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Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Blitz: Suzanne Lazear's THE SECRET LIVES OF ROCKSTARS

Saving the world, one tour stop at a time.

Eighteen-year-old Bitsy Butler has never quite fit in, not with the dragons who raised her, the druid who took her in, or even with the non-human members of the cirque noir punk band she thinks of as family. Her chance to prove she can make it on her own comes with her band's first big solo tour. It’s all going according to plan when an angel walks into a bar and demands help with his demon problem.

If she doesn't step up, a magical war will break out, threatening Arizona and all those who call it home. With the help of a human, a sexy dragon, and the members of her band, Bitsy must stop an angry mob of chaos demons before the band leaves for their next tour stop.

It’s nice to be needed, but Bitsy has no idea how to defeat the demons and she just might get herself killed trying. But then, at least one problem would be solved...

Fitting in doesn’t matter if you’re dead.

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Today I'm delighted to host a stop on the YA Bound Book Blitz for book one of Suzanne Lazear's new adult elfpunk novel, THE SECRET LIVES OF ROCKSTARS.

I absolutely adored this book. This is the kind of story that had my writer's brain working overtime, wondering what was going to happen, and even projecting predictions for book two. There was humour, quirkiness, and an enthralling plot. And one of the neatest aspects of the was the drakken, a race of dragon-like beings with an exciting cultural heritage. Here's what the author has to say about it in her own words.

*        *        *

Beyond here be drakken: the dragons of THE SECRET LIVES OF ROCKSTARS
By Suzanne Lazear

One of my favorite things about THE SECRET LIVES OF ROCKSTARS is that it has dragons—or drakken as I call them. I love dragons and had been itching to write a story with them. My drakken are shape-shifters. Once, they lived in this realm, but moved to their own parallel realm as the human population grew, which is why there are so many dragon stories.

My main character, Bitsy, has to stop a demon-fueled war before it harms innocents—and before her band, The Freakshow, leaves Tempe, Arizona, for their next tour stop. She was also raised by crazy drakken, and years later is still trying to deal with everything that happened with her.
Drakken,” I corrected unthinkingly. “Dragons are creatures in human children’s stories.” Drakken were a shape-shifting people who now occupied a magical realm parallel to ours, but most liked to travel back and forth. Being trapped in the human realm unable to return to the homeland was a pretty serious punishment.
Serious enough to burn everyone alive in an attempt to get back. 
I rubbed my arms as if trying to rub away the flames licking at my body. “What?”
“What do you have against the Drakken?” Amusement tinged his voice. “Didn’t you have some Drakken friends back in LA?”
“They weren’t my friends. And I have nothing against them.” Nothing I wanted to talk about. I knew the crazy exiled Drakken who raised me were very different from most, but I didn’t like advertising my upbringing.
“Good,” Aidan nodded. “Because they’re a noble, polite, honorable people who don’t get involved in others’ politics.” 
I rolled my eyes at his SĂ­dhe rhetoric. “They’re not perfect.”
Drakken love books and learning, and often come to this realm to attend college. The Freakshow’s current tour stop is a college town. Not only does she run into a few, but if she’s going to stop the chaos demons in time, she needs help from one, Eric.

The drakken are organized into tribes, and different types of magic are associated with them, however, there is plenty of crossover due to inter-tribe marriage. Eric is western tribe, an earth drakken. Eric has earth magic. Bitsy’s foster sister had been northern tribe and a mistress of lightning. However, the place she and her foster sister grew up in had been run by exiles.

