Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Most Memorable Book Read in 2018: THE HOUR OF MEETING EVIL SPIRITS

This week, we're chatting up our Most Memorable Book(s) of 2018. Of late, I've been challenging myself to learn more folklore, myths, and legends from around the world. Combine that with my envy of appreciation for talented illustrators, and it's little wonder that the book that stuck in my brain is one part art book and one part reference book of Japanse Folklore.

An Encyclopedia of Mononoke and Magic (Yokai Book 2)
by Matthew Meyer (yokai.com)

Want to learn about Tesso the Iron Rat?

How about the ghosts of vengeance known as the Goryō?

While Meyer has a lot of the content from this book and the first in the series up on his website, it is totally worth owning the paperback.

Here's an example of his illustrations...


TRANSLATION: living ghost
ALTERNATE NAMES: shōryō, seirei, ikisudama
HABITAT: inhabited areas
DIET: none; lives off its owner’s emotions


Sunday, December 9, 2018


Due to a desperate case of GOTTA FINISH THIS BOOK OR MY EDITOR WILL KILL ME I do not have a post for you today.

Apologies. Bills gotta get paid.


Friday, December 7, 2018

Screwing with Your Characters' Heads

Apologies for a slightly tardy post. The entire development lost internet and the ISP spent the bulk of the day and night setting that straight. I hesitate to say much more lest this brief window of stability shatter.

Sex in my novels. Yes. I do write sex into most of my novels. The intensity varies based on the needs of the characters and their stories. So far my sex scenes swing from sweet to just shy of erotica.

As to when and how I use sex scenes, my intent when I write them is usually to mark passing a trust milestone for hero and heroine. But. When I look back at the scenes I've written, they almost always slant into being a means of prying up the edges of my characters' defenses in ways they never imagined or intended, especially in the SFRs. I like a lot of action in my stories. I'm all about the good guys being chased by bad guys with guns. Into that action, a lull must come. A tiny space suspended between conflicts where two people who've been forced to learn to work together while battling insurmountable odds can finally explore the physical attraction that's brewed throughout the story. Yes. In the SFRs I make them wait. Mainly because most of those books are enemy to lovers stories and building trust to the point of a sex scene not being forced takes a little time. Still. In each of those sex scenes, there's a power dynamic in play and that enemy to lovers energy is never far from the surface. It's because when something like sex, intimacy, and vulnerability break a character open, it's the perfect lead in to shattering the trust that's been built. It's the perfect time to force these two changed characters back into the enemy roll they'd once fit into so easily - only now it pinches in the worst way. So yes. If my characters are gonna get it on, I'm going to use it to fuck with their heads and their hearts. Always.

In the urban fantasy books, sex is a means of establishing control. It's a little more graphic, but, I hope, not rape-y. The heroine absolutely buys into the activity and gives enthusiastic consent, but she's also possessed by a demon who's tried using sex to debase and humiliate her. Isa manages to turn the tables on him. When the demon possessing you doesn't consent to sex but you do, what is that?? Regardless, the point of that scene was to complicate relationships and up emotional stakes for all three characters involved.

So sex scenes. When? When the characters and the story need them. When a sex scene would enhance or heighten conflict or increase stakes. How graphic? Depends entirely on the needs of the story. I know we all keep saying that. But everything that isn't sex scene in your story has a specific tone that dictates what you can and cannot get away with in sex scenes. If you read widely, you very likely already recognize this. How does it change my characters? Sex scenes usually break my people open. They demonstrate both to the reader and to the characters that they've passed a threshold and can't go back to what they once were.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Fade to Black

So, it's time for those end-of-the-year lists, and one of the classics is the Bad Sex Award, and this year it's some really glorious badness.  Looking at these ignoble entries, I'm reminded of why I tend to err on the side of "fading to black" when things are going to go much past kissing. 

Of course, anything resembling erotica or explicit sex would not fit in with the tone I've set for the Maradaine books.  Those tend to fit in the same category as PG-13 movies/primetime television, in terms of what I'm going for with them.  Not quite YA, but certainly friendly to a YA-seeking audience. 

BUT-- I've got a non-Maradaine project on the horizon, just in the planning stage, and I think the tone and feel for that one is going to want something a bit more explicit.  We'll see.  Still sorting it out, but I'd like to think this is an opportunity to build a new set of tools for my writing toolbox.

