A TALE DU MORT is FREE This Weekend!

Saturday and Sunday, to be exact.

Most of you are already aware, but in case you missed my thousands of tweets on the stress of planning a wedding, I’M GETTING MARRIED!

In celebration (and who am I to resist a perfect promo set-up?) I’ve made A TALE DU MORT free for everyone this weekend. Here’s the Amazon link.

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GET YOUR READ ON and I’ll see you in two weeks with tales of a couple trying to wander London without looking too much like tourists.

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How the F*** Do I Name My Characters?

If you’re a parent (or even if you’re not), it’s easy to understand the agony behind choosing a name for this squirming mass of flesh you’ve created. You want something that’ll represent them, something that’ll stand out, but not too much, and God forbid you pick something with an automatic and unfortunate nick-name attached.

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As writers, we go through the same torment. We peruse all the baby name databases. We say their names over and over to see how it’ll sit on someone’s tongue should they read it out loud. We scribble them in notebooks and on napkins and try to imagine a face that’ll reflect the person we want them to be. It’s torture, but it’s vital to the success of a book (in which I define “success” as a book readers talk about or think about after the cover is closed).

First, I want to say that I’m not knocking the Marks and Julies of the fiction world. Names don’t have to be unusual to stand out. It’s all about the name that accompanies the personality. Example: Andrew Yancy from Carl Hiassen’s BAD MONKEY and RAZOR GIRL. Pretty standard name, right? But when paired with the ironic swagger of an ex-detective-now-roach-patrolman, it’s a name that’ll stick in the reader’s mind. He’s Andrew, not Drew or Andy. Yancy is the kind of surname with a nondescript background, so you’re free to mold him any way you like in your mind.

For the writer who wants a more unusual name without throwing in useless consanents and ridiculous accent marks, I give you these examples:

Bunny Munro from THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO. The name “Bunny” is ironic, given his less than soft nature, making it unusual enough to stand out. The same principle goes for Fat Charlie from ANANSI BOYS who is anything but fat and Abby Normal from Christopher Moore’s BLOODSUCKING FIENDS series who would love to be anything but normal.

You could go for something more literal, like SERGE STORMS from pretty much any Tim Dorsey novel who blows through the book like a category 5 hurricane on a mix of speed and coffee. Or there’s Mr. Wednesday from AMERICAN GODS, whose literal meaning takes a little bit of digging. His name is one of convenience, granted to him when he asks Shadow Moon what day it is and then replies, “Today is my day.” That statement alone is a summation of Mr. Wednesday’s character, which gives his name meaning.

Then there are names that carry with them the entire heart of the story. Osceola Bigtree from SWAMPLANDIA isn’t the protagonist, but she carries in her name (and her character) the soul of the book, which takes place in the swampy underbelly of South Florida.

In the end, readers will interpret your character names however they want. I could be totally off about Osceola, but her name stuck with me because I was able to extract meaning and because Karen Russell GAVE her name meaning, even if it wasn’t the same as mine. The name you choose isn’t as important to your characters as the reason behind it. Sometimes, it’s just because the name “suits” a character. That’s PERFECTLY FINE. Names that suit characteristics will make sense and serve to draw a clearer picture for the reader, making your story memorable.

I’ve given you some of mine; Now, let’s hear some character names that’ve really stuck with you, long after you’ve finished reading.

Birthdays and Celebrations– Or: Reasons to Open the Wine Before Noon

While the Google Doodle is blowing up balloons, celebrating being old enough to vote, we’ve got some announcements and shenanigans happening here, too.

First, ALL DARLING CHILDREN has an official (e-book) release date of October 20th. Mark it on your calendars, tell your friends, cuddle your Pooh Bear in nervous anticipation. For now, here’s a cover and blurb:

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Ain’t she GORGEOUS?

All boys grow up, except one.

On the tenth anniversary of her mother’s death, fourteen-year-old Madge Darling’s grandmother suffers a heart attack. With the overbearing Grandma Wendy in the hospital, Madge runs away to Chicago, intent on tracking down a woman she believes is actually her mother.

