Tag Archives: Urban Fantasy

The Author-Agent Relationship: When Fandom Plays a Part

Posted by October 11th, 2013

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“In terms of author-agent relationship, I think it’s really just me being a gigantic fangirl and him [Michael] being a brilliant, motivated and creative author.” -Sara Megibow

A few weeks ago we had a nice, long conversion with Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency about the publishing industry and agenting. In the first part of our interview, Sara had great advice to share with budding writers looking to query her. Here, we’re focusing on the magic behind the author-agent relationship. When an agent and a writer are a good fit, the results reflect that. But how does that partnership begin, exactly? Sara told us about how she started working with Book Country member Michael R. Underwood, who just inked a deal for a new book he previously workshopped on Book Country with David Pomerico at 47North. 

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I remember when Michael’s query letter came in.

He said, “I have an offer on the table from Simon & Schuster for a novel that was posted on Book Country.” I usually pass on anything that says “I have an offer on the table” as I don’t want to be known as an agent who swoops in to collect an agent fee for an offer I didn’t work for. So, I requested GEEKOMANCY with the full intention of passing on it.

Here’s what happened instead:

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One Year Since Michael R. Underwood’s GEEKOMANCY

Posted by April 8th, 2013

Meet author & Book Country member Michael R. Underwood

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“Don’t always settle for the established trope.” –Mike Underwood

Michael R. Underwood is the author of Geekomancy, an urban fantasy novel in which geek knowledge is a superpower. A year ago Pocket/Gallery editor Adam Wilson came across a sample of the manuscript on Book Country, loved it, and offered Mike a book deal.

We got in touch with Mike to commemorate the acquisition, talk about his writing, and find out how becoming a published author changed his life.

Nevena: Thank you for joining us, Mike. Let’s start with Geekomancy. When did you start writing it? And how did you come up with the idea of Geekomancers, or “humans that derive their supernatural powers from pop culture”?

Mike
Geekomancy started as a distraction. I gave myself a break from writing another novel so I could noodle with this idea I had about geek magic. I set aside the novel I’d been working on and let myself explore this new idea over Thanksgiving weekend. The genesis of the magic of Geekomancycame from a confluence of many influences and inspirations, but largely from asking myself the question, “What would geek magic be?”—and then trying to figure out the answer.

Nevena: Geek magic is a unique concept. Do you see yourself reinventing genre conventions?

Mike: When I started Geekomancy, I set out to write the kind of urban fantasy that I’d want to read. I feel like there is a thread in urban fantasy that takes the same creature types (e.g., Vampires, Wereshifters, Demons, Witches, Fae, etc.) and just re-cycles them with minimal changes. I wanted to do something different. The world of Geekomancy has vampires, werewolves and demons, but I filtered each creature type through the whacky lens of the world. So I ended up with vampires nearly extinct because they’d been lashed to the popular consciousness dominated by Twilight, werewolves that are actually humans in rubber werewolf suits, and a demon called the Thrice-Retconned Duke of Pwn.

It may not count as breaking a convention, but Geekomancy was always intended to be a comedy as much as an urban fantasy. There are other great comedic urban fantasy series (e.g.,The Dresden Files, InCryptid, The Iron Druid Chronicles), but I don’t see it as the dominant thread in urban fantasy. Many have comedy in them, but far fewer are as much comedy as they are urban fantasy.

Nevena: Are there any clichés or genre conventions in fantasy you’d like to see disappear?

Mike: No, because I keep seeing writers take something familiar and make it fresh again. I would like to challenge fantasy writers (myself included!): don’t always settle for the established trope as is. It can be tricky to find that balance—in drawing enough on what’s come before to invite audiences in through the familiar, but then delivering something that’s distinct and new enough to be worth the reader’s time. I used familiar cultural properties inGeekomancy, but I tried to put them together in a different way.

Nevena: I can see that, especially with how you’ve woven your unique sense of humor throughout the book. What’s your secret to crafting a great voice?

Mike: Thanks! I access voice through the same way I step into a character when I’m playing RPGs or acting. I learn enough about the character that I can build a worldview filter that lets me see and analyze the world through that character’s perspective. When I’ve got a clear sense of a character’s voice, it’s much easier for me to tear through the word count. For me, a well-realized voice makes for a well-realized character, and then the character can drive the story.

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Nevena: Now walk us through the book’s path to publication. What was the most challenging part about writing and publishing it?

Mike: I started writing Geekomancy in November 2010, and continued through the summer of 2011. I took a break in the summer to do a revise-and-resubmit for an agent on a previous project, then went back toGeekomancy and wrote until I finished the rough draft in late 2011. I submitted the barely-revised rough draft to a novel contest in an online writers’ group I’m in (Codex Writers), and decided to throw a sample up on Book Country as well, as a way to share my revision process online and get some extra feedback.

