Guest Post: How Much Does a Bear Weigh? (And Other Things a Novelist Needs to Know) by Alysia Constantine

 How Much Does a Bear Weigh? (And Other Things a Novelist Needs to Know) by Alysia Constantine

My Google search history and my little notebook of Things to Remember have become quite amusing reads this year. My second novel, Olympia Knife, tells the story of a woman who grows up in a travelling circus in early 20th Century America, and in researching that book (even if it was often only on Google and not through airless hours in the library, as I was trained for), I wound up seeking the answers to a hundred little questions that presented themselves: how much would Viselik, the trained bear, weigh? How many of those mean, alcohol-soaked clowns could fit into a clown car, and is it a special car? When was the circus canon invented (in case I want to shoot a character out of one)? How do you swallow a sword?

Since the novel takes place in the early 20C, this research was made ever more important by my need to be historically accurate. I also wound up researching period circus costumes, customs of the time and early 20C American slang. (My favorite discovery: “It’s all jake,” as in “everything’s cool”.) I even found myself trying to figure out when folks in the U.S. started saying “OK.” (In case you need to know, it was originally a joke in Boston ‘round about the 1830s… cool Bostonians liked to abbreviate everything—“That’s an NG” instead of “That’s a no-go”, for instance—and OK stands for “Orl Korrect,” which is the 1830s Bostonian’s Intentional Silly-Talkin’ way of saying “All Correct.”)

My point, I suppose, was that the old saw “write what you know” will only get you so far. In my case, it means all my novels would be about middle-aged, fat, disabled, white, first generation, lesbian professors who live in New York and have two dogs. That would dubiously be good for one novel, but after that, one probably must move on. On the other hand, I’ve never been interested in “historical fiction,” either—like sci-fi, much of it seems too caught up in the details of the unfamiliar world, and privileges those details over good, strong characters, beautiful language and sensory detail (the good stuff, of course, doesn’t… hence my love for Octavia Butler).

So how does one strike the balance between research and writing when one’s writing something creative? It’s a version of that same predicament about whether good writing requires routine and diligence or inspiration. (I cannot count how many people, upon hearing that I write novels, have made the assumption that I sit around eating bonbons and waiting for inspiration to strike. I must then explain that if I did that, I’d never write anything at all, because I usually find other things—things that don’t feel like work, like sorting through my fourth-grade papers or arranging my socks—more inspiring, and that writing, at least for me, is work and often an unpleasant task I must make myself do on the regular by, usually, sitting at my laptop for a prescribed 6 hours a day.) Eating bonbons is pretty good, too—as long as I’m also working.

What I’ve finally discovered, well into my forties, is that for me, writing works best as a tightrope walk balanced between inspiration and routine: I must get myself inspired within the confines of a routine. Research helps with this—I can spend hours flipping through pictures of early 20C circus performers, or reading about the history of poi spinning (that’s twirling stuff, often stuff on fire, for you uninitiated folks). But if I limit myself to twenty minutes of research, which must be followed by an hour of writing, I have the inspiration I need to feed me in the drudgery, and the structure to make sure the drudgery gets properly drudged.

Here’s the disenchanting, unromantic truth: writing is usually neither fun nor magical nor John-Berryman-wild-eyed-crazy-inspired. Writing drunk or high doesn’t usually make for good writing, either, at least in my experience. (Lots of writers wrote in spite of drinking or drug use, not because of it.) Dead Poets Society got it 100% wrong: writing is work, often unpleasant or tough or boring or just unrewarding in the moment, and rarely does it involve standing on your chair and bursting with emotion and quoting Whitman. And almost never does a writer get to witness the effects of the writing (except when a reader makes the effort to find her and tell her about it, ahem, friends).

I’m not trying to make writing sound more difficult than it is, or more important, I’m simply trying to demystify it here.

It’s the same thing I had to learn when writing about circus stuff, too: I was really drawn to writing about trapeze performers and fat ladies and bear trainers, but what I found was that the more real I made these characters, the more I had to think about what people threw at Minnie the Fat Lady while she was on stage (newspaper, rocks and hair pins, mostly), or whether Samu slept in his bear Viselik’s cage at night (yes, he did). I also figured most of their costumes smelled like sweat, and the air around the Flying Knifes was always filled with chalk dust from their hands. And the clowns were mean and cliquish and a little bit ominous.