I also gave the drakken their own language.  I tried to use it sparingly, in ways where you wouldn’t necessarily need translation.
I smiled at the waiter, grateful to get some food. “Bes’sa.
The words just slipped out. Old habits.
Na’i te.” Eric smiled; it was the kind that put people at ease and made girls lose their morals. “You speak my language?” he said in Homespeak, the common drakken language.
“I just know some,” I replied in the same language. Lies. It was my first language. We never spoke much English in the compound though my foster mother insisted we learn it. Well. 
“Some? That’s surprising.” Eric’s eyebrows rose. He probably expected me to say I knew a little. “I don’t often come across a dikka who speaks it.” 
The word dikka, outsider, made me flinch. 
“I’m sorry,” he replied, eyes widening. “I mean no offense. I’m western tribe. It’s not an insult there.” 
Western tribe. Earth drakken. 
“No offence taken.” I closed my eyes for a moment to help choke back the voices in my head. At the compound it was an insult and I’d been called that far too often as a child, usually with satta, stupid, in front of it. I wasn’t ever smart enough. Or fast enough. Or graceful enough. Or had enough magic. 
Most of all, I wasn’t one of them. And never, ever would be. 
Kai’kien, please…” he murmured, hovering over me.
“No, really, it’s okay,” I muttered in English, just wanting him to go away.
Each tribe has different customs. Also the different tribes and their customs loosely relate to where they came from in the human realm. Drakken are telepaths, especially when in dragon form. Bitsy can hear them just fine. They are also very polite and have a very elaborate culture.
Taking a teapot, she filled the cup with red-brown liquid, steam rising from the surface – but the flame kept burning. She handed to me. I hesitated. This fire can’t hurt you. The cup in one hand, I waved the other over the flame three times, blew it out, murmured kin’ba, and took a drink. The sweet-tart liquid burned my throat in a way that brought back memories of cold afternoons, late night tea parties, and tiny cookies shaped like snowflakes.
Ses’ba,” she added quietly in the background. 
Both these things had no translation; it’s something you say when you drink. There were a few of those phrases in Homespeak, but my foster mother always insisted we use kin’ba. She never told me why. But she always did things differently than everyone else in the compound.
“Excellent, my complements to the chef,” I told her. The preparation – and serving – of haeibo was an art. My sister always made it look like a dance. My klutzy self had been banned from even touching my foster mother’s precious teapot.
Eric’s enthralled with the fact that she knows so much about them. Since most of Bitsy’s memories of the drakken aren’t fond, she’s not too keen on this. The drakken also have their own religion and goddess.  Bitsy hides it, but still practices their religion, given it’s what she knows.
I don’t believe in coincidence.” Eric switched languages. “Everything is the work of the Goddess. She’s most definitely at work here.”
Yes, She was. The question was, why?
Sighing, I rubbed my temples. “Sometimes I don’t appreciate Her sense of humor.”
Again, he stood too close. I could smell his Drakken scent – mainly books and brimstone.
“Sometimes I feel the same way,” he whispered.
I had a lot of fun creating the drakken culture and writing Eric—especially scenes between him and Bitsy. I hope you enjoy Eric, the drakken, and the adventures he, Bitsy, and everyone else have in THE SECRET LIVES OF ROCKSTARS.

If you were a dragon what powers would you have?

~Suzanne Lazear

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"Focus on the Good, and Fight for That": a #HoldOnToTheLight post

.As I said in my previous post, there's been a lot of Stuff going on for me lately. Enough for me to have a personal investment in this initiative, even though this is nonetheless neither the place or time for me to discuss particulars. But this topic is important. The Mental Wellness for Writers panel at ConCarolinas this June was heartfelt, honest, raw, and hands down, my favourite one this year. And out of respect for all who participated and shared, it's not one I'll ever take notes at.

Timing's a funny thing, though. I had recently written this scene during revisions to my novel, SIGN OF THE STAR, which will be on submission soon. And it felt important to share.

Background: A princess with healing powers who escaped murder as a child must choose between being the healer she wants to be and the country that needs her. When she encounters a fugitive nobleman seeking the lost princess, circumstances force them to travel together, and she learns that guarding her secret also means guarding her heart. At one point the two are kidnapped, but before they can escape, the bandits are attacked by a warring group. As a servant of the Land, Janni must deal with.the aftermath—and its consequences.

