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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Top Posts from 2010 (so far)

I like playing with the tracking on my blog sometimes. Here are the most popular posts on this blog, by month, for 2010 so far. It's very interesting to see which posts seem to be of more general interest.

January: Tell Not Show, a writing craft post.

February: My Favorite Girls Dressed As Boys (Fantasy Edition), which continues to get visits along with its companion post from September 2009, The Romance Edition.

March: Why Not 20th Century Historicals? The first view of the Alison's Wonderland cover was close behind. People like pretty pictures!

April: Slow Writers Anonymous. Author Gwynne Garfinkle's post on Researching the 1970s was close behind.

May: Combined posts (the Brontë tag) on my reread of Jane Eyre. Various individual posts on that set were also in the top ten for the month.

June: Evie Byrne's guest post on On the Female Vampire.

July: Eroticism in To Have & To Hold by Patricia Gaffney.

The top posts for August were news rather than topical posts: my announcement that I was writing a steampunk Western, and my reports on the 2010 RWA Conference.

If you had a different favorite, let me know in comments!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Rear, meet seat; fingers, meet keyboard.

One of my favorite pithy sayings about writing is “ass in chair, fingers on keyboard.” It’s short and to the point. Unless you write standing up, or perhaps sitting on a rubber doughnut, it’s pretty standard for a writer to sit in a chair and write. You can’t write while roaming the streets or hurtling off a diving board or driving, or rather you shouldn’t because that could lead to injury.

Side note: If you think texting while driving is bad, I knew someone who used to write while driving. He kept a little notebook on his leg and when he was stuck in traffic, he would scribble down humorous verse.

Back on topic. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? “Ass in chair. Fingers on keyboard.” For me, the hard thing about accomplishing that task is not sitting, but eliminating the things that prevent me from sitting. If I’m trying to sit near a basket of dirty laundry or similar, that visible sign of Things To Do That Are Not Writing can be very distracting. I have to either leave the house, perhaps for a coffee shop where cleanup is not my responsbility, or perhaps mentally schedule that load of laundry for later: after I’ve written for two hours, after I’ve written a thousand words, at 7:00 pm, tomorrow afternoon.

Then comes moving my fingers on the keyboard. I move on to another pithy quote to tell how to accomplish this:

"Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon." --Raymond Chandler

Another version of this quote, which has numerous sources, is "Don't be afraid to let yourself write shit." Just because the story isn’t yet perfect doesn’t mean you get out of working until it's as perfect as it can be. There aren't any shortcuts to accomplishing this task.

Except, perhaps, ass in chair. Because the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be done.

"I hate writing. I love having written." --Dorothy Parker

Related posts:
Writing Elsewhere.

Finish it.

How To Write a Novel (in 72 Easy Steps!)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Charles Sorley, "Barbury Camp"

Barbury Camp

We burrowed night and day with tools of lead,
Heaped the bank up and cast it in a ring
And hurled the earth above. And Caesar said,
“Why, it is excellent. I like the thing.”
We, who are dead,
Made it, and wrought, and Caesar liked the thing.

And here we strove, and here we felt each vein
Ice-bound, each limb fast-frozen, all night long.
And here we held communion with the rain
That lashed us into manhood with its thong,
Cleansing through pain.
And the wind visited us and made us strong.

Up from around us, numbers without name,
Strong men and naked, vast, on either hand
Pressing us in, they came. And the wind came
And bitter rain, turning grey all the land.
That was our game,
To fight with men and storms, and it was grand.

For many days we fought them, and our sweat
Watered the grass, making it spring up green,
Blooming for us. And, if the wind was wet,
Our blood wetted the wind, making it keen
With the hatred
And wrath and courage that our blood had been.

So, fighting men and winds and tempests, hot
With joy and hate and battle-lust, we fell
Where we fought. And God said, “Killed at last then? What!
Ye that are too strong for heaven, too clean for hell,
(God said) stir not.
This be your heaven, or, if ye will, your hell.”

So again we fight and wrestle, and again
Hurl the earth up and cast it in a ring.
But when the wind comes up, driving the rain
(Each rain-drop a fiery steed), and the mists rolling
Up from the plain,
This wild procession, this impetuous thing.

Hold us amazed. We mount the wind-cars, then
Whip up the steeds and drive through all the world,
Searching to find somewhere some brethren,
Sons of the winds and waters of the world.
We, who were men,
Have sought, and found no men in all this world.