Oh—and in case you were wondering and your Googling finger is broken, the answers to the questions I began with are, in order: about 400 pounds; between 14 and 21 clowns in a car without seats; the first human canon ball performed in 1877.

And how do you swallow a sword? Very carefully.


Alysia Constantine is the author of the novels Sweet (2016) and Olympia Knife (2017). She lives in the lower Hudson Valley of New York with her wife, two dogs, a cat, and a cucumber vine that has completely taken over the garden and produces ridiculous, armlength cucumbers.

Her next book is Olympia Knife. It will release on 11/3/17:

Born into a family of flying trapeze artists, Olympia Knife has one small problem: When her emotions rise, she becomes invisible. Everyone in the traveling circus has learned to live with this quirk; they banded together to raise Olympia in a loving environment when her parents vanished midair during their act, never to return. But the same fate befalls Arnold, the world’s shortest man, followed by one act after another, until the show is a crumbling mess of tattered tents and terrified troupers. Into this chaos walks Diamond the Danger Eater. Olympia and Diamond forge a friendship, then fall in love, and, together, resolve to stand the test of time, even as the world around them falls apart.

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Guest Post: Villains, antagonists and more— oh my! by CB Lee

 

In my novel Not Your Villain, Bells’ alter-ego Chameleon is the country’s most wanted villain. While he’s been framed, it’s interesting from a writing perspective to think about what people think about villains and how the people in power in this series direct attention to what they believe is good and bad.

Writing the antagonist in your story one of the most important ways to keep your novel engaging and move the plot forward. Memorable villains often capture the imagination of readers and their dynamics with your heroes will help build your conflict. Depending on what you’re going for, having your antagonist have a compelling backstory and motivation helps them from being over-the-top. Unless, that’s what you’re going for— my antagonist Captain Orion takes a lot of cues from classic cheesy comic book villains, which is part of the fun of the Sidekick Squad series, but we meet a new antagonist in the second book, Lowell Kingston, who is cool and calculating.

The difference between Orion and Kingston is that while Orion is all physical strength and power, Kingston’s shrewdness makes him dangerous  and you don’t know what he’s planning or what to expect, and he has a vast number of resources.

Motivation

A good way to think about your antagonist is what their driving force is. What are their ambitions and reasonings for what they want? What are they willing to do to get it? Are they relatable? I think what makes a truly scary antagonist is that fear too, for readers to examine themselves and think how this person got to where they are and where they crossed the line.

Power

There are different types of power and different ways you can give your antagonist resources. Captain Orion can summon lightning and can fly, making her a formidable opponent, while Kingston is a central figure in a corrupt government. What kind of background do you want to give your antagonist? Do they have vast knowledge and expertise in a certain area? Are they only ones who know an important secret? Do they have the command of admirers or a military? Do they hold sway over the press? These are all great things to think about when crafting your antagonist.

Opposition

The most important thing about your antagonist is that they oppose your protagonist in some way. It doesn’t have to be a clear cut hero-villain route, and it isn’t always a person. Is it an institution, or a system that your main character is striving to change? Is the antagonist themselves? The forces of opposition are what really come into play; your antagonist can even be a close friend or family member and care about your protagonist, but doesn’t see eye-to-eye on what your conflict is.

Villains are so much fun to write, and I hope these ideas help you move forward in your writing! Thank you for having me here on the blog, and I hope you have a chance to check out Not Your Villain, the second in a series where LGBTQ+ teenagers  take on corrupt government agencies and uncover the truth about the hero-villain dichotomy in their superpowered world.

If you’re interested in more writing resources as well as updates and exclusive extras from my books, check out my newsletter!

Thank you again!


C.B. Lee is a bisexual Chinese-Vietnamese American writer based in Los Angeles, California.

NOT YOUR SIDEKICK was a 2017 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist in YA/Children’s Fiction and a 2017 Bisexual Book Awards Finalist in Speculative Fiction. SEVEN TEARS AT HIGH TIDE was the recipient of a Rainbow Award for Best Bisexual Fantasy Romance and also a finalist for the 2016 Bisexual Book Awards in the YA and Speculative Fiction categories.

