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.

A Creative Slump

We’ve all been there, right? Things get busy, life is chaotic, and writing falls by the wayside. There’s a more-than-halfway-done story sitting in my file, and yet, somehow, I haven’t managed to sit down and actually finish it. Which is frustrating, because scenes keep dancing in my head, poking at me, burning to be let out… but those fires are doused by the ‘everything else.’

So, in short, I’m not feeling the writing these days. That’s not to say I don’t have stories in the works – there are plenty! – but it’s been weeks since I actually had the creative energy to actually sit down and write. (What can I say? Life happens. And as a part-time artisan, everything else has to be balanced and settled before art can take the forefront again.)

Hopefully I’ll be out of it soon, but if you’re wondering ‘Where is Fionna!?’ that’s the simple answer: in a creative slump.

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

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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!

2017 Writer’s Resolutions

Making New Year’s resolutions is rather silly, really. If you want to do something, why pick an arbitrary date to get started? However, I understand that the calendar year is a handy tool for setting goals, so this year I shall plow forth and attempt to lay out these, my 2017 writer’s resolutions.

  • First, I am determined to finish and self-publish all the stories I have rolling around in my head around the fairy tale theme, and compile a collection. Because I simply can’t go another year pondering how to make frogs sexy. I just have to do it. (I’m thinking something about the slippery skin…)
  • Second, I resolve to write more themed short stories for anthology submission. I’d like to get my name out there more with other folks in the genre, and anthologies are a great way to do that! I have a few thoughts lurking, just waiting for the right potential publisher to appear…
  • Third, I resolve to start a mailing list. I tried this once, got stuck, and gave up. This year, I’m gonna do it!
  • Forth, I plan to give away more books, and do a better job promoting said giveaways. The whole point of writing is getting your stories into readers’ hands, and I’ve found that giveaways are a fantastic way of accomplishing just that. Stay tuned for upcoming freebies!

And I think that’s enough for now. After all, the whole point of making resolutions is because you want to keep them! How about you, my fellow writer friends? What are your plans for wonderful, newborn 2017?

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.

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 🙂 )

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.

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.

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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.

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…

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