Saturday, March 26, 2011
Before I started writing seriously (okay, it was only curiously back then) a friend lent me a book called "The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life", by Julia Cameron. I was so uplifted and encouraged by her book that I followed my inner voice and finished a novel in less than a year. It was wonderful. I felt like a god, creating an expansive science fiction universe full of alien races, strange technology, inter-galactic politics, long-buried secrets and, of course, romance.
The second book about writing that I picked up was called "Self-editing for Fiction Writers", by Renni Browne and Dave King, and I very nearly cried while reading it. I had made every beginning writer's mistake in the book - literally. Telling instead of showing, head-hopping, repetition and proportion problems, my poor novel had them all. From joy to crushing disappointment in an armchair afternoon.
Somehow I pulled myself together, took a hard look at all the work I had done and edited the opening scenes of my first novel into a short story. That piece ended up winning second place in a writing contest and I felt back on top of the world again. (The rest of the novel is still in my someday-to-be-rewritten folder.)
Then the real struggles began, the battle between what I wanted my writing to say and that little voice in the back of my head pointing out all the weaknesses and obvious mistakes in every single sentence I placed on the page. I wanted so badly to write well that I nearly destroyed my ability to write at all. The screen would never fill as I wrote and re-wrote until I gave up in frustration.
It took some discipline but I invested heavily in mental duct tape and learned to ignore the self-critical mumbles. Instead, I went back to listening to my characters, letting them talk, think, feel and act inside my head - typing up whatever I managed to capture and moving on. I re-discovered the joyous creative energy that had carried me through my first novel. I wrote a second novel, and a third. I kept writing and eventually even managed to publish some of it (my first published novel was In a Dark Embrace but I actually wrote both Healer's Price and Demon Master much earlier).
My point, and Julia Cameron's point, is that creativity needs to be free to flow, without judgment. The first part of writing is dashing down snippets of dialogue, unvarnished action sequences, emotional diatribes, even empty blathering about something you not-so-secretly know will be completely useless for your story or essay. Whatever comes, write it down and move on. Sometimes I'll write a line and then delete it without even really thinking about it because it was just so bad (my internal editor can be sneaky that way). What usually happens next is that I'll stare at the screen for a minute and then make myself type the exact same words over again. I do this because I can't immediately think of a better way of saying it, yet that something needs to be put down before I can move on to the next thing I really want to say. Moving on is important. When it's time to be creative you're always chasing the next idea, the next scene. Paying attention to what's already on the screen will just get you stuck.
Editing comes after that splurge of creativity. It might be days or even weeks later, or it might kick in every few hours. I'll often start my writing session with an edit of what I did before. It gets me back into the story and in sync with my characters. Then, when the story has come to an end, I'll edit the whole thing again, wait a month or two, and edit again. I've learned to accept that the editing stage will take at least as long as the initial writing stage. Good writing, at least for me, is not an efficient process. First it's messy and flawed then it's time-consuming and fussy, fiddling with the words until they at least approach what you want them to say and how you want them to say it. Funny thing is, I rather like both sides of writing. There are challenges and joys to be found in each.
Wonderful things happen when my creator and editor apply themselves, as long as I can manage to keep them separated.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
I've tried to make my male leads attractive without classically perfect looks (Marcus, my hero in Cat's Game, sees himself as generally unattractive, "Sharp features that included the ultimate Roman nose, courtesy of his Italian grandfather, did not make him the most photogenic man and his character tended toward curt and demanding rather than charming. Dates had been far harder to get in his college days." Of course, my heroine still thinks he's the hottest thing since habanero peppers.) But I must admit I haven't dared stray too far from the typical alpha male romantic lead.
No longer! I'm finally going to be brave and step outside the safety zone. In my current project, my hero is (gasp!) short. I really LOVE short guys and have been itching to write about an undersized hero for ages. I'm only a little over five feet myself so have had the pleasure of dating men of all sizes, and I can tell you from personal experience that short guys are great. They often have a cocky arrogance and forceful charm that is very appealing. Call it a Napoleon Complex if you will, but I think short guys are more likely to use their wits and words to stand out of the crowd because they can't rely on sheer physical presence. And a man who can use wits and words to good effect makes me go all toasty and tingly—much more readily than the big, strong, silent type.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed (a real challenge while trying to produce a novel) and hoping against hope that my editor doesn't ask me to change my short-dark-and-handsome hero into the expected oversized hunk.
What do you say? Are you with me on this?
Saturday, October 30, 2010
For a woman, sex can be the best thing in the world and it can also be the worst. I have wandered most of that spectrum and have learned a few things about both myself and my lovers. So here, for what it's worth, are some of my personal thoughts and a bit of advice on sex.
