Carolyn Crane Blurbed THE DEMON WITHIN

Mind Games

USA Today bestselling and RITA award winning author Carolyn Crane gave an amazing blurb for The Demon Within:

This inventive and exciting tale had me breathlessly flipping the pages—and I loved every minute! Get ready for a sexy, twisty, dangerous ride that crackles with pure awesomeness.

I’m ridiculously flattered by this. Carolyn is an author whose work I’ve loved for a long time. Her Disillusionists trilogy (Mind Games, Double Cross, and Head Rush), about a woman who weaponizes her hypochondria to become a crime fighter, is one of the coolest, most unique entries in the urban fantasy genre.

As a fan of her urban fantasy, I was a little nervous when I found out Carolyn was writing a romantic suspense series. I’m kind of picky about romantic suspense. With some romantic suspense, I feel like I’m reading the same story (damaged sexy hero and TSTL heroine on the run from a serial killer) over and over again. But The Associates novels focuses on a quasi-legal worldwide spy organization–and of course, everyone involved is super suave and sexy. Think James Bond spy stuff meets The Thomas Crown Affair intrigue and sex appeal. Also, the heroines are as badass as the heroes. One of them is a not-quite-reformed criminal safecracker; another is one of the leaders of the Associates who goes undercover to infiltrate a drug cartel.

 

Basically, it seems like no matter what genre she’s writing in, Carolyn looks at the rules and tropes…and then ignores them altogether and does something completely different. It makes her books unexpected and awesome.

 

Carolyn CraneI interviewed Carolyn for the CC2K pop culture blog back in 2010, and I’ve spoken to her quite a bit on Twitter and Facebook since then. This summer, I actually got a chance to meet and speak to her during the Romance Writers of America Conference in New York City. She was a wealth of information about writing and publishing, and the experience was one of the highlights of my year. (She’s also super sweet, and just one of the coolest, most generous people I’ve met in the writing world.)

 

 Thank you again to Carolyn for this amazing blurb!

Guest Blogging at Geek Girl Authority

WritteninRedI am being featured over at the Geek Girl Authority blog today talking about five kick-ass women of the urban fantasy genre. The complex, compelling female characters–I hesitate to say “strong female characters” because that’s become a loaded term–are one of the reasons I was drawn to urban fantasy, both as a reader and as a writer, and I’m so glad I’m finally getting a chance to talk about some of my favorites. Check it out: 5 Kick-Ass Women of Urban Fantasy.

Special thank you to Audrey Kearns for giving me the opportunity to write for her blog.

Why Romance is Feminist

Earlier this week, Heroes & Heartbreakers published a piece on whether “feminist romance” was an oxymoron.

In a word: no. In two words: absolutely not.

The H&H article also comes down on the side of “no way”—not surprisingly, since H&H is a romance blog. But there were a few other points that I wanted to touch upon:

Romance is a genre written primarily by women, for women

UnboundRomance is the only genre dominated so wholly by female readers and writers. And that’s pretty amazing. Last year, I attended the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Conference in New York City. Never before have I been to a writing conference that felt so inclusive and welcoming to me—in spite of the fact that I was an unpublished writer who, technically, didn’t even write romance. (Although there is a lot of crossover between urban fantasy and paranormal romance, but that’s another story.)

Studies have shown that, in group atmospheres, women don’t talk as much when they’re outnumbered by men. So in creating a predominantly female environment, whether at a conference or on an online forum, you are creating a space where women’s voices will be heard.

Romance showcases female desires

I’m not going to deny it: I read some romance novels simply because they turn me on. I’ve likened romance novels to “girl porn” in the past. Five years later, I still think that description is accurate, if maybe a little reductionist.

As I said then, the lines between romance and erotica are blurring more and more, and that trend has only continued. In the last five years, I’ve seen more and more romances meant to appeal to a woman’s “darker” (read: kinkier and less socially acceptable) desires.

HostageBargainTake Cara McKenna’s Unbound, about a woman who meets a mysterious British loner who turns out to have a hard-core rope fetish. Or Annika Martin’s The Hostage Bargain, about a woman who gets kidnapped by three hot bank robbers and ends up having kinky sex with all of them. Or Jessica Clare’s Beauty and the Billionaire, about a woman who moves in with a horribly scarred billionaire and introduces him to sex for the first time. And those are just three of the ones I’ve read.

Hell, why do you think 50 Shades of Grey, despite its mediocre writing, is a thing?

For generations, women have been taught to suppress their desires, that they were dirty and wrong. It’s a mentality that, unfortunately, many women still haven’t broken out of. Today’s romance novels take that sentiment and declare bullshit.

