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Posts Tagged ‘Rapture’

Tips for Surviving the Apocalypse: Featuring Nyx

Good morning, dystopic peeps!

GOD’S WAR, the first book of the Bel Dame Apocrypha/God’s War Trilogy has been out of print since late last year. The publisher is re-issuing the books in mmp with updated, streamlined covers – just in time for the launch of the new story collection, Apocalypse Nyx!

Because Nyx really is the hero we need right now.


Tentative re-issue schedule:

GOD’S WAR: May, 2018



INFIDEL: September, 2018

RAPTURE: November, 2018



Get ready! (I am!)



This is the end: RAPTURE UK Cover Reveal, Release Date

It’s sometimes difficult to remember that the Bel Dame Aprocrypha isn’t quite wrapped up in the UK as yet. But we’re just about there? For those who’ve been waiting to complete the set, the final volume of the series, RAPTURE, will be out from Del Rey UK on February 26th, 2015. The ebook should be out a bit before that, so stay tuned.

For those wondering about the cover, well, we’re sticking with the yellow/red/purple color scheme (though in the UK it’s red/yellow/purple). Here’s your final iteration of Nyx and her bugs, for a bit:


After years in exile, Nyxnissa so Dasheem is back in service to the bel dames, a sisterhood of elite government assassins tasked with eliminating deserters and traitors.

The end of a centuries-long holy war has flooded the streets of Nasheen with unemployed – and unemployable – soldiers whose frustrations have brought the nation to the brink of civil war.

Not everyone likes this tenuous and unpredictable “peace,” however, and somebody has kidnapped a key politician whose death could trigger a bloody government takeover.

With aliens in the sky and revolution on the ground, Nyx assembles a team of mad magicians, torturers and mutant shape-shifters for an epic journey across a flesh-eating desert in search of a man she’s not actually supposed to kill.

I realize very few people will probably get that that’s a giant centipede thing on the bottom, but whatever. I do like the city stuff in the back, and the quote from SFX magazine.

You can pre-order RAPTURE from your favorite UK bookseller starting… now!

I’m super proud of these books, and they get better as they go. I do hope more people read INFIDEL and RAPTURE, which both myself and reviewers agree are way, way better than the uber-award-winning first book. GOD’S WAR did indeed get a reprint in the UK, which is nice, but the other books, my friends. SERIOUSLY. THE WELL SCENE IN INFIDEL! THE DESERT SCENE IN RAPTURE!


UK covers bel dame

Get FREE copies of GOD’S WAR and INFIDEL

If you’ve been hungry to read GOD’S WAR and INFIDEL, but were just waiting for the right time – this is it.

In celebration of the release of RAPTURE, the final book in the trilogy, Night Shade is giving away totally FREE ecopies of BOTH GOD’S WAR and INFIDEL.

Yes. Both books.

Here’s how to get yours:

Just send an email to Night Shade will shoot back an email to you with the info you need to download the files for GOD’S WAR and INFIDEL. Both Epub and Mobi files are available.

Free downloads are only available from November 1st to November 8th, 2012.

Don’t miss it, folks.

(Oh, yeah… and if you like what you read? RAPTURE’s out now!)

On Hiatus – But Probably Still Alive

It occurred to me today that I’m dangerously close to burnout, and as I’m about to head down the rabbit hole with RAPTURE promo in early November, now is probably a good time to take a break from being social and actually knuckle down and get to work.

I’ve managed to get really far behind on projects. If you start spending too much time on stuff like book numbers, reviews, mentions, and all the rest of the business bit of this game, it can really sap your headspace for creating new stuff, because to be dead honest you start thinking, “Fuck everybody. What’s the point? I’m going to retire to some obscure Greek island somewhere and drink myself to death.”

And that’s when you know it’s time to pull the curtains for a while.

So, suffice to say, I’ll be pretty quiet the next four weeks. After that, of course, it’s RAPTURE time, so I’ll be a little busy bee again.

See you all then!

Deals, Deals Deals: GOD’S WAR UK & Audio Editions

I’m pleased to share that GOD’S WAR, INFIDEL and RAPTURE will be published in the UK (and the British Commonwealth) by Ebury Publishing, a subsidiary of Random House, UK. For those keeping an Irony Meter handy, my first contract for GOD’S WAR, which was cancelled and resulted in us heading over to Night Shade, was originally signed with Bantam-Spectra here in the US… Bantam-Spectra is also a division of Random House.

