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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Awesome Alex Van Helsing review at Blogcritics.org

Mel Odom, who has written more books than seems possible for one human not named Patterson, turns in a review of Alex Van Helsing that keys in on the literary angle:

Interestingly enough, Henderson not only ties the vampire legend to Dracula, but also to Frankenstein, and he’s set the series near Lake Geneva, where Mary Shelley first wrote the famous short story that would later become a book that will live on in the annals of horror – oh yeah, literature, too.
The literary history captivated me. The story of that weekend where Mary Shelley (then 18 years old), Lord Byron, John Polidori, and Percy Shelley has been mined by several writers, but this is a new twist. The two literary histories, vampirism and Frankenstein, are inextricably bound in this book, and it looks like that’s going to be a staple of the series.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Alex Van Helsing Barnes and Noble Signing Tomorrow, Saturday June 26, at 2pm

First off, I should let everyone know that Saturday (tomorrow) I'll be signing Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising at Barnes & Noble in Southlake, TX. This is a great location-- I was there with my father-in-law a couple of weeks ago (picking up some Stieg Larsson books) and noticed they already had signs for the signing. Believe me, if you're an author, seeing an actual sign is a huge deal. You know what's huger? People actually being there. So by all means, drop by. I'll have some awesome Alex Van Helsing bookmarks, too!

This has been a fantastic week because it's been a busy one for new projects. Over the course of the week I've gotten notes back on a Marvel script, sent out a proposal for a book project, sent out a proposal for a video project, and started working on another requested proposal. Mind you, I work on my writing at night and on weekends, so lately my weekends and nights are crammed. That's all to the good. I have a manic need to be busy.

If you're in DFW, join me tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Vampire Empire: Alex Van Helsing "something to sink your teeth into"

Awesome review over at Vampire Empire-- I really love when a blogger enjoys the parts of the book that I most want to do more of; the historical mystery and humor. This is the stuff we live for, you know? Thanks, guys!

The dialog is witty and the characters are enjoyable. The Alex Van Helsing character in Vampire Rising is as likable and relatable as Harry Potter. And , although he doesn't use magic as his weapon, he sure can kick some terrifying vampire butt....
Some of Alex's thoughts made me smile. There are a couple that I wanted to repeat. The first is a Lone Ranger reference. Gotta love that!
"Silver" Alex repeated. In old movies, silver was for werewolves and the Lone Ranger, who when you got down to it could probably hunt werewolves really well."
The second just made me laugh...
"...for a moment his heart raced as he saw a tall rakish figure in the corner. He felt himself crouch and then realized it looked rakish because it was, in fact, a rake. Save your mad skills for the actual monsters, Alex."
Some of my favorite parts of this book are the history references referring back to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. How clever. I loved the historical possibilities. This just really added a nice element to the storyline for me.
Would I recommend this book? Yes. For both young adults and adults alike. Boys will especially enjoy it as it is a read of the non-sparkly variety and will give them something to sink their teeth into. 

Read the rest here!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What we do at a kids story workshop

Today I held a one-hour story workshop at the Grapevine Library, the second of these that I've done. Basically the story workshop if something I realized was a lot more fun to do than a reading, because it makes it less about the visiting writer and more about what a writer loves, which is telling stories. We still do a Q&A, but I like that this is more about the reader.

The workshop goes like this: I do an intro to my own work and what I tend to write, then I give the students a scenario: you're a writer, and someone has asked you for a story. You have a few hours. In this workshop, we'll shorten that to ten minutes. But first let's talk about what a story is.

We get into protagonists, antagonists, basic story structure, genre, etc, and then we divide the students into groups and they brainstorm for ten minutes. At the end of that, each team presents their idea.

Today we heard stories of magic, but I noticed that the girls' teams were more emotionally charged, while the boys' story was way more adventurous. And this is in a pitch.

A great experience.

Somewhere a Dog Barked

This Slate article is one of the most awesome I have ever read: Somewhere a Dog Barked: Pick up just about any novel and you'll find a throwaway reference to a dog, barking in the distance.

