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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

dedication and acknowledgements

Have you ever wondered how the front material gets into a book? Some readers ignore those pages entirely, others read them with great interest. I was always one to read the dedication and acknowledgements; as I grew to knew more writers and publishing professionals, it became more and more fun to recognize names and the connections between them.

In the case of my books, the dedication and acknowledgements get forgotten about until some time after the manuscript has been submitted. Then I remember that all those people I wanted to remember to thank have not been thanked, and I need to send their names in to my editor, hopefully not too late to appear in the actual book.

There are so many people to list. I usually decide on the dedication pretty early in the process, thinking of the manuscript in progress as, for example, "Lorrie's book." But the acknowledgements are harder; I hate to leave anyone out. One's editor or editors and agent are important, of course. Anyone who critiqued the manuscript will make it in. There are those who contributed titles or character names or the ideas for vital scenes. Also, I make sure to include a nod to the production people who are often ignored, but whose contribution to the final book is incalculable. But what about smaller contributions? Whom to include and whom to leave out?

Next time, I'll send the dedication and acknowledgements in with the draft. I'll have kept a running list of the relevant people as I write. Right? Right.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Crystal Jordan Guest Post: How To Make The Mating Instinct Work

Today's post is by Crystal Jordan, author of On the Prowl and many other works. You can visit her blog here: and her website here:
Welcome, Crystal! It's great to have you!

How To Make The Mating Instinct Work

So, I saw a list of plotlines an author "has to work extra hard to make me accept" on Victoria's blog the other day, and when I read this quote:

Destined Love and/or reincarnation and/or Genetic Mating or scent-marking or whatever that makes the relationship instantly gel

I took it as a challenge. You see, I write shape-shifters. Often. Some of them have this destined mate thing, some of them don't. I like to mix it up from one imaginary "world" to the next. Mostly so I don't get bored--I have to admit, that one isn't for my readers' benefit.

I do think it's possible to pull off the "destined love" and "genetic mating" thing. However, I completely agree with Victoria that nothing should make a relationship instantly gel. If that's why a writer uses the mating instinct, then I think it's a contrived plot device that's as annoying as any other that readers encounter. I'm not saying my work is always perfect on this front, believe me, but I do think there are ways for the mating instinct to be part of the plot without seeming forced.

First, I think destined mating should cause more problems than it solves. Yes, the mating instinct should not be seen by either or both (or all, in the case of menage or more) parties as a good thing. In fact, it's usually something they want to avoid, manipulate, control, or run away from like the hounds of hell were nipping at their heels. An example from my own work: Antonio and Solana are the main characters in one of the novellas in my newest book On the Prowl. He's the newly minted leader of a Pride of panther-shifters. One of the biggest problems for these shifters is keeping the population up because they can only breed if they are mated, and not everyone is guranteed a mate. Antonio tracks his mate down only to find she's a non-shifter--someone who will never be able to breed, someone who was kicked out of his Pride for just this reason before he came home to assume leadership. So the fact that the two of them are mates is something that makes neither of them very happy. They don't want it, they fight against it, and they have to come to terms with how being together will negatively affect their lives.

And that's where I come to the second must-do on making mating work. I think the writer needs to make it obvious that these people would choose to be together even without the mating instinct. The instinct may be what makes them completely unable to walk away from the person they see (at first) as being the least-acceptable partner for them, or the worst possible choice they could make, but it can't be the only common ground they have to stand on by the end of the story. In other words, the romance has to be believable even if you didn't have the mating instinct going on in your book.

However, I do think that having that mating instinct is just an extension of most people's desire for a "soul mate." That one person (or people) that was fashioned just for you. That perfect match. With shape-shifters and destined mates, it's a more culturally recognized institution for that kind of species, but that doesn't mean the people involved don't have as much (or more) work cut out for them in making the relationship work. Plus, for me, the mating thing? Is hot. I love the instantaneous connection (and, in my books, that means sexual connection with a heat-rating that's off the charts and orgasms that register on the Richter scale), but insta-connection should never, ever equal insta-relationship. Everyone has to grow and earn their happy ending, mates or no mates.

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

Intricacies of the Marriage of Convenience Plot.

Where's the Sexual Line in Paranormal Romance?

Types of Paranormal Romance.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Excerpt from a War Nurse's Diary: The Operation-Theatre

Tomorrow's post is by Crystal Jordan, who's graciously agreed to visit. That's her latest book's cover illustrating this post.

Today I have more from the nurse's diary I've been reading.


Towards the end of November we took over the operation-theatre. Things were quieter then, as the Flemish mud made an offensive impossible. There was only the usual artillery-fire and small raids to deal with. Meanwhile a very cold winter had commenced. It was pitiful to see those poor Belgian soldiers without any comfortable quarters when out of the trenches. My friend and I had hired a bed-room in the town. We were very lucky, for our landlady was goodness itself to us. Just opposite our house there was a church built on the generous lines of a cathedral, and here a large detachment of soldiers was quartered, sleeping on straw on the stone flags. We used to watch them at dawn come out in the deep snow to a horse-trough, and, breaking the ice, strip to their waists and wash. After dusk we saw them marching in from the trenches in their ragged blue overcoats, caked in mud, carrying piles of accoutrement on their backs and spades and guns over their shoulders.