I truly love to explore a man's body, the curve of muscles on his arms, the hollow under his collar bone, the broad triangle of his back, all the small, sensitive parts of his hand... and elsewhere. I am capable of deeply appreciating and enjoying a man's body. But sex is so much more than bodies. Even the most beautiful man can leave me cold. Sex is an art and it requires dedication, talent and skill to reach the full potential of the act. First, sex is a hunger that needs to be shared. Being with a man who does not desire me, who does not respond to my responses, who does not delight in my pleasure and get aroused by my arousal, is never fully satisfying. A skilled lover who does not completely share in that feedback loop may still be able to give me an orgasm but it will be a mechanical thing, not worth pursuing. I would rather be with a man who has a talent for sex than one who is merely a great technician. I would always choose a somewhat naive and awkward lover who naturally responds to and delights in a woman's pleasure, over a man who has learned what buttons to push. So, all young or otherwise inexperienced men, please take this advice to heart... skill is less important than you probably think it is. Having said that, a man who brings both native talent and some education and experience to the bedroom (kitchen, beach or back alley) is what I'm really looking for. And by experienced I don't mean some good-looking stud who has a lot of notches on his bedpost. A few longer-term relationships will add more to your skill level than a long list of one-night stands. I think you need to get to know a few lovers very well, learn how to please them and how they can please you, and to reach the level of honesty and trust that you can both share every part of your sexual nature, before you can claim to be experienced.
I don't think most people realize the extent to which sexual preferences (even their own) vary. Women, and men, get turned on by many different things. What will send one person over the moon might do nothing (or annoy, or disgust, or frighten) another person. Although there are a lot of fairly standard desires (I've never met a man who doesn't like to have my mouth on his cock) as well as an unfortunate host of wide-spread inhibitions, many of our sexual triggers are very individual. There might be a way of dressing, the sight or touch of a particular body part, or specific words and tone of voice that send that tingle down your spine. Sex can be gentle or aggressive, quiet or loud, playful, earthy or almost ritualized, it can be private to the point of not even seeing each other or so public it is shared with strangers, vanilla or every outrageous flavor someone, somewhere can dream up. Even if you could drop every inhibition you were raised with, there are some things you won't enjoy and others that will surprise you by their impact on your libido. If you have never explored beyond the close, narrow representations of sex in North American culture, then no matter how many people you have had sex with, you are not an experienced lover. I encourage everyone to have an open mind and try some explorations that push your boundaries at least a little bit. Just always be respectful and attentive to your partner because without their pleasure, sex can turn into something unpleasant and even ugly. Keep in mind that what arouses a person often depends on circumstances and mood. Sometimes quiet, gentle sex in the dark is perfect (okay, not very often for some of us). But even those who think that is the only way they can enjoy sex might be surprised into a sharp stab of lust by the right man or woman whispering an aggressive, risky proposal into their ear while dancing under the moonlight. Remember, if you want to explore but your partner seems reluctant, circumstances can be created and moods can be encouraged. Fabulous sexual encounters sometimes take a little work.
Experience can be difficult and sometimes even dangerous to obtain. Although, at the end of the day, there is no real replacement for having been there, done (or tried) that, there are other ways to get educated about sex. There are books on the mechanics of sex and books on the psychology of sex. Best of all, I think, are the books that allow you to share in another person's very detailed, explicit fantasies of amazing sexual encounters. You can learn a lot about men, women and yourself by indulging in erotic reading material. With that, I invite you over to my website, read an excerpt and maybe buy a book... you never know, you might learn something! Feel free to comment, ask questions, etc. and I'll try to respond.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
My latest novel is now available at Ellora's cave:
A powerful man with a dangerous secret, a beautiful woman desperate to steal what he's hiding…
The game begins when Jan breaks into Marcus Damon's New York hotel room and ends up with both more and less than she'd planned. Marcus, the brilliant scientist and ruthless businessman behind Damon Laboratories, pulls her into a raw sexual encounter that leaves her physically satisfied but without the data she's been hired to steal. After passion turns to intimacy and then betrayal, the game becomes more dangerous than either player expected.
When two predators play cat and mouse, they both lose…or they both win.
Jan hesitated by the bedroom door but, reassured by the continuing snores, she ventured closer to the bed. She had been watching this man from a distance for four days, trailing him from breakfast to bedtime. She couldn't help but be intrigued by his tall, powerful figure and appreciated the opportunity for a closer inspection. He might be a fool but he was an attractive fool. His face managed to hold a lean, hard look even in sleep when the tousled dark curls softened his wide brow and strong nose. The white sheet had slipped down and she could admire his muscular arms and bare chest. The curve of one hip peeked out from under the blanket and a dusting of dark curls reached up toward his belly button.
