him.

Dr. Cameron is a difficult one because I don't think they've written her as a very well-defined character, but I think I'd call her a Librarian. She's seen to be very caring, but I think she's operating out of a mental rule book and she knows she's supposed to be caring. Going into medicine seems to be something she felt she "should" do, and she's all about the "shoulds." She loves rules and order and gets very confused when the world doesn't work according to her list of "shoulds" or when people violate her rules.

I hope that makes the difference between the WHAT and the WHY a little clearer than mud. When you really dig into that WHY as the important part of the archetype, then you have the basis for an interesting character because you then know what the character's core need is and you can keep that center of the character consistent. Then you can throw in all the other detail to flesh out the character. Tomorrow I've got a really fun topic -- archetypes and perceptions.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Archetypes and the Best Friend

I'm heading off to Houston for ApolloCon today. If you'll be at the con, I'm doing a reading this evening at 6 and really need an audience. I may even have prizes for attendees. Then I'm speaking Saturday at 2 at the Jungman Branch of the Houston Public Library, 5830 Westheimer.

So, yesterday I went on about archetypes vs. stereotypes and how a Lost Soul does not have to be a brooding, dark-haired vampire who wears a lot of black. He could be the comically inept manager who wants so much to be a beloved boss that he ends up being a horrible boss no one respects, or else he could be a good-looking, blond young doctor who doesn't like to rock the boat for fear of losing the secure place he's found for himself. Looking at the core of what drives the character instead of the outer characteristics is what gives you an interesting character.

Another neglected and misused archetype is what the book The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines calls the Best Friend. This is also sometimes called the beta male, but I don't think that's entirely accurate. This character is driven by loyalty and a need for harmony. He's the mediator and peacemaker, and he's the person you can count on, always. In romance novels, he's usually the heroine's brother figure or gay best buddy, or he's the hero's sidekick. Quite often when I'm reading romance novels, I find myself wanting the heroine to end up with the best friend rather than the hero himself, and if it's a series where the best friend later ends up being the hero of his own story, he's somehow managed to switch archetypes between books because, it seems, the Best Friend isn't seen as being very sexy. One reason I love chick lit books is that the Best Friend is often the guy the heroine ends up with, while the guy who would be the hero in a romance novel is the jerk who breaks her heart. In action-oriented stories, the Best Friend is often the wisecracking sidekick, like Xander on Buffy or Wash on Firefly.

Best Friends are more likely to get to be heroes in comedies. The current best example of a Best Friend I can think of is Jim on The Office. He's not overly ambitious in his job. It's just something he does to earn a living. He's the one who can bring the whole office together in unity and make each person feel special and needed. He may find Dwight and Michael annoying, but when they need him, he's there for them. He'll get up and sing karaoke with Michael even when Michael's an unwelcome guest at his party rather than letting him make a fool of himself, or he'll show up at Michael's pathetic attempt at a room party at a convention out of sympathy and loyalty. He woos Pam just by being her friend, being there for her and being supportive.

But I think writers are missing out by not looking at this guy as a potential hero more often in other kinds of stories. After all, where's the dramatic tension in putting someone who's up for a fight into an action setting? There's far more conflict in making a quieter guy stand up and fight. It can be tricky to send the Best Friend into action because, unlike other archetypes like the Chief or the Warrior, he really isn't out to change the world. He wants to keep the status quo -- unless the status quo is wrong or abnormal. And then he will fight to get things back to normal. This guy is intensely loyal to friends and family, and if you put them at risk, he'll do anything to protect them. Liking peace and harmony doesn't mean he's weak or wimpy, which is, sadly, the way the Best Friend is often portrayed. As a romantic partner, he can be intense and passionate behind that friendly surface (Jim in "Casino Night," need I say more?) even if he's not overtly sexy in the way we're used to seeing romantic heroes. Unfortunately, he's too often the kind of guy who gets the "you're such a good friend, like a brother" speech.

I see Owen in my books as primarily a Best Friend. He does have some Professor traits, since he does like books and knowledge and gets excited about how things work, but that's not what really drives him in life. He may look at times like a Lost Soul, since he doesn't have much connection to who he really is, but he's actually quite content with his life. He's never worried much about who his birth parents were, and while he'd like a better relationship with his foster parents, he's not really driven by a need for their approval. As a Best Friend, he doesn't like conflict and he doesn't really like change. He's drawn into the fight against Idris out of loyalty to his company and the desire to keep the peace. It's not so much about winning as it is about getting things back to normal. But threaten someone close to him, and that's when he gets dangerous.

For a good pop culture Best Friend action hero, I think Sam Winchester on Supernatural is one. From a mythic, structural standpoint, he's essentially the "hero" of the piece, as his joining the mission was the point of change that set off the story, and he's the one who went through the whole call to adventure/refusal of the call thing. At first, he was dragged unwillingly into the life of a Hunter, then when he was old enough to make his own choices, he walked away to live a normal life. He got his next call to adventure when his brother showed up asking for help tracking their missing father. Out of family loyalty, he helped just that once, but then wanted to return to his normal life as a college student and law school applicant. Only when that life was destroyed did he cross the threshold and take up the mission. He does what he does out of family loyalty -- to find his missing father and watch his brother's back -- and to restore what he sees as a skewed status quo so he can maybe have a chance at a normal life in the future. As a Best Friend, he's often "captain empathy" who can comfort and reassure victims (and get information out of them), but he can fight fiercely to protect his brother or an innocent. And there's the internal conflict of him hating this life, while his brother, the Swashbuckler, loves the action and risk. I think that different approach between the two brothers is what makes the dynamic of the show interesting. If it were just about a couple of guys who love action and risk running around and looking for ghosts and demons to hunt, it wouldn't be nearly as interesting as it is with one of the guys hating it and wanting something different for himself, even as he realizes it's necessary. There's also that element of self-sacrifice that gives another facet to the character -- he's a hero because he feels it's his duty, not because he wants to be.

For those interested in The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines, here's the Amazon link. I use this book as a big resource when developing characters, and my copy is all tattered and dog-eared. It's also fun to use for analyzing other characters. I focus on the core archetype info and the archetype interactions section (though it seems primarily aimed at romance authors, since most of the archetype interactions are male and female instead of showing how different types of the same sex might interact). I think their examples are hit or miss (and, unless later editions have corrected it, at times just plain wrong, as in getting characters mixed up so they're using the wrong name for the character being discussed), and I ignore the career stuff because I think a lot of that veers close to stereotype. Again, it's not WHAT they do, it's WHY they do it that's important.

