Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Avoiding the Typecasting Trap

“In TV, film, and theatre, typecasting is the process by which a particular actor becomes strongly identified with a specific character; one or more particular roles; or, characters having the same traits or coming from the same social or ethnic groups. There have been instances in which an actor has been so strongly identified with a role as to make it difficult for him or her to find work playing other characters.”  --Wikipedia definition 

Typecasting can be a boon or a career-crippler, depending on who you ask.  While the term is most closely associated with acting, I find it can be applied to other fields of creative work:  the visual arts, music, and of course writing.  Once the creative person is associated with one style in their field, their name becomes synonymous with that style.  Andy Warhol had his soup cans.  Dolly Parton sings country music.  Stephen King writes horror. 

Many people are perfectly happy doing their little piece of the magnificent tapestry that is human expression.  They build their little universe and play in it, doing what it is they do best.  We enjoy them doing what we expect of them.   

Ah, but some of us don’t want to keep coloring within the lines.  Sometimes we break out, and the results can be disastrous. 
Imagine Bela Lugosi doing anything but Dracula.  It’s not easy, is it?  He was typecast.  Would you accept him if he had played Rhett Butler?  Hamlet?  Nope.  You wouldn't have given him the chance.
Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines was counted as a flop ... his fans weren’t having him as anything but a country music singer.  And in her post-Harry Potter writing of Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling is not earning a lot of love, at least not from the reviews I’ve read.  Many readers are moaning, “It’s not Harry Potter.”  Well, duh.  It’s not supposed to be.   

It’s not easy when you’re known for one thing and you wish to stretch your wings and try something different.  I found that out when my alter-ego, who is best known for her sci-fi erotica, decided to write paranormal erotica as well.  The sales of those books are nowhere near the bestselling futuristic stuff, even with Alt-Tamara’s name attached.  It’s too bad because I love writing those books.  I have no right to complain, but it makes me a little sad that they go mostly unnoticed. 

As myself, I write mainstream sci-fi and horror.  That’s what I’m building my reputation on.  However, I recently got the idea of a series geared towards the YA segment of readers.  I’m very excited about it and have begun character sketches of that project, which delves into the world of Faerie.  I’m turning fantasy writer for the adolescent readers. 

Yet there’s the whole typecast thing.  Being the author of the Willow and Lilith books, which are definitely not for younger audiences, could get in the way of this series I plan to write.  Now I face maybe concocting a second Alt-Tam identity to release it under.   

Sheesh, it’s tough being two people.  How am I supposed to handle being three? 

Unlike my erotica writing persona, I won’t be keeping another pseudonym so secret.  It’s mainly an issue of branding, as far as I can tell.  Keeping YA writer me separate from sci-fi/horror writer me can keep people from getting too confused ... I hope.  That way if you buy a Tamara Jock book, you know what you’re getting, and vice versa.  No surprises.  No disappointments because “it’s not a Willow book”. 

So I guess I am looking to be typecast after all.  It’s just different names come with different expectations – and one hell of a case of split personalities.



Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday’s Serving – Lilith


             “Alex, wait.”
            Colwyn’s hand enveloped her shoulder.  The jolt of sensation nearly jerked her out of her skin.  Her knees buckled, and she fell.  Colwyn gasped; his other arm circled her waist and pulled her against him, stopping her plunge.  Alex cried out as another wave of electricity radiated from him and passed through her, melting her for an instant.  The granite planes of his body pressed against her back.  She felt his strength, his power, and knew her own helplessness against such a creature.
            Alex lunged free with such force that she crashed against the wall.  Pain jarred throughout her body, and she nearly fell again.  Colwyn reached for her, but before he could grab her again she held up her hands and backed away.
            “Don’t.  Touch.  Me.”  Tremors raced through her body. 

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Living in Fear

You’d think a horror writer, reader, and movie aficionado wouldn’t find everyday things anything but mundane.  You’d be wrong, at least in my case.  I live in absolute terror of the normal stuff.

I’m more fascinated than scared by the supernatural.  I love going into places that are supposedly haunted.  I delight in the idea that there might be creatures like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster prowling about.  I devour UFO-sightings with great voraciousness.  I want to see a ghost, mythical beast, or an alien in the worst way.  Such things don’t inspire fear, just a nervous thrill of anticipation.

