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

Monday, August 31, 2009

Lauren Dane Guest Post - Worldbuilding and Characterization

Please welcome my guest, Lauren Dane!


Worldbuilding and Characterization

The first book I wrote was a paranormal. I loved the freedom of building worlds. They were my rules, my world, the characters did what I told them to. Of course when something didn’t work or make sense, that was all me too.

Building a world for your characters to inhabit is only part of the process though. In the end, any story that is about people and their relationships to each other will stand or fall through its characters. Over time, as I’ve found my voice and my "book legs" I find myself really drawn to characters as the foundation for the stories I want to tell.

In every book I’ve written and in every book I’ve read and loved, it’s always come down to the characters for me. When I read Susan Elizabeth Phillips, I’m drawn in immediately by her heroines. SEP has this way of creating characters who are so flawed, you may not even like them at first, but over the course of the story, she lures you in closer and closer, revealing her characters bit by bit until she has you rooting for them. Similarly, Nora Roberts breathes life into her characters in a way that will stick with the reader the whole book long. I finished High Noon a few months back and I thought about how she’d given me a woman, a single mother struggling to raise her kid and pretty much her elderly, panic attack prone mother, all while she was a hardnosed cop too. There were no stereotypes here. She’s not cold or cut off from her sexuality, she’s just busy and totally broadsided by this man who stumbles into her path. Much like Eve with her jagged edges and tragic past. And yet she grows and matures, she makes mistakes and she learns from them.

So when I write a book, I nearly almost always have a strong idea of who at least one of the characters will be and I fill in all the details as I begin to write. Somewhere between a quarter to halfway through, I have my epiphany moment when I realize what the key is to why my characters are the way they are. Once I get there, the writing is easier, but I always have to journey with them a while until I figure it out.

I don’t have a muse. I don’t have rituals. But I do believe, quite strongly, that every character worth caring about has a backstory. The author may not reveal all the details to the reader, but I don’t think a character truly lives and leaps off the page unless they’re fully realized, unless they have a history. Just like real people, I suppose. Authors can run the risk of revealing too much too soon and info dumping or taking too much time and frustrating the reader or seeming coy. I generally try to think about pace and how people react to each other as I reveal. Each couple will have its own dynamic; some men wouldn’t stand for a heroine holding back a secret until 80% of the way into the story, while other heroines figure out what the hero is trying to deal with and wait for him to find the right time to spill his secrets.

So in Laid Bare, the story is about opposites. Todd and Erin are total opposites when it comes to musical taste, politics, lifestyles and their approach to life. At the same time, Todd is a man who at first cannot allow himself to fully accept who he is sexually. He’s horrified and angry that he likes what he likes. Erin is not that person. Erin is a woman who understands herself. She is confident in her skin. She is ambitious and creative and sexual. She is not ashamed of what she likes and this is an issue with them, an issue that drives them apart for a decade until Todd returns to Seattle, a changed man, ready to be who he truly is.

As for Erin, she’s the character I knew before I even began to type. In fact, only a few other characters have connected with me on such an instinctual level. She lived in my head long before I wrote the book. Her history was something I knew going in, but how she dealt with it at any given time would surprise me. She wrote her own scenes a lot of the time, which is a rare and wonderful treat for an author.

And then there was Ben. Wow. Okay so this book was not supposed to be a ménage. In fact, originally I had a threesome scene planned, a single event and it was written with Cope, a friend of Todd’s and Ben’s brother. But Ben had his own plans and he would not let me alone until I finally wrote the story how he wanted. He loved Erin and he wanted to be with Todd and so I finally just gave in. And in doing so, I learned a lot about him and about Todd as well. Letting Ben have a bigger part to play in this book made it better, gave more insight into the story and the other characters. I’m glad I let it happen but wow was it a pain until I just gave in, LOL.

The moment when I truly understood Ben was when he was standing in their bedroom, looking out the windows over the city and I felt his loneliness because he couldn't bear it any longer. He craves connection and in being so understood and accepted by Erin and Todd, he finds it.

And in Todd, for me, it was the moment he stepped into Erin’s apartment and listened to her tell the story of how her daughter died. He gave to her, supported her, opened himself up so she could pour it all into him. And in that scene, Todd clicked with me and my story in a way he hadn’t until that point. He had more dimension, more layers. In that scene, he exposed himself to me in a way he hadn’t yet (not that way, pervs!)

Laid Bare was a project filled with absolutely unexpected moments. It felt so unwieldy at points, especially when it became a ménage 65% of the way in. But in writing it, in managing it and making it into something else, I learned a lot about myself as a writer and most definitely my characters. I’m a control freak in a major way when it comes to my work, so it’s these things, these unexpected bends in the road, that challenge me the most. And it’s the characters who ground me and carry me through. Or, well I hope it does!

