Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Talk with Nerine Dorman

Today, I have a Q&A with Nerine Dorman. She is a South African writer of dark fantasy, the editor of my last two novels, a really hot looker, and all-around good person. Her latest book is the young adult fantasy, The Guardian's Wyrd. I asked for some of her thoughts on the art of creating a memorable story.

1) What writers have influenced you the most? What did you learn from them? Were there any writers from whom you learned valuable lessons, but whose stories you really didn’t enjoy?

Okay, here I’m going to go on the old stand-in JRR Tolkien. I cried when I finished The Lord of the Rings then immediately went back and read it again. Just the idea of creating a world where the actual story takes place after so much history has happened, and indeed is a thin sliver of the saga. So, for world-building, I have a massive debt to pay to Tolkien.

Then there is Storm Constantine, who once again captures me with her world-building and the way she weaves in arcane concepts with her milieu. Ditto for Neil Gaiman and what he did with The Sandman series of graphic novels. Then of course there is Poppy Z Brite who taught me what colours taste like, and about the smell of spilled oil paint long after the artist has packed up and left for the day.

2) What qualities make for a memorable character? How do you make your own characters stand out from those in other fictional works?

A character should be flawed. What if the hero is secretly selfish? Or if the love interest who appears beautiful, actually has a nasty twist in her personality? Characters are frequently damaged in some way, and have flaws in the way they think and act. Yet by the same measure they also need redeeming qualities, otherwise they’ll be thoroughly unlikeable and readers won’t enjoy the story. It’s a careful balancing act for any writer.

3) Writing is an art (involving creativity, inspiration and insight), but also a craft (grammar, style, the actual task of typing). Which do you find more difficult? Do you write only when inspired to do so, or do you treat it as a daily to-do, writing whether you’re inspired or not?

It’s an art, because I do believe you need to have what I term to be that mystical X-factor. Anyone can string together words, but it’s not so much the words, but *what* you’re doing with them that matters. I’ve tried to teach the craft to some who simply don’t have the capacity for the art. They fix many of their mechanical errors but the writing lacks lustre. But the same is also true of those who just practice the art – sometimes their works have limited appeal because they’re too unrestrained.

That’s not to say either is wrong, but you also have to ask *why* you’re writing. If it’s to make money, then you need to choose to write in a genre, like romance, that you know will have broad appeal, and then you’ll need to conform. Or you can write simply for the pleasure of creating a story that makes you happy. But then don’t expect that many people to read it.

4) How much detail of the course of a story do you plan out before writing? Do you let the characters and events surprise you? Do you do more planning, or less planning, for a longer story?

It varies. At present I’ve found it best to have a framework. My short stories are outlined in point form in a few sentences. I start the same with novels, but then flesh out those sentences to paragraphs. Since I often drop a story for months on end, it’s good for me to have as much information as possible there, so that I know what the hell I meant when I leave myself sometimes cryptic messages. And trust me, I’ve left myself some pretty bizarre pointers.

There have been a few occasions where I’ve done very little plotting, and invariably the story has fizzled within a chapter or two. I’m sadly one of those individuals who must begin a story knowing exactly *where* it will end.

5) What do you most want to achieve in a story? What do you most want to avoid? Why do you write in the genres you do?

I want readers to forget to eat, or be unable to put the book down. I want them to cheer or curse my characters from one page to the next. Mostly I just want to tell a rollicking story that that will get them excited and fire up their imaginations. I want to avoid being boring, or being difficult to read. So, hence, I’m definitely not going to write the next great literary novel. I write the genres that interest me the most, so you’ll rarely see anything without some sort of supernatural element.

6) What do you most want to tell everyone about your next upcoming work?

I’ve got a [shock horror] vampire novel for adults coming out soon, but mostly I’d like to invite folks to check out my latest, which happens to be be a YA fantasy novel. It’s kinda like Narnia meets Harry Potter, with an edgy outsidery kind of main character named Jay September.

Add The Guardian's Wyrd to your Goodreads list and purchase at Amazon or Kobo

Follow Nerine on Twitter and sign up for her newsletter.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Well, I'll be interviewed!

I’m going to be interviewed by Jackie Chin this Friday night 12/20/2013 at 10 pm Central time on Zombiepalooza, a podcast with about a million listeners. Anyone can listen for free at:
Warn your friends!
Go like Jackie Chin and Zombiepalooza on Facebook:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lupa Bella: First Take

I am immensely pleased and proud to have received the following reaction to my novel, Lupa Bella, from Rosemary Edghill, author of Hellflower, Bell Book and Murder, and Shadow Grail: Legacies:
Lupa Bella is a compelling secret history of a world that might be our own. D.C. Petterson blends pagan mysteries and very human evil to create a haunting tale of love, lore, and renunciation that will keep you turning pages in your race to the end. Petterson gets better with each book. Keep an eye on this guy: he's good, and he'll surprise you.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

ValleyCon postscript

I just got home from a trip to ValleyCon in Fargo, North Dakota. It was my first visit. Highly recommended. Go there next year if you can.