No warm home-coming for them, no fire to dry their clothes by, no hot meal ready. Just the dark, cold church. These men had no bundle of letters from home to cheer them; all they had to face was a desolated country, desecrated firesides, ruined homes, starving penniless families, violated womenfolk and suspense---not just for weeks or months, but for years, without news of all that life held dear for them. Do you wonder that they hate the Germans? In return they were paid three-half-pence per day. A few weeks ago I received a letter from a Belgian Captain whom I had nursed. He writes "Dear Sister, do you realize that it is now three years since I have received any news of my wife and three little ones? Are they alive or dead? The suspense has made an old man of me; at thirty-five my hair has turned grey with anxiety."

Most of our operations occurred at night, as the wounded travelled through the danger-zone with less risk of being fired upon after dark. During the day we performed operations on patients who had been in the wards for some time. Our doctors and nurses had no cosy sitting-room to rest in when off duty. There was only the busy kitchen stove for warmth; so we used to gather them in the theatre when there was no case to prepare for. What jolly times I remember in between the rushes of work! Our stove was always going, with a big kettle of boiling water ready for emergency cases, so about eleven A. M., after the nurses and doctors had done the morning round of dressings, we used to make a cup of tea.

One of the chauffeurs would bring in from Dunkerque a box of French pastries, or better still, some kind mother sent a lovely "tuck-box" containing an English homemade cake! Then the men would find their hair needed a barber's attention, so out came some scissors and a sheet, and we became pro tem. a hair-dresser's establishment! During the autumn rush of the Battle of the Yser we had so overflowed our borders that we were obliged to take in two small class-rooms, scattering straw thickly on the floor in lieu of mattrasses. It was a miserable arrangement, but better than the streets. Later on, in December, one of the class-rooms was turned into a sitting room for the staff. The couches consisted of crates, covered with red blankets; an old bedstead boarded up at one side, with a sack of shavings and blankets over it, made a fine Chesterfield couch! The students hired a gramophone and piano from Dunkerque, so we became quite civilized.


--from A War Nurse's Diary: Sketches from a Belgian Field Hospital, 1918

Related Post: Synergy in Writing and Research.

More from her diary.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Guest Post: letters from a publishing professional

Truisms about publishing fiction, aspiring writer editon.

1. Your book isn't as good as you think it is.
2. No, really, it's not. Trust me on this.
3. Fortunately, that doesn't matter.
4. No one owes you a publishing contract, even if your book really is brilliant.
5. Worse books than yours will get published, perhaps even become bestsellers.
6. This is because the definition of "good" vis-a-vis fiction is variable across the millions of readers who could potentially buy your book. Despite what you may think, your opinion is neither universal nor definitive.
7. Unfair? Of course it's unfair. What universe do you think you live in?
8. If you must whine, do yourself a favor and whine in private. I understand that you, as a writer, really want to express yourself in public, but trust me, it's better to do that with your fiction.
9. Really.

10. Yes, really.
11. The job description of "newly published author" includes "plays well with others" and "can read and follow directions." If you evidence lack of either of those skills on your resume, you won't get the job interview, much less the job.

Truisms about publishing fiction, agent edition.

1. Aspiring authors are not all part of a cabal to drive you crazy.
2. They're independently trying to drive you crazy.
3. Okay, they're not trying to drive you crazy on purpose.
4. Sturgeon's Law applies. I.e., "Ninety percent of everything is crap."
5. Fractally and recursively.
6. "Book you love" doesn't necessarily equal "Book you can sell," but don't let that stop you from trying. Usually you'll be right, but you can't know which times will be which.
7. You can represent books you don't love, but you won't enjoy your job that way. If you find yourself doing this too often, apply to the marketing department at a publishing house. You'll at least get better pay and health benefits.
8. You don't owe aspiring authors anything more than a couple of minutes of your time.

Truisms about publishing fiction, junior editor edition.

1. You will never find a book you really love.
2. Except when your company has temporarily suspended acquisitions.
3. The marketing department doesn't actually hate all the books you love and love all the books you hate. It just feels that way today.
4. Don't lament your tiny acquisitions budget. Think of it as the opportunity to buy an overlooked treasure for a song. When those senior editors win an auction, it just means their peers don't think the book is worth that much.
5. Yes, you are underpaid. I recommend trying to marry the head of Marketing.

Thanks to Barbarienne for this post! You can find her here:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jerome K. Jerome on Work

It is not that I object to the work, mind you; I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me: the idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart.

You cannot give me too much work; to accumulate work has almost become a passion with me: my study is so full of it now, that there is hardly an inch of room for any more. I shall have to throw out a wing soon.

And I am careful of my work, too. Why, some of the work that I have by me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn't a finger-mark on it. I take a great pride in my work; I take it down now and then and dust it. No man keeps his work in a better state of preservation than I do.