Thanks so much for having me today! What about you all? Do you have any favorite literary characters? If so, who and why? I’d love to offer up a copy of my anthology from Spice, What Happens In Vegas…After Dark as a prize to one winner.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Vera Brittain, "The German Ward"

The German Ward

When the years of strife are over and my
recollection fades
Of the wards wherein I worked the weeks
I shall still see, as a visions rising 'mid the War-
time shades,
The ward in France where German wounded

I shall see the pallid faces and the half-sus-
picious eyes,
I shall hear the bitter groans and laboured
And recall the loud complaining and the weary
tedious cries,
And the sights and smells of blood and wounds
and death.

I shall see the convoy cases, blanket-covered
on the floor,
And watch the heavy stretcher-work begin,
And the gleam of knives and bottles through
the open theatre door,
And the operation patients carried in.

I shall see the Sister standing, with her form
of youthful grace,
And the humour and the wisdom of her
And the tale of three years' warfare on her thin
expressive face-
The weariness of many a toil-filled while.

I shall think of how I worked for her with
nerve and heart and mind,
And marvelled at her courage and her skill,
And how the dying enemy her tenderness
would find
Beneath her scornful energy of will.

And I learnt that human mercy turns alike to
friend or foe
When the darkest hour of all is creeping
And those who slew our dearest, when their
lamps were burning low,
Found help and pity ere they came to die.

So, though much will be forgotton when the
sound of War's alarms
And the days of death and strife have passed
I shall always see the vision of Love working
amidst arms
In the ward wherein the wounded prisoners

--Vera Brittain

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Excerpt from The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover - Humor

Excerpt from The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover- Humor


Two days later, the last of the horses was slung aboard Captain Leung's ship. Watching from the dock, Henri bounced on his toes. He'd never been to sea before, though the coast was less than a day's journey from the ducal seat, if one wasn't picky about where one took ship.

Sylvie jabbed him with her elbow. "Be still. You are older than five."

Henri grinned at her. "We're going to sea!"

"We will likely drown," she said, dourly. "Or be eaten by sharks. Or the tiny fish, who attack in flocks and shred the flesh from your bones."

"Those are only in rivers, Captain Leung said."

"Rivers run into the sea, and fish can swim along them," Sylvie said. "You seem insufferably pleased with yourself. It could wear on a person's patience. There might be an accident. Do you swim?"

Henri rose to his toes again, this time to try and see how Lilas fared as her hooves met the deck. He glanced over his shoulder at Sylvie. "She turned you down, didn't she? Captain Leung?"

"Not all of us are so lucky as you," she growled, and stomped away.

Kaspar strolled to Henri's side. "And she gets seasick as well," he said. "Won't this be a pleasant trip?"


c. Victoria Janssen, 2009

Buy The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom & Their Lover.

More excerpts from me.

More Snippet Saturday!

Jody Wallace
Lauren Dane
McKenna Jeffries
Moira Rogers
Shelley Munro
Taige Crenshaw
Vivian Arend
Leah Braemel
TJ Michaels
Shelli Stevens
Mark Henry
Shelley Munro
Kelly Maher
Juliana Stone
Elisabeth Naughton
Michelle Rowen
Ashley Ladd

Friday, August 28, 2009

Kirsten Saell Guest Post - "Writing F/F(/M) for the Female Gaze"

Please welcome my guest, Kirsten Saell.


Writing F/F(/M) for the Female Gaze

I adore men. I love their hard bodies and their strong chins and the frankness of their bodies. I love the sound of a deep voice growling something naughty in my ear, accompanied by the rasp of poky, prickly whiskers against my skin. I love the feel of muscled arms holding me so tight I almost can't break free. And as long as we’re being honest, I love their…ahem…equipment, both for its form and its functionality.

I also adore women. I love their softness and their curves and their "f*ck me" eyelashes. I love the feel of a quiet, feminine whisper fanning almost noiselessly against my lips. I love the languid grace of a female body, still flushed and glowing with exertion, sprawled on tousled sheets. And I love absolutely everything about the way their bodies express arousal.

For me, f/f/m is the ultimate fantasy—-if you want to get specific, my ultimate fantasy is me, sandwiched between Clive Owen and Angelina Jolie (hey, we are talking fantasy here). As a bi woman, an f/f/m happily ever after is like having my cake and eating it too, and then having another cake and eating that. And then having twice the help with the dishes.

While I would assume most romance readers are straight women, cross-preference eroticism provides frequent fodder for sexual fantasy for women of all sexual orientations. Many lesbians fantasize about men (sometimes more than one at a time, heh), and lots of straight women enjoy fantasies of women being sexual with each other.

Which has made me wonder why f/f and f/f/m erotic content has been less than enthusiastically embraced by romance readers.

Now I'm not talking about the admittedly small, niche subgenre of lesbian romance, because the vast majority of romance readers are not lesbians. I'm talking about books that explore female-female sensuality from a mostly heterosexual or bisexual female perspective.

