Category: Speculative Fiction

Most villains have a reason for being the way they are. The Runner Up is a villain because being left out made him jealous. The Self-Proclaimed Savior suffered a great injustice and is seeking revenge. The Lunatic, however, is just plain crazy.

The Lunatic may have a reason for becoming crazy, but everything they do after they’ve tipped over the edge is devoid of logic and reason. This makes them one of the most dangerous villains of all.  The hero can’t predict what the Lunatic will do next, can’t reason with him or gain leverage. The Lunatic is willing to sacrifice all to hurt the hero–there is no boundary they won’t cross.

One of the best examples is the Joker–not the Jack Nicholson one but the Heath Ledger one. The Joker had no qualms about blowing up buildings, people, and things. Never thought twice about who or what was destroyed in his wake. He was unpredictable, intelligent, and relentless in his pursuit. Beware the Lunatic.


Debut Urban Fantasy author Jess Haines was gracious enough to share insight into her new series, her experience with publishing, and some tips and resources for new writers. Check it out!

Diaz: You are the author of the new H & W Investigations Series. Tell us about the current release, Hunted by the Others.

Haines: Sure thing!  Here’s the back cover copy from Hunted:

They are the Others—the vampires, mages, and werewolves once thought to exist only in our imaginations. Now they’re stepping out of the shadows, and nothing in our world will ever be the same again…

In a Town Like This, Being A P.I. Can Be Murder

Shiarra Waynest’s detective work was dangerous enough when her client base was strictly mortal. But ailing finances have forced her to accept a lucrative case that could save her firm—if it doesn’t kill her first. Shiarra has signed on to work for a high-level mage to recover an ancient artifact owned by one of New York’s most powerful vampires.

As soon as Shiarra meets sexy, mesmerizing vamp Alec Royce, she knows her assignment is even more complicated than she thought. With a clandestine anti-Other group trying to recruit her, and magi being eliminated, Shiarra needs back-up and enlists her ex-boyfriend—a werewolf whose non-furry form is disarmingly appealing—and a nerdy mage with surprising talents. But it may not be enough. In a city where the undead roam, magic rules, and even the Others aren’t always what they seem, Shiarra has just become the secret weapon in a battle between good and evil—whether she likes it or not…

You can get a sneak peek at the first chapter here.

Diaz: The second book, Taken by Others comes out January 2011. Did you intend on it being a series when you started?

Haines: I wrote Hunted by the Others to be standalone, but started working on the second book while I was in the midst of my hunt for an agent.  I made a brief mention in my query letter that I could see expanding into a series, but didn’t make a big thing of it.  My fabulous agent, Ellen Pepus, took me at my word and negotiated a three book deal with Kensington!  I’m hard at work on DECEIVED BY THE OTHERS (book #3 in the H&W Investigations series) and am keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll see more of Shiarra and her friends after that.

Diaz: What other projects do you have in the works?

Haines: I’ve got a few things up my sleeves!  As I mentioned above, I’m working on book #3, Deceived by the Others.  Don’t hold me to this, but I believe that one is expected to hit stores in July, 2011.

I’ve also got a couple of novellas—one called Spark of Temptation that can be found in the anthology Nocturnal.  It tells the story of how Sara and Arnold got together in the span between Hunted and Taken by the OthersNocturnal is releasing in September, 2010.  I’ve got another novella coming out next year in an anthology called The Real Werewives of Vampire County.  Sorry, no release date on that one—yet!

There’s more brewing in the background, but unfortunately it’s too early for me to make any announcements.  You can stay on top of the latest news on my blog or by signing up for my newsletter.

Diaz: What attracted you to the Urban Fantasy genre?

Haines: There’s no one thing I can put my finger on.  I’ve always been a gamer geek with an interest in the fantastical, so it was no great leap of logic for me to take the next step and write some of it myself.  Add my love of vampires, werewolves, and cheesy 80’s horror movies to the mix, and you’ll see how it was only a matter of time before I’d give in and write an urban fantasy.

