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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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 31, part 2 with Sarah Rees Brennan

Sarah Rees Brennan joins Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from The Demon’s Lexicon.


About The Demon’s Lexicon: 

Sixteen-year-old Nick and his brother, Alan, are always ready to run. Their father is dead, and their mother is crazy—she screams if Nick gets near her. She’s no help in protecting any of them from the deadly magicians who use demons to work their magic. The magicians want a charm that Nick’s mother stole—and they want it badly enough to kill. Alan is Nick’s partner in demon slaying and the only person he trusts in the world. So things get very scary and very complicated when Nick begins to suspect that everything Alan has told him about their father, their mother, their past, and what they are doing is a complete lie. . .



About Sarah Rees Brennan: 

Sarah Rees Brennan was born and raised in Ireland by the sea, where her teachers valiantly tried to make her fluent in Irish (she wants you to know it’s not called Gaelic) but she chose to read books under her desk in class instead. The books most often found under her desk were Jane Austen, Margaret Mahy, Anthony Trollope, Robin McKinley and Diana Wynne Jones, and she still loves them all today.

After college she lived briefly in New York and somehow survived in spite of her habit of hitching lifts in fire engines. She began working on The Demon’s Lexicon while doing a Creative Writing MA and library work in Surrey, England. Since then she has returned to Ireland to write and use as a home base for future adventures. Her Irish is still woeful, but she feels the books under the desk were worth it.


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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 29 with Roan Parrish

Roan Parrish joins Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from her ghost story Touched from the Follow Me Into Darkness anthology.


About Follow Me Into Darkness and Touched:

Carnivale is a time for decadence, for revelry, and for mischief. A time when we shed the figurative masks we wear in everyday life in favor of new ones… ones that allow us to be a little bolder, a little more adventurous, and perhaps a little truer to ourselves. Follow Me Into Darkness is a compilation of original tales of queer romance by five of the premier authors of contemporary romance.

***

Sometimes when he touches people Philippe Rondeau sees their future. It’s erratic and inconvenient, but mostly he’s learned to deal with it. Sure he hasn’t found true love yet, but he has friends and lovers, and is kept busy running his family’s jazz club in Prohibition-era New Orleans. But now it’s Mardi Gras and all bets are off. In the space of one night, Philippe falls under the spell of jazz musician Claude and learns a terrible secret about his powers. If Philippe is certain of anything it’s that the future can be tricky, but the chance at love makes it all seem worthwhile.



About Roan Parrish:

Roan Parrish lives in Philadelphia, where she is gradually attempting to write love stories in every genre.

When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, meandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique.

After Follow Me Into Darknesscheck out her upcoming release, The Remaking of Corbin Wale.


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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 28 with Anyta Sunday

Anyta Sunday joins Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from her new adult romance, Rock.


About Rock: 

Igneous. 
 
When Cooper’s parents divorce, he finds himself landed in Week About—one week with his mum and one week with his dad. 
Only, it’s not just his dad he has to live with. There’s Lila, too: The other woman, the one who stole the rock-solid foundation of his life.  
And then . . . 

There’s Jace. Lila’s son. Lila’s smug, regurgitated-fish-scale-blue eyed son.  

All Cooper wants is to have his family back the way it once was, but there’s something about this boy that promises things will never be the same again.  
 
Sedimentary. 
 
Resisting the realities of his new life, Cooper and Jace get off to a rocky start. But rocky start or not, after hundreds of shared memories together, they forge something new. A close . . . friendship. 

Because friendship is all they can have. Although it’s not like they are real brothers. Technically, they’re not even stepbrothers . . .  
 
Metamorphic. 
 
But how does that friendship evolve under the pressures of life? Under pressures of the heart? 



About Anyta Sunday: 

Heart-stopping slow burn. 

Anyta is a big, BIG fan of slow-burn romances. She loves to read and write stories with characters who slowly fall in love.

Some of her favorite tropes to read and write are: Enemies to Lovers, Friends to Lovers, Clueless Guys, Bisexual, Pansexual, Demisexual, Oblivious MCs, Everyone (Else) Can See It, Slow Burn, Love Has No Boundaries.

Anyta writes a variety of stories, Contemporary MM Romances with a good dollop of angst, Contemporary lighthearted MM Romances, and even a splash of fantasy. Her books have been translated into German, Italian and French.