And I'm not talking about the small minority of readers who find the mere notion of f/f content so objectionable it would make them stop reading an otherwise great book. I'm talking about those straight (or predominantly straight) women who didn’t abandon Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Willow crossed to the dark side of the Kinsey Scale, who may occasionally fantasize about women together, who might have even experimented with same-sex sensuality in college or their wild party days.

What's stopping these women from picking up a scorching hot f/f(/m) erotic romance? I got three words for ya: The male gaze.

Dudes, f/f sex is everywhere. From late night phone-chat ads to Nascar races, from fashion magazines to beer commercials, from music videos to Spike TV, girl-on-girl action abounds in the mainstream media. It seems like every time we turn around we're bombarded by images of women together the way men want to see them.

It can't be stressed enough that what appeals to a man will not necessarily appeal to a woman. In fact, the way women are eroticized in order to arouse men is often actively off-putting to women. To quote fellow author Mima, f/f love is "not two women in bikinis hugging each other at a car race." It's not exhibitionism on a dance floor while a crowd of appreciative studs look on. It isn't two women giggling and groping each other in a corner booth while sending flirty glances in the direction of the cute guy at the bar. And it certainly isn't that twinkle in the eye of the guy who seemed soooo nice, right up until he asked if you’d have a threesome with him and your BFF.

When I wrote Healer's Touch, I knew I was up against some pretty pervasive resentment over the exploitation of f/f sensuality for the titillation of straight men. Considering the tropes the story had in common with the typical male version of the girl/girl fantasy, I even wondered if I should write it at all. But I've never been one to not do a thing just because it might be hard to do well. And though the book hasn't scored as consistently high with readers as my others have, I’m enormously proud of the fact that I could write two women being sexual together in the service of the hero's voyeurism in a way that didn't result in a flurry of hate-email from outraged readers.

So how do you write f/f(/m) for the female gaze?

1) Write women—-not moving, talking blow-up dolls. Women fantasize about emotional connections, being desired, and being the focus of pleasure. It's not about the act, it's about desire and the fulfilment of desire. Putting two women with no emotional connection and no real desire to be sexual with each other in bed together might turn on a male reader, but it does absolutely nothing for most women. And even if the second woman is not going to be a permanent fixture in the romance, she needs to be a real person, with real, healthy reasons for what she does.

2) Let the woman lead. No woman wants to read about a threesome that's only there to satisfy the hero's hankering for some Doublemint sex—-even if the heroine is game. There are enough men out there who've tried cajoling an unwilling girlfriend/wife into a threesome for such a scenario to seem squicky, even to women who have never been put in that position. If it's going to work for a female reader, the heroine almost always has to be the one to initiate the scenario.

3) Don't bash men. F/F sensuality written for straight and bi women needs to consider its readership. No straight woman wants to be told she's a chump for being straight, because no man will ever be able to pleasure her or understand her or treat her or love her as well as a woman could. Yes, sex between two women is different than sex between a woman and a man. Yes, love between two women is different than love between a woman and a man. But different is not necessarily better. It's just different.

4) Don't make it all about men, either. In Healer's Touch, the f/f sex was primarily there to indulge the hero's voyeurism—-to break down his resistance so he would admit his love for the heroine. But half of the f/f scenes did not include him at all. Those scenes were 100% about the two women, about their growing emotional and physical connection, and their willingness to explore their own desire for each other. Though the heroine’s primary motive for initiating the sexual arrangement was to get her man, the secondary heroine agreed to the plan for deeply personal reasons. She did it to help a friend, certainly, but she also did it for herself.

5) Lesbo porn—-ur doin’ it rong. Please, please, please do not use commercial f/f porn as an instructional guide to writing good f/f(/m) sex. Visual porn is all about the camera. Most of the things that feel best to a woman do not translate through a lens. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, just ask yourself when the last time was that you kissed anyone with your tongue all the way outside your mouth. "Lesbian" porn produced for men is…unrealistic in so many ways, and somehow even when there’s no man involved, it's still frequently all about the penis. If you're going to watch porn to get your ideas, watch the amateur stuff. Production values aren't as good, but at least you can tell the women are enjoying themselves.

I do find it an absolute shame that so many women aren’t ready to take a chance on an f/f(/m) romance. It’s a shame that it's so hard to get past the discomfort that can accompany any hint of girl/girl sex—negative associations that coat what could be a sexy, romantic read with the skeezy residue of Girls Gone Wild.

But for women who are open-minded, who are willing to take the chance, there are a few stories out there by talented authors who write f/f(/m) from a female perspective—-with female characters who are more than blow-up dolls, male characters who aren’t condescending or smarmy about f/f sex, and happily ever afters that will make you feel like you just curled up in a snuggie still warm from the dryer. Go pick one up. What's stopping you?


Thanks, Kirsten! Stop by tomorrow for another Snippet Saturday - the theme is Humor.

Related Posts:

Erotica as a Feminist Act.

Erotic Journeys and Bodice Rippers.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pirates and Swords

Sometimes, a picture says it all.

Nummy, aren't they?

