Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Apocalypse!

I know, I shouldn’t joke, the day is young... but apparently they all survived in New Zealand and Australia, so I’m optimistic. 
Actually this end of the world is turning out to be a lot less viral than the one with the crazy – or Really Media-Savvy - preacher last year. Maybe we just had too much lead time on the aptly named Mayan Long Count - sort of the way I feel about hurricanes as opposed to earthquakes, actually. There’s so much anticipation to a hurricane that by the time it hits, no matter how much of a disaster it really is you’re already emotionally burned out on it. Earthquakes, you get all your adrenaline rush at once.
More likely, though, we’re all too numb from our two most recent real-life end of the world tragedies, Superstorm Sandy and the Newtown massacre (that my friend Gar Haywood posted so eloquently about on Murderati this week, my feelings exactly) to be able to make light of any theoretical apocalypse. It feels like we’ve had it. 
And then there’s just the ordinary anxiety of the holidays. The first day of January is really just one day after the last day of December, so why do we put all this pressure on the END of one year and the BEGINNING of another?
A better way to look at it would be that we get to let all of the baggage of the old year go and start over fresh. Maybe some people do do that and I’m just late to that party.
I think a lot of my Christmas anxiety is because my tendency is ALWAYS to think I’m not doing enough, and the end of the year brings that out (What did you DO all year, anyway?). So today I’m going to go back over my year to remind myself I got a hell of a lot done, and even enjoyed myself doing it. (Sort of like Facebook is encouraging us all to do now with some app about our 2012 Year in Review highlights.  If someone could tell me how Facebook knows what the highlights of my year were, I’d be grateful.)
But these were my own highlights, in relative order.
- E books have been good to me. I got my backlist up; every one of my books is now available for the infinitely reasonable prices of $2.99 or $3.99, and I’m thrilled to have more control over my writing schedule, release schedule, and book pricing, not to mention a regular, understandable, and perfectly livable income.
- I launched a new series, my first direct-to-e thriller, Huntress Moon, which instantly became an Amazon bestseller in mysteries and police procedurals, and I’m thrilled to report that it made Suspense Magazine’s list of Best Books of 2012.
- Writing the series is giving me a chance to get reacquainted with all my favorite places in California, where I’m living again, though I’m still unsure if I’m going to settle in the Bay Area or the Los Angeles area. I love them both! I’m loving the research, though, and Book Two in the series, Blood Moon, will be out in late January or early February. 
- My dear friends Heather Graham, Harley Jane Kozak and I had a blast co-writing the next installments in our paranormal mystery series The Keepers; this time we took the series to L.A., and the new books come out in January, March and May.  
- I’ve also been teaching a film class in L.A. – basically I screen my favorite movies and talk all the way through them, raving about all the visual excellence and story structure brilliance. And they call this working! Such a scam!
This summer I was the keynote speaker at the Romance Writers of Australia National Conference on the Gold Coast, and had a wonderful time teaching my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop and doing panels on e books and writing paranormal suspense with all those crazy Aussies.  Then my friend Elle Lothlorien and I did a wild road trip down to Sydney, driving on the wrong side of the road and leveling – I mean visiting - every beach city along the way.  Love the country, love the people, want to go back as soon as possible.

- Then I came back and put my house on the market (meaning two months of the worst kind of emotionally fraught prep), and it’s currently “under contract”, so a lot of the beginning of my 2013 is going to be house-hunting. If I can ever narrow the prospective location down from just “somewhere in the world, possibly California.”
- Throughout the year I did my usual insane conference traveling, with appearances at Left Coast Crime, Romance Writers of America National Conference, Romance Writers of Australia National Conference, the ever –inspiring Bouchercon – and I just returned from paneling, performing, and dancing the night away at Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans, my favorite conference in my favorite city, which is just as fabulous at Christmas as it is every other time of year.

(French Quarter photo with Elle Lothlorien and Chantelle Osman)

Somewhere in there I did an entire website overhaul: designed by the fabulous Madeira James of 
- I've also embraced Facebook as the virtual cocktail party it really can be. This might not sound like an accomplishment, but promotion and networking is a fact of life for authors, and to find a way to do that that feels a little like taking a break to hang out at the conference bar with witty and like-minded friends - without ever leaving my chair - is pretty damn cool, if you ask me.  
- Even though I didn’t quite get Blood Moon finished (finished in my definition of the word) for a December release - I’ve put together a boxed set of three of my spooky thrillers called Haunted. Anyone who doesn’t already have these books can now get them all for just $5.99, and give themselves or special friends nightmares for days! 

 On Amazon, $5.99

And to bring this back to the end of the world: I have a brand new anthology out this weekend: Apocalypse: Year Zero, with four end-of-the-world novellas by me and my award-winning dark fantasy friends Sarah Langan, Sarah Pinborough, and Rhodi Hawk. We cover 9/11, tsunamis, Hurricane Katrina, and The Big One, as well as, in no particular order, Hollywood, sex, rage, and the Four Horsemen, who turn out to be not men at all.  
So if tomorrow you wake up, are still here, and feel cheated out of your Apocalypse, no worries - we’ve got you covered.

