The Nouvelle Vampire


Eric with fangs

So my last Spellbound Scribes post listed some great m/m vampire books. That post came about because I’d been researching the subgenre (sub-subgenre?) so I could add to it. And now I am. I’m co-writing an m/m vampire story with my friend Irene Preston, and hallelujah! It’s honestly the most fun I’ve ever had writing.

The co-writing thing is like having an extended (very extended) (like 75,000 word extended) conversation, not counting the evening Facebook chats to work out plot points. As a result of all of that discussion, I recently had sort of an a-ha moment.

I really owe Charlaine Harris BIG for how I think vampires should behave.

Eric giphy

Which is actually kind of a problem. I took the time to explore what had already been written so that I wouldn’t outright duplicate anything, though I’ll admit that one of the reasons I went four years between vampire projects was my fear that I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything unique.

And despite my best intentions, I keep making pronouncements, like, OUR vampire should be THUS & SO, and Irene will be all, “um, why?” Then I pause long enough to realize my reasoning has more to do with Eric Northman than with any truly creative thinking on my part.

The whole game in romance is to take something that’s been done a bazillion times before and make it the same, but different. For this project, I started with a vampire who’d been a monk before he’d been turned. Fresh premise, right? Except maybe not so fresh if everything I layer on top (fabulous wealth, orgasmic bite) is lifted thoughtlessly from somewhere else.

Eric n Sookie

Last March I took a class from Kerri-Leigh Grady on Strategies for Writing Fresh, offered through SavvyAuthors.com. If she ever offers the class again, you should totally sign up. In the class, the first thing Kerri-Leigh had us do was pick out some of our favorite familiar story elements, arguing that our readers needed something to relate to before we blew their minds with our ingenuity.

(She then had us do a bunch of really fun exercises twisting familiar tropes, which have already gained me one finished project – and I may yet write that Heathcliffe as a biker in contemporary L.A. thing, too.)

So maybe my first step was okay. I mean, a “vampire story” has certain expected, familiar components. My attempt at ingenuity – a vampire who started life as a monk – is likely something readers can connect with. It may be that my vampire should retain those Eric Northman elements, too. (Especially the orgasmic bite thing, because who wouldn’t benefit from that?)

Except the thing Irene’s questions made me realize is that my vampire only gets to keep the parts of the vampire myth that make sense for his character. Monks aren’t notoriously wealthy, so maybe that’s not an element we end up keeping. Developing the vampire character has become a process of picking and choosing which pieces of the trope work for HIM.

Perhaps – and this is my real a-ha moment, which I may have actually had while writing this post – just maybe coming up with a truly fresh premise isn’t about the thunderbolt that sends you scurrying to your laptop. Maybe it’s more about making a couple of tweaks to something familiar, then informing them with real, live (or undead), characters.

If you’ve got a process for tweaking a standard trope or character type, leave me a comment. Would love to learn from you!

Eric n Jason

Is Kit Harrington Right?

KHarington
In the article Kit Harington Has A Point About Women Objectifying Men, writer Eliana Dockterman describes how the actor is “sick of being called a hunk”, and when members of the media asks him how he feels about being described that way, he generally says, “That’s not what I got into it for.”

The guy’s an actor, and he’d prefer to be asked about, well, his acting.

Ms. Dockterman cites other examples of actors who are constantly being asked how they feel about their “heartthrob” status. Actors like Benedict Cumberbatch whose legion of fans refer to themselves as Cumberbitches.  And John Hamm, for whom there are whole Tumblr blogs dedicated to the bulge in his pants.

I’ll take M. Dockterman’s word for that one. I haven’t looked. No, seriously. Mr. Hamm can get pretty harsh when he’s asked about those blogs, and I can’t really blame him.

While Ms. Dockterman makes it very clear that women are subject to the same kind of “you’re famous because people want to have sex with you” crap, part of me wants to greet Mr. Harington’s complaint with a big ol’ BOOHOO.

KHarington2
Is touching a standard part of the interview process?

 

In protesting treatment that focuses on his looks, it seems to me Mr. Harrington is complaining all the way to the bank.

Objectification is part of the Hollywood game, and women have been played since the beginning. The news that 37-year-old actress Maggie Guyllenhal was told she’s “too old” to play the love interest for a 55-year-old actor demonstrates how endemic the cult of youth and beauty is. Women are held to a different standard than men, and most of the time it seems that the sum total of their contribution is tied up in their appearance.

