Saturday, September 10, 2011

Letting Go

So I haven't written in awhile, and since I'm planning to go out this will probably be a short one.

I spent my morning working on my novel.  I'm in that sort of "final revision/editing" stage where I'm not doing much actual substance change, but merely cleaning up typos and tweaking words here and there.  After over a year of writing, I'm almost ready to start sending it out the door.

And this is overwhelming to me.  As a writer, I am bombarded with tales of how difficult it's going to be, how many rejections I'm going to get, how long a haul this will be.  Yet this novel is something precious and me.  These characters live in my head.  I've spent over a year with them now.  I know them better than I know most of my friends.  If I were sane, I'd pick another dream, something easier, something less likely to crush me, something not nearly impossible to achieve.

Yet, as much as I hate hearing these messages of negativity and pessimism over and over again, I understand why they're out there.  Editors and agents get tons of submissions every day, and there are people out there who think they can throw a few words on paper and voila, it's a novel!  Writing fiction, like everything else, is a skill, one that takes time and practice to develop.  I've been writing fiction since I was six or seven years old.  I honestly don't know if I'm any good now.  I believe I can put words together, make them clear and concise.  I believe I can write without an overwhelming number of typos or editorial mistakes.  After spending five years as an editor, I would have been in big trouble if I couldn't.  But as to whether I can bring a story together and have it be interesting, entertaining, and coherent...I still doubt myself some days.

I have worked hard on this book.  I have written and rewritten and reviewed and workshopped and revised and then revised again.  I tried to make this book the best that it could be, the best I could make it.  Whether anyone else will recognize that, I don't know.  I hope so.

But now, there are only two paths left for my fledgling novel: out the door, or back into the bowels of my computer where it will remain forever.  And if I choose to leave it on my hard drive...well, then my dream really will be impossible.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mid-Year Round-Up

Just past the midpoint of the year, I have read 161 books -- approximately 85% of them new reads.

My reading peaked in March, dropping off in the last couple of months.  Why is this?  Busier at work, busier with writing, and -- now that the weather is nicer -- I'm actually trying to get outside more.  Also, I've begun to experience a bit of burnout.  I don't want to read constantly as much as I did before.  Sometimes, I really do just want to watch TV.

Just finished Bloodlust by Michelle Rowen -- awesome contiuation to the Nightshade series.  I've got a literary crush on Declan.

Up next...probably Hammered by Kevin Hearne.  I love the voice of those books.  Urban fantasy can often get really, really dark -- and my work-in-progress is certainly no exception.  But Hearne's books are both action-packed and incredibly funny.  One of my favorite characters is Oberon, the protagonist'  Definitely something to check out if you're looking for something a little different in your urban fantasy.

Recent interesting find: Megan Hart.  Her books are considered romance/erotic, but I don't think that quite fits.  They are erotic, and some are romantic, but they're not ROMANCES, per least not all of them.  They're more character-driven than traditional romance, and certainly more than most erotic fiction.  They're emotional, and can be quite devistating at times.  I was sobbing when I finished Broken about a week or so ago.  Definitely something different, impossible to catagorize.  Be warned: some of her books can be difficult reads.  (I've read three so far, and two definitely meet that standard.)

And my goal for the remainder of the year: I need to check out some new and different stuff altogether.  I still love urban fantasy, but I'm getting harder and harder to impress.  I spent much of 2011 reading romance, and while it's enjoyable, and I've found some romances I really, really's not really my genre.  Overall, I tend to like books with romance in them more than romance books.  I'll probably continue reading romances, but the genre will never own me the way urban fantasy does.  It's also probably not something I'd write myself.  (And if I did, it would involve a lot of blood and death and violence.  I'm really not a very romantic person.) the hell is it July already?  I need a vacation.  In the words of Simon and Garfunkle, "Slow down, you're moving too fast; you've got to make the morning last."  Apply that to a year!  (Though, I'll admit, this is not the year I'd really want to last, anyway.)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

50 things I love about me

About 10 years ago, a friend of mine posted something in her blog, an entry detailing 50 things she loved about herself.  I liked the idea, so I stole it, and since then I've been posting odes to myself periodically -- usually when I'm feeling like I need a pick-me-up.

Now is one of those times.  I've been feeling curiously contemplative of late.  Things are unsettled, on a lot of fronts in my life.  Plus, with my currently chaotic work schedule, both my eating and sleeping habits are suffering -- not a good thing for a girl who needs seven hours a night and regular caloric intake to maintain her equalibrium.

When I did this the first time, I thought it would be fun, a silly little exercise in extolling my own awesomeness.  Girl power, and all that.  Now...self-indulgence?  An excuse for narcissism?  I don't know, except I'm pretty sure I didn't think about it this deeply a decade ago.

But it doesn't matter, not really.  Sometimes, I just need to remind myself that I'm not that bad.  I believe it most of the time, and I fake it really well the rest of the time, but sometimes, I need a reminder.

So here it is:

1. I'm pursuing my dreams (i.e. writing novels), and I've been treating it seriously for about the past year and a half now.

2a. I read a shit-ton of books.

2b. As CC2K's Book Editor, I don't have nearly enough time to write about all the books I read, so I resolved some time ago to make most of my reviews positive rather than negative.  I know that might make some take my opinions less seriously ("That Beth, she likes everything.") but I'd rather build up the books/authors I like than tear down the ones I don't.

3. I am stubborn.  Mules have nothing on me.  It was a trait that got me labeled difficult in childhood, but has served me well as an adult.

4. I will fight for what I believe in.  I try to choose my battles based on what I think is important, not those I think I can win.

5. I trust my intuition.

6. I don't have very many friends, but I'm very loyal to the ones I do have.

7. I really admire my mother, and will tell people so.

8a. I'm unfailingly honest.

8b. I will tell people the truths that maybe they don't want to know, but I try to tell them in a way that won't hurt or upset them too badly.

9. I'm a cheap, and easy to please, date.  Pizza (good pizza, that is), a good movie, a long walk, good conversation, a guy who will give me his jacket if I get cold...makes me a very contented Beth.

10. I really like hot sex scenes in romance novels.  (And non-romance novels, for that matter.)

11. I make really good chocolate chip cookie bars.

12. I got a tattoo, even though no one I knew thought I would get one.  (Partially because no one I knew thought I would get one.)

13. I adopted a cat, even though I was terrified of them.  (Partially because I was terrified of them.)  Now I like Annabel (the aforementioned cat) way better than most of the humans I know.

14. I'll admit it: I love the color of my eyes (very, very blue).

15. I can remember really random facts and details.  I kick ass on trivia games, especially entertainment trivia.  (Managed to flummox my coworkers the other day when I came up with Salieri as the name of Mozart's rival in Amadeus.  Probably would have flummoxed them even more if I mentioned I had never actually seen the movie.)

16. I have resolved never to be anyone's doormat.

17. I love kick-ass heroines in books/movies/TV -- both the kind of heroines who kick ass physically, and the kind of heroines who kick ass because they're really intelligent and strong.  Those are the women I aspire to be like.

18. I laugh a lot.

19. I don't hold grudges.

20a. I don't believe in diet soda.  Diet soda is not healthy, not with all the chemicals and crap in it.  If you're going to drink soda, just own it and drink the regular stuff.  If you want to drink something healthier and with fewer calories, drink water.

20b. I drink regular soda a lot.  I'm a Coke girl.  I know it's unhealthy.  But screw it.  I like it anyway.

21. When I finally saw Titanic all the way through -- about 10 years after it came out -- I thought, "This isn't as bad as I thought it would be...but it needs more sex and violence."

22. My imagination tends to dwell on the dark side, and it's only become worse as I've gotten older.  I don't need monsters in the closet; I create them myself.  I don't think I'm even capable of writing a normal, happy story without death and destruction at this point.

23. I am completely indepedent.  I can -- and do -- take care of myself.

24. Even though I've finally learned to appreciate the appeal of a pretty dress, I still come home at night and immediately change into yoga pants, a t-shirt, and slippers.  (Sometimes, I'll get invited to go out again, and I have to change back.)

25. Sometimes, I'll turn up the music loud ("Come on, Eileen" is always a good choice) and jump up and down around my apartment.  My downstairs neighbors must love me.

26. When I really like a song, I often Google it so I can memorize the lyrics.

27. I'm a strong person.  Not physically -- the average guy (hell, maybe even an average girl) could kick my ass.  But you'd be hard pressed to find someone who could dominate or intimidate me.  And if you did, I'd move heaven and earth to make sure it didn't happen again.

28. I try to live without regrets.

30. I wear my heart on my sleeve.

31. I love kids.

32. There are few things as fascinating to me as an old cemetary.

33. I call myself an agonistic, but I'm not sure that's exactly accurate.  I like to keep my mind open to possibilities.

34. I don't particularly like wearing makeup.

35. Heard this story from my mom: at my first birthday party, I was toddling one, maybe 2 steps at a time.  I saw some of the older kids (i.e. 18 months-2 years) running around.  I jumped up and ran over to catch up with them.  So I literally ran before I could walk.

