And it’s especially jolly for me since I received my author copies of The Moonlight Mistress!!!
I don’t have a story in this anthology, but a friend of mine edited it and others wrote stories for it, and I’m really looking forward to reading it!
Time Well Bent: Queer Alternative Histories
ed. by Connie Wilkins
We have always been here. For as long as there’s been such a thing as sex, alternate sexual identities have been a fact of life. So why have we been so nearly invisible in recorded history and historical fiction? Editor Connie Wilkins, a Lambda Literary Award finalist, has assembled fourteen stories that span the centuries-from ancient times to the Renaissance to the modern era-and explore alternate versions of our past. Their queer protagonists, who bend history in ways dramatic enough to change the world and subtle enough to touch hearts and minds, rescue our past from invisibility, and affirm our place and importance throughout all of history, past, present, and future.
Table of Contents:
Introduction by Connie Wilkins
A Wind Sharp as Obsidian by Rita Oakes
The Final Voyage of the Hesperus by Steven Adamson
Roanoke by Sandra Barret
A Marriage of Choice by Dale Chase
The High Cost for Tamarind by Steve Berman
A Spear Against the Sky by M P Ericson
Sod ‘Em by Barry Lowe
Morisca by Erin Mackay
Great Reckonings, Little Rooms by Catherine Lundoff
Barbaric Splendor by Simon Sheppard
Opening Night by Lisabet Sarai
A Happier Year by Emily Salter
The Heart of the Storm by Connie Wilkins
At Reading Station, Changing Trains by C. A. Gardner
Lethe Press, October 2009
Paperback, 184 pages
Retail price: $15.00
So, there’s this novel, and it’s about a virgin who thinks she’s doomed to nymphomania and a ninja who used to be a child prostitute.
Or in this one, the hero is afraid of heights, and the heroine has a pet hedgehog who is vital to the plot and also she invented radio and wants to make a flying machine.
If you haven’t read Laura Kinsale’s books, those lists of story elements sound a little silly, don’t they? But she makes them work, and work to perfection.
Part of the reason why they work, I think, is the wackiness. In and of itself, a wacky story element gets your attention because it’s different. If you describe a book as having a rake and a virgin, a hundred readers could each name a different book that included those elements. However, only Seize the Fire has an overweight princess and a rake with PTSD, at least so far as I know. And if there’s another one, I want to read it, so please give me the title and author.
Aside from standing out solely through difference, though, Kinsale follows through. She doesn’t rely on the wacky story elements. They’re just there, inextricable from the rest of the story. They’re facets, just like her plots and her themes and her thoroughly-imagined and thoroughly-presented characters. All of the elements interconnect and support one another, creating a strong framework for the most essential element of a romance novel: the emotion.
When I think of The Shadow and the Star, what I remember is the first sexual encounter between the hero and heroine in all its pain and neediness and confusion. In Midsummer Moon, it’s the agony of the hero as he confronts his fears. In Seize the Fire, I never fail to be exhausted by the emotional breakdowns of both hero and heroine.
The wacky story elements are a reason to read these books, but not the primary reason. Kinsale does not allow them to take over the story. And that’s why they work.
The books I mentioned, in order:
The Shadow and the Star
And now for some actual content:
Normally, my writers’ workshop meets once every couple of months, but it’s been a little less often lately. Some of us are engaged in big projects that must proceed too quickly to take time out for critique; others are dealing with life and health issues. Our founding member is living overseas this year, and we all miss her terribly. There’s email, but it’s just not the same.
I’ve been thinking once again about what a valuable thing a workshop can be to a writer. The critique is useful, of course. Over many years of shared critiques I have a good idea of the literary tastes of our members, but that doesn’t mean their comments aren’t useful; knowing what they generally like and dislike helps me to properly gauge what they’re saying about my work. We’re up-front about such things, anyway: “You know I hate all prologues, but I think this one serves a useful purpose”; or “I loved this story as soon as I met the talking space-squid!”
Perhaps more importantly, everyone in the workshop has different talents. I can count on some for noticing tiny details that I left out, or that need more explanation; others for sensing that the emotional arc might be made more intense with a change just here; others for pointing out that this character’s motives are completely obscure unless a certain element of his past is revealed. Not everyone attends every meeting, but even if there are only three or four people present, I still feel I get a good range of opinions.
Because I’m getting those opinions in person, I can also ask questions. Often, the post-critique cross-talk is just as valuable, or more so, than the critiques themselves. New connections and new inspirations are sparked, and critiquers remember other small items they meant to bring up but had forgotten earlier.
The best part of a workshop meeting, though, is the camaraderie. Writers spend so much time alone, working. It’s a real joy to meet face-to-face and just chat about our lives and our writing in general as well as the pieces we’re critiquing that month. We eat together, and rebuild our friendships, and remember the value in each of us.
“My Dear Sir,
I am honoured by the Prince’s thanks and very much obliged to yourself for the kind manner in which you mention the work. …
You are very kind in your hints as to the sort of composition which might recommend me at present, and I am fully sensible that an historical romance, founded on the House of Saxe-Cobourg, might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in. But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.
I remain, my dear Sir,
Your very much obliged, and sincere friend,
Chawton, near Alton, April 1, 1816.”
— Jane Austen, letter to J. S. Clarke
Moonlight Mistress is out December 2009 from Harlequin Spice.
Crispin hadn’t felt any fear at all as he’d led his platoon into battle, only a strange feeling of intense concentration and heightened senses. Now that the worst of the fighting was over, though, chance had left him stranded far from his company, his twisted ankle swelling inside his boot, each beat of his pulse throbbing up his whole leg. He lay surrounded by mud and metal fragments, corpses and incomplete corpses, and the shattered skeletons of trees. That was a very different thing, and he’d had to work to keep from panicking.
