In Which I Ponder Girls with Swords

The sword: the weapon of choice (cue Fatboy Slim) for many urban fantasy/paranormal romance heroines and heroes (and villains). Browse the book covers in the genre and you’ll see many feature someone brandishing a blade. One would expect to see swords in high fantasy, but urban fantasy and paranormal romance are usually set in our world, where swords would seem to be anachronistic. From Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires to Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series and Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock, some of the best and most kick-ass UF heroines are masters of swordplay, despite having many other weapons at their disposal.

Why the fascination with blades in modern UF? Sometimes it’s because these heroines find themselves battling creatures who would be impervious (or nearly so) to bullets, either standard or silver. Also, swords don’t need to be reloaded, so you’re not going to run out of ammo unless you do something dumb like throw your blade away. In some series, our heroine finds herself fighting vampires, who seem to prefer blades to more modern weapons (since so often vamps seem unwilling to update their techniques), so she must be able to face them wielding her own sword.

But whatever the explanation for the heroine’s ability to shish-kabob her enemies, it’s worth thinking about the symbolism of the sword in the hand of a woman. For a very, very long time in all corners of the real world and with only a few notable exceptions, swords were a man’s weapon. Unless you were raised in Themyscira, women didn’t get sword training, not even to defend themselves. There are few weapons with a more sexist history than a sword. Even the sword itself is phallic, the act of running someone through coded as masculine.

With that in mind, consider a book cover or a scene featuring a woman wielding a sword and what that represents, not just to the genre, but historically. It’s a statement of self, autonomy, and courage, as well as defiance, not just against the enemy in the book but the historical oppression of women. Perhaps that is some of its appeal for writers and readers of the genre.

The fierce female protagonists of UF don’t always use swords. Alice doesn’t. But her weapons are formidable regardless, and the same argument applies regarding making a statement about autonomy and self-determination. A well-armed, well-trained heroine is the woman warrior in all of us, rising in defiance of everyone who stands against her, her sword raised (or fire whip coiled around her), a counterpoint to the damsels-in-distress or helpless victims of both other genres and history.

I know that it was this representation of a strong, capable, well-trained woman that attracted me to this genre in the first place, in addition to the imaginative world-building (which will be my next blog topic).

I have a sword, by the way; a real, very sharp katana. I bought it because it was beautiful, well-made, and deadly, and it matched my purse.

The Music of Heart of Malice

Music is powerful. Just today I was watching and listening to various live performances of some of my favorite artists on YouTube and feeling goosebumps. It made me think about how important music is in all our lives.

If you’re interested in what I was watching, it was Prince’s incomparable guitar performance during George Harrison’s HOF induction ceremony, Guns N’ Roses’s VMA performance of “November Rain” feat. Sir Elton John, the 12-minute album version of Meat Loaf’s “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” Prince’s performance of “Purple Rain” during the Super Bowl halftime show, and the entire live “Pulse” concert by Pink Floyd. I got a lot of work done while I was listening/watching, but sometimes you just have to stop and marvel at some of the musicians we are and were lucky enough to share the planet with—and then mourn the loss of some who were gone far too soon.

If you’ve read Heart of Malice, you know that Sean and Alice love music—particularly classic rock and especially on vinyl.

Their love of music (and their preferences) reflect mine. I love to sing and I listen to music pretty much all day, every day, whether I’m writing, working on social media posts, grading, or preparing lecture materials for my classes. While I prefer music without lyrics while I write, my music tastes in general are pretty varied. I love classic rock, oldies, country (up through about 2000), blues, jazz, R&B, hip-hop, pop, hard rock and metal, hair bands…you name it, it’s probably on my iTunes or a channel I listen to on Pandora.

As I was writing HOM, I also compiled a soundtrack (or a playlist) that I feel is an essential part of the book. Some songs and artists are mentioned or discussed in the book, and others simply pair well with particular scenes. The opening chapter, for example (no spoilers here!) works even better if you listen to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking” while you read it. (There are only two things Alice loves more than her music collection: coffee and good boots. I can definitely relate.)

The soundtrack/playlist follows the book from the opening scene (“Wanna do something insane?” “Absolutely.”) to the final chapter and its ominous last words. Feast your ears on classic songs from Nancy Sinatra, Eddie Money, Prince, Juice Newton, Metallica, Pink Floyd, Pilot, Evanescence, the Rolling Stones, and more. I’ve even put the playlist together for you to listen for free on Spotify. Click HERE to listen.

And if you’d like a sneak peek at Fire in the Blood, the second book in the Alice Worth series, you can already listen to that playlist HERE. FITB is complete and scheduled for release in spring 2018, but you don’t have to wait to hear the soundtrack to Alice’s next adventure.

Happy listening!

The First Blog Post

Welcome to my new blog! This is exciting! I love having the opportunity to connect with readers. I love Twitter as well, but sometimes you just can't say what you want to say in 140 characters or less. And as anyone who knows me can attest, I have many positive character traits, but brevity is not one of them.

In this first blog post, I want to tell you how the Alice Worth series got its start.

I've been an avid urban fantasy reader for more than a decade. My first UF book was Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison, the first novel in her fantastic Rachel Morgan/The Hollows series. I didn't know much about the genre at the time, other than the covers of UF books always looked fun and fascinating. I saw the cover of the mass-market paperback (a redheaded woman in a sexy leather miniskirt, a pair of handcuffs tucked at the small of her back) and knew I had to know who this woman was.

I started reading DWW and was instantly hooked. You might say that series was my gateway drug to what would become one of my favorite genres.

I loved everything about UF from the beginning: the imaginative storylines, the fantastic world-building, the strong and fearless heroines, the powerful villains, the sexy love interests--what's not to love? No damsels in distress here! Rachel Morgan, Jane Yellowrock, Mercy Thompson, Kate Daniels, Anita Blake, Meg Corbyn, Jade Crow, MacKayla Lane, Charley Davidson, Dorina Basarab, Cat Crawfield...these women don't need rescuing. They're strong, passionate, fearless, and looking for trouble--just my kind of girl.

And so, having been something of a part-time writer all my life (until years of grad school and then a career as a college English professor left me with no free time to write), I inevitably started coming up with my own ideas for the first series I wanted to write.

It began with a single line that popped into my head one day as I sat on my porch, drinking coffee: The first time Moses Murphy's granddaughter killed on his orders, she was six years old.

That was it: the line that launched the entire series. Alice popped into my head nearly fully formed, as characters sometimes do: her tormented childhood, her desperate run from Moses, her search for peace and redemption far away from the man who'd tormented her since she was four.

Her real name isn't Alice, of course; that's the identity she has now. Do I know her real name? Of course, but for now, that's a secret. More about that in a later post. For now, you can call her Alice.