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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Isaac Rosenberg, "Break of Day in the Trenches"

Break of Day in the Trenches

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet's poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver--what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man's veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe--
Just a little white with the dust.

--Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Excerpt from A War Nurse's Diary: The Tale of Ragtime

The following is an excerpt from A War Nurse's Diary: Sketches from a Belgian Field Hospital, published 1918 and now in the public domain.

There's a whole novel in this story.


That reminds me of "Ragtime." I must tell you about him. His real name was de Rasquinet, but, when written hastily on a chart, it looked like ragtime, and was easier to pronounce. People who do not like medical details had better skip the next few lines, but I want people to understand how "Ragtime" suffered. He was twenty-three years old, and had wonderful brown eyes that spoke his gratitude when he was too ill to utter words. He came in with his arm broken in several places and bleeding; in his abdomen were two large wounds which had pierced the intestine in several places. He also had a great wound in the back which had smashed up one kidney. At first he was too collapsed to operate upon. Such was the nature of his wounds that his dressing and the whole of his bed had to be changed at least every two hours. Imagine rolling a man in that condition from side to side. We had very little wool, we had no mackintosh sheets, brown paper was all we had to put under him; we just had to manage with rags which the neighbours supplied.

"Ragtime" was operated on; they cut out several feet of pierced intestine, joined it together and closed up the two wounds in his abdomen. The wound in the back was untouched, as he could stand no more that day. He came back to us and we nursed him with special care, along with the other sixty-nine patients. When we dressed him he never moaned nor groaned, and always gave us his wonderful smile. Then an order came for all patients to go to the station. "Ragtime" went on a stretcher with the rest. After spending twelve hours without food or attention in that draughty place, some of them came back to us, but not "Ragtime." The lady doctor and I, who attended him, searched every hospital and made every inquiry with no result.

After three days a pitiful little note came from "Ragtime," saying he was in a huge military hospital, and begging me to visit him. Catholic Sisters were in charge, and the rules were strict; finally we saw him and others who had been dumped there. He cried and implored me not to leave him. He said his wounds had not been dressed for three days! Think of it! When we dressed him it was two-hourly, and it was most necessary. The reason for the neglect was that nuns were not allowed, so I was told, to attend to men-patients below the waist! The lady-doctor went round and pleaded with them to let us have him back, but no, they would not. So I was determined. Mademoiselle and I went round and asked for the General. He was in charge of this great hospital. 1 told him the history of the case, cried and protested with real Belgian emotion, and finally the dear old General began to think that here was real romance! He let me have "Ragtime." The lady-doctor sent her car and we got him back.

Later on we left him in a hospital in Chent. Months afterwards we had an orderly, an ex-professor from a college. Wishing to join his family at Ghent he returned under the Germans. I sent by him a letter to "Ragtime." After many weeks a letter was smuggled through to me in Flemish, telling how the orderly had traced him to a certain hospital and he was lying unconscious. This made me feel that he was dying. But after another long lapse of time another man turned up who said that "Ragtime" had just been operated on for his kidney, and had been under chloroform. A year later one of our medical students met his father in a London hospital, a wounded soldier! He said that "Ragtime" was at Liège, convalescent. After the war, I shall make it my task to trace "Ragtime" in Belgium, and find out if he is alive.


Related Post: Synergy in Writing and Research.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Explicit, Implicit, or Somewhere in Between? - Janet Mullany Guest Post

Please welcome my guest, Janet Mullany!


Explicit, Implicit, or Somewhere in Between?

Now and again (oh, I lie. I Google myself all the time) I come across a reference to my first Regency chicklit, The Rules of Gentility (HarperCollins, 2007), as a book that "has no sex in it."

Unfailingly it makes me laugh because the book is full of sex. What the book doesn't have is explicit language describing explicit acts, and there's a good reason: my characters--who they are and where they are in their lives. But my Regency chicklit does have a very strong subtext of desire and acknowledgment of desire, something which Jane Austen mastered and before whom we must all bow down. Although explicit acts and language are some of the techniques a writer may use, they are not the only ones at our disposal. Would your characters know those words? Those practices?

If they don't (inexperienced Regency debutante experiencing first London season, for instance), how do you persuade the reader that the scene has an erotic charge and that the heroine is ready for some sexual adventures? Do you turn to a tried and true shortcut? Opens the wrong door, finds the dirty books in the library, is invited to an orgy/brothel.... (Oops, my heroine was invited to a brothel in Rules. Sometimes it doesn't always take.) Wake me up when they get naked, please.

Now personally I think those devices are cheating. You can argue at length about what a woman would know and when she would know it—-I remember being mildly surprised around the tender age of 14 or so on a family visit to Denmark that the bookstore at the train station had pornography magazines right next to the knitting ones, and much later I realized that this did have an effect on me. We know nicely brought up women in Regency England could see dirty prints large as life in the bookseller's window, or look down the wrong sort of alley, or indeed open the wrong door—-concepts of privacy then were not the same as ours.

My advice? Use what you have. Don't hurl your characters into twenty-first century sexuality, but don't rely too much on historical material either. The Georgians were a sorry lot when it came to sex, to be honest, riddled with guilt, terrified that any activity without a fighting chance of conception would make hair grow on their palms; and convinced women were either virtuous heir-generators or nymphomaniac sluts who sold themselves to satisfy the urges a gentleman's virtuous wife could not possibly fulfill. There were dozens of colloquialisms for the penis; not so many for female genitalia, and strange. You get the impression that no one had the nerve to go Down There and take a good look (cauliflower, anyone??).

But someone, somewhere, must have been doing it right.

