Monday, March 14, 2011

Aurora Regency Welcome To Spring Blog Contest!

As some of you know, I'm also the managing editor of Aurora Regency/Aurora Regency Historicals.  Aurora is running a Spring Blog contest, where readers can win downloads of Aurora books.  On this blog, one lucky reader (or more if the contest warrants it) can win a free Aurora book from any author they want!  Here's what you do--

First, add as a follower to the Aurora Regency blog at

Then, comment on the Spring Blog Contest post there --

Then, comment in this thread. 

If you do all three, you'll be eligible to win a free download from me and be registered to win a prize package of FIVE Aurora books from FIVE different authors on the Aurora blog!  Sounds easy, yes?  And, to make everything more...Spring-y, you can enter every participating Aurora author's contest.  Just once per blog, of course, but still...

Links to the participating authors' blogs can be found on the Aurora Regency contest thread.  Enter them all! This may be the easiest batch of e-books you've ever gotten--for FREE!
Take a few minutes and get to know the wonderful authors of Aurora Regency/Aurora Regency Historicals.  So get yourself entered--and good luck to you all!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The End of an Era

Yep. The end of one of MY eras.

My last contracted e-book comes out from Aspen Mountain Press this month.  The Vampire Covenants, a trilogy I began with co-author Rob Graham, concludes with Defying the Covenants on March 21, 2011. Although Rob and I co-wrote the first two books, the final book is all mine.  I wrote it by myself, which seems fitting as it's the last one.

For some reason, this book was harder to write than the others.  I hemmed and hawed for a long time over the characters, the ultimate resolution of the plot (which changed drastically from what Rob and I had discussed) and how to bring the story to a final culmination.  I'm not used to writing 'final' in any of my stories. I always like to think that even if I never write another word in the world, the story somehow goes on.  The characters have amazing adventures without me, until they pass into the history of that world.  Then they gradually adapt, becoming first a memory, then a legend and finally a myth.

But with Marguertie in the Covenants series, things are a little different. This is her last story. In a lot of ways, she is representative of me.  Marguerite slides from the limelight, while I move from one sphere to another.  I think that's very fitting.  Marguerite has been one of my favorite characters ever.  She's so different from Tamsen (Asphodel) and all my little goddesses from the Mythos series.  Marguerite is a tragic character in a lot of ways.  She finds ways to make her own happiness, true, but she also finds ways to screw that up.  She didn't start out as a heroine, a woman destined for greatness.  She falls into heroism because of a series of events completely out of her control, and throughout the three books her primary quest is to regain control over herself and her life.  And, at long last, she accomplishes that goal--but at a terrible cost.

I'm very proud of Defying the Covenants. I think this book is an earmark of the change in my writing style, the maturation, perhaps, of how I develop characters and plots. I also think this story is true to my narrative voice.  I was writing this book at the same time I was writing Theater of Seduction so that change in voice had already taken place.  This book is darker, and yet at the same time more emotionally honest than its predecessors.  A couple of the best scenes I have ever written are pivotal moments in the story.

Have you ever had one of those?  A scene that for some reason works so well that it evokes the emotions in you, the writer, that you'd hoped to inspire in the reader?  I had one of those in Apostle of Asphodel, with Anner's death. In Defying the Covenants, there are a couple of those--scenes that I re-read and that actually suck me into the story.  One gives me shivers. The other...well, I've opened the document about thirty times to change that scene, thinking I needed to revise the ending of the story.  But then, I'll read that scene over and I just don't want to touch the damn thing.  So it stays, and because it stays I've stuck with an ending to the story that conventional wisdom would advise against.

That ending is a risk, and therefore I love it.

So now my last countdown clock is up for the vampires of the Covenants, counting down the hours and seconds and minutes when they will at last emerge into the light--figuratively of course. The feeling is bittersweet, which makes it all just that much more amazing. 

I hope you love Defying the Covenants as much as I do.  And just to give you a feel for it, take a moment and get a taste of what Marguerite and Gunther and Marcellin will bring to the table this time.

And farewell to this second era of my writing career.  I hope the next era is as incredible as this one has been.

