Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ebook Pricing, A Novella, and Stuff

Hope everyone survived the Thanksgiving holiday intact!  I had a wonderful November, visiting the beach at St. Simon's, speaking at the Scribbler's Writing Retreat, working in my garden, cooking for my family.  Now I've put the fall decorations away, put up the Christmas tree and started my holiday shopping, knowing full well that Christmas will be here sooner than I think.

I also got two great pieces of news this month from my publisher that I wanted to share:

Book #2 in my Devil's Bargain series, A DEVIL NAMED DESIRE, will be released on January 31st, 2012.  My publisher has wisely decided to yield to the overwhelming demand for lower-priced ebooks (this is a good thing, people!), and has set the price for my devilishly delicious darling at only $4.99!  The paperback version will remain at $7.99.

For the record, I'm really glad to hear that the price of the the ebook was lowered. The ebook market has been flooded by a new wave of self-published authors offering low cost reads, and $7.99 was, in my humble opinion, just too high.  Why pay $7.99 for one ebook when you can buy two for $2.99, or 8 for .99?

Anyway, I'm thrilled that Avon is doing their part by being sensitive to ebook market pricing, and bringing out A DEVIL NAMED DESIRE at the lower price point of $4.99. 

Now, quick... go and download it before you spend all your Christmas money!!  :)

My second piece of good news is also ebook related - I have a Nicki Styx novella called GHOULS NIGHT OUT that will be released in standalone ebook form on January 17, 2012.  Isn't the cover cool? (I'm such a sucker for a graveyard - I literally "squeed" out loud when I saw this one.)  :)

This novella was previously published as part of the WEDDINGS FROM HELL anthology with Jeaniene Frost, Maggie Shayne and Kathryn Smith, but Avon is offering it as a standalone at only $2.99 (ditto everything I said above about their sensitivity to ebook pricing).

If you haven't read it yet, you should know that it's a ghostly Nicki Styx wedding adventure, complete with a missing bridesmaid, a murderer who needs his comeuppance, and the fugliest bridesmaid dress Nicki's ever seen, much less been forced to wear.  I should probably mention that it also has some embarassing relatives who enjoy country karaoke, but then again, who doesn't have some embarassing relatives who enjoy country karaoke?  :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Urban Fantasy: Modern Day Faery Tales Drawn From Fantasy and Folklore

I recently had the very great pleasure of talking to a group of aspiring authors, writing teachers and writing students at the 2011 Scribblers' Retreat Writers' Conference in St. Simon's, Georgia, and thought I'd post my notes on my topic, which was Urban Fantasy: Modern Day Fairy Tales Drawn From Fantasy and Folklore. (Because that's what I write, yo?) :) Keep in mind that these were only my notes, which I expanded upon during my talk, which hopefully made it a little more fun and interesting than just the dry read-thru that you're about to experience (including one part where I almost caught on fire, but you kinda had to be there to get the full effect of that incident...) At any rate, maybe there are some other aspiring authors out there who can use the info, so here you go!

Urban Fantasy: Modern Day Fairy Tales Drawn From Fantasy and Folklore

At its most basic level, Urban Fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy which involves present-day Earth and includes a supernatural element. On a much broader scale, however, Urban Fantasy represents the basic human need we have—especially in today’s uncertain times—to believe that good always beats evil. This “trope”, or literary technique, is at the heart of every good fantasy novel, whether it’s Sci-Fi Fantasy (Star Wars, Star Trek), Historical Fantasy (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones), Young Adult Fantasy (Harry Potter) or today’s Urban Fantasy, which includes novels like Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or Neverwhere.

According to Library Journal, Urban Fantasy was first defined as an acknowledged sub-genre in the late 1980’s and early ‘90s(1). In the years since, there has been a slow but steady growth in stories about alternate realities, vampires, werewolves, witches and zombies, leading to 358 fantasy titles hitting the bestsellers list in 2010 (up from 160 in 2006)(2). Fantasy and science fiction made up 10% of adult fiction sales last year, compared with 7% for mainstream literary fiction.(3) Urban Fantasy is considered a “cross-over” genre, as modern-day fantasy tales can be combined with mystery, romance, science fiction, horror, young adult genres, and by default, reaching a wider variety of readers. In light of declining print sales, major publishers like the Big 6 (Hachette, HarperCollins, MacMillan, Penguin, Random House, and Simon & Schuster) are increasingly seeking crossover novels that break genre molds and span genre bridges, and Urban Fantasy fills that need perfectly.