It’s a crazy, crazy business, folks.

In more Good News, Audible has also bought the rights to publish GOD’S WAR, INFIDEL, and RAPTURE in audio format.

I have no publication dates or details beyond that, but I will keep you all posted as I hear more.


Does this mean you’re RICH now?

It’s always been very important to me here to be honest about what new writers can expect from deals like this. So here’s how it works. After my publisher’s cut, my agent’s cut, and taxes, the UK deal – for all three books – is about enough to pay for us to finally put a fence up around our property. That said, the pay out on that amount is spread out over the publication of all three books. So money will trickle in over, most likely, the next 2-3 years.

The Audible deal for all three books equals a little more than half of what I was paid by Night Shade to publish GOD’S WAR alone. So, maybe I’ll pay off part of a credit card with it?

Whether or not money is made after those initial amounts depends wholly on how many folks buy books in these editions/formats. So BUY SOME BOOKS!!!

But… but… won’t you be bathing in royalty money?

Not any time soon. I split a portion of any royalties I receive with both Night Shade (because it’s a sub rights deal on rights they already own and paid us for) and my agent. I still get the bulk of the royalties, but if you think this is a Get Rich Quick scheme and I’ll be quitting my day job any time soon… well, no.

Are you going to have (INSERT FAMOUS JENNIFER-HALE TYPE PERSON HERE) read your audio book? Can my friend (INSERT FRIEND’S NAME HERE) narrate your audio book?

As I understand it, unless you’re already Rich and Famous and can get said Famous Person to do the narration at a cut-rate deal, Audible generally does all the production for stuff on their end. I will get to tell them how to pronounce words, though. So that’s cool.

How much input did you have on these deals?

My publisher already owned both World English and audio rights to my novels. That means they negotiated these deals. That said, I was presented with the initial UK offers through my agent, asked my opinion, and gave it, including a change to an initial bit of the offer. My agent also requested an amended contract that firmed up our split of the subsidiary rights.

You don’t sound really happy. Aren’t you really happy?

Yes, I am really happy. The thing is, just a few short years in the trenches in this biz has made me a bit guarded and cynical (see above post about my initial cancelled contract). I’ve learned that seeing “big money” when you sign a deal doesn’t mean you’re getting a big money check. Lots of people have to get paid before you do – the publisher gets paid for any subsidiary rights split, agent gets 15% and at Tax Time there’s a 10% self-employment tax.  Then there’s the fact that you only get paid twice or maybe three times a year – and those payments are nearly always late.  The only way a lot of folks I know can make a living at this is to write 2-3 books a year, and I’m just not there yet. Not if I want to write the kinds of books I write.

Right now, book writing makes up just 10-15% of my income during a good year.

Still, I’m happy. This means more people reading my books. Which, yanno, I think are awesome and everyone should be reading.

So, what’s next?

I have a lot of work ahead that goes with all this, but I’m trying not to think about that too much. Mostly, I’m working hard on the next book (epic warring families! Womb tech! Biotic witches! Cancerous legions of world ships!)… and trying to have a little fun.

And maybe I’ll use some of this money to take a vacation or something. A vacation that I’m not taking so I can, yanno, finish a book.

On hitting deadlines, writing a book a year, and subverting the limits of make-believe

For reasons various and sundry, I have just now released a draft of RAPTURE to my editor, agent, and first readers (yes, the book was due 4/30, and I finished it 4/30, but I had to hold onto it due to Boring Business Things).

I’ve been toodling around with it, of course, since I finished it. Throughout that process I’ve been alternately going, “OK, this isn’t so bad,” and “Oh God, this is total shit.”

Last night, after finally releasing my death grip on the draft which no one but me had yet seen, I plunged full tilt into OH GOD THIS IS TOTAL SHIT.

Now, to be fair, this is a pretty standard thing that happens to me when I release a book to folks. In fact,  I always feel the WORST about a book right after I’ve approved all copyedits and the thing officially goes to the printer and THERE IS NO TURNING BACK. That is the time of weeping and gnashing of teeth about how I will be denigrated as some foolish word hack by friends, fans and peers.

