Monthly Archives: November 2009

The Day After Thanksgiving

I hope you had a fun and delicious Thanksgiving. Cooking the meal was a challenge here. My sister-in-law is a vegetarian (headed toward vegan), my husband eats low-carb, my mother-in-law’s diet restricts fat, and I’ve been doing a carb-cycling program to lose a few pounds. My daughter doesn’t care what else is on the table as long as there’s roasted potatoes.

So various people had diet restrictions involving meat, starches, and fats. Not much we could put on the table that would work for everyone, and in trying to make sure that no one would walk away hungry—whatever they could or couldn’t eat—we ended up with way too much food. Turkey, Tofurkey, traditional gravy, vegan gravy, squash, creamed spinach, peas with mushrooms, jellied cranberry sauce, whole cranberry sauce, reduced-carb dinner rolls, wild-rice stuffing, low-carb stuffing, and other stuff I’m probably forgetting. And, of course, roasted potatoes. The old cliché about the table groaning was pretty much true in the Holzner household yesterday. There was barely room for place settings around the edges of the table.

And that made me think of some things I’m thankful for: That we can afford to put all that food on the table. That all of these different people with all of their different approaches to food (and to life) can come together for a filling meal and warm companionship. That the health issues behind some of the diets are under control or at least holding steady. That we have loving family members. It was a good day. Even if my daughter did hog the roasted potatoes.

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Countdown Tuesday: Look What I’m Giving Away in December!

Five more weeks until Deadtown‘s release! On December 1, I’ll give you a sneak peek at the novel by posting Chapter 1 here.

Then, throughout the rest of the month, I’ll be giving away a prize a week right up to release day. I love Deadtown‘s cover, and thanks to Café Press I’ve created some prizes that show it off.

Here’s what you can win:

December 8: A Deadtown coffee mug (retail value $12) and a signed copy of the book.

December 15: A Deadtown tote bag (retail value $14) and a signed copy.

December 22: A 0.6 liter Sigg water bottle sporting Deadtown’s cover (retail value $20), plus a signed copy.

December 29: The Big Day calls for a big prize, so I’m giving away a Flip Mino HD video camera! This small, slim, lightweight camera records up to 60 minutes of HD video and shows off Deadtown’s cover. Its retail value is $199. Plus, of course, a signed copy of the book.

Contest Rules:

You can enter up to three times, in any or all of these ways:

  1. Send an email with your name and mailing address to deadtown_stuff[at]yahoo[dot]com. (Replace [at] with @ and [dot] with a period.)
  2. Post about the contest on your blog, including a link to this post. Then send me an email at the email address listed above. Include your name, mailing address, and a link to the post that mentions the contest. (Second or third entries that don’t include the link will be disqualified.)
  3. Tweet about the contest, including a link to this post, on Twitter, using the hashtag #deadtown. Then send me an email at the address listed above, containing your name, mailing address, and the words, “I tweeted.” (Second or third entries that don’t include the #deadtown hashtag in the Twitter post and “I tweeted” in the followup email will be disqualified.)

All information you submit in connection with this contest—including your name, mailing address, and email address—will be used solely for the purposes of notifying winners and delivering their prizes. Your information will not be sold, traded, given away, or used for any other purpose.

The contest begins on November 24 and ends on December 28 at 11:59 P.M. Eastern standard time. Each entry will be assigned a number based on the order it was received. I’ll use randomizer.org to hold random drawings on December 8, 15, 22, and 29. Your odds of winning are based on the number of entries received.

The winner of the December 8 drawing is not eligble for the drawings on December 15 and December 22. The winner of the December 15 drawing is not eligible for the drawing on December 22. All entrants, regardless of whether they’ve already won a prize, are eligible for the grand prize drawing on December 29.

This contest is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only and is void where prohibited.


My Morning Walk

Most mornings, I get up, throw on some clothes, and go out for a walk before I’m awake enough to talk myself out of it. I spent the summer (and most of the spring before it, too, now that I think about it) glued to my desk chair, working to get multiple projects out the door. As a result, I gained about 15 pounds. Not happy. When I got out my fall clothes this year, I washed all my jeans and cords, even though they were already clean, so I’d have something to blame if they were tight when I put them on: “Oops! Must’ve shrunk a bit in the dryer . . . ”

Morning walks help. My jeans are fitting the way they’re supposed to, thank you very much, but more important than that is getting into the right frame of mind to face the day. I’m perfectly capable of working in my pajamas all day, but I prefer getting dressed in real clothes. It feels more like I’m going to work that way (plus, when the UPS guy rings the doorbell, it’s embarrassing to answer the door in PJs at two in the afternoon.) Getting up and moving around before I even have my coffee wakes me up. I love stepping outside and breathing the fresh air. And once I pry my eyes open, I love looking around my neighborhood as people are heading out to work and school. It’s a lot better than going from dreamland straight to the computer (a different kind of dreamland).

