Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night… The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity-and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she’d rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance. Sounds pretty simple, right? It would be, if it weren’t for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family’s old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed. To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone’s spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city…
This book is McGuire combining her fascination with weird and wacky biology with her never-resting imagination to produce an urban fantasy that isn’t too serious, but is a great deal of fun. There’s plenty of good banter, lots of action, and a long list of interesting creatures to meet and talk to and/or beat to a pulp.
I had started reading this a while back, and it hadn’t sucked me in. I’m not sure if that was the book or my life getting in the way. But this time, as soon as we reached rumors of the dragon, I was hooked.
The romantic subplot was pretty true-to-form. Sexy sworn enemy is sexy, protagonist goes back and forth between attraction and wanting to put a bullet in SSE, SSE slowly comes around, and ends up more or less on the side of the angels. Except not, because in McGuire’s world, angels are probably some sort of dinosaur/bird hybrid that evolved to feed on the sound waves generated by hymnal music. That said, it was a fun subplot, and they do have some good chemistry going.
What really makes the book work though are the cryptids, the various species McGuire fits into the urban setting, from Sarah the shy/geeky/telepathic cuckoo to the dragon princesses to the gorgon to the Aeslin mice. Oh God, the mice. I won’t even try to explain them, except to say they’re one of those delightfully fun ideas I wish I’d come up with. While the sheer number of cryptids living undetected in the city strained my belief a bit, in a lighter book like this, I think it works.
Keep in mind, “light” doesn’t mean “mindless” or “thoughtless.” While the Covenant are pretty straightforward bad guys, the Price family brings a more interesting perspective as cryptobiologists, studying the biological role of cryptids and how they fit into the larger ecology. (Want to know what caused the Black Plague? Hint: It has something to do with the loss of unicorns.) Traditional monsters aren’t treated as monsters; nor are they simply misunderstood uglies with hearts of gold. They’re true to their nature. Like any other species, they can be dangerous, but that doesn’t make them evil. It’s an examination you don’t run into that often.
Which leads to a point I’ve seen made in some of the negative reviews for the book. In the first chapter, Verity chases down a ghoul who has murdered a number of girls in the city. But instead of killing it, she lets it off with a warning, with the understanding that if it happens again, she’ll personally end him. Which means she essentially let a murderer go free, and some readers have a problem with that.
Me, I’m torn. I can’t imagine the ghoul was under the mistaken impression that killing and eating random girls was okay, so it’s not like this was a cultural misunderstanding. On the other hand, if it was deliberate–and knowing McGuire, I’d lay odds that it was–it shows that Verity is in some ways just as bound to the rules and teachings of her family as the Covenant is to theirs. She lets the ghoul go because that’s what the Price family does, in part I suspect to distinguish themselves from the Covenant. It didn’t ruin the book or anything, but it was a bit troubling, and I wonder if that decision will come back in future books.
Overall, a lot of fun. If you like McGuire’s work, this one’s worth checking out. If you haven’t tried her stuff, this might be a good place to start.
My second guest blogger of awesomeness is the award-winning author Seanan McGuire (also known as Mira Grant). Her pseudonyms’ newest novels are Late Eclipses and Deadline, respectively. If you enjoy her guest blog post, I’d encourage you to check out her LiveJournal or go say hello on Twitter.
…zero hour, five a.m.
When I was a kid, I used to read about the lives of working writers. They seemed to live mostly in one-room apartments, where they hunched over their typewriters and pounded out a living one word at a time. They weren’t, for the most part, rich, but they kept the lights on with sonnets and movie reviews and the occasional filler column for the men’s magazines (and as a little girl, I assumed they were all writing for wrestling magazines and car catalogs, because there were some ways in which I was very, very sheltered). Edgar Allen Poe didn’t flip burgers. Lord Byron…well, he was a lord, which often comes with some financial assistance, but he never asked anybody if they wanted fries with that. Life as a writer was hard, but it was something you could do. All you had to do was write. Like Ewan MacGregor’s character in Moulin Rouge!
Times have changed. Thanks to inflation and a mutating market, it’s a little harder now to make do and keep the lights on with a few short story sales and some ghost-written letters to Penthouse every month (“Dear Penthouse; I never believed it would happen to me…”). It doesn’t help that we have more “vital expenses” than ever before. My grandmother used to talk about thinking of shoes as the sort of thing you only had to buy once every two years. I would go nuts if you took away my internet connection, cellular phone, and cable TV–and yes, I am one of those writers who still watches TV. Sometimes as much as ten hours of TV a week. I watch the shows, they do not watch me.