The Vampire Covenants 3: Defying the Covenants

by Celina Summers

buy page--

Coming March 21, 2011 from Aspen Mountain Press


As the Conclave prepares to confront the Russian renegade Grigori Volkonsky, Marguerite von Wittershiem has been shunted aside. Her husband and mentors hope to keep her out of danger by assigning her the unglamorous task of protecting the written lore of their people.

But their plans go awry when a traitor within the Conclave betrays them all to the enemy. As the most powerful vampires in Europe fall to Volkonsky’s minions, Marguerite must find not only the strength to stand alone but the ability to withstand the greatest threat that the hidden world of vampires has ever faced. If she fails, the immortal races and humanity will be destroyed.

In order to ward the Covenants as she has sworn, Marguerite must be prepared to defy them as well.


* * * *

The Russians have surrounded us at Notre Dame! Calmet and Marcellin fight alone! Help us!

I was so close. I could make out the brass handle on the great door, gleaming with oily allure through the gloom. Something slammed into my body and hurled me into the pedestal of a statue warding the cathedral doors. I rolled to my feet, the sword in one hand and the dagger in the other. My foe laughed and circled me.

More vampires were dropping from the air now, most of them turning immediately to me. Marcellin was fighting against seven or eight immortals, all thralls, who had surrounded him but couldn’t get past the flashing guard of his blade.

“Come, little one,” the Russian nearest me said in atrocious English. “We will not harm you.”

Somehow, the new arrivals had gotten between me and the cathedral doors. There was no way I could speed through them and head for the sanctuary. I’d lead them right to it—and Calmet’s library. Desperately, I looked around for some other option.

I threw the knife at the Russian who’d spoken. He fell, screaming, to the ground with the blade protruding from his eye. I took advantage of his compatriots’ confusion and leapt for the narrow balustrade before the huge rose window.

My feet scrabbled on the edge of the stone railing, but I leaned forward and threw my arms around the Virgin Mary’s legs. The sword fell from my hand, spinning to the earth below. I didn’t wait to see what the Russians did next. As someone shouted below me, I ran across the narrow ledge to the southwest corner of the cathedral. I began to climb up the staggered bricks.

Overhead, the clouds that had been gathering over the death throes of the France I’d loved, rumbled ominously. I turned and barely bit back a scream. One of the gargoyles was right beside me, sneering over the embattled street below. I used the sculpture’s head to help me vault onto the ledge on its other side. By the time I reached the second balustrade between the twin towers of the cathedral, lightning flashed across the sky. It illuminated the false front of the façade and, for just a second, the steeply angled roof beyond it. I squeezed through two of the fluted columns and found myself standing on the peak of Notre Dame’s roof.

I sobbed, unsure which prospect was more terrifying—the Russians or the roof. Before I realized what I was doing, I mentally screamed, Gunther!

Every ounce of my power went into that psychic shout. Somewhere to the south and then, incredibly, to the north, I felt another immortal’s reaction to that desperate call. I didn’t have time to ponder who these vampires might be. Instead, I bit my lip and took my first step out onto the roof.

I couldn’t walk on the apex of the roof itself; decorative swirls and spikes of metal were enough to warn any vampire away. Instead, I progressed one step down from the peak, using the decorative ironwork to keep me balanced. I would never have attempted such a thing if I wasn’t able to turn into a bat if things went wrong. Regardless, I didn’t relish the idea of sliding down that pitched roof and forcing the shape shift before landing on the stones below. A vampire could experience all the pain of—and live through—breaking every bone in their body. It wasn’t a pleasant prospect at all.

While the storm gathered strength overhead, I scurried across the roof, keeping as low as I could and moving as quickly as I dared. Even to my ears, the sounds of battle were fading. I didn’t know if I was being pursued or not; I didn’t dare take the time to look. As I neared the first of the great flying buttresses, I had an idea.

Maybe I could conceal myself under one of those the same way Marcellin and I had hidden under the Pont Notre Dame. The towering spire reared in front of me. I scrabbled the rest of the way across the roof to it and pulled myself over the railing into the bell tower. For a moment, my legs wobbled in relief.

It didn’t matter that I could fly; all I knew was I could fall.