There are also female archetypes, but I honestly haven't put much thought into them since I'm far more interested in men, and I don't think they're as misused and stereotyped as the heroes are. There seems to be a lot more variety in heroine types used in fiction instead of the same types always relegated to the same kinds of roles. Of course, as soon as I start the four-hour drive, I'll think of dozens of exceptions.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Archetypes and Lost Souls

I'm feeling a bit better today, if still a bit shaky and not very hungry. I spent most of yesterday lying on the lounge in my loft, drinking 7Up and reading reference books for this new project, and now I'm going to have to rewrite chapter one. But it's a good kind of rewrite, not because I got it wrong but because I came up with a better idea. I also found a way to make the loft habitable in summer. It's a great place to read and work in winter because it's the warmest spot in the house, up under the roof. But in the summer it gets stuffy because there's no ceiling fan and the air vent is in the floor, so the cool air just pools around the vent. But by putting a little tabletop fan on the vent to blow the cool air out into the room and then by putting an oscillating stand fan nearby, I made the place comfortable. It just doesn't work on days like today when it's cool enough to have the windows open and the AC off since the window in the loft doesn't open. But on this kind of day, I can sit outside (as long as it's not raining).

Because I've been working on developing my cast of characters for this story, and probably partially inspired by a hilarious column Diana Peterfreund wrote last week at Romancing the Blog, I've been thinking about character archetypes. Diana pointed out how some of the hero archetypes (as defined in the book The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines) tend to be overused in romance and chick lit and others underused. I suspect that a lot of this has to do with authors not really understanding how the archetypes work and veering dangerously close to stereotype. Really, an archetype relates to WHY a person does something more than it does to WHAT he does or especially how he looks. Of course, that why is going to shade a character's actions and the way he does things, and sometimes even the way he looks, but you get more interesting characters when you mix things up a bit. I think that's why so many of Joss Whedon's characters have captured people's imaginations. He uses very strong core archetypes in characters who go against type. His literal librarian/physics graduate student isn't the Librarian archetype. She's a Spunky Kid. His literal courtesan isn't a Seductress. She's a Nurturer. His warrior woman character isn't a Crusader, she's a Librarian. And so forth. (I'm using the terminology from the Heroes and Heroines book because it works for me and because I don't have the time to do the research and come up with my own system, although I think the authors themselves have sometimes fallen into the stereotype trap in the way they classify people).

There are a lot more interesting ways to use certain types than we often see. Take the Lost Soul archetype (one of my favorites, though I haven't yet consciously written one -- I keep saying I'm going to, and then he never fits into my cast). The stereotype for that is the brooding loner who wears a lot of black, lurks in the shadows, and is reluctant to trust. But what authors tend to forget is that there's more to the archetype than that. This character is driven by a desire for belonging, for home, love, approval and acceptance. He may be jaded and may have given up on finding it, which is where we usually see this character at the beginning of a story, but it's possible to write this character where he's still hoping to find a place where he belongs. Or, even after he's found that place and is terrified of losing it. Just looking at some pop culture examples off the top of my head, there are a variety of Lost Souls out there.

Angel, as he was shown in the first three seasons of Buffy (he evolved into a Warrior on his own show) fits the usual Lost Soul mode -- brooding, wearing black, lurking in the shadows, wanting and yet fearing love. He's even a vampire (the recent popularity of vampire books means the Lost Soul has been very popular lately). But would you believe that Michael Scott on The Office belongs to the same archetype? He does. Michael is a Lost Soul portrayed in a comic way. We've seen hints of a lonely childhood in which he said he wanted to have lots of kids so then they'd have to be his friends. One reason he's such a terrible boss is that he sees his employees as his friends and family. Because of that, he's so desperate to be loved and accepted by them that sometimes he can't do what's needed as their boss. He's so needy in relationships that he drove away the normal woman he was dating by Photoshopping himself into a family picture with her and her children and then got himself into a twisted relationship with his emotionally unhealthy supervisor just because he needs so desperately to be loved. He tries to convince himself that he's already what he wants to be -- popular, funny and well-liked -- and that gets him into sad situations, like when he tried to throw a huge party in his hotel room at a trade show, and the only person who came was one of his ex-employees. Once I clued into the fact that Michael was a Lost Soul, he became a lot more bearable for me, even at his worst, because I could feel sorry for that core need of his.

Back to the Buffyverse (and this one I've actually argued in public about with one of the authors of the Heroes and Heroines guide, so I guess I'm off on my own about this one), I think the real Lost Soul in the series Angel was Wesley. Yes, he looked like a Professor because of the glasses, his arcane knowledge and all those old books, but I think he was primarily driven by the need for belonging, and he used his skills as currency to make himself invaluable to the team. If he'd really been a Professor, he wouldn't have failed as a Watcher, but his need for approval from the Council was so great that he obeyed them blindly, with disastrous results. Once he joined Angel's team, he didn't want to be locked away with his books, but that was the thing he could contribute that Angel didn't have without him, the one thing he could do that the others couldn't, and therefore the reason he felt he was being kept around. A real Professor would have been driven by the thirst for knowledge and answers, but he was driven by the need to be valued. When we met his father (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), we learned why he had such a desperate need for approval and acceptance.

Yet another example where I quibble with the reference book is Harry Potter, who they classify as a Professor, but he's a total Lost Soul. He's orphaned, his only remaining family treated him as a slave and kept him from having friends, and he was a freaky weird kid, which made him an outcast. But then he finds his place at Hogwarts and finally feels like he belongs. What motivates him to get into all the investigating and Voldemort fighting to begin with? The threat that Hogwarts might have to be closed. He's found a home and doesn't want to lose it. The real clue that Rowling must see Harry this way, as well, is in the parting gift that Hagrid gives him at the end of year one. If he'd really been a Professor, the right gift would have been some kind of spell book or other reference book. But it's a photo album of pictures of his parents, gleaned from all their surviving friends, so that Harry can finally get some sense of connection with his family. That's a Lost Soul gift.

