The Joy of Editing

So last night I finished my final edit of my latest novella, Sheba’s Lovely Maidens. It’s the next installment of my “Ancient” series, inspired this time by a brief story in the Bible that tells of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon’s court. Intrigued, I linked this historical tidbit to the Bible chapter “Song of Songs”… lots of flowery language, and plenty of mystery. Good stuff.

That’s not why I’m blogging today, though. Today I want to talk about editing! First of all, I have to say that I am not a professional editor. (I have hired one before, and she did a lovely job, but mostly they complimented all the work I had done already with my self-editing. So for my short erotic pieces, I have opted to edit my own stuff. Any mistakes are mine alone!) Now, good editing is essential to producing a finished, readable, professional-quality piece of writing. As an independent publisher – and, I guess, independent editor too – it is an essential component of the writing process.

The most important thing, I find, is to take a break from my work. When I finish a story my blood is racing, I’m bubbling with excitement, and everything seems rosy. This is NOT a good time to critique my writing! So I put the finished piece aside and dive into something new, until I cool down. Ideally, this is long enough that I’ve forgotten enough that to read the finished story is like encountering it anew (for me, this is between 2 weeks and a month). Then, when I see the work again, it is separated from the emotional attachment I felt before. Editing is a skill, but also a state of mind.

Here are the editing steps I have found most helpful:

  1. Read it again. Yes, and then again. AT LEAST two times over in its entirety (and of course, throughout the writing process you were rereading it piecemeal, right?)
  2. Read it aloud. If a sentence or paragraph feels awkward, just read it out loud. Your ear will tell you when a word is off, or where there needs to be a break for punctuation.
  3. Print it out, and read it from the page. Seriously, this changes your outlook entirely. Even if you only intend to publish digitally, do this step! Errors stand out more on a printed page, and that makes them easier to catch. (Also, then you can write all over it in red pen. Who doesn’t love doing that?)

All these steps are free and truly make a difference. Self-editing CAN be successful, if you invest the same amount of time and effort in it as you do for your writing. I have come to enjoy editing almost as much as creating stories, because editing is what brings them into full maturity. It’s a responsibility to your readers to produce the best possible quality of work.

Now, we all have our little whoopsies. Typos happen; spellcheck sometimes makes weird auto-corrections, and yes, the occasional “the” or “a” slips in where it shouldn’t be. (These happen even in big-money published work, too; always a shock to find a typo in a mass market paperback, but they’re there, all right!) However, there are a few things that really get to me. So here, for all to see, are Fionna’s Horror-Inducing Pet Peeves Of Writing!

(I don’t blame you if you stop reading now, but I just have to get these out there. Especially since I have come across them recently in published work, and they just give me the twitches)

Biggest Peeve: There, They’re, Their

  • Okay, this one really bugs me. These are three completely different words that just happen to sound the same and look similar. Please, PLEASE use them correctly!
    • There” is a place or direction (Ex: There goes a hot air balloon! Let’s have lunch there today.)
    • They’re” is describing “them,” they are either doing something or being a certain way (Ex: They’re awesome editors. They’re editing up a storm.)
    • Their” is a possessive; something that belongs to “them” (Ex: Their baby rabbit made a mess on the carpet.)

Big Peeve: Affect vs. Effect

  • Affect” is a verb (ex: Good editing will affect your writing in a positive way.)
  • Effect” is a noun (ex: Editing has a positive effect on your writing.)

Medium Peeve: its vs. it’s; your you’re

  • Another dangerous one!
    • Its” is something that it possesses; your is what you possess (Ex: The rabbit nibbled its carrot. Your hair is a mess.)
    • It’s” describes some way that it is; you’re is short for “you are” (Ex: It’s a hot day outside. You’re going to want to read that dictionary first…)

I guess those are really my only huge peeves. Anyway, editing counts! (Now, how embarrassing would it be if I had a bunch of weird typos in this blog post….?)

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An Enduring Love of Paper

I finally did it. This may shock many people, considering how behind the times it seems. Those who know me in “real life” understand that, actually, I can be irrationally old-fashioned. (Hey, it’s charming!) However, being an author and e-publisher, I really should have got with the program by now, if only in solidarity. Yet it took me years and years before I finally gave in to the inevitable.

Yesterday, at long last, I gave in. I bought a Kindle.

