BAM! 3 new releases out today!

Yes! The day has come! If you pre-orderd, you are now no doubt enjoying (at least, I hope you’re enjoying it!) one of my brand new, just-released, fresh-off-the-press erotica stories. Two fairy tales and one sort of sexual travelogue… yeah, I’m a bit all over the place these days. But I’m happy with the result.

Now, if you DIDN’T pre-order, you’re still good, because today’s the day they’re all three on sale at our favorite little small-town bookshop, Amazon.com. I think Senegal Beach and The Seal Wife are some of my best work yet…. and Little Big Man & The Rani makes me laugh. (And we all know laughing is sexy!) If you’re curious — and you know you are — check them out!

Senegal Beach — a young Peace Corps volunteer confronts her prejudices. Culture shock can be sexy!

The Seal Wife — a lonely Irish fisherman, a legendary creature; an erotic fairy tale tragedy.

Little Big Man & The Rani — doomed to death if she does not spin straw into gold, Shivangi is willing to bargain with everything she has…

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Why I don’t write children’s books

I recently did a spotlight interview on the ASPA blog on children’s literature. It was wonderful to hear about authors’ various experiences with writing and reading children’s books. This is an admirable genre, and a source of some of the finest stories in history. (Was ever a story of friendship more moving, or more real, than Charlotte’s Web?) Now, I myself am an admirer of kids’ books. I read them every day at work, in fact. Books for children deal with real issues, big questions, and tough history, and they do it with incredible grace and skill.

(Take a look at: Spotlight on Children’s Literature)

However, I will never write children’s books.

The reason is that, for many years now, I have been hyper-aware of my sexuality. Sex is everywhere I look; always just a thought away, and my brain keeps picking up on those signals – intentional or not – that scatter the world. No longer can I look at my environment with the innocent eyes of a child. My dirty mind is too busy figuring out what’s sexiest about it.

For example, if looking at a dining room table, my first thought might be: “Oh, I like the wood of this!” and my next thought, right at its heels, would add, “And it’s just the right height to bend over on top of… or sit on, and he’d have the perfect angle.” (By the way, never purchase a table unless it is the perfect height for standing sex! You’ll thank me later ūüôā )

Walking around, I cannot help checking out guys I pass. Doesn’t matter how good looking they are, really (although, I admit, I avert my eyes from absolute toads). I’ll do the quick eye-sweep — you know the one — and make sure I get a good (yet discreet!) glance at his package. Just let myself wonder what he might be like in bed, if he’d be dominating or lazy, how he would kiss. Sure makes a trip to the grocery store more interesting if I get to check out the cute ass of the guy in front of me.

Same thing for women: if she has a striking figure, or some other standout feature, she will always catch my eye. I notice the curve of a hip or jiggle of a breast, and think about how erotic that is, how sensual a woman’s body can be. Great fodder for my stories, to say the least.

In short, you won’t see me writing books for children anytime soon. However much I may admire them, I can no longer separate my sexual being from my storytelling, or my worldview.

Elizabeth Bennet Syndrome

So I’ve been reading a lot of romance novels lately – what a surprise! And something struck me. Not for the first time, but for some reason I felt the need to define it, and respond to it. I call it: The Elizabeth Bennet Syndrome.

Here’s what it is (and you’ll surely recognize this plot point right away): that typical – almost expected – part of a romance novel, when the two main characters are just getting to know each other. And instead of hitting it off, they actually start out disliking the other. Sometimes mere annoyance or discomfort due to unfulfilled sexual tension, but often full-on “I can’t stand you” confrontations. Yes, just like Lizzie Bennet and her hate/love relationship with the inimitable Mr. Darcy, of Pride & Prejudice fame.

darcy-and-elizabeth-e1313521962809
The smoldering eyes, the sexual tension, the money… Of course, it takes several dramatic hours before the actually smile at one another! ¬†(And before you speak, there IS no other version than the BBC one. Don’t mention that recent movie they made – not a candle to it!)

When Jane Austen does this, it works beautifully because (as we learn throughout the course of the story), Lizzie and Darcy really are a great match for each other, but this only comes about through communication, gradual understanding, and seeing Darcy in a clingy white shirt after a hot&sexy swim in his (huge, rich) mansion’s pond. However, honestly, even when reading the original Pride & Prejudice, Darcy & Elizabeth’s relationship is not my favorite. No, I’m a fan of Bingley and Jane.

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So good together!

In stark contrast to her sister, Jane Bennet falls for Mr. Bingley, the all-around nice guy. (Not as rich as his friend, incidentally, but sufficiently well off for a practical Regency gal). Jane and Bingley are instantly attracted to one another, not merely physically, but also because they have similar, complimentary personalities and worldviews. Basically, they are a perfect match.

So why do we swoon for the Darcy’s of the world, and not the Bingley’s? Why do so many romance novels have characters who dislike each other in the beginning, and then¬†fall in love? Why not fall for the nice guy first?