But, though I crave for work, I still like to be fair. I do not ask for more than my proper share.

But I get it without asking for it - at least, so it appears to me - and this worries me.

George says he does not think I need trouble myself on the subject. He thinks it is only my over-scrupulous nature that makes me fear I am having more than my due; and that, as a matter of fact, I don't have half as much as I ought. But I expect he only says this to comfort me.

--Jerome K. Jerome, from Three Men in a Boat

Saturday, April 25, 2009

ANZAC Cookies

It is ANZAC Day.

These cookies were meant to keep fresh for a long time, to be shipped by boat from Australia and New Zealand to the European front during World War One, but they are also very yummy cookies. I got this recipe from someone in my writers' workshop.

ANZAC Cookie/Biscuits

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup refined sugar
1 cup rolled oats (preferably not the quick-cook kind)
3/4 cup grated coconut
1/2 cup Butter
1 tablespoon "golden syrup" such as King's or corn syrup such as Karo
2 tablespoons boiling water
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Mix flour, sugar, oats and coconut. On low heat, melt butter with syrup. Mix boiling water and baking soda, and add to butter and syrup mixture. Add this to dry ingredients and mix well. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for about 12 minutes, or until lightly browned at the edges. Cool slightly, then remove to rack to cool completely.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Shopping and Recharging

Happy Friday!
The illustration for this post in the grand central hall of Wanamaker's department store in Philadelphia, currently owned by Macy's.

When I've been writing for several hours and my brain has been emptied onto the page, I often spend the afternoon shopping. Not for books, but for things like clothing or toiletries or household supplies. Not necessarily to buy anything, just to wander and look at the merchandise and watch the people. I think of it as refilling my brain.

How about you? How do you recharge?

Related Posts: Resting, Or Not-Writing and Reading for the Writer.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Regarding The Miracle of Time

I am feeling good about Moonlight Mistress. It's as if, now that the revision letter is addressed and the manuscript is out of my hands, it's slowly begun to gather to itself a sort of halo, a glow of being done that automatically makes it "better" than any novel that's not done.

This happens almost every time I finish a manuscript. Not just at the final, take-no-prisoners, no more changes allowed stage, but at the previous stages of doneness as well. Well, maybe not the zero draft. Post-revisions is when the halo is brightest. But even in the intermediate stages, it's comforting to remind myself that finishing has its own rewards.

There are a couple of possible reasons for this to happen. One, distance makes me forget the tiny details over which I sweated weeks ago, and I only remember the high points. Two, the novel never was that bad, I was just being hypercritical, and distance lets me see the novel as it truly is.

Regardless, after a little time has passed, I find myself wanting to read my own work. It's best not to give in to the temptation, because soon enough I'll be slogging through page proofs, and I'll need every scrap of enthusiasm to do so. Until then, it's best to just bask in the feeling of a job well done.

Sometimes I think more than half of writing is convincing yourself that you're a writer and you can write.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Some Notes on Revising a Manuscript: Refining the Prose

Some Notes on Revising a Manuscript: Refining the Prose

Refining the prose is best saved for last; you don't want to spend time polishing something that will later be cut.

If any words don't support the plot or characterization or tone or mood, they should be changed or removed.

If you repeat descriptions or thoughts too many times, the reader is more likely to skim, so you might want to cut some, or change them to make them more interesting.

It's usually better to have strong verbs than to have too many adjectives and adverbs. For example, " John went shakily down the steps, almost losing his balance" can be edited to read, "John teetered down the steps." This goes along with avoiding the passive voice, which in most cases distances the reader from the story.

Paragraphs each address a single main idea. An additional way to create paragraph breaks is to look for the most powerful sentence, and either end or begin a paragraph with that sentence. Ends and beginnings stick in the reader's mind more than middle sentences. Don't waste them.

Look for words you tend to repeat over and over, either dull, bland words that can be cut, or really distinctive words that will begin to grate on the reader. Keep a list of the words you overuse, and when you're done with other revisions, use the search function to see if you can change any of them. Note that these words change over time; as you conquer one, another will crop up in its place.

Read dialogue out loud to check the rhythm and see if each character has her own distinct speech pattern. Can you tell them apart without attribution? If not, consider making at least one character have more distinctive speech, for example always being curt or always being wordy.

This is what I look at while revising. It sounds like a lot, but some of these line items are instinctual now, and I'm generally addressing more than one of them at the same time. It just takes practice.

Kate Elliott, a science fiction and fantasy writer whom I respect very much, works on one new craft problem with each novel she writes. I think that can be applied to learning revision, as well.

Coherence and storytelling.

The Art of Letting Go: Finishing the Novel.

Related post: Writer's Voice.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Some Notes on Revising a Manuscript: Coherence and Storytelling

Some Notes on Revising a Manuscript: Coherence and Storytelling

On a first read of a completed manuscript, it's a good time to check for overall coherence and storytelling.

Check for skipped time and space. It helps the reader if you cue each one. The cue only needs to be a sentence or phrase: "Ginger's flight to Sri Lanka exhausted her, but the next day she journeyed to meet her contact."