On her way to the Windy City, a boy named Peter Pan lures Madge to Neverland, a magical place where children can remain young forever. While Pan plays puppet master in a twisted game only he understands, Madge discovers the disturbing price of Peter Pan’s eternal youth.

If that don’t tickle your fairy tale bone, I don’t know WHAT will.

 

Second, I’m getting MARRIED. To celebrate, I’ll be making A TALE DU MORT free on Amazon from Saturday to Sunday. So, you can read (and review! please!) while I’m betting half my stuff that this will all work out just fine.

 

Finally, I want you all to wish Kate Moretti a huge HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY on the release of THE VANISHING YEAR, which Mary Kubica called “a stunner!” I’ll be picking it up today to take with me on my honeymoon. Here’s a cover and a blurb:

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Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips.

What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her.

As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

Pick up your copy today and don’t forget to leave her a review. Happy Tuesday!

Moar Prompts to Get You Writing

It’s Monday again, dolls. There’s a chill in the air, apples in my fruit bowl, pumpkin in my coffee, and an itch in my head to do some writing. I can feel you resisting, so here are some prompts to get you going. As always, check back here EVERY MONDAY for more prompts.

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  1. Think of two unlikely heroes and pit them against one another.
  2. Write a poem about a dirty sock.
  3. What would the most popular spell in your spell book be?
  4. Watch a movie without the sound. Write your own dialogue.
  5. Write about a wicked stepmother.
  6. Now write a redemption story for her.
  7. Write the first like of a story titled: MR. LAWSON’S ANGER PIE.
  8. Describe the perfect day for apple picking.
  9. What would a candle made of earwax smell like?
  10. Describe the pet of a woman who owns three restaurants, all named after venereal diseases.

PLEASE share in the comments any of your favorite prompts or the fruits of your labor. Have a great week!

Guest Post with Stephen Kozeniewski

Happy Friday! This week, it’s Stephen Kozeniewski (author of BRAINEATER JONES and HUNTER OF THE DEAD) on the blog, chatting a bit about re-reading books.

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There’s a lot of pearl-clutching these days about what kids won’t get to do that their parents got to do because, you know, every generation has to live identically to the generation before it or else society just, like, completely fucking breaks down.  Just like, you know, the Greatest Generation didn’t live the way their parents did and then the universe imploded in the ‘40s.  I don’t want this to be one of those posts, because those posts are universally stupid and no, I am not being hyperbolic, they are, to a one, completely and utterly moronic.
So this is more of an elegiac post than a condemnatory one.  But I do wonder if kids in the future will ever know what it’s like to have a battered, dog-eared copy of a book that they’ve read cover-to-cover a hundred times.  I mean, maybe they will.  I don’t know.  I don’t know what the future holds.  (Except that the next generation will condemn the one after that.)
But I was thinking about it the other day, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve re-read a book.  I mean, with the internet, there’s so much new content blasting my eyeholes every day I can’t even keep up with one tenth of one tenth of a percent of the stuff I’d actually like to keep abreast of, let alone have a broad knowledge base of the world.  I have to settle for reading a paragraph-long review of a video game I might like to play and hoping I get the gist because I just don’t have 80 hours to devote to playing it, but I want to be knowledgeable about games.  And hell, if I do play a game, then that’s like, six seasons of TV I didn’t blast through on Netflix.
It didn’t used to be this way.  I had magazines – magazines, for God’s sake – that I used to read through so many times that I can still picture the photographs in my mind.  Single issues of “Boy’s Life” and “Nintendo Power” that were just, like, all I had.  So every rainy Sunday or boring weekday afternoon I’d re-read them.  I read every “Warhammer” rulebook I owned more times than I ever played the game.
And then there was THE HITCH-HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.  I’d be lying if I said I haven’t read that entire series dozens, possibly hundreds of times.  In the tire swing.  In the treehouse.  At school between (and sometimes during) classes.  One night when the power went out and all we had were flashlights.  One night when my father wasn’t working for some reason and we all went out and got McDonald’s.  At my egg donor’s job on more than one occasion when I had to come in with her.
I mean, right now the thought of re-reading something is just so laughably out of the realm of possibility for me.  As I write this, I’m looking at four fat stacks of physical books that I own and ought to have read years ago.  That’s not even counting all the favors I owe in the form of books I should be reading that I just plain haven’t bought yet.  Or all the sorts of hints and dodges that I give people that sort of suggest I’ve maybe read their work while desperately hoping they never point blank ask.
Ingesting a book, grokking it, letting it become a part of you, that’s certainly a dead part of my life.  I don’t know if it’s the times (man) or just my age, or just me personally.  But I do wonder about kids.  I don’t know if they’ll have a HITCH-HIKER’S GUIDE (or whatever) the way I did.  Maybe all kids do.  Maybe they ingest books a hundred thousand times because that’s what you do when you’re a kid.  I don’t know if I even want them to.  Maybe it’s better not to do that, and to spend that time wisely broadening your horizons.  I mean, I didn’t.  Then again, I’m a frood who really knows where my towel is, so, you know, I guess it’s kind of a trade-off.