Originally, when I set out to write a novel for publication, I started out thinking I would jump into the deep end of the high fantasy pool by writing some huge epic in the style of Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, or George R.R. Martin.

It took me a while to figure out that I was taking myself way too seriously.  In late 2007, I set aside the high fantasy and took my cue from Jim Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Patricia Briggs by setting a new story in an alternate now and spicing it up with a touch of humor.  Voila!  HUNTED BY THE OTHERS was born!  Err, written…!

Diaz: You spent several years as a technical writer. Was that just a cover as you pursued a career as a fiction author, or did the decision to write fiction come later?

Haines: Actually, I’m still a technical writer.  That’s my day job—it pays the bills, while the money I make from writing fiction is used to pay for all those little things I always wanted, but never quite managed to save up for.

I’ve been writing fiction far longer than I’ve been writing the technical stuff, but didn’t decide to pursue a potential career as a novelist until a couple of years ago.  My only regret is that I didn’t do this sooner.

Diaz: What about the publishing process surprised you most?

Haines: That my editor did not turn ten feet tall and breathe fire when I had the temerity to offer my own opinions.  *g*

Seriously, this whole process continues to amaze me.  Everyone has been remarkably cool to work with—from my agent, to my editor, to my publicist, to my fans.  Even the bloggers—like yourself!—who offer me a spot to talk or simply share your views on my work floor me with your thoughtfulness and generosity.  You guys are all incredible.  Thank you!

Diaz: What was the greatest challenge you faced trying to get your work onto the shelves?

Haines: Getting past my own insecurity.  It took a lot for me to put aside my personal demons and submit my work to anyone.  If not for one of my closest friends pushing and prodding me to do it, I may never have persevered in my hunt for an agent or gotten as far as I have today.

Diaz: What advice to you have for aspiring writers?

Haines: Don’t despair—there’s always hope!  As long as you don’t give up, and are open to looking at ways to improve your craft, you can find success.

Whenever you feel disheartened by rejections or critiques, remember that it doesn’t mean you can’t make it.  All it means is that you’ve got more work to do to find a home for your baby—whether it be a few edits, a lot of edits, or a whole rewrite.  Remember, success in this business doesn’t come overnight, and it isn’t easy, or everyone would be doing it.

While I’m beating that drum, I’ll list a few good resources for writers:

That’s far from a complete list.  I’ve got more links to handy resources on my blogroll, too.  I’m also open to questions—though I can’t always promise a speedy reply.  Contact me anytime!

The world is decaying–morally, genetically, intellectually, or some other way–humanity can no longer be left to its own devices. In steps the Self-Proclaimed Savior. Steeped in good intentions, the misguided efforts of the Self-Proclaimed Savior usually work against the free will of the people he is saving. Oftentimes it means the demise or eradication of a species–hence the villain stigma.

My favorite example is Magneto. Our polarizing friend believes that the only way for mutants to be free is to rid the world of humans–the weak link in the genetic chain. Despite his love of mutants, he is willing to sacrifice anyone–mutant or otherwise–for his cause and will destroy anyone who gets in his way. Even his docile attempt to create a new world in Avalon came with many challenges, and well, a villain will almost always default back to his deviant ways when things go wrong.

So beware the villain who claims to be acting in your best interest, they may not be so altruistic after all.

“Set 10 years after spelunkers stumbled into a literal Hell and later led a supposedly successful expedition to kill Satan, this story opens on Halloween, when underground creatures abduct dozens of children and slay any adults trying to stop them. Grieving mother and widow Rebecca Coltrane, the media-anointed public face of the disaster, makes clever political use of the publicity to launch a major military expedition underneath the Earth in search of her daughter and the other missing children. As war brews underground between the explorers and the quasi-human hadals, aboveground tensions increase between China and the U.S.” –Publisher’s Weekly

This is the first review I have ever done for a book I couldn’t finish reading–not because the writing was bad or the plot unbelievable. In fact, I found the writing very good and the plot deeply intriguing.  Unfortunately, the horrors that manifested quickly became too real and hit too close to home for me to finish the book and maintain my peace of mind.

