Saturday, August 25, 2012

Building a better Villain, Tiffany Trent spills the Dirt

The same energy of character which renders a man a daring villain would have rendered him useful in society, had that society been well organized.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

When Synde asked me to write about villains for this guest post, I have to admit my wicked little heart grew a few sizes larger. Is it odd to admit that when I went to Disney’s MGM park as a kid, I spent an inordinate amount of time in the villains store? Or that I wanted to be Maleficent rather than Sleeping Beauty? Or that I was always making stories up for the villains because no one ever told their tale? 

I think it’s safe to say I have a bit of an obsession with villainy. 

And I find it very interesting what actually constitutes a villain. Someone who disagrees with others? Someone who manipulates others into doing what he wants? Someone who enjoys having power over others?  Turned just slightly differently, all those qualities are things we admire in leaders.  (And we wonder why leaders can often go suddenly, horribly wrong!)

Perhaps the distinction is that leaders hold these things in balance while villains don’t. A villain is often simply a person out of balance who tends to spread that unbalance throughout the world of the book. The protagonist must bring back the balance by whatever means necessary. This often means the villain has to die, but I feel strongly that it doesn’t always have to. 

In my latest novel, THE UNNATURALISTS, the villain is fairly obvious right away. For the entire book, he has an agenda that is never fully revealed to the reader. And for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what he wanted and why he plagued the main characters so.  It took actually writing a segment of the novel from his point of view to finally get it. As with other villains I’ve written, the kernel of his villainy is in something that should ultimately make him sympathetic. At some level, as Don Maass mentions in his The Fire in Fiction, the villain must be right. 

It’s so much easier to write a cartoon villain, a la Scooby Doo: “And I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids!”  It’s fun, too. (I refer you back to Scooby Doo). But the problem is that real-life villains are seldom that simple. I think the same should be true of villains in books. Even if it makes my life harder as a writer, I will always choose the villain who is complex, who does what he does for reasons that are very clear in his own mind, and who often overturns his own humanity (sometimes quite literally) to accomplish his goal.  The villain never sees himself as the villain; he’s always the hero in a story that we never see (to paraphrase that infamous quote). I try to work from this principle, to make my villains both attractive and revolting, both pitiable and enviable.

It’s definitely a fine line to walk, but the rewards for the story are priceless. 

about Tiffany Trent~
Tiffany Trent is the author of the  young adult steampunk novel THE UNNATURALISTS and the HALLOWMERE series. Her first book, In the Serpent’s Coils, was named a BookSense (IndieBound) Children’s Pick in Autumn 2007 and a New York Public Library Book of the Teen Age in 2008.  She was also the recipient of the 2008 SCBWI Work-in-Progress grant, and has won awards and fellowships for her nonfiction. Her short story “Blackwater Baby” in Magic in the Mirrorstone was given Honorable Mention for the Year’s Best Horror 2008.  She is represented by Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
Tiffany currently lives in the New River Valley of Virginia. When not writing, she plays with bees, presides over her avian army, and frequently gets lost in the jungle of her garden. 
where to find Tiffany~
on twitter
her website-

Monday, August 20, 2012

Crafting the Musician, Carrie Clevenger tells her secrets

When I set out to write Crooked Fang, I didn’t think about how difficult it would be. All I had was the idea of a vampire that lives in a tavern and plays the bass guitar. I could hear his dialogue and see his friends as clear as if they were standing in front of me. What I didn’t realize was that musicians are a different sort of artist, and not the sort of character you can write half-assed. There’s equipment, specific jargon and slang that a real musician employs. They generally can set up their own equipment and know the parts of their guitars. They experience something wholly unique performing on stage.

I am not a musician in any aspect of the word. Although I own three guitars, including the five-string blue ESP bass that my character plays in Crooked Fang, I can barely pick out a simple tune. But guitars are pretty and look lovely sitting there on their stands beside my desk. Call them expensive inspiration. It wasn’t until I hefted a bass guitar of my own that I got a feel for the piece. Asking questions from real musicians helped me get familiar with the bass guitar’s parts.

