Erotica author, aka Elspeth Potter, on Writing from the Inside

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Writer's Voice

I've never been entirely sure what voice is, while at the same time I feel it's something I know in my bones, unique as a retinal print.

As a writer, my voice is part of me. Yet it's not static.

The time my voice comes out most is when I'm not focusing on craft (tools of writing). However, I don't think voice can clearly emerge unless the craft elements are already in place. When word choice and rhythm and flow are happening on the unconscious level, I think it's easier to see the voice that's present. Also, I think a writer's voice is often strongest when she is writing about something important to her, especially when it's of emotional importance. The extra commitment comes through on the page.

We can refine and strengthen our own voice in revisions just like anything else, if we know how to recognize it.

I feel voice is something that grows and changes as your skill with writing tools grows and changes, and as your topics change.

Related Posts:
Zero Drafting.

How To Learn To Write.

Pithy Writing Advice.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Why I Don't Like Vampires

I have never loved vampires.

Rather, I don't like the idea of vampires. This does not stop me from reading vampire novels, of course. I just don't prefer them.

The heart of my dislike is vampires killing humans for their own eternal life; secondarily, the way certain types of vampires treat humans as food only. Most contemporary vampire fiction elides this or, better, creates their own lore so that their hero/heroine is not a murderer. I like that type much better; for instance, it doesn't seem so awful to me if a vampire feeds on their lover in small amounts, giving pleasure or psychic strength or something in return. All of the vampire books I've enjoyed have either mutuality (P.N. Elrod), vampires as a separate species who don't need human blood (J.R. Ward, except I get annoyed that their blood-partner must be of the opposite sex, which isn't logical to me in a biological sense), or vampires who are considered evil because they kill, and the consequences of that (Barbara Hambly). I've also enjoyed vampire stories about humans who fight evil vampires, as in Colleen Gleason's work.

The other thing I dislike about vampires is that, in romance at least, the vampire hero (nearly always a hero, not a heroine) is almost exclusively given an "alpha male" personality. It makes sense for this to be so; instead of the Duke of Manlypants sweeping in and whisking the heroine away to a new, luxurious lifestyle, the Vampire Studly swoops in and whisks the heroine into immortality, or at the least through a whirlwind of supernatural sex. The only difference is in scale. At base, both are the same fantasy: powerful male chooses heroine out of all others and places her above all others, and she is safe and loved forevermore. If one's feminist ideals are bothered by the idea, it's easier to believe in if Mr. Alpha really is more powerful than you because he's eight centuries old, or can fly, or can mesmerize a city with his glowing gaze.

It was interesting to read Joey Hill's The Vampire Queen's Servant, which features a female vampire. I had hopes that I would enjoy it more, but it only reinforced my opinion that what bothered me about vampire books was the power differential. The vampire's gender didn't matter to me. Even in a book like that one, with its complex and subtle issues of dominance and submission, it was the vampire ultimately having the power of life and death over his or her romantic partner that kept me from buying into the fantasy.

If you're looking for an inventive atypical vampire romance, I recommend Marta Acosta's Happy Hour at Casa Dracula. It's really fun, with some interesting variations on both vampire romances and chick lit.

Related Posts:
Normative Heterosexuality and the Alpha Male Fantasy.
Romancing the Beast.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Vera Brittain, "Sic Transit"


Sic Transit

--V.R., died of wounds, 2nd London General Hospital, Chelsea, June 9th, 1917

I am so tired.
The dying sun incarnadines the West,
And every window with its gold is fired,
And all I loved the best
Is gone, and every good that I desired
Passes away, an idle hopeless quest;
Even the Highest whereto I aspired
Has vanished with the rest.
I am so tired.

London, June 1917

--Vera Brittain

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sassoon, "In Barracks"

In Barracks

The barrack-square, washed clean with rain,
Shines wet and wintry-grey and cold.
Young Fusiliers, strong-legged and bold,
March and wheel and march again.
The sun looks over the barrack gate,
Warm and white with glaring shine,
To watch the soldiers of the Line
That life has hired to fight with fate.

Fall out: the long parades are done.
Up comes the dark; down goes the sun.
The square is walled with windowed light.
Sleep well, you lusty Fusiliers;
Shut your brave eyes on sense and sight,
And banish from your dreamless ears
The bugle's dying notes that say,
'Another night; another day.'

--Siegfried Sassoon, Counter-Attack and Other Poems, 1918

Friday, March 27, 2009

Playing Dress-Up

The first romance novels I remember reading in my adolescence, or at least skimming, were Harlequin Presents. Few details stick with me now, but I still remember that getting dressed up was an important part of feminity in those novels. When the heroine was about to go on an outing, her outfit for the occasion would be described in terms like “a casual linen skirt with a trim blouse” or “sleek pumps and a crisp suit, accented with just a touch of lipstick.” So alien!

At that age, I knew nothing about “classic looks,” much less couture, so descriptions like that seemed just as alien to me as the world of jet-setting millionaires portrayed in these books. I parsed the clothing just as I parsed the appearance of alien beings in the science fiction novels I preferred, considering them part of the worldbuilding. Even today, I have a moment of pleased interest every time a heroine walks into an office in something like pleated trousers and a cashmere cardigan, because it signals to me that I’m about to enter a different world.

The illustration for this post is by artist Ashley David.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Art of Waiting


Publishing is all about waiting. Waiting for editors to respond to your submissions. Waiting for agents to respond to your queries. Waiting for your agent to call with news of your latest deal. Waiting to hear back from your editor on a submitted manuscript; waiting for her revision letter. Waiting to see your book in print. Waiting to find out how well it sold. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

The worst thing about waiting is that you can’t control it. Writing the book is under your control, but once the manuscript is out of your hands, your control over it is limited. Agents and editors have many demands on their time, some within the publishing business and some without. They don’t have time to hold your hand with constant updates. If they did, they’d have even less time to look at manuscripts. It’s better for all concerned if writers can develop coping strategies.

