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Worlds Effing Collide.

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If you thought “Bad Romance” was weird, well, Beyonce proves once again that she is the master of EVERYTHING. No one else can come close. She tries to give you a seizure rather than depicting one through interpretive dance, plays with Nerf guns, and I’m pretty sure she challenged Lady Gaga to a Flashdance chair-off.

Help! Teenage girls have taken over the art department!

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So, I was browsing my local Barnes and Noble just the other day, and it was a grand old time. I didn’t buy anything, a Herculean feat for me, but I’m glad I went. If I hadn’t, I would have found out that the art departments of several major publishers have been seized by teenage girls.

How else could one explain how the first print cover for P.C. Cast’s Elphame’s Choice went from this:

to this:

Really? That second cover doesn’t speak to the content of the book at all. If you picked up the book (which you should, by the way, because it’s amazing) with the first cover, you wouldn’t be surprised to find that it’s a romantic fantasy set in a world of ancient Celtic lore. If you picked up the book with the second cover, you’d be surprised to find that Elphame was not questing for more clip-in color streaks at her local Hot Topic.

And then, in the YA section, I saw this:

This book has been out for a while, so I’d seen it before. But I’d also seen it before it came out. Like, years before it came out, because the art department of this publishing house has also been overrun by teenage girls:

Authors have little to no control over what gets put on their book covers. In the case of the second book, that is a YA book. The first book isn’t. How can you tell the difference these days? Could publishers please forget that Twilight happened and go back to selling books with covers I wouldn’t be embarrassed to show in public? You know, like clinch-covers?

Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” the pitch meeting.

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Music video planners: Lady Gaga, we’re so excited about working with you, and we’ve come up with some great ideas for your video.
Lady Gaga: Okay, that’s great, let’s hear them.
Music video planners: For starters, we explored the concept of literally interpreting the story told by your lyrics–
Lady Gaga: That’s really not going to work. Most of the song is nonsense, punctuated by wordless babbling and also, some French.
Music video planners: Ohhhkay… well, let’s see what else we had. Ah, right here we have the video opening with you, wearing a freakish old-lady wig and a pair of glasses made out of razor blades and some other sharp stuff you shouldn’t put by your eyes, in a room all in white. I’m thinking you should be staring vacantly into middle distance, one finger poised above the power button of a sound system.
Lady Gaga: Can I be surrounded by degenerates and malcontents dressed in freakish metal masks? And could we get some of the girls from the Robert Palmer video in there, as well?
Music video planners: Of course! This is exactly what this meeting is about. An exchange of ideas! Now, when you push the button on the sound system, the beginning of the song proper will start.
Lady Gaga: We should all look like startled robots!
Music video planners: Sure! Then, we were thinking of a cut to another white room, with sensory deprivation pods. You know, like the coffins on Anubis air in True Blood, only white.
Lady Gaga: They should say something on them, though.
Music video planners: Maybe an “L” and a “G”?
Lady Gaga: No, they should say “Monster.” And then they should have monsters coming out of them.
Music video planners: Uh, okay. Yeah, we could work with that. Do you think they should be hairy monsters, like on Sesame Street or–
Lady Gaga: No! Dancers, all in white, dressed like that kid in the pajamas from Where The Wild Things Are. Except it should be a one-piece latex suit, with just the mouth cut out. And then we could dance like the nurses in Silent Hill!
Music video planners: That’s… very high fashion of you.
Lady Gaga: There should also be shots of me with pink hair and oddly disproportionate bug-eyes. And then, I want to dress like Tom Petty and sing to myself in a mirror.
Music video planners: Oh, okay, I think we can–
Lady Gaga: We should probably get our dancers from a local production of Cats, because I want those kinds of moves. Like, “batting at a ball of yarn in the air” type moves.
Music video planners: I’m sure we can find someone like that.
Lady Gaga: But I don’t want it to be completely freaky. I want to be able to sing into the camera with minimal makeup, and look very earnest.
Music video planners: You’re right, it’s good balance the more artistic elements with some traditional–
Lady Gaga: Because then I want there to be some implication of forced medication, and after that I want to be practically naked with chandelier on my head, while my dancers strip a graffitied Burberry coat off me.
Music video planners: Does this chandelier have to be crystal, or…
Lady Gaga: And I want to dance for a guy with a gold plated jaw.
Music video planners: This is getting kind of expensive.
Lady Gaga: And there needs to be a hairless cat.
Music video planners: I think Jan in accounting has one–
Lady Gaga: Did I mention I wanted to do full nudity, too? As much as I can get away with? We need to dispel this weird transexual rumor.
Music video planners: As long as it’s tasteful, and shot from the side in low light, we can accomodate that.
Lady Gaga: I want to have some kind of hairless bat thing in my hair, too. It will only be seen briefly, but I feel it’s important.
Music video planners: Well, this all sounds great, and I’m sure we can make the arrangements to shoot by–
Lady Gaga: Now, in the next scene–
Music video planners: Next scene?
Lady Gaga: Yeah, you didn’t think we were done here, did you? This is barely half-finished. We’re going to need another chandelier. I’m thinking I should be dressed like Madonna, only more sexualized, surrounded by the suspended pieces of a broken chandelier. I’m probably going to wear a cross and throw in a few gestures to offend super religious people. You know, the kind who write letters?
Music video planners: Oh dear.
Lady Gaga: Do you think we could find someone to make high heels with snake spines wrapped around them?
Music video planners: We’ll add it to the list.
Lady Gaga: Great! I also think we should use the spinny ring thing I wore on SNL, just so I get my money’s worth, you know? And I’ve got this sequined Imelda Marcos costume and a pointy wig I bought at Gwen Stefani’s garage sale. I can wear that for the bridge.
Music video planners: We’re only up to the bridge at this point?!
Lady Gaga: It’s amazing how much I can pack into this, right? Okay, when we go back to the chorus, I want to be wearing a polar bear.
Music video planners: A what now?
Lady Gaga: And Baron Von Underbite from The Venture Bros. waiting to have sex with me, on a bed flanked by taxidermy Antelope heads.
Music video planners: I’m sorry, Ms. Gaga, but… how many animals have to die for this video?
Lady Gaga: I’m going to have to have some serious back up dancers for the all-red sequence.
Music video planners: All red? Where is this going to fit?
Lady Gaga: Oh, close to the end of the video. Right before the bed burns up, and I’m shown wreathed in flames and burning polar bear.
Music video planners: Did you bring any Advil with you? We feel a collective headache coming on.
Lady Gaga: And at the end, I want to be lying on the charred bed, next to the smoldering remains of Baron Von Underbite. I think it goes without saying that at this point, I should look like a blonde Amy Winehouse, and have sparks shooting out of my nipples.
Music video planners: Why not? Fuck it, do whatever you want. I’m going to go hang myself in the bathroom.