In January 2012, I got an email from Adam Wilson at Pocket/Gallery, who had read the partial on Book Country and asked for the full manuscript. After a good bout of Kermit flailing, I wrote back and sent the manuscript, and about a week later, I had an offer.

The most challenging part was the first draft itself. I was having a huge amount of fun writing the novel, but along the way, I had doubts—what if I was writing too obscure, too insular? Was I writing a novel only I and fifty of my friends would enjoy? I made some edits to make the book more accessible, but I think it remains a book that will best connect with particular types of readers.

I think all books have “ideal readers” who are positioned to best connect with a work. Books can connect with many other people, but the ideal readers are probably the people who will most love the work. I inadvertently gave myself the advantage of knowing quite specifically who the ideal readers for Geekomancy were—they were the people who had grown up loving many of the same things I did, who could see themselves in Ree Reyes and her friends. What started as a fear has turned out to be the work’s great strength for the ideal readers.

Nevena: I bet the concept of an ideal reader helps a lot during the writing process. What was the process of working with your editor?

MikeGeekomancy is largely the same novel it was as of the first draft. Adam helped me take the things I was trying to do and do them better, more evocatively. He also helped me foreground the magic so that it could connect with readers better and invoke the fannish joy that is intrinsic (for me) to geekdom.

I love having an editor. I’ve been a collaborative storyteller for most of my life, playing tabletop and live-action role-playing games. It’s great to have a partner who is both a skilled reader who helps me focus and clarify my work as well as a champion for the book in the industry. Adam coordinated the publishing machine that took Geekomancy from a word document on my hard drive to a completed commercial novel ready to connect with readers.

Nevena: Sounds like Adam is awesome! 🙂 How has your life changed since Geekomancy?

Mike: Life since selling the novel has been a whirlwind. Mostly, the difference has been one of intensity. Before, I was working hard on writing, but knowing that there are readers waiting for more did a great job of helping me put that extra bit of effort in every day.

Another huge change is that I now have novels out in the world, and with that come readers, reviews, and life in the public eye. Every time I see a tweet or a review, it reminds me that the writing career that I’ve wanted for so long is happening, right now. The dream has come true, but it’s a work in progress. The first deal isn’t happily ever after, not by a long shot. But I’m in the game.

Nevena: I’m really happy for you, Mike.

Geekomancy is now an audio book. Listen to a sample here. Follow Michael R. Underwood on Twitter at @MikeRUnderwood and visit his blog. He’s represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency.

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two of our interview with Mike, in which he talks about his new book, Celebromancy, coming out on July 15th, and being part of Book Country.

* Cover art by Trish Cramblet, Design by Min Choi

 

 

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Know Your Vampires

Posted by March 8th, 2013

A glimpse into adult vampire fiction across the urban fantasy and paranormal romance genres.

 vampire_fiction_smAn editor once told me that an understanding of magical creature lore is as important to her as craft when it comes to scouting for new paranormal authors. Writers must know their vampires, werewolves, and shifters inside and out, and how they are represented across famous paranormal titles.

In other words, writers must be expert readers.

You know how prevalent vampires have been for the past decade. Your vampires must build upon existing tropes and conventions, and also offer something new and unexplored.

To lend a hand, here’s a crash course in vampire lore from key urban fantasy and paranormal romance titles.

(Warning: fangs and spoilers ahead.)

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris (2001)

Dead Until Dark

The series that inspired True Blood chronicles the adventures of charming waitress and telepath Sookie Stackhouse. It has set the standard in sexy bloodsuckers. Here, vampires love human blood and exist for hundreds of years, but they no longer have to hide from the world because of Japanese synthetic blood. Vampires still prefer to stick to their own kind; only a few “mainstream” with humans. Many live in nests, where they sleep during the day (they’ll deep-fry if caught in the sun). These vampires have immense physical strength, and many have special abilities such as sharp hearing, flying, and super speed. To become a vampire, a human is drained of blood and fed vampire blood, bringing him or her over to the other side. Vampires tend to be good in the sack—they’ve had centuries to hone their lovemaking skills.

This series draws on the legacy of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, another classic in the vampire genre.

 Dark Lover by J.R. Ward (2005)

Dark Lover

J.R. Ward’s vampire world in Dark Lover couldn’t be more different. The series revolves around the Black Dagger Brotherhood, a group of hunky vampire warriors tasked with protecting their race from the Lessening Society, soulless creatures trying to wipe them out. Vampires here are not “dead” but a different species, and they can’t convert humans through a bite. In their twenties, vampires go through a sort-of puberty when their vampiric nature appears. They get bigger and hotter, and their strength quadruples. Vampires prefer to feed from and mate with their own kind. You got that right—human blood is not as sweet and tantalizing to Ward’s creations. However, male vamps can have children with human women. In the first book, readers meet vampire king Wrath and his beloved, Beth, who’s the half-breed daughter of Wrath’s late friend Darius. Most books in the series revolve around a different “brother” and his romantic interest.