36. My favorite movie is Harold and Maude, this cult classic from the early 1970s about a suicidal 20-something who develops this friendship with a lively octogenarian.  I can't explain it adaquately, so you should just watch.

37. My conversations tend to be very stream-of-consciousness.

38. I don't own a car.  When I start to get frustrated by how much of a nuisance this is, I just think, "But my carbon footprint totally rocks."

39. I can laugh at myself.  Most of my anecdotes consist of stupid things I've done.

40. I bruise easily.  When I'm bored, I try to invent interesting stories for how I obtained said bruises.

41. I use big words in everyday conversation.  It's not an affectation; it's just the way I've always talked.

42. I am a musical anachronism.  Most of the music I like is 20 years old or better, and was popular long before I came of age.

43. I use sunscreen on my face every day.

44. I'm not afraid to speak my mind.

45. I take my Kindle with me almost everywhere.

46. Sometimes, I really like being alone.

47. I don't take crap from anyone.

48. I've thrown up in public no fewer than three times, and none of those times has ever been because of drunkenness.

49. Forget liking to travel; I like to move.  (To different places, not just different apartments.)

50. I know what I want, and I try my best to work toward it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


There's not much writing advice that I put much stock in, but one piece of advice that I do is this one: know your characters.

I recently read a book that I loved.  One of the revelations the book had to offer was that the two main characters had been engaged in a sexual relationship -- even though they were adopted brother and sister.  Once I turned off my immediate "ick!" reaction (there's something about two people who were raised together -- even if they aren't biologically related -- having sex that immediately stirs that reaction), I realized it made sense for the two characters, and that it also made sense, given the character's personalities and the first-person narration, that it wouldn't have been revealed earlier in the series.  (This was book two of a three-book series.)  Reading the comments on the author's blog regarding that relationship, I realized something: she (the author) didn't seem entirely comfortable with it, either, or at least hadn't been when the story started to go in that direction.  But she took it there because that's what those characters would do, and because it made sense within the story -- knowing full well that it could make people uncomfortable.

It worked well.  At the end of the story, I was still rooting for those characters, still hoping for everything to work out for them.

I've discovered that most of the authors I really, really admire can tell you just about everything about their characters, often right down to what breakfast cereals they prefer and what kinds of pajamas they would wear.  It's not a "genre fiction versus literary fiction" thing, either: contrary to the conceptualization that genre characters are not as well developed as literary fiction characters, I've found genre fiction pieces where the characters are incredibly complex and well-developed.  I've also found literary pieces where the characters seem flat and cliched.  (And vice versa, of course.)  To me, fiction -- whether high-action and plot-heavy, or subtler and more contemplative -- is driven by its characters.  I'll often give stories with lackluster plots a chance if they have engaging characters.  Likewise, I'll give up on fiction that has interesting stories if the characters aren't interesting.  Good characters are often more memorable than the particular twists and turns of the plot.  If we're talking series fiction, strong characters are essential: if I care about what happens to the characters, I'll come back for more.

A lot of writing how-to guides that I've seen suggest things like creating character dossiers or answering pointed questions about your characters.  (If your character was a tree, what type of tree would he/she be?)  For better or worse, I started writing long before I realized how-to guides were even an option (most seven year olds don't spend a lot of time in the self-help section).  At any rate, I'm too set in my ways, writing-wise, to follow such guides.  Maybe they work for some people.  They tend to make me feel like an idiot.  Whatever.  Not like I'm in any sort of position to offer writing advice to anyone.

For me, the getting to know my characters comes from the act of writing the story.  When I started my current work in progress, I had one scene: a young woman wakes up next to a dead man; she knows she killed him, because this has happened before, but she doesn't know why.  At the time, I didn't know why.  I also didn't know what triggered the blackouts she went into when this occurred.  Hell, I didn't even know her name.  Some of these questions were answered very easily, but some of them took 300 pages of writing to figure out.

I've been hanging out with Dale (which is my protagonist's name, but not her real one) for a year now.  I can tell you what breakfast cereal she prefers (Cheerios) and what she wears to bed (t-shirts, often with retro cartoon characters on them, paired with sweats in the winter or boxers in the summer).  She reads a lot of children's books and fantasy, light and escapist.  She watches a lot of old movies, and listens to a lot of old music.  She picked out her current alias -- Dale Highland -- because the last movie she had seen was Flash Gordon, and the last book she had read was Outlander.  She doesn't believe in using aliases like "Jane Doe" or "Jennifer Smith," because she thinks they're too obvious.  She hates wearing makeup, but she'll do it because she often has to change what she looks like.  She's not evil or crazy, but she thinks she might be.

I'm close.  It kind of hit me last night.  I'm working on cleaning up the climactic scene, and then there's one more scene I want to go back and do some major tweaks on -- mostly adding some stuff, because it wasn't quite as sensory as I wanted it to be.  (In other words, it needed more heat.)  Then a final read-through of the whole thing for consistency and continuity.  And then...and then I'm going to take a deep breath and start submitting.

After that, I probably won't talk about this project much anymore, unless there's news.  I don't want to jinx anything.
I've heard that writing for publication is not for the faint of heart.  I'm trying not to be.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mr. Blue Sky, please tell us why, you had to hide away for so long!

Finally feeling like I'm getting back into the revision groove.  A couple of weeks of taking a break/working on another piece have helped significantly.  I've also passed page 100 in the draft, which means I'm more than 1/3rd of the way through the full go-through (at least, go through the first.)

What helped me most, though, was sending the draft to someone--a woman who has been in my writing workshop several times, but she and I will be in different sessions this term--and having to explain to her what will be changing from this draft to final.  And when I put it all down in words like that, I was like, "Oh, wait, this isn't that bad.  I can do this."

What I am not happy about are these annoying, gnat-like insects that have made their way into my apartment, again.  I don't know what they are--gnats, probably--but I had the same problem last year, and cleanliness (or lack thereof) doesn't seem to matter to them.  My theory is that they come in through the window, because they're small and I only seem to notice them after I've had the window open (which I did this afternoon), and because they always seem to hang out by the window.  (Although one adventureous gnat has wandered over to bug me while I'm writing--which is how I discovered they're back.)  But it's weird--I'm on the 11th floor, and I thought bugs generally stayed closer to the ground.  Bug spray kills them good n' dead, but they come back periodically.  It annoys me, and I wish I knew how to get rid of them.

But I sprayed them dead for now, and I am ready for bed.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

April: A Month in Review

Holy shit, it's May!  How the heck did that happen?  Just a second ago, I was happily proclaiming that it was April, and now...May!  Time flies when you're having fun, or something like that.  Though in actuality, I'd like time to stand still for awhile, or save time in a bottle, as the Jim Croce song says.  But that is neither here nor there, and not something I want to talk about on this blog--or at least, not in a month-in-review post.

Anyway...the best thing about April, other than warmer weather, was all the BOOKS!  Not just quantity, but quality.  I read so many books that often, at the end of the month, they all seem to blend together and I can't think of what books I'd like to talk about.  This month, not so much.

Nightshade by Michelle Rowen was absolutely wonderful.  It focused on Jill, an aimless office temp, who is caught in a Mexican standoff of sorts and injected with a formula that makes her blood posionous to vampires...and yet irresistible.  Afterward, she is kidnapped by Declan, a half-vampire/half-human hybrid who suppresses his "evil" vampire side (i.e. his emotions) with a serum, and is horribly scarred from his years of battling vampires.

This year, I've been reading fewer and fewer urban fantasies, eschewing them in favor of romance.  I read so many of them in 2009 and 2010 that I started to feel a sense of "been there, done that," that maybe I had already experienced everything that could be explored in urban fantasy.  This book reminded me of why I fell in love with the genre in the first place.  Jill is swept up into this world she knows nothing about (vampires' existences are secret to the general population), and her kidnappers--Declan's employer/foster father--frequently take advange of her ignorance to manipulate and use her.  But as the book progresses, we get to see that Declan's as much a victim as she is, which sets up an interesting parallel between them.  Much as I enjoyed Jill's character, it was Declan I really fell lin love with.  He grew a lot as a character in this book; his beliefs and worldview are shaken to the very core.  It doesn't hurt that tortured heroes are very, very sexy!

Nightshade has everything I love in fiction: a heroine who remains strong and determined in spite of everything that happens to her, a hero who grows and evolves just as much as she does, and a plot that kept me on my toes.  I can't wait until the sequel, Nightshade, is released in July.

The other book I want to highlight for April, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, is also from a genre I have backed away from: young adult.  Now, my reasons for backing away from YA are a lot different than my reasons for backing away from urban fantasy.  With urban fantasy, I still love it, but I just felt like I wanted to read some different stuff for awhile.  With YA, I made a conscious decision to stop reading it as much.  It had started to depress me; I was tired of reading about heroines who were 16 years old.  Don't grown-up women in fiction have adventures, too, I wondered.  It was that wondering that brought me to urban fantasy in the first place.

