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

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A jolly Halloween....

And it's especially jolly for me since I received my author copies of The Moonlight Mistress!!!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Spooky Book Recommendations

In honor of Halloween, I offer recommendations of creepy, scary, horrifying fiction.

The Bloody Chamber, a collection of short stories by Angela Carter, all explicitly based on fairy tales. Warning: these stories are not for the squeamish! Really, they're not. At all. But they're powerfully written and well worth rereading and pondering.

Cherie Priest is a contemporary author often placed in the Southern Gothic subgenre. Her first novel is Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Here's an interesting review of it from a Bulgarian blogger at Temple Library Reviews. "Perhaps the biggest strength here at play is the writing itself, since the author possesses this quality about her prose that entrances the reader and erases all perception of time."

The Haunting of Hill House or We Have Always Lived in the Castle are classics of New England Gothic by Shirley Jackson. Did you ever have to read her creepy short story The Lottery (direct link to story) in this collection in school? That story creeps me out to this day, and has kept me awake at night, thinking. I've often wondered if it would be good for a compare and contrast with Ursula LeGuin's The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. (Link leads to a PDF of the story.)

Children of the Night by Dan Simmons is one of the most interesting vampire novels I've ever read. The setting is roughly contemporary, with a science fictional approach to vampirism. It's not scary, exactly...or rather, the scary feels more like real-world scary. It reads like a mainstream book that happens to have vampires.

A book I loved as a kid is Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury - the movie made from it introduced me to actor Jonathan Pryce for the first time, in the role of Mr. Dark. I love Bradbury's style.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Time Well Bent - ed. Connie Wilkins

I don't have a story in this anthology, but a friend of mine edited it and others wrote stories for it, and I'm really looking forward to reading it!

Time Well Bent: Queer Alternative Histories
ed. by Connie Wilkins

We have always been here. For as long as there's been such a thing as sex, alternate sexual identities have been a fact of life. So why have we been so nearly invisible in recorded history and historical fiction? Editor Connie Wilkins, a Lambda Literary Award finalist, has assembled fourteen stories that span the centuries-from ancient times to the Renaissance to the modern era-and explore alternate versions of our past. Their queer protagonists, who bend history in ways dramatic enough to change the world and subtle enough to touch hearts and minds, rescue our past from invisibility, and affirm our place and importance throughout all of history, past, present, and future.

Table of Contents:

Introduction by Connie Wilkins
A Wind Sharp as Obsidian by Rita Oakes
The Final Voyage of the Hesperus by Steven Adamson
Roanoke by Sandra Barret
A Marriage of Choice by Dale Chase
The High Cost for Tamarind by Steve Berman
A Spear Against the Sky by M P Ericson
Sod 'Em by Barry Lowe
Morisca by Erin Mackay
Great Reckonings, Little Rooms by Catherine Lundoff
Barbaric Splendor by Simon Sheppard
Opening Night by Lisabet Sarai
A Happier Year by Emily Salter
The Heart of the Storm by Connie Wilkins
At Reading Station, Changing Trains by C. A. Gardner

Lethe Press, October 2009
ISBN: 9781590211342
Paperback, 184 pages
Retail price: $15.00

Time Well Bent: Queer Alternative Histories

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wacky Story Elements and Laura Kinsale

So, there's this novel, and it's about a virgin who thinks she's doomed to nymphomania and a ninja who used to be a child prostitute.

Or in this one, the hero is afraid of heights, and the heroine has a pet hedgehog who is vital to the plot and also she invented radio and wants to make a flying machine.

No, this one: see, there's this fat girl, but she's a princess, and there's this guy with PTSD. Oh, and there are also penguins.

If you haven't read Laura Kinsale's books, those lists of story elements sound a little silly, don't they? But she makes them work, and work to perfection.

Part of the reason why they work, I think, is the wackiness. In and of itself, a wacky story element gets your attention because it's different. If you describe a book as having a rake and a virgin, a hundred readers could each name a different book that included those elements. However, only Seize the Fire has an overweight princess and a rake with PTSD, at least so far as I know. And if there's another one, I want to read it, so please give me the title and author.

Aside from standing out solely through difference, though, Kinsale follows through. She doesn't rely on the wacky story elements. They're just there, inextricable from the rest of the story. They're facets, just like her plots and her themes and her thoroughly-imagined and thoroughly-presented characters. All of the elements interconnect and support one another, creating a strong framework for the most essential element of a romance novel: the emotion.

When I think of The Shadow and the Star, what I remember is the first sexual encounter between the hero and heroine in all its pain and neediness and confusion. In Midsummer Moon, it's the agony of the hero as he confronts his fears. In Seize the Fire, I never fail to be exhausted by the emotional breakdowns of both hero and heroine.