The term for this type of behavior that gets bandied about in writer circles is imposter syndrome, and because I’ve been listening to and learning from writers many epic years longer than I’ve been writing books that get published, I’ve been aware of it a good long while.

The thing is, even knowing that it’s just something I do every time doesn’t make me feel any better. After all, a lot of people write books. A lot of people write shitty books. HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU AREN’T THE ONE WRITING THE SHITTY BOOK? About all I can do to manage it is to wallow in my self misery with some good humor and hold on to the tenuous awareness that I’m a nutcake.

Some of this, I know, comes from the topics I choose to tackle in my fiction. When you’re writing books that dig deep into issues of race, class, religion, gender, sexuality, and all that on top of a seemingly innocuous slash-and-hack plot, you second guess yourself a lot. Especially when you’re writing fast, even if “fast” to fans, looks like a glacial speed. I wrote the first salable draft of GOD’S WAR over four years, and spent another two years in various revisions. INFIDEL was written in about two and a half years. By contrast, I wrote RAPTURE in about 14 months, and it’s nearly 30% longer than GOD’S WAR. That means EVEN MORE PAGES WHERE I CAN SCREW THINGS UP.

And, OK, let’s be real – much of the initial writing process of GOD’S WAR was stalled or rehashed because I spent a good deal of the ramp-up time doing research. With subsequent books, the core worldbuilding was done and characters fleshed out. So I could concentrate more on things like plot and character arcs. Research done during the other two books related to specific scenes or scenery or simply referred back to notes I’d already taken for the first book.

But writing quickly is not beneficial if you’re trying to subvert tropes and stereotypes. The first thing that passes from my brain to keyboard is often hackneyed tripe, and so I have to go back and question it, and rethink it, and go, “OK, how could this be read? What could somebody infer from this? Is this just lazy writing?”

I literally rewrote and then restored one character’s chapters three times because I couldn’t decide how badly I wanted him to suffer and at whose expense. In one version, he suffered by me giving his wife great agency, but that made him very unlikeable. In the second, he appeared on the surface to be more likable, but I’d stripped his wife of agency. The third time I put back in the scenario I had written the first time, I realized there was no more I could do on my own. I’d lost any pretense of an objective view of the book. It was time to release it into the wild for outside comments and a final rehash.

What constant tinkering also does is create massive inconsistencies throughout the book, and all of these will have to be addressed. When you kill a character at one point in the book, then take it back and put it in later, or go in and add a character THREE TIMES and then take them out THREE TIMES, well, yeah. And that’s not even getting to replacing terms and names because the first ones were lazy (“Maquis,” Kameron, really?).

I have been working very hard at writing faster this last year, because there’s this strangely insatiable need and expectation now that writers put out at least a book a year, if not multiple books. The thing is, we’re not all James Patterson, who now just writes outlines and then farms out the books to his stable of writers. Some of us have day jobs and freelancing work and family lives.

I recently broke down and finally budgeted to have somebody come in and clean the house once a month, because J. and I just couldn’t keep up. My taxes bounced back from the tax man this year because I’d stupidly put in the wrong standard deduction.  I just paid nearly $20 in library fines because I’ve got a rotating pile of over 40 books out from the library at any given time, and schlepping them all back after you’ve exceeded your number of renewals can be a chore. Then there’s my recent  A1c test, which was 7.1 (it’s supposed to be under 7).  When I’m writing quickly, and trying to be smart about it, other stuff starts to slide.

My brain, it squeals.

Let’s be brutally honest here: the stuff that I write isn’t stuff that comes out easily from my brain. There might be some folks who churn up weird and wonderful shit while relaxing at the spa, but I’m not one of them. Kameron Hurley books are dutifully researched books, and they should have an awareness of what the fuck they’re saying when two characters fuck, or the gay guy dies, or the folks who use Arabic words are chopping off peoples’ heads, or the aliens carry around crucifixes. If you say those things, you had better damned well know what the consequences are. You’re responsible for the images you put on the page, and if you’re going to go down paths that could be misread, you best do your damnedest to ensure that you’ve painted your people and situations as clearly and compassionately as possible.

But the real thing I have to achieve, and the moments I yearn for, is when I can actively manage to subvert reader expectations. I won’t give you a list of those here for RAPTURE, because, hey, spoilers – but those are the moments I push for, and they’re the hardest ones to think through. They take the most time. They take far longer than the potentially problematic ones, because as much as you try not to make them problematic and subvert them, at some level, people expect them.