Photo is of Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in Captain Blood, 1935. You can see the sword fight here. It's visible that Basil Rathbone was a real fencer; Errol Flynn said, "I really can't fence worth a damn. I just know how to make it look good."

Regardless, it's very unlikely sailors of that period would fence as those two did in the movie--the edged weapon of choice for sailors of the 17th and 18th centuries was the cutlass, a slashing weapon that required little training and was excellent for use in close quarters fighting. The cutlass is both shorter and heavier than, for example, the saber, which was often used by cavalry. Cutlass blades were sometimes straight, sometimes slightly curved, and sharpened on only one edge. Often, the hilt (and the wielder's hand) was protected by a curved or basket-shaped guard.

Tomorrow, Kirstin Saell will guestblog on "Writing F/F(/M) for the Female Gaze."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Some of My Favorite Pictures from Montreal

This is going to be my last post full of Montreal photos. Really.

I loved the bright colors in this mural near McGill University.

This snake graffiti? mural? was near our hotel.

Stadium built for the 1976 Summer Olympics.

A great glass artwork at the Berri-UQAM Metro Station.

Flowers at a park by the river in Old Montreal.

The riverside park in Old Montreal.

Inside the Basilica Notre Dame--I liked the way the lit candles came out.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I've sold a short--very short--story reprint to editor Alison Tyler for a Harlequin Spice anthology titled Alison's Wonderland. The theme is modern day fairy tales. Here's the table of contents:

The Red Shoes (Redux) by Nikki Magennis
Fool's Gold by Shanna Germain
The Three Billys by Sommer Marsden
David by Kristina Lloyd
Managers and Mermen by Donna George Storey
The Clean-Shaven Type by N.T. Morley
The Midas F*ck by Erica DeQuaya
Sleeping with Beauty by Allison Wonderland
Unveiling His Muse by Portia Da Costa
Always Break the Spines by Lana Fox
An Uphill Battle by Benjamin Eliot
Moonset by A.D.R Forte
Mastering Their Dungeons by Bryn Haniver
A Taste for Treasure by T.C. Calligari
The Broken Fiddle by Andrea Dale
The Cougar of Cobble Hill by Sophia Valenti
Wolff's Tavern by Bella Dean
Slutty Cinderella by Jacqueline Applebee
Kiss It by Saskia Walker
Let Down Your Libido by Rachel Kramer Bussel
Dancing Shoes by Tsaurah Litzky
Gold, On Snow by Janine Ashbless
After the Happily Every After by Heidi Champa
Cupid Has Signed Off by Thomas S. Roche
The Walking Wheel by Georgia E. Jones
Rings on My Fingers by Alison Tyler
The Princess by Elspeth Potter/Victoria Janssen

The anthology is due out in July 2010.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Caroline Stevermer Guest Post - Digging for the Metaphor

Please welcome my guest, Caroline Stevermer!


I'm Caroline Stevermer. In addition to A College of Magics and A Scholar of Magics, both available from Tor's Starscape imprint, I've collaborated with Patricia C. Wrede on Sorcery and Cecilia, The Grand Tour, and The Mislaid Magician, all from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (Their mass-market paperback line is Graphia.) Readers of the Kate and Cecy books may be interested to note that next summer, 2010, Dial Books will publish my middle-grade book Magic Below Stairs, which features Kate and Thomas as subsidiary characters in a story set at their country house Skeynes at the time of the birth of their first child.

Digging for the Metaphor

For the 19 years I've owned this house, I've used a shovel that must have been here since long before I moved in.

It's a good shovel. The handle has an ominous sense of frailty when one leans on it to lever out a root. The blade is cracked, a horizontal tear in the steel just where the handle ends. Think of the digging that shovel must have done to get that crack. For 19 years I've thought I should replace it, but I was not about to pay full price for a new one. I got by, mainly by using the shovel as seldom and as gently as possible.

Last summer I found a shovel at my neighbors' garage sale. Same blade shape, new handle. I paid two dollars for it. Only once I got it home did I notice they'd put the new handle on with the wrong sized screws, so half an inch of extra screw sticks out on either side, ready to scratch the unwary worker. I got by, mainly by using it as seldom and as warily as possible.

Yesterday I found a shovel in my cellar. It's perfect.

I remember now. It was a housewarming gift. I put it away carefully, but by the time the frost departed and the possibility of shoveling returned for the season, I'd forgotten it. I've been storing it for 19 years. I found the shovel because I've been emptying the cellar, using up some of the stuff I'd kept just in case, the odds and ends I'd put away for a rainy day. Because it's been a rainy year or so, I'm getting down to the corners. High time, obviously.

We're all having rainy days. We're all using the things we put away for a rainy day, literally and metaphorically.

Hang on, because I'm going to leave the shovels behind and talk about writing. I'm going to presume that anyone reading this blog is interested not just in reading but in writing too. I consider us all to be engaged in the struggle to get words out of our heads and into the world, in whatever form suits us best.