The wacky story elements are a reason to read these books, but not the primary reason. Kinsale does not allow them to take over the story. And that's why they work.

The books I mentioned, in order:
The Shadow and the Star

Midsummer Moon

Seize the Fire

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Writers, Live and In Person

Yay, the French edition is now for sale at Harlequin France!

You can also buy it at Decitre.

And now for some actual content:

Normally, my writers' workshop meets once every couple of months, but it's been a little less often lately. Some of us are engaged in big projects that must proceed too quickly to take time out for critique; others are dealing with life and health issues. Our founding member is living overseas this year, and we all miss her terribly. There's email, but it's just not the same.

I've been thinking once again about what a valuable thing a workshop can be to a writer. The critique is useful, of course. Over many years of shared critiques I have a good idea of the literary tastes of our members, but that doesn't mean their comments aren't useful; knowing what they generally like and dislike helps me to properly gauge what they're saying about my work. We're up-front about such things, anyway: "You know I hate all prologues, but I think this one serves a useful purpose"; or "I loved this story as soon as I met the talking space-squid!"

Perhaps more importantly, everyone in the workshop has different talents. I can count on some for noticing tiny details that I left out, or that need more explanation; others for sensing that the emotional arc might be made more intense with a change just here; others for pointing out that this character's motives are completely obscure unless a certain element of his past is revealed. Not everyone attends every meeting, but even if there are only three or four people present, I still feel I get a good range of opinions.

Because I'm getting those opinions in person, I can also ask questions. Often, the post-critique cross-talk is just as valuable, or more so, than the critiques themselves. New connections and new inspirations are sparked, and critiquers remember other small items they meant to bring up but had forgotten earlier.

The best part of a workshop meeting, though, is the camaraderie. Writers spend so much time alone, working. It's a real joy to meet face-to-face and just chat about our lives and our writing in general as well as the pieces we're critiquing that month. We eat together, and rebuild our friendships, and remember the value in each of us.

Related posts:

Digesting Critique.

Dissecting Critique, Dissecting Manuscripts.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Linkgasm #2

A Writing Revolution at "Nearly everyone reads. Soon, nearly everyone will publish."

That's not a new idea. "Consumers" who write have been around for a long, long time. I was reminded immediately of The Organization for Transformative Works. And Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide as well as Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Media Consumers in a Digital Age, published in 2006.

I was recently looking for an online newspaper article, and found useful link amalgamation sites: Online Newspapers (U.S.) listed by state, and HomeTown Free Press, which features links to newspapers worldwide.

LibriVox "provides free audiobooks from the public domain" by volunteer readers (sometimes a single book might feature multiple readers). They're also looking for volunteers!

Finally, Cybereditions "publishes quality non-fiction books as ebooks online or as print-on-demand paperbacks available through bookshops or online suppliers, including Barnes&Noble and Amazon. As an independent publisher, we specialise in academic works or new editions of out-of-print works updated with new introductions, supplementary chapters and revised bibliographies. We welcome submissions by authors."

Related post: The Desire to Publish.

Linkgasm 1.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jane Austen Didn't Let Other People Tell Her What To Write

"My Dear Sir,

I am honoured by the Prince's thanks and very much obliged to yourself for the kind manner in which you mention the work. ...

You are very kind in your hints as to the sort of composition which might recommend me at present, and I am fully sensible that an historical romance, founded on the House of Saxe-Cobourg, might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in. But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.

I remain, my dear Sir,
Your very much obliged, and sincere friend,

Chawton, near Alton, April 1, 1816."

-- Jane Austen, letter to J. S. Clarke

More letters from the Brabourne edition of Jane Austen's letters.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Moonlight Mistress Excerpt - Emotion

Moonlight Mistress is out December 2009 from Harlequin Spice.


Crispin hadn't felt any fear at all as he'd led his platoon into battle, only a strange feeling of intense concentration and heightened senses. Now that the worst of the fighting was over, though, chance had left him stranded far from his company, his twisted ankle swelling inside his boot, each beat of his pulse throbbing up his whole leg. He lay surrounded by mud and metal fragments, corpses and incomplete corpses, and the shattered skeletons of trees. That was a very different thing, and he'd had to work to keep from panicking.