One of my favorite recent examples of how the Lost Soul can be played against type while still having the core of the archetype is on the TV series House. House himself looks like a Lost Soul, wearing his pain on his sleeve, with his damaged leg, addiction to painkillers, and few friends (House is a Professor, since he's even stated outright that what drives him is the need to be right, to have the answer), but the real Lost Soul in that cast is Dr. Chase, the young Australian. He's blond, where most Lost Souls tend to be dark-haired, he's generally pretty good-natured, has a sense of humor, and he doesn't wear much black (usually he wears frighteningly mismatched things in bright or light colors). But the more we learn about the character, the more Lost Soul he appears -- his mother was an alcoholic and drank herself to death while he was still in his teens, his father left him alone with the alcoholic mother to be her primary caregiver as she drank herself to death, his father died without telling him he was sick and cut him out of his will, he initially wanted to be a priest but somehow felt he failed a test of faith and is still struggling with his faith, he's utterly alone in the world and very far from home, and because his father was an immigrant, he doesn't even have a lot of roots in his home country. For whatever reason, he seems to have decided that the hospital is "home," and when his place there was threatened in the first season, he was willing to take pretty drastic action to save his job, even turning on his boss to do so. He doesn't trust anyone else to have his back, and he tends to keep his head down and stay out of conflicts rather than rocking the boat. What he wants more than anything is House's approval (and how bad must his childhood have been for him to fixate on someone like House as his chosen father figure?). All classic Lost Soul (though there are signs that he may be starting to evolve, based on the end of the last season) but without fitting almost any of the external stereotypes. He tries hard not to show his pain, to keep his sad past a secret even when others knowing about it would work to his advantage, and he indulges in very little brooding while still having most of his actions driven by that inner need for approval, belonging and acceptance.

So, it is possible to take the core character types and find new and different ways of portraying them that aren't stereotypical. And then when you are mixing things up like that, it opens the door to using the less common archetypes by putting them in situations you otherwise wouldn't expect of them. I think tomorrow I'll talk about Best Friends (the one I seem to keep trying to use), another one that often gets thrown into stereotype land.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Public Relations

I was supposed to have gone to downtown Dallas today for a news conference at City Hall about an upcoming book festival I'll be part of, but I woke up today not feeling well at all, so I bowed out of it. I'm sure that some of it had to do with a raging case of the don't-wannas, which may have created psychosomatic symptoms, but some of the symptoms had been around in a minor form since this weekend before really hitting today, plus I was running a low-grade fever, and I didn't suddenly start feeling better as soon as I decided not to go, contacted the people involved and got their response. Usually when it's just the don't-wannas, I start feeling better with relief as soon as I'm off the hook.

I think part of the don't-wannas is the fact that my PR Spidey sense was telling me it would be a waste of time. You don't expect much news coverage from a press conference to announce an event that's already been made public (as it's been on the library's web site for ages). Really, press conferences are among the least effective PR tools and only work well for certain occasions. You do a press conference if you have crucial and timely information that has broad interest from the media and where all the media need to get the same info at the same time. Then it's most efficient to get all the key players in the same room at the same time and go for it. Unless it's the kind of thing where they know that's the only way they'll get the info, and they know that dozens of other news organizations will be getting the same info in the same place, the media generally hate news conferences. They're static, they're not very interesting, and, again, everyone's getting the same information, so if a reporter comes up with a brilliant question that introduces a new angle to the story, every other reporter gets access to the answer. About the only time a news conference to announce an event works is if it's something like the announcement of the next host city for the Olympics.

And, really, this in a nutshell is why I hated working in public relations. I love the idea behind PR, the theories and the strategy, coming up with new ideas for promoting something, and developing relationships with the media so I know just what information they need. However, too much of the practice of public relations in corporate America and in the agency world is focused on what people think should be done and on feeding egos, and therefore it's not very effective. So, because, for example, executives have seen news conferences on TV, they decide they want one because their news is so big and they want to be the one on the podium with the cameras clicking and reporters shouting out questions. But because they aren't major world leaders, the most they can expect is maybe two or three reporters, and that's only if the PR person has great relationships with the press and can cry and offer to buy drinks later if the reporter will just please show up and help save her job. They'd have had far better results with a lot less expense and stress by setting up one-on-one interviews with those three reporters and giving each reporter something tailored to that media outlet.

Unfortunately, too many PR managers or agency heads buy into the delusional thinking, which makes life rough on the people doing the work, and there I think there are two skills that, unless you're working for someone with a clue, are contradictory. If you really understand how the media work, what makes a good story and how to pitch it, you're going to be reluctant to do about 90 percent of the work that goes on in PR because you know it's pointless, a waste of time, and is only going to irritate reporters. If you're all gung-ho about doing that pointless work, you probably don't get it and have no idea what you're doing (which is why so many people burn out in the lower ranks of the profession). There's a very small group of people who get it and who can still tolerate doing the pointless work, and that requires a specific personality type. Sadly, the focus remains on that pointless work because of egos and delusions. Not every company or story needs to be in the New York Times. Sometimes a nice piece in the neighborhood section of the local newspaper will be far more effective for the company's needs. But the New York Times sounds so cool, so the PR person has to prove she at least tried to pitch the story to them, which then means she's cried wolf to a major newspaper, and that means that when she does have a real story that actually would appeal to them, they aren't willing to take her calls.

I have placed a story on the front page of the New York Times, and it took knowing what the reporter usually looked for, knowing about something going on that would appeal to her, sending a fax about it, then waiting for the phone to ring. But I only had that fax number because the reporter knew I wouldn't be bugging her with useless information she wasn't interested in. If my boss had made me contact her for every little thing, just so we could tell a client that we'd contacted the New York Times, it wouldn't have worked. There's too much time spent on writing pointless news releases and making calls that are essentially spam, just because that's how it's done. But with some creative thinking, some relationship building, and some restraint, you could get far better results for topics that are actually worthy.

If the writing career tanks and I have to go back to having a real job, I might look for something in a non-profit whose cause I believe in. Or else I'd start my own firm and see if I could succeed in honest PR -- take only clients who really have a story to tell, be honest with them up front about what they can hope to achieve, and refuse to do stuff just to make it look like there was activity. It would be kind of interesting to see if I could apply my theories about book publicity while pitching someone else's books, since I think the publishing world is about as bad as the agency world for doing things just because that's the way they've always been done rather than because it's something that has real results.

