Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hello, Dolly!


They can be cute and cuddle playmates for children. They can also be evil creatures intent on eating your soul. They can be beautiful pieces of art. They can also be the stuff of nightmares.

But for the Dollmaker in BLOOD SECRETS, they are… special…

Chances are good that you’ve encountered dolls somewhere in your lifetime. Either you’ve enjoyed their company or you’ve run screaming in terror. I would be the latter if the doll in question is a clown. I used to think clowns were great. Then I saw Poltergeist. Nuh uh. No, thank you. And then, because I just can’t leave well enough alone, I read Stephen King’s IT…and saw the movie adaptation. Pennywise…Tim Curry… Yeah, that ended my relationship with clowns and clown dolls. Nope. Not interested. Beat it, Bozo.

So now I want to hear your best — and it can either be happy or creepy or somewhere in between — doll-centric memory or story. It doesn’t have to be long, just a few lines. Whatever you’re comfortable telling.

Here are the rules:

1. Leave your stories in the comments section of the Dollmaker Contest post on my website.

2. Contest will run until midnight (CT) July 11, 2011. Winner will be announced July 12, 2011.

3. One entry per person.

4. THREE winners chosen at random will receive signed copies of BLOOD SECRETS.

5. Contest is open to international readers.

There you have it, folks. Have fun.

Monday, June 13, 2011

New Contest -- Cover Art Posters

I have a new contest starting today on my website. The prize is two signed posters of the covers for both BLOOD LAW and BLOOD SECRETS. Read official rules for how to enter at www.JeannieHolmes.com.

All entries MUST be made via the website to be valid.

Good luck and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

And in this corner....

I've been hearing a lot of grumbling on various social media sites (okay, mostly Twitter) about the Great Debate: Urban Fantasy vs. Paranormal Romance. For the most part, I've stayed out of the fray for a few of reasons--

1. I don't like to comment on "politics."
2. It makes my head hurt.
3. I think it's a silly argument.

Today, an article written by Kim Harrison showed up on SF Signal. The title of the article directly addresses the heart of UF vs PNR debate -- "Excuse me, your romance is in my urban fantasy" -- and the differences between the two but also bemoans the apparent dilution of the urban fantasy genre by a rise in the romantic content. While I don't agree with everything Ms. Harrison says, I do find some truth in her arguments.

Ms. Harrison begins by recounting a conversation with a reader in which he was lamenting the "shine fading from the urban fantasy genre" because the kick-ass protagonists we all know and love seemed to be morphing into damsels in distress and needed a big strong man (vampire, werewolf, etc.) to rescue them. She continues by saying:
The industry had a hand in causing it to a certain extent as many houses grabbed anything they could find with a vampire and sexy protagonist, thinking that was all urban fantasy was. Manuscripts that would otherwise be passed over were picked up and promoted. Books that would be stellar romances on their own were lessened by well-meaning editors trying to make them something they were not by asking their author to "stick a vampire in it! They're hot right now!"
I disagree. This example isn't a case of established protagonists changing. It's not that urban fantasy is being "diluted" by a rise in the romantic content -- It's a case of books being marketed inappropriately. It's a lack of understanding of not just one but two genres and in the end both suffer for it. (Whether they are sub-par or outstanding is not for me to decide and I will not debate the validity of one book over another.)

Ms. Harrison continues:
However, the very aspects that give it strength-the mixing of many genres-may now be threatening to eat away at it. It's up to the authors and publishing houses to understand that having a vampire in the storyline does not make it urban fantasy.
I agree with Ms. Harrison's observation that simply having a vampire in a story doesn't make it urban fantasy. It can easily be paranormal romance. Or horror. The difference is in the author's intent and the story they are trying to convey to the reader. Most "true" (and I use that word very loosely) UF novels are built on either a mystery or thriller backbone with science fiction, fantasy, romance, and horror mixed in to varying degrees. However, others may rely more on sci-fi or fantasy as the main support. Still others may lean toward romance or horror. This diversity is the very strength that makes UF so popular and yet so hard to define. It is the blurring of lines that make UF what it is.

Ms. Harrison states, "I know where that line is. The greats before me drew it very clearly in the sand." With all due respect to Ms. Harrison (and I'm a huge Kim Harrison fan), I don't think anyone can say there is a clearly defined line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. She uses Bram Stoker's DRACULA as an example: "For the time it was written in, Dracula could be classified as an urban fantasy." I agree. It could be UF...and it could easily be read as paranormal romance or even horror. Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN, for the time is was written in, could be classified as science fiction or horror. Charles Dickens's A CHRISTMAS CAROL, for the time it was written in, could be classified as urban fantasy or horror. Jules Verne's A JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, for the time it was written in, could be classified as science fiction or fantasy.