I picked up Deeper on a whim as I scanned the bargain section at Barnes & Noble. The opening lines piqued my interest, with an intriguing voice and a set of circumstances worth exploring. I started reading and was quickly sucked into interesting narrative voices and a crazy world where hell exists, and it lives several thousand feet below the earth’s surface. The book explores this world through the point of view of five different characters. Normally this bothers me, but each character–though of different gender and backgrounds–all came across as authenticate and well-developed. The author also described an unusual world–a world I came to find by accident actually has some merit in science based on a nonfiction book with a similar title to the prequel for Deeper, the Descent.

The problem started about a hundred pages in. This was the first instance of violence against children. As a mom I took this pretty hard. I put it down for a couple of days then decided to plow my way through, hoping for a silver lining. I worked my way through another hundred and fifty pages, suffering nightmares the whole way until finally the book took a turn that as a mother I just could not go. I put it down for good.

After reading some reviews and doing research on the author I discovered that the storyline dead-ends with no resolution. I found this rather unsettling and can only guess at why this is the case, but I can say that I did like the premise and the writing, and if you don’t have kids I would say it may be worth your reading, but if you are a parent do not read this book. It will only add to your pre-existing stock of parental dread and worry.

While not battling Evil Attic Clowns and commanding an ever growing army of garden gnomes, Jeremy Shipp finds the time to write amazing stories of bizarro fantasies and all around tomfoolery. He took time out of a food fight to answer a few of my ever so probing questions.

Diaz: Your most recent novel, Cursed, was nominated for a Bram Stoker award. What did you do when you found out?

Shipp: Upon hearing the good news, I threw on my pointy red cap and dashed into my garden to dance a gnomic jig. Afterward, I devoured a celebratory bowl of chunky peanut butter.

Diaz: Did you do any special marketing in the hopes of being nominated for the Bram Stoker?

Shipp: I sent copies of Cursed to those HWA members who wished to read the novel. I also wished on three shooting stars, and I threw a magic penny into a magic well. Well, a semi-magic well, as I couldn’t find a well that was 100% magic.

Diaz: You published Cursed through an independent press, Raw Dog Press. What was your motivation for choosing an indie press over a big house?

Shipp: I’ve been working with Raw Dog for quite a few years now, and they’ve always been good to me. John Lawson and Jennifer Barnes are passionate about the books they publish, and they are always respectful toward their authors. Perhaps someday I will work with a big house, but no matter what happens, I will always be proud of my indie roots.

Diaz: Your screenplay “Egg” has now been transformed into a short film. Why make the leap from written word to film?

Shipp: Films have always held a special place in my heart, and in my spleen. As a writer, I’m significantly inspired by creative geniuses such as Terry Gilliam, Takashi Miike, Hayao Miyazaki, Park Chan-Wook. And so, I jumped at the opportunity to write a short film.

Diaz: What was the process for creating the “Egg” film?

Shipp: Director/producer Jayson Densmen read one of my novels, and contacted me about doing a project together. Eventually, we decided to collaborate on a short film. I wrote the screenplay and acted as a creative consultant. Egg can be viewed in its entirety here.

Diaz: You recently created an alter ego on twitter, TheAtticClown. What was your reason for doing this and how do you handle managing two personas?

Shipp: I created an account for the Attic Clown, because the more time he spends tweeting, the less he spends throwing moldy pies at me and slapping me with rubber chickens. The attic clown character has existed in my skull for a couple years now, and so giving him a voice comes easily for me. Handling two personas is simple enough. I just give my light side a break every once in a while and let my dark silly side take over.

Diaz: Cursed came out Halloween 2009. Do you have anything new in the pipeline?