The internet ruins everything.

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Had an awesome signing last night at Schuler Books in Lansing. Super cool, although they served wine and I ended up signing a bunch of stock, “Legalize it!”

So, this morning I’m nursing my hangover (no, it wasn’t just the wine… the fishbowl of Margarita at La Senorita was a contributing factor to my delinquency) and enjoying Pocoyo with my daughter.

What is Pocoyo, you ask? Only the single most soothing thing on the face of the motherfucking planet.

It’s a Spanish show that was dubbed into English and narrated by a super enthusiastic Stephen Fry. When we discovered this show on Netflix on XBox Live, I thought, “This will distract the kid for a while, so I can make a poo in peace, without her leaning her chubby elbows on my knees and engaging me in a babbling discourse about something only she has a clue about. But once it started, I couldn’t look away. I just kept staring at the screen.

I suppose one could say that Pocoyo’s world is a nightmarish white void of possibility, and that Pocoyo represents our Id, materializing desires from thin air in a realm of limited responsibility and resulting in his ultimate destruction, but I choose instead to enjoy the quiet simplicity of a child of indeterminate gender cavorting with various animal pals in an easy-to-digest format.

But for a long time, something about Pocoyo, himself, was puzzling. I could have sworn I’d seen him somewhere else. Where was it? It seemed like it wasn’t in a particularly nice context… where had I see him before?

Oh, yeah. From one of my LJ friend’s icons:

The internet ruins EVERYTHING.

You know how much I love vampires…

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I love funny vampires even more. So, I bring unto thee, straight from Atom.com, the super awesome, Twilight… Five Years Later

Twilight – 5 Years Later

The creator of this awesomeness, Jacob Fleisher, is also responsible for the web series, Intercourse With A Vampire, which you can also see at Atom.com.

I strongly urge you to check it out, it’s amazing.

Panera of the Damned

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How is it that Panera bread can be this busy at 10am on a Monday? Seriously, what is up with this? I’m sitting here waiting for Bronwyn Green to get here, and the place is packed. Don’t any of you people have jobs? You can’t all be as irresponsible as me.

As you can see, I’m really out of ideas in the blog arena. I swear, I’ll have something interesting to say soon.

BTW, there is a guy up here that looks just like Michael Stipe, and another guy who looks like Billy Ray Cyrus.

