Friday 15 July 2011

Friday Flash - Angels of the Junkyard

Image by John Uhri, edits by me
It's been a while since I brought you any Tales from Vertigo City, and I've been rather feeling like I've been neglecting my steampunk metropolis. Indeed, the last story I posted over there was my Friday flash, Festive Felicitations, back on Christmas Eve 2010!

I do have a mini serial planned to explain exactly how Commander Liss Hunt appears to be invincible, but for now, I give you Angels of the Junkyard. If you've read The First Tale, you might recognise my protagonist. If you haven't, come over and meet him now.

Enjoy your stay in Vertigo City!

Thursday 14 July 2011

Xan Marcelles on being a character

On Tuesday, I reviewed a rather nifty short story, Just My Blood Type, by Nerine Dorman and Carrie Clevenger. Yesterday I let the ladies take over the Blunt Pencil to take us behind the scenes of their collaboration. Today, I let one of the story's stars, Xan Marcelles, do the talking. Xan, my sweet, over to you...

There’s a ton of blog posts talking about how to connect with your character these days. But there aren’t very many on what it’s like to be us. Characters. You know, the individuals you have fall in love, torment, even kill. Some of us last for years and pop up in book after book, others of us just kind of walk across the stage straight into a manhole.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Xan Marcelles and I am a character. Not really unusual is it? To have one of us talk back? Because we do all the time. You can’t deny that you’ve heard us laugh, cry, or felt that poke when we’ve got something good to tell you. And sometimes we play with you. You, the writer. The author. Whatever you want to call yourselves. Puppet masters. Slave drivers. Yeah, I’m talking to you.

So how is it I came about? I guess I came along when my writer needed me most. A tragedy forced her to withdraw from the real world and, besides that, she wasn’t in a good place anyway. She doesn’t like to talk about it much, so I’ll give that respect and say I was there when she needed to escape. Did I pop out of thin air fully formed? Nah. I wasn’t sure who I was at first. You try being dropped off on another planet to survive. You first have to figure everything out. Remember who you are. So I did. Slowly.

I was a quiet sort of guy at first, thrown in a tiny beginner’s novel and given a sketch of a past, a sliver of a future and I even died at first. Yeah, she killed me. But I came back. Because the good die young but the best come back, isn’t that how it goes? No? Oh well.

So, who is this mouthy bastard who decided to come forth and start pointing fingers, you might ask. Or not. I’m going to tell you anyway. I’m a bassist in a band I named Crooked Fang. I live in a tavern that used to be a lodge. Oh, and there’s one more thing: I’m a vampire. Yeah. Stop rolling your eyes at me. I’m not exactly a fuzzy-sparkly-lovey-dovey thing. For one thing, I’m not a little guy. I’m six-five and weigh around two-twenty. My mom was a Navajo and a small quiet woman. My dad was a big happy, outgoing type. Italian. Ladies’ man. Ran a restaurant. This was before I was a vampire, mind you. Pay attention. I was born in 1958, dropped in 1985, and life has never been the same. You ever wake up dead? Yeah. It sucks.

So let’s go back to your world. The real world. How do I fit in there? Can’t say I do really, but that’s the point. We characters are like actors on the stage of your ever-reading brains. We say things that are scripted and perform actions that move a plot. Ever talked to one of your characters? Sure you have, haven’t you? Really? Let me tell you a little secret: we’re picky. That’s right. In fact, we’re so picky, out of all the people in the world, we choose one special writer to tell our story. You.

Yes, you. You who only think you can shut us up. Because we won’t be silenced. We’ll nag you at every godforsaken hour until you get your ass up and go to your computer, your notepad, or even your dinner napkin and start scribbling down points like you’re crazy. Because we rely on you to live. To survive. To love. To lose. And we understand when you choose for us to die.

Don’t feel bad. We’re here to use as you want, provided you work with us, and not against us. Let us be who we’re gonna be and just tell the damn story. Because the truth is, without you…we’re nothing.



You can find out more about Xan over at Crooked Fang - you can even 'like' him on Facebook, and I highly recommend following him on Twitter. His handler, Carrie Clevenger, hangs out here. You can also download Just My Blood Type FOR FREE from Smashwords, and go check out the reviews on Goodreads. Be sure to post one if you read it yourself.

Be sure to give Xan a lot of love, and tell him Icy sent you...

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Behind the Scenes with Carrie and Nerine

Yesterday I posted my review of Just My Blood Type, the collaborative piece by Carrie Clevenger and Nerine Dorman. Today I let them take over the Blunt Pencil to take us behind the scenes of the creation of JMBT. Nerine, over to you...

Behind the Scenes with Carrie and me
By Nerine Dorman

Nerine Dorman
There’s no doubt that when a writing partnership works, it’s a definitive case of “two heads are better than one”. This was underscored for me yet again in interviews I’ve conducted with South African author Sarah Lotz when discussing two of the writing partnerships in which she’s involved (SL Grey and Lily Herne).

My first attempt at a writing partnership happened about two years ago and, while the end result was great--we both took turns writing each other’s characters with a high degree of authenticity--it never amounted to much more than a short story.

In my mind there’s an X-factor that results in a mutual explosion of creativity, where one feeds off the other.

To be honest, this year I wasn’t looking to collaborate but perhaps why this situation is so special is that it happened of its own accord. A few musings about shared ideas resulted in a proposed “short story” turning into a not-so-short story of more than 8 000 words. This has obviously led me to consider the most important aspects about forging a collaborative writing partnership.

