Book Reviewer Blogger Liis Pallas Reviews “The Obsidian Mirror”

Liis Pallas reviews “The Obsidian mirror”–and I am thrilled!

Cover to Cover

Environmental issues, power-play, ancient Mayan gods, a Coyotl (yes, Coyotl) that turns into a drop-dead-gorgeous young man, a green being of mannegishi, vodun (no, not voodoo), and a bit of reality- admit it- it sparked some interest in you!

from Goodreads

A few days ago I published an interview K.D. was so very kind to tackle.

You know what? It feels strange how some times you read a book, or watch a film, on a serious issue (such as environmental problems, a nuclear power plant worry, fracking causing earthquakes, rubbish in the vast oceans, etc) and when we read about these issues in books, or see them in the movies, we tend to take them as someone’s brain-children, or brain-babies. But I really am humbled and in awe and in the process of having my faith restored because people notice! Authors notice the issues, the global issues that should…

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The Launch Party, Coyotes, Mannegishi, and What Comes Next

Chaco, the Coyote Trickster

The launch party for “The Obsidian Mirror” went beautifully last Saturday afternoon. Kepler’s Bookstore in Menlo Park, CA graciously hosted the event, and there was a good crowd of people there. I did a very brief reading and answered questions.

Here’s a sampling of what I was asked:

Q: Is your protagonist (Sierra) autobiographical?

A: Sierra is concerned about the environment; so am I. Sierra is a PR executive, and used to be one. Sierra designs silver jewelry, and I do, too. There the resemblance ends because Sierra is way cooler than I am. (I didn’t mention this, but she’s also younger and more athletic than me.)

Q: What started you writing the book?

A: I had recently finished a Robert Jordan novel that involved riding horses, armor, swords, sorcery, etc. I really enjoyed the book, but later I wondered why, with thousands of legends, mythologies, folk tales and traditions, the New World is rarely used as inspiration for fantasy. Most epic fantasy, at any rate, is usually set in some pre-Industrial Age, pseudo-European environment. Elves, faeries, trolls, ogres, goblins, vampires, etc. are staple fare.

I love swords-and-sorcery, don’t get me wrong! But I had time (my freelance writing business was slow at the time), so I began writing a story based on New World traditions as an experiment. Before long, the characters took over and I HAD to finish the story.

Q: Is Chaco (Coyotl the Trickster) based on a person in your life?

A: I said Chaco was based on my husband, Tom, but I was kidding. Coyotl the Trickster is a folk hero among many of the Native American tribes. I should have mentioned that appearance-wise, I saw Chaco, in his manifestation as a deliciously sexy young man (as opposed to his coyote gig), as Gael García Bernal, the excellent Mexican actor who (among many other roles) played Ché Guevara in “The Motorcycle Diaries.”

One person thanked me for not making Chaco the villain. I started out thinking that since Chaco was The Trickster, he ought to be rather ambiguous; the reader would not be sure whether he was good or bad. I really, truly would have liked to write him that way, but he came out more of a scamp than a real rogue. (That was all his doing, not mine. I had other ideas.)

Q: What other characters are in the book?

A: There’s Fred the Mannegishi. Mannegishi are sort of like leprechauns in that they are small and green, but mostly because they are mischievous. Mannegishi are from legends of the Cree tribe. Fred is truly unreliable, but as one person present said (she had edited the manuscript for me), “Fred seemed like a pain in the butt at first, but he became my favorite character.”

I was asked if I made up Fred’s appearance, but I followed the description of Mannegishi in Wikipedia. I rarely made up anything about the supernatural characters; I tended to follow the traditional descriptions if they were available. Of course, much of my research consisted of strolling around the Internet when I needed a new monster. As the New Yorker cartoon has it, “Nobody knows you’re a dog on the Internet.” By the same token, it’s hard to know whether you’re reading something authentic, or a made-up legend by a tequila company or something. As “The Obsidian Mirror” is fiction—and fantasy fiction at that—I didn’t worry too much about academic purity.