Urban Fantasy has always been around, from the days when spooky stories were told around warm fires on cold nights, but many classic Urban Fantasy tales were written in the 1800's: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Robert Lewis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde. Spooky stories involving everyday life never went away, and were reflected in 20th century “pop-culture” through the use of television shows and movies:

Dark Shadows               The Twilight Zone       The Addams Family    The Munsters

X-Files          The Outer Limits          Tales From the Crypt  Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Unsolved Mysteries    

And the tradition continues in a more modernized way:

Grimm               True Blood         Supernatural                 Ghostwhisperer

Once Upon A Time      Sanctuary           Haven                Being Human

Lost                                  Medium                          The Vampire Diaries

No matter how many statistics I quote you, no matter how many examples I give you, the bottom line is that people are drawn to the unexplained, the fantastic, the out-of-ordinary. I joke that I began my writing career by deciding that imagination was the best weapon in the war against reality, but that’s actually the truth, not a joke. I’ve always been drawn to a story well-told, and the more elves and hobbits and white rabbits and talking caterpillars it had it in, the better. Today’s Urban Fantasy tales are no different than the fantastic tales of J.R. Tolkein or Lewis Carroll; they’re just tales told in a way that reflect today’s society, viewed through a modern day, somewhat supernatural lens.

The supernatural elements in today’s Urban Fantasy are virtually unlimited. Vampires, witches, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, faeries, dragons, any form of magic. Special powers such as telekinesis, the ability to read minds, invisibility, superhuman strength. New twists on old legends or mythologies. Vampires who are married to witches who read minds and give birth to werewolves. Zombie faeries who can only be killed by toxic pixie dust. Shapeshifting dragons who roam the skies at night and fight forest fires during the day.

Those are extreme examples, of course  (but hey, if I see one of those ideas in someone else's future novels, I want credit, darn it!), and while the plot device the writer chooses to employ will of course vary, the basic plot of an Urban Fantasy novel usually includes:
  • 1) An over-arching theme of Good vs. Evil. The stakes can be as high as the fate of the world, or as simple as saving the life of one individual, but there is always a goal that serves the greater good. Whether your protagonist is a supernatural bounty-hunter who keeps demons from taking over the world, or a single mom who finds out her neighbor is a vampire, moral dilemmas—and the consequences of them—are a mainstay of Urban Fantasy.
  • 2) The journey of the self – UF protagonists often start out ill-equipped, or even unwilling, to deal with the situations they find themselves in, but through character development (which the author shows by their ongoing actions and insights), find within themselves the strength to meet ever-increasing challenges.
  • 3) A Major Secret – one that puts the protagonist outside the realm of “normal”, but forces them to behave as though they were just like you and me. By placing the protagonist in an urban, “everyday” setting, the author creates a sense of kinship with the reader, fostering the much-needed suspension of disbelief.
As an author who was raised in the South, I never had a whole lot of trouble with “suspension of disbelief”. I grew up in Florida, where weird is normal, and spent my time watching those pop-culture TV shows and making up stories in my head.  I relied heavily upon my Southern roots when I started writing my own Urban Fantasy "ghost stories", beginning with DEAD GIRLS ARE EASY.  I tapped into all the elements of the unknown that I found the most fascinating: ghosts, near-death experiences, voodoo, demonic possession, haunted houses, bits of folklore and biblical stories, Celtic legends, fallen angels - anything that frightened or intrigued me was very likely to end up in one of my books.

I tend to shy away from straight horror, and I must admit that I've never quite seen the appeal of the whole "zombie" thing (unless it's based on the true genesis of that particular belief, which is deeply rooted in voodoo, not brain-eating automatons who can only be killed with a shotgun blast to the head), but who knows what I'll write about next?  With Urban Fantasy, I've got a rich field of imagination in which to play.
(1) Library Journal, “Urban Fantasy: The City Fantastic”
(2) Stuart Johnson & Associates/Simba Information, book sales tracking
(3) Bowker® is the leading provider of global book information and decision-support solutions through services that promote an efficient supply chain to publishers, book sellers and libraries.