Jan licked her lips, imagining her mouth pressed against that sensitive spot. She wondered if he would moan out loud if she were to blaze a trail of hot, wet kisses down his belly and along the edge of that barely decent sheet. With a small shrug of regret she scanned his half naked form one last time. Marcus Damon looked, smelled and probably tasted perfectly delicious, but he was a mark and it was time for her to disappear.
She stepped away from the bed and suddenly her wrist was captured by an iron grip. There wasn't even time for a muffled yelp before she was sent flying onto the mattress. The next thing she knew Marcus Damon's dark eyes were boring down into hers, his large frame pinning her to the bed. Having been caught in the middle of a lusty day dream about the very body that now lay on top of her, Jan was too off-balance to even fight. His right hand came up, grabbed her chin and turned her face into the faint light coming through the open patio door.
"It seems I have a little black kitten prowling around in my room." His lips quirked up into a small smile. "A very pretty, little kitten."
She scowled up at him and tried to squirm away from his weight, pushing up at him with her free hand. A kitten! Of all things to call her. At thirty-three Jan considered herself well past the kitten stage. The squirming only seemed to amuse him. He brushed strands of errant long, dark hair away from her face.
"Now, what might you be wanting…here…in the middle of the night?"
Jan switched tactics. Her bunched muscles softened and she melted against him. The arm that had been trying to push him away, snaked around his shoulder and began to stroke his back.
"Why you, of course," she murmured in her most sultry voice.
"Don't you think a black negligee would have been more appropriate attire for a seduction than this?" He ran a hand down over her black turtleneck. "But perhaps you're wearing something more attractive underneath?" He tugged her shirt up and smiled as her lacy black bra came into view. "Ah, yes, that's better." A big hand began to knead her breast.
Jan gasped as a surge of wet heat hit her crotch. She was a damn idiot for letting herself respond but Marcus Damon was exactly the sort of man she was attracted to-lean, muscular, not too pretty and arrogant as all hell. His predatory smile intensified at her involuntary gasp. He bent his head and took possession of her mouth. The kiss was as rough as his handling of her body and clearly meant to be a punishment. A demanding tongue forced it's way between her partially opened lips and he invaded her mouth, taking possession.
Jan responded by softening even further, welcoming his angry invasion. She buried a hand in his curls and lifted her hips. Slowly she rubbed against the growing bulge in his groin with deliberate provocation. Dexterous fingers had freed one of her nipples from the bra and now he squeezed hard enough to make her whimper. She forced him out of her mouth and bit his lip, not enough to draw blood but making sure it would hurt. He growled and began to gnaw at her lips like a hungry wolf. They fought with darting tongues and nipping teeth. It was many glorious minutes later when he pulled away from the kiss.
She smiled sweetly up at his glaring face, knowing she had turned the tables on him and swamped his anger with an unexpected lust. His naked body, still anchoring hers in place on the bed, revealed exactly aroused he was at that moment.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
As a writer one of the things you have to learn to deal with are the many "sharing" websites that illegally offer your books. In some ways, I guess it's a compliment that people like your books so much that they want to share them. I try to keep that in mind, really I do. The problem is that I spend many, many hours across many months writing these books and I only get paid in royalties. So when my books hit these share sites I lose my hard earned income. My last book was available for free downloads only hours after its release and I made so little money off it that it didn't even pay for the paper and ink involved, let alone any of my time. I'm a single mom, and yes, I have a day job that pays my bills but my writing income is what I use for "treats" that we couldn't otherwise afford (dinners out, movies and the occasional weekend adventure). When people download my work for free it isn't some big corporation they are ripping off - it's my fun time with my son that they are hurting. Most of the writers I know are in the same boat, or even worse, they're actually trying to make a living off their work and every royalty check is key to putting food on the table. If you've ever downloaded someone's book, think about that, okay?
Most of the time, I don't get too incensed about finding my books available for free downloads. I send the site an email explaining that the book is under copyright and ask them to remove it. Lately the responses I get back have set a long list of hurdles I have to pass in order to "prove" my copyright and "properly" request it's removal. It's a huge time drag and it just seems wrong that I have to prove my rights (like they couldn't just go look at the well known publisher's website and see that oh yeah, there it is!). But, okay, I went along with it. The latest response from a pirate site, however, has me absolutely floored. The website http://search.4shared.com not only came back with a long list of what I must do to prove copyright but it actually threatened me with the following: "...you may be liable for damages (including costs and attorneys fees) if you falsely claim that an in-world item is infringing your copyrights..." Then they tell me to hire a lawyer...as if most writers have the money to do that!
It just kills me, not only are they taking away our hard-earned income, now the pirates are threatening the writers with lawsuits and damages. The absolute cheek!