I enjoyed the panel discussions -- lots of writers there, talking lots about writing. That's why I went, to hear from other writers and to make some contacts. I was pleased with the results.

I picked up a steampunk roleplaying game, Gaslight, which looks like it'll be great fun. I spent hours by the pool, playing Cards Against Humanity, the funniest party game I've ever played. Definitely for adults -- well, adults who refuse to grow up.

I learned about this awe-inspiring project to bring back the carrier pigeon. Extinct species might not have to stay dead.

The con suites rocked. Special mention for Inarra's Shuttle and the Star Wars cafe, though they were all great. The butter beer in the Hogwort's teachers' lounge was the best I've ever had.

For me, the highlight of the trip was the two long private conversations I had with C.E. Murphy. She is vivacious and outgoing, generous with advice and encouragement, a truly delightful lady. She has the best story ever about the Irish tendency to be laid-back. They could teach the Spanish a thing or two about maƱana -- but not today.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cover Reveal - Lupa Bella

Hunt the magic.
Conquer the future.
Run with wolves.

I am pleased to be able to present the cover of my forthcoming novel, Lupa Bella. We are shooting for an Oct 31 release date.

For a thousand years, the de Luna family 
has protected the slopes of Santo Stefano from the outside world. 
Magic wanders through the woodlands, 
electricity is but a distant rumor, 
and werewolves are still secretly fostered to human families. 
It is 1962, and that's all about to change. 
One young wolf struggles to understand the threats of the new age, 
while protecting her brother, her lover, her secret, her birthright, 
and the feudal lord who still knows the Old Ways.
What must she lose, and what will survive?

This is a prequel to my previous novel, A Melancholy Humour. It shares the world and the mythology, but it stands entirely on its own.

I am delighted to be working with a different publisher, Dark Continents Publishing, with whom I share initials, and where my writing seems to have a better fit. I'm also overjoyed that the editor I worked with on A Melancholy Humour, Nerine Dorman, is also now at DCP, and helped to nursemaid Lupa Bella into reality.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

American Dreams

I've written in other places about the influence of science fiction, fantasy, and horror literature upon our culture. Writers with an interest in social commentary find science fiction valuable in this regard. It is possible to explore cultural issues by creating a foreign or alien society, a future or alternate world, and talking there about things that would be difficult to describe here. It is possible to play out fears and hopes, dreams and nightmares, in that sort of fictional setting.

This isn't a new technique. Jonathan Swift used it to advantage in Gulliver's Travels, back in 1726, a work long recognized as satire and social commentary. Indeed, the Berber writer Apuleius (who wrote in Latin) did much the same nearly two thousand years ago, with his novel Metamorphosis, or The Golden Ass. In more modern times, there is George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, and stories from Aldous Huxley such as Brave New World. These and innumerable others were intended primarily as works that told interesting tales as a palatable way of presenting social commentary

More interesting still, perhaps, are works that were intended first as popular tales, stories that simply take advantage of existing social fads for commercial purposes. These don't comment on the culture so much as reflect it. Recent trends in current science fiction may reveal something about the nearly-subconscious dreams and fears of present-day America. As Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot just by watching."

Some works of popular fiction stand in a sort of gray zone. They may be immensely popular stories that reflect then-current social concerns, but it isn't clear whether the creators intended them as anything more than money makers. The prime example of this is the 1956 classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This is now almost universally recognized as an allegory of paranoia about Communist plots, expressing fears that your neighbor could harbor a frightening secret intended to subvert our very way of life. Other sci-fi of that era reflects similar fears: 1951's The Thing from Another World (remade as The Thing in 1982 and again in 2011), 1958's The Fly (remade in 1986), and even George Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead toward the end of that era. All of these create their fear through the idea of normal people being transformed into monsters, or monstrous realities hiding within people who could be close to you.

The themes were repeated in the 1967-1968 television series The Invaders, about aliens coming to conquer the Earth, aliens who could disguise themselves as humans, another thinly-veiled cautionary tale about Communist sympathizers among us. In 1984 and 1985, in the middle of the Commie-bating Reagan era, the television series "V" resurrected exactly the idea of The Invaders. "V" even returned in 2009. That many of the classics found new life as successful remakes shows the underlying fear remains part of our society. Communism has faded as a threat; but the theme remained.

