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Category: writing

A Message About Message Fiction

I hadn’t planned on writing this blog post, but recent events has caused something to grind my gears. Specifically, the term message fiction.

Message fiction is the latest in a long line of words that have been generated or co-opted by the Right and turned into a pejorative, along with such bon mots as ‘virtual signaling,’ ‘doxxing,’ ‘mansplaining,’ and any number of such phrases that have poisoned our speech and infected the zeitgeist these last couple of years. But unlike those other terms, message fiction is of particular interest to those of us who read and write science fiction, and that special significance is the reason for this post.

I’ve been seeing this term bandied about online for a while now, but what brought it to the fore was a couple weeks back when noted writer, editor and president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Cat Rambo posted on Facebook warning about a particularly self-righteous and nasty little rightwing troll named Jon del Arroz, an indie writer and self-described “journalist” who recently took it upon himself to “prove” through faulty research methodology and purely anecdotal evidence that there are more women writing short fiction than men, and that this is affront to dudes and represents an apocalypse in which male voices are being drowned out. (What’s interesting to me about del Arroz and his knuckle-dragging ilk is that, even if this were true (and it’s most clearly not), they obviously didn’t give a shit about it when it was the other way around. No, an unbalance that favors them is just hunky dory, de rigueur, business as usual. But when they’re precious privilege is perceived to be taken away from them, it’s suddenly the Twilight of the Gods.)

This is complete and utter bullshit, of course. In fact, the opposite is true, and SF is still a field dominated by men. But when Ms. Rambo pointed out to Mr. del Arroz that the methodology he used was faulty, because it used too small a sample size of current magazines that take submissions to be statistically significant, he took umbrage and started trolling her on Facebook and Twitter and calling for her to be ousted from the SFWA for “being mean” to him.

There are a lot of things about this guy that buries the needle on my bullshit detector. He calls himself a journalist, then writes articles about himself with third-person headlines that proclaim him “the leading Hispanic author in SF”. He’s reportedly a proud indie, but attacks those who work in traditional publishing about why he and others like him aren’t being included. He trolls, and then gets mad when people call him out on his bullshit and cries foul when everyone doesn’t automatically kiss his ass. But the thing that really angered me enough to write this blog post is this uniquely rightwing insistence that anything that attempts to include others is somehow a deliberate attempt to exclude them.

Hence, message fiction.

I’m not going to link to this guy. He’s an obvious attention whore who thrives on even bad press, which somehow emboldens him and makes his cause–whatever the hell it is–more just, even if only to him. So I’m not going to give him the attention he so obviously craves. You can easily look him up if you’re so inclined. His blog is hilarious, presumptuous and off-putting.

But today, kids, we’re going to talk about message fiction. Maybe I should even put that in all caps:

MESSAGE FICTION

Can you say that? I knew you could.

So, what the hell am I talking about when I say message fiction?

Since it’s a purely rightwing term, let’s go to the rightwing source, in this case, one Theodore Beale, who calls himself Vox Day (another White Nationalist attention whore with an overdeveloped sense of his own self-worth I won’t flatter by sending a backlink to his blog). But he did manage to write a short, useful article on message fiction (hey, it was bound to happen sooner or later) and I have the meat of it right here. This, then, is the definition of message fiction, according to Vox Day (Literally, the Voice of God. I love the unbridled and unearned hubris of these people. As a meme someone posted on Facebook related to del Arroz said: Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.) from his Castalia House blog:

What distinguishes message fiction from other kinds of fiction is that it is primarily agenda-driven. That is to say, message fiction is created first and foremost for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person. Since authorial intention is often unclear, we tend to only notice the blatant cases — the ones with long-winded preachy sermons by one-dimensional characters who are only heroic by virtue of their cause. Nevertheless, message fiction is propaganda within a narrative wrapper, where the story, whether well crafted or not, is merely the delivery mechanism for the message. This definition applies to message fiction that is conservative or liberal, Christian or pagan. A good story, i.e. one with a compelling plot, theme, characters, and style, can still be message fiction if and only if the author wrote it to deliver a message.

Now, there are a couple of things I call bullshit on in this article, but I’ll get to those in a minute. At the end of the article, Vox says that he and his ilk oppose “the boring message fiction. An important distinction.”

Interesting that he makes that distinction. I call bullshit on this line, since boring is in the eye of the beholder, at least to a certain extent. But it’s important for what I have to say next.