I subscribed to a few music magazines and bought singles of others that looked useful in my ongoing research. I started immersing myself in the rich live music scene here in Austin, Texas. I was lucky I already lived in a Mecca of music resources.

I never stopped asking questions. I watched tutorials on YouTube. I played tabs on both the guitar and bass. I watched friends set up their gear for live shows. And the whole time I listened to how they talked, both to me and to each other. A new language, casual and exclusive only to those in the real ‘know.’

A musician creates or emulates music, which means they have to know music themselves. As a result, my music library went from a paltry 30GB in my iTunes to the present size of 120GB. I explored not only classic popular hits but underground cult favorites as well. Bandcamp proved to be a fantastic resource for finding even more indie groups with either free or inexpensive downloads of fresh music.

I had a sort of mentor, and I mention him with great thanks and respect in my book, Stephen Canner, who answered a good deal of questions about music history and the not-so-magical routine of gigs and touring. He started the fire of my need to discover everything out there. And there is so much music that we humans have created, even in the past fifty years. Once one puts all of the progressions together in the mind, one can easily see the evolution of music in action.

Applying it to Crooked Fang was a breeze after that, and I only needed to double check a few terms because of all the exposure I’d gotten to the whole feel of being a musician. Again, I turned to friends in the industry to confirm I’d done a good job of representing their culture.

Another issue I came across was respectful reference to the Navajo, or DinĂ© as they are called amongst themselves which felt like walking through a minefield. I managed with a little outside help but that’s a blog post for another day.

Crooked Fang is a vampire tale, but it’s not about vampires. Xan Marcelles is a bass player, kind of an asshole with a soft spot for women’s wiles and troubles and a vampire. Sequestered away in a tavern in teeny Pinecliffe, Colorado, he’s content to take up a chair, pluck a few strings, and keep a drink close to hand in order to stifle his darker nature.

When a blue-haired girl and her abusive boyfriend have a public spat after a Crooked Fang show on Halloween, Xan intervenes, not knowing that his gesture of chivalry will change his quiet lifestyle. With zombie-like creatures, faces from his living past, even possibly a ghost, Xan is forced out of his comfortable space and back into the world…at least for a little while.

Crooked Fang is an urban fantasy, first in the Crooked Fang Series, published by Katarr Kanticles (print) and contracted by Lyrical Press (ebook). For more on Xan and Crooked Fang, visit
Official Blurb for Crooked Fang:

Sometimes a vampire's past can bite him in the ass.

 Xan Marcelles--bassist for Crooked Fang, vampire and full-time asshole, is content with his quiet existence in the backwoods of Pinecliffe, Colorado. But life at the Pale Rider tavern is set to become a little more complicated when he gets entangled with a feisty, blue-haired damsel and her abusive soon-to-be ex-boyfriend.

 To add to his woes, he’s gone from hunter to hunted, and his past returns to haunt him when a phone call draws him back to New Mexico. With the help of friends from his living past, he must get to the bottom of a murder, and figure out where he stands with his lover and his band, all while keeping one step ahead of his enemies. Hiding won’t be easy for him, especially with a mysterious woman dogging him every step of the way.


Carrie Clevenger landed in urban fantasy when she couldn’t decide between humor and horror. She writes in multiple genres, often blending several just because she can. You can learn more about Carrie at

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Xan Marcelles of Crooked Fang talks, Are You Afraid?

It's a summer evening in Pinecliffe; and the sun is just setting, leaving the sky alive with vibrant orange and green hues. I'm sitting inside the Pale Rider tavern. Since it's Tuesday they're closed and the bar is filled with silence. I am waiting to interview Xan Marcelles, bassist for Crooked Fang and main character of the book by the same name. Xan has not made an appearance yet, however I am confident he knows I'm here. It's a well-known fact that he detests the Q&A game, so I sit patiently... waiting.