The massive bells hung in their frames as I slipped through the precarious walkway among them. I glanced over the edge of a landing into a stairwell that descended into the cathedral. For a moment I was tempted. Perhaps I could speed down those stairs and make my way to the crypt, obeying Marcellin’s orders and sealing the sanctuary against any who came. But a tickle at the back of my mind alerted me that others were nearing the spire.

I would give Calmet’s secret away if I followed my desire.

I crept around the huge bell in the center, easing my way toward the northern wing of the cathedral. The wood framework of the building would magnify even the slightest noise, betraying my position to any immortal nearby. I had to remain as stealthy as possible. Occasionally, I caught a whiff of some sour smell—an unwashed vampire, perhaps, still reeking of his last meal. The aroma overwhelmed the other, natural odors of this place—the warm spiciness of the wood, the metallic tang of verdigris and a lingering scent of spices from the cathedral below.

I froze. No, that aroma wasn’t the normal scent of the Catholic service. I was smelling myrrh.

Dear God—it’s Emmanuel Lando!

Terror, thick and cloying as the sickly sweetness of the myrrh, rose into my throat. I ducked under a smaller bell, edging around to the aperture that would lead me back to the roof and the buttresses keeping Notre Dame intact. If I was being stalked by Emmanuel Lando and not Volkonsky’s minions, things were worse than I could ever have imagined. Calmet’s blood, the blood of the eldest of night’s children, ran through my veins—his gift of healing.

Lando could not be allowed to drink from me, to add that power to his already considerable strength.

I slipped over the rail and back out onto the roof. I could hear the sounds of battle continuing hear the West Façade, punctuated by screams and clouts of power. It seemed as if there were more vampires involved now—probably Leandro had come at last to Marcellin and Calmet’s aid. I turned back to glance over my shoulder and one of the lead tiles loosened beneath my foot. I couldn’t help it; I screamed.

I slid toward the edge of the roof, grabbing desperately at tiles to slow my fall. I managed to grab hold of a gargoyle just as my feet and legs flew over the edge of the foot. I dangled there for a moment, relieved beyond measure at the sight of the gargoyle’s laughing snarl.

Lightning flashed above the cathedral, illuminating a lone figure at the top of the roof looking down at me. I didn’t have to see his sallow, drawn face or the tattered remnants of his Venetian robes to recognize Emmanuel Lando’s leering face.

I let go of the gargoyle.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Denouement and Narrative Pace

When you write serial stories like I do, the denouement can be the most difficult thing to accomplish.  The early books in the series have to resolve some facet of the plot while still perpetuating the overall main plot.  The final book has to tie up all the loose ends, including the subplots of the earlier books.  So getting to the resolution requires a lot of organization and planning.

Right now, I'm finishing up Theater of Cruelty.  As you know, I'm not an outliner.  I write by the seat of my pants save for one exception--I always know what the ultimate resolution of the plot is going to be before I ever write a word.  Other than that, I write organically.  Then, after the first draft is completed, I go through and outline the plot.  I usually set it out on long pieces of butcher paper, so I can have a linear chart above my desk that lets me see the plot points, the twists in it and ultimately, the resolution.

The reason I do this is to make sure I've addressed every single plot and subplot.  It's also good for watching the development of character arcs, tracking the changes in a character from beginning to end.  So honestly, I don't write to outline--I outline to writing. 

At any rate, Theater of Cruelty is the final book in a three-book series.  Therefore, I have to make sure that every plot point is resolved not only from that book, but the previous two as well as the theme for the whole series.  Right now, I have three strips of butcher paper over my desk.  They're probably pretty incomprehensible to anyone but me.  They don't look like outlines--they look like flow charts, with arrows going from one sheet to the other to indicate a thru-line. 

Definitely not the heights of elegant office decor.

I have about 25k left in which to wrap everything up.  The ultimate plot resolution--the BIG climax--will take up about 10k: setting up the situation, working through the resolution (and you just know it's a big old battle scene), and then dealing with the aftermath.  Ten thousand words sounds like a lot.  That's what? Forty pages roughly? But when you're wrapping up 1100 pages of plot, it's really not. 

And that's where a lot of writers run into trouble.  Here's the big payoff, the stage they've been setting throughout the whole darn story.  No one wants to rush the great moment. We want to savor it, to set the scene lovingly and in great detail and to describe every single blow and twist and turn of phrase.  And in doing so, we can forget the most important factor of any great denouement--pacing.