BCumberbatch might get asked how he feels to be a sex symbol, but only after reporters ask him  about his work. And pretty much only fashion bloggers care who made his suit.

Name an actress who is accorded the same level of respect. There aren’t many.

“And though it’s tempting to even the scales by caring as little about men’s feelings as misogynists care about women’s feelings, that attitude doesn’t help to stop misogyny or advance feminism.” E. Dockterman

The thing is, this level of objectification isn’t limited to actors and actresses. When I look at my on-line presence objectively – true confession here – most of my social media sights would fall under the category ‘NSFW’. (I blogged about it HERE a couple weeks ago.)  Maybe it’s an occupational hazard of being a romance writer, but my Facebook and Pinterest streams, in particular, are pretty much full of lovely masculine images.

Lovely, mostly naked, masculine images.

And some of them forget the mostly.

Which begs the question: After years of feminist bitching about the way men ogle young women, why is it right or fair to objectify young men?

And that’s where the guilt comes in. (Eldest child of an Irish-Catholic family, right? I can find guilt just about anywhere.) I do like to look, although it does bother me, and I try hard not to forget there’s a person attached to those abs. I don’t see following photographer Michael Stokes as some kind of feminist victory. He makes pretty pictures, and I like to look at them.

What’s wrong with that?

Does the power differential between men and women make a difference? Does the ubiquitous standard of youth and beauty applied to women matter? Is it somehow more wrong to objectify women, because so much of who they are is limited to how they look?

Yeah, I don’t know, either, but I expect M. Dockterman is right when she says we shouldn’t be dragging each other down to the same level, but rather lifting each other up.

So I’ll concede Mr. Harrington his point. He’s a serious actor practicing his craft, and we do him a disservice by focusing primarily on his appearance, regardless of how distractingly handsome he may be.

What do you think? Are beefcake photos as popular as cat pix in your Facebook stream? Can we really separate any performer’s appearance from their craft?

Cheers,
Liv

KHarington3
Honestly, if I met this guy in RL, basic functions – like speech – would desert me.

 

Character Appearances: To Specify, or Not To Specify?

I’m a extremely visual reader and writer, which means that I picture very vividly the characters that I’m either reading or writing about. Ask me to share my vision of a specific character, and, even if I didn’t invent her, I will be able to describe her physical features in great detail, as I imagine them. If I were a better artist, I’m sure I could even draw them from my head.

Unfortunately, my idea of what a character looks like doesn’t always line up with what the author intended. Last week, I read a YA novel where the male love interest was described very early on as “tall and olive skinned, with dark hair.” Not super specific, but clear enough. However, the author doesn’t refer to his specific features at all throughout the rest of the book, describing the character only as “beautiful,” or occasionally, “gorgeous.” This lack of specificity gave my forgetful brain the leeway to imagine him quite differently than the original description. I pictured him with golden tan skin and waving chestnut hair.

I imagined him like this. SO SUE ME.

Which is fine. It’s my brain. But when I picked up the sequel and the author reiterated how the character actually looked, I was in for a shock. “He looks like what?” I said, while combing furiously through the first book for the original description.

Describing characters is something every writer does differently. Some authors go into great detail, enumerating freckles and glints of green in hazel eyes and lopsided smiles and crooked noses. Other authors choose to describe their characters very broadly, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. Each method has its merits, but also its drawbacks.

Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, sketched her protagonist Bella’s appearance, but didn’t get into specifics. In an interview, she explained that she “left out a detailed description of Bella in the book so that the reader could more easily step into her shoes.” By leaving a character’s appearance open to interpretation, she hoped to make her more relatable to readers.

But this method can have a darker side. Many of you will remember the disturbing furor that arose when a young black actress was cast as Rue in the movie version of The Hunger Games. The author, Suzanne Collins, describes the fragile 12-year-old in the books as having “dark brown skin and eyes.” While this may seem explicit to some, the broadness of the description resulted in many readers whitewashing an ethnically diverse character. Similarly, while Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame has been universally portrayed as a young white woman, Rowling only ever described Hermione as having bushy brown hair, brown eyes, and prominent front teeth. There is nothing to say Hermione isn’t a woman of color, yet everyone assumes she must be white.

Personally, I prefer specific descriptions. When reading, every nugget of information about a character’s appearance helps me flesh out the imaginary person in my head. And when writing, I want my readers to be able to clearly see the characters I’ve invented.

To a certain extent, everyone’s vision of fictional characters will always be different than the person who authored them. But deciding to describe every feature of a character or electing instead to broadly sketch a general appearance can have ramifications on how your readers ultimately interact with your fictional world.