Check for logic mistakes or gaps; make sure Ginger isn't in Vancouver one day and London the next, with no explanation.

Check to make sure each scene has only one point of view character, and that the character whose pov you're using is clear to the reader.

Check for unnecessary transitions. You don't always have to show people going into and out of rooms, walking across rooms, getting into their cars and driving places. If something else is happening, or the movement's important to the plot or characterization, good. If not, consider cutting.

In a related matter, is every scene change necessary? Each one can be an excuse for the reader to stop reading. Especially if you take too long about it, or change too many times.

Check for scenes that could be acted out instead of narrated, or vice versa. Showing is usually better than telling if you're really trying to get something across; but telling or summarizing can also be useful, especially for transitions. Note that if you tell too long, the reader is more likely to skim.

Alternatively, if you show too much--if the descriptive details go on and on--the reader is also more likely to skim. It helps to integrate the details into action, and scatter them throughout the narrative.

Check the beginning and ending. If you started later in the story, would the novel's narrative drive be more intense? Does the ending reward the reader in some way? Does the beginning of the story prefigure its ending? Now might be a good time to edit a little and make that happen.

Look at flashbacks. Would that information be better presented otherwise, if at all? Does the information you give relate to this novel in particular, or is it just general information you had in your notes? Just because you made it up, doesn't mean it has to go into the story. (Ditto for research—just because you researched it, doesn't mean it has to go into the story.)

Finally, keep an eye on your characters. Sometimes there are too many, which can confuse the reader. Is it possible to combine two characters with the same role into one? For example, in Moonlight Mistress I had a character who was the younger brother of the heroine's next door neighbor. The next door neighbor served no other purpose. The younger brother of the heroine's next door neighbor worked much better, and was more emotionally significant, as simply the heroine's brother.

Tomorrow, refining the prose.

Related posts:

Digesting Critique.

Dissecting Critique, Dissecting Manuscripts.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Theda Bara in "A Fool There Was"

As part of my research into the period of World War One, I watched a video copy of the 1915 Theda Bara movie, A Fool There Was.

It's a silent, intended both to titillate and to warn against dangerous women. Interestingly, Bara's character has no name--she's simply called "The Vampire."

I did not find Theodosia Goodman (Bara's real name) to be quite as much a vampire, i.e., vamp, as the audience was obviously meant to. I kept making up little reasonable stories to explain her seemingly awful behavior towards men, because at least she had some spine.

The video quality wasn't great, and she only had one or two closeups. This is a film I wouldn't necessarily recommend to anyone for fun, but it's good research material.

My favorite intertitle: "Kiss me, my fool!"

Vampiric seduction technique: Theda Bara enthralls Schuyler first by having his deck chair placed next to her own, then later by dropping one of her trademark flowers. When he bends to pick it up, she lifts her skirt. Above her ankles. Twice, later on, she deflects him from returning to his wife and Adorable Daughter of the Long Curls simply by entering the room and clasping him in her arms. Did she smear her body with opium?

Favorite historical research moment: The wife of one of Schuyler's old friends finds out about him and Bara, and refuses to stay in the same hotel. Social contamination from being in the same building?

Best Evil Laugh: Bara yukking it up after a former lover shoots himself in front of her. Really, it was hysteria, because he'd done Bad Things to her...she wasn't bad, she was just acted that way.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Woolf quote

"A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

--Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Siegfried Sassoon, "Does It Matter?"

Does it Matter?

Does it matter?--losing your legs?...
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.

Does it matter?--losing your sight?...
There's such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.

Do they matter?--those dreams from the pit?...
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won’t say that you’re mad;
For they'll know you've fought for your country
And no one will worry a bit.

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

Friday, April 17, 2009

preliminary thoughts on two types of erotic novels

Happy Friday!

I am beginning to have a theory about different types of erotic novels which are meant to appeal to different tastes or moods of their readers. One type privileges the sex scenes over other types of scenes, which may be given short shrift. To me, this type of book seems more easily broken apart into a series of scenes meant to be read one at a time, perhaps one each night. Forward motion is less important than dwelling in each scene as it happens. The reader can get to know the characters, and added familiarity with them adds to the enjoyment of each subsequent scene, but there's not plot-fueled rush to find out what happens. Examples might be Passion by P.F. Kozak and Kate Douglas' Wolf Tales series, or Emma Holly's Velvet Glove.

There's also a type of erotic novel with a driving plot; it doesn't have to be a complex or elaborate plot, but there is a problem the characters must solve, with the sex scenes advancing them towards that goal. The goal might be a romantic relationship or sexual discovery or might be something else. The sex is likely to be part of the problem and its solution. Examples might be sEmma Holly's vampire books or All U Can Eat, or Kate Pearce's Regency Simply series.

I have to think more on this--it's still a vague shape in my mind. I'd appreciate comments if you have them.

The picture is of Johhny Weismuller.

Related Posts:
Erotic Journeys and Bodice Rippers.
Defining Erotic Romance, Romance, and Erotica.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why Werewolves?