Another thing I take issue with is that this term, message fiction, like all of these terms the frightwing like to bandy about, whether they stole it from the left or made it up themselves out of whole cloth, is that it is used in a derogatory way. For example, They call anyone who disagrees with them–and strives for a fair and equal system for everyone–Social Justice Warriors, or SJWs for short. Yeah? And? I’ll proudly wear that badge all day. Of course I’m a social justice warrior. Why aren’t you?

But since we’ve defined message fiction, let’s define derogatory. According to Google (seriously, how is Google not Skynet yet?):

information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.
“he was charged with distributing enemy propaganda”

Now, this makes it sound like message fiction is tantamount to distributing leaflets from an airplane behind enemy lines. But that’s exactly how the Sad Puppies (the SF alt-reich’s term for themselves) use it. In every single instance. In every single case. Whether it’s good message fiction never even comes up.

So, if an SF story or novel has a female protagonist, or a starship inhabited entirely by people of color, or dares involve anything other than white guys in space, it is message fiction. A thing to be reviled and feared, making the world unsafe for rich white guys everywhere. They don’t care if it’s good. They automatically assume it’s bad. It must be, if it contains things which don’t fit their own narrow worldview of white guys flying around in giant chrome penis rocketships rescuing fair yet brainless damsels from menacing aliens that are almost always cardboard stand-ins for Communists or whomever is the hated du jour at the time the stuff is written.

Oh, but maybe I’m being too hard on them. They have come a bit farther up the chain since the halcyon golden age of science fiction. They just want science fiction to be fun again, and to have no political message whatsoever, even though their blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook walls are nothing but political (especially if they disagree with it; actually, only if they disagree with it).

And I get it. I really do. I too write fun adventure SF. I currently have two space opera novels that have nothing to do with current Earth-based geopolitical squabblings. They have aliens, big damn spaceships, and robotic invaders. They are clearly not message fiction. My other stuff is steampunk and pulp, just classic good vs. evil fare. Not a lot you can argue for being overtly political.

But here’s the problem: someday I might want to write message fiction. And dammit, I should be able to if I so choose. It’s the message fiction that lasts. It’s the message fiction that stretches one as a writer, because it’s hard to do well. It’s hard to do without coming off preachy and heavy-handed.

And here’s the other problem: It’s all message fiction. All of it. If Brown Girl in the Ring and Ancillery Justice and Parable of the Sower are message fiction, then Starship Troopers and Oath of Fealty and Lucifer’s Hammer sure as shit is message fiction. And it’s a message we read loud and clear.

But that doesn’t mean the message was meant for you.

If a female woman of color wants to write about a future in which a transgender black woman pilots a starship through hostile alien forces to freedom, she can do that without you getting bent out of shape about it. She is free to write and say whatever she wants. And it takes nothing away from you, your maleness, or your whiteness if such a book exists. Don’t like it? Then don’t fucking read it. Write what you want. Don’t whine and complain and troll the author and sit in your hovel banging out angry screeds on your blog about how all these SJWs are ruining your precious science fiction, all because you feel empowered because Trump’s president now and that makes it OK for you to use the N word again.

The genre is big enough and broad of scope enough that there is room for every kind of voice. And if you don’t want to read something, nobody’s holding a gun to your head making you. And if someone on an awards committee thinks that stuff is better than your stuff, it is fine for them to do so. It’s their opinion.

While I was learning about Jon del Arroz, I found a YouTube video in which he was interviewed by someone, and they were talking about work getting rejected in favor of novels that had foreigners and people of color in them. That work couldn’t have possibly been better than what these Sad Puppies submitted. No, it had to be because this stuff had foreigners and people of color in them. That’s the only reason these profit-motivated publishers, who have always had their collective finger on the pulse of what’s selling right this very minute, could have accepted these pieces of SJW trash, which can’t possibly hold a candle to their golden prose.

Don’t you think, just for a femtosecond, that maybe, just maybe, your book might not have been as good as theirs? Isn’t there just a scintilla of a possibility? You can do lots of things if this happens to you. You can write a better book and submit to that publisher again. You can self-publish (lots of folks, including me, are going that route, and many of them, not including me, are having great results).

But what you can’t do is decide your book was rejected because it didn’t have enough brown people in it and go in a Twitter tirade against the poor editor, then pillory said editor yet again for rightly calling you out for being a horse’s ass.

And lest you think this is a chiefly a prose fiction problem, let me say that it’s happening in comics too. These Sad Puppies are angry over a move toward more diversity in comics, as if a more diverse comics readership is ever a bad thing. That’s another place they don’t want message fiction. Only what do you call this?