I don't think I've seen anyone pick apart a go-to cliche this well, ever. The writer reports correctly:
Most authors, however, employ the trope as a narrative rest stop, an innocuous way to fill space and time; since the bark is hollow, a reader can read anything into it, or nothing at all. 

 I think that's true, and though I've read a lot about the use of cliches that draw a lot of attention to themselves (like opening a book with a dream, a daring trick nowadays), I loved that this article spent time on cliches that are almost parts of speech.

Think of it: let's say you're writing a book that will be 300 pages long. Speaking from experience, my upper limit is about 8-10 pages a day, about 2000 words. Sometimes I can really stretch, but generally not; 2000 words is about as good as it gets. 10 pages in 3 hours, meaning one page is taking about twenty minutes on average. One page. As you write your way down, you're working in prose, following the characters, telling the tiny sliver of the story that is this one page. The page is made up of words, phrases, all the crazy tools you use. At this speed it can even be hard to remember what you did multiple pages-- hours-- ago.

And I, like a lot of writers, have a bad habit of leaning on stock phrases to get me from one thought to the next. Most of I catch time you catch them on the re-write, but they're just noise, usually ways of breaking up a thought.

"That's interesting." Bond tilted his head. "That wasn't there before."
What on earth is meant by "tilted his head?" I suppose it means the character is thinking and uses a physical movement to pantomime thinking. But really it's just rhythm. Same thing with the barking dog in the distance. See also arched an eyebrow. And smiled slightly. People in my books also fiddle with props a lot in dialog scenes. Otherwise the dialog would read like a play. All of this is okay as long as it doesn't get irritating, and then it's not anymore.

There are a thousand ways to race to the bottom of the page, and the rough draft will be filled with some awful ones. We have to accept this as writers or else we would not reach the next page.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Writing Workshop with 3rd to 5th graders

I had a great time Friday at DECATS, a Summer Enrichment program for 3rd thru 5th graders. All in all I saw about 200 students, but rather than lecture on writing, I did four half-hour workshops on storytelling.

Here's how it worked: a 50-student group would come in and I'd have 25 minutes with them, so I'd spend 5 minutes introducing myself and storytelling, then given them a scenario: you guys are writing teams. You've been asked to pitch something come Monday morning. Break up into smaller groups and take 10 minutes to plan your story. Then, each team will pitch their idea.

This was a blast. I heard story pitches about giant mutant dogs, spies who go insane, planets where the vegetables eat people, and more. Four groups of 50 students, 20 teams in all; it was a fantastic experience, plus I gave out a lot of Alex Van Helsing bookmarks.

Thanks very much, DECATS! you were really inspiring.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ninja Librarian on Alex Van Helsing: Good, Solid, Really Fun Read

Another really cool review this morning from Emily the Ninja Librarian, who writes:

I will definitely be recommending this to all of our guys who are looking for the next best thing. This story will absolutely satisfy and they will be itching for more. Girls will love this one too, but it's not very often that a book is solidly dude - especially with all that newfangled romance stuff they're throwing in fantasy books these days :). It's good. It's solid. And a really fun read.

Read the rest here.

Today promises to be a lot of fun, by the way-- this morning I'm doing a young-scholars writing workshop for DECATS, the DeBusk Enrichment Center for Academically Talented Scholars. I'll be doing short seminars on constructing a story and can't wait. Will blog about it afterwards.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Alex Van Helsing Simply Script Radio Interview on Youtube

You can now stream the awesome Simply Scripts Radio interview I did through Youtube on Alex Van Helsing and other stuff. The links are below!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

14-Year Old Reviews Alex Van Helsing

I love hearing from the actual target audience-- today we have a review of Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising from a 14-year-old student who calls herself Readergirl:
I really loved this book. Books about vampires and zombies are some of my favorites, and this book had it all. I thought it was really interesting since it was about one of Dr. Van Helsing's descendents. It was a great book since it contained vampire uprisings, kidnappings, fights, and excitement all happening to a fourteen-year-old student like me. I recommend this book to all vampire literature fans, anyone going through Twilight withdrawal, and anyone who just likes a lot of action and excitement in a book. This was a fang-tastic book!!!!
Read the whole review here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

VOYA Starred Review for Alex Van Helsing: "Must-have for all libraries"

VOYA, or Voice of Youth Advocates, a library magazine focusing on the young-adult market, gave Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising a starred review in their upcoming print magazine.