See You at the Twin Cities Book Festival!

That’s right. I’m a BIG DEAL now.

Not really. But I WILL be exhibiting at the Twin Cities Book Festival on October 15th at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. I’ll have paperbacks to sign and sell, there will be a raffle, BOOZE — okay, no booze — and it’ll be a ton of fun.

If you’re in or near the Twin Cities come mid-October, make sure to come say hello! It’s a free event with dozens of authors, publishers, and booksellers celebrating books.

Here’s a link to the exhibitor list: http://www.raintaxi.com/twin-cities-book-festival/exhibitors-and-specials/

YAY BOOKS!

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How the F*** Do I Plot?

I recently finished reading STORY GENIUS by Lisa Cron, on the advice of a writer friend.

It was awesome.

It was always debilitatingly depressing. Never before had I read a writing advice manual and walked away realizing that I published four novels having known jack shit about what makes a good story.

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Notice I said story there, and not book.

STORY GENIUS spends a lot of time decoding what makes a person’s brain crave story, and what writers need to do to harness that power over the reader. (We will use this for world domination, eventually. Don’t say you weren’t warned).

I FULLY recommend getting your hands on a copy to get the full extent of Cron’s amazing tips and exercises. But I will tell you the part that resonated most with me.

WHY?

As a parent, it’s the question of doom. It spirals into realms terrifying and unknown and the only way to get out alive is to keep throwing out answers until there are none left. Amazingly, being a parent makes you uniquely adept at answering this question when it comes to plotting.

Most writers already know that something has to happen because something else happened. There’s a general understanding of cause and effect that most of us already adhere to when plotting the external forces that will propel our protagonist through the story and out the other side. What most of us forget is that this question of WHY has to answer questions internally of the protagonist, too. Each event has to have a POINT, and not just, “Well, she has to get from A to B so I’ll put her in a car and then I’ll get a chance to throw some setting in there.” (Real example of my former thought process, no lie).

Here’s an example from a WIP I’m working on now.

I have a scene planned where Gretchen (my protagonist) is picked up from the airport by her awful step-mother.

Enter the ‘why.’

Because her sister (who asked her to come in the first place) is at home with her kid.

Why?

Because he has pink eye.

Why?

Because the little shit can’t be bothered to wash his hands more than once a month.

Okay, so, we’ve got a perfectly logical reason for someone Gretchen hates to be picking her up from the airport. But what does that have to do with her story? Her character arc?

In this WIP’s case, Gretchen’s story arc begins with her desire to cut her family out of her life completely and ends with her realizing that she can’t establish any kind of meaningful relationship with other people unless she forgives her family their transgressions and lets go of the idea that People Will Betray You.

So. The step-mom.

She picks Gretchen up from the airport.

Why?

Because even as Gretchen gets off the plane, she feeds the delusion that she can deal with being back in her family’s orbit from a distance. Having step-mom, the person she hates most, gather her from the airport dispels that misbelief.

Since the reason pushes Gretchen toward her final goal (even only a little) the scene gets to stay. If, when you’re plotting, you can’t think of an internal reason why the scene should stay, it’s time to get out the axe.

Don’t feel bad. It’s easy to forget that a story isn’t just a collection of things happening to a person. They’re events that force the protagonist to change internally, which is where the real story happens.

So don’t write a book; write a story. Ask why.