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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Non-White WWI Soldier Picspam

Today's post is picspam - these are all photos of soldiers from World War One. They weren't all white. Not by a longshot.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dating for Writing

If I'm having a really hard time motivating myself to write--and by write, I mean planting myself in a chair to just do it--I make a date. There are several advantages to making a date.

1. The time is scheduled. I feel obligated just because it's in my datebook. I feel even more obligated if I announce that I have a writing date on Twitter or similar.

2. If I don't show up, my fellow writer will be annoyed.

3. If I show up and don't write, the date will be a failure.

4. If I don't show up, or show up and don't write, then I have to tell people I wimped out.

5. I always feel better after I've added wordcount.

So, essentially, a writing date shames me into writing. There are other reasons for writing dates, for instance seeing a writer friend, but right now, making myself write is the main reason for me.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Which Book? Oh, Which?

So many books, so little time! How do I choose what to read next?

The illustration for this post is some of my giant To Be Read pile, extracted from its boxes and strewn all over my bed for its photo opportunity. (And let me tell you, that was a terrifying experience. I suspect the TBR weighs more than I do.)

Mostly, I keep books in boxes to cut down on dust, but it also helps me to prioritize. Books out of sight are out of mind. If I get a long-awaited book by a particularly beloved author who does not publish a lot, I will often stow that book away for a while, saving it for a special occasion. It helps if I can't see the book lying there begging me to read it. Laura Kinsale's newest, Lessons in French, is hidden away for that reason, as is the newest Caroline Stevermer, a middle-grade fantasy titled Magic Below Stairs, and Molly Gloss' most recent novel, The Hearts of Horses, which I've been saving for quite a while. Can you tell I'm not a "dessert first" reader most of the time?

I've been known to save books for years after buying them in hardcover as soon as they were available, not reading them until long after they've come out in mass market paperback. Yeah, I know, it's weird.

There are times when I will read a book immediately after I've received it. I do this if, for example, the book is a galley or ARC given to me by a friend for review (I often chat about books in my LiveJournal / Dreamwidth Journal). Or I'll sometimes be enticed to read the book quickly because there's a lot of online discussion of it, and I want to be able to follow along with the various reviews and discussions.

Mostly, though, I choose by impulse, from the one open box in my TBR. The books I feel I'm probably going to read in the near future are in that box. Sometimes I rotate books in and out of that box, or rearrange several of the TBR boxes, and perhaps even cull out a book or two I've decided I no longer want to read. I can't describe the sense of luxury I get from looking at all I have stocked up to read. It's a pleasure every time I look through and choose which book to read next.

What about you? How do you choose what to read next?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Siegfried Sassoon, "Lamentations"


I found him in the guard-room at the Base.
From the blind darkness I had heard his crying
And blundered in. With puzzled, patient face
A sergeant watched him; it was no good trying
To stop it; for he howled and beat his chest.
And, all because his brother had gone west,
Raved at the bleeding war; his rampant grief
Moaned, shouted, sobbed, and choked, while he was kneeling
Half-naked on the floor. In my belief
Such men have lost all patriotic feeling.

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

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"The End," Wilfred Owen

The End

After the blast of lightning from the east,
The flourish of loud clouds, the Chariot Throne;
After the drums of time have rolled and ceased,
And by the bronze west long retreat is blown,

Shall Life renew these bodies? Of a truth
All death will he annul, all tears assuage?--
Or fill these void veins full again with youth,
And wash, with an immortal water, Age?

When I do ask white Age he saith not so:
'My head hangs weighed with snow.'
And when I hearken to the Earth, she saith:
'My fiery heart shrinks, aching. It is death.
Mine ancient scars shall not be glorified,
Nor my titanic tears, the seas, be dried.'

--Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Voirey Linger - Guest Post

I'm elsewhere today! You can find me talking about my top five favorite Marriage of Convenience novels at Monkey Bear Reviews.

Read a 100-word story I wrote here.

I'm also a guest poster today at the Novelists, Inc. Blog on "Real Writers Have Business Cards?" Please drop by and check it out!

Now please welcome my guest, Voirey Linger, as she chats about the paranormal element of her new novella, Risking Eternity.


Information for an erotic romance can come from funny places. Sometimes you find exactly the little bit you need in a place you never expect.

My world building is usually pretty basic. I like to set things in a contemporary setting, a city that can be just about anywhere. I set up the characters in a world I already know. When writing angels, this took me back to my roots as a pastor's kid.

I grew up in a home that was an odd balance of Christian Fundamentalist and Liberal Christianity. Creation and science were balanced on a fine edge and there was a constant pull between staying rooted in Biblical beliefs and living in a modern world.

When the idea of the angel books came to me, it made perfect sense to throw that same tug-of-war between the conservative values and modern life into the mix.

As part of this balance, I needed to cement the world of an angel, make it as simple and natural as the human world. I dug up all kinds of internet information and read multiple books on secular Angelology, but nothing seemed to fit the natural order of how things worked in my head.

When researching paranormal elements, there are many myths, legends and traditions to draw on for world building. The information I found on angels was vast, varied and often contradictory. On one hand it left me very confused in terms of what was 'right' but on the other it gave me the freedom to simply create what I wanted without worrying about being correct.

So I went back to my roots, where I first learned about angels. I went to Christian tradition and the Bible.

Yes, the Bible as research for an erotic romance.

There are areas where I wander a bit, filled in my own imaginings, other places I had to choose between Bible scholars deductions and some of the old traditional beliefs, but that's to be expected in writing fiction.

In the end I simply chose information fit my storyline as long as I could find something in the Jewish-Christian tradition that supported it. This tradition is wide-spread and at least partially familiar in much of the English-speaking world today. With Risking Eternity, I tried to tap into these deep-seated roots.

My hope is that the result is easy for a reader to assimilate and accept. I want to push a but, suspend disbelief, and never hit a point where the reader has to stop and choose to accept a detail.