CB has been featured at literary events such as the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Lambda Litfest’s Celebrating the Asian American LGBTQ+ Experience at the Chinese American Museum, YALLWEST and Pasadena Litfest as well as a guest at  popular panels and discussions such as DragonCon’s “LGBTQIA in YA” , “BiScifi: Queer Heroes in Science Fiction and More”, “The Craft of Dystopia”,  “Magic and Worldbuilding,”, WonderCon’s “Sisterhood of the Self-Sufficient,” Emerald City Comic Con’s “Diversity in Publishing,” and San Diego Comic Con’s “Super Asian America” and “Into the Fanzone!”


NOT YOUR VILLAIN: SIDEKICK SQUAD, BOOK TWO—

Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants, and if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he’s got it covered. But that was before he became the country’s most-wanted villain.

After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess, Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges. Everyone is in danger. 

Sometimes, to do a hero’s job, you need to be a villain.

ORDER NOW: Interlude PressAmazonBarnes & NobleMysterious GalaxyTarget


 

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Spotlight on New Adult: Abroad, book 1 by Liz Jacobs

Want a book that will blow you away with its rich characterization and fun, quirky cast of characters? A coming of age story that is honest and cringe-worthy, uber sexy and delightfully naive, and all gorgeously told by a fresh new voice in queer fiction?

I HAVE THE BOOK FOR YOU!

Debut author, Liz Jacobs, is set to take the book world by storm. Her first book is a lushly told coming of age story featuring a queer Jewish immigrant who moves to the UK to spend a semester abroad. What happens there changes him forever. So sit back…relax…and get ready to one click… Read More

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Shelter the Sea by Heidi Cullinan: Spotlight and Excerpt

Heidi Cullinan is ready to revisit the fantastic world she created in Carry the Ocean with its sequel, Shelter the Sea, out tomorrow! I ADORED Carry the Ocean (did you read my glowing review of it? No? READ IT NOW, I’LL WAIT!). It’s a wonderful, nuanced contemporary NA featuring an austic man named Emmet as he deals with the ups and downs of his first relationship. It’s tender, sweet, sexy, and filled with the sort of gorgeous writing we expect from Heidi.

To celebrate the long anticipated release of this sequel, we have a first chapter excerpt to get you as excited as we are! So here you have it: Shelter the Sea, Chapter 1…

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Spotlight Post: The Starving Years by Jordan C Price

Psst! Today’s Spotlight features one of my most favorite Urban Fantasy Authors doing what she does best: giving you awesome books…for free! That’s right FOR FREE. But let me break it down for you:

Who: macabre Queen of Urban Fantasy, Jordan C Price!

What: The Starving Years, her MMM Dystopian Romance:

starving yearsImagine a world without hunger.

In 1960, a superfood was invented that made starvation a thing of the past. Manna, the cheaply manufactured staple food, is now as ubiquitous as salt in the world’s cupboards, pantries and larders.

Nelson Oliver knows plenty about manna. He’s a food scientist—according to his diploma, that is. Lately, he’s been running the register at the local video rental dive to scrape together the cash for his outrageously priced migraine medication.

In a job fair gone bad, Nelson hooks up with copywriter Javier and his computer-geek pal Tim, who whisks them away from the worst of the fiasco in his repurposed moving truck. At least, Nelson thinks those two are acquainted, but they’re acting so evasive about it, he’s not sure how they know each other, exactly. Javier is impervious to Nelson’s flirting, and Tim’s name could appear in the dictionary under the entry for “awkward.” And with a riot raging through Manhattan and yet another headache coming on, it doesn’t seem like Nelson will get an answer anytime soon.

One thing’s for sure, the tension between the three of them is thick enough to cut with a knife…even one of those dull plastic dealies that come in the package with Mannariffic EZ-Mealz.

When: now through April 8th

Where: Amazon

How: Do you read in Mobi? Or are you a Kindle Unlimited user? Yes? No? Get on it…now! For a limited time, JCP’s groundbreaking book, The Starving Years, will be free for Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. Get it, devour it, and then go on to read all of her amazing urban fantasy reads and then demand why you never did it before!

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How We Began Anthology Giveaway Extravaganza!

