Archive for August, 2012

King’s Bay

Summer’s not over yet, and to prove it I’ve entered a contest in Literotica’s Summer Lovin’ contest. It’s a stand-alone story, a somewhat different romance and I tried new things. If you read it, I hope you enjoy. It’s called “King’s Bay” and was inspired in part by Marillion’s “Cannibal Surf Babe.” (I promise there is no cannibalism involved. 🙂 )

Click here for the story.

Excerpt:

I kept my eyes ahead, scanning the water, but my senses were alert for Surfer Babe. Once I stopped, I sat up and looked around and there she was, on my left this time. I took advantage of a lull between waves to talk to her.

“Hey, I didn’t get your name.”

She smiled, a wicked little smile that curled me on the inside. “I never told you.”

“I’m Dizzy,” I offered.

She looked me up and down and arched an eyebrow. “Then maybe you shouldn’t surf.”

I laughed. “Call me Diz.”

“All right.”

I shivered at the sultry tone of her voice and the look on her face. You know how people say, “I could just eat you up!” She looked like she could eat me up, and I couldn’t say I’d mind. I liked assertiveness in a woman. Few things are sexier than a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to tell you. Surfer Babe looked like she could give classes in assertiveness.

I savored the shiver and grinned. “What’s your name? Or is it a secret?”

“Not a secret.”

“Then what should I call you?”

“Let’s see who gets in first. You win, I’ll give you a name.” She licked her lips and most of my blood rushed south.

We waited for a wave, then got into position when one came along. I beat her in by inches, and I wondered if she’d let me win. I’d improved over the day, but she had that ease in the water that I never would, no matter how much I practiced. She had some kind of connection, some innate ability, and some have it and some don’t.

We walked back to the crowd on the beach. People were kicking back now, snacking, drinking, smoking the occasional joint. It was as though there was no yesterday and no tomorrow, only the now. I liked the now.

I unstrapped the leash from my ankle, grabbed a towel and rubbed it over my face and hair. “So, gorgeous, what’s your name?”

She stared at me for a minute and I got that vertiginous feeling again.

“You can call me Callie.”

Thanks for reading!

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The James Effect

Sorry, I’ve had Ludlum on the brain since reading this Slate column about “Ludlumizing” titles of other books, movies or whatever else. I’ve also read a number of reviews, articles and opinions on the 50 Shades trilogy.

I can’t review 50 Shades of Grey or either of the sequels because I have not read them. However, reviews abound, both on Amazon and blogs (warning: this contains a lot of gifs and language that is NSFW) and everywhere else. If you follow writing and/or erotica blogs, you probably can’t get away from it. But I don’t blame you for trying.

Most of what I know about the books comes from reading about them, so let me be honest — I have not read the “Twilight” novels, the inspiration for 50 Shades; I have not read any of the 50 Shades novels aside from the Amazon sample and skimming the first quarter or so of book one; I have nothing against E.L. James. My issues with what I have read are not necessarily that it is poorly written (as many reviewers have claimed), but that the characters are not well-formed or -presented — they come across as idiots and it’s hard to read about idiots when Monty Python isn’t involved.

I am not interested in reading the books, as I said earlier. I have skimmed the first quarter or so of book one and I just want to slap them all. Really– Ana, Christian, Kate the roommate, etc. But I am intrigued by the effects, and alleged effects — The James Effect, to Ludlumize — the books are having.

Why do women read them?

This is probably the most frequently asked question I see. Well, why? Because they want to. Because women like to read about sex, believe it or not, whether they’re moms or not (can we dispense with “mommy porn”? Because that just sounds stupid), and that’s really all the answer you need.

Isn’t there better stuff out there?

Why, yes, there is. Much is online, and much is available as e-books, and you have to go look for it.

Why don’t they read the better stuff?

I’d ask those of you who read erotic stuff online: who else knows you read it? And do they know what you read if you read “harder” genres like incest or BDSM? I’m betting a lot of us (I include myself) do not share this information with a lot of people. I remember receiving a private yet still anonymous email from a reader who told me she enjoyed a story yet did not want anyone to know, hence the anonymous email. She was, as I recall, from a conservative and religious family, and she was afraid of what they’d think.

I think that stigma is still there. Many people see erotica and porn as the same thing under different names. Others don’t. The debate rages on. But a lot of people are not going to access porn at work (good, they shouldn’t) or at home, for fear of the kids seeing or their partner seeing or anything else.

Are they really this shocked by the content?

Yes, they are. At my son’s baseball games this past spring, I heard a couple of other moms discussing 50 Shades, and they seemed genuinely blown away and titillated by the whole thing. A few steps up from finding your dad’s Playboy, or your mom’s Playgirl I suppose. I don’t think they’d read anything remotely like it, as vanilla as it might actually be in terms of the sex and the pseudo-BDSM.

I think that those of us who read and write erotic stories are a little more jaded. Or if not jaded, simply not shocked. We’ve read better, we’ve read worse, we’ve read stuff that made us click on the mouse as fast as possible to get to something else. Or we’ve written any of the above. It may be hard for us to remember that a lot of people don’t do this on any kind of regular basis and so this is indeed their first foray into something beyond Nora Roberts or Sherilyn Kenyon or whomever they do read. This doesn’t make them naive or stupid, it just makes them people exposed to new ideas.