Meyer had arrived after about an hour, and now Crispin couldn't stop shaking. He'd been holding together rather well when he lay in the mud alone, waiting for death. A blanket of acceptance had eventually settled over his mind: someone else would take care of his men, and either another shell would land on his head and blow him to bits, or it wouldn't, and he would worry about survival later. Dying that way would be quick. If his legs were blown off, or an arm, he still had his pistol. He could always shoot himself before he bled to death. He thought God would forgive him suicide, if he were dying already and in terrible pain. He needn't fear the worst, being ripped open by a bayonet, as no German would be insane enough to venture out of his trench during this kind of assault. Being trapped in a shell hole hadn't been nearly as bad as he'd feared.

Now, though, Meyer was with him, and if he was killed, Meyer would likely be killed, too. Crispin carefully unhooked his pistol from its lanyard, reholstered it, and buttoned the flap. His hands were shaking too badly for it to be any good. "Why did you come after me? Where's your platoon?" He heard the sound of a train rushing overhead and pressed himself deeper into the mud, his arms protecting his face. The shell exploded some distance behind them. Smoke from previous impacts drifted by, like ghosts. Crispin shuddered.

Meyer lifted his head. His spectacles were spattered with mud, his mouth wry. "I thought it was over. My boys headed back. I came to look for you."

Probably, he'd gone looking for Crispin's corpse. "I can take care of myself," Crispin growled, though it wasn't entirely true. No one could take care of themselves in the midst of a battle. You couldn't protect yourself from a shell, not really. Crispin wasn't sure why he was so angry. He'd never been happier in his life, at least for a few moments, than when Meyer had slipped and skidded his way down into this godforsaken hole. Perhaps it was that he'd been ready to die, finally calm about it, and then Meyer's arrival had reminded him that he'd left something unfinished, and he would regret it for eternity.

"God damn it," he said. Another shell whistled and he ducked again. That one had been closer. He stole a glance at Meyer, and unexpectedly met his steady blue gaze, or what he could see of it through the mud. His heart stopped. Meyer looked down, fumbled off his filthy specs with an equally filthy hand, and slid them carefully into the breast pocket of his uniform tunic. His slight squint when he looked at Crispin now bore a disturbing resemblance to a look of lustful contemplation.

Meyer said, "I'd give a hundred guineas for a hot bath right now."

Crispin's mind presented him with an image of Meyer's naked form ensconced in a porcelain bath, one leg flung over the side. He closed his eyes. That made it worse. He opened them again and reflected wryly that at least it was better than contemplating his own dismemberment. "I'd give two hundred guineas for any bath," he said. "There's a puddle down at the bottom of this hole."

"Let me guess. You found it with your boots."

"My arse," Crispin said. "Good thing my coat took most of the damp." He rested his cheek on his arm and tried to slow down his breathing. Sometimes that helped. This time it helped for two breaths, until a Screaming Minnie tore the air, then another, then a whole host of them, smaller shells ripping their way towards inevitable destruction. Terror washed him like cold rain, then a vast numbness that he dove into gladly.


c. Victoria Janssen 2009

Pre-order on

More excerpts.

More Snippet Saturday!

Jaci Burton
Eliza Gayle
Michelle Pillow
Mandy Roth
Juliana Stone
Lacey Savage
McKenna Jeffries
Moira Rogers
Taige Crenshaw
Vivian Arend
Sasha White
Ashley Ladd
Shelli Stevens
Shelley Munro
TJ Michaels
Lauren Dane
Beth Kery
Leah Braemel

Friday, October 23, 2009

Jessica Freely - Wildly Successful E-Book Promotion - Guest Post

Please welcome my guest, Jessica Freely!


Hi, I'm m/m erotic romance author Jessica Freely and I'm guest blogging here today. Thank you, Victoria, for having me over!

I just had a new ebook, Rust Belt, come out last month, so the topic of promotion has been on my mind lately. You know promotion. We're all supposed to do it, and most of us would rather not. We're writers. We want to be writing the next book, not pestering innocent bystanders to buy the last one. And yet, you'll hear it shouted from every rooftop, posted on every wall, and tweeted from every twa-- uh, branch: Promotion is an absolute must if you want to be a successful writer these days.

"It's easier than ever," the promo mavens crow. And they're right. Web 2.0 has expanded author promotional opportunities like a sun going nova (can you tell I have an sf background?) With Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal, Goodreads, and LinkedIn, not to mention good old blogs, forums and Yahoo! Groups, you can spend your every waking hour networking and promoting your book. And that's the problem. It's all too easy to spread yourself across the interwebs in a thin, ineffectual layer, like inadequate frosting on a cake (don't you hate that?) Promo gurus like Seth Goodin and Jeff Vandermeer are now counseling authors to pick one or two social networks and use them deeply to get the most bang for their buck.

Are there any other strategies for managing promotional activities to maximize effectiveness? Sure! My recent experience with the release of Rust Belt brought home to me how important timing can be, and how combining promotional activities can amplify the results from each. I'd like to share with you what I did, and when, and how it all worked out.