"Write what you know," we are told. (I've never had much luck with that advice.) But what do we know? How do we know what we know?

No question, our writing benefits from the details we notice as we move through the world. Who doesn't think, "I could use that," at least once a day? But there are more things around us than just the moments we gather going through the day, more than the hard-won bits of research mined from the vast seam of background reading that comes naturally. There are the things we take for granted. The things we forget we know. Or the things we think everyone knows. Those things that feel so easy and clear to us can be the crucial things that tell the reader what she needs to know about the characters in the story. I know how a farmer picks up a piglet (by a hind leg). If my protagonist knows that, it tells the reader something about pigs and something about the protagonist, too.

Ideally, I could finish up with some small fact about shovels, but alas, I don't have any. I only hope this newly rediscovered shovel of mine is a symbol for some inner strength I've taken for granted or set aside because I haven't needed them until now. To find a brand new tool right here beside me lifts my heart. May there be more tools around here somewhere, inside me and all around me, and may I discover them soon.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Extract from the diary of Edward Thomas, 23 February 1917

Extract from the diary of Edward Thomas:

23 February 1917

Chaffinch sang once. Another dull cold day. Inspected stables, checked inventory of new billet for men in Rue Jeanne d'Arc, went with Colonel round 244, 141 and 234 positions and O.P. in Achicourt. Afternoon maps. Partridges twanging in fields. Flooded fields by stream between the 2 sides of Achicourt. ruined churches, churchyard and railway. Sordid ruin of Estaminet with carpenter's shop over it in Rue Jeanne d'Arc--wet, mortar, litter, almanacs, bottles, broken glass, damp beds, dirty paper, knife, crucifix, statuette, old chairs. Our cat moves with the Group wherever it goes, but inspects new house inside and out, windows, fireplace etc. Paid the Pool gunners (scrapings from several batteries doing odd jobs here). 2 owls in garden at 6. The shelling must have slaughtered many jackdaws but has made home for many more. Finished Frost's 'Mountain Interval'. Wrote to Frost. A quiet still evening. Rubin brought over letters from Helen and Oscar.


Stop by tomorrow for a guest post from Caroline Stevermer, "Digging for the Metaphor."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Moonlight Mistress excerpt - Setting

My offering is from Moonlight Mistress, out December 2009 from Harlequin Spice.

Today's excerpt is all about the setting. It's the beginning of World War One, and Lucilla has joined a new hospital as a nurse. Ths hospital is being housed in a building that used to be a casino.


The first days were all hard work, such hard work that Lucilla fell into her bed each night already nearly asleep from exhaustion. Bedsteads had arrived, mattresses had accidentally gone to Rouen and had to be retrieved by lorry. Twenty roulette wheels had to be carried up to the attics and stacked atop card tables covered in green baize. Tanks of nitrous oxide were procured, but some of the tanks of oxygen needed to mix with it had leaked and arrived empty, and had to be replaced. Only boys and men over fifty years of age were available to work as orderlies, so Lucilla and even some of the doctors pitched in to carry immense piles of bedding and cases of bandages up the casino's grand staircases and into the wards. The official inspectors arrived, and declared one of the rooms they'd chosen for surgeries to be unacceptable, so another had to be prepared, all its carpeting ripped out and every surface scrubbed and painted.

At last, however, Lucilla gazed around a makeshift ward in satisfaction. The variously colored brocaded coverlets and lap rugs, all donations, made the room look cheerful. She'd successfully directed her cadre of six French volunteers in making the beds and laying out the requisite kit in the lockers beside: pajamas, flannel, towel and soap, and a bag to hold the patient's uniform once it had been labeled and laundered out in the paved courtyard. She doubted this perfection would last beyond the first influx of wounded, but she let her volunteers enjoy their success while they could, and for a break requested they stock the entertainment cabinet at the far end of the ward. Lucilla set the mademoiselles free to roam the casino's every room and closet to obtain sufficient decks of cards and cups of dice, secretly gleeful that such a male bastion was now the domain of women.

She looked out the glass doors at a crew of local workers struggling with electrical wiring, for the temporary buildings that would house the X-Ray department and laboratories. The white-haired man who directed them looked ready to strangle his helpers. Several more aged Frenchmen, aided by a crew of youngsters, were building paths out of boards, so trolleys could be wheeled directly from the hospital. One of those small buildings would be Lucilla's own kingdom, where she would perform double duty compounding disinfectant and irrigation solutions. The extra work would be worth it for the attendant privacy.

Matron swept through the elaborately carved doorway, studying the watch she wore clipped to her uniform cape. "Daglish, I'm afraid I'll have to move you over to the east wing. It's not quite ready, and I've heard we might be receiving casualties sooner than we'd expected."

So it begins, Lucilla thought. "Yes, Matron. Someone will look after the mademoiselles?"

"I'll send Sister Inkson."


c. Victoria Janssen 2009

Pre-order on

More excerpts from me.