What you do have are great clothes and no underwear for women—-or at least, nothing that couldn't be easily broached. Drawers were crotchless for decades. And men's clothes were an education in themselves according to the heroine of my latest release, Improper Relations, displaying "the various bumps, twitches, deflations and inflations on view in any drawing room, with gentlemen's fashions as they are." Just like the sixties!

You also have the delightful mixture of surprise, guilt, and curiosity that proper Georgians (or improper ones) may experience when they find that sex with someone they like—-or even love—-can be a revelation. Rules can be broken or other set of rules instituted.

“Remove your nightgown,” Shad says. He’s close enough so that I can feel his warmth.

“I beg your pardon?” I clutch the bedclothes to my bosom.

He looks perplexed for a moment. Then, “Remove your nightgown, now.”


“Ma’am, a few hours ago you promised to obey me.”

“Well, I’m sure that wasn’t what that vicar was referring to. It’s indecent!”

He shifts further down the bed and props himself on one elbow. With the other hand, just his forefinger, he very lightly strokes my wrist. He whispers, “With my body I thee worship.”

If you're a historical writer, how do you approach the thorny subject of sex? And if you’re a reader, what makes a sex scene in a historical convincing?


Thanks, Janet!

Here's the blurb for Improper Relations:
Must a lady always put her husband first?

After losing best friend and cousin Ann Weller in marriage to the Earl of Beresford, sharp-witted Charlotte Hayden is even ruder than usual to potential suitors. Introduced to Beresford’s wayward cousin, Shad, Charlotte may have met her match in witty repartee–but he’s hardly husband material. Caught in a compromising situation, Charlotte and Shad are forced to wed, resigning themselves to a marriage of convenience. And they aren’t the only ones with marital problems… Have both Ann and Charlotte married in haste to repent at leisure? And where do their loyalties really lie? With their husbands, with each other, or somewhere else entirely?

You can buy Improper Relations online at, with free shipping worldwide.

Check out Janet's website where you can read more excerpts, hear soundbites, and enter a contest.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Basics of the Western

So, Westerns. What are the basic elements of a Western? There are the two plots: 1) a stranger comes to town and 2) someone leaves town, heading for a new place. A subsidiary plot involves surviving in the wilderness, whether that's physical (making a go of a farm or ranch) or emotional (surviving in a corrupt town) - both come under the category of Civilization versus Wilderness. And, usually, there's some kind of moral conflict going on, whether it's personal (fighting an enemy) or social (fighting outlaws).

There are also, often, a lot of issues relating to representation of Native Americans in many Western romances. I've been looking for some critical sources about this issue, so if you know of some, please let me know!

In romance novels, the major conflict must always be the relationship. So in a Western romance, the basic conflicts are usually represented on a personal level. I think that's why there are so very many Western romances involving an Eastern woman (stranger) traveling to a Western town, where she is often a civilizing influence on a wilderness man, who might be rough-mannered, or an outlaw, or even a civilizing influence on the wilderness himself.

Various elements of the Western genre work really well with the structure of a romance novel. Westerns provide a setting and a framework for stories; romances provide a plot structure. The two mesh easily together, like romances with mystery/thrillers.

One thing I think might be specific to Western romances is that the setting can also be a character. Think of Western movies, and all those gorgeous shots of sunset-lit rock and flowing plains. Very often, the stranger character in a romance, usually the woman, falls in love with the landscape she's met as much as with the man. Often, the man himself is revealed to have a deep love of the landscape in which he lives.

I also find it interesting that Western romances take a genre that's heavily gendered as male (think of the Western movies you've seen) and bend the civilization aspect of the genre towards making a personal home rather than a law-abiding town; making a home is usually gendered female in our society. When the woman's goals come up against the man's in a romance, even if he's a rough and tough hero, usually she comes out the victor in the end, "taming" him, even if on the surface she remains the "little woman." Conventional as some western romances can be, they can also be subversive.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Alleys and Doorways Print Edition

A while back, my friend Meredith Schwartz edited an electronic anthology titled Alleys and Doorways: Stories of Queer Urban Fantasy for Torguere Press, and I agreed to write an Elspeth Potter story for it. I started that story over twice and eventually abandoned my initial attempt and wrote something completely different in a very limited time period, so it was an interesting experience for me.

Lethe Press has now published a print edition. It's available on so far. I'm not sure how soon it will be available elsewhere. And, possibly ironically, a Kindle edition as well. I haven't yet seen my own physical copy, but I really like the cover!

"In Alleys & Doorways, editor Meredith Schwartz has brought together stories of the odd and mysterious ways that queer life happens in the city. Covering a wide range of styles, moods and emotions, from the poignant and erotic to the whimsical, these tales from a roster of acclaimed authors strive to create new legends for gay urbanites. Featuring several stories that were finalists for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award, this anthology promises to enchant you. Be wary where you read these stories...that train ride, that bus, that sidewalk may lead you to someplace Else...but be assured that your destination in these new alleys, these new doorways, will be an exciting one!"

Here's a review of the anthology at Reviews by JesseWave.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Realism in Fantasy (Sex) - Cecilia Tan Guest Post

Please welcome back my guest, Cecilia Tan!


I like the fantastic. I like magic and surrealism and being transported to another world by a book. And as anyone who has read pretty much anything I've written knows, I like to mix magic, surrealism, and escape with eroticism. But there reaches a point where if the sex itself is too "airy fairy," if the Vaseline is smeared on the lens too thick, that it simply isn't hot anymore.

This doesn't mean that what I need is a the literary equivalent of the porn film close-up penetration crotch shot. But what makes fantasy believable, whether it is sexual fantasy or a magical fairyland, is the details. The pathway to the castle is paved with lollipops? Okay, but what kind? All colors? What do they smell like? Does it crunch under your feet? Are they sticky? Does it never rain? Even the most fantastical concept can be made real by getting the details right.