And feminine desire doesn’t always fit into the pretty little, “They fall in love and get married” box that our society is comfortable with. (Though we have romance novels for that, too.) Some women have rape fantasies. Some women are dominant or submissive. Some women want to have polyamorous relationships. Some women want to participate in orgies or partner swaps. Some straight women are turned on by m/m or f/f sex. We’re seeing an expansion of what the romance genre encompasses, thereby appealing to the desires of more women.

The romance community continually questions itself

Romance readers, writers, and reviewers are some of the most self-aware, self-questioning people I’ve ever met. What I mean is that they are constantly questioning their genre and its tropes, considering its relative strengths and weaknesses. Romance readers and writers are constantly critiquing the genre regarding its consent norms (specifically, that “consent” seems to be dubious in some romances). More recently, on the Smart Bitches Trashy Books blog, I recently read a post talking about slut shaming in romance—which, unfortunately, is still much more prevalent than it should be. If you dig into the comments, they get into a very thoughtful discussion of the “Not Like Other Girls” syndrome, something that has been discussed in feminist media quite a bit, but can pretty much be summed up by the Taylor Swift song “You Belong to Me.”

Earlier this month, I received my copy of Romance Writers Report, the magazine for RWA members. On the first pages, it discussed the first meeting of the 2015-2016 RWA board, and this jumped out at me:

Diversity. For multiple reasons, members of color, LGBT members, and disabled members have felt marginalized. RWA leadership is dedicated to ensuring every member feels welcome. […] Work on diversity issues is an ongoing priority.

The section discussed suggestions from the Diversity Committee on how to improve the situation, including changes in how RWA speakers are selected; adding a section to their Policies and Procedures manual mandating that no RWA-affiliated professional shall refuse to work with any member on account of race, ethnicity, age, marital status, or disability; ways the RWA can better accommodate differently-abled members, such as priority seating, closed captioning, and an on-call ADA staff member; and a discussion of the diversity problems in the publishing industry. (I remember that last discussion coming up quite a bit at the RWA conference last year.) Obviously, it’s not a perfect organization—otherwise, the discussion never would have been needed at all—but what got my attention was the fact that the RWA leadership saw the issue and is taking steps to address it. It’s taken 87 years and the threat of a boycott by several prominent industry professionals to get the Motion Picture Academy to take similar steps!

 

Romance as a genre is not perfect, by any means. There are still huge representation and diversity problems in the genre. Some romances are not very sex-positive or women-positive. Some seem to promote rape or coerced sex as “romantic.” (The hero just couldn’t help himself, because he wanted the woman so much!) And yes, many romances do continue to promote the idea that all a woman wants is a man, and that she’s incomplete until she has said man in her life. But what I’ve found, over my years of reading romance, is that it’s one of the most flexible, evolving genres out there. I believe that, combined with the woman-dominated readership and authorship, make the genre incredibly feminist.

Jenn Bennett Blurb, and Other Cool Stuff

Jenn Bennett, the author of the Arcadia Bell urban fantasy series and the Roaring Twenties paranormal romances, blurbed The Demon Within. (Basically, think of how, on most books you read, you’ll see quotes on the front that say things like, “This is the most amazing book since sliced bread!” — says Important Author.)

She said, “Engaging, old-school urban fantasy. Will appeal to readers hungering for spirited supernatural action with a dash of forbidden romance.”

This is my very first blurb, so I’m doing happy tap dances over here. Better, it comes from an author whose work I already love. The Arcadia Bell series is high-stakes and consistently fun, and it has one of my favorite book couples of all time: Cady and Lon, whose relationship always struck me as sweeter and more realistic (not to mention more equal) than a lot of other romances in the alpha-male dominated UF market. The Roaring Twenties books I actually read much more recently, and I loved them. Great characters, great world building, and a unique setting (1920s San Francisco). I had been hungering for historical sci-fi/fantasy that was NOT steampunk. Not that I dislike steampunk, but I’ve been seeing so much of it lately that no longer has that unique feel that made me love it in the first place. So the Roaring Twenties books really hit the spot.

title_ny_eastside_cityhall

The old City Hall subway station in New York City, which has been abandoned since the 1940s and is featured in The Demon Within.