Shipp: My newest book, Fungus of the Heart, is coming out Halloween 2010. This is a book about relationships—the good, the bad, and the weird. Mostly the weird. I’m also working on an attic clown story collection, a new novel, a comic book series, a short film, and a few other projects.

Diaz: You write a large number of short stories. What is your reason for doing this (purely artistic, to build your career, etc.)?

Shipp: Basically, I have so many worlds and characters in my head that I don’t have enough time on this planet to write about each of them in novel form. Short stories allow me to explore all my worlds. In addition to this, I love short stories. I love the challenge of writing about so much in so few words. I also love the fact that I can write an entire story in a few days or weeks. Finishing a project is a nice feeling.

Diaz: Is your process for writing short stories different than it is when you write a novel?

Shipp: When writing a novel, I tend to brainstorm and research more. I might spend a few months thinking about a novel before starting the first page. On the other claw, when I’m writing a short story, I tend to dive right in.

Diaz: You recently began teaching creative writing classes. Why take the time to do this?

Shipp: My parents are teachers. My grandmother was a teacher. Teaching is in my blood. Also, teaching these classes gives me the opportunity to help aspiring writers learn the craft and business of writing. And that’s a wonderful, satisfying thing.

Jeremy C. Shipp is the Bram Stoker nominated author of Cursed, Vacation, and Sheep and Wolves. His shorter tales have appeared or are forthcoming in over 50 publications, the likes of Cemetery Dance, Apex Magazine, ChiZine, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction and Withersin. Jeremy enjoys living in Southern California in a moderately haunted Victorian farmhouse called Rose Cottage. He lives there with his amazing wife, Lisa, and an eccentric cat named Lattis who may or may not be a space alien. Jeremy’s yard gnomes like him. The clowns in his attic–not so much.

Yes, I know I’m behind the curve again, but in my defense I heard that it wasn’t good and waited until it came out on HBO before I watched it. I’m glad I saved the $30.

Despite the great previews and the flashy action sequences, this movie was an overall let down. To begin with, the characters were cardboard archetypes. First they present the troubled hero discovering his awkward talents and using them to do not so heroic things (like Spiderman wrestling for money). Then there was the pristine hometown sweetheart left behind by the troubled hero who returns to sweep her off her feet once more. She goes with him without question to wherever because of course, however many years later she is completely available (having waited for him) and willing to believe anything. It didn’t help that the acting fell flat too, but even Samuel Jackson wasn’t able to redeem the boring, cookie cutter evangelist leader of some secret agency out to rid the world of people who don’t fit in.

In addition to boring characters and less than stellar acting was the slow-moving and underdeveloped plot. The sequence ran in a loop from a brief and exciting moment of action to twenty minutes of horribly lagging narrative. Character motivations never developed well enough to justify the sudden changes in the character’s decisions or actions. The entire plot culminated into too many loose ends, unresolved subplots, and basically a big giant question mark.

The only redeeming factor of this movie was the action scenes. The special effects were pretty amazing and the action was well-coordinated. Even some of the more unbelievable effects came off well, I just wish the story and characters had come together at the same caliber. All in all, if you are really bored one day and there is nothing else on and you can’t find the remote then maybe leave the television on to watch this movie–but only if you can’t find the remote.

In this installment of Villain Archetypes, we look at the classic villain boilerplate I like to call “The Runner Up.” This person always comes in second next to the hero, whether in terms of professional or romantic conquests (sometimes both). The constant thwarting fuels a deep-rooted hatred spurred by jealousy and an intense desire to be the one in the spotlight. Oftentimes, the Runner Up is always in second place because they are lacking in intelligence, creativity, strength, charisma, or some combination thereof.

Because they know they can’t best the hero on their own, the Runner Up decides to join forces with another villain. This villain tends to be less flamboyant, but also more intelligent and cunning than the foolish Runner Up funding the endeavor. Unfortunately, the Runner Up can’t control their partner, and suddenly finds themselves in an even worse situation then before (third place).

