How Many Vampires Fit in an Elevator?

Funny how we writers think. Sometimes we’re overly concerned about whether it’s clear that our character took the car keys with him or buttoned her coat, and other times we feel it’s vital to make our fiction as solid as indisputable scientific fact.  Believable fiction is always the best, but there are times I think maybe we go too far.

When I’m not writing Urban Fantasy, I’m an author success coach, a book reviewer and an acquisition editor for a small publisher. Trust me, I see it all, from the car keys obsession mentioned earlier, to the mammoth scientific explanations as to why a werewolf changes during the full moon. Sometimes it’s entertaining, other times it gets a little boring, but every time I see this kind of thing I understand with my whole heart. It’s the process.

Take my Twice-Baked Vampire Series. I knew I was crossing a bazillion lines with the concept of a double-dead vampire getting a chance to earn his way into heaven. The words Redemption and Vampire are never mentioned in the same sentence and getting this concept into the realm of the believable took a lot … of editing. I, like just about every other fantasy and urban fantasy author in the planet. felt that I not only had to tell my readers how many vampires fit in an elevator … I had to convince them.

Back up and punt is a way of life when the editing part of a writers journey comes along and my best editors are the first round of vital eyes … my friends. Nope, they’re not writers or certified, diploma toting editors … they’re average readers with average readers’ eyes and thought processes. They are the prototype for the book buyers down the road. I honestly think that no qualified line editor could be as brutal as a friend (the one you spent detention with years ago) writing a note on your manuscript that says “all right already! I get it!” These readers are priceless because they help me take the temperature of the market. Real editors? Of course I and my publishers use them too, but by the time they see the book, I’ve created a world and reality that is palatable, enjoyable and hopefully pretty darn believable.

Personally, I like the supernatural details in the everyday life events. That cookie recipe your Aunt Mary has, how come they always taste slightly different, made you feel slightly giddier, looked slightly more inviting than when anyone else in the world makes them? Is it because Aunt Mary is so sweet and special and loving? Or, is it because Aunt Mary is part Fae and uses an ingredient that comes trough her fingertips and makes those cookies irresistible!  And that kid playing Little League Baseball at the park across the street. Is he really that extraordinary? Does he really have a stronger, more accurate arm than any other ten year old in the world? Does he carry himself like Chipper Jones because he loves the Atlanta Braves? Or is that little boy actually a pure bread werewolf destined to be in the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame along with a few of his own kind we never knew about? My mind is always roiling with these possibilities. Are those colorful auras in the room really ghosts who came uninvited to my party? Maybe I’m just tired? Maybe they are ghosts. The dishwashers working in a professional kitchen are all seal shape-shifters. The bank teller was once a statue overseeing a mummified Egyptian king’s fortune. The elderly crossing guard at the corner of Westfield and Bower Hill is really Merlin. My sister is really … well, you get the point. When ideas twist and swirl like Dorothy’s Kansas tornado, any writer feels the responsibility to defend and explain their concepts.

But in the end it isn’t about how many vampires I think fit in an elevator or how many trolls I think it takes to change a light bulb. It’s not even about whether I think my Aunt Mary is part Fae … it’s all about what I can make you believe.

Now, believe it or not, something just tapped me on the shoulder and whispered “GET BACK TO WORK”. I’m not even going to try to explain that one.

Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of The Twice Baked Vampire Series. Book 1, Cold in California

COLD IN CALIFORNIA

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What Happened to My Fangs?

Fangs? Well of course I don’t really have fangs. When I say that, I really mean my creativity, my mojo, my playfulness or my keyboard time. What happened to it? Life happened to it, and in an effort to regain control of my writing time and flow, I decided to play a little game with myself. WARNING: Don’t be trying this stuff at home, kiddos, unless of course you need to blast through a creative wall or are willing to cause havoc with the family who lives under the same roof and expects your undivided attention.