Do you prefer specificity in your reading/writing? Or do you prefer to imagine the characters without relying on the author’s description? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

My Newest Obsession: 1950s Fashion

Dovima in red velvet for Balenciaga - 1950s magazine spread
Dovima in red velvet for Balenciaga – 1950s magazine spread

While this blog generally has a paranormal theme, I find that it’s been a while since I had a project involving vampires or magic or any of the other things that go bump in the night.

Okay, well, there’s some bumping in the night, but it’s the kind brought on by a much more ordinary magic.

My most recent WIP is set in the 1950s, and that era has me under it’s spell, particularly the fashion. The designers! Givenchy! Dior! The models! Dovima! Suzy Parker! I’ve dedicated a whole Pinterest board to my obsession – jump HERE to check it out – so I thought I’d share a few images with you so you can fall in love too. And, because we all just survived Valentines Day, I tried to choose images that were seasonally appropriate.

1950s party dress - designer unknown
1950s party dress – designer unknown

A couple of trends helped shape 1950s fashion. One of the most important was the end of World War II. Women had been working outside the home and material goods had been strictly rationed during the war. When it was over, you see women wearing yards of fabric cut to conform to an identifiable – and artificial – female shape.

This was in part influenced by Dior’s New Look, a fashion phenomena dating from 1947. The look was softly structured, with sloping shoulders, a narrow waist, and a full, romantic skirt. Here’s a snippet from the Dior website, describing Christian Dior’s motivation…

…in designing “flower women, soft shoulders, blossoming bosoms, waists as slender as creepers and skirts as wide as corollas” (he) only wanted to make them happy. Which he succeeded in doing.

Dior’s New Look gown, 1954

Mamie Eisenhower was a huge proponent of the New Look, and while she did a great deal to support American designers, the Europeans still ruled. If you’re into the minutiae of fashion analysis from that era, you’ll see how the details changed over the years. Waistlines dropped and rose. Hemlines rose and dropped. Later in the century Balenciaga created the sack dress, which got rid of waistlines all together.

Balenciaga sack dress, year unkown; sorry I couldn't find one in red or pink
Balenciaga sack dress, year unkown

So women were flowers. They were allowed – even expected to be feminine. To be pretty. To be elegant. And this is where my infatuation turns into full-blown lust. The models of the era were slender, all stylized angles and curves, and the photographers who worked with them elevated their look even further.

Suzy Parker, 1955
Suzy Parker, 1955

The images are often boldly graphic, the colors and poses chosen to highlight the architectural details of the look. Their hair is all about control, the curls set and sprayed, and the model’s make-up is always perfect: high arched brows, dark liner, and strong lips.

1950s make-up, looking like something a real woman could do
1950s make-up, on a model who looks like a real woman
Suzy Parker from 1955. She did her own make-up  for photographs.
Suzy Parker from 1955. She did her own make-up for photographs.
Marilyn Monroe, demonstrating her iconic make-up
Marilyn Monroe, demonstrating her iconic take on ’50s make-up

As we lift ourselves from our Valentine’s hangovers, I hope you appreciate this flashback to one of the most beautiful eras in fashion, where woman were graceful, classic, and chic – and confined to the home and prepared for marriage and babies and severely underpaid when they did work and not expected to worry their pretty little heads about anything too important.

But damn they looked good.

Cheers!

Liv

Suzy Parker in a dress by Givenchy, 1954
Suzy Parker in a dress by Givenchy, 1954
Dovima for Modess, 1953
Dovima for Modess, 1953

 

The Girl from the Dream: JO

Ever wake up from a dream and think, “Hey, that’d make a killer story/character/movie?”

Ever actually attempt to write that story/character/movie?

I did it. It…wasn’t easy. But I now know anything is possible, and today I’m celebrating the release of JO, the story of the girl from the dream that started it all.

So first…the dream. It was of those early morning ones, where you know you’re waking up soon, and yet somehow it’s vivid and clear. In the dream, I was in my first college dorm room. My bed was across the room from the door beneath the only window. I was sitting on the bed.

There was a knock at the door, and it opened inward. There, in the doorway, was a girl. She had long, tangled hair, and a serious expression.

Beside her stood another girl, and she couldn’t stop giggling. But it was a nervous giggle, you know? Not at all a joyous, mirthful one.

The tangled-hair girl looked at me, sitting across the room, and she said something to the effect of, “I’m dead. Can you tell? Can you smell it on me? The death?”

And then I woke up.

