Author Archives: jflewis

Natural Assumptions (Time Traveling Vampires and Comics?)

By J. F. Lewis

In short, don’t forget to make them when you are world building or plotting.

That’s it. You can go home. Lesson learned. No?

Okay. For example: (spoilers for those of you following Flashpoint: Batman). In the DC comics universe, there is an event which is setting up the reboot of the DC continuity. Time has been altered and as a result Thomas Wayne (the father of Bruce Wayne) becomes Batman because it is Bruce who is killed by a mugger in crime alley. This changes things. Thomas Wayne’s Batman kills the bad guys instead of locking them up. It makes sense. He is a surgeon cutting out the cancer of society one “tumor” at a time. Yet, he won’t kill The Joker. Why?

Because Brian Azzarello did him homework. Batman needs a recurring foe. Batman versus the Joker is an iconic battle. Who would the Thomas Wayne refuse to kill and try to help at all costs? His wife. It makes a brilliant, if tragic, kind of sense. And in issue two, when Batman is rushing to confront the Joker, The big reveal is even more gut wrenching when Batman approaches his wife with the shout, “What have you done now, Martha?”

Don’t forget to do this in your own writing.

If one character makes a big decision, really consider what will happen as a result. Let that mental avalanche of consequences roll through your imagination so that you don’t miss a moment of greatness or tragedy or emotional moments. Don’t skip the highs and lows by accidentally glossing over them.

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The Male/Female Author

By J. F. Lewis

Yesterday, I had my first chat with a book club via Chatzy as part of their examination of the differences between male and female authors in urban fantasy. It was a very interesting experience and I hope fun for everyone involved. We discussed female authors who write male first person POV well (Rob Thurman was my pick) and authors who don’t do it well (I won’t name names there). As a guy, I can say that I tend to notice a gender simulation error when men who shouldn’t be all that in touch with their emotions start having thoughts that clearly aren’t “guy” thoughts.

I was told that I write women well (which was very flattering) and answered some questions about the series.

But one of my favorite points of the conversation came with the end when the club shared the differences they saw between male and female urban fantasy authors. They said that in general they thought men tends to move the story along more quickly than women and had more detailed fight scenes, while women seemed to focus more on relationship and give more detailed sex scenes and to examine what is going on more in the plot before moving on.

Given that half of many of my books is dedicated to a female point of view (Tabitha is STAKED and ReVAMPED, Greta, Rahcel, and Tabihta in CROSSED), I’m always intensely interested in the female perspective. One of the hardest things for me to remember when writing a female POV is how busy the inside of many women’s heads often is. Guys tend to be more single-minded and may make wild turns in thought, but general they have one central preoccupation at a time. Women seem to be like airplane controller managing many simultaneous topics, goals, and aims at once.

That, and women don’t tend to wear the same clothes on multiple days. 😉

How about you? What do you see as the major difference between male and female points of view?

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Relationships that Matter

By J. F. Lewis

As a series progresses, it’s interesting for me to see which relationships flourish and which ones don’t. For readers of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series (spoilers ahead) the relationship between Ferro and Logen is one that we know from the beginning cannot possibly work. We know it must fall apart, the only question is when and how messy the fallout will be.

In my Void City series, it is (I hope) clear from the beginning that Eric and Tabitha can never actually work out. If I were writing a romance, it would be different. I would have to find a way for them to stay together. Urban Fantasy, however, does not require a happy ending. On the other hand, all stories require a satisfying ending. The important relationships must have closure even if they do not resolve the way the reader (or writer) might hope they will.

As the series progresses, it has become quite clear to me (and hopefully to the readers) that the familial relationship (the strictly platonic love story, if you will) between Eric and Greta (his utterly insane, yet charming and deadly adopted daughter) is the most interesting facet. One reader put it this way, “Here’s a guy who is basically good at heart, but a murderer who loves unconditionally a… monster who has become everything the guy fears that he himself has become. And the cool thing is, she loves him unconditionally, too.”

It’s no coincidence that in BURNED (Void City, Book 4) the main.secondary POV will be Greta. It’s a tough call to make because I know that Tabitha (the previous secondary main) is some people’s favorite character, but writing must serve story. If I get in the way of that, then I’m not doing my job and I’m cheating the reader out the genuineness of character I try to portray in Void City.

