Somehow I Think the New York Times Would Be Deeply Disappointed In This Conversation

Me: Hey, it looks like the New York Times has discovered that straight men and gay men can actually be friends!

My Gay Friend™: Amazing.

Me: I know! But they do say that there might be some Harry-Met-Sally sexual worry that the gay friend might like the straight friend.

MGF: Uh-huh.

Me: You don’t see that.

MGF: Not really.

Me: So, no sexual tension between us.

MGF: No.

Me: Ever.

MGF: No.

Me: What about that one time —

MGF: No.

Me: When we were —

MGF: No.

Me: And that thing —

MGF: No.

Me: And I was naked then.

MGF: Please stop.

Me: Huh. I’m vaguely disappointed.

MGF: I’m not.

So remember, straight men: Just because your friend is gay, doesn’t mean there’s that OMG sexual tension there. New York Times hand-flappery about the same notwithstanding.


The New Space Opera 2: Out Today

The anthology The New Space Opera 2 comes out today, and as it happens I have a short story in it, called “The Tale of the Wicked,” which features ships and missiles and explosions and aliens and all the other sort of stuff what space opera got. And aside from me, it’s got authors like Robert Charles Wilson, Cory Doctorow, Jay Lake, Garth Nix, Bruce Sterling, Elizabeth Moon, Justina Robson and many others. Who also feature ships and missiles and explosions and aliens and so on in their stories. Really, it’s a whole lot of space opera in compact anthology form. I suspect you’ll enjoy it immensely.


Somewhere, Robert Christgau’s Head Just Exploded

The Los Angeles Times explores why Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” has become the go-to inspirational song of the 21st Century, and indeed will probably outlast us all as a cultural touchstone for the ages.

I know the answer: Because it is awesome, in that “I am a human being equipped with the ability to recognize and be touched by existential yearning and yet my cognitive vocabulary for such impulses is limited by America’s shitty educational system and profoundly insipid popular culture to Top 40 songs” sort of way. I thought that was pretty obvious, actually. Also, you know. Nifty piano line and Steve Perry’s got him some pipes. We’re done here.

Hey, better this than “Sister Christian.” And you know that for sure.


Reminder: Vote For the Hugos

A reminder to those of you who have purchased your attending or supporting memberships for Anticipation, this year’s Worldcon, that you have only a week left to vote: More specifically, online voting ballots must be received by midnight (23:59) Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) July 3.

Don’t actually wait until 11:59pm on July 3rd to vote, because then you run the risk of vote getting jammed up with all those other people who went holy crap, I forgot to vote! and then rush over to the Web site in a desperate attempt to slip in under the wire. Hey, you’ll undoubtedly have some time today, or tomorrow, or even Wednesday or Thursday or Friday.

This is your chance to have an influence on the most important literary award in science fiction, so, you know. Get your vote in, folks.

Here’s a link to the online ballot (in English), just in case you needed it.


My “Snake Fist” Magic Spell Is As Potent as Ever!

That’s right! Annoy me and my very knuckles will emit snakes to vex and bother you! It’s not a skill I have much call to use — there are so few moments in life which truly call for the judicious use of snakes — but then one day you do need a snake, and on that day, damn, it’s a magical skill to have.

An alternate explanations of this picture, plus many other fine photos from the weekend, are available for your perusal here. Enjoy.


For the Edification of All

I’ve just updated myAvailability for Interviews, Appearances and Writing Work” page with the following paragraph:

First, a general note regarding both fiction and non-fiction: I do not write for others without being paid. This is my job. If you cannot pay me to write for you, do not ask me to write for you; you’ll be wasting my time and yours. Requests for non-paid writing will be deleted unanswered.

Because people needed to be reminded.


