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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier...Fine

I have always loved spy novels. Cold War novels by John le Carre and Len Deighton. The stories about the Enigma cipher (WWII). Ken Follett wrote some good ones before he fell into historical triumph with Pillars of the Earth. The James Bond books were not so cartoonish as the films, but they weren't of this same gritty, realistic ilk. Most of the these I'm referring to weren't made into successful single films because they were too complex for a two-hour adaptation. BBC did a wonderful miniseries version of John le Carre's Smiley's People, one of the best of the genre. But films??

Now here comes Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a 2011 sleeper that, from the look of the theater today, no one has heard about. You might have seen a mention in the Oscar nominations for Gary Oldman (yes, Sirius Black! and many other wonderful portrayals). And well deserved!

Oldman plays George Smiley, the aging MI-5 operative, put out to pasture after a disastrous operation gets an operative killed, and brings down George's mentor Control, the head of "the Circus" as the spy agency is called here. But a young agent (an excellent Benedict Cumberbatch of the new Masterpieces Sherlock series) has gotten wind of a rumor that could bring down the increasingly marginalized agency. Someone in the inner circle is a mole - a tool of the Russian spymaster known as Karla.

The file evokes the gritty (yes that word again) shadowy world of the 70s cold war. Hot wars were fought through surrogates, but the cold war was fought on the wet streets of East Berlin and Paris...and Budapest...and in the concrete block offices of London, each side hunting for intelligence - the kind that could only come through defectors or agents in place. Dangerous business. No flashy car chases. And in those days, no dazzling sensors or cell phones or laser beams or Mission Impossible impossibilities.

Oldman's performance is beautifully nuanced. He is a taciturn man. Serious, intellectual, but hopelessly enamored of a wife who is unfaithful. Hearing the reliable report of a mole--a double agent--in the highest echelon of his kingdom's secret service--men he has worked with--grieves him, yet he never says a word to convey it. A masterful performance. And the film spins back and forth in time and place, yet never needs labels to tell us when we are looking at a Christmas party in happier times for the agency or when we are in Budapest watching the fateful meeting and murder or when we are seeing the patient, dogged George unraveling a case for the ages. No being lowered from the roof, no pressure sensors, no leaps, just good work, and a great story. Loved it.

A great cast as well besides Oldman and Cumberbatch: John Hurt, Colin Firth, Ciaren Hinds, and a really excellent Tom Hardy
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Monday, January 16, 2012

Good news!

There are many kinds of good news an author can receive: good reviews, positive reader comments, new contracts, new translation agreements, award news, and so forth. But on Friday, I heard two of the best lines an author can hear.

News the first. We've had to go back to press on the new book. That is, the print version of The Daemon Prism has outsold expectations in the first two weeks.

News the second. We're taking Transformation back to press. Copies should be available by the end of the month.

This is a tough publishing environment. No one can really predict the impact of electronic publishing on a new release. The percentage of a new release bought in electronic form is increasing dramatically with every year that goes by. I'll bet thousands of readers are sporting new Kindles or Nooks since the holidays. Yes, authors get paid - in my case fairly equally - for both print and electronic books. But I still hold that new readers are more likely to find my books by running across them in bookstores. Either the cover art or the back cover blurb might attract them, or they will recall mention of my work by reviewers or my wonderful readers on Facebook or book blogs or at parties or writers events. It is always nice to exceed expectations.

As for backlist... Many of you notices that my very first published book Transformation has been pretty scarce for most of the last year. It is awful when the last two books in a series are available and the first one is not. Certainly an author's nightmare! But warehousing books is a huge expense for publishers and everyone is waiting to see if e-books really do replace the mass market paperback, especially for older works. Evidently my publisher has decided that the demand for Transformation is such that they can't wait and see any more. Hooray for that! Transformation holds a special place in my list. It's where many of my readers started out on a journey that's taken us all to some deeper and darker places.

So anyway, thanks to all of you out there for encouraging my publisher to this point of view! Now back to work on something new.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Come talk with me and win books!

Come join me on Thursday, January 12, at noon CST for a conversation about The Daemon Prism - and any of my books - at Bitten by Books. It's part of a five-author book launch event, with many giveaways, contests, and a grand prize awarded at the end of the week that includes $200 worth of book gift cards, books, and goodies. Lots of ways to get extra entries into the contests. I've never done one of these before, and it's a bit daunting.

I'll also have a blog post up about The Five Things a Kind Author Should Never Do to a Fantasy Hero - and you know I can tell you about that. You might recognize a few incidents...

UPDATE: Here is the actual Bitten by Books link to the live conversation!

So which autographed books am I giving away?

  1. The Spirit Lens

  2. Son of Avonar

  3. Flesh and Spirit

  4. Song of the Beast

Don't let me hang out alone! And I would love for one of my readers to win the grand prize. I'll be checking for questions into the evening hours, as well. See you there!

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Release Day!

Four years after writing the first page of The Spirit Lens, the third and final novel of the Collegia Magica, The Daemon Prism, appears on bookstore shelves and online ebook lists today. What a ride!

