Friday, June 29, 2012

Interview With Rhiannon Frater!

Ladies and gentlemen,

I'm not even going to pretend I haven't been looking forward to bringing you this one. Seriously, there's been squeeing. Lots of it. And so, without further ado....

She is the award-winning author of the As The World Dies zombie trilogy and the author of several other books: the vampire novels Pretty When She Dies, The Tale of the Vampire Bride, and The Vengeance of the Vampire Bride as well as the Young Adult novel The Living Dead Boy and the Zombie Hunters. The first two books in her zombie trilogy, The First Days and Fighting to Survive, are available now in bookstores. Siege will be in bookstores April 24, 2012. She's also just released a new novel, The Last Bastion of the Living, which she's here promoting.

Please welcome, the lovely and talented Rhiannon Frater!

John: Let's start with the basics. What made you decide to be a writer? More specifically, what made you decide to be a zombie writer?

Rhiannon: I've been telling stories since I learned to talk, so I'm pretty sure I was born to be a storyteller. As for the whole zombie thing, they chose me. I considered myself to be a horror writer, but I had no desire to write about zombies. They scared me too much! Then one day a very intense vision of a young woman standing on her front porch staring down at the zombified fingers of her toddler pressed under the front door straining to reach her popped into my mind and I was hooked. I had to write that story. And it ended up being the As The World Dies trilogy.

John: You have a knack for coming up with vivid, eye-catching titles. What's your secret?

Rhiannon: Most of my stories come to me in dreams and so do the titles. I think the only one that ended up the product of a title generator online--of all things!-- was my YA book The Midnight Spell.

John: Let's get past title and into content. There are lots of zombie books out there--what makes yours special?

Rhiannon: According to my fans it's the cinematic feel of the story and the characters. I am often told by readers that they feel they've just watched a movie instead of reading a book when they finish one of my novels. Also, they love the characters and end up deeply emotionally invested in them. My fans tell me that reading one of my books is an immersive experience, so I suppose that is why they are "special."

John: Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Rhiannon: I'm an organic writer. The stories just come to me. The characters appear and it's my function to figure out who they are and follow them on their journey. That being said, I don't usually plunge into writing a story until I have a fairly good idea of where it's headed.

Now that I'm dealing with a major publisher, Tor, I am forced to write a synopsis for my proposed books. It's hell! Ugh! I hate it so much. I try to make them as general as possible because I know things may change along the way.

John: You're currently here promoting Last Bastion of the Living. We'll get to the substance of the book in a second, but first, as a Joss Whedon fan, I have to ask: Is it an accident that the woman on the cover looks distinctly like a black-clad River Tam?

Rhiannon: That's the first I've heard that. LOL. But I think the woman in the leather catsuit is a genre staple, so people may see Catwoman or Selene, too.

The artwork actually precedes the bok. It's an art piece by Claudia McKinney of Phat Puppy Art. WhenI was writing The Last Bastion of the Living, I had it on my screen for inspiration. I liked how it perfectly captured the mood of my novel. When I finished the book, I realized it was also the perfect cover. I contacted Claudia and was pleased when she agreed to sell it to me. Claudia just altered a few minor things to fit the story. I love it.

Personally, the dead terrain, the look on the woman's face, the pose, just everything, accurately reflects the story. It's a perfect cover for the novel.

John: Well, River's clothing was slightly different when she did her zombie-killing. Also, as I recall, she was using machetes, not knives. And I should probably stop talking about this in case anyone hasn't seen Serenity. *looks around guiltily*

ANYWAY! Now tell us about Last Bastion itself. What's it about? Was it fun to write? Do you have any favorite parts or scenes? (Without being too spoiler-y, of course.)

Rhiannon: The story is about the last living city on earth known as The Bastion. It houses the millions of surviving humans behind a high wall. The world was destroyed by a viral plague that created undead creatures called the Inferi Scourge. The last of the surviving earth governments worked together to create a fortified valley in a mountain range with only pass into it. That pass had an enormous gate  that was closed and locked once the last of the surviving humans entered the valley. The Bastion sat in the center of the valley surrounded by ranches, farms, a mining facility, a hydro-electric plant and a lake. It was supposed to be the New Eden. Then the gate to the pass failed and the Inferi Scourge swarmed into the valley. The Bastion ended up cut off from its resources and hundreds of thousands of people died.