I currently have three books in the works (and another non-fiction, but for that I’m cool, no inspiration needed). All three fictions are steeped in the supernatural, one involves a fallen angel, one incorporates Native American mysticism, and the third is Book #3 of The Twice-Baked Vampire Series. All three have finish deadlines before the end of the year … and all three have hit a wall. I refuse to use the words writer’s block, but sometimes, even when your head is overflowing with ideas and images, you gotta admit that the well is a little dry and the pieces just aren’t fitting together. At times like this there’s only one path I can take.

Let’s take a journey through the vortex, the rabbit hole and maybe even a few nightmares. After all, those are the only ways I know how to grab my creative crown back from oblivion. Here goes.

WHAT YOU REMEMBER

The first place I always start when I’m like this is inside my own real life memories. I explore the things I’ve seen and experienced that made no sense. Was that a ghost I saw last winter, pacing outside the window on my front porch? Did I really feel someone breathe on me or touch my hand the night I was alone? Once while participating in a Native American Peace Ceremony and camping in the high desert, I watched the full moon turn the big boulders into monster opals. And once while sitting in my back yard I saw what I could swear was a UFO, zigging and zagging it’s way across the sky. Then there was the time I sat in traffic on the 405, that notorious Los Angeles freeway that seems to never move, and I felt the world spin into a vortex. It felt like a scene from The Matrix!

Okay, right about now you’re starting to think I’m a little off my rocker, but I honestly believe that if you tour through your own memories, you too will find a plethora of unexplained experiences just sitting there, ready to be explored. That’s exactly what I do, I examine these experiences and jot down every possible explanation for them, practical and supernatural, physiological and emotional. Inevitably the thought process leads me like a puppy dog right back to my creative mind and spawns all kinds of plot solutions where I’d originally seen none. I for one am convinced the paranormal is all around, sometimes we just have to acknowledge it … and in return, it will help us expand our creative boundaries.

WHAT YOU READ

Another thing I tend to do when my Fangs are lost, is read. I read contemporary authors and not so contemporary authors. Sometimes I focus on the genre I’m writing and sometimes I look toward historic or science fiction for my reading pleasure. I re-read old favorites and watch for the newest ideas out there. No matter what I read, it triggers something in my head. Sometimes a wisp of a concept that is completely unrelated to the book in my hand, generates a power surge for the book in my head. Needless to say, lots of those books get set aside so that I can write.

If I read that a Victorian character stumbles down the steps and is left in a coma the doctors can’t treat, in my mind that extrapolates into the tumble of a gnome from a latter while trying to escape, or the dangerous, damaging fall from grace by an angel, or the loss of important memories by the devil himself. It all starts to gel! I want a bumper sticker that says “Got Writer’s Block? Read!”

WHAT TERRIFIES YOU

Sometimes I go back to my childhood, or even to last week when I noticed the biggest praying mantis I ever saw walking along my arm. Thinking about what really terrifies me brings home the need for emotion and depth in my work. It pretty much helps me hook into the characters with a fresh point of view. If the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz terrify me, what would terrify a vampire? A savvy business woman? A young witch or an errant angel suddenly blocked out of heaven? What would show their vulnerability? Their not-so-good side? Oh, this little trick definitely helps me flesh out characters and create situations I wouldn’t have thought about before! This one most certainly gives me back my sharp, pointy writer fangs!

WHAT MAKES YOU SMILE

Laugh. Some people laugh when their nervous or afraid, some laugh all the time, some laugh so seldom, the sound of it startles us. I like to take a few minutes to look around me. Look at smiles, listen to laughter, taste the energy of teenager girls giggling, men laughing at the football game, your best friend chuckling on the phone. All the shades and shadows of laughter can add great depth to a character, as well as great humor. I tend to look for comic relief when I write. I often create a character specifically for that purpose, but if I’ve done it really well, Mr. Comic Relief becomes an important part of the story … and a fond friend of mine.