But I'd really rather just write books, so I guess I'll get on that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

FAQ: Book Five Edition

I started a new project last night that I think will be a lot of fun. I'll probably have to re-start it later because I don't think the opening scene really sets the proper stage for the story, but I need to write more to figure out exactly what that stage is. In a way, I feel weirdly unfaithful to the characters in my series for cheating on them with new characters, but I'm also having fun meeting new people instead of just hanging out with the same old folks.

Because my creativity is all tied up in that work, I've decided it's time for an FAQ, since I've had some questions in e-mail and comments, and this is as easy a place as any to answer things that keep coming up. So ...

I just finished Damsel Under Stress. You aren't going to end it that way, are you? That isn't the end of the series, right?
No, I'm not that evil, just slightly evil. There is another book coming. I just turned the final version in last week. Book 4 is called Don't Hex With Texas and is currently (as in, the last time I heard) scheduled for publication in January 2008. When I first submitted the proposal for book 3, they only wanted to buy that one, but I held firm and said it was both books or nothing, since I didn't want to leave people hanging that way (and it's a good thing, too, since they probably wouldn't have bought book 4 if they'd waited until now to make a decision).

Is Book 4 the end of the series?
It's not the ending I planned for the series, but if that is the last book, I think it has a satisfying ending that wraps up a lot of things. It just doesn't complete the story the way I want to. Unfortunately, though, the sales of the earlier books in the series have not been at the level my publisher is happy with, and bookstores decreased their order of the third book in the series, so the publisher said no to my proposal for a fifth book. As things stand now, book 4 will end the series.

Does that mean we'll never get book 5?
Not necessarily. If sales for Damsel Under Stress pick up or if book 4 suddenly does really well, or if I sell something else and it becomes a hit, which then boosts the sales of everything else I've written, they may come back to me and ask me for that book. There are also some other people looking at the possibility of doing that book. I haven't yet given up, but it's definitely going to take a stroke of luck.

I really want to get book five. What can we do to help? Is there someone we should write to?
The main thing to do if you want book 5 is help boost sales of the first books in the series. Tell lots of people, post about them online in various forums, talk about the books to people who work in bookstores and encourage the stores to stock them. Suggest them for book clubs. Make sure that people who buy the first book then go back and get the next books. The challenge here with word of mouth is that the books aren't being well stocked at a lot of stores, so it takes getting people motivated enough to ask for them or order them online. Writing letters to the publisher won't do a lot of good. They know exactly how many copies have sold, which gives them an absolute measure of popularity and profitability. They make just as much money from a book someone passionately loved as they do from a book someone liked okay, as long as the book was bought. The only thing that will matter to the publisher is the number of copies they sell.

If we want to help the cause by buying books or getting other people to buy books, where should we buy them to help the most?
Really, any sale is a good sale and goes to the bottom line, as long as it's not a used book sale (those don't count to the publisher or to me -- they're invisible and don't give me or the publisher any money). One issue in the decision by my publisher not to buy more books from me was the fact that a certain large chain dramatically cut the number of books they ordered. That then created a chain reaction, so the books weren't in a lot of stores, which made them less visible, which made people even less likely to buy them. So, depending on how you want to look at it, you might want to "punish" that chain by buying at other stores, or you might want to show them the error of their ways by asking for the books or special ordering them at that store. If a store gets enough special requests for a book, they may start carrying it.

If you were one of those people who marked the release date on your calendar, and then couldn't find the book in a store anywhere, especially if you were told the store just wasn't going to be carrying the book, or you otherwise had a frustrating shopping experience, then you might want to contact the customer service departments of the stores in question, letting them know how frustrating it was to not be able to find a book you really wanted to buy. For your convenience, here's the contact info for the major chains (and be polite, but specific, please):

Barnes & Noble, Inc.
Customer Service Department
122 Fifth Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10011

telephone: (800) 422-7717
fax: (212) 352-3660

Borders Customer Service
100 Phoenix Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48108

What about a TV series or a movie based on these books? What's happening with that?
That is a long and sordid story that's apparently not unusual in Hollywood. Last year, we negotiated a deal to option my books for a TV series. And then after the deal was finalized and agreed upon, but before anything was signed, the executive who struck the deal left that company and nobody else in the company returned calls. So we were back to square one. There is a fairly prominent writer/director who would like to do a movie, and he even has an actress attached, but so far hasn't had a studio cough up the money. And then just a couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from a representative of a major studio asking if the rights were still available. So there is a possibility of something happening, and that would certainly help book sales, which then might lead to a book five.

Why are your books shelved in general fiction or fiction and literature when they're fantasy novels?
The books are a hybrid of chick lit and fantasy, and the first book in the series was really a send-up of the standard chick lit novel about a young woman in the city with an awful boss and a lot of bad dates. At the time, chick lit was the hottest thing in the market, while urban fantasy was mostly below the radar, or at least wasn't even being talked about as a unique subgenre. So, my agent positioned the book as a paranormal chick lit novel and sold it to a mainstream publisher. Since then, though, chick lit tanked, urban fantasy became one of the hottest things in publishing, and it seems that my books are more popular among fantasy and paranormal romance readers than they are among chick lit readers. I think the stories themselves have become more fantasy than chick lit as the series progresses. I'm no longer trying to write to any particular genre. I'm just writing stories about these characters. But publishers are really reluctant to change classification in mid-stream. One thing we are looking at, if we can find a willing publisher, is reissuing the first books in mass market paperback format and shelving them as fantasy, which then could lead to a book five if sales are good enough. For now, I guess you just have to make sure people know where to find the books in stores and tell your fantasy fan friends not to be scared away by the covers.

Any other questions? Ask them in comments, and I'll do another FAQ if warranted.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Movies and TV

It was very nice having an actual weekend, though it pretty much rained most of the weekend. I held true to not doing any work on Sunday, and now I feel refreshed and almost even ready to work.

I hit the DVD box sets this weekend. I started watching season one of Supernatural, though that did get confusing when I saw a season two episode Sunday night on TV, in between season one episodes on DVD. I think I'm going to start using episodes as rewards if I get my writing work done for the day. I really get an early X-Files vibe off that show, back when it was more just creepy (and a little campy) fun with a slight paranoid undercurrent and before it became Huge Global Conspiracy that was too tangled to make sense. However, the way the show is lit means I can't watch it during daylight on the LCD TV because my living room gets too much sunlight and the whole screen fades into darkness. It's definitely an after-dark show. At night with a few candles lit around the living room, it's perfect. Now I need to go dig in my old cassette tapes for my 70s and 80s hair band music. I think it may be a sign that I'm getting old that my interest in the cute boys has more to do with wanting to adopt them and make sure they get a good meal than in anything else.