This Is the Devil’s Fake Drum Set

And I will tell you why: The “high hat” cymbal is where the crash cymbal should be, the crash cymbal is where the ride cymbal should be, the snare is where the high hat should be, and the tom is where the snare should be. The only two things vaguely where they’re supposed to be is the floor tom and the bass drum pedal. And to top it all off, everything is too close together. All of which means if you’re a real drummer and you sit down to be the “drummer” on Guitar Hero, you’ll be full of teh suck. Or at least I was. I have cuts and bruises on my fingers from repeatedly jamming my digits into the cymbals.

Not to mention the first couple times I tried it I failed out because, silly me, I was actually trying to drum the actual drum part, as opposed to the fake drum part. Gaaaah.Eventually I figured it out, but I have to tell you, intentionally doing the drum part wrong is, like, you know, wrong, especially when the drums and cymbals are all in the wrong place. After a few songs I switched over to fake bass guitar, because not being a bass guitarist, doing a fake bass line didn’t bother me as much.

Don’t mind me, I’m just kvetching. About EVIL FAKE DRUM SETS. That’s all.


Two For All the Kodi Fans Out There

Because I know you all think the cats get most of the blog love. So here you go: A double shot of dog.

Don’t say I never did nothing for you.


In the Land of the Kickass Womenfolk

It was time for Athena’s bullwhip lesson. Why did Athena need a lesson in how to wield a bullwhip? I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question there. As it turns out, Athena’s pretty good with a whip, as is her mother, and our friend Yanni, the woman administering the tutorial above. Kodi is not very good with the bullwhip, alas; something about a lack of opposable thumbs. But it turns out she has a range on other weapons to employ, so don’t you worry about her. She’s fine.

How has your Sunday been?


Out Among Real Live People

We have guests! Real live guests! In the house! And we’re socializing! Like real live people! So, uh, the internets won’t see me much today. Sorry, Internets. Real live humans take precedence.


Today’s Obligatory Michael Jackson-Related Video

Also one of my more favorite mash-ups.

For the impatient, the music begans at about 1:30.


Holy Crap, Michael Jackson’s Dead

The details.

Lots to say, but for now: There was a life with a dynamic range to it, for better or worse.


That Inciteful Brandon Sanderson

He’s exhorting his minions to say bad things about me! On Twitter! To which I say: Excellent. Bring it on, meat.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Sarah Rees Brennan

Author Sarah Rees Brennan likes the bad boys. I’m not telling you any great secret here. Her novel The Demon’s Lexicon features one of those bad boys: Nick, who among other things is the sort who keeps sharp pointy objects underneath the sink because, hey, you have to keep them somewhere. But while the “bad boy” is a staple of literature, he’s usually a side character. What happens when you put him front and center — and in a book with demons and evil magicians? That’s Brennan’s big idea, and here she is to tell you more.


We’ve all read about That Guy. You know the one. Tall, dark and largely silent. Mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Lord Byron as he liked to think of himself. The popularity of Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester, two literary examples of That Guy, has lasted centuries.

And all this in spite of the fact they were very dodgy characters. Heathcliff, hero of one of the best-loved romances of all time, had a couple of hobbies like wife-beating and puppy-hanging:

READER: You were thinking of killing that little kid, weren’t you?
HEATHCLIFF: (looks shifty)
READER: You’re letting me down, you know. You’re letting yourself down. And you’re certainly letting the little kid down.
HEATHCLIFF: Oh, I could…
READER: Let him down GENTLY!

Not to mention Rochester’s er, unconventional wooing style. We all know about the mad wife in the attic, but there was a lot more going on.

JANE EYRE: So first, you tell me some stories about how you probably caught syphilis tomcatting around Europe.
ROCHESTER: It’s just a rash, and I’m sure it’ll clear up in no time…
JANE EYRE: Then, as well as hiding a crazy wife in the attic, you introduce a fake fiancée to the house in order to make me jealous.
ROCHESTER: Breach of promise, bigamy. Ask me to commit any crime for you, baby. Seriously… any crime at all.
JANE EYRE: And then you decided to disguise yourself as a gypsy woman in order to tell me about our eternal love. 1, 8753th count of lying to me. First count of cross-dressing.
ROCHESTER: And your point is…?
JANE EYRE: Kiss me, you mad bonnet-wearing fool!
READER: … Bzuh?