So, imagine our hero and heroine are in bed (or on the couch, kitchen table, backseat of a royal carriage, wherever...). The writer may have made them as perfect as possible, the ultimate wish-fulfillment, but a soaring description of their virtues is not what I find erotic. Where are the details? Sure, they kiss, but how about telling me what the short hairs behind his ear feel like to her lips as she nibbles his neck? What do the sheets feel like on the bottoms of her feet as she slides back on the bed to make room for him? Can she hear anything above her own breath, or his, and if so, what?

The addition of these kinds of details accomplishes many things for me as a writer. First, the smallest thing can be what anchors the reader in the scene as if they are there. They go from watching the action from afar to being right in the bed with them. It can be something as small as mentioning that they had to move more to the center of the bed because they were getting too close to the edge and the reader being able to picture it exactly. That's all the more important with a fantasy setting or with alien or magical characters whom you still want your reader to identify with.

For example, in the Magic University books, I have some of the characters studying Esoteric Arts, which is a fancy term for sex magic. Some of them are quite powerful, and can literally move the Earth when they have sex, but it's important to me that the sex our characters have is still fraught with emotional realism, as well as realistic expectations about how it works. Take this scene from the latest book in the series, The Tower and the Tears, in which our hero has been seduced at the Halloween Ball by a mysterious temptress:

There was no music now, but she seemed like she was still dancing as she ran her hands up and down his bare arms, tracing designs with eager-eyed grace. She turned him in a circle and slipped the shoulder of her costume down, baring one breast. She had a tattoo of a tiny dragon near her sternum.

Kyle suddenly knew her for who she was. Ciara. He'd never seen her in makeup before, and he hadn't realized she was wearing a wig. He reached for her but she flitted away like a butterfly, her hands still moving as she slipped the costume to the floor completely. Then suddenly she twirled close, her hand finding him unerringly under the edge of the toga, cool fingers wrapping around him.

"Ciara," he whispered.

"Shhh, I'm Ishtar tonight."

Aha. They hadn't gotten to studying the goddess of sacred sex in Esoteric Arts class yet, but Kyle had seen the statues. He just nodded and let her undo the knot at his shoulder, the toga falling away. She pushed him back onto the bed and straddled him.

Kyle let her grind against him, then looked up in surprise as she snapped her fingers and a condom still in its wrapper appeared in her hand. Kyle made a mental note to learn some prestidigitation one of these days.

Our hero may have prodigious erotic skill when spellcasting, but he's a self-conscious college student, too. And just because they can use magic doesn't absolve our young lovers from needing protection against pregnancy and STDs. I hope my fantasy world is enriched by this realism rather than burdened by it.

Second, details are a chance to characterize. What one character would notice or think about is different from what another one would.

This is true whether I am writing in first person or third person, but it especially comes out in the first person, where the narrator's own voice and attitude can come through in the prose. In my recent Torquere Press novella, Royal Treatment, I use the first person voice to tell the story of Arshan, a young noble in a BDSM-dominated world who finds himself wrapped up in court politics. He's a dominant, but if he doesn't play his cards right, might end up collared for life to the crown princess. He's always looking for the way to understand the people around him and influence them, so both the details he notices and chooses to remember about his allies and enemies both works in the plot and paints a vivid picture for the reader. And I get to provide a very visceral experience close-in on his point of view.

She climbed off and sat back in a chair with a tired exhalation. The fire had long since gone out, and she pulled her robes around her. "You didn't come," she said, her eyes narrowing.

"No, my lady. You didn't give permission," I said from where I was still lying on the table. I sat up, sensing the mood shifting.

"Arian adepts can orgasm without ejaculation, though," she said. "How do I know you are not lying?"

I dropped to my knees on the stone in front of her, the open and vulnerable stance again. Now was not the time for cheek. "You don't. I have no way to prove my innocence, and I accept whatever punishment you set before me."

She frowned, but not about what I said. "You are like water that flows around a stone," she said.

"I am sorry if that offends you, my lady."

She laughed then and reached out to tousle my hair, and for a moment, I felt the difference in our ages. "It does not offend me; it frustrates me," she said. "Because you know how hard it is to break water? Impossible. Your father was all stone. You are something else."

Third, fresh and interesting details allow me to avoid cliches and express something unique in each scene. I find this the most important in sex scenes where there are many predictable aspects. As a reader I'm expecting a love scene to have a sort of progression from kissing through to orgasm, usually with some form of penetration in there, depending on the participants. Sure, one of the things I do is make the sex part of the plot. Kyle has a lot of very hot sex as part of his magical training in Magic University. Arshan has not only a lot of sex, but also a lot of BDSM scenes, in Royal Treatment. But when I write a "plain" sex scene, when I'm really just focusing on the erotic connection between the two characters and not what the sex does in the plot, it's important to find fresh, interesting details to put in.

So maybe it's not always how their lips taste, but how their shoulder tastes. Maybe it's not about the satin sheets but what shape the blanket has been mashed into by the end. Maybe it's not what the characters say (I will never, ever have a character say "oh baby" in a sex scene, except, perhaps, as a joke...!) but what they choose not to say while making love.

These are the things that make a situation and a character feel real to me, and something more than just a "fantasy." I feel like they might step right out of the page they are so real, and I hope the reader feels the same way.


Thanks, Cecilia!!!

Cecilia Tan has been writing professionally since she was a teenager, which she definitely isn't, anymore. She is the author of several romances for Ravenous Romance, including her "Harry Potter for adults" the Magic University series and Mind Games, as well as the BDSM sci-fi adventure Royal Treatment just released from Torquere Press. Her literary erotica has been published nearly everywhere. She loves tea, baseball, cats, and books, and more of her thoughts on these and other subjects can be found at her blog:

Cecilia's Previous Guest Post: Why Writing Romance & Erotica Is Like Being Good In Bed.