Rust Belt was scheduled to come out on Sept. 22. It's my fourth book featuring the characters David and Seth, but my first time writing about them for my new publisher, Loose Id. So I wrote the book to stand alone. But as I put the word around that Rust Belt was coming out soon, I started hearing from readers who wanted to read the first two David and Seth short stories, but couldn't find them. That's because they went out of print about three months ago.

It seemed to me there was an opportunity here to reward the people who really wanted to read everything I'd written about David and Seth, and simultaneously, beat the drum for Rust Belt. I decided to make those first two short stories available for a limited time only as free downloads on my Yahoo! newsletter group.

A quick word about my newsletter group. I'm an adherent of Seth Goodin's permission-based approach to marketing, and I subscribe to the 1,000 readers business model, which posits that in order to make a living, an author needs to cultivate a base of devoted readers who will want to buy everything she writes. 1,000 is an arbitrary number, but the point is, the number is finite, and attainable. Those are the two principles upon which I based my Yahoo! newsletter group. People have to sign up for it, so it is voluntary, and I respect my readers' time by using it strictly for the purpose of announcing new fiction and author events. I look at newsletter group membership as a metric for my progress in cultivating that reader base I'm after.

So, about a week before Rust Belt came out, I uploaded the first story, "Hero," onto my group's file's section. I then sent an announcement to the group that the file was available free for a limited time only, and that the second story, "Stay," would go up the Friday before Rust Belt's release. I also contacted the readers who had written to me directly, and posted about the offer on my blog, my Twitter feed, and several m/m oriented LiveJournal communities and Yahoo! groups that I frequent. Response was solid. Newsletter memberships increased by about 40%.

I repeated the same process on the following Friday when "Stay" went up, and this time response was even stronger and I began to get some messages from people applying, that indicated word of mouth was starting to take place. At this point, I was very happy with my decision to make these stories available to my readers for free, and with my timing in doing so just prior to a related book coming out.

And then, I did a podcast interview with All Romance eBooks on the night before Rust Belt's release. This was a stroke of pure luck facilitated by quick action and a willingness to be adaptable. Prior to all of this free download jazz, All Romance eBooks had sent around a list of promo activities available gratis to authors with books for sale with them. One of them was a podcast interview and reading. It was not the most sought after of the opportunities available, so they had openings fairly soon, and I happen to love reading aloud and have a good voice for it. So I jumped at the opportunity and was fortunate that the timing worked out the way it did.

The interview went great (and of course one of the things we talked about was the free download offer), the reading was well received, and when I woke up the next morning, my email inbox was a solid wall of applications to join my newsletter. I was over the moon. Hits to my blog were off the charts on the day of my new release, and people who never would have heard of me otherwise were suddenly very interested in what I was doing, and, they had an opportunity to sample some of it for free.

Rust Belt was one of Loose Id's best-sellers for the first two weeks of its life, and as for my newsletter memberships, those increased a hefty 550% from where I originally started. Without a doubt, a goodly portion of my success with this venture comes down to pure luck. The interview with All Romance eBooks coming when it did put everything into overdrive. But, even before that, I was experiencing good solid returns on my efforts. And I think there are a few key factors to that. One is timing. Putting the stories out just prior to a related new release created a nice feedback loop where the two events fed each other's buzz. Staggering the two downloads increased my opportunities for promotion. And most importantly, the stories promoted the new book, and gave people a chance to essentially sample it for free.

Also, and I have no hard evidence for this, just a gut feeling, but I don't think it would have worked nearly as well if I had simply given "Hero" and "Stay" away on my blog. Making the stories available only to my newsletter group added value to membership in that group, and it also required something of the person who wanted to download the free stories. I didn't charge them, but they had to request membership, which by Yahoo's rules requires they write me a note about why they want to join the group (and those notes are a wealth of useful feedback). They also had to provide me with their email address and, essentially, commit to accept announcements from me about new releases in the future. All of these elements combine to make the relationship between myself and the recipients of those free stories a reciprocal one. That's a more enduring bond than just snagging something for free on some one's website. And, I was braced for a bunch of people to join, download the stories, and then un-join, but interestingly enough, that hasn't happened. With one exception, everyone who signed on to the newsletter during the time of my offer has stayed.

This experience has given me a lot of new insights into effective promotion. Maybe one of the most helpful and reassuring is the understanding that promo is not something you have to do, or should do, every day. Constantly flogging a book runs you the risk of becoming white noise. But shorter bursts of concentrated effort, combining different platforms (All Romance eBooks, Twitter, blog, newsletter group) and different events (interview, giveaway) can amplify the results and get you much stronger returns than any one of those things alone.

