Vive la difference?

Everyone knows that opposites attract. Right? That’s like, the oldest rule of coupling up, or creating fictional couples that belong together. Every romance writer knows, the heroine invariably detests the hero right off the bat — usually for his aggravating confidence and disarming seduction skills — but as the story wears on, she discovers he’s actually a total catch, does a 180, and bam! Opposites come together in a burst of fireworks. (Personally, I blame Jane Austen for all this.)

Of course, in real life things don’t usually happen that way. If you can’t stand a guy when you meet him, chances are you’ll never like him that much. Probably you’re right, and he really IS a jerk. Moreover, when you are attracted to someone in the first place, it’s usually for an entirely different reason: because you have things in common.

I still remember a college Biology class teaching us that some animals actually are attracted to difference. The more different the better! Orange bird gets the hots for blue bird of same species, for example. Then the professor asked us, “And what about humans? Are we attracted to differences, or to similarities?” Of course, we all parroted ‘opposites attract!’ And then she showed us a bunch of engagement photos. Like these:

(All courtesy of Google image search; click to go to source site)
View More: http://angelicacriscuolophotography.pass.us/marlonleslywashington-dc-lesbian-engagement-session-lgbt-37

dallas-fort-worth-engagement-photography-2015-aves-photography-fort-worth-botanical-gardens-rose-garden-fuller-garden-spring-engagement-session-ideas-save-the-date-ideas00232892e7c2a90aabc208de7d30a34e89b4

engagement-photo-aztcbmichelledavina-009-1024x662d6c7aa59b2277087b86836bfacf0f389atlanta-south-asian-engagement-session-1ba2a5f5dc20971e89aacda4e37ffc488

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First of all, I’d like to say that I wish all of these lovely couples the very best! Long life, happy marriage, and all the good things that go with both. Anyway, as you can see — and as I saw all those years ago in Biology class — most couples are together because, well, they look alike. Because they ARE alike. They have a lot in common. That’s why they’re getting married!

And before you say anything like ‘But what about multiracial couples?’ I will counter by saying that, at least to me, ‘looking alike’ has less to do with the shape of your face, your height, size or shape, or color of your skin, than it does with your expression, the way you carry yourself, and how your personality shows. Kind of like how people grow to look like their dogs, right? And vice versa? Same thing for couples. (My mother-in-law took a look at our wedding photos and proclaimed that my husband and I both had the same smile; they could cut and paste them on our mouths and you wouldn’t know the difference! Doesn’t say much for my shade of lipstick… too discreet, maybe.) So whatever combination you happen to have made, I would bet you and your honey, set side by side, would ‘look like a couple.’ Am I right? Right. Let’s move on.

The reason I’m blogging about this today is because I’m thinking about what it all means for romance writers. Opposites attract, yes, but similarities are what bring staying power to a relationship. Therefore, when developing your characters, keep in mind that they must have more in common than not, if they are to be believable.  Maybe they are the same height, either much taller or shorter than ‘average.’ Perhaps they have a similar interest that ties them together, and affects the way they dress or behave. In lots of couples, both partners wear glasses. Something as simple as that, and yet it can make all the difference.

So let those hot opposites sparkle, crash, and burn, and vive les similaires!

Advertisements

Excitica: more self-publishing options for erotica authors

So with the recent demise of our smutty old friend, All Romance eBooks, indie erotica authors  were left somewhat bereft of self-publishing options. Besides mega-business Amazon and upstart Smashwords, which offer so much content erotica can get lost in the crowd. Plus they censor your best nude covers. Well mourn no more! Excitica is here to pick up the pieces.

The What: An online bookstore selling only romance and, especially, erotica.

The How: It’s fairly easy to set up a publisher account, either for yourself or multiple authors sharing the same publisher.

  • You’ll need to do some legwork on your own, in terms of file preparation and conversion. (The free e-book program, Calibre, is great for this.) They take Epub, Mobi, and PDF documents.
  • You also need a complete cover, 1000 pixels height maximum. (Covers can be more explicit! Hooray! Booties and (most of) boobies are welcome. No gentleman’s bits, however, as far as I can see… alas.)
  • Everything else is up to you, the publisher, to input: blurb, categories, etc. (Lots of sub-categories are listed, which is nice. Shop around, though, or you may miss one that applies to your book!) You also set the price, anything from $0.00 on up.