Arguments can be made for and against any book belonging to any given genre--and that's the real problem. People--readers, writers, editors, publishers, etc.--become too caught up in the label game and everyone gets their panties in a wad when something is "mislabeled." Instead of focusing on The Story and whether or not we enjoyed reading it, we focus on what is apparently lacking or what was added. Suddenly we're back to the "You got peanut butter in my chocolate/You got chocolate in my peanut butter" argument. If the combination is delicious and satisfies whatever craving you had, does it really matter?


Stories should be weighed and validated based on their own merits and not the label someone slaps on it so bookstores know where to file it and so readers can find it. Mistakes happen and UF can be misidentified as PNR or vice versa. Here's the kicker: It happens with other genres as well. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS can be viewed as both thriller and horror. THE DA VINCI CODE can be classified as either mystery or thriller. It isn't unique to UF and PNR. Some stories blur the lines to the point no one knows exactly what label to give it so they make an educated guess of where it will have the best chance of reaching an audience. But it's still a guess, and sometimes the guess is wrong.

Instead of wailing and gnashing our teeth when that happens, how about we all--readers and writers alike--make a pact to say, "It wasn't what I expected, but it was a good story and I enjoyed it" and not allow ourselves to be caught up in The Great Debate and the Label Game. Let's focus on good stories, good writing, and having a good time. Reading and writing books should be fun. Arguing over shelf real estate sucks away that fun and only widens the riff between authors and readers when we should be happy to celebrate the very thing that supposedly unites us:

The love of a good book.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mobicon 14 Schedule

I'm off to Mobicon 14 this weekend. I have three major workshops/panels on my schedule -- and they're all my brain-children -- and two "meet and greet"s. For two workshops, I'm flying solo and the third brings in two other authors. Should be fun! Also, I'll have a few copies of BLOOD LAW to give away and free BLOOD SECRETS swag!

Here's the complete schedule for those who are in the area and may be interested in attending:

Location: Ashbury Suites & Inns
Mobile, AL

Dates: May 20-22

Schedule for Jeannie Holmes:


12:30-1:30 -- The Art of Dialogue: Speech is fluid and filled with loops, whirls, stops, and starts. Filling your characters' dialogue with the same can instantly kill their likeability. This interactive workshop uses improvisation and audience participation to demonstrate techniques for refining your characters' speech.

2:30-3:30 -- Vampires, Werewolves, and Zombies--Oh, My!: The supernatural has branched out of the fantasy and horror genres to invade mysteries, romances, and thrillers. Why be limited to the traditional views? Learn to think outside of the paranormal box to fine new creatures and ways to thrill your readers.

7:30-8:30 -- Meet the Guests


2:30-3:30 -- Undying Love OR Eternal Struggle? Writing Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy: Is it a romance with fantasy elements or a fantasy with romantic elements? Learn to spot the difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy and the basics for writing both. (Moderator: Jeannie Holmes Panelists: Candace Sams, Violet Reid)


10:00-11:00 -- Sunday Morning Hangover with All Surviving Guests

That's my complete schedule for the weekend. I'll be hanging out and chatting around the con. Feel free to find me and strike up a conversation. I won't bite....or will I?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Charity Auction for Humane Society of West Alabama

After the recent storms which hit the southeast, animal shelters have been hard hit with the task of caring for and identifying lost and misplaced pets. The authors of the Criminal Minds group blog, an award-winning weekly blog featuring 14 mystery and thriller writers, have joined forces to help those who cannot speak or help themselves. All CM authors have donated SIGNED copies of their most recent books for this charity auction.

Again, these are SIGNED COPIES! You will not find this collection of mystery, thriller, and paranormal fiction anywhere else!

Hard Cover

Rock Bottom by Erin Brokovich with C.J. Lyons (signed by C.J. only)
The Curse-Maker by Kelli Stanley
Dead in the Water by Meredith Cole
Murder on the Bride's Side by Tracy Kiely
Monkology by Gary Phillips
The Last Striptease by Michael Wiley
The Damage Done by Hillary Davidson


A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell
iDRAKULA by Bekka Black
Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun by Lois Winston
The Jook by Gary Phillips
Orange County Noir by Gary Phillips
Ghost in the Polka Dot Bikini by Sue Ann Jaffarian
Day One by Bill Cameron
Before Cain Strikes by Joshua Corin
Blood Law by Jeannie Holmes
Black Rain by Graham Brown (not shown in picture)
Black Sun by Graham Brown (not shown in picture)

All proceeds -- 100% -- will be donated to the Humane Society of West Alabama -- a non-profit, all-volunteer, no kill shelter in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Tuscaloosa was one of the cities hardest hit by the tornadoes and storms. The shelter's facilities were not badly damaged but they are in desperate need of supplies and donations.