Unlikeable characters, part two, plus some other stuff…

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First off, I think I should offer a disclaimer. When I mention bad reviews in a post, it’s not in an attempt to have readers tell me, “Oh, they’re so wrong! You’re such a good writer.” I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t want anyone thinking I’m fishing for compliments. Bad reviews do serve a purpose. As I said before, I’m not an advocate of writing something different out of fan service, but sometimes, a negative review can help you look at things with different eyes. For example, in Blood Ties Book Three: Ashes to Ashes (or, in Germany, Blutsbande 3: Asche zu Asche, which has a way cooler cover and also is on sale right now, so run out and buy it, frauleins and whatever you call dudes over there), there was apparently a lot of crying. Like, a lot. But for some reason, I never realized it when I was writing it. Seriously, that book read like every character was watching Sophie’s Choice. While on their period. Especially Nathan. If I hadn’t read those reviews, I would have never noticed, and I wouldn’t have been able to excise all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that I did from book four. And yeah, I did remove crying from that one, despite how much is still in there.

I wonder if I was having some kind of episode when I wrote those.

Anyway, I’m still thinking of unlikeable characters. Comments from y’all indicate that you like characters who aren’t “perfect.” This, I can get behind. A character with no flaws is not someone I can root for (cue snickering Australians). But now I’m thinking, is it a character who never makes a bad choice that’s the problem, or a character who makes the wrong choices and insists that they’re right? Which one is worse? That’s a “would you rather” for you… would you rather read a sickeningly perfect character, personality wise, who can admit when they’re wrong, or a sickeningly perfect character who believes that everything is right, just so long as they’re the one doing it?

In other news, I’m going to go ahead and spill about the as-yet-untitled vampire book that I’m doing for Mira. It is not, in any way, connect to Blood Ties. Okay, well, it’s like Blood Ties’s distant cousin. When I first wrote Blood Ties Book One: The Turning, it wasn’t a “book one.” It was just Blood Ties and it was a traditional, HEA romance, and my idea was to pull a Sherrilyn Kenyon and introduce new characters in every book who would get their own HEA stories, within a broader series. One of those stories is what is being released next, though not with a character you’ve met in the Blood Ties series, and not in that universe, at all. I’m going to switch up some of the vampire rules and junk. And put in less crying.

The story itself is about a vampire who likes being a vampire, thinks it’s the best decision he’s ever made, and has never really run into any hardships or anything because of being a vampire. He ends up trapped in a town that is being held captive by supernatural powers, and suddenly finds himself in a whole heap of trouble, trying to hide from them what he is and convincing them that he’s not responsible for their misery just by virtue of being a nonhuman.

I’m excited about this project, because, like with the book that eventually became The Turning, I get to take an idea that was, for the most part, already written and completely rewrite it, from the ground up. I get to take the skeleton of the idea and put new skin on it, which is going to be a lot of fun, because I didn’t necessarily like the way it was written the first time. I think it’s going to be great, and I’ll be happy to get it out of my head after six years of it being firmly lodged in there.

I think I must be going about this the wrong way.

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Safely home after the Authors After Dark conference (details later), I found some less-than-favorable reviews for the Lightworld/Darkworld books. Which got me thinking, as all negative reviews do. I’ve said this in the past, and I genuinely mean this, that if I read a negative review that actually has something to say (“This book sucks,” etc. doesn’t give me much to ruminate over), I think about it for a while and can usually see where they’re coming from. In fact, I usually take more away from negative reviews than positive ones with gentle criticisms in them, because I am, if nothing else, an ego snowball rolling downhill at breakneck speeds, crushing little skiing villages in my wake and collecting them up like some nightmare Katamari, and so the valid critiques offered in a good review are usually lost in the highly immature celebration dance of “Yay, someone liked it.”

Yes, there is actually a dance.

The negative reviews I’ve been seeing for Queene of Light and Child of Darkness seem to have a couple of issues in common, the one that concerns me today being that the protagonists are unlikeable somehow. I am not unfamiliar with this criticism. When I was writing Blood Ties, the number one complaint in most negative reviews was that the reader did not like Carrie. And they usually didn’t like her for exactly the same reasons that I did like her, but I was able to write that off as a “to each his own” kind of situation. Now that it’s cropping up in my new series, I’m thinking a little bit more about the notion of “liking” a character. As in, how much should a reader expect to like a character, and how much effort can an author expend to write a character who is likeable before the book becomes unrealistic?

I started making up a mental brain list of books I’ve read where I either didn’t like the main character. Not hated them, because I don’t think I’ve ever read something I would consider a good book with a protagonist I absolutely hated. But I came up with a list of characters I was definitely “meh” on. I realized that, for the most part, I’ve never truly thought a Stephen King protagonist was someone I would care to meet in real life, and I find Neil Gaiman’s main characters pretty obnoxious. The latter saddened me, because I’m fairly sure that Neil Gaiman’s main characters are all some subtle variation on Neil Gaiman. In some of my favorite books, I wouldn’t call the main character someone I liked, as in, I do not daydream about one day walking through the mall with them, swinging our shopping bags and sipping on Jamba Juice smoothies. But none of the books on my list, aside from Gaiman, were what I would call fantasy or romance.