My number one strategy for coping with waiting is distraction. Sometimes the distraction results from working on the next project, or the one displaced by a revision letter. I’ve become so involved that I’ve forgotten I’m waiting for long stretches of time. I might also catch up on internet publicity, correspondence, tax documentation, and the like. Other times, such as when I’ve just turned in a completed draft, I’m too mentally exhausted to seriously begin writing a new book. In those cases, my distraction might include copious viewing of DVDs, or reading piles of books, or going on a trip, or simply emerging from my writerly garret and calling a few friends. Sitting still, though, is not an option. All that does is turn my brain into a hamster wheel, whirling round and round but going nowhere. For me, it’s best to have a focus.

What about you?

Related post:

Letters from a Publishing Professional.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How To Learn to Write

I was reading an article about how to write scenes. The article provided a list of things that needed to be included in a scene. They were all very useful suggestions. There were a lot of them. I imagined being a beginning writer, trying to learn to write, reading this article; I imagined her memorizing that list of suggestions, and carefully checking each of her scenes to make sure each element was included in each of her scenes, and I rebelled.

No. Just, no.

Articles that break down story structure are great and useful, but I think, at the beginning, they don't really help. Sure, you can build a scene from a numbered list, and that will give you a skeleton, but you'll still need to do a lot more with that scene to make it live for the reader.

It's my belief that there are too many variables involved in writing to learn them from a list. There's only one way to learn to write, and that is to write.



And write and write and write. And finish something. Anything. It doesn't have to be "good." That's not the point. The doing of it is the point.

Until you've written a certain amount of fiction, all those handy articles on writing can only give a surface understanding. Writing yourself is the only way to realize how difficult writing really is, and how complex. I firmly believe there's no way to truly understand some problems inherent in writing unless you have the problems first, and struggle through to answers for those problems.

Call it "finger exercise" if you want.

Writing isn't that much different from being a musician or an athlete. There's a certain level of the work that takes place below the surface of your brain, and you can't reach that ability until you've practiced enough to lay the paths for it. Reading articles can help you interpret what you've been doing, and writing can help you interpret articles, but if you don't actually write, then the process is stymied.

The only way to learn to write is to write.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sassoon, "How to Die"



How to Die

Dark clouds are smouldering into red
While down the craters morning burns.
The dying soldier shifts his head
To watch the glory that returns;
He lifts his fingers toward the skies
Where holy brightness breaks in flame;
Radiance reflected in his eyes,
And on his lips a whispered name.

You'd think, to hear some people talk,
That lads go West with sobs and curses,
And sullen faces white as chalk,
Hankering for wreaths and tombs and hearses.
But they've been taught the way to do it
Like Christian soldiers; not with haste
And shuddering groans; but passing through it
With due regard for decent taste.

--Siegfried Sassoon, Counter-Attack and Other Poems, 1918

Monday, March 23, 2009

Raymond Chandler on prose style

"The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off."

--Raymond Chandler

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Siegfried Sassoon, "Invocation"


Invocation

Come down from heaven to meet me when my breath
Chokes, and through drumming shafts of stifling death
I stumble toward escape, to find the door
Opening on morn where I may breathe once more
Clear cock-crow airs across some valley dim
With whispering trees. While dawn along the rim
Of night’s horizon flows in lakes of fire,
Come down from heaven’s bright hill, my song’s desire.

Belov’d and faithful, teach my soul to wake
In glades deep-ranked with flowers that gleam and shake
And flock your paths with wonder. In your gaze
Show me the vanquished vigil of my days.
Mute in that golden silence hung with green,
Come down from heaven and bring me in your eyes
Remembrance of all beauty that has been,
And stillness from the pools of Paradise.

--Siegfried Sassoon, Counter-Attack and Other Poems, 1918

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Underwriting

When I draft a story, I am almost always an underwriter.

I write less than I could; I write less than a reader might need to fully comprehend a character or setting. Then, when I go back and read over what I've read, I fill in some of the gaps. I add action or bits of description into sections of dialogue, I add description into action. At the same time I'm cutting, of course--I often tighten conversations two or three times--but mostly, I add. My zero drafts aren't outlines, but they have some things in common with them.

Others are overwriters. To figure things out, they must write everything down. Every bit of the world they imagine, every action, they must put down, and figure out later if it's needed or not. In the end, this works just as well, but it doesn't seem to be my method.

Somebody out there has to be a "just right" writer, but I've never yet met anyone that would admit to it.

Related Posts: How To Write a Novel (in 72 Easy Steps!) and Zero Drafting.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Carol Queen quotes

The Burning Pen: Sex Writers on Sex Writing, from Carol Queen's essay.

"When I sit down to write, the creative world I access includes not just my experiences and fantasies...but also the entire social discussion about female sexuality."

"I explore an erotic realm in which women mostly do not have the constraints of correctness and propriety, in which the "you own your own body" ideal of feminism is a done deal, and women mostly are free to do things that nice girls don't do. For one thing, this is a crucial cultural function of erotic literature: It always serves as a kind of protest literature exploring (and exploding) taboos, gender roles, and socially imposed notions of appropriate sexuality."

"I suppose I could be setting these explorations on another planet, but to me the erotic stories I write work best as literature when they exist in and even grapple with existing taboos. That way the tension lives within the story...."

Related Posts: Making It Good and Preliminary Thoughts on Two Types of Erotic Novels.

World Frog Day!


Happy World Frog Day!

Yes, it really is.

You never find World Frog Day-themed romances, though. Despite all those hunky and/or gorgeous herpetologists out there.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

In the Flesh Reading Tonight!


