I have a new post up over on the Sisters in Smut blog about the Virgin’s Promise plot archetype. You’ve heard of the Hero’s Journey? Consider the Virgin the Yin to his Yang, an inward journey of self-discovery as opposed an epic quest for glory.
All Hallows’ Eve is nearly upon us.
Over the past month, I’ve been gorging myself on horror movies (the good and the dreadful) in between the day job, WIP revisions, and writing sprints.
I have so much stuff to share with you, including a brand new erotic story over at Bellesa.co, plus some social media developments and new ways to keep in touch.
Let’s dig in!
First off, I now have a mailing list. If you’d like to be the first to know when I put out a new story or when my next anthology is up for preorder, go ahead and click the subscribe link below. This mailing list isn’t a newsletter so much as a method for sharing news (if that makes sense).
Basically, I’ll only email you when something important is afoot. No spam ever. Promise.
I also created a Pinterest account where I pin pretty and interesting things like old Victorian homes and sexy people who inspire me. This week it’s half-naked dudes with (and without) beverages.
I have a new post up over at the Sisters in Smut blog called “Busting the Writer’s Ghost.” In keeping with the holiday, I introduce you to my own personal ghosts and explore some common writerly fears and offer advice on how to quell them. If I’m particularly skilled at anything (besides writing smut) it’s being stubborn enough to keep at the dream in the midst of a destructive thought storm.
No tricks, just treats: my new short story from Bellesa.co
“Haunted Hearts: A Ghost Story” is a bittersweet, sexy—and dare I say haunting—tale about an eccentric widow, Rose Abbot, who taps into the mysterious power of her own grief to reconnect with her late husband.
Written with Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic and Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells in mind, “Haunted Hearts: A Ghost Story” is brimming with love and bursting with magic.
Read an excerpt below.
Rose drew the box of Ethan’s ashes into her lap. It was a simple dark wood box with a bronze latch. Not heavy, but substantial enough that she couldn’t pretend it wasn’t there. Unable to reconcile how a man who had been larger than life could be made to fit inside such a small vessel, she began looking for a place to set the box down. First, she tried the mantel, but that didn’t feel right. Then Ethan’s trophy case, but that wouldn’t do either.
Cradling the box, Rose wandered the house, making streaks in the dust on the furniture with her fingers. She skimmed her hands over Ethan’s clothes and their shared bookshelves, until a spark like a carpet shock zapped her as she touched one particular volume.
Her grandmother’s grimoire. A heavy tome bursting at its covers with spells and recipes for all manner of ills. She pulled it from the shelf.
Setting the box on the big oak desk, Rose leafed through the well-worn pages until she found what she had unknowingly been looking for: a spell to summon a spirit to you. The instructions, scrawled in her grandmother’s looping hand, said to bundle five sprigs of thyme, twelve strands of the deceased’s hair and one other personal item into a small pouch to be worn around the neck of the caster from noon until the sun went down.
Rose glanced at the clock. It was already half-past eleven.
Acting quickly, she fetched her husband’s hairbrush from the bathroom cabinet. As for the “other item,” she reckoned it couldn’t get more personal than one’s own ashes. For the pouch, she scrabbled together a small drawstring pocket tied with a leather cord. Then, she hurried downstairs to the attached greenhouse, praying the cold outside hadn’t weaseled in and strangled the herbs.
In the kitchen, she got to work threading thyme sprigs with Ethan’s honey-blond hair. Careful not to tear the stitches, she eased the bundle into the drawstring pocket. The ashes dusted her fingers as she gathered up a handful. Careful not to spill, she sprinkled the sandy cremains into the pouch.
With the charm around her neck, Rose parked herself in Ethan’s favorite reading chair and waited.
She waited all afternoon.
As the last of the sun’s rays disappeared behind the garden fence, so too did Rose’s optimism. What had she expected? A phone call from the great beyond? She wasn’t enough of a sucker to believe in Heaven, though she’d been fool enough to think that her strangeness could actually be useful for once.
Ethan wasn’t coming back. That should’ve been obvious.
Tearing the pouch from her neck, Rose marched through the living room and threw open the French doors. Cold air pricked the parts of her not shielded by her nightgown. With a howling snarl, she hurled the pouch out into the snow.