What about you? Ever had to make a hard call when writing? Ever hit one in an author’s work and wish things had gone the other way?

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The Time Traveling Vampire Goes To SDCC

“Get thee to a convention”
-Gail Z. Martin

“Holy crap! Somebody hide me!”
-J. F. Lewis

By J. F. Lewis

I’ve never gotten the hang of writing a blog in advance. Maybe if writing was my day job, I’d be better at it, but I always find myself thinking either late Monday night or sometime Tuesday wondering what the heck I should write about. And, seeing as how that’s where I’m headed tomorrow, this week, it’s SDCC.

I don’t think I can fully express the San Diego Comic Con experience to you. You really just have to go. Picture a con where TV, Movies, Gaming, Video Games, and Publishing all show up in force. Set it in a civic center (a huge one) and then fill the darn thing up.

My first year, I literally spent most of the con trying to see all of the dealer’s room… And failed.

Year two, I actually wound up on a panel (and it was awesome).

This year, I’m on a Thursday panel moderated by the mighty Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy:

3:00-4:00 Magic & Monsters— Adult and young adult science fiction and fantasy authors discuss the costs and consequences of “magic” in their novels and the scary, hairy, and dangerous creatures that lurk in the worlds they have created. Visit the worlds of Kim Harrison (The Hollows series), Andrea Cremer (The Nightshade series), Anton Strout (The Simon Canderous series), Lev Grossman (The Magicians), Ben Loory (Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day), J. F. Lewis (The Void City novels), and Diana Rowland (The White Trash Zombie series), guided by moderator Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy. Room 25ABC

It’s always mind-blowing. Alway awesome and, to be honest, I’m still a little surprised I get to go.

Are you going? Have you ever been? What would you do and who would you want to see most? Enquiring minds want to know! 😉

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The Time Traveling Vampire Gets Tested

By J. F. Lewis

Last week, we took a giant step forward in time when discussing THE TIME TRAVELING VAMPIRE and approached the idea of handling revision letters. Now let’s skip back a bit. The idea is simple: Mr. Garrett is a Victorian era vampire possessed of a time machine. He’s married to a lovely wife (who is not a vampire) and he travels forward in time to feed on those he finds to be more deserving victims. But that’s just the concept. Where do we go from there?

Some authors would start an outline at this point. But that’s not how I work.

For me, it would be straight to the first scene. Of course, just because it’s the first scene written doesn’t mean it will wind up as the actual first chapter. As a discovery writer, the first scene is the acid test, almost a pre-write to work out the voice both of the character and the narrative. It’s also a test to help answer the questions:

Can I really write this?

Does this really work?

Is this worth my time?

There are two “Can I write this” barriers. The easiest one crops up very early. In my case, I find a scene that I feel most captures the central character and start writing. It may not be more than five or six pages (generally not more than two thousand words). If I’m not enjoying the process at that point, if it feels stale to me or more like a passing interest than something long term… I drop it and see how I feel about it later. Is it something worth spending a hundred thousand words on? If I’m not burning to continue after a few thousand words, the answer is a pretty clear: No.

The second barrier pops up around ten thousand to thirteen thousand words. Right there is a point for me where, if it’s not a novel, I’ll start to feel it. Other ideas pop up during any project, but usually, I only write enough of them down to remember them and come back to later. If I catch myself spending too much time brainstorming other ideas, that’s another bad sign.

By the thirteen thousand word mark, I’ll pretty much have the answer to the other questions, too. If I need to learn more or do intense research, I’ll know by then. If the plot isn’t going to work, I’ll have a fix in mind or start thinking about how to change it. By that point, I can generally give an idea of what the overarching plot is and where I’m going. I should even have a rough idea of how it’s all going to end.

Time is a harder question to address. Before I was published, I didn’t give it much thought at all. I wrote what ever I wanted and assumed it would find a market. But for THE TIME TRAVELING VAMPIRE, I would likely have a market in mind, know what genre it is, and may already have run the idea by my agent or even let her see a writing sample. If she hates the very idea of it, thinks it unsalable, then I might abandon the project completely.

If it sounds like discovery writing can involve a fair amount of wasted word count, you’d be correct. But with practice even a writer as seat of his pants as me, starts to get a feel for things earlier and earlier in the process.