Stop by and say hello! And have a cupcake!


IN THE FLESH EROTIC READING SERIES

March 19th at 8:00 PM AT HAPPY ENDING LOUNGE

302 BROOME STREET, NYC

(B/D to Grand, J/M/Z to Bowery, F to Delancey or F/V to 2nd Avenue http://www.happyendinglounge.com/)


Admission: Free, 21+


Happy Ending Lounge: 212-334-9676




March brings an eclectic mix of true sex stories, erotic romance, hotel sex, a graphic novelist and a former Jehovah's Witness! Featuring Paula Derrow, editor of the anthology Behind the Bedroom Door, along with contributors Anna Marrian and Pari Chang, graphic novelist Koren Shadmi, author of the fabulously titled In The Flesh, memoirist and former Jehovah's Witness Kyria Abrahams (I'm Perfect, You're Doomed), first-time novelist Victoria Janssen (The Duchess, Her Maid, the Groom and Their Lover) and Tess Danesi and Rachel Kramer Bussel reading from Rachel's latest anthology Do Not Disturb: Hotel Sex Stories. The Do Not Disturb book trailer will also be shown.


Mobile Libris will be selling copies of the authors' books. Free candy and cupcakes will be served.


In the Flesh is a monthly reading series hosted at the appropriately named Happy Ending Lounge, and features the city's best erotic writers sharing stories to get you hot and bothered, hosted and curated by acclaimed erotic writer and editor Rachel Kramer Bussel. From erotic poetry to down and dirty smut, these authors get naked on the page and will make you lust after them and their words.


Since its debut in October 2005, In the Flesh has featured such authors as Laura Antoniou, Mo Beasley, Lily Burana, Jessica Cutler, Stephen Elliott, Valerie Frankel, Polly Frost, Gael Greene, Andy Horwitz, Debra Hyde, Maxim Jakubowski, Emily Scarlet Kramer of CAKE, Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Edith Layton, Logan Levkoff, Suzanne Portnoy, Sofia Quintero, M.J. Rose, Lauren Sanders, Danyel Smith, Grant Stoddard, Cecilia Tan, Carol Taylor, Dana Vachon, Veronica Vera, Susan Wright, Zane and many others. The series has gotten press attention from the New York Times's UrbanEye, Escape (Hong Kong), Flavorpill, The L Magazine, New York Magazine, New York Observer, Philadelphia City Paper, Time Out New York, Gothamist, Nerve.com and Wonkette, and has been praised by Dr. Ruth.


Kyria Abrahams is the author of the memoir I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales From a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing. She is a 34-year-old standup comedian, spoken-word poet, and web producer. She lives in Queens, New York.



Rachel Kramer Bussel is an author, editor, blogger and reading series host. She is Senior Editor at Penthouse Variations and a former sex columnist for The Village Voice. She's edited numerous anthologies, most recently Do Not Disturb: Hotel Sex Stories, Best Sex Writing 2009, Tasting Him, Tasting Her, and Spanked. Her writing been published in publications such as Clean Sheets, Cosmopolitan, Fresh Yarn, Huffington Post, Mediabistro, Newsday, New York Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Tango, The Village Voice, and Time Out New York, and in over 100 anthologies, including Best American Erotica 2004 and 2006. She has hosted In The Flesh since October 2005.



Pari Chang is a former litiagator whose personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, Self, Glamour, and The Bark. She lives in Manhattan with her family.


Tess Danesi is writer of erotic fiction with a D/s twist, who also blogs about her varied experiences and often tumultuous life at Urban Gypsy (http://www.nyc-urban-gypsy.blogspot.com/) as well as a sex toy reviewer for Edenfantasys.com. Tess was a winner of Babeland's erotica contest and has been published in Time Out New York. Paula Derrow is the editor of Behind the Bedroom Door. She has worked for more than twenty years at a variety of magazines and other media, including Glamour, Harper's Bazaar, and Lifetime Television. She is the articles director at Self magazine and teaches writing workshops for MediaBistro.com. She lives in New York City.


Victoria Janssen's first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, the Groom and Their Lover, is a December 2008 release from Harlequin SPICE. Her second, The Moonlight Mistress, is a December 2009 SPICE release. She enjoys playing with genre tropes. Frequent themes in her stories include role reversal and empowering women, usually through unconventional means. Under her pseudonym, Elspeth Potter, she's sold more than thirty short stories to various anthologies, including Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Women's Erotica, Best Lesbian Romance, Periphery, and The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica. She's also sold to Fishnet Magazine. Her latest publication, a one hundred word story titled "Unlimited Minutes," appears in Alison Tyler's Frenzy: 60 Stories of Sudden Sex; and Never Have the Same Sex Twice: A Guide For Couples.



Anna Marrian has written essays, articles and reviews for Newsweek, The Observer, the Village Voice, Jane, Glamour, the New York Post, and Modern Bride. She is the reciepient of a Hertog Fellowship, teaches creative writing at Hunter College, and is currently at work on a memoir.


Koren Shadmi was born in Israel, where he has worked since his early teens as an illustrator and cartoonist for various magazines. At seventeen, his graphic novel was published in Israel, followed by another book collecting his work from children's magazines. He then proceeded to serve as a graphic designer and illustrator in the Israel Defense Forces. Upon completion of his service Shadmi relocated to New York to study in the School of Visual Arts, where he acquired his bachelor's degree. His graphic work has appeared in numerous international anthologies, and his books Cours intérieures and Dissymétries have recently been published in France. His illustration work has appeared in publications such as Spin, BusinessWeek, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Progressive, San Francisco Chronicle, and many others.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Zero Drafting

It's amazing how many words one can put down when one is trying not to care about them.