Captain America #1
The first message fiction.

Captain America punching Hitler in the face was message fiction back in 1945. The only difference is, now the neo-Nazis have got their swastika panties in a bunch because the guy they idolize is no longer Cap, but ole’ Adolf himself.

I am continually astounded at the number of right-wingers in the SF field, either as rabid and vocal fans or as well-known contributors. It’s like they’ve never actually read anything beyond Heinlein, or watched a single episode of Star Trek. Star Trek is all about diversity. It’s about a post-scarcity, socialist utopia. It’s a message about the future. But to these guys it’s all just Kirk beaming down to planets that always look like the hills above Van Nuys, fighting the lizard monster and bedding the half-naked green chick. But if that’s all Star Trek was, a comforting, staid reminder of an idealized past that only truly existed for guys who look like me and Vox Day, it wouldn’t have lasted more than 50 years. It wouldn’t have anything left to say to us now.

SF, whatever else it might be to the del Arrozs and Vox Days of the world, is a candle in the dark. A way of seeing the world that uses rationalism and kindness. We’ve come too far to slide back down into the dark now. A darkness composed of willful ignorance and dogma and obscurantism, of jingoism and authoritarianism and fear of the Other and just plain old Ayn Randian “I’ve got mine, so fuck you!” selfishness.

It’s all message fiction. If it’s message fiction to include people of color, then it’s message fiction to leave them out.

Careless Whispers and Canadian Pon Farr: My Dragon Con 2017 Experience

Dragon Con

I just got back from the 31st annual Dragon Con, and boy is my everything tired.

For the uninitiated, Dragon Con is a huge, sprawling 4-day festival of all things science fiction, fantasy, and pop culture, held every Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve attended off and on–not only as a regular fan attendee, but also as a guest and attending pro–since 1995 or thereabouts, and I can tell you it gets more big and sprawling with each passing year.

I’m not going to go into a blow by blow of each and everything I did, because honestly that’s only mildly interesting to me. What I felt the need to do, however, was just give some of my general thoughts on the show as a whole and how it relates to my journey as a fan and as a writer. It is subtitled My Dragon Con Experience, after all. Your own mileage may vary.

THIS IS MAAAAARTA!

This year marked a first for us, in that we took MARTA, the Atlanta rapid transit, down to the show for the first time. Despite being a Georgia native, and living less than 60 miles northeast of the ATL, I’d never taken MARTA before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised, though, and the experience was a pleasant one. I definitely recommend it as an alternative to not only driving, downtown, but finding a place to park and paying an exorbitant fee for the privilege.

Another hassle we didn’t have to contend with was staying in a hotel, which offers many advantages to be sure, but comes with a lot of strings attached, most of them monetary. So while I was disappointed I wouldn’t get to stay later in the evening and participate in barcon–where the writers meet at a hotel bar to network and commiserate–I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to deal with the usual jiggery-pokery of the hotels putting up ridiculous hurdles to deal with them, like not accepting cash or surprise intentionally vague fees on top of the already sky high hotel bill. Nothing’s more fun than being charged a 13.9% tax to pay for a stadium I’ll never visit being built for a sports team I have no interest in owned by a billionaire. So I was content to just take MARTA there and back for three days.

And what a busy three days it was. Even though I wasn’t on as many panels as I have been in years past. I was fine with that too, because I’ve spent many years running back and forth from panel to panel, often between hotels (and even this year we ended up visiting all five host hotels, and had panels in all but one of them). But this year I felt a little aimless wandering around, even though we could be more flexible with the schedule than usual, which was nice.

THE HIGHLIGHTS

Now, let’s talk about the stuff that was awesome. Getting to hang out with awesome people who like the same things I like and whose minds are stuffed with useless nerd trivia. Getting to shoot my mouth off on panels. Getting to meet (or reconnect with) famous science fiction writers and my colleagues in the writing field. Those are general things and almost always happen whenever I go to any con, not just Dragon Con. Some specific bits of awesomeness for me at this year’s show included:

Doing a kaiju literature panel for the Horror track with moderator Eric Asher and writers Jake Bible, Larry Correia, and David Boop, as well as noted writer and artist on IDW’s Godzilla comics Matt Frank. We had a great time talking kaiju books, movies and comics, and several people came up afterward and wanted to know how to get hold of the Monster Earth books. I gave them my card and told them how to find them, and when I checked Amazon yesterday I had sold a few copies. Not too shabby.