But I never gave up YA completely.  There were always books that stuck out, books that lingered in my memory long after I read them.  Forman's If I Stay was one of them.  The protagonist, Mia, is involved in a horrible car accident that kills her family and leaves her comatose.  Told primarily through flashbacks of Mia's life, Mia must make a decision: to stay and live, or go.

Where She Went picks up three years after If I Stay, and is told from the perspective of Mia's high school boyfriend, Adam.  No one dies here, but in its own way Where She Went is just as harrowing as its predecesor.  It's a fantastic book, and it answered all the lingering questions I had after If I Stay and then some.  It was one of those cases where, although a sequel might not have been necessary, it certainly added to the story.

And in writing-related news, I hit a bit of a wall with my revisions, as I already talked about.  It's not surprising, really.  First of all, I've been hanging out with these characters for almost a year now; my brain needs a break!  Second, I just got...overwhelmed, I think.  Revising over 300 pages of prose is not an easy task, and I started to feel like it would never be done.  Plus, I've discovered that it's much harder to discipline myself to write in the evening than it is to write in the morning--especially when that "writing" is actually "revision," which isn't as much fun to me.  I am considering--though I haven't decided yet--whether I should just start getting up earlier in the morning (say, 4:00 or 4:30) and writing in the morning.  Problem is, I'm not a morning person, and getting up at 5:45 or 6:00 is hard enough!  I'm not sure my brain would be awake enough to even write in English, at that point.

Other option is just trying to up the self-discipline.  Set aside a time, turn off the ringer on my phone, unplug my internet cable, and just go at it.  Unfortunately, self-discipline has never really been my thing.  So we'll see.

The good news is, I think I've gone over the hump on revision.  I sent someone in my writing workshop (which, unfortunately, I won't be attending this term--I switched to another day) the complete draft of my story.  As I did, I wrote an e-mail saying, "These are the big things that I need to change."  As I went through it, I realized it wasn't as bad as I thought.  There are four important scenes that need to be either rewritten or added to, two for content and two for excitement.  The rest is just minor tweaking based on what I did in those scenes.  Four scenes.  That's all.  I can do it!  (Where's Tony Little when you need him?)

And that, my friends, was April.  I resolve, in May, to blog more frequently.  We'll see how that goes.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bitching and moaning about revision (what else?)

As I have mentioned before--several times--the revision fairy is not kind to me.

I love first drafting.  It's free and spontaneous and fun.  Revision is like pulling teeth.

I am approximately 1/4th of the way through my first round of revisions of my novel.  My goal is to start submitting it to agents/publishers by June.  I am...not even close.  My new work schedule has been hard to adjust to; it was easier, for me, writing between 7 and 9 am than it is writing between 7 and 9 pm.  There are a lot of changes to be made.  A few of them are minor things, but a few of them actually change the story somewhat (primarily, the relationship dynamic between the hero and heroine).  I'm moving stuff around, so I have to remember to take it out of the story later.

But what's really frustrating about this is that I don't feel anywhere close to FINISHING.  I don't even feel like I'm making any progress.  Back when I finished the first draft on December 31, I had a complete novel.  It may not have been perfect, but it was a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  What I have now feels more like...Swiss cheese.

I think I need a new plan of attack.  The hitting things up in order worked for awhile, but it's not helping anymore.  So I'm going to send the latest draft to my Kindle, read it again, and figure out the "big things" I need to change.  I'll hit those scenes first.  Then I'll go back through again and make little tweaks: continuity errors, repetitiveness, etc.  The frustrating thing right now is that I know where I want to go (kind of), but I feel like I'm not getting there.

I also, probably, need to rotate my revision with some new first drafting.  I had always intended to do that, but haven't managed to sustain it thus far.  It's hard for me because I suck at multi-tasking.  When my mind is on one project, it's hard to switch over to another.  I think it's the same type of limitation that makes it difficult for me to write stories out of order, no matter how much that intense climax scene is poking at my brain when I'm only 20 pages in.  I'm right-brain dominant, but my left brain is kind of a pest and won't leave me alone unless I do all that silly creative stuff HER way.  But I think breaking up the monotony with some new characters and new worlds will help; I have spent almost a year nonstop with my current crop of homocidal (but loveable) freaks!  I've had some ideas bouncing around in my head recently, so maybe a little bit of writing just for writing's sake will help me out.

Last week, one of my favorite writers, Carolyn Crane, posted a blog entry with writer Layla Messner about having a preference for first drafting or revisions.  Layla, like me, was in the first drafting camp, while Carolyn strongly prefers revisions.   She says that she imagines there's a "hidden perfect story" within the first draft, which she's getting closer and closer to finding.

I think that's my problem right now: I feel farther away from an end point than I did when I finished the first draft!  Maybe because "the end" of revisions is a lot harder to define than the end of a first draft.

To top it off, my back is killing me at the moment.  Not the kind of debilitating pain that prevents me from moving, but the kind of annoying pain that just makes things difficult.  The last time I strained my back like this was last August, when I made the mistake of trying to carry a shoulder back with a computer and a weekend's worth of clothes with me while walking to work (a 25-minute walk).  But I can't figure out what caused it this time...though I'm sure sitting in yoga-like positions on desk chairs (a bad habit I developed in high school and never managed to break) probably doesn't help.  So yeah, it's just annoying and making me a bit irritable.  Painkillers and I don't get along very well, either.  Rather than killing pain, anything opiate-based tends to make me look and feel like I'm auditioning for a role in a remake of The Exorcist.  No fun.

So for now...I will go re-read my manuscript, again, and I'll figure out how to approach my revisions, again.  And hoepfully by Monday I'll be feeling better, mentally and physically.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The first cut is the deepest

Why is it that we remember criticism so much better than compliments?

Seriously, I think it must be hardwired into our DNA--at least, for those of us who aren't raging narcissists.  Once, a boy told a friend of mine that I looked like I was on drugs, because the circles under my eyes were so dark, and that I looked like I was pregnant because my lower stomach--the area I not-so-affectionally refer to as my "pooch"--stuck out.  I was 11 and in the sixth grade at the time.  He was the same age.  To this day, the first thing I do when I put on makeup in the morning is slather concealer under my eyes.  As for the pooch...well, given that every single woman in my family has one of those, there's not a hell of a lot I can do about it.  Even with crunches and some junk food cutbacks, it'd still be there.  It's how I'm built.  (For the record, I'm a size 6.  I'm actually proportioned smaller on the bottom than on the top.  But I've still got a pooch.  I don't like wearing short shirts.  I'm self-conscious in flat-paneled skirts.  All because some middle school-aged jackass made a snide comment 16 years ago.

Let's just pretend I had a whole entry here.  Then let's say that I decided not to post it, because this blog is published under my real name and there are certain things about me that probably should not be Googleable.  The gist is this: I got a criticism recently, levied in such a way that I believe the person was trying to make me look bad, or at least being incredibly passive-aggressive.  I think the criticism itself was overly nitpicky and unfair, and I received plenty of positive responses that should have offset this criticism.  But it doesn't.  I'm hurt and self-doubting, and I feel really deflated right now.  I don't like those emotions, but I can't really do anything about them.  So I'll do the next best thing: I'll transmute them into anger (or at least pretend that's what they are).

So, to the person whom this entry concerns:

Go fuck yourself.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

March: A Month in Review (featuring The Write Stuff)

Yeah, I know, it's already the 10th of April.  Sue me.  I've been quite busy with my new job, running around like crazy, and trying to get back into the revision groove so that I can have my novel ready to query by June.

The big thing for me in March, other than the new job, was attending the Write Stuff Conference, sponsored by the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers' Guild, from March 25-26.  The conference was fantastic and amazing, and I had a great time.  I got to meet some amazing people. 

I won The Siren by Kiera Cass as a door prize, and I read it on the bus ride home.  It was fantastic, a very sweet, odd little story about a siren who falls in love with a human, but she literally can't speak to him because her voice will lure him to drown himself in the ocean.  Coincidentally, I also got to meet and speak to Kiera pretty extensively during the conference.  We discovered that we're both "texture eaters" when we both ordered plain burgers and soda with no ice.  Kiera is the author of the upcoming YA novel, The Selection, coming in summer 2012, and I'm really, really looking forward to reading it.  I also met Sara Davison; I just got her book, The Watcher, in the mail, and I'll be reading it later this month.  Got some autographed books from YA author Cyn Balog, which I'll be giving away on CC2K soon.

The best part was meeting so many writers in all stages of their careers.  A few years ago, that would have really intimidated me, would have given me a bit of a complex about my lack of accomplishment, but now, it was more like, "Well, obviously someone is getting published, so why not me?"  I think I have more faith in my writing and my abilities than I did the last time I went to the conference (in 2007).  I look back on where I was in my writing in 2007, and where I am now, and the difference is night and day.  Not only am I writing more, and more consistently, but I also believe in myself a lot more.