If the leather-clad, motorcycle-gang-like vampires are your type, also check out Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed series.

Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost (2007)

Halfway to the Grave

The Night Huntress series, of which Halfway to the Grave is the first book, gives us vicious vampires whose eyes glow emerald in the heat of action.

Cat, the half-vampire protagonist, is just as “if Buffy and Angel had a daughter”*: a feisty vampire hunter. Because her mother was raped by a freshly-turned vampire, she is trying to kill as many vamps as she can get her hands on. Cat’s mixed lineage is unique since, in this worldview, humans and vampires can’t normally have children. When she meets British vamp and bounty hunter Bones, she needs to accept that not all of his kind are bloodthirsty monsters. Together they kick some bad vampire butt, and star in steamy sex scenes.

If Dead Until Dark fits the urban fantasy genre and Dark Lover the paranormal romance genre, Frost’s book walks a fine line between the two. The attraction between Cat and Bones is too center stage for the novel to be straight urban fantasy. The lack of HEA, or Happily Ever After, at the end of the first installment, means that it can’t be categorized as romance either. As readers continue through the series, they discover more details about the feudalism-like vampire system as well as vampire physiology (e.g., drinking vampire blood makes humans stronger, faster and adds years to their lives). Here, vampires inherit abilities like flying from their makers, but these specific abilities appear as they age.

What about Twilight?

Young adult vamps like those in Twilight abide by a different set of standards. Check out these cornerstone series if you’re writing YA: Vampire Academy, House of Night, and The Vampire Diaries.

Today’s adult fiction vamps are buff, leather-clad, emerald-eyed, often impotent, undead or a different species, and have a thing for human women.

How do your vampires build on these tropes?

*Description from the book jacket.

©iStockphoto.com/IvanBliznetsov

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GEEKOMANCY Revealed!

Posted by May 2nd, 2012

Book Country user Mike Underwood shares the cover for his forthcoming urban fantasy novel.

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Back in March, we were ecstatic when one of our long-time super-users,Michael R. Underwood, sold his debut book GEEKOMANCY and its sequel to editor Adam Wilson at Pocket Books. GEEKOMANCY – an urban fantasy that Mike describes as “Clerks meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – was first workshopped on Book Country, and instantly became a community favorite. It’s now scheduled to come out on July 10, 2012! You can pre-order the book here.

We’ve been keeping up with Michael’s progress and are happy to be able to share his amazing book cover:

 

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The cover is a stunning drawing of GEEKOMANCY’s main character, Ree Reyes, a “barista-and-comicshop slave.” It does a great job of capturing the quirky charm of Michael’s heroine. The novel follows her adventures in an urban version of Alice’s Wonderland, as Reyes helps a scruffy-looking guy named Eastwood investigate a string of mysterious teen suicides.

Congratulations to Michael on his success!

We wish him luck with putting the finishing touches on his book and planning out the sequel. To keep up with Michael and the publication of GEEKOMANCY, follow him on Twitter @MikeRUnderwood or read about his writing joys and travails on his blog, Geek Theory. Michael is represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency.

* Cover art by Trish Cramblet, Design by Min Choi

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Out in the Open with Suzanne Brockmann

Posted by November 30th, 2011

Talking genre and GLBT with the bestselling author and gay-rights advocate

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“I’m bored and tired of books and TV shows and movies that define America as white, upper-middle-class, and straight.”

We’ve received a surprising number of emails over the past several months about categorizing GLBT genre fiction on the Genre Map. The questions came at us from all angles: “Where do I put my male-male Romantic SF [or insert genre here]?” “Where is the GLBT genre?” “Why are there not separate subgenres for GLBT stories?”

Then I started hearing more discussion among writers and readers about the varied responses to GLBT literature and how it’s perceived by the industry, particularly when it comes to genre fiction and young adult fiction. I couldn’t believe the amount of controversy being stirred up by something that, to me, shouldn’t be segregated out in the first place.

So, when I heard New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Brockmanngive her keynote speech and Q&A at the New Jersey Romance Writers’ “Put Your Heart in a Book” conference last month, I knew she’d have something special to add to the conversation. She was kind enough to let me pick her brain on her the matter, delving into her own experiences and beliefs about GLBT fiction. She also gives us a little heads up regarding her own upcoming projects:

DP: Ok, before we dive into the real topic of this interview, I’ve got to ask for your fans’ sakes: There’s a rumor going around that your beloved “Troubleshooter, Inc.” series is coming to an end. Sad but true? 