Monday, February 22, 2010


I didn't really start thinking about paragraphing - consciously - until a couple of years ago.

My writers' workshop was critiquing one of my pieces. I don't remember if it was a short story or a novel, or even exactly when the meeting took place. But I clearly remember John pointing out that I'd "stepped on my own ending." He'd made this comment before, I think, to someone else at a different time, and twice was enough for it to stick, because he was right. I'd written an excellent ending sentence for a paragraph, then I'd stepped on it by following with another, weaker sentence.

(photos from

I think that principle applies on the sentence level and chapter level as well, but the paragraph is the most important.

Think of it this way: it's good to end a chapter on a cliffhanger, so the reader wants to continue. Every sentence can't end dramatically, because that would wear the reader out pretty quickly. Also, most readers don't read every word separately; they tend to comprehend groups of words simultaneously. Our eyes tend to skim, snagging on what's important.

Paragraphs are set apart from each other, and can visually snag the reader's eye at beginning and end. Don't waste that.

Note that I'm mostly thinking of non-dialogue paragraphs here. Dialogue brings in some of the same issues, but also some different ones.

Paragraphing makes a real difference in prose rhythm.

I can think of multiple methods to end a paragraph dramatically. The first one is to use a single-sentence paragraph, as I did above. That gets annoying if you do it too often, but it can be very effective in small doses. It emphasizes the sentence both visually and in the reader's head. It can induce a brief pause to consider.

Second, the cliffhanger. End the paragraph with a question in the reader's mind, so she wants to go forward to the next paragraph. "He fell." What happened next?

Third, the unexpected twist, perhaps a contrast to what's gone before, or an additional, vivid detail. "Beneath all the finery, however, his feet were bare and filthy, with clawed yellow toenails." This, also, can induce a small pause or slowing of the prose rhythm.

I don't think drama is always necessary. The paragraph is also a unit of organization. Breaking the paragraph after the room is described, or after a unit of action, is just as valid and serviceable. Repeated dramatic paragraph endings take away from the technique's effectiveness, and make Strunk and White cry.

Like so many things about writing, it depends on the circumstances.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Siegfried Sassoon, "Joy-Bells"


Ring your sweet bells; but let them be farewells
To the green-vista'd gladness of the past
That changed us into soldiers; swing your bells
To a joyful chime; but let it be the last.

What means this metal in windy belfries hung
When guns are all our need? Dissolve these bells
Whose tones are tuned for peace: with martial tongue
Let them cry doom and storm the sun with shells.

Bells are like fierce-browed prelates who proclaim
That 'if our Lord returned He'd fight for us.'
So let our bells and bishops do the same,
Shoulder to shoulder with the motor-bus.

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

Saturday, February 20, 2010

What Happens in the Reader's Mind

"A writer's talking about what he or she is capable of, like a writer's talking about the worth of his or her own work, is a pretty good way for that writer to start sounding like a pompous poseur.

Above all things, the story, the poem, the text is -- and is only -- what its words make happen in the reader's mind. And all readers are not the same.

Any reader has the right to say of any text: "But I didn't think it was that good."

Samuel R. Delany, SF Site interview with Jayme Lynn Blaschke, April 2001

Friday, February 19, 2010

Origin Stories - Katrina Williams

Please welcome my guest, Katrina Williams!


I began to write seriously in the tenth grade, but like all teenagers, would have benefited from looking up "seriously" in the dictionary, despite using the word on a frequent basis. I was convinced I would be a writer one day and majored in English Lit to prepare, but life soon beat me down to the point where I put writing away. Forever. Too impractical. Too hard. Not good enough.

Then I married someone who looks to the future. We started having conversations about where we wanted to be in five years, ten years, and it wasn't at the corporate middle management job where I collected a paycheck. We read articles about following your passion, talked about what kind of business we would open if we came into some money. I didn't think about writing again until my husband called me at work and told me his mother couldn't provide daycare for our kids any longer and what did I want to do?

In a flash, I realized writing was my passion and if I wanted to make my passion a career, I had to quit the day job and take it seriously. So I did.

I jokingly told a writer friend that I write to discover my identity. I guess I wasn't kidding. There are so many people inside me writhing to get out, people who have more courage than I do, people who make more mistakes because they aren't afraid to take risks. People who are at the cusp of discovering themselves and still have the optimism to be successful at whatever they try. I can be a skydiver, a surgeon, a thief, a fairy, a man – anything I want – when I'm putting fingers to the keys.

I love to read and the capacity of a book to transport you into another world is unparalleled in anything I've experienced thus far in life. I want to create that for others. My dream is to have a reader tell me they were moved by my writing and they couldn't put it down; this motivates me in a way nothing else could.

I've had great successes and strides in the last year since I became a serious writer. Last year, I completed the book I started in college, and then wrote another one. I placed fifth in the first writing contest I entered, which was quite surprising. I've learned more in the last year than the prior years combined. My biggest failure is not pouring effort into every last available second, because that's writing time I can't get back.

Connections in life, and writing, are paramount and often serendipitous. One of my professors encouraged me to attend a writer's conference. I knew no one there, but started talking to the girl seated next to me and we've been critique partners on and off for over fifteen years now. I have more recently enjoyed the great people at Romance Divas and found support, friendship and accountability, which I find to be critical in this business.

I've learned I need time to process comments on my writing. My first reaction, upon learning the comments are not "It's perfect! I loved it!," is to give up, like I did many years ago, but if I allow myself time to be mad, cry, and get out all the negative self-doubt, I can then start editing. I have an image in my head of writing something perfectly the first time I touch it and that's just not reality, at least not for me. I have to remind myself even the published writers I adore are not universally accepted as being great, and fiction is subjective.

