Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wicked Gentlemen: Sex, Violence & Long Teeth

Finally, I allowed myself the luxury of setting aside half a day just to read. Delicious! I opened my copy of Ginn Hale's Wicked Gentlemen and dove in. By the way, here's where you can get it:

Hella cover, too . . . ain'a?

For those of you who haven't heard of Wicked Gentlemen, this two-part novel has garnered rapturous praise from everybody who's read it. Without exception. And, as much as I despise being a copycat, I must add my rapturous praise to the field. I can only describe the book by stringing together words and phrases, because one alone won't do. It's a moody steampunk futuristic urban dystopian gay fantasy romance thriller. And, yes, an absolutely stunning work. (I'm not going to launch into a big ol' synopsis-and-review thing here, because the book has been out for almost a year and there's plenty of commentary already to be found on the 'Net.)

The world Hale constructs is simultaneously repugnant and absorbing. Demonic protagonist Belimai Sykes is one of the most layered, poignant, darkly fascinating and thoroughly unlikely "heroes" I've ever come across--an anti-hero, actually. His lover, the all-too-human Captain Harper, is Belimai's perfect complement. The book's first section, especially, is a stylistic tour de force. Packed within economical prose are images so vivid they're breathtaking. I felt my mode of perception had been altered. That effect is no small accomplishment for a writer.

I'm still in awe.

Is the work perfect? No . . . as much as I wanted it to be. But rather than pick and poke at it, I'll just focus on one aspect of Wicked Gentlemen that particularly struck me: its treatment of two subjects near and dear to our cultural hearts.

Sex and violence.

I found a jarring discrepancy in the author's approach to them.

Hale neither quails from nor wallows in bloodshed. Her touch is deft. She describes Belimai's ravaged body with a stark lyricism as elegant as it is brutal. Those paragraphs were mesmerizing. Subsequent scenes of savagery are rendered in unflinching detail that manages to steer clear of sadistic relish.

Yet, when the protagonists' first sexual encounter takes place, Hale rushes through it with an odd diffidence, as if neither she nor we have any business being there. The second engagement (and there are only two in the whole book) is a bit more prolonged but still marked by circumspection and even a dash of awkwardness. Suddenly, the prose becomes a bit creaky and teeters toward cliche.

It almost seems as if this is Hale's first time wading into these descriptive waters, and her otherwise assured authorial voice suddenly abandons her (not entirely, of course, but enough to be noticeable). In any case, I found it odd. There was so much unrealized potential for sensuality, which would have provided a lush counterbalance to all the grungy bleakness, that I wanted to scream. Moreover, Belimai and Harper deserved the author's indulgence of their physical attraction and emotional bond. Their relationship is emblematic of everything sorely lacking in their world.

Now, here's where I get picky. Or maybe not. I'm rather surprised no one else has raised this, uh . . . point.

When creating nonhuman characters who will end up having sex with human characters, it's important that the author consider the physical traits of those nonhumans. Hale's demons or "Prodigals" have yellow eyes, black fingernails, pointed ears, black hair. So far, so good. All are appropriate distinguishing features. BUT . . . it's when teeth are added to the profile that problems arise. You see, the demons' teeth are long. And pointed. And not, as far as I could tell, retractable.

I kept thinking of those damned teeth whenever Belimai got cozy with Harper. How did they manage to kiss in a passionate way? More disturbing to contemplate was oral sex. I'm sure you catch my drift. Why wasn't Harper's tongue or penis shredded into something resembling the streamers on a wind sock? I would much rather have seen the demon with a triangular navel or vestigial tail -- anything less obtrusive, in terms of physical intimacy, than long, sharp teeth. Ouch. I kept hoping the author would explain that arousal dulled them. Or something.

Anyway, Wicked Gentlemen is not a tale for squeamish readers who like stories woven from sunbeams. Although it does have an uplifting ending, getting there is an often grim ride. More important, though, the book is remarkable and gripping and infinitely more satisfying than the uninspired and derivative fiction that hogs store shelves and bestseller lists. It's more than just a good read. It's an utterly unique experience that demands the imagination's immersion. And what a thrill that immersion is.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Can YOU judge a book by its cover?

Another observation from my late-evening blog-hopping (and one that was confirmed by a little vid I saw featuring an editor from a NY publishing house): Covers can have a significant impact on book sales. Some readers might be resistant to this notion. I know I was. Hey, we're all about content, right?

Well, apparently not.