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Revising a Time Traveling Vampire

By J. F. Lewis

I’m working on the revision letter for BURNED (Void City, Book 4) which will hit the shelves in February 2012, so my mind has turned to things like edits. As a result, we’ll skip ahead a bit. Let’s say that THE TIME TRAVELING VAMPIRE has been written and sold pseudonymously under the name I. M. Spartacus to Reilly Kool Editor at Big New York Publisher. Maybe foreign rights have already sold.

This applies a certain amount of pressure. Things have progressed from the land of “tee hee, I can have a scene where Mr. Garret fights a steam punk laundromat in chapter seventeen” to a revision request like: I love this chapter, but it does not work for the book. Maybe rewrite it with sentient mango people?

Welcome to the job portion of the process. You thought the butt-in-seat time was hard? Ha!

If you are like me, you hate revisions. In my Void City books, the edits I get usually aren’t things to which I object. They are quite reasonable, insightful, and they make the end product a much more enjoyable read. But that doesn’t mean revision requests are seen that way initially.

(As an aside, even that’s not why I hate revisions. I hate doing revisions because usually, when I’m done with a book, I don’t like it anymore. I’m sick of the characters and I want a break from them. It’s like the second week of a two week vacation with your best friend. At some point, no matter how much you love spending time with them, you still want their heads on a spike,)

But back to Mr. Garret and the mango people. (It should be noted that there is no analogous revision request in my rev letter for Burned). The inner writer almost always instantly rejects revisions on the first run through. Your inner writer may be more civilized than that, but mine is a whiny fussy baby.


(Never mind that Mr. Garret encounters Mango People four other times in the book and it’s clear that he fought them at some point in the past, so actually showing that fight might foreshadow the later events and make those chapters work better. Further ignore the fact that the laundromat sequence never comes up again and is really a vignette that belongs on the writer’s website as an extra. The inner writer doesn’t care about any of that at first.)

When you hit this point, my suggestion is a simple one: sleep on it. You may be surprised at how reasonable some of the requests seem in the morning or how you develope other fixes that are even better than the suggested ones. I never bounce anything back to my editor regarding revisions until three days have passed (unless time is of the essence). Give your inner writer time to calm down and stop being offended. Then you can sort the requests that are quite good from the few you really do have heartburn over.

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More Time Travel. More Vampires.

By J. F. Lewis

When I was a kid, time traveling vampires were everywhere. (That’s a lie.)

I couldn’t walk out of my house at night without seeing them waiting to spring upon me in the dark. If only Mr. Garret (the time traveling gentleman from last Tuesday’s blog) hadn’t broken everything. Everyone knows the story, right? How he travelled to the future one time too many searching for blood of those he considered less moral than himself and encountered other vampires? (I’m making this all up, of course.)

Imagine his surprise when one of the vampires he meets is not just any old vampire, but his beloved wife? What might our Victorian vampiric gentleman do then?

In case you haven’t picked up on it, these time travel blogs are actually an attempt to explain in the strange nonsensical way available to me…how a writer as organic as me tends to work. I’ll be taking you through the process more each week and maybe manage to answer the question: where do your (meaning my) ideas come from? And maybe when we’re done, it will all make sense, I might even make this blog time travel a little itself.

But let’s focus on Mr. Garret a bit more first.

How would he react? Knowing your character enough to answer that question is vital when you’re a “discovery writer”.

How would he react to seeing his beloved wife changed into a monster like himself? If I know our Mr. Garret, he might travel back to try and discover what happened, to find the exact moment she changed and correct it. What havoc might that unleash across his own personal history?

As a writer, there are many ways to play with the terrible consequences that a (doomed or maybe not doomed… It’s hard to say this early on) quest like this might entail. What if the reader gets to notice that Mr. Garret’s wife is intact a different woman each time he travels back… That somehow Mr. Garret’s beloved Emma (or Jane or Rose) is being affected each time he travels and the vampire himself doesn’t even know it because his own personal history is being rewritten as well.

Great fun can be had when the reader knows something the character does not, but all that fun gets buried if the reader doesn’t think the character is behaving as he or she should. More next time…

And I wasn’t kidding about the time travel. 😉

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The Time Traveling Vampire

By J. F. Lewis

Time travel for the average vampire presents certain obvious problems, depending on how the vampire actually accomplishes the task. With minute and effective control over the exact time (ie. via some sort of H. G. Wells-style apparatus or even Doc Brown’s DeLorean) the vampire’s time travel issues are minimized, but even then, there are problems.