 Q: Do you have a sequel planned?

 A: Yes, two. The next book will be set in Hawai’I, where Fred might meet some cousins of his. “The Obsidian Mirror” has an underlying theme of threat to our natural environment, which will continue to be a theme of my work. I am very concerned about the Pacific Gyre, also known as the Pacific Garbage Patch, a continent-size vortex of plastic particles in the ocean swirling around Hawai’i. But I do not plan on getting preachy. The books have to be fun to read, or no one will read them.

Of course, I may have to make the ultimate sacrifice and travel to Hawai’i to do research. A writer’s life is so hard.

The third sequel will be set in Mexico, and will have something to do with the Virgin of Guadalupe as Tonantzin, the Aztec flower goddess. I don’t know much more about it yet.

After answering questions, I sat down at the assigned table and signed books. The store sold out, with Kepler’s purchasing the last one for the staff. I hope they enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the party. I got a ton of compliments on the food—which I never touched because I was too wound-up!

How’s This Coyote? I’d Really Like Your Opinion.

Many of you were kind enough to comment on three different versions of Chaco: my supernatural character who can appear either as a ridiculously beautiful young man, or as a coyote. (But not just any coyote; he is Coyotl the Trickster).

My publisher had asked for a somewhat lighter feel to the image because the tone of the book overall is light. Chaco is (usually) a cheerful guy.

The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of my original, Chaco #1, with 10 votes, #2 got three votes, and #3 got two votes. I also favor the original.

However, my friend Erica Chase asked, “Is there a happier looking coyote?” I thought this was nothing short of brilliant (typical of Erica). So I went looking for a coyote whose expression was less threatening and more upbeat. And then tried to match the coyote with an image of a young man that more or less matched (or was at least complementary to) the coyote’s expression. The image below is the result, and if you would be so obliging, I’d like to know if you think this is an improvement. Or not. (To see the three images I posted for comment, please go to https://obsidianmirrorblog.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/vote-for-your-favorite-coyote/)

New Coyote/Chaco

New Coyote/Chaco

Vote for Your Favorite Coyote!

I sent last week’s cover art to my publisher. One of his comments was: “…the book itself also felt a bit more light hearted than the dark cover with the serious boy (who was definitely not so serious in my mind, as I read anyway).”

The man (Chaco) changing into a coyote is central to my story. Chaco is Coyotl, the trickster folk hero of many Native American cultures. He can shift back and forth at will, and this comes in handy several times during the story. So I’d really like to use the image of the shape-shifting man-coyote. But my publisher is right: the tone of the book is on the lighter side.

I picked out a few more handsome latino men from iStock.com, where there is a plethora of such men on sale for very little money, and created two alternatives to my original. I present them here for your deliberation: which is the best Chaco: #1, #2, or #3?

I eagerly await your judgement!

Chaco #1

Chaco #1

Chaco #2

Chaco #2

Chaco #3

Chaco #3

Die, Vampire, Die!

No VampiresFor the record, I’m still trying to get my novel, “The Obsidian Mirror,” published through conventional channels. Yes, I know all about how respectable self-publishing has become in the digital age. That’s my Plan B. But I would like to get it published conventionally if I can swing it.

So far, no joy. And I have a theory about why this is so. (Other than that my book is no good. I’ve read it and it’s great! No, seriously, it’s a fun, fast read, which is what I usually want from a book myself. And it’s well written, too, she noted modestly.)

So bear with me here for a moment while I tell you a story.

Long, long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and poodles ran wild and free, I wrote a children’s novel called “The Singer and the Song.” It was about a city-dwelling girl who found she could pass from her world to another, magical world. As I recall, there was a talking cat involved. I wrote it for a graduate class in children’s literature in lieu of writing another essay on something like “Christian Influences in C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Chronicles of Narnia,’” or something else equally boring and trite. My professor loved it and so did my Mom. My mother had always supported my writing and she thought this one had a lot of potential, so she paid for me to take it to the William Morris Agency in New York City. William Morris charged $100 to review and evaluate the manuscript. (Mom and I didn’t know any better.)

