Posts Tagged ‘Delilah S Dawson’

So I’ve committed to my writing hommies, RSA Garcia and Drea James, to make a big push on In A Murphy Minute. That goal of getting a draft done by my birthday 35 days from now is still sorta reasonable. Tagging along with NaNoWriMo and making it NaFiTFuThiMo (National Finish The Fucking Thing Month) makes sense. Lots of the wordsmiths will be making a big push on their projects so why not us too?

Before I go dark on the blog for a while (cause I’ve been a regular posting fiend, eh? #sarcasm) I’m going to drop some book recommendations. I’ve hit a streak of very excellent books lately. Side note, as I sit here and tally them up, I realized it’s all SFF women authors since mid-summer(ish). So woo!

Anyways. Bite sized book recommendations incoming!

empireascendantEmpire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

I have to start with this one. If you follow me on twitter, you can’t have missed me raving about Hurley’s work. Hurley is writing hands down, some of the best stuff out there. Period. End of sentence. I will throw money at anything she writes. Check out the round of up the big blog push she made for Empire‘s release. Specifically, this book is the second in the series that puts epic in epic fantasy. This of a sprawling plot that would make GRRM nod sagely but without a lot of the dated baggage that plagues epic fantasy. Battles, scheming and one of the most unique magic systems I’ve ever read. Hurley also dodges a lot of the Book Two Problems. You know the ones, book one is standalone-ish but book just just cuts off and the end of the page count, really being more of a single book in conjunction with book three. Yes, Empire ends with a lot of questions, it is a trilogy after all, but it is because the stakes are being raised constantly in this book. Hurley cranks up the consequences rather than filling out a page count and whoops, time to read book three. Seriously. Go get this book. If you haven’t read book one, go read The Mirror Empire first and then read this one. Read everything Hurley.

 

darkascensionDark Ascension by ML Brennan

Seems everyone is ascending lately. This is the fourth and final book in the Generation V series. This whole series is fun as hell and takes a cool spin on the vampire mythos. Even though the main character is a vampire, the series features more than the usual suspects for UF, which I appreciate a lot. It also is local. The book takes place in Rhode Island and I’ve been to most every spot mentioned in the books. In this fourth book, Fortitude Scott really comes into his own as part of the ruling clan of things that go bump in the shadows. He’s a lot more active as a character, which suits his evolution across the whole books when he started as extremely reluctant to even be a vampire. He’s now in a proper relationship with Suze, his kitsune counterpart. They are awesome together. I’d hang out with them.

 

undergroundUnderground by Kat Richardson

This Greywalker #3 which just goes to show how behind I am on this one because the series finished out at number 9 last year. Harper is a tough cookie of a PI and she can see the dead ghosts of Seattle. In this book, her techie friend Quentin asks if she can look into something that’s killing off the local homeless. She literally runs around under the city streets chasing down the beasties plaguing the city. I enjoy Quentin’s story now that he gets a chance to team up with Harper on this. One of the big selling points of Richardson’s books for me, is that I can pick up the next book in the series without reading cliff notes of all the books before hand. It’s tough to remind people what happened in previous books without an infodump. I always, always appreciate someone who can pull that off.

 

artificalnightAn Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire

Speaking of authors who are awesome at writing a series that you can pick up seamlessly between books, I read October Day #3. I discovered McGuire’s books when the InCryptid were just starting so I’m woefully behind on Toby. Ironic that I read this book so close to reading Underground because Toby and Harper are two sides of the same coin. Toby is an unofficial PI on the fairy side of the UF world rather than the human side. McGuire is one of the tops at being brutal to her characters and I feel bad for Toby because I know she gets put through the ringer six more times plus another three in the works. This book introduces May who is very rad and cranks things up with Tybalt who is bad ass.

 

breakoutBreakout by Ann Aguirre

Hey look! Another series book! Been reading a lot of these. This one is the third of the Dred Chronicles and I’m around 60% though this one. This book takes place in an unashamedly brutal world. All the characters are lifers of the worst sort on a space station where they are ignored and left to run amok and kill each other. These aren’t nice people but you’re rooting for them anyways. This is also one of a very few science fiction books where characters are allowed to romantic with each other. Aguirre has a wonderfully deft touch at plot twists that raise the stakes constantly. I highly recommend this whole series, starting with Perdition.