Regardless, even without children, I have more expenses than my predecessors, and the cost of living isn’t going down. Add on the sad necessity of private medical insurance (assuming I don’t feel like melting any time soon), and it becomes clear why I have joined the ranks of the many, the not so very proud, the utterly exhausted.
Writers with day jobs.
My clade is a strange one, neither fish nor foul, the synapsidian inhabitants of our fantastic ecosystem. Each day, we lumber from our caves, dressed in the colors of the regions, and shuffle into our places in the great working jungle. Maybe we press keys. Maybe we assemble small machines. Maybe we make your coffee. Regardless, we are synapsids in disguise, pretending to be one thing when we’re secretly another. At the end of the day, we shuffle back home, shedding a little more of the illusion with every step, until we fling ourselves at our keyboards, maybe pausing to shovel something into our mouths, and begin our real jobs. The ones we wouldn’t be doing if we didn’t really love them, because damn.
Being a working writer means constantly fighting a battle against our twin arch-enemies, Procrastination and Social Life. Procrastination says “Hey, there’s a big shiny internet right there. Maybe you could learn something cool. Become a better writer. Get even more awesome. Finally get that big break and quit your day job. Or just play Farmville for eight hours. Don’t you wonder which it would be?” Meanwhile, Social Life says, “It’s not like you’re doing anything, you’re just sitting there, we’re all starting to think you don’t like us anymore, you need to come outside, it’s not healthy, it’s not right, and hey, wasn’t that Farmville I just saw?” Sure, we have team-ups from time to time–even Magneto occasionally joins the X-Men–but at the end of the day, Procrastination and Social Life will do their best to make sure nothing ever actually gets done.
Zero hour. Five p.m.
Balancing work and life is hard in our modern world. Balancing work-that-pays-bills, work-that-soul-demands, and life can seem borderline impossible sometimes. Being a writer is exhausting, time consuming, and yes, incredibly rewarding…but it’s reward that comes after hundreds of hours of work that is borderline invisible to the people around us. It’s secret work. It’s work that only the other synapsids really see happening. And it’s work that, unless we have co-authors in our closets, we have to do alone. All this science, we don’t understand, you see. It’s just our job. Eight days a week.
Have you hugged your member of order synapsidia today?
The zombie uprising began in 2014, due to a combination of two viruses meant to eliminate the common cold and cure cancer. Everyone is infected: when you die, the virus reanimates you as a zombie. But if you’re bitten/infected by a zombie, that also triggers the transformation, and you’re a walking corpse within minutes.
The book is set twenty-five years after the uprising, and society has adapted (somewhat) to the presence of zombies. Certain territories are more hazardous, and declared off-limits. Blood tests are everywhere. And a trio of bloggers has just been selected to follow and report on presidential candidate Peter Ryman.
One of the key lines for me came early in the book, when Georgia Mason (our protagonist) remarks that the zombies aren’t the story. I can’t remember the exact wording, but that line captures why the book works for me. We’ve all seen story after story about zombie uprisings; Feed is the story of what comes next.
I can see why this book has broken out the way it has. You’ve got classic SF extrapolation of future trends, like Grant’s presentation of the blogging world. You’ve got zombies that make sense (at least moreso than 98% of the zombie stories out there). You’ve got plenty of zombie-fighting action, political intrigue, and nonstop tension. You’ve got relevance in the strong parallel between fear of zombies and our present-day attitudes toward terrorism. And Georgia and her brother Shaun make a great pair of characters, complementing one another beautifully.
I’m about to get into major spoiler territory, so if you haven’t read it, look away now. (To anyone reading on an RSS feed, I’m sorry – I’m not aware of any way to put a cut tag into the feed.)
I wrote both of these reviews a while back, when I was thinking I might try to start up a separate book reviewing blog called “Magic ex Libris” — a tie-in to my new series. And then I realized there was no way in Hades that I could add another blog to my online obligations. I found my notes tonight, and figured I’d clean them up and get ‘em posted. Better late than never, right?
Dead Matter [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the third book in Anton Strout’s light urban fantasy series, in which Department of Extraordinary Affairs agent Simon Canderous uses psychometry and a big bat to fight the nasties of New York.
Our story begins with Simon’s partner Connor taking a sabbatical to look for his missing brother, leaving poor Simon to cover twice the workload. Simon eventually manages to slip away for some personal time with his girlfriend (ex-cultist and technomancer Jane). Naturally, given Simon’s luck, Taco Night is interrupted by an angry, lumbering monster with lots of pointy bits.