Fangs restored and the family’s reluctant acceptance that I am writing and not to be disturbed, nothing ends the dreaded writer’s block better than a little journey down the rabbit whole. The questions create a thousand other questions that blessedly lead to a million creative solutions.

Now, I have to go write! See you all later!

Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of  the Twice-Baked Vampire Series. Book 1, Cold in California

COLD IN CALIFORNIA

 

Ah, Those Wonderful Vampiric Characters that Bite!

Today I thought I’d explore Vampiric Characters … those fabulous supernatural characters who bite into your imagination. They could be vampires, werewolves, members of the Fae, leprechauns, ghosts or even ancient legends that you simply can’t ignore. As lovers of Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy or anything about the supernatural world, we all get hooked. We pick up a book and instantly fall in love with Louie from Interview with a Vampire, the beautiful story of The Lovely Bones, or Sookie Stackhouse and her amazing relationships with vampires Bill and Eric, werewolf Alcide and shape-shifter Sam. As readers we buy into it all, no matter how crazy or far fetched it sounds to our logical, real life minds.

But as writers, something more happens. As writers we become sponges, sifting through the concepts and squeezing out something unique to our own mind’s eye. As writers we strive to push the envelope and create something utterly different and exciting.

As I see it, there are three ways to break through the wall of standard fantasy and push through to create those characters that hook in and refuse to let a reader go.

LOOK AT IT DIFFERENTLY– If most of the urban fantasy we read takes place in New York City, imagine how that story would unfold in Omaha, or Amsterdam or Miami. The colors of the story change and we discover that the location becomes a character of its own. What fun to imagine an adventure taking place in the desert instead of on a mountain top, or in a 1970’s commune instead of a contemporary big city. The same characters we create in our mind act and react differently in a completely different environment. Oh, what fun!

BREAK THE RULES – Just because a concept regarding supernatural characters is generally accepted does NOT mean we have to follow it. Who says vampire always have to feed off humans, what if they would rather feed off your pets? Who says leprechauns have to be short or hiding the pot of gold? Maybe they’re really very tall and are painfully allergic to gold. Who says angels have wings? The devil has horns? The werewolf must shift and kill? It’s all fiction and way more fun to create a fiction no one else ever thought about!

PUMP UP THE CHARACTERS– Vampires have certain abilities, but what if we give them more, or take away the abilities their associates have? Tearing away the stereotypical traits we’ve come to accept can give us writers room to blast a whole new reality for our characters. What if a vampire was made from a Nephalim? What if a shape shifter could only shift into inanimate objects? What if a fairy could only survive as a plant during the daylight hours and a giant in the dark? What if? What if? What if?

Authors have been asking “what if” and stretching our imaginations this way for a long time! Biting into us with unique characters, twisted mixes of human personalities, supernatural qualities and amazing entertainment! What if? The only “what if” I’m glad we don’t have to deal with, as readers or writers, is “What if the imagination stopped flowing?” because THAT would definitely be a dark fantasy of epic proportions! Viva la Creativity!

What vampiric characters have bitten into you lately?

 Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series! Book 1, Cold in California

Cold in California cover, smCOLD IN CALIFORNIA

Urban Fantasy – The Character of Environment

Readers and writers know all about characters – that they require fleshing out and development, names and backgrounds, personalities, strengths and weaknesses. Readers become attached to the mental image of what that character must look like and how his or her voice might sounds. But there’s more to it than that. More than the description of hair color or warts, more than the story … more than the era or genre.

 

There’s the environment. And I’m not talking about a little rain or maybe a vague description of a fictitious city here, I’m talking ENVIRONMENT on steroids!

 

Take Twilight. All that thick cloudy gloom of the Pacific Northwest combines to create a total package for Bella and her experiences. It does more than serve as a literary tool to permit vampires not to sparkle so much as to be recognized, it sets the mood. Now skip over to Charlain Harris’s Dead Until Dark (True Blood). The environment in this series is painted by poor and lower middle class Northern Louisiana. The prolific environment there is the sordid haze of southern prejudice and bigotry.