Member of Romance Writers of America.

Contact: http://www.anytasunday.com/?page_id=386

Sign up for Anyta’s newsletter and receive a free e-book: http://www.anytasunday.com/?page_id=977 

Author website: http://www.anytasunday.com/ 

Author newsletter signup: http://www.anytasunday.com/newsletter-free-e-book/ 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/anytasundaybooks 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/anytasunday 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/anytasunday/ 


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Historical Romance Review: The Ruin of the Rake by Cat Sebastian

Title and Author: The Ruin of a Rake  

Published by: Avon Impulse

Format: ARC

Genre: Historical romance

Order at: Publisher | Amazon | B&N  

Reviewed by: Anya

What to Expect: Enemies-to-lovers story with a unique twist. And kittens! Read More

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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 24 with Sherry Thomas

Sherry Thomas joins Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from her historical romance, A Conspiracy in Belgravia.


About A Conspiracy in Belgravia:

The game is afoot as Charlotte Holmes returns in the atmospheric second novel in USA Today bestseller Sherry Thomas’s Victorian-set Lady Sherlock series.

Being shunned by Society gives Charlotte Holmes the time and freedom to put her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, she’s had great success helping with all manner of inquiries, but she’s not prepared for the new client who arrives at her Upper Baker Street office.

Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor, wants Sherlock Holmes to find her first love, who failed to show up at their annual rendezvous. Matters of loyalty and discretion aside, the case becomes even more personal for Charlotte as the missing man is none other than Myron Finch, her illegitimate half brother.

In the meanwhile, Charlotte wrestles with a surprising proposal of marriage, a mysterious stranger woos her sister Livia, and an unidentified body surfaces where least expected. Charlotte’s investigative prowess is challenged as never before: Can she find her brother in time—or will he, too, end up as a nameless corpse somewhere in the belly of London?

“Sherry Thomas has done the impossible and crafted a fresh, exciting new version of Sherlock Holmes. From the carefully plotted twists to the elegant turns of phrase, A Study in Scarlet Women is a splendid addition to Holmes’s world. This book is everything I hoped it would be, and the next adventure cannot come too soon!” —Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author



About Sherry Thomas: 

USA Today-bestselling author Sherry Thomas decided years ago that her goal in life is to write every kind of book she enjoys reading. Thus far she has published romance, fantasy, mystery, and a wuxia-inspired duology. Her books regularly receive starred reviews and best-of-the-year honors from trade publications, including such outlets as the New York Times and National Public Radio. She is also a two-time winner of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award.

And by the way, English is her second language.

Website: www.sherrythomas.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorSherryThomas

Twitter: www.twitter.com/sherrythomas

Instagram: www.instagram.com/writersherrythomas


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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 23 with Whitney Taylor

Whitney Taylor joins Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from an original piece of fiction written for this series called Party Monster.


About Party Monster:

Inspired by The Weeknd’s hit song of the same title, Party Monster follows college student Guinevere Jane, who has recently experienced the tragic loss of her parents, as she comes face to face with her demons at a Halloween fraternity party.

Party Monster an original piece of fiction written for Sounds Like Halloween. 



About Whitney Taylor: 

Whitney Taylor (@_tattedunicorn) is a YA writer that only speaks one language—fangirl. When she’s not devouring books, she spends her time taking selfies, obsessing over any TV show with a love triangle, and eating way too much McDonalds. She’s a Psychology and Communications major from Virginia that likes to pretend she’s a supermodel from New York City. Her debut novel, Definitions of Indefinable Things, was published in April 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers.


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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 22 with FT Lukens


FT Lukens joins Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from her SFF fantasy, The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic.


About The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic: 

Desperate to pay for college, Bridger Whitt is willing to overlook the peculiarities of his new job—entering via the roof, the weird stacks of old books and even older scrolls, the seemingly incorporeal voices he hears from time to time—but it’s pretty hard to ignore being pulled under Lake Michigan by… mermaids? Worse yet, this happens in front of his new crush, Leo, the dreamy football star who just moved to town.

Fantastic.

When he discovers his eccentric employer Pavel Chudinov is an intermediary between the human world and its myths, Bridger is plunged into a world of pixies, werewolves, and Sasquatch. The realm of myths and magic is growing increasingly unstable, and it is up to Bridger to ascertain the cause of the chaos, eliminate the problem, and help his boss keep the real world from finding the world of myths.



