Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead

The set-up: After Rose failed to kill her ex-lover, Dimitri, who turned Strigoi (evil vampire) in a previous book, Dimitri sends her creepy-stalker death threat messages. Meanwhile, Rose graduates from the Vampire Academy and goes to the Moroi (nice friendly vampire) Court. From there, everything falls apart. Not the plot, really, although the thread of it winds around, but Rose’s life and handle on the world.

 

Main character’s goals: Rose wants to change Dimitri back from his evil vampire state (think Buffy wanting to save Angel), but failing that, she is determined to kill him (think Buffy wanting to stake Angel).

My reaction: BIG SPOILER HERE, BUT IT ISN’T REALLY A SPOILER BECAUSE THE BOOK DOESN’T EVEN HAVE AN ENDING….Please please please can we just have a beginning, middle, and end in a YA fantasy anymore? Please? I thought this was the last book. Imagine my surprise when instead of a happy ending we are left with Rose about to go to trial for murdering an important Moroi vampire. Imagine the swear words that poured from my mouth in a very un-mommy-like stream. Mmmkay, spoiler over.

Of interest to writers: You CAN write a sequel-begetting ending without cliffhangers. I have seen it done before and done well. Try Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien, for one of my favorite examples, or The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, which I have reviewed here and here, respectively.

Bottom Line: I love Rose Hathaway. She’s tough and gutsy and not afraid to call the Moroi queen a “sanctimonious bitch.” Bella Swan would pee her pants even thinking about doing that.

Second Bottom Line: I have had it with YA fantasies not ending. I am now all about the contemporary fiction. Well, after I read the last in the Vampire Academy series.

NiFtY Author: Mike Orenduff

Joining us today is NiFtY (Not Famous…Yet) author Mike Orenduff, creator of the Pot Thief mystery series. His first book, The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, won the Epic eBook Award for 2010, and The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy is up for the award this year…we’ll know soon if it wins!

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for the latest novel in your Pot Thief mystery series, The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier?

MO:  Against his better judgment, Hubie agrees to design, throw, and fire chargers for a soon-to-open Austrian restaurant in Santa Fe. The $20,000 fee probably had something to do with his decision. But when one of the workers winds up dead in the back of Hubie’s old Bronco, he wants to take his edelweiss design home and not come back. His entry into the high stakes game of upscale dining turns even more dangerous when the coroner discovers that the poison that killed the cook was one of Hubie’s glazing compounds.

BH: When you wrote the first novel, The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, did you plan to create a series mystery?

MO: Yes. Mystery readers love series. I know because I’m a fan myself, and there is nothing worse than finding a mystery you love then discovering there are no more books from that author to read.

BH: I agree! Do you have a “series bible,” or some sort of record of facts so that you can keep details straight among (and within) the different novels?

MO: I do, and it comes in handy. I had Hubie twenty pounds heavier in Escoffier than he was in Pythagoras until I looked in the “bible” and saw my mistake. If I hadn’t caught it, maybe I could have just claimed he gained weight?

BH: Hubert Schuze is a thief, but he is also the protagonist, so you want the reader to like him and maybe even identify with him. How did you go about making him into a sympathetic character?

MO:  I try to make his rationalizations of what he does interesting and funny. And I show the good side of his character in other ways. Except for comic books, protagonists have flaws.

BH: Can you tell us about your path to your first publishing contract?

MO:  Long and winding, but then that is probably true of most writers. I tried querying those publishers who were accepting queries. I also queried agents, which are about as difficult to get as publishers. I finally found an agent who was excited about my work and signed on. Then she suggested I enter contests to get my name out there. I won the Dark Oak contest with The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras. The prize was a publication contract. I hope the judges who selected my work are pleased that the book has since won the “Eppie” for the best eBook Mystery of the Year and the New Mexico Book of the Year.

BH: What does your workspace look like? Do you collect antique pots?

MO: If I posted a picture of my workspace, my wife might file for divorce. It is a mess on one wall of the kitchen, and I am under orders to relocate. Except for those on the New York Times Best Seller List, writers don’t make enough money to collect antique pots.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

MO: I have never read a book on writing. I have nothing against them, and I imagine there are some that people find helpful. I prefer to observe the craft rather than read about it.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

MO: My dissertation advisor, Dr. Harold Lee, told me not to fret about the opening of a book because you’ll never get started if you keep trying to make the start perfect. “Just start writing,” he said, “and keep writing until you finish the last chapter. Then go back to the first chapter and throw it out.” And that’s exactly what I do.

BH: Any words on advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

MO: If you have a passion for writing, that should be enough to keep you going. And if you keep going, you keep alive the possibility of that break we all dream about.