When I'm writing, I think of the story like a mountain.  The pace is always rising, always escalating.  And, just like most mountains, there are small plateaus--breaks in the action where the reader and the plot can catch their breaths.  Then, it's back to the precipitous increase of energy and pace.  But if a writer gets all caught up in the importance of the climax of the plot, setting all the details and getting ensnared by the urge for description, the denouement falls flat.  Instead of being the *steepest* part of the plot, the story plateaus and then the reader usually throws the book across the room.  I had a huge problem with that in an early novel of mine.  It took me months to figure out what the problem was.  I mean, I had all of the ingredients so why was the plot resolution...boring?

And then it hit me: the plot resolution was boring because I'd focused on the ingredients and not on the dish.  I'd plateaued my plot.  Instead of increasing the energy and pace, I'd slowed everything down because I was so caught up in getting everything set perfectly.

(Yes, I could name examples of books that do this--in my opinion--and no, I'm not going to.  I'm not going to use another author's work to prove my point.  Better to just use my own.)

If you find yourself in this situation, I've found the only thing that works for me.  I thought I'd share it with you, and this works for pantsers or outliners.  When you go through on your first draft to write the climax for the first time, skip right over the setting of the scene.  All of that is detail and can be added judiciously later.  I write the story to the natural point where the denouement would be set up, then skip straight to the meat of the resolution.  I start at the very beginning of the action and write straight through the resolution without stopping.  This is where my flow charts or your outline comes in handy, and the main reason I use something big to chart it out like butcher paper or posterboard. I can look up and instantly see what I have to resolve.  I get my protagonist and antagonist on the stage and get them going.  I don't give a fig about writing *well*--my first draft denouement is chock full of adverbs and dialogue tags and I'll admit it.  That's because I can go back later and rework all of that cleanly.  The tags and adverbs give me the mood of the scene, and since I'm writing quickly I don't have time for all the frills and furbelows I usually use.

I find, too, that when I write quickly through the resolution, the pace of the narrative increases.  This makes it easier for me to go back after the fact and determine exactly how much description I need.  I don't want to affect the pacing of the story, so my descriptions and internal dialogue tend to be streamlined--much as they would be in any real life situation where everything is on the line.  I mean, think about it: say your significiant other was rushed to the hospital from work.  You get a phone call at your work, telling you he's been taken by ambulance to the emergency room.  Now, what happens next?

You haul ass to the ER.  You don't notice the weather, or what some other person is weaing, or think about all the good times you and your lover have had in the past.  You grab your keys, get in your car, cuss at the old geezer driving 30 mph in the middle of the road, break the speed limit, park half in and half out of a parking space at the emergency room.  You run into the ER and head straight for the desk and the hospital staff sitting there, where you demand to know where he is and what's going on.  Right?  As you're running into the ER, are you thinking about how many people are there?  What the furniture looks like?  What's playing on TV?  No.  Your mind is focused on only one thing--getting to your spouse NOW.  In a crisis situation, your mind eliminates everything other than your goal and what you need to do to attain it.

That's what happens in a good denouement. You focus your narrative, your characters, on what they need to do to resolve their crisis.  Everything else is just fluff.  The first drafts of my plot resolutions are quite literally stripped down to action.  I find that the crudeness and starkness of that narrative suits the escalated pace of the narrative and enhances it.  And then--after a couple of days off to let the scene rest--I go back in.  I check my resolution to make sure every single loose end has been addressed.  Then, I can work in whatever extra details are needed to complete the scene without tampering with the energy.

As I said, this is what works for me when I'm writing a denouement.  Maybe this will work for you, too, but if not you'll be able to find your own path.  The main thing you have to remember is really important--don't let your pace plateau during the climax of your story.  Don't get so caught up in "sounding like a writer" that you indulge yourself with lavish descriptions, flashbacks, and sensory details.  Concentrate instead on creating a fast-paced, high energy escalation of the action so that when, at last, the plot is resolved everyone--especially the reader--has to sit back and take a deep breath.

After all, the last thing you want to have happen is a reader throwing your book against the wall in disgust.  I've done that three times in the past week, and it's hell on book spines.