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 18 with Daria Defore

Daria Defore join Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from the fantasy Romance, Sparkwood.


About Sparkwood:

Finn Bricket has never trusted fairies, and it’s no surprise to him when his twin brother Luke turns up dead, probably by magical means. What he doesn’t expect is an invitation to the funeral—in the fairy realm—and a chance to find out who killed him.

On the way he meets Robin, a fairy who’s supposed to be watching out for him—and who Finn instantly hates. Despite the tension between them, Robin is also upset by Luke’s death and wants to make things right.

Before long they’re looking for clues and up to their necks in fairy trouble, and maybe not even Robin’s magic can save them.


About Daria Defore:

Daria Defore is a writer by night, and a video producer by day. She’s been writing ever since she was a kid, and vividly remembers that her first story was about visiting Santa Claus and getting a pet dinosaur. Now she writes filthy romance instead.

Daria is a Washington transplant living in New York City. She has a tendency to set stories in her beautiful home state. She loves reading, cups of coffee in multiples of ten, and being bullied to write more.


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

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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 17 with Linsey Miller

Linsey Miller join Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from the YA fantasy, Mask of Shadows.


About Mask of Shadows:

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class-and the nobles who destroyed their home. When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand-the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears-Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

 



About Linsey Miller:

A wayward biology student from Arkansas, Linsey has previously worked as a crime lab intern, neuroscience lab assistant, and pharmacy technician. She is currently an MFA candidate represented by Rachel Brooks of Bookends Literary. Her debut novel MASK OF SHADOWS is the first in a fantasy duology out now (8/29/17) from Sourcebooks Fire. She can be found writing about science and magic anywhere there is coffee.

 


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

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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 10 with Theresa Romain

Theresa Romain joins Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from her upcoming historical romance, Lady Rogue, out April 24, 2018.


About Lady Rogue:

As far as London’s high society knows, Lady Isabel Morrow is above reproach. But the truth is rarely so simple. Though the young widow’s passionate fling with dashing Bow Street Runner Callum Jenks ended amicably months ago, she now needs his expertise. It seems Isabel’s late husband, a respected art dealer, was peddling forgeries. If those misdeeds are revealed, the marriage prospects of his younger cousin— now Isabel’s ward—will be ruined.

For the second time, Isabel has upended Callum’s well-ordered world. He’s resolved to help her secretly replace the forgeries with the real masterpieces, as a . . . friend. A proper sort of friend doesn’t burn with desire, of course, or steal kisses on twilight errands. Or draw a willing lady into one passionate encounter after another. Isabel’s scheme is testing Callum’s heart as well as his loyalties. But with pleasure so intoxicating, the real crime would be to resist …

Lady Rogue releases April 24th, 2018.


[This excerpt takes place at the end of a midnight heist in the Duke of Ardmore’s London home, as Isabel and Callum are almost done switching a forged painting for the true one stolen and kept by Isabel’s late husband.]


About Theresa Romain: 

Theresa Romain is the bestselling author of historical romances, including the Matchmaker trilogy, the Holiday Pleasures series, the Royal Rewards series, and the Romance of the Turf trilogy. Praised as “one of the rising stars of Regency historical romance” (Booklist), she has received starred reviews from Booklist and was a 2016 RITA® finalist. A member of Romance Writers of America® and its Regency specialty chapter The Beau Monde, Theresa is hard at work on her next novel from her home in the Midwest. Please visit her on the web at theresaromain.com, where you can sign up for her author newsletter.


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

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Contemporary YA Fiction review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Published by: Balzer + Bray

Format: mobi

Genre: YA

Order at: Publisher | Amazon | B&N

Reviewed by: Alex

What to Expect: A stunning debut that neither flinches from telling one story of why the Black Lives Matter movement matters nor does it preach while doing so. This book is every bit as good as you’ve been told it is. Read More

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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 8 with Santino Hassell

Santino Hassell joins Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from his paranormal romance, Insight (The Community #1).


About Insight (The Community #1): 

Growing up the outcast in an infamous family of psychics, Nate Black never learned how to control his empath abilities. Then after five years without contact, his estranged twin turns up dead in New York City. The claim of suicide doesn’t ring true, especially when a mysterious vision tells Nate it was murder. Now his long-hated gift is his only tool to investigate.