What does That Guy have to do with genre fiction, though? Well, he’s in there, too. He’s all over. This trope was so well-established even back in Tolkien’s day that Tolkien could use it for effect: he could set up Strider as a genuine menace who made all the hobbits wet themselves when he threw back his hood, and even when we were sure he was on the side of light we were also sure that he was a very rough customer indeed.

High fantasy and urban fantasy and paranormal romance and all the slip-sliding books in between, he’s there:  tall, dark, silent and surly, knowing a lot more about everything that’s going on than the hapless protagonist and usually, since to live in a genre novel is to live in interesting times, excellent with any weapon to hand.

He’s become so popular that he’s been watered down: mad, bad and dangerous to know becoming ‘Seems a little mean at first, but on the look-out for love: particularly enjoys long walks on the beach and talking about his feelings!’ On my four hundredth go-round with a book involving Mr Tall, Dark and Diet I thought to myself that someone should bring the original undiluted version back, and really think about what made him compelling and made him tick. And that we shouldn’t be seeing it from the point of view of a girl much taken with the muscular thighs and meanness, or a guy haplessly protagonisting behind Mr Tall and Dark’s sword, but from inside the head of That Guy, to see what he was thinking.

Besides ‘why does everyone else talk so much,’ I mean.

People sometimes ask me if it was difficult writing from the point of view of a guy: this always makes me laugh. I mean, sure, I’m not a guy, but I know them, love a lot of them, am surrounded by them at all times. Very few writers write from the point of view of someone living their exact life.

But an important part of That Guy is that That Guy Is Not Right. My hero Nick doesn’t kill puppies or cross-dress, but he’s been raised in a atmosphere of constant violence. He learned to use knives when he was seven, he ditches bodies in the river and then drives home annoyed about being late for dinner. Finding true love isn’t going to fix him. Finding a voucher for five years of free therapy probably isn’t going to fix him. I wanted to show all that, and yet not write a book which made readers go ‘Oh my God, the main character… if only one could reach into the pages of a book and BEAT THE HERO TO DEATH WITH A SPATULA.’

It was possibly more weird to write from the point of view of someone who didn’t even read. That was unnatural, since I was the kid whose parents asked her to give up reading books for Lent. ‘We’d just like to see your face sometime, that’s all,’ they said. Three days later, I was following them chattering desperately as they tried to go to the bathroom and reading off the back of cereal packets saying ‘Extra fibre, very nutritious!’ and they saw the error of their ways.

The challenges were many and varied. Researching Nick’s part-time job I had to deal with mechanics who said kindly but firmly, ‘We do not fix imaginary cars,’ and let’s not even mention the guard at the barracks who looked extremely upset when I asked him about the problem of hitting ribs when you stabbed someone. Having to convey a world-ajar ‘keep the black magic secret but for God’s sake bring in the tourists’ fantasy universe through the eyes of someone who knew all about it and didn’t want to talk about any of it made me long for the hapless protagonist who comes along and says ‘What is all this puzzling carry-on? Please explain it to me in great detail!’

But That Guy deserves his say just as much as any hapless protagonist, and when it comes to writing challenges – slightly shamed though I am to be concluding a thoughtful spiel on books with a Lady Gaga quote – if it’s not rough, it isn’t fun.

What I learned, basically, from writing That Guy: don’t pull your punches. He wouldn’t.


The Demon’s Lexicon: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an excerpt from The Demon’s Lexicon. Read Brennan’s LiveJournal. Follow Brennan on Twitter.


Transformers: Revenge of Teh Suxx0r?

This week’s column over at AMC: Why Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, while almost certainly full of teh stoopid, does not herald the end of all that is good and decent about the motion picture industry. Because I know you were worried that it does. As always, feel free to leave comments over on the AMC site letting me know if you agree with me 100%, or whether I’m completely wrong in every possible way. Because there is no middle ground between those two options. Ever.