My wife pointed out a current trend to me, the significance of which I hadn't noticed. We saw an ad for a new upcoming television series, Defiance, and I commented that the idea of alien invasion seems to be once again gaining popularity in modern culture. There is, for example, another current series, TNT's Falling Skies. She suggested there was a reason for that.

Americans are once again afraid of alien influences. Stoked by the twenty-four-hour "news" cycles which are mostly about political posturing, the fear has again floated to the top of the sewers of our collective mind. The fear was crystallized by Barack Obama's rise to the office of President. There is a conscious and intentional effort by his political opponents to depict President Obama as alien, un-American, socialist, perhaps not a citizen.

It's more than that, though. Our culture is rapidly changing, from opinions about gays to the ever-accelerating pace of technological advance. We are not what we were fifty years ago, or even a dozen years ago. The world is changing around us:
For this generation of entering college students, born in 1994, Kurt Cobain, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Nixon and John Wayne Gacy have always been dead.
Click this link. It will make you feel very old.

Is it any wonder we again (still?) fear a dark invasion, a hidden conspiracy, forces from outside the comfortable fence of the known world? The Walking Dead embodies the fear of becoming something horrible; Battlestar Galactica, another recent remake, makes the aliens explicit; Terra Nova vividly depicted the monsters just outside the city walls. Supernatural depicts the threat with existential and religions overtones. The explosion of vampire and werewolf fiction carries that same undercurrent.

We Americans have always had a deep-seated fear of the Other. This seems odd since we are, in fact the Other. America, as is often said, is a nation of immigrants. We came here. Think about that. For most of us, we were The Invaders, and we conquered the people we found here to establish our nation. That is, in fact, what makes this fear so natural and comprehensible, so much a part of our national consciousness. We know it is possible for aliens to conquer, we know it happens, we know it can happen again, because we ourselves did it.

That may be why modern vampire fiction often depicts the monsters as being compelling and attractive, even while remaining unspeakably dangerous. We can play in that genre, we can explore our fears of what we are becoming, even while we acknowledge our moth-like attraction to the flame that will consume us.

This trend in modern sci-fi, fantasy, and horror fiction, enduring and perhaps increasing, says something very deep about American psychology and about the way we see ourselves and our world. It reveals our secrets, almost as a psychologist might analyze a patient's dreams. Indeed, these are our culture's dreams, expressed by the creators of popular fiction. We can observe a lot about ourselves by watching them.

(Originally posted at

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Train of Consequence
... is my first Friday Flash, a short story submitted as part of the Friday Flash community. It's longer than it should be. I apologize for verbosity.
Train of Consequence
by D. C. Petterson