At this point you are thinking one of two things: a) It’s about time! What the hell was wrong with you, that it took you this long to get an essential piece of reading technology?! or b) So what?

I bought it for the same reason many people have, for convenience. It will be so lovely to just have my Kindle, stocked with all the stories I could want, long and short. I’ll just be able to curl up somewhere and read them in any order I like, or take them traveling with me, or at the bus stop. I’m especially glad to have it for short stories, because those are so inconvenient in printed form, and the computer, after a while, does hurt my eyes. No doubt, the Kindle will transform my reading life and make it both more diverse and more agreeable.

And yet.

Way back in the nineties, when Disney’s Beauty and the Beast came out, I was one of those girls who gasped with delight (along with Beauty) when the castle library was revealed. Shelves and shelves, all the way to the ceiling, stacked with books of every color, size, and type. How I longed to be there, surrounded by all those beautiful tomes! That was the moment, really, that Beauty began to fall in love with the Beast…as did all the rest of us wistful readers.

The public library has always been a place of wonder and magic. So have used bookstores. I love holding books in my hands, feeling the texture of the paper, enjoying the freedom of browsing. When I took books home, I amused myself by imagining all the other hands that might have held it, and dreaming of how other people may have felt when reading the very same book. That textural history, the fact that these treasures had come into my hands from someone else’s – who knows how many! – and that somewhere, I was sharing the experience of reading it with a stranger, was fascinating to me. I still love those places, and imagining the people who loved the books before me.

When I lived abroad, books were my consolation and my addiction. The house we shared had an enormous library (not quite as fancy as Beauty’s, but pretty damn nice), with books of all varieties. I read voraciously. I filled my arms with books, carried them heavily as I walked, and took them to my lonely apartment. There, I devoured them, turning pages in near-desperation as my mind swirled in imaginary worlds. I kept a stack of them on my dresser, promises and hopes to keep me going for another couple weeks, before returning to the library to restock. It was not easy to transport so much heavy paper back and forth, but for me it was worth it. Nothing felt so satisfying at the time as a backpack loaded with fresh books. I welcomed the ache and the weight of it on my shoulders; I felt I earned the joy of reading them, through my commitment to them. At the time, I needed this. And only books gave it to me.

I will never be so young and lonely again (if only because – thank goodness – I’m no longer 21), but I will always have memories of that time, and the books that were my companions. There is more to it than that, though.

My love of paper goes even beyond my own personal memories. In Paris, I ended up in a shop specializing in rare antique books. Because of a family connection with the owner, he sat me down and showed me some of his treasures. Into my hands he placed a small, leather-bound volume. A book of prayers. A woman’s signature was scrawled on the front page.
It had belonged to Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scots, who for a short time had also been dauphine of France. I held that book in my hands, reflecting that in 1500-something Mary herself had held it, had run her fingers over the pages. Overwhelmed by history, and the suddenly physical link I had with that doomed queen of long ago, I regarded that book as something close to magical.

Books aren’t magic, of course. But like all objects of personal importance, books retain some of the essence of their past lovers. (As do we all…) Paper can be touched and folded, smeared and creased, written on, stored, revived, and passed on. Paper has a long past, and a future. For a sensual person, there is no substitute. For a person who treasures connections with the past, and hopes to provide such for future readers, it is essential. Paper books have souls and histories unique to each. Paper books can fill library shelves, tumble down, lean against one another. They are a feast.

And so, although I am looking forward to receiving my Kindle and buying books for it, I will never give up my enduring love of paper. If I read a book and love it, I will always buy a printed copy, and tuck it into my ever-growing library like the masterpiece it is. Paper books are the physical manifestation of my passion. No matter how many e-books I read, or how much I type on my computer, I will never give them up. There is no true replacement for the joy, the feeling, the scent and weight and mystery, of holding a true book in your hands.

The book I wish I’d read in college

So I graduated from college a rather long time ago, but time is relative, and I still remember well how I looked, felt, and reacted back then. Without giving away too much of my not-so-sordid history, suffice it to say that in college I was on a mission to get a good education in every way: academically, of course, but also socially in doing everything (and everyone) I wanted to do. Like most college girls, this involved a lot of romantic and sexual disappointments. (Let’s just say that, in my opinion, men are like red wine, not white; you want to enjoy them aged.) Anyway, those many years ago I decided to treat myself after each of the oh-so-common breakups. And my treat was romance novels.