Wind, that has blown here always ceaselessly,
Bringing, if any man can understand,
Might to the mighty, freedom to the free;
Wind, that has caught us, cleansed us, made us grand,
Wind that is we
(We that were men)—make men in all this land,

That so may live and wrestle and hate that when
They fall at last exultant, as we fell,
And come to God, God may say, “Do you come then
Mildly enquiring, is it heaven or hell?
Why! Ye were men!
Back to your winds and rains. Be these your heaven and hell!”

--Charles Sorley, 24 March 1913

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Edmund Blunden, "After the Bombing"

After The Bombing

My hesitant design it was, in a time when no man feared,
To make a poem on the last poor flower to have grown on the patch of land
Where since a gray enormous stack of shops and offices reared
Its bulk as though to eternity there to stand.

Moreover I dreamed of a lyrical verse to welcome another flower,
The first to blow on that hidden sites when the concrete block should cease
Gorging the space; it could not be mine to foretell the means, the hour.
But nature whispered something of a longer lease.

We look from the street now over a breezy wilderness of bloom,
Now crowding its colours between the sills and cellars,
hosts of flames
And foam, pearl-pink and thunder-red, befriending the makeshift tomb
Of a most ingenious but impermanent claim.

--Edmund Blunden

Friday, August 27, 2010

Research - When to Stop

I actually stole this topic from a discussion I read...somewhere, a while back. The question was, "when do you stop researching?" I have two answers.

My first answer is never. You never stop researching because everything you read or look at might eventually find its way into your fiction. If you stop researching, I think your stories can grow stagnant.

My second answer is to stop when you have what you need for the story. It's very tempting to read every book you can find, watch every documentary series in its entirety, read a whole decade's worth of newspapers on microfiche. And you can do that, if you have infinite time available to you, or are a really, really fast reader. But for most writers' purposes, all that isn't necessary; research should be secondary to story, or else no one will want to read your novel. Though they might use it as a research source....

I think there's a difference between research for its own sake and research for the sake of fiction.

There are two facets to knowing when you've done enough. One is that there are things the writer needs to know that the reader doesn't need to see. I think of a lot of that as preliminary research: reading general books on the time period, making notes of possible items of interest.

After that, specificity is key. (Yeah, I know, I say that a lot.) When I'm writing about World War One, it helps me to know the political background of the countries in which the story is set, but the reader is more concerned with the lives of my original characters, and the details that are related to them. I think of it as a matter of focus.

Research what you're going to use, as much as you can; I skim through books, marking necessary details with post-it notes, or cut and paste from websites into a single document. I try not to research small items until I know for sure I'm going to include them in the story; instead, I keep a list of details I need to check, so I can search for all of them at once, perhaps on a day when I'm not writing.

I have to admit, I am constantly reining myself in. I buy research books related to a current project that I know for a fact I have no time to read until the novel is finished. I don't recommend it. Unless your apartment is bigger than mine.

Related posts:

Historical Detail in Fiction.

Reading for the Writer.

Synergy in Writing and Research.

The Research Book Dilemma.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Steampunk Worldbuilding Questions

I'm in the early stages of creating a world in which a steampunk Western can take place. Here are some of the questions I'm asking myself. Some of them I answered promptly; some of them I'm still pondering.

1. Alternate history or alternate world fantasy? How close will my world be to the "real" world? Is geography the same as in the real world?

2. Overall mood: is it utopic, dystopic, or somewhere in between? How is the world organized politically?

3. Technology, magic, technology that might as well be magic, or some other variant?

4. How are women and people of color positioned? What plot opportunities does that create?

5. What are the boundaries of technology? What can be done? What can't be done, and why? What plot opportunities does that create?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My New Steampunk Project

It's been an eventful couple of weeks for me.

For the last few months I've been working on a sequel to my World War One werewolf novel, but my next published novel for Spice will be a different project instead: a steampunk Western. The tentative release date is spring/summer 2012.

I don't have a title yet, but I do have characters! The men include a Native American scientist who's also a bit of a diplomat/spy; a down-on-his-luck younger son of a British aristocrat, who was thrown out of Cambridge for his scientific experiments; and a charming gambler/con man who happens to be an extraordinary mechanic. The women are an airship pilot who bears a bit of resemblance to Han Solo in personality, and an east coast bluestocking engineer who's fleeing marriage.