*          *          *

Lingering tendrils of clouds, violet-edged with the last of sunset, curled about distant peaks, clinging to them like smoke capped a fire.
My stomach turned. I tasted bile. Grimacing, I glanced away.
“Are you all right?” Concern tinged Brennant’s voice, as it had since we left Karovar.
I ignored him and focused on the road ahead, pressing onward. Shoving away thoughts of the pyre smoke’s stench, of copper and musk, acrid and sweet.
“We should stop before it gets any darker.”
Hmph. Likely Hush would have purred her agreement, but the puma had already gone off to hunt. I kept walking.
Away from the ashes of our work. The grim task I’d suggested, and now wished I could forget. Days had passed since we’d left Baesh, and yet the mindless slaughter still ate at me.
The morning after the battle, building the pyre had consumed the rest of the daylight. None of the dead had been less than half the chief's massive size, and all were far too heavy to drag on my own. Brennant saw my struggle with a corpse and rushed to help me, but then Baesh cursed and sent me into the woods to gather deadfall instead. And when we were ready, both men looked at me to speak.
I opened my mouth—and faltered. This was no Deathswen ritual, where the names of the newly dead were spoken to honour their memory. There were no loved ones to mourn their passing, no scribes to log their fates.
There was only me.
“We stand before the fallen,” I said, grasping for what words I could find. “Soldiers and captives, worthy and wicked. As we release them from the Land into the sky, may their souls find peace.” Spreading my hands, unable I looked at Brennant for help.
He met my gaze with his own, gave a grim approving nod. “May their souls find peace.”
Baesh, torch in hand, set his jaw. “Aye.” He lifted the flame high. “May their souls find peace.”
With that, he set the pyre alight.
The bodies burned until dawn. None of us slept until noon.
Brennant and I stayed another night at the clearing, too heartsore and worn to resume the journey at once. At least, that’s how I’d felt. The next morning, Baesh had taken us as far as the northern Karish border, where the wilds and some semblance of a road resumed at last.
And I still couldn’t shake the ghastly scene, that cloying reek of the dead, from my mind.
So on I walked.
“Janni.” He sped up and grabbed my wrist.
I jerked it away. “Scorch it, Brennant. What do you want?”
“It’s been four days since we left Karovar, and you’ve barely spoken.” There was raw hurt in his voice. “What’s wrong?”
“It doesn’t matter. Come along.” I frowned at the road ahead. Maybe we could make it as far as the next mountain before full dark—
“Night falls quickly around here. You should have noticed by now.” He spread out his cloak, all he had left of the things he’d bartered from Derva. Everything else had been lost when we were kidnapped.
“What are you doing? We have to keep moving.”
Had to get to the vision-lady and her people before anyone else suffered.
He crossed his arms. “No.”
“Then catch up with me tomorrow.” I strode away.
Brennant snorted. “Fine,” he called. “Clearly you’re too foolish to listen to your escort. More proof that Sordinak made me go with you to protect you from yourself.”
That halted me in my tracks. How dare he.
“I have been summoned, Brennant. I have to get there, and soon. There’s nothing foolish about that—”
He threw up his hands. “There is when you won’t listen to reason! How can you help the woman if you’re injured—or worse, dead?”
“If I don’t hurry, who knows what else will happen?”
“We’re going as fast as we can safely. That’s enough—”
“It’s my fault they died.”
There. I finally said it. The truth I’d been holding in since the pyre, since the attack. I collapsed to my knees, my pack hitting the ground with a thud.
Brennant was on his feet and at my side at once. “What do you mean?”
“I keep seeing the bodies. The blood. The pyre. Every time I close my eyes.” I stifled a sob. “And I’m the reason for it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Everyone who died in the battle perished because of me.” I sniffed. “The soldiers. The prisoners. Even Baesh’s men. If he’d paid more attention to them instead of protecting me, they wouldn’t have betrayed him. And all of them paid the price. All so I could live.”
His lips thinned. “That’s where you’re wrong.” Crouching, he took my hand, and as he stroked the palm with his thumb, for once I didn’t flinch. “What the men did isn’t your fault. It’s theirs.”
Bitter and hot, the tears I’d held back for five nights finally broke free. “But—”
“No. They were criminals and traitors. That raid happened so easily, it’s obvious they were colluding with the Korish.” He reached out and gently touched the spot between my shoulder blades, flooding me with warmth. “Besides, think of the good you’ve done. You healed the barkeep’s son. Baesh, too. And if not for you, Elasa’s daughter might have died.”
“That doesn’t matter. All that death—” I choked back another sob.
“You can’t blame yourself.” Shifting, Brennant took both my hands now and squeezed. “The Land has its reasons for all things. We have to focus on the good, and fight for that.”
I bit my lip. The words were a platitude he’d probably picked up in the priesthood, but Zira had often said the same over the years. I never quite understood; I was a healer, not a fighter.
But maybe that’s what they meant. I could help people. That’s all that mattered, and why I’d made my choice.
Releasing a ragged sigh, I squeezed back. Shivered at his intent gaze, and looked to the distant peaks, where the clouds had scattered. “So what should I do, then?”
“As you said, we’ll keep moving forward.” Brennant helped me to my feet. “But first, let’s get some rest.”