Thank you for joining the Criminal Minds to support HSWA and their ongoing animal rescue and storm recovery efforts!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Blog Talk Radio Interview

Thanks to John Rakestraw for making my first ever Blog Talk Radio interview absolutely awesome and a lot of fun. If you missed the live broadcast, check out the recording here:

John Rakestraw on Blog Talk Radio — Interview with author Jeannie Holmes

Friday, April 22, 2011

BLOOD SECRETS release date changed!

Get ready to update your calendars… The release date for BLOOD SECRETS has been pushed back from June 28 to July 5.

Why? Several reasons but most notably is to allow for placement in the Barnes & Noble towers. Better placement = better visibility for this awesome cover = easier for you, the reader, to find it in the mad rush that will come from the anticipation of having to wait one more week!

Yes, this will affect some of the events I have planned. I’m working with the various parties to resolve the issues, and hope to have updates for you soon.



Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Blog Talk Radio Interview

Mark your calendars again! Join me as I conduct my FIRST blog talk radio interview with John Rakestraw. The interview will take place Saturday, April 23, at 10:30 AM (Pacific). We'll be discussing Blood Law, Blood Secrets, books, and who knows what else.

To access the interview, tune in here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/johnrakestraw the morning of April 23. I believe the interviews are recorded. If you aren't able to listen to it live, you should be able to check it out later.

So if you've never heard my Southern drawl, this is your chance. :)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Blood Secrets book trailer

The highly anticipated BLOOD SECRETS book trailer is LIVE!


Alex allowed a case involving murdered vamps to get personal and is suspended from the Federal Bureau of Preternatural Investigation. Now she’s facing an official inquiry but has a chance to redeem herself. The catch: She must once again work with Varik Baudelaire, her former mentor and ex-fiancĂ©, as he spearheads a search for a missing college student. But Varik has been keeping secrets from Alex, and his mysterious past is on a collision course with his present.

When Alex and Varik discover a carefully handcrafted doll at a crime scene, neither of them can see how close the danger really is or that a killer known as the Dollmaker has made Alex the object of his horrific desire. Now the only way out of the Dollmaker’s lair is through the twilight realm of the Shadowlands, where all secrets—for better or worse—will be revealed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

MidSouthCon 29

MidSouthCon 29 was held March 25-27, 2011, in the Hilton in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. This year marked my first year at MSC, and I will definitely be going back. I've been to many cons and every at MSC was awesome! But before I launch into the full details of the weekend, I need to set the stage.

Accompanying me were Mark, my OMG (Official Market Genius) and trophy husband, and fellow Ninja Pea, Michelle Ladner. To say the drive from Mobile to Memphis is long and boring is an understatement. It's very long and very boring, even with Michelle on a sugar and caffiene high in the backseat. When she spotted the six-foot "rooster," the trip took a sharp left turn straight to the gutter. (More on the "rooster" in a bit.)

Driving to Memphis offered us a chance to visit an authentic BLOOD LAW location. Yes, the town of Jefferson, Mississippi is fictional, but if you carefully read chapter two (pages 25-32) you'll find a scene involving Varik Baudelaire, Reyes Cott, and Freddy Haver at a Waffle House in Horn Lake, Mississippi. This is a real location and since we were passing through, we stopped for coffee. It seemed appropriate. After a quick coffee break and short photo op, we were on the road again and headed to Memphis. Naturally we hit town in time for the 4:30-5:00 pm rush but we made it to the hotel and only had to made one questionably legal U-turn. By the time we checked in, parked the truck, and found our rooms (which were on the 17th floor and reached by loud and somewhat creaky glass elevators), it was time to check-in at registration and go to work. By the way, here is the view from our room, which overlooked the pool. (Unfortunately, the picture was taken on Saturday and it was raining.)

My first panel discussion didn't start until 10:00 pm (Ghosts in the Machine: How the paranormal manifests in real life and fiction.) So we all registered, familiarized ourselves with the location, checked out a few early discussions, and grabbed dinner. Then it was time for my first panel, and it was a lot of fun. My fellow panelists, Allan Gilbreath, Joy Ward, Kalila Smith, Leslie Gray, and Mallory Kane, were lively, humorous, and experienced with both writing and the paranormal. I couldn't have asked for a better start to MidSouthCon.