Yet the other day I was shaking in my shoes.  I had a dentist appointment and it made my stomach roil.  Yep, you could set me among spirits, sasquatches, and E.T.s and I’d be fine.  But going to the dentist or doctor?  Oh hell no.

It’s so bad that I wait until I’m in great misery before I’ll venture to even look up a name in a phone directory.  Then it might take me two or three weeks before I finally make an appointment.  I visit doctors and dentists so seldom that the last one I saw is usually retired or dead.  We are talking body shaking, hands sweating, nausea-inducing dread here.  I’m downright phobic about it.

The last time I saw a dentist, things had progressed drastically.  I ended up with four cavities filled, four old fillings replaced, and a root canal.  I am cursed with bad dental genetics from my father’s side.  He and my brother have had many problems with their teeth.  I know I should get regular checkups.  Brushing, flossing, and fluoride rinses used religiously cannot save my poor choppers.  Yet, I can’t make myself visit the dentist until I have throbbing pain that keeps me from sleep.

I’d reached that point again.  I knew a tooth was in trouble, possibly to the point of being yanked out (because this girl is not having another root canal even if it means a checkerboard smile).  Tylenol was getting gobbled up faster than the leftover Halloween candy.  Yet the last thing in this world I wanted to do is climb in that torture-chamber chair, have the light shined in my mouth, and see the dentist tally up her winnings from my oral agony.  Dr. Frankenteeth was rubbing her hands together in anticipation.

Okay, so maybe Dr. Barbara wasn’t the mad scientist-type after all.  In fact, she was a very pleasant gal, brilliant conversationalist, and all-around perfect dentist to hold the hand of paranoid me.  She dealt with my crazed phobia with the aplomb of a person who’d seen it all.  She told me of big, strong construction workers who’d fainted dead away in the hall before they’d even set eyes on the chair from which their teeth would be drilled and filled. 

And I had no cavities.  No need for tooth yanking.  My issue might have been from the fact I grind my teeth in my sleep, the ill-adjusted crown in my mouth (which Dr. Barbara painlessly fixed in a matter of seconds), or my pesky sinuses recovering from last week’s cold.  It could have been a combination of these things.  In short, I freaked out over a lot of nothing.

Oh twisted Fate, why have you delivered me a horror of oral vigilance rather than of things that go bump in the night? Why does just a checkup inspire such dread?  Why is it that having cavities filled is the height of torture for me?  Did I run around punching people in their mouths in a past life?  Is this some kind of toothy karma?  And why hasn’t Stephen King written a novel about a supernatural killer dentist yet?  Surely that belongs up there with demons, possessed hotels, and vampires.  Dr. Barbara seems awesome on the surface, but is there some hideous beast dwelling beneath that sweet smile and gentle jibes to get my teeth cleaned more regularly?  Oh, I think I see the evil that’s truly waiting, biding its time until I am rendered defenseless under happy gas and metal torture devices glint at the ready inside my mouth. 

However, I have dodged the immediate torment.  Maybe I’ll get lucky and the world will end before early next month when I have to face the cleaning Dr. Barbara talked me into. 


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday's Serving - Willow in the Desert

Gordon scanned the list.  Yes, she had laid everything out for him with precision.  He was still a little nervous about being in charge of the Becomings, but it seemed doable now.  “These mutations, are they thought to be stronger than us Becomings?”

“That I don’t know yet, but as I said, those who have firearms training will be armed.  And those who aren’t skilled with guns will be encouraged to learn.  It’s far better for you to kill these things from a distance than to be hurt or killed yourselves because you had to fight them hand to hand.”

Gordon lifted his eyes to look into hers.  Blue as the sky, they were very pretty, but they moved too much.  He was still stressed enough that their motion made his thoughts jumble.  He jerked his gaze back down to the list.  “You really trust me with this?  Wouldn’t a human be better?”

“Don’t be silly, Gordon.  You’re still more human than not, no matter what your appearance says.”  Carli got back to business.  “If the town is overrun, help Kearns and Pearson get as many of our people as you can to the air base.”

Gordon considered, trying to get his thoughts in order.  “Which is more important, holding the town or getting others to safety?”

Carli fell silent for a little while.  He waited, thinking how she never hurried him along when he got tongue tied.  Like Amanda, Carli was patient with his conversational shortcomings.  Though his anxiety wanted her to answer the question immediately, he held his tongue to reciprocate the kindness.