Rose slammed the doors and then slid to the floor, curling in upon herself like a dying spider.
Having sobbed herself to sleep, she didn’t notice the breeze on her skin or the strong arms that carried her up to bed like a child. It wasn’t until she woke squinting into the darkness of her bedroom, confused and disoriented, that she sensed the heat against her back and an arm around her midriff.
Lips brushed the nape of her neck. Fear seized like burnt chocolate in her stomach as hope ballooned in her chest. Sliding her hand under the covers, Rose traced the length of the arm across her belly until she found fingers.
“Say something,” she whispered.
The hand on her stomach slid to her breast. She shivered. If this wasn’t Ethan, then it could only be a stranger. Had she forgotten to lock the doors after she’d thrown the pouch into the snow? She couldn’t remember.
Bracing for the fight of her life, Rose balled her fists and turned to confront her silent bedmate.
Moonlight spilled onto the other half of the bed. It was empty.
The spell had worked.
“Wait.” She pawed at the sheets but found no trace of Ethan. “Come back. Come back, I’m here!”
Had she dreamt the feel of his hands and lips, or worse, lost her chance to reunite with her husband?
No. He had to still be around. She just needed a way to make contact.
Rose ran to the kitchen for a shot glass and a marker. Back in the bedroom, she folded up the threadbare rug to reveal a strip of hardwood on which she scrawled an arching alphabet, plus the words YES and NO. She laid the upturned shot glass on the floor and placed her finger on top.
“Ethan, are you still here?”
Nothing happened, not for a good long while, though the air around her felt charged and leaden. As if pushed by an invisible hand, the shot glass slid across the floor to YES.
Rose stared in amazement as the glass spelled out, HELLO ROSIE.
I am not what you would call a joiner. In school, I never played sports or participated in extracurriculars—save art club, but that was more of a drop-in-whenever sort of deal.
My parents signed me up for computer camp one summer, which I now appreciate, but at the time, I was less-than grateful. There’s an active kink community in my area of which I’m not a member.
So when the lovely Doctor J invited me to join Sisters in Smut, I’ll admit, I was hesitant. Having grappled with social anxiety my whole life, I’m used to the tense muscles and racing thoughts that accompany any sort of potential group event—including online interactions.
But something told me not to shy away from this opportunity…
Rounding out at approximately 87,000 words, my novel-in-progress is no longer in-progress. It is done. Well, what I call the “first working draft” of it, anyway. It’s not quite a first draft since I’ve been editing and posting it on Literotica chapter-by-chapter since April 2014, but it’s still a bit rough around the edges—especially those first few chapters. While my ultimate plans for the story are still up in the air, I can say that I’m really, really glad to have finally laid down that last sentence. It took ten months to complete this story and with three anthology projects lined up for February, I’m going to need all the extra headspace I can scrounge up.
I don’t want to wax poetic about the process because, as a rule, I try not to treat my words as though they were precious. Yes, I live and breathe writing and storytelling, but if there’s one quality that I could giftwrap and ship to every budding writer, it would be ruthlessness. By that, I mean: don’t coddle yourself or your work, pledge to finish what you start (and then do that), and if cutting an 8k draft down to 500 words will make the story better, then by all means, snip away.
Having said that, I will concede that the post-I-just-wrote-a-book-high is pretty fantastic in a quiet, “Well, how ‘bout that?” sort of way. I tried really hard not to harbor any expectations as to how it would feel, but a few managed to slip in somewhere between the final chapter and the epilogue. I expected to cry a lot and maybe wind up on the floor for a while. That didn’t happen. In fact, more than anything, what I really want to do is get back to work: the consistent, comforting routine of sitting quietly and meeting the quota.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this story. I love the characters and the smutty romance and the weird little connections that weren’t intended but somehow found themselves lining up all pretty and semi-coherent on the page. I’m happy to have finally given my characters, and hopefully, my readers, a sense of closure and an ending that doesn’t leave them smacking their tongues like they’ve just tasted something cloying.Embed from Getty Images
Finishing this story has taught me a lot about both myself as a writer and novel-crafting in general. My hope is that these observations might be of some use to you, especially if you’re in the thick of your first big project. So, without further ado, here are five things I’ve learned from completing a first draft:
1. Writing fiction will make you more honest and compassionate. While our stories and characters may be imaginary, what we’re ultimately attempting to accomplish each time we put our words to paper is the tapping of some universal truth, something each of us can relate to. Striving to create authentic characters forces us to look at people—really look at them—and see them as they truly are, prejudices and all. It cultivates compassion. I once heard it argued that the best actors are those who, rather than judge a character’s actions or motivations, pause and take the time to contemplate, “How might I be different if I were subject to these particular circumstances?” Writing requires a similar suspension of cognizance. We pull people out of our brain-muck and then make them do things and sometimes those things aren’t so nice. It’s important that we understand why they do the things they do, not just so that we can make them believable, but so that we can make them sympathetic.