And I have to do better.

Writing faster means a higher probability of failure for me right now. Some of that is because I still notice a lot of my knee-jerk sexism and racism as I write, and all of that has to be thought through and rehashed. I throw out a lot of outlines that include the first or second or third thing I thought of. Those are generally the lazy things, the things people have seen before. But when you’re writing fast, the impulse, and often, the necessity, is to go with the first or second thing you think of. You just don’t have time for anything else.

Sure, that’s what revisions are for. But if you build an entire book on three or four first-run ideas, untangling yourself from those first-run ideas after you already have a draft is an epic task.

So why do I care? I mean, really, that’s what it comes down to for me. Why do I even care if I do lazy stuff like have a heroine who’s raped for no reason but to say the bad guy’s bad (happened in the first draft of GW, believe or not; excised, thankfully), or the gay guy was molested by women (expunged from this draft, oh yeah), or the two abusive protagonists totally hook up and live happily ever after? (don’t ask).

I care because these aren’t the books I want to read. I’ve read these books. They are lazy books. I got into this biz because I wanted to see something different. I wanted to make something different. What I’ve found so frustrating throughout this process is how difficult it is to subvert expectations, to not go with the same tired stories. You get so used to building worlds on evil queens and strapping huntsman heroes that you forget there are more than just stereotypes at play here. These are real people reading your books, not cardboard cutouts, and the images you put on the page become a part of the way they view, see, read, understand, and interpret the world.

I know how media messages affect me now, and how they affected me growing up. I know what stories do, when all the ones you read are about how people like you are powerless. You internalize things. It twists you. Sometimes you deal with it by becoming even more femmy, to fit that role. And sometimes, like me, you just reject the label, and pretend you’re not one of those women-creatures. You pretend you’re a real person. Trouble is, you can teach yourself to identify with trash-talking 80’s apocalypse heroes, but nobody is going to view you as one. Because they watched the same stuff you did. They know you’re just meat.

I want to write books where I’m not meat. Where women are heroes. Where sexuality is fluid. Where things are very, very different – and not at all the way you’d expect.

But I write these worlds from a place firmly rooted in this one, and it’s a struggle, every fucking time, to cast something outside of myself, to haul myself over, to wrench free. Cause nobody wants you to hurl yourself outside the box. If there’s somebody over here blaring a different message, then you might have to question yours, too.

I have great empathy for storytellers who tell shitty, predictable stories full of what you know are totally lazy, knee-jerk choices. I have empathy for them because that’s my default too.  Hey, cool space battles ahoy! There’s some chick with a flamethrower and a black guy, so we’re good, right?

No. No, you’re not.

Some days I don’t know that there’s any difference between them and me, except for the fact that I actively look for it. I actively fight it. Oh, sure, I fail at it. I fail spectacularly at it. But I keep bashing my head against it, because the alternative is far worse. The alternative is shoring up the same old conversation. It’s being part of the problem. It’s writing yet another story that eight year old me would pick up that would teach her how much it sucked to be a woman. Another story that inspired some sort of mental head game of denial and internalized misogyny.

It’s so much easier to write those stories when I’m writing fast, though. So much easier to give in to random rape scenes and effeminate gay guys and evil lesbians and uncivilized nomads. I know these stories. I grew up with them. They start to seem normal.

Thing is, they aren’t.

Cause, yanno, we had an openly gay president here in the U.S., and women were the majority of early computer programmers, and  Shaka Zulu had an all-female fighting force, and… and… all these bullshit “stories” we’re told about “the way things have always been” actually don’t date back much past the 1950’s.

It’s a liberating sort of feeling, actually, when you realize that everything you think is normal is actually a recent invention. It’s all just make-believe.

So why is it so hard to make-believe myself outside of it, a book a year at a time?

All Quiet on the Apocalyptic Front

So you may remember that I’m finishing up this book, RAPTURE. It’s the final book in the Bel Dame Apocrypha, about Nyx and her mad gang of magicians, mercenaries, and shapeshifters. It’s got bugs and beheadings.

It’s also due to my publisher on April 30th.