Did I succeed? I don't know. That's up to the reader to determine.


Thanks, Voirey!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My TBR or The Andes?

My To Be Read book piles are scary. I suspect pretty much everyone who loves books has a TBR; if they're not the sort who keep physical books around, or the sort to equivalently load up their e-readers, I would bet lots and lots of money that almost every reader out there has at least a mental list of books she would like to read someday.

My TBR consists of four boxes atop a footlocker. With some loose books on top. And a stack atop a nearby bookshelf, which is also full of TBR, all of it nonfiction. And a box completely full of short story collections. And various books on the shelves, mingled in with other books I have already read. And that little box I tried to hide beneath the couch. That's not counting my wishlists, of course.

Does my giant collection make me stop buying books? Or even consider stopping? No. Because there might be an apocalypse, and I would definitely need something to read after civilization collapsed. After I read them, I could use them for insulation, or perhaps stitch covers together to make clothing. Best of all, I might be able to trade books for...more books.

I am trying to do better about getting rid of books. These days, I continually remind myself it's all right not to finish reading a book if I'm not enjoying it. As soon as I've finished reading a book, or even when I'm close to the end of one, I try to think about whether I should keep it or share it. ("Share" feels better to me than "get rid of.") I'm trying to be more ruthless about sharing books I didn't adore.

I only have so much room in my apartment, after all. And I need room for the To Be Read.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Taking the Bookmark Plunge

After much pondering and asking people, I decided to have bookmarks made for The Duke and the Pirate Queen. I am very much not an artist, so I hired Jax Cassidy of Jaxadora Design to make pretty ones that utilized the book's cover. I chose Iconix to do the printing.

Jax completed my designs with a couple of days, tailoring them to specifications for Iconix, and Iconix sent me a quote within an hour or two of me uploading the designs; at my request, they held the invoice until I'd also uploaded postcard designs, so I could pay for both at once and have them shipped in one batch. Awesome service.

Why am I telling you all this? Because it's the first time I've ever had bookmarks made. It's an experiment. And I plan to report on my experiences.

The first thing I learned was that, yes, someone who knows about design can do a much better job than I can! You get what you pay for.

The second thing I learned was that it's handy to have some little text items to include on the bookmark: descriptive blurb, review quotes, brief summary of the book. Left to my own devices, the back wouldn't have had any information but my website URL.

The third thing I learned is that most reviews, even ones that loved a book, don't yield short, punchy quotes suitable for use on bookmarks. Unless I am doing it wrong. I sort of knew that blurbs were an art form.

I'm planning to make the bookmarks available to bookstores and librarians, so if you're affiliated with one of those, let me know and I'll send you some!

I will probably bring some to RWA Nationals, as well. I know the audience there will be mostly writers, but writers also read. And I will have plenty of bookmarks.

Related post: Online Promotion: Is It Worth It?

Monday, June 21, 2010

"On the Female Vampire," Evie Byrne Guest Post

Please welcome my guest, Evie Byrne!


On the Female Vampire

A monster is monstrous because it violates accepted boundaries. Often these boundaries are physical. Creatures of the twilight world like minotaurs, werewolves, insectoid aliens, selkies, sirens and mermaids cause fascination and discomfort because they are cross the reassuring threshold that separates human from animal. Vampires are generally human-formed, but still they manage to be more transgressive than any other monster. They violate boundaries right and left. They’re neither dead nor alive. They occasionally shift form. They live on blood--which makes them cannibals, which, needless to say, is a big boundary--or perhaps it makes them parasites, which aligns them with the insect world--or maybe it makes them demons, which aligns them with the spirit world. And when they’re not invading your body, they’re invading your mind. When you submit to them, you submit body, mind and soul. They own you. They’re slavers. They break all of our laws, conventions and beliefs--and tempt us to break them too.

For a vampire, feeding is sex. It’s a penetrative act of possession. One so powerful that used to eclipse intercourse. Dracula ruins Lucy far more completely than any determined rake. Anne Rice’s vampires, as I recall, don’t have sex. Having experienced the ultimate act of penetration and surrender, they loll around in sensual, bisexual languor. But those are old school vampires. Something has shifted in the perception of vampires of late. Vampires in popular literature and entertainment have become more sexual, more heterosexual and almost exclusively male.

The vampires of today’s romances are masculine, desirable heroes, relieved of both sexual ambiguity and the stench of the grave. This new breed of male vampire is generally isolated and sympathetic in his misery: Mr. Rochester with fangs. He’s an alpha male of an extreme sort, coldly handsome, immortal, preternaturally strong, supernaturally persuasive, and fitted with penetrative equipment both upstairs and downstairs, all the better to claim you--if you’re the one and only woman for him. This makeover strips much of the shivery terror from the mythos, but the trade off is that it makes room for hot fantasy.

But what of the vampire heroine? Female vampires are scarce on the ground, any sort of female vampire, much less a romantic heroine. They occasionally appear as slutty minions in vampire gangs, or as a minor antagonist. And of course, in some romantic vampire tales the hero vampire will elevate his love to immortality by turning her, but that is the end of the tale, not the beginning.

My take on this--and please do feel free to argue otherwise--is that while we’ve normalized male vampires enough to make them romantic heroes, female vampires remain too trangressive to be heroines.

Let’s take a step back. In the 19th century, when all vampires were monsters, female vampires were perhaps even more vile than their male counterparts. Being the weaker sex, they could not hunt fairly. They fed either through sexual guile or by preying on children--making them lower than low. Painters and poets of that age were enraptured with idea of the female vampire as a seductress. Victoria posted a Baudelaire poem about a female vampire on this blog just a couple of weeks ago, and if you didn’t see it, it’s well worth a read. []

For these sensitive 19th century poet types, the female vampire was the embodiment of feminine devourer who, if left unchecked, sucked dry the masculine life force. She was definitely an erotic figure, but that eroticism was laced with repugnance and the fear of emasculation. One minute she’s slinking up to you, cleavage bared, and next thing you know, you’re not hanging around the Montmartre cafes with your friends anymore. You’re working as a clerk and helping out with the housework.