BH: Thank you, Mike, for sharing your insights into your writing and your books with us today, and best of luck with the EPIC Award! For more about Mike Orenduff, you can visit his website by clicking here!

NiFtY Author Holli Castillo

Our NiFtY Author today is Holli Castillo, a writer and attorney who is the author of the Crescent City Mystery series. Californians take note: this is NOT the Crescent City up by the Oregon border, as I’d originally thought. Crescent City is also a nickname for New Orleans. Maybe everyone knows this except for me…but now I know, too. So there. Let’s move past my geographical ignorance and meet Holli Castillo! Not only has she created a great main character for her series, but she also has an inspiring publishing story to tell.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for Jambalaya Justice, the second book in your Crescent City Mystery series?

HC:  Jambalaya Justice is the follow up to Gumbo Justice, and once again follows New Orleans female prosecutor Ryan Murphy, this time as she involves herself in the investigation of a murdered hooker, Cherry.  Ryan has her own reasons for wanting Cherry’s murderer caught, and pushes the NOPD detective assigned to the case to solve the case.  When Cherry’s murder links to the unsolved murders of several other hookers, Ryan’s pursuit of the killer’s identity puts her in danger, especially since she’s hiding her involvement from her recently acquired homicide detective boyfriend, Shep.  On top of her extracurricular activities, Ryan also has her Strike Force cases to juggle, including the prosecution of a mobster murderer, a nasty domestic violence case, and the armed robbery of Big Who’s strip club.  And then there’s the home invader who’s off of probation and might be after her.  Just another typical week at the office for Ryan Murphy.  Set against the backdrop of pre-Katrina New Orleans, Jambalaya Justice is the second in Crescent City Mystery Series, which eventually follows Ryan through Hurricane Katrina and into the strange new world of post-Katrina New Orleans.  Jambalaya Justice will be available by this summer, 2011.

BH: The main character, Ryan Murphy, has a voice that definitely grabs me from the first chapter of Gumbo Justice (here’s a link for Chapter One): She’s sarcastic, intelligent, and at the same time, a little vulnerable. How did you go about creating her?

HC:  The sarcasm was the easy part, as I’m pretty sarcastic myself.  The intelligence I think is more knowledge based—she knows a lot about the law and she is definitely one of those over achievers that drove me crazy in school, so that element of her personality was easy to incorporate. The most difficult thing was probably making her vulnerable.  I’m the type of person who will let you know when you’ve done something to annoy me, but you’ll rarely hear me say anything about emotional things.  People attribute it to my German genes.  In any event, that was the most difficult part for me, trying to make Ryan so opposite from me as far as revealing her emotions.  I wanted to make her likeable, despite her flaws, so I had to look for opportunities where Ryan could show her natural vulnerability without making it too soap opera-ish. I spent a lot of time editing that part of her, trying to strike the right combination.

BH: How does your work as an attorney influence your writing?

HC:  My writing is based upon what I know, which is criminal law.  My cases give me constant inspiration for storylines and characters.  The legal aspect of Ryan’s job is easiest to write, because I still deal with the law and criminal procedure on pretty much a daily basis.  I had other jobs before I was a lawyer, and those also helped me build a foundation for some of the scenes in my novel.  I was a child support collector, a theater stage manager, bartender, waitress, and I worked my way through undergrad at a Can-Can show on Bourbon Street, all interesting jobs to have in New Orleans.  All of my past job experience will eventually find a home in one of the Crescent City Mysteries.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

HC: Mine was a tortured path, and if nothing else it should give anyone about to give up hope that they may get published.  After I finished the novel, I queried agents.  I had bought books on how to write a query letter, worked on it until I thought it was perfect, and bought the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market for that year, did what I thought was sufficient research, and sent out the queries.

No big surprise, I received a bunch of rejections.  Some were form rejections, but other had little notes on them.  I didn’t take this a positive sign, which I should have.  Handwritten notations mean some human being actually read my work and thought enough to explain to me why his or her company couldn’t offer me representation.  After what I thought was enough rejections, I signed up for an online novel writing course at Writer’s Digest.  Miki Hayden was my online instructor, and she gave me the best advice I have ever received.  The first thing she said, when I submitted my query, was that my manuscript of 160,000 was too long, and that most agents looking at my query letter wouldn’t read past that number.  I didn’t know an acceptable length of a novel from an unknown author.   I calculated the page numbers according to famous writers’ books, like Grisham, John Sandford, Tami Hoag, etc.  Of all of the books I had bought about querying and writing, not one of them said aim for 80,000 words.

