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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Revisiting the Black Planet

It's been over a year and a half since the last Black Planet book was published at Changeling Press. Three years since the first book, Little Dragon went live. We decided to put the three books into a collection, and I meant to write a 7K short story to throw in with the three books. Instead, I decided to delve back into the cyber-punk/sci fi world of Wharf, Hong Kong and Nephris and finish out the series.

It was a lot of fun re-reading those books. After writing Little Dragon, I decided that I needed to lay a bit of groundwork, so Dragon's Blood and Tiger Eyes were actually set about 30 years prior to Rose Lee's story. Now that I'm starting back on the series, we're back in Rose's time and the stories will take place after her return to Earth.

I never really intended to redeem the villain that one reviewer classified as the sleaziest, creepiest villain ever. LOL! How do you fix someone who's so obviously broken as Kitsune Jung? Well, it took some thought, some empathy and some creativity. We all have motivations for the things we do, and Kit isn't alone in this fact. He knows he was a bad boy, and by the time his story opens, all Kit wants is to go home and make peace with Rose Lee. In truth, I didn't intend for him to be a villain, he was modeled after a typical Northern California male; somewhat spoiled and self-centered. I found that after finishing the book, it was clear that I'd have to go back in and rescue Kit. It sort of gnawed away at my conscience, leaving him in such a bad situation.

Developing his heroine was tricky as well. Kit Jung is damaged goods by the time the story opens. His heroine had to be empathetic enough to understand this, but strong enough to stand on her own two feet and sometimes carry Kit. She also had to be enough of a woman to bring out his protective side. In truth, he's not an alpha male. But he's not a wimp; his heroism emerges in ways that surprised me, and almost broke my heart.

Hu Fei is a tough woman, damaged in her own right, and she has successfully survived her own gauntlet. She is the only daughter of Aiden Chen and Annie Tanaka from Dragon's Blood. She's Rose's younger cousin, and all her life, has lived in the shadow of the flamboyant, larger than life Rose Lee. She's a quiet, strong heroine, completely the opposite of her cousin. Where Rose storms into a situation, Hu Fei thinks it through and uses her wits. In Mandarin, her name means "Flying Fox." I think the name suits her, she's got a wry sense of humor and can pull out the moves when necessary.

I didn't realize how much I missed the Lee family until I took out the manuscripts and started revisiting them again. Like the other Black Planet books, this one just floated out of me, so very clear and easy to write. I can't wait to get started on the next book!

Black Planet: the Little Dragon Collection releases at Changeling Press on July 2, Black Planet II: Little Foxes releases July 16, also at Changeling Press.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Black Planet Collection

I'm so excited to announce that the three Black Planet books are going to be bundled into a collection, which will go live at Changeling Press on July 2! This has been one of my favorite series of books to write, and it was a surprise when I realized that it has been nearly two years since I wrote Tiger Eyes.

These three books are full of action and adventure, and I borrowed heavily from Japanese and Chinese culture and folklore to build the characters and the world they live in. I focused on the heroines for these books, they are the true stars of the series.

Here's a quick rundown on the three books that will be featured in the collection:

Black Planet: Dragon's Blood:
This is the story of Aiden Chen and Annie Tanaka and takes place in Wharf, a ramshackle city within a city that grew up after a great earthquake devastated the Bay Area. There's a vampiric monster on the loose, preying on nanite enhanced cage fighters. Its up to Detective Annie Tanaka and her former partner Aiden Chen to ferret out the creature and bring it to justice. Old enemies become new lovers as danger brings them new understanding of one another.

Black Planet: Tiger Eyes:
Once upon a time, Grace Chen was the most feared woman on the streets of San Francisco. Now she's a shell of that person, slowly dying of the hemo disease they call Dragon's Blood.

Lieutenant Milo Greene has little to live for other than his job. However, when the Thalian Darah Lash and Milo become lovers, a new, hopeful world opens to him. When Milo receives word that his former lover Grace is in need of rescue, Darah willingly joins him, in spite of Milo's past with the fiery woman.