SB: I have a “never say never” policy, and while I definitely can imagine writing more books set in the Troubleshooters universe, I know—from past experience—that after taking a “break” from the series, I might not go back.  So I don’t want to make any promises to readers.  With that said, yes, I can imagine writing Jay Lopez’s book. But I’ve been writing books in the TS series since 1999, and not only did I really want to do something completely different creatively, I felt (and my publisher agreed) that I’ve hit a plateau with my military romantic suspense readership.  As a writer, you’re always looking to grow your audience—and the idea to do something new was well-received by my editor.

So I’ve brought back all the elements I that I love about writing the TS series (close-knit, highly skilled and trained characters who work together as a team; on-going story arcs that stretch out across several books; the dramatic/comedic elements that make character growth rich and multi-layered) but I’ve set this new series, called Fighting Destiny, in a darkly futuristic, urban fantasy world.  It other words, it’s a paranormal, but it involves telepathy and telekinesis instead of vampires, monsters and demons.  Born to Darkness is the first book in the FD series, and it comes out in hardcover from Ballantine Books on March 20, 2012.  And oh yeah, it also features a hero who is a former Navy SEAL.  (What can I say?  I love writing about SEALs—they make great heroes!)

DP: You first gained recognition for writing romantic subplots of openly gay characters with your 2004 release of Hot Target. How did your agent/editor/publisher first react to the character of Jules Cassidy? Was there any apprehension about publishing his story in such a popular, mainstream series? 

SB: I received no resistance whatsoever—not from my editor or from anyone else at my publisher, which is Ballantine Books.  But remember, my editor first met Jules close to the same time my readers met him: He came in as FBI agent Alyssa Locke’s partner in the second book in the TS series, The Defiant Hero.  By the time I gave him that romantic subplot in book #8, Hot Target, readers had gotten to know Jules quite well—and had a chance to be impressed, over and over again, by his skill as an FBI agent, by his excellent sense of humor, his loyalty and friendship to Alyssa.  The guy is a hero, and I was not at all subtle about showing that in the books!

So I really think that everyone was ready for Jules to get a little something-something. <g>

Well, except for the readers I lost by allowing a gay character to be a realistic, living, breathing, sexual human being instead of an asexual stereotype.  But we’ll talk about that in detail in a bit.

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DP: What inspired you to tell Jules’s story in the first place? Was there anything in particular you were hoping to accomplish in doing so?

SB: I make that extremely clear in the dedication for Hot Target.  In a nutshell, I recognized that my son Jason was probably gay back when he was around three years old. It was really important to me that Jason got a chance to grow up without even the slightest sliver of doubt that there was anything wrong with him—because there isn’t anything wrong with him!  It was also vitallyimportant to me that Jason not spend his life hiding his true self from the world.

So I was working it, hard, to make sure that he had great gay role models, that we had out gay friends in our lives, and that—at the same time—he was as protected as he could be from society’s sometimes careless, but sometimes even more overt, homophobia.  And as a result of wanting to help my son, I became educated and informed about the GLBT community—and that confirmed for me the importance of being out.  Gay rights groups around the world agree that things can and will change if more and more gay people move out of the shadows and into the sunlight. I wanted my readers—especially those who lived in extremely socially conservative parts of the country—to have a gay friend, and so Jules Cassidy was born.

But bottom line, I brought Jules into my Troubleshooters world for the very same reasons I create all of my characters: America is a diverse country filled with fascinating and heroic people of all colors, shapes, sizes, orientations, and beliefs.  And frankly, I’m bored and tired of books and TV shows and movies that define America as white, upper-middle-class, and straight.  I created Jules for the very same reason I created characters who are African American or Asian American or Cuban American—I want my fictional world to reflect the diverse group of people who live in my American neighborhood.

Mr. Spock from “Star Trek” said it best:  “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.”

My hope is that by showing America as I see it—as a richly diverse country—I’ll help redefine normal.  Having a gay FBI team leader shouldn’t be a surprise.  It should simply be no big deal.

DP: In your personal experience, what challenges were involved in writing a GLBT storyline/character? How did you overcome them?

SB: I think a writer’s challenge when creating any character lies in being able to make this fictional person believable and compelling, to make him live and breathe. Being gay is just one part of who Jules is—it doesn’t define him.  He’s far more defined by being a kick-ass, exceptional FBI agent—who happens to be gay.  So I didn’t feel that creating Jules was any more or less difficult than creating any other character.

I think the biggest challenge for me came from writing the culmination of Jules’s romantic story arc with movie actor Robin Chadwick. The love scenes. The first time Jules and Robin get intimate is in the back of a limo inForce of Nature, and I spent a great deal of thought and effort in deciding exactly how explicit to make that scene.

By all rights, I should have been able to make that scene as detailed as any other love scene I’d ever written. And I wanted to. It felt wrong even to question this. But I knew that my readership leaned conservative.

It was very important to me when I wrote that love scene to make it a love scene.  The emphasis had to be on Jules’s and Robin’s emotions.  And I made the very hard choice to pull the gauze over the camera lens (so to speak) and make the scene vague enough so that I didn’t lose my more conservative readers.