 

wakeofvulturesWake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

I’m waiting for this one to show up in the mail. (Amazon *still* hasn’t shipped the book even though I preordered it back in August and the book dropped last Tuesday. Thanks Amazon #sarcasm) Lila Bowen is the alter ego of Delilah Dawson who is super rad. I’ve read piles of her books and loved every one. She also taught that character building class I took over the summer. She’s influenced my writing a lot, and did before the class too. Honestly, I don’t even need to know what the book is about to buy a Dawson book. This one is Dawson doing Weird West, a genre mashup that I don’t see enough of so I’m eager for this one to show up on my door.

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An Open Thank You

Posted: July 24, 2015 in Stuff, Writing
Tags: ,

This is an open thank you letter to Delilah S. Dawson, author of kick ass books and teacher of kick ass classes.

Dear Delilah,

Thank you.

We just finished up the LitReactor class about turbocharging our characters and leveling up our writing through a novel’s inhabitants. I’ve kept a sly eye on LitReactor classes for a long time but yours really seemed like the sort of thing that would be a shot in the arm to my own writing. I’m writing a bit of a romance book disguised as SFF and your Blud books and Myke Cole’s Breach Zone are directly responsible for me adopting that attitude. Character is the foundation of any book, but it is twice as important with any writing where people are making lovey eyes at each other even if they’re doing it while busting heads and throwing down with magical gangsters.

But I was very nervous about pulling the trigger and signing up for the class. But you know this. Since we’ve chatted a few times before, I emailed you direct about my questions. Was I walking into something meant for true noobs? Was I going to be in over my head since my current novel isn’t finished yet? Should I be starting something fresh for this? These were all legitimate questions, but more than anything I was nervous about taking a class from a writer who’s work I enjoy greatly and I respect a lot as a person and a professional. I was worried about being that awkward as hell introvert that was awkward as hell without realizing it. It’s not a rational worry. Back in the Wild West days of the internet, my first interaction with a professional author was so horrible, I didn’t even think about writing anything for eight years. Being weird and fifteen probably did not help matters, but suffice to say, it’s been sixteen years and I still cringe whenever I see anyone mention the Author That Shall Not Be Named. I still feel wonky whenever I shoot the breeze with Myke Cole at Boskone. I felt like an immense dork when I met Seanan McGuire. I worried I was going to put my foot in my mouth when Scott Lynch remembered I was the submarine guy at his book release party. I almost threw up when Kameron Hurley was all “Oh! You’re Mike from twitter.” I did these things anyways because I can throw down a good game face when I need to, but there have been plenty of other times I passed something up or stood there when I wanted to speak up and say something so simple as “Hi, you’re book is great *fist bump*”

Taking a class from someone writing in the field, from someone who is where I want my own career to head towards, was a huge deal for me.

Putting my work out there was scary. I had more nerves about taking this class than I did sending out my first query letter for the trunked novel. Seriously.

I’ve put my work out there before, of course. I write some short stories and the rejections sprinkle my gmail inbox still. I’ve got thirty rejection letters from agents. I participate in the Online Writer’s Workshop and get solid critiques from that crew. I have a few people I can always get honest and useful feedback from (Denise! Drea!) But for a long time I’ve felt like I was screaming into the wind.

I understand why agents and editors use form letter rejections. When I was doing the agent queries, I even had one that started with “Dear [Insert Author]…” But that doesn’t mean I like them. Everyone says “Write more and you will get better.” Well, yeah, but my first thought is always “But what if I’m making the same mistakes every time and no one will tell me?”

This is why I want to thank you for teaching the class.

For the first time in far too long, I feel like I have a clear idea of what I am doing right, and what I need to work on. A good critique is like gold, and you just handed me a treasure chest. Dialogue, good. Blocking out movement and action, not so much. I think my film degree has a hand in both of those.

From the first lecture and exercise on our protagonists, I was pulling ideas for how I was going to make my novel better. My secondary characters are stepping into focus and doing more than just being there. I know what I need to do now to get that second voice down right. I know where I can high five myself and where I need to hunker down and get to work.

So, thank you, Delilah.

Thank you for being the type of person who takes the time to guide those of us who want to join you on that side of the fence. You’ve always taken the time to answer my questions. Your blog is one of my go-to sources for smart shop talk. And now you’ve taught this awesomesauce class.

My writing may not have leveled up yet, but I have a map and a key to the boss fight now.