Flash forward and the city is on the brink of death. Vanguard Maria Martinez is conscripted for a top secret mission that will help close the gate and eradicate the Inferi Scourge.

My favorite parts of the book are the prologue, which is an epic battle scene, and the ending, which I consider to be perfection.

John: What inspired the story?

Rhiannon: I had a really vivid dream about Maria Martinez looking out her window of her fiat and saw The Bastion. I love science fiction, dystopian, and zombie books, so I was hooked immediately when I saw the world.

John: What writers (or other fiction-makers) inspire you?

Rhiannon: George A. Romero, Joss Whedon, and Alfred Hitchcock are definite influences. Romero taught me to concentrate on the characters, Whedon taught me to kill my darlings, and Hitchcock taught me how to build up suspense and deliver surprises.

I've also been inspired by Bram Stoker, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Ray Bradbury. All three have written stories that have completely transported me to other worlds.

Modern writers that I really enjoy are David Dunwoody, J.L. Bryan, Scot Westerfeld, Susan Kay Quinn, Ann Aguirre's sci-fi and dystopian works, and Ally Condie.

I can't name a favorite since I read in so many different genres and it depends on my mood.

John: Whedon fans unite! *high-fives* The biggest compliment I ever got was a Tweet from a reader yelling at me for "Joss Whedon-ing" her. That may or may not have had to do with a character I killed off....

What advice would you give to others who are considering writing as a career?

Rhiannon: It's very hard. Educate yourself not only on how to write a novel, but on the publishing business itself. The first major task is to actually finish a book, but chances are your first book will be rubbish. Don't give up. Keep writing, keep learning, and choose the publication path that you are willing to put all your time and energy into.

John: When you write a series, do you find fans' expectations intimidating? Does fear of not living up to those expectations make the writing process harder?

Rhiannon: Writing a series is a pain in the ass. That is why I'm trying to limit how many I'm working on at one time. Right now I have three. As The World Dies Untold Tales is one book away from completion. The Pretty When She Dies trilogy needs two more books. And the Vampire Bride series is probably going to be my long-term ongoing series.

I've already learned the important lesson to write the story that wants to be told and disregard all other influences. Yes, I want my readers to be happy with the story, but at the same time I have to stick with the rules in the world I've built and with the personalities of the characters. Sometimes characters do things that readers won't like and that's just the way it has to be. I don't meddle in the story. I learned that lesson long ago. If you try to force a character to do something that is against his/her nature or push the story in a direction that doesn't fit the plot arc, the whole thing derails. I know things happen in my books that readers may not necessarily like, but at the same time most of them understand why.

When it gets very hard is when you're on the last book of a trilogy and there is so much expectation in the minds of the readers. But again, I write the story that wants to be told and hope they enjoy it.

John: Imagine for a second that a movie studio (perhaps Lionsgate?) approached you and wanted to make your As The World Dies trilogy into movies. Suppose they wanted your input on casting. Who would you want playing Katie, Jenni, Travis, and Juan?

Rhiannon: As The World Dies is optioned. I have even helped with the pilot script. Whether or not it's greenlighted or not is a whole other story.

For Katie I would love Kristanna Loken, Odette Annable for Jenni, Kuno Becker for Juan, and Ben Browder for Travis.

John: Wow, didn't know that. Good for you. If it does get greenlighted, I will definitely be going. Congratulations.

Now then, let's look into the future. You seem to have several projects in the works at the moment. Care to tell us about them?

Rhiannon: I'm presently writing Pretty When She Kills, the sequel to my vampire/necromancer/zombie book Pretty When She Dies. It's a lot of fun to be back in that world after a four year absence. After that I hope to finish up my YA collaboration with dark fantasy author, Kody Boye, before moving on to a new standalone novel.

In the near future I have two short story collections coming out: As The World Dies Untold Tales Volume 3 and Cthulhu's Daughter and Other Horror Stories.

John:  There's been a lot of grumbling lately (including from me) about the KDP Select program and Amazon's new sales algorithms. Any thoughts on that whole kerfluffle? Has it affected your sales?