Incidentally, as of this writing, "Hero" and "Stay" are still up on my newsletter group, but only for a few more weeks. Pretty soon, I'll have another opportunity to promote all of my David and Seth stories, and my newsletter group, when I announce that the free offer is coming to an end.

Thank you all for joining me today. I hope you've found something useful in my account, and, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. Thanks again, Vickie, for lending me your blog today!


Thanks, Jessica! It was great to have you! (And she does have a wonderful speaking voice. I'd totally ask her to read me bedtime stories.)

Related Post: Online Promotion - Is It Worth It?.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Intricacies of Marriages of Convenience

I may have mentioned once or twice (ahem) how much I love the "marriage of convenience" plot. I recently finished reading one of Mary Balogh's recent novels, First Comes Marriage, which I really enjoyed, and which also got me thinking again about why I find that plot so rewarding, particularly in historical romance.

Obviously, you can generate a lot of plot tension simply from two strangers having to work together to accomplish a goal. In the Marriage of Convenience, those goals can vary. For instance, the goal might be simply to create a child who will be heir to a title; or for the hero to provide financially for a woman for whom he feels responsible; or for the heroine and hero to extricate themselves from a social disaster.

You can separate those three situations into two general types that are subtly different. In one version, the simple act of marriage solves a problem (averting social scandal); the resulting marriage then becomes the problem to be solved, in any one of a variety of ways. In another version, the marriage itself begins as a problem that must be solved - the couple is married, but how to do they go about life in order to achieve their goals? What must they give and give up to their partner? What process do they follow, what series of problems and their solutions? Also, occasionally an outside conflict is introduced, that must be solved along with the marriage conflict.

I'm not sure yet if these distinctions are useful ones to make when reading a Marriage of Convenience novel, but they might be useful when thinking about how to plot one. At base, any Marriage of Convenience plot is more about the period after the wedding than the wedding itself. But the period before the wedding might also be useful to create thematic or character issues that can then be strengthened, deepened, once the tension is increased (once the two characters are bound by law).

Another issue I'm considering is the previous relationship. Did the hero and heroine know each other before the wedding? Even if they've known each other for years as, say, friends or neighbors, there must be essential elements that are not known, and I think those elements would need to be dramatically significant (hence the popularity of Secret Angst). Without some mystery, there can be no discovery. If the couple are new to one another, for instance the aristocrat who marries the country mouse vicar's daughter, revelations of character might need to proceed at a different pace.

I've rambled on long enough for now, but I'm going to continue to think about the subtleties of this type of plot.

Related post: Why I Love the Marriage of Convenience Plot.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ursula!

"We turn not older with years but newer every day." --Emily Dickinson

Today is Ursula Kroeber LeGuin's 80th Birthday.

[Photo copyright Eileen Gunn]

"Socrates said, "The misuse of language induces evil in the soul." He wasn’t talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.

A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper."

--"A Few Words to a Young Writer"

"...when women speak truly they speak subversively--they can't help it: if you're underneath, if you're kept down, you break out, you subvert. We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That's what I want--to hear you erupting. You young Mount St. Helenses who don't know the power in you--I want to hear you. I want to listen to you talking to each other and to us all: whether you're writing an article or a poem or a letter or teaching a class or talking with friends or reading a novel or making a speech or proposing a law or giving a judgment or singing the baby to sleep or discussing the fate of nations, I want to hear you. Speak with a woman's tongue. Come out and tell us what time of night it is! Don't let us sink back into silence. If we don't tell our truth, who will? Who'll speak for my children, and yours?"

--"The Mother Tongue," Bryn Mawr Commencement Address, 1986

Now go read and admire A Pillow-Book For Cats.

Many Happy Returns, Ursula!!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Thin Dead Line

Writers talk about their deadlines all the time.

"I have so many deadlines!" "I don't think I'm going to make that deadline." "At least your deadline is later than mine."

I think we often forget how very important those deadlines actually are, even aside from the fact that we signed a contract saying we would meet certain deadlines and by the time the book is turned in, have usually already received money for it.

Things to remember: it isn't just our editor who's waiting for that manuscript. There may be a copy editor, and a proofreader, and perhaps a whole string of production people who all need those pages at a certain time, so they can do their work and then send the book-in-progress along to its next stage. All of those people have managing editors watching over them to make sure they make those deadlines.

Besides all that, there's the physical printing of the book, and shipping it to warehouses, and shipping it out to stores from the warehouses, all so it can go on sale on time and the writer can have a lovely release day with cupcakes and balloons.