More Snippet Saturday:

Beth Kery
Eliza Gayle
Jody Wallace
Lauren Dane
McKenna Jeffries
Michelle Pillow
Moira Rogers
Shelley Munro
Taige Crenshaw
Vivian Arend
Leah Braemel
TJ Michaels
Beth Williamson

Friday, August 21, 2009

Excerpt: The Duke and the Pirate Queen

I don't normally post excerpts from works in progress, but I decided it wasn't fair that only the male protagonist appeared in my previous sample from The Duke and the Pirate Queen.


A few minutes later, Imena hailed a pony-cab and gave Sanji's address. She leaned back in the padded seat and closed her eyes, forcing herself to replace Maxime's image in her mind with Sanji's. It was more difficult than she'd thought. She'd seen Sanji's body dozens of times, Maxime's rarely, but she had recent sense memory of Maxime's heavy muscularity and the scent and texture of his hair and skin. Remembering how his hands had felt on her body made her belly melt. If only he was not the duke. If only.

Sanji's home adjoined his chandler's shop. For once, his two young sons were not playing in the grassy back garden where Sanji kept a milch-goat; with a twinge, she remembered this was their week to visit with their aunt who lived inland. She had been looking forward to playing with the boys. Imena went into the shop, saw Sanji's assistant minding the counter, and ducked outside again.

She found Sanji in his workshop, mounting a compass into a new casing crafted from slender strips of varicolored woods. She leaned against the open doorway for a time, watching him work. He was a tallish man, as dark a brown as Chetri, with narrow stooped shoulders and lush black hair he wore in a messy tail down his back. Wide, thick black eyebrows gave his eyes a severe look at odds with his mild personality. Imena found him soothing. His hands at work were as gentle as his hands would be on her skin.

She waited until he'd set aside the compass before clearing her throat. Sanji looked up and smiled. "Imena. I heard Seaflower was in."

"Yes." She swallowed. She opened her mouth to ask if he could spare an evening for her, but instead said, "Sanji, I'm not sure I can see you any more."

His welcoming expression changed to mild dismay. "That's unfortunate for me, but...have you met someone else?"

"Yes," she said. She might as well admit the truth. Just because she couldn't have Maxime didn't mean he wasn't there, in her thoughts, seemingly inside her very skin. "I'm very fond of you, Sanji," she admitted. "You and the boys, too. But--"

"I understand," he said. He rose from his stool and took her hand, kissing her fingers. "I must confess, I've been wanting to, well, marry. Give my sons a new mother. And I wasn't sure what you would say."

A few weeks ago, she might have said yes. "They need someone who will be here with them," she said. "You and I, we're good together, but...." She took his hand in hers and drew it to her mouth, placing a kiss in his palm. "You need someone who will be here always. Don't you? You just haven't said so."

"Yes, that was my thought as well," Sanji said, his cheeks flushing. He caressed her face. "Will you stay for the evening meal, at least?"

"I can't," she said. "I need to find Chetri. A business matter." She paused, and slipped her hand into her jacket pocket, withdrawing a small canvas bag. "I brought shark's teeth, for the boys. Remind them the teeth are sharp."

"I will," he said. When he took the bag from her, their fingers did not touch.

Throat tight, she nodded. She said, "There is a pearl in there, for you. The purple-black such as you liked so well in Roxanne's earrings."

"Thank you," Sanji said. "I'll think of you when I wear it." He slipped the bag into his trouser pocket. He added, "You're always welcome in my home, you know. For whatever reason."

"And you are always welcome on Seaflower," she said. She took a deep breath. "Goodbye, Sanji."

"Fair sailing, Imena," he said, and kissed her gently. They share a long, close embrace of farewell.


More excerpts from my novels.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book Collection Blues

I'm determined to cull my books. The problem is, many of the books I would likely cull are in boxes, stored away to make room for newer books on the shelves and in the, er, more accessible boxes. And the little piles here and there, of books for which I haven't yet found spaces. (I almost typed "for whom." Which tells you something about me and books.)

Notice I said nothing about not buying any more books, or refusing books that are given to me. That, I fear, is as far beyond me as flying among the stars on gossamer wings.

Shelves and accessible boxes are separate from my "to be read" pile, which actually consists of six boxes at the foot of my bed and does not include the entire box of short story collections over in the corner. The TBR includes a lot of brand new books as well as an enormous selection of older ones: a stash of category Regency romances by various authors, some contemporary category romances, several large fantasy novels I never got around to reading, books in favorite series I've been reading bit by bit, single books by favorite authors who haven't put out another book so I'm saving the last one, etc.

If I know I'm not going to read a book for years--for instance, Octavia Butler's Fledgling, because there will never be another book by her, and I want to save it for a special occasion--usually I put it on the shelf instead of in the TBR. Sometimes authors I love beyond reason end up on the shelves, too, unread and waiting for a special day: Sean Stewart's Perfect Circle is on the shelf, as is Molly Gloss' The Hearts of Horses, and the newest Karen Joy Fowler, Wit's End. Some Henry James novels have been waiting their turn for nearly a decade. I don't really count any of those as part of the TBR, but they're on the shelf where I can admire them, and gloat that they are waiting to be read.