Rhiannon: Not noticeably. I tried the KDP Select Program with mixed results. I'm keeping one or two books on it, but took Pretty When She Dies off. I'm hoping to continue to establish my name as a solid writer so that my primary marketing strategy is name recognition.

John: Are you, like every other author out there, planning world domination? If you are planning it, will you be silly enough to tell me so?

Rhiannon: The world? Bah. Universal domination is what I'm aiming for.

John: Not lacking for ambition, I see. Well, Rhiannon, it's been a pleasure having you on the blog, and I hope you'll come back for your next blog tour.

Readers (or potential readers) wishing to find Rhiannon around the web can do so at:

Her website
The As The World Dies website
On Facebook
On Twitter
And on her blog

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Joss Whedon!

Though I'm sure he doesn't read this, I feel that it's appropriate today to send birthday wishes to the man without whom On The Bird would not exist.

I have said before that Whedon influences my fiction in a variety of ways. My interest in storytelling, and in writing, pre-dates my having any idea who he was, but it was only after consuming his work (over and over again) that I learned to tell stories well. Devouring episode after episode of Buffy and Firefly (RIP) proved to be the ultimate object lesson in character development and narrative pacing, witty dialogue and mood mixing. (One of the most flattering things a reviewer can say about a story of mine is that they loved the dialogue. That's when I know I've learned well.)

More importantly, though, Whedon's career provides an object lesson in artistic courage. As an indie, it is frequently tempting to "fall in line," to sacrifice my own artistic vision to the demands of the market and create a cookie-cutter, derivative version of Twilight or Lord of the Rings. From a business perspective, this might well be the sensible thing to do. But Joss never did that. He continues to tell stories that mix or jump genres, despite acknowledging that this has probably hurt his career. He made Firefly and kept fighting for it for years after cancellation (even though, "in Hollywood, people like that are called 'unrealistic,' 'quixotic,' 'obsessive....'"), eventually getting a movie made. He bypassed television and movie studios entirely and brought us Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog directly--a first-of-its-kind web show. And, in an age when mindless brain candy seems to be the order of the day, he made Dollhouse, a show explicitly designed to challenge viewers to think about prevailing cultural and social norms.

Granted, this may have been easier for him to do, since he comes from well-established Hollywood pedigree. And I'd probably still enjoy his shows even if he were to do more "mainstream" work. But there's something to be said for sticking by your vision even when it hurts your bottom line.

So, happy birthday, Joss. To many of us out there, you're still a Big Damn Hero.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

4.5 Stars For THE VOID

The following is a review of The Void (Weaver Saga #2) Denise Lhamon. It is presented here in its entirety. Those who have not read the book should be aware that the review contains some spoilers.

"Okay, let me be the first to say: I am *so* happy I volunteered to review this book. It took me by surprise how much I actually enjoyed it, and how much I want to go back and read the first one. To be honest I had no idea I was reading the second in a series, until my brain caught up with all the information I was missing within the text. Luckily, Mr. Abramowitz does a well good job of filling in enough detail for someone to at least guess at what happened in the first book.

Keeping that in mind, I've had to tailor my review because there *are* chunks I am missing from the story. This tune mostly sings toward character development. Obviously there's a difference between reading a character from book one and book two. One would hope the author has progressed his or her characters far enough to notice some sort of change in them.

In this case, Mr. Abramowitz has done well by his characters in that they seemed to jump off the page right from the get go. Alex was believable as a teenager who believes that her Weaver powers are the only thing that make her special. What kid wants to be normal, anyway? Her father, mother, Agent McBain and other supporting cast are written in a way that I was able to grasp their personality within a few words *and* jump to conclusions that later proved wrong. A wonderful surprise.

The other part is back story. There is plenty I don't know about with how Alex's mother, Ainslin (sic), treated her in book one. All I have to go on is that she was not a very nice person. Another conclusion that had me startled as more of her character was revealed. Without going into too much detail (I don't want to employ spoilers, as it would ruin the whole thing), Alex's father has left her mother because of what she was doing to Alex. Basically, injecting the poor girl with nasty shots to give her these Weaver powers. Like any good dad, he got his daughter out of there quick, fast, and in a hurry. Well, from what I can gather, a Weaver, has visions about Xorda attacks. Some are visions in the future, other visions are about the past. Alex's visions are about her mother in her college days. So, what dad said about mum and her badness may not be entirely truthful. In the Weaver Saga the FBI gets involved. Well, a part of the FBI that no one really knows about and that employs Weavers to help them locate the Xorda and get rid of them, for reasons I'm not quite sure about yet. Other than the soul-sucking bit. You know, which is never fun. Now normally, the FBI doesn't employ 15 year old girls. In our universe, anyway. However, in this universe, they do.