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
I was in Chapters the other day, hanging out in my usual haunt - the fantasy/SF section beside the Starbucks cafe (walls full of books and a chai latte in my hand, life does not get much better than that) - and it hit me how many vampire/witch/werewolf books there are on the shelves. The question I'd like to ask you all is, have we hit paranormal overload? Are people getting tired of tormented but sweet undead heroes, wise-cracking witches and half-wild werewolves? My witch/werewolf novel, In A Dark Embrace, has certainly been a big hit. It out-sold my fantasy stories (Healer's Price and Demon Master) and science fiction novella (Taking Chances) by significant margins. But sales have dropped off recently and it makes a writer wonder what the appetite is for more in this vein. I have started a historical vampire novel (well, sort of vampire, I'm bringing a very different twist to the standard vampire role) and I need to know if it is worth pouring more effort into this story. Or, maybe, paranormal is still the way to go. People like the familiar mixed in with the new. Witches, werewolves and vampires are well-known archetypes, with a rich store of legends from which to draw out character traits, behaviors, limitations and strengths. There is a broad "common knowledge" about such characters, and what they can and cannot do, which makes it easy for readers to relate to them. At the same time, the supernatural world is wonderfully mutable. Many writers have adopted aspects of these ancient stories and taken them down strange, twisty tangents into surprising new territory. Personally, I love this kind of stuff - old stories stirred into something new, a well-known character type shifted into a unique shape. But I also know that readers can get tired and frustrated when too many books have been focused on the same characters/themes for too long (I hit burn-out with Arthurian legends several years ago and still refuse to open a book that even hints at another retelling of the Arthur/Guinevere story). So, all you readers out there, have you had your fill of blood-sucking, spell-casting, or shape-shifting heroes and heroines? Is the paranormal stuff getting as cold as a vampire's crypt...or is it still hotter than a witch's cauldron?
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
There are millions of books out there. More books than I could read in my lifetime. With bookstores and libraries and e-publishing websites, it is easy to find a story that appeals to your taste, and then to simply sit back and let yourself get carried away by someone else's hard work. So why do I sit at this computer – especially after hours spent at my "real" job – making up yet more stories?
Unfortunately (or fortunately if you happen to like erotic romances like Taking Chances or In A Dark Embrace) making up stories is not something I can choose to stop doing. Characters insist on speaking inside my head while scenes flow through my mind like a movie on a screen. There are times when my fingers stumble on the keyboard, just trying to keep up with the inner dialogue. It is a blessed sort of madness. But the result of that first flood of writing is only raw compost for a story – rich with potential but needing so much more before it is ready to face a reader.
Crafting my stories, going over and over each passage and chapter, digging for just the right word, filling in gaps, strengthening characters, twisting subtle threads into the plot and breathing detail and depth into scenes – that is just plain, hard work. And sometimes it sucks. Sometimes it is forced labor. Sometimes hours go by and I hate everything I've done. Although not always. Not even usually. More often I feel deep satisfaction with what I've managed to convey using only one humble little word after another. I am amazed at how whole new individuals and their different, wicked, wild, painful and joyous realities can be contained on pages that I have written. Bringing a finished story forth from the earthy muck of my imagination, fills me with both wonder and pride.
Mind you, no story ever feels 100% finished. At some point, you simply have to stop working on it and send it out the door to face a waiting editor. It's hard to send your new baby out, even once you have the great, good fortune of a direct link to an editor. Far, far , harder is to send your story into one of the many slush piles in which manuscripts routine lose their way. Plastered with rejection letter after rejection letter, your lovely child begins to look like a tattered urchin, desperately seeking a home. At those time, writing doesn't just suck, it damn well hurts. And yet, I and so many others, continue to do it.
Is it because of the rapture we feel when one of our stories does get accepted? The writer's happy dance upon receipt of an acceptance letter is always deeply felt, no matter how frequent or infrequent that result may be. I want to shout "my child is wanted, my child is loved"! It is indeed a wonderful sensation. But, no, by itself that would never make my labors worthwhile. If I needed an acceptance letter in order to write, I would have given up long ago.
I write to keep my own inner fires burning. There is a gratification, a sense of fulfillment and enrichment, that comes from creating any form of art that feeds the soul. And that part of writing – or painting or dance or whatever – exists whether you share your art with the world or not. Of course, there is a drive to have your creation recognized and adored by others. Fear and self-doubt fight with the urge to expose the fruits of our imagination to a (hopefully appreciative) audience. Notwithstanding that inner battle, and the inevitable moments of painful rejection when you choose to take your work out into the world, the act of creation is still worthwhile. Tapping into your creative juices, crafting that raw potential and laboring to bring forth something uniquely yours, has rewards all by itself.
Writing sucks. I highly recommend you try it.