Finally she said, “One thing I like about you Gordon, is that you can consider things more rationally than most.  You don’t let your feelings get in the way of what needs to be done, no matter how unpleasant it may be.”

“Asperger’s doesn’t make me emotionless.”  So many people got that idea.

“No, but it has helped to make you levelheaded.  I admit that my emotions scream hold the town no matter what.”

“I bet Arner says the same.  You’re both warriors.”

Carli laughed. “Me, a warrior.”

Gordon tried to figure out why she found the idea funny.  It was true; she was determined to destroy the Old Ones, even at the risk of her own life.  Battling impossible odds so humans could someday rule their own world again, taking the fight to the aliens that had defeated every army on Earth.  Despite her short stature, Carli Black Elk seemed to him an avenging angel, wielding guns and explosives instead of a flaming sword. 

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Do Not Disturb

I love my work life.  I am beyond fortunate in that I get to make up stories for a living.  I get to sit at home in my jammies, drink coffee by the gallon, and take leisurely meals.  I have no right to complain.

So you know what comes next.  A complaint.

When people ask me how I’m doing, I often like to say, “I can’t complain, but I do it anyway to stay in practice.”  Welcome to a practice session.

Being at home means few think I’m working a real job.  Because I don’t jump into my car and drive to an office as soon as I’ve got the kid on the bus, I’m not perceived as really engaged in a meaningful endeavor.  I’m at home and therefore at liberty to chat on the phone, goof off on Facebook, or shmooze at the dining room table over coffee.  At least, that’s what everyone thinks.

Here’s the scoop:  I am working.  I am working very hard.  I spend five days a week fielding issues with book distributors, answering fan mail, marketing and promoting, and ... *gasp* ... even writing the books that pay my mortgage.  I’ve got deadlines just like many other people who commute to their workplaces.  I’ve been known to put in a 12-hour day to get everything done.  Add to that fact that I juggle two writing careers as two different authors, try to keep a path or two clear to move about in my house without tripping and breaking my neck, and play the part of Mommy to a busy seven-year-old.   

Yes, I am working. 

Yet I have to contend with those who think dropping by and interrupting is no big deal.  “Oh hi!  I was in the neighborhood.  Let me tell you all about the latest.”  Or the phone ringing.  “Hey, I know you’re writing, but I just had to talk to you about the show I watched on TV.  Did you see what happened on Dancing With the Stars last night?”

Sigh.  No matter how many times I tell people I can’t be interrupted, they interrupt anyway.   

Imagine this:  I’m writing really well, completely in the zone where I can see the scenario I’m working on in all its vivid detail.  I’ve got the perfect word, phrase, or sentence that is going to portray this scene to the reader...it’s a thing of beauty.  Nothing else will ever fit what I’m trying to get across as wondrously as this word/phrase/sentence.  Fingers are poised over the keyboard, ready to tap that extraordinary passage ... and then... 

“Hi!  Sorry I’m interrupting, but this will only take a second.” 

The word/phrase/sentence that I’d held so tenderly in my mind, ready to birth onto the page, as ephemeral as a midnight dream – it disappears.  I’m jolted out of my little world, never to find that tiny mote of perfection ever again. 

At those times I feel like Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’ when Shelley Duval interrupts his writing and he completely loses it on her.  Oh yeah, it’s a good thing I don’t own an axe at that moment.  I could commit mayhem in finely arcing splashes of gore.  I really could. 

To those of you who have an artist, writer, musician, or other creative beast in your life ... or even someone who simply works in the home ... have a heart.  Yes, we love you.  We love you with all our beings.  You are more important to us than anything, truly you are.  Whatever it is you’re dying to share is important to us too.  But please understand we really are working.  I’m not showing up at your job in the middle of the day, interrupting your work.  All I ask is the same respect in return.   

Please, for all our sakes and to keep blood off my carpet, do not disturb the writer when she’s working.  Don’t make her go all Jack Torrence on your ass, busting down the door and yelling “Heeeere’s Johnny!”