The What-ElseExcitica is a place for all your dirtiest stories!

  • Here is a brief list of some popular tags: Anal, Menage, BSDM, Brother, Creampie, Daddy, Gangbang, Dubcon (dubious consent, in case you didn’t know), Horror, Incest, Rape, Schoolgirl, Sister, Taboo

And there’s plenty more! Anyway, the good news is, if you write anything like that (and hey, don’t we all, sometimes?) then you’ll be among your people. There’s also a romance section, but from a brief glance at the homepage, it’s clear that Excitica is centered on erotica.

The Sales?: Honestly, not great so far for me. Perhaps their readership is limited. Maybe my stuff isn’t dirty enough, or my artsy covers don’t appeal among the sea of naked torsos. However, in the month since I’ve been signed up, I’ve had several downloads of my free stories, and one purchase. So hey, that’s a start!

If you’re an indie erotica author looking to get out there, get more visibility, and sell more books, you might take a look at Excitica.

The importance of a varied diet

We all know we need to eat our fruits and vegetables, limit fat and sweets, balance our whole-grain carbohydrates and healthy proteins. The importance of a varied diet is well documented. But the same goes for reading: if we overindulge in our favorite things (and be honest about your sugary favorites!) we end up with rotted teeth and diabetes. Or, in the literary sense, a lazy, mushy mind.

To that end, I encourage everyone — writers especially — to diversify their reading diet. Truly, it keeps your senses sharp, and offers plenty of perspective that can improve your own writing. If you don’t read, you can’t write. Period. (And if you don’t read many different genres and styles, you can’t write well.)

And just so no one can claim I don’t practice what I preach, here is a list of some recent books I have read and enjoyed, more or less in order. Amazon buy links included, as well as genre. With a growing stack on the horizon, I’ll be busily eating my literary vegetables for a long time! (And, you know, indulging in candy bars regularly too…)

Currently reading: The Things They Carried – fiction – The Vietnam War revisited through a series of brief, vivid tales, each a visceral reminder of the horrors of war.

The Cellist of Sarajevo – literary fiction – A gritty, wrenching portrayal of a city under siege, and the struggle to preserve humanity under inhuman circumstances.

Knight of Jerusalem: a biographical novel of Balian d’Ibelin – historical fiction – Well researched and unique, focusing on a little-known character during the medieval Christian occupation of the Holy Land.

The Shipping News – contemporary fiction – Superb characterization, snappy writing, and a darkly humorous look at love, life and struggle in modern-day Newfoundland.

Saga – graphic novel/space opera – One of the best things I have read, ever. Great adventure story, excellent dialogue, and gorgeous artwork. Go get yourself a copy now!

The Sport of Kings – literary fiction – A new take on the dark, gothic Southern family saga. Incest, violence, wealth, and racism intersect in all the worst possible ways.

My Antonia – American fiction – It’s a classic for a reason. People just don’t write like this anymore.

I Won a Basket of Porn – erotica/humor – In case you needed another reason to love author Patient Lee! Hilarious fun poked at small-town politics. Plus sex.

Because Beards – erotica/romance anthology – A fun collection of sexy stories, all with some kind of bearded hero. Some were excellent; all were okay. Plus, it’s for charity!

A Heart’s Promise – romance – On the sweet side, a classic romance novel featuring a horse-loving gal and a hot, modern cowboy.

Little Birds – erotica – Sexy short stories, from back in the day when erotica was all about turning on classy, well-read rich people.

Ancillary Justice – science fiction – An unusual SciFi adventure, featuring a ship that is also, somehow, a person. Totally unique.

All The Light We Cannot See – historical fiction – The kind of book that moves you to tears… and makes you wish you could write like that. Utterly superb.

 

A Sense of Accomplishment

I’m the kind of person who likes to pick one task, get it done, and then move right onto the next. In writing, this can be beneficial. Sometimes, it helps me slog through slow moments, forcing myself through as I get excited about whatever project I have waiting after I finish the current one. Other times, it makes me slow to finish, and I lose track of some of my inspiring ideas. Knowing myself, however, if I had more than one story going at once, I’d get bogged down in them all and never finish anything.

major arcana coverTherefore, I always experience a wonderful sense of accomplishment when a writing project is completed. (Or, at least, the first draft is!) This is especially true when it’s a longer work, and even more so when the entire story was one surprise after the other. That’s what just happened to me, as I typed the last word of the epilogue to Major Arcana.