The sex sucks; the BDSM is wrong.

I think there are some legit complaints here. Perhaps not about the sex itself, but about the domination/submission (D/s) aspects. I mean, what people find erotic differs from person to person — one person’s hot fantasy is another’s WTF? However, I’ve read from some who are regular, careful practitioners of BDSM that what James puts in these books is not just wrong, but potentially dangerous. One fellow writer on Lit specified the plastic zip ties that Grey purchases (and I gather he uses); he pointed out that no true Dom would use it, because they are not meant for such things and could hurt someone.

So, I urge you, if you have read these and/or are interested in exploring the B/D or D/s aspects of a sexual relationship: GET INFORMED, and do not let these books be your guides. BDSM relationships are consensual, they involve trust on both sides; if you do not have that, then do not do this.

Personally, I doubt James intended anything like that. I don’t think she was intentionally ignorant. I think she wrote a piece of fan fiction and included what she imagined a BDSM relationship would be like without researching what it was like. The fact that herpublisher did not edit for that kind of comment shows ignorance on their part, but you don’t have to be.

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What does this phenomenon tell us about sex, at least in the US? Probably that we still have our general schizo reactions to it. No, sex is not something to be ashamed of, but for god’s sake, you don’t read that, do you? Some of it is generational, and some of it is cultural, and it likely won’t go away any time soon. But if everyone can keep a more open mind (bwa hahaha, I’m such an optimist), it might go away after a while.

I don’t think anyone should be ashamed to read an erotic novel, and I think those that question it should sit back and wonder why? What does it matter if I read a BDSM novel, or one about a threesome, while you read a Tony Hillerman mystery? Heck, I like Tony Hillerman.

How different is too different?

Romance readers, in large part, like things different but the same. I’ve noticed this in comments on romance stories and in reading them. I’ve long since decided that the issue is not whether there will be a happy ending, but how to get there, and what kind of happy ending there is. Many, if not most romances end with a marriage or marriage proposal. This is fine and dandy — I like happy endings as much as anyone else and if that’s what it takes for the characters to be happy, then have at it.

I have yet to end a story that way. I’m not sure I’ve even touched that much on marriage in stories except to have characters discuss it in kind of an abstract way. I’ve found that my goal is to get to the “I love you,” to get my characters past whatever obstacles I’ve placed in front of them and realize that they have to take that risk and let themselves love. The closest I believe I’ve come is in my were stories, where marriage is a matter of agreeing to “mate.” The characters have sex, mark each other somehow, and presto — they’re married.

It’s different in my contemporary hockey romances. In Nothing Gets Through, I don’t even get to the I love you. At the end of that story, the guy simply decides to take a chance and open up.

What do people think of this? Judging by comments, they’re okay with it by and large. I think the biggest backlash came with the conclusion to Rhythm and the Blue Line. Many, many readers wanted (as I wrote a few weeks ago) something different. They wanted Ryan and Brody engaged if not married and they wanted Ryan’s family issues resolved, neither of which happened. It didn’t happen because I didn’t feel it worked with the story I’d written. Then I ran smack up against the wall of readers’ expectations and wishes.

Well, I win, because I’m the author. What I say in the story goes.

So how far outside these little boxes can an author go? How far within the themes of a certain category or genre do you have to stay?

I’ve been toying with a plot for a nonhuman story. A common plotline in a story like that follows these points:

  • Alpha male shapeshifter meets mate, usually a human woman; this knowledge is instinctive
  • Human woman is feisty and resists, but not much, and falls for alpha male
  • Human woman and alpha male mate, and now human woman is also a shapeshifter
  • Problems ensue, often involving the separation of the new mates, often b/c the woman is kidnapped or otherwise forced to leave
  • Alpha male wreaks havoc to get mate back
  • HEA

Nothing wrong with this, and I’ve stuck with many of these themes myself or played with them only a little. Any story can be good even with familiar elements if it’s well written and we can relate to the characters, or at least I think so. How did I play with this? Well, in Exiled, there were no humans involved in the primary relationships (easy out!). Much the same in Young Blood, where the two protagonists were a weretiger and a vampire. In All Too Human, a were woman mates with a human man, but he doesn’t become a were himself. In The Hunted Key, when I finally wrote about werewolves, the alpha male is a little too full of himself, and the quiet woman he’s set his sights on rejects him in no uncertain terms.

But it all works out in the end. 🙂

So what’s my idea for the next one? It was put into my head by a friend — what if a male werewolf (let’s just go with wolf here) set his sights on a human woman, BUT she wants to be with a — da da dum! — human male. I’m really curious as to how such a story would be received. Would it be okay if it was well-written? Or would I have gone too far outside the box?

I think such a story would, in part, be a reaction to this story, Bound to my Mate, which is on Literotica. The author is a woman who goes by DoctorWolf. I think this story is well done, although I think the plot is a little overstuffed, but it never drags (as I recall). One thing always bothered me about this story, though, and that was the casual rejection by the male lead, Joel, of any concerns the female lead, Elizabeth, had over the changes in her life. They argued, and that was good, because it’s tiresome when the woman just says, “Oh, you’re right.” And that’s tiresome in any genre.