Now, when I read a romance novel, I’m looking for romance, of course. But mostly I’m in the market for sex. At the time, I didn’t know about erotica, or how to find it – oh, poor innocent! – so I was pretty much stuck with the paperback shelf at Barnes & Noble. (Yes, as I said, this was quite some time ago.) Due to the nature of college relationships, I ended up reading quite a few romance novels. But the vast majority of them left me unsatisfied. My complaints:

  1. Not enough sex. Pretty straightforward.
  2. Most of the time, it involved a virginal girl who is gradually subdued by a much more experienced man. Not a bad thing at all, except when it happens again, and again, and again, to the point of the predictable.

Being an even more ardent feminist in college than I am now (and I am still), this infuriated me. Why, I thought, are there no romance novel where the more experienced woman shows the man a thing or two? Why does the virginal girl always get to have all the fun? And why aren’t there more sex scenes?! (In response to that frustration, I started writing erotica. And I still do, so don’t ever let anybody tell you that I don’t use any of what I learned in college! Worth every penny.)

All this to say, after my disappointments with romantic literature as a young woman, I began to write my own. I wanted a story that had the elements of a romance novel, but with a strong and sexually experience heroine, and a story line that, while developing a romance, mostly revolves around sex. I was also something of a fantasy geek at the time, which helped me build a fantastic setting: a historical fantasy universe where the mythical Amazons of ancient Greece did, in fact, exist. The society they built would naturally be centered on women, but how would they reproduce? How would they manage things? How would they defend their lifestyle? And what about love? All these questions were the basis of An Amazon’s Equal.

I wrote it, began to hate it, abandoned it, came back to it years later, finished it, started to like it again, re-read and changed it, and finally decided it was good. You know, the usual writer’s process. But I struggled to find a place for it. It’s not strictly erotica, being a full-length novel. It’s not the typical romance novel, either (Harlequin wouldn’t touch this with a ten-foot pole!). Also, as it was born of the feelings and desires of my college years, it is not the kind of book that would necessarily attract an older audience. So, what is it? I pondered and put the book on ice while I did some more research. Then, by chance, I stumbled across it: New Adult!

New Adult is a fairly new genre focusing on protagonists between the ages of 18-25-ish. The events and situations are meant to appeal to readers in this age bracket, as well; think about yourself in college, and what kinds of books attracted you then. (I’m imaging myself at the 24-hour cafe, drinking far too many chai tea lattes while voraciously finishing the latest book…) Another way to think about it is as Young Adult, but now of legal drinking age. Yes, New Adult Romance is a thing, and this, I discovered to my delight, is where my book belongs.

Another long story to explain my decisions and, I hope, my writing choices for this novel. Although I’m all grown up now (more or less), it’s fun to relive those college days. If you’re in the mood for a sexy stroll down memory lane – or if you’re still in college and in the mood for a fantasy romance that promises lots more than ye olde grocery store bookshelf – I invite you to check it out.

Girls with swords and the guys who love them: good at any age!

An Amazon’s Equal

NEW amazon cover jpg 2

Going book shopping

I was hanging out on Smashwords this afternoon, watching the ever-growing list of newly released e-books (most of which – ahem – are at least one dollar more expensive than my high-quality 99 cent collection. Just sayin’.) when I had a horrible realization. Yes, it was a shock to be hit with, but so true: I realized I’ve been so focused on my writing lately that I have become a not-so-great reader. Egads! How terrible! Reading has always been a huge part of my identity. I am a voracious reader, and for two years when I lived on the far side of the world where electricity is not such a reliable thing, reading quite certainly saved my sanity. Also, reading erotica is hot. So I should do more of that.

Here’s my fresh decision: I will support my fellow indie authors by buying, reading, and reviewing their work, just as I see them doing for mine. You rub my back, I’ll rub your…whatever. And sometimes I’ll just give our free back rubs. Because everybody loves back rubs!