The following day, Saturday, brought more people to the con and the costumes were out in full force. Michelle rode the elevator down from the 14th floor in the company of Darth Vader. I really wish I'd been there to get a picture of her Luke Skywalker moment. Alas, I was off paneling or something.

I had two afternoon panels and a signing on Saturday. The first discussion, Different Flavors of Fantasy, discussed the various subgenres of fantasy and why we write the ones we do. My fellow panelists Ruth Souther, Stephen Zimmer, and Violette Reid were awesome and we had a great discussion with lots of audience questions. I had a chance to talk with Ruth and Stephen, separately, in greater detail later and hope I see them again on the con circuit. I also wish I'd had an opportunity to speak with Violette again but our schedules unfortunately didn't mesh. My schedule panel, Guide To Writers’ Organizations, with J. F. Lewis, Jason Sizemore, and Mary Robinette Kowal, also had tons of audience participation. I've been to some cons where audience interaction was difficult to obtain, but MSC wasn't one of them. Great questions, polite debate, and outstanding discussions made my experience with MSC among the best.

Next on my agenda was the signing. I gave away copies of BLOOD LAW and met a lot of wonderful readers. Once my time at the table was over, it was time to regroup with Mark, Michelle, and Katie (a reader and pre-published author from Mississippi) for dinner. My official obligations were over for this year's MSC but the Dealer's Room had yet to be conquered...

And conquer it I did on Sunday. New dice and two new T-shirts later, it was time to hit on final panel discussion and then we were on the road for home. Remember the six-foot "rooster" Michelle saw? We found it on the way back -- big yellow and red "thing" on the right side of the photo. We don't know what it is, what it's intended use may be, but it provided hours of entertainment during an otherwise boring drive.

MidSouthCon 29 was anything but boring and if you haven't been, you really should go. I know I'll be back.

Thanks to all who came to the panels, to the organizers and volunteers who made the whole thing run, and to my fellow panelists for the lively discussions. Thanks to Katie for braving the weather to show your support. Special thanks to Mark and Michelle for their support, entertainment, and keeping me on schedule. I couldn't do what I do without you. Much (Ninja Pea) love!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

MidSouthCon Panel Schedule

I received my official panel schedule for MidSouthCon in Memphis, TN (March 25-27). It's a short list, but these sound like a lot of fun so I can't wait. Hope to see many of you there!

Friday 10:00 PM (Promenade 2) Ghosts In the Machine -- How phenomena manifest in paranormal fiction and vice versa.

Saturday 1:00 PM (Director's Row 2) Different Flavors of Fantasy -- Panelists discuss the various subgenres of fantasy and why they write the ones they do.

Saturday 3:00 PM (Promenade 1) Guide To Writers’ Organizations -- Cliques, clubs, or covert ops? What are the benefits of professional membership?

Saturday 4:00 PM (Ballroom A Hallway Pro-Row) Sat-4p Autograph Sessions (BLOOD SECRETS swag will be available!)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Blood Secrets Tour

March 8 -- Updated schedule!!! Official BLOOD SECRETS countdown widget now available. Be sure to snag it.

The clock is steadily counting down the days until the release of BLOOD SECRETS. I've already started pulling together the signing, convention, and blog tours.

Here are the confirmed dates and places I have cobbled together so far:

March 25-27 -- MidSouthCon
Memphis, TN

May 20-22 -- MOBICON 14
Mobile, AL

June 18 -- YzhaBella's BookShelf
Interview and Giveaway

June 20 -- What Book is That? (NEW)
Guest blog and Giveaway

June 21 -- The Qwillery

June 22 -- All Things Urban Fantasy (NEW)
Guest blog and Giveaway

June 27 -- a GREAT read
Interview and Giveaway

June 29 -- Bitten By Books
Virtual Launch and Giveaway

June 29 -- Urban Fantasy Investigations
Guest blog

June 30 -- Books Make Me Happy (NEW)
Guest blog and Giveaway

July 2 -- Signing at Page & Palette
Fairhope, AL
2:00-4:00 PM

July 6-9 -- Thrillerfest
New York, NY

July 10 -- Killer Characters (NEW)
Guest blog in Alex's point of view

July 16 -- Signing at Murder by the Book
Houston, TX
4:30 PM

July 23 -- Signing at Books-a-Million (NEW)
Palm Coast, FL
2:00 PM

June is officially Book Blog Tour Month! If you have a book blog and would like to add BLOOD SECRETS (and/or BLOOD LAW) to your summer review roster or request an interview/blog event, contact me and I'll add you to the list. If requesting a review copy, I will need your name, shipping info, and a link to your blog. Dates are filling quickly.