 

In other news, I am being featured today on the AndiLit Blog giving some tips for scene building and “setting the stage.” As a writer, this is one of the most difficult things for me to do. I tend to focus more on character and plot than on stage setting. It was also one of the things that my editor from California Coldblood pushed me hardest on during the revision process. I had to come up with some strategies to compensate for my lack of visual imagination. I talk about a few of the strategies I’ve learned to use. Thank you to Andi Cumbo-Floyd for hosting me 🙂

My Thoughts on “The Force Awakens”

StarWars

I’ve been wanting to write some thoughts about Star Wars: The Force Awakens since I saw it back on opening night. However, I was so busy with the move and then my vacation that I never got a chance. J and I just saw the movie again in the theater, and I have a little bit of time to spare before my big New Year’s Eve plans. So I wanted to jot a few things down while I was thinking about them.

 

 

SPOILERS!!! (Really, at this point, do I have to spell it out for you?)

 

 

–The movie totally holds up upon second viewing. It’s fast-paced, entertaining, emotionally riveting, and the new characters make their mark, so much so that I find myself just as invested in the fates of Rey and Finn as the fates of Luke and Leia.

–I’ve heard a lot of criticism that The Force Awakens is too much like A New Hope, and there’s certainly a solid argument to be made about that. I don’t agree. To me, the storylines and characters were different enough that I didn’t find myself drawing parallels to A New Hope—most of the time. Plus, I figure a lot of the parallels can and will be attributed to Force-y stuff, everything comes full circle and all that. But the story of A New Hope is about fighting the Empire and blowing up the Death Star. The story of The Force Awakens is about finding Luke.

–That said, there is one place where I felt the movie suffers creatively because of over-reliance on the previous films: in the First Order’s Starkiller Base. Even the Resistance fighters act like the Starkiller Base is same shit, different day when they’re plotting their destruction of it. I can almost hear my editor’s voice in the background telling them to go back to the drawing board, to be more inventive, and to resist the impulse of automatically going with your first idea. Clearly, Bob Peterson did not work in the writers’ room for The Force Awakens.

–But—and this is a really big but here—the film also delivers an emotional punch more powerful than anything the original trilogy delivered: the death of Han Solo. I’ve heard Han’s death compared to the death of Obi-Wan in A New Hope, but there are some huge differences there. We had half a movie to get to know Obi-Wan before Vader cut him down; we’ve had almost 40 years with Han. He’s the most beloved character in a beloved franchise. His death at the hands of his and Leia’s son is devastating, as it should be. And yes, I saw it coming. I suspected it would come early in the movie, when Kylo Ren revealed Han was his father. I knew it would come when Han and Kylo Ren confronted each other on a catwalk over a gigantic, bottomless pit. I think that only made it worse, not better. Everyone saw it coming except for Han, the guy who’s always smarter and faster than everyone else in the room. He’s too blinded by the love for his son. And it kills him. And I spent the last quarter of the movie crying. Both times.

–Following that, the reaction shots of both Leia and Chewie after Han’s death are amazing. The contrast of Leia’s restrained, understated devastation with Chewie going ape-shit is great, and perfect for both of their characters. Both Carrie Fisher and Peter Mayhew just killed it in those scenes.

–After I saw the movie for the first time, I figured Rey was Luke’s daughter with an unknown woman, and after seeing it a second time I am even more confident with that theory. Rey looks very much like a young Natalie Portman did in The Phantom Menace, first of all. Her affinity for mechanics and her piloting gifts parallel both Anakin and Luke. Not to mention the fact that no one else we’ve seen in the series so far has had such a natural gift for the Force except the Skywalkers. Plus, Anakin and Luke’s light saber chooses Rey. And R2-D2 reactivates himself right after Rey arrives on the planet. And that little droid always does seem to know more about what’s going on than anyone else.

–My theory is that, after Kylo Ren’s betrayal, a young Rey was hidden on Jakku for her protection. I’m guessing there’s about a 10-year age difference between her and Kylo Ren, which would have made him a teenager at the time. Teenagers were always assholes, even a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I’d estimate Kylo Ren to be in his early 30s now, and Rey to be in her early 20s.

–Finn. Ah, Finn. I loved Finn. I love that his story is unlike any other we’ve seen in the series so far. This is one place where the team got creative, and it worked: a Storm Trooper with a conscience. It’s great. I can’t wait to see his hero’s journey, and I can’t wait to see how he develops after he throws off the rest of his First Order conditioning and learns some other practical skills besides killing things.

–I also heard a rumor that Finn’s father would turn out to be none other than Lando Calrissian. If the powers that be are listening: PLEASE don’t do this. I would love to see Billy Dee Williams back, but one of the strengths of Finn’s story is that he is unconnected to anyone else. Plus, do you see how problematic it is to have only two prominent, living black characters in this universe, and have them both be related?

–Also on the genetics front: will they ever explain how the hell Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher’s genetic combined to create Adam Driver???

Overall, I loved the movie. Love, love, love. I can’t wait for the next one to come out in 2017.