My journey has brought me to tears. To a place where I feel consumed by the things inside me bursting to be free. To indescribable frustration because I've worked so hard for so long and I'm still not published. To great heights when I'm really "on."

I take pride in my accomplishments of the last year. I've finished two books and I have a plan to write two more in 2010. I’ve started thinking of myself as a writer and telling people I write. This is a huge piece of identity I am thrilled to have embraced and is the key for new writers. So the best advice I can give someone else is print this out and hang it up: I am a writer.


Thanks, Katrina!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Origin Stories - Cate Hart

Please welcome my guest, Cate Hart!


So I'll start at the beginning. My mom read to me every night. As a teacher, reading has always been a very important part of her life. When I could read to myself, I devoured everything I could get my hands on – Carolyn Keene, Beverly Clearly, Judy Blume, Laura Ingalls Wilder, everything. But it was in the 3rd grade that I discovered what it was to write my own story.

My teacher, Mrs. Little, let students who'd made a 100 on their spelling test try something different with the vocabulary words the week of Halloween – we got to write a story using all the words. Ironically, I think that little assignment also set my path toward paranormal. Of course, in that list were Vampire, Ghost, and Haunted House. After the assignment, I found I liked writing stories and continued to write a few more.

I'll just briefly say that when I was in high school, I spent a large part of my time writing. But it was primarily fan fiction, though at the time I had no idea what that was. I wrote to entertain my friends, and they'd read my stuff while we sat out in gym class. I hated gym class. Then I focused on graduating and getting into college - writing took a backseat. Until I picked up a book my mom was reading over summer vacation. When I read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, the story resonated and I realized two things: I wanted something else to read with as good as a love story; I could write it myself. Hahaha. For me that was the first turning point. I knew that people made a career out of writing and I wanted to do that. This was also the naïve part where I had lofty hopes and absolutely no idea what writing entailed beyond getting to the end. I believed if I could just type the last word of the story I'd made it.

I spent another ten years sporadically working on that first manuscript, an historical romance. By that point, I wanted to become published, and I thought that was the story that would get me there.

A year and half ago, the spark of a new story reignited my passion to write. And I never imagined I'd write Young Adult. I found that my writing voice was a sarcastic, seventeen year-old girl still trapped in my body. So I set a goal, met it, and ended with one fabulous first draft novel – okay maybe not fabulous. But I was excited that I had it completed.

On January 1, 2009, I started the real journey to publication, stepping from a naïve writer to diligent learner of the craft. Over this past year, I have found how valuable critiques partners are to show you the imperfections in your writing. I have learned so much about the industry from published writers, agents, and editors who willingly reveal their processes to aspiring writers so that they can achieve success. I have submitted to several agents and faced the rejections as another learning experience. And I have successfully been asked for my full manuscript from an agent and I am in the process of seconds edits for her. I hope I'm ready for the next step, moving from aspiring writer to agented author in search of publication.

Every day I wonder if I am crazy to pursue this dream, but I realize how passionate I am for the written word. I dream and want to put those dreams on paper and to share them.


Thanks, Cate!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Origin Stories - Nell Dixon

Please welcome my guest, Nell Dixon!


Victoria's kind invitation to write a piece for her blog about my writing journey sounded really simple. Then I realised it was going to be difficult to choose which aspect of my road to publication might be useful or interesting to someone. I started writing when I was in my early teens; that's when I joined my first local writers group and sent off some of my poems to a local paper. It was when I got a postal order as payment for one of those poems that it dawned on me that maybe I could do this.

I'm a slow learner – I finished my first book when I was seventeen, a sci-fi romance that will never see the light of day. Then when I was aged thirty and pregnant with my eldest daughter I sent of my first submission to a publisher – Harlequin Mills and Boon. It was rejected with a detailed letter of everything that was wrong and trust me, there was a lot wrong. But, it also had lots of encouragement and a please send us anything else you have request. I thought 'how lovely of them to spend that time writing back,' put the letter in a drawer, had three children in four years and didn't start to write again until just before my fortieth birthday.

I told you I was a slow learner! I then learned editors mean it when they ask for more work and lovely people though they all are, they don't have time to write big long letters of helpful advice unless they see something in your work. Lesson one for me – when an editor gives you advice it's like gold dust – treasure it.

So, I started writing and submitting again to Mills and Boon. I got lots of requests and almost-but-not-quites after revisions. The manuscripts began to mount up so I started to look elsewhere. One of the places I looked was at The Peoples Friend Pocket novels – published in the UK and in UK territories twice monthly and very similar guidelines to the Romance Lines I'd been targeting.

They bought Marrying Max, a book I'd written especially for one of the Mills and Boon editors at her request. It was light, bright and bouncy but then the line at that point in time decided to go darker and angsty. Marrying Max sold out for People's Friend and went on to win The Romance Prize – now styled Love Story of the year. This is the only prize given in the UK for category length fiction. It beat the other finalists, all wonderful Mills and Boon titles and got me the attention of my agent, Darley Anderson who is also agent to Lee Childs and Martina Cole amongst others. It also got me attention to my current publisher, Little Black Dress, who remembered my name when I pitched to them later that year.

Lesson two for me – just because one door closes it doesn't mean every door is closed.

I always thought I'd been incredibly lucky but then a writer friend pointed out that it wasn't luck – it was perseverance, hard work and being prepared to adapt.

Lesson three for me – if you want to succeed then keep going.


Thanks, Nell!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Origin Stories - Mima

Please welcome my guest, Mima!


Out of the Black
by Mima

In the fall of 2005, my husband dared me to stop writing scenes and openings in my pretty journals. He dared me to stop bitching about the books I'd paid good money for and throwing them across the room and moaning to him about how I could have written better. And he reminded me how I glowed when I finished a wonderful story and sighed about wanting more just like it. "So do it," he said.