I still have some stuff to work on.  I still don't do particularly well in crowds, still have trouble introducing myself to people I don't know.  I was still intimidated by the prospect of approaching editors and agents and trying to "sell" myself.  I have trouble pitching my story.  How do I explain it in 50 words or less?  Instead of focusing on all the cool stuff, I end up going, "Uh, uh, it's about demons, and, uh, stuff?"  Yeah, real impressive.

Agent Donald Maass was our keynote speaker, talking about the direction of fiction in the 21st century.  One of his arguments was that genre lines are disappearing, that no longer will fiction stick to the strict boundaries of genre.  Instead, fiction readers of the future will be more concerned with getting a great story with great writing, mixing the elements of literary and commercial fiction (great writing, exciting plot).  Genres will mix and weave and blend.  And we're already seeing this: paranormal romance, urban fantasy, romantic suspense, etc., all have elements of genre mixing.  (Shortly after I came back, as if just to confirm this, I read a paranormal steampunk western romance--Wilder's Mate by Moira Rogers, to be specific.)

And that, my friends, was March.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fake it 'til you make it.

Just a quick entry, because I'm tired, but I wanted to share.  Lookee what I got for the conference I'm going to this weekend:

My new business card!  Behold the prettiness.

(On a slightly unrelated note: I covered up the right portion of the card with my thumb, because I really don't want my address and phone number going out over the entire internet.  But now I can't stop staring at my thumb.  Is it really that ugly?  My nails are pretty ragged and bitten at the moment, and God knows it's been months since I had a manicure, but sheesh!  Also, why do I have those weird little divots in my nail?  I suspect the chronic nail biting and the freaky-ass nail texture are interrelated.)

So this might seem a bit odd, given my recent post whining about self-doubt, but it's all kind of related.  On the one hand, I wonder if I'm being arrogant, tooting my own horn when there isn't anything to toot about.  I used to hate people who would talk about their writing as if they were already on the New York Times bestseller list.  I, meanwhile, kept hidden in a corner somewhere, afraid people wouldn't take me seriously when I told them I wanted to be a writer.  (It was a legitimate fear: they often didn't.)  I was afraid people would tell me I wasn't good enough.

I'm still afraid, and I still worry that I look arrogant.  Maybe I do.  But I'm trying not to care.  After all, if I don't believe in myself, who will?  And even if I don't really have the confidence I want to have, I'll just fake it for awhile until I do.

Now...let's hope I can take that feigned confidence and use it to actually talk to people I might want to give my business card to at this conference.  But that, my friends, is a completely different story.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Revision Angst

It took me six months to write the first draft of my novel.

Now, three months into the revision process, I feel like I'm going nowhere.

I'm trying to go through the story in order, hoping it'll feel less overwhelming that way.  I'm on page 64...of 309.

Yeah.  So much for that.

There are some reasons for my slowness, besides just the general ickiness of the revision process for me.  Between traveling and Sex Week, February was kind of a wash for me.  And I just started a new job (at the beginning of last week, actually), which meant that for several weeks before that, my mornings--which I had normally been spending on writing stuff--had been spent doing fun stuff like getting those damn dental appointments out of the way.  (On a side note: getting crowns--not fun!)  My new job requires me to get in by 7:30.  The good news is that I'm usually out by 4:00.  The bad news is that I have to be awake, showered, dressed, and out the door by the time I was previously stumbling out of bed.  Daylight Savings Time also hit this week, which means that I was actually getting up two hours earlier than I was used to.  The rapid schedule change gave me an on-and-off headache that lasted up until yesterday.  As such, I spent most of my non-work hours last week...well, sleeping.  I haven't reoriented myself to write at night yet.

I know.  Excuses excuses.

But I need to try to look on the bright side.  The two complete read-throughs I've received so far have really helped me see where I need to go and what I need to do.  I think I have a good sense of the characters and the direction of the story now.  And the stuff I've revised and workshopped thus far has been getting really good feedback, so I think I'm going in the right direction.

Still, it's hard not to feel overwhelmed, knowing I'm only a fifth of the way into the book and that the scenes that are likely to be hardest to revise are yet in front of me.

About a year and a half ago, I decided to stop treating my fiction writing as a hobby and start treating it like a career.  After years of writing, reading, and, more recently, blog-stalking reading some of the online wisdom of my favorite authors, I realized that the only one keeping me from pursuing a writing career...was me.  I could make all the excuses in the world: I don't have time to write, I'm not good enough, it's not a "real" career, you'll never make money that way, etc.  A lot of it was fear talking.  Well, fear and all those sad people I've met in my life who don't believe in dreams.  (And unfortunately, there are a lot of them out there.  I'd say, in my ever-so-cynical realistic worldview, the vast majority of people don't believe in dreams by middle adulthood.  And many of them, despairing their own disillusionment, like nothing more than killing other people's dreams.)  But I decided to say, "Fuck it all!" and not be a quitter.  It may never happen for me.  But at least I won't wonder, "What if?"

That said, it's hard to channel the Pollyannish optimism I need when, three months into my revisions, I feel like I'm getting nowhere.  The worst of it is that I haven't even gotten to the hard part of the process!  Forget revision, which is a pain in the ass for me, but still very much within my own personal control.  Soon enough, I'll be sending this poor little novel that I've worked so hard on out into the world.  I'll be writing query letters and synopses and flooding the post office with self-addressed, stamped envelopes.  And I know what'll come after that: rejection.  I got plenty of them even when I was treating writing as more of a hobby than a career.  What I will likely get in the future will make the angst I felt then look like a day at Disney World in comparison.

I'm not being pessimistic.  I'm trying to be realistic, to brace myself for the inevitable.  Sure, I'd love to be one of those authors who gets multi-million dollar, multi-book deals on their first sales, but I'm a nobody from nowhere, and I don't have that kind of luck. 

You see, this can-do, fuck-it-all attitude of mine is a relatively new thing for me.  Most of my life, my attitude has been more like, "When the going gets tough, give up."  I'd like to think the new worldview is a sign of maturity and personal growth.  Of course, it also hasn't been tested much yet, and old habits die hard.

I believe I can do this.  It will take time.  It will also take patience and a thick skin--neither of which are personal strengths.

I believe I can do this.  But I have to keep going.  So tonight, having whined myself out, I'll go to bed at a reasonable hour, wake up all refreshed, and go to work in the morning.  Then, when I come home, I'll put in a couple of hours of revising time before dinner.

I believe I can do this.  I just can't let my doubts get in the way anymore.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What type of book am I?


You Are Fantasy / Sci Fi

You have an amazing imagination, and in your mind, all things are possible.

You are open minded, and you find the future exciting. You crave novelty and progress.

Compared to most people, you are quirky and even a bit eccentric. You have some wacky ideas.

And while you may be a bit off the wall, there's no denying how insightful and creative you are.

Real blog post coming soon. Between starting a new job, and fighting off a headache this weekend, I've been a bit off.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why I like my cat better than most people

I am Annabel. Revel in my cuteness.
So, in the tradition of extraordinarily self-indulgent blog posts, I've decided to do a posting about something very near and dear to my heart: my cat, Annabel Lee.  (At the shelter, she was called Annabelle, but, being the morbid type that I am, I decided to name her after an Edgar Allan Poe poem about a dead girl.)
I adopted Annabel Lee from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington on September 12, 2010.  She was, at the time of her adoption, approximately six years old, and she had been taken into the shelter as a stray.  She's very well socialized.  She doesn't scratch or bite or chew on odd things or fail to make it to the litterbox.  I suspect that she had an owner, and the owner, rather than taking her to a shelter, dumped her out.  This infuriates me.  It's not the first time I've heard of something like this happening.

My friends, family, and coworkers were shocked that I adopted a cat because, up until that point, I had been terrified of cats.  I was attacked by two cats a few years ago--not strays, but house pets.  For years after that, I couldn't stand to be in the same room as a cat.  But I wanted a pet, and a dog simply wouldn't work with my schedule.  Plus, I couldn't stand the idea of being ruled by fear.  (It's the same reason I often volunteer to rent cars and drive in strange cities, even though I'm terrified of driving.)  So adopting a cat it was, even though I practically broke out in a cold sweat at the shelter.  I had read Annabel's profile online, and I thought her gentle disposition would be a good match for me.  (And just as a side note, the shelter staff was extraordinarily understanding when I told them that I wanted a gentle, easygoing cat, and I explained my fears.  I honestly thought they'd look at me like I was nuts and kick me out.)

Who, me?
The shelter staff brought Annabel out, warning me that she was often shy at first.  She came up to me, rubbed against my hand, started purring, and attempted to nuzzle my face.  I was hooked.