More dates and locations are in the works and I'll update the list as soon as I have them confirmed.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Show the Love...Win Books -- WINNERS

The winners for the "Show the Love...Win Books" have been randomly selected from across this blog, LiveJournal, Facebook, and Goodreads. Aaaaaaannd....here they are (along with where the winning response was/is posted). Ta-da!

1st Prize: WINNER = Emily (Wayward Muses)
BLOOD LAW by Jeannie Holmes (signed)
HOT ROCKS by Nora Roberts
GHOST SHADOW by Heather Graham
KILLING ME SOFTLY by Maggie Shayne

2nd Prize: WINNER = Miki (Facebook)
ENEMY LOVER by Karin Harlow
WICKED BECOMES YOU by Meredith Duran
BIG JACK by J. D. Robb

3rd Prize: WINNER = Michala (Facebook)
SUGAR CREEK by Toni Blake

4th Prize: WINNER = Nancy (Goodreads)
CRAZY FOR LOVE by Victoria Dahl
RUNNING HOT by Jayne Ann Krentz
I LOVE THIS BAR by Carolyn Brown

Each winner has been privately notified. Congratulations to them all! Thanks to everyone for entering my contest!!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Show The Love...Win Books

Yes, the rumors are true and I'm plotting the next installment of the Alexandra Sabian series. While planning and scheming murder, mayhem, destruction, and general fun stuff like that, I'm also thinking of the next step in Alex's relationship with Varik. I can't say much since y'all haven't read BLOOD SECRETS yet (which I'm dying for y'all to read!! Anticipation is NOT my friend...) and I don't want to give spoilers.

But...I've been thinking a lot about love and relationships lately, and with Valentine's Day fast approaching, it's hard not to notice all the cutesy hearts and bears. As "they" say, "Love is in the air." So I'm going to show my love for readers and hold a contest!


To enter: Post your favorite literary love duo (can be from classic literature or contemporary genre fiction) and why you're drawn to their relationship in the comments section. For example: Romeo and Juliet -- I'm drawn to them because they're the embodiment of forbidden and tragic love. OR Cat and Bones -- I love 'em because they're just freakin' HAWT! (You get the idea.)

Dates: Contest begins Friday, January 28 and end Monday, February 7. Winners will be announced Tuesday, February 8.

Entries: Only 1 (ONE) entry per person. Contest IS open to international participants.

Prizes: Four (4) lucky winners will be chosen at random and receive the following--
  • 1st Prize...
    BLOOD LAW by Jeannie Holmes (signed)
    HOT ROCKS by Nora Roberts
    GHOST SHADOW by Heather Graham
    KILLING ME SOFTLY by Maggie Shayne
    THE PERFECT POISON by Amanda Quick

  • 2nd Prize:
    ENEMY LOVER by Karin Harlow
    WICKED BECOMES YOU by Meredith Duran
    BIG JACK by J. D. Robb

  • 3rd Prize:
    THE PERFECT POISON by Amanda Quick (Yes, I have two copies of this book.)
    SUGAR CREEK by Toni Blake

  • 4th Prize:
    CRAZY FOR LOVE by Victoria Dahl
    RUNNING HOT by Jayne Ann Krentz
    I LOVE THIS BAR by Carolyn Brown
All books are new and unread. Genres range from contemporary to regency romance to paranormal to urban fantasy.

Yes, there's only one copy of BLOOD LAW up for grabs, but don't worry. I'll have more contests in the future, especially as we get closer to June and BLOOD SECRETS.

The contest is now open so show me the love!!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Writing Urban Fantasy, Part 2 -- "Fact vs Fiction in Fiction"

Hi, my name is Jeannie, and I'm a researchalholic.

I admit it: One thing I love most about starting a new project is the research. Beginning with a kernel of an idea, selecting books and surfing websites to fertilize that kernel, pulling together disparate mythologies and cool modern science, and then watching my little kernel blossom into a carnivorous flesh-eating plant....*sigh* It’s magical.

In Part 1 of the "Writing Urban Fantasy" series, I said that -- aside from the basic rules of grammar, spelling, and story structure -- there are no rules to writing fiction, and this is true. However, this doesn't always mean you can make the stuff up willynilly and trust readers to buy into it because you, the author, says so. Readers are far more savvy than that, especially readers of urban fantasy. There is a proliferation of urban fantasy on the market and readers who enjoy this genre tend to read A LOT and have seen multiple mutations of various supernatural beasties so you're going to have to create something a little (or a lot) different as well as make sure your real world facts are in order.