In fact, when I started thinking of books where my enjoyment was directly affected by how I viewed the main character, my thoughts on the subject took a sharp left turn into genre town. I can’t even begin to think of all the romances I stopped reading because I could not like the heroine or hero. And fantasy, well, I’ve definitely had some wall-banger episodes directly linked to the preciousness of fantasy protagonists. Readers of romance and fantasy typically want to insert themselves into the story, to have those feelings of falling in love or having an adventure. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s basically what the genre is there for. It’s hard to lose yourself to those feelings when you’re thinking, “I would never do or say that.”

Still, at what point does one cross the line from being true to the character they’ve created and just delivery fan service? I can think of a couple of series where the main character wasn’t necessarily doing what I would in various situations, and I was okay with it. I would go online and find out that other readers felt the same way, and then the next book or two would come out and the character had done a complete 180, usually having to do with the love interest or number of love interests. And when I and other readers got what we thought we wanted, we complained that the series was “going downhill.” Looking back, the authors weren’t doing what was right for the characters, they were doing what the fans wanted. I firmly believe this. And once they did that, the character was no longer the same person, and the series wasn’t as enjoyable.

I think there has to be some kind of a difference between a character that a reader doesn’t like, or can’t connect with, and a character whose actions make no sense within the context of the story. Both characters are unlikeable, but one is unlikeable because he or she has a personality trait that the reader can’t get along with, and the other is unlikeable because they’re stupid or unaware and make the story less enjoyable overall. I don’t know exactly where that line is, and I’m not going to pretend that my characters are firmly on one side or the other. But it is something for writers to think about. Should we try to create characters the readers will like, or should we use the ones that just seem to show up and fit into the story?

Tomorrow, I might have more thoughts on this, and a small update on the vampire book I’m writing for Mira.

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One of the funnest parts about writing is that you get to create whole new people out of thin air, and not have to do that pesky pregnancy/parenting thing. Unfortunately, one of the frustrating parts is that these people will never live in the real world the way they live in your mind. You can give people a close approximation, like how I tell everyone that Nathan looks just like Gerard Butler; he does, but not totally. There are things about him that just look like Nathan. What I should be telling people is that someone might mistake Nathan for Gerard Butler if they ran into him in the street, but upon closer examination they would realize that his nose is a little less straight, and his eyes are a different shape, and when he smiles, he doesn’t show as many teeth. Little details.

It was fun to work on Blood Ties because it lasted so long. I was writing those books for five years. That’s longer than some people stay at one job, and I got to make my coworkers as mild or as irritating as I wanted to. I’m not one of those writers who believes the characters can get away from you and become their own people, but I do believe they took turns that I had subconsciously planned while consciously planning against them. Like Cyrus refusing to leave the story, or be the villain I had imagined to be. And like Carrie not falling head-over-heels for Nathan as she did in the first draft.

But again, it’s frustrating, because you’re never able to accurately convey to people what you’re thinking or seeing in your head. I will go so far as to say that even the very best writers probably get fan letters from people that make them scratch their heads and say, “Wait, what are they talking about? That isn’t what [insert character here] is like at all!” because there is only so much power in the written word. If you tried to write an accurate description of your best friend, you’d still only be painting about 25% of the picture.

Then, there are the details that the reader can’t help but add in for you. We all do this when we’re reading, I’m sure. I know there have been times that I’ve read a book and been so sure that a character had dark hair, then been completely stunned to run across a description of sunlight picking out golden highlights in her blonde hair. It doesn’t matter if the first line of the very first page is, “Jane Heroine was a blonde girl. Blonde, blonde, blonde.” Somehow, I got a different impression in my head.

Today, on VH1, I saw the closest physical approximation of Cyrus as I have ever seen. I’d been telling people that I’d based his appearance on a young Julian Sands. That’s partially true. In fact, I had drawn him up in my mind before I came up with the “young Julian Sands” description, and that actor was the only one who fit my mental picture with enough clarity to be added to my “Book of Wonder,” the binder where I keep pictures of all of my characters. But let’s see how our ideas of how Cyrus looked stack up. This is the young gentleman that made me actually stop what I was doing and think, for a really crazy second, “wait, did Cyrus join a band?”

Does this guy look exactly like Cyrus looked in my head? Not exactly. But damned close. And I bet he doesn’t look anything like the way you imagined from my description of him.

Isn’t it funny how the mind works?