To be fair, I still, if asked, wouldn't call myself a "cat" person--in no small part because that label annoys the hell out of me.  I think people try to use whether you're a "cat" person or a "dog" person to say something about your personality, and I enjoy nothing more than defying such easy catagorization.  Also, I don't think it's fair.  Cat person, dog person, bird person, not-an-animal person, whatever.  So long as you're not kicking puppies or drowing kittens (or dumping them out on the side of the road when you decide you don't want them anymore), it's all good.

But I also wouldn't call myself a cat person because I'm still not comfortable with other people's cats.  It's not the bone-shaking fear of a few years ago, but more like...a healthy, wary respect.  I stay out of their way, and they stay out of mine.  Cats are, from what I understand, territorial creatures.  As am I.  I love Annabel not because she's a cat, but because she's my cat.

Which kind of brings me to the subject of this entry: why I like Annabel better than most people.

I am deeply cynical about the human race.  As a former extrovert who became a jaded introvert at a very early age, I find myself constantly on guard around people.  Most people are inherently self-serving; I'm certainly no exception.  If you're lucky, you'll have a few people in your life who will have your back.  But in most cases, what you'll find is that people are "fair weather friends."  Sure, they're there when things are easy and fun, but when things get more difficult...not so much.  There's nothing wrong with that, really.  Some people you're just not as close to, and you drift apart.

I have very little use for fair weather friends.  It's one thing to not be as close to someone, it's another to feign closeness when it doesn't really exist.  It's why I don't consider myself "close" to many people.

Furthermore, people always have their own agendas.  I work in an office.  Office politics are brutal.  I've seen some things go down recently that just enrage me...moreso, because my actions were the catalyst of some of these things.  I love how people can be all nice to your face, and then turn around and stab you in the back.  Why bother?  I mean, if you're going to take someone down, at least be straight about it.

Annabel likes to expand her mind by reading books and
watching soap operas.
Which brings me back to Annabel.  There is a complete and utter lack of artifice there.  She's a cat; what would she need artifice for?  When she's happy, she purrs and nuzzles me.  When she's unhappy, she snaps at me.  (Though she's rarely unhappy; she's quite the contented cat.)  When she doesn't want to be petted but she's willing to indulge me, she makes this noise that is the cat equivalent to an "ungh" with an eye roll.  When she's hungry or wants attention, she meows.  When she's near me and doesn't feel I'm paying her sufficient attention, she'll nudge her head/paw/body in between me and my Kindle/my computer/my iPhone until I pet her.  There's a delicious amount of selfishness to her behavior.  She wants what she wants.  She shows me what she wants.  I give it to her, or I don't.  (If she's trying to get me to pet her while I'm doing work, for example, I may not satisfy her desire.)  She gets happier, or she jumps off the couch or bed and moves on to something else.

She doesn't pretend to be happy when she's not.  She doesn't act nice to my face and then say things behind my back.  She isn't conspiring to "get" me.  I feed her and give her clean litter.  She sleeps on my chest and purrs in my ear.  It's a very straightforward relationship.  I don't have to feel constantly on my guard, listening to all the things she doesn't say or reading between the lines.

She doesn't hold grudges.  When I was away for a few days at Christmas, I had a friend come to feed her rather than putting her in a kennel.  When I came home, my normally docile Annabel ran into my lap and started going crazy nuzzling and head-butting me.  You'd have thought I was gone a month!  For weeks afterwards, Annabel would follow me all around the apartment.  She'd meow plaintively outside the door when I went into the bathroom.  I had to keep pushing her off my lap when I needed to work.  A human would have been angry that I left.  Annabel was just happy that I came back.

There are very few humans in this world with whom I feel I can totally let down my guard.  It's the constant back-and-forth, the dance of conversation, of interaction.  But with is what it is.  She is a reasonably content house cat, and I am an oft-grumpy human who sometimes prefers to lock herself away in her apartment with her Kindle than interacting with the rest of the world.  We dig each other.  It works for us.

Friday, March 4, 2011

February: A Month in Review

February was...well, February was a crazy month.  I didn't post much, because I was crazy busy with Sex Week for a big chunk of it (which was awesome, by the way).  And then afterwards...well, afterwards, I pretty much just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep for a month.  I swear, my sleep rhythms are still recovering.

I read 30 books in February.  How the hell did I manage to read 30 books in 28 days, you ask?  Three things: 1) I read really, really fast, 2) I don't watch much TV, and 3) I have a very limited social life.  The latter is by choice, I swear.  I have friends, and I have opportunities to go out.  But...well, I think the best way to describe myself is as an introvert who was born an extrovert.  I was the kid who would walk up to anyone and everyone and start a conversation.  The "don't talk to strangers" conversation must have been a nightmare for my parents.  Then I got into school and spent the next 10 or so years of my life being ostracized by my peers.  I moved around quite a bit growing up.  I went to three different middle schools, and then high school in yet another state.  Still, I was always the "weird" kid, and--after realizing that no amount of wishful thinking on my part was going to change it--I embraced it.  I eventually made some friends, and spent four years of high school in the same place, but my deep-seeded mistrust of humanity remains.  I can talk to people.  I'm told I come off as confident, outgoing, and assertive.  But when I get off of work at the end of the day, I'd often much rather curl up with my Kindle than deal with other people.  And I've been feeling particularly reclusive this month.

That said, February hasn't been a bad month for me.  I got hired for a new job, which I am greatly looking forward to.  It'll move me into a different field--training--and allow me more opportunities for traveling.  I start on March 14, and I've got a crapload of stuff to do before then.  Since I'll be working with people more, I think I need to go out and buy grown-up clothes.  Since I'll be standing up in front of a class all day, I think I'll need to buy some sensible shoes.  (All my dress shoes have heels, and I cannot stand in those things for extended periods of time.  I know.  I've tried.)  I know I have some grown-up clothes somewhere (a few, at least), so I need to clean out my closet to see what I have and what I should throw away.  Within the next week, I'm heading for the dentist and the veterinarian--though not at the same time, and not for the same reason.  I need to get a haircut.  And dammit, tomorrow I'm going to eat ice cream...and see a movie!

Anyway...I digress.  This blog is, primarily, about writing and reading.  And as you can tell, it's been a busy month.

Book series that I just discovered (and wondered why I was so late to the party): The Downside Ghosts series by Stacia Kane.  Oh my God.  These books are friggin awesome.  I've heard the description "dark urban fantasy" used before, and I didn't know what it meant exactly...until I read these books.  Urban fantasy is not a light genre anyway, but these books make many of the other urban fantasies I've read look like children's cartoons in comparison.  The heroine, Chess, is a drug addict trying to escape the demons of her past (namely being abused and molested by her foster families).  The male lead, Terrible, is an enforcer for the drug dealer/pimp/mob boss who raised him.  Their world is an unnerving, dystopic combination of Puritan New England and Poltergeist: 20-odd years earlier, ghosts invaded the world, angry and hungry and wanting nothing more than to feed on human life force.  An athiestic church emerged and forced the ghosts into an underground city.  Now, everyone knows the city is where you go when you die.  There's no God, but there is an eternity of hunger trapped in an underground city.  Most people think it sounds wonderful.  Chess thinks it sounds like hell.  I'm inclined to agree.  All other religions have become obsolete, and there is only the Church.  If you don't agree with them, don't follow their rules...well, let's just say they've resurrected stockades and public executions.  Chess works as a debunker for the Church, investigating ghosts sightings and (hopefully) proving them false.  (The Church doesn't much like real hauntings, since they have to pay the victims mucho dinero for failing to protect them from the ghosts.)  The Church is the only place where she's felt accepted, yet she hides herself, knowing if her drug addiction is revealed, she'll be punished and exiled.

See?  Bleak.

I was worried I wouldn't like the protagonist when I heard that she was a drug addict.  Yet I found myself rooting for her more and more.  Yes, Chess is an addict.  She's often preoccupied with getting her next fix, and this addiction is often used against her by others (as blackmail fodder, mostly).  She also lies constantly, usually to cover her own ass and hide said addiction.  But there are reasons she's so incredibly fucked up.  And she genuinely tries to do the right thing, even if she screws up as often as she succeeds.  In spite of everything, she really does want to help people.  What I loved about Chess and Terrible is that they're fighters.  In spite of everything that's happened to them, in spite of the craptastic world around them, they fight--for themselves, each other, and for the world.  They are beaten but not broken, and I love that about them. 

These books were awesome, and I can't wait until book 4 (which, sadly, I think is not being released until September, and I can't even find comfirmation of that).  They are dark, and they definitely fall into that "morally ambiguous" area some people hate.  But if that works for you, read them now!