I've already begun collecting research materials. This won't be a historical; rather, it's an alternate universe with a few ties to "real" history and a whole variety of extrapolations. I'm really excited to work out the details!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

WWI Wheels

French soldiers with a bicycle.

A bicycle ambulance.

Belgian soldiers on motorcycles.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Novelists, Inc. Guest Post

I'm a guest poster today at the Novelists, Inc. Blog on "I Like Being Reviewed. Really."

Please drop by and check it out!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, "Hill-born"


I sometimes wonder if it's really true
I ever knew
Another life
Than this unending strife
With unseen enemies in lowland mud;
And wonder if my blood
Thrilled ever to the tune
Of clean winds blowing through an April noon
Mile after sunny mile
On the green ridges of the Windy Gile.

--Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Charles Sorley, "Such, Such Is Death"

Such, Such Is Death

Such, such is Death: no triumph: no defeat:
Only an empty pail, a slate rubbed clean,
A merciful putting away of what has been.

And this we know: Death is not Life, effete,
Life crushed, the broken pail. We who have seen
So marvellous things know well the end not yet.

Victor and vanquished are a-one in death:
Coward and brave: friend, foe. Ghosts do not say,
"Come, what was your record when you drew breath?"
But a big blot has hid each yesterday
So poor, so manifestly incomplete.
And your bright Promise, withered long and sped,
Is touched, stirs, rises, opens and grows sweet
And blossoms and is you, when you are dead.

--Charles Sorley

Friday, August 20, 2010

Music Linkgasm

And now for something completely different!

I thought I'd share a few of my favorite MP3 music blogs. It was hard, but I limited myself to five.

1. The Hype Machine is a blog aggregator - it's a great place to find links to a huge range of music blogs.

2. Motel de Moka has long been one of my favorite music blogs. Posts are organized into playlists, usually by mood or theme. The bloggers choose from a huge range of genres, including rhythm and blues, jazz, pop, ambient, indie, world music, and classical. I love that you're never sure what you're going to get in the next post.

3. The Hood Internet is a lot of fun. It's a blog of mashups, and sometimes of mixes. Amusing mashup photos of the two artists illustrate the posts.

4. I like Said the Gramophone for the stream-of-consciousness narratives that accompany the downloads.

5. Cover Lay Down is one of my favorite blogs ever. It features folk musicians covering, usually, pop or rock songs. I love hearing different interpretations of songs, and since the blogger often groups covers by original artist, it can be a really interesting experience to listen to all the different ways one artist's songs can sound. (Sometimes, the covers are all performed by a single artist, which is also fun.) I find a lot of interesting new-to-me folk artists here.

Let me know if you enjoyed these links, and I can do another post later on.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Writing for Women, Writing for Men

I read about a workshop at the RWA Conference whose topic, I think, was writing for women versus writing for men. I didn't attend, so the actual title didn't stick in my mind. However, it sparked thoughts, and I of course had to pour those thoughts into a blog post. With a hot picture of Josephine Baker wearing a top hat.

I write for women. At least I think I do. The line that publishes my novels, Harlequin Spice, is aimed at a female audience, so by default that says I write for women, right? I'm not sure what that means, exactly, beyond "books most women will like," which to me also suggests "books some men will also like."

I've had reports from a few men who've read either The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover or The Moonlight Mistress or both. Most have been boyfriends or husbands of female friends who'd bought the book. All of the men whom I've heard from, about five, so it's not a large sample, have liked the books; most commented not only on the stories, but on the erotica. They commented very favorably on the erotica; more so than some female readers who told me they were uncomfortable with the language I used.

I didn't really expect to hear anything from male readers, especially not that they'd liked the sex scenes. Possible factors include 1) these particular men like reading erotica in general, and are willing to talk about it; 2) my direct language in the sex scenes appeals to men; and 3) they were just being nice.

I don't really have any conclusions. Though I do wonder how I might market my books more effectively across genders.

Thoughts? Comments?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

IASPR Call for Proposals

Just in case anyone out there is interested!

A Call For Proposals for The Third Annual International Conference on Popular Romance:

Can't Buy Me Love?
Sex, Money, Power, and Romance
New York City
June 26-28, 2011

The International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR) is seeking proposals for innovative panels, papers, roundtables, discussion groups, and multi-media presentations that contribute to a sustained conversation about romantic love and its representations in global popular media. We welcome analyses of individual books, films, television series, websites, songs, etc., as well as broader inquiries into the reception of popular romance and into the creative industries that produce and market it worldwide.

