What’s Up with Blood Hunter?

3D renderIf you’re reading this blog, it’s probably not a surprise that I’m in the middle of writing a series about a superhero who can heal people. Break a bone? Hannah can fix it. Have a head cold? Not with Hannah around. Want a facelift, but don’t have the cash? Yeah, Hannah can handle that too. These questions formed the backbone of Blood Surfer. I call Blood Surfer a superhero romance, but it has thriller elements. Hannah is on the run throughout the entire book. There’s no time for her to stop and contemplate what her powers mean to the non-superhero community. She has to stay alive, first, and remain free, second.

I’m halfway through writing the sequel, Blood Hunter. Hannah is confronted by bigger questions. She’s not on the run this time, but the citizens of Thunder City want answers to questions Hannah has never had to think about before. Questions about when she can or should use her powers. Who should have access to her? Should she ever not heal someone?

I’m thinking about these questions, though. That’s the exciting part about writing superheroes. You can tackle all sorts of topics. In Blood Surfer, you have the tale of two cities: one that welcomes superheroes, and one that’s been manipulated through politics and demagoguery into hating superheroes. You also have a coming of age story of a young woman who’s stretching the boundaries of her abilities and not necessarily liking what she finds on the other side. She also discovers love, but soon realizes sacrifices have to be made to keep her love alive.

Blood Hunter takes these topics and goes deeper. I can’t say too much because I’m not at the end of the story yet. I know how I want this story to end, but I’m a panster not a plotter. The story unfolds as I write. I’ve tried outlines, but inevitably my story deviates so far off the outline track, that I feel making an outline wastes my time.

What I can say is that the elements you all love in Blood Surfer, A Secret Rose, and the short stories are still there. There’s lots of action, lots of love, and a love scene that will make you weep. Scott, Nik, and all the Blackwoods are present, standing with Hannah, but there’s lots of danger and new villains.

We’ll all celebrate when I write The End.

Viable Paradise 2017

viable-paradiseMy annual plug for VP is a little late this year. I’ve been busy with writing the novel, so I’m just now playing catch up on my blog.

If you’re a writer of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and/or Horror, this is the residential workshop you’ve been looking for. It’s less than a week, and takes place in beautiful Martha’s Vineyard in October. I attended back in 2012 and it was worth it in so many ways. I’ve posted about my experience here.

It doesn’t hurt to apply. Applications are open now and don’t close until June 15th. Give it a chance. It will change your writing life for the better.

Writing Playlist

This is not a top five list. These aren’t necessarily my favorite songs. I almost never listen to music while writing. I listen while I’m walking around the neighborhood while thinking about my story. So, in no particular order:

In the End – Linkin Park. I figured out the ending to Blood Hunter listening to this one. It’s a mind-blowing ending, if I do say so myself. I had the particular scene planned out perfectly. I knew where Hannah was, I knew where Scott was, and I knew where the antagonist would end up. It was perfect. I don’t know why I started thinking about this scene while listening to this song, but I had it down pat. Then I replayed the scene with two characters reversed. I damn near fainted at the result. If I thought it was perfect before, it’s brilliant now. A shiny new ending that made me want to rub my hands to together and squeal with glee.

In Your Eyes – Peter Gabriel. I tend to listen to the eleven minute concert performance instead of the album cut. I spend a lot of time describing people’s eyes. Scott’s gray eyes play a part in Blood Hunter. Hannah’s green eyes can be seen while she’s bloodsurfing. Folks tease Nik because he has the same eye color as Thomas, who he’s not biologically related to instead of the brown of his father. Dani’s lavender eyes are the only recognizable part of her that stays the same when she shifts.

Shut Up and Dance – Walk the Moon. Sheer co-incidence, but this song was popular while I was writing the dance club scene in A Secret Rose. No big reveal here, but it helped to have the beat in background to give me the rhythm of Dani and Nik’s banter.