Learning how to balance book marketing/promo/public presence with actual writing has been one of my toughest challenges the last year and change. Add in a day job that’s been very busy the last few weeks (Ok, months), and another manuscript I need to start working on as soon as RAPTURE’s turned in and I’m just about ready to unravel.

So this is just a note to let everybody know that I’ll be a bit incognito the next month-and-change. As of THIS INSTANT I’ve instituted a hard stop on checking book sales numbers and looking for conversations about the books online. At this point, inundating myself with more feedback is just going to get me derailed.

I do this with some sense of trepidation. It used to be that going dark wasn’t such a big deal. I mean, if you got a letter from somebody on the other side of the country every six weeks that was great. After all, what could possibly happen? But these days, dropping off the face of the social web is bad form. Entire internet memes will peak and die in this time. Movie deals will be made. Contracts for fan fiction will be signed. And I fear that when I return, it will be to a landscape far different from the one I left.

That’s how I know it’s time to take a break. Because I need all of the head space I’m using to try and stay hip with the times to finish up the last few scenes and final polish on this book.

I will still be checking in on Twitter, and responding to emails and such, but for the most part, please don’t be surprised to find that in the next month, the only platform I’m on that really gets updated is the God’s War wiki.

Know that I’m not dead or anything, just very busy creating new things.


Murdering my Darlings

I’ve reached the point in RAPTURE where I’m excising a bunch of stuff I really liked. I mean, it’s not all vital to the plot or the story or anything, which is why I’m cutting it, but man – it’s stuff I like.

See, when I’m thinking about a book I’ll often write little snippets of dialogue and disjointed scenes and then toss them into the manuscript file at the end for incorporation later. Then, as I put the book together, I pull from the pool of scenes and dialogue as they occur in the story. But as you run out of book, you know, you start to run out of places to put this stuff. You also start to realize that all those fine, witty bits of dialogue and fights scenes really don’t have a place in the final book. It sucks.

Here are some examples of what got cut recently, in no particular order:


But she got prettier by the day, with every frown, every tangled gray hair. He’d thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world, once. Then the rest of the world started to love her too, and some of the shine had worn off.


“I once knew a cook who worked the black,” Nyx said. “Could skin a cat in three minutes and served dogs, yeah – shifter and standard alike. Once saw him cut the head off a dog’s hindquarters and haul the dog half back inside.”

“Did you report him?”

“Hell no. He made the best roast dog in Nasheen.”


 “She’s a good, beautiful woman. There is such a thing. Not all of them are rotten.”

“I’m living proof that you don’t have to be pretty to be bad,” Nyx said.

“I’ve always preferred running after the scary ones,” Sabah said.

“Not me,” Ahmed said. “Rotten women have rotten hearts.”

Nyx snorted. She bet her left lung that Ahmed hadn’t bedded a woman in his life.


“She’s fine,” Eshe said.

“She’s a fucking magician.”

“You were happy enough to chat her up until I got there first.”

“When the hell did you become so mercenary?”

“I learned from the best.”

“You’re goddamn right you did.”


 “Haven’t you cut off enough limbs today?”

“Somebody’s gotta keep the magicians in business.”


 “You don’t know what’s out there… what I’ve seen.”

“I’m hiring you to show me.”


 “Nobody remembers how a war starts,” Hanife said. “No one will remember this one began with an incompetent magician and a foolish mercenary.”


 “How old are you?”

“Old enough,” Mercia said.

“Not old enough to bed somebody as old as your mother.”

“My mother’s dead.”

“That just makes it worse.”


Bel dames go to bars for the same reason historians go to libraries – research.


As it was, the hedge witch had agreed to slather them down in salve and administer an antidote to the poison that took the worst of the edge off. Her fathers took it with them into the desert, she said, in case they were desperate enough to eat the bugs that poisoned them.


God, he stilled loved her – even after all this time. Long after a better man would have left his boyhood stupidity behind.


Trope Avoidance: How to Stop Writing What Everyone Else is Writing

Sure was DARK. Sure was STORMY.

We’ve all experienced it: you’re reading along and you find a scene in a book that you could swear you’ve read a hundred times before – in some other book, or in some other show.