This post is a recap of my guestblog for the Full Moon of Werewolves at Lori Devoti's blog.

My Harlequin Spice December 2009 release, Moonlight Mistress, is an erotic novel set during the early days of World War One. It also happens to feature two werewolf characters, one male and one female.

The werewolves aren't the main characters; their presence generates plot because an evil scientist tortures them with his experiments. It's the human characters who rescue them and send them off to what I hope will be another story, their own story.

So why have werewolves at all? It's not as if World War One doesn't provide enough plot all on its own. However, I realized pretty quickly that World War One is not the most ideal setting for an erotic romp.

World War One supplies plenty of conflict, but it all revolves around soldiers, refugees, the wounded, and the dead. Despite my deep interest in reading about the war, I didn't want this book to be grimly realistic. There are plenty of memoirs and other works of nonfiction where those details can be found. I chose to use enough details to give the reader an idea of the time period, but not so many as to give them nightmares.

Adding a werewolf plot meant I could inject a little fantasy, to let the reader rest from the unrelenting horror of war. The werewolf element could open the door for further thoughts of fantasy, thoughts of erotic fantasy. Not only are werewolves fantastical, they can be sexy, too.

It was a tricky balance of realism and fantasy. Too much realism, and the book isn't fun anymore. Too much fantasy, and the book loses plot tension. I balanced the two elements by giving my werewolves realistic characterization.

One werewolf is a soldier, the other serves as a spy. Their werewolf attributes are more science fictional than fantastic. I didn't want to travel too far from a "realistic" or "mimetic" approach, so I decided their transformations would not be linked only to the full moon, and that the full moon would not force a change. I also decided that being a werewolf was hereditary, and though interbreeding with humans was possible, the trait rarely passed down in its entirety. I didn't go into the actual mechanics of transformation, but described it as a physical process rather than a magical one. I wanted the werewolves to seem as if they belonged, as if they, too, were part of the historical setting.

I hope it worked! You can find out in December of 2009.

Related post:

Of Wolves and Men.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

guest-blogging today over at Lori Devoti's place

You can find me today at Lori Devoti's blog, as part of her "Full Moon of Werewolves":

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Excerpt from A War Nurse's Diary: The General

The following is an excerpt from A War Nurse's Diary: Sketches from a Belgian Field Hospital, published 1918 by Macmillan and now in the public domain. This sort of first-person account is sometimes more useful than anything else when researching for fiction.


This history will not be complete without telling you about my General. I call him mine, because I had the honour of being his special-nurse on day-duty. He was the General of the Premier Belgian Division, therefore a personage of great importance. He was also a great friend of the King Albert, who sent him his own bed and mattress because he found ours hard! One evening he came in on a stretcher, and was placed on a bed in the Officers' Ward. He was a man of about sixty-five years of age, seriously wounded in the lower part of the back, his hip bones being badly shot away and the flesh laid open down to the spine. All the officers were quickly moved into a hut, grumbling and protesting at being turned out of their own little corner and leaving their own attendants, while the now large empty room was transformed into a pleasant living-room. We sent over to Furnes for the old priest's best carpet and some upholstered chairs, and arranged gay screens around. Madame Curie fixed up for the General an electric-bell worked from her dynamo, and a telephone communicating with Headquarters by his bedside. Her Majesty sent quantities of lovely flowers, and we made that room like a first-class nursing-home apartment. Not that the dear old General wanted it, he was a regular Spartan, a born soldier, and used to the simplest mode of living. So long as his orders were obeyed promptly and to the letter and his bell answered on the moment, all went well; he asked nothing more. To me he showed an old-world courtesy, never allowing me to do anything he considered infradig, but insisting on my calling the orderly. His morning dressing was a solemn ceremony, needing about an hour's preparation. The Major, Lieutenants and British surgeons were all summoned to be present at the function, while the Major performed it.

There were other ceremonies which took place in the General's room. General Joffre arrived one day and decorated him with the Legion of Honour. After Joffre had pinned the medal on his breast and kissed him on both cheeks he came over and talked to me for a few minutes about the General's progress. Another day King Albert arrived and gave him a medal, one only given to high officers, ---the Order of the Cross. A certain great man, a member of the British Royal Family, was also deputed to be the bearer of the Victoria Cross from our King. Many great statesmen of Belgium and famous warriors of the Allies visited my General at one time or another.

It was autumn now. Sometimes in the afternoon we wandered across the fields, picking blackberries which I made into pies or stewed for my illustrious patient. I spent a good part of my time trying to concoct little dainties for him, and bothering the chauffeur, who bought our stores each day in Dunkerque, to search the shops for some new delicacy. In those rambles we strolled along the banks of little brooks where forget-me-nots fringed the edges, passed through farmyards where nuns in their quaint costumes sat on three-legged stools milking cows, and soldiers leaned over the gates laughing and chatting. By-and-by the sun sank, a ball of fire, while mist rose like a veil from the low flat country. In the glow of the glorious sunset airplanes chased each other overhead, little puffs of smoke dotted the clear blue sky, whilst the bark of guns and the reports of explosions overhead all played a weird part in the rural evening scene. Birds chirped in the hedges where we gathered blackberries, while on the horizon the roar of artillery formed the bass of the orchestra. The General progressed rapidly. In a month he was able to dispense with my services. Soon the morning came when I entered his room to bid him farewell. Handing me an immense bouquet, he kissed me on both cheeks in approved French fashion. Then we climbed the car and were off to Calais, en route for England, waving regretful good-byes to white-capped groups of nurses and our dear Belgian friends.