I've also been rewatching The Office, and it's amazing how much of the groundwork for what's happening now was laid in early episodes. For instance, we see the seeds for the very end of the latest season (the cliffhanger involving Ryan) in the episode about the fire, when Michael felt threatened by the fact that Ryan was in business school. It was also fun seeing Jim's latent leadership abilities in "Office Olympics," and now he's assistant regional manager (and not even "to the"). You know, if I worked in that office, Jim's totally the guy I would go for. I love that mix of goofy and capable, and the way he's able to be kind of a cheerleader, very encouraging and supportive, able to draw out the best in others. Even with Dwight and Michael, he manages to really be there when they need him. Awww. The really great thing about The Office DVDs is they have so many deleted scenes, it's like getting an entire bonus episode.

I watched Ice Age 2 on HBO Saturday night, and found it to be a lot weaker and less fun than the original. Maybe I'm overthinking a kiddy flick, but it didn't make a lot of sense to me. I know that global warning is the issue du jour that must be inserted as a message into every kiddy flick these days, but the end of the Ice Age wasn't exactly a devastating global warming. If we hadn't had that round of global warming, there wouldn't really have been civilization, and it certainly wasn't caused by civilization. That one was pure cyclical climate change, so it kind of weakens the "hey, kiddies, global warming is bad, and it's all your mommies' and daddies' fault!" message. Plus, in the last movie, weren't these same characters having to move around because the Ice Age was starting? And now their lives are threatened by the end of the Ice Age? How old are these critters?

Yeah, okay, I'm probably overanalyzing this.

I tried to go see the new Pirates movie today, but ran into that problem of one person running the concession stand and selling tickets again. I got to the theater about seven minutes before the movie start time, and there were about five people in line. If they'd just been in line for tickets, it would have been no problem. But they were all getting snacks, too, and the one poor guy having to run around doing everything only managed to serve two people between the time I got there and the time the movie was supposed to start. At the rate he was going, I still wouldn't have a ticket before the previews were over, so I turned around and left. They have a little scanner kiosk if you buy your tickets online, but I tried going to their web site when I got home to see how that worked, and the web site wouldn't respond. So, as much as I love being able to walk to the movie theater, it looks like I'll have to find another place to go see movies because that level of customer service is just ridiculous. Besides, it's soon going to be too hot to walk to the movie theater. And because I believe in naming the guilty in circumstances like this, the theater is part of the Hollywood Theaters chain. Boo, hiss! And with the web site not even responding, I also can't find contact info so I can write them a letter letting them know they've lost a customer.

Oh well, I probably needed to be working anyway. I've got a book churning I need to play with, and I need to get my characters developed and my plot outlined this afternoon so I can watch another episode of Supernatural tonight.

Friday, June 15, 2007

My Summer Reading Schedule

Wow, it's a Friday morning, and I'm not running around frantically packing and getting ready to leave the house, at least half an hour later than I planned to leave. This is nice. It's also cool and rainy, so I've been able to turn off the AC and open windows again. I'm feeling very anti-social right now, mostly because of that book idea I want to play with, so I may bow out of the few things on my agenda for the weekend. The insanity starts again next weekend, so I need the break. I don't know if I'll manage to hold onto my no work on Sunday rule. Maybe I'll do research and brainstorming but not actual writing because I probably should stay off the computer.

I've been re-reading the Mordant's Need series by Stephen R. Donaldson. I still really like it. The hero is totally my type of guy -- the one no one else seems to be able to imagine could be a hero. He's adorably bashful (gee, wonder why I like that?) and a little awkward and clumsy, but brave and utterly loyal, and ultimately more competent than anyone gives him credit for (since it turns out that he's not so much incompetent as he is differently competent). The heroine makes me want to throttle her at times because she's so passive. I know that's kind of the point, that she has to go from being utterly passive to making a difference, but she spends way too much time in the first book falling under the thrall of the guy that a blind person living under a rock could tell is the bad guy, and even though she knows she can't trust him, and even though the people she knows she can trust tell her not to trust him, she just can't help herself around him and can't bring herself to believe that he's really bad. I just started reading the second book, and I seem to recall that she improves significantly in it, but I do find myself thinking that the hero could do better. In fact, the one thing about him that I don't like is the fact that the way she acts about the other guy doesn't change his opinion of her (most guys would wash their hands of a woman they keep finding half-naked with their enemy and not really enjoying it, but not resisting either).

I haven't read a big, sweeping traditional fantasy in forever, so it's fun to revisit this one. Once I'm done with this book, it's time for the great Harry Potter re-read to begin. The timing is tricky, with the movie based on book 5 coming out a week and a half before the new book. I don't like seeing a movie too soon after reading a book because then it's too easy to make comparisons, but I really like to re-read books soon after seeing the movie. Unfortunately, the movie comes out during the RWA national conference, and there's no way I'll be able to get to the movie until maybe Sunday. I won't be getting the new book until the Monday after it comes out, since I'll be at a con and if I have it, I won't enjoy either the con or the book because I'll be tempted to hole up in my room instead of mingling, but then if I'm holed up in my room reading, I'll feel guilty and won't enjoy it. It's easier to just increase the anticipation by waiting (and hope no idiot at the con goes around blurting out spoilers). That means I'll have about a week to read books 5 and 6, the ones I probably need to read in most detail as I've read them fewer times than the others. I haven't re-read book 6 at all, and I kind of tore through it in the first reading, so that one needs careful attention.

Yes, I know there are worse dilemmas to have, but it's easy to fixate on the minor ones. And this means that my reading is now planned through the end of July, since I have to mix in a lot of research reading and some writing, along with a lot of events that mean I essentially have a four-day work week available. I guess I won't be going to the bookstore much this summer. Given my usual book purchasing patterns, that might mean the US publishing industry could collapse.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Megan Crane Returns to the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit

I got a wonderful, wonderful new idea yesterday, and now I have a book shaping itself furiously in my head. Of course, this would be a day when I have plans. I'm meeting up with the parents for lunch, and then we're seeing a stage production of Chicago. So it's a very convenient Girlfriends Cyber Circuit day, and we've got a book I've been dying to talk about for ages. I got to read the manuscript of Megan Crane's Frenemies last fall for a cover blurb, and it was one of those books that had me laughing, then crying, and then really thinking about life.