Miki Hayden also offered some substantive advice, a few key things that I think made a huge difference.  I then edited, cut, brought the manuscript down to 85,000 words, and then re-read my rejections.  I noticed some said things like serial killers were not for them, or had underlined the word serial killers.  Some said the material was too dark for the publishers they worked with.  That made me realize I hadn’t done enough research in determining which agents were the most appropriate to submit my work to.  I had one agent, a pretty famous one who writes books on finding an agent, comment that my dialogue wasn’t believable.  That kind of stung, but I took it constructively and weeded through my dialogue to make it the best I possibly could.

Before I queried again, I did a more targeted search, this time looking at publishers.  I felt like I was at a disadvantage, because I had already sent my work out to the agents I thought were most likely to represent me, but it was too late to revisit that.  Before I queried, I bought a book from the publishing houses I was going to query, to see what type of stuff they actually published.  I queried a few more agents as well, and had a hit off an agent who said she was really interested.  I sent her the manuscript and waited, and before I heard back from her, Katrina hit, we evacuated, and for the next months I was too busy dealing with this new world I lived in to worry about Gumbo Justice.  That agent finally wrote to me and said she was not taking any new clients because of health issues.  I considered self-publishing, but had already decided if I ever went that route I would have to hire an editor, because I didn’t want to put my work out there without a professional weeding through it.  I wasn’t quite ready for that, and not long after that a publisher contacted via email off of a query I had previously submitted, and asked to read the novel.  We subsequently signed a contract, and right as we were discussing the best time to release my novel, summer of 2008, I was in a head-on collision with a drunk driver and was in a wheelchair for seven months, full of hardware, having surgeries, and eventually had to learn to walk again.  The whole thing put the publication date back, but one day short of a year from the accident, Gumbo Jumbo was released.  If that doesn’t give someone out there hope, nothing will.

BH: Wow, that’s amazing. What does your workspace look like?

Rin and Deaf Kitty - Holli doesn't talk about them in the interview, but they're cute enough to warrant a photo slot!

HC:  My workspace is my laptop.  I can work from anywhere, wherever and whenever I feel like it.  At home, I work on the living room coffee table, a desk in my office, my bed, my kitchen table, or the bar.  All I need is my computer, and since my last laptop crashed during the 2010 Superbowl (when my hometown Saints won), it has a flash drive next to it all times, so I can save my work each and every time I work on it.  My brother in law is a computer guy for FEMA, and although he was able to save all my work, it put me behind schedule with Jambalaya Justice.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

HC: I tend to focus more on grammar and punctuation type books such as Eats, Shoots and Leaves, but I do like The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman  and How Not to Write  A Novel by Mittelmark and Newman.  My favorite book on writing, though, is a screenplay writing book, Your Screenplay Sucks, 100 Ways to Make It Great by William Akers.

BH: Any words on advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

HC: When it’s not working out for you, whether in the writing stage or when trying to find an agent or publisher, take a big step back and remove yourself from the picture. Look at the problem objectively, analyze the situation like a doctor approaches a patient to diagnose an illness, and figure out what the problem is and how you can best solve it.  If I hadn’t decided to take the online writing course, I don’t think I would be published today.  Even just learning that my manuscript was almost twice as long as it should be made such an enormous difference.

BH: Thanks for sharing your insights into the writing life with us, Holli! Hearing about your trials getting published does give me hope! For more information on Holli Castillo and her books, please visit the links below:

Amazon website:

http://www.amazon.com/Gumbo-Justice-Holli-Castillo/dp/1892343517/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1297495870&sr=1-1

Holli’s website:

http://hollicastillo.com/

Gumbo Justice website:

http://gumbojustice.net/

Holli’s blog site:

http://www.gumbojustice.blogspot.com/

Holli’s publisher’s blog:

http://otpblog.blogspot.com/

NiFtY Author: Dorothy Bodoin

Today’s Free-for-All Friday brings us an interview with NiFtY Author Dorothy Bodoin. Dorothy has written numerous novels and is the author of the Foxglove Corner mystery series. Join me in learning more about Dorothy and her writing!

BH: Hi Dorothy! From what I read on your website, your Foxglove Corner mystery series is eleven books strong. Can you tell us a little about the series?

DB:  In the first book of the series, Darkness At Foxglove Corners, my heroine, Jennet Greenway, and her collie move to Foxglove Corners after a tornado damages her previous house.  She hopes to find country peace and quiet.  Instead she finds a mystery in the old yellow Victorian across the lane and romance with a handsome, enigmatic deputy sheriff named Crane Ferguson.

I never intended to write a series, but one idea led to another and another.  At present I find myself writing the twelfth book about Jennet Greenway and her collies.

BH: Which of the Foxglove Corner mysteries is your favorite?