*          *          *
About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors, or reach a media contact, go to the #HoldOntoTheLight Facebook group; or, check out the website or Facebook page.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Writing Characters with Disabilities (ConCarolinas 2015 Writing Panel Notes)

So it's been awhile. Definitely a lot longer than planned. But when Stuff begets Other Stuff and one's world implodes just ever-so-slightly, and then one finds oneself the unfair target of several negative people in multiple areas of one's life, and then one starts to question one's own sanity, until numerous others come forward and confirm that no, one is not imagining things... well. It has been an interesting summer. Complaints have been and will be filed. And at least for one of the situations, my next filked song will be, "Screenshots Are a Gir's Best Friend".

You read the title of the post right: this is my last set of notes from 2015 that slipped through the cracks in my rush to edit a manuscript and then subsequent jetsetting, attending my sister's graduation then flying to this year's ConCarolinas and my writing group's retreat. I exhausted my spoons but still came back creatively invigorated and refreshed.

Today's topic is very appropriate, since this is nothing if not Difficult Topics week here. Coming in a few days will be my contribution to #HoldOntoTheLight, the mental health awareness initiative from SFF authors and bloggers. (Hey, might as well go for the stuff that matters.) The authors here bring their experience writing about characters with disabilities, and in some case, dealing with their own issues. This is another important facet in the movement for diverse books. Enjoy!

* * *

Writing Characters with Disabilities
Rebecca Carter, Louise Herring-Jones, Dahlia Rose
 Moderator: Allen L. Wold

DR: Husband with PTSD
AW: Has written about disabled people; has strong opinions about this subject
RC: Writes short horror, focusing on people who are dealing with specific ailments, has a few issues of her own
LH: Writes much about people with various challenges, some with disabilities

Why would you choose to write about disabled people?
RC: It’s important to get a good read on the story. It’s hard when you can’t function the way you believe you should function. Wants to be able to relate to something.
LH: The story she wrote, the story structure, the deaf character came to her, and that diability became an ability.
DR: Husband came back from Iraq after two deployments, with a massive brain injury, and ptsd, and going to the VA, talking with other soldiers, felt like people wanted to pity them rather than seeing them as they really are. People see the scars, the injuries, and she shows in her books that they have to learn a new way of life and are not to be pitied. They don’t want a handout, they just want to learn to do it differently.
AW: The people are people, and don’t want pity.

What actually entails a disability? (Thinks it’s rude to say “differently abled”) What does comprise a disability and what are things not a disability?
RC: Anyone who has a physical or mental roadblock to be able to function the way society generally would.
LH: Skewed viewpoint, as an attorney: disability specifically defined in law, something that impairs a major life function. Not reading glasses, but yes special eyewear for legally blind. Looks at what people can do, not what they can’t.
AW: Saying something is “differently abled” is condescending to him. What about injured soldiers? Do you agree, DR?
DR: Agrees completely. Helped husband retain his right to his own power of attorney because it means more to him and her.
AW: Yes, disabilities are part of who disabled folks are. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing about them.
LH: The key is to write about it respectfully. If a not-nice character in your story has a certain characteristic, some readers might not like it. Everyone has logic, even if the logic is illogic.
AW: If you’re going to write someone with disability, acknowledge the disability, but that doesn’t mean you should spend much time with that disability if it doesn’t do much in the story. What is the point of the character?

