Tag Archives: Vampires

Is My Book Urban Fantasy?

Posted by October 25th, 2013

Urban fantasy is such a popular genre that we often forget that it’s of relatively recent vintage–it only came to the fore in the 1990s. Kelley Armstrong’s BITTEN is a case study for this rapid transformation; in her words, “[It] was called a supernatural thriller, then paranormal suspense, and finally urban fantasy.

To complicate matters, urban fantasy are very similiar. The most fundamental characteristic they share is, of course, the presence of magical creatures (vamps, weres, shifters, angels, demons, and fairies, to name a few). However, as paranormal romance authors have ramped up the worldbuilding in their books and crafted mythologies that any fantasy writer would kill for, urban fantasy authors have steamed up their novels with great, sexy subplots. It is harder than ever to tell the two genres apart.

We’ve come up with a genre questionnaire to help you shelve your book in the right place. Here we go.

1. Is your book set in a contemporary city setting? 

One of the fundamental conventions of urban fantasy is the modern urban setting. There’s grit, there’s danger, and the dour realities of city living. If your story takes place in the past or in the country, your book is most definitely not an urban fantasy.

2. Is there a strong mystery plot to your book?

sotrm_frontIf your book follows the main character as they try to uncover some type of paranormal mystery, and it ends with the mystery’s successful resolution, there’s a good chance your book is an urban fantasy. UF books have strong ties to noir, and many of the protagonists in urban fantasy books wield a paranormal power that helps them in their work as private investigators. Famous urban fantasy PIs are Harry Dresden from Jim Butcher’s Dresden File Series (wizard detective), Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye (fae half-breed PI), and Alexa Craft (grave witch and police consultant).

 

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Setting the Scene

Posted by June 19th, 2013

Award-winning horror author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro lets us glimpse into her writing process.

The latest title in the Saint-Germain series.

As I discuss in Fine-Tuning Fiction, it is part of a story’s structure to hook the reader early and keep the reader involved in the tale as long as possible. This is what the “Presence” does, the establishment of the what-where-when-ness of it all, so that the whos in it may be reinforced by their environment. Usually this needs to be accomplished in the first paragraph of the story or chapter—which is a discreet unit within a larger story—there by shock, or by seduction. It can also help you avoid the dreaded Expostulatory Lump by giving needed information up front as part of setting the scene.

This is the opening paragraph of Part III, Chapter 1 of my current writing project, the 27th Saint-Germain book, Sustenance. [Story-text in italics, my commentary in bold.]

A light spring mizzle was falling, looking like a dusting of minute diamonds in the shine of the streetlamp.This tells the reader that it’s a misty night in mid-May.Across the Seine and a short way ahead of them, the Louvre appeared to be a painted backdrop, its image flattened by mist and the night. In Paris.There was almost no wind on this cool, late evening, though the damp was adding a chill to the air; sidewalks and streets shone black, and the river glinted silver where the spill of lamplight struck it; a barge headed upriver was leaving a frothy, spangled wake behind.The night is cool. The river is beautiful but also a bit threatening.It was almost midnight and the streets were nearly empty of traffic; only the two-toned whoop of an ambulance a block away gave any reminder that this was a large, active city, not a forgotten, abandoned relic of a metropolis. It is 1950 and there are still reminders of World War II around Paris.

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Getting Paranormal with Elisabeth Staab

Posted by June 6th, 2013

 

ElisabethStaab_bc“It’s about taking what’s commonly accepted and familiar, then finding the tweaks that make it yours.”

I’m excited to welcome paranormal romance author Elisabeth Staab to the blog. Elisabeth is the author of the acclaimed Chronicles of Yavn series. (You’ll love her books if you are a fan of J.R. Ward!) She sat down to talk with us about writing and reading paranormal, vampires, and the secret sauce to creating steamy love scenes. 

Nevena: Thanks you so much for joining us, Elisabeth! Why do you write paranormal romance?

Elisabeth: Thanks so much for having me!

I fell in love with vampires way back during hair braiding and Cheetos munching sessions at a slumber party, when I first saw Michael kiss Star inThe Lost Boys. I point to that as my big moment growing up when I realized that these otherworldly creatures could be something more than just horror monsters. In general, the whole “unexplained phenomena” business always rang my bell. I was the one who told ghost stories and pulled out the Ouija board at parties. So many of us thrive on that mystery, I think. The “what if” factor. What if the leather-clad biker gassing up his crotch-rocket across from you at the Shell station is really a vampire on his way out to fight the bad guys who are threatening his turf? You never know.

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Meet Writer Mari Adkins

Posted by April 29th, 2013

Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A

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“I write because I can’t not write. It’s in my head going around and must come out on paper.” –Mari Adkins

Mari Adkins is a southern gothic fiction writer from southeastern Kentucky. Mari is now on her way to becoming a published author: her novel Midnighthas been acquired by Apex Publications, and will come out in early 2014!

Nevena: Congratulations on selling your book, Midnight, to Apex. Tell us more about the novel!

Mari: Thank you! This is really exciting! (And scary! LOL.)