I think I kept the letter from the agency, but I am between houses right now, and everything is in storage so I can’t give an exact quote. But the general gist of it was that children today (Remember the dinosaurs? That day.) aren’t interested in magic and talking animals. They want realistic, gritty urban tales that reflect their own lives.

So take that, J.K. Rowling! No one’s interested in your silly little stories about magic and talking animals, okay?

I may have been all of 21 years old, but even then I knew William Morris Agency was full of shit. The marketing fashion of the time happened to be gritty urban tales, but fashion and marketing have never influenced what children like to read about. Which in many, if not most cases, definitely includes magic—with talking animals if possible.

Nonetheless, I was embarking on a more or less adult life by that time, which meant earning a living, and I put my poor novel away. I thought I might read it to my kids some day, but I don’t believe I ever did.

Fast-forward to our dinosaur-free present. “The Obsidian Mirror” features magic and at least one talking animal, who isn’t really an animal, but an avatar of Coyotl, the Trickster of Native American legend. (My personal tastes have changed some, but not that much.) Various American myths, legends and traditions come into it in a manner that I haven’t seen elsewhere—which could be good or bad, depending on your personal viewpoint. Apparently, the editors and agents who have seen the synopsis so far aren’t intrigued.

Now for my theory. I think agents and publishers weren’t intrigued because what I wrote about isn’t currently fashionable in fantasy fiction. I don’t have to tell you what is currently fashionable, but I will anyway: vampires, zombies and werewolves.

I used to like a good vampire story as much as the next person. Bram Stoker: fabulous. Anne Rice: new twist on an old tale (at least at first). But then they came fast and furious: “Buffy,”  “Twilight,” the Sookie Stackhouse series, “Dark Vampire Knight” series, “The Vampire Coalition” series, and so on ad nauseum. I thought the genre had burned itself out (or been buried with a stake through its black heart) with the advent of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” but no! Hollywood made a movie out of it.

I suppose I’m not making any friends with this, but c’mon, people. Aren’t you just the teensiest, tiniest bit bored with vampires yet?

But this isn’t sour grapes, honest. I’m just dealing with a marketing trend. All marketing trends die—at least, theoretically they do. Vampire stories, like their deathless subjects, show every sign of living forever, sucking the lifeblood out of other fantasy genres.

I’ll wait a bit longer, then it’s on to Plan B, I guess. Where’s the garlic?

Whack Me Twice and I’ll Listen

Smack Me

Despite my conviction that I had finished rewriting my novel, “The Obsidian Mirror,” I once again found myself in the throes of a rewrite.

Rewriting sucks. You know that if you’re a writer. It’s like taking apart a complex piece of machinery and putting it all back together so that it works better than it did before. You don’t want to go through all that labor, sigh happily at your achievement—then spy a couple of leftover parts on the floor that are absolutely required for the thing to operate.

But I suddenly became convinced that yes, indeed, I needed to revise the prologue and first two chapters. It came about because of a comment I received from a publisher. He said that the first chapter was full of a lot of unimportant stuff that didn’t push the plot forward, and it took too long to get to the intriguing fantasy elements.

To be honest, I had heard this before. An agent said the first chapter was “boring, boring, boring.” With a crit like that, you’d have thought I’d have jumped on it. However, the agent in question turned out not to be interested in fantasy. I questioned the judgment of someone who didn’t even care about my genre. Also, the manuscript had been read carefully by a published fantasy writer who did a fantastic job of reviewing the book and giving me feedback—and she was cool with the first chapter, so I figured what does the non-fantasy-reading agent know? I was wary of succumbing to self-doubt as well, because self-doubt will suck all the vitality out of your writing if you let it.

But a second critique that basically said the same thing convinced me that self-doubt was very far from being the issue here. A rereading of the prologue and first two chapters confirmed it.