I’M A MENTAT

The Writer’s Track at Dragon Con started a cool new thing this year: 15 minute mentor sessions with their author guests. It’s kind of like speed dating, but for career advice. I signed up for a session with multiple award-winning Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer. I interviewed Rob during his first visit to Dragon Con way back in 2008, (and interviewed him Sunday of the con this year on a panel. More on that in a bit), and he was very gracious. He gave me some good, solid advice on where to go next with my career, and called me his mentat, which was cool. Rob even appeared about ten or fifteen minutes before our session, where I was sitting outside the designated mentor room talking to successful indie military SF author Doug Dandridge, and the three of us had a very nice chat. Indie dark fantasy author, and head honcho of Falstaff Books, publisher of a novella series I’m writing, John Hartness walked over as well to tell me his editor loves the first one and gave me the (secret, for now)release date.

On Sunday, I interviewed Rob on a panel. I thought it was a decent crowd for the Sunday morning of con, especially since my friend and fellow author Van Allen Plexico was interviewing SF authors Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle in one of the ballrooms at the exact same time.
We didn’t have time for all of my questions, but I had planned for that. Rob talked about his TV work and a Star Trek fan production he’s been involved with, as well as his writing habits and the big ideas he uses in his novels. The audio will be available as part of Van Allen Plexico’s White Rocket Podcast.

Also, Larry Niven was in the audience at a couple of my panels, Significant Short Stories, and Remembering Roger Zelazny, which was very cool. Word is the Ringworld author doesn’t like doing panels, but he attends a lot of programming. It was great to see him in the audience.

Careless Whisper Guy

Dragon Con has been around long enough to have developed its own mythology if you will. And things occur there that simply do not occur at other conventions. One of these things is the Careless Whisper guy, a mysterious personage who stands around outside the Hyatt Regency somewhere and belts out Careless Whisper on his sax. I’d heard of him before, only in legend, but this year I finally saw him, in a most amazing way.

Now I won’t go into the sordid details here. What happens at Dragon Con stays at Dragon Con after all. But suffice it to say it involved an itinerant street preacher with a megaphone and no grasp of irony. It almost made up for not seeing Megan Follows. Almost. I’ll get to that next.

THE LOW LIGHTS

And now for the things that didn’t go off as well as I’d hoped. It’s Dragon Con. Them’s the breaks. You pays your money, you takes your chances. No one can possibly see and do everything there is to see and do at this sprawling event. You just plan the best you can, and hope for the best. This year was no different. The only saving grace with these things is that these failed moments are sometimes offset by something really awesome that you just lucked into, but never expected. Here then, are the things that didn’t go well.

I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE COSTUMES ARE ANYMORE

There’s a running joke with cosplay that if you don’t know what it is, it’s either from a video game or an anime. Well there must have been a whole lot of video games and anime at this year’s con. The costuming just felt a bit off this year, and I think this is part of the reason. I’m just getting old. This is the part where I start yelling at clouds and telling you kids to get off my lawn. The other part, of course, was the crowds. It was simply too crowded to see many of the cosplayers, even if I would have recognized what they were wearing. Evenings in the Marriott were like a mosh pit. The cool costumes I did see I was unable to get pictures of, because we were headed in opposite directions and it was too crowded to stop and snap a pic with my phone.

I CAN’T FIND PEOPLE

I’m not talking about not being able to connect with your friends. I’m talking about when you enter a room where you know someone will be and you still can’t find them. This happened to me in the vendor halls, where I had friends who had tables set up. While I saw a couple of folks I know accidentally, I didn’t see the guys I was looking for. Seriously. Where were they? I walked all over that place.

This also happened to me in the Walk of Fame. I don’t go out for the big media guests much, unless they were in something I enjoyed years ago. Such was the case this year with Canadian actress Megan Follows, who starred as Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables, which I think is a wonderful, timeless classic and I don’t care what you think. She was also in Silver Bullet with Corey Haim and Gary Busey, and a great episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater called “The Dwarf.” So of course I felt compelled to meet her.

No such luck. I walked all over that Marriott ballroom checking out the names hanging above each table. We saw Nathan Fillion and his huge ass line. We saw Michael Rooker, who played Yondu in the Guardians of the Galaxy films. We saw John Wesley Shipp, of both the 90’s and current Flash TV shows. But no Megan Follows.

Then two of my friends post selfies of them with her in the Walk of Fame. It’s maddening, I tell you.