I think I would have been more open to the fact had I started from book one. It was a tough pill to swallow coming into book two, but not all that unrealistic once the scope of the Xorda problem and these 'Weavers' were explained.

In short, it worked for the world I inhabited for 190 pages.

Overall it was a fun and exciting read, the action moved along fairly quickly and the pages kept turning as my interest in Alex and her plight grew. The dialogue was snappy, though it felt forced in some places, and it was relevant to the situation-there was very little deviation into nonsensical conversation that, overall, had nothing to do with the plot as a whole. I immediately found myself attached to the characters and interested in what was happening to them.

A right feat considering the audiobook I *was* listening too (sic) was a nominee for the Hugo and Nebula awards. But, that's another blog post.

The only problem I could *really* find with the book was some of the fight scenes. Reading through them proved troublesome, as some of the action got confused. There was only one unrealistic scene I could find, when Agent McBain had a Xorda a few inches away from her face and kicked hi in the head. I had to raise an eyebrow at that one.

Other than that, the book was fun, well written, and an awesome read. It, and its predecessor, are available on Amazon's Kindle Store.

For me, the book gets a solid 4.5 for its characters, fast pace, and overall excitement. Well done, Mr. Abramowitz, I look forward to the next one!"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

On The Bird To Host Rhiannon Frater on June 30!


I am delighted to announce that On The Bird Publishing's scheduling department (composed of one incredibly tall and wickedly handsome Texan who I hear is a pretty good writer, too) has booked Rhiannon Frater, author of the much-acclaimed As The World Dies trilogy, to appear on this very blog! On June 30th, she'll join us for an interview as she promotes her newly-released book The Last Bastion of the Living.

Ms. Frater will discuss her current projects, her feelings about KDP Select, and our mutual love of Joss Whedon (!!!), among other things.

I hope you'll all join us for her appearance on the 30th! In the meantime, check out her website and see what she's up to!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

So What's Up With Amazon?

Is it just me, or is their pagination way, way off? For instance, Amazon lists my novel Atticus for the Undead at 162 pages. But at just over 53,000 words, by my calculations, this severely shorts the book page-wise. If we assume 250 words a page, that's 212 pages—50 full pages more than the Amazon listing suggests. This has caused several reviewers (including Kirkus Reviews) to refer to the book as a "novella."

We find the same problem with my latest novel, The Void. It clocks in at just under 62,000 words. At 250 words a page, that's 248 pages—244 if we round down and assume 61,000 words. And yet Amazon lists it at 190 pages.

To fit 62,000 words into 190 pages, by my calculations, you would have to put around 326 words on a page. To fit 53,000 words onto 162 pages, by my calculations, you would have to put 327 words on a page.

Has Amazon suddenly starting fitting 326.5 words onto a page? That would be a believable explanation, except for the final plot twist.

My first novel, Weaver, is also my shortest, by the word count. It's just under 44,000 words long, just over 45,000 when you include the preview of The Void that I added at the end of the most recent edition. (Weaver is also free everywhere but Amazon, and 99 cents on, by the way.) But according to Amazon, its page count?

168 pages.

For those keeping score, that's six full pages longer than Atticus for the Undead, even though Atticus is 8,000 words longer than Weaver, even counting the sneak peek at the end. Fitting 45,000 words onto 168 pages, incidentally, means putting approximately 268 words on a page.

So, someone who understands how Amazon's formatting works better than I do, please, I'm begging you, explain to me: What is going on here??

Friday, June 8, 2012

On Wisconsin

This American thinks it is time to stand up for public sector employees as the bravest, most selfless, and possibly the least-appreciated people in the country.

I recently read an article in The Wall Street Journal which began with a firefighter going grocery shopping with some of his colleagues. As he loaded his cart up with steaks and other things, he was accosted by another shopper, who said roughly: "Who do you think you are, getting a meal like that on the taxpayers' dime?"

