Jessabelle’s Beast Coming Soon! What’s Next?

As the title suggests, I’m finally nearing the release date for Jessabelle’s Beast, and naturally, I’m very excited to be at this point! I’m still waiting on some final details and updates—and a truly awesome cover—but soon, very soon…I will get to take a vacation!

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Anytime I publish a book, it’s a stressful lead-up to that final moment. While I have awesome beta-readers, I do the majority of the publishing work myself, so every detail must be considered carefully. This sometimes means I have to focus on the less creative parts of the process, and I often get so wrapped up in dealing with the business side of things that I want to just toss my laptop aside and leap out my office window to escape.

 

I love writing! This is why I do this, day-in and day-out. I write every day unless I’m sick. I love spinning stories and bringing characters and places alive on the page. When I have to focus less on the story and more on the book details and distribution channels and formatting, etc., well, yeah, I need a vacation so I can get back to writing!

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So now that the majority of the work is complete on Jessabelle’s Beast, which will release in the beginning of June, what’s next for me?

Of course, Morbidon’s Bride is still on my plate, and I’m truly excited about really getting to focus my energy on this story. I expect that I’ll manage to get many chapters ahead of my publishing schedule for that, so don’t worry, I’ll still be posting chapters. At this point, Morbidon’s Bride is the only new story I’m working on, and I think it would be great if I could finish it and publish it as a bonus to the Princess’s Dragon, which I plan on rereleasing in December, but we’ll have to see about Morbidon’s Bride. I don’t want to rush anything and end up with a story that’s less than it could be.

The only other project I’ll be focusing on publishing this year will be the rewrite of the Princess’s Dragon. While it has taken something of a backseat due to my efforts on getting Jessabelle’s Beast out on time, I’m looking forward to digging back into that narrative. The first revision is already complete, and there will undoubtedly be several more as I tighten up the prose.

Still, I’m a bit like a butterfly when it comes to my writing, so it wouldn’t surprise me if I wound up working feverishly on a new project, or fluttered back to an older manuscript within the upcoming months. This happens a lot, which is why I try to set deadlines on myself for the books I want to get published each year. Otherwise, I’d be flitting all over the place, but never getting anything done.

I hope to have a cover image and a firm release date for Jessabelle’s Beast ready for an announcement soon, and I will be running a promotion for the new release, so I’ll be sure to keep you posted on that, so you can snag the next book in the Shadows in Sanctuary series at a deal.

Here’s to a more relaxing summer (fingers crossed!), and I hope you all enjoy your upcoming summer as well. Be sure to take time out for yourself, hit lots of BBQs, and curl up with a Kindle once in a while (or even a good paperback! Man, I really miss the smell of books sometimes, so I’ll go back and pluck one off my “keepers” shelf just for some nostalgia.)

The Mother’s Day that Almost Wasn’t

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So we just celebrated Mother’s Day, and I had a great time. But then again, I celebrate every day that I get to be a mother, because that almost didn’t happen for me.

I just finished reading a romance novel where the heroine is infertile, and the hero expects to revitalize his people by having a bunch of offspring. This is exactly the type of situation I’ve been searching for in these “fated mate” romances, and much to my delight, I not only found it in this book, it was also well done. I felt like the author understood the pain that a person goes through when dealing with infertility.

For me, infertility wasn’t the inability to get pregnant. I was pregnant five times! It was the early miscarriages—the horrible hope that shears off a piece of your soul when it’s torn away from you. Time after time. Hearing the heartbeat at eight weeks, strong and determined, only to hear silence at your next appointment. You learn by the third pregnancy not to buy anything for the baby. Not to even choose a name, or think about nursery colors. You learn to guard yourself from thinking too hard about the baby at all. But hope still betrays you. It still manages to seep in and find a way through the cracks in the fragile wall you’ve built. So when another pregnancy ends in failure you’re still left defenseless.

By the time I lost the fourth pregnancy, I’d finally gotten a medical answer beyond the casual “miscarriages are normal” answer that was so nonchalantly passed on to me as if I should just stop worrying about it—as if my grief was nothing. It turned out that my miscarriages were anything but normal. I have a chromosome abnormality called a Balanced Reciprocal Translocation. This caused some of my eggs to be nonviable. It seems that my body wasn’t failing me after all. It was doing its job. The babies couldn’t grow beyond a certain point because they didn’t have enough chromosomal information—or they had too much.

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With an answer, I found hope again. If you have a diagnosis, there has to be a solution right? Only in this case, the “solution” was expensive. They can now do pre-genetic determination during IVF where they test a cell from a growing zygote prior to implantation to tell whether the fetus is genetically viable. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we wanted to give it a go. After all, on top of having so many miscarriages, I’d gone for two years being unable to even get pregnant to try again. Plus, trying the natural way was like playing the lottery, only far more was on the line for me that mere money.