But I digress.

The sexual power of the female vampire threatens social norms. Earlier I spoke of the penetrative aspect of feeding. It’s inherently a sexual act. Yet while the male vampire may feed on men, he seduces women. (That is, unless you’re reading specialized erotic fiction.) The female vampire tends to be more openly bisexual, so voracious in her appetites that she cannot be constrained by gender. This perception is strong, and continues from the earliest female vampires to today. Miriam Blaylock, as portrayed by Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger (1983), is a sleek, glamorous, ruthless bisexual hunter. She takes both Susan Sarandon and David Bowie as lovers--and eats a child in the bargain as well. To me, she has always been the modern archetype of the female vampire.

Stepping back to the present again, to this time when the male vampire has become a sympathetic hero, the gulf between the female vampire and the male vampire has widened even further. He has special needs. She’s a monster.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m just saying the terrain has changed. I can’t address all vampires in all genres, only the vampire tales written today by (mostly) female authors for a (mostly) female audience under the banner of romance. In this genre, the prospect of being devoured by your lover is eroticized, as it was for those 19th century gentlemen, but now it is not framed as repugnant. Instead, it is the ultimate form of acceptance and bonding.

That sexual dynamic only works one way, however. It’s hot when an alpha vamp claims his mate through blood and sex, but that power relationship cannot be flipped. When a female vampire penetrates her human lover, it somehow makes him less of a man. Her claiming of him might make for good horror, but it doesn’t add up to satisfying romantic fiction.

The double standard goes on. The intense predatory drive that makes a male vampire sexy doesn’t translate in the same way for a female vampire. That same drive makes her a dangerous, unbalanced stalker. Similarly, a male vampire is usually portrayed as handsome and aware of his magnetic attraction, but he’s not vilified for it--in fact, it’s part of his appeal. Whereas when a female vampire uses her seductive powers, its trickery. Doing so breaks the unwritten commandment that a romantic heroine be modest: either she doesn’t know she’s ravishing, or doesn’t care. Only wicked women use their looks like a blade.

It’s all about reader identification. The best part of reading a romantic fantasy is imagining what it would be like if you--ordinary, human you--found yourself face to face with a creature of the otherworld. How would you react? Could you love such a being? We enjoy experiencing a romance through the eyes of a woman whom we can relate to--an ordinary woman who finds herself in extraordinary circumstances. It is much harder to relate to a heroine who is a powerful, ruthless, bloodthirsty, and possibly immortal.

And that’s not because we don’t appreciate a powerful female, but rather because being unable to identify with her takes some of the fun out of this particular kind of reading experience. One of the oldest and most compelling storylines is the one in which an ordinary person tests herself against powers and mysteries beyond her imagination--and earns love along the way. That kind of story always hits the spot. There’s good reason for its enduring popularity.

So as much as I like a lady vampire, I don’t expect to see them crowding romances as heroines any time soon. And having thought about this for a while, I’ll admit I’m okay with that. I like the idea that they can’t be domesticated into do-gooder heroines who settle down into a happily-ever-after. Like their progenitor, Lilith, they embody the darker side of female power, and that stuff is too powerful to be bottled.

Love and Pain by Edvard Munch, 1894

Evie Byrne is the author of three hot vampire romances: Called by Blood, Bound by Blood and Damned by Blood. Link. In the spirit of full disclosure, she admits that while two of her heroines are down-to-earth, regular humans, her third heroine is a vampire who is as wicked as the day is long.


Thanks so much for the great post, Evie!

Anyone have any comments on female vampire characters?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Edgell Rickword, "Trench Poets"

Trench Poets

I knew a man, he was my chum,
but he grew blacker every day,
and would not brush the flies away,
nor blanch however fierce the hum
of passing shells; I used to read,
to rouse him, random things from Donne--

Like "Get with child a mandrake-root."
But you can tell he was far gone,
For he lay gaping, mackerel-eyed,
and stiff, and senseless as a post
Even when that old poet cried
"I long to talk with some old lover's ghost."

I tried the Elegies one day,
but he, because he heard me say:
"What needst thou have more covering than a man?"
Grinned nastily, and so I knew
The worms had got his brains at last.
There was one thing that I might do
to starve the worms; I racked my head
for healthy things and quoted Maud.
His grin got worse and I could see
He sneered at passion's purity.
He stank so badly, though we were great chums
I had to leave him; then rats ate his thumbs.

--Edgell Rickword

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Charlotte Mew, "Absence"


Sometimes I know the way
You walk, up over the bay;
It is a wind from that far sea
That blows the fragrance of your hair to me.

Or in this garden when the breeze
Touches my trees
To stir their dreaming shadows on the grass
I see you pass.

In sheltered beds, the heart of every rose
Serenely sleeps to-night. As shut as those
Your guarded heart; as safe as they form the beat, beat
Of hooves that tread dropped roses in the street.

Turn never again
On these eyes blind with a wild rain
Your eyes; they were stars to me.--
There are things stars may not see.

But call, call, and though Christ stands
Still with scarred hands
Over my mouth, I must answer. So
I will come--He shall let me go!

--Charlotte Mew

Friday, June 18, 2010

Writer, Know Yourself - Emily Ryan-Davis Guest Post

Please welcome my guest, Emily Ryan-Davis!


Writer, Know Yourself

Good morning, faithful Victoria fans. I’m a fan, too (she’s a lovely person and her characters fascinate me) so I’m pleased to be able to say you and I already have something in common.

I’m here today because Victoria generously volunteered a little of her cyberspace for my promotional efforts. Between the initial offer and now, however, I’ve decided not to do the promotion thing. I’d much rather talk about myself and my grasp of craft, and invite you to talk about yourself and your grasp of craft, than talk about my books. So. That’s what I’m going to do today. If you want to know what I can write or where to find it, Google will help you out.

