September 28, 2016
This has been an entire summer of running around having adventures and then trying to catch up between adventures. Not quite finished yet. I’m doing a round of clean-up revisions on Bannerless, plus making my niece’s Halloween costume, plus getting ready for winter, and so on and so on. I have a dive trip scheduled for November, so maybe that will be when I finally let go of this low-grade worry I’m carrying around right now. We’ll see.
In the meantime, I dipped into some reality TV and discovered that TLC found a way to make Toddlers and Tiaras even more awful than it already was: break the kids into teams and pit them against each other. Actually, it’s more like the mothers getting pitted against each other, resulting in a show primarily about grown women acting like 12 year old mean girls. I kept asking myself: Do these women realize that the whole point of this show is to make them look like horrible, horrible people? Do they care? Or do they genuinely think this is a path to fame and riches? Because that path has worked out so well for so many other people, I guess?
A favorite saying among authors: if I put this in a book, no one would believe it.
September 26, 2016
I’m back from Oregon and the premier of my very first play, “Simulation.” Now there’s an experience to check off the list! I had a great time, and only had a slight nervous breakdown a couple of hours before opening night. “But will people like it!” I kept whining. Then, during the performance, people laughed right when they were supposed to, at a joke I was afraid that only I thought was funny, and everything was okay from then on.
I got to see a dress rehearsal and all three performances, and took part in talk-back sessions after each performance. I’m so glad I was able to be there. The actors and director did a great job taking my work, interpreting it and making it their own, which is exactly what I hoped would happen.
So, all in all, this was a great experience and I’m grateful to the Linfield College Theater Department, Ty, Brenda, Janet, Rob, the actors, and director Chris Forrar, for making it happen.
Rob and I are already talking about what we can do next…
September 23, 2016
First full day of autumn. The leaves are turning. The heater is coming on at night.
I’m not sure I’m ready for this.
September 21, 2016
Gosh, that sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Yes, the world premiere of my one-act play, “Simulation,” is happening at Linfield College in Oregon this weekend, and I’ll be on hand to talk about the play and the topics surrounding it.
Performances are September 22, 23, and 24 at 7:30 pm. For more information and to buy tickets, see the website.
I really hope people like it. Nervous new playwright is nervous.
September 19, 2016
The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year Seven is out now and includes my story, “Sun, Stone, Spear.” This is my neolithic fantasy, filled with standing stones and encounters with demons and gods. I really want to do more with this setting. And the whole concept of neolithic epic fantasy, really. It’s on the list.
It’s been a long couple of weeks, finishing up the revisions to Bannerless, recovering after the month of travel, hanging out with visiting friends, and putting my brain back together. Trying to clean the place up some, you know? Also, catching up on 50th anniversary Star Trek showings. Been a long time since I saw “The Trouble with Tribbles” and I’d forgotten just how hysterically funny it is. Oh my goodness. Tribbles clinging to walls will never not be funny.
One thing I want to do in my down time: get out to Walden Ponds to see what’s stopped by on fall migration. That’s the spot that got me back into birding and there always seem to be a ton of waterbirds this time of year. I need a duck fix. Wait, that sounded weird…
September 16, 2016
This week I got to see Labyrinth on the big screen for the first time since it came out. At least, I’m assuming I saw it on the big screen when it was new — I actually don’t remember. But I’m assuming I did since I’ve always, always loved it.
This is such a special movie. Not just because it’s simple and yet filled with depth, but it’s a collaboration between so many creative geniuses, who are clearly enamored with the project, and all that magic comes through.
I understand this is a cleaned up/restored version, and it shows. The colors. The lining of Jareth’s cloak is a deep sparkling blue, and I never noticed that before. The goblins’ eyes glow red when the light hits them right. Much of the landscape of the Labyrinth has this sparkling sheen that’s been muted for 30 years, and now isn’t. There’s apparently a 30th anniversary Blu-ray available. I might need that. (Even though I already own like three copies of this movie.)
And Jareth. My God. The audience cheered at his first appearance. He fills the screen. But what struck me this viewing (besides the fact that I’m always seeing new and wonderful things in the movie) is how much that character is a warning. This is a coming of age story. A big part of it is Sarah leaving childhood behind and growing up. And yes, there’s a sexual component to that, and it’s almost entirely driven by Jareth. But he’s a warning: there are beautiful, beautiful men who will promise you the world. But they steal babies. They’re not good. Parse that sentence: “Let me rule you and I will be your slave.” Which is it? Can’t do both. Yes, this beautiful powerful man is offering to give you all your dreams. And it will only cost yourself, your own will. Sarah, just entering adulthood, will recognize that, now.
I love Jareth because he shows us that villains can be beautiful. They aren’t always ugly. They aren’t necessarily destructive. But they’re still villains. I got to thinking: Is there anyone now who could play Jareth? Who could get across that sense of beauty and power and danger and charisma? Has there ever been anyone who could play that character like Bowie did? Hollywood has lots and lots of pretty boys. But how many pretty, powerful men are there? The mature fae?
(Pause for much weeping and grief for the loss of Bowie.)
