Note: I will be joined by Patricia D. Eddy, Janine Southard, and Stacy Thompson Schuck to discuss Women's Issues in Publishing at Geek Girl Con in Seattle on October 10, 2015. We hope to see you there!
Nothing says "Thrills and Suspense" like pink, a fresh manicure, and a lap dog
by Camela Thompson
"What do you write?" This is a common question at a writer conference, and this time it was asked by a man pushing sixty in a crisp shirt and a vest. He leaned in and squinted at the lanyard around my neck and rolled his eyes. "Paranormal Thriller." Too bad those typed out words can't convey the tone that came along with them. Contempt.
I'm used to the reaction. Authors ask what the other person is writing for a chance to describe their own book. He didn't care what I wrote. He wanted to tell me about his story--get another chance to practice his lines before the stressful pitch sessions. I kept my chin up. "It's about a woman who finds out she's terminally ill and decides to kill her stalker."
His considerable eyebrows raised. "That actually sounds interesting. Are you pitching?" Another eye roll. "I bet you'll get a book deal. People eat that vampire romance stuff up."
"Actually, this time I'm lucky enough to not have to pitch. My book will be out in a few months."
He laughed. "Of course it will."
I bit my tongue so hard I tasted copper. Instead of pointing out that my own book had more in common with the thrillers and spy novels he liked than Twilight, I asked him what his book was about. He gave me a long winded explanation of his true crime novel with a list of names that could rival the roster of a football team. I explained that the names were distracting, but his concept was extremely interesting and coached him on tweaking his pitch. We sat down for half an hour to review revisions.
By the end of the day, he hunted me down and offered to buy me a drink to thank me for my help. Every agent he had spoken to had expressed interest in more material. Maybe next time he'll rethink his approach with other authors.
People, particularly people who prefer non-fiction or spy novels (male or female), tend to see "paranormal" and assume I write angsty teen romance. There's nothing wrong with angsty teen romance, and I've read (and enjoyed) my share. What's wrong is that books are not only judged by their cover, but also by the appearance of the person writing them.
Despite a happy marriage, I'm not able to fulfill the "happily ever after" criteria of romance. Books with tragedy speak to me in ways that "happy" books can't. I've tried to write "light reads" with more humor, but something dark always sneaks back in. I write thrillers with suspense and disturbing content. My books have vampires who aren't really good or evil--they are intelligent beings motivated by their own priorities and objectives. My characters have relationships because that's what happens with social entities, but the relationships aren't the focus of the story. I want to give readers a mystery, a fast pace, and something to think about. I want to present a flawed protagonist who fights to keep going.
My mom has expressed disappointment in my inability to write a romance, and I've been pushed to turn my series into what is expected when people see my picture with the world "paranormal." I used to joke that I would sell out and do whatever was demanded, but I've found I can't push myself to be something I'm not (a romantic). Instead, I've written something that's hard to describe and is in a niche that makes it difficult to market. But Del Toro did it with The Strain and Anne Rice managed to write her vampires without a physical romance (although their relationships are highly introspective and intense). Why can't I?
It was suggested I reconsider my cover to emphasize romance.
We didn't change it because it's not a romance.
The irony of this frustration, is that I'm also guilty of the behavior I'm railing against. I assume a woman is more equipped to write a romance I would be interested in reading because I don't always trust men to write a convincing feminine perspective. It's not necessarily fair, but I am happy to say I've found male authors who have proven me wrong.
Do you think you have gender biases as a reader? Are you an author that has experienced gender biases? Do you think some genres are more skewed than others?
by Camela Thompson
My husband and I spent the last week in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. To say we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into is a giant understatement. I'm still sorting through my thoughts and trying to put them into words, but suffice it to say that staying in a part of town named after a cut of meat is never a good idea. Research your location and read reviews. We both made it through the week physically unscathed, but I will never forget the screaming that lasted the night or cowering on the floor during gunshots.
A room with a view.
On to better things! Because traveling out of the neighborhood got riskier later in the day, I spent the afternoons and evenings writing and reading. Don't worry--I still ate a ton of great food and went sight seeing. I was just on a modified schedule. Below are some of the literary highlights.