One of these days, I'm going to take a month's vacation and spend most of it reading.

Related Post: Reading for the Writer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Favorite Westerns - Books, Movies, Television

Wendy the Super Librarian and Kristie of Ramblings on Romance are posting about Westerns this week, so I thought I'd list a few of my favorites.


Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond Of Each Other, covered here by Willie Nelson. It doesn't get much better than that.


The Jump-Off Creek, Molly Gloss. Unrelentingly realistic and beautifully written, to boot.

Honorable Mention to Ledoyt by Carol Emshwiller.


Deadwood, no contest.

Al Swearengen: Sometimes I wish we could just hit 'em over the head, rob 'em, and throw their bodies in the creek.
Cy Tolliver: But that would be wrong.


Fall from Grace, Megan Chance.

Erotic Romance:

Roping the Wind by Kate Pearce is notable because it's about a modern cowboy, a rodeo star whose career has been ended by injury.

Caine's Reckoning by Sarah McCarty is more traditional. (It's from the line that publishes my books, Harlequin Spice.)


The Magnificent Seven (yes, I know it's really The Seven Samurai).

Chris: There's a job for six men, watching over a village, south of the border.
O'Reilly: How big's the opposition?
Chris: Thirty guns.
O'Reilly: I admire your notion of fair odds, mister.

It's tied with High Noon.

Helen: What kind of woman are you? How can you leave him like this? Does the sound of guns frighten you that much?
Amy: I've heard guns. My father and my brother were killed by guns. They were on the right side but that didn't help them any when the shooting started. My brother was nineteen. I watched him die. That's when I became a Quaker. I don't care who's right or who's wrong. There's got to be some better way for people to live.

Dead Man gets a mention for being a very weird Johnny Depp movie.

TV Cowboy and Horse:

Roy Rogers and Trigger.

Related Posts:
Reading for the Writer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lucienne Diver Guest Post - Agent And Author

Please welcome my guest, Lucienne Diver!


The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins
by Lucienne Diver

Do you remember growing up reading the Seuss story The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins? Well, young master Cubbins has me beat, but only by about 497 hats. I wear at least three: agent, author, mom. Wife fits in there somewhere. And sun-worshipper. Beader, scrapbooker, house-cleaner, travel-enthusiast... Okay, so maybe he doesn't have me beat by that much. Not that it's a competition. Really. Type A personality with time urgency issues doesn't mean I can't relax and go with the flow, does it?

Well, okay, so it does. I carve into sleep to come up with a writing schedule and a lot of my hobbies, like the beading, scrapbooking and, er, housecleaning, have mostly fallen by the wayside to make room for my all-consuming passions: my authors, my writing and my family (the order ever-changing depending on the time of day and level of enthusiasm/grief). So, how do I reconcile these three?

People seem constantly surprised that I have an agent who isn't me or even closely related to represent my work. This is because I need distance from the day to day part of my career. I don't want to obsess about when my work goes out and when it comes back, though my agent does keep me in the loop. I find that as a writer, I'm insecure. Neurotic, even. I want a filter, someone who can view and translate things dispassionately and who will push me when I put something out there and hope no one will notice the wing and a prayer portions of our program. It's funny that even when I know things as they relate to my authors' careers, I need to hear them in relation to my own. In other words, my author-self doesn't necessarily internalize what my agent-self knows.

Now, as an agent I have over sixteen years in the business. I'm pretty confident and comfortable in what I'm doing. I'm constantly talking to editors and authors and getting in data via Publishers Lunch, Shelf Awareness, Media Bistro, Twitter, Locus, SF Scope, Romantic Times, Publishers Weekly. A whole bunch of info that I process along with my day to day experience and put together into a big picture, along with mental projections about the state and future of the industry. I adore my authors. During the bulk of the day, I'm focused on the business and on them. (I.e., I don't have time to obsess about my own work, and that's just the way I like it.)

At night, "my time," well, that's ever changing as well. Part of it I give over to my family, of course. Wrestling with the puppy, playing games with my son, actually sneaking glances at my husband to remind myself that his eyes are blue and rather stunning in the sunlight. Part of it I spend reading. I write early in the mornings, around 6 a.m. so that I wake up before my inner editor, but if I'm in the home stretch on a novel or in the plotting stage, I may do a bit of that in the evening as well. Very occasionally, I'll actually (gasp) take a break and watch something like Castle or So You Think You Can Dance (my only reality-esque show addiction).