I live in a very walkable neighborhood. Much of the area was developed in the late 19th century, and it’s full of two-story houses on small lots. Lots of front porches where people sit outside in the summer. Nice, wide sidewalks. Scent of woodsmoke in the air in the fall and winter. Lots of trees (more than 200 species, according to our city forester). A strong neighborhood feel. And there are things to walk to. I live within a few minutes’ walk of Ithaca Falls:

Cascadilla Creek:

and Ithaca Commons:

If I crane my neck, I can look up at East Hill and see the Cornell University’s Clock Tower (not from this angle, though):

When I get home, the coffee is brewed, my body is awake, and I’m ready to start the day.


Countdown Tuesday: Six Weeks to Go!

Six weeks from today I’ll either be dancing around my house or hiding under my desk because Deadtown will officially be out. (I’ll probably spend some time doing both.)

Next week, I’ll announce the prizes I’ll be giving away throughout December—one each week as we count down to Deadtown. This week, I want to talk about zombies.

Deadtown’s Zombies

Deadtown exists because of Boston’s zombies. When a plague tore through downtown Boston, infecting and killing every human in its path, the initial quarantine zone became Deadtown, the district where all of Boston’s paranormals are required by law to live. Here’s an excerpt where Vicky explains what happened:

Three years ago, the only people in Boston who believed in zombies were teenagers who’d watched Night of the Living Dead a few too many times. That was before the plague hit.

At the time, some of the city’s monsters had begun venturing out of the closet, out of the coffin, out from under the bed. This was a change from when I was growing up, when someone like me had to keep my true nature hidden. I knew about my own kind, of course, but back then I had no clue that vampires and werewolves were more than scary bedtime stories. Then, about five years ago, in Boston and a few other cities around the country—Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami—paranormals began organizing for legal recognition and social acceptance. They were led by Alexander Kane, werewolf and lawyer. Oh, and my sometime companion for dinner, movies, and the occasional overnight romp. Kane’s legal practice gave him a toehold of respectability among the humans, and his goal was full legal equity at the federal level for humans and monsters. (Except, if you’re talking to Kane, don’t say monster. Say Paranormal American, or PA for short.) He’d recruited a good-sized group to further the cause: werewolves, vampires, even a few humans. But no zombies. Because there were no zombies until the plague.

I was there when it hit. I was on my way to a drugstore near Downtown Crossing to buy lightbulbs before a lunch date with Kane. Funny how you remember little details like lightbulbs. One minute, I was in the middle of a crowd of lunchtime shoppers; the next, I was standing alone on the sidewalk, surrounded by fallen bodies. It was as if, on cue, everyone around me had agreed to play dead—except they weren’t playing. I bent to the woman lying face down at my feet. She’d hurried past me ten seconds ago; I’d admired her leather jacket. Now, her neck was warm, but my searching fingers could find no trace of a pulse. I turned her over. Her eyes were open, their whites bright red, and thin trails of blood trickled from her nose and mouth. She wasn’t breathing. I checked another body, then another. They were all the same—whole and warm, with red eyes and dribbles of blood. And very, very dead.

I screamed and ran, not knowing where I was going; all I knew was that I had to get away before the same thing happened to me. But there was no “away.” Every corner I turned, every block I ran down, was the same. Dead bodies. Everywhere. Dead bodies strewn all over the ground like trash at a landfill. Some wild part of my brain believed I was the only living thing left in the entire world.

Then I saw movement to my left. I quit running. A woman I knew from Kane’s activist group, a werewolf, stood in the middle of the street, turning in slow circles. She stopped when she saw me. We stared. I was afraid that if I blinked, she’d disappear. The next thing I knew, we were holding each other like shipwreck survivors clinging to a raft in a shark-infested sea.

As scientists learned later, the virus was a one-in-a-billion mutation that happened to hit downtown Boston, the only place in the world to be so lucky. Only humans were vulnerable to it. The rest of us—werewolves, vampires, and yours truly, Boston’s only active shapeshifter—were immune. The plague was the best thing that could’ve happened to human-PA relations in Massachusetts. Suddenly, the humans needed us.