I’m going to get this book published and someday, some rad convention is going to sit everyone in alphabetical order and we’ll be all “Remember the thing!” and do a cool 80’s freeze frame high five while all the other letters who aren’t D will be jealous of our high fives.

It will be great.

Thanks again.

-Mike

So the antihero is firmly established in all corners of literature, film, and storytelling what-have-you. They’re the gruff, but lovable, people who cut corners and kicks asses but overall their karmic balance tilts towards the good. Eventually. The antihero is flawed, troubled, and screwed up a little bit. They’re a type, though, and have become a trope in their own right. Unless someone is mucking around with the trope, we know the antihero is ok even if they bust heads and break laws. They’re chaotic good to use the convenient DnD alignment chart.

I could rattle off all sorts of examples of the antihero in our genre in any medium. I’ve even got some examples on this here blog.

But that’s not really what I’m here to talk about.

Antiheroes can still be likeable. What do you do when you’re reading a book and you don’t like the characters?

A lot of times, it means you put the book down and pick up the next one. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a huge To Read Pile and a To Buy List a mile long. The physical books I have in my To Read Pile are actually as tall as my kid. That doesn’t count anything on my Nook. It’s easy to just cycle out to the next book.

How can the writer still hook people even if their readers can’t stand their characters? This has been on my mind a lot because the godpunk novel I’m writing right now has a screwed up protag that drinks away her problems.

I’ve had this happen a few times, and not really with books I expected. Chuck Wendig‘s Miriam Black, Diana Rowland‘s Angel Crawford and Lee Collins‘ Cara Oglesby all start out as deeply flawed, screwed up people. Some of them remain this way. (At least as far as I’ve read, out of date on all three series) I never disliked any of them though even though it’s almost expected a little bit when you’ve got characters that are so messed up.

desertspearThe characters I didn’t like were Peter Brett‘s Jardir, Myke Cole‘s Harlequin and Delilah Dawson‘s Ahnastasia.

This blog post has been stewing in my head for a long time and I think I’ve finally twigged on to why I still consider all their books absolutely flipping fantastic anyways.

First and foremost, they’re all great writers. All the other parts of the books are expertly crafted. Worldbuilding, plot, supporting cast… all the set dressing is there to let the protags shine. Cole’s militarized magic has the plausibility to draw in readers. Dawson’s alternate world steampunk vampires are a fully realized mishmash of genres that are ripe for exploring. Brett’s got the sprawl, in both plot and worldbuilding, to support the massive tomes he writes. I’ve talked about all three authors around here frequently because these traits in their writing are the same kinds of traits I want to hone in my own. If anyone is looking for examples to act as torch bearers to level up their own work, you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Set dressing is fantastic, but character is where things happen. I wrote about Jardir last year when I read The Desert Spear. I think he’s a serious asshole. Even though Brett’s sprawling series has a lot of POV characters, Jardir is set up against who I consider the primary POV. It’s easy for him to come off as a bit of a backstabber. And he does. And I never warmed up to him. Eventually though, I understood him, even if I still didn’t like him. I knew why Jardir had to stand opposite of Arlen. Now, I actually like Arlen but the course of the novel is better when the lines between protagonist and antagonist are blurred.

breachzone-usCole does something very similar with Harlequin in his third book, Breach Zone. In the earlier books, he is at odds with the hero. Each of the first two of Cole’s books had different protags, so I wasn’t surprised that Breach Zone would. I did think it was an interesting choice to go with Harlequin though. Everyone is the hero of their own story, right? He always came off as a stuffed shirt kind of guy in the first two books. He’s not bad, not really. To me, Harlequin was the Bill Lumburg of the Shadow Ops universe. He was the middle management guy that got through the day by being a bit of a pain in the ass to the people around him. If Oscar Britton had a red stapler, Harlequin would have taken it.

Harlequin ended up being awesome by the end of Breach Zone. Cole leveled up his writing and that book is really a romance novel disguised as military fantasy. (Romance hiding in SF is a blog post for another day by the way) In one of the two threads in Breach Zone, we get to see how Harlequin became the super by the book guy. The state of his mind isn’t what I thought it would be in the past tense thread. When he was handed the tough situations, he found refuge in the rules. The rules aren’t his end all be all, they become his shield and he becomes much more human for it.