In my mind, common ground is vital. Some shared literary interests as well as background. Carrie and I found each other on the A Pale Horse Named Death forum, and our love for this band, as well as Type O Negative, and vampires, gave us a lot to discuss at first. I pretty much fell head over heels for Xan, Carrie’s creation, and was totally blown away when she allowed me to take a peek at his world.

Carrie Clevenger
Carrie adds, “To be honest, most of my writing partnerships have been forged by mutual adoration and respect with another person for one another’s work. Not to mean entirely accidental. I don’t go out trolling the internet to look for someone to write with. I have to start a relationship with the person before I even consider going any further. To me a writing partnership is very much like a marriage: there’s give and take. I think the biggest indicator of a good choice is when the other person excels in different areas of writing mastery. Take you and me for example. You’re good at extended plots, technicalities and description. I feel my strengths lie in sharp narrative, realistic dialogue and crafting unique twists for plotlines.”

Okay, so this brings us to mutual respect. I listen to Carrie’s vision and see where I can fit mine around it. Likewise, she considers my ideas. I can only compare it to playing with building blocks. If stuff doesn’t work, tear it down. But yeah, Carrie sees stuff I don’t, and vice versa. She’s good at plot points, characterization and witty observations whereas I’m more of the grammar Nazi who looks at overarching structure and content layering.

Another point I reckon is vital is to know where you’re going, to have an outline so that you don’t end up trying to pull a story in opposite directions.

Now the thing is, Carrie’s in the States and I’m in South Africa. Time zones can be interesting. We spend a lot of time to-ing and fro-ing on ideas so it helps that sometimes we’re on Skype or email in “real time”. I prefer “talking” in text so it gives me a chance to mull over a response, if need be. But ja, I don’t think either of us sleeps much. I get about five to six hours a night, which suits me fine. My body clock is so messed up I find it very hard to sleep for longer than that.

Carrie says, “Geographical distances and time zone differences mean nothing to me anymore—I just never sleep on a regular schedule! But seriously, I work for a European division so I’m up while most of my American neighbors are sleeping, and I rest while they work the daylight hours. When I worked with another publishing company before, the only real difficulty was synchronizing with the Australian counterparts because they are so far to the other extreme as far as the clock is concerned.”

For me the nuts and bolts of a writing partnership have always been how well I know the character my partner is writing. I’ve found it helps to have a list of facts that I add to, that cover everything from favorite music through to when their birthday is. I add to the list as I work and share it with Carrie. Also, plotting dialogue ahead of time in factoids, if I’m not sure what her character’s response will be. Sometimes we’ll layer a scene three or four times before the dialogue and action runs smoothly. I like to know where I’m headed in a story so I generally create an outline, even if it’s just point-form information that shows a logical progression.

Carrie says, “I only outline when I’m writing a longer piece, and by that I’d say over five thousand words or so. If I happen to be planning a novel my outlines look more like organized synopsis points. It helps fool me into thinking it’s not work, because outlines are work but entirely essential for many people to get a plotline straight. In narrative, I play off the other person, just as I do with dialogue. It’s entirely dynamically tuned to a balance between me and the other person. In a collaboration where there are two distinct voices, I like to give each author equal amount of time at the mic, so to speak. With revisions, one of the best things I’ve learned from you is that you might have one another but it’s still wise to reach out and seek a second, unbiased review on what you two have produced. Beta readers are invaluable in this process to ensure that each author has stayed true to their own voice and that neither one is drowned out by the other.”

I’ll close by saying it’s important to keep up the energy, to not let a document sit for too long. Writing a collaboration is a little bit like playing tennis. Right now Carrie and me are having a great time lobbing ideas at each other and, judging by some of the readers’ responses to Just My Blood Type, we’re providing a very entertaining match of wits.

Download Just My Blood Type here.
Follow us on Twitter @CarrieClevenger, @nerinedorman and @crookedfang.

Or see the Crooked Fang website or Nerine Dorman's Facebook page.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

[Review] Just My Blood Type

Anyone who has been reading my blog (or following me on Twitter) will know that I'm rather partial to a certain Xan Marcelles, the vampiric creation of my good friend, Carrie Clevenger. I'm getting impatient to read the finished Crooked Fang book, so when I heard Xan would be starring in a short story, I couldn't download it fast enough.

Just My Blood Type tells the story of an encounter between the moody Mr Marcelles and romance author Therése von Willegen, the creation of South African writer Nerine Dorman. The story takes it in turns to leap back and forth between Nerine's Therese, and Carrie's Xan, giving us a unique insight into our dual protagonists. The steady banter ups the sexual tension between the pair as they trade innuendo at the Pale Rider bar, in Pinecliffe, Colorado.

Just My Blood Type rattles along at a good pace, letting both characters (and their creators) share the limelight. Therése just takes Xan at face value, something I think our favourite vampire secretly enjoys, while Xan seems genuinely fascinated by this new woman in his life. It's a quick yet highly enjoyable read, and I've always been a fan of Xan so nice to see him in a new piece. At the same time, this is the first piece I've read by Nerine Dorman and based on this, I want to read more. A lot more.

Perfect for fans of Gothic romance, or hard rock vampire fiction, Just My Blood Type is a highly recommended read that serves as both a stellar introduction to two incredibly talented lady writers, and as a lesson in just how good collaborative writing can be. Download it for FREE here.

Five blunt pencils from me!

Monday 11 July 2011

Photo Prompt 41

Latest prompt, ready and waiting.

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The 41st prompt is Old Boat.

Old Boat

All photo prompts are my own photography - you can find more of it on Flickr. You can also buy my prints from Deviantart. 20% of all proceeds go to charity - the other 80% go towards my PhD fees!