Hitching from his tiny Texas town, Nate is picked up by Trent, a gorgeous engineer who thrives on sarcasm and skepticism. The heat that sparks between them is instant and intense, and Nate ends up trusting Trent with his secrets—something he’s never done before. But once they arrive in the city, the secrets multiply when Nate discovers an underground supernatural community, more missing psychics, and frightening information about his own talent.

Nate is left questioning his connection with Trent. Are their feelings real, or are they being propelled by abilities Nate didn’t realize he had? His fear of his power grows, but Nate must overcome it to find his brother’s killer and trust himself with Trent’s heart.

The Community features: Insight, Oversight, and upcoming release, Sightlines



About Santino Hassell:

Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family but grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into a grumpy introvert and unlikely romance author with an affinity for baseball caps. His novels are heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, and his desire to write relationships fueled by intensity and passion.

He’s been a finalist in both the Bisexual Book Awards and the EPIC Awards, and was nominated for a prestigious RITA award in 2017. His work has been featured in BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Washington Post, RT Magazine, and Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Connect with Santino: Website | Twitter | Instagram | FB Group | FB | GR | Tumblr


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

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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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Historical Romance review: An Unsuitable Heir by KJ Charles

Title: An Unsuitable Heir by KJ Charles

Published by: Random House LLC

Format: Mobi

Genre: Historical Romance

Order at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Publisher

Reviewed by: Alex

What to Expect: KJ Charles wraps up the Sins of the Cities trilogy with with a trapeze artist named Pen who won’t compromise gender identity for sake of an earldom and a detective who acknowledges Pen’s true self while knowing he might have to convince Pen to do exactly that in order to save Pen’s life. 


Plot: 

A private detective finds passion, danger, and the love of a lifetime when he hunts down a lost earl in Victorian London.

On the trail of an aristocrat’s secret son, enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz finds his quarry in a music hall, performing as a trapeze artist with his twin sister. Graceful, beautiful, elusive, and strong, Pen Starling is like nobody Mark’s ever met—and everything he’s ever wanted. But the long-haired acrobat has an earldom and a fortune to claim.

Pen doesn’t want to live as any sort of man, least of all a nobleman. The thought of being wealthy, titled, and always in the public eye is horrifying. He likes his life now—his days on the trapeze, his nights with Mark. And he won’t be pushed into taking a title that would destroy his soul.

But there’s a killer stalking London’s foggy streets, and more lives than just Pen’s are at risk. Mark decides he must force the reluctant heir from music hall to manor house, to save Pen’s neck. Betrayed by the one man he thought he could trust, Pen never wants to see his lover again. But when the killer comes after him, Pen must find a way to forgive—or he might not live long enough for Mark to make amends.

Review: 

While I haven’t read the entire KJ Charles oeuvre, the stories I have read are about careful, thoughtful lovers in the Victorian age. Interesting time to be queer. It’s an age with visible homosexuality and an age gearing up toward the 1885 legislation that will make private acts between consenting men blatantly illegal. The same legislation that will land Oscar Wilde in gaol in 1896. 

But the Victorian era, known for sexual repression, was categorized by an awful lot of talk about sex and, thanks to one sexologist Havelock Ellis, created a term called sexual inversion, which was used to describe a reversal of gender traits as an inborn mechanism. The term was used across the spectrum of homosexuality and gender identity but perhaps it was most closely descriptive of transgenderism—a term that was introduced a century later. 

(Don’t get too excited about this guy Ellis. He was also a proponent for Eugenics. Jerk.)

*Cough*

I rudely interrupted myself. What was I saying?

Oh, yeah.

Enter Pen.

Who doesn’t have the language to describe how odd it feels to have large hands and broad shoulders, despite the fact they have uncommon body awareness to fly on the trapeze. It was interesting to consider a character who know who they were (Pen’s identity wasn’t in question for himself) but because of this lack of common vocabulary (which is remains topics of many Twitter threads today), Pen was wary of the constant requirement to adhere to a standard that simply didn’t suit them.

Enter Mark.

Who sees Pen authentically. Conversely, Pen sees Mark (a one-armed Polish man who has long ago worked out how to perform daily tasks, though others see him as defective) for who he is as well. This ongoing discussion and validation is nice to see. In fact, KJ Charles often writes about the perspective of those who are seen as ‘others’ or ‘outliers’ to standard white bread society. She writes with a lot of kindness and patience and, I suspect, with the hope of raising awareness so we (as a whole) can elevate how we treat those around us.