But beyond that, overall the whole thing just felt a little off. Yes, it was more crowded than ever, and that’s part of it. But I think it’s because I’m older and my relationship with the con has changed, or needs to. I still love it, and I’m already planning to attend next year. But the things I get from it now are different. I’m older and wiser. No longer am I the starry-eyed waif who will fall for Dragon Con’s pelvic sorcery. I realized when I had the most fun, and it wasn’t when I was ogling costumes are even walking through the always awesome art show. It was when I was hanging out with my fellow writers, and talking about significant short stories, and the work of Roger Zelazny. So next year I want to spend more time doing that. I want to attend barcon. I want to network with writers and editors. At Dragon Con, you can do all that and more. So thanks for an awesome time, Dragon Con. See you next year.

Friday Night Writes: Penny Blood

Here’s what I’m hoping will be a weekly feature, time permitting. I thought it would be fun to post a snippet of something I’ve been working on. This time out, I picked something I did quite a while ago and never quite finished. But I love how it came together, and one of these days I just might finish it. Please let me know what you think in the comments. Here then is Chapter One of an urban fantasy about a former horror host turned late night talk radio DJ who is also a vampire. I call it Penny Blood. I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter One

The first thing everyone wants to know about is the blood.
Was it real? How long was I really in that tub? Was I actually naked? So, to answer: No; about forty-five minutes; and yes.
Just kidding.
The blood was totally my idea. I had read about the infamous Countess Elizabeth Bathory, and how she supposedly drank blood, and even bathed in it. So I thought it would be cool to host an episode of Twilight Theater from a bathtub filled with red corn syrup, while being shot so it appeared I was naked, of course. The ratings went through the roof on that one. At conventions, autographed black and white stills of me in that tub go for twenty-five bucks a pop.
My Twilight Theater days are long behind me. Infomercials killed off the market for late night shows that played crappy horror movies, and I stopped being Mary Midnight and became Rebecca Thorne again. These days I’m the darling of late night radio, host of the Midnight Files, broadcast live five nights a week from coast to coast on AM 640, midnight to 2pm. Together with my producer Phil, I listen to weirdos swap conspiracy theories, alien abduction stories, and bigfoot sightings. It’s not the greatest gig in the world, but I am number one with males eighteen to thirty-five who live in Airstreams in the desert and make forts from their toenail clippings. I certainly give Art Bell a run for his money.
But the most interesting thing about me can’t be found on IMDB or in my resume. The most interesting thing about me—the most secret thing—is that I am a vampire. A real, immortal, “I vant to suck your blood” vampire. I’ll be one hundred and seventy-two on my birthday. I sleep all day and only go out at night. I have to have blood—preferably fresh, human blood—to sustain me.
And I’d give anything to have that life back again. As crazy as it was, it was mine, and it’s been taken from me. My closest friend is dead, and one of the few people I’ve ever given a damn about in my long life will probably never speak to me again. I’m not a monster. But now I’m surrounded by monsters. By Garrison and his damned Echelon. By the Pact.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The whole thing started when my ex-boyfriend decided he wanted to destroy the world. Oh well. At least I have this flaming sword.