You do know what a "frenemy" is, right? The person you're supposedly friends with but who always manages to undermine and backstab you, all while being nice to your face. I've encountered more than a few of these, myself, and maybe that's why I really related to this book.

Just a few months shy of her 30th birthday, Gus discovers Nate, her "Mr. Right," hooking up behind her back with her so-called "friend" Helen. Soon it seems despite working to hard to appear all grown up, Gus is still living the life of a teenager.

Gus is left with more questions than answers: Can she win Nate back before she turns 30 (And if so, does she really want him?) Is Helen really as devious and manipulative as she seems, or, worse, is Gus more like her frenemy Helen than she’d care to admit? And is she ever going to grow up? With the clock ticking down to her birthday, Gus discovers that sometimes the best thing about best-laid plans is trashing them altogether.

And now, the interview:
What was the inspiration behind this book?
Well, I'm a woman, and was once an adolescent girl, so in a certain sense I was genetically predisposed to write this book! It was a strange cross of the movie Mean Girls, certain experiences with friends, and some very bad behavior in my twenties. It all sort of turned into a big drama starring Gus.

Have you had any real-life "frenemy" experiences? (Feel free to omit names to protect the identities of the guilty)
Oh, yes. I've had girls who were nice to me just to get close to my much cooler friends. Girls who hit on the guys I liked pretty much just because I liked them. Women who casually betrayed me in one breath and then told me how much they loved me in the next. What's upsetting about frenemy experiences is how many of them you collect over the years!

(Oh yeah, been there, done that. The one who hit on any guy I liked -- after saying she was going to help me with my social life since she already had a boyfriend -- got to be particularly amusing once I figured it out and started picking some really odd targets.)

What was your "a-ha!" moment that made you realize it was time to be a grown-up (if you've experienced it yet)?
This seems to be something of an uphill battle for me! A major "a-ha" moment occurred in my mid-twenties, when it dawned on me that if I felt morose and out of sorts while out, I could just go home, instead of attempting to "power through." Another "a-ha" moment: If you have to argue with them about whether or not they want to be with you, why would you want to be with them in the first place? And another: True friends are supposed to make it better, not worse. And one more: The world will not end if he knows you like him. You know, I could go on and on. The thing about "a-ha" moments, I have found, is that they are usually very simple, very obvious things that take whole years to do. But once you do, you're better for it.

(I think I've managed every one of these except for the one about the world not ending if he knows I like him.)

What (if anything) do you have in common with your heroine?
I have been known to be a big old drama queen on occasion. I have also been known to prostrate myself before The Love That Cannot Be. And I have some pretty awesome friends who are more like family, who I periodically wish to kill, but we all love each other anyway.

When can we expect your next book after this one, and what's it about?
My next book is due out next spring. It's about sisters, the road not taken, first love versus true love, and how to figure out who your family really is. I'm really looking forward to it!

For more info, visit Megan's web site. If you're already sold on the book, you can get it at Amazon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Movie Adventures

Because I was a very good girl yesterday and accomplished everything on my to-do list, including sending a proposal to my agent, I decided to reward myself by going to a movie. The plan was to see Shrek the Third, since I'm doing research on fairy tales right now and I thought that would be appropriate. I actually went to the theater yesterday, but got there to find two day care mini-buses in the parking lot. I tried telling myself that sharing a theater with kids would probably make the movie funnier, and day care teachers are often stricter with kids than their parents are. And besides, they might have been going to see that penguin movie and I wouldn't have to deal with them at all then. So I went inside and found the lobby full of kids. They weren't exactly rowdy, but they weren't too well-behaved, and the teachers didn't seem to have a lot of control over them. So, I thought maybe I'd see the new Pirates movie, instead, since I doubted a day-care center would be taking kids that age to see it. But then I realized that they were selling the movie tickets at one register at the concession stand, and there was one person working the concession stand, and all those kids were in line for snacks -- and it was five minutes until the movie started. I decided to try again later. Today, there were no kids in the theater, so it was totally quiet, but they were still using the one register where they sell tickets to also take concession orders, so I had to wait behind a couple of people ordering a ton of stuff before I could get my movie ticket.

My verdict on the movie: I think it may actually have been funnier than the first (which I watched last weekend), but that could have just been because I hadn't memorized it yet. I like some of the fairy tale twists, like what they did with the princesses. But, hey, I'm easy. If a movie like that makes me laugh a few times, I'm happy.

Maybe I'll see Pirates on Friday, but that means I have to be good today and get some work done.

I think I've done enough soul-searching for one week, so I'll do another Judy Blume Moments spot next week. A whole week or even a few days of that will have us all reverting to junior high mode, and that's not healthy. I did get one good thing out of posting that awful picture: when I went looking for it, I found all the fun Browncoat and Firefly buttons that I like to put on my badge lanyard at conventions. I hadn't seen them since a cleaning spree earlier in the year, and I was afraid they'd accidentally fallen in the trash, or something. Now I have them for the rest of this summer's conventions. I also found the wallet-size photos of a lot of old school friends, some of whom I remember vividly and some I don't remember at all.

I'm about to do one more re-read and tweak of book 4. It's been ages since I looked at it, so I think I may find a few more things I want to adjust. And it's been about a year since I started writing it. Wow. Where does the time go? This is a really, really fun book. Just thinking about it makes me grin. Now I think I'll get myself a Dr Pepper and settle in to read it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Judy Blume Thoughts: Seventh-Grade Crushes

It seems my body knew better than I did what it was able to do yesterday because I could hardly stay awake. In fact, I ended up taking a nap before I could get any work done. But I did get most of what I needed to do done. I still need to think of an incredibly witty and clever title for something, but that usually requires filling my head with ideas and then not thinking about it for a while until something pops up.

As I mentioned yesterday, the Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume anthology is now on sale. You might find it on the "new in hardcover non-fiction" table at the front of the bookstore (I saw it there at one store). It has a lot of essays by some of the top authors of women's fiction (most of them apparently named Megan) and, well, me. I wrote my essay on the book Deenie (the one about the pretty girl whose mother wants her to be a model, and then she's diagnosed with scoliosis and has to wear a back brace), though not from the point of view of the title character (the title of my essay is "Freaks, Geeks, and Adolescent Revenge Fantasies," which should give you a hint of the tone).