But I find that my brain never stops working. I might have an "Ah ha!" moment as I'm brushing my teeth about just the right way to word a letter to an editor or a plot point that's been eluding me. I'll wake up knowing something about my work I had no idea of when I laid me down to sleep. The good thing is that no matter how many hats you wear or how you divide yourself, your other personas are always in the background, fully aware, working things out in your "absence." It's the ultimate multi-tasking. And yes, it's a challenge, but it's also a thrill. Remember that whole Type A thing? A day without a good challenge is like ice without the cream.

Lucienne Diver is an agent for over forty authors of commercial fiction, particularly in the areas of fantasy, romance, mystery, suspense and YA. Her young adult vampire series began in 2009 with Vamped and continues in 2010 with Revamped, following the humorous adventures of Gina Covello, fashionista of the damned.

Agency website
Author site
Author blog

Monday, August 17, 2009

About Business Cards

I've only been involved in romance author forums for about a year and a half, but during that time, the topic of business cards seems to come up every month or so.

I'm of two minds about them. First, they're an expense, so getting them free is a good thing. Vistaprint is a popular source for these; so long as you don't add extras (all of which are presented to you), you're only paying for postage. The cards are nice on the front, and on the back have a calendar and information about Vistaprint. And there are a LOT of other vendors offering free options, as well. If it's the information on the cards that's important, how fancy do the cards themselves need to be?

I went the free card route, the first time, and got cards from two different companies. I was going to RWA National in San Francisco, my first RWA event, and I knew that cards were a necessity if I didn't want to spend all my time writing down my email address for everyone. I handed out many, many cards and collected many from other people, as well.

I wasn't entirely satisfied with the cards, though, nice as they were. I'd gone with free cards because, well, I'm cheap sometimes, but later it bothered me that the calendar on the back was out of date. Also, I changed my blog address, and I had a new book coming out, and none of that was on these cards.

When I got a second contract, I allowed to myself that I might be a "real" writer now and could get "real" business cards. And that's the second mind; business cards are representative of you. It isn't just the information on them, but the card itself that matters, similar to a person having a tidy appearance when they go for a job interview. People will look at the business cards long after their chance meeting with you is over. Business cards leave an impression.

So I went to, from whom I'd once gotten some gorgeous free photo minicards. I got a set of cards with the cover of my upcoming novel, and a set with the cover of my first novel. On the reverse, I put my website address and my email address, as I don't plan to change either of those two things any time soon. I'm not worried about the covers being out of date because, well, I wrote both of the books, and the covers are gorgeous (you can see them in the sidebar). I don't see myself growing tired of them.

I'm very satisfied with the quality of the printing, and the thicker paper just feels good to me. I'm getting a lot more satisfaction from these cards, and several compliments on them as well. I think in future, unless I really can't afford it, I'll stick with paying for them.

Tune in tomorrow for a guest post from Lucienne Diver!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Montreal's Botanical Gardens

My friend and I spent five and a half hours at the Botanical Gardens on Montreal. Hopefully, these pictures will help explain why.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Character Sketch, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover

Back in 2000 or 2001, when I wrote the original short story that, many years later, becamse The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover, I had a different idea of the main characters than I later developed.

I quote myself, from an email to a friend: Henri--He never stops objectifying the Duchess. First she's an icon, then she is generic flesh, indistinguishable from someone disguised as a Duchess; she never becomes an individual to him. Of course, I don't think he's an individual to her, either.

When I thought that, the story consisted solely of the duchess summoning her stableboy because she needed to get pregnant. The story ended in a cliffhanger just after their sexual encounter. For that story and its tone, my darker presentation of the characters worked. Years later, when I began work on turning the story into a novel, that interpretation was no longer viable.

I didn't want to write an entire novel about two people who saw each other as objects. I edited the chapter that originated as the short story over and over again, gradually making both characters more sympathetic, and giving them a wider range of emotions and conflicts. Rather than leaving the reader hanging at the end of their encounter, I added a conversation, in which Henri expresses worry over the duchess' fate, and offers his assistance to her if she should need to escape.

In the new first chapter, I laid in some background; they'd known each other since he was a young boy, and she chose him to be given advanced equestrain training; she trusts him because he cares for her beloved horses. In a chapter following their first sexual encounter, I emphasized Henri's dedication to the duchess and his longtime crush on her, feelings he never thought would be reciprocated.

Though the duchess never mentions it, throughout the novel she thinks of Henri as someone whom she trusts and with whom she wants to be together. Rather than objectifying Henri, by the novel's end she thinks of him as someone in whom she can confide, and shows her feelings for him by giving him the gift he most desires. And Henri has begun to break through to the duchess emotionally.

It's not a standard Happily-Ever-After, but I feel it suits the story and characters.

Buy The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom & Their Lover.

Excerpts from my fiction.

I'm a guest today at The Naughty Girls Next Door, on "Sneaking in Historical Detail."

Read more Snipper Saturday by these authors:

Eliza Gayle
Jody Wallace
Lauren Dane
McKenna Jeffries
Michelle Pillow
Moira Rogers
Shelley Munro
Taige Crenshaw
Vivian Arend
Mark Henry
Leah Braemel