The genetic testing was both disappointing and eye-opening. Of the sixteen eggs harvested, only two were viable. My odds were terrible. Neither of those two implants took, and my husband and I were left devastated and in debt. We couldn’t take the heartbreak anymore. The emotional roller coaster was killing us, and my body was a mess after all the hormone treatments for IVF and the stress of the process. For seven years, we’d tried to grow our family of two. For seven years, we’d suffered the ravages of hope dashed. So we threw in the towel. We spoke vaguely of adoption, but the process for that was also exhausting and filled with bitter disappointments and challenges. We just didn’t have the strength left to get into another lengthy and grueling process.

We learned to picture our future without children, though it was something we’d both wanted. We’d learned to accept that we would never know what it was like to hold and protect a child of our own. Surprisingly, instead of tearing us apart, the experience brought us closer together. We weren’t turning away from each other in our time of need, but rather propping each other up through each emotional blow we received. United we stood strong against the fate that had been delivered to us. We found solace in each other. My husband didn’t despair that he would never build a dynasty out of his childrens’ futures, and I learned not to despair that I would never see his eyes in the face of my child. That reaffirmation of our love and commitment to each other went beyond the initial trials every new relationship faces.

And then one day, I mention that my period is late, and my husband turns to me and says, “I bet you’re pregnant.”

I said no way! It had been two years of trying. It was true that I’d had a procedure to remove some endometriosis, but the doctor had said there wasn’t as much as he’d thought. That couldn’t have been what was keeping me from even getting pregnant. When my husband went off to work, I bought a pregnancy test and took it.

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I’m not sure how to describe the stew of emotions I felt as I stared down at those two little lines. I couldn’t tell you how many pregnancy tests I’d taken in the past. So many, I’d lost count. So much wanting and pleading with the stick to show positive. So many disappointments. Yet every time it had shown positive, it had ended worse than if I hadn’t been pregnant at all. I didn’t want to gamble again. My heart ached too much from the last losses, and my husband and I were finally starting to heal.

I called him at work. Told him I was pregnant. Then promptly burst into tears. He was overjoyed, in stark contrast to my pessimistic despair. I knew this pregnancy would end like all the others. Appointment after appointment passed, where I knew that I would stop hearing the heartbeat. When I started bleeding at fourteen weeks, I thought I was prepared for it, but nope, that cursed hope had snuck past my defenses again. I sat in the emergency room cursing the world for being so damned unfair and wondering what terrible thing I’d done to deserve to suffer like this.

Then I saw my baby on the sonogram, swimming around hale and healthy, tiny but alive and filled with energy. The bleeding stopped, but seeing my baby moving had only made her that much more real to me, as if she wasn’t already!

At sixteen weeks, an amniocentesis showed that she had a chromosome abnormality—the same as mine. This wasn’t the worst possible outcome. We had hope. The geneticists were cautious. They didn’t want to reassure us. “This could be a problem,” they said, but I looked in the mirror every day at a healthy person. My baby was my little “mini-me” right down to her genetic problems. It was the first time I dared to feel kinship with the life growing inside me. Though I’d grieved for all the previous babies I’d lost, I’d never allowed myself to feel this much. I’d never dared to lower my walls and allow that much hope to pass through. I feared that if I lost her at that point, she would take the last of my soul with her.

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My husband remained strong at my side as I spent every day in fear. Every time I used the restroom, I checked for blood. Every. Single. Time. Do you know how often a pregnant woman has to use the bathroom?

It was the longest nine months of my life. The most harrowing. I dropped out of college because I didn’t want any stress to affect my pregnancy, and the Chemistry program was pretty stressful, especially since I have an almost compulsive drive to maintain a 4.0 GPA.

But this story has a happy ending. Eleven years ago, just before Christmas, I welcomed the best present I have ever or will ever receive into my life.  I’m a writer, and I can’t even find the words to describe what I felt when I looked down into the face of my newborn daughter. I can say there was definitely a sense of abject terror. When someone holds so much of your heart, you realize that you have so much to lose.

I write romance. I read romance. I thought I knew about love, but there is love far stronger than any romantic love. A love that transcends all that “fated mate” love. The love of a mother for her child is unlike anything I’ve ever known before. Yesterday, we celebrated mothers, but every single day of my life, I celebrate my daughter.

I’d given up hope. I didn’t believe it was possible to ever become a mother. The odds seemed to be against me. The doctors were even more pessimistic than I was. My story had a positive outcome, but I know that many women struggle daily with infertility. I know that sometimes hope seems like the enemy, and despair can move right in and take up permanent residence. Each person’s story is different, and I have no advice that I can offer to anyone else going through this. But I can say one thing. If anyone ever asks me if I believe in miracles, all I have to do is smile and pull out the most recent picture of my child. Yes. I do believe in miracles.

I know this wasn’t about writing, or about my books, or even about romance, though the real-life love that my husband and I share got us through this difficult time. Yet, I wanted to share this story because it is a big part of my life experience that informs my writing. I draw from my pain, my outrage at the unfairness of fate, my grief, my anger at the lies of hope—and my wonder at the existence of miracles when you’ve already given up—to create stories and characters that are as alive as it is within my power to make them.

I have yet to write an infertile heroine in one of my romances. I still cry when I write or talk about this. The wounds seem fresh, though a lot of time has passed. Someday, perhaps, I will tackle this issue in one of my stories, but for now, the best I can do is this post.

