Tag Archives: New York Times bestelling authors

A Conversation with the First Ladies of Fantasy



Standing L-R, Nancy Knight, Laurell K. Hamilton, Sherrilyn Kenyon and Mercedes Lackey. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, sitting.
Four groundbreaking New York Times’ bestselling authors – Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Mercedes Lackey, Laurell K. Hamilton and Sherrilyn Kenyon — gathered this past weekend at DragonCon to talk about their craft and journey as novelists in a genre historically dominated by men. Insightful and funny, these talented women spoke candidly about their trials on the road to literary acceptance. 

Fighting for Acceptance


Yarbro, a multi-faceted writer best known for creating the heroic vampire, Count Saint-Germain, sold her first mystery in 1968. At the time, the “climate for women writers was chilly.”

Female fantasy writers began to get a better reception after Anne McCaffrey’s won her first Hugo, but even then many male writing counterparts called it a “fluke,” Yarbro added.

The first woman to be named a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild (2006), Yarbro spoke highly of her mentor,  Robert Bloch, who penned Psycho, which Alfred Hitchcock later made into a cult film classic.
“If you were a beginning writer, he was very helpful – he would talk with you. If you published something, he would read it and send you a note. I adored the man,” she recalled.

Riding the Romance Boon

In the 1980s the publishing field started to open up for women – and several panelists said they were pressured to write romance – and many did –under pseudonyms — to pay bills (one panelist said writing a romance helped pay for her divorce).

Kenyon, who published her first novel in 1978, still experienced rejections from book publishers even after six New York Timesbestselling books.  The mother of three sons added that there are two things with which she can terrify people  – “pregnancy and publishing — I will scare you off both.”
“Thank God I’m a southern Cherokee – we don’t give up, ever. My whole philosophy is there’s always a way around any obstacle – over, under and around,” said the 16-time New York Times’ #1 bestseller, who has more than 25 million copies of her books in print.
Hamilton said that her publisher waited four years before publishing her first novel, Guilty Pleasures, in 1991, because the bottom had fallen out of the fantasy market. Before then, it had been rejected more than 200 times. When she first envisioned the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series, paranormal fiction and paranormal romance as genres didn’t exist. 

“My editors told me that the vampire market is dead. What they didn’t realize is that the monster always comes back,” Hamilton quipped.  Hers was a steady climb up – with each book sold, she gained more readers. Now Hamilton has transcended genre, according to her publisher, meaning she’s sold enough that she can write whatever she wants.


Finding Your Voice


The panelists shared insights on how their distinctive voices evolved as well as those who influenced their writing voice.

“Writing a lot was essential. I came to writing out of the theater,” said Yarbro, explaining that you can do anything with dialogue and punctuation in dialogue if that tells your reader how a character sounds.

“The thing about narration is it has to support everything that’s going on without participating in it. You are not a character in your own book — you are a support for the characters who are.”

For Kenyon, inspiration came early from her mother, who was a huge horror fan. She  explained that her father was the kind of man “who dressed up as a zombie and tapped on my window and scream, ‘Ah!’”
“To me, any book is a two-way experience.” When advising her 17-year-old son, who is working on his first novel, Kenyon tells him to leverage the internal dialogue in his head – the comments that you never say out loud.  “It’s almost like method acting – it’s like, ‘What would Acheron do?’ ‘What would Simi do?’ You sit there and let that flow and that’s what should end up on paper.”
The other advice she gave him was that “you can fix a bad page but you can’t fix a blank one.”  
Hamilton loves the clean language of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, her favorite book growing up, and the dialogue of Robert Parker’s Spenser series.  The Anita Blake series author writes exclusively in first-person narration. To get into character, she often will pull out her penguin mugs or wear weaponry while writing.
“Do not pick a day when I’m writing Anita to break into the house,” she told her fans, laughing.
Lackey said after 80+ books in print, she has developed her own voice.” Writers she admires include Charles de Lint and Judy Tarr — “amazing craftspeople and writers.”

All the authors agree that there is no magic formula to finding your voice. “What I think you cannot learn – except by practice and almost by accident — is your voice and an idea that is fresh and speaks to you and is something that only you can write. That is the hardest to come by,” Hamilton said. 


Writing Anywhere

Once you find your voice, you can write anywhere. In Kenyon’s case, she wrote through chemo treatments with her mother, during her sons’ soccer games, and while pregnant and hooked to an IV.

Louis L’Amour.
Lackey loves to recount a story about Louis L’Amour, who once was challenged to write in the middle of a highway intersection to prove he could write anywhere.
“His agent and publisher set him up with a table and folding chair and stuck him on an island in an intersection in New York City. He’s typing away and LIFE comes and takes pictures. In 15 minutes, everyone has gone away and his editor came over and said, ‘Louis, everyone is gone.’ And he said, “Shut up and let me finish this page.’”
Looking to today’s current publishing environment, the panelists had differing views on the way forward and the merits of e-publishing.

Debating Merits of E-Publishing, Podcasting

E-publishing your work was the kiss of death two years ago, they say.  Not so anymore. “If I was starting out now, I would be e-publishing,” said Lackey.She believes creating podcasts of your book is an even smarter strategy because there are a lot fewer writers using that platform to get their stories out. “Putting (an excerpt) up as a podcast for free will winnow down 95 percent of the people you are competing with.”
While acknowledging that e-publishing has changed the landscape, Hamilton said first-time authors should still pursue traditional publishing first.  “Before you say, ‘I can’t take the rejection’ and go that route, suck it up and try it first. Study the markets – don’t send your manuscript to someone who doesn’t accept your genre. You have to be tough, otherwise, they (publishing industry) will crush your soul.”Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, authors are closer than ever to their audience and the first to receive feedback — good and bad.
“We get it first. Technology is a mixed blessing,” Hamilton said.The panelists’ universal advice to writers is to read – constantly. “Don’t just read fiction – read non-fiction; read widely; read words because they’re your tools,” added Hamilton, who even advocates studying dictionaries and encyclopedias to increase your vocabulary.