Midnight is the first book in an adult southern gothic series. It started as a poem and a short paragraph in 1996. Somewhere around 2000/2001, I decided I had a story and started filling in the blanks just to see what I could do with it. Before long, I had 120,000 words! I decided a couple of years ago I wanted to see the story from the main character’s daughter’s POV, and it just took off.

The book is about an abused, chronically depressed young woman, searching for herself, some stability, an anchor. The people she comes to love and cherish as her friends are vampires. As psychologically ill and damaged as Sami is, those three men—all vampires—continue the abuse in the way they treat her. Though her world is in chaos, once she is able to find what she’s looking for, she has no choice but to face herself and deal with what she finds there. She discovers which of her friends and family she can trust as she battles the transformations that will enable her to find the inner strength to embrace her true nature and the will to awaken the vampire within.

(Let the groaning begin. Yes, I write vampires! I’m “that Hillbilly Vampire lady”.)

Nevena: Haha. On your website, you say that the characters in your stories are “not your usual bloodthirsty Bram Stoker-type vampires.” How so?

Mari: My vampires are more human than vampire; they need only a little blood to maintain their health and to keep them from going insane. The stories revolve around the real-life problems the characters face more than their “vampireness.”

Nevena
: So it’s more about the vampiric consciousness. Fascinating. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

Mari: It sounds cheesy, but I wrote my first “book” when I was six. Complete with illustrations. In crayon. It’s about a princess and her dog and their adventures in their undersea kingdom.

I write because I can’t not write. It’s in my head going around and must come out on paper. And yes, I write longhand; I’ve always found it difficult to get my thoughts straight at the keyboard as I’m dyslexic and have ADHD. This means I’m prone to leaving important things out—like words, sentences and explanations—when I try to compose or edit at the keyboard.
I didn’t get serious about publication until about ten years ago.

Nevena: So how do you balance writing with “life”?

Mari: I’m fortunate to stay home and work at my kitchen table. Since I learned a few years ago that I’m blessed with ADHD, I’ve started keeping a dayplanner so I can keep up with what I’m supposed to be doing on a given day. As well as writing and homemaking, I also do editing for hire. It helps break up the monotony.

When I have to go somewhere, I always take a backpack. We don’t have a car, so I travel by foot or by bus for the most part. I always carry my e-reader, my mp3 player, a journal, notebooks, and a case with pens, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, and tape. Writing on the bus isn’t the prettiest or best thing in the world, but if I have a scene gnawing at me, I can at least scribble notes so I don’t lose certain thoughts or descriptions.

Nevena: So what is your favorite genre to write, and why?

Mari: I write paranormal fantasy because that’s where my interests lie. I’ve been a Pagan practitioner since 1988. The metaphysical elements and deities I incorporate into my writing are those that I’m most familiar with. The “gothic” element comes in from the setting, especially in Midnight, where Harlan County is very much its own character within that story.

Nevena: Now that Midnight’s with your editor, what have you been working on most recently?

Mari: I’ve been plugging away on my YA project. I started it out as a series of journal entries. But then I realized the format is stifling the story. Writing a journal is fun and what fifteen-year-old girls do. Not so conducive to storytelling. So for the last month or so I’ve been writing. Whatever comes into my head. It’s been more cohesive than what I had before.

Nevena: I’ll look out for it. Now I have to ask: What’s your Book Country story?

Mari: I was invited to Book Country at the beginning and have stayed because I like the professional atmosphere. The members here are all so polite with each other, yet never hesitate to tell each other straight up when they’re wrong. I like that everyone here—admins and members alike—are so free about sharing information with each other. Other places, you have to pry information out of people or go through the whole, “If you spend $20 and buy my e-book,” routine. In all, Book Country is one of my Internet bright spots.

Nevena: You’re one of our bright spots, too. You link to really great writing resources on the Book Country discussion forums. How do you improve your craft?

Mari: Thank you. Google is my friend. I read a lot of blogs. When you read someone else’s links, you get sucked down the rabbit hole and find all sorts of treasures. I also follow a lot of writers on Facebook. Michael Knost, for example, hosts online writing courses now and then, and they are, in my opinion, worth more than what he charges; he’s high on my recommendation list.

Also, I belong to a wonderful writing group. We’re scattered across the US and Canada and meet online once a week. We all have different talents and skills, and read in different areas. In fact, they get the kudos for helping makeMidnight (and its sequel) the story it is today.

Nevena: What should the Book Country community know about you that they don’t already?

Mari: I got so excited about journaling last year that I created a group about it on Facebook, Journaling Journey. We collect prompts, notebook ideas and layouts, shopping hints and tips (where to and how to), pictures of cool things in art journals, scrapbooks, diaries, etc. One of our members started giving us “challenges” once every two weeks. We have a lot of fun, and the people in the group are loaded with some amazing creativity.

Nevena: We’ll check it out. Thanks for chatting with me, Mari! Good luck with the book!

Connect to Mari on Book Country, like her fan page on Facebook, and visit her at mariadkins.com. Look out for her debut novel, Midnight, in early 2014.

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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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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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