So...I’ve been thinking about self-awareness a lot lately, in part because I’ve been observing beginner-author yearning for an experienced eye, for confidence in the decisions they make about what they’re writing or going to write, and for an end to the frustration of realizing they’ve made a self-uninformed decision. While writer self-awareness might not technically be a craft issue, I consider it as important as understanding of mood, theme, motif, story pacing and all that other stuff you can learn about from any number of books. And because my ego knows no bounds, since I decided self-awareness is as important as story structure, I’m going to treat it as a craft topic today.

About me: I don’t plot. Honestly, I care very little about plot, much to my critique partners’ dismay. Characters fascinate me. They could exist in a void for story purposes, their story progression taking place over the course of hours without any real-life sort of time allowance to lend realism, and I would be perfectly happy, both as a reader and as a writer.

Right alongside my plotfail, I also suffer from detail and logic problems. I just don’t care about the logic if it’s in the way of exploring my characters’ emotional transition from broken to...maybe a little less broken, ideally via an intensely sexual route. Again, my preference as a reader and as a writer. (If you’re an author reading this and you ever hear I skipped the middle of your book in order to read the end, please don’t take it personally; my habits are not necessarily commentary on the quality of your product.)

So I don’t plot and I have no head for details or logic. Or organization of details and logic. I do have a deep-seated penchant for whining and panicking when my characters dig in their heels and stop talking in an attempt to force me to give them some plot and details. I also have an immense appreciation for praise: go ahead. Love and adore me. It’s even OK if you criticize me as long as, underneath it all, you still love and adore me and are aware I’m going to resent your suggestion that I add some plot because it’s going to ruin the rhythm of my prose. I’m also bossy and not as generous with my praise as I expect others to be with theirs.

I’m not all flaws, though. There’s some awesomeness mixed in here. I’m a great speller. I barely stutter over query letters. I consider myself a master at nagging an editor without coming across as a nag. And I might be in love with the sound of my own prose, but I am totally not the only one.

Granted, the flaws outweigh the awesomeness. I’ve come to the conclusion the only reason I’ve managed to acquire and keep critique partners is honesty. Since I’ve figured out these things about my writer/reader self and have learned how to vocalize them, I’ve been better able to pinpoint my needs, explain my failings in advance, and warn people of what they’re getting as part of the package.

Self-awareness is working out pretty well for me. I find myself less frequently stalled in the middle of stories I think I want to write even though they’re not the kinds of stories I really want to write; sometimes people even come to me for advice or answers, despite my general lack of helpfulness.

How’s your self-awareness? Do you spend much time mulling over your high points and low points? Do you ever falter from what you know about yourself and decide you can change and be something different? (Boy, do I. Witness just about every one of my stories that try to wrestle with more than two characters and a miniscule plot.)

I'm inviting you to make use of Victoria's blog comments for the purpose of talking about yourself. Tell me all about your flaws and your awesomeness. Don't bother to check your ego at the door. I figure if you discover something about yourself today, you’ve learned something you’re not going to find in a how-to book. And maybe we’ll discover we have something in common besides mutual enjoyment of Victoria's awesomeness!


Thanks, Emily! I'm looking forward to reading the comments on your post.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Teaser from The Duke & The Pirate Queen

Today, I give you a tiny teaser from The Duke & the Pirate Queen, which is coming out in December, 2010.


Maxime heard the ship's bell ring two quarter hours before the cabin's door opened again. The cabin girl, Norris, poked her head in, then slid around the door and shut it behind her, reaching for a basket on the deck. When she saw Maxime, she stopped and looked at him incredulously.

"Is this your rope?" Maxime asked, mildly.

Her mouth opened, then closed.

"You can have it back, if you like. Though I'm afraid you'll have to untie it from me yourself."

Norris clutched the basket to her flat chest. "I...the captain borrowed it? My line?"

"She did."

"You'll have to ask her about untying it, then." Norris grinned and slipped out again, this time with the basket.

Maxime cursed, but without much vigor. He returned to trying to lift his feet. The deck braces to which he was hitched showed no hint of movement and the sturdy decking didn't even creak, no matter how hard he pulled. The knots on his wrists, he'd quickly learned, drew tighter if he struggled, and there was no accessible end for him to attack with his teeth.

"Being kidnapped," he said, "is much more dull than I would have expected." Perhaps things would improve once the ravishing began. If it began. He was beginning to have his doubts.


Another teaser, featuring the book's heroine, Imena Leung.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Promotional Goodies Questions

I've been pondering options for promotional items I could give away that would be related to The Duke and the Pirate Queen. I would really, really like some input into these ideas, so please feel free to comment at length.

Here are my ideas so far:

1. The usual suspects - postcards or bookmarks. Bo-ring, or usual because they work?

2. Temporary tattoos, which would fit in with the pirate idea. Except, tattoos of what exactly? Are they any use as promotional items if they don't include the book title?

3. Pirate duckies. Possibly with labels stuck on, so one could then lose the labels and forget where the duckies came from. But oh so cute.

4. A single large giveaway of "pirate loot," which would entail getting entrants to email me and then drawing a name. Would people just enter and forget? I think people would enter even if they had zero interest in the book.

5. Something else. Feel free to enlighten me on possible answers to this one.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Picspam: Albert I, King of the Belgians

I have learned one very important thing during my recent World War One research. It is that Albert, King of the Belgians, was a total hottie. Particularly when he wore spectacles.

Also, he looked great in uniform, whether with helmet in this late photo

or kepi in this earlier one. Check out the differing details of the two uniforms.

His wife, Elisabeth, was pretty hot, too.

I love this picture.

Sometimes, research is more fun than you expect it to be.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Erotica Under the Skin

I want to read erotica from the inside.