Beauty is Good, Ugly is Bad…Or So We’ve Been Told

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One of my least favorite fairy tales is Cinderella and not just because the hero judges a woman based entirely on her looks and is such a shallow dolt that he can’t even recognize her and has to jam her foot into a glass slipper to prove it’s her. Seriously, that alone makes it an unromantic romance, but what really bothers me is the beauty=good, ugly=bad paradigm. It’s a familiar one, and shows up in many, many stories, but it’s particularly evident in the glass slipper-girl’s tale.

After all, she has two “ugly” stepsisters. It’s not enough that their personalities are repulsive or that their jealousy is blatant and obvious. It’s not enough that they’ve been pampered and spoiled all their lives and have become absolute beasts because of that. No, we really need to hate these guys! We can’t possibly have any reason to sympathize with them! That means they have to be ugly to boot, because no one sympathizes with ugly people, right?

It’s not just in Cinderella that characters get the ugly=bad treatment. In many books, movies, and even video games, the bad guy is often also ugly. The good guy is almost always beautiful. Even in Beauty and the Beast, one of my favorite fairy tales of all time, the ugly=bad trope exists, despite the fact that the story is supposed to be about looking beyond the surface. Sure, Gaston (the main antagonist) is gorgeous, so what do you mean ugly=bad, you ask?

Well, let’s see. La Fou is typical of the ugly/bad character design, but I’m not even talking about him. I’m talking about the beast (who is also an antagonist at first, while he is the beast). You see, he’s a physically “ugly” creature (I don’t find him ugly, but I’m weird like that) until he learns to be “good,” then all of a sudden, he becomes a beautiful person. Ugh. What a disappointment! I couldn’t stand his bland face after his transformation…but I digress.

So when he was bad, he was also ugly. When he became good, he became beautiful. Because even though Beauty fell in love with him as a beast, he couldn’t possibly stay ugly and still be “good.” I was also disappointed that Beauty wasn’t disappointed by his transformation. The worst part is that (in the Disney version at least) we are given the idea that Beauty knows how he once looked when she discovered the painting of him, so who was she really falling in love with? Did she ever love the beast? Or did she love the “handsome” man inside the beast? Oh, I wish I hadn’t asked those questions because it just puts a damper on my enjoyment of one of my favorite fairy tales!

But back to the ugly stepsisters. I was rooting for them. Sure, I hated their behavior, just like I was supposed to, but I also felt some degree of sympathy for them. They never had a chance in life—certainly not in fairy tale life. Being born ugly is a guaranteed ticket to villain’s-ville. Yes, their mother pampered them, but at the same time, she was terrifying and plotting and clearly abusive. We only see what happened to these girls when Cinderella is around. We have no idea what they endured before that.

Even if their mother had doted on them completely, never giving them a harsh word, that doesn’t mean they didn’t feel a great deal of pressure to live up to her expectations. Their lack of physical beauty had to be a disappointment to her, given her high aspirations, and based on her character, I have no doubt she made them aware of that disappointment, even if it was only in subtle ways. But then again, it wasn’t subtle. She spent a fortune on creams and lotions and expensive clothes and everything else to make them beautiful. Meanwhile, she very clearly thinks Cinderella is so beautiful that she can only be seen in rags.

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Cinderella is the one we’re supposed to sympathize with, but people seem to forget that the ugly stepsisters also lost their father and had only their overbearing, ambitious, abusive, domineering mother to raise them. To add to their problems, they were both born ugly, and their mother’s efforts to make them beautiful served as a constant reminder of their inadequacy in her eyes. Is it any wonder then that they turned out the way they did? They lived in a world where their physical appearance was the most important trait they had, because they had to catch a rich husband for their mother, but they were born “ugly.” Having struggled through some “ugly-duckling” phases myself, I know how bad it is even in modern times, when you’re supposed to believe that there are more important things than your looks (even while watching the beautiful Cinderella get the prince and the “ugly” stepsisters get humiliated over and over again in different stories, but always the same pattern).

The point is that we’re not supposed to sympathize with the ugly sisters. Because ugly=bad. I hate this paradigm so much! For one thing, it’s just downright lazy. It’s playing on the fact that human nature makes us more likely to find symmetrical faces appealing and more likely to equate beauty and youthfulness with “good.” Therefore, it’s easy to make a villain unlikeable even before we know what he’s done just by making him hideous. Big, hooked nose=oh yeah, he’s a definite baddy. Asymmetrical eyes=totally evil. Wart on the chin=burn the witch! She eats babies, I’m sure of it! All I need to do is look at the character and I can tell if they’re supposed to be “bad.” (Or at the very least, not the hero.)

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“Would you like some help bringing in your groceries? Please don’t scream like that, I have very sensitive ear-oh, you’re running away…oookay, then…what should I do with all these groceries you just dropped?”

It’s also easy to make the hero(ine) sympathetic by simply making them beautiful. The story of Cinderella would have had more depth if Cindy was a plain (or even ugly) girl covered in ashes, and the stepsisters were beautiful and secure in their beauty, making their spoiled behavior more in line with how the world at large would have treated them as beautiful women. Perhaps the prince could have found Cindy interesting for other reasons, like the fact that she can call up birds and mice to help her do her chores. (I’d sure like to learn how to do that!)