I’ll use iron Man 2 as an example since it just came out and even non-comic book geeks will be able to follow the story. Weapons manufacturer Hammer continually falls in second place to Tony Stark both professionally and personally. Frustrated, Hammer is willing to work with a convicted felon Vanko in order to best Stark on his own turf.  As predicted, Vanko is an unstable and unwieldly villain in his own way and bent on doing more than just show up Stark–he wants murder.

This theme is common in all types of superhero media, from movies and comic books to television shows and novels. Jealousy is an old motive. It’s just more fun when they have superpowers and gadgets.

Kelly Meding entered the realm of Urban Fantasy with her fist book Three Days to Dead. With the sequel, As Lie the Dead, coming out this July and several more stories in the works, I decided to ask Kelly what’s it’s like creating and managing a series.

Diaz: Why do a series instead of a single book?

Meding: As a reader, I love series, because when I find a group of characters I enjoy spending time with I want to keep reading about them. It isn’t dissimilar to a long-running television show—same people, new story every week. Urban fantasy really works well for writing a series, because often the world the characters inhabit is just as much of a character as the actual characters. It’s a world that I want to keep exploring.

When I wrote THREE DAYS TO DEAD, I knew it was going to be part of a series. The world of Dreg City has so many layers, so much backstory, that I knew I couldn’t explore it in just one book. A series lets me play in this awesome sandbox, expand the lives of minor characters, and build an over-arcing story that I hope readers enjoy following.

Diaz: How did you sell your publisher on the idea of a series?

Meding: Fortunately, urban fantasy is kind of tailor-made for a series. There are very few UF debuts that aren’t part of a series or trilogy—which I know is frustrating for readers who prefer standalone novels, but it’s great for me. And because it’s a series, it’s easier to sell multiple books at once.

Diaz: How are you managing keeping track of subplots and details as each storyline progresses?

Meding: Several years ago, I read an awesome post over at the Fangs, Fur & Fey livejournal community, written by Yasmine Galenorn. She described her Series Bible, which is how she keeps track of her series, and the idea of it really stuck with me. For Dreg City, I have a 3-ring binder, and in it are divided sections, loose leaf paper, folders, and plastic sleeves. I have sections for Hunters & Handlers, Other Humans, Weres, Vampires, Other Critters, etc….

I try to keep notes as I go. If I add a minor character, I put their name into the notebook so it’s there if I need to reference them again later. If I make a backstory observation on someone, I write it down. Sometimes I forget to do this and I have to go back through a document to find something, which is a pain in the butt. Now that I’m writing Book 4, having this Series Bible around is especially important because the world is expanding all over the place.

Diaz: Is the personality or tone of the world you’ve created changing in ways you didn’t expect?

Meding: It continues to get darker with each book, which I didn’t expect (this might sound funny to people who know me and know I tend to write dark). But I suppose there’s truth to the saying “it’s always darkest before dawn,” and it applies here. Evangeline Stone and Company are heading for…something. And it’s just going to get worse before it gets better. If it gets better (ha!). But I’m glad that things still surprise me, because it keeps the world exciting and fun to play in.

Diaz: How far ahead are you plotting–two, three, twenty books down the line?

Meding: I have a general idea of where the series is going to go, but I’m not really a plotter. I know where two of the larger plots are heading and how they’ll change the landscape of the series as a whole, but I don’t have the book-specific events laid out yet. Once I finish writing Book 4 and have a better idea of how this one ends, I’ll have a better grasp of the next book.

Diaz: What are your plans in the future (e.g another series, a stand alone, life as a carny)?

Meding: Life as a carny sounds like fun, if this writing thing doesn’t pan out. *grin* I’d like to see the Dreg City series continue for a few more books, which is completely in the hands of other people (like my loyal readers). I also have a new series coming out next year with Pocket Books, which I will be talking more about in the near future. And there are half a dozen other projects crowding my brain, so we’ll see what develops.