2. Trust the stream-of-consciousness. This one took a while to embrace because, for a long time, I was an “edit as I go” kind of writer. However, while that might work for some, I find it to be crippling. You know that incredible feeling when the words just flow as though the prose was moving through you from some other-worldly source? Well, there’s no better way to quell that stream than to ask it to hold on a second while you perfect this description of a chandelier. It’s tough to look at a line of dialogue and know that it’s crap and leave it there anyway, but that’s the pain and pleasure of revision: don’t worry, you’ll be back…many times over. Just get the words down.
3. The show vs. tell situation is slightly different for Erotica and Romance writers. I wish someone had told me this sooner. Somewhere around chapters four and five of The Cabin, I started to feel like I was writing a technical manual. I was reading a lot of craft books that advised me to show, show, show instead of tell. However, what I didn’t realize at the time was that telling is actually an important tool for Romance writers, especially when writing in first-person. Love and sexuality are incredibly personal subjects. If the characters aren’t baring themselves both physically and emotionally, they can come off as cold, stiff, and unrelatable—the kiss of death for a Romance novelist. No, you don’t want to drown your readers in exposition and if I can convey attraction with a shy smile and a head-tilt rather than flat-out stating, “I think you’re dreamy,” I will. But Romance readers expect that inner monologue, and for good reason. It’s a staple of the genre that places the reader inside the protagonist’s head and then guides them throughout the rest of the story, helping them understand why the character might feel or react a certain way. Speaking of which…
4. If the characters are resisting, something might be wrong. I’m not talking about dragging them kicking and screaming into necessary hardships. I’m talking about recognizing a dead end when you see one. For a while I tried really, really hard to convince two of my characters to get friendly, but they wouldn’t have it. That I even needed to “convince” them was a red flag that I wasn’t being faithful to their motivations. Coming up with a great scene is only half the battle. Ensuring that all the pieces align to make said event happen the way you want requires forethought. You need to sow those seeds early so that each action a character takes makes sense.
5. You won’t know how good (or not good) it is until you get some distance. Now, this is another area where a lot of writers differ, but I happen to identify with the camp that needs to tuck a finished piece away for a while before they can effectively edit it. How long this period lasts depends on length. Short stories need maybe a few days to a week, while a novel would require significantly more time to breathe—at least a month. I like to use that in-between time to refresh my brain with shorter projects, like anthology submissions. Each new venture has the potential to stretch you that much further, improving your voice and strengthening your storytelling muscles. By the time you pull that old project out of the digital drawer, you’ll be looking at it with a brand new set of eyes.
Bonus: It really is all about finishing. There are few good reasons not to finish and sucking isn’t one of them. All first drafts suck. We hear it time and time again: “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page” (Jodi Picoult). Granted, knowing when to abandon a project is a skill unto itself, but I’d venture to say that you’re better off at least finishing a first draft before making that call. Finishing is about more than just ending a story. It’s about resolve and proving to yourself (and others, but that’s less important) that you are capable of doing what you set out to do. If you can do it once, you can do it again. And again. And again.Embed from Getty Images
Tis the season to hunker down with a cup of tea and a pair of warm, fuzzy socks and that’s exactly what I’ve been up to, parked in front of the laptop, typing away at my WIP after a hectic workweek.
Unfortunately, I’ve also been slacking on my blogging and social media duties. Oops.
I marvel at the social media and writing powerhouses who manage to divide their attention in ways that seem effortless: blogging, commenting, writing, Tweeting, Facebooking, Tumblring, etc.