I have a book I wrote very young, bound with yarn, about my family vacation. I began keeping a diary in second grade. I also have my first script for a humorous puppet show my friends agreed to put on in third grade. It was a scifi. My first romance was in the fourth grade, and my first rejection came in the seventh grade, for a fantasy poem about a unicorn *wince*. I won an award for my creative writing in undergrad, but mostly I’ve written all my life, for me.

My first book, then called Out of the Black, clocked in at 250k words. I cut out three major subplots (for interested fans: there were 2 other friends besides Freezha, Rylan's parents and his reunion with them, and also a third, more serious suitor for KarRa besides Merk). I added more sex, and cut out a massive amount of specious geek-a-licious history of Vladaya and the Clans. It became Wild Within at 85k words. It became the base for a series that will be 10 books when finished (plus some anthologies for all the people who keep writing me about my secondary characters), has generated awards, fan mail (!!!), and given me hours of pleasure exploring.

I am 40, and I'm here to tell anyone who reads this and quietly writes stories in secret, you can do this. I submitted my first story to a major epublisher and they rejected it. I submitted it to Liquid Silver in winter of 2007 and they accepted it. We now have a long and successful partnership. I have 10 fantasy erotic romance titles with four publishers. No agent was needed, just a lot of honest, clear-eyed self-editing, and courage.

Passionate readers who are secret writers can be assured there are other readers out there who want quirky stories that don’t quite fit in any one box. We like ‘em weird. We'll read raw talent that still needs polishing, and we’ll follow you as you get better and better. Like people have done for me.

Mima lives in western NY with a heroic guy and a black cat. Visit her at


Thanks, Mima!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Origin Stories Week

This week, four different guests will be posting on my blog about their origin stories, Tuesday through Friday.

(Not their origins in the comic book sense, though!)

They'll be talking about when they began to write seriously, and why, and where that journey's brought them, and what they've learned about themselves in the process.


And the winners of the Friday book drawing, thanks to, are: #1, Lyoness, The Moonlight Mistress; #2 and #3, LVLM and Armenia, who will both receive The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover; and #4, Ilona, Cowboy Lover. I'll email you this week for mailing addresses.

Now, back to origins.


I'll start.

Though I always told myself stories in my head, as far back as I can remember, I didn't begin to write seriously, actually putting words on paper, until I was in college. I think what changed is that in college, I had a built-in audience of friends to read and appreciate my stories. It was both motivation and reward to share stories, talk about them, and help each other write them. Until then, I hadn't really realized how much fun writing could be.

That's the most important lesson I ever learned: publication can never be my sole motive for writing. Even being paid for writing isn't enough. I need to enjoy what I'm doing, and I need to be able to share it. If it hadn't been for that college community, and the fan community of which I became a part, I might never have finished a single story, might never have gone on to seek publication.

How about you?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rupert Brooke, "The Soldier"

The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

--Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Rupert Brooke, "Safety"


Dear! of all happy in the hour, most blest
He who has found our hid security,
Assured in the dark tides of the world that rest,
And heard our word, ‘Who is so safe as we?’
We have found safety with all things undying,
The winds, and morning, tears of men and mirth,
The deep night, and birds singing, and clouds flying,
And sleep, and freedom, and the autumnal earth.
We have built a house that is not for Time’s throwing.
We have gained a peace unshaken by pain for ever.
War knows no power. Safe shall be my going,
Secretly armed against all death’s endeavour;
Safe though all safety’s lost; safe where men fall;
And if these poor limbs die, safest of all.

--Rupert Brooke (1887–1915)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Birthday, Blog! And Giveaways.

Today's the first birthday of this blog.

It's been lots of fun so far. Here's to another year!

If you'd like to be entered in a random drawing for a signed book, please comment below with your preference (or you can say "no preference," and I'll choose). The three books are: The Moonlight Mistress; The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover; and the erotica anthology Cowboy Lover (which includes my story "The Magnificent Threesome"). I'll announce the three winners on Monday.

Visit the first post.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Proposing and Disposing

"I shall now defuse this highly explosive bomb while simultaneously, and at the same time, reciting from the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley." --Gonzo the Great

While I'm writing my Crimean War time travel story, I'm also thinking about the second book on my current contract.

I am planning to propose another World War One paranormal, this one heavier on the paranormal elements. It would be a sequel to The Moonlight Mistress.

I haven't fully developed a plot arc in my mind, but I have the character conflicts in my mind, which for me usually come first. The main couple will have internal conflicts that will generate external conflicts, complicating how they negotiate the big external conflict of the war. Their conflicts were set up in The Moonlight Mistress, and can proceed logically from there. I have a tentative plan for introducing a third major character, a new one, who will be a foil and sometimes a mirror. I also have a subplot in mind, involving other characters from The Moonlight Mistress, but that one is already getting complicated in my mind, possibly too complicated for a single subplot, even though it would work in beautifully in many ways. I'm not sure yet. So I'm letting my backbrain work on it.

That almost always works well for me. Think hard, then let it go. Later, think again. Probably once I'm done with the short story, and can devote all of my attention to it. Switching back and forth, I should get the best of both methods.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Perfect Beginning

As I've mentioned before on this blog, this month I'm writing a short story, for submission to a romance anthology. It's been a long time since I've written a short story, because I've been busy writing contracted novels for Spice; I paused a couple of times, and started stories, but didn't finish them.

This past weekend I began remembering how writing short stories is different from writing novels. When I say short story, I mean less than 10,000 words. The guidelines for this particular anthology call for a minimum of 6,000 words, and I don't plan to go much longer than that. I want a lean, tight story. But to tell a whole story at that length, the beginning can't meander.