With that said, I'm going to lay out my rules for researching an urban fantasy novel. Yes, I said there are no real rules to writing urban fantasy. However, there are rules for research...or at least there should be...and these aren't "rules" so much as "guidelines." They're holdovers from my college days and have served me well. Hopefully you will find them equally useful.

Research Rule #1: Wikipedia is NOT an acceptable primary source.

First, let me just say that I like Wikipedia and use it often. However, I do NOT accept any information I gather from the site as valid without verifying it in at least two other non-internet sources. Why? Because anyone can add information to Wikipedia and the information presented on the site is often inaccurate or unverified. Therefore, unless I can verify the information through outside sources, I usually discount it.

This is especially important for information regarding the real world. If Wikipedia tells me the state capital of Mississippi is Hattiesburg, I'm going to refer to A) a map of the state, B) the state's official website, C) a book on Mississippi state history. If verified, I'll run with Hattiesburg as the capital. (FYI: Hattiesburg is not the capital of Mississippi -- Jackson is.)

When we enter the supernatural realm of mythology, folklore, and things that go bump in the night, this level of inaccuracy isn't as important. After all, the key word in "urban fantasy" is "fantasy." Find the information that suits your particular project or make it up as you go along.

Research Rule #2: When in doubt, leave it out.

Confession: I know a little more than jacksquat about police procedures, and yet I write a series in which the main character is a federal agent. How am I able to do this? I researched my butt into oblivion before ever setting fingers to keyboard, and I probably used a tenth of the information I gathered.

Much of the information I left out dealt with forensics. I'm not an expert in the field nor do I want to become one. I have rudimentary understand of most procedures, especially with regards to crime scenes, and the rest occurs off-page because I don't fully understand the various tests and procedures. I gloss over the parts I don't know or understand and then manipulate the results to achieve my goals.

As an expert in the field told me several years ago, it's better to gloss over those bits and just present your results than to include inaccurate information because the real experts will call you out for it.

Research Rule #3: Go beyond the books whenever possible.

Writing a novel set in Grand Rapids, Michigan in November when you live in Honolulu, Hawaii can be challenging. Unless you're originally from Michigan and are familiar with the Grand Rapids area and all the nuiances that come from living in the northern US, you're going to have to do some research. Yes, books and websites are wonderful starting points, but nothing beats walking the city's streets in November and experiencing it first hand.

The same is true of law enforcement or hospitals or most professions. Nothing can compare to the actual experience of traveling 100+ mph along the interstate at 2:00am with lights and sirens as you respond to a radio call of "shots fired." This is something I've experience first hand and will never forget.

If you're setting a story in an unfamiliar location, try to arrange a trip to that location. Stay a few days. Take pictures. Talk to locals. Try to pick up "the vibe" of the area. You may not use everything you learn, but your story will be much better because you have that knowledge.

If you're writing a story about law enforcement, check with your local metro police or sheriff's departments. Some cities and counties offer "citizen acadamies" in which people from the community can interact with law enforcement officials from different branches. Many programs such as these will offer a ride-along program -- you get to spend time with an officer on patrol and see what they see. (That's how I ended up traveling 100+ mph along the interstate at 2AM.) If your community doesn't offer a citizen academy program, most law enforcement agencies have a public relations officer on staff. Reach out to him or her, explain your interest, and most are willing to work with authors.

The same is true of the medical field, although it's more difficult to gain access to "insider information" due to patient confidentiality laws. However, many hospitals have a volunteer program. While you may not have access to "the action," it's a great way to meet staff who may be willing to talk outside of work about what they do, and you're also giving back to the community. It's a win-win.

Now, I mentioned books and websites at the beginning of this post. I'm a bibliophile. I collect books. Yes, I have an e-reader and I love it, but I use it primarily for novels -- fun reading. When I'm researching, I prefer the feel of a real book. Plus, I also tend to make notes in margins and use a ton of stick notes to create a "road map" for myself. Again, it's something I've done since college and I doubt I'll change.

How much research you put in to your "fantasy" elements is really up to you. It does pay to know basics, especially if you're writing about spellwork or something in the magical arts. Again, people who really do know this stuff will call you on anything that seems to far outside the realm of believable. That doesn't mean you can't make anything up as you go. In fact, it's best if you do. However, a little research can spark all kinds of new ideas. Don't be afraid to see where the rabbit hole leads you. You're story could lie on the other side.

Below is a list of some of my favorite research books. Most can be readily found on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or even better, grab the ISBN and ask your local indie store if they have it in stock or are willing to order it for you. Others may be out of print and harder to find -- check eBay or Half. com for some of the harder to find books. Also, do be afraid to check the shelves at the local Goodwill, Salvation Army store, or other charity-based outlet. You may be surprised what you find. Estate sales and garage sales are also great resources for older books, as are library sales. Second-hand book stores are also great.