While the writer is writing and complaining about deadlines, production is already in progress. Harlequin, my publisher, requests "Art Fact Sheets" from the author months before the manuscript is even turned in - for example, a book due in February might require Art Fact Sheets, which include a synopsis and character descriptions, to be completed in August. This is so the art department can get to work on the cover, any special fonts or interior art, etc.; this same information can be used for numerous marketing purposes, including overseas sales. If the AFS aren't completed, a large number of people can't do their work.

Additionally, it's in the writer's self-interest to meet deadlines. The writer who turns in late is not just hurting her own reputation; she's shifting the routine of whole departments, sometimes forcing them to reschedule things in their own lives to compensate, because the books have to come out on time. Production staff can cope with all sorts of delays, of course; things happen, books have problems; but they don't have to like it. And next time, they might not want to go out of their way for you.

Finally, meeting deadlines is just polite. If one thinks of missing a deadline as being rude to exponential numbers of people, suddenly it's a lot more personal. The writer and the editors and the production staff are a team. If one element isn't there at the right time, it all collapses. Writing is a solitary activity. Print publishing is not.

Edited to add: Useful post on deadlines by agent Jessica Faust.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Basics - Historical Research Links

I usually prefer researching through physical books - I just like to carry them around. But the Internet is a wonderful resource, especially if you don't feel like trekking out to a library.

The Internet Public Library is always a great starting point. "The IPL is many things: 1) the first public library of and for the Internet community; 2) an experiment, trying to discover and promote the most effective roles and contributions of librarians to the Internet and vice versa; and 3) a group of highly talented, creative, strong-willed people, working hard."

If you do want a physical book, for instance if you can't find what you need online, WorldCat can find library books for you, both locally and internationally. "You can search for popular books, music CDs and videos - all of the physical items you're used to getting from libraries. You can also discover many new kinds of digital content, such as downloadable audiobooks. You may also find article citations with links to their full text; authoritative research materials, such as documents and photos of local or historic significance; and digital versions of rare items that aren't available to the public. Because WorldCat libraries serve diverse communities in dozens of countries, resources are available in many languages."

This site is amazing: The David Rumsey Map Collection. "The David Rumsey Collection...focuses primarily on cartography of the Americas from the 18th and 19th centuries, but also has maps of the World, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. The collection includes atlases, globes, school geographies, books, maritime charts, and a variety of separate maps, including pocket, wall, children's and manuscript."

Eyewitness to History offers a vast selection of first-person accounts of historical events, some written, some audio. There's also a selection of historical film clips. I often find this sort of information more useful than anything else when I'm looking for ideas for fiction.

Finally, the Historical Text Archive "publishes high quality articles, books, essays, documents, historical photos, and links, screened for content, for a broad range of historical subjects." Their Links Page, organized by geographical area or topic, is incredibly helpful in locating further internet resources.

Have any suggestions for me?

Eliza Tucker's post at Unusual Historicals on some of her favorite 19th and 20th century research websites was an inpiration for this post.

Related posts:

Synergy in Writing and Research.

Historical Detail in Fiction.

The Research Book Dilemma.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Inspiration All Around

Here are some reasons I love living in Philadelphia. All of these photographs were taken while walking along 12th Street and its near vicinity in South Philadelphia.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ivor Gurney, "Pain"


Pain, pain continual; pain unending;
Hard even to the roughest, but to those
Hungry for beauty...Not the wisest knows,
Nor most pitiful-hearted, what the wending
Of one hour's way meant. Grey monotony lending
Weight to the grey skies, grey mud where goes
An army of grey bedrenched scarecrows in rows
Careless at last of cruellest Fate-sending.
Seeing the pitiful eyes of men foredone,
Or horses shot, too tired merely to stir,
Dying in shell-holes both, slain by the mud.
Men broken, shrieking even to hear a gun.---
Till pain grinds down, or lethargy numbs her,
The amazed heart cries angrily out on God.

--Ivor Gurney

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Denise Rossetti, What Lies Beneath - Guest Post

Please welcome my guest, Denise Rossetti!


What Lies Beneath

I remember reading somewhere that authors only write one story – their own. Over and over again, in every single book. I don’t recall who said it – it may have been Jennifer Crusie. Certainly the ‘core story’ is not a new idea, but it stayed with me. I was half fascinated, half horrified. What’s my ‘core story’? What have I been unconsciously revealing to the world? The fact that I write erotic romance gave the question a whole extra dimension of embarrassment.

But under all this is lurks an even more fundamental question – why write at all?

Like so many people, I always thought, ‘one day I’ll write a book’. Right.