In Dawson’s Blud books, they are interconnected and set in the same world. There is overlap with characters and history but the books aren’t reliant on one another. In the second Blud book, Wicked as She Wants, Ahnastasia is a completely new character and the sole POV character. There is no luxury of her having a past. She comes out of the box (ha! literally!) as someone I really would not want to be involved with. This is aside from the fact that Ahnastasia is a bludwoman who would consider me breakfast. She is 100% a spoiled princess. True story. She’s a blud princess of Muscovy and all the pretentious snobbery that comes from said spoiled, sheltered life.

wickedasshewantsBy the end of the book, I want to high five Ahna for the awesome things that she does. Dawson nails the slow burn of Ahna’s character arc. There’s never any prophetic moment when Ahna changed her outlook on life and the people around her. It hit me somewhere around the two-thirds mark that “Wow, she’s been kind of awesome for a while now.” I am sitting here trying to think of another book where the slow burn was written with such a deft touch but I seriously can’t think of one. Dawson had nothing else to prop up Ahna while she was being a jerk. There were no other POV characters and there were no other timeline threads. Ahna has one, single, linear character arc. As I’m sitting here thinking of the mechanics of that from the Writer / Analysis point of view rather than my Reader point of view, I am all the most impressed by it.

I think it is worth noting, that with all three of these authors, Brett, Cole and Dawson, I had read previous books of theirs. To a certain extent, they earned the benefit of the doubt. I liked their writing already so that “you have 50 pages to hook me” gets a bit of a fudge factor. Not that I wasn’t hooked by any of the books in question. They already built up reader trust before throwing down characters that I wouldn’t like.

So where do all these examples leave me and anyone else writing “problematic” protagonists?

Well, character arc is key. Ahna, Jardir and Harlequin were not the same people from the beginnings to the end. You can have great characters, but if they’re stagnant, that means the plot of whatever you just wrote didn’t really have any stakes or agency to it. Hook the reader and then let the plot change the character. With a problematic, troublesome, or just plain unlikeable character, there is a lot more riding on that change. The plot becomes more critical because each bump in the narrative needs to shift the character down that arc a little more forcefully. The supporting cast and their attitudes to the protagonists cast a sharper reflection on how that arc is progressing.

I think following that change in a character is a big pay off to the reader. You’ve gone through three hundred pages and bam! Results. Find the treasure? Get the man? Save the world? Yeah, cool and all, but we’ve all read that story a thousand times. How did the treasure change someone. What had to happen to get the man? Did saving the world come at the expense of someone’s soul?

That’s what readers really want, I think, deep down inside.

Now that this has topped 1400 words and I’ve spent a large chunk of my afternoon noodling about characters I didn’t like when I opened the book on page one, I’m hitting that point where I realize how picking apart what works with these books will help my own writing. I’m seeing more of the missteps I took with the now dead Amity I tried to shop around. More importantly, I’m seeing what direction I need to head in to find the right steps for the book I’m working on now.

When I was in film school, the old adage was a quote from one of my favorite directors, Sam Fuller, “You gotta have story!” Picture a 70 year old with big glasses chomping on a cigar with a raspy yell when you say that quote. Storytelling is storytelling, no matter the medium, I used to always think. And it’s true. In a novel, you need a plot, but the more I write, the more I’m seeing it’s a lot more nuanced than that. Where the story comes from matters a lot more in a novel where you can, quite literally, be inside someone’s head with all their thoughts, dreams and desires.

I hope that conclusion can help people level up their own work. I think it will help mine. But hey, this hasn’t all been 1700 words of thinking out loud. Go read those books I talked about. Even if you don’t need examples to help level up your work, screwed up, problematic, difficult and unlikeable characters make for good reading. Why?

Because they gotta have story.

The Year End Shenanigans for 2013 is going to focus on the books I’ve been reading. Largely because of all that free time I don’t have, I’ve scaled back on book review posts here. But I still love pontificating about great writing and spreading the word. I picked up most of the books I read now because of the people around me, so I want to do the same for the great things I read.

I’m not really feeling detailing out the query grind on this. Anyone familiar with a query grind is nodding knowingly right now anyways.

Onward to the books! I’m going to do this is lumps rather than singling out titles for specific things. Why? Cause it’s my post and I can do what I wanna! Except for the first thing. Always with the exceptions. But it’s an important one…

The Most Recommended Book of the Year

The Lives of Tao / The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu

From the overlords at Angry Robot Books, the first Tao book came out in February and did so well the second was pushed up to October. Hence I’m listing them both. There’s all sorts of awesome going on with these books which can tell you all about why I liked it. What makes the Tao books so recommendable for me though is the genre blend going on here. Chu writes science fiction with a healthy dose of adventure thriller. It opens doors to a broader audience. There’s something special about accessible genre writing. We’re not going to grow the genre without pulling new people in. A lot of readers I know in real life don’t read off of the same lists that I do. Tao has been recommended to the military SF readers to the non-SF Jack Reacker Clive Cussler crowd.