The book takes place in seventh grade, and for me that was a pivotal year as it was when I started the pattern of the crush from afar. I'd liked boys before that. I think starting in about kindergarten I picked a boy out of each class that I decided I liked. Not that I ever did anything about it or cared much how he reacted to me. But in seventh grade, I got hit hard with the first full impact of a true adolescent crush. He was an eighth-grader (ooh, an older man!), and I'm not really sure what about him caught my eye. We were in the same gym class (along with about eighty other people), and there was something about him that pulled all my strings and pushed all my buttons. First, I went into fact-finding mode. It was fairly easy on our relatively small campus (two grades, two-hundred students in each grade) to figure out his schedule. I finally learned his name when we had a sub in gym class who called roll instead of just having us line up in squads where the teacher could tell at a glance if someone was absent. After that, I kept finding little hints that maybe we were meant to be, like finding his name on the check-out card of a library book I was checking out, or the fact that my mother ended up sitting next to his stepmother at a military wives coffee party (from that I got all sorts of info about his family).

By the end of the school year, I had a dossier on this guy worthy of the CIA, but I never once spoke to him, that I can recall. I didn't even try. I never used all that information. I think I liked the idea of having a crush more than I really wanted him to be my boyfriend. I did occasionally daydream about ways I might meet him, but when I had opportunities, I did absolutely nothing about it. I was more likely to run the other way than to actually speak to him. It didn't help that most of those opportunities were in gym class, where I was horribly uncoordinated and untalented, not to mention hot and sweaty. I also avoided talking about him to anyone other than my mom until I finally felt like I'd grown close enough to a friend to open up -- and then she blabbed to our other friends and even pointed and said, "There he is!" once when he walked by. I was mortified, and possibly even scarred for life because I'm still a little reluctant to admit to having feelings for someone. Unfortunately, that reluctance extended to the object of those feelings. I thought it would be the worst possible thing for him to know I liked him. I guess I just assumed that instead of being flattered or intrigued, he'd be horrified, or else he'd use that knowledge as a weapon to hurt me, the way my girlfriends did (adolescent girls are EVIL).

I've only recently realized that there was another guy I also liked during that time, and really liked in a way that must have scared me. I actually knew him, as he was in most of my classes and we were often assigned to the same groups. He was a little weird, but he was smart and funny, and as I discovered when we had to write Christmas plays and then perform them in English class, quite talented. He was in my group, and I'd written a fifteen-minute adaptation of A Christmas Carol. He played Scrooge, and he was absolutely brilliant, much to everyone's surprise. The thing was, I guess I didn't understand my own emotions because I interpreted the mixed-up way he made me feel as intense dislike. I hated that he was in my group for the play. I made sure all my friends knew I thought he was weird. I tormented him horribly. I basically didn't know how to deal with him. It was just in thinking about seventh grade in the past couple of days that I came to the conclusion that I must have liked this guy but was too immature to know what was going on.

Yeah, I do still do the crush from afar thing (my anchorman), and while I may get shy and awkward around someone I'm attracted to, at least I now know that I am attracted rather than interpreting the feelings as strong dislike.

And, since I'm baring my soul, here's the infamous seventh-grade class photo:

Maybe I wasn't wrong to be worried that a guy wouldn't be flattered by knowing I liked him. Please compare to any of the current photos on my web site for proof that I did eventually improve.

Monday, June 11, 2007

No Rest for the Weary

I am home now, and I get to be home for nearly two weeks (woo hoo!), including an entire weekend (WOO HOOOOO!). I'm tired, but not as tired as I expected because the drive isn't all that bad and because this wasn't a heavy working con for me. Most of the time, I just hung out with other writers, which was fun. I also went to bed pretty early both nights. If there were a lot of room parties, then I didn't know about them or wasn't invited, which was okay because then I didn't feel like I was missing anything by going to bed early.

I would really love to take a couple of days to relax, but I do have work to do -- a proposal to finish, some more book 4 revisions, some research for a new book, catching up on responding to e-mails, other business-type stuff. I shouldn't need sleep, but I do need rest and relaxation. I'd really like to make this weekend a real weekend with no work, and maybe fit in some down time during the week so I can remain sane.

I got perhaps the best compliment ever yesterday when I did a reading. I was told that I had a very Connie Willis vibe and voice. Considering she's my favorite author and she's incredibly brilliant, that really meant something to me.

I now have a longer list of books I need to read from conversations and people I met this weekend, but I'm not allowed to buy new books until I get a certain amount of work done. Right now, I'm re-reading, and most books I re-read don't tend to get in the way of work because I can pick them up and put them down as needed instead of plowing obsessively through them. That does get in the way of work.

Of course, right now, the urge to spend the day lying on the sofa and not working also gets in the way of work. But if I get one major thing done today that needs to be done, then I will let myself do something fun tomorrow.

And tomorrow I think I'll start doing some Judy Blume-related posts, since that book is now out. I saw it on the front table in one of the bookstores I visited Friday, and I'm relieved to see that they didn't end up using the author photos in the book. They'd requested that we use photos of ourselves from around the age we wrote about, so they had my seventh-grade class photo. It's truly frightening. Maybe I'll get brave enough to post it with one of the posts this week. (EEEK)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

More from the Con

A very, very quick note before I have to check out of the hotel (that is, if I can even post it -- the wireless here is running slllooooowwww).

The panel yesterday with Casey Biggs of DS9 and Vaughn Armstrong (who's been on most of the Trek series in various roles) was a hoot. They have a blues band that does Trek-related songs like "The Redshirt Boogie Blues," and they performed a bit. It was rather hilarious. Then I had a panel and an autographing session. The autographing session was rather ... um ... quiet, as it was late in the day when people were packing up to leave or heading out for costume stuff. Fortunately, I'd dropped by the con suite, where the Doctor Who fan group was doing a tea party, beforehand, so I was happy with tea and cookies and enjoyed the chance to just sit and watch people go by. Last night, I went out with some cool people for dinner, and then I sat in my hotel room and watched That's Entertainment (the documentary about MGM musicals) on public television before going to bed rather early.

I just did another panel, and then I have a reading (if anyone shows up) this afternoon before I head out. I remain annoyingly shy, so although I've passed Stephen R. Donaldson several times, I've yet to say anything because I'm afraid it would come out gushing fangirl. Maybe before the end of the weekend I'll manage a word or two. And then I have to drive home.