It's impossible for me not to care at all--on a computer, I am constantly making small changes in word choice or in small additions or deletions that I might not even consciously notice. But the goal with "zero drafting" is to get the words down as fast as possible by focusing on the story rather than the crafting of the prose. The psychological aspect is that calling it "zero" instead of "first" helps me to ignore my inner editor.

Of course,"story" and "prose" are inextricable in a way I'm not sure I can explain; it's just something I feel is true. But at the same time, "story" can be pared down to mean simply "things that happen" and "characters they happen to." For zero drafting, I write scenes that I think ought to have happened to my characters, in order to see if their behavior in those scenes seems consistent and interesting. I think of zero draft as "figuring stuff out on the page."

The important bit is that all of this zero draft is subject to change. If it doesn't work, out it goes, no harm, no foul. Some things might linger in the manuscript for a really long time, only to be cut when I'm almost done. That doesn't matter. Those words will have served their "figuring out" purpose.

I normally cut thousands of words, possibly as many as fifty thousand, over the course of writing a novel of maybe 100,000 words. So I might as well not stress too much over wordcount while I'm figuring things out.

At the same time, attaining large wordcounts every day while drafting gives me a sense of accomplishment that's hard to beat. Part of this is "figuring out" seems to take more words than refined, edited prose. I'm stopping action scenes in the middle and writing down infodumps, made up on the spot, for my own information. I'm describing things that might be peripheral to the scene going on, because I realized I know what something ought to look like and I don't want to forget about it. And I'm writing scenes that I might not need to show in the final product; they might be backstory, or irrelevant except to my backbrain.

It feels wasteful. But if I don't struggle through the zero draft, the story won't get written at all. You can't revise what you haven't written.

Realted Posts: How To Write A Novel (in 72 Easy Steps!).

Pithy Writing Advice.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

the life of St. Patrick

Sometimes, historical research leaves me seeing novels everywhere.

This is what I could find on St. Patrick, who was born in 387 C.E..

Patrick's birth name was Maewyn Succat and he took the name Patricus when he became a priest.

At age 16, he was captured by Irish raiders and made a slave; he served as a shepherd in Ireland for six years, where he learned to speak Irish. He also became a devout Christian while a slave, and had a dream that told him to leave Ireland aboard a ship. He escaped, found a ship, and returned home to Britain, where he became a priest and studied in a French monastery. He was later sent back to Ireland to covert the inhabitants to Christianity. He died on March 17th, though the year is not confirmed (I found several sources that gave different dates).

Doesn't this sound a bit like the plot to a romance novel? Except that there's no heroine. Perhaps a spunky Irish lass who is defending her lands from the interlopers....

Monday, March 16, 2009

Caring About Your Characters - Or Not

Do you have to care about your characters and their story to write it? Do you have to invent characters you like before writing?

Some people say yes. I say no, at least not at the beginning of the process.

True, it's more fun if you care. The best fun out there. But fun isn't the only enjoyable aspect of writing. There's also challenge. And there's a lot of challenge in starting to write a story where everything is up in the air, where you know nothing about your characters.

When I care about characters, I usually mean that I like them, and/or want to see them conquer their enemies, achieve self-actualization, whatever their story goal might be. If I wouldn't necessarily want some of them to be my everyday buddies, they would be interesting people to meet at a party and then back away from, slowly. Care can also mean I want to see them lose their evilly-gotten gains, be insulted, or simply get killed gruesomely in the course of the story.

Trying to find reasons to care about a character, now there's a challenge. What could Blank Slate possibly do that would make me love him? Or, alternatively, make me want to stick an icepick in his ear? And why would he do that? And how will he go about showing it to the reader? And who will get in his way?

See, instant story. Because I didn't have a character I automatically felt something for.

Related post: Learning Who Your Characters Are.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

In the Flesh Reading, 3/19/09

Stop by and say hello! And have a cupcake!

IN THE FLESH EROTIC READING SERIES
March 19th at 8:00 PM
AT HAPPY ENDING LOUNGE, 302 BROOME STREET, NYC
(B/D to Grand, J/M/Z to Bowery, F to Delancey or F/V to 2nd Avenue, http://www.happyendinglounge.com/)
Admission: Free, 21+
Happy Ending Lounge: 212-334-9676
http://inthefleshreadingseries.blogspot.com/

March brings an eclectic mix of true sex stories, erotic romance, hotel sex, a graphic novelist and a former Jehovah's Witness! Featuring Paula Derrow, editor of the anthology Behind the Bedroom Door, along with contributors Anna Marrian and Pari Chang, graphic novelist Koren Shadmi, author of the fabulously titled In The Flesh, memoirist and former Jehovah's Witness Kyria Abrahams (I'm Perfect, You're Doomed), first-time novelist Victoria Janssen (The Duchess, Her Maid, the Groom and Their Lover) and Tess Danesi and Rachel Kramer Bussel reading from Rachel's latest anthology Do Not Disturb: Hotel Sex Stories. The Do Not Disturb book trailer will also be shown.

Mobile Libris will be selling copies of the authors' books.

Free candy and cupcakes will be served.

In the Flesh is a monthly reading series hosted at the appropriately named Happy Ending Lounge, and features the city's best erotic writers sharing stories to get you hot and bothered, hosted and curated by acclaimed erotic writer and editor Rachel Kramer Bussel. From erotic poetry to down and dirty smut, these authors get naked on the page and will make you lust after them and their words. Since its debut in October 2005, In the Flesh has featured such authors as Laura Antoniou, Mo Beasley, Lily Burana, Jessica Cutler, Stephen Elliott, Valerie Frankel, Polly Frost, Gael Greene, Andy Horwitz, Debra Hyde, Maxim Jakubowski, Emily Scarlet Kramer of CAKE, Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Edith Layton, Logan Levkoff, Suzanne Portnoy, Sofia Quintero, M.J. Rose, Lauren Sanders, Danyel Smith, Grant Stoddard, Cecilia Tan, Carol Taylor, Dana Vachon, Veronica Vera, Susan Wright, Zane and many others. The series has gotten press attention from the New York Times's UrbanEye, Escape (Hong Kong), Flavorpill, The L Magazine, New York Magazine, New York Observer, Philadelphia City Paper, Time Out New York, Gothamist, Nerve.com and Wonkette, and has been praised by Dr. Ruth.