But that sort of thing would take actual story development, because no one is going to believe that the plain mouse of a girl can walk into a ballroom and immediately catch the prince’s eye, but we can believe it when she’s a stunning beauty, so no need for any depth to be added to their relationship. It would make an interesting story if he would have initially been drawn to the beauty of her sisters but then started talking to Cindy and discovered her wit and charm to be far more appealing. Then maybe I wouldn’t have found the prince to be so insufferably shallow! (Who bases their marital preferences on a shoe size? Are her feet really so small that no one else in the kingdom could fit into the shoe?)

Appearance plays a part in characterization, whether we want it to or not, but we can use it to smash the existing paradigm as well as reinforce it. We can turn it on its head and make the hunch-backed old witch with a wart on her nose and straggly hair a kindly woman who aids every lost child who wanders into her forest and nibbles on her house. One of the things I love so much about Wicked (which I saw as a play and then read the book) was the paradigm shift. It’s a great story; I highly recommend you check it out in some medium!

Using a character’s physical attributes to simply reinforce their role is missing a great opportunity to add depth and create more interesting characters—and ultimately, a better story. For anyone who loves the story of Cinderella, perhaps you see the story a bit differently than I do. Feel free to let me know in the comments below. I love getting a fresh perspective on any idea. Also, I’d love to know what you think about this paradigm. Does it ever bother you when ugliness is used to reinforce the “bad-guy” role of a character?

A Little Something to Get the Blood Pumping

It’s the first of May and yet another reminder of how fast time flies! I swear I was just celebrating New Year’s yesterday. There’s been so much going on this year that I feel as if I’m trailing in a race and constantly trying to play catch up. On the other hand, so far, it’s been the good kind of race—the kind you don’t mind running even if you don’t win at the end, so I really shouldn’t be complaining. Of course, life would be just slightly easier if my cat would get off my arm while I’m trying to type this blog, but I guess you can’t have everything. 😉 I swear, sometimes I feel like an evil villain sitting at my computer because of this ever-present cat, but I don’t think Furball was quite the pest to Doctor Claw that my cat is to me.

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I hearz you talkin bout me!

Anyway, I digress…mwahahahaha—ahem, sorry, that just slipped out. I have no idea where that came from.

Last week, I had a minor, casual (not pants-crapping) terrifying encounter that got me to thinking about writing…after I had a little sit down to calm my nerves. You see, I was going for a nightly stroll to avoid the heat of day, but still get my blood flowing and get my stretch on (I spend a lot of time at a computer and suffer from chronic tension headaches if I don’t get out and walk occasionally). I carry a flashlight/beating stick, but I like to walk in the low light, especially when I’m on the sidewalk in a developed neighborhood. (Keeps my night vision sharp) I keep an eye on what’s going on around me, but thought nothing of stepping over the light-colored stick in the middle of the sidewalk. It wasn’t until I was past it that I got to thinking that the stick was a little too wavy for the way sticks naturally grow. So, a couple steps away, I paused, turned around and turned on my flashlight, shining it down on this little beauty.

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Needless to say (unless you don’t live in Arizona) I was a little shaken by the close call. For those of you who aren’t familiar with what this is…you may have seen them looking like this:

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I’m no expert, but I believe that’s a Mojave rattlesnake. At any rate, that’s a rattle. So…yeah. I was a little shaken. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve encountered plenty of wildlife while out and about, even at night. I’ve been just a foot or two away from a javelina, passed calmly by a watching coyote, and managed to get some excellent video of a herd of deer crossing the street. In fact, I’ve even had a rattlesnake under my car tire in the garage. When it comes to most wildlife, if you leave them alone, they tend to do you the same courtesy. I backed away from this little guy and left him to his basking, but I couldn’t believe how close I’d come to stepping right on top of him.

Which brings me back to writing. (How the heck do I get here, you ask? Well, it’s the way my mind works, I can’t help it!) You see, my life is generally pretty good (and I’d like it to stay that way, thank you very much!) I feel incredibly blessed. It hasn’t always been this way, but the hard times only make the good times that much sweeter. This is a great way to live, but sometimes, it makes writing difficult.

Write what you know! That’s the kind of writing that feels the most authentic. Now don’t get me wrong—some authors are really good at getting inside the heads of characters they have no actual experience with, but it still takes life experiences to understand things like fear, grief, enduring pain, heartbreak, humiliation, sadness…etc. Let’s face it; most people don’t want to read books that are about nice, happy, normal lives. As an author, I torture my characters. I put them through a real wringer. I make them suffer, then make them suffer a little more, then a whole lot more just for the heck of it. If they were real people, I’d be an absolute monster—mwahahahaha! (There it goes again! I don’t know why that keeps happening! 😉 ) But the end result is a great story. How do I get inside their heads and explain how they’re feeling when they’re suffering, though?