#
It all started easily enough. I was at a science fiction convention in downtown Atlanta called Dragon Con. It’s a sprawling, four-day, multimedia affair that attracts thousands of people. I sit at my table, selling autographed glossies of myself done up as Mary Midnight—imagine if Morticia Addams had a spunky, emo kid sister—smiling while mouth-breathing fanboys pretend they aren’t looking at my breasts and answering the same dumb questions I have been asked thousands of times over the years, like the blood in the bathtub thing. It’s easy work with no heavy lifting, and I really get into it, flirting and speaking in my best breathy, phone sex Mary Midnight voice, making even the most innocuous of statements sound dirty. The guys love it, and this helps feed me in a sense. I’ve never figured it out for sure, but I think some vampires can feed on adulation as well as blood. When I was in that T.V. station’s basement in L.A. back in ’68, introducing schlock like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman or The Thing that Wouldn’t Die, I felt all those thousands of eyeballs watching me. And I feel these people now. It’s like they leave little pieces of themselves with me when they leave my table, and it fills me up. I smile my best black-lipsticked smile, show them my all too real fangs, and they just eat it up. And I eat them up in turn.
It’s a completely victim-less crime. They get something they want, and I get something I need. It’s a win-win. Everybody’s happy. It’s not like I’m a creepy succubus, giving someone the best sex of their life only for them to feel like warmed over shit the next day.
I love it here, all the madness and weirdness. Every other person is dressed in some elaborate costume straight out of a movie or comic book, and the ones who recognize me are genuinely glad I’m here.
But it’s broad daylight and I’m weak. Even indoors, with tons of glass, stone and steel between me and the glowering, hateful dayball outside, I still do not feel like myself. These events always throw off my internal clock, and I get through it by promising myself a nap in my comped hotel room, then at oh dark thirty I’ll get up and do my thing. I check my watch and grimace. It’s a long time until then.
My agent Mindy sidles up to me. “Would you like me to watch your table while you take a break?” She’s all of five feet tall, with close-cropped reddish-blond hair and a smile perpetually frozen onto her face. She’s way overdressed in a navy blue pantsuit, and she looks a bit wilted from the Atlanta heat, but she appears otherwise unscathed by the controlled chaos going on around us.
I return her smile. How did she know?
“Actually, I would like to step out for a minute,” I say. “Get some fresh air.”
Mindy bobs her head about a thousand times. “OK. Super.”
I get up and Mindy immediately takes my place. No one will come by with an unknown face sitting there, but Mindy will keep my valuable glossies from walking away. As I walk out of the huge ballroom us so-called celebs are sharing with the con-goers, I wonder if they still make dopplegangers, even golems. A body double would come in handy at times like these. I take one last glance back at Mindy, shake my head, and leave the room.
Mindy’s great, but she’s perpetually perky for no reason. At first I thought it must be drugs. I know absolutely nothing about her personal life, and she could spend her downtime freebasing Preparation H for all I know. But I never smell any drugs in her system. In the end I decided her perkiness is part of what I like about her. After all, I’d rip out a guy’s spine for looking at me wrong, but I already have me.
The convention hotels are large, labyrinthine, and crowded with fans of everything from Star Trek to video games. But I’ve been enough times that navigating has become almost second nature. I weave in and out, my crimson velvet dress making quiet swishing noises. Most people don’t recognize me, even here, even though my picture is in the convention’s programming book. The crowd gets younger and younger every year, and I fear yet another career change in my immediate future.
I step into a habitrail—a climate-controlled tunnel between one hotel and another, where I’m sandwiched between a guy in vacuum-formed armor carrying a six foot-long plastic sword, and a young girl with not enough clothes and a gigantic set of fairy wings. Then I’m out and through another maze of tunnels to Peachtree Center, which is basically a mall food court sitting atop a MARTA stop. It’s crowded too, but not overly so, and I can get away from the con and clear my head a little without going outside. I duck around a corner, pull an insulated flask from the folds of my dress, and take a little swig. The blood is flat, hardly fresh, but it reinvigorates me. My stomach growls, reminding me I’m hungry, and I try to decide if I want a sandwich before heading back to relieve Mindy.
Yes, Virginia, vampires do eat. It helps us to blend in. Besides, blood is not very nutrative, unless you’re a tick or a leech. The blood we imbibe only sustains our immortality. And vamps that try to subsist solely on blood don’t last for very long. They transform into ravenous, monstrous beasts, Nosferatu’s ugly redneck cousins, and thus an easy target for frightened villagers wielding wooden stakes and pitchforks.
Speak of the Devil.
I feel a twinge, and turn around slowly.
I can always tell when I’m being hunted.
It’s a feeling you get. The hairs on the nape of your neck start vibrating, and there’s a smell in the air of pheromones and fear, along with a sense that something’s not quite right with the world. The only questions are who? And why now? It’s been more than seventy-five years since someone wanted to drive a stake through my heart. I’ve not only been off the supernatural radar, but I’ve been a good girl. No drinking without asking. No turning folks against their will. So what was this clown doing here?
I sense the guy almost at once, walking several steps behind me. I stop at a glass-and-chrome kiosk selling cell phone cases and look into a mirrored surface to check him out. He’s trying way too hard to look like he isn’t doing anything at all, but I’ve been around long enough to know better. But he also doesn’t seem that interested in me.
I breathe a sigh of relief at my false alarm. So if it’s not me he’s after, who is it? Something about the way he’s dressed, the way he carries himself tells me he’s definitely a vamp hunter. He’s got on a leather jacket, Harley-Davison t-shirt, faded blue jeans and black boots, an attempt at bad ass avant-garde that just gets lost in a crowd full of anime Lolitas and 80’s cartoon characters. He could be just some guy here to pick up an I’m-sorry-I-screwed-your-sister card at the CVS on the other end of the food court, or a fanboy dressed as Wolverine.
I realize immediately that Wolverine’s out, as he’s not wearing a convention badge. They’re big, shiny, covered in comic book art, and easy to spot (mine has a lovely blue ribbon dangling from it that reads Guest).
Which means he didn’t follow me over from the hotel. Dragon Con is a private event. Their security checks for badges with a TSA-like zeal, so there’s no way Wolvie came in that way. Yet more proof that I’m not his target. I scan the room. I don’t see any familiar faces, and I certainly don’t smell another vampire. That’s another thing about vamps I bet you didn’t know; we have a smell, at least to other vampires. It’s hard to describe. It’s like something that is still in the process of dying that hasn’t quite given up the ghost yet.
Wolvie’s on the move, shuffling past me. I shove myself into a group of kids who seem to be headed in the same direction, letting the throng of teeny boppers carry me through the food court, but when I duck around a corner and peak out he’s still there, scanning the crowd from underneath his Ray-bans.
It’s been a while since I’ve fed, and the irony of draining a vamp hunter like a wineskin has a certain appeal. But we’re in broad daylight in a crowded food court, and I’m trying to keep a low profile; as much as a guest of the convention going on all around us can. Mostly I’m just curious to know what he’s doing here, and who he’s planning to ash.
A young goth girl looks as if she’s almost on the verge of recognizing me. She’s too young to remember me from my Twilight Theater days. Maybe she thinks I’m Laurell K. Hamilton. It wouldn’t be the first time. I ignore her and concentrate on Wolvie. He’s definitely following someone, a woman of average height, her blond hair in a ponytail, wearing a short leather mini skirt, red silk top, black fishnets and motorcycle boots. A woman after my own heart.
She’s definitely a vampire too. I can sense her now. Man, I must be getting soft in my old age. There’s something…familiar about her too. More intrigued than ever, I break from the crowd and get right behind Wolvie.
The vamp girl enters a pair of glass doors in the back corner of the food court, next to a couple of fast food places. She’s heading downstairs toward the MARTA tunnel. Wolvie follows. There’s no one else around. I go in right behind, and Wolvie doesn’t even register me at all. Amateur. We’re going down the steps now, and I’m trying to keep the swishing of my dress to a minimum. The girl goes across to the stairs leading up to Peachtree Street, so she’s not taking the train. A spot the tiny pocket umbrella she’s holding unopened in her right hand. Wolvie seems to get desperate now, thinking he’s about to miss a chance to stick her in private, and he speeds up, his boot heels clicking on the tiles.
He reaches out his hand, about to grab her.