He appears in the doorway—a giant of a guy. DAMN he's tall! I'd forgotten how big he is, but his gait is relaxed and confident. As he crosses the room, he sees me sitting at a table in the corner, and smiles, showing just a hint of fang. A reminder of his vampire nature perhaps, or just recognition of an old friend. Still, I’m not taking any chances.
He sets a bottle of whiskey on the table and folds himself into a chair.

S- (Points at bottle) you gonna share that?

Xan – I suppose I can. Since you so kindly decided to come on down to my neck of the woods. What’s up?

S- For new blog readers, can you give me a Xan Marcelles recap...revamp? Lol

Xan – A recap? Like what, about me? Eh, I’m just a dude. I play bass for a cover band here at Pale Rider called Crooked Fang. There’s rumors that I might be a vampire. Nothing confirmed. Yet.

S- Why an RS? Why not a Chevelle or some other muscle car?

Xan – Well, it just kind of ended up being a lucky buy. Dad bought it off some guy who’d taken it away from his kid because he’d ragged the shit out of it. When we brought it home, we knew we had our work cut out for us. I worked a couple of jobs and rode an old dirt bike while I saved money and we fixed it up together. Why do I still have it? That’s in the book.

S – And why Pinecliffe, Colorado? Where would you live if you had the choice?

Xan – I ended up here because of the band job that gave room and board. Plus, Charlie and I clicked well. Charlie’s the owner of Pale Rider. I’m not really wanting to move just yet, but chances are, I’d head back down to New Mexico or even Arizona.

S – How does Charlie feel about you? Do you think he’s as attached to you as you are to him?

Xan – Hey now. I never said…okay fine. I’ll go with probably. Charlie did a piece in an old newsletter as a winning poll result. Here’s what he said:

Charlie speaks: from 7.3.2011 newsletter

I remember when I bought what I now call Pale Rider, and everybody
looked at me funny. But I ain’t ever been what folks call “normal.” I enjoy
the people comin’ ’round to partake of the drinks and the music. I love
music--most folks do, I’d think. ’Specially the guitar. Man, I couldn’t get
enough of that guitar. I still play her sometimes when I’m feeling blue, but
you ain’t here for that.

Business was slow at first. Got me a couple of locals and not much else.
Things were lookin’ bad for my place ’til I got this big idea of hiring me a
house band. I didn’t have a whole lotta money, ’cause I’d just sunk it into
the bar business, but what I did have was space. Place used to be a vacation
lodge and it had some rooms upstairs. I put me an ad in a couple of big
papers tryin’ to bring in some folks that knew how to jam.

I get a phone call one night from a fella interested in playing for me. He
like the idea of being able to stay there if he like. I tell him come on
down, where you from? He says “out west”. I’m thinkin’ I’m gonna have some
California square up in there. Man, was I wrong.

In come Xan Marcelles. Dark looking dude, all action, not much talk. Long
hair, tattoos and a scowl. He says he can run the band, hire up some
suitable band mates. I say okay. He looked all right, made me feel a little
nervous because he was a big dude, and I mean tall and looking like he is
ready for a rumble any day of the week. That’s how I brought in that boy. I
still call him boy, ’cause even though he’s big in looks, he’s still young
enough to do some stupid shit. You know kids, they know everything. Xan was
no different.

So he say he’s gonna call the band Crooked Fang or some shit. And I was like
“all right man, I’ll give you that. Bring me in some customers now. Make it
happen.” And you know what? He did.

His first pick was some kid named Serv. Never did ask if that was his full
name. By that time I knew Xan was all right ’cause he help some around the
place, movin’ heavy loads and cleanin’ up a storm. This kid Serv come in and
scream his damn fool head off. I say all right then.

Next two come in a pair. Two twenty-somethings, maybe twenty even--Joshua
and Jason. They best friends. Local kids. They come in and Joshua play them
drums like nobody’s business and Jason wailin’ on that Strat. You know, they
all right. We advertise. And business come in left ’n right. Right on.

That Xan though, he’s a troubled sort. Always drunk as a skunk and sulking
at his table with the light bulb pulled out. I say leave well enough alone
’cause he do a good job. He stay out of trouble, for the most part, and the
ladies love him.