The beginning has to be right for a short story.

Back in November, I started writing this particular story. It's going to have both science fictional and historical elements. I began writing in first person, as the heroine argued with a colleague in order to give the reader worldbuilding and character information, and also setting up that she'd made several visits to the past. It was lively dialogue, and their discussion continued for about a thousand words. Warning, Will Robinson!

I realized that however interested I might be in the science-fictional background, I was giving the reader no reason to care about any of it. Not only had I delayed showing the reader what the heroine wanted, I hadn't shown the hero at all. I'd spent nearly four pages not doing those things, which ostensibly were the reason for the story. So, slice. I started over.

After another brief stab at using first-person fell flat, I changed tracks. Enough with the fancy literary devices, I decided. I switched to third-person limited, the hero's point of view. He's in hospital, in the middle of a war, and he's suffering, and he's looking forward to a visit from a woman he's met a few times before. He wants to move forward in the story. He's a historical character, and doesn't know his heroine is arriving out of science fiction. He'll learn that bit by bit, and the reader will learn it with him. Hopefully, that will keep the reader interested much more than being told about the shiny future, no matter how much the telling was enmeshed in shiny dialogue.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow Pictures!

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog for pretty pictures of a snowstorm in Philadelphia, and its aftermath.

Monday, February 8, 2010

My Favorite Girls Dressed as Boys - Fantasy Edition

Fantasy novels are rife with girls dressed up as boys. I'm not sure if it's because there are so many female fantasy readers versus so many male fantasy heroes, or if it's a result of a common romance-adventure trope sliding into its modern subgenre, or a combination of both, or neither.

Anyway, here are some of my favorites in the fantasy genre.

Ellen Kushner, The Privilege of the Sword: notable in that the heroine doesn't really want to be dressed as a boy, and learn to fight with swords. This changes. I think this is one of the best examples of integrating cross-dressing into the novel as a whole, so it's integral to characterization, plot, and theme. An excellent review by Yoon Ha Lee. Here's another at Green Man Review.

Lynn Flewelling, The Bone Doll's Twin: takes cross-dressing to an extreme. The heroine is magically disguised as a boy (to be the image of her dead twin) from the time she's a baby; if it's discovered she's female, and might fulfill a prophecy, she'll be killed. Until she's a teenager, she doesn't know what's been done to her. It's a dark novel with some horror elements, and I think the best of Flewelling's work. The sequels, when the heroine has been returned to her own female form, are lighter in tone with a more epic fantasy feel.

Marion Zimmer Bradley, Hawkmistress!: I enjoyed this book a great deal in high school, but I suspect it might not hold up for me today. The heroine disguises herself as a boy and takes to the road, earning her keep using her telepathic gift with birds. I remember being very disappointed when her sex was discovered, and thought the novel suffered after that.

Tamora Pierce, Alanna: the First Adventure: a middle grade/young adult novel in which the title character takes her brother's place in learning to be a royal page. A classic example of the form.

And let's not forget Eowyn in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Return of the King. It's a small part of the whole, but a most satisfying part.

What about you?

Related Post: My Favorite Girls Dressed as Boys, Romance Edition.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Alan Seeger, "Rendezvous"


I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air--
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath--
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear . . .
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

--Alan Seeger

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Help the Project Auction

Help the Project is an auction to benefit the Virginia Avenue Project, a free afterschool arts and academics program in Los Angeles, California. 100% of participating children graduate from high school. 95% go on to college. 98% are the first person in their family to go.

"The Virginia Avenue Project mentors Los Angeles children and teenagers, teaching classes in theatre and other arts, tutoring them in academics, and partnering with them to create and perform original plays.

As grants for arts and education have been cut, we are in danger of losing our centerpiece program, the One-on-Ones, in which short plays are specially written for each kid to act in with a professional actor. We take them to summer camp to rehearse, then return to Los Angeles to put on a show.

This program changes kids' lives... and it's not happening this year unless we can raise $15,000 by mid-March."

Want to be a pirate in my next book? Bid here. Bidding is open through midnight on February 28, 2010.

Go here to see what else is on offer!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Teaser from The Duke & The Pirate Queen

Today, a teaser from The Duke & The Pirate Queen.


Captain Imena Leung did her best to appear bored. The royal cutter's first officer examined the papers she had handed over to the inspecting officer.

Chetri stood at her side, chewing mastic, hands clasped behind his back. He looked casual but was ready, she knew, to draw his knife at a moment's notice. Several of her crew handled inconsequential tasks within easy distance; she'd been careful to order most of the younger sailors to stay below on the lower cargo deck. At the first sign of trouble, the cutter's first officer and his boat crew would become hostages. If worst came to worst, she might also claim diplomatic immunity; anything to gain time.

She might also accidentally knock the officer down, for looking at her as if he'd like to pay for her services. A knife pressed to his genitals might give him more respect for women.

The officer peeled off the second sheet and returned it to her. Imena slid the page into its case. "As you can see, we're in the employ of the Duke Maxime."

"You were scheduled to remain in port for another week. Why did you depart early? Without a full cargo?"

He wasn't looking at her face, but at her bosom, despite its being bound into a bodice and concealed beneath a loose shirt. She was careful to show no hint of emotion as she said, "Personal matters."

"Personal matters that caused you to recall your crew from shore leave and vanish from the docks in the wee hours of the morning?"

"I wanted to catch the tide," she said blandly. "Are we finished here?"

"I'm curious as to the nature of these personal matters." He glanced up at her face, now, and smiled. He was a young man with bright teeth, symmetrical features, and glossy hair. He wouldn't be used to being refused.

"You will remain curious, then," she said. "Chetri, will you escort the officer to his boat? I need to speak with Bonnevie." She turned toward the wheelhouse.