Old friends who came to visit: Jeaniene Frost's This Side of the Grave came out this month.  The Night Huntress (Cat/Bones) series was one of the first urban fantasies I read, and I was instantly hooked.  Five books into the series, the dynamic between Cat and Bones feels a bit different than it did in Halfway to the Grave, as well it should: it's been seven years since they met, and Cat has matured a lot.  One of the things I love about these books is that she didn't stop the story at their "happily ever after."  Instead, Frost portrays a couple in a committed, long-term relationship--one that still has ups and downs.  Things are a bit more stable for them than they were in the last book, Destined for an Early Grave.  They're an "old married couple" now.  Yet they're still hot.  They still have the kind of sex that makes me both titillated and jealous.  (Kelley Armstrong also does a fantastic job with this in her Women of the Otherworld series, especially with Elena and Clay.)

The action is not as intense here as it has been in some of the previous installments, but it was also the most emotional of the series for me in a lot of ways.  It felt like a transitional book.  In the last book, Cat finally decided to leave her half-human status behind for good and convert into a vampire; in this book, she's still struggling to adjust to her newfound abilities and lifestyle.  But in a symbolic way, it felt like this book was where Cat said goodbye to her human life, and the things that tied her to it, for good.

But it was also, oddly enough, probably the funniest of the series.  The side characters, especially, had me in stitches.  Vlad was awesome, and now that I've heard Frost is going to do a spinoff starring him, I can't wait.  Meanwhile, another old favorite who I've been wondering about made an appearance: Timmie, Cat's college neighbor and friend.  (And thank goodness, too!  I've been waiting for him to show up again for four books now!)

So while I'm a little sad to say goodbye to half-human Cat, not-quite-dead vampire Cat seems like she'll have some interesting adventures in the future.  And Bones is...Bones.  I love him.  I love the series.  And I'll be anxiously awaiting book 6.

And now, it's March.  The winter is almost over, spring is creeping in, and I couldn't be happier.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Anatomy of a Sex Scene, Part 1: The Setup

Last week, I posted an article for CC2K's Sex Week arguing that romance novels are often used for the same type of sexual release in women that pornography is used for in men.  In preparation for that article--and honestly, also because it was fun--I read a lot of romances.   Seriously.  Take a look at the books I've read since January 1; I'd say about 75% of them are romances--as in, they may have other factors (paranormal, usually, because this is me), but they're primarily romance.  Of the rest, almost all of them have some kind of romantic subplot.  Hell, I think the only book I've read in the past few months that didn't have a sex scene was Clockwork Angel, and that's only because it's YA!

So it makes sense that I've been thinking a lot about sex scenes, both as a reader and as a writer.

Within the romance world, sex scenes come in all shapes and sizes (whoa, bad pun).  You have the Jane Austen-esque novels that don't show anything at all.  (Did anyone even kiss in a Jane Austen novel?  Much as I love Jane Austen, there's some definite sexual repression going on there.)  You have the Nicholas Sparks-type novels where you might get a sex scene or two, but they're...tasteful.  Discreet.  Imagine the written equivalent of a PG-13 movie.  It's enough that you know what's going on, but not enough to really be enticing.  Then there are sex scenes that are quite graphic and descriptive.  The level of descriptiveness can definitely vary a lot.  I've been going a bit off the beaten path with my book selections these last few months, so I've read some sex scenes that have definitely pushed my own personal boundaries.  But I've also realized that the boundaries between romance and erotica are becoming murkier all the time.

If we're sticking to non-erotica romance, and you wanted to rank, on a scale of 1-10, the hotness factor of sex scenes...J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series would be a 10.  (And, just for the sake of honesty: yes, I am jonesing at the moment.  Lover Unleashed, the ninth book in the series, will be released at the end of March.  I'm psyched about this one, because for the first time in the series, it's the female character we've been following for several books, not the male.)

I love BDB.  It would be so easy to dismiss these books as a guilty pleasure, because they're romances about vampire warriors and the women who love them, but the truth is Ward does her work extremely well.  She's created this incredibly complex world with incredibly vivid characters.  Whereas other paranormal romance series may only be loosely related to one another, BDB has an ongoing, overarching plot.  Although the "main couple" is the focus of the book, side characters and plots are always integral to the story, especially as the series has developed and the world has grown.

Ward's sex scenes are incredibly hot.  Yet they're all incredibly different, always an outgrowth of the characters being featured and their relationship.  For example (spoilers ahead):

--In Lover Eternal, Rhage fears he'll never be able to really "give" himself to Mary because whenever he gets close to her, the beast that lurks within him awakens.  (He's afraid he'll shape-shift into the beast and eat her.  I'm sure there's something deeply Freudian about that.)  So ultimately, Mary proposes he has himself chained to a bed so that she can see if she's able to take him without the beast appearing.  Their relationship has been, up to this point, very loving and tender.  Mary seems fairly inexperienced, and Rhage is quite protective of her.  It's not surprising that she's kind of freaked out when she sees him chained to the bed (versus thinking it's kinda cool and kinky), but that she tries to tough through it...or that, when Rhage realizes how nervous she is, he kisses her and performs oral sex on her until she has orgasmed and is more comfortable.

On the other hand...

--In Lover Unbound, Vishous is definitely into S&M, as a dominant who very much gets off on control.  In life, he's smart, cunning, and ruthless.  When Jane enters his world, she's one of the few people who is able, and willing, to go toe-to-toe with him.  When Vishous takes Jane back to his apartment and allows her to take him--becoming, for once, the submissive partner, it's an incredible moment.  Yes, having Vishous bound and gagged is very kinky, but the important thing is that he's giving her control--something he had always clung to, prided himself in.  He's giving himself to her.  And though Jane's a little overwhelmed by his Dungeons R' Us setup at first, she quickly finds herself getting into the action.

End spoilers.

So there you go.  Both of these involve someone being tied up. But they both evoke different reactions from the characters.  (Afterwards, Mary indicates she doesn't want to repeat the experience, whereas Vishious and Jane are later shown much enjoying their games of dominance and submission.)  And both scenes make perfect sense in the context of these books, and these relationships.

I could probably go through and describe sex scenes from each of the eight books, just from memory.  They're all very different--who knew you could have sex so many different ways?  But sex scenes in fiction aren't just about positions or fetishes.  Instead, they're about characters and feelings--which is why I argued that romance novels are often more effective as sexual releases for women than porn.  It's harder, if not impossible, for us to separate the sex from the feelings, and from that particular relationship, whatever it may be.

There is one somewhat graphic sex scene in my WIP.  On my scale of hotness (a 1, just for the sake of argument, being Nicholas Sparks), it would probably be about a 6 or a 7.  But as I'm going through my revisions, I'm not quite happy with it.  It's tender and soft and kind of poignant...but that doesn't make sense in the context of these characters.  These are two people who were crazily attracted to one another on first sight...but also hated one another.  Their dynamic is hard and contentious and lustful--even moreso now that I'm doing revisions.  Two people who don't like each other much (or like each other more than they'd want to admit) and don't trust each other might have sex.  But they wouldn't have soft, sweet, "lovemaking" kind of sex.  No!  It'll be hard and rough.  It might even be a bit violent.  And it'll also be crazy hot.  6 or 7?  I've got to crank that up to about an 8.5 or more!

But, as I said, it's all about the relationship.  The type of sex fictional characters have should be, as in real life, an outgrowth of who these characters are.  For my two, it makes sense for them to have hard, violent sex.  In another story, with other characters, that might not work.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why CC2K's Sex Week is important to me

I've been terribly negligent of this blog of late.  What time I haven't been spending on my personal writing, I've been spending doing prep work for Sex Week over at CC2K.  Sex Week is an annual event, which we hold in honor of Valentine's Day, where we run sexually themed articles--still with our usual pop culture bent, of course.

It's a lot of fun, but running it is a shitload of work.  This is my third year running it; I volunteered, again.  Is it a masochistic streak?  You'd think I'd know better by now.

Part of it is that I tend to forget, after a year of bouncing merrily along in my normal, less-demanding editor duties, just how much work it is.  But part of it...well, it goes deeper than that.  It's important to me as a woman.  It means something to me beyond just the normal "Yeah, it's a fun week where we post smutty articles."  I've been thinking about it a lot over the past few days, and I think I want to let a few things out.

I once dated a guy who thought I was a slut.

I constantly felt like he wanted me to apologize for the things I had done in my past, the other guys I had dated, even the tattoo on my back!  I think, in his mind, he accepted me in spite of those things--as if he were so magnamous, choosing to overlook my "sordid" history.  It eroded my self confidence, much more than I realized while we were dating.  He never said I was a slut.   don't think he even realized it on a conscious level, and if you were to ask him, even now, he'd probably deny it until the end of time.  But it was there, and I felt it.

You know, in a way, I think those types of unstated put-downs are worse than the stated ones--at least for me.  If he had said to me, "Beth, I think your past behavior was skanky," I would have slapped him and marched out the door, and it would have been over.  But when someone doesn't say it, there's always plausible deniability.  I wonder, sometimes, in moments of self-doubt, whether I imagined it all, whether it was my problem, not his.  But I don't think so.  I'm very intuitive, and I'm good at reading people and picking up the things they aren't saying--especially with people I know well.  Furthermore, if it were my own paranoia and shame, wouldn't I have "felt" the same thing from guys I've dated since then?  But I haven't.  Not once.  But those thoughts, those kinds of malignant tendrils, are the kinds of things that tend to creep into your soul.