We agreed to enforce a quarantine zone and gather up the dead. Every PA in Boston came forward to help. We strung up yellow “Do Not Cross” tape and spray-painted DED, for Disease Enclosure District, on every available surface around the perimeter. (More than one norm noticed how DED could be pronounced as dead, and so Deadtown got its name. Well, from that and the fact that there were a couple thousand corpses within its borders.) We kept away the morbid thrill-seekers; nobody knew then that the virus had already mutated again, into something no worse than a bad cold. We gathered the dead and stored them in makeshift morgues. We went through belongings, making lists of the names and addresses of nearly two thousand humans who, in minutes, had been cut down. We even patrolled against possible invasion, since there were rumors of biological attack—a theory that’s never been proved.

Then, three days after the plague, the zombies began to rise. And Boston has never been the same.

Deadtown’s zombies aren’t the shambling brain-munchers you see in horror movies. They’re not what you’d call pretty, with spongy, gray-green skin, festering sores, and blood-red eyes, but they can think and talk. They’re constantly hungry, but they can eat normal food. They do run into some trouble when they catch the scent of fresh human blood; it stirs up an uncontrollable blood lust that makes social situations a bit awkward. That’s why they can’t leave Deadtown without a permit.

The zombie plague happened only in central Boston, and nobody knows what caused it, although conspiracy theories about biological warfare abound. Some believe that the zombies never actually died. At the time, no humanincluding physicianswould go anywhere near the quarantine zone. No doctor ever declared them dead or examined them until after reanimation. So Deadtown’s zombies might not be zombies in the strict sensebut what else would people call them?

(If you’re Kane, a werewolf activist lawyer and Vicky’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, you call them Previously Deceased Humans—and insist that everyone else does, too.)


Starting

mountainsStarting a new project always feels impossible. I open a new file, type “Chapter 1,” and . . . then what? How the heck do you write a book? How do you go from that first blank page to a completed manuscript? It feels like I’m standing at the bottom of a mountain, trying to figure out how to be on the summit.

Of course, no one expects to be magically transferred from the foot of a mountain to its peak. It doesn’t work that way. You have to plan your route, and then make the effort to get there, one step at a time.

And so it is with a new writing project. For nonfiction, I plan my route by writing a book proposal, then work with an editor to refine that proposal. Part of the proposal is an outline that I’ll use to structure the book. For fiction, I plan my route by brainstorming, writing character sketches, and finally drafting a loose outline that hits the major plot points.

Once you know the route, making the journey becomes a lot easier. In nonfiction, a detailed outline is a lifesaver. I don’t have to worry about “the book” or “the chapter” I’m writing — just the limited, defined part of the outline I’m covering today. In fiction, I focus on a scene. I try to start with the inciting incident, the scene that propels the characters into the story, even though I know that may not be the opening scene of the novel. From there, my outline gives me a series of goals to write toward.

Along the way, things might happen that make me take a detour from the route I’ve planned. In that case, I check my outline and make adjustments as needed.

Right now, I’m in a situation where I need to start several different projects at once: two nonfiction books, the next novel in my urban fantasy series, and an idea I have for a second fantasy series. I’m not just staring at a mountain, I’m staring at a whole damn mountain range. Still, the process is the same. I’ve just got to be a little more organized than I usually am.

Earlier this year, I talked to a college writing class. One woman in the class said she’d love to write a novel, but she didn’t know how. I said, “You don’t write a novel; you write a scene.” She shook her head. Obviously, to her, writing a scene was like trying to leap to the top of the mountain. So I said, “Okay, you don’t write a scene; you write a sentence.” That seemed achievable to her. I’m reminding myself of this now because I’ve done the work to plan my routes, and all I have to do is write one sentence at a time.


Some Photos from Our New York City Trip

It’s been over two years since my husband and I took a real vacation. So spending a long weekend in New York City was a much-needed break. We stayed at the Empire Hotel, just steps from Lincoln Center, home of the Metropolitan Opera. (I’m an opera fanatic, so this was the best possible location.)

EmpireHotel

Here’s the view from our window (if you squeezed way over to one side and leaned at just the right angle):

Lincoln Center from room

I saw Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust at the Met. (The Met’s not sliding off the plaza; I was holding my camera crooked.)

TheMet1

We also saw West Side Story on Broadway. (Give me unmiked singing any day!)

Times Square2

Our hotel was close to Central Park, and I took a couple of walks there. It was nice to see there was still some fall color.

CentralPark

And of course, being in tourist mode, we took a carriage ride around the park.