It's kind of weird being back in Oklahoma after so long. I was born here and went to elementary school here, just to the southwest of Oklahoma City, so things are both strange and familiar, since a lot has changed in the past 30 or so years. I picked up a lot of tourist brochures at the visitor center on the border, and reading the ones about the Lawton/Fort Sill area made me kind of homesick.

Meanwhile, my watch died sometime during the night Friday night, and as the battery had a five-year warranty and it's only been three years, I'm suspecting it's the watch itself, which is rather old, and it was a cheap watch to begin with. I'm still wearing it so I won't lose it, but then I forget and keep looking at it to see what time it is, since in situations like this I have no sense of the passage of time. I've taken to keeping my cell phone in my pocket so I can use it as a watch. I have a couple of stand-by back-up watches at home, but I'll have to get the bands adjusted because they're way too big for my wrist.

And now I need to get packed and check out of the hotel.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Greetings from Oklahoma

Greetings from Oklahoma City! I'm here at SoonerCon and having a blast. We had a great Firefly panel last night, and then in one of the media rooms they showed the pilot episode for Torchwood, the Doctor Who spinoff. I may regret watching that later because I really got into it, but it seems it's going to be on BBCAmerica rather than Sci Fi, and I don't get BBCAmerica. Maybe they'll put it up OnDemand, like they did with Robin Hood, but they skipped a few episodes of that, which from what I understand of Torchwood, would be a very bad thing to do with this series.

This morning we had a "coffee klatch" chat with fans over coffee/breakfast, and I ended up combining tables with Rachel Caine. And then both of us ended up lingering to join Lee Martindale's table. And then stood in the hallway chatting about conventions, Harry Potter and publishing, among other topics.

On the drive up, I stopped at bookstores along the way to meet the staff and sign copies, and the Oklahoma City outpost of the Chain Which Must Not Be Named had sold out of Damsel Under Stress in the first month of release. So, there! They reordered while I was standing there. And it turns out, from what I'm hearing from other authors, that this chain has slashed their orders for EVERYTHING. It's a corporate strategy that doesn't reflect the success or failure of any one author. Which maybe means my publisher was looking for an excuse (or so I would think were I inclined to be paranoid).

I've got another panel and an autographing this afternoon, and I may get wild and crazy and audition for the live radio drama they're doing at the convention, just for fun. Now I think I'm going to go play fangirl and go to the panel with Casey Biggs, who played Damar on Deep Space Nine (probably my favorite Cardassian character, aside from Garak, of course).

Maybe more updates later if I have anything to say.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Joshilyn Jackson Returns to the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit

First, a couple of little notes. I didn't mean to imply the other day that buying my books at the Chain Which Must Not Be Named was a bad thing. Quite the contrary -- if enough people buy books there, to the point they sell out and then have to reorder, it's possible that they might see The Error of their Ways and be reformed. They made the decision to cut their order based on the number of the previous book they sold, so it was a business decision caused by people not buying the books there (or not enough to justify them having a lot of copies in stock). So it's sort of a catch-22 -- if you don't buy books there, you validate their decision, but if you do buy books there, you're economically supporting them. It's enough to make me tear out my hair. I think I might actually renew my membership to get the 10 percent discount, and then use it to buy copies of my own books for when I'm expected to have them on hand to sell at cons or events where there isn't an on-site bookseller. The membership would more than pay for itself in that alone, the discount makes up for sales tax so I can sell at cover price without losing money, and it funnels non-bookstore sales through a bookstore's ordering system because it seems like the chain numbers are the ones they really care about. Win, win, win!

Speaking of cons, I'm off to SoonerCon tomorrow. Theoretically, the hotel has free wireless Internet, so I may post if I have anything interesting to say over the weekend. I'm on the Firefly panel Friday evening, and then they've got me signed up for a "coffee klatch" meet-up with fans Saturday morning, so I hope someone actually shows up to meet with me. Otherwise, I'll feel sad and pathetic and then crash Rachel Caine's table.

Summer finally seems to have arrived, as I had to break down and turn on the AC this morning. I much prefer fans and open windows, but it just got too hot and muggy for that, and the heat and mugginess could explain why my brain was so foggy yesterday. (Yeah, duh, but I can be stubborn about such things. If I refuse to acknowledge that summer weather has arrived, then it hasn't arrived. I still have the electric blanket out, just in case.)

And that actually makes for a nice transition to this week's Girlfriends Cyber Circuit entry, Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson, which is now out in paperback. I read this book in hardcover last year, and it definitely captures that sultry feeling of the South. Joshilyn won the Georgia Author of the Year for this book, and it was a #1 BookSense pick (the second year in a row she's had that honor).

There's always been bad blood between the Fretts and the Crabtrees. After all, the Fretts practically own the tiny town of Between, Georgia, while the Crabtrees only rent space in its jail cells.

Stacia Frett is a deaf artist with a genetic condition that is causing her to slowly go blind. She's lost the love of her life, and when her vision goes, she'll lose her career as well. She's asking God why He keeps her breathing in and out, until the night fifteen year old Hazel Crabtree shows up on her doorstep brandishing a stomach swollen with a pregnancy she'd hidden for nine months. Stacia thinks Hazel's unwanted baby might be God's answer, and so the Fretts decide to steal it...

Thirty years later, Nonny Frett is a successful interpreter living in Athens, Georgia. She understands the meanings of "rock" and "hard place" better than any woman ever born. She's got two mothers, "one deaf-blind and the other four baby steps from flat crazy." She's got two men; Her husband is easing out the back door and her best friend is laying siege to her heart in her front yard. She has a job that holds her in the city, and she's addicted to a little girl who's stuck deep in the country. And she has two families; The Fretts, who stole her and raised her right, and the Crabtrees, who lost her and can't forget that they've been done wrong.

Joshilyn is busy being a glamorous author, having just returned from the big book expo in New York and on her way to San Francisco to research a new book, so I didn't harass her to answer interview questions. I do know that her next book is called The Girl Who Stopped Swimming and it sounds deliciously Southern Gothic. If you want the kind of insight into the author's mind you get from the interviews, just read her blog, Faster than Kudzu. It will make you want to read her books. Or, it might make you want to move to Georgia so you can hang out with her and become best friends (though that may just be me).

If you want to order the book, Here's the Amazon link . (I'll be a brat and not post a link to the Chain Which Must Not Be Named.)