The surface elements are much less important to me than how the characters feel. A bland setting or one that is poorly realized is, to me, a flaw, and an intriguing one is a bonus, but I don’t absolutely require fabulous worldbuilding. For me, erotica is about the characters.

If the characters are bland, unoriginal, lacking in conflict, then what’s the point of me reading the story? If the characters are intriguing enough, they don’t need to be having sex while riding an elephant up the side of a mountain in the middle of a thunderstorm. If what they’re thinking and wanting and feeling while they have sex interests me, I only need a few key details of what they’re actually doing.

Some erotica, often touted as “literary,” might have other priorities, such as elaborate prose, political commentary, or thought-provoking plot elements. Sometimes I am in the mood for that. But overall, character is the most important element I look for.

I don't care what gender the characters are, or if the story is about a pair or a menage or simply strangers who've met up for a single occasion. I care whether they're interesting.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Isaac Rosenberg, "Dead Man's Dump"

Dead Man's Dump

The plunging limbers over the shattered track
Racketed with their rusty freight,
Stuck out like many crowns of thorns,
And the rusty stakes like sceptres old
To stay the flood of brutish men
Upon our brothers dear.

The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
But pained them not, though their bones crunched,
Their shut mouths made no moan,
They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,
Man born of man, and born of woman,
And shells go crying over them
From night till night and now.

Earth has waited for them
All the time of their growth
Fretting for their decay:
Now she has them at last!
In the strength of their strength
Suspended--stopped and held.

What fierce imaginings their dark souls lit
Earth! have they gone into you?
Somewhere they must have gone,
And flung on your hard back
Is their souls' sack,
Emptied of God-ancestralled essences.
Who hurled them out? Who hurled?

None saw their spirits' shadow shake the grass,
Or stood aside for the half used life to pass
Out of those doomed nostrils and the doomed mouth,
When the swift iron burning bee
Drained the wild honey of their youth.

What of us, who flung on the shrieking pyre,
Walk, our usual thoughts untouched,
Our lucky limbs as on ichor fed,
Immortal seeming ever?
Perhaps when the flames beat loud on us,
A fear may choke in our veins
And the startled blood may stop.

The air is loud with death,
The dark air spurts with fire
The explosions ceaseless are.
Timelessly now, some minutes past,
These dead strode time with vigorous life,
Till the shrapnel called 'an end!'
But not to all. In bleeding pangs
Some borne on stretchers dreamed of home,
Dear things, war-blotted from their hearts.

A man's brains splattered on
A stretcher-bearer's face;
His shook shoulders slipped their load,
But when they bent to look again
The drowning soul was sunk too deep
For human tenderness.

They left this dead with the older dead,
Stretched at the cross roads.
Burnt black by strange decay,
Their sinister faces lie
The lid over each eye,
The grass and coloured clay
More motion have than they,
Joined to the great sunk silences.

Here is one not long dead;
His dark hearing caught our far wheels,
And the choked soul stretched weak hands
To reach the living word the far wheels said,
The blood-dazed intelligence beating for light,
Crying through the suspense of the far torturing wheels
Swift for the end to break,
Or the wheels to break,
Cried as the tide of the world broke over his sight.

Will they come? Will they ever come?
Even as the mixed hoofs of the mules,
The quivering-bellied mules,
And the rushing wheels all mixed
With his tortured upturned sight,
So we crashed round the bend,
We heard his weak scream,
We heard his very last sound,
And our wheels grazed his dead face.

--Isaac Rosenberg

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Strange Meeting," Wilfred Owen

Strange Meeting

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
With a thousand pains that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
'Strange friend', I said, 'here is no cause to mourn.'
'None,' said the other, 'save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that were not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now....'

--Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Adventures in Pronouns - Jessica Freely Guest Post

Please welcome my guest, Jessica Freely!


Hi everybody and good morning! First of all, I want to thank Victoria for generously opening her blog to me -- again. I had a great time last time I was a guest here and I'm sure today will be just as much fun.

In a second I'm going to tell you a bit about my new release, Amaranth & Ash, and one particular challenge I faced in writing it. Before I do, I want to make a couple of announcements. We're running a contest today, right here on Victoria's blog. Leave a comment and you'll be entered to win a free copy of Amaranth & Ash. That's easy, isn't it? Secondly, a free short story featuring some of the major characters from Amaranth & Ash is up in the files section of my newsletter group. It's called Amaranth & Grail and it's available exclusively to newsletter members, so if you'd like to join, here's the link.

Okay, on to the matter at hand. Amaranth & Ash is an erotic male/transmale fantasy romance set on a highly stratified colonized world. Amaranth is a vasai, born with both male and female characteristics and forbidden from sexual relations with any but the ruling class. Ash is a chel, a member of the underclass. Their unlawful passion ignites a rebellion and transforms their world.

In my other life I'm a science fiction and fantasy author and with Amaranth & Ash I decided to create a full-blown world with all the bells and whistles. I created a society, a religion, an economy, and a geography, and I had a blast doing it. Harken's Landing, the setting of the story, is a city founded by colonists from earth who came to their new world to escape oppression back home. As these things sometimes go, no sooner had they landed than they began oppressing one another. The society is strictly segregated by caste, and each caste has its own distinctive physical characteristics.

When it came to the vasai, who are intersex, I had some decisions to make regarding pronouns. I realized I had an opportunity here to play with gender neutral pronouns. But before I'd even finished writing the book, I had people telling me I couldn't do that. Reasons given were that it's distracting to the reader and that gender-neutral pronouns "just sound silly."

I'm not real big on being told I can't do something, especially when the evidence summoned to support the sanction is subjective. Isn't speculative fiction supposed to be about imagining worlds and people radically different from our own? How far can we really get if we must constantly adhere to a gender binary system? I felt locked into a male-female dichotomy that I don't happen to think represents contemporary humans very accurately, let alone the people of Harken's Landing. Worst of all was the expectation that I was supposed to accept that as "just the way it is."