The Most Influence on My Own Writing

I guess I lied and I am going to talk about my writing a little bit. This is a special kind of category for me though. I firmly believe that you can’t help being influenced by everything you read. You take cues from positive things you read and steer clear of the stuff you don’t like. There are a few authors that have very directly influenced both the book that I’m shopping around and the one I’m writing right now.

In Amity, the book I finished polishing over the summer, there are two chapters specifically dedicated to positive writing influences. There is a Soviet style show trial going on dedicated to Saladin Ahmed. The third POV character needed the perspective shift so it was dedicated to a person who challenges people to broaden their own perspective both in his writing and generally in life. The second scene in Amity specially dedicated is to Myke Cole. It’s actually one of my favorite scenes in the whole entire novel. There’s a riot cop facing off with my main protag. There’s a respect that they’re both just doing their job… one that happens to put them at odds with each other.

My current in-progress novel, the Rhode Island godpunk, owes a lot to Chuck Wendig first. There is so much swearing involved and Wendig is a virtuoso of swears. Seriously, I work in a shipyard and swear every tenth word and it has taxed my ability to creatively swear. The female lead of my book has a little bit of Miriam Black in her. The book also owes a tip of the hat to Delilah Dawson. Remember Wicked as They Come? Oh yeah. Don’t fear the smooching in SF! There’s totally smooching happening because that’s what the characters want, it’s what they need. My novel doesn’t work without the chemistry between the two leads and that means there’s smooching.

The Favorites of 2013

favorites2013I will leave you now with blurb sized exhultations of my favorite books of the year, in no particular order beyond how they’re piled on my kitchen table right now. Fun fact, I got to meet three of the five at conventions this year. They were all very awesome people and personalized books for me. Also, I saw Wes Chu in the distance at Readercon.

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu – A genre blend that takes one of my all time favorite tropes, multiple consciousnesses stuffed inside of the same noggin and throws in a history spanning secret war.

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole – Ok so I got to read it early before it’s January release date, but it still counts because I say it does. Bookbinder is a fantastic character bringing a different perspective to the military based SF. The logistics guys are just as important as the front line fighters but it’s not a POV that’s full of traditional glory. I loved getting the new view as watching Bookbinder grow into the roll he is thrown into. I’m loving this series enough that I already made my local B+N order book three for me so I can have it on day one.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch – How could I not include the new adventures of Locke and Jean? I drove to Massachusetts so I could get mine from the man himself. (I also won at twitter that day) We finally got to see Sabetha in action. Finally! Book one was Locke as a planner and in book two, he was more reactionary. In book three, he’s matching wits with his equal, not something he ever really has to do even when shit hits the fan.

Blood’s Pride by Evie Manieri – Straight up proper fantasy novels have had a resurgence in my reading lists lately. There’s a lot of tradition embroiled in fantasy and that’s not always a good thing. Manieri takes all the good parts of the epic fantasy and strips away all the bad breathing new life into the stodgy genre at the same time. World spanning sprawl and very personal stories come together to make something very special.

Wicked as They Come by Delilah S Dawson – I picked this up as a recommendation by Chuck Wendig. This is dimension hopping science fiction sprinkled liberally with steampunk but shelved as romance. Forget artificial shelf segregation and do yourself a favor by reading this. Tish has a fantastic character arc pulling herself back together after some bad times. The world building is top notch. So what that there’s smooching? Embrace the smooching!

As my novel’s query letter goes off through the grist mill, worrying me into an ulcer, I feel the need to dust off my blog and stop neglecting it for a few minutes.

When writing, it’s as easy as the night is dark, i.e. goddamn very, to worry and doubt over every little thing about every word you’ve ever written. It’s pretty across the board no matter what stage of the career someone is in. Usually I can have confidence in my writing and brush off troubles with “I do tend to write weird quirky stuff, ‘course it’s gonna be trouble to find a home.” But it certainly doesn’t work all the time. Those rejection letters still sting.

Times like that are when it’s easiest to pull back into a bubble, but that’s when bubbles are counterproductive for both the person and the product. For all it’s problems, the SF community is a haven on the tough days.