Environment tells more of the story than plot or characters! Ask any reader about a story they loved and the answer will include everything from location to weather and cultural influence, perhaps before even one character is mentioned. It’s the careful setting of the stage that makes the difference.

 

In my book, Cold in California, I was determined to make the environment a character in and of itself. Yes, California is the clothing this character wears, but the true environment is the warehouse where 60 or so dead and double-dead supernatural creatures live together. There, secretly hidden in West Hollywood, they try to find ways to behave themselves so they can take advantage of their one last chance to earn heaven. It’s about redemption in a city knee deep in anything but redemption. The warehouse needed to be a canvas for these creatures. It’s not exactly “the island of misfit toys’, it’s more like the Murphy’s Law pathway to the Pearly Gates. This environment needed to do two distinct things. First, the warehouse had to create a safe environment for dead supernaturals to be themselves, and second, it had to be real-world recognized for what it is, a holding tank for the world’s incorrigibles.

 

The space wanted to feel scrapped together with furniture left on the street for trash pick-up. It needed a system that reminded readers of the unemployment or social security office. And it had to serve every kind of race that might end up there, even Stick Man who is 12 feet tall, so he has a double-wide room where he sleeps on two beds head to head. The warehouse is bricked with history no one knows or wants to know. It has secret areas where the head honcho – like Crudo, the troll in charge – can find a few hours of peace and quiet when he wants. This warehouse makes love to it’s inmates by providing everything each one needs, high walls for one character’s vast collection of murder mystery books, dark corners for the double-dead vampires to lurk and meet and squabble within. Private places for pixie/leprechaun (uh-hem) interaction and a door that closes so that loner and soon-to-be hero, twice-baked vampire Gabriel Strickland, can sulk and bemoan his situation, at least in the beginning.

 

The warehouse keeps secrets and exposes treachery. It provides safety and yet is extremely vulnerable. It breathes with a life of its own. And it does all that without one line of dialogue or one action. Now, how’s that for a stellar character?

 

What book environments have impressed you most as you read or wrote them?

 

Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series! Cold in California

Cold in California cover, lgCOLD IN CALIFORNIA

 

Supernatural Characters – What’s in a Name?

Where were we? Vampires werewolves and trolls, oh my! Here at Vampire Explored we talk about where the paranormal ideas come from and where they go. What they mean and what they don’t mean.

So … let’s play the name game.

What’s in a character name that makes it memorable? Where do these names come from? Do they mean something or are they hard to come up with? Considering the fact that most authors have their own ways of developing character names, I can only speak for myself. Hopefully this is interesting and informative, but also gives you a few laughs. I’m going to do a run through of each of my character names in COLD IN CALIFORNIA,  how they came to me and why I used them. Here goes.

GABRIEL STRICKLAND – Hero, twice-baked vampire, loner and skeptic. Gabriel’s name came from the obvious places – my life and heaven. Since the double dead vampire was given a second chance to earn a ticket through the Pearly Gates, I thought it might be nice to have the same name as the gatekeeper. It might (and I stress might) give him a leg up when the time comes. His last name came to me because I liked the hard and soft sound of it. Strickland seemed to encompass all of Gabriel’s personality traits and flaws.

CRUDO CUSHMAN – Crudo is the troll in charge of the secret West Hollywood warehouse where Gabriel must live out his purgatory. The place is crowded with dead supernaturals and Crudo cares (grudgingly) about all the inmates. He definitely wants them to earn their way into heaven, but he’s no pushover, he knows trouble when he sees it. Where did his name come from? No clue. I think he just told me as I began writing him. But think about it … a troll, five foot nothing, swarthy and gruff. What else would his name be?