Part of it, I think, is the idea that the more “tension” you have in your relationship, the more passionate it is. Darcy and Lizzie argue, which leads us to envision bedroom delights of the tie-up-throw-down variety. (You know, the fun kind!) Whereas happy, easygoing Jane & Bingley don’t demonstrate that outward confrontation. Sex is a game and a battle; who’s on top, who’s setting¬†the rhythm; who climaxes first; who yells and who thrashes. It’s all about control and submission, just like an argument, really.

The problem I have is how this translates to expectations, in literature and in the real world. As authors, we are taught that stories must have conflict. So when writing romance, naturally it is tempting to pit the protagonists against one another, only to bring them together in a blaze of exploding hormones later on. I get it; tension is hot, it gets the pulse going, it keeps you turning the pages, wondering how they will end up together. The less they like one another in the beginning, the more dramatic their eventual relationship seems on the page.

But life is not really like that. From personal experience, I can tell you that usually, the guy you don’t like at first is actually a guy you will not like, ever. Probably, he’s a jerk. Maybe controlling, maybe just has personal issues, or someone you don’t click with for whatever reason. That does not make the sex better. (The opposite is often true, in fact; those guys can be selfish in bed, and I don’t care how much erotic tension there is between you, if he’s crap in the sack, he’s not worth your time!) On the other side of the coin, couples who just seem to get along and be cool together can have awesome, passionate, kinky sex lives. True relationships are built on respect and communication. So is great sex. (We don’t read about it, but I bet sweet Mr. Bingley has some unexpected tricks up his perfectly tailored sleeves… lucky Jane!)

We need to see more of that represented in literature and film. Not only because it’s true – and I like to seek truth in fiction – but also because it’s way more interesting than retelling Elizabeth Bennet’s story. That’s been done over and over again. And seriously folks, Jane Austen already did it best.

A mystery from the grave

Sometimes stories emerge from the merest whisper of a thought. How many of us have built a whole story around the refrain of a song, a particular setting, a stranger glimpsed on the bus? How many of us have grabbed hold of a fragile, timid idea, and taken it for a ride? Or, rather, let it take us for a ride; since all authors know our stories tell themselves. We are merely the vessels through which they travel.

I know that, like a parent, I really shouldn’t have favorite stories. However,¬†I feel special affection for this one. It bloomed from the desert, survived many years of writers’ block, abandonment, and revision, and emerged into a beautiful romance. Though I have no proof that they actually lived, the characters in this story resonate with me. I hope they truly existed as I imagine them, and that¬†their lives had a happy ending.

(Sources are listed at the end. Click on any image to link to its source page.)

 

***

The History

The Girl with the Golden Eye, unlike all my other “Ancients” stories, was inspired by an actual news article. I read it long ago, way back in college; probably stumbled upon it while avoiding my textbooks. (Here it is, exactly as I read it then, in the Digital Journal)

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The skeleton lying in her grave. See the eye tucked into its socket Рnot so golden now, but still striking.

To paraphrase the article: on the Iran/Afghan border, in 2007 or so, archaeologists discovered the tomb of an ancient woman. She was buried about 5,000 years ago. They guessed she was about 25-30 years old at the time of death; not bad for a woman of her time. However, a few details made her stand out from other graves of the period:

  • First, she was a strikingly tall woman. Nearly six feet! Women of our time rarely grow this tall, and generally people of the past were much shorter, men and women both. (This immediately got my writer’s brain churning, wondering how she would have felt to be so tall, unlike everyone else around her…)
  • Second, she was buried with an ornate hand mirror made of bronze. (Where did she get it? Why was it so important to be buried with her?)

    eye closeup
    A closeup of the design. Notice the lines coming out from the center, and the hole bored in the edge for a fastening string.
  • Third – and most interesting – in one eye socket she wore a golden ball. Carved with lines flowing from a circle, like a sun with rays of light, it was made of some kind of paste and painted gold. A hole was bored through it, permitting it to be attached with a string. Impressions in the eye socket also suggest that she actually wore it in life, not just in death. (At this point my mind was racing. An exceptionally tall women with a golden eye? The character just appeared fully grown, like that! But then I started thinking… what would her job have been? How did she use her eye? And how did she get it in the first place? So many wonderful historical questions – that will forever remain unanswered, except through imagination…)

According to the article, archaeologists assumed she must have been some kind of priestess or soothsayer, perhaps using her shining eyeball to see into the future. In any case, she would have been a shocking character, and surely unique in her community.

The Mystery

overview picHonestly, the rest is all mystery. My questions in italics weren’t answered, of course, and no amount of Google searching will make them appear. 5,000 years was a long freakin’ time ago; we’ll never know for sure, now, the truth of everything from way back then. We will just have to take this small, mysterious discovery and pack it away with all the other unanswered questions.

Except as an author I can’t stand for that! This character appeared, captured my attention, and demanded to be released. So I let her out.