How much time do you spend working on the disability in your characterization, and how much on the rest of the story (unless you’re making a specific point)?
DR: Just treats it like another characteristic. Yes he has a missing arm, but it should just be a thing, not the focal point that impacts the story.
RC: Trying to find the line, just because a little point is a fact in the character’s life. Unless that’s exactly what you’re writing about.
LH: Latest issue of Discover – about echolocation in visually impaired in the real world. Different btw people born with sight and live that way, but the earlier you lose your sight, the more skilled you are at echolocation.
DR: An accident required a corneal transplant, couldn’t see well for a few years, had to rely on other senses and found ways to work around that.

If it serves the story … how could you best portray a disability without being condescending or overly detailed?
AW: Not about the disability, but about something else.
LH: Jamie Lannister’s story arc since losing his hand, it’s the impetus for his character development.

Can you imagine a situation where a typical disability can prove to be the benefit necessary for the continuation of the story?
DR: Social awkwardness – with disabilities in general, when soldiers are scarred or injured or hurt, there’s the emotion, the anger, the self-pity, and they do lash out. You can’t just write a perfect hero, you have to write their mental and physical attributes because of what happened. Can cause destruction of a family, of a person who’s gone through it, and it’s hard to see a person who was so vital before drawing away from life in general and you’re trying to pull them out and you’re feeling a desperation. It affects the people around them, too.

How would you write folks with specific disabilities?
RC: Probably would, but what’s hard is that people can only relate to people who are different to a certain extent, and if the story’s not entirely about what they’re facing, then readers can’t entirely connect to the stories because it’s hard to understand what others are going through. You empathize the most with the people you can relate to most.
AW: If that’s just one facet of his personality and the rest of the character is interesting by themselves, you can definitely deal with that. Don’t dwell on it, but let it be a subtext that makes the character richer.

Aud: What if the purpose of your story is to open up your reader to the difficulties of a character?
DR: Sheldon is socially awkward. But as the show progresses, it shows different people opening up. Showing how nerds are just like regular people. A colour of a skin, a person’s social awkwardness, if you take a moment to learn about it, it gives your reader something to mesh with. It opens up the story to the readers.
AW: The first thing you have to do is give them only one problem and not seventeen. Limit the number. One disability, even if that’s not true, is something you can focus on and clarify, so that otherwise your character is sympathetic, someone you feel with them (not pity). So don’t layer on several things at once.
RC: Beyond sympathetic, don’t need to have too much. One thing at a time because a lot of people start to instantly feel guilt if there’s too much the person is suffering from.
LH: Not much into message literature. But there’s also a social issue of whether or not can a person of one race or ethnicity truly write about someone of another race or ethnicity? John Hartness “The White Guy” and learning to open his eyes, Alice Walker’s scathing essays –  LH disagrees, thinks it can be written. Whether it’s race, gender, ethnicity, disability, write it. Do it respectfully. And if it’s something you understand personally, then all the better.
AW: If you want people to be sympathetic to the character, having some knowledge helps you write it better.  
LH: And if you want to write something amazingly controversial, make a sff world and put those differences, and it’s amazing what you can get by with.
DR: Speaking as an African American, you don’t write them differently. You just write them as you would any other character.
AW: Portray people as people. Then if you can empathize with that character, then regardless of their disability or other characteristics, then
RC: People aren’t stereotypes. When you come to mental disabilities. The only stereotype you see of women with mental health issues is the “one type” of “crazy lady”. You rarely see women with legitimate mental disabilities.

Audience Question: What should we do if we want or need to include a person with some kind of difference? How do we portray that person: ignore it, accept it, or is it something that can affect the story? Show how they’ve overcome it?
DR: Yes.

Audience Question: Are characters with disabilities more prevalent these days?
AW: Less of a shame, less embarrassing, because we’ve been working on this for a very long time. It’s easier now to put them in fiction. If you’re embarrassed about somebody’s differences, you shouldn’t be including it in a story.
LH: A trend in calls, stories about people with disabilities, people “underrepresented previously in literature”. If you want to writer about an unrepresented population, now’s the time. Know people. Talk to people. Pay attention.

AW: We’re all still people, and that’s what we’re writing about. Stories with people.