I’ve watched long enough, Sophie thought. I need to decide.
The door slid shut. Sophie clutched at the strap hanging from the metal beam to keep from falling over as the train jumped and started its crawl forward. She snorted in disgust. People packed into the train car like broken crayons crammed into a too-small box. She couldn’t fall over even if she tried. The crayons around her would hold her up. The thought of being crushed among these bodies made her choke and she struggled not to vomit.
The train lurched as it picked up speed, bursting from the dim station into searing sunlight, and a fat old man in a greasy three-piece suit jostled against her. He smelled of gym socks and stagnant water. Sophie had seen him before, more times than she could count. Nearly the same set of crayons jammed themselves into the same set of box cars every day, twice a day, once in the morning, once at night. Most had staked out territory they always reclaimed within the box. Stinky Fat Man in Threepiece usually stood closer to the front of the car where Sophie didn’t have to smell him. She turned her head away.
Why do I let this go on?
Skanky Waitress didn’t smell much better, reeking of fried chicken and stale beer. She seemed especially awkward this evening, precariously balanced on absurdly high heels, her belly bloated with her own new little broken crayon packed inside. Her profile looked like a twig with a tumor threatening to burst her middle. She seemed to pop those critters out once every year, as if marking the seasonal rhythms of snow and heat. Maybe she couldn’t find anything to do in the winter other than ride some lodgepole, but carrying enormous womb-tumors around in Chicago’s tropical summers couldn’t be comfortable.
They are all blind and weak. I need to set them free.
A mother stood nearby, holding the hand of her child, a boy of perhaps ten. He stood close to her, eyes bright, not yet dimmed by the crush around them. The mother stared straight ahead, not moving except to occasionally shush her son when he tried to get her attention. Sophie hadn’t seen them before. Maybe Mom had promised Boy a day in the city during his summer vacation.
The seat near Skanky Waitress always held Wall Street. Most days, he sat with his copy of the Journal tucked under his arm, staring at Skanky’s legs, or at the way her dirty white work costume barely covered her tiny ass. At the moment he held his paper spread in front of his face, blocking his view of Skanky’s belly. He apparently found her less appealing while pregnant. She shifted from foot to foot, staring at the top of his head. She sniffled, and rubbed a hand under her nose, her face twisting.
That displayed the reason for much of Sophie’s contempt. Wall Street couldn’t be bothered to offer his seat, even when the object of his lustful fantasies clearly could use the relief for her tired feet and aching body. For her part, Skanky didn’t have the courage to ask, nor the brains to stop getting repeatedly pregnant.
The train shifted, rocked downward, and plunged into darkness. Sophie allowed herself a grim smile at the sexual symbolism of the long train thrusting into a tunnel in the earth. It seemed fitting.
They suffer in silence, they lose their wills and their souls. They won’t change, and they won’t ask for help. All for a chance at something they’ll never have.
Another example. Sophie looked between the rocking bodies and found Mouse. She cowered in a far corner, eyes wide, barely twitching, as if she could hold her breath for the whole forty-five minutes of the twice-daily ride. Something once had shattered Mouse, breaking her spirit and reducing her to silence. It now festered like a rotting carcass within her, yet she couldn’t bring herself either to face it, or to run from it. She merely endured the unendurable, day after empty day.
Backrub clutched one of the metal poles, his face a mask of slack-jawed boredom. Sophie recalled him once finding a victim, a young woman, maybe a college student, anyway she’d never ridden this car before. He’d positioned himself such that every lurch of the train, every bounce and jostle, would just happen to force his crotch harder against the girl’s hip, just happen to rub him against her like a dog humping someone’s leg. She scrunched her eyes closed, silently trembling, putting up with it the way Mouse suffered though each day. Backrub had finally moaned, loud enough to be heard over the roar of the train, and all the tension drained from his face. He stumbled back. Sophie thought maybe he’d collapse, but he didn’t. The woman got off the train at the very next stop, and Sophie never saw her after that. Backrub didn’t even watch her go.
The train slowed, the darkness around them starting to flash as they passed the lights close to the next station. They groaned to a stop, brakes screaming in protest. Even their machines are in pain.
The broken crayons shifted around the box. A few got off. More packed themselves in. Tattoo Girl with her unfocused eyes and facial piercings and carefully-ripped T-shirt. Big Shot with his nose in the air and his briefcase clutched in a manicured hand. Beanpole towering above everyone, ducking as he came through the door.
None of them wants to be here. None of them wants to live here. Perhaps it is time to set them free.
The doors closed, the train lurched, and Stinky Fat Man fouled her air again.
Sophie sighed. Semjaza, I’ve done as you suggested. I’ve observed them.
The air tingled as with a stroke of lightening. Sophie smelled ozone. The little boy looked up at her, still holding his mother’s hand. “Then tell me, Sophia, what have you seen?”
The mother seemed not to notice the boy’s change of character. Neither did Wall Street or Stinky Fat Man or Skanky Waitress.
Sophie struggled to encapsulate her conclusions. “I’ve seen beings without hope, without souls, barely tolerating their own lives but refusing to change them.”
The boy shook his head. “This is hardly a fair sample.”
“I’m not generalizing to the whole species.”
“Good. I wouldn’t expect such an unwarranted generalization from the Archetype of Wisdom.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Is that sarcasm I hear?”