Pale Rider is a happy place. A place where people come to have a good time,
listen to that loud music and share a few drinks. I see some first dates
sometime and I smile. I got me a woman now too, her name is Linda. Spanish
girl that sells some houses for a living. She’s a beautiful girl. I
couldn’t be a luckier brother. And that’s about it. You all take care.

S- Wow that's really special. I knew I liked Charlie for a reason. He's made the Pale Rider a great place!
Let’s talk about your bass Sasha for a minute. How long have you had her? How'd she get her name?
And why bass?

Xan – I’ve only had Sasha for a couple of years, about as long as I’ve played for Crooked Fang. I named her Sasha because that’s what she told me her name was, just is what it is, you know? Why bass? Couple of reasons. I like the instrument, I love the chords, and it’s easy work. I’m all about easy.

S- You have some rather “interesting relationships” in the book, what do you look for in a woman?

Xan – Depends on what I’m looking to look for. I don’t do relationships, never have done well with that since, you know…but I guess I really don’t have a type because the girls I’ve messed around with have all looked different. I’m a sucker for strong women, you know, the ones others might call bitches, but I am so turned off by snarky, catty, or bullying types. It’s a fine line. She has to smell good. I like long hair, but again, I’ve ran around with women with short hair so yeah…I don’t really have a definite answer for you there, Syn.

S – Tell us something about Xan, you, that we wouldn’t learn from the book.

Xan – Well, there a lot about me you’re not going learn about in the first book. But there’s a simple stuff that won’t matter.
  1. I’m left-handed but do just about everything right handed except write.
  2. I was in a band with Scott Barrows called RECALL back when we were in school. We were not a good band but liked to pretend we were.
  3. I died the day I had gotten up the courage to ask my girlfriend Jessica to marry me. Her ring was in my pocket.

S- Tell me a little about Carrie Clevenger your writer. What's she like to work with? You guys get along well?

Xan – Carrie…is one-of-a-kind. The kind of person you don’t know whether to choke or hug and she’s got a big heart, only it’s surrounded by electric barbed-wire fence and guarded by a pack of rabid, shaved wolverines with acid indigestion. But she gets me and she hears me.

In the very first version of my story, she fucking killed me! I still give her shit for that.

S- OK lets go for a music lighting round...
Fav song of the moment?
Xan-This second? Soen – Delenda

Fav female fronted band?
Xan-Concrete Blonde I love Johnette’s vox.

Fav male fronted band
Xan-Too many to list, but I’ll throw some names: Danzig, Iron Maiden, Opeth, Type O Negative. Billions.

Fav song you like to sing live?
Xan-I’m not much for singing lead, but I do some background stuff.

Fav video of the moment?
Xan-Oh man. There’s a vid that Slash did with Fergie called “Beautiful” that is hot:

Boxers or briefs?( had to sneak that in there)
Xan- [grins] No comment.

S- So what’s next for Xan?

Xan – Probably more trouble, from the looks of things. Considering who’s stuck with me now and the shit they already got me into, yeah. Trouble with a capital T.
I’m coming back with a new story probably next year if I can get enough non-trouble time to get it down. We’ll see how that pans out but I’ll tell you for sure that I’m not done yet.

I can tell he is becoming bored with the interview process. He pushes the whiskey bottle towards me and lights a cigarette. The interview is officially over, he's made his point. He stands and walks towards the entrance, looking over his shoulder to make sure I follow. We decide to walk out to the lake to talk about something we both love... music. The journalist in me shuts down.

A few hours later after much talk, whiskey and a bit of jamming, I make my way back to my rental car
and turn to wave goodbye to Xan. He stands like a statue on the stairs, only the glowing ember of his cigarette betrays his presence. Xan Marcelles is a vampire yes, but that is only scratching the surface of his enigmatic personality. Read the book. You won't be disappointed.

Crooked Fang is an urban fantasy, first in the Crooked Fang Series, published by Katarr Kanticles (print) and contracted by Lyrical Press (ebook). For more on Xan and Crooked Fang, visit