There was nothing wrong with the prologue; it just needed to be tucked into the first chapter in a logical way. But the first chapter—oh, dear. It was all about how my heroine, Sierra, got fired. It contained a lot of backstory, which would be needed at some point, but I focused on her firing, talking about it to her friend Kaylee, going home, feeling bad, etc. In my naiveté, I thought this would introduce conflict and engage the reader. But I guess getting fired isn’t as interesting as I had assumed. In fact, I was personally bored with the whole thing.

So I condensed the prologue and chapters one and two into a single chapter. It’s a long one—about 4,000 words. I slashed about 3,000 words from the overall length of the novel, bringing it to nearly 100,000. I was worried about losing critical backstory, but I found various places in the early chapters to slip it all in. (Fingers crossed. Knock on wood and all that.)

I’m very happy with the result. It pulls the reader in quickly, keeps the action moving, introduces the fantasy elements immediately, and (I hope) piques the reader’s curiosity from the start.

I’d be humbly delighted if you would take a little time to read the new chapter one of my novel. If you agree with me that it works well, would you be kind enough to leave a comment? And if you don’t agree with me, I’d like to hear that, too.

I do listen. Most of the time. Really.

It’s Time To Talk About LOVE! (And Sex.)

heart fractalAfter all, this is the month of lacy hearts, cupids, flowers, chocolates, etc. etc. Now, I’m as romantic as the next woman, which is to say, lots more romantic than any guy. I suspect that is the basis for much of what irritates me about most romance novels. The typical scenario involves (usually) two people who are attracted to each other but suffer untold complications and misunderstandings based on one party wrongly perceiving the other party’s intentions, or personal insecurities, untold secrets, ridiculous upholding of honor, and so forth.

The scenario that REALLY annoys me is the one where the heroine keeps rejecting the hero because she thinks she’s not good enough for him—not pretty enough, too poor, class differences, whatever. GRRRR.

A lot of today’s romance novels seem determined to prove that women are just as horny as men, and include descriptions of sexual scenes that rival the “Esquire Letters.” (Do they still publish those letters, by the way? I haven’t read “Esquire” in quite a while.) “She groaned as he thrust his turgid, throbbing member into her sweet recesses,” and the like is a turn-off—for me, at any rate. If the principals are going to tango, I prefer a decorous fade to black on the proceedings. If I want graphic descriptions of sex, I’ll read the  “Esquire Letters.”

On the other hand, I enjoy a romantic subplot, as long as it neither takes over the story nor involves turgid members. When I began writing “The Obsidian Mirror,” I was thinking that the Avatar Coyote (“Chaco” to his friends) would be the source of the sexual tension. After all, he was gorgeous, considerate, brave and a good cook. As long as my protagonist, Sierra, could deal with him morphing into a small wolf from time to time, he seemed like a perfect love interest.

But then I reconsidered. Coyote was supposed to be The Trickster, not entirely reliable, and based on Native American stories, quite the lad with the ladies. Sierra isn’t a prude or a stick-in-the-mud, but she wants a stable relationship with a future. (I didn’t decide this. Sierra just came out that way. I couldn’t have made her into a bed-hopping free spirit if I had tried.) So I created sexual tension by having Chaco come on to Sierra in a nice sort of way. Sierra is tempted (he IS good-looking and a nice guy), but passes. Chaco moves on to Sierra’s friend Kaylee—and gets way more than he expects. Sierra finds a more solid-citizen-type in Clancy Forrester. Okay, they do have one or two misunderstandings, but when you’re trying to get a practical, down-to-earth chief of security to believe that the guy he thinks is your boyfriend is actually a sort of shape-shifting minor deity—well, there are bound to be some difficulties, right?

So in this month of hearts and flowers, let’s celebrate romance—the heightened awareness, the exchange of tender mementos, the thrill of loving and being loved. Does all this have to lead to sex? Well, sure, why not? But the ecstasy of good sex is only enhanced by the dance of courtship.