In the Air Tonight – Phil Collins. When I originally wrote the beginning of Blood Surfer, I only had an impression of what I wanted to happen. I had Scott (and he wasn’t even named at that point) falling out of the helicopter at night, his body in shadow from Hannah’s point-of-view against a bright, full moon. It would have looked great for a music vid or a movie with this song in the background, but not for a book. So, I changed the time of day and the point of view, but kept the song.

under-pressureUnder Pressure – Queen & David Bowie. My go to song for when I’m under self-imposed writing deadlines. I need deadlines, even if I blow them. Freddie & David make everything that hurts feel much better.

Going Offline for a while

backlit-keyboardIn a tradition dating back to 2003, I will be mostly offline this next week. It’s my writing blitz week. I take the phone off the hook, lock the doors, sit at my desk, and write until my fingertips bleed. My refrigerator is stuffed with pre-made meals so I don’t even have to cook. No TV at all. I might sneak out of the house to walk around the neighborhood and get the blood circulating a couple of times, but beyond that, I’m housebound. I’ll even disconnect from the internet to avoid social media (though I can’t promise I won’t sneak on once in awhile. I might even post my daily word counts, if the mood strikes). Until New Year’s Eve though, no one will even know I exist. Any posts you see on this blog were written last week and scheduled, so I apologize if you post a comment and I don’t respond right away. Now, off to write!

Rogue One

rogue-one-2I saw this movie Friday night and I’m still processing. I do know that I will see it again, and again, and again. Which is a very different reaction than the one I had for The Force Awakens. I saw TFA once. I enjoyed it. Really enjoyed it. I didn’t feel the need to see it twice. Rogue One, I need to see multiple times. It is, in fact, the true successor to Empire Strikes Back. How so? It pushed all of the emotional buttons that TFA didn’t push. It made my jaw hit the floor and ripped my heart out. TFA didn’t come close to making me feel all of these emotions and it should have.

Before I go any further: Spoilers will scatter through this post like an exploding death star. You’ve been warned.

I don’t ask for much from Star Wars: I want heroes, real heroes. I don’t mind if the hero is a little bit of conflicted about being a hero, so long as they come out on the light side in the end.

I want villians. Real bad guys you just cannot root for no matter how handsome or charming they may be. I want space battles, cool spaceships, blasters, alien worlds, and the good guys banding together to fight the good fight. If there’s a believable romance, so much the better.

I got all of that and so much more. This movie knew how to do what so many franchises fail at: acknowledge their legacy without beating the audience over the head with it. They did it by creating opposites:

Jyn Erso is the exact opposite of Luke Skywalker. Neither force sensitive nor whiney, she was honed into a fighter by a man who knows what war costs, who then left her behind when he came to care too much.

Cassian Andor is the exact opposite of Han Solo. In fact, I’d say he’s more like Princess Leia. His dedication to the rebels is unquestionable. He’d risk his life for the cause, instead of for money. He’d kill an informant rather than let him fall into the Empire’s hands.

K2S0 is the opposite of C3P0: Finally, a droid that doesn’t annoy the hell out of me. He’s more like Chewbacca, who follows Cassian and Jyn in a hopeless attempt to keep them safe. I do feel sorry for Alan Tudyk. This is the second time he’s been Washed-out (oooooh, sorry, too soon?).

The rest of the group is all the Seven Samurai – it’s the best explanation for their bond. Except Rogue One went all Game of Thrones and killed them all. Every single one of them and it hurts. All of it hurts. I was crying for Bhodi, and Baze, and Chirrut. They didn’t deserve their fate. Even Saw, staring at death, daring it to take him.

rogue-one-1And, I swear, at the very end, when Cassian takes Jyn’s hand as they
wait for death, I thought for sure there would be a ship racing in at the last second to rescue them. I WANTED THEM TO BE RESCUED AND HAVE A HAPPY ENDING, DAMN IT! I didn’t get that. You know they’re dead and there’s no bringing them back. Not as force ghosts and not through flashbacks, because there’s no one left to remember them.