You know how that goes. Real Life intervened and somehow, I never got around to it. But I continued to devour genre fiction – romance, science fiction and fantasy, mystery. Especially when I was bored or sad, I’d read rather than watch TV. What I craved was respite, the luxury of escape to another, brighter world for a few hours.

Then my life really did cave in, dark valley stuff. I was miserable. So I found I was staying up late, reading, reading, reading. After weeks of this, the idea of writing firmed within me. Heck, why not? Without a single, solitary clue, I wrote a category romance. (They were the shortest books I knew.) Word one, paragraph one, page one. I started around nine every evening and when I looked at the clock, it would be two in the morning. I did that for about seven months, night after night.

What I discovered was the sheer power of creating a world and disappearing into it. It’s heady. Reading rarely compares. I’ll never forget typing those six little letters, THE END for the very first time. I still do it when I finish a book, in fact. Then I delete them before sending the manuscript to my editor. Wouldn’t want her to think I’m like a little kid closing the last page on a fairytale.

So, in one sense, I write my own escape. (Life improved, by the way. I’m fine now, thanks.) It’s why my settings are creations of the senses. I’m a very sensate person. When I'm out shopping, I like to raise fruit to my nose for a sniff or stroke dress fabrics on the rack as I pass. I love bringing the scenes in my head to vivid, springing life – the Ten Nations Fair, the burnished wings of an Aetherii in flight, the slums of Sybaris, the gossamer-thin slingshot sails of a starship unfurling against the cold dark of space.

But it’s only the beginning. I relish how fantasy allows me to explore ideas as far as I can follow them down the wormhole of logic. And beyond! In worlds where magic works, I can use its transforming power to make abstract concepts concrete.

For example, in The Flame and the Shadow (Book #1, Four-Sided Pentacle series), I created a man who embodies the internal conflicts we all experience in an external, physical way. Imagine seeing the worst part of your personality rise up, manifested as a dark copy of yourself. Grayson, Duke of Ombra, is a sorcerer of shadows. He is literally at war with himself, because his shadow, a dark entity he calls Shad, has an independent life of its own. Much more than Gray's mortal life is at stake. He and Shad are fighting for control of his sanity and his soul.

Read the first chapter here.

Erik Thorensen, hero of Thief of Light (Book #2, Four-Sided Pentacle series) has been granted a gods-given gift, a Voice so beguiling no one can resist it. But the Voice is a curse as much as a blessing, for once Erik used it to steal a soul, and now he must pay. What effect would it have on a person’s character, I wondered, to have the power to command anyone to do anything?

Read the first chapter here.

After consideration, I think my ‘core story’ is about what psychologists call self-actualization, the realization of one’s full potential. My characters are always deeply conflicted in some essential way and they grow by learning to accept and reconcile all aspects of themselves, not in any self-indulgent manner, but with clear-eyed love. Healthy, well-balanced individuals both like and love themselves.

Why the sex?

It interests me, all right? Yes, that way, but also because the act defines our dual natures, human and animal. Sexual acts are incredibly revealing about the most private parts of the psyche – what is done and not done, said and not said. Sex strips us bare, in every possible sense. It’s enormously powerful and it absolutely fascinates me.

But every scene in a novel must earn its keep, and the erotic ones are absolutely no exception. I make an effort to embed character development or emotional conflict in the sex, because otherwise it’s a waste of space. Which brings us back to character arcs and the core story.

Can you put your finger on what your ‘core story’ might be? Would your critique partners agree with you? Ask them! *grin* Can you identify the ‘core stories’ of your favourite authors?

My website.

My books.

My blog. I'd love you to drop in and say hello!

Updates, contests, free stories and general mayhem.


Thanks, Denise!

I'm at CapClave this weekend, but have pre-scheduled weekend posts.

CapClave 2009 Schedule

I'll be at CapClave 2009 this weekend.

Here's my schedule:

Friday, 8pm, Montrose
Andrew Fox (m), Peter Heck, Victoria Janssen, Jean-Marie Ward, Diane Weinstein
From Harry Dresden to Rachel Morgan to Sookie Stackhouse to Anita Blake, a lot of popular urban fantasies/paranormal romances seem to be mysteries. Why add a third element to the mix? What works/doesn't work when you combine them?

Paranormal Romance: Just Chick Lit?
Saturday, 11am, Montrose
Jean-Marie Ward (m), Mattie Brahen, Victoria Janssen, Mindy Klasky
Why is the main character in paranormal romances usually female? Is the audience meant to be women only? What is the right balance between the paranormal and the romance?