More from her diary.

Related Post: Synergy in Writing and Research.

Monday, April 13, 2009

"The Good Old Naughty Days," silent erotica

Several years ago, I saw "The Good Old Naughty Days," a collection of silent French pornographic films, mostly from the 1920s.

I was foiled in my hope of seeing a period brassiere--the women didn't wear any, presumably because they were too much trouble to take off; ditto corsets, in the couple of pre-1920s films. Oh, well. I did learn that men's shirt tails then were a lot longer than I had realized. One only sees them tucked in, if you're looking at drawings and photographs in costume books. In more than one film, a guy had to yank his shirt tail out of the way so the action would be more visible.

This sort of film is better without attempts at dialogue. My friend and I joked the intertitles would probably say "Oh! Oh! Oh!" but in fact most of them either told you things like "and now the abbot shows up" or were funny, like the "Musketeer" one that had each act as a separate food course ("seafood," for example).

Incidentally, my limited French proved adequate to read intertitles in blue films. Go me!

Only two of the films showed men entirely naked, which I found interesting. I thought of possibilities: 1) these films were intended for men, who didn't want to see naked men; 2) these men didn't undress all the way at home, either; 3) those shirt tails were a fetish of the past (seems less likely, but who knows?). I was a little disturbed by one young guy (wearing a very fake old man wig and moustache) who was so skinny you could see his ribs clearly, every one of them--this distracted me into wondering if he was really poor, or had just jumped out of the trenches, or something. He was probably just skinny. That particular guy was hung like a horse, my friend pointed out, and this was true. Maybe he just burned a lot of calories in his work...he seemed to be having a good time.

In general, the actors had ordinary bodies. I couldn't tell if the women shaved their legs--most kept their stockings on--but I could see that most of them didn't shave under their arms, and the women might have trimmed their pubic hair but none of them shaved it. As I said, for most of the men one didn't get a good view of areas surrounding the genitalia.

There was one (very funny) cartoon of a Priapic little guy called Eveready whose penis would detach and reattach to humorous effect. It included man with donkey and accidental male-male anal penetration. One film with nuns also had a little white doggie who, when encouraged, licked the genitals of both a woman and a man (I and the audience couldn't stop laughing at that one). Things haven't changed much. Nuns, nurses, provocative partial clothing, awkward positions to display for the camera, money shots. People don't roll their eyes any more to display extreme lust, as one Theda Bara-lookalike attempted, however.

The short that most amused me was, essentially, "Madame Butterfly" fanfiction, which gave the opera a happy ending through lesbian geishas, a male/male encounter of hero with faithful servant that included both oral sex and anal penetration, and voyeurism (faithful servant masturbates to the threesome of hero and two geishas at the end).

The film I liked most was one the documentarians noted looked as if it had been filmed and framed by a professional. It was a male-female-female threesome, notable for the film quality (seemingly higher definition) and lighting. I liked the way bars of light from the windows fell over the people, despite the fact that they were so piled up it was difficult to see what they were up to. Very arty. And it was all very enlightening about the past.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I love you, Arthur Plotnik

The Elements of Editing: A Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists, by Arthur Plotnik

"What kind of person makes a good editor? When hiring new staff, I look for such useful attributes as genius, charisma, adaptability, and disdain for high wages." [p. 1]

"...self-serving, retentive, fastidious, fetishistic, and even some aesthetic and ethical types of compulsiveness have no place in mass communications under deadlines..." [p. 2]

"A polite name for hounding people is "nudging," and systematic nudging is "following up"...virtually nothing happens when it is supposed to happen without well-timed reminders." [p. 5]

"Is editing like processing fat into soap or packaging toilet tissue? Yes and no. Some editorial products do call to mind these commodities." [p. 11]

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Siegfried Sassoon, "Prelude: The Troops"

Prelude: The Troops

Dim, gradual thinning of the shapeless gloom
Shudders to drizzling daybreak that reveals
Disconsolate men who stamp their sodden boots
And turn dulled, sunken faces to the sky
Haggard and hopeless. They, who have beaten down
The stale despair of night, must now renew
Their desolation in the truce of dawn,
Murdering the livid hours that grope for peace.

Yet these, who cling to life with stubborn hands,
Can grin through storms of death and find a gap
In the clawed, cruel tangles of his defence.
They march from safety, and the bird-sung joy
Of grass-green thickets, to the land where all
Is ruin, and nothing blossoms but the sky
That hastens over them where they endure
Sad, smoking, flat horizons, reeking woods,
And foundered trench-lines volleying doom for doom.