Still, I wanted Elizabeth to fight back a bit more, because I thought she had some legitimate complaints. I don’t want to go into a ton of detail — don’t want to spoil the story 🙂 — but I resented what the werewolves wanted, even demanded and expected, from Elizabeth. I felt they had no sympathy for her and that made me like them less. Their actions are explained in some detail, and again that’s good, because I think it’s too easy in fantasy-type stories like this to gloss over things like that.

And I’m not complaining, because I don’t need to and because DoctorWolf wrote the story she wanted to tell. As my English SF prof told us (and I paraphrase): don’t bitch. If you don’t like a story, then write the one you want.

Do I care about the reaction to such a story? Sure I do. I write stories because I have ideas, and I write them the way I want them, but I want other people to like them, too. On the other hand, I  can’t say it isn’t frustrating when readers are displeased because I didn’t do what they wanted. But they’re entitled to their opinions and I can only hope when I write something that people will like that.

Will they like a human going for a human over a werewolf? Guess I’ll find out when I get there.

But I didn’t like it — book reviews

This article at Slate.com got my attention today. The author discusses more the role of critics and such as social media rises, but it had me thinking about other things.

I haven’t reviewed much, either here or on Amazon, although I’d like to. Problem is, I’m a critical reader and while I’m willing to let certain things slide, I’m not going to give a glossy review to something I think is below par. I don’t want to become known as a troll or anything, because I know how hard it is to write something, polish it up and put it out there for the world at large to read and criticize. So I hold back.

A few months ago, an online friend asked me to a review a story (maybe novella length) that they’d written and post it on my site or Amazon or both. I read the story and I couldn’t do it. I didn’t think it was very good, and my mind did not change when he told me it had been reviewed by an editor. All I could think was that the editor must not have been very good. I thought the basic premise was good but the writing was kind of clunky, the dialogue was awkward and a few other things were problematic. We’re still friendly but I doubt they will be asking me to review any others. And if you looked on the Amazon page for that book, you’d see at least a couple of 5-star reviews (I haven’t checked in a while).

Sometimes, people don’t hold back. Go to this page at Amazon for 50 Shades of Grey, and read the comments, both good and bad. I have long since decided I will read this book when I am lacking anything else interesting to read, like the fine print on my cell phone contract, and when I can get it for free. I read the sample on Amazon, and before I even go to any of the sex, I was baffled by the newspaper editor sending her roommate to interview someone, when it seemed more logical she’d send one of the staff. If you can’t be logical from the beginning, then sorry, I’m out of there.

But as the Slate article points out, a lot of reviews are basically done by friends of the author, who are going to say it’s good, even if it really isn’t. In my previous situation, I simply refrained from writing a review. I didn’t want any hurt feelings, but I sure wasn’t going to lie and say it was good. Could I have found good things to say? Sure, in that kind of double-edged way, or in a vague way. Here is, in fact, a review of the story I disliked:

This was a great read. The story is interesting, with good plot twists. The romance is strong, and the characters well developed. I look forward to more work from this author.

Is that all true? Not to me, but everyone has an opinion, of course. I would have spelled out my problems with it, because a review like this doesn’t tell you much. And it wasn’t that I thought the story wasn’t interesting — I thought it was poorly written, and that is something no one seems to want to take issue with, whether it’s mechanical issues like spelling or content issues like plot inconsistencies.

Back to 50 Shades — check out those reviews and you’ll see some who are just astounded by the sex. But a few others will note that there is better sex available. And there is, and it’s not even all that hard to find. There are plenty of authors at Amazon, you can see a few blogs on the right side of my page and you can always go to sites like Literotica or LushStories and poke around a little. Still, people who are impressed by poorly-written erotica probably haven’t read much of it to start with.

Can’t we be honest? I don’t mean I want to trash people, because like I said, I know how hard this is. But when I had stories published by Republica Press, my editor/publisher made no bones about things she didn’t like in stories, errors she’d thought I made, whatever. And I thought it was my duty as a writer she was publishing to at least hear her out. However, it seems like once someone says something’s fine, it’s almost impossible for a writer to hear any criticism, even if it’s constructive.

In my short experience with writing and publishing, both for free and pay, I’ve learned you need a thick skin. Not so thick that you can let everything bounce off of you, but not so thin that you become defensive at the mere mention of a contrary opinion. If you have given your story to someone for their opinion, you’d better be ready for their opinion to not be glowing. And criticism isn’t a bad thing. It can help you improve. If someone says your characters are inconsistent — and best would be if they gave examples — then check it out, because maybe they are, even if an editor said it’s good.

So while I appreciate the effort that goes into a story, I’m not going to blindly praise it if the grammar is awkward, the punctuation incorrect, or the characters contradictory. That’s not doing anyone any favors, least of all the writer. I thought from the start that if you want people to take the time to read your story, then you can take the time to make it readable in both mechanics and content.

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