It’s because I’ve suffered too. Maybe nowhere near as much as my characters have, but I know the feelings they’re going through. I know fear, pain, and heartache. I know what it feels like to have hope dashed upon the pavement. I know what the ache of slow, chronic suffering feels like, and I can also empathize with the sharp stab of immediate emotional (and physical) pain. These are life experiences that have been hard won. They are memories that lay in my mind like scars that I poke and prod whenever I write to get just the most authentic reaction for my characters.

When life starts getting a little too good, these memories fade a bit, and in a panic, I worry that the emotions in my stories won’t feel as real anymore. Then, I have a little scare like I did last week, and I realize that I don’t need to live a nightmare every day of my life to understand the darkness. I’ve seen the edge of the abyss, and I can describe it accurately enough without falling into it.

So my takeaway from this incident is the reminder that every experience you have in life can be a learning one, even small ones (that could have been a big deal!)

I’ve also learned to walk earlier in the evening, before it gets dark. 😉 I don’t need good writing material that badly!

Let me know what you think about this in the comments below. For the record, yes, I’ve already been called reckless in not so nice words. I’ve learned my lesson and am properly chastised. 😉

What a World!

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It’s Monday once again—the one day of week that always comes around quickly no matter how slow time is moving. And once again, I don’t have a whole lot of time to devote to my blog, which is a shame, because I’ve got lots to say. 😉

Today I wanted to just lightly touch on the subject of world-building. A couple of weekends ago, I was part of a panel discussing this very topic, and it’s one that I could go on and on about forever, so I would never be able to fit it into one blog post, but there are some highlights that I think I can share today.

In my opinion, there’s no right way to build a fictional world/universe. There are wrong ways to go about doing it, of course, but everyone’s creativity works differently so people are going to use different techniques to create their own worlds. This blog talks about some of the techniques I use to create and enrich my fictional worlds in ways that (I hope) will make them seem more alive for my readers.

-Be observant of the real world

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Sometimes this one is difficult for me. 😉 I spend a lot of time in imaginary places, so coming back to reality is like going back to work after a holiday weekend. Bummer! Still, the real world is the best place to farm ideas for fictional worlds. The varieties of human cultures and societies that have existed throughout history (and currently exist) provide some of my best inspiration. I’ve always loved world history. After English, it was my favorite subject in school.

It’s not just the series of historical events that fascinates me, but also the costumes, the food, the different governmental systems, the traditions, the music, the art, etc. All of this offers fuel for my own creativity. I don’t just observe what happens in human culture, but also how all these different aspects of it interconnect. Then I keep these connections in mind when creating my own fictional cultures. Even though I don’t go into exhaustive detail in my books about the different cultures I’ve created, I have developed them for my own knowledge—far beyond what my readers will ever see.

 

-Remember sensory details

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How do people experience the world? Generally, (barring any interesting alien races that have evolved to use different methods) it’s through the five senses. Think about how the food tastes, how the air smells in the open market, how the colors of the clothing look in the light of day or under the stars. What sounds are you most likely to hear as you walk along in your fictional world? Consider what sounds you hear in your everyday real world. Most of them are probably background to you, but if you were to describe your environment to a reader, how would you do it? I try to keep these kinds of details in mind when describing my fictional world.

 

-Follow your own rules

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When I build a world, I try not to break the rules I’ve set out for it, unless I have a great explanation prepared as to why those rules were broken. A fictional world can have all kinds of things that are impossible in the real world, but the most believable and best developed fictional worlds follow some set of rules that determines what is (and isn’t) possible. For example: I have created a universe where magic is possible, but magical energy is still finite. People can’t just materialize things all day long with no consequences. There are prices to be paid for any use of that energy. If later I decide that the plot requires a huge expenditure of magical energy, I’d be breaking my own rules if I have my character perform even more magic with no sign of effort right after that plot point. Of course, there are always ways to explain these things that will allow them to fall within your own rules, but the key is to remember those rules in the first place.

 

Those are three things that I keep in mind when I’m world-building. There are many more I could discuss, but again, I’m short on time today, so I will have to revisit this topic on another blog. I hope someone found this advice useful or maybe just interesting. 😉 Let me know your opinion on this. What world-building techniques do you find work the best for you? If you don’t do much world-building, what do you think of some of the fictional worlds that you’ve experienced through various media (books, movies, games)? Do you find the worlds/universes detailed enough that you can immerse yourself in them, even when they allow magic and other things that seem impossible? What makes those worlds work for you?

Is Sex Necessary in Romance Novels?

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Long ago (when mammoths still thundered across the icy plains) I picked up my very first romance novel, and looked at the cover—at the man (with his shirt half open, revealing a chest rippling with muscle) clutching the waist of a swooning woman (her dress askew to reveal her perfect cleavage, and one hand pressed against her forehead like she was checking her temperature). And I said to myself, “This looks like a good read!”

Yes, I was far too young to understand what a throbbing manhood was back then, but then again, context is everything. It didn’t take me long to figure it out. 😉 I soon got savvy to what all the euphemisms (and there were many) meant in these old-school romance candies novels. They were fun, non-caloric, and laugh-out-loud funny even when they didn’t mean to be. (Those euphemisms…lol)

I probably read waaaaay too many of those romances where intimate scenes were very carefully worded. As I got older, the writing changed and the hints about what the hero and heroine were up to were less carefully written. Then I started coming across books that did away with euphemism altogether.