So, predictably, I started fooling around with all kinds of pronoun systems. A great resource I found is With this handy web tool, you can read any internet web page a variety of ways: with gender pronouns switched, with gender neutral pronouns, or with pronouns based on race instead of gender. It's a fascinating way to shake up your preconceptions and I recommend it.

I had a wealth of ideas to play with. My personal favorite was a caste-based pronoun system I devised. It made sense! After all, in Harken's Landing the most important thing that everyone needs to know about you, before anything else, is your caste. So it stands to reason that their language conventions would enshrine caste divisions instead of reproductive roles. To keep it simple, I created pronouns for each caste based off of the name of the caste. It looked like this:

Male - He smiled. - I kissed him. - His hands shake. - That is his.
Female - She smiled. - I kissed her. - Her hands shake. - That is hers.
Elai - Ei smiled. - I kissed Eir. - Eir hands shake. - That is Eirs.
Vasai - Va smiled. - I kissed var. - Var hands shake. - That is vars.
Pel - Pe smiled. - I kissed per. - Per hands shake. - That is pers.
Chel - Che laughed - I kissed chem. - Ches hands shake. - That is ches.

See? Simple!

Here is a section of Amaranth & Ash and how it would have read if I had gone with this idea:

Evanscar inclined var head. Even with var soul packed up tight as a fist, Amaranth could feel the vasai’s eyes boring though var back as va made var way to the refreshments. Va handed var empty glass to Build, the pel attendant. "Thank you," pe said.

Then, Parnal appeared. Amaranth went to Eir immediately, took Eir hands, and bowed over them. "Can you forgive me?”

Parnal was a middle-aged Elai of solid proportions, a hair shorter than Amaranth but wider and thicker. Ei was balding, and the hair that remained was dark with flecks of gray and trimmed short. Eir eyes were pale blue, Eir face rectangular and stolid. “I wondered if perhaps I had done something to put you off,” Ei said.

Hmm. Interesting? Perhaps. But readable? Well... even I had to admit that the pronoun business was distracting.

I had a decision to make. Was I going to market Amaranth and Ash as a romance, or as experimental science fiction? Call me mercenary if you like, but I had a pretty good idea of the respective markets for each. I knew I was choosing between getting Amaranth and Ash in front of a decent sized audience within the year, or in front of a tiny audience in two to three years, maybe. Since Amaranth and Ash began as a love story, I decided to do what I had to in order to keep the romance front and center for my readers. That meant scaling back on my adventures in pronouns quite a bit.

But I didn't want to abandon the idea entirely. I decided to compromise by having individual vasai adopt a pronoun of choice that can be male, female, or gender neutral. While Amaranth identifies as male, Grail, a third major character in the book, identifies as gender neutral.

Now the question became what gender neutral pronouns to adopt. I have a wonderful editor at Loose Id, and she worked with the copyediting staff and me on this issue. We considered keeping the va, var, vars pronouns, but finally decided to go with sie and hir. Next to the colloquial use of the singular they, sie and hir are the most common gender neutral pronouns currently in use in English. They look more like what we expect to see as pronouns too, making them less distracting. Hopefully my approach serves to introduce the concept of gender neutral identity without turning the story into a vocabulary exercise.

In the end, I'm highly satisfied with the way Amaranth & Ash turned out. The story is one of love across social boundaries and the backdrop of Ash and Amaranth's love affair is the breakdown of a rigid hierarchy based on class and race. Gender identity is actually a minor part of the story, but it's the part I struggled the most with because our own culture and language place so much emphasis on he and she as absolute and exclusive to one another.

You can buy Amaranth and Ash here.

I wonder what other kinds of ideas the conventions of our language make it difficult for us to have? What do you think?


Thanks, Jessica!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Marriage of Convenience or Not?

My current novel is not a Marriage of Convenience. I'd been thinking it was. In my mind, for many months, I've been calling it "The Werewolf Marriage of Convenience."

Alas, I was wrong. My desperate desire to write a Marriage of Convenience obscured the reality. My characters know each other too well for their marriage to be one of convenience.

I think one of the major aspects of a Marriage of Convenience story is a focus on the hero and heroine (or whatever other gender pairing/grouping you choose) getting to know each other. They've been forced into intimate proximity, and have to make the best of it. If they already know each other, that can't happen, unless there's an additional layer: for example, they knew each other once, but have been separated for years; or for another example, they didn't know each other as well as they thought, because one of them was actually a spy the whole time, or harbored a secret deep angst, or was actually an alien.

In my story, the characters met in The Moonlight Mistress when they were both held captive by the villain. They're both werewolves, and both want werewolf children, so after their escape, one talks the other into marrying (very Marriage of Convenience!). They make sure they are sexually compatible before marrying (not very Marriage of Convenience) and know something already about their partner's basic personality, clearly exposed during their captivity (ditto).

The trick to this story, then, won't be the things they don't know about each other. I think it will have to be what they don't know about what they do know. (I know what I mean!)

The tensions in the story will have to revolve around what their flaws will mean for their marriage. They'll have to learn the depth of those flaws. They'll have to learn to accept and live with flaws they already know about.

So...maybe it is a Marriage of Convenience. It just has one extra layer. What do you think?

I'm thinking I'm going to think about it some more, while I work on a favorites list of marriage of convenience novels.

Related Post:
The Intricacies of Marriages of Convenience.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Perfect Research Books Fall From the Sky

It is so satisfying with the perfect research material for a work-in-progress drops from the sky.

This blog is syndicated on Facebook, and after seeing one of my posts about World War One research, a Facebook friend recommended a couple of additional research books to me. One of them was already on my list, but the other wasn't, which gave me great joy.

French Women and the First World War: War Stories of the Home Front by Margaret H. Darrow will be a lovely complement to my other source on occupied Northern France; it looks at the war from a different angle which I can hopefully also incorporate into my novel. It's important to me to know something of how people of the time felt about the events they were experiencing, and since I don't have a time machine (alas!), research is the best method to help me feel my way inside the minds of the characters.