Or an opportunity to make that year's awards. 

But that's a challenge for tomorrow.  Right now I'm working on Shield of the People and The Fenmere Jobboth of which will have their share of kissing and fading-to-black.  Who's kissing who, and when do we fade?  Well, you'll have to see.  But I will say that characters who were noted by some readers as not getting to kiss anyone in earlier books will be kissing people in these.

Back to work.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Sex or violence? Sex definitely. And a free read.

The way I see it, if character arc is something you're shooting for, you have to strip your character down and leave them excruciatingly vulnerable at least once. You can, of course, do that by lobbing cruelties at them. Or you can hook them up.

Now, I don't mind a bit of gore in a book, but I way prefer sex. Writing sex is funner than writing violence, and reading it certainly is.

So my Q&A for this week's topic goes as follows:

Sex in your novels...

1. When do you use it?

When I need the character to be vulnerable, to trust, or to protag (*).

2. How graphic do you get?

It sort of depends on the audience. I've written sweet, euphemistic sex, a smooch and a closed door, balls-deep wildthing sex, and a 12,000-word bondage menage. Each was appropriate for the publisher's line or anthology or market. I build the characters around the required heat level. For instance, I wrote two short stories for Circlet Press(**) anthologies, and those shorts use all the words and body parts. (Man, were they fun.) Wanted & Wired got some extra skin time in revisions, to lean it further into the romance market. So, how graphic do I get, in general? About as graphic as readers can stand.

3. How does it change your character?

Um... a lot? I mean, to be readable, it sort of has to. Nobody wants to read an ending and then a tacked-on gratuitous bang. We want all the bangs to be part of the story, either building or breaking a character or a relationship. So, I guess the characters change by being either built or broken.

Finally, if you've read all the way through my advice-giving and authority-pretending, you deserve a cookie. How about a free read cookie? Here's a link to my very explicit but also romantic epic fantasy quest erotica story, "Orin's Strand." It's only 8k words. You have time.


* Having your character make decisions, have agency, and be proactive (i.e., "protagging") is crucial in a story. Books about people reacting to everything aren't fun. So if you write sex to get your character vulnerable, you must deal with consent. If you're creating vulnerability through cruelty, sex without consent is an option. And it's a gross one, and I don't want to read that book. If you're creating vulnerability through trust, bring on the sex and the enthusiastic consent. If you click that link for my free read, you'll get a better idea of what I mean by protagging through sex.

** Circlet Press is a speculative fiction erotica publisher run by the amazing Cecilia Tan. Circlet was supportive of LGBTQ stories before the rest of the world caught on, and publishing with them has been a lovely experience. You don't need an agent to submit there, so if you're just starting out and looking to make contacts and hone your skills--not necessarily to make a lot of money--I recommend looking into them. If you're searching for some top-quality erotica to read, they're also a fantastic source.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Sex in Fiction: Don't Confuse Intimacy w Tab Placement

From: Salt n' Pepa's "Let's Talk About Sex" Music Video
Let's talk about sex, baby.

 ~Waits for the earworm to take root~

In fiction, much like real life, sex typically happens as an evolution of romance, a demonstration of power, an act of manipulation, or an emotional balm. Whether the sex is graphically detailed, faded to black, or a two-sentence spurt depends on myriad factors rolling around the author's head.

For my books, sex of any flavor comes down to whether it suits the character in "this" moment of their story. It's entirely possible that where the reader enters the character's life does not coincide with a sexually active time for the character. Sex shouldn't be shoehorned into a story any more than it should be actively avoided. Similarly, don't confuse intimacy with sliding Tab A into Slot B. Sex isn't a foregone conclusion in every intimate relationship, nor does sex require there to be a healthy relationship before/during/after it happens. However, unlike real life, sex in a novel needs to serve a purpose, to "show" something about a character and that character's relationship to their world.

When it comes to my protags, a critical part of their character development involves establishing and managing intimacy. Whether that intimacy leads to romance or to uncommon friendship depends on the protag. Since I write series rather than stand-alones, building intimacy takes place over multiple books. The question of sexual desire is answered fairly early. If sex is in the protag's future, then, sure, flirting happens. Sure, there will be caresses when merited. A toe-curling kiss may happen in book 3, but that's no guarantee that beds will be breaking in book 4.