Here's my list of some of my fave research books...and please be aware these represent only a fraction of the books I actually possess and actively reference:

Webster's Dictionary
Roget's Thesaurus
The Elements of Style - Strunk and White

Vampire Universe - Jonathan Maberry
They Bite! - Jonathan Maberry
Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and other Monsters - Rosemary Guiley
The Science of Vampires - Katherine Ramsland
Psychic Vampire Codex - Michelle Belanger
The Vampire Book: Encyclopedia of the Undead - J. Gordon Melton
The Vampire Encyclopedia - Matthew Bunson
The Vampire in Lore and Legend - Montague Summers
In Search of Dracula - Raymond T. McNally
Our Vampires, Ourselves - Nina Auerbach
Vampires and Vampirism - Dudley Wright
Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend - Mark Collins Jenkins
Vampyre Sanguinomicon: The Lexicon of the Living Vampire - Father Sebastiaan

Werewolves, Demons, Zombies & Other Critters:
Zombie CSU: Forensics of the Undead - Jonathan Maberry
Dictionary of Demons - Michelle Belanger
The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology - Rosemary Guiley
Dictionary of Angels: Including the Fallen Angels - Gustav Davidson
The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits - Rosemary Guiley
A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits - Carol K. Mack
The Goetia: The Lesser Key of Solomon the King - Aleister Crowley
Fallen Angels, the Watchers, and the Origins of Evil - Joseph B. Lumpkin
Werewolves: A Field Guide to Shapeshifters, Lycanthropes, and Man-Beasts - Bob Curran
The Werewolf Book - Brad Steiger
The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures: The Ultimate A-Z of Fantastic Beings From Myth and Magic - John Matthews and Caitlin Matthews

The Fae World:
Faeries: Deluxe Collector's Edition - Brian Froud
Brian Froud's World of Faerie (v. 1) - Brian Froud and Ari Berk
Good Faeries Bad Faeries - Brian Froud
Goblins! A Survival Guide and Fiasco in Four Parts - Ari Berk and Brian Froud
Gnomes 30th Anniversary Edition - Wil Huygen
Giants - Julek Heller
Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia - Carol Rose
Fairies (Mysteries, Legends, and Unexplained Phenomena)- Rosemary Guiley

Note: Books listed here are for reference only. I do not advocate the practical use of any information found within these tomes without proper research, study, guidance, and/or training.
The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells: The Ultimate Reference Book for the Magical Arts - Judika Illes
Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs - Scott Cunningham
The Complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews - Scott Cunningham
Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem & Metal Magic - Scott Cunningham
Practical Candleburning Rituals - Raymond Buckland
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols: The Ultimate A-Z Guide from Alchemy to the Zodiac - Adele Nozedar
Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen - Scott Cunningham
The Alchemists Handbook: Manual for Practical Laboratory Alchemy - Frater Albertus
Three Books of Occult Philosophy - Henry Cornelius Agrippa, James Freake, and Donald Tyson
Liber Null & Psychonaut: An Introduction to Chaos Magic - Peter J. Carroll

This concludes the second installment of the "Writing Urban Fantasy" series. Up next...character development!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Invasion Begins in Memphis....

I literally just received confirmation for this a short time ago:

I will be attending MidSouthCon 29 in Memphis, TN on March 25-27. This is my first trip to MSC and I'm stoked!!

No word on schedule yet, but have been told it will be forthcoming. I'll keep everyone updated as soon as I know more.

Other dates are in the works as well. For the record, I WILL NOT be attending RT (Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention) this year. I hate to miss the party but my schedule doesn't allow it.

That's all the news I have for now but I hope to have more soon. That is all. :)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Harsh Truths About Your Favorite Books

I love books. I love to read them. I love to talk about them. I love to collect them. I love to sit and stare at them. Most of all, I love to write them.

However, I don't love people who obtain them without paying for them. I'm not talking about lending a book to your friend or checking out a book from the library. By all means, support your local library. Borrow from your friend. No, I'm talking about theft in the form of electronic file sharing, or e-piracy.

Karen Dionne, author of FREEZING POINT and BOILING POINT, wrote an article for DailyFinance about the high costs of e-piracy and what it means to authors. In her article, she makes the following statements:

"At one file-sharing website, users have uploaded 1,830 copies of three books by a popular young adult author. Just one of those copies has had 4,208 downloads. On the same site, 7,130 copies of the late Michael Crichton's novels have been uploaded, and the first 10 copies have been downloaded 15,174 times.