At this point, I’d never delved into the genre of erotica, but some of those scenes seemed to be seeping into romance, chipping away at the overly flowery language used to only hint at sex. I was appalled, yet fascinated, yet embarrassed now to be caught reading one of these books in public. Fortunately, everyone in my immediate family views reading as inhumane punishment, so I didn’t need to worry about little eyes peeking at anything older than an iPhone 5. My husband probably would read romance if he knew though, lol.

Over time, I grew accustomed to the more graphically described sex scenes, and while some still bored me to the point that I was skipping pages and pages to get through them (yes, that’s way too many pages in my opinion, but this is all opinion after all), I no longer felt any sense of surprise when I encountered these scenes.

I also recognized the value these scenes sometimes add to the story. Hear me out! Believe it or not, these types of scenes do serve a purpose in a lot of romance novels—a very important purpose that involves deepening the characters and the stories. Even the “old school” romance writers knew this, which was why they twisted themselves into knots trying to describe those important scenes without actually describing them. We wouldn’t have ever seen funny euphemisms at all if these scenes could have been completely cut from the book and still left the story as rich and rewarding as it was.

The following is a list of reasons I believe a closed bedroom door or a fade-to-black scene actually diminishes the depth of the story and its connection to the audience.

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The hero or heroine is alien—both in culture and appearance

This is one of my personal favorite tropes. I love alien heroes! The less human they are, the better, as far as I’m concerned. There are some excellent science-fiction romances out there where the heroes aren’t human, not even by a stretch. These stories are rich in character development, deeply engaging, and offer profound statements on heavy themes. The scenes within them are not intended solely to titillate, or even satiate our desire to see the hero and heroine consummate their relationship, but rather, they are there to highlight the tremendous gap that is being bridged by the hero and heroine in the service of their love.

You see, if a hero has physical differences from the heroine, then leaving the bedroom door closed when it comes time for intimacy is like cheating the audience out of an important part of the story. We have questions! How do things work? What similarities and differences are there in that area? Can they even do anything other than gaze soulfully into each other’s eyes? If the door is closed, the audience never gets the answers to these questions.

I personally don’t need pages and pages of graphic description, but I want to be in that room with that couple, because I want to see the awkwardness and the fumbling and the wide-eyed staring at something the heroine (or hero) has never seen before. I want to know how the hero reacts to the heroine’s touch, and vice versa. Are they nervous? Confident? Downright terrified? Or is their love so strong at that point that all they see is beauty, no matter how alien it is? There is so much character depth that can be built in this one scene of intimacy. It is in no way gratuitous. If you cut it out, you lose all that emotion, and all those moments of discovery.

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The hero and heroine come from different cultures

I love multicultural love stories almost as much as downright alien love stories! Even if both the hero and heroine are human in appearance, there is a lot to be gained by showing intimate scenes between them if they come from vastly different cultures. The first scenes are especially important. Everything from the first kiss to the first lovemaking are important elements to deepen the portrayal of the cultural divide the two lovers must bridge in order to solidify their partnership.

Does she accept his way of doing things, or will he embrace her way? Or perhaps they come up with a different way that completely veers away from either of their cultural norms. Are there cultural taboos that one or the other might accidentally break? What kinds of emotions are they feeling as they discover what is acceptable, what is desired, and what is distasteful to their partner, due to his or her cultural background?

Removing these scenes from a multicultural romance just cheats the reader out of experiencing this wide range of emotions and insecurities. Since the premise of the whole book is probably about this multicultural difference, an important part of the story is missing!

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-The hero and/or heroine is nervous or afraid of intimacy

This is another time when the culmination of the romance can be as sweet as the buildup. Anyone who’s ever read romance has encountered deeply wounded characters that are afraid of intimacy because of past experiences. This is actually a fairly common trope in romance. The other fairly common trope is the virgin, who will probably be, at the very least, nervous about their first time.

So what does a graphic scene add to this story? Well, leaving the bedroom door open shows us how their partner handles their hesitance. Are they patient, allowing the reluctant lover to set the pace, or are they dominant, leading the reluctant one past their apprehension and discomfort? What steps do they take to soothe, or seduce, their partner into relaxing and enjoying the experience? Are they tender, or oafish? Do you see how much can be learned about the characters of both the hero and the heroine from the answers to these questions? These are all questions that would have no answers if the bedroom door was left shut.

Scenes like this are far from gratuitous. Even if—say the heroine—thinks back on how tender and patient the hero was during their lovemaking, we only have her word for it. How do we know she’s a trustworthy narrator? How do we know she’s even remembering it correctly? Besides, who wants to be told what happened, when it’s far more engaging to be shown?