There are a lot of writers out there in the SF community that are interactive and write fantastic books and blogs. Seriously, twitter is the best thing ever for that kind of stuff. I love to hear updates on projects and offer up digital high fives when people hit their word count. I love the blogs and the book recommendations and finding new authors to read. It’s all fantastic stuff that makes slogging through the word mines easier.

But there are a few authors that have passed on a jolt of momentum thought the smallest of gestures. Things that have effected my productivity, my writing and my whole outlook on this shared passion we all have. I doubt most of them would remember those small gestures that helped me out, but I sure do. It really doesn’t take much for established authors to really help out someone who is striving to be their peer. A digital high five, a couple words of luck and encouragement. Little things like that mean a lot to me. More so because my first author interaction back in the wild west days of the internet called the 90s was a very negative one that discouraged me from writing for the better part of a decade.

When (not if) I get my book out into the world, It’s someone I’m going to make sure to pay the positive forward.

I also believe that as a community, the SF world needs to celebrate the good in addition to addressing the bad. I want to take the time to publicly offer up high fives to a handful of authors who have encouraged and motivated me thought the smallest of gestures. This is by no means an exhaustive list of those who inspire me, but this is an important subset of that list to me. I’ve gotten through bad days in the wordmines because of these small things.

First off are Lauren Buekes and Tobias Buckell. I’ve never actually met either in person, but my sister has gotten transcontinental book signings from them for me. She told them I am a writer and they put words of encouragement in the books for me. They didn’t just dash off their name and write “To Mike” on it and leave it at that. I thought it was pretty awesome that a couple of authors who had barely a couple of twitter conversations with would take the time to do that.

Delilah Dawson not too long ago took a few minutes to answer some “after the book is written” questions on getting things published. A lot of people wouldn’t take the time or effort to do that sort of thing. Putting your work out there finally is a daunting task with big steps. Those little questions I asked have helped me get to the stage I’m at now, (which is actually still trying to give me an ulcer, but in a good way)

Saladin Ahmed and Myke Cole have been such an influence on my work, each one has a specific scene in my novel specially dedicated to them. I’ve mentioned before, last time I went to Boskone, how Myke Cole is super approachable and a hell of a nice guy in person and online. Cole and Ahmed both will both challenge you to think. My output has been better for it. I had my some of my novel’s beta readers call out the scenes they inspired as some of the best in my book.

The last public thank you today is to Seanan McGuire that also prompted this post. Yesterday on twitter she was talking about how fan fiction shouldn’t be looked down on, but rather as a positive fan engagement when treated correctly. She likened it to “Hey, you’ve got all the cool toys, can I come over to your house to play?” It was something that really hit home for me. When I was in high school, I was dabbling with it a bit and first starting to really enjoy the whole writing thing. It was the Wild West days of the internet and authors were still just the mythical paragraph at the end of the book. My first interaction with an author was “You’re bad for even thinking of fanfic!” I’m sure being an awkward teenager had a bit to do with it, but it was still such a bad experience to me, I didn’t pick up a pen to try to write for eight years and didn’t dream of taking it seriously until meeting my wife a couple years after that. I related the tweet sized version of the story to McGuire said “Whoever said that to you was wrong. I am sorry. Hear me teenage Mike? You are awesome for ficcing!” It struck a chord real hard and shifted me into a much more positive mindset.

So thank yous, high fives and fist bumps (with the explosion pow) all around.

When (not if) I get my book out there and get to leap to the other side of the fence to be a peer of the community, know that you had a small, but definitely not insignificant, part to play.

wickedastheycomeSubtitle of this post: Don’t fear the smooching!

Second subtitle of this post: Or the shirtless dude. Really. Just get over it. Dudes can be shirtless in the presence of other dudes.

I am going to be completely honest right now. I would never, ever have found this book in a real live meatspace bookstore. Never. And it’s a damn shame.

The power of twitter compels me! Wicked as They Come by Delilah S Dawson came across my Nook because of twitter. Dawson is hilarious on twitter. She’s twitter buddies with a bunch of other authors I like a lot. A Chuck Wendig – Delilah Dawson – Sam Sykes trifecta is one of the best parts of my twitter feed. Chuck Wendig in particular talked up WickedThat was enough to get my attention. I’ve mentioned many times on this blog how I get a lot of my reading material from other authors I like. “Steampunk traveling sideshow, parallel dimentions, bunnies that drink blood!” Sounded pretty damn awesome.