I don't know who that particular firefighter thinks he is, and I don't know how he replied. But here's how I would have replied, had it been me: "I'm the guy who rushes into your burning house and saves your cats, your kids, and you!" Come on! We're really going to begrudge a guy who chose a career that means being willing to put his life at risk on a moment's notice a good meal every now and again? Really?

My mother was a public school teacher for much of her career, and frequently encouraged me not to follow in her footsteps. That confused me -- why would I not want to pursue a career that meant helping people, shaping young minds, and training the next generation of American workers? Sure, the pay wasn't stellar, but money wasn't my priority -- I wanted to do something that mattered. What better way to make a difference -- a real, tangible, appreciable difference -- than to be a teacher? I didn't understand.

Well, now I do. Despite mounting evidence that charter schools (whose teachers aren't unionized) produce no better results than regular public schools (and, in fact, often produce worse results), the idea that teachers unions are the root of all evil and that "accountability" is the answer to all of our educational problems remains a popular one in the public debate. In case anyone thinks I mean this as a partisan screed, it isn't only Republicans who've embraced this slipshod premise -- President Obama endorses it as well.

Knowing this, here's what confuses me now: Why would anyone want to enter a profession where they're paid like crap and treated accordingly? Why would anyone want to spend their lives working every waking moment (as teachers often do, if my mother is any example) only to be vilified every time they turn on the news as the source of the very problem they're working so hard to solve? I don't know whether I'll ever have kids, but if I do, I certainly won't encourage them to become teachers. Why should they?

Remember the Zadroga bill? That was the one to provide health benefits to 9/11 first responders. Remember how it only passed the Senate by the grace of Jon Stewart? (To their credit, after Jon Stewart spoke up on the issue, others, such as Shep Smith at FOX News and Rachel Maddow at MSNBC, followed.) And that's for the first responders at the scene of the greatest American national tragedy since Pearl Harbor.

Why is it that cutting the pensions or freezing the pay of these heroes and others like them is "fiscal responsibility" while raising taxes on people who make vastly more money than they do is "class warfare?" In what world is the second more "divisive" than the first? You're taking money out of someone's pocket either way.

I realize this is supposed to be a blog about books, writing, and pop culture, and I normally give politics a wide berth on this site. I don't think telling (or appreciating) good stories has anything to do with whether you're a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, or a Socialist. Art is for everyone. But on this issue, I can stay silent no longer. This is ridiculous.

Nobody likes bureaucracy. It is cumbersome, irritating, and prone to making mistakes. The abundance of bureaucracy in government makes the public sector an easy target for those who are tired of being put on hold. I understand that. But the idea that "government jobs" -- which include teachers, firefighters, cops, prosecutors, and, oh yes, the military -- are somehow "less real" than their private sector counterparts is a self-defeating delusion that should offend Americans of every political stripe.

Let's put it to rest.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Interview With A Vampire Hunter

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my next project -- specifically, I blogged about how I didn't know what it would be. That remained true until an old college friend of mine contacted me and suggested that I consider submitting a short story to the With A Twist anthology, edited by a talented young woman named Heather Coman.

The idea for With A Twist is to take the traditional mythos/tropes/stereotypes about a particular fantasy race and, well, twist them. This edition of With A Twist focuses on vampires and vampire lore. As anyone who's read my Weaver Saga or Legal Fiction Series (or The Antlerbury Tales) knows, defying genre conventions is one of my favorite pastimes, so I jumped right on it.

And now, after several weeks of frenzied writing, re-writing, re-re-writing, and editing, I am proud to announce that my short story Interview With A Vampire Hunter will be featured in the upcoming edition of With A Twist.

I don't want to say too much about the plot of Interview because the story is best experienced "blind." Spoiling the plot twists would be mean and would diminish the emotional impact of the narrative. So all I will say is that it's a 4,500 word genre-bender of a story. I am very proud of how it turned out and believe I have managed to fit quite a lot into so few words. Whedon aficionados in particular should be on the lookout for a couple of well-placed Buffy references hidden in the text.

So in short, I'm super-psyched. My first anthology publication! I can't wait for you guys to read it.

Now to go back on break for a few weeks and hunker down over Hunter's second coming....