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When plot points are revealed during intimacy

Let’s say the hero has scars that tell a story about something terrible that happened in his life. Normally, he covers them up. In the bedroom, he tries to keep the light off, but the heroine is stroking her fingers along the skin of his back and discovers them. What happens then? I suppose if the door is left closed and we never see this scene, we will be told later (because being told is so much better than being shown. L ) People let their guard down during intimate moments, which allows things to be revealed naturally to further advance the plot, rather than having those moments forcefully injected into the narrative. Scars, secret confessions released during a passionate embrace, memories recalled, etc. All of these plot elements can be skillfully woven into a sex scene to the point where the execution of them comes off as natural and only enhances the story.

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When other aspects of a personality can be revealed during sex

Suppose the hero is naturally reticent and reserved. If the bedroom door closes on his intimate moments with the heroine, we might never find out that he’s adventurous in passion and likes to experiment and explore. We might only assume that he’s just as reserved in bed, unless the heroine later tells us otherwise (blah).

The same goes for the heroine. Let’s say she’s very shy and quiet in everyday life, but she likes to talk dirty in bed and reveals another side of her personality we had no idea existed. The depth of development that can be achieved in one sex scene cannot be ignored.

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These are only five points where sex scenes in romance are not gratuitous. I know there’s a lot more, and I’d love to see if anyone else can think of any in the comments below.

I try to write my romances using a light hand on any scene that I don’t feel furthers the story or the characters in any way. Sure, sometimes, I like to throw in a “slice of life” scene so readers can get an idea of how the characters are living day-to-day, but even then, I want it to say something about my characters or world. I do the same thing with sex scenes. If they can be cut from the story without taking anything away, then I usually don’t add them in the first place, but if they provide more depth to the character and plot, I will gladly add them. There is so much that can be learned about characters when they’re behind that closed door.

I just wanted to finish this up by adding that I’m not against gratuitous scenes in romance either. Many people enjoy them for their own sake, and that’s cool too.

I write both “clean” and graphic romance, because I want everyone to be able to enjoy my stories, and I know that some readers aren’t comfortable with graphic scenes. However, with some stories, I’m just not comfortable writing without them. Much of my writing is intuitive. I add what “feels” right to me. To be totally honest, it’s much harder to write the romances “clean” than to add that additional heat. I have to be more deliberate about how I answer all the questions I asked in each of the points I mentioned above. Sometimes, those questions simply don’t get answered, and I feel like the story suffers for it.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Do these types of scenes bother you in books? (Books that are clearly labeled! I fully understand why you’d be frustrated if you didn’t know they’d be in there, when you didn’t have warning.)

Just a Little Bit Obsessed

Sadly, Monday’s blog never made it out of bed. It tried. When the alarm went off, it peered out from under the covers, stared at the time, said “oh, heck no,” slammed a fist down on the snooze button, and disappeared back under the mound of pillows and blankets. That’s just how Mondays work around here. 😉

So, Tuesday’s blog is much more responsible and turned up bright and early for work. Yay!

“What really happened to my Monday blog,” you ask, suspicious of my story. (Yes, I’m narrating your hypothetical reaction. I’m a writer. It’s second nature!)

Well, it started with a very busy weekend. I attended an author’s event on Saturday at the library and had a good time meeting folks and visiting with some old friends who also happen to be excellent writers. I even managed to sell a few books. 😉

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After that event ended, I mosied on over to the Comicon event at the Cochise College and sat on a panel talking about world-building. That is a conversation that I could go on about forever! Sadly, it was only an hour-long panel, but we covered lots of interesting bits of information that I was going to go into on this blog, but I think I’ll save it for the next one.

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World-building: It’s not for the faint of heart

It was great to see my writer friends again and really have a good sit down, because normal folks (non-writers 😉 ) don’t really “get” me in the same way that writers do, so sometimes it’s nice to talk about things that seem arcane to the world at large (and the husband and kid, who always pretend to be listening while staring at me glassy-eyed, nodding like bobble-heads and muttering uh-huh, yeah, sure)

I decided to blog about something besides world-building today because it’s something that has come up unexpectedly and has been throwing everything out of whack, including Monday’s blog.

A couple of weeks ago, I got an idea for a story. Since I currently have three (!) works in progress in different stages of development, the last thing I needed was another idea. BUT! Ideas don’t give a dang about that sort of thing. They come when they want and leave when they want, so if you don’t jump on em quick and catch them under the net, you could lose them for good. At least, that’s how I feel whenever I get one.

So I started writing. I figured I could knock out a quick outline and then store it in my file of outlines for someday when I don’t have a bunch of ideas floating around in my head. Got an outline done. The idea kept nagging at me, so I sat down and worked on a couple of chapters. It was slow-going. The words weren’t flowing and the plot wasn’t working. So I started over. I still didn’t like it. Started over again.

By this point I was ready to quit in frustration and consign this idea to the misc. junk file that sits inside my writing folder. (That’s as close as I can bring myself to actually deleting any idea, no matter how wonky or bad it is.)

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I was good for a week, working on my other projects. The Princess Dragon rewrite was going well, and Morbidon’s Bride is now several chapters ahead of where I’m at for publishing it. Jessabelle’s Beast is out to my beta readers and things were looking up.

