My turn to be interviewed

Author Shane Lindemoen and I had a very nice discussion on his blog today. We talked about vampires in fiction, the difference between writing and editing, and BLOODSUCKERS! Check it out and leave a comment.

Bloodsuckers: A Vampire Runs for President

“They’re all a bunch of bloodsuckers!”  I heard someone say.

“Hm,” I thought.  “Not a bad idea for a book.”button with blood

BLOODSUCKERS:  A VAMPIRE RUNS FOR PRESIDENT is now available in paperback, ebook, kindle, and nook.  If you like reading my blog, you’ll probably enjoy this.

BLOODSUCKERS is a political thriller — with vampires.  Mostly, I loved picturing what it would be like to be a politician who could look someone in the eye and charm them to do their bidding.  Imagine the power!

Here’s what it’s about:

Norman Mark is a politician with skeletons in his closet (literally).  He’s a liberal Democrat who is constantly attacked by the tea party extremists who say he’s a socialist and an atheist and wasn’t born in America — and a vampire!  Everyone laughs at the crazies but it turns out they’re right about all of that.

Disgraced reporter Steven Edwards supports Mark completely.  When Mark is shot at a campaign rally, Steve looks to his acquaintance who drops the smoking rifle, smiles, turns into a bat, and flies away — leaving Steve as the prime suspect.  He is rescued by the vampire believers (Jon Stewart calls them “Batties”) and he goes into hiding.  The only way he can prove his innocence is by proving to the world that vampires actually do exist while  constantly on the run from the bloodsuckers and the FBI.

Steve learns that vampires have been controlling things behind the scenes for thousands of years, accumulating wealth and influence.  Many vampires don’t like the idea that one of their own is running for President and they’re trying to stop him, worried that he will expose their existence.  Others support Mark.  Many of them want Steve dead.

Some people have been surprised when I tell them that the candidate is a liberal Democrat, but that’s the dilemma Steve has.  Does he continue to support the candidate he believes will be a great President even though he’s a vampire?  A President who could charm his enemies into passing progressive legislation that will help all Americans?  A President who could meet with foreign enemies and convince them to bring peace to the world?  Do the ends justify the means?

The book is as politically accurate as possible, and features real journalists such as Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow, and Stephen Colbert.  No, I didn’t get their permission.  I hope they get upset at me.  I could use the publicity.

And if you’ve read any of my other books or short stories, you know there are many twists, turns and surprises.

I have received some very nice comments from fellow authors who have read the book:bloodsuckers-510

“Ventrella’s quick, bright dialogue punctuates the adventure with dry humor even as he ratchets the tension up towards an ending that might just surprise even the jaded reader. Highly recommended!” – Ryk E. Spoor

“Funny, quick, too smart for its own good.” – Mur Lafferty

“I loved the characters, the political insight and the final revelation!” – Dennis Tafoya

“A delicious blend of mainstream thriller, oddball horror, and biting social commentary.” – Jonathan Maberry

“Action, adventure, laughs and chills.” – Jon McGoran

“Sucks you in from the start and gets its teeth into your imagination.” – Gail Z. Martin

Sometimes bloggers post a donation button so you can show your support for all their hard work.  For less than $6 you can download the kindle, nook, or ebook of BLOODSUCKERS.  You’ll be supporting my blog and you’ll have fun at the same time.

Click here to read the first few chapters.

Write a story without bad guys

There’s my advice for today.  Write a story without bad guys.

Oh, I don’t mean leave out the antagonist.  01-snidely-whiplashMake that antagonist put all sorts of obstacles in your protagonist’s way.

But don’t make “bad guys” in the way we see much too often (especially in the movies).

Writers can get lazy when it comes to their antagonists.  It’s so easy to just say “He’s the evil bad guy” and never have to explain why he acts that way.  “Well, he’s evil, so that’s why” is false and readers know it. It doesn’t make your story full.

A good exercise is to take a scene and rewrite it from your antagonist’s point of view. Why is he or she acting this way? What is the ultimate goal? Surely the antagonist wants something more than being evil and standing in the hero’s way.

Remember: the antagonist is the hero of his own story.