“How can I know what you hear? My point is--”
“I know what your point is.”
“-- they can’t possibly thrive without--”
“You made that clear when you and the others first abandoned Heaven.”
“Sophia, they need us! Don’t you see that?” He looked away, shook his head, looked back. “They don’t deserve to be abandoned.”
“No. They don’t. Certainly not those here, on this train. They don’t deserve to suffer this way.” She was sure he wouldn’t mistake her meaning.
He frowned. “Everyone?”
“On this train, yes.”
The boy raised a hand. “Wait. Why did you summon me?”
“I promised to tell you what I saw. Now I’ve told you. Feel free to leave.”
“What about,” he patted his chest with his free hand, “this, or that?” and he pointed to the bulge in the middle of Skanky Waitress. “Even innocents?”
“Innocent? Some of them believe they’re born in sin.”
“I don’t buy that crap. I know you don’t, either.”
“You miss my meaning. Some of them do believe that. It’s how they shape themselves. Twenty years from now, thirty at most, these two will be no different.”
“Are you sure you’re not generalizing?”
“Get out while you can, Semjaza.”
He turned away. The scent of ozone drifted off. The little boy buried his face in his mother’s pant leg. Sophie spread her arms.
Stinky Fat Man jumped, as if stuck by a pin. He gaped at Sophie. “Are you all right?” He blinked, and tried to back away a step, pushing farther into the box of crayons. “Your face...”
Yes, I know. By now, it would be stark white, drained of blood, perhaps beginning to glow.
A hubbub and a murmur spread from where she stood, ripples in a pond. The others turned toward her, staring. The mother pulled her boy close. Skanky Waitress put her hand on her belly. Wall Street crumpled his paper.
Big Shot took a step toward her, pushing some of the little people out of his way. “What do you think you’re doing, young lady? Are you some kind of terrorist?”
I’m giving all of you want you want. From the corners of her eyes, she saw her hands burst into flame.
Tattoo Girl screamed.
They all fell back, shoving each other against the windows, crowding into the tiny bench seats. Sophie gathered her arms to her body and looked down, building the heat, pulling it to her. When she opened her eyes again, she stared out from the midst of a ball of air glowing white hot. Her clothes flashed into flame and vanished in a cloud of ash.
Backrub’s expression hadn’t changed--still bored, already dead inside. He moved only to shove one hand into his pants.
Sophie’s voice thundered, much louder than the roar from the train. “I set you all free from your suffering and your despair. Children, rejoice!”
The others scrambled away, climbing over each other in their desperation. Wall Street knocked Skanky to the floor, and stood on her crumpled body trying to get past the next bench seat.
I made the right decision. Nothing can be salvaged here.
Sophie threw fire outward at them all, flinging it with backhand slaps. They screamed as they burned. Beanpole tried to tear off his shirt when it burst into flame, before the skin started curling away from the muscle beneath. “Crazy bitch!”
Stinky Fat Man tripped, and he fell on two other passengers. They lay pinned, helpless, beneath him. He held his arms up in entreaty. “Please, please, please...”
She’d ridden this train with him every day for five years. He’d never once asked her name. She flicked her fingers at him and fire burst from his chest. He threw himself from side to side, crushing the unfortunate people under him.
One passenger, and one only, seemed to understand. Mouse turned dark and haunted eyes toward her. She spoke, barely a whisper, from the far end of the train car. Sophie heard her clearly. “Thank you.”
Sophie smiled. “You’re welcome, child. I set you free. I love you.” She held her arms wide. Just before the fire engulfed them all, Mouse smiled back and closed her eyes.
The explosion tore the car in half. The front of the train careened on, its cars thrown from the tracks like dice skittering down a drainpipe, flying a half mile father through the tunnel. The trailing cars crumpled and smashed into each other like a logjam in a narrow ravine. The echoes raced away, reverberated back, and slowly faded.
Sophie let her anger and loathing die along with the heat of the explosion. She stood naked in the shattered remains of the subway tunnel. No easy exit presented itself, but she had no concerns on that score. She could leave this now-useless body behind.
A voice drifted down the tunnel to her, a whiff of ozone carried on the fleeting echoes. “Was it good for you, too?”
She glared into darkness. “Semjaza, I came at your invitation. You wanted me to see these creatures, their pitiful state, the shells of their tiny lives. I saw. I pitied them. I freed them from sorrow.”
“Their tiny lives--that’s all they have, you know.”
“Yes, we’ve argued this before. I’m done with it.”
“What will you do now?”
What indeed? “If you want to help them, that’s up to you. I’m done with it.”
“Will you stand in my way?”
She laughed. “What can you accomplish without Wisdom?”
“Let me worry about that.”
“Fine. I’ll leave you to your own devices.”
“And the others?”
She paused. “The ones who revolted with you? We won’t disturb them either.”
“I meant your loyalist friends.”
“Most of them abandoned Earth long ago. You know that. I can’t control the Powers or the Principalities.”
“They haven’t cared about anything in five thousand years. I’m not worried about them.”
“Then we are at an understanding. Enjoy your world, Semjaza, but do not ever try to return.”
“You’re always welcome here, if you discover any softness in that ancient heart.”
She snorted. “Eternal Truth never changes. That’s what makes it eternal.”
“Wisdom never encompasses all things. I leave the door open to the wonder of foolishness.”
“Enough! Goodbye, Semjaza.”
If he said anything more, Sophie didn’t hear it. She left the spent and exhausted body of the young woman crouching alone in the tunnel. Someone would undoubtedly find her. Maybe she’d wonder what had gone on in the gap of five years since her last memory. Maybe not. Sophia stopped thinking about it. She had other worlds to consider.