PETE MALONEY – With so many dead and double-dead supernatural races coping with having to suddenly behave themselves and be good enough to make the grade, Crudo needed some help. Pete Maloney (all around nice guy and demised werewolf) came to me in a dream. He was big and  warm, kinda like everyone’s favorite Uncle Pete so that’s where his first name came from. After that I discovered that inside my head, every time I wrote his dialogue he had a slight Irish brogue. He’s goodhearted, funny, a great friend and support for Crudo. Oh, and Pete has no designs on the big responsibilities. He likes being number two. It suits him just fine.

SHIRLEY – Oh, dead pixie Shirley only goes by one name. She’s the Cher of the warehouse, hot, sexy and insatiable. She’s a gorgeous supernatural woman pretty much living in the middle of an ongoing “squirrel moment”. Self absorbed but sweet, Shirley has an impact on just about everything and everyone at the warehouse. She got her name because I loved the fact that Crudo liked to call her “Shirley Girly” … that and “Trouble”.

NATHAN COOK – How does evil look to most readers? Ugly? Demonic? Nope, startlingly beautiful. I needed a villain that took a reader’s breath away but he too needed a few little distracting flaws. What he had in looks, he certainly wouldn’t have in savvy. Nathan is a bit of an egotistical jerk, the kind of man who as a kid, never got picked for the baseball team, the one who didn’t realize he was walking around with a “kick me” sign on his back or toilet paper on his shoe. As an adult his striking good looks and dark witchcraft put him into a league of his own, so who cared about not being popular, he was powerful. So, his name had to be powerful too. It had to be a name that never politely asked for what he wanted, it demanded.

DORI GALLAGHER – I never met a Dori, much less a Dorianna and when Dori formed in my imagination, I wanted the perfect name for Gabriel to want to roll off his tongue. Dori’s not too pretty or special, in fact, I was really focused on her imperfections that would attract Gabriel. I wanted her to have a name that stood out but not so much it demanded attention. I wanted a name for this woman that told her story … and that’s something shocking you don’t learn until the very last few pages of the book.

And two more for good measure …

FEEVER CLOVELY – Feever Clovely is a dead leprechaun. In my imagining, leprechauns are conniving, grumbling, unhappy beings who are always taking a political stand of some kind. Feever is the head of the West Hollywood Warehouse Leprechaun’s Union and he’s always looking to picket something. Where did his name come from? I have no idea, it was just there the minute he arrived in my head. If you run into a leprechaun one day, maybe ask if it’s a common Lep name.

DON CARSON – Both Feever Clovely, the dead leprechaun and Don Carson, ancient Soul Eater, are small players in Cold in California, but I wanted to touch on their characters and names because both play a huge role in the second book in The Twice Baked Vampire Series, Monkey Jump.  A Soul Eater is immortal, sort of. He serves a Sin Eater. How did this particular Soul Eater get his name? Well … he reminded me of a former boss of mine. Not that the boss was a soul eater, but he was brilliant, a company man who played by the rules and seriously competitive. My Soul Eater needed a contemporary name because he’s always around, trying to do his job. A simple name like Don fit the bill. He seems to like it.

So … there ya go. Character names and where they come from. Is this what you expected?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series! Book 1, Cold in California  !

Cold in California cover, lgCOLD IN CALIFORNIA

 

What’s in a Title?

 

I went strolling through the bookstore for inspiration the other day. What struck me … even more then the vibrant covers … were the names of the books, specifically, the KEY WORDS found in so many Urban Fantasy, and Paranormal Romance book titles.

For example …

KEY TITLE WORDS IN URBAN FANTASY BOOKS

  • Hunter
  • Huntress
  • Guardian
  • Angels (fallen, of course)
  • Faerie
  • Demon
  • Blood (blood and more blood)
  • Dark
  • Light
  • Night
  • Moon
  • Wicked

 

KEY TITLE WORDS IN VAMPIRE BOOKS

  • Secret
  • Kiss
  • Thirst
  • Blood (of course)
  • Werewolf (odd)
  • Moon
  • Beginning
  • Hell
  • Desire
  • Devil Fire

Now I walked over to the Young Adult Fantasy department and this got pretty interesting. No wonder why teenagers are so scary!