Funny thing is, the more I learn about what other people are doing, the more I realize how comparatively vanilla my sex life has been; I just happened to be more experienced than this guy, and I don't think he knew how to handle it.  It didn't fit into his paradigm of what a woman should be--what I should be.  My past wasn't all that unusual; I was just more sexually experienced than that guy.  And if that's the kind of crap I get, I shudder to think what it must be like for the women who genuinely are sexually open and adventurous.

From the time we're very young, women are constantly being given mixed messages about sex.  Nice girls don't, but if you don't the boys won't like you.  Don't have sex on the first date, but don't wait too long either.  If you have sex, you're a slut, but if you don't, you're a prude.  Boys masturbate, but girls don't do that.  Men like sex more than women.  And my favorite, the horror stories told to young virgins: you won't like sex very much, you'll bleed and it'll hurt like crazy and you won't have an orgasm.  Oy.  With such shitty expectations, it's a wonder women have sex at all!

Women are expected to be chaste, discriminating in their choices of partners, less willing to "put out."  They're seen as the gatekeepers of heterosexual intercourse--because, clearly, women don't get horny sometimes and jump into bed with men they've just met.  Well, some do...but they're just skanks, right?

Even in romance novels--a genre writen for and by primarily females--you see this archetype played out again and again and again.  The woman is a virgin, or nearly so, when she is seduced by the wiser, more experienced lover.  And I don't mind reading that; I just wish it would play out the opposite way a little more often.  (One of the things--among many--that I liked about Diana Gabaldon's Outlander is that she turns this on its head.  Claire, having been married before, is sexually experienced, and she indicates that she had lovers before her first husband.  On the other hand, Jamie--despite being attractive and very sought-after--is a virgin.)  Or at least, can we get a couple in a romance novel who are both sexually experienced?

It's 2011.  Isn't it time that we stop perpetuating this stupid, antiquated ideas about women and feminity?  Shouldn't we stop condeming women for being sexually active and healthy?  Isn't it time that we showed these stupid, insecure men (not saying all men are stupid and insecure, just that the ones who think like this are), that women can be sexually open and it doesn't make them sluts?

So what does this have to do with Sex Week?  There's certainly no deeper agenda there; we just like to run sexy articles because it's fun for Valentine's Day.  But many of our contributors are females, and I like the idea that Sex Week gives women the space and opportunity to talk about sexual themes.  Exposure is key to busting some of these old-fashioned stereotypes.  If women are to be seen as sexual creatures, just as much as men, we've got to show them to be sexual creatures.

For me, on a more personal level...I like the opportunity to write freely and openly about that part of myself.  This year, I'm doing an article on how women often use romance novels for the same type of sexual release that men use pornography for.  I'm excited about it.  It's a topic I feel really strongly about, and one that I don't think is talked about much in society.  Romance novels are schmoopy things, with Fabio on the cover, right?  Clearly, they couldn't be connected to their readers' sexualities.

And I do it because, in the time since I ended my relationship with the aforementioned guy, I have become a lot stronger and more confident.  I have spread my wings.  And I have realized that there is nothing in my past I should apologize for, not to anyone.  I will not be ashamed of the things I've done.  And I will not tolerate anyone who makes me feel that way.

As is my way, I tend to be bodly defiant in such things.  This is who I am, and I'm happy with it.  And if any ex-boyfriend (or future boyfriend, for that matter) happens to stumble across it and thinks, "She isn't the girl I thought she was," well...screw him.  Screw them all.

I'm waiting for someone who doesn't think they're accepting me in spite of my history, for someone who realizes that my history made me who I am...and thinks that who I am is awesome.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

January: A Month in Review

Despite how some of the massively depressing entries I wrote in January, the month wasn't a total loss.  I got my first two full critiques of my novel, and I'm making (some) headway in the revision process.  I'm working on a novella to ease the brain detritus while I slog my way through revisions.  And the combination of crappy weather and emotional crises meant that I spent a lot of time at home, reading.

I did a lot of reading in January.

I discovered Samhain Publishing this month, after their website reboot prompted a lot of chatter on my Twitter feed.  This month, I think I single-handedly put at least one or two children of Samhain staff members through college.  And maybe graduate school.  Samhain has a fantastic selection of all kinds of romance.  My particular poison is paranormal romance, and they've got oodles.  In the mood for shapeshifters?  Vampires?  Demons?  Angels?  Other heterofore unnamed paranormal creature?  Samhain has it.  Perhaps heterosexual, vanilla sex isn't your thing?  Samhain has a great selection of romances featuring all types of relationships (M/F, M/M, F/F, M/M/F, M/F/F, etc.--I'm sure there's a few combos I missed), heat levels, and degrees of kink.  In addition, if you're not feeling up for a full-length novel, they feature a lot of short novels and novellas.  (Longer titles are featured in both print and e-book format, whereas shorter titles are e-book only.)  The site is user-friendly and easy to navigate.  I really ought to send them a thank-you letter or something: these books were exactly what I needed in January.

In addition to my recent discovery of Samhain because my Twitter peeps talked it up, I have also gladly discovered the works of KT Grant and LA Dale.  KT Grant's novella, For the Love of Mollie, was a fun, sexy romp about a slightly overweight, more-than-slightly insecure woman who falls for a sexy gym owner.  I loved reading about a heroine who wasn't the magazine-model image of beauty.  (Or, as I more often see in romances, the woman who thinks she's not conventionally beautiful, but actually really is.)  Also, there's a lot of sexy scenes contained in a very short space.  A very fun read.  (Also, I love this cover.  It's exquisite.)

LA Dale's Perhaps ... Perhaps was a funny, charming story about an Australian schoolteacher who falls head-over-heels for the new principal.  I loved watching the evolution of the protagonist, Flora, as she went from shy and neurotic to strong and confident.  I also liked how Dale's characters behaved like real people, rather than the archetypical ways romance novel characters usually behave.  It made them frustrating at times--but also more realistic.  I wanted to strangle the hero a couple of times, and I wanted to smack the heroine upside the head.  But people in real life aren't perfect.  Nor should they be in romance.  (Also, confession: I dig Australian accents.  I blame it on my tendency to watch foreign TV shows as a child--thanks a lot, Spellbinder!  Also, Ingo Rademacher on General Hospital during my high school years--yummy!  But whatever.  I dig Australian accents.  I think they're crazy sexy.  I could listen to an Australian man reading the phone book and it would sound like poetry to me.  Getting to imagine an entire book full of a sexy man saying sexy things in an Australian accent was icing on the cake for me.  And yes, I have a very vivid imagination!)

A book I loved this month (that I've already mentioned):  So I was completely and utterly enamored with Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning.  It was always the mystery that propelled me through this series, and I felt like Shadowfever tied it all together well--with just enough ambiguity that I didn't feel the ending was "too pat."  From what I've read on blogs and review sites these past several weeks, the reaction was more mixed than I realized when I wrote about it a few weeks ago.  (Actually, I was writing about rude people on critique sites and their utter inability to allow for dissention, but that's not the point.)  From what I can tell, it seems like the people who loved the first four books in the series also loved Shadowfever.  The people who didn't like them or felt ambivalent were less inclined to like it.

I guess you know where I stand.  I'm hooked.  And pretty soon, I suspect I'm going to read the books again just so I can go on that journey again.  (And yet again, I discovered the series through Twitter.)

A book I loved this month (that I haven't mentioned):  Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare.  I've moved away from the YA genre a lot in the past year, mostly because I was tired of reading about protagonists who were a decade or more younger than me.  But I loved Clare's Mortal Instruments series.  It was just so fresh and fun.  Clary was such a great heroine, and...well, if I'm being completely honest, Jace is the guy I'd have a crush on (but never manage to work up the nerve to ask out) if I were 10 years younger.  Tortured--check.  Brooding--check.  Self-depricating humor--check.  Tousled hair--check.  He's the perfect teen hero, angry but never angsty, intermittently sweet but never sappy.

I follow Clare on Twitter, and I started noticing quite a bit of chatter about her other book, Clockwork Angel, which takes place in the same world as her Mortal Instuments series but 130 years earlier.  It sounded intriguing, so I came out of my YA-free cave and took the plunge...and it was awesome.  With its combination of otherworldly fantasy and steampunk sci-fi, Clockwork Angel creates an aesthetic that is even more unique than the Mortal Instruments books.  Twists and turns kept me guessing until the end.  And once again, we're treated to a tortured teen hero: Will Herondale.  At first wisecrack, he seems similiar to Jace in a lot of ways.  Then I put two and two together and realized he was an ancestor of Jace's (though I haven't yet figured out how they're related).  The apple, it don't fall far from the tree.  And thank goodness for that!