O my brave brown companions, when your souls
Flock silently away, and the eyeless dead
Shame the wild beast of battle on the ridge,
Death will stand grieving in that field of war
Since your unvanquished hardihood is spent.
And through some mooned Valhalla there will pass
Battalions and battalions, scarred from hell;
The unreturning army that was youth;
The legions who have suffered and are dust.

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

Friday, April 10, 2009

Why do people love elves? Or hate elves?

Does it all come down to Tolkien in the end? Did Orlando Bloom in the Lord of the Rings movies give elves a boost? Where did you first learn to love or hate elves?

If you like elves, what kind of elves do you like best? Elves among their own kind? Urban elves interacting with humans? Solo elves in trouble or on quests? Elves as part of a team? Nice elves? Evil elves? Only elves who ride wolves? (Why, yes, I was completely a fan of Wendy Pini's Elfquest!)

For you, what makes an elf an elf?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Researching Pirates

The novel I'm currently writing has pirates! I am very excited by this, as pirates are a classic element in romance novels.

Here's what I've been reading so far, as research. Links are to

I started out with this one, a long time ago: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Pirates.

This collection of essays takes a much more academic approach. Bandits at Sea: A Pirates Reader.

I can't recommend this book enough, if you're interested in historical pirates in Asia: Pirate of the Far East: 811-1639.

This is perhaps the most valuable book I've found so far, overall: Pirates!: Brigands, Buccaneers, and Privateers in Fact, Fiction, and Legend.

This seemed to be the most detailed of the books on women and piracy: Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors' Wives.

This will probably be my next purchase: Pirates, Prostitutes and Pullers: Explorations in the Ethno- and Social History of Southeast Asia.

I don't have this one yet, but it is completely tempting even though it's not relevant to my book: Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom--and Revenge.

Please let me know if you have any recommendations!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My Favorite Romance Tropes, and Not-So-Favorite

I will always pick up books with plots based on these ideas:

*Nice, ordinary heroes (think Carla Kelly, or the so-called "beta hero")

*PTSD, Napoleonic Wars-style; angstful spies from the same period

*Marriages of convenience

*Virginal males (not that you see this one often)

*Cross-class romances

*Secretly intellectual heroes/heroines (bonus points if society sees them as dilettantes)

*Equestrians, musicians, and the well-traveled

The author has to work extra hard to make me accept these plotlines:

*Virgin widows

*"It was all planned by our parents for us to fall in love! And we never knew!"

*Young heroines with no life experience

*Destined Love and/or reincarnation and/or Genetic Mating or scent-marking or whatever that makes the relationship instantly gel

*Misunderstandings that could be solved with one conversation

*Historicals in which all behavior is completely modern (though I can sometimes handle modern-sounding dialogue, depending on my mood and the book)

*Women who long to be Mastered by a Man, and not for occasional erotic thrills

*Men who Know What's Best for their women and don't learn better

*Long separations between hero and heroine, especially if reason is stupid

What about you?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

NYRSF Reading Tonight

Tonight, I'm reading with with Kris Saknussemm as part of the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading series. Guest curator is Amy Goldschlager. There's a bit more information in yesterday's post, if you scroll down.

The reading is at 7:00 pm at the South Street Seaport Museum, 12 Fulton Street, New York City.

Directions are available at the series website:

Monday, April 6, 2009

New York Review of Science Fiction Reading

Tomorrow night, I will be reading with along with Kris Saknussemm as part of the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading series, this month guest curated by Amy Goldschlager.

The reading is at 7:00 pm at the South Street Seaport Museum, 12 Fulton Street, New York City. Directions are available at the series website:

The New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series has showcased some of the most prominent and upcoming authors in the genre. However, the series' commitment to providing a venue as an ongoing science fiction reading series in New York City, is open to all works of speculative fiction, whether they be works of fantasy, magical realism, horror, or science fiction. The range of writers who have participated in the series speaks of not only of its diversity, but its quality as well. Jonathan Carroll, Susanna Clarke, Samuel R. Delany, Ellen Kushner, Ursula K. LeGuin, Jonathan Lethem, Patricia A. McKillip, Walter Mosley, Naomi Novik, and Peter Straub are among the authors who have participated.

Most readings are taped for broadcast over WBAI, 99.5 FM, on Jim Freund's science fiction radio program, Hour of the Wolf ( The broadcasts themselves are available 'on demand' for about 8 months from that same Web site.

The series was created by Gordon Van Gelder around 1989. Subsequent curators have included Robert K. J. Kilheffer, Claire Wolf, Joe Monti, Carol Cooper, Sheree Thomas, Paul Witcover and currently Jim Freund who has been recording the series from the start.

WHEN: Tuesday, 4/7/9
Doors open at 6:30 -- event begins at 7

WHERE:The South Street Seaport Museum12 Fulton Street -- 4th floor,+ny

By Subway
Take 2, 3, 4, 5, J, Z, or M to Fulton Street; A and C toBroadway-Nassau. Walk east on Fulton Street to Water Street

By Bus
Take M15 (South Ferry-bound) down Second Ave. to Fulton Street

By Car
From the West Side: take West Street southbound. Follow signs to FDR Drive. Take underpass, keep right - use Exit 1 at end of underpass. Turn right on South Street, six blocks. From the East Side, take FDR Drive south to Exit 3 onto South StreetProceed about 1 mile.