Black Planet: Little Dragon
Rose Lee is seriously injured during an arrest, and finds that the only way she can continue to make payments on her beloved ship is to take a private courier job. It was supposed to be safe and easy, until she and her client stumble into the space of the dangerous, hostile Nephris. She is betrayed to the alien Commander Arad Soheil, and makes the surprising discovery that she is actually part of a risky rescue mission!

The Black Planet Collection releases on July 2 at Changeling Press. On July 16, look for the second chapter of the Black Planet series with Black Planet II: Little Foxes.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Care and Feeding of a Romance Author: What Are You Putting In Your Mouth?

There is absolutely no doubt that your physical and mental well-being contribute to your creativity as a writer. In spite of the romantic mythos of the starving artist or tortured poet, the reality is that if you feel good, you will be more creative and productive. A major...and possibly the most important factor in health is food.

I'm not a nutritionist, but I've had about five years of working in nutrition programs within our community. Most of my work was with preschool age children and their parents, so my training was very basic, step one nutrition.

What I'm going to talk about in this post are foods that you can add to your diet if you haven't already. They've been proven to support your health, reduce your cancer risk, and contribute to your brain health.

First is your fruits and veggies. Color your plate with variety. You can have a romaine salad, and its certainly good for you, but if you add vibrantly colored vegetables and fruits to the mix, you're adding in a variety of beneficial phytochemicals. In my opinion, you just can't have enough leafy greens, purples, oranges, whites and reds. I love to put fruit into my salads, so I dump in a salad mix with spinach, then cut up grapes, strawberries, apples, and so forth. Since I'm on Weight Watchers, I try to avoid croutons, but throw in a few almonds instead. I also add protein in the form of chicken, turkey or beans. Yum. Also, a salad is a good place to slip in your healthy oils. Make a vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I love raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

Steam our nuke your vegetable, and try not to overcook. I love the Thai Ginger Carrots from Trader Joe's. Look for funky ways to season and present your green beans and broccoli. Since its summer, skip the cheesecake dessert and opt for fruit in season. The closest thing to ambrosia that I've ever tasted was pineapple in Hong Kong. It was...orgasmic. My traveling companions were really embarrassed by my behavior.

Next is fiber. Over the past few years, carbs got a really bad rap. Its true that we really don't need refined carbohydrates. Sugar, white flour and processed foods don't do you a lot of good. So, avoid white and opt for whole grains. You can get whole grain pasta, bread, brown rice and so forth. Complex carbohydrates provide energy for the long term, rather than the immediate rush/crash of simple carbs. If you were raised on white, just give it a try; mix your pasta 50/50, try a few different types of bread. Opt for honey over sugar, if you need sweetener. Don't give up after trying just once or twice.

Fiber also performs miracles in the digestive tract. It's been shown to reduce constipation/diarrhea, some fibers (oat, in particular) might lower bad cholesterol. It can reduce the chance of colo-rectal cancer. It also assists in weight loss, as high fiber foods are more filling. Fruits, vegetables and vegetable proteins (beans, etc) also provide healthy amounts of fiber. I love steel cut oatmeal, pancakes made with whole grain/multi-grain flour and all sorts of grain cereals.

Water and fluids. Not coffee, not soda or juice, but look into the health benefits of water or green, black or white tea. I promise you, drink your 8 glasses of water daily, and your mind will be clearer. You'll learn to discern hunger from thirst. I find that I lose more weight when I'm downing plenty of liquids. It will support your immune system, improve the quality of your skin and assist with mental clarity.

The more researchers study tea, (particularly green tea) the more amazing the beverage is. I know that if I drink a lot of green tea before and during trips overseas, I rarely get sick while I'm traveling or when I get home. Try a few varieties. I love Trader Joe's Green, but my favorite tea is classic oolong. Try to brew your own so you can adjust the strength of the tea to your taste.

We all know there are loads and loads of foods to avoid, but I decided to approach this with things to add to your diet, because if you increase the good, you'll naturally reduce the bad.