I hated having to do that—and you better believe that my more progressive and liberal readers let me know that they were disappointed.  Some of them believed that I intentionally pulled back from the graphic gay sex because of squeamishness—suggesting I wasn’t as open and accepting as I claimed.  That hurt.

I ended up writing an essay called “So That Happened” that dealt both with the fact that (despite my intention) Force of Nature ended up being the book in which Jules and Robin win their HEA, and the fact that I soft-pedaled their gay love scenes.  As I say in that essay, “But my message—love is love is love—is so important, I just couldn’t bear the thought of frightening away a more timid readership by putting in too much man-on-man action. And I believe that the truth is—at least my truth—that making love is about emotions. I felt the most important part of the Robin/Jules love scene was how Jules felt when Robin confessed that he loved him.”

DP: A lot of people are uncertain about how to categorize GLBT fiction, particularly when it comes to genre fiction. Is it GLBT if it’s a male/male romance between secondary characters? Does the GLBT character need to be the protagonist? Does it even matter? 

SB:  A book is the book that it is, whatever label we give it. And the labels are pretty arbitrary. Still, we live in a society where we use shortcuts and labels to define and organize all kinds of things—books included.  And fiction is divided into genres, and those genres are divided into subgenres, and those subgenres are used by publishers to market the books that they sell.

All of my books with GLBT characters are considered to be mainstream, because I’ve made my name as a mainstream romance writer.  Even All Through the Night.  This is a holiday novella that tells the story of Jules and Robin’s Boston wedding.  So it’s a “mainstream” romance with a hero and a hero.

And because it was marketed as a mainstream novel, it failed (IMO) to reach the GLBT audience, which was a shame.  (I tried to talk my publisher into printing a trade paperback version instead of a mass market paperback reissue that came out about a year after the hardcover.  I thought that would be a good compromise, but they didn’t do it.  <sigh>)

Okay, so the pro side is that there was a mainstream hardcover romance novel about a same-sex wedding—a book with a hero and a hero that hit theNew York Times list.  That’s awesome.  I can’t complain about that on so many different levels.

But on the con side, because of that lack of marketing to a GLBT audience, I’m still practically unknown to that very substantial readership.  Yes, some readers of GLBT fiction have found me, but that’s mostly been through my involvement as a gay-rights activist. Or by chance.

You know, I have a production company called small or LARGE Productions, and last June we filmed a low-budget feature-length romantic comedy with a hero and a hero, and we’re currently in post-production.  The movie, “The Perfect Wedding,” is not about being gay—no one is in the closet, no one has gay-related health issues, no one’s a drag queen (not that there’s anything wrong with that! <g>).  There are three gay characters and they are all out and open, and their friends and families love them, and they love themselves.  No angst about being gay—that’s not what the movie is about.  It’s about two young men, Paul and Gavin, who spark when they meet, and how they deal with it over the course of a holiday weekend.

Paul and Gavin on deck med size

And we recently held a screening with friends of ours who are gay, because we wanted their feedback. And they all felt that it would be a mistake to market this movie solely as a gay romantic comedy.  They felt doing so would pigeonhole it.  And they also all said that they had never seen a movie like this before, where the gay characters were just characters who happened to be gay.

Now, this is our movie, and as producers we get to decide (at least at this stage) how it will be marketed.  We have a lot of options and a lot of choices to make.

I want to be really clear, though, that my choice for how my All Through the Night should have been marketed (in the broad sense) would have been 1) mainstream and GLBT, and 2) mainstream. To have had this book marketed only to the GLBT audience would have been, IMO, a loss and a mistake. Frankly, I think it’s more important for me to include gay characters in my mainstream books than it is to write books that reach only/mostly that GLBT audience.

DP: I know a lot of writers who are interested in creating GLBT characters in their novels, but who are reluctant to do so, not because they have a problem with homosexuality but because they are afraid to offend people. Do you have any advice for those writers?

SB:  Hmmm.  That word “offend” is offensive to me. The idea that my son could offend someone simply by existing is pretty ugly, don’t you think? And that’s what is being implied here. And when something like that is implied, it’s hard for me to not get defensive and protective.

So let’s change the language. What if they’re afraid to “upset” people. I still find offensive the idea that my son could upset someone simply by existing. <g>  (See how it plays out when you make it personal, when you make it be about my wonderful, lovely, terrific son, Jason, instead of some unnamed GLBT character…?)

Frankly, if someone is offended or upset or even distressed by my son’s very existence, I don’t give a flying you-know-what whether or not I offend them in return by the books I write and the characters I create. (How’s that for a passionate statement?!)

So for me, it’s very simple.  I write what I write, and I don’t write expecting every reader in the world to love my books.  In fact, I think the best way to write an incredibly mediocre book is to attempt to please all readers by remaining precisely in the middle of the road.