In Flanders Flooded Fields: Before Ypres There was Yser by Paul Van Pul didn't exactly fall from the sky - I searched it out myself. But after I'd made a note of it, I forgot I had it on my list! When I found the title again, weeks later, it certainly felt like the book had dropped out of the sky! It's from British specialty publisher Pen and Sword, which mostly focuses on military history; this book was translated from Dutch. Most scholarship on World War One skims over the Belgian Army's activities, so this in-depth book is a treasure for me. As a bonus, it reads very smoothly and has excellent explanatory maps.

You might wonder why I don't research from primary materials. Sometimes I do - memoirs, newspapers, etc.. But for the most part I would prefer to have a book, especially when I'm in the midst of writing the novel I'm researching. I am such a geek that even the slightest whiff of primary research can send me into ecstasies for weeks; I will emerge with beautiful urns full of the coolest information ever, but I will not have progressed on the actual writing of my novel.

I do, however, go to primary materials when I need details - how much did this cost in that year? What kind of hat was in style? The trick is escaping from the delicious black hole of research, and staying focused like a laser on what I need to know right now.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pointing the View

I recently had Thoughts on point of view, based on a writer buddy's questions about differences between using first and third person, and single versus multiple points of view.

I think a big difference between using a single point of view in first and third persons is voice. In first person, the narrator's voice needs to be really strong, really consistent. In third, "your" (the author's) voice can be a little more dominant, depending on how close a third you're writing. I realize they're both your voice, but in my opinion, your voice is more subsumed into character in first than in third.

Here's my take on the difference through examples. In first, the reader feels what the character feels (my heart froze). In third, the reader sees what the character is doing from the outside (she crushed the flowers beneath her heel); it's more show and less tell, even though you can tell to some degree (She felt awful.)

You can get some good fun for the reader out of the first person narrator not realizing/figuring out stuff that the reader might understand/figure out (for instance, when a child narrator is witnessing his parents fighting; we know one of them is having an affair, but the kid thinks it's about the last slice of pie). Ditto third because the reader gets to figure out what's going on from the clues presented, just as the character is doing. You can increase or decrease the mysteries the reader has to solve by how you present information to her.

I'm going to ponder this further. Any thoughts?

Monday, June 7, 2010

I Don't Read It For the Sex.

I don't read erotica for the sex.

Well, not entirely. I know. I write the stuff, so why I don't I read it for its intended purpose? Possibly for the same reason that a pastry chef might not eat pastry at home. Back when I first began writing erotica, I read a lot of it, anthology upon anthology. I read with a critical eye. For the most part, these days when I look at an erotic scene I can't help but dissect it. Only a few authors are able to engage me enough with the characters that I can be lost in the scene solely for story's sake. Occasionally, something unexpected will serve the same purpose, some new way of writing or describing, but that happens even less.

These days, when I read erotica, I read it for the story. Go ahead and laugh - I'm not lying. What I'm looking for in erotica isn't sex. I look for what goes along with the sex. I like characters having problems and finding solutions; I like characters who are having adventures; and, most of all, I like when the characters and their actions challenge the status quo in some way. To me, any story that gives me characters outside of the ordinary run of stories, or outside of society's mainstream, is interesting. In other words, I want there to be more than just sex. Otherwise, there's no meaning.

What I want is simple, but it's surprisingly hard to find. A lot of erotica focuses so intensely on a single pair that it feels insular to me. I like having a sense of what they're up against, "It's us against the world." Or against the genre. That works for me, too.

What works for you?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Robert Frost, "Range-finding"


The battle rent a cobweb diamond-strung
And cut a flower beside a ground bird's nest
Before it stained a single human breast.
The stricken flower bent double and so hung.
And still the bird revisited her young.
A butterfly its fall had dispossessed
A moment sought in air his flower of rest,
Then lightly stooped to it and fluttering clung.

On the bare upland pasture there had spread
O'ernight 'twixt mullein stalks a wheel of thread
And straining cables wet with silver dew.
A sudden passing bullet shook it dry.
The indwelling spider ran to greet the fly,
But finding nothing, sullenly withdrew.

--Robert Frost

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Alison Tyler interviewed me, and The Duke & The Pirate Queen cover!

Alison Tyler interviewed me about fairy tales and my story in her Spice anthology, Alison's Wonderland.

And the cover of my December 2010 Spice release, The Duke & the Pirate Queen. Just because.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Linkgasm of Writerly Business

It's been a while since I had a Linkgasm! Today's is concerned with the business side of writing.

io9 on "5 Ways The Google Book Settlement Will Change The Future of Reading."

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who's written in a range of genres, has created an in-depth Freelancer's Survival Guide that all writers, full-time or not, ought to visit and browse.

Courtney Milan, romance author, crafted a program to generate bookstore links for a range of online vendors.

Looking for new ways to publicize your blog posts? Why not participate in a Blog Carnival?

Associated Content allows you to: "create original content (articles, videos, images or audio) on any topic you choose...earn money every time your content is viewed...establish your expertise by applying to our Featured Contributor program." A friend of mine has been writing restaurant and concert reviews for AC for a little over a month, and recommended the site to me.

Finally, just in case you've never tried Icerocket, it's a useful search engine for blogs and for Twitter, sometimes catching items that Google does not.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

May-Ten-Centuries-Back Vampire Romance

The May/December romance is one thing. The May/Ten Centuries Back romance is quite another.

It's always disturbed me a little that vampire heroes in romance are so often much older than their heroines. When the heroine is not only not immortal but young for a human, it's even harder to convince me that they could have anything in common. Perhaps that's why writers sometimes rely on strong sexual attraction between the two (sometimes natural, sometimes superntural or "fated"), or on plot reasons that require the two characters to be together, such as only she has the necessary scientific/psychic/genetic abilities to save the world and is thus forced to tie herself to an ancient vampire who thinks swing music is "dynamite."