DB:   It’s difficult to choose one, but The Collie Connection has a special place in my heart.  I wrote it after an accident threw my life into a tailspin.  During this time, I lost my beloved collie, Holly, who served as the model for Jennet’s Halley.  I didn’t think I’d be able to write that book because, according to my plan, Jennet was supposed to lose Halley just before her wedding, but I did; and it received my publisher’s Golden Wings award.

BH: What are some of the joys of writing a series character?

DB:  By now, I know my series characters better than I know my friends.  I know how they’re going to act and what they’re going to say, and I look forward to seeing them again.  I also have fun playing matchmaker.  When I bring one of my characters into my current book, it’s like greeting an old friend.

BH: Do you have any tips to share on how to keep a main character growing and learning throughout a series?

DB:  Each one of my books is set in a different season.  At this point, for example, I have three books that take place during Christmas.  My characters, like real people, change.  They get married, survive disappointing love affairs, and deal with life’s problems—Jennet’s encounters with unruly students, for example, and her conflict with Principal Grimsly.

My setting is also real.  I live about an hour’s drive from the fictional Foxglove Corners.  Places change, too.  People react to change.  Readers, I’m happy to say, often refer to Jennet and Crane as if they’re real people rather than characters in a book.  They’ve been known to react to the collies this way too.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

DB: When I was fifteen, I wrote a science-fiction novel on a portable typewriter.  I thought it was quite good and submitted it to all the big publishers I could find and collected several kind rejection letters.  It was a different publishing world then.  I didn’t sell my book, of course, but I learned an early lesson about perseverance.

A decade or so later, I wrote a western Gothic novel.  Once again, I thought it was good and tried to find a publisher.  There were different markets available to writers now.  The publishing world was changing.  Some editors were still kind, but no one wanted to publish my book.  From time to time I revised it and tried again.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had a lot to learn about writing.  My manuscript spent many years in a box on my closet shelf.

Finally—I won’t say how much later—I left my job teaching high school English and started writing full time.  Once again I had faith in my book, Darkness At Foxglove Corners.  This time, I was determined to be published.  I had my manuscript professionally critiqued not once but twice, and kept learning.  After twenty-eight submissions, I found a publisher for it.

Unfortunately, I still had a lesson to learn.  One acceptance doesn’t add up to success everlasting.  My publisher rejected my second book, Cry For The Fox.  I was disappointed but also by this time a professional.  I submitted it to other publishers and, while waiting for replies, wrote a third book, Winter’s Tale.  Wings ePress accepted Winter’s Tale and Cry For The Fox.  And I kept writing.

Finding Hilliard and Harris on the Sinc-ic website was a lucky break for me.  They published my stand-alone novels of romantic suspense, all of which have been selected by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery BookClub.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

DB:  I have two workspaces: two desks, one in the living room, one in a bedroom converted into a home office and library.  I do the majority of my planning and rough draft writing in the living room and fine tune my chapters on the computer.

In both rooms, I have oil paintings and prints, mostly of collies, and photographs all around me.  The dictionary and thesaurus are never far away.  Both spaces look neat in the pictures because I’m between chapters today.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

DB:  Phyllis A. Whitney’s Guide To Fiction Writing is my all-time favorite.  I read an earlier version of her book with a different title when I was in my teens.  In those earlier years, I often returned to it for enlightenment and encouragement.  Every time I read it, I seemed to read her message between the lines: “You can do it!”

BH: Any words on advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

DB:  My advice is simple.  Keep writing and keep submitting and, in your leisure time, read the kinds of books you’d like to write.  I learned from writers like Velda Johnston and other favorites, and I’m still learning.

Find a group like Sisters in Crime and become as active as you can.  Find the right critique partner or critique group.  At one point, the Internet Chapter of Sisters in Crime had a wonderful Workshop.  I posted the entire draft of Winter’s Tale in the Workshop before submitting it to Wings.

Also, it’s important to write every day if possible, even during life’s bad times.  Even three or four pages will eventually turn into a book.

Write about something that’s important to you.  I’ve always loved collies and like to think of myself as the Albert Payson Terhune of the mystery world.  Moving ahead to promotion, I advertise in collie magazines and have met many wonderful people who first saw my name in The Cassette or Collie Expressions.

BH: If you want more of Dorothy (and oh, I bet you do!), check out the links below!

http://www.dorothybodoin.com is my website.  Here in my Photo Album you’ll find pictures of beautiful collies like the ones who romp through the pages of my books.

http://www.wings-press.com is the publisher of my Foxglove Corners series.

http://www.hilliardandharris.com is the publisher of my novels of romantic suspense.

http://www.amazon.com Here you’ll find my books; the Hilliard and Harris books are also in bookstores.

http://www.sistersincrime.org I recommend joining this organization, along with Sinc-ic, (the Internet Chapter) and the Guppies.  The last group is slanted toward the unpublished, but many of us remain members after we’re published.