"Oh, come now," the officer said, looking annoyed. "You could at least offer me a drink."

Imena frowned. "That's not required by law."

The officer's back stiffened. "I wasn't aware you particularly cared for laws, Captain Leung."

"I have no idea what you mean." She felt Chetri ease closer to her.

"Everyone knows why His Grace hired you. You're a pirate."

Chetri's blade whistled from its sheath, and he spat the mastic gum at the man's feet. Imena blocked his arm without breaking the officer's gaze. She heard movement, then settling, as the sailors realized there would be no fighting. "I was a privateer, in the service of my government."

"It's all the same to us. We've been keeping an eye on you."

"Have you." She pushed on Chetri's arm until it lowered and he stepped back to sheathe his blade. "Unless you are accusing me of piracy now, you will leave my ship."


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Belgian Soldiers

It's been a while since I've posted a historical photo. I love this one of a group of Belgian soldiers, because there's so much story there.

(You should be able to click on it to see a larger version that gives a better view of their facial expressions.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Breaking Chapters

Chapter breaks are a topic I can muse on indefinitely.

This is because, when it comes to writing, I am a geek.

I think chapter breaks have several purposes.

1. Chapter breaks tell you where to stop reading and go to sleep.
2. Chapter breaks give a guideline for the reader to tell her parent/child/spouse/friend when she'll stop reading and pay attention to them. "Just one more chapter!"
3. Chapter breaks give a guideline to the author for when she can stop writing and go do something else.
4. Chapter breaks offer opportunities for cliffhangers, which in turn can give the writer the opportunity to cackle with glee and the reader the opportunity to curse and shake an impotent fist at the writer.
5. Chapter breaks are a way to organize the narrative.

I've tried several approaches to breaking chapters. The easiest was to decide each chapter would be about 5000 words long (roughly, twenty manuscript pages). That's actually not a bad method to use, if you don't follow it too slavishly. If the chapters one writes consistently turn out to be less or more than 5000 words, then the estimate can be revised. (The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover had chapters more in the 3000 word range.) This wordcount estimate can be paired with an outline: for instance, each chapter given five scenes of about 1000 words each. Those sorts of limits can be used to help one get through the first draft.

Another approach, which I used when writing The Moonlight Mistress, was not to have chapter breaks, at least not initially. I had written a synopsis, but no outline. Instead, I had a list of scenes I needed to write, which I placed roughly in order. Then I began to write. I didn't break the chapters until a large portion of the manuscript was written, at which point I noticed some sections were really long and others were really short. It wasn't symmetrical, worked better that way. I went through again, checking the action and dialogue for places that seemed like stopping points, sometimes tweaking a little to make them more like, well, chapter breaks.

The longest chapters, I found, were at the beginning, and featured two main characters. Other important characters didn't show up until much later, and the reader might be fooled into thinking the first two characters were the only ones of importance. To introduce the reader to those other characters, I created semi-chapter breaks, which I labelled "interludes," of very short length. I might have called them chapters. That probably would also have worked.

For The Duke and The Pirate Queen, I didn't want to go through all that again. So I loosely set myself chapter breaks within my list of scenes. I did shift a few of them as the manuscript progressed, but for the most part, I assigned one set-piece per chapter.

Related posts:

How To Write A Novel (in 72 easy steps!)

Finish It.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Short and Sweet

This month, I'll be working on a short story for an anthology. I haven't written any short stories in a really long time, but I ought to remember how.

So, why I am doing this instead of hurrying to complete my proposal for the second Spice novel on my contract?

First, because the editor asked me. I've sold him stories before, and we've had pleasant interactions online (we live in different countries, and have never met). I was pleased that he thought of me.

Second, because it's a nice creative break. Having just written three novels in a row, I think focusing on a short story for a brief time will refresh my creativity. A change always helps with that.

Third, I've been interested in exploring the Crimean War. I've read one book about it and am reading another. I haven't done nearly enough research for a novel, but I've done plenty for a short story.

Fourth, when I did a LiveJournal poll and queried my friends about what I should write (I made the original choices), the winning plot elements were "The Crimean War" and "time travel." And that got me excited to start writing.

Finally, after weeks of thinking about this story in my backbrain, this weekend I finally had an idea for a key point. I can't wait to start!

Monday, February 1, 2010

German edition of The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover

Want to read The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover auf Deutsch?

You can now pre-order the German edition, Die Herzogin, ihre Zofe, der Stallbursche und ihr Liebhaber, scheduled to release August 1, 2010 from Mira Taschenbuch Im Cora Verlag, translated by Ira Severin.

"Herzogin Camille ist verzweifelt: Ihr grausamer Ehemann will sie umbringen, damit er sich eine junge, gefügige Frau suchen kann, die ihm endlich einen Erben schenkt. Statt tatenlos auf ihren Tod zu warten, entschließt Camille sich zur Flucht. Mit ihrem jungen Geliebten, dem Stallburschen Henri, und ihren ergebensten Dienern sucht sie Unterschlupf in Bordellen und gibt sich tabulosen körperlichen Freuden hin. Doch während sie noch lustvoll seufzt, sind ihnen die Männer des Herzogs bereits auf den Fersen...."

Victoria Janssen hat bereits mehr als dreißig erotische Kurzgeschichten unter ihrem Pseudonym Elspeth Potter veröffentlicht. Soweit sie weiß, ist sie die einzige Autorin, die jemals eine Geschichte geschrieben hat, in der menschenfressende Schildkröten vorkommen. Die Herzogin, Ihre Zofe, Der Stallbursche Und Ihr Liebhaber, ist Victoria Janssens erster Roman. Wenn sie nicht schreibt oder liest, gibt sie Workshops über das Schreiben und Verkaufen von erotischer Literatur.