Today’s LOLcat Picture Dedicated to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford

Seriously, now: Tell your staff you’re hiking in the mountains, and then use a state car to go to the airport to fly to Argentina to have sex with a woman who is not your wife on Father’s Day weekend? I mean, really: Walk through that one and you’ll see several places this could go wrong. I think Sanford needs to go through the rest of his time in office with a big red WTF? placard taped to his chest.

Before people start gloating in the comments about the GOP having a spate of high-profile stupid adulterous politicians, two names for you: John Edwards. Elliot Spitzer. Yes, people, thinking with your dick is a bipartisan activity.


They’ll Regret It When Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Wins Best Picture

The Motion Picture Academy announced today that next year ten films will compete as Best Picture nominees, rather than the now-standard five.

I’m not 100% behind this idea, in no small part because halfway through 2009, the only film I’d be even considering for Best Picture would be Up. The holiday season releases damn well better rock, is all I have to say at the moment.

Your thoughts?


Dear Internets: For No Particularly Good Reason I Have Placed a Sheer Sock On My Head

It’s just that they’re terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.

Also, I believe — and this is just one man’s opinion here — this might be the sexiest picture of me EVAR.

Now, please return to your normal lives.


Why New Novelists Are Kinda Old, or, Hey, Publishing is Slow

From the e-mail pile today:

Whenever I hear about a “new” novelist, they turn out to be in their 30s. Why is that? It seems like you hear about new musicians and actors and other creative people in when they are in their 20s.

Excellent question. Leaving aside the mechanics of why it pays to be young in the music and acting industries, here’s what’s up with those old new novelists:

1. Writing an entire novel is something most people have to work up to. Because you know what? Writing sixty to one hundred thousand words of fiction is not something most people cannonball through, even if they assure you, with the appropriate amount of false modesty, that they’re really better at long-form fiction. Maybe they are, but they still had a long walk to get there.  I’m better at long-form and it took me until I was 28 before I could do it. Meanwhile I’d been writing short for years up to that point, in the form of reviews and columns and humor pieces and (yes) occasional attempts at short fiction that I mostly abandoned after a page or two. Lots of people in their teens and early 20s start novels; rather fewer finish them.

Why? Well, some of them start novels and finish short stories, which is a surprise both for the would-be novelist and the would-be novel. Others (and this included me in my 20s) start writing something that they thought might be a book-length idea, only to find not only did it not qualify as a short story, it was better for everyone involved if the stunted, weird thing was taken behind the tool shed, whacked with a shovel and buried without anyone else knowing it ever existed.

Some others actually finish a whole novel-length pile of words whose best quality, alas, is that it gave its author a chance to exercise his or her fingers. The erstwhile author realizes that making it into a novel would require pulling it apart and starting over, and the thought of doing so fills them with same joy as they might get from sucking down a Dran-O mojito. So the not-actually-a-novel gets stuffed into the proverbial drawer or trunk, never again to see the light of day.

All of this, incidentally, is perfectly fine. Craftsmen don’t make their masterpiece the first time they approach a potter’s wheel (or whatever). Most writers aren’t going to write a brilliant or even passable novel the first time they sit down in front of a keyboard and intone (to themselves if no one else) that today is the day they will commit art, in a convenient, novel-sized package. They usually have to work up to it, one way or another. That takes time, just as learning any craft takes time.

And when people do finally manage to write something that is actually identifiable to anyone else but the author as a novel, guess what?

2. Most people’s first novels well and truly suck. Oh my, yes they do. Which again is perfectly fine. Writing anything over 60,000 words that still recognizably tells one single story is a hell of an achievement in itself. Asking that it also be good is just being mean to the author, and the novel. It’s like watching someone run their first full-length marathon, ever, and criticizing them for not finishing in the top ten. I mean, shit. That can be the goal for the second race, right?