Even if only a fraction of the downloads from this and dozens of other file-sharing websites represent actual lost sales, they still translate into a staggering amount of royalties that have been stolen from authors." Click here to read the full article.

To say it's "a staggering amount" is an understatement. Let's examine the potential impact of even one of these examples.

Let's take the 4,208 downloads of one book from a popular YA author. Let's assume the book is available in mass market paperback and e-book formats for identical cover prices of $7.99. (E-books are often a little cheaper, but for our purposes we'll assume an equal sale price.) Those 4,208 downloads represent $33,621.92 in lost sales, excluding tax.

We now come to the sticky bit, the harsh truth that most people don't know about your favorite books. That $33,621.92 I mentioned? That isn't the author's money. We actually only see a small fraction of it. The majority goes to the publisher to cover costs of printing the book (or in this case, formatting the book to display correctly on a variety of e-readers), paying the cover artists and designers, paying the editor and copyeditor, and a host of other expenses.

So, how much of that $33,621.92 does the author see? Well, assuming again that the book originated in mass market paperback and the author had a cracking good agent who worked a really sweet deal, the author can count on seeing anywhere from 5% to 8% of the cover price. Most contract are actually written for less, but 5% is a good estimate. In other words, the author should receive roughly $1681.10 for those 4,208 e-copies, or approximately $0.40 per copy.

Now here comes the second harsh truth of your favorite books. Authors aren't actually paid that $1681.10 by the publisher until we've earned out the advance monies the publisher pays us when they buy the rights to our work. Advances are earned out at a rate equal to the percentage of the cover price stated in our contracts. So an advance of $5000 (considered an industry "standard") must be earned back at $0.40 per copy, which means roughly 12,500 copies of the book must be sold before the author sees a royalty check.

The third harsh reality of your favorite books is this: Until our advances are earned out and authors start drawing royalty checks, we aren't drawing any money from the publisher. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Zero. This is why so many authors keep a 40-hours-a-week day job. Very few authors actually earn a living by writing alone.

What's the fourth harsh truth? An author must pay his or her agent a percentage of their advance and royalties as well as income tax. The standard amount paid to an agent is 15%. So that $5000 advance from the publisher actually becomes $4250 ($750 goes to the agent) but we must still earn back the full $5000 paid by the publisher. Also the $1681.10 the author in our example would've received for 4,208 e-copies of her book if they were actually sold and not stolen (and assuming she'd earned out her advance already and was drawing royalty checks) would actually be $1428.93 (another $252.17 goes to the agent). The author must then pay income taxes at the self-employment of 15.3%...which means her grand take home pay is roughly $1210.30. Oh, and this doesn't include whatever taxes are required by the state in which she
lives. The 15.3% self-employment tax is federal.

Here's the fifth harsh truth... When you see an author at an event such as a convention, they've usually paid all travel expenses out of their own pocket. Registration fees, hotel, gas, plane or train tickets, food -- all of it comes from our pocket.

Let's assume our popular YA author, after paying her agent and taxes, has $1210.30 to attend a conference. Some of the larger conventions can have huge registration fees. Let's say she wants to attend a national-level conference and registration cost $400 -- that's a huge chunk of her $1210.30. Now she wants to stay in the "host hotel" and has to pay an estimated at $200 per night at the conference rate and the conference last 4 days. She arrives the day before it starts and leaves the day after it ends for a grand total of 5 nights -- that's another $1000, which is $200 more than she has available. Add in travel expenses and food and our author is now in the red and losing money. Plus any promotional material she wants to take with her to advertise her book, such as book marks, pens, flyers, and all that other cool freebie stuff readers pick up by the handfuls, cost money to produce and the author is responsible for about 90% of it.

Good thing she has a day job and has saved a little extra money to supplement the cost of her writing.

Of course, we haven't even covered the issue of how low sales for any reason can cause a publisher to not renew an author's contract and affect the author's ability to get a new contract with another publishing house. Lost contracts equal lost jobs for writers.

It also means the potential loss of your favorite books.

So go ahead and download that "free" e-copy and believe it's not harming anyone, that "authors can afford it" because we all "get the big bucks." Go ahead. Do it.

The final harsh truth is that we, as authors, can't afford for you to want to save a few bucks and download a "free" copy of our work. It's stealing. When you do it, you're stealing our ideas, our time, and our ability to support our families.

The truth is no writer writes to get rich. We write because we love telling a story, because we love books, and because we want people to read the books we write.

We only ask that we be compensated for the time we so willingly give to creating the stories you love to read.

P.S. -- I haven't forgotten about the "Writing Urban Fantasy" blog series I started, but I've been busy, well, writing and will return to it soon.