There’s a formula to much traditional storytelling, especially the stuff that’s written and/or produced very quickly. Formulas are great for creators. They help you bang out stories – whether it’s novels, short stories, TV or movie scripts – quickly. It’s the boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl setup (always the boy doing the doing, of course). It’s the opening montage comments about a country in some travel show that asks a question, shots with happy locals, pretty scenery, ruminations on the question, and finally, an end-of-episode sum up that answers the question.

Frames and formulas have their place. They create very comforting stories. I like watching shows where I know that – unlike in real life – the bad guys are going to get it. One of the shows I saw falling into formula its second or third season was Burn Notice. There would be some ruminations on the overall plot arch, then the introduction of a Wronged Client who would enlist the help of the ex-spy and his team. The ex-spy would be reluctant, nearly turn them down, but be urged to take on their case by his team. They would vanquish the bad guys while sharing some McGyver-esque spy facts with the audience, save the Wronged Client, and meet for drinks afterward and touch on the overall plot arch for the show.

It’s nice to know the good guys win, and good people are saved, but to be honest, that formula was getting old. In Season 4, they started doing something different. The stories the Wronged Person told them weren’t always true. In fact, sometimes they were outright lies. The situations became less black-and-white and more complicated. Instead of every plan working, the first plan or two often failed. There were more double-crosses, more unexpected explosions, and a lot more gunfights. Main characters got shot, or kidnapped, or interrogated (sometimes by the supposed Wronged Client, sometimes by their own team members). Changing the formula resulted in a much higher level of suspense. The neat, cozy story I expected wasn’t so cozy after all (I recently watched one where the supposed Wronged Client was shot dead within the first 15 minutes of the show, and we learn that he wasn’t quite as Wronged as we thought). As a result, the show became much more interesting, and though I don’t think the writers have the guts to truly take out one of the show’s main characters the way, say, Joss Whedon would, I’m certainly a lot more interested and invested in these stories than I used to be.

One of the problems with being reasonably well-versed in genre tropes is that they’re easy to fall back on. When I’m writing fast, it’s easy to throw in the scene where they defuse the bomb with 1 second left on the clock, or have everybody speak a “common” tongue so you don’t have to deal with tricky stuff like who can understand what’s being said in what language, or god-like aliens ruled by logic who are trumped by the human spirit/power of our emotions, or those bizarre nursing scenes where a guy gets injured and a woman patches him up and they totally fall in love.

But what’s wrong with this stuff, really?

On the face of it, nothing. They’re good stuff. People like them. It’s why they endure. They’re comforting. In a world of chaos and infinite possibility, it’s sometimes nice to sit back at the start of scene and know exactly how it’s going to end (“Oh, she’s patching him now! Finally, they will fall in love!”).

Trouble is, if you’re going for maximum tension and suspense, the kind of thing that keeps even the most jaded reader hooked, you need to push beyond these cozy tropes. I recently finished reading Stephen King’s Misery (ha ha, I know). The guy’s early books have the most masterful plots because they are often so bloody unpredictable (I kept expecting that the movie ending was different than the book ending. I should have known King wouldn’t kill his Writer, but I totally expected it). The genius of Misery was in casting a totally mad and unpredictable antagonist. You really never knew what she was going to do next, and each random horror she came up with was more horrifying than the last. You kept thinking, “Surely, she can’t get any worse,” and sure enough, she did. And the ante was upped in such a way, and set up in such a way, that when all the horror happened, you totally believed it.

King also doesn’t fall into the superhero trap. His protagonists are totally ordinary people, and they act like the way real, flawed, terrified people would act. For every one of us who says, “I would fight back! I would totally beat that psycho up and escape!” there are those of us aware of exactly how pain and fear and sickness and terror can utterly transform a brave, reasonable person into a screaming, urinating, flailing wreck. His protagonists are, if nothing else, terrifyingly human… and masterfully flawed.

This brings me to why I’ve been thinking so much about clunking old tropey scenes lately. Last night, I finished a draft of a scene that anybody who’s ever read a book or seen a movie set in the desert has seen before. You’ve read this before:

Sorry, dude. No one is coming. Now what?

The protagonists are trudging across a vast desert, either because they were dropped off there, driven there, or need to cross it to get somewhere. Their water has run out. They continue to trudge along. The sun is very hot. The sand is very hot. It is, indeed, very hot. They start dropping across the sand like flies, leaving a long trail of bodies along the way, until there’s only one person left, usually dragging another one with him, and still no sign of water, or an encampment. Death must surely be certain!