Diaz: What are your favorite series by other authors?

Meding: The Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost; Lords of the Underworld and Alien Huntress by Gena Showalter; the Shifters series by Rachel Vincent; the Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs; Hell on Earth series by Jackie Kessler; ACRO by Sydney Croft; the Kate Daniels/Magic books by Ilona Andrews…I could go on and on, but these always stick out.

Diaz: What do you like about those series?

Meding: The characters. Some of them are urban fantasy, and some are paranormal romance. In some the same character narrates all the books, and in some the lead characters change with each volume. But it’s the characters, nonetheless, who draw me back each and every time. I want to experience their adventures, and I want to be by their sides as they live and love.

After the characters is the world building. All of those series I listed above are unique, creative, and just fantastic examples of world building. Each book tells me something new, and each book expands what’s already known.

Diaz:  Anything I missed, but you think may be important to a writer contemplating writing a series?

Meding: Know your world. There’s nothing worse than wanting to do something in the third book, only to realize you’ve established in book one that you can’t do this/something else is true. So be careful about the rules you create—make sure they’re rules you can stick to for the duration.

Being the super-geek that I am, and because of the major hint dropped at the end of Iron Man 2, I can not stop thinking about the Avengers and Thor.

My love for comic books started at a very early age. Not in 1960 when the first Thor comic hit the stands, but in 1984 when I purchased Clash of the Titans at the ripe old age of 5. I soon discovered X-Men, Wonder Woman, the Avengers, The Justice League, and well I can’t get enough of the classics or the new emerging characters.

Why comic books?

I get asked this all the time, especially because I am a woman (for those of you who weren’t already aware of that fact). The answer:

Comic Books and the characters in them show me what can be. They represent endless possibilities while also communicating the relate-able, heart warming and often tragic facets of the human condition. They talk about love, hate, family, government, fear, want, need, mercy, greed, and occasionally an unhealthy addiction to candy bars (HellBoy). We all can relate to that one!

I love comic books so much I even started out my higher education career pursuing an art degree hoping to go work for an Indie studio and creating some new beloved character. I got pregnant instead, and went after a real degree. Now I’m back to my obsession, writing about superheroes and signing up for art classes.

Side note–follow your passion. There is no such thing as a real job. Sorry mom.

Back to comic books–you can imagine how incredibly nuts I have been going over the resurgence of comic books and the many amazing movies coming out. I’ve been watching the many attempts to translate comic books to the big screen. I felt terribly deflated after HeMan, and the X Men: Generation X pilot was so cheesy it made me cry. Even though X Men 3 totally pissed me off (along with anyone who actually read the comic books), they cannot extinguish my love for the printed comic book and I will still go and see every comic based movie they put out.  Which reminds me, where is my Wonder Woman they’ve been promising me?

Rarely do I find books that:

  1. Make me look at tennis balls with extreme dread.
  2. Make me want to hug my mom.
  3. Make me lose all sense of time and space.

Cursed follows Nicholas and Cicely, two people cursed in their own way but both convinced their condition is the result of the deliberate and malicious actions of some person or entity. They form a support group for others like them and find a way to stop their tormentor.

When I got the book I sort of nonchalantly opened it thinking I would start reading it later. In what felt like only five minutes, I had read almost fifty pages, completely caught up in the intriguing dialogue and unique characters. I read pretty fast, but its been a long time since I devoured a book. It surprised me, scared me, warmed my heart, made me fall in love, and appreciate those people who don’t let normal get in the way of their happiness. No handsome young men or gorgeous galls, just normal and genuine people put in an extraordinary situation.  I would reccomend this book for several reasons:

  1. You should read a little bizarro every now and then to keep you from becoming complacent in your normalcy
  2. It’s just the right weight and size for taking out Evil Attic Clowns
  3. It’s the perfect gift for the garden gnome in your life
  4. It really is a good book