Bottom line: I would ask those timid and fearful writers precisely why they write.  Do they write because they have something important to say?  If so, they need to speak from their heart and say it, regardless of who they might offend.  I believe when you write from your heart, your passion is in your words and your stories.  And I believe that it’s that passion that makes a book really memorable and special.

DP: What about the fear of portraying GLBT characters too stereotypically? There is so much room for error when writing a character that is already under such cultural scrutiny that there can be a lot of sensitivity from the community. What are some pitfalls to avoid when writing an GLBT character? Are there any “do’s and don’ts”?

SB:  I’ve never been a petite Asian American former LAPD officer, or a six-and-a-half foot tall African American Navy SEAL who attended Harvard, but I’ve gotten really positive feedback about both of those characters.

I do research for every character I’ve written—I think that’s really important.  And I would urge other writers to do the same thing.

One thing that I do is read first-person essays about growing up in America as a black woman, or an Asian woman, or a gay Irish kid from Boston’s North Shore.  There’s a lot of great material out there that you can absorb in order to create a truly authentic character.

Always avoid stereotypes by knowing exactly what the stereotypes are. Do your research. There’s a ton of great material out there, blogs a-plenty, and websites galore, including www.HRC.org and www.pflag.org.

DP: You’ve recently taken your writing of GLBT romance to a new level with your novella When Tony Met Adam, which focuses on a gay couple as the main romance. What made you choose to take that step four years after publishing the GLBT subplot in Hot Target?

I also noticed that When Tony Met Adam was pubbed as an e-only short story. What was the rationale behind releasing it in that format? Did the decision have anything to do with the “controversial” subject matter?

SB: I wrote WTMA during the run of an Off-Broadway play called “Looking for Billy Haines” that I wrote, produced, and directed.  (William Haines was THE biggest male box office draw in Hollywood in 1930, but he was openly gay, and after the codes came down, he refused to give up his longtime relationship with his boyfriend, a former Navy man named Jimmie Shields and go into the closet.  So the powers that be essentially erased him from history.)

But back to WTMA, it was originally intended for inclusion in an anthology of TS short stories, called Headed for Trouble, due out in paperback from Ballantine Books in late August 2012. But it came in a little long [for that].  AndI had the opportunity to use WTMA as a special bonus “extra” for my virtual signing for last March’s hardcover, Breaking the Rules.  I try to include a bonus item that will make the virtual signing extra-special, and for BTR, I included a special limited-edition printed version of When Tony Met Adam.

As for selling WTMA as an e-book short story—that was my idea.  It was a specific attempt to reach that elusive GLBT readership.  I knew, first-hand, through my son, that e-books are huge with the GLBT audience.  I asked my publisher to include information about Jules Cassidy and an excerpt fromHot Target at the end of WTMA.  (Hello!  I am out here…!  Find me!) My publisher liked the idea and suggested we release it in June, which is Gay Pride month.  Which is what we did!

when tony met adamDP: I would imagine writing such open and honest GLBT storylines would get you a mixture of positive and negative attention. What kind of responses have you gotten from your readers and the media? 

SB:  The response has been predominantly, overwhelmingly positive. I have thousands and thousands of emails from readers who felt the need to reach out to contact me because Jules’s love for Robin resonated with them. That doesn’t mean I haven’t lost readers, because I definitely have. But I’ve gained far more than I’ve lost.

The biggest problem is that ugly, angry voices tend to be shrill and loud.  And people who are satisfied are often quiet in their approval.  So it can feel unbalanced at times.

I’ve sometimes come under attack from people who organize fellow haters to hit me with an email campaign.  (Most of the time, those attacks are personal, too, which really tells you something about the people who write those emails.)  Not from readers—the handful of emails I received were from people who admittedly hadn’t read my books.  But they’d “heard” about me, and they were going to tell everyone they knew never to buy my books and yada yada yada.  Not that I cared what those people thought.  I write what I write.  As a reader, it either works for you, or it doesn’t.  If you don’t like it, that doesn’t make it—or me, or the millions of readers who do like the books—bad.

In [one] particular instance, fearing [a] deluge of hate mail, I went onto my Facebook page and I sent out a message to as many of my readers that I could reach.  I told them if they’d ever thought about maybe emailing me to tell me how much they loved Jules and Robin and the diversity in my books, now might be a really good time to write and send that email—to counteract this wave of hatred.

Turns out the wave was a mere swell, not even close to a surf-worthy monster.  I got maybe seven ugly emails in all. But my call for help went a bit viral in the internet romance world, and I got well over a thousand emails from real readers with things like “I love Jules” in the subject header.

DP: Do you think people’s reactions would be different if you were a GLBT writer creating GLBT stories?