The Battles for the Night Bundle

Battles For The Night

I am happy to announce that I am participating in my first ever book bundle through Humble Bundle.

My sword and planet pulp novel Archer of Venus is included in this exciting bundle, which features work by writers like Kevin J. Anderson, Michael A. Stackpole, my friend Doug Dandridge, Sarah A. Hoyt, and many, many more.

Here’s the details:

Battles For The Night is a 10 boxset about planetary conquest by some of today’s best storytellers!

Comrades in Arms By Kevin J. Anderson

Europa Nightmare By Wayne Faust & Charles Eugene Anderson

The Final Survey of Andrei Kreutzmann By Stefon Mears

Mars: The Machine War By Joseph Robert Lewis

Only Sheepdog on the Moon By Stefon Mears

Archer of Venus By James Palmer

Stealing from Pirates By Stefon Mears

Blaster Squad #1 By Russ Crossley

Athena Setting By Sean Monaghan

Five by Five 3: Target Zone By Kevin J. Anderson

You can check it out here. You can also purchase this bundle from your favorite book retailers directly from this site.

Getting Back to Writing After Vacation

It’s that time time of year again when those of us fortunate enough to have a disposable income and a job that gives us paid time off blow off work for at least a week and travel or head to the mountains or the beach.

I just got back from Walt Disney World, and while it wasn’t the most relaxing vacation (my idea of vacation is not going to the day job, sleeping late, and binge-watching Netflix), it was a fun and much-needed respite from the proverbial grind. It also put me in mind of what I as a writer need to do to not only successfully unplug, but to get back up to speed and start writing again once I returned. Hence this blog post.

Here then, are my Vacation Tips for Writers. As always, your mileage may vary.

If you can, finish your big project before you leave for vacation. This was key for me to not only actually enjoy my vacation, but to not have to regain lost momentum on a project I stopped in the middle of. I finished the edits on my latest novel, Ix Incursion, two weeks before leaving for Disney. This gave me a lot of time to decompress and work on the planning stages for something I planned on starting once I got back.

Rest. Don’t even think about writing while you’re gone.
This is very hard to do. I know, as this was one of the few times I’ve been able to do it. For me, unplugging creatively means having your last project finished and your next project existing as little more than an outline.