In my High Fantasy series, my protagonist understands the primal drive of intercourse, but she views the act with something close to disdain or contempt. Her history is rife with copulation equating to manipulation or worse. She's not the sort of gal for whom sex is the ultimate demonstration of a soul-deep connection. The only sex described in detail in that series is when the protag happens upon others in the throes.

In my Urban Fantasy series, my protag is hardly sex-averse, but her focus isn't on getting laid. Her last two girlfriends ended up maimed by greater powers, so she's not keen to put someone else on the chopping block. However, there is a romance (re)building between her and another series regular. Crafting that intimacy takes priority over the boinking. Yes, I do hear from readers that "the story was good, but I want sex in my UF books and this didn't have any so I won't continue with the series." That's cool. There's a good chunk of the UF genre that offers high-octane sexual experiences. No harm, no foul. Hell, I'll offer recommendations.

Since I don't write romances (well, not that I've published) a romantic plotline is not the primary plotline; therefore, I can't have sex detract from nor dictate the main plot. The quest for intimacy, on the other hand, provides motivation for the protag. It is integral to the story. And that, I lay out in great detail.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Serving Sex: Only if it makes a difference.

Okay so I was raised in a household where sex was something that happened but was not widely discussed. Not exactly prudish, we certainly had conversations, but most of them were of the Birds and the Bees nature.

One of the very first things I heard with any regularity in the writing field was simply that sex sells. Cool beans and more power to you, but I decided early on that unless the scene mattered tot he story, I probably wasn't gong to mention it,

Most of my dirty scenes are a couple of sentences long.

Which rather amuses me. I happen to be extremely fond of sex. I make mention of it with regularity in my writings. But you know what? I also mention that sometimes characters have to pee.

It's a biological function and I will mention it. But unless the sex A) pushes the story forward, B) has a serious impact on the story or C) proves something I don't find a need to go into details.

Examples: In UNDER THE OVERTREE a character is raped. I mention that she was raped. I deal with the consequences of the situation. I felt no need to write a seen to titilate, so I didn't. As far as I'm concerned rape is an act of violence and shouldn't be used to stimulate anyone. There are consequences to the action and they are far ranging.

In BLOOD RED one of the main characters is literally paid as a prostitute to seduce every member of the religious clergy she can get in contact with. She does an excellent job. It isn't as thanks for all the good deeds. it's set up by a vampire who wants to generate as many crisis of faith as he can in order to weaken the religious faith in the community. She is rather successful in causing multiple crisis of faith. Completely unaware as to why she has been hired and not willing to ruin the cash flow coming her way the character never examines the reasons, but she DOES discover that seducing the people who should be above seduction is a powerful rush.  There are a few MODERATELY descriptive scenes. There are a few VERY descriptive sex scenes I have more sexual actions in this book than in anything else Ive ever written because they are pertinent to the story.

In SEVEN FORGES one of the male characters runs after Swech, a foreigner that he is watching over, in order t make sure that she is not sexually assaulted when she heads for the wrong part of town. What he finds when he chases after her is that Swech is capable of defending herself. She either maims or kills the six men that decide she would make an excellent victim. They are very mistaken in their beliefs.

Swech later "seduces" Merros, the man who went to save her. By seduce, what I mean is she basically jumps his bnes. Not that he's objecting. the entire purpose of these scenes is to make certain that A) Merros sees Swech first and foremost as a warrior and at the every least an equal. And second to show the very strong differences in cultures. Merros comes from a place where the only women who sleep with a man when unmarried are either foolish or prostitutes. Swech comes from a place where, if both parties agree, sex happens. Should pregnancy occur it's the will of the gods and deemed perfectly acceptable. The sex is mentioned. it is not something that is graphically described aside from the fact that Merros admires her shape a few times.

The lack of description has more to do with the fact that I likely will never be able to put into words the complex situations that happen between and man and a woman, and from the simple notion that sometimes less is more. I can describe a sexual act in detail. I can also describe a violent beheading in detail. I rarely feel the need to go far with either event.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Sex: Always, Extremely, and Profoundly

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Sex in Your Novels: When Do You Use It, How Graphic Do You Get, How Does It Change Your Character(s)?"