Sarah is also a really great character, and another data point on how I think in many cases the 80’s did just fine with women characters. She’s smart, driven, motivated, has agency, learns, and is generally wonderful. At some point I also really want to talk about grief in the story — part of Sarah’s coming of age is moving through grief and letting go of her mother. The film’s hints of this are so, so subtle — the clippings in her scrapbook and on her mirror show a beautiful dark haired woman who is clearly an actress, and I think the one who imparted a love of costumes and fantasy and make-believe to Sarah. But she’s gone now. Did she die? Did she leave? We don’t know. But at the end of the film, Sarah starts pulling those clippings down and putting them away. The movie never talks about this thread explicitly. And I absolutely love that it never does. I don’t think it’s the main part of the movie — it’s just one of many threads in Sarah’s life. I like that there’s a puzzle to figure out.
Gah, yes, I could talk about this movie for ages. I loved that there were parents with kids in the theater. I hope it means that love for this movie will be around for a long long time.
September 14, 2016
So the word around writing and publishing circles over the last couple of years is: urban fantasy isn’t selling anymore. Publishers aren’t buying it. What was hugely popular five years ago is now done. That ship has sailed.
I’ve seen some commentary about this being some big publisher conspiracy to kill the genre — just as I also saw commentary that the popularity of the genre was a publishing conspiracy in the first place. But I’m here to tell you, as an urban fantasy author and someone who worked in a bookstore twenty years ago, publishers are highly reactive and not very good at manufacturing any kind of popularity. They react to sales numbers, and they’re usually chasing trends rather than creating them. (One of my favorite statements ever about publishing trends: everyone was looking for the next Harry Potter, which turned out to be Twilight, then everyone was looking for the next Twilight, which turned out to be The Hunger Games. They’re still looking for the next Hunger Games…)
However it happened, the results have been increasingly clear: authors are having a harder time selling urban fantasy, and readers have had a harder time finding a good series to follow.
Here’s what I think contributed to the crash. Note: this is my perception of the situation, based on my experience as a bookseller and author. A lot of this is subjective experience, so make of it what you will.
–The bar for success in the genre became really high. Sales numbers that would be decent in any other genre didn’t meet expectations for urban fantasy, where publishers were looking for the next #1 New York Times bestseller. If an author didn’t hit the list pretty quick out of the gate, they were dropped.
–Publishers weren’t willing to stick with new authors to let them develop. This led to “series” with only one or two books in them, and if they didn’t hit big right away, they got dropped. Readers often wait until a series has several books in them before they start reading, but if the first books don’t sell, there will never be a series. This happened to dozens of authors.
–At the same time, for a stretch there publishers were buying anything with a hint of vampire/ shapeshifter/romance in them. They were throwing things against the wall to see what might stick — as above, hoping for the next bestseller. (Six years ago I was telling people: it was pretty easy to get a first contract for an urban fantasy novel — and really difficult to get a second contract.)
–As a result, quality became uneven. Readers started to notice the same kinds of characters, the same kinds of storylines, the same tropes. The genre got kind of predictable and boring and they moved on.
–Readers started getting frustrated, both because quality was uneven, and because they’d discover a favorite new author who would vanish within a year or two when their series never had a chance to get off the ground. (Hint: they might still be writing under another name, or they might be e-publishing.) So once again, many readers moved on.
–Sales of mass market paperbacks in general have tanked over the last couple of years. Since most urban fantasy has been in mass market, it’s fallen victim to this trend. (Lots of discussion about why the trend is happening. Are people buying e-books instead? Are nice trade paperbacks simply more economical, since mass markets are almost up to $10 now? I don’t know.)
So, basically, the market became oversaturated with urban fantasy, and various market forces caused a noticeable drop in the sales of urban fantasy, and publishers stopped publishing so much urban fantasy, and so on.
I also think a bunch of authors just got worn out with writing the same series for 10+ years, some of us on 2 book a year schedules. I’m fascinated that a bunch of UF authors wrapped up their series in the space of a couple of years — Kim Harrison, Kelley Armstrong, Charlaine Harris, and so on. This is all part of what let me know that I was making the right decision to wrap up Kitty. Plus, I was at the end of the contract, the storyline was close to the end, and so on. It really was time.
The thing is, and the thing that I’m constantly telling people, especially new authors who are trying to sell urban fantasy novels: urban fantasy isn’t dead. It’s still out there. New UF and UF-adjacent novels are being published all the time, just maybe not in the numbers they were before. Vampire and supernatural fiction has always been around, from the gothics of two hundred years ago on up. It changes, but it never entirely goes away.
Are you an author shopping an urban fantasy novel? Try calling it supernatural mystery or thriller. Or dark fantasy. Or contemporary fantasy. Or find your own term. The thing is, “urban fantasy” of the last 10 years was only ever a marketing term. It was co-opted to describe a kind of fiction that was already happening, and it was only later that people and publishers started looking for fiction to fill that niche, after the niche was already well established. Marketing terms and categories change all the time, in the endless quest to sell books. Don’t let that change how you write or read.