Pointy monster is just the beginning. Simon, Jane, and Connor slowly uncover a bigger problem — one which puts Simon in the crosshairs of just about everyone, monster and human alike.
I like this series. I like the sense of fun, and there’s much less angst than in your average urban fantasy. (Though sometimes it feels like Strout is trying a little too hard for the funny.) Like the previous two books, this one is a quick read. My only complaint is that the beginning meandered a bit. Taco Night monster seemed like a random encounter, and it took a few chapters to start to get a sense of a larger story.
Dead Matter stands alone pretty well, but you’ll get more out of it if you’ve read the first two books in the series.
Seanan McGuire scares me. She’s writing two series simultaneously, under two different names. She’s also a singer with multiple albums, as well as a gifted artist. I think she’s also Batman.
A Local Habitation [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the second book in McGuire’s urban fantasy series about October “Toby” Daye, a half-human, half-fairy changeling and knight of the Shadowed Hills. (In the San Francisco area, for those not familiar with fae territories.) This time around, Toby must visit the realm of Countess January O’Leary in the County of Tamed Lightning to investigate a series of bizarre murders.
McGuire gives good fae. Reading this series, you just know she has a dozen notebooks filled with the details of the various fairy bloodlines, territories, allegiances, and powers.1 She makes them real. Often more real and complex than humans, who are mostly just background noise this time around.
A Local Habitation uses the locked room mystery format. Someone in Countess O’Leary’s computer company is murdering her people. Is it Alex, the irresistibly sexy love interest with a secret? April, the dryad whose “tree” is the computer server? Gordan, the cranky but skilled healer?
There were times when I wish Toby had been quicker to pick up on various clues. It sometimes felt like McGuire was trying a little too hard to hold back information. In a mystery, you obviously don’t want the reader to figure things out too quickly. At the same time, the fae of Tamed Lightning were a little too secretive, holding back one important revelation after another, even as they’re dying.
There’s a lot to like about this book. It was great to see more of fairy society. I particularly enjoyed the revelations about the night-haunts. The murder mystery, once we discover the truth, was fascinating on a number of levels, and I hope McGuire follows up on some of the things we learn about Faerie. And April is just great. (I tend to have a weakness for dryads.)
Welcome to First Book Friday, an ongoing series exploring how various authors sold their first books.
Seanan McGuire, a.k.a. Mira Grant, is this year’s winner of the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She’s also a skilled musician. Plus she draws awesome comics Basically, Seanan is who you’d get if SF/F were a superpower.
Read on to learn how she sold the first of her many books, and the whirlwind that began with that first sale…
In digging through my (relatively epic) email archives, the earliest fragments I can find involving a character named Toby Daye are dated early 1998. Twelve, going on thirteen, years ago. I was twenty years old. The rules of urban fantasy as we currently know it were still sort of sticky and half-baked, and no one really knew what they could or couldn’t get away with. I thought my decision to write in the first person was unique and would really stand out. You know. Crazy things like that.
After a few years of figuring out what the hell I was doing, I had a finished novel: Rosemary and Rue [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], which, in its original form, didn’t look very much like it did when it finally got published. I wrote a sequel. I learned a lot from writing the sequel. I re-wrote the first book. I wrote a third book. I learned a lot from writing the third book. I re-wrote the first book. I wrote…you get the picture. By 2007, I had what I considered to be an awesome book, and absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do with it. I was like the underwear gnomes. “Step one, write; step three, PROFIT.” Only I had no idea how to proceed.
I had started talking to the woman who would eventually become my agent, Diana Fox, in early 2007. We’d been discussing the possibility of her representing me, and the fact that clearly, I still needed to do some work on Rosemary and Rue. In December of that same year, I had one of those Legally Blonde “whoa” moments, and suddenly realized that I needed to completely re-write the book. Diana asked to see the first sixty pages. Then she asked for the whole book. Then we spent about eight hours on the phone, ending with a formal offer of representation. Whee!
I asked a friend of mine who was also an author if she would be willing to read Rosemary and Rue and give us a “shop quote” — something that we could use to pique the interest of editors. She agreed, with that sort of cautious “um, maybe…” that is really the best defense of the published author being approached by their unpublished friend. She wound up enjoying the book enough that she strongly recommended we try approaching DAW, as they would be the best fit for my work. We approached DAW. Thirteen days later (not that I was counting or anything), Diana called me at my day job and asked whether I had a minute. I always have a minute for Diana. I said sure.
She said “We got DAW.”
…the screaming eventually stopped. And the real work began.