No laptops allowed.

Don’t bring your work with you. Trust, me, you won’t have time to work on anything anyway, and if you do you won’t feel like it. Leave that stuff at home. Really unplug. It’s the only way to refill the creative well. You’ll also get to focus on the really important stuff, like your family. During my vacation I got to hold my daughter’s hand in the ocean and see her react to all the wonderful things around us, and nothing is more important than that.

Create a to-do list for when you get back

This is key for getting back up to speed quickly and easily. When I got back, I was tired and still in vacation mode. I needed to rest some more, but I also knew I had some business-related things to attend to. Having a to-do list helped me remember exactly what those things were. I created a Scrivener file with a running weekly to-do list. This helps me stay focused on the business side of my various creative projects, and I updated it before we left.

Have a project ready to go for when you get back.

And last but not least, have something else you’re eager and ready to get started on once you return. In my case, a 30,000 word novella I’m contracted to write for a publisher. I’ve been planning it for over a month, and planned to start on it when we got back. Next week I start the actual writing, and I’m stoked. And recharged now that I’ve had a nice break away from everything.

Bottom line: your body needs rest, even from the creative work we all love. But a vacation doesn’t have to make you get behind. By following these simple tips, you can not only unplug and have a relaxing time with your family, you can come back refreshed and ready to get started on your next project.

What other vacation tips for writers do you have? Share in the comments.

I Have a Patreon

I have a Patreon page. I would be honored if you would check it out and donate if you’re so inclined. It would really help me create even more cool stuff.

You can check it out here.

Star Swarm Now Available for Preorder

My first space opera novel, STAR SWARM, is now available for preorder. It officially launches next Tuesday, but you can reserve your copy now.

About the book:

Man’s outer colonies are being destroyed one by one, leaving nothing behind. Suspecting an old enemy, Captain Henry Kuttner, of the Solar Navy rail-gun ship the Onslaught, wants to investigate.

But the Onslaught is scheduled to be decommissioned, and Captain Kuttner given mandatory retirement on one of the League’s pleasure worlds. But this old war dog isn’t going down without a fight.

Going against orders, Kuttner leads his crew in search of answers. That search leads straight into the territory of mankind’s former enemies, the deadly reptilian Draconi, whose colonies are also being destroyed, and they blame man.

Now the crew of the Onslaught must risk violating a fragile peace treaty and all out war to solve a cosmic mystery before more lives are lost. Only the ship’s maverick second in command and a disgraced Draconi scientist can unravel the secret of this enigmatic enemy and its sinister purpose before it’s too late. But there are certain factions who want the human-Draconi war to begin anew, and they’ll stop at nothing to make it happen.

And meanwhile, in the outer dark, an ancient enemy returns. An enemy known only in the songs of a long-dead alien race. An enemy that leaves chaos in its wake.

A maverick first officer, a misfit crew and an aging vessel are all that stand between humanity and total destruction.

If you like Peter F. Hamilton, David Weber, and Chris Fox’s Void Wraith series, you’ll love Star Swarm, the first volume in an exciting new space opera trilogy.

“Classic military science fiction in the vein of David Weber, with conspiracies and ancient threats throughout. I want the next book now.” –Joseph Cadotte, author of In the Land of Nod

Go and grab it here.

FREE Book Offer!

I’m still putting the finishing touches on my debut novel Star Swarm, which will be ready very soon. To get everyone warmed up for it, I’m offering the prequel story Chaos Conspiracy, absolutely free. All you have to do is sign up for my mailing list. That way you’ll be the first to know about new releases, my appearances, and get exclusive access to more free stuff as I think of it. Plus you get a free book! What could be easier? To get your free copy of Chaos Conspiracy in your choice of formats (sorry, no papyrus scrolls or clay tablets), go here.

About Chaos Conspiracy: A Starm Swarm Prequel:

The Prequel to the exciting events in Star Swarm.

Special Operations agent Lt. Noah Hamilton thought his mission was easy enough. Go and retrieve an undercover operative Leda Niles and bring her back to home base. But things get more complicated than he’d planned. Now he’s up to his neck in seedy gem merchants, criminals, and a shadowy group targeting remote scientific outposts for some sinister purpose. Now it will take all his training, all of his resourcefulness, to get the job done. That is if Lt. Niles doesn’t get him killed first. It’s interstellar action and intrigue in this short prequel that leads directly into the forthcoming novel Star Swarm: The Chaos Wave Book One.

Go here to get it now, so you’ll be ready when Star Swarm debuts.