About FT Lukens:

F.T. Lukens is an author of Young Adult fiction who got her start by placing second out of ten thousand entries in a fan community writing contest. A sci fi enthusiast, F.T. loves Star Trek and Firefly and is a longtime member of her college’s science-fiction club. She holds degrees in Psychology and English Literature and has a love of cheesy television shows, superhero movies, and writing. F.T. lives in North Carolina with her husband, three kids, and three cats.

Her first novel in the Broken Moon series, The Star Host, was released by Duet Books in 2016. The second novel in the series was released in 2017. Connect with FT on her author site.


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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 21 with Amy Jo Cousins

Amy Jo Cousins joins Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from her romance, Glass Tidings.


About Glass Tidings:

Eddie Rodrigues doesn’t stay in one place long enough to get attached. The only time he broke that rule, things went south fast. Now he’s on the road again, with barely enough cash in his pocket to hop a bus to Texas after his (sort-of-stolen) car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Midwest, USA.

He’s fine. He’ll manage. Until he watches that girl get hit by a car and left to die.

Local shop owner Grayson Croft isn’t in the habit of doing people any favors. But even a recluse can’t avoid everyone in a town as small as Clear Lake. And when the cop who played Juliet to your Romeo in the high school play asks you to put up her key witness for the night, you say yes.

Now Gray’s got a grouchy glass artist stomping around his big, empty house, and it turns out that he . . . maybe . . . kind of . . . likes the company.

But Eddie Rodrigues never sticks around.

Unless a Christmas shop owner who hates the season can show an orphan what it means to have family for the holidays.



About Amy Jo Cousins: 

Amy Jo Cousins writes contemporary romance and erotica about smart people finding their own best kind of smexy. She lives in Chicago with her son, where she tweets too much, sometimes runs really far, and waits for the Cubs to win the World Series again. Amy Jo is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan of Handspun Literary Agency.

Connect with Amy Jo: Website


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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 20 with Mary Fan

Mary Fan joins Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from her YA dark fantasy novella, Firedragon Rising.


About Firedragon Rising: 

Sinister plots. An underground rebellion. And a treacherous road filled with monsters and enemies unknown.

It’s been three months since Aurelia survived the International Challenge—an elite monster-fighting competition. And the Triumvirate has been keeping a close eye on her ever since … as if they expect her to cause them more trouble.

They’re right.

Now that she knows about the underground revolution—and the dark secrets of her own past—Aurelia is hell-bent on escaping the government’s watchful gaze and joining the rebels. Finally, she’s found a cause worth fighting for. A way for her kind, the Norms, to take back their freedom.

Then, when she overhears a Triumvirate official’s conversation, she learns that it’s even worse than she realized. The government knows about the rebels, and the rebellion. They’re searching for people who sympathize with the cause. And they’re coming after her next.

Suddenly the time for dreaming about the rebellion is over. Aurelia must make contact with the rebels and plot a quick escape … before the Triumvirate has a chance to capture her. But government forces and miles of monster-filled wilderness stand between her and the rebel headquarters, and dangers she never imagined lurk in the shadows.

Before she can fight for the freedom of her people, she must achieve her own—or die trying.

Find it on Amazon or add it on Goodreads.



About Mary Fan:

Mary Fan writes sci-fi/fantasy and young adult books about intrepid heroines and fantastical worlds. Her books include the JANE COLT space opera trilogy, STARSWEPT (YA sci-fi), and the FATED STARS novellas (YA high fantasy). The FIREDRAGON novellas (The Firedragon, Firedragon Rising) are prequels to her YA dark fantasy novel, FLYNN NIGHTSIDER AND THE EDGE OF EVIL, which will be released on May 15, 2018 from Crazy 8 Press.

Mary is also the co-editor of the BRAVE NEW GIRLS anthologies about girls doing techy things in sci-fi worlds. The goal of these anthologies is to encourage more girls to explore STEM fields and raising money for the Society of Women Engineers scholarship fund.
Visit her at www.MaryFan.com.
Twitter: @astralcolt
Instagram: @astralcolt


Learn more about the Sounds Like Halloween audio series, including authors taking part & what you can expect, here.

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