Packaging plays an extremely important role in the peddling of a product. Any product. Corporations and their advertising firms spend bundles of money researching the effect various visual elements have on consumers' psyches. Many of our reactions are "visceral" or subconscious, but that doesn't lessen the importance of those reactions in our decision-making processes.

So, back to books. One might assume covers only count when they're arrayed on the shelves of brick-and-mortar outlets. I've come to realize this isn't so. E-book covers also catch readers' attention, often in a distinctly positive or negative way, and thus influence their immediate impressions--of individual companies, authors, and any given book's literary worth. This initial impression then affects a reader's decision whether or not to take a chance on that publisher, author, or book.

Here's what I've noticed within the e-publishing community. Certain high-profile reviewers--those whose attention is most coveted--seem to gravitate toward certain publishers' output and avoid others'. It's a bit mystifying, since the same authors often have titles out with different companies. Mrs. Giggles, for example, seems to favor Samhain and Liquid Silver books. Dear Author seems to favor Samhain books. Ellora's Cave offerings don't show up with nearly the frequency one might expect, although they do occasionally appear. Loose Id, a highly regarded company, is beginning to make its presence known. However, I can't remember ever having seen a Changeling Press book reviewed at any of the more "influential" sites.

Hm. Why the seemingly preferential treatment? I think a lot of it has to do with covers . . . and the resulting perceptions of those companies' (not to mention others') products. This has to be it, because, quite frankly, quality and crap in terms of content are spread pretty evenly throughout all e-publishers. Print, too, for that matter.

Samhain, Liquid Silver, and Loose Id do have classy cover art. Whether subtle or stunning, their covers are well thought-out and artistically composed. They have both visual and emotional appeal. Such art speaks well for--and, at its best, reflects--whatever story lies behind it. Ellora's Cave covers are heavy on chests. (I guess a pun is lurking there, but just ignore it.) Bare chests here, bare chests there, chests chests everywhere. Or what the Smart Bitches, bless 'em, so aptly call "man titty". This seems to strengthen the oft-expressed opinion that all EC books are essentially the same: They're porny pap; they're sexual romps devoid of substance. (This is very much NOT the case, by the way, but try to convince some people of that!)

And then there's Changeling. I publish with this company. And I love it like crazy. Changeling is a standup operation run by wonderful people. Many EC, Samhain, LI, and LS authors also publish with ChP, so it isn't some damned waste dump. But, alas, Changeling's much maligned covers seem to have put it at a disadvantage in the first-impression race. Needless to say, this can be a worrisome situation to authors. A well crafted piece of fiction deserves to be fronted by a well crafted cover . . . and, when it isn't, can suffer in terms of both critical recognition and sales.

So, yes, something as superficial as the way a book looks is often viewed as an indication of how a book reads. There's absolutely no relation between the two. But you'll never convince all buyers of that.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Excerpt time ~ Tormented

My upcoming release (April 25) from Changeling Press, Tormented, is a follow-up tale to my Ellora's Cave novel Plagued but can be read as a stand-alone.

The heroine, a vampire named Rahenna, has a nasty infection she apparently received while feeding off a fisherman in the Azores. As it turns out, he was no ordinary man. Oops. (Can't tell you more without dishing up a spoiler.) Anyway, the primary manifestation of this condition is a vicious, amoral aggression unleashed by sexual hunger. So when Rahenna appears at the birthday party of one of her fledglings, a man who has recently reverted to mortality, her presence is hardly a welcome one.

But there is light at the end of this dark tunnel. Diagnosing and healing Rahenna's affliction requires the knowledge and services of an even older vamp. And what he does, he does extremely well . . .

By the way, reversion to mortality is indeed a very rare occurrence among vampires. It's explained both in Plagued and here, in Tormented.

In the following excerpt, Adin is the birthday boy and the third character is Adin's best friend. He ain't ordinary, either. Rahenna, much to her chagrin, is misbehaving.

* * * * *

Adin guided Rahenna around the corner of the house to a recessed doorway. He looked directly into her eyes. "Don’t touch that man," he said quietly but firmly. "And I mean, not so much as a handshake. Not so much as your knees brushing together beneath a table."

Half irked and half amused, she lifted her brows. "Why? He looks quite sturdy. I doubt he’ll break."

Adin lifted a cautionary forefinger in front of her face. "Don’t. Touch him. Not for a second." He lowered his hand. "You need to take me seriously, Raney. Steer clear of him." He looked around at the dimming sky. "Have any of them shown up yet?"