I answered the question in my post title, so I guess I'm done and go finish trimming the tree!

All right, seriously, I suspect I'm fairly well known for writing the sexytimes into my stories. I sometimes teach classes in Sexual Tension and Sex as a Tool for Character Transformation. I think I've written maybe one or two fiction works with zero sex. Some of this is because my readers expect the sexytimes from me, sure, but it's also because sex just always works its way into my stories.

For me, sex is a profound part of the human experience - and it's also a way to pry open the characters. During sex, we are vulnerable in a way that we aren't in any other facet of life. We reveal our intimate faces to another, and the emotional stakes can be extreme. Sex is a way of connecting with another person, and it's also a way of showing where that character is in their emotional journey.

When Do You Use It

This varies from story to story, depending on the characters, but very often the act of full intercourse happens at a moment of intense emotional crisis. I'm using THE SNOWS OF WINDROVEN as an example, in part because this is a midwinter holiday story, so appropriate for the season. It takes place during the Feast of Moranu, my fictional solstice celebration in my Twelve Kingdoms world. The hero, Ash, is struggling with his own feelings of inadequacy - and that he feels unworthy of the love of his life, Ami. His consuming passion for Ami is a drive nearly beyond his control, so when he lets go and allows himself to have sex with her are emotionally charged moments.

“No,” she said miserably, face pressed into my chest. “You’re right. It was thoughtless of me. I just…” She let out a long breath. 
“What?” I urged. When she stubbornly shook her head, I levered the hand between us to lift her chin. Her eyes huge in her face, she looked fragile and vulnerable. Heartbreakingly beautiful. “Tell me, my sun.” 
“I just really miss you,” she whispered. “I miss us, how we used to be.” 
I groaned, losing everything to her, as I’d done all along—even before I ever knew her. And I was kissing her, lush mouth soft and sweet under mine, then parting and taking me into her heat. I devoured her, frustrated that I could only hold her with one hand, but using that to cup her head and hold her still so I could drink her in. I’d been starved for the taste of her, for the silk of her hair between my fingers and the delicate curve of her skull in my palm.

How Graphic Do You Get

I'm really not sure where I fall on the graphic scale. I write detailed sex scenes, but I also use euphemisms and focus on the feelings and sensations, rather than meticulously detailed blow-by-blow descriptions.

(explicit below)

My Ami might look angelic, but she possessed an uncanny mastery of the sensual skills. Another gift from the goddess of love. I slowed, stroking into her and savoring the way she enveloped me, so warm, an embrace like coming home. She watched me now through slitted lids, blue burning through the lace of fire, her moans like purrs. I bent over her, taking her nipple in my teeth and flicking my tongue that way that drove her crazy. She grabbed my head, bringing my mouth to hers, sucking my tongue in and biting hard enough to draw blood. 
I snarled, losing what little gentleness I’d been able to muster. Holding her in place, pounding into her, my vision blurred into a red haze. A whirl of jeweled stars exploded in my brain, and with a shout of near agony, I wrenched my mouth from hers, sinking my teeth into the vulnerable curve of her neck. The climax vised through me, a rumbling thunder of need that rattled and rocked me.  
Holding onto her like a drowning man, I dropped into oblivion.

How Does It Change Your Characters

Obviously this changes with the character, depending on what's going on with them. But I do believe that every sex scene should have some sort of personal fallout for the characters. Sometimes they might go right back into whatever cycle they're bound up in. Other times they might finally let go of something that's been holding them back.

In the case of this particular scene, he immediately retreats to that same prison he's made for himself.
The pain in my arm finally made me move. Trapped between us, the still-bruised flesh and knitting bones protested being pinned. Reality crashed back with it. I’d fucked the Queen of Avonlidgh on the grand table in the main hall of Windroven. An abysmally bad decision, even for me. 
As if there’d been any thinking involved.

But later
“It’s not so easy as that.” 
“It is that easy, Ash.” She framed my face with her hands. “Just let me love you. Let yourself love me and everything else will fall into place.” 
“Love doesn’t solve everything.” 
“No.” She kissed me. “But it makes everything worthwhile.” 
I sank into her, into the kiss and into the silken sweetness of her embrace. In the soft light of morning, I let myself love her as she’d asked, showing her with caresses and all the rawness in me, how very worthwhile that could be.