Can I borrow some of your mojo? Pretty please?
Since my job is tied to the academic calendar, I’m extremely fortunate to be heading into a nice break. My plan is to finish “The Cabin” before the end of the year, even in the midst of holiday craziness.
This time of year is ripe for miracles, right?
In the meantime, I’m curious as to how other writers (and creative people in general) juggle their blogging and social media engagement with their primary work, i.e. the big projects. Do you see them as one in the same, means to an end, or do you sometimes resent having to forsake one in lieu of the other? Are you like me in that you prefer to hole yourself up in peace and quiet or do you seek lively, energetic environments like busy cafés to coax your muse out of hiding?
Personally, once I’m in the thick of a major task, I tend toward a certain level of detachment from the outside world, though it’s not often possible or even preferable, in most cases. I am by no means immune to the occasional twinge of guilt when I miss a blogger-buddy’s post, or when friends and family send messages asking if I’m still alive, though the clever ones have discovered that I will periodically leave my hermit’s cave for the promise of a good Irish Benedict and crispy home fries—and maybe a blueberry pancake on the side.
All right, I’m off to put last weekend’s plotting efforts to good use.
Oh, hey there weekend. It’s about time you showed up.
Today I am plotting the next chapter of my otherwise pantsed novel. I’m in need of some serious organization and deliberation that only a package of index cards arranged and rearranged across my living room floor can accomplish. That, or, Scrivener, but while there may be a fresh Douglas fir standing next to my fireplace, Christmas is still a few weeks away.
According to my Kindle, I am 82% of the way through Rachel Aaron’s book, 2,000 to 10,000: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. While I feel that some of her suggestions might not work as well for erotica and romance writers as they would for, say, science fiction or fantasy authors (Aaron is a sci-fi and fantasy author, herself), her advice on plotting has been helpful, as evidenced by the highlighted portions and notes on my device.
Consider this quote from her section on Story Architecture:
“In day-to-day terms, this means knowing what you’re going to write before you write it, but in the bigger picture of your life as a writer, it means understanding your story choices on a deeper level. If you want your writing process to be fast and reliable, it’s not enough to just trust your feelings for what works. You need to know why it works and how it works, if you ever want to make it work for you.”
My goal for this post isn’t to convince pantsers that plotting is the way to go because everyone approaches storytelling differently and there’s no such thing as the Eternal Correct Method for Everyone and Everything. I can even see the benefits of flexibility between projects. For example, a short story might pour effortlessly from one’s subconscious while a novel may be better served by an outline and character sheets. Experimentation is paramount.
Regardless of which style you subscribe to, rewriting is an integral part of writing. However, since I also happen to be posting the story chapter-by-chapter online, I have to be really certain about my timeline and events, because once they’re up, I can’t change them.
(I’d like to take this opportunity to state that I have no intention of publishing this story elsewhere, at least not in its current form. It’s generally a bad idea to post a book in its entirety for free on the internet, regardless of what route to publishing you intend to follow. I’ll go into the reasoning behind that some other time.)
While I’ll admit to being pleasantly surprised by my subconscious’ ability to tie certain aspects of my story together without much prompting from me, I’m at the point where there are too many loose ends to simply let my fingers fly and hope for the best. I’ve had an idea for how I would like the story to conclude for some time now, but I’m beginning to think that it might not be what’s best for the plot. When your characters refuse to do things, even fun things, like hook up, you know it’s time to sit back and ask yourself, “What am I doing wrong?”
Yesterday, I utilized one of Aaron’s tips for establishing motivation: character sheets. In her book, she suggests noting certain factors for each important player in the story, such as Name, Age, Physical Description, Likes, Hates, and Wants. Since my characters are already established, I skipped Age and Physical Description and went with this list:
Those last two are my own additions. At this point in the story, I’m attempting to keep track of who’s been lying to whom, who is oblivious, and who is secretly privy to sensitive information. It’s a lot to manage, hence the usefulness of things like timelines and character sheets.
What about you? Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in between? Do you have any tried-and-true techniques that keep you from getting and/or staying stuck? Share your wisdom!
All right, time to refill my coffee mug and make a mess on my living room rug.