Let me tell you, those two girls stuck with me like white on rice, and I found myself wondering for days and weeks: why was the girl dead? Who killed her? Why? And how was she there to tell me about it?

I can still see them standing there if I close my eyes. I grew obsessed with these two girls, and I spent countless hours trying to figure out the answers to the questions posed above.

It soon came to me that Jo was a mangled science experiment, a walking corpse running on a dying battery, and that she was desperate to find a way to save herself. That the story would take place on a college campus was never in doubt, but where and why was a bit trickier.

Where took shape in the form of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a place I visited and fell in love with many, MANY moons ago. Why? Well, I couldn’t exactly set the story in Charleston, where I currently live, could I? Jo was a walking corpse, for God’s sake! In the heat of South Carolina, she’d surely rot!

So no, I needed somewhere colder, somewhere with nooks and crannies in which the girls (and the bad guys) could hide. So a remote mountain college, then, in the dead of winter.

Thus, my snowbound story found a home.

It took a lot more time to figure out the answers to all the questions posed in those early days following my dream, and I’m certainly not going to answer them all here! I want you to find the answers for yourself! Because the girl with the tangled hair became Jo, the title character in my modern-day re-telling of the Frankenstein monster that releases TODAY OHMIGOSH I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S TODAY!!! The giggling girl became Lucy, Jo’s best friend. Their story, in part, begins here:

From behind the door, Lucy groaned. “Come on,” she said, in a voice so muffled I could practically see her head buried under her fluffy, ragged comforter. “It’s too early. Leave me alone. Please.” Always polite, in her own, special way. That was Lucy.

I banged on the door, still afraid to trust my voice.

“Please please please go away, I said.” She was grumbling, whining, but at least she sounded more conscious.

I moaned. I couldn’t help it. It slipped out. But then I tried out my voice again. “Luce!” I said. “Lucy! It’s me!” I didn’t sound like me, that was for sure, but it was enough.

The door jerked open. “Jo? Is that you? Jo, what the fuck! Where have you been? We’ve been worried sick about you! Come in, come in! What are you doing? Whose coat is that? Eli’s been by seventeen times looking for you, he’s so worried. I didn’t call your mom, but I almost did. Where the hell have you been?” A mile a minute, that was Lucy. Finally she stepped aside to give me room to pass. “Ugh, you smell like ass!”

I looked at my friend as I stepped into her room. She was still muffled, wrapped up in her favorite blanket, with big, fuzzy pajama pants peeking out the bottom. From the way she squinted, it was obvious she didn’t have her contacts in. She was blind as a bat without them.

No wonder she let me in. I didn’t think it would be this easy to get inside.

“Get your glasses,” I said. “Please.”

“What’s wrong with your voice?” she said as she shuffled back toward her nightstand, where her black-rimmed glasses sat on top of a philosophy textbook.

“Put them on.”

She did.

“Now look at me.”

She did. Her eyes flew open, her own mouth dropped wide, and she stared. Stared. “Jo? What’s going on? What’s wrong with you?” Her voice rattled like tree branches in a wind storm. She stepped back, closer to the wall.

“Luce,” I said, my voice gravely and wrong. “Luce, I think I’m dead. Can you help me?” I reached for her. I wanted to be held, to be told everything would be okay. I stepped closer, arms still outstretched.

Lucy’s mouth opened wider as if to scream, but no sound came out. She stumbled away until the backs of her knees struck her bed frame. Her legs gave out and she wobbled dangerously. I reached a hand out to catch her and the parka slipped from my shoulders, revealing all of me.

Lucy fainted.

Naked again, I caught her and lowered her gently to the bed.

I should have expected that, I thought as I headed to the bathroom. After catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I realized I’d faint too, if faced with a walking corpse.

JO by me, Leah Rhyne, releases today! For more information on her tale, visit Goodreads, Amazon, Smashwords, iTunes, or Barnes & Noble. Or you can visit my web site any time and say hello! I’d love to hear from you!

 

On Finishing a Trilogy

Last year I managed to start something like three trilogies where the third book had yet to be released. Let me tell you a little bit about how this played out.

Picking up Book #1: Hmm, this looks interesting. I’ll give it a try.

Finishing Book #1: OMG must read more. There’s a sequel?!? YES. PLEASE.

Reading Book #2: Leave me alone don’t talk to me can’t you see I’m reading?!?

Finishing Book #2: NO! Yes, but NO! I must find out what happens next!!!!!

Searching for Book #3: …WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE’S NO BOOK #3??????