I was invested. And as much as I didn’t quite fall in love with this couple as much as Nathaniel and Justin, I did (on more than one occasion) pick up my e-reader just after closing it just to read another few lines, which became some more pages, which became chapters.

This trilogy demonstrates why KJ Charles has such a dedicated following. If you don’t pick up this series, pick up another; the choice on whether or not to read her books is a no-brainer.

What you may not like: As referenced above, there is such care put into how her lovers treat each other, how they navigate each other’s ‘otherness’ — not just accepting their lover but constantly, consistently, repetitively accepting their lover. Unfortunately, this wore down my interest, possibly because I was already onboard with these concepts. Similarly, in book #3 (which this is), there was a lot of revisiting of what had happened in prior books. Perhaps it was necessary for those who read the prior books in the series some time ago. I felt it could have been more subtle. 

There is also one point in which Pen seems to have adopted a new pronoun but because it was said by Mark rather than Pen themselves, I was uncomfortable. This is in part because there were several instances in this story in which Mark proceeded to move against Pen’s explicit wishes (which is likely the other reason I didn’t love them together). It is very difficult to run roughshod over a lover’s wishes and is, perhaps, unforgivable to many readers. I’m still mulling it over (Though in real life? No. I’d be raising hell if that happened to a friend of mine. No forgiveness, know what I’m saying?)

What you will love: The authentic Victorian London experience – complete with smells, fog, livelihood, trendy words, and lots (and lots) of tea. The relationships supersede the mystery but, even so, the plot was interesting, especially as it grew over the course of the three books. Mostly, I loved the community, how each character remains imperfect, but also perfectly, wonderfully loved. Because, really, her characters are perfectly, wonderfully lovable.


Alex claims to read more than any normal, healthy adult should though the rest of the Binge on Books team would beg to differ. You can read all of his reviews here.

Connect with Alex on Twitter: @Alex_deMorra

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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 2 with Jordan Castillo Price

Jordan Castillo Price joins Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from PsyCop Briefs, Volume 1.


About Psycop Briefs, Volume 1: 

Victor Bayne sees dead people for a living…and he sees them off the clock, too.  After all, ghosts don’t confine their appearances to a psychic medium’s work hours.

From the macabre to the mundane, from titillating to tender, these PsyCop shorts feature stolen moments between the novels. Get a glimpse of Vic’s life with Jacob between cases, from both men’s viewpoints. Gain new insight on their psychic talents by accompanying them on odd jobs, shopping runs and family visits, or simply enjoy some downtime in the cannery.

The twenty short works range in length from flash fiction to novelettes, woven together to create a novel-length narrative of Vic and Jacob’s relationship from a fresh perspective. The stories are gleaned from various sources: anthologies, newsletters, and web, with four all-new pieces to tie the collection together and delve deeper into your favorite PsyCops’ domestic life.



About Jordan Castillo Price: 

Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price writes paranormal sci-fi thrillers colored by her time in the Midwest, from inner city Chicago, to various cities across southern Wisconsin. She’s settled in a quirky old house near Lake Michigan with tons of character and a plethora of bizarre spiders. Any disembodied noises, she’s decided, will be blamed on the ice maker.

Jordan is best known as the author of the PsyCop series, an unfolding tale of paranormal mystery and suspense starring Victor Bayne, a gay medium who’s plagued by ghostly visitations. Also check out her fascinating psychological M/M thriller, Mnevermind, where memories are made…one client at a time.

PsyCop Briefs ebook/paperback/audio can be purchased on Amazon.

Visit Jordan for lots of news, shorts, and goodies at http://jordancastilloprice.com


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

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Exclusive Interview and ARC Giveaway: In Other Lands author, Sarah Rees Brennan

One time Sarah Rees Brennan wrote a story over a few months on her Livejournal, about Elliott, a bisexual red-headed irritant who loves books, who went to magic school in a magic world and immediately had a lot of bones to pick with the rules. Now that story is expanded for print as In Other Lands, and is available now for all your bickering found family, awkward slow crushes, and elven warrior matriarchy needs!

Today, we have the lovely Sarah Rees Brennan here to talk mermaids, friendships, and the importance of storytelling.

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