This conference has four main goals:

1. To explore the relationships between the conference’s key thematic terms (sex, money, power, and romantic love) in the texts and contexts of popular romance, in all forms and media, from a variety of disciplinary and theoretical perspectives
2. To foster comparative and intercultural analyses of these recurring themes, by documenting and/or theorizing the ways that different nations, cultures, and communities think about love and sex, love and money, love and power, and so on, in the various media of popular romance
3. To explore how ideas and images of romantic love—especially love as shaped by issues of sex, money, or power—circulate between elite and popular culture, between different media (e.g., from novel to film), and between cultural representations and the lived experience of readers, viewers, listeners, and lovers
4. To explore the popular romance industry–publishing, marketing, film, television, music, gaming, etc.—and the roles played by sex, money, power, and love in the discourse of (and about) the business side of romance.

After the conference, proceedings will be subjected to peer-review and published.

Please submit proposals by January 1, 2011 and direct questions to conferences [at] iaspr [dot] org.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I'm a Naughty Guest Today

I'm a guest today at The Naughty Girls Next Door, with my thoughts on "Selling the Unusual Setting."

Drop by and say hello! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Websites Are Interview Suits

If you're reading this blog, you may or may not have visited my website. I've been thinking about it a lot in the last year or so. I've read articles and blog posts about what makes a good website. I've made lists of other people's websites that I like. I've investigated designers.

You will notice, though, I haven't done much with the actual website. The reason? It takes commitment on my part. I have to make a whole host of decisions, and I'm not sure I'd be making the right ones. I'm in the midst of looking at even more websites, and also at designers.

Currently, my website is fairly simple. I hand-coded it myself (partly why it's so simple!). Though I know how to do tables, I haven't yet included any on my website because I worry that they won't come across properly on all platforms; I feel that's a valid concern, when so many people access websites through their phones or other handheld devices. I don't want to make those people wait around for complex pages to load.

On the other hand, a plain website doesn't look Glossy and Fashionable. I have to decide how important that is to me, to look...I suppose the word to use is successful. As in, "fake it until you make it." As in, wear a suit to a job interview even if the current employees go to work in jeans.

I seem to have a knee-jerk bias against looking Glossy. I'm not sure why. I don't think my bias is necessarily a good thing, in this case. Because there are interview suits. (I even have one! Though I haven't worn it in a while.) And even though this blog gets many more hits than my website, seemingly making it more important, that won't necessarily always be the case, particularly if I manage to integrate blog with website someday soon (one of the things I'm discussing with a web designer).

I don't want to turn off a potential reader simply because they don't like my face.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Edmund Blunden, "Vlamertinghe: Passing the Chateau"

Vlamertinghe: Passing the Chateau

And all her silken flanks with garlands drest--
But we are coming to the sacrifice.
Must those flowers who are not yet gone West?
May those flowers who live with death and lice?
This must be the flowerist place
That earth allows; the queenly face
Of the proud mansion borrows grace for grace
Spite of those brute guns lowing at the skies.
Bold great daisies' golden lights,
Bubbling roses' pinks and whites--
Such a gay carpet! poppies by the million;
Such damask! such vermilion!
But if you ask me, mate, the choice of colour
Is scarcely right; this red should have been duller.

--Edmund Blunden

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, 'The Going"

The Going

He's gone.
I do not understand.
I only know
That as he turned to go
And waved his hand,
In his young eyes a sudden glory shone:
And I was dazzled by a sunset glow,
And he was gone.

--Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

Friday, August 13, 2010

Descriptive Worldbuilding

When I was writing The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom & Their Lover, I was doing a lot of my worldbuilding on the spot, whenever I felt something was needed.

I do think about aspects of the world before I begin writing, but probably just as much comes along in the middle, or during revisions, when I suddenly realize, "I never described this room, and that would set the scene better."

If I'm in a hurry, or just can't decide how to "dress" a room, I sometimes use the internet to find items I think would be appropriate for my setting and story. I use the pictures I find to inspire me and decide how to describe the often-vague images in my mind. The octopus lamp that illustrates this post is one such. I'd already decided I wanted octopuses to be a theme of Maxime's duchy, and had planned to give the decor a mingled Mediterranean/Asian feel. This lamp gave me the idea to have oil lamps as described below. Sea creatures of other kinds would also be popular there, as the duchy's economics depend on its port. In addition, I wanted to give the duchy's aesthetics an Art Nouveau feel, for two reasons. I like that aesthetic; and decor can subtly show how this duchy is different from the oppressive duchy shown earlier.