Kyria Abrahams is the author of the memoir I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales From a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing. She is a 34-year-old standup comedian, spoken-word poet, and web producer. She lives in Queens, New York.kyriaabrahams.blogspot.com

Rachel Kramer Bussel is an author, editor, blogger and reading series host. She is Senior Editor at Penthouse Variations and a former sex columnist for The Village Voice. She's edited numerous anthologies, most recently Do Not Disturb: Hotel Sex Stories, Best Sex Writing 2009, Tasting Him, Tasting Her, and Spanked. Her writing been published in publications such as Clean Sheets, Cosmopolitan, Fresh Yarn, Huffington Post, Mediabistro, Newsday, New York Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Tango, The Village Voice, and Time Out New York, and in over 100 anthologies, including Best American Erotica 2004 and 2006.
She has hosted In The Flesh since October 2005.
rachelkramerbussel.com

Pari Chang is a former litiagator whose personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, Self, Glamour, and The Bark. She lives in Manhattan with her family.

Tess Danesi is writer of erotic fiction with a D/s twist, who also blogs about her varied experiences and often tumultuous life at Urban Gypsy (http://www.nyc-urban-gypsy.blogspot.com/) as well as a sex toy reviewer for Edenfantasys.com. Tess was a winner of Babeland's erotica contest and has been published in Time Out New York.

Paula Derrow is the editor of Behind the Bedroom Door. She has worked for more than twenty years at a variety of magazines and other media, including Glamour, Harper's Bazaar, and Lifetime Television. She is the articles director at Self magazine and teaches writing workshops for MediaBistro.com. She lives in New York City.

Victoria Janssen's first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, the Groom and Their Lover, is a December 2008 release from Harlequin SPICE. Her second, The Moonlight Mistress, is a December 2009 SPICE release. She enjoys playing with genre tropes. Frequent themes in her stories include role reversal and empowering women, usually through unconventional means. Under her pseudonym, Elspeth Potter, she's sold more than thirty short stories to various anthologies, including Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Women's Erotica, Best Lesbian Romance, Periphery, and The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica. She's also sold to Fishnet Magazine. Her latest publication, a one hundred word story titled "Unlimited Minutes," appears in Alison Tyler's Frenzy: 60 Stories of Sudden Sex; and Never Have the Same Sex Twice: A Guide For Couples.
http://www.victoriajanssen.com/

Anna Marrian has written essays, articles and reviews for Newsweek, The Observer, the Village Voice, Jane, Glamour, the New York Post, and Modern Bride. She is the reciepient of a Hertog Fellowship, teaches creative writing at Hunter College, and is currently at work on a memoir.

Koren Shadmi was born in Israel, where he has worked since his early teens as an illustrator and cartoonist for various magazines. At seventeen, his graphic novel was published in Israel, followed by another book collecting his work from children's magazines. He then proceeded to serve as a graphic designer and illustrator in the Israel Defense Forces. Upon completion of his service Shadmi relocated to New York to study in the School of Visual Arts, where he acquired his bachelor's degree. His graphic work has appeared in numerous international anthologies, and his books Cours intérieures and Dissymétries have recently been published in France. His illustration work has appeared in publications such as Spin, BusinessWeek, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Progressive, San Francisco Chronicle, and many others.
http://www.korenshadmi.com/

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Siegfried Sassoon, "Fight to a Finish"

Explanatory note: So, why all the World War One poetry, you ask? Because I love it, and my love for this poetry is one of the reasons I became so interested in researching that particular historical period, and I want to share. Moonlight Mistress is set during World War One.

Fight to a Finish

The boys came back. Bands played and flags were flying,
And Yellow-Pressmen thronged the sunlit street
To cheer the soldiers who’d refrained from dying,
And hear the music of returning feet.
'Of all the thrills and ardours War has brought,
This moment is the finest.' (So they thought.)

Snapping their bayonets on to charge the mob,
Grim Fusiliers broke ranks with glint of steel,
At last the boys had found a cushy job.
. . . .

I heard the Yellow-Pressmen grunt and squeal;
And with my trusty bombers turned and went
To clear those Junkers out of Parliament.

--Siegfried Sassoon, Counter-Attack and Other Poems, 1918

Friday, March 13, 2009

Contemporary Romance is Alive and Well, Right?

I noted in passing the other day a passing comment on twitter, that a particular writer would "save the contemporary."

Does the contemporary need saving? It doesn't look like it to me.

From perusing bookstore shelves, I see contemporaries and historicals in about equal numbers. If you add in category romance, almost all of which is contemporary, the numbers go up quickly. Also, Nora Roberts and Susan Elizabeth Phillips, two of the largest selling romance writers, publish contemporaries.

Plus, it looks to me like contemporary even has its own subgenres, romantic suspense and contemporary humor, as well as combinations thereof, none of which appears to be in danger. Linda Howard or Meg Cabot, anyone?

What am I missing? Do categories not count? Do the subgenres like romantic suspense not count? Is the contemporary in "danger" because there are fewer authors but with larger sales? Or am I missing the point entirely?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

cover for Moonlight Mistress!

It's not work-safe due to a lot of bare skin, so I'm not posting it here, but I've received the cover for Moonlight Mistress.

