The Sad and Shocking Truth…

… is that, although I write romance and erotica, I honestly don’t read a lot of either.

Because so much of it is bad.

I know! That’s a terrible thing to say! (Especially for someone in my business.) But here’s how it came about. I was down in Portland (Oregon, not Maine) last weekend, and made the inevitable pilgrimage to Powell’s City of Books. (Don’t know it? You haven’t LIVED until you’ve been there! Hope remains for independent bookstores, yet!) Anyway, as anyone who’s ever been to Powell’s knows, it’s organized by genre. Eagerly I perused the aisles of historical fiction, contemporary fiction, graphic novels, classics brought to the forefront again, even the latest-and-greatest nonfiction on display. At last, my arms full of books, I ventured into the back corner, behind the cafe, where they stash all the romance and erotica.

From the moment I entered, I felt turned off. What met my eyes was shelf upon shelf of waxed, muscular, glowering male torsos (in various states of undress, to indicate their respective settings), swooning maidens, and cringe-worthy titles. (“His Christmas Bride,” anyone?) I did my best to give a couple covers a chance, but the blurbs had me running back. Back, back into the relative safety and dignity – indeed, the superior sexiness – of the other fiction aisles.

So what gives? Why is so much romance and erotica so god-awful bad? Honestly, it bums me out, because a story without sex is like bread without butter for me. (Hence my lackluster appreciation of YA… but that’s for another post.) Also, I know for a fact that there are many excellent erotica and romance writers out there, who do far more with their work than deliver the necessary bump and grind. And yet, romance remains a genre I am hesitant to read – despite my interest and appreciation of its content – because the vast majority is, sadly, unpalatable. (Even more appalling… might I be lumped in with authors of such books? Worse, is my writing just as – gulp – bad?!)

What is a person like me to do? I love sexy books, but I also love GOOD books. They have to be one and the same! And that, alas, is the pickle. Until we readers demand smart, literary erotica that stimulates our minds as well as our tingly bits, Powell’s is going to have to keep that section hidden in the far corner of the cafe. Where few people venture anyway, and with good reason.

It’s here! The last book in the excellent November Snow series!

Those of you who actually read my blog know I am a HUGE fan of A.M. Manay’s November Snow series. I’ve had the great pleasure to read them all, and the frustration of finishing book two – which ends in a nail-biting cliffhanger, by the way. Now, at last, the long-anticipated third book is here! She Marches Through Fire : November Snow book 3.

I’m not a vampire-romance groupie, and usually books about supernatural creatures… well… bore me. There’s so much magic in the real world I’d prefer to sink my teeth into! Therefore it was my delight and surprise to fall utterly in love with A.M. Manay’s characters and story. Despite all their special powers, the fairies, werewolves, demons, and vampires in this series are never one-dimensional. Their world is our own, with all its challenges and joys, its hope and disillusion. It’s rare when an author can blend to much reality into a fantasy tale, but this is it! And the result is something even more rare: a rich, fast-paced, thrilling series that I could not put down.

Please do yourself a favor and buy all three November Snow books today! I’m serious. They’re THAT good.

Getting Inked

Remember that creative slump I mentioned last time? Yeah, I’m still there. It’s a sad, yet comforting place to be. No pressure, just the stories gradually fermenting until they get so bubbly the cork pops off, and I can write again.

In the meantime, good thing I’ve got plenty of finished stories to revisit! Today I’d like to offer my free novel, Major Arcana: Sex, Love, and Tarot, available to read on Inkitt. Remember this one? It was my experimental work from last year: each chapter began by drawing a Tarot card from my own deck, and using that to guide the story. Lots of fun. And I am really pleased with the result. It’s contemporary erotic romance (heavy on the erotic parts, naturally!), set in my lovable hometown of Seattle, and featuring a diverse cast of characters. Oh, did I mention it’s free? Yeah, so go get on Inkitt and read it now!

What’s Inkitt, you say? Well, I heard of it from indie author/publisher/editor extraordinaire, Ms. Eeva Lancaster.It’s like Wattpad in that authors post their work, either in progress or complete, and readers can peruse, glance, or read for free. Unlike Wattpad, Inkitt offers the possibility of a publishing contract. For authors, it can be a great way to preview your work, see how readers respond to it – and maybe even get offered a publisher in the bargain. For readers, it’s a chance to get first looks at new indie stories and novels from all genres (Yes! Erotica is allowed! Hooray for dirty words and graphic sex scenes! No need to curtail your content, as Wattpad requires). So far, I’m enjoying it.

So whether you’re new or an old Inkitt fan, check out my free novel there. The cards lead in mysterious directions… and all of them somehow involve our valiant protagonist in all sorts of sexy-romantic situations.

Major Arcana: sex, love, and Tarot

Rosemary has just been dumped. Again.