Then, the epilogue. This is the Darth Vader I remember. This is THE Darth Vader, the scary bad-assed cyborg who cares not a whit about anything or anybody. You know he’s heartless because she’s there and he can’t sense her presence. Or, maybe he does and he still doesn’t care. She had to be there. I recognized the corvette. I recognized the set up. I couldn’t believe they were going to go there, but after bringing us a CGI Governor Tarken, and giving us that conversation between Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, I knew it was possible. And, there she was: in all of her white-gowned, cinnamon bunned glory: Princess Leia of Alderaan. My inner seven-year-old cried with me, but with joy this time. Princess Leia gave hope back to this viewer. A New Hope. I’m going to watch that one again right now.

Curtain Calls and Last Lines

If hooking a reader is hard with the first line, leaving them sighing in satisfaction with the last line is even harder. The last line must make a reader want to flip the book over and start again from the beginning, or pull out their phone to call their best friend to talk about it (even if it’s past midnight), or lay in bed staring at the ceiling while imagining and reimagining the scenes that will stay with you.

If it’s the last line of a long running series, bursting into tears would be the most cathartic of releases. The end of the series usually ties back to the first book’s arc, if not the entire series arc.

deathly-hallowsThis time, I’ve listed some of my favorite last lines. Since I mentioned Harry Potter in my first lines blog post, I’ll include the the last lines here:

I’m going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer… ~ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling.

A child’s response, for sure. A child with thoughts of revenge, just the smallest types of vengeance for the agony he’s been put through and no less than you would expect from Harry at this point. Harry wants to cause some trouble because he’s always been on the receiving end. He wants to utilize some of the control he’s been given over his magic and his life.

“And quite honestly,” he turned away from the painted portraits, thinking now only of the four-poster bed lying waiting for him in Gryffindor Tower, and wondering whether Kreacher might bring him a sandwhich there, “I’ve had a enough trouble for a lifetime.” ~Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling.

This is the end of the Deathly Hallows book, not the series. The exact opposite of the first book’s ending. Harry rejects trouble. He’ll deal with it if it’s tossed in his path, but he won’t start any trouble. He’s matured beyond the need to cause trouble. A fitting bookend.

All was well. ~ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling.

Another variation of the “and they lived happily ever after” theme. Harry is well, his family and friends are well, and he’ll do his utmost to keep them that way. I love how just a simple line can hold such power.

night-voiceThe problem of figuring out a last line for a series depends on how you feel about epilogues.  Another favorite series of mine is the Noble Dead Saga:

No, it would not be a bad job at all. ~ Dhampir, Barb & J.C. Hendee

This is the end of the book. It gives the reader the satisfaction of understanding the emotional growth of the main characters, the end of their arc for this book. It’s not a hook to continue, which is why you have the epilogue. I understand the need for the epilogue with Welstiel Massing to hook you into reading the next book, but to me it’s more of a back cover blurb than an end to the story. It’s too early in the series for the epilogue to be more than that.

Nothing more needed to be said, though she heard Leesil whisper, whether asleep in exhaustion or not. “Home…” The Night Voice, Barb & J.C. Hendee

The end of the book, but not the end of the series. The main characters fulfilled their destiny and return home, after crawling through ice, fire, mountains, and smoke to get there. The main characters are still devoted to each other, but are ready for a long rest. Their arc is done.

Magiere simply made certain Leesil never knew this. It would be so much the worse if he did. ~ The Night Voice, Barb & J.C. Hendee

You need both sentences for at least a taste of the context. Everyone the main characters care about has a satisfying ending. Maybe not the ending they wanted, but satisfying nonetheless. It also brings the story back to the two main characters, who, in my opinion, got lost during the last third of this series.

There are other last lines for books and series that are just as devastating, but this post is already long enough.