Camille's palace furnishings are shown as heavier and more medieval in style, mixed with eighteenth-century French decor, that I intended to hark back to Louis XIV and the French revolution. Sometimes I was even more explicit: ...the corridor of red marble was lit by yellow beeswax candles, sweet-smelling and thick as his forearm, in gold sconces shaped as unearthly smooth disembodied feminine hands, braceleted in cruel red stones. I actually saw a picture of a lamp in the shape of a woman's hand, though it wasn't as disturbing as the sconces I wrote about! I looked at a whole variety of pictures of medieval and Renaissance beds.

All of my ideas about the various duchies, plus looking at images online, yielded these descriptive passages for the scenes set in Maxime's duchy:

[Henri] entered the room, which flickered with oil lamps behind colored glass, red and gold and sunset orange. On a second look, he saw the glass had been blown into the shapes of bulbous octopuses with bronze tentacles and bright bubbles encircled by bronze dolphins.

He'd left his red and black lacquered portable writing desk on a bamboo stand nearby.

She strolled with Captain Leung...up a short staircase to a tower room filled with padded divans in shades of cream and buttery yellow, bamboo tea tables, and potted plants, some large enough to be called small trees, others draping vinelike from the walls and ceiling.

Luckily for me, I'm using some of the same settings for The Duke & the Pirate Queen; that saved me a little effort when I had scenes taking place in Maxime's ducal palace.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Under Flowerpots, Mostly

This post was originally written for Savvy Authors.

It makes me chortle when people ask writers “Where do you get your ideas?” Because where does anyone get ideas? And what kind of ideas do they mean when they ask?

I probably shouldn’t laugh, because most of the time, that question generates really interesting answers.

What’s my answer? I find my ideas under flowerpots, mostly. And by that I mean I have to reach down into places where I don’t normally look, where composting is going on. To me, ideas are combinations of seeds or, wrenching away from my very stretched flowerpot analogy, sparks.

A spark will make something in my brain go "That's interesting!" or "yes!" but it isn’t a story. It doesn’t generally have inherent conflict, so it can’t be a story. It’s when that spark meets another, and maybe several others (it's like fire!), that ideas begin to form.

(If I’m confusing you, well, that’s not unusual for me! Sometimes, when I’m trying to explain something I’m writing, I’m reduced to waving my hands around and making noises like “shunk” and “zhirrr.”)

How I get ideas is not a wholly, or even mostly, conscious process for me. But I’ll try to explain.

Here’s an example, using a story that is only partially written. I decide to write a story about a young woman and a much older man. That’s the spark, which might have come from a call for submissions, or just brainstorming a list of setups for stories; I can’t remember any more. Later, it occurs to me that the thing they have in common is a love of baseball, which is another spark. Still later, those sparks begin to overlap and make more sparks, such as maybe the man was a minor league baseball player and the woman’s mother was obsessed with him at the time, and this leads to emotional complications separate from their original relationship that create conflict and also works thematically with the May-December romance in some way. Eventually, all those sparks reach a state of density that means I have enough Idea to make a story. Anybody could use those same sparks, but they would always come up with a different idea from them, and subsequently a completely different story.

The story I wrote for Alison's Wonderland, "The Princess," is very, very short: it's only one hundred words long. But it still had more than one spark. The sparks for that story include: gender role reversal; the story of Andromeda; stereotypical princesses; and surprise ending. The combination of sparks is what makes the story unique, and mine.

I have learned something from writing this post. What I have learned is that I’m not very good at dissecting where I get my ideas!

Actually, that’s a good insight. It means that I really do find my ideas under flowerpots. For me, that works. And since one of the major rules of writing is do what works, I'll take it.

What works for you when you’re looking for ideas?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Contemporary Historical Resources Linkgasm

Here are a few links I've found useful in my historical research. These are all collections/archives of contemporary materials. Contemporary to historical periods, I mean.

Old Magazine Articles, edited by Matt Jacobsen. " is a Los Angeles-based website; privately owned and operated, it is the effort of one old magazine enthusiast in particular who believes deeply that today's readers of history can learn a good deal from the old periodicals. It is a primary source website and is designed to serve as a reference for students, educators, authors, researchers, dabblers, dilettantes, hacks and the merely curious."