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday's Serving - The Willow and the Stone

            The massive stone sat atop several crushed aliens.  More dead aliens tangled in the thin branches of the willow, limp insect marionettes in the delicate grip.  The air hung heavy with the coppery tang of blood. 
            Leo ran his fingertips over the stone’s craggy surface.  Hard, implacable, it told him nothing.  What it represented he couldn’t imagine.  He dusted the grit from his hand.
            He turned to the tree.  It drew away from him, and its shuddering fronds fled from his touch.  Leo stared; it was actually aware of him.  He reached toward it, palms up, the way one might offer a hand to a friendly but skittish cat.  The tree’s limbs drifted toward him.
            Trembling branches whispered against his legs.  He felt a hesitant touch on his cheek.
            He shivered at the shy touch of the mind that called to him.  He caressed tiny leaves with his fingertips.  "Friend," he whispered.
            A breeze sighed through the willow's branches.  Who?
            "A survivor.  I live in a safe place, a hideaway inside an old limestone mine.  It‘s called the Rock."
            "No aliens bother us here.  We’re well hidden.  It's just north of Pittsburgh in a town called Boyers."  He motioned to the corpses hanging from the tree's limbs.  "What did you do to them?"
            "The aliens."
            The tree shuddered all over.  The dead aliens jiggled an obscene dance, their limbs jerking as if under the control of a puppeteer having a seizure.  Aliens?  Where?
            Leo realized only he saw the horrible creatures.  Many of his visions were filled with symbols that demanded careful analysis.  The willow was aware of him, but not the components of his vision. 
            "Hush," he comforted the tree.  "It's all right.  You have nothing to fear here."  

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Feeding the Beast

Being a writer is an interesting way of existing.  To me.  Not to you, the non-writer.  For someone on the outside, I would be as fascinating as a blank sheet of paper.  I like to tell people I could double as a throw rug.  That’s how boring I am. 

Yes, for the most part I am a quiet, unassuming gal.  I like to sit in the background.  If I think of something to contribute to a conversation, I do so.  I might even crack a joke or two.  Most days I get up in the morning, send the kid off to school, exercise, sit at a desk to work, clean the house, and try to resist seconds at meals.  I shop way too much.  I surf the ‘net.  I take the boy to his games or swim lessons.  I watch TV. 


No one looking at this middle-aged near-hermit of a woman would ever guess the monster that lives inside me.  I’m so very bland.  How could you know about the inner beast that eternally growls to be fed?

Because I’m a writer, I live a large part of life in my head.  Most of the time, it’s not my own life.  I’m dreaming of my characters and the situations they get themselves into.  I’m always writing, even if it’s only in my thoughts.  Stories cook and marinate in my brain soup almost every second of the day.  They come from an overactive imagination, which I have affectionately named the Beast.

The Beast doesn’t run on nothing.  The Beast continually wants experiences to feed on, to add and enrich the stories it conjures up.  It gobbles up everything in its path:  my childhood experiences, my friends, the places I’ve been, the friends and enemies I’ve made.  It watches the world I inhabit, snatching at everything.  Devouring everything.

If we meet, the Beast is eyeing you, wondering how you taste.  Do I find you riveting?  Ridiculous?  Amusing?  The Beast will add you to the brain soup and make you a part of the next tasty tale it spins.  Have I visited your house?  Perhaps it will meet the setting the Beast needs for a scene of murder, a party, or a lover’s tryst.  Did you show me your quirky hobby?  Guess what – the Beast has just decided my newest heroine has that or a similar pastime.

My friends, family, foes...many have shown up in my books.  I have too.  The Beast is a cannibal in its neverending frenzy of gathering people, places, and experiences.  When it runs low on outside ingredients, it turns to me.  It is never sated. 

I am forever watching all that is around me, making note of everything and paying attention.  So when I’m standing apart from the rest of you, watching quietly, don’t write me off as a wallflower.  Don’t think I’m being aloof or anti-social.  I’m very engaged, in fact.  Unlike me, you are fascinating.  You are the perfect food for the Beast.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday's Serving - Lilith's Return

As she ticked off things on her list, putting St. Christopher medals in a hard-shell case next to crystals and voodoo gris-gris bags, Lena walked into the room.  Alex couldn’t help the renewed surge of relief that her daughter looked like her old self.  Thank God she’d suffered no residual effects from Lilith’s possession.

That bitch better stay away from my kid.  I will fuck her up ninety ways to Sunday if she dares to harm one hair on her head. 

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