Behold!

http://pics.livejournal.com/oracne/pic/0006wswy/g44

I am amused that I received this the same day I posted about the gorgeous cover for The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover.

no, I didn't design my book cover.


No, I didn't design the cover for The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover.

No, I didn't pose for it, either.

No, I've never met the people photographed for the cover. Nor the photographer. Nor the art director. I did send the photographer and art director heartfelt fan letters, though, for the gorgeous work they produced.

Once my non-writing friends learned I had a novel coming out, I got more questions about the cover than anything else. I found myself explaining, over and over again, that not only did the author have very little to do with the cover, but sometimes the cover had very little to do with the book.

Covers might illustrate characters from the story, or events from the story, but then again they might not, because the primary purpose of a cover, aside from protecting the pages within, is to sell the book. Covers are marketing tools, just like the logo on Macintosh computers or uniquely-shaped perfume bottles.

My publisher is Harlequin, and they do collect information from their authors about the setting of their book and the physical appearance of the characters. However, there's no guarantee any of those details will make it to the cover.
Cover decisions are ultimately made by people whose job it is to sell books, and I for one am happy to let them do so! They're professionals, who are devoting their professional energy towards selling books for the benefit of my publisher and for the benefit of me. What's not to like about that?

Isn't it beautiful? Didn't they do a great job?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

professional writing and spending money

In reviewing money I spent last year on writing-related expenses, I once again have been pondering when this money is well-spent, and where my priorities are.

The best purchase I made was a netbook, basically a smaller-sized laptop computer. My laptop is several years old, and since I have no desktop computer and often write outside of my house, it's vital. I could have bought a new full-sized laptop, or even a desktop, but the netbook was the best option for me; because it's small. I've carried it a few times when I would not have carried my old laptop, and gotten extra writing done as a result. I feel safer having a backup machine. Finally, the netbook supports the most important thing about writing professionally, which is the writing itself.

At the moment, my website [www.victoriajanssen.com] isn't much; it's up to date, and provides all the relevant information, but I did not pay for a designer, or for any fabulous graphics or gadgets. I'm still pondering whether a web designer should be in my future. I think I will reconsider that question, if I sell another book; until then, I think the site does what I meant it to, that is, serve as a source of information for interested readers, even if they're bringing up the page on their Blackberry. If I pay more money and get a fancier website, it will then require more of my time; I'll have to provide more content for it, and think about said content. Those things will eat into time which I spend on writing. So it's a lower priority.

After travel to conferences, which I consider very important for networking and maintaining my sanity as a writer, my other largest expense is books. Books...well, books are a luxury. I could get more books for free, or from libraries, but I love books, and having them makes me happy. Also, sometimes having the relevant reference to hand means I don't have to trudge outside in the snow and take the bus to the library. I consider my book habit justified; in my budget, it replaces such things as a car and its associated costs, cable television, and high-speed internet. And if I don't read, my writer's brain is not fed; also, if I don't read in my genre, I don't know my genre. So once again, books come back to the writing, and I count it a justified cost.

How about you?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pithy Writing Advice

I used to have an orange file folder in which I carried stacks of manuscripts to my writing workshop every couple of months. Inside that folder, I wrote quotes--things that people said while critiquing, some their own, some from another workshop or from a mentor.

I can still paraphrase most of the quotes. Somebody probably told Homer some of these things, back in the day.

1. Start as close to the end of the story as possible.

2. The first sentence should aim the story.

3. A short story is about the most important event in someone's life. A novel is about the most important period in their life.

4. It may be in your head, but if it's not on the page, it didn't happen.

5. Reduce the plot to a single sentence. Then you'll know what's important and what isn't.

6. Don't have too many characters whose names all start with the same letter.

7. Don't be afraid to let yourself write crap. (in the first draft, anyway!)

Three Rules of Short Stories
1. Why do we care? (about the character/s)
2. What's the failure cost? (of their actions or inactions)
3. What do we win? (hopefully, character change as well as a plot outcome)

And my own contribution: Don't make the editor's decision for her. That is, if you don't submit a manuscript, the editor can't accept it.

What is your favorite writing advice?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Novel Beginnings: on opening sentences

Thanks to a post at Lust in Time, I began thinking about first lines and beginnings of novels, and the idea that novels are supposed to "grab" the reader from the beginning, or "start with a bang." (I pause to enjoy mental hilarity on whether that means starting the story with a sex scene.) As I jokingly remarked in comments to the post, it's easy to find a great opening sentence after about sixteen revisions.

I think an opening sentence with too many explosions, metaphorical or otherwise, can be disorienting. If there are too many events, descriptions, and characters flying in all directions, it's hard to make sense of it all and rather than read on, I want to give up and go read something else. In my opinion, this style of opening seems to work best when the writer promptly pulls back afterwards, to give the reader a chance to assimilate what she's been given and decide she wants to find out more. This kind of opening is more a teaser than a vehicle for information, but it works best if it carries both kinds of information. "It was the day my grandmother exploded." [The Crow Road, Iain Banks]

I think novels can start quietly, as well. A boring beginning won't get you far, but sweating over the first sentence because it's duller than the second sentence can be counterproductive. If you've just started writing your novel, I think it's best to just put a first sentence down and move on. You can change it later. You may not change it later, but if you need to, you can. Chances are, once you get to the end of your draft, you'll have a better idea of your story, and how that first sentence can be tied into its theme or plot or set up an important point of characterization. So by quietly, I don't mean static. That first sentence should, if at all possible, serve a purpose. It should do something.

For instance, novels that start with description of the weather or landscape almost always feel static to me, and I don't want to continue reading. Unless it's written by a terrific prose stylist, that sort of opening doesn't pass my "why do we care?" test. This might work if the weather or scenery is interacting with the protagonist, or in conflict with the protagonist.