SB:  No, I don’t. But it’s kinda funny how often I’m approached by older gay gentlemen at book signings.  They usually say something like, “I stumbled upon this book, and I couldn’t believe it was written by a straight woman!”

And before I can say something pithy, like, “Yeah, and I’m also not a Navy SEAL.  Or an impossibly beautiful African-American former FBI agent, (which is why I think it doesn’t matter who I am)” their eyes fill with tears and they take my hand and they tell me how lovely it was to find an out gay character in a mainstream book, and to read about my own son Jason who came out when he was fifteen.  And they tell me that they were thirty or forty or even fifty before they came out, and they never told their parents, and they’re finally—just finally—starting to accept themselves and be truly happy.

I always take the opportunity to thank them for having the courage to come out at a time when coming out could mean losing their job or their home or even their life.  I thank them because their act of courage paved the way for young gay men like Jason, who never spent a moment of his life hiding his true self.

DP: What’s next on your writing agenda? 

SB: As I mentioned earlier, Born to Darkness, the first book in my new Fighting Destiny series comes out on March 20, 2012. The series follows the adventures of eight recurring characters, seven of whom appear in Born to Darkness.  The main hero is a former Navy SEAL named Shane Laughlin, and the heroine is a mysterious woman who works for a scientific research facility called the Obermeyer Institute.

I’m working on a really fun project to promote this book.  I took my skills as a film and stage producer and I held auditions and cast actors as the six main characters in Born to Darkness.  And I held a photo and video shoot with costumes, and got about 800 fantastic photos—so that readers can see these characters exactly as they appear inside of my head.  (Check my website for the first photographs and the first excerpt from the book!  The rest of the photos will be featured during my “Countdown to Born to Darkness,” on my website and Facebook page starting on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2012.)

One thing I wanted to mention here, since we’re talking about GLBT books and characters:  Born to Darkness features a gay romantic subplot with an honest-to-goodness gay love scene.  Right smack in the middle of a mainstream hardcover romantic urban fantasy suspense.  (Or however the publisher is marketing the book! <g>)

So stay tuned to find out if and when heads start to explode. <g>  (I like to hope it won’t be a big deal.  Kind of like when I wrote Gone Too Far, and no one so much as mentioned that the book was an interracial romance.  Which is how it should be, right?)

As for what I’m doing right now:  I’m working on a series of short stories — most for my Troubleshooters anthology (Headed for Trouble).  But one of the stories I’ll be writing is tentatively titled Shane’s Last Stand, and it features the hero from Born to Darkness. The story is about Shane’s last mission as the CO of a SEAL team.  The plan is to release it as an e-book short story in early February, about a month before Born to Darkness comes out.  It’ll give my readers a chance to meet this new character—and to understand that even though the series is set twenty years in the future, there’s still going to be a lot that’s similar to the TS books.

Find Suzanne Brockmann online: 
www.SuzanneBrockmann.com
www.facebook.com/SuzanneBrockmannBooks
www.facebook.com/SuzBrockmannFOJ (Suz Brockmann’s Friends of Jules — a special page to talk gay rights and politics)
www.twitter.com/SuzBrockmann
www.ThePerfectWeddingMovie.com

Photo of Suzanne Brockmann (c) Shirin Tinati
Book covers and film still courtesy of Suzanne Brockmann

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What Romance Editors (and Readers) Want

Posted by November 1st, 2011

Writing a romance novel? The NAL editorial team gives us a tutorial on the romance market: today’s hottest subgenres and what they’re looking forHere’s what the romance editors want:

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When I was in romance editorial, it astounded me how many submissions I received that had nothing to do with what I was actually looking to acquire, or even that fell outside of the genres in which my imprint specialized. Sometimes the manuscripts hooked me despite this fact, and I fell in love with the writing or the story or the potential I saw for the story. But there was nothing I could do; if it didn’t fit for our list or the market, my hands were tied.
As an author, even after doing all your homework–researching the market, reviewing an imprint’s recent publications, checking Publishers Marketplace for an editor’s acquisition history–it can still be difficult to figure out if what you’re submitting will give the editor what he or she wants. Particularly when it comes to such a robust and diverse genre as the romance market.

With this challenge in mind, Book Country asked the romance team at New American Library (NAL) to share a little bit about their experience with submissions and what specifically they hope to find among the pile:

Most editors at NAL find that when we’re looking for new talent, the biggest problem with the submissions we receive is not that they’re badly written (because many of them are very well done) but rather that the books are not the kind of stories that readers are looking for.  The romance reader is very particular in her tastes and preferences, and trends tend to dominate the market.  If you want to attract a big readership among romance fans, it’s crucial you know what kind of story they are looking for in the current market.
To help you figure out how to do that, the editors at NAL want to offer you some friendly advice about writing romance and positioning your book:

First, make sure you’re writing a romance novel and not a women’s fiction novel! Romance novels have as their central focus the relationship between the hero and heroine of the story.  Their developing romantic relationship forms the backbone of the book’s plot. Most often this involves a man and a women meeting and having a powerful attraction; however, there’s an obstacle getting in the way of their relationship. Frequently, each character has an internal conflict that she or he must overcome. The end goal is for this couple to reach their HEA, or happily ever after, together (with realistic complications along the way). In other words, they meet, they have a conflict, and they must react and develop in response to it before the book can reach a satisfying conclusion.  These conventions are common to romance novels across the board and can act as a helpful rule of thumb to guide you according to what readers will expect to see in your romance novel.