Most first novels are no damn good. Second ones are often better, but not always, and often not by much. Third and fourth novels, the same thing. Fact is — and this should not be news at this late date — ask most debut novelists how many novels they wrote before they got one published, and you’ll find out the answer is: two, three, four — sometimes more. Debut novels are almost never first novels; they’re just the first novels you see. And all those other novels you will never know about? They took lots of time to write, too.

Which brings us to the next point:

3. The physical act of writing a novel takes a long time. Yes, we all know of the authors who can crank out a perfectly publishable novel of 60, or 80, or 100,000 words in just under six weeks. But there are two things to note. First, most of those hyperkinetic authors are not newbie novelists; they’re people who have been writing long enough that certain aspects of novel writing are encoded into their brain’s muscle memory. Second, if you’re a would-be novelist, you’ll probably never be one of those people anyway.

No, I’m not intending to insult you. Most currently published authors don’t write that quickly either. I know successful, working authors who are happy to get 250 words of fiction a day, because that’s 90,000 words a year: A full-sized novel. But consider that there are any number of writers who have trouble getting out that much out a year, because — surprise! — a novel is usually more than just sitting down and cranking out a word count. There are those little things like plot, and character, and pacing, and dialogue and so on and so forth. All of those things take time to develop.

Note also that while you’re doing all of this as a budding novelist, you are also most likely doing all the other things in your life that constitute your life: A day job, spouse and family, hobbies and friends, reading and television and video games and even (wait for it) sleep. It all adds up — and it all subtracts from the amount of time you have to write.

What all this means is that writing those three or four novels an average writer has to burn through before they write a publishable novel will likely take years.

But hey! A budding novelist has put in the time and the work and the effort and has sacrificed numerous innocent, trusting pizzas to the Gods of Writing, and has finally got a novel good enough to  sell. Good for them. Now it’s time for the next point:

4. Selling a novel takes a long time. At this point, like the Game of Life™, there are two paths a would-be novelist can go by. The first path is the path of Finding an Agent. This path takes more time but potentially opens the door to more publishers, because most publishers these days require agented submissions.

Finding an agent is a slog. One has to query the agent, wait to see if the query is accepted, and then if it is sample chapters and an outline go out in the mail. Then more waiting to see if the agent asks for more. If he or she does, it’s time to send the whole manuscript and then wait again to see if he or she thinks the writer is worth their time to represent. At any point the agent can say “no,” at which point our budding novelist will have to start over again.

But if the agent says “yes,” then comes the part where he or she starts schlepping the novel to publishers. Presuming the agent gets a publishing house interested in looking at the manuscript, it could be weeks or even months before there’s  response, either positive or negative. If it’s the latter, it’s on to the next publisher.

The second path is the Path of the Slush Pile. This gets the work out there quicker but fewer publishers still accept unagented manuscripts, and as you might guess from the name “slush pile,” the rate at which editors work through the slush pile is pretty slow. Baen Books, which accepts unagented manuscripts, lists their response time as nine to twelve months: Yes, you could make a baby (if you can make a baby) before our poor theoretical writer here would hear back about their literary child. And if at the end of those nine months to a year Baen (or whomever) says no, the poor writer has to start all over again.

And along either path, there’s no assurance that the novel — despite being of publishable quality — will sell (this is where I refer you to Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s evergreen “Slushkiller” piece, which details why). This means that at some point the writer may have to give up the ghost on this particular novel and move on to try to sell the next one — which of course, they were busy writing while they were waiting for that other one to sell.

All of this — you are sensing the theme by now — takes lots of time.

But wait! Despite the myriad challenges, a novel has actually been sold! Excellent. Now guess what?

5. Publishing a novel often takes a long time. Once a book has an offer, there’s the time it takes to work through the contract . Then the editing process begins — it’s very likely the editor working with the writer will want tweaks and edits to the novel. This round of editing takes time, depending both on how much work the book needs and how well the writer takes direction during the editing process. After that comes the copy editing, with the writer required to go through the manuscript, answering copy editor queries and signing off on the edits. And beyond this is all the production stuff the writer is not directly involved with, like cover art, interior and cover desig, and so on and so forth. This, yes, takes time.