Will good health and nutrition help with writer's block? I believe that it does. Try it, head out to the farmer's market. The outing will give you some fresh air and exercise. The food will bring a healthy variety to your diet. Experiment. My current nutritional fetish is fresh fruit smoothies. I freeze bananas and strawberries, throw in some yogurt, soy protein powder and soy milk, and whip it up. Dayum! Its a party in your mouth!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Risky Business

How do you feel about risk? How do you feel about risk in your personal, daily life, or in your professional life? When I look back over my life, it's been a long series of safe, easy bets, punctuated by the occasional out-of-character, insane and crazy risk. As a general rule, I've been lucky; I haven't been carted off by serial killers on horseback or lost my house because I quit a profitable job. Sometimes in order to fully experience life, we need to take an occasional, well calculated risk.

This holds true in writing as well. I think a great deal of what I write is fairly safe and predictable for the type of industry I'm in. I ran into a couple walls early on, learned a few facts about what hurt sales, and what helped them, but in all, I try to play by the rules. On occasion though, the risk-taker begins to prod me and tells me to try something break a few rules.

When it's my creative self that begins to get restless, that's when I do an experimental project, and I'm fortunate enough to have publishers who will give me an outlet for those stories. As a rule, I tend to take my less commercial novellas and shorts and put them into anthology projects. I also will experiment a little with stand alone shorts such as Changeling Press's themed Hot Flashes.

One of my more unusual stories is Snowfire: Chrysalis. It was an experiment in first person writing, and also a test to see if I could create a believable hero that was completely against heroic type. Kell and Pim are androgynous and sexless throughout the book, and it isn't until the end that the reader discovers who, and what Kell and Pim really are. As I expected, the short didn't sell very well, but the critical praise was gratifying. It was a calculated risk and paid off in that it satisfied my inner risk-taker, it also got me some good press with reviewers and reader reviews. After a couple years have passed, I can honestly say that Chrysalis is one of the stories that I've written that I'm most proud of.

Sometimes to be successful, we need to jump in the deep end and pray that we don't sink. This is true in life as well as in writing. It's frightening, its unpredictable, and sometimes you end up doing a belly flop. But sometimes you end up doing a swan dive, and when that happens, you're so tempted to climb out and try again.

Taking risks helps us evolve and develop our skills. This is where we gain a bit of courage to be a bit bolder with the next endeavor. Risk-taking allows up to open our creative vaults and take others with us.

Don't be afraid of a little risk.

* * * * *

Kell is haunted by memories of a place that doesn’t exist. He dreams of a face he’s never seen. He senses that somehow, his life is wrong. Compelled by loneliness and isolation, he walks away from everything in a quest for answers.

Come with Kell as he journeys down a long, snowy highway to a mysterious town called Arcada. Maybe, just maybe, he will find his answers there.

And maybe he will find himself as well.


Vintage sports cars don’t handle all that well in the snow.

Not that the elderly Jag lets me down all that often, but as we crawled through drifts on Highway 70, I began to get the feeling that my long journey was about to come to an end.

The snow fell in those tiny, crystalline flakes that are so fine they dazzle the eye. When you try to make a snowball, it just falls apart like sand between the fingers. At first, it barely settled on the roadway, dancing away from the headlights of the car, but in time, the snow began to drift and blow across the road, eventually obscuring the roadway completely. I navigated using the slight elevation of the blacktop and the instinct that rarely lets me down. I was guided by the odd compulsion that had taken me from all that I knew for the promise of all that should be.

I’d been wandering in a funk for what seemed years, having sold my apartment and my business. Life had dried up, lost its appeal. One Tuesday I looked around and found myself alone, friendless and so painfully, obviously different from the general population, that it was clearly time to move on.

In the midst of my unhappiness, I remembered a face I’d never seen. I had memories of events that had never happened. A place came to mind, the memory of a small town that my family had visited in my youth. It was quintessential small town America, a town square, City Hall. The sort of place you generally see only on a movie set. Normal. In fact, that was the nickname of the place. While I couldn’t remember the name of the small city, I vividly remembered the signs entering the city limits. They playfully welcomed the traveler to “Normalville, USA.” I’d forgotten the state, the name of the town, even what part of the country we’d been in. Only that happy sign lingered in my memory. Funny, though, my parents never recalled seeing that sign. In fact, they hadn’t remembered the town at all. I couldn’t forget.
Welcome to Normalville, USA.