A first sentence can establish conflict. I'll give the first sentence of my upcoming book, The Moonlight Mistress, as an example. "There were no trains to Strasbourg." This sentence begins with the dull and passive "There were," which ought not to work. However, I think it does work, because this sentence is not static; it implies conflict. There aren't any trains. Someone clearly wants a train. Why does she need a train? And why are there no trains? It's a short sentence, and it's easy to get to the next one. The reader will likely go on to find out what's up with the trains. (I might be deluding myself, but isn't that half of getting yourself to write?)

Ultimately, in a first sentence I want to see the protagonist and a problem as soon as possible. "When a boy's first romantic interlude is with Phoebe the Dog-Faced Girl, he feels a need to get out into the world and find a new life." [Freaks: Alive, on the Inside! by Annette Curtis Klause] Doesn’t that make you want to find out more?

I'll end with this:
"You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax."

Related post:

The Art of Letting Go: Finishing the Novel.

it's the 98th annual international women's day

Happy International Women's Day!

http://www.internationalwomensday.com/first.asp

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jane Yolen on plot

From Take Joy, by Jane Yolen:

"It is the writer's privilege, really, to order events, to focus on one strand of an existence while ignoring all others. We cannot do this in reality--but we can on the pages of a book." [p. 134]

"A good plot does not just look forward. It forces us backwards and sideward as well. It makes us look inward instead of outward. Think of plot as a kind of time-travel device. While it goes ahead, it changes what it has passed through; it rearranges where it has been...The plot needs to shadow and foreshadow and back-shadow as well." [pp 140-141]

"I think really the best thing to be said about plot is: Always something going on." [p. 143]

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Romance Reading So Far This Year

In 2009, I'm keeping track of my reading. Here's my romance and erotica reading so far for the year, divided by sub-genre:

Contemporary:
Janice Kay Johnson, What She Wants for Christmas [category]
Victoria Dahl, Talk Me Down
Kathleen O'Reilly, Once Upon a Mattress [category]
Julie Cohen, Mistress in Private [category]
Kayla Perrin, Love, Lies and Videotape

Historical:
Sherry Thomas, Delicious
Loretta Chase, Your Scandalous Ways
Madeline Hunter, Secrets of Surrender
Cheryl St. John, His Secondhand Wife
Anna Campbell, Tempt the Devil
Judith A. Lansdowne, The Mystery Kiss
Megan Chance, A Heart Divided
Deanna Raybourn, Silent in the Sanctuary [mystery]

Paranormal/Urban Fantasy/Futuristic:
Kelley Armstrong, Bitten
Robin D. Owens, Protector of the Flight
Eileen Wilks, Mortal Sins
Kresley Cole, Kiss of a Demon King
Gena Showalter, Savor Me Slowly
Carrie Vaughn, Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand

Erotica:
Kate Pearce, Simply Sinful [historical]
Kristina Lloyd, Darker Than Love [historical]

Friday, March 6, 2009

Where's the sexual line in shapeshifter romance?

Today's wild speculation--where's the sexual line in shapeshifter romance?

I don't think I've ever read a paranormal romance, or even a fantasy novel, in which a sex scene happens between one human partner and one partner who's shifted into an animal form. With one exception, I've never even seen such a scene happen when the shapeshifter partner is in a form partway between human and animal. However, I have seen the human partner naked in bed, after sex, with a shapeshifter in animal form. That's apparently okay, so long as no sex is involved, only petting the pretty fur. The main example I recall is in Marjorie Liu's Tiger Eye, but I'm sure there are more. Is the idea here that petting the animal form is a deeper form of acceptance of that animal self?

Obviously, the main taboo against shifted/human sex is bestiality, and of course there are the physical obstacles. But is there more to it? What about transitional forms? Assuming the shapeshifter still keeps his or her--but usually his--human mind, does the form matter? Kate Douglas' erotic Wolf Tales begin with a man in a transitional form, in fact trapped in that form, and parlays the scenario into a "Beauty and the Beast" theme. It's surprising this isn't seen more often. Perhaps in a culture of depilation, an extra-hairy man is not seen as hot? Ahem. I'm sure that can't be true for everyone.

In The Moonlight Mistress, both partners are werewolves, but they only have sex in human form. When one is human and the other wolf, they are comfortable with one another so far as physical caressing goes, but I felt there's an added intimacy when both are human and thus more vulnerable (especially relevant to one of the characters). However, I think I'd like to try a "Beauty and the Beast" story one of these days. I think there's all sorts of potential there for conflict, and thus interesting plot.

I'd be interested in hearing about other examples of shapechanging in relation to intimacy in romances, or in erotica.

Happy Friday!

Related post: Romancing the Beast.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

a writer does her taxes

Tax time is coming around here in the U.S., and for the first time I have enough writing income to report.

This blog post should go on to say how I researched tax codes, collected information, sat down with a sharp pencil and paper...except I didn't do any of that.

I emailed a bunch of writer friends and asked them who did their taxes for them, and begged the favor of an introduction. I was introduced to my new tax person a few months later, and at her request, sold her a copy of The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover. Then I proceeded to pepper her with questions. She's the expert, after all.

Most of what I've done for taxes is assemble things. I put together all the forms reporting my income, including the novel income on a 1099 form, which is provided by one's agent. I then went through a year's worth of relevant, tax-deductible receipts. Those included books I bought for research (both historical research and genre research, i.e., romance novels), travel to conferences such as RWA National in San Francisco and various science fiction conventions, computer supplies such as a flash drive, blank cds, and my Acer Aspire One, dues paid to professional organizations such as RWA, SFWA, and Broad Universe, and the costs to register my web domain and pay for hosting.