Ready Player One
The world created by Ernest Cline is easy to believe in. The country has fallen apart, the gap between the rich and the poor is even wider, and the future of the planet is bleak. It's only natural people would abandon reality for a virtual world. We're already headed in that direction...
After a bit, I grew frustrated with the story. The heroes of the idolized creator of OASIS (the virtual world) were all white males. The 80s culture, movies, books, and video games were all catered to heterosexual white males. I couldn't understand why my friend loved the book so much until the two-thirds of the way in. Then I got it.
Since finishing the book, I've recommended it to several gamer friends. Ready Player One has an interesting concept and is very well written. Hang in there until the end. I doubt you'll be disappointed.
To get my thoughts on this classic, tune into Shadows on the Sound. Next week we'll be reviewing Frankenstein. If you've read the book, leave a comment or shoot me an email and we'll read it on the air. For now, I'll just say that it was easier to get through than Dracula.
Spoiler: If you've read my horror reviews, you know there is one thing that drives me up the wall. The minute a dog appears, I grow angry because I know the author is going to deploy an old and reliable trick to demonstrate just how horrible his antagonist is. I still loved this book, although when I read it again I'll be skipping some scenes.
Joe Hill's writing style is a bit reminiscent of his father (Stephen King), but it's obvious he's gifted in his own right. I loved the protagonist, a foul mouthed, unstable woman by the name of Vic McQueen. Her failures and self awareness provided a strong female character I could root for. The bad guy was diabolical. But he wasn't exactly a vampire. There were a few nods to the world of Doctor Sleep, but the characters were Hill's own. Everyone was deliciously flawed and motivated.
If you like suspense, strange worlds, and antagonists so bad they make your skin crawl, get this book.
The second book in The Strain series had a better pace for me than the first. The first was almost tedious in its build to the discovery of the strigoi. The science slowed it down. Neither of these gripes held true in the second book. I couldn't put it down and enjoyed the tireless devotion to the cause Abraham Setrakian brought to the table. Fet is still my favorite in the written series, and Zack is much more tolerable in written form than on the screen.
Of the books listed in this post, The Fall gets the weakest recommendation. The television series does a much better job representing women. The books make Nora look weak and useless, entirely ruled by her emotions and unable to make a significant contribution. The other women featured in the television series are entirely absent except for Zack's mother.
This is a guy's guy book. Even though I appreciate the monsters that Hogan and Del Toro bring alive, I'm disappointed by the absence of characters I can relate to. It seems they didn't get the memo: Women read and enjoy horror, too.
Have you read any of the above? If so, do you agree or disagree?
by Camela Thompson
Things have been bleak. It was a slow fall--one that I thought I correct on my own. Somehow, that slide steepened and I hit pretty close to the bottom without expecting my situation would dissolve to the point of talking myself out of bed in the morning and avoiding all non-essential contact with humans. Suddenly I was good at nothing, enjoyed little, and wanted to quit. Quit writing. Quit working. Quit seeing friends.
Depression lies. It's cruel and convincing. All of the successes, positive traits, and wins go into hiding. A big blanket descends, smothering me with negativity. My confidence melts away and I no longer know why I do the things I love. Everything loses its purpose. The fatigue that came with it this time was stunning. The world was in slow motion.
I'm lucky to have friends who are honest with me even when it's awkward or painful. I've heard people say that creative types feel more. I'm not sure if it's true--I know a lot of people who feel deeply--but sometimes it seems that way. Maybe those of us who "feel more" gravitate towards creative hobbies to help us heal. A good writer friend of mine brought up medication and he was honest with me about his own experience. His willingness to be open will always be something I remember and value. I already had an appointment with my doctor, but the conversation with my friend pushed me in the best possible way. The first words to my doctor were, "If we can't figure out a medical cause, I have to go on antidepressants."
Depression and anxiety run in my family. I've been close to it my entire life. I've watched family members be hospitalized, improve with medication, and then resist medication only to bottom out again. Finding the right balance takes time. The odd thing is that it's so easy to see what's happening when you're standing next to it. When it's happening to you, it's a different story.