But even when that’s done there’s more waiting! That’s because the publisher will need to find a spot for the novel on its release schedule, one that allows it to highlight the work and also gives it time to secure publicity and advance reviews and all that good stuff. That spot on the release schedule may be a year or even two in the future. This is the part that really drives writers nuts: Everything’s done and yet, no book. It’s madness, I tell you.

So, let’s recap: It takes time for most people to learn how to write to novel-length. It takes time to write well at that length. It takes time to write to that length. It takes time to land a publisher and it takes time to get that novel to market. And suddenly, it makes sense why so many debut novelists just happen to be in their thirties.

You want a real world example, you say. Fine, take me. I’ll note my own path to publication has some irregularities in it, but overall it works well enough for these purposes. Ready? Here it is. The number at the end of each line tells you how old I was each step of the way:

1969 – 1997: Time spent learning to write well enough to write a novel (28).

1997: Wrote first complete novel (28)

1997 – 2001: Life intervenes and keeps me away from fiction (32).

2001: Wrote second novel (32)

2002: Offer made on second novel, now my debut novel (33)

2003: Contract signed for debut novel (33)

2004: Editing and early publicity for debut novel (35)

2005: Debut novel published (35)

2006: Won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (37)

So, eight years from first completed novel to having a debut novel in the bookstores, and four years between completing the debut novel and it being published in book form. And if you think it’s ironic to win a “Best New Writer” award at the ripe old age of 37, consider that 37 is pretty much the average age of the Campbell winners over the last 35 years. “New” does not equal “young.”

Having said all of that, it’s worth noting that a whole stack of writers have managed to get novels published while they were in their twenties — it’s not that huge a trick to do so . These debuts are not necessarily any worse (or better) than those of authors who debut in their 30s or later. Some writers are publishable more quickly, some are in the right place at the right time with the right books, and some people are simply unfathomably lucky.

Also, at this point in time there are more authors who are willing to attempt self-publishing — either online or through print-on-demand — thus avoiding the whole “finding a publisher” time suck. We could have a debate on whether this is wise, from the point of view of distribution, publicity, marketing and/or writers debuting before their work is worth reading, but that’s a debate for another entry. The fact of the matter is that if you self-publish, your debut as a novelist will undoubtedly come sooner.

But for the folks who do it the old-fashioned way — and, currently, the way that still affords them the best chance for notoriety and a chance at a long-term career as a novelist — the combination of writing skill development and the mechanics of contemporary publishing conspires to drive the age of most debut novelists into the thirties. It doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Diana Rowland

Sometimes writing is like a romance: You might need time away to realize how much it’s part of you. Author Diana Rowland can tell you about this. Life and other complications conspired to keep her from the fantasy and science fiction genre for years — and yet, here she is, with her novel Mark of the Demon, full of magic, fantasy and sexy, sexy demons. How did she find her way back to her genre love? Here she is to lay it all out for you.


In a way it took me almost ten years to come up with the Big Idea that led to Mark of the Demon.

I went to the Clarion West writer’s workshop in 1998, and came out of it ready and eager to set the publishing world on fire. I wrote a few short stories (because that’s what everyone said you were supposed to do) and even sold one, but soon realized that my heart really wasn’t in short fiction. I preferred the longer format of the novel, and the room it afforded for plot twists and character development. I started on a fantasy novel, but shortly thereafter made an early mid-life career change–trading my job in the casino industry for an entry-level job in law enforcement. I stopped writing fiction while I went through the rigors of the Police Academy, and when I came back to writing after graduation I realized that I didn’t have much love for the basic concept of the fantasy novel I’d been working on, and had little motivation to get back to it.

I continued to write sporadically over the next several years, but with the arrival of my daughter my writing went from sporadic to infrequent, and I still didn’t have a world or a concept that I felt driven to write about. I was also feeling a large measure of inadequacy as a writer because, after all, if I was a real writer I would have ideas pouring out of my ears and I would write even if I didn’t feel the love for it. Right?