Libraries are extremely important to a writer because you grow your audience there-- a reader may pick up your latest book in Hardback and then is primed to pick up your next project. A career is a long-term thing, so you need to have your books where you know they'll last. One of the bigger thrills of this project has been seeing the book turning up in library catalogs.

VOYA had nice things to say:

“This wonderful series opener is a compelling action, fantasy, horror story ... This book will engage readers easily and many will not be able to put it down. This excellent book is a must-have purchase ... will make readers eager for the next in the series.”
— Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) (Starred Review) 
Thanks guys!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Vampire books for boys: Good Morning Texas Interview with Jason Henderson on Alex Van Helsing

A lot of the attention paid to Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising focuses on a topic that fascinates me: what would it take to create a vampire series that attracts young men to reading? We touched on this on Good Morning Texas this morning-- check out the interview here!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sassy Bibliophile says Alex Van Helsing "Kickin'"

I love it when a quiet afternoon gets interrupted with a new review. This just in from The Sassy Bibliophile, a blog from a middle school librarian in Texas (like me!)-- a great review of Alex Van Helsing. Sassy writes:

Vampire Rising is a vampire book for boys (although girls will love it too) and I LOVE that we finally have one on the scene.  .... The action is kickin' and will keep you on the edge of your seat.  I love the twist thrown in at the end, by the way; and the literary references make this librarian's heart sing. 

I think my favorite comment comes from a notice Sassy sent out; "My students are going to love it." I hope so!
Read the rest of the review here.

Thank you Sassy!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Jason, Alex Van Helsing Mon. on Good Morning Texas

I'm going to be doing a guest segment Monday morning on WFAA (ABC)'s Good Morning Texas. We're going to be talking about Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising, vampires, and whether there can be teen vampire books aimed at boys.

I do ask myself, Is that what we did? Aim a book series at boys? The answer is yes, with a but. The Alex Van Helsing series is aimed at boys in roughly the same sense that James Bond is aimed at boys, which is to say, it's not aimed as much at female readers. But because girls read more overall, we'd still be foolish to create a series that female readers would hate. It turns out so far that most of our reviewers have been women, and most of them have enjoyed Alex.

Can't wait for the discussion!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Alex Van Helsing Reader Mail

Robb from Anchorage writes:
Hey I'm just writing to say I finished the first Alex Van Helsing book and I loved it. It was refreshing to have a return to vampires as scary fiends that scuttle about on the outside of buildings. But really everything was a success. The setting (I've only been through Switzerland on the train but Ahhh, Switzerland)  The martial arts. The historical touches. Not Going for Dracula right away. And you even worked in the Scholomance! The only thing that is kind of annoying, would be the waiting another year for the sequel. Thanks a lot for that.

Anyway, I wanted to say I enjoyed it immensely and I can't wait for my daughter to be old enough to read it. (I've got to get to her before her aunt can get her hooked on the sparkly vampires. yeesh)

Anchorage Ak.

Thanks Robb! 
I think this is officially the first reader letter I've ever gotten. So I definitely owe you a response!

First, I love your description of vampires as scuttling around the outside of buildings. I love that image, and yes-- in the Alex books, the vampires are sociopaths. (I think it's possible in this universe you could have a kind and gentle vampire as an anomaly, but I think they'd be in a lot of danger.) Every book we'll see a plot driven in some way or another by the vampires and sorcerers of the Scholomance. They are Alex's SPECTRE.

By the way, I've seen the cover for Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead, which is the second book, and I hope you dig it.

Glad to get questions from readers!