How We Began AnthologyHow We Began by Alexis Hall, Delphine Dryden, Vanessa North, Amy Jo Cousins, Annabeth Albert, Geonn Cannon

Available on: Amazon

Release Day Extravaganza Organized by: Liz

I was lucky enough to read an ARC of this anthology a few weeks back, and after I finished it, I felt like I was in a bit of a daze and also floating on the happiest bubble into a rainbow. This collection of stories, the proceeds from which are all going to benefit The Trevor Project, felt almost monumental to me. Some stories are bigger in scope than others, but all are so human and touching and every single one of them is affirming in a way I wish I could have had when I was in high school.

So, we thought about how best to showcase this wonderful anthology, and decided that hey, a giveaway is a beautiful thing. A TRIPLE giveaway? Even better. All money goes to charity? Sound the trumpets!

It’s time for an Extravaganza!

Read More

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Author Spotlight: Ginn Hale reading an excerpt of Servant of Shadow

Hello, all! So if you haven’t realized (or haven’t read my post on the subject, FOR SHAME) October is Queer Romance Month! Hooray! Queer Romance Month is a celebration of love stories in all shades of the rainbow in all shades of romance. There are over a hundred LGBTQ+ authors and allies with essays, flash-fiction and much, much more. If you haven’t gone to check it out, I highly suggest you do so now: www.queerromancemonth.com

Now, many of your favorite blogs are hosting exclusive content from Queer Romance Month contributors as part of this celebration. And do I have a treat for you. Today on Binge on Books, we have one of my personal favorites with us: Ginn Hale! Yes, Ginn Hale, the amazing author of the Rifter Series and contributor to the Charmed and Dangerous anthology is here reading from her current Work-In-Progress, Servant of Shadows (the third set of books in the Cadeleonian series)!

Read all about Servant of Shadows here: Elezar Grunito has fled his homeland—a hunted man intent on carrying out the vital diplomatic mission that will redeem him. But in Labara he faces creatures of myth and magic far more dangerous than anything he’s faced in Cadeleon. Complicating matters further is the wily street witch, Skellan, whose courage and passion threaten to unravel all of Elezar’s ambitions.

And now listen to this exclusive excerpt:

 

Sounds so very enticing, no? Now, go follow Ginn everywhere and fall in love with her and her gorgeous writing:

tiny-ginnGinn Hale lives with her lovely wife and indolent cats in the Pacific Northwest. She spends the many rainy days tinkering with devices and words. Her first novel, Wicked Gentlemen, won the Spectrum Award for best novel. Her most recent publications include the Lord of the White Hell, Champion of the Scarlet Wolf and The Rifter trilogy: The Shattered Gates, The Holy Road and His Sacred Bones. Her novella Things Unseen and Deadly appears in the Irregulars Anthology, while Swift and the Black Dog appears in Charmed and Dangerous.

Find Ginn in all the places: Website | Twitter | Facebook

This exciting, honest-to-goodness piece of multi-media content is brought to you in support of Queer Romance Month. 

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90s Playlist Anthology: Review, Q&A, and killer playlist from all the authors!

Tomorrow is the release day of a truly nostalgia-inducing new book, the ’90s Playlist: A Romance Rewind AnthologyThis ’90s Playlist features stories from: Brighton Walsh, Lorelie Brown, Amy Jo Cousins, Audra North, Rebecca Grace Allen, and Jennifer Blackwood and with so many amazing contributors? It is sure to wow you from page one. To celebrate the release, we’ve got a review, a cool Q&A with Erin and ALL of the contributors as well as a 90s playlist featuring songs picked by the authors themselves. So sit back, relax, and get ready to head back…to the 90s!

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New Author Spotlight: Allan Jay

Bare StudsNew Author Spotlight!

Allan Jay is a newly-published author whose short “The Last Snow Globe Repairman” is among the ten stories featured in Dreamspinner Press’s upcoming anthology Bare Studs, out today, September 14th. You may have also previously encountered Allan on Tea Time with Alexis Hall & Friends here, here, and here. Allan is a fresh, new voice in the M/M genre and he’s at Binge on Books today discussing his inspirations, his upcoming projects, and how it feels to now be a published author. There’s also a brief excerpt at the very end to whet your appetites for Allan and the Bare Studs anthology.

Let’s all give a very warm, very hearty welcome to Allan Jay!

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Spotlight and Giveaway: Two Roads by L.M. Augustine

Today, we’re very happy to be a part of the blog tour for L.M. Augustine’s new release, Two Roads. If you don’t know anything about this NA read about coming to terms with who you are and who you love, you are in for a wild ride! Plus a giveaway!

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