In case you are curious, here are my personal rules for reviewing:

  1. Only review it if I have read the whole thing. This seems like a no-brainer, but considering some of the inane reviews out there, I’m pretty sure some people spew their opinion before finishing the book. Or maybe they just didn’t read the blurb carefully enough. In any case, that’s annoying; don’t review it unless you’ve read it. Pretty elementary, folks.
  2. Give a truly honest review. I admit, I have high standards for writing – my own and other authors included. Sometimes I read some of my older work and say, damn, that sucks. But I can fix it! Then I do, and sometimes I make it not suck anymore, and other times I just throw up my hands and throw in the towel. It happens. In any case, I believe in honest reviews. Otherwise, what’s the point? Which leads me to –
  3. Only leave a review if it’s 3 stars or higher. I am not one of those people who believes in the power of negativity. Nope, I am a proud optimist, and as such I like to live in the world of the positive. Really, who are these people who go around leaving one-and-two star reviews? That’s, like, D’s and F’s on report cards, even though you know the student worked hard. If you hated the book so much, then why did you even finish it? (Which relates back to point number 1. I’ve attempted to read some pretty awful books in my time, but a couple of years ago I decided life is just too short to waste on bad writing. Without shame, I now send the really bad ones to Goodwill – but I don’t review them, because I couldn’t bring myself to finish them, and that wouldn’t be fair. Makes sense, right?) Anyhow, nobody likes a Debbie Downer, so leave your one-and-two-star reviews in your head, and find a book you like better. Just like your mom always told you: “If you can’t think of something nice to say, better to say nothing at all!” Another easy rule to follow, right?

So there they are! Fionna’s three rules for reviewing! Stay tuned, because I’ll be reading and writing up a storm these days. Hope you all enjoy!

Sexy enough to censure….? It seems so!

I had my first experience with censorship last week – lucky me! Astonishingly, it wasn’t about the content of my writing (as an author of erotica for sophisticated readers, I tend towards the kind of story that your average hot grandma would appreciate! Then again, maybe that’s not true; each lady has her tastes, after all, and I don’t want to throw anyone’s granny into my basket! In any case, nothing to concern those who seek to limit the really kinky stuff; got to write what I like and what I fantasize about, and in truth, I’m more of a vanilla sundae kind of lady). No, it was related to my cover art.

Now I consider myself to be a rather sophisticated person when it comes to art. Vain, I know, but I do love the classical stuff: plump nude Venuses reclining on silken coverlets, virile Greek soldiers posing without a stitch of armor on, and the like. More modern work appeals to me, too; particularly the stunningly sensual sculptures of Rodin (don’t know him? You should! Check some of it out here, at the Musee Rodin). While I hardly lump myself in with such exceptional artists, it suffices to say that I am an admirer of the human body, male and female, in all its beauty and diversity. To me, a naked person can be sexually exciting, of course – especially when it happens to be of the male and muscular type – but mostly, it’s just art.

Leading me to the censorship. I designed a cover I really liked for my latest published work, The Girl with the Golden Eye. If you read the story, you’ll understand the context for it, but basically she is naked, in profile, with one breast visible. And, being a breast, it includes a nipple. Now here’s what bothers me: men and women both have nipples; it’s one of the many delightful body parts we have in common. Men’s and women’s nipples both vary in size, shape, and color, and both can be either soft or hard, depending on the temperature and/or level of arousal. However, men’s nipples – whatever their state of the moment – have been designated by the powers-that-be to be an acceptable body part for public display (which, I learned, includes erotica covers). Whereas women’s nipples – though they are in every way the same as a man’s – are Big Bad Sexually Explicit territory. Why? Why should a woman’s nipples be considered “inappropriate,” when a man’s aren’t? Do we really get more turned on by a nice pair of female breasts than a hard, toned, deliciously muscular male chest (with just a sprinkling of hair, for my taste, and that beautiful line of muscle leading down… but now I’m getting distracted).?

In a more personal vein, I’ve made one cover showing a naked man with everything on display – only protected from indecency by a strategically places champagne bottle – and censorship didn’t make a peep. Now, with an artistic female nude in profile, they’re freaking out – because of her nipple.

I mulled it over, and as much as it bothers me, I’ve caved in to societal pressure and redesigned the cover to be more acceptable to the majority of easily excited viewers. However, this grates on me, as an artist and as a woman. Until our bodies are seen as normal, correct, and neither more nor less erotic than a man’s, we have a long way yet to go.

And because my blog is not censored by the authorities (at least, not yet!) I will take a stand here to show you my two mostly-nude covers, side by side. What do you think? Which one is really more suggestive? To you, dear readers, to decide:

goldeneye     Her BDay Brding