Everything in her life seems stuck in a rut: work, family, romance, not to mention her sex life. In desperation, she takes her sister’s advice and begins a journey of self-realization with a deck of Tarot cards. That decision is what changes everything.

Guided by the Tarot, she soon finds herself making decisions she’d never considered before. With two attractive men vying for her attentions – and her body – Rosemary is forced to reconsider what she truly wants, and how far she’ll to go to get it.

Set in the artsy, quirky scene of Seattle, Major Arcana offers a glimpse into the power of the self, the diversity of erotic experience, and the joys, agonies, and risks of love.

First Sexy Books – remembering your literary first time

If you don’t already follow SexScribbler on WordPress, you should! Not only is she an amazing writer, she also reveals these bits and pieces that remind me we are never alone. Not now, in our over-connected world, and not ever. Who doesn’t remember the first time they discovered sex in a book? I certainly do… it’s one of those memories that will stay with me forever.

Mine was a surprise. I was a huge horse girl – one of those who preferred horses to boys all through puberty (and with good reason, considering the quality of the boys at the time… men, like wine, are better aged). Anyway, I volunteered at the school library, and as it was a K-12 school there were books at all levels. As I was reshelving some high schooler’s novel, I came across the evocatively-titled The Valley of Horses, by Jean M. Auel. Of course I grabbed it, and therein discovered not only a fabulously feminist version of prehistory, but also enough smoldering sex scenes to blow my little thirteen-year-old mind. Needless to say, I eagerly read through the rest of the series, and the rest is history.

***

My first experiences of sex were in the pages of books. I was an avid reader growing up and one day it dawned on me that not only could I find adventure and romance in books but there was sex too! …

Source: First Sexy Books

I’ve got the cow – so have some milk for free!

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Missed the giveaway? Never fear! You can still buy it here! (Wow, I must be in a rhyming mood…)

First of all, congratulations to the eight lucky winners of my Goodreads giveaway! I’ll be mailing out free signed copies of An Amazon’s Equal later this week, along with my usual plea to kindly read and leave a review. You know how much those mean to us indie authors!

Now, a lot of people are totally against giving anything away. In a way, they’re right: all work has value, and people should be paid a fair wage for whatever work they do. When it comes to creative arts, though, there is a sticky question: What is the value of art?

Art vendors put price tags on it all the time, but does that truly make one work more or less intrinsically valuable than another? If I happen to LOVE the $10 painting, and think the $1000 painting is only ho-hum, then it’s clear which one has more value to ME. (Whether or not the art experts agree is neither here nor there.)

I do consider myself an artist. Like most artists, I have a day job – which everybody else calls a “career” – and I invest most of my time and energy into it. However, writing and imagination is an essential part of who I am. What I produce is, therefore, art, for art’s sake, not for any hope of material gain. (Of course, I do love it when people purchase my work! And yes, it IS work, and I feel I should be paid for it, just like all other types of creators.) But…

Sometimes I just want to milk that creativity cow and give away glasses of that warm, frothy, creamy fresh drink for free!

Hence the Goodreads giveaway. 🙂 Also, did you know that two of my earliest works – One Night to Tango and Taking The Reins – are always, absolutely, 100% free to read? Grab ’em here if you’d like to have a taste before you actually buy the rest of the creamery’s fine dairy products. 😉

Okay, that’s enough milk metaphors for today. Anyway, enjoy!

tango cover (804x1024)One Night To Tango  :  Meet Esme, a shy wallflower who releases her inner seductress with a dark and handsome masked stranger. He quickly sweeps her off the dance floor, through the parking lot, and up against a chain-link fence… where a whole new kind of dancing ensues. Sensual and satisfying!

cowboy cover NEWTaking The Reins  :  The local horse show seriously steams up with the arrival of a sexy cowboy. Sparks fly. Hands touch. Pants start feeling way too tight. Belt buckles are strained. Perfect for the horse-loving girl and the cowboy-loving woman; it’s all the butterflies of a first date, with the rough-and-ready action of a truck fuck!

A Guest Post From Author Lizzie Chantree!

As many of you know, I’m a recent member of Rave Reviews Book Club. As an indie author, I am always on the lookout for new ways to connect with readers, and fellow writers. This week I am delighted to share a guest post from Lizzie Chantee, a fellow member of the RRBC. She’s highlighting her latest novel, a modern fantasy/romance called Finding Gina. Check it out!

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Weird writing habits

by Lizzie Chantree

I sometimes wonder if other authors have weird writing habits. Do you? I know I do! I love to write on A4, green, lined exercise books, with a beautiful pen my husband gave to me for my birthday. It has my name inscribed on it and is so comfortable to write with. I also have a small cabinet next to my desk in my studio, which is where I keep my bubblegum drawer, (don’t tell my children!) I love bubblegum.