Everything about actually publishing a book was strange and new to me. I had to meet my editor, learn how she worked, learn how to work with her, and learn the names of everyone’s cats (not entirely joking). I had to come to terms, fast, with the fact that a) there were now a lot of things I didn’t control, and b) everyone in the world assumed that I did control them, resulting in my spending a lot of time explaining publishing cycles to my friends. And most of all, c) the whole world was about to have the chance to meet my imaginary friend, and not everyone was going to like her.
A year ago, I had no books in bookstores. As I write this, I have four, with at least four more coming. It’s incredibly weird. Sometimes, I still expect to wake up back in December of 2007. But weird as it all is…wow, has it been worth it.
I’m very fortunate. I’ve got a lot of very nifty friends and acquaintances, both the real-world and the online variety, and sometimes I’ve just got to show them off.
To that end, I’m declaring this an open “Promote Your Friends” thread. Please feel free to post whatever cool projects or accomplishments your own friends have been up to lately. (If you’re on my jimchines.com blog and your comment doesn’t show up, let me know and I’ll rescue it from moderation.)
Let the promo begin!
Finally, my author friends have some new books out.
Your turn. What nifty things have your friends been doing?
A few follow-up links to last week’s post about rape in fandom:
The First (Pro) Novel Survey is up to 151 responses. I’d love to break 200 if possible. I’ve posted information at the following sites:
Any suggestions for places I’ve missed? (Or feel free to pass the link on directly, if you know someone who might be interested.)
So I was chatting with Seanan McGuire this weekend about book releases and pancakes and such when she mentioned something fascinating. Apparently every time she posts a picture of her cat, her Amazon ranking improves.
Forget book trailers and contests. The key to writing success is cute animals. But it got me wondering … would a dog picture have the same effect? Can we prove once and for all whether cats or dogs have the superior selling power? Can we finally put an end to the age-old cats vs. dog dispute?
I believe we can! I spent Sunday afternoon chasing our poor pets around until I got the following pictures.
So there we have it. Having posted two animal pictures, my sales should now go through the roof. I’ll compare this week’s Bookscan numbers to last week’s for both books and figure out the percentage change. So tune in late next week for indisputable scientific proof of whether cats or dogs are better.
I debated whether or not to post this, but in the interest of keeping myself honest and talking about all sides of this writing thing, I decided to go ahead.
My friend Seanan McGuire’s debut novel Rosemary and Rue [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] came out at the start of September. It’s a great book, and I’m thrilled for her success. Yet there’s a part of me that compares her Amazon listing–50+ reviews, a ranking in the 1000 range, and #99 of all fantasy titles at Amazon, all more than a month after her release–to my own, and comes away feeling envious.
I hate comparing myself to other writers. A friend gets a $30,000+ advance, and while I’m truly happy for them and excited for their news, there’s also that tiny whisper asking why I’m not earning the same.
I hate it because it makes me lose sight of what I already have. The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] has a month-long face-out display at most Barnes and Noble stores. Mermaid’s first week’s sales were the best of any of my books so far. Publishers Weekly called it “a witty, well-constructed adventure tale about powerful women stepping up with skill and cleverness.” I’m the freaking guest of honor at Icon in Iowa in two days!
But then I compare my web-only PW review to Laura Anne Gilman’s starred PW review for Flesh and Fire [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] (which looks like an awesome book, by the way), and suddenly my good news feels … deflated, somehow. Even if only for a moment.
Screw that. The fact is, I’ve got an awful lot to be proud of. I have five books in print. The first three have earned out their advances and gone back for multiple printings. They’ve been translated into a half-dozen languages. I even have miniatures of my characters. How freaking cool is that???
The self-doubt and the insecurities are insidious, and they don’t magically disappear once you get a book deal. It’s only three years since my first book with DAW hit the shelves; I’m still a fairly new writer. Maybe this is normal. Maybe it takes a good track record with 10 or 15 books to start earning those higher advances, and for the big review venues to really sit up and take notice.
I love what I’m doing, and I wouldn’t trade it. Fairy tale princesses might not be as hot as My Little Pony with Steampunk Zombies*, but I love these stories, and I’m proud of them. I know there will always be more successful writers, and that to compare myself to everyone who does better than me means I’m creating completely distorted expectations for myself. I know all of this, but the emotions don’t always listen to the logic.
Fortunately, I also know the envy is a transient thing. I’m proud of my friends, and happy for them. The envy will pass (for the most part), but the pride remains, because my friends rock, and they’ve earned that success. I’m happy for myself, too–happy and proud, and that will still be there after the envy fades.