Carriage

I hope your weekend is just as much fun! 🙂


We Now Return to Our Countdown, Already in Progress

Less than seven weeks to go until Deadtown‘s release (as of right now, about 46.3 days, to be precise).  During the month of December, I’ll be offering weekly Countdown Tuesday giveaways. For the rest of November, the countdown will give glimpses into the characters, world, and background of Deadtown. (I’m also compiling these posts on the Deadtown 101 page of the site.)

Know Your Demons

Vicky Vaughn is Boston’s only professional demon killer. Most of her clients are individuals who hire her to rid them of their personal demons. Vicky exterminates three main kinds of demons:

  • Drudes: Dream-demons that cause nightmares so they can feed on the victim’s fear.
  • Eidolons: Guilt demons.
  • Harpies: Revenge demons. People sometimes pay sorcerers to conjure Harpies and send them against their enemies.

In this snippet from Deadtown, Vicky is being consulted by two homicide detectives, Stephanie Hagopian and Daniel Costello, who want to know whether one of Vicky’s former clients (who’s now dead) could have been the victim of a demon attack:

Hagopian jumped. Then she nodded and opened a notebook. She cleared her throat twice. “The death was . . . well, it wasn’t normal,” she said. “We know from documents found at the scene that you were there last night in your, ah, professional capacity. We’d like your opinion on whether Funderburk died as the result of a demon attack.”

I shook my head. “I exterminated the whole pod. Besides, demons don’t kill. They torment. That’s how they feed. If the victim dies, the party’s over.”

“What do you mean?”

“Demons are conjured entities. They don’t exist until someone invokes them. That someone can be a sorcerer out to hurt someone—that’s where Harpies come from—or it can be the victim himself.” Hagopian flinched, and I added, “Or herself.”

“People conjure demons against themselves?” She raised a plucked-half-to-death eyebrow.

“Not on purpose. But strong feelings of guilt or shame or fear can bring demons swarming to a victim like honeybees to a rose garden. Eidolons are personal demons that feed on guilt. Drudes feed on fear. They’re pretty similar, except Eidolons attack while you’re lying awake at night and Drudes invade your dreams.”

Hagopian shuddered, and I got the feeling she’d had a personal encounter with a demon or two. Too bad that now wasn’t the time to make my sales pitch. Not that she’d be buying, seeing as how my last client turned up dead. I remembered his happy, off-key humming after the extermination. Poor old George.

“Harpies,” I continued, “are revenge demons. Eidolons and Drudes can take many forms, but Harpies always look the same: They’ve got vulture bodies and Medusa heads, with snakes for hair and a beak for a mouth. They smell like garbage that’s baked in the sun for a week. Their screeching”—I tried to find a way to describe the brain-shredding noise Harpies made, but there were no words for it—“well, their screeching alone can drive a person insane.”

Both detectives were watching me openmouthed, like kids listening to a scary campfire story they didn’t want to hear. Too bad. They’d dragged me here; they deserved all the juicy details. “Harpies attack from the outside. You’re lying in bed, and suddenly you can’t move. These hideous things—worse than any nightmare—fly through the wall and land on you, tearing into you with their talons. Then they begin to feed. It feels like they’re ripping out your vital organs. The agony lasts all night. The next morning, there’s no physical damage. But you can count on them returning night after night after night.”

“What about the other kinds, the”—Hagopian consulted her notebook—“the Eidolons and the Drudes?” Her voice had diminished to a croak. Costello shot her a questioning look, but her eyes were fixed on me.

“Eidolons attack from the inside,” I answered, “like you’ve got some huge, venomous parasite gnawing on your bones. Guilt brought to life. Some victims can see their Eidolons; others just feel unbearable agony. Drudes are unpredictable, like dreams, and they’re the source of most nightmares. If you’re plagued by horrible dreams, swarming with everything you fear, you’ve got a Drude infestation.” I glanced at Detective Hagopian, who’d closed her eyes and was breathing shallowly through her mouth. Yep. Drude victim for sure. I turned back to Costello. “Demon attacks are terrifying and painful. Hell on earth. But they’re not fatal. When a victim dies, that person’s demons cease to exist. That’s why demons don’t kill.”

Of course, some demons do kill. These bigger, badder demons are Hellions, and unlike personal demons they have independent existence. They come from Hell, and their whole purpose is to wreak havoc and destruction. Vicky has a history with one particularly nasty Hellion—Difethwr, whose name means destroyer in Welsh. When Difethwr shows up in Boston, Vicky knows she’ll have to face the demons of her own past—before they destroy the city and everything in it.


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