Basically, I’ve spent a lot of time this past year refreshing my Goodreads “to-read” list hoping that the release dates of these desperately awaited books has magically been pushed up. But now, a year later, the final books in these series are finally starting to come out. And as excited as I am about experiencing the conclusions to these wonderful stories, I can’t help also approaching these finales with some degree of trepidation.

Because finishing a series can be an emotional thing, especially after waiting months and months for the final book. As a reader, you’ve spent hours with these characters, investing your time, energy, and emotions into their stories and experiences. You’ve explored their worlds alongside them, faced trials by their sides, and celebrated victories with them. And now, eager as you are to discover how their stories end….you also have to find a way to say goodbye.

This past week I burned through the first on my list of trilogy conclusions. And let me just say, I loved it. The important plot arcs found their natural endings, and the characters all got the endings they deserved. The conclusion was thrilling, unexpected, and poignant.

And yet. Even though the writer and logical reader in me knew it was the perfect ending to a fantastic series, and how could I ask for more? ….I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad. Even though the characters ended up where they ought to be, they didn’t get there without trials, and now, the story was over. As the pages counted down to that final sentence, I braced myself for the inevitable farewell.

It happens. I’ve said goodbye to more characters, worlds, and stories than I can count. And when I’m being honest, I’d tell you that the inevitable goodbye is part of the continuing joy of reading. Every character’s story has an ending…and every ending paves the way for a new story. I will read more books and fall in love with more characters; I will start new series and finish old series and begin all over again.

In fact, I think there’s another series conclusion coming out next month.

And maybe someday, I’ll get the chance to re-read this trilogy, and experience the joys, the sadnesses, and the inevitable goodbye once again.

Do you look forward to (or dread) finishing a trilogy? How do you manage to say goodbye? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

Nailing Character Voice

vintage_mic“All your characters talk the same,” said my critique partner. “If I plucked a quotation randomly from within the pages, I wouldn’t be able to tell who was speaking without looking at the dialogue cues.”

My jaw dropped. All my characters talk the same? I thought to myself. Impossible! They were well-rounded characters with developed backgrounds and unique personalities. I could practically hear their voices in my head as I wrote! So why did they sound the same to another reader? And more importantly, how on earth was I going to fix it?

When I’m pounding away on the keyboard trying to up the word-count on whatever project I’m currently working on, the last thing on my mind is how my characters talk. Heck, I’m usually happy if I can remember where the quotation marks go! But imbuing characters with unique voices is in fact crucial to making them jump off the pages as memorable individualsIt’s a messy, tricky art. And if, like me, you’re having trouble mastering that art, here are a few suggestions to speed you on your way.

1) Listen to the way real people talk…

not how people in movies or on TV or in the pages of a book talk. Go to a cafe. Ride the subway. Sit alone at a bar. And then listen. It’s okay–I’m giving you permission to eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations, just this once. Really listen to the rhythms of sentences, and how different people string words together. Does the severe-looking woman in the business suit use the same language as the hip young dad with junior in tow? I doubt it. The same goes for characters.

2) Remember that character and voice are a feedback loop…

…continuously amplifying one another. Characters’ backgrounds and personalities give cues about how they should and would talk as real people, and the resulting “voice” in turn strengthens the character by reflecting those qualities. Let’s say a rags-to-riches prodigy constantly uses big technical words to explain simple concepts. That tells the reader Doogie Howser still feels like he has something to prove. Maybe an ex-military bodyguard speaks in short words and choppy sentences because she believes actions are more important than words. Voice may be informed by background and personality, but it is also a window back into the character.

3) Add in verbal tics and habitual phrases…

…without resorting to cliché. We humans are creatures of habit, and the way we speak often falls into familiar repetitive patterns. While I’m not suggesting you have your character say “like” every two seconds, sometimes one character’s verbal tics can set them apart from the others. Think of Breaking Bad: Jesse Pinkman’s indiscriminate usage of “yo” and “b***h” throughout the show served to make his voice distinctive from Walter’s or Skylar’s while also giving cues about his personality and background. Just be careful not to repeat it to the point where it becomes a catchphrase, like George R. R. Martin’s character Ygritte’s now-famous line “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

That is, unless you’re trying to start a meme.

Well, that’s it! Follow these steps and you should be well on your way to mastering the tricky art of character voice. And don’t feel bad if you can’t get the hang of it at first: I’ll still be over here wondering why my uneducated, sullen love interest shouldn’t talk like a poet! “You know nothing, yo!”