By Boat

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Wilde quote

"I have been correcting the proofs of my poems. In the morning, after hard work, I took a comma out of one sentence…. In the afternoon I put it back again."

--Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Friday, April 3, 2009

A teaser from my third Spice novel

This excerpt is from the opening chapter of my third novel for Harlequin Spice.


"My lady," Maxime said, "I understand you're disappointed--"

The Lady Diamanta threw a gold-and-ruby pomegranate at Maxime's head. He ducked, but it still clipped the top edge of his ducal coronet and spun into the wall of the receiving room before hitting the floor and spinning to a stop.

A handblown goblet whizzed by his ear; he flung up his hand and caught it before it could shatter against the ducal throne behind him. "Now, wait," he said. "That was a particular token of my esteem--look, it has all these beautiful cloudfish etched into the bowl--"

"F--- you!" the Lady Diamanta screamed.

"I'm afraid not," Maxime said. "I did not agree to this marriage. Therefore I will not marry you."

Diamanta vibrated with rage, her slender fingers clenched upon the next gift, a handful of ebony hairsticks topped with gold knobs, the rich coppery-red gold of the far south, seldom seen in the duchies. She snarled, "You have no choice in the matter."

"On the contrary," Maxime said. "I am a Duke of the Realm. I may marry whom I please. My charter clearly states--"

"You will marry at the king's command," Diamanta said, her voice going cold. She set the hairsticks back on the table, but continued to fondle them, as an archer might fondle arrows. "If you refuse me, my life will be ruined."

"No, it won't," Maxime said. "You hate me. You've hated me since we were both fourteen." He set the goblet on another table, out of her reach.

Diamanta licked her lips. They were plump and pink and inviting. She said, "My feelings don't enter into it, nor do yours. I am wealthy."

"So am I."

"That's why we belong together. That's why I am to be a duchess. My father's wealth will provide a substantial dowry for the crown, and for your duchy as well. I've been trained for this role from birth."

"You won't be my duchess," Maxime said. He clasped his hands behind his back. The elaborate rings he'd worn, hoping she'd see them as the respect he intended for her, dug painfully into his fingers. "I am despondent you travelled all this way. I informed the king weeks ago I would not marry you, or anyone of his choosing. Perhaps you could convey this to him directly."

He held her gaze. She held his. Slowly, she released her grip on the hairsticks and trailed her fingers up her ribcage and over her bosom. It was one of the finest bosoms in all the duchies. She lifted a brow. Maxime shook his head.

Diamanta took one of the hairsticks and briskly used it to tidy dislodged strands of her platinum-pale hair. She remarked, "You would have been lucky to have me. You're not such a prize, you know. No matter what the women of the court say of your...endowments."

"I'd rather not be a prize in a contest," Maxime said. "You will of course accept my gifts, which express my regret in refusing our betrothal?"

Diamanta cast a glance over the tables spanning the room, each one laden with silks, jewels, and exquisite handicrafts. Thirty matched tourmalines were arrayed on black velvet. A tiny yellow bird with an orange beak warbled sweetly in its bamboo cage, and an albino monkey sat on a realistic carving of a tree, eating a grape.

Feigning reluctance, Diamanta said, "I suppose they will have to do." She gestured to her silently waiting maid, whirled in a swirl of silks, and exited.

When the door closed, Maxime sank into a chair and scrubbed his hands over his cropped dark beard. He'd barely escaped a fate that made him shudder inside, that being a lifetime of brittle politeness and sex with someone to whom he didn't want to even converse.

He was lucky the king hadn't had him drugged and forced to speak vows. He cast a glance at his wineglass, remembered Diamanta had passed near it, and poured the remainder of the wine into a potted tree.

He'd thought he had more time.


More excerpts.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

New sales!

I've sold two more books to Harlequin Spice.

The first one is tentatively titled The Duke and the Pirate Queen, but that will very likely change, since all of my other tentative titles have changed before publication. The second is open at the moment; I have several different ideas, and will talk it over with my editor.

The Duke and the Pirate Queen is scheduled for late 2011, and stars the Duke Maxime and Captain Leung, who appeared in The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gene Wolfe quote, from The Sword of the Lictor, and a lamp

The image accompanying this post is a lamp from a hotel room in which I stayed recently. It requires no further comment, I hope.

I find this quote to be so very, very true:

"I have noticed that in books this sort of stalemate never seems to occur; the authors are so anxious to move their stories forward (however wooden they may be, advancing like market carts with squeaking wheels that are never still, though they go only to dusty villages where the charm of the country is lost and the pleasures of the city will never be found) that there are no such misunderstandings, no refusals to negotiate. The assassin who holds a dagger to his victim's neck is eager to discuss the whole matter, and at any length the victim or the author may wish."

--The Sword of the Lictor, Gene Wolfe