My favorite bad guys have what they believe to be good motives. It’s why I think Dolores Umbridge is a better “bad guy” than Voldemort. She’s not evil — she is trying to bring order, consistency, and a respect for the law to the wild children at Hogwarts. We believe that she could exist because we know people like her. And we love to hate her for it.

My next novel BLOODSUCKERS (due out in May; film rights available) has a few important antagonists. The main one is Norman Mark, the vampire who is running for President. He lives a very long time, and he has a long term goal which is very good. He believes that his power to control others will enable him to pass laws through Congress that will help all Americans, discover and remove corruption, and move the world into a new renaissance of peace and prosperity. And if a few innocent people have to die along the way, so what? He’s doing this for the good of all humanity.

There are other antagonists who are vampires wanting to keep the secret of vampires from the population. They are not evil either (in their minds) and are afraid that if people realize vampires exist, they will begin hunting them. People will suspect each other of being vampires, wars will break out and economies will fall. These vampires are trying to stop Norman Mark for their own reasons, but they are not the protagonists.

The protagonist is Steven Edwards, a reporter who has been framed for the attempted assassination of Mark and has gone into hiding. In order to prove his innocence, he has to prove that vampires exist. He was a Mark supporter and is conflicted with the problem — he knows Mark will be a better President than his opponent, but dammit, he’s a vampire!

Anyway, you can see what I’ve tried to do here. None of my bad guys think they’re bad guys. They don’t just randomly perform evil acts simply because they can. They only do them when necessary, and even then for a future goal that is good in their minds.

Remember: not counting the insane, no one in the real world thinks of themselves as bad guys.

So take some time and write a little short story from the point of view of your “bad guy”. You may discover parts of his or her personality that were hidden before. And if you’re good, you will make your antagonist a full, complete, and believable character.

Start in the Middle!

The theme of this blog is “Learn from My Mistakes.”

I just wanted to emphasize that. I don’t want anyone to think that my advice posts here are because I am an expert in the field of writing and publishing, because I am not. Almost all the things I am advising you not to do here are because I did them already, and found out they don’t work. I’ve warned you about the proper point of view, using outlines, why you should not use prologues, and other obvious writing rules that aren’t so obvious.

So today let’s discuss another bit of advice that I just had hammered into me: Starting your story in the middle.

I’ve always known that it is important to start your story with a bang, and all my books and short stories have done so. You want to grab the reader in the first page, and keep those pages turning. I jump right in and fill in the background later.

I know that.

However, there was something I was missing that, in retrospect, seems really obvious to me now.

I just received two rejections from agents looking at my latest manuscript BLOODSUCKERS. Both said the same thing. They liked my writing, but there was no urgency — the story didn’t grab them quick enough.bloodsuckers-510

And they were right.

You see, I started the story off with a beautiful naked vampire killing a Presidential candidate on the eve of his nomination (sex! violence! politics!). Soon after, a new candidate was chosen who was accused of being a vampire by crazies (called “batties”) who actually believe vampires exist. This was followed by a conspiracy to assassinate that candidate, and a plan to frame the assassination on a disgraced reporter who had written an article about the crazies. Then the plan is carried out …

Well, do you see the problem?

The main character in this story is the reporter — the guy who is framed for the assassination and then has to go into hiding, running from the vampires and the FBI. Once that happens, the story kicks into high gear. The only way he can prove his innocence is by proving that vampires exist. He gets help from the batties and eventually from some other vampires. Can he expose the candidate, will he be killed along the way, or will he be corrupted by the system?

But that didn’t happen until page 60 or so.

I mistakenly thought that all the other action was sufficient — that the conspiracies and plots would be enough.

The problem is that these early threats and dangers all concern people other than my main character … there’s not even the suggestion that he will be involved until the assassins pick him to be their scapegoat. That early stuff didn’t matter personally to him. The “middle” of my story is actually the start of the story for my character. And that’s where I needed to begin.

So it’s time for a new draft. I need to get the reader to understand the danger my protagonist is in early, so that the reader has some connection to the story and cares.

So learn from my mistakes — it’s not enough to have lots of action, drama, and “tension on every page” early on. You need to connect that tension to your protagonist if you want your reader to care.

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