The Home Economics Archive at Cornell University contains full-text articles and books from 1800-1999.

The Life Magazine photo archive, covering from the 1860s through the 1970s.

The Early 1900s in Color. This was a blog post at that features a collection of color photographs from around the world.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Journal of Popular Romance Studies, First issue!

The Journal of Popular Romance Studies has published its first issue! If only this journal had been around when I was in graduate school...but no, then I never would have gotten around to writing novels.

So far, I've read A Little Extra Bite: Dis/Ability and Romance in Tanya Huff and Charlaine Harris’s Vampire Fiction, by Kathleen Miller. Abstract: "This essay examines Tanya Huff's Blood Price and Charlaine Harris's Dead Until Dark through the lenses of Disability and Feminist Studies to suggest that in these works disability functions as a reclamation of the female body--which has often been viewed as 'always and already' deformed--even as it contributes to the reinvention of the vampire romance genre."

I found the essay fascinating because I didn't know much about Disability Studies as a discipline, and now I'm excited to know more. I was intrigued by the ways the two books worked with and against the idea that these heroines are imperfect simply because they're female, as well as because of their damaged sight or telepathy; their otherness is then heightened and explored when contrasted with their powerful, immortal partners. Read the article to learn more.

There Are Six Bodies in This Relationship: An Anthropological Approach to the Romance Genre, by Laura Vivanco and Kyra Kramer, has some really cool ideas in it as well. I never enjoyed the fact that I'd read the French theorist Foucault, until now, when it proved useful!

I was also very happy to see Pamela Regis' review of Historical Romance Fiction: Heterosexuality and Performativity, by Lisa Fletcher, as I've been thinking of reading that book.

I can't wait to read through the rest of the issue!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Trusting Authorial Voices

I've recently been thinking about novel beginnings, and how it's common (and good) advice to start with big obvious conflict. However, I don't think that it's always necessary to do that. More importantly, I've been thinking about why that is true for me as a reader, and by extension, as a writer.

When I begin reading a new book, I want to trust the author, and the author's voice. I want that as much as or more than any other element of the story. If the author's voice is strong/interesting, she doesn't have to be describing Things Blowing Up Real Good. Her prose can ease me into the story. This is more likely to happen if I am familiar with the author, and that trust is already established; otherwise, she has to show me she has Style. Not too much Style--not so much that I'm annoyed--but a level that makes me feel I'm in good hands.

As you might guess, the author's voice is something on which everyone's mileage will vary. Widely.

More prosaically, I can get involved with a story quickly if it immediately poses questions, either through presenting a mystery or presenting a contradiction or something otherwise unexpected. Even an unexpected description (which goes back to voice, a bit) will do for making me want to read on. (Ditto chapters, scenes, paragraphs,'s turtles, all the way down.)

Immediate suffering/problems on the part of the narrator does work for me, as well, quite reliably. I think that's the quickest and easiest way to engage the reader. What does the protagonist want, and why can't she have it?

However, I prefer the feeling of being safe in the author's hands.

As an example, as a child I loved the Chronicles of Narnia. I looked forward to seeing the movie version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe after hearing how faithful the details were to the book. However, I didn't love the movie. After some thought, I realized that what made the experience incomplete for me was that in the movie, the author's voice was gone. And that voice was what I loved, without even knowing it. I don't remember flashy opening sentences. I remember the voice.

Related Post: Novel Beginnings - On Opening Sentences.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"Vision," Siegfried Sassoon


I love all things that pass: their briefness is
Music that fades on transient silences.
Winds, birds, and glittering leaves that flare and fall—
They fling delight across the world; they call
To rhythmic-flashing limbs that rove and race...
A moment in the dawn for Youth’s lit face;
A moment’s passion, closing on the cry--
‘O Beauty, born of lovely things that die!’

--Siegfried Sassoon

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, "In the Ambulance"

In the Ambulance

"Two rows of cabbages,
Two of curly-greens,
Two rows of early peas,
Two of kidney-beans."

That's what he is muttering
Making such a song,
Keeping other chaps awake,
The whole night long.

Both his legs are shot away,
And his head is light;
So he keeps on muttering
All the blessed night:

"Two rows of cabbages,
Two of curly-greens,
Two rows of early peas,
Two of kidney-beans."

--Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hooks and Anchors

I recently heard about an article which talked about paragraphing in terms of anchoring and hooking. I didn't find the article, but this is how I would use those terms.