What are you favorite last lines?

My Favorite Hooks

I saw Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them about a week ago. My review is already posted, but regardless of what I thought of the movie itself, it got me thinking about hooks, the first line that’s supposed to pull you into the story. So, I pulled out my copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to read the first line and remember why this series is so beloved:

sorcerers-stoneMr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. ~ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone ~ J.K. Rowling

This is the sort of hook that drives other writers mad. Everything we’re told not to do is right there in that sentence: there’s the passive verb were,  there’s an adverb, there are four freakin’ commas for heaven’s sake. What makes this hook memorable is the attitude. The last phrase — thank you very much — drives the hook. J.K. writes as if she’s your best friend sitting next to you in the high school cafeteria whispering juicy gossip in your ear. Who cares about passive verbs and adverb usage when there’s gossip to be shared? The whole Harry Potter series is written as if it’s gossip you want more of.

I reread the first lines of a few other of my favorite book hooks.

Obviously, without question, she’d lost her mind. Being a psychologist, she ought to know. ~ Jewels of the Sun, Nora Roberts.

Yes, it’s two lines, not one, but you have to read the second line, because the first line is the set-up for the punch-line, which is the second. I’m sure this isn’t the first punch-line used as a description of main character’s state of mind, but this one is oh so very effective. This isn’t just about a heroine destined for romance. The reader knows the heroine’s a fun character with a sense of humor who draws you into her world.

On my seventh birthday, my father swore, for the first of many times, that I would die facedown in a cesspool. ~Flesh and Spirit, Carol Berg.

First person pov naturally pulls you into the story, but here the author introduces the family dynamic that drives the main character into the hell his father predicted. As a reader, you know there will be a heavy price to pay before the hero will overcome his destiny. You read because you can’t imagine how he will survive.

kittyandthemindighthour_coverI tossed my backpack into the corner of the studio and high-fived Rodney on his way out. ~ Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Carrie Vaughn

Another first person pov. This main character exudes confidence, power, and comfort all in one. A reader knows by instinct she won’t stay secure in this happy place, where she can toss her belongings around and high-five the people around her. It’s that sense of a comfortable place that makes you want to stay with her throughout her journey. You want to know if she’ll find that comfortable place again.

There are so many others I’d like to talk about, but then this blog post would become one of those tl;dr types.

What’s the hook of your favorite book?

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

fantastic-beasts-sequel-03aug16

Disclaimer first: I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan. I’ve read the books and enjoyed them. I’ve seen the movies and mostly enjoyed them, though some are better than others. What I don’t have is an encyclopedic knowledge of J.K.’s world, so I’m sure there were a lot of details that went right over my head.

Spoilerumptious Continuous! (or rather, you’ve been warned).

Like Doctor Strange, the movie was very, very pretty, but had very little story to hold my attention. The first sequence with Newt scurrying after the Niffler annoyed me, the same way Dobby annoyed me. I strongly dislike incompetent characters, so Newt’s inability to capture and control the Niffler pissed me off rather than enticed me into the story.

Newt himself annoyed me, or rather Eddie Redmayne’s performance. The constant wide-eyed, bent over, shyness thing – it was too much, too overdone. I couldn’t find it in myself to believe this guy was going to save himself, much less New York. Granted he got help pretty quick.

Jacob worked for me, and after I saw Queenie was serious about her attraction to Jacob, she worked for me to. Loved those two together. Tina and Newt, though, I just didn’t feel the connection the same way I did Jacob and Queenie.

Graves on the other hand, creeped me out. Watching him grooming Clarence the same way a child molester would, made me shiver. That, more than the CGI, made the movie worth seeing. Kodos to Colin Farrell and Ezra Miller for giving the movie a dark, sharp edge.

I found out afterward there’s going to be four more of these. I don’t know that I’ll go out of my way to see the next one, but I won’t actively avoid it either.

Debra Jess, Science Fiction Romance Author