There are advantages to the forced relationship; for one thing, it automatically introduces tension into both the relationship and the plot.

It's the innocent heroine/jaded vampire who instantly fall in love, no questions asked, who, to me, fail the possibilities. They're not doomed to fail; but to me they do fail because it's very, very rare that the writer actually shows me why they like each other and why they belong together. Isn’t the whole point of a romance to see the romance developing? To watch the hero and heroine overcome their differences?

True, it's very difficult to imagine what centuries or millennia of experience can do to a person, but it's our job as writers to do that imagining. At the least, we can look at relationships in real life where one partner is much older than the other, and see what we can learn from that and apply to our writing.

Or just once, I'd like to see a vampire romance hero fall for a woman who's at least in her fifties or sixties. Or how about a futuristic human who's two hundred years old?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Roll Your Own - Anna Katherine Guest Post

Please welcome my guest, Anna Katherine!


Roll Your Own

One of the biggest issues with writing any paranormal beastie is the need to bring something new to the table. With everybody writing about vampires these days, why should someone want to read about yours? Let's say you want to make your vampires stand out from the pack by being different from your everyday Count Dracula stereotype. Where do you start?

Well, there are lots of cultures out there with their own versions of vampires (one of my favorites is the Bulgarian vamp, which has only one nostril). You can add a lot of originality to your work by just exploring new (to you) folklore.

But what if you don't want to go the Western vamp route or the "borrowing from elsewhere" route? What if you want to make something all your own?

So let's say you want to make up something new and shiny. Problem number one with that is: If you make up something that has nothing in common with a vampire, what makes it a vampire? Why isn't it called a Thubmert?

(The secret answer to this is, there is no reason why you can't call something a vampire. "Vampire" is just a word we made up. Maybe in other universes, "vampires" are what people call post-it notes. You're an author; you can use whatever words you like. But authors don't write in a vacuum, and eventually you're going to have to do a major bit of hand-waving to get your reading audience to follow along with those sorts of shenanigans.)

Let's say that if you want to call something a vampire, you need some recognizable vampiric traits to build off on. Right off the top of my head, I can think of: Dead, drinks blood, pointy teeth, drive to create more vampires, can't go in sunlight, a stake through the heart kills them.

The next step is to twist these traits around -- make them mean different things, or take them a step further than tradition normally does. Some examples:

  • This Dinosaur Comic makes an excellent example of the "taking extremes" method by categorizing most vampiric traits as just OCD, thereby letting people easily "deduce NEW vampire facts and weaknesses!"

  • Stephanie Meyer's took the idea of "vampires can't go out in sunlight" and changed it from "because they burn!" to "because they sparkle and will reveal their true nature" -- while the sparkling thing is dopey, that's a pretty neat turn on the folklore. The basic fact stays the same, but the reason for it changes.

  • Doctor Who's "Vampires in Venice" episode has vampires that don't really have pointy teeth, even though they appear to -- they're an illusion supplied by the human brain, to attempt to give some kind of warning of their being predators.

  • Scott Westerfeld talks about the process of boiling down vampiric traits for his excellent vampire novel Peeps, taking on the sexual aspects as well as the unnerving reasons why vamps might want to create more vamps.

  • And in my own book, Salt and Silver, vampires can suck blood... through their butterfly-like proboscis. When I first created these vamps, all the other demons in my world were insect-like, so I wanted to continue the theme. It wasn't until later that I discovered that Filipino folklore had butterfly-vampires. So I ran with it, and now, as I write the sequel (starring the vampires front-and-center), I'm trying to bring a little more juice to the creative processes. One of the driving principles of my worldbuilding is that to have a part of someone is to know them utterly. In the first book, true names were things to keep out of bad guys' hands -- but blood is just as much a part of someone as their name. So what does drinking blood do, if even a tiny sip can give you a world of knowledge?

    Ladies and gents: My vampires are academics.

Keeping vampires (or other mythological creatures) fresh -- but familiar -- is a tough row to hoe, but you'll be amazed by what you can come up with using a twist of thought and a little reductio ad absurdum logic. Have fun!

Note: I can't recommend enough the use of motif indexes for writing research (mine's the Stith Thompson Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, but others include Aarne's The Types of the Folktale and Uther's recent The Types of International Folktales). Vampires are tale type E251: "Vampire: Corpse which comes from grave at night and sucks blood", but there are a ton of little details and stories to follow up on in there.


Thanks so much!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Vulnerable Vampires

I would love to see vampire heroes and heroines who are more vulnerable, even, than ordinary humans. I know most readers don't want to see that, but I do. Vulnerability is what draws me to a character. I want them to be in trouble so I can become involved as they struggle to get out of trouble.

The vampire novels I enjoy aren't any different. If the vampire is all-powerful, I can't get interested in him or her as a protagonist. A protagonist without flaw is...not a protagonist, not the way I think about it.

It's easy enough to include vampire vulnerabilities such as sunlight burning them, deathlike sleep during the day, or susceptibility to yummy buttered garlic bread. Being able to subsist only on blood is an exceptionally good one--all the best vampire books have the vampire in danger of starving unless fed willingly by his or her unwilling best friend or random stranger. (Like that scene in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode in which Buffy has to offer her blood to Angel so he won't die from poison.)

I don't think it's enough to just mention those vulnerabilities. I think, as a writer, you have to show them, and their effects. As a reader, knowing the vulnerability exists is one thing; experiencing it through the character is much more vivid.

And I think that, whatever magical physical weaknesses the vampire character has, they should be matched by emotional weaknesses. Emotional weaknesses are what we, as humans, can really understand. The vampire who hates what he is, or can't resist drinking from his beloved even though it leads to future doom, or merely gets depressed because he's outlived all his friends--that's the vampire I want to read about.