Her story begins with¬†a timid young girl, scarred by violence in an uncertain and dangerous time. Without a protector, or family, or friends to help her, she must grow into an independent woman. Like anyone in such a dismal situation, our ancient heroine must trudge through life alone… until she discovers the secret of her magic.

goldeneye cover SMASH
…a woman whose future sight is only opened through orgasm – leaving thought behind, opening the spirit to another level of truth…

Magic sight – future sight – released by her pleasure, in the moment where the brain gives way to the raptures of the body, and conscious thought cedes place to instinct. The third eye opens; the eye she no longer possesses, sees again. She is a seeress. A prophetess. A feared and powerful priestess. But she is no longer a woman; not for them.

Until a chance for love comes into her life. For her to grasp, or lose. Either way, she cannot escape her fate – nor he his.

artone
Another artist’s rendition. What a woman she must have been!

This is one of my favorite couples; I feel like they revealed themselves to me, rather than me creating them. I hope you will take the opportunity to get to know them through my story; and maybe find one of your own.

After all, with a mystery this ancient, only fiction can approach the truth.

***

Sources
http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/123458
http://www.sott.net/article/242244-5000-Year-Old-Golden-Eye-Found-on-Iran-Afghan-Border
http://www.crystalinks.com/persiangoldeneye.html
themarysue.tumblr.com/post/68888482967/kitsunecoffee-beecharts-fangirequeen

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.

Why Sex Doesn’t Sell

There’s that old advertising adage we’ve all heard several thousand times before: sex sells. You know what I mean. Let’s say somebody has to market toothpaste, so they whip up an ad with a gorgeous bikini-clad woman lounging on a beach in the Bahamas, with an enormous pink umbrella drink and a frighteningly large, white smile. Buy our toothpaste! The implication being, if babes like this brush their teeth with our brand, then you should too – because then you will become/get with¬†a similar babe.

Of course we all know that’s bullshit. Nobody ever had their life changed because of their choice of toothpaste brand. (Dental care, now, that is another story!) Also, I can’t be the only person who finds these sorts of ads ridiculous. They are so common, it’s not even worth me finding links to pages and pages of them. Just do a quick search and you will find more of this crappy advertising than your brain can handle. (Incidentally, sex is almost always selling women, not men. That’s another annoying piece of reality, but not one I’m going to delve into now, even though it seriously pisses me off).

No, the reason I’m here today is to offer my thoughts on why sex doesn’t sell in the realm of published writing. I have no basis for this whatsoever, except for my observations, thoughts, and experiences. It might be complete nonsense, but if you’ve read this far you might as well stick around and see what I’ve come up with. Here is my thinking: sex doesn’t sell because, fundamentally, it’s boring.

Scandalized, you ask how an erotica writer could possible think sex is boring?!

Personally, I have had the great good fortune in my lifetime – with the exception of some ill-advised dates in college, and that one time overseas… neither of which I shall share in detail – to enjoy some pretty amazing sex. However, when you come right down to it, the mechanics are just about¬†the same every time. (Unless you know something I don’t, in which case please share!) As a sex writer, then, I have to be careful. Nobody wants to read pages and pages of what is, at the end of the day, nothing more than the ol’ in-and-out.¬†In order to make sex sell, there has to be more. This is what makes erotic fiction so much different than pornography.

First, you need a story. Yes, a real story, with beginning, middle, end, conflict, resolution, climax, strong ending, and all that other writer-ly stuff. If the story isn’t good, I don’t care how much sex there is. The way to test if a¬†story is any good is simple: take the sex out. (Don’t worry, this is temporary!) Now read the story. Is it still interesting? Does it make sense? Do all the pieces come together? Great! Now you can spice that baby up, because frankly life is too short to plod through¬†stories with no sexy parts in them. Sex is a major aspect of life, love, and happiness, and I want to read about it.

Next, you need characters. Keep in mind, you are asking your readers to jump into bed with these people. (Or aliens, or centaurs, or vampires, or tentacle-beasts, or whatever they are). These characters have to be real enough, detailed enough, and hot enough, that you wouldn’t mind spending a six-hour Greyhound bus ride sitting next to them. That’s a long bus ride, so these people had better have something worthwhile to say! As a rule, it’s usually polite to be introduced to someone before ripping their pants off. Depends on the situation, though. The characters should guide you to how they might behave, and the kinds of erotic encounters they would enjoy. Let them keep their pants on, as least until they’ve met the reader properly.

What makes sex really interesting, in fiction as in real life, is who you’re doing it with. Also where, under what circumstances, and in what environment. The “how” is the fun part, once you really get down to business, but the sexiest part of the “how” isn’t the mechanics. It’s the unexpected reactions, the wild emotions, the submission to uncontrollable urges, the teasing, the release. We read erotica for that, because those are the things that turn us on. (I wish a couple of those guys back in my college days had gotten THAT memo!) So, give it to your readers! Give them tension and frustration, uncertainty and triumph, because that’s what really keeps the pages turning.

Reading back on it, I really should have titled this post “Why Sex ALONE Doesn’t Sell.” Creativity sells. Great characters sell. Beautiful writing sells (though sadly not as well as it should, because not everyone appreciates it). In the end, it’s the story that sells. In this glutted market of e-erotica, self-published sexual fantasies, dubious editing, and limited readership, you really need to have something more to sell than mere sex.

At the end of the day, though, those are still my favorite parts. ūüôā