KEY TITLE WORDS IN YA FANTASY BOOKS

  • Demons
  • Shadows
  • Darkness
  • Blood
  • Witch
  • Dragon
  • Night
  • Fallen
  • Powerless
  • Evil
  • Moon (Red, Black, Dark and a few other frightening versions)
  • Guilt
  • Dead
  • Dread
  • Fire
  • Godless

Sheesh! Do you think maybe it’s our fault the Young Adults are so damn angsty?

Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author the Twice-Baked Vampire Series. Book 1, Cold in California

Cold in California cover, lgCOLD IN CALIFORNIA

A Tree is a Tree is a Tree, or is it?

I think that I shall never see

A poem as lovely as … a supernatural tree called Stick Man.

 

Twigs, leaves, wood and muscle. He’s 12 feet of animated shrubbery that can either scare the bejebus out of a person or just leave them petrified. Stick Man is a character in Cold in California who never intended to frighten anyone. He’s the awkward dude who was too tall for anything to fit in, especially in a time when basketball wasn’t even invented yet. It’s even worse these days, as the NBA isn’t quite interested in a player who requires pruning and an occasional sap infusion. Needless to say, the guy doesn’t get out much. He’s quiet, uncomfortable, desperate to please and terrifying to look at … and he lives in a West Hollywood warehouse with all the other dead supernaturals awaiting final judgment and hoping for redemption.

In Native American legend, the Stick Man was the mediator between good and evil … thus his perfectly tailored inclusion into a story about just that. But my Stick Man had to have more than just a job, he had to be bad at it. How else could a good guy who understands the difference between heaven and hell end up in purgatory, taking one last run at the Pearly Gates? So, this is how it went down for Sticky (as he’s lovingly called among the other dead supernaturals).

His responsibility, way back when other Stick Men walked around, was to whistle. Yes whistle. (Honest to Pete, it’s the truth, look it up!) See, the legendary creatures were responsible for leading lost “good” people safely back to their village by whistling a tune – AND – guiding the bad guys over a cliff by warbling a different melody. Sticky’s problem? He simply couldn’t remember which melody did what and occasionally tweeted the wrong song. Nothing intentional, mind you, just ignorance and dumb bad luck.

After his death, an untimely charring in a few rowdy young warriors’ campfire, Sticky woke as part of the West Hollywood warehouse community of dead and double dead supernaturals. Needless to say, he only whistles when completely alone and taking a leisurely walk through Griffith Park late at night. He can whistle well, he just doesn’t trust himself to do it when it matters, poor man.

When creating the character, Stick Man, I really had to dig deep for inspiration. Being just a tad over five feet tall myself, tall isn’t familiar at all to this author. Finding insight wasn’t difficult though. I just imagined those circus performers on stilts, walking kind of wobbly, hiding the concern in their faces and trying to be entertaining in light of the eminent dangers involved. I just imagined living that way … out of sync with the world … uncomfortable in a place where everyone else was normal height or less, as in the cases of the resident trolls, leprechauns and gnomes. I imagined him wanting to contribute, but unable to find a job that was actually helpful to the community. I imagined him spending a lot of time sitting in the corner of the warehouse, knees tight against his chest so as not to trip the other inmates, and wishing he could feel more involved.

The best parts of his story (as told to me by Sticky himself) are the parts where he actually gets to play the hero. It’s so much fun to watch a character like Sticky emerge as the champion! And all I had to do was write it.

So tell me, what kind of characters have you read that really twisted your imagination and made you wonder, “How the hell did that author think of that?”  Vampire Explored is a blog by Deborah Riley-Magnus, author of the Twice-Baked Vampire Series. Book 1, Cold in California

Cold in California cover, lgCOLD IN CALIFORNIA