But, of course, we know death is anything but certain. In fact, we’ve read this so many times we KNOW it’s not.

When you read this scene you pretty much know that one of two things will happen: 1) the last person standing will find water right before they collapse 2) the last person will collapse and it will look like everyone dies. But then! They wake up and are being cared for by some local desert people and brought back to health.


The reason this scene became so popular is because, well, the FIRST time you read it, it’s pretty suspenseful. I mean, your protagonists are in the desert! It’s hot! No water! No shelter! They’re going to DIE! The trouble is, when a scene has been done to death by everybody, the chances are your readers have read/seen it at least a couple of times. That means when they start the scene, they already know how it’s going to turn out. They’ll find water or the locals will save them. No worries.

Miracles are cool, but if you're just waiting around for the dragon, well, you're sacrificing tension.

And suddenly, this scene that was supposed to have such great suspenseful potential becomes something gimmicky and sad and… well, boring.

So I did what I do when I realize I’ve written something I’ve seen a million times (and don’t like. Oh, let’s be clear. There are some tropes I cling to so passionately that I won’t dump them, but that’s the subject of another post). I did some googling about the salt content of blood. I sat down and discussed the scene with J., and he made some suggestions about bugs, which led to me to thinking about a scene in the Conan movie when Conan attacks and eats a vulture while he’s hanging from a tree in the desert. And that got me to thinking about birds, and my world’s shape shifters, and maybe clouds of birds, and blood, and bugs. Hrm.

There are many ways to save your protagonists, but for me, it’s far more satisfying to figure out how the ways of the world and my protagonists’ own resourcefulness can help them save themselves. Maybe they don’t find water. Maybe no one saves them. Maybe they do something else.

It’s the “something else” that’s my job as a writer to figure out. That means sitting down and thinking about scenes, not just going with the first thing that occurs to me (because trust me, all my first ideas are crap). It means a lot of googling. And a lot of time at the library. Honestly, it hurts my head. I spent so long trying to figure out some truly strange tech for my same-world related short story, Angels and Avengers, that I pushed out the release date from September this year to September next year. I needed the time to gnaw on how to create something really different.

For instance, space travel tech in films hasn’t changed much since I was a kid. It’s all bulky suits and helmets and escape pods and cruisers. It about blew my mind the other day when I was rewatching Thundercats of all effing things and they board another ship by just beaming this laser/ray thing into it, cutting it open, and then having the boarding party walk across this ray of light and into the ship. No physical umbilicus. No leaping onto the ship and opening a hatch. Just, you know, BEAM OF LIGHT. Which got me to thinking about all the other stuff I make assumptions about when I’m writing.

For an SF/fantasy writer, there is nothing that will kill your fiction more quickly than falling into assumptions. I still do it all the time, and every time, I pay for it. I would rather say something ridiculous, though, like “She cut off her hair with a machete” (you can, in fact, saw off long hair with a very sharp machete [google it], though there has been some contention about that from readers) than just have somebody go to the barber. I would rather have people die who aren’t supposed to die. And heroes fail who aren’t supposed to fail.

Definitely more interesting than trudging through a barren desert.

Now I’m going back and re-writing my trudging-across-the-desert scene. It’s looking a lot different so far. There are no happy-to-save-you locals (there are, in fact, some “fuck you!” locals), and no nourishing water wells. Tough choices have to be made. Blood is spilled. And there are some fist-sized, flesh-eating bugs that show up to make things really interesting. Oh, sure, some people are “saved.” But some aren’t. Some plans fail. And coming out alive in this one has a lot more to do with digging deep and being resourceful than falling over and hoping for the best.

I know which one I find more interesting, and far more suspenseful.

Because the truth is, it’s honestly more fun if the bomb goes off, and nobody can understand each other, and the god-aliens are the unpredictable, overly-emotional ones. Why is it more fun? Because fewer people take the risk of writing it that way.

There are a bazillion people in the world who can write books. The only thing you’ve got on any of them is your ability to write something in a different way than other people are writing it.  It’s filtering your words and worlds through your own unique experiences, and forging a road through the bloody fucking buggy volcanic spew of mud instead of happily skipping along on the pavement.

Ok, so, maybe that’s my road.