Rahenna knew what he meant, although she’d momentarily forgotten her reason for being here. Her beast had definitely grown restive. "No. It’s still a little too early. Now tell me why I’m not to touch your friend."

"I can’t get into that now."

"So I’m simply to let myself be ordered about, like a child?"

"Cut the petulant bullshit," Adin hissed. "Just trust me."

His anger excited her. Before Rahenna could think, her hand shot out and curled behind his head. She pulled him forward, crushing her mouth against his. Adin’s lips were a soft, humid pillow. She felt the delicate warm pumping of blood through their capillaries. Exquisite. Delicious. But he wasn’t returning the kiss. His mouth remained closed beneath hers; his lips, motionless. She pressed and rubbed her breasts against his chest, the tough mounds of muscle resistant to her soft flesh. The feel of his hard nipples sliding across hers drove her wild. But despite his quickened breathing, Adin was trying to push her away.

Rahenna wouldn’t allow it. Now far stronger than he, she easily had the upper hand.

"Get off me," he grated.

Her rape fantasy resurfaced with a vengeance. She felt the fangs emerge, their rapier points grazing the lining of her upper lip. Her fingers tightened in Adin’s silken hair, forcing his head back, exposing his throat. Simultaneously, her free hand slithered to his crotch. He had an incipient erection. Desire for him roared through her body.

And then her body was being forced away from his, as if a large wedge had been driven between them. Startled, gasping for air, Rahenna doubled over. Something was pushing forcefully at the anterior side of her body, something she could neither see nor touch. Suddenly, she was forced backward so abruptly that she tumbled to the ground.

Bewildered, she peered up at Adin through a thin veil of fallen hair. He was drooped forward, panting, staring at her with almost palpable scorn.

"I’m sorry," Rahenna whispered. "I couldn’t seem to stop myself." What else could she say?

"Save it," Adin snapped. He straightened, forking his hands through his hair. "That," he said, shooting a forefinger in her direction, "is precisely why you need to stay away from Jackson Spey. The two of you could really do some damage to each other."

A tall figure stepped out of the shadows. He extended a hand to help Rahenna up. As soon as she grasped it, something like an electric shock sizzled up her arm and along the length of her spine. When she tried to jerk her hand away, she couldn’t. She faltered to her feet and gaped at Adin’s friend.

"I would love like hell to fuck you to kingdom come," he said calmly, "but you seem to have a serious lack of impulse control."

Rahenna squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. Her hands balled into fists. "God damn it, I have to find a cure for this!"

"Try killing one of the ‘uninvited’ guests," Spey suggested in the same wry tone. "It did the trick for Adin."

"That’s not what I’m talking about," Rahenna muttered. Forehead furrowing, she looked at him more pointedly. "You know?"

He answered with three languid nods.

"About Adin? About me?"

Two more nods. "Adin and I have been friends for a decade or so. And we talked on the phone last night." Spey leaned one shoulder against the edge of the doorway, casually crossing his arms and legs. He continued to watch her. The barest hint of a smile toyed with one corner of his mouth. "I’m beginning to wonder if there even will be party crashers. Or if you just sort of"—he pursed his lips for a second—"invented a big, fat vampire scare so Adin would invite you here. For protection, of course. You do seem to like him an awful lot."

"How dare you call me a liar!" Infuriated by Spey’s implication, Rahenna stepped toward him. Another invisible force pushed her back, but more gently this time.

She was about to ask, What the hell are you? when the answer came to her. "You’re a bloody wizard," she whispered.

Spey shrugged. "Everybody’s got to be something." He stood straight, cracked his neck, rolled his shoulders. "I just wish you wouldn’t use that adjective in conjunction with any reference to me."

Wearily, Adin chuckled in his pocket of darkness.


Rahenna tensed. They were coming.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

CAULDRON Gets "Reviewer Top Pick"

From those wonderful chicklettes--Lisa, this time--at Night Owl Romance. She even complimented me on my writing skills! Hugzillas to Lisa and to Tammie King, the Queen Owl. Cauldron of Keridwen, the follow-up to my first Galdeshian fantasy, Wing and Tongue, is available from Ellora's Cave:

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Featured Author at The Romance Studio ~ Blue

That's what I am. Along with my recent Ellora's Cave fantasy Cauldron of Keridwen. You can check out the interview and all other attendant info by going here: http:// .