My mood is closely tied to my health. If anything goes out of balance, the downward spiral begins. It's insidious in its gradual pace, and it's easy to lose control.
One of my complaints at the clinic was my inability to improve at running. My doctor noticed a heart murmur after minor exertion and suddenly I was on quest to determine whether a heart problem was at the root of my fatigue. These things take time, and I spent the next couple weeks eating junk food and binge watching The White Queen. It was an odd choice, but it worked in my favor. Watching historical fiction based in a time that didn't have any medical advancements made me realize how lucky I am to be alive now and here, even more so when witnessing the paranoia driven murders of those surrounding the Tudors and Yorks.
Annie is a most excellent assistant in all things - even watching bad TV
Another friend joined me in my new past time and let me talk through my own paranoia considering my health. My mom spent a weekend over and we watched bad reality television. My husband kept the chocolate stocked. I feel lucky to have people in my life who understand that the greatest gift is time. And patience for the occasional rant. And chocolate.
We received great news at the heart clinic after a stress echocardiogram. My heart looked perfect. The blood work, on the other hand, highlighted one issue. The murmur was brought on by hypothyroidism. It also explained my decline in mood and extreme fatigue. Just three days into a medication adjustment, life looks brighter. Literally. I'm noticing more. The story ideas are finally happening, and I can walk a mile without gasping for air. I've found joy. I want to do more and it's easier to bounce back. Which is a really good thing because we're traveling, and it has been interesting. But that's another blog post.
It's hard to confess when things aren't going well, but I think it's important to be honest. Depression lies. It minimizes friendships and hides reality. It distorts the truth and makes things dark and hopeless. I feel so lucky to have friends who weren't afraid to let me know they were concerned. I'm thankful I've learned to be suspicious of my darker thoughts and talk to a doctor. I wish I would act on that suspicion sooner, but I'm learning.
Things get better. It's okay to need help. We all do. Most importantly, don't listen to the lies depression tells you. When things find balance again, the world is a wonderful place. There is too much to enjoy to wait to fix things. Life will get easier.
If you or a friend needs help, call 1 (800) 273-8255 or visit http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ to chat.
by Camela Thompson
I'm not sure how I feel about séances and mediums in the real world. It's a tough topic and something I choose not to participate in personally. However, a séance can add a lot to a scene in fiction, whether it be in a book or movie. I love when the events are fantastic and simultaneously believable, even if the séance is subsequently revealed as a fraud! Here are some of my favorites in no particular order.
This is a classic novel by one of my favorite authors, Richard Matheson. I've read most of Matheson's work and rarely run across something I don't enjoy. Hell House is disturbing, detailed, and my first run in with the author. The premise: Dr. Lionel Barrett is charged by the owner of a renowned haunted house to prove the existence of life after death. The doctor invites two mediums and runs several tests to validate the experiences that are recorded in the house.
This movie begins with an intelligent and logical woman exposing the fraudulent behavior of a medium during a séance. The protagonist is contacted by a concerned teacher at a private school in Cumbria, where she experiences several things she cannot explain.
If you don't like horror, you may still like this film. The movie has a healthy dose of suspense without being overly frightening. There's a medium and a great séance scene that includes automatic writing.
I enjoyed the first two movies in the Insidious franchise, but I haven't seen the third yet. While a certain haunting force in the first movie is a little hokey, I really enjoyed Lin Shaye's performance. The séance scenes have some original twists that are very entertaining.
If you don't remember the séance scene, Youtube it. It's hilarious.
The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson is another horror great, and I highly recommend the book. She does a fantastic job with character development. I particularly enjoyed the militant Mrs. Montague and her cohort Arthur Parker. Despite Dr. Montague's insistence on keeping up a scientific air, Mrs. Montague's interest in Spiritualism brings about well meaning but unproductive séances.
I don't mean the series of short movies. I mean the object. This board has catapulted many, many movies from suspicious paranormal activity to full bore demonic hauntings. Paranormal Activity, The Exorcist, The Ouija Experiment, What Lies Beneath, The Pact.. I could go on. There's even a website dedicated to movies featuring the ouija board.
Do you have a favorite? What do you think makes a good séance scene?
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.