Broad Universe RapidFire Readings
Saturday, 1pm, Twinbrook

Bridging From YA to Adult
Saturday, 6pm, Montrose
John Hemry (m), John Bentancourt, A.C. Crispin, Victoria Janssen, Mindy Klasky, Karen Newton
What books overlap the YA and adult genres? What is the distinction? Are there books that shifted from being classed one way to the other? Are there changing attitudes as to what is appropriate for younger ages?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Linkgasm #1

Fear of Kindle: Don't Bet Against the Paper Barons and How Newspapers Will Survive, both by science fiction author and music critic Tom Purdom.

I can totally get into the Harvard Bookstore's new bookmaking robot, known to friends as "Paige M. Gutenborg." I mean, it's a robot. How cool is that? Now if the robot could write books, too, that would be something, and we'd really be living in the future. Here's what you can get so far.

Luddite that I am, I doubt I will ever buy a vook, but the idea is kind of cool and science-fictiony. Even though the name is so silly I'm having trouble taking it seriously. The concept sounds similar to online games - maybe if they did a vook of Leather Goddesses of Phobos I'd be more interested! Or perhaps vooks of slipstream fiction might be appropriate. Here's an enthusiastic article at The Creative Penn about possible uses for the vook.

Conversations with Isabel Allende, a book which I discovered only recently, looks really interesting. "Every writer of fiction," Allende asserts, "should confront these three challenges: write short stories, an erotic novel, and children's literature." Allende has already written a story collection and a children's book; although she has certainly written several erotic scenes in her fiction, and devoted an entire work of nonfiction (Aphrodite) to sex and food, the challenge of the erotic novel remains. "I really would like to write erotic novels. Unfortunately, I was raised as a Catholic, and my mother is still alive, so it's difficult. However, I feel that there is a part of me as a person that is extremely sensuous and sexual."

And now for something completely different. A friend pointed me towards these awesome puzzles. I'm particularly fascinated by the Rombix - the one I played with was irresistible because of the bright colors and smooth pieces that felt lovely in my hand, but the enormous, expensive ones are also horribly tempting, and make me wish I had a house with a library, where I would display them on lovely polished tables where guests could play with them.

Linkgasm 2.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Short Stories Versus Novels

1. Do you think that some writers are inherently "short story writers" and others are inherently "novel writers"?

2. If you believe that's true, are the writers of one form incapable of writing the other to a base level of competence, or is it just that they're really a lot better at a single form and should devote all their time to it? If not, what do you think about length as a factor in writing?

3. Is the division between short story writers and novelists an artificial one? (Well, I mean besides the fact that it is.) Why do you think the idea is perpetuated?

4. If you're a writer, do you consider yourself to be either a short story writer or a novelist, or both, or neither?

5. If you're a reader or a writer, do you prefer to read short stories, novels, or both, or neither?

6. What do you think is the real difference between the two forms? Length alone, or something else?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Me and The Doctor

This post originally appeared at Amanda McIntyre's House of Muse Blog, 10/1/09.

My name is Victoria and I am a Dr. Who fan.

If you've never seen the show, it began on the BBC in 1963 and continued until 1989, with a series of different actors in the lead role. The show was revived on BBC One in 2005.

No, I'm not British. I never watched the show as a child, so I don't have the excuse of having grown up with it. I saw my first episode as a young teenager, at a science fiction convention, and promptly fell in love, even though I barely had any idea of what was going on in the story. It didn't matter, because that story was about an outsider. Outsider stories always get to me.

I'm an outsider. Really, we all are, in one way or another. But I was especially an outsider as a kid, because I liked to be alone and to make up stories. I could entertain myself for hours by telling myself stories. To other kids, that made me a little weird. So watching a show about the ultimate outsider, a character who's exiled from his entire planet, resonated powerfully with me. Even more so because the Doctor – you might refer to him as "Dr. Who," but he's never called that, it's not his name – the Doctor is an outsider who wins. Better still, he shares his winning with other outsiders, usually human companions who stand in for the audience and refract a sense of wonder.

I was obsessed with Dr. Who all throughout high school and college, and for some time after. I memorized swathes of data about all the episodes I'd seen and many I hadn't because they weren't available. I read about the show and went to absurd lengths to see new episodes, in the days when my family did not own a vcr. Basic elements of the series live in my bones and blood, part of my intellectual makeup, and can't help but influence what I write.

It wasn't just the Doctor I loved, it was his companions, the whole long string of them: how they found the Doctor, why they went with them, what they left behind, how they departed and why. A lot of what I know about characterization I learned from Dr. Who, especially how to create tension from a disparate cast of characters. And thematically, the show influenced me even more, or perhaps it only revealed to me one the major themes of my writing: outsiders making families with each other. Outsiders winning.