But that pushy idea returned with a vengeance. I pulled up the chapter and a half that I’d managed to get through and again, I hated it.

One more start-over was like sticking nitrous in my gas tank. Suddenly I took off, and I couldn’t stop! I went from two thousand words on one day, to eleven thousand on the next day! This story got me in its teeth and wouldn’t let go. Every time I tried to break away from the computer, it shook me until I returned, hands and legs and back aching, but typing away like someone possessed.

I’m at nearly 27,000 words of what will be a full-length novel of at least 75,000 and I have to force myself to take a break or I just won’t be able to physically handle it. Sitting six hours straight at a computer typing non-stop is not something I can do for the couple weeks that will be required to see this story to the end that is flashing in my head like a neon sign. My fingertips ache, which is why I didn’t do yesterday’s blog and started this one first thing today, before I even looked at my newest project.

Whenever I say that a story comes to life for me, this is exactly the type of situation I mean. I had an idea, and nothing I wrote seemed to fit that idea, then one day, everything clicked into place and the story took over, leading me down the path instead of the other way around. I love this almost magical experience, but at the same time, I hate it because it is difficult to live a normal, functional life around events like this. Other people don’t understand when you say you can’t just stop typing and put the computer away for the day to visit with them, or to do your housework. They don’t understand why you have a blank expression on your face and stare at the wall for hours instead of watching the mindless show they want you to watch with them. I’m in a completely different world right now, living out the story in my head! There’s nothing else I can focus on until that story gets written!

These “events” (I don’t know how to classify them, and “mental illness” just sounds insulting. 😉 ) have only happened to me five other times. (I know, “only” right, but seriously, I’ve written about fifteen full manuscripts and only five of them have been stories that held me hostage until they were finished.)

Most of my family views my writing as a hobby that I just happen to do in my free time. The fact that this is not even remotely true doesn’t connect for them. Unless I’m raking in the big bucks and hitting the NYT best sellers list, as far as they’re concerned, I’m a hobbyist. This means they can’t understand when I can’t just stop working on a manuscript to do my chores. I’m still required to meet all the same obligations I had to meet before I was caught up in the passion of a new project. No one but another writer can seem to understand how hard it is to be interrupted at the keyboard with an idea flitting around in your head like a magic butterfly—ephemeral and quick to escape if you don’t pin it down on the page.

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When I’m visibly frustrated at continuous interruptions, I’m the jerk. My long-suffering family simply puts up their hands and makes jokes about having to tip-toe around me, making me feel like Mr. Hyde. I feel guilty for wanting those hours of time—alone and uninterrupted—to complete this story. I daydream of a mountaintop retreat (with wifi) where I can be alone with my laptop and the occasional Google search.

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I once spent twelve straight hours typing on another story. I barely got up to use the restroom and ate my meals at the keyboard. I’m shocked that I didn’t a blood clot or something. I’m not saying it’s a good idea, but this is how obsessed I can get when I’m caught up like this.

These are situations that many people can’t understand—even some other writers look at me like I’m crazy when I talk about twelve hours at the keyboard. It’s not like it happens all the time. Most of my books are written calmly and carefully, with a daily word count of only 1500 to 2500 words. I’m more comfortable with those stories because I can walk away from them and live my life as normal, but there’s just something about these other stories that capture the emotion that I felt getting them out of me.

So there it is: the reason Monday’s blog didn’t make it to school on time. (But my kid did, and I even remembered to pick her up, so I’m still at least moderately functional 😉 )

I’ve been joking a lot in this blog and throwing in a lot of winky faces, but the truth is that I take this very seriously. I feel very guilty about taking time away from my family and my life for my passion for writing. I don’t think my guilt is fair, but there it is. If I was making boatloads of money at this, I feel like other people would accept it as “my job,” but because I’m not there yet, it’s still just a hobby and no one should “waste” so much of their time on a hobby.

I love what I do, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, even if I never achieve the kind of fame and financial success others seem to think I need before I can consider this my “job.” At the same time, I’d love to be taken seriously as a creative person, driven by the creativity beyond what other people can understand. I’m sorry if this comes off a little “ranty.” I’m tired and aching and emotionally burned out and I still have about fifty thousand words of this story gnawing at my brain, so it’s difficult to focus on anything else, but negativity is not what my blog is all about, so I’d like to end on a more upbeat note.

This story will be one I will love, even if it never sees the light of day for anyone else. It’s heartwarming, and beautiful, and flawed, and rough like an uncut diamond. It may collect virtual dust in my writing folder until I’m a hundred years old, but I will always go back to it and read it and love what I’ve created. Ultimately, that is what makes the sacrifice and the guilt worth it in the end. I say good luck to everyone who is creating something that takes a lot out of them. Others may not recognize what you put into your work, but I do. Whether it’s a painting, or a manuscript, or a delicate craft project, be creative, put in the time without guilt, and accept that we need these outlets for the energy that builds up inside us.

Let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear if you’ve been in this same, or a similar situation. Do you ever feel guilty for taking time away from your family to write, or draw, or paint, or craft, or do whatever moves you? Do you ever feel driven to finish something, and struggle to focus on anything else until it’s done?