The bad news is the sequel, Clockwork Prince, doesn't come out until September 2011.  The good news is that I also realized The Mortal Instruments is not a trilogy!  The fourth book, City of Fallen Angels, comes out in April.

Seems that I may have to end my self-imposed YA moratorium--at least for Cassandra Clare.

Lesson of the Month:  Twitter matters.  There's a lot of junk on there, natch, but there's also cool stuff to be discovered.  I love finding new authors, new publishers, and new books.  The sheer volume of new and exciting material I've found this month, as a result of Twitter, has made me very happy.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happy Things

No doubt about it, I've had a bad week, as you might have guessed from my last few blog posts.

But I did some thinking.  Did some crying.  Did some writing.  Tried to get a lot of bad juju out of my system--some of which had been lurking there for quite some time.  I don't like to linger in unhappiness.  I have too much to be grateful for, thankful for, ecstatic about, that I refuse to dwell in the darkness.

Yet we all have weeks like this, weeks when everything just seems dumped on us at once and it's harder to remember all the things that make us happy.  So--at the risk of sounding like one of Oprah's "favorite things" episodes--I'm writing a few of them down to remind myself.

10.  Pizza.  I love pizza.  It's my comfort food, bringing me back to a simpler childhood time.  I could probably eat pizza every day and not get sick of it.  I like good, gourmet pizza, and I like crappy fast food pizza.  So long as it's got cheese and a crust, I'll give it a shot.  But my favorite pizza, I must confess, is Pizza Hut--specifically, a pan crust with extra cheese, especially when I'm on the road traveling.  When I was a kid, my family used to drive from St. Louis to Pittsburgh to visit family.  On one of these trips, when I was about 9 or 10, we stopped at a Pizza Hut in Indiana somewhere and got a pan crust pizza.  It was cooked to perfection, with a golden crispy crust and plenty of cheese.  I don't think any Pizza Hut experience since then has come close--but I'm still trying.  To this day, if I'm driving long-distance, I'll go out of my way to stop at a Pizza Hut.

9.  Before Sunrise/Before SunsetThe 1995 film Before Sunrise featured two twentysomethings: a French woman (Julie Delphy) and an American man (Ethan Hawke) who meet on a train, get off in Vienna, and spend a magical night together before the young man has to catch a plane back to the states the following morning.  The movie is sweet and beautiful and magical.  The whole thing seems enchanted somehow, like a fairy tale, and as night turns into dawn you can actually feel the mood changing.  It's beautiful, bittersweet, and a little bit heartbreaking.

Before Sunset reunites the lovers nine years later.  If Before Sunset is a fairy tale, Before Sunset is the harsh glare of reality.  The idealistic twentysomethings have become somewhat jaded thirtysomethings, each a little broken by the memory of "the one that got away."  It's set almost entirely in real time, and, once again, a plane ride threatens to separate them.  (Hawke's character has less than an hour before he's due to leave for the airport.)  In a way, it's more heartbreaking than the first film...but also more hopeful, depending on how you look at it.  It's one of my favorite all-time endings in film.  The first time I watched it, it drove me nuts, but when I saw it again, and take out of it exactly what you want to take out of it.  It's ambiguous and awesome.

8.  The song "Drops of Jupiter" by TrainYeah, I know: I'm about 10 years late to this party.  But despite the fact that I must have heard this song about eleventy bajillion times on pop radio when it came out in 2001, I recently downloaded it onto my iPhone and realized that I still love it, that I could listen to it eleventy bajillion times more and not get sick of it.  There's something so evocative about those lyrics.  As a girl who spends much of her time with her head in the clouds, much to the consternation of many of my friends and family members, it makes me feel...hopeful.  It makes me want to dance naked on the moon.  It makes me long for something I haven't found yet, but someone wrote those lyrics so I know it's out there.

7.  I am a linguaphile.  I read words, and I absorb them.  I got made fun of all throughout my school years because I used words that the other kids didn't know.  But I'm not so good with spelling or pronunciation.  Take the last paragraph.  The word I wanted was "consternation," but all I could come up with was "constanteration," which is neither the right spelling nor the right pronuncation.  But a few quick searches on, and I found the word I wanted.  Plus, I could hit the audio button and hear someone say it for me.  WAY easier than trying to figure out those pronunciation keys.

6.  My cat.  If you had asked me a year ago, I would have sworn up and down and all around that I would never adopt a cat.  I was terrified of cats.  Several years ago, I was attacked--in the bathroom, as I was getting ready for a shower--by two Siamese cats.  I screamed, blood ran down the drain.  It was very Hitchcockian.  I've had people insinunate since then that maybe they were just playing, but I know the difference.  These cats were attacking.  And it scared the shit out of me.

But I wanted a pet, and I don't like being ruled by my fears.  Given that I work full time, and I live in a studio apartment, a dog just wouldn't be convnient for me.  So I adopted a cat from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.  She had been a stray.  At the shelter, they were calling her Annabelle.  Being the macabre type that I am, I changed her name to Annabel Lee.  (And kudos to you if you get the reference.)

My awesome!  Anyone who says cats are not as affectionate as dogs has never met my cat.  She's sweet, and she's cuddly, and she likes to sleep on my chest.  She's easy to love.  With her, it's all very simple and uncomplicated.  You can never say that about people.

5.  My Kindle.  I could compose an ode to my Kindle...but I won't.  Escapist reading has saved me from some bleak moments, both in the past and recently.  My Kindle has made obtaining, reading, and storing this escapist material infinitely easier.  It is awesome.

4.  Revisions.  After getting off to a rocky start with the revisions to my novel, I finally feel like I'm getting...somewhere.  I'm not sure if that somewhere is any good, but at least it's something.  I've decided to try and tackle my revisions chronologically, as much as I can; I handle drafting much the same way.  Tackling things in a logical sequence like that seems to keep my linear left brain happy, prevent frustration.  I had a rough time with chapter 1; I ended up cutting the beginning scene altogether.  I think, for now, that I made the right decision.  Tomorrow I may change my mind.

3.  Sex scenes.  Dirty confession time: I love sex scenes in books.  This is a recent development.  Two years ago you wouldn't have caught me dead reading an explicit sex scene, or picking up anything out of the romance section.  Now, I hear bondage and ménage a trois and think, "bring it on," with a little quiver of excitement.  Oh, yes, sex scenes are awesome.

2.  My loved ones.  My mom is the awesomest person in the world.  She is honest, can read people like a book, and there's no bullshit to her.  My brother is...well, my brother can be a pain in the butt, but I've mostly earned it, and I know he'd be there for me no matter what--as would I, for him.  I've got great friends who genuinely care about and support me.  Two of them volunteered to be beta readers for my novel, and I've gotten great feedback from them.  My crush/penpal/lust object has been asking about it and wanting to read it for months now.  However complicated our un-relationship may be, at times, he genuinely believes in me and encourages me to do the things I want to do.  That, in my experience with the world of dating, is pretty rare.

1.  New books!  I just finished the newly released Archangel's Consort by Nalini Singh--after re-reading the other books in the Guild Hunter series.  I had almost forgotten how much I loved those books.  I love the way Singh refuses to humanize her hero.  Raphael is a 1500-year-old archangel; he shouldn't act human.  The feelings he has for Elena are considered a weakness by his fellow immortals.  Yet he can still be--by human standards--cold, cruel, and calculated.  I also love how they're still figuring out their relationship.  Trust doesn't come easily to either of them, and there's such a huge imbalance of power between them.  Raphael could control Elena, crush her ability to resist, which would make her safer--yet to do so would kill everything he loves about her.  And Elena, a strong, independent Guild Hunter, has to struggle in a world where she's the weakest one around.  I love their dynamic, and the way Singh has stayed so true to her characters.

And in less than a month...This Side of the Grave by Jeaniene Frost will be out!  Frost's Night Huntress series was one of the first urban fantasies I read, and it's no wonder I got hooked on the genre.  Cat is a tough, resourceful heroine, awesome enough to win the love of a 250-year-old sex-crazed vampire, and Bones is...well, Bones is just sigh-worthy.  I remember reading Halfway to the Grave and thinking he was one scary SOB--and he can be, which is what makes his feelings for Cat all that much more amazing.  Four books later, their relationship is still one of the hottest in urban fantasy.  Bones is the ultimate female fantasy.  If I had to pick a fictional character that I would bring to life and let seduce me, he'd be high on that list.

First Drop of Crimson and Eternal Kiss of Darkness, the stand-alone romances that Frost released last year set in the Night Huntress world, were great.  But Cat and Bones have always been first in my heart.  So after over a year of waiting (I first read the series in late 2009), a new Cat and Bones adventure is almost here, and I can't wait!

So these are my happy things.  Of course, these aren't really in order: my loved ones are way more important to me than new books.  Except on release days.  Then all bets are off.