When are sunrise and sunset?

A simple Internet search could provide that information, but if I have my druthers, the idea of a Victorian or Edwardian era time traveling vampire is far more appealing. Picture him:

The pale gentleman looked up from his charts, and made a note in his personal journal, the bright red leather of the book standing out in a contrast to the vampire’s otherwise darker toned hues. Garret preferred to dress in grey. It matched his eyes and his moral compass. Garret could recall a time when the idea on feeding upon another person, draining their vitae (even in the limited capacity he currently allowed himself), would have been unthinkable. Still, the future was populated with so many who found the prospect alluring and, even if Garret himself could not stand to dwell overlong in their presence, it was a necessity.

“Mrs. Garret,” he said to his wife, “I’m afraid I must sojourn once more.”

“Be safe, Mr. Garret,” answered the woman in blue.

Eyes softening, he touched his mustache absently as he stood.

Of course a more modern time traveling vampire might be interesting, too. A vampire with high tech and flashy gizmos, but I’m still drawn to the idea of a well-meaning vampire who leaves his wife behind to feed only to encounter his wife in the present: as something supernatural herself.

And maybe one day I’ll write more about Mr. Garret.

So why talk about time traveling vampires?

Why not?

And why not is a very important question for a writer… Almost as important as why or who or how. It’s about not limiting yourself and your ideas. If you want to have a flesh eating car or a time traveling vampire and they fit in your world and iyour rules and in your setting… Then do it. Write them!

Make your stories vividly different. If that means your vampires time travel or are alien space fish who live in Venice, then so be it.

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The Words Escape…

By J. F. Lewis



Blog. Blog. Blog.

It seems simple. From mind to fingertips then out onto the white expanse of nothing, generating words which will be of use to aspiring authors, amusing to readers, and please your fellow bloggers.

Some days it’s easy.

Yet other days…


The words escape.

Of course, no deadline was ever satisfied by writer’s block.

So what do you do? I’ve tried all sorts of things during my stint as a professional filler of blank pages: walking around the block with the dog, bouncing tennis balls off the wall, listening to a playlist (that one actually helps some times), lying down on the chaise lounge for exactly fifteen minutes… even reading a book, but do you know what works best of all for me?

Powering through it. Sure the words might get erased the next day, but momentum is important. Next week, I’ll be blogging about vampires and time travel, but this week, take a thirty minutes and just write, even if you’re normally a reader. Write about your day, the dog, the cat, or even write about lunch. Let me know how it went, okay?

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In Moderation

One of the things which always confuses me about the con going experience is when I get picked to be the moderator. I like to think I’m a nice guy and that I’m a fun person with whom to chat, but I’m not sure what would qualify me to guide a panel along and keep things on course…

At Con Carolinas (a convention, I should mention, that is totally awesome) last year, when asked a question about the craft of writing, I responded that Pre-zombie Apocalypse my favorite Bond was Sean Connery, but now that the Zombie Apocalypse was underway, I was leaning toward Daniel Craig.

Why would I answer so strangely?

I couldn’t remember what the original question had been… (And it really did sound like the Zombie Apocalypse had begun ithe hallway.)

I’m not an auditory learner. I’m more of an audio-visual-kinesthetic: which means in order to learn something, I have see it, hear it, touch it, taste it, pass it through my colon… freeze it, disinfect it, and then shoot it into space. Okay, so it’s not quite that bad, but add my wandering attention span (sometimes I have one and other times, it’s out in the hall somewhere) and you get me talking about Fang the ‘Stang, the flesh-eating 1964 1/2 Mustang convertible in my Void City series, on a panel that is supposed to be about pets.

Heh! He is kind of a pet. And he does eat pets… And people… And…

So my question is this: how much does it annoy you when the moderator is only loosely keeping to the topic at hand?

This Friday, for example, I’m moderating a panel called:

Vampires: Old and New
From Dracula to True Blood – discuss the appeal of bloodsuckers!
With panelists: Justin D Kates, Rebecca Carter, Theresa Bane, Brinke Stevens, DJ Torch, J. F. Lewis

What should I ask? Obviously the panel crosses a great swath of different types of media, but what would those attending such a panel actually like to hear? Or expect to hear? And what would the panelists like to be asked?

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