I was surprised to find that the book was marketed as romance, not SF. Huh. There’s that reason I’d never find it in a bookstore. That’s kind of odd, though. Sounded pretty SF to me. Well whatev. My Nook doesn’t segregate books by marketing terms.

Back of the book… er… blurb from my Nook time!

When nurse Tish Everett forced open the pesky but lovely locket she found at an estate sale, she had no idea she was answering the call of Criminy Stain, from the far off land of Sang. He’d cast a spell for her, but when she’s transported right to him, she’s not so sure she’s ready to be under the spell of another man. (It didn’t go so well last time with controlling, abusive, domineering Jeff.) If only Criminy wasn’t so deliciously rakish….

Half the inhabitants of Sang are Pinkies—human—and the other half are Bludmen, who in Tish’s world would be called vampires. But they don’t mess with any of the bat/coffin/no sunlight nonsense. They’re rather like you and me, just more fabulous, long living, and mostly indestructible. (They’re also very good kissers.) But when the evil Mayor of Manchester (formerly Bludchester) redoubles his efforts to rid Sang of the Bludmen once and for all, stealing Tish’s locket in hopes of traveling back to her world himself for reinforcements, Criminy and Tish must battle ghosts, sea monsters, wayward submarines, a secret cabal, and thundering Bludmares to get the locket back and allow Tish to return home…but has she found love with Criminy? Could she stay in Sang forever?

Copying that back cover summary is actually the first time I read it. Aside from that parenthetical remark about kissing, still sounds more SF than romance. I feel like I could spend the whole post just talking about how Wicked should be shelved with SF. There’s a Jules Verne-ish submarine. airships, and clockwork carriages straight out of steampunk. Hauntings and the bludmen (much classier versions of modern vampires) bring in the horror. Blinking between worlds evokes a classic sci-fi feel. Mixing and blending genres, I love that stuff. Dawson takes all these different parts and purees it into a seamless world full of color.

My favorite part of the world building is the ecosystem of Sang. It starts with bludbunnies. They’re hilarious. All the prey creatures of Sang evolved to become predators. Bludbunnies will gang up on you and eat the flesh right off your bones while being fuzzy and adorable. They’re so ubiquitous, Tish will just punt them absentmindedly as she’s walking around. Bigger blud animals get a lot meaner. Bludstags are bad ass and will kill you eight ways from Sunday. Kind of sucks to be a straight up human in Sang so they oppress the b’jebus out of the bludmen.

So what about the romance things that scare people so much? Seriously just deal with it. Get over it. A relationship between two characters is conflict. Conflict is the basis of all good stories. Relationship conflicts are filled with emotions and the things that really let you know who a character is. In the journey of their relationship, you really get to see Tish and Criminy bared raw. As the POV character, you follow Tish’s evolution and see the determination to her mindset. She’s not in a good place really at the start of the book. I never felt her character arc was forced or ever dependent on Criminy. They were intertwined, as they should be what with the relationship between them central to the story, but they each had their own separate arc to build upon.

“Oh but vampires and smooching and blah blah blah.” People hear romance and vampires and automatically gag on Twilight. Sparkly little toolbags, this is not. Move on. Criminy is more of a dapper sideshow barker than an emo sparkle fest. Because that’s what he is. He’s the lead guy in an otherworldly sideshow. Who does magic. Fucking magic man! That’s awesome. He just happens to drink blood too. Criminy is the kind of character that would be awesome to hang out with and have a beer.

The potatoes of the story that goes with the meat of the relationship side of the tale is all about that dastardly Mayor of Manchester. (I really like any excuse to use the word dastardly) He’s got some grandiose destroy the world as we know it kind of plans. Blinking back and forth between worlds to take over is pretty damn awesome. There’s some weight and heft to these evil plans. There’s nothing worse when the antagonist’s raison d’etre falls with a dud. Along with the gravitas (also another world I like any excuse to use) of the antagonist’s plot, there is an immediency. Things have to move now. Tish and Criminy are rushing at a breakneck speed because they have to. They’re not running for the sake of running. Everything in Wicked has a purpose and a meaning pressing the story forward. It’s one of those rare kinds of novel where I never felt there was a wasted word.

I enjoyed the hell out of Wicked as They Come because I listened to people who talked up a great book and not some marketing department and what shelf they decide books should be on.