At the beginning of a scene, even if you haven't shifted locations or times, you have to set that scene in the first sentence or paragraph. Think of it like an establishing shot in a movie. The camera shows the place, lighting which indicates whether it's day or night, who's in the room. Clutching his greatcoat around him against the November chill, Weston weaved his way among wagons with chocked wheels, tents, campfires, pitiful attempts at vegetable gardens, coppers of boiling water.

Or Three weeks later, Imena straightened her embroidered turquoise dress coat and brushed off the matching silk trousers as she emerged onto the deck of her ship, Seaflower. It's okay to just say "Three weeks later" and tell the reader Imena is on her ship.

You can also anchor a paragraph with an opening sentence that's a little hook if that works: Imena wasn't able to enjoy her soak in the baths. Well, why not?

Hooking is, basically, ending a sentence or paragraph or scene with a mystery. The "mystery" can be something that's a tiny bit confusing to the reader, but just enough so to make them want to know more. A contradiction of some kind also works. I don't go out of my way to do this for every paragraph; sometimes it's best to just end the paragraph in an organized way, so you can go on with the scene:

She stormed into her cabin and swiftly divested herself of her turquoise finery, tossing it onto her wide bunk.

"No, sir! You'll crush it!"

A more traditional hook to end a paragraph and make the reader want to keep reading might be: The gentle sway beneath his feet was not a ship docked, or even a ship at anchor, but one in motion, fleeing before the wind and propelled by a good tide.

Finally, you have to consider prose rhythm. Sometimes you need a paragraph or scene to end with finality, to emphasize or to make the reader stop and think: She wasn't his, much as he wished she could be.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

RWA Conference 2010 Report, Part Two

The cover of The Moonlight Mistress is featured on Naked Romance this week, with some of my thoughts on it as well.

And now back to my RWA 2010 report!

Friday was my busiest day. I attended the awards lunch and cheered for the Librarian of the Year Jennifer Lohmann and for the Veritas Award recipient, Gwenda Bond. I then spent some quality time in the bar with Gwenda; her husband, writer Christopher Rowe; and YA author Diana Peterfreund. We talked genre and book covers and markets. It was nice to be back in the science fiction/fantasy world for a little while; I'm more at home there than in romance, because I've "lived" there longer.

In late afternoon, I attended a reception for Harlequin's Single Title authors and finally got to meet one of the Mira staff who'd been exceedingly helpful to me for a long time. I also met Susan Anderson briefly, as well as Courtney Milan (it took me a little while to realize we'd never met in person, only online!) and Kathryn Smith, and got to see Victoria Dahl for the first time at the conference. And a bunch of other people as well.

I then returned to my room to dress for that evening's big bash, the Harlequin Party at the Waldorf Astoria. On the right you will see the signature cocktail of the evening, the "Harleqin Heartbreaker," or rather what's left of one!

The space this year was much smaller than usual, but the dancing was just as enthusiastic; they've had the same DJ for all three years I've been attending, and he really knows how to get people out ("It's Raining Men," for example, is popular for more than one reason). I danced, took photos, and ate pretty sugary things including ice cream lollipops and caramel apple and lemon ice. Below is a section of the pretty, pretty chocolate log, decorated with candy leaves and insects.

All parties must eventually end, and a group of us left after midnight, trudging out behind a group including Nora Roberts. For the record, we did not steal their cab. They had a limo waiting.

Back in my room, I realized belatedly that I needed to take off my eye makeup again (it was different from what I'd worn earlier in the day). But I was good and did that. Then I slept. Packing could wait until the morning.

I was really glad to get home on Saturday night. I spent all of Sunday lolling about reading and napping. I'll be ready for next about eleven months or so.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

RWA 2010 Report, Part One

At last, my report on the 2010 Romance Writers of America Annual Conference! Scroll down or click the "RWA" tag for more posts and lots of photos. That picture on the left is one of the pretty floor mosaics at the Orlando Airport.

I arrived Wednesday afternoon. I unfortunately had woken up way too early so was a bit punchy that whole day. My travel, though, was fine; the plane was about an hour late leaving, yet arrived close to the original arrival time. Perhaps there was a TARDIS involved? The van I took from the airport to the Dolphin Hotel was completely full of RWA Conference attendees, with the exception of one male business traveler who was going to the Hilton. We almost talked him into going to the conference with us instead.