My big wake-up call came after I won the Writers of the Future contest in 2005. I came back from the workshop ready and eager (again) to set the publishing world on fire. But now I was able to see how I’d put myself in a rut by staying so focused on writing fantasy. By this time I’d been working in law enforcement for over seven years, and everyone (including yours truly) had me convinced that I should write suspense or crime thrillers. I had a full “well” of incredible life experience to draw from and it seemed a crying shame to waste it.

I went for it. I abandoned the idea of writing spec fic and started working on a crime thriller. In a complete 180, my stubborn brain was now fixated on writing a straight crime thriller without a hint of science fiction/fantasy.

50,000 words later, I realized that I was bored out of my skull with it (and it showed). I had to face facts: I liked fantasy and science fiction and that’s what I wanted to write. Unfortunately, I was now right back in the rut where I’d begun.

Enter my new job as a forensic photographer and morgue assistant. When a body is photographed before autopsy, special attention is paid to marks, scars, tattoos, wounds, or anything else that is a deviation or that can be used to aid in identification. One day a body came in with unusual wounds on the torso. At first glance it looked as if someone had taken a small melonballer and had scooped chunks of flesh out (though it was eventually determined that significant insect activity had caused the strange wounds and that they had been caused post-mortem.) Immediately my sick little mind started jumping, and I started thinking about what the reaction would be if a body was found that had wounds caused by a supernatural creature. I began to barrage the pathologist with numerous what-if questions and, to his enormous credit, he didn’t kick me out of the morgue or tell me to shut up, but instead seemed more than willing to go along with my what-ifs and answered as best he could.

Soon after that, we had a victim who’d committed suicide by hanging himself with an electrical cord. During the process of hanging, the cord had apparently slipped which caused the victim to have two distinct marks on his neck. During the autopsy, when the skin and muscles of the throat were peeled back, the pathologist showed me the clots of blood within the muscles that clearly showed that, as the body had settled, the cord had slipped into a new position. I began to think about a serial killer who tortured his victims prior to killing them, and when I started to think about the Why?, I immediately thought of some sort of Death Magic.

And, right there in the morgue, I realized that I’d been missing the obvious. I could write a crime thriller… and make it chock full of the paranormal. (This was right about the time that urban fantasy was beginning to hit its stride and take off.)

From there ideas quickly began to fall into place. I had a serial killer and his reason for killing. I had a homicide detective with her own arcane powers, and a cast of secondary characters. I knew I wanted to stay away from vampires and werewolves, and I ended up getting some great brainstorming and inspiration from a good friend, Kat Johnson, who used to run an RPG that I participated in for years. With her help, I came up with the idea of arcane creatures that were known as demons, but were from an alternate plane of existence instead of from “hell.” And, since I’ve always disliked books where the bad guy is evil Because He Is Evil, I made it so that the demons had a completely alien perception of what constituted good and evil.  I drafted up a quick outline of a story about a homicide detective with the ability to summon demons, who was charged with tracking down a serial killer with similar arcane skills. And to make things extra-interesting, I threw in a sexy Demonic Lord with his own agenda and his own concept of right and wrong.

I started writing, and about six weeks later I had a first draft. It was crappy, and it still needed loads of revisions, but it was a complete draft. I’d never written that fast in my life, and I think it speaks volumes that the story flowed so quickly once I figured out what I was supposed to write.

So, my Big Idea wasn’t so much about a plot or story concept, but more the realization that there was a perfect sweet spot between writing in the genre that I loved to read, and using all of the great experience that I’d gained during my years in law enforcement. The result is Mark of the Demon. Police procedural and urban fantasy! Cops and Demons! Sex and violence!

It was immensely fun and satisfying to write. I hope that readers will enjoy it just as much as I did.


Mark of the Demon: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an excerpt from the novel. Visit Diana Rowland’s blog. Read an interview with Rowland.

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