DragonCon 2010: NYT Bestselling Writers Tell All

DragonCon held Labor Day weekend in Atlanta was more than a visual smorgasbord for SciFi enthusiasts as their favorite characters took over four downtown hotels. For writers, it offered some exciting opportunities to hear from the best genre writers in science fiction and fantasy.
On Sunday I checked out a session, “NYT Bestsellers Tell it All,” on how to help boost your book to the NYT Bestsellers List. The panelists are all bestselling authors, who talked candidly about their writing journeys. None of them struck gold immediately, and all of them shared stories of battling their own inner critics that got in the way of their success.  “Perfection is an unattainable goal” was a message that was loud and clear to this writer.

Star Wars Jedi Academy Triology Author Kevin Anderson: Prolific and Connected 

Kevin Anderson, who gained fame writing for X-Files and as a co-author of the Dune prequels, penned the Star Wars Jedi Academy trilogy that was the three top-selling science fiction novels of 1994 and the bestselling SF anthologies of all time.  He noted that all the featured panelists are prolific writers who  interact with the fans at book signings and other events.

“We still work a lot, are fans and write like crazy.” He criticized his profession’s tendency to turn on bestselling authors such as Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, and Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code. “I want to stand up for these authors because they are pleasing a lot of readers,” he says (way to go, Kevin!).

Anderson himself has more than 11 million books in print worldwide but considers Lonesome Dove, the 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning western novel written by Larry McMurtry, his all-time favorite read. The best writer’s advice he ever received was from Dean Koontz who told him that the first million words you write “is all practice and if you get paid while you’re practicing then great. But, don’t expect that you really know how to be a writer until you’ve written a million words, which is about 10 novels or so. I’ve written about 10 novels and I’m still learning.”

Anita Blake Series Author Laurell K. Hamilton’s Advice: Don’t Give Up

Laurell K. Hamilton, the NYT bestselling author of Meredith Gentry novels and the acclaimed Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter Series novels, says her Anita Blake novels were rejected 200 times by editors in the late 1980s, when she was told repeatedly that the vampire genre was dead. Publishing houses liked her book but didn’t know how to market it, she said until finally Penguin/Putnam Books picked it up.

“I am living proof, folks, don’t be discouraged. If you believe in what you are doing, keep doing it,” says Hamilton, who learned she cracked the top 50 book list on USA Today not from her agent her publisher, but from another editor who had earlier rejected her work.

Hamilton recalls attending a writer’s workshop at a smaller science fiction convention where she brought in a short story and short fantasy novel. “The (workshop) didn’t make me a better writer but at the end of the weekend I was a better editor of my stuff,” she recalled. “Sometimes it is not that you aren’t good at writing; sometimes it’s that you are not good at seeing what’s good in your writing and that comes with practice. That short story I edited after that workshop was the first thing that sold for me. Her advice is simple: “don’t be overly critical of your work; take out as much as you can and send it out, knowing what markets you are sending it out to, and keep sending it out.”

Panelist Jim Butcher, author of The Dresden Files, a fantasy/mystery series-turned SciFi TV program about a private investigator and wizard in Chicago, said it took nine years before his first novel was published. He offers some great organization advice for the beginning novelist on his blog site (see: Putting it All Together.”)

Sherrilyn Kenyon Overcomes Vampire Rejection to Find Dark-Hunter Following 

Paranormal writing pioneer Sherrilyn Kenyon, a NYT bestselling author of The Dark-Hunters series (among others), has claimed the coveted #1 spot 12 times in the last two years. She recalls how no editors or publishers wanted to publish a vampire book – she took their feedback and altered her characters into “daimons.” She also created guardians of humanity in the form of Dark-Hunters and hasn’t looked back since.

Kenyon, who has eight brothers, says she lives in fear of her family coming to book signings. Her favorite authors are British science, horror and fantasy writer Tanith Lee and David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series of military SF stories and novels.

Jonathan Maberry Shares Two Books that Changed His Life

Jonathan Maberry, a NYT bestselling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author of both non-fiction and fiction, recalls at age 14 reading two books that changed his life – the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, I am Legend, which was later made into a film starting Will Smith, and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked this Way Comes, about the harrowing experience of two 13-year-old boys when a nightmarish traveling carnival comes to their town.

“Those books did more for me than any writing class,” says Maberry, whose first published book was a college textbook on martial arts who later moved into writing about the occult and paranormal. Maberry’s account of his first NYT bestseller was particularly entertaining – it happened after being tapped to write the novelization of The Wolfman to coincide with the movie’s re-release in 2010.
“I got a call out of nowhere from someone at Universal who told me they were remaking The Wolfman and would I be interested in adapting it into a novel,” recalled Maberry, who was very professional on the call but inside was “doing the stupid dance.”  Maberry wrote the book having never seen the movie. He said that the script didn’t have a lot of detail and the studio told him to “write a novel.’ He did, and the book got better press than the movie.

Memorable Advice:  Pay it Forward

Maberry says he received great advice from writer David Morrell, author of 28 novels, a few years ago when he said, “Writing is about art but publishing is about business. If you are going to get anywhere…become a businessman who writes. That was great advice and it genuinely helped my career.” In the same conversation, he told him to always pay it forward by helping every other writer you can find even if they are just taking up a pencil for the first time “because the industry needs more good books.”