You also need to remember that most romance readers buy according to subgenre, based on themes, settings, or time periods.  The most popular subgenres in romance change over time, and the best way to identify what’s most popular in the romance market at a given time is to watch the bestseller lists. Our job as editors is not only to follow the trends but anticipate them, while your job is to write a great book people want to love.

Right now, some of the most popular genres in romance (and the ones our editors are most excited about) are:

Vampire romances
This means a love story where at least one of the main characters is a vampire, with supernatural powers and an immortal lifespan. The setting can vary. J. R Ward‘s “Black Dagger Brotherhood” series was at the forefront of the vampire trend from the start and remains a beloved favorite among paranormal romance readers.

Regency-set historical romances
While settings for historicals can vary, England is the most popular setting. Regencies are romances that are set during the Regency period in England, which strictly speaking was from 1811 to 1820.  Historical romance readers will expect these novels to be historically appropriate, meaning that the characters should act according to what was expected in society at that time. Some of Penguin’s bestselling Regency romance authors include Jo Beverley and Jillian Hunter.

Scottish-set historicals
Ever since the release of Braveheart, we have seen a high demand for romances set in Scotland.  The most popular time period is definitely medieval, but the Jacobean era (1603-1625) works as well for this subgenre. Bertrice Small’s “Border Chronicle” series is a fabulous example of the historic Scotland setting.

Shapeshifter romances
These are paranormal romances in which at least one of the central characters to the romance can shift shape into another form.  Shapeshifting characters might be dragons, werewolves, falcons, coyotes, the list goes on… To name two examples from NAL’s popular shapeshifter romances, we publish Michele Bardsley’s “Broken Heart” novels and Deborah Cooke’s “Dragonfire” novels to great acclaim.

Paranormal romances
Paranormal romances are ones in which the love story features a character with otherworldly abilities (in addition to but not excluding being a vampire or shapeshifter).  There are witch romances, fallen angel romances, mermaid romances, demon romances, among many others.  Sylvia Day’s “Renegade Angels” series and Regan Hasting’s “Awakening” novels will give you a great idea of the fallen angel and witch trends, respectively.

What we call “gentle fiction”
Gentle fiction is a subcategory of contemporary romance, which means a romance set in the present day. These are love stories set in a small town setting with lots of quaint charm and heartwarming emotional elements. The heartwarming sense of town life and the gentle tone of the emotions really set this subgenre apart from other mainstream contemporary romance. They are the most popular kind of contemporary romance at this time, and have no paranormal elements. One visit to JoAnn Ross’s “Shelter Bay” series and you won’t want to leave this wonderful town!

Western romances
Heroes from the Wild West hold much appeal, whether it’s a contemporary cowboy romance or a historical western. There’s just something readers love about a charming cowboy!  One bestselling example from NAL’s list is Catherine Anderson, who writes both contemporary and historical Westerns.

Romantic suspense
Romantic suspense has a fast-paced storyline with lots of action because the romance between hero and heroine takes place in the face of some kind of danger that threatens one or both of their lives. The suspenseful nature of the plot is almost as important as the romance, and there is usually a mystery to solve. These novels are usually contemporary settings and are always real world stories.Shannon K. Butcher’s “Edge” novels and Christina Dodd‘s “Bella Terra Deception” series give a great example of the kind of high-octane action and edge-of-your seat suspense readers look for in this genre.

Urban fantasy
While not technically romance, Urban Fantasy novels often involve a strong love story that appeals to romance fans. Whereas the third person point of view is common in the other romance genres, urban fantasy often takes a first person point of view. And the mystery that’s driving the plot and the action is almost as important to the novel as the romance itself.  The characters in these novels are very tough, and the stories may contain violence.  Lee Roland’s Viper Moon thrills with a captivating voice and a complex urban fantasy series world.

As you can see, there are many subgenres currently driving the market from the editors’ perspective, so make sure your novel fits into one of them. Or if you are trying your hand at something different, remember to keep your story within the conventions of a romance novel in the first place and understand that your story really has to be something special if it colors outside the lines. Editors love to find fresh new authors with budding talent, so give them something they can work with!

Romance is not the only genre where editors have specific interests though…

Our next installment of “Giving Readers (and Editors) What They Want” will focus on the mystery genre. 

Stay tuned!

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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