I poured a lot of my favorite ideas into this series, which began with a simple double-agent, murder mystery investigation, and ended up in an entangling adventure tale of magic, love, destiny, faith, death, life, and the order of nature. (Somehow my stories just grow!) I took on a risky business of multiple narrators again, knowing that if people grew attached to my quietly confident, always logical librarian, Portier, as I hoped, they might have trouble switching to my shy insecure young heroine Anne. By the time I got to The Daemon Prism, I trusted that readers would love to get inside the crusty, violent Dante's head and see what he had been thinking all along. I know it was fun for me! Of course the demands of the story, said that Anne's keen observations had to be called into service again, and I felt the need to give a brief closure to two other characters as we raced to the ending.

Now that the series is done, what do I like the best about it? The characters and their relationships. I was so pleased at how they developed. Both Portier and Anne hid themselves for a long time. Dante and Ilario were more...overt...about their personalities. I loved the exposure of the Sabrian world in the first book, the court intrigue of the second, and the wide-ranging and yet very "interior" adventure of the third.

To celebrate this launch I'm going to take off for the mountains and start working on a new project. There will also be EVENTS - which I will post about later. As every author, I need my readers to let people know if you like the books. Post reviews. Spread the word.

So, on to the book itself... What's up with the uneasy alliance formed at the end of The Soul Mirror?
Here's a bit of a teaser, the opening paragraphs of The Daemon Prism...

30 Ocet, 883rd Year of the Sabrian Realm, sunset

"Stop right there!" I bellowed. My student’s resolute little inhalation signaled her ready to bind her first complex spell. I resisted the temptation to shatter or repair the well-structured but ill-conceived little charm. She had to learn.

Mercifully, she was well disciplined. Though her will tugged fiercely against mine, she obeyed.

"Concentrate. Look deeper. A hundred thousand streams in Sabria comprise water, rocks, willows, and trout. But to draw on this stream's keirna - its essence - you must unearth the secrets that make it unique. You're no child swatting a fly. Misjudgment could drown us . . . or bury us . . . or turn yon pasture into a swamp." In this case, likely all of them and worse.

She knelt along the stream bank, not half a metre from my boots. Having spent most of every day for two years in her presence, I could sense her every muscle twitch, accurate signals for divining her level of confidence. It had taken her a very long time to prepare for this step, and she was very sure of herself. She hated mistakes.

"There’s nothing wrong with it," she said after a few moments' contemplation. "Sealing the snag will just divert the water around the end of it, digging out the far bank a little more. I'm not blocking the water flow completely. There's plenty of leeway."

She readied herself again.

"No!" I drove the heel of my staff into the rocky streambed.

She jerked but held her ground, not yanking her hand from the water. It wasn't so easy to startle her into attendance anymore. So I assaulted her weakness with words. "Have you learned nothing? There's mud between the rocks. What color is it? What consistency? Does the sun reveal glints of metal in it? What would that tell you of the stream's origins and use? You're a woman of science. Where is its source? Has its course evolved as nature prescribes or has it been purposely altered? Your friend Simon provided you the Pradoverde land grants. If you'd studied them with half a mind, you'd know this land was once a disputed boundary between two blood families. Why?"

"None of those things have to do with a snag of twigs formed this past summer." She was so sure. So calm.

"Wrong! If you’d studied the legends of the Fremoline outcrops, where our stream has its source, you’d know there were persistent tales of gold deposits - "

"There are no gold deposits anywhere in the demesne of Louvel." I could imagine her rolling her eyes. "The rocks are almost entirely limestone. The rumors provide nothing useful to weave into the spellwork."

Breaking her prim, scholarly ways of thinking had been my most difficult challenge. It was why I had chosen this particular exercise on this particular day.

I repeated my probe of the streambed. Again, and then again, moving upstream until the muffled jar of metal shivered my staff and the razored sting of long-bound enchantment flowed up my arm. The virulence of the spell threatened to dissolve the bone. But I held the staff in place and tapped it sharply with my forefinger, my signal that she should touch it, too. She had to feel the magnitude of her error.

Her discipline held. A gurgle out of place in the rhythmic bubbling of the stream told me she’d withdrawn her hand from the water. A quiet chink, a scuff of dirt, and the release of pent power said she'd kicked aside the length of slender chain she'd laid out for her spell enclosure. Determined steps and a brush of skirts brought her to my side.

"If you’d looked deeper," I said, cooler now I'd snared her full attention, "you'd have found a bronze casket buried here at the seventh metre past the dogleg bend - the corner of the disputed territory. This is how the one faction, intending to ensure that they alone could harvest these rumored riches, shifted the streambed to fit their desired boundary."

I could not see her face any better than I could see anything else in this daemon-blasted world. Yet, even had I not smelled her soap-scented sweat or heard the tight hiss of her annoyance, I’d have known her in the moment she laid her finger on the carved hornbeam of my ancille - the moment the spells bound into my staff became instantly more useful, more lethal, faster, sharper, swollen from the inborn power she brought to any working. One would have to plumb the tangled depths of a forest's roots or the moldered residue of an ancient battleground to match Anne de Vernase's potential for magic. That she possessed a mind and will fully capable of wielding such power made her reluctance to take hold of it inexcusable . . .

You can find a larger excerpt of The Daemon Prism on my website.

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