As many of my readers know, this is an experimental work, published and available to read for free on Wattpad. Unlike most of my work, for this one I let my deck of Tarot cards be my guide. Each card influenced the mood and events in the chapters, so often I had to adjust the story to suit. However, in the end I think it turned out pretty well. Writing freely, with only the cards and my subconscious for direction, was scary. But it was a great exercise in flexibility and creative thinking.

Now, as that bright sense of relief and pleasure fades, the next big question arises: what to do next?

Like most authors, I have a running list of stories-to-be-written. At this point, I’m thinking about three categories:

  • Standalone erotic shorts, mostly contemporary erotica and erotic romance
  • Fairy tales erotically retold, for the purpose of getting several together into a collection
  • Historical erotic fiction, set in a variety of colonial times and settings, featuring mixed-race women as heroines (the research for these is going to be SO FUN!)
  • A new Ancients series, following up on Flowers, featuring more women from diverse corners of the ancient world

I’m dabbling in a little shorty at the moment, hoping to clean my mind and get geared up for one of the bigger projects on my list. So, what do you think? Which one should I write next? (Because you know, finishing books is addictive!)

Addressing White Privilege in Writing

As a relatively aware White person — that is to say, an individual who was raised in a dominant White culture and socioeconomic group, who both presents as White on the outside and identifies as White on the inside — I am on a personal mission to challenge myself in this world where, through no merit of my own, I have been handed privilege on a silver plate. Whatever your feelings on issues of race relations, or the social construct thereof; the heavy weight of history, the state of politics, or globalization, the simple fact remains: White Privilege is real. (Still not convinced? Take a look at the classic Invisible Knapsack checklist, by Peggy McIntosh.)

While there is plenty to be said about how White Privilege manifests in the larger world, my focus today is bringing it down to the arena in which writers and artists can make a difference: noticing, identifying, and addressing White Privilege in writing. And, oh, it’s there in a big way!

Remember when The Hunger Games movie came out? And there was all this racist sputtering from people who expressed surprise and annoyance that the character Rue was Black? If they’d actually read the book, they might have figured it out on their own… but maybe not. The author Suzanne Collins included information that a thoughtful reader could use to visualize Rue as the young, dark-shinned girl she was intended to be, but because this was not explicitly stated, people were able to form their own ideas. And those ideas populated the story entirely with White teenagers, because that’s what people expect. Hollywood reinforces this with their whitewashed casts of characters, and if we are not careful, book characters can easily suffer the same fate. Poor Rue.

White Privilege is precisely that: a normalization of white-looking people; the assumption that they are “normal” and everyone else, therefore, is “different”; the classic exotic Other. (By the way, this goes for Ablism too… when was the last time you visualized a character in a wheelchair? Or with leg braces? Or an amputated limb? Yeah, you didn’t, because disabled folks are also relegated to the “other” category.) The challenge for a reader is to remove themselves from the story. However tempting it is, we cannot imagine ourselves as the protagonist in every tale, because in some cases, the main character is vastly different from us. Then, the challenge becomes one of molding yourself into another person’s body, trying to live and learn from their experiences.

This especially irks me in historical fiction. I firmly believe — and research supports — that history has always been far more diverse than typically portrayed in mainstream media. When we think about cowboys, why do we always imagine them as tall, fit, white and blue-eyed, when a large proportion of them were, in fact, Black, Latino, or mixed-race? (The answer? Hollywood. And the general, ongoing white-washing of history.) People of all shapes, sizes, and colors have shaped this world, and continue to do so. Historical fiction should reflect that.

So what can writers do? Well, the first step, I think, is to combat the assumption that characters, unless otherwise described, are de facto white people. Take the time to describe your character in a rich, illuminating way: everything from the shape of their body, the texture and style of their hair, their features, their skin color, and everything else that makes them stand out. Each person is an individual, and as a character, should be presented as such. Next, push the boundaries of what kinds of characters you’re writing. Historical fiction can be a great avenue for this, since you can research and create authentic characters of various backgrounds, without necessarily digging into the can of worms that is modern-day racism and society. (Need some ideas? Check out my blog post on writing characters of color – for white writers.) Story by story, character by character, little by little, we can change people’s expectations and views. Push White Privilege to the background by putting diverse characters first. Right where they belong.