Meyer had arrived after about an hour, and now Crispin couldn’t stop shaking. He’d been holding together rather well when he lay in the mud alone, waiting for death. A blanket of acceptance had eventually settled over his mind: someone else would take care of his men, and either another shell would land on his head and blow him to bits, or it wouldn’t, and he would worry about survival later. Dying that way would be quick. If his legs were blown off, or an arm, he still had his pistol. He could always shoot himself before he bled to death. He thought God would forgive him suicide, if he were dying already and in terrible pain. He needn’t fear the worst, being ripped open by a bayonet, as no German would be insane enough to venture out of his trench during this kind of assault. Being trapped in a shell hole hadn’t been nearly as bad as he’d feared.
Now, though, Meyer was with him, and if he was killed, Meyer would likely be killed, too. Crispin carefully unhooked his pistol from its lanyard, reholstered it, and buttoned the flap. His hands were shaking too badly for it to be any good. “Why did you come after me? Where’s your platoon?” He heard the sound of a train rushing overhead and pressed himself deeper into the mud, his arms protecting his face. The shell exploded some distance behind them. Smoke from previous impacts drifted by, like ghosts. Crispin shuddered.
Meyer lifted his head. His spectacles were spattered with mud, his mouth wry. “I thought it was over. My boys headed back. I came to look for you.”
Probably, he’d gone looking for Crispin’s corpse. “I can take care of myself,” Crispin growled, though it wasn’t entirely true. No one could take care of themselves in the midst of a battle. You couldn’t protect yourself from a shell, not really. Crispin wasn’t sure why he was so angry. He’d never been happier in his life, at least for a few moments, than when Meyer had slipped and skidded his way down into this godforsaken hole. Perhaps it was that he’d been ready to die, finally calm about it, and then Meyer’s arrival had reminded him that he’d left something unfinished, and he would regret it for eternity.
“God damn it,” he said. Another shell whistled and he ducked again. That one had been closer. He stole a glance at Meyer, and unexpectedly met his steady blue gaze, or what he could see of it through the mud. His heart stopped. Meyer looked down, fumbled off his filthy specs with an equally filthy hand, and slid them carefully into the breast pocket of his uniform tunic. His slight squint when he looked at Crispin now bore a disturbing resemblance to a look of lustful contemplation.
Meyer said, “I’d give a hundred guineas for a hot bath right now.”
Crispin’s mind presented him with an image of Meyer’s naked form ensconced in a porcelain bath, one leg flung over the side. He closed his eyes. That made it worse. He opened them again and reflected wryly that at least it was better than contemplating his own dismemberment. “I’d give two hundred guineas for any bath,” he said. “There’s a puddle down at the bottom of this hole.”
“Let me guess. You found it with your boots.”
“My arse,” Crispin said. “Good thing my coat took most of the damp.” He rested his cheek on his arm and tried to slow down his breathing. Sometimes that helped. This time it helped for two breaths, until a Screaming Minnie tore the air, then another, then a whole host of them, smaller shells ripping their way towards inevitable destruction. Terror washed him like cold rain, then a vast numbness that he dove into gladly.
c. Victoria Janssen 2009
More Snippet Saturday!
Please welcome my guest, Jessica Freely!
Hi, I’m m/m erotic romance author Jessica Freely and I’m guest blogging here today. Thank you, Victoria, for having me over!
I just had a new ebook, Rust Belt, come out last month, so the topic of promotion has been on my mind lately. You know promotion. We’re all supposed to do it, and most of us would rather not. We’re writers. We want to be writing the next book, not pestering innocent bystanders to buy the last one. And yet, you’ll hear it shouted from every rooftop, posted on every wall, and tweeted from every twa– uh, branch: Promotion is an absolute must if you want to be a successful writer these days.
“It’s easier than ever,” the promo mavens crow. And they’re right. Web 2.0 has expanded author promotional opportunities like a sun going nova (can you tell I have an sf background?) With Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal, Goodreads, and LinkedIn, not to mention good old blogs, forums and Yahoo! Groups, you can spend your every waking hour networking and promoting your book. And that’s the problem. It’s all too easy to spread yourself across the interwebs in a thin, ineffectual layer, like inadequate frosting on a cake (don’t you hate that?) Promo gurus like Seth Goodin and Jeff Vandermeer are now counseling authors to pick one or two social networks and use them deeply to get the most bang for their buck.
Are there any other strategies for managing promotional activities to maximize effectiveness? Sure! My recent experience with the release of Rust Belt brought home to me how important timing can be, and how combining promotional activities can amplify the results from each. I’d like to share with you what I did, and when, and how it all worked out.
Rust Belt was scheduled to come out on Sept. 22. It’s my fourth book featuring the characters David and Seth, but my first time writing about them for my new publisher, Loose Id. So I wrote the book to stand alone. But as I put the word around that Rust Belt was coming out soon, I started hearing from readers who wanted to read the first two David and Seth short stories, but couldn’t find them. That’s because they went out of print about three months ago.
It seemed to me there was an opportunity here to reward the people who really wanted to read everything I’d written about David and Seth, and simultaneously, beat the drum for Rust Belt. I decided to make those first two short stories available for a limited time only as free downloads on my Yahoo! newsletter group.
A quick word about my newsletter group. I’m an adherent of Seth Goodin’s permission-based approach to marketing, and I subscribe to the 1,000 readers business model, which posits that in order to