It took a while to organize all those receipts, find the ones I'd neglected to save, and total them up, but hopefully it will be worth it because I'll get to keep a little more of my novel income. I'll ship the forms and the totals (with various detail information) off to my tax person, and she will take care of the rest. Next year, the money she charges me for this invaluable service will also be deductible!

And now to what I have learned in this process:

1. Have different envelopes for different categories of receipts, and sort the receipts into them as they accumulate.

2. Small receipts work better if you tape them to a larger piece of paper. I did this at the end, and am very glad I did so.

3. Spreadsheets are your friend.

Now I need to hunt up how much I paid for that flight to San Francisco for RWA.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

a review of The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover

Fellow Spice author Saskia Walker reviewed my novel The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover here: http://saskiawalker.blogspot.com/2009/03/erotic-reading.html

Siegfried Sassoon, "Attack"

Attack

At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow'ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!

--Siegfried Sassoon. Counter-Attack and Other Poems, 1918

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Art of Letting Go - Finishing the Novel

When is it time to stop working on a manuscript?

I might as well say now, this post is going to be one of my least concrete.

Last week, February 26, I turned in The Moonlight Mistress. I'd turned in the draft at the end of September, 2008; this version was the result of revising in response to my editorial letter. This involved, mainly, adding some new scenes and adding depth in a few key areas. I'd completed the major changes three weeks before; I then sent it out to a reader and let it sit, while I worked on a proposal for my next novel.

After that point and before I actually emailed the document to my editor, I did a fair number of line edits, mostly just tightening up prose and making sentences clearer. I didn't add any more scenes, or majorly change any scenes. Occasionally, wild ideas for changes to the story would fly into my head, none of which could be accomplished without major restructuring. Not only did I not have the time for that sort of restructuring, but I'd reached a point in my mind that I call done. So I did not try to implement any of those new ideas. Those ideas can be for a future book; after a certain point, there's no more to do but start a new book.

Done varies from person to person and from book to book. There's a saying that no book is ever finished, only abandoned. What I reached last week was the state of abandonment. The novel was complete in my mind; it had a shape and structure and feel to it that further tampering wouldn't substantially alter. It felt done. It was done with me, and I was done with it. Deadlines sometimes help with this feeling!

For me, doneness also happens in stages. There's being done with the draft, done with the revisions, done with the whole thing. There's the stage of having added all the scenes you need, and the stage of having slipped in as many thematic reinforcements as you can manage. There's the stage of having a good ending. I can be done with each of these things, and then pull away, and later go back.

One sign of doneness is that I can't work on the novel any more; thinking about it leads to a feeling of calm emptiness, a feeling that I've done all there is to be done. This isn't true, of course. But I think it's a necessary stage. Otherwise, I would just pick and pick at small things, and never be able to draw back and look at the novel as a whole. If I don't feel done, and don't stop working for a while, I will never get a complete idea of the novel. It won't be done.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Historical Detail in Fiction

I've been putting together my thoughts on how I include history in novels, for example the World War One detail in Moonlight Mistress.

The first thing is to create a sense of normality. The characters do ordinary things in an ordinary way; ordinary, that is, for this year in this place. Specificity is key.

For example, in writing description, writing teachers often laud the virtues of specificity: not a flower, but a freshly unfurled red tulip as bright as candy.

When a novel is historical, you don't have to make up most of those details; your research takes care of that. I research, as most people do, far more than I "need" to research, but that extra effort can pay off in unexpectedly useful ways. So the first thing is knowing specific details, or having them handy for when they're needed.

The second thing is an ongoing process. I don't insert my historical factoids at precise, mathematically calculated intervals. I drip them in instead, like rain working its way through a roof to occasionally trickle down your neck. This I can break down into a numbered list.

1. If you have an opportunity to use a historical detail rather than a vague detail, do it. Don't rummage in your pocket; rummage in the pocket of your poplin shirtwaist.

2. It helps to keep in mind what has changed between then and now. Those are things the reader needs to know to before they can be immersed in this new world. To a character in 1914, the daily arrival of the iceman would be an ordinary event; so if you need a bit of business to dress up a conversation, perhaps you could interrupt their conversation, briefly, by the iceman's arrival.

3. Details work better in action than in description alone; that's a general principle I've seen in many guides to writing. So one can describe a room and note the collection of hats on a hatstand, because women wore hats every day, but it's better if the reader sees those hats because the woman is selecting one to wear for an afternoon's shopping. Details inserted in this way can accumulate to good effect.

4. A big pet peeve of mine, which I will never write, and I recommend no one else write either: "Oh, come now! It's [name your year/era]! We're modern people, we don't do that any more!"

5. And sometimes one does simply describe, just as in non-historical writing. Don't go overboard in avoiding brief descriptive passages. If the character is visiting a huge, magnificent site, they would take note of its hugeness and magnificence and spend a few moments looking around before doing anything else.

The photos in this post are from World War One. Yes, they did have color photographs!

Related Posts:
Synergy in Writing and Research.
Reading for the Writer.


What are your tips and tricks for writing historical settings?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Siegfried Sassoon, "Sick Leave"

Sick Leave

When I'm asleep, dreaming and lulled and warm,--
They come, the homeless ones, the noiseless dead.
While the dim charging breakers of the storm
Bellow and drone and rumble overhead,
Out of the gloom they gather about my bed.
They whisper to my heart; their thoughts are mine.
'Why are you here with all your watches ended?
From Ypres to Frise we sought you in the Line.'
In bitter safety I awake, unfriended;
And while the dawn begins with slashing rain
I think of the Battalion in the mud.
'When are you going out to them again?
Are they not still your brothers through our blood?'

--Siegfried Sassoon, Counter-Attack and Other Poems, 1918