Okay, I bet you know the question of the day!  What were the highlights of your 2012?
Or if that's too personal, let's talk Apocalypse.  What are some of your favorite Apocalypse stories, in any media?  Yes, I am already missing The Walking Dead... and since I just got back from Australia, I'm thinkingThe Last Wave...
And don't forget - today is not just the end of the world, it's also the winter solstice, a very powerful day for manifestation. Make a wish.

Friday, December 7, 2012

New website!

Yes, there's been a lot going on backstage lately, and finally, here it is - my new website!

I’d venture to say that creating and maintaining a website is one of the bigger dreads of a professional author. You know you have to do it, but you’ll do anything to avoid it. Every couple of years you end up having to do a complete overhaul, which is a huge and stressful time suck when none of us have any time to spare, ever, anyway, and I’d bet good money that I’m not the only one who postpones it for as long as humanly possible.
But with my new series, I knew I had to bite the bullet. And I knew exactly who I wanted to hire.
David Corbett recently did a fantastic interview with the incomparable Madeira James of over on Murderati, so I didn’t want to go over the same questions.  I thought it would be interesting to write about Maddee's process of creating a website design - from the author's point of view.
Maddee asks her clients to choose 4-6 images (pulled from any number of stock photo sites), and she designs the site from those images. She recommends that the images not be specific to one particular book, as that would date the site too quickly. It’s more about the overall, encompassing feel an author wants to convey to a potential reader.
Well, that’s a brilliant and also intimidating assignment. And I’m sure Maddee gets a fair number of control freaks who are very specific about what they want (of course none of us know any of THOSE!)  
I wouldn’t dare to guess where I fall on the control freak scale – I know I have my... moments... but I think in general I’m pretty good at maintaining supreme control of my own projects but going with the flow and trusting the process when someone supremely talented is in charge, as was entirely the case here.  I really encourage you to browse through Maddee’s portfolio so you can see what I mean.  Every one of her sites is like a movie trailer: a seductive tease about a story that you just can’t wait to see. (I WISH I could see the films of some of those websites...)
Having to choosing the specific images for myself was panic-inducing, though, especially because I write so many subgenres of thriller. Five images?  Six?  How could I possibly narrow it down?
I knew I wanted to emphasize my Huntress Moon series while being general enough to give a sense of ALL of my writing. I definitely didn’t want to get too supernatural, because the Huntress series is straight crime (pretty much!) and Book of Shadows is also less overtly supernatural than my earlier novels. At the same time I did have to suggest the supernatural to encompass my other books. Also, I generally lean VERY feminine in my tastes, and Maddee does some lusciously femme designs, but I knew I had to contain myself on that front because I have a LOT of male readers who would be turned off if I let myself go that way. And I definitely didn’t want the website to give the impression that I write paranormal romance (even though I do have a couple of books out in that genre with the Keepers series),  because what I write is much darker and more ambiguous than the required HEA (happily ever after) end of any subgenre of romance.
Also, there’s the whole issue of my non-fiction, the Screenwriting Tricks for Authors books on writing. How could I suggest THAT on top of everything else I was trying to do? 
(Are you starting to see the kinds of questions you’re confronted with when you sit down to create a website design?) 
Luckily Maddee is incredibly perceptive on this front, and when we sat down to talk about the design, she instantly got what I was talking about in terms of supernatural vs. crime thriller, male vs. female, fiction vs. non-fiction. This was also easy to do because when you have the examples of a portfolio as extensive and varied as Maddee’s, it was easy to talk about the qualities of her other sites that I wanted in mine (I gave her a word list just like the word lists I’m always encouraging writing students to do: dark, dreamlike, erotic, filmic....)  I was very confident that once I came up with the images for her, she’d have all my desires and concerns in mind when she was doing the design.
That still left the problem of coming up with the images.
So I browsed and I brainstormed. Horrifying process.  I don’t know about you, but I’m a WANT IT ALL NOW kind of person, and limitation is not my idea of a good time.  But I did know four solid things: I wanted to emphasize a polarity and an erotic tension between male and female figures. I wanted the moon to figure prominently.  I wanted a strong suggestion of film, and I’m a fan of the classic LOOK of an old filmstrip. And I wanted to suggest a shattered psychological state, broken glass or a broken mirror.  So I came up with images for those four things, and a couple of others: multiple doors and a ghostlike image. 
And then I turned it all over to Maddee and waited with bated breath.  
(No, not really, but yeah, sort of). 
And she hit it out of the park on the first design:         

There are a million things I love about the site. The descending circles of moon, man, woman give me a sense that all of these entities are dreaming each other.  I can’t say enough about how much I love the fim strip with my name.  It wasn’t my idea to have my own image in the site design but I love how Maddee worked it in. The writing was also her idea and I swear, there’s writing on the moon - that’s so trippy and cool, and completely apropos. There’s gorgeous color in the site but subdued enough that I don’t think it will turn men off. The moon, the film strip and the font of my name give it a psychedelic carnival effect that makes me think of Ray Bradbury, one of my huge literary influences.
I could go on and on, and I haven’t even gotten to the clarity of the organization, which is obviously a whole separate post. But to say I’m thrilled is the understatement of the year. 
So obviously, I’d love your comments on the new website, but my actual question for the day is: What five images would YOU would choose to convey what you’re writing? Or – what are five images that convey YOU, personally?  I think it’s a powerful creative and psychological exercise. Scary and fun and illuminating.  Let’s hear it!