Some authors, like Mark Twain , George Orwell and Marcel Proust, have been know to lie down to find writing inspiration. Others set word count targets, write on index cards, use a certain colour of ink like Lewis Carroll, walk around, colour code notes, or compose poetry in their head whilst on horseback, like Sir Walter Scott. This does make my bubblegum drawer seem rather tame, but as I’m a tad clumsy, it probably best I keep both feet on the ground!

With my most recent novel, Finding Gina, I hand wrote the original manuscript in A4 books and now it has been published, I can’t wait to unwrap a new exercise book and begin the whole process over again.

Excerpt from Finding Gina:

‘Sorry!’ apologised the woman, eyeing the handsome man on her doorstep. ‘We had the music on and didn’t realise you were here. This little munchkin heard the door and got to it before I could stop her. So much for all of the stranger danger talks I have given her.’ She raised her eyes to heaven in exasperation and sat the wriggling child on her hip with a stern look, which made the sides of the girl’s mouth wobble in uncertainty and her eyes become wary, when she realised she had done something wrong. Her mother gave her a swift kiss on the top of her curly head and lowered her to the ground in the hallway. ‘I’m hoping you are Lewis?’ she said jovially, beckoning him to follow her into the open plan lounge and kitchen at the back of the house. ‘I’m Hannah.’

‘I am,’ smiled Lewis, winking at the child as she tried to hide behind her mother’s legs, before darting off into the garden with the biggest dog Lewis had ever seen. ‘I really appreciate you taking the time to see me.’

‘I was curious to see if you could find her,’ she said simply, casting a glance at her child who was trying to dress the poor dog up as Cinderella.

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Find out more on the book’s Amazon page!

Follow Lizzie Chantree on Social Media:

Twitter handle: @Lizzie_Chantree

Facebook address: https://www.facebook.com/lizziechantree/

Website address: https://www.writewithsydney.co.uk

Any additional means of contact: Blog: https://www.lizziechantree.com

Raising the Writing Bar

One thing about eBooks is they’re relatively cheap, enabling one to read a greater volume of books for one’s proverbial dollar. (Or rather, the proverbial $2.99) This I have rediscovered while enjoying the amazing selection on Smashwords – all sorts of fun genres, which I am setting myself to read and honestly review. (Being a naturally positive person, I haven’t yet left anything less than 3 stars, which I think is the bare minimum of respect for someone’s hard work.) However, reading work from a variety of authors, both self-published and traditionally published, has reminded me that writing is truly a craft. No matter how interesting your concept, how engaging the characters, or how dirty your erotic fantasy, you have to write well!

What this means to me is an author must, first and foremost, be a writer. There is no excuse for lazy writing. If it sounds like the story you wrote in high school, I guarantee you it is bad. If you find yourself reusing the same words or sentence structure, it is also bad. And please, please don’t end every sentence in a preposition. I could go on, but there’s really no need to. (Curious about how to write and edit well? Check out these fabulous guidelines from eXcessica! They also publish hot erotica. Worth a visit!) Basically I feel frustration as a reader when I find great ideas – and published stories – that are not good writing. It bums me out.

Here’s the deal: self-publishing is a rather arrogant business. In this world, you’d better be able to walk your talk. That includes knowing how to write well. Join writers’ groups. Read your work out loud. Take a creative writing class. There are plenty of possibilities. Just have full confidence that you are a writer, before you decide to be a published author.

Of course, the absolute best way to get better at writing is to read. And don’t read crap; read great writing. (Having chugged through more than my fair share of New York Times bestsellers, I can say that generally speaking, these are not the world’s best writing. With a few notable exceptions, of course. Mostly, leave those on the shelf.) Go in search of authors known for their craft. Study it; read as a writer – take note of perfect turns of phrase, masterful characterizations, story structure. Write these down somewhere, so you can be reminded. Compare your work to that of these masters, and be honest with yourself. The best writers are voracious readers, and they read excellent books. I love finding unknown authors, rediscovering treasured classics, and losing myself in a perfectly written page. Reading books like these makes me a better writer.

Long ago (like, when I was a teenager; THAT long ago) I went to a talk by one of my favorite YA authors, Tamora Pierce. She had lots of great advice for me. (Read more of it here, on my previous post about keeping your day job) My friend loved her first series, the Alanna books, the best, so she eagerly listened to Tamara’s response to someone’s question: “Which is your favorite book that you wrote?” Tamara quite ruthlessly said her favorite book is always the one most recently published, thus crushing my friend’s hopes. However, Tamara went on to explain that she always preferred her latest book because she is constantly working to improve her craft. Each new book represents years of hard work, grueling days of editing, striving to perfect, improve, and grow. This makes total sense to me now. My latest story must be my favorite – though I’ll always have a soft spot for certain older works – because the newest work represents my growth as a writer.

Working together, fellow self-published authors, we must raise the bar. No more lazy writing! Work the craft; hone it. Make each new story your best yet. Reread, go back, edit, make changes. We can – and we must – produce work we can be truly proud of. We owe it to our readers, and to ourselves as well.

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.

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!