I spent the rest of Wednesday with the mundanities of checking in, registering, unpacking, etc. before the Literacy Autographing, which is a fun but exhausting event. I then ventured out to the Blogger Bar Bash and met...lots and lots of cool people. I have a pile of business cards. Let's see, there was Anime June of Gossamer Obsessions, and KristieJ of Ramblings on Romance, and Librarian of the Year Jennifer Lohmann, and Magdalen B of Promantica, and of course host Wendy the Super Librarian. And many more. I was so tired I wasn't very entertaining, though. Instead of going on to the Romance Divas Karaoke gathering as I'd planned, I went to sleep instead. That was the right choice.

Thursday morning, thanks to the suggestion of rommate Sarah Frantz, I got room service. It was an unspeakable luxury not to have to hunt around for food, since I hadn't quite mastered the hotel's geography yet. However, I felt about a thousand times better than I had the night before, so everything made much more sense! I dropped off my postcards and bookmarks at the Goody Room and picked up various goodies for a Romance Diva friend who collects such things. I also visited the bookmarks of friends Kate Pearce and Jeannie Lin and snabbled a couple for my own use, even though I'd already pre-ordered their books.

Before lunch, I hung out in the lobby for a while with fellow Romance Divas, briefly interrupted by chats with my editor, who was passing by, and with Lucienne Diver, whom I hadn't seen on Wednesday. I really enjoyed Nora Roberts' keynote speech, and had a nice chat at the luncheon with Robin Rotham.

I worked out at the hotel's health club on Thursday afternoon, then that evening was the party for my online RWA chapter, Passionate Ink. Writer Angela Knight and scholar Sarah Frantz spoke most entertainingly, and I ate a lot of cheese. Soon after, I discovered my voicemail on my cell phone was wonky, so I dragged Ella Drake with me to fix it, because being without voicemail at a conference spells disaster.

I skipped dinner (remember all the cheese?) and then put on my pink pajamas and black satin robe to attend eHarlequin's annual Pajama Party. I was one of the first folks there, so got some interesting looks as I trekked through the crowded hotel lobby, along with a couple of "Pajama party?" queries. At the party, I holed up in a corner with roomie Elaine Golden and fellow writers Ella Drake, Leia Rice, Janet Mullany, and several others who wafted in and out, catching Amanda Berry and Jeannie Lin towards the end.

And so, dear reader, to bed.

Continued tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Picspam of Rupert Brooke

I haven't done a lot of research on Rupert Brooke (1887-1915); he's not my favorite World War One poet by a longshot, and though he died in Greece while in the army (on the way to Gallipoli), he never saw combat. William Butler Yeats once described him as "the handsomest young man in England," though, and I do agree he was very, very pretty.

The Rupert Brooke Society.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Feeding the Muse

I don't actually believe I have a "muse," but it makes a catchy title. The reason I don't like to say "my muse" is that it implies the impetus for my writing comes from a mysterious outside source. If that were true, it would be out of my control. I don't think that's a good thing.

So for me, "muse" is code for "my brain." So-called "inspiration" also means, to me, "my brain." As a writer, I'm pretty self-centered. I spend a lot of time thinking about how my brain works and how my writing process works, and I use that to help me when it's not going so well.

On to feeding my brain. (Braaaaaaiiiiiiiiinnnnnnzzzzzzzz!!!!!!!)

So far, I've always been able to write something when I sit down to write. The hard part for me is usually the sitting down part. However, some days are better than others. Some days, I feel like I have more to give the story than others.

What do I do when I don't have as much to give? (When The Muse turns her back on me, oh woe?!)

Stories, like brains (and zombies!), need food. That food is made up of snips and snaps of facts and opinions and images and emotions. Sometimes, if I feel like my brain is hungry, I decide there's nothing for it but to feed it. I start reading a new fiction book, or a new research book, or I take a night off and watch a DVD, or I exercise, or I go for a walk or go shopping, to fill up my brain with new Things. After a little while, like magic, I can sit down and the writing flows better.

What do you do when your brain is empty?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Die Herzogin, ihre Zofe, der Stallbursche und ihr Liebhaber

Today is release day for The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover in German. Read the German excerpt here.

Order Die Herzogin, ihre Zofe, der Stallbursche und ihr Liebhaber. (Published by Mira Taschenbuch Im Cora Verlag, translated by Ira Severin.)

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

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

The German edition was mentioned at buecher.ueber-alles.