Flowers working cover.jpgI’m trying to do my part through writing. Some recent examples include my Flowers for the Ancients collection, which features women from ancient societies in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. In writing this, I was able to develop characters from diverse cultures and backgrounds, all set in fascinating periods of history.

major arcana coverAlso, I am currently working on a Tarot-inspired erotic romance set right here in my hometown of Seattle. Free to read on Wattpad, Major Arcana features a cast of characters I am rapidly coming to love. I had fun thinking about the diversity of my city and how that could be reflecting in writing, from the free-love Hippie momma (inspired by a friend’s mom… I’ll never reveal her name!), to the blended family and sibling relationships (there’s one in every family, right?), to the sexy, sensitive hero, a UW student from Yakima who also happens to be in a wheelchair. I had fun researching sex for paraplegic men, oh yes indeed! (Porn as education. Enough said.)

Anyway, I hope I am on the right track toward addressing and correcting White Priviledge in writing. (And in my everyday life, though that, as they say, is another story.) I would greatly appreciate any feedback and advice on how to do it better. We’re all works in progress, just trying to make this world better for everyone in whatever ways we can.

When Less is More

Check out my latest craft post on the ASPA blog! In writing, as in cooking, the key is to use a small number of truly excellent ingredients…

My focus for this post is words. In our practice as writers, words are our lovers and our nemeses. The English language is among the richest in the world – perhaps the richest, in terms of vocabulary. Our dictionaries and thesauruses offer a bounty of delicious words: synonyms, antonyms, compound words, lost jewels with vintage flair, ultra-specific terms that are the perfect fit for some obscure sentence. I, for one, want to claim them all. I want to grab up words in great handfuls and smear them all over the page, make a beautiful mess like a kindergartner’s painting, and then lick it off my fingertips…

Source: When Less is More

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.

f8917336f06006c7a709fb0dfbd88608
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.

Work It! (a writer’s guide to the writing process)

As you know, I’m a member of the wonderful writer’s group ASPA: the Alliance of Self Published Authors. We have a brand new website and blog, and I’ll be posting there on a regular basis. Come on over and check it out! This week, I’m plugging the writing process. Lest we forget, it takes WORK to finish a story!

Self-published Indie Network

Hello my fellow indie authors! As you have no doubt learned by now, writing a book is hard. It takes hours of intense mental concentration, not to mention higher risk of carpal tunnel from all that fast typing, and eye strain from staring at words until you go cross-eyed. Yes, finishing a book is not easy – as we well know from all those skeletons (formerly known as “a great idea I’m going to write a book about!”) currently cluttering up our files. And the hardest thing about it is that, even if you DO complete your masterpiece, the work has only just begun.

However, there is a clear way to find sanity, and produce stronger stories too. It’s way back to basics here with The Writing Process. In short, the writing process is a series of steps that guide you through the process of producing a piece of…

View original post 1,237 more words

The Paramount Importance of the Blurb

So I do a lot of book shopping, as you know. Hell, this afternoon I dropped $75 at the used bookstore down the street! (Don’t tell my husband…) And while I love browsing – and overspending as a result of far too many tempting paperbacks out there – I do, naturally, also indulge in a good bit of Amazon.com perusal. When I go to the bookstore, different elements might catch my eye. Maybe an evocative title, an artistic cover, an attractive table laid out with books like a literary buffet, or a friend’s recommendation. (In the aforementioned case of the $75, I can blame it all on my friend! I only went with the list she gave me… the list of 8 books I just MUST read!) When shopping online, however, there is really only one deciding factor in whether or not I’ll buy a book. And that is the blurb.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and that’s true. However, you can absolutely judge a book by its blurb!

I can’t really say how many god-awful blurbs I have come across. And, sad as I am to say it, the majority of those are from self-published authors. I think many of us ignore the blurb and just kind of throw it together. This is a huge mistake, because it is the one element – yes, even more important than a snazzy cover – that will convince someone to buy your book. It is a chance to highlight your writing style, present the plot and characters, and give just enough information to make them yearn for more. And, you know, purchase the book. 🙂

So what makes a good blurb? Now I am hardly a blurb-master myself. (In fact, no doubt my work would be well served if I were to go back and rewrite some of my earlier ones…) However, there are some general rules to follow. Plus some major what-not-to-do’s. Here is my humble two cents on the subject:

  • The blurb should give a fair interpretation of your writing style. If the blurb has lovely, long, flowing sentences, that’s what I expect in the book! If it’s Hemingway-esque, you’d better deliver the clipped, raw goods. And if the writing in the blurb sucks, well, I’m pretty sure the book’s writing is equally bad! (As we all know, life is too short to read bad writing…)
  • The blurb should introduce the characters, the setting, and the problem (also known as the story!), without giving everything away. Even if your book is not a mystery, the blurb should be. After all, you don’t want to reveal your fabulous twists and wrinkles – of sheets or plotlines!
    • On that note, lots of people fill their blurbs with questions. This isn’t a bad thing, per se. But when I’m picking a book, I don’t want to play 20 questions. I want to know some major themes, the people involved, and where it’s happening. Limit questions to one or two really juicy ones.
    • If your blurb is a full summary of the book, that’s bad news. Just an introduction, please! Think of it as a preview to a film. You give glimpses, but don’t haul out all of the best bits for the teaser. (In other words, don’t model yourself on the overly-detailed modern previews. I didn’t even watch Revenant and already I know everything that happens. Go for an old-school, classy, suggestive kind of preview…)
  • If your book has any accolades – prizes won, bestseller lists, and such – they should go at the top, but discreetly. One line is enough to get all that info out there, and then let your reader get on with the blurb!
  • I was recently critiqued on this one: it’s best to keep blurbs concrete. Mention specific details – maybe a hot scene, a building tension, something unique about the setting. Generalities will not give a reader enough to sink their teeth into. I have reread my old blurbs and made many improvements with this in mind.

A good blurb is a tempting peek into the book. Kind of checking out its ass in those nice jeans, without really knowing all the goodies hidden underneath… It’s a flirty meet-and-drink at a bar, just getting to know the guy, trying to decide whether to take him home. Think about it. What would convince you to take that man(/book) to bed? For me it would be an interesting question, characters I want to meet, a place I want to go… and some slick writing. When you are able to seduce in just one paragraph, you are the blurb-master!

Glasses – never forget them in the morning, so why do I forget them in my writing?

My morning routine is usually the same: wake up, hit snooze, pretend to sleep for ten more minutes. Finally accept the morning, get out of bed, sigh & grumble, stretch. Wash my face, brush my hair, get dressed. Then put on my glasses. Because, you know, being able to see is rather valuable in my line of work. Without my glasses, the world is a fuzzy compilation of shapes and colors. Not to mention my depth perception is totally shot.

I never forget my glasses in the morning. So why do I forget them in my writing?

When imagining my characters, I always begin with their face. I envision the color and texture of their hair, the shape of their mouth, their eyes, nose, cheekbones, and neck. By then I’ve usually figured out what body type they have and their personality is solidifying. Once I understand what kind of person they are, I can dress them – and undress them – in my writing. But up until now, I realize I have yet to write a character with glasses.

This frustrates me, because I never noticed it was happening. What is my deal? How can I wear glasses myself, yet totally ignore them when designing a character? Especially when I am proud of my bespectacled beauty. Glasses are part of my wardrobe, and an essential part of how I present myself to the world. Tons of hot girls wear glasses (especially in Portland. Haven’t seen this hilarious video? Oh, well you should!). And guys with glasses are definitely a turn-on for me… just one more thing to enjoy taking off.

So, definitely I am a fan of glasses. That doesn’t explain why I keep forgetting them. Here’s my working theory: despite the Hipster big-frame fad, we are essentially an anti-glasses society. When actors wear glasses in Hollywood movies, they are rarely the main heartthrob. And remember those 90’s makeover movies, where the cool boy at school transforms an ugly girl into a bombshell? What’s the first thing they do? Oh yeah – get rid of her glasses. Despite all evidence to the contrary, glasses just aren’t considered sexy.

Well now that I am aware, I shall strive to change it! Not going to bother with my current work in progress. After all, it would be a bummer for my poor character to lose her 20/20 vision halfway through the story. 🙂 (Ha, 20/20 vision. I don’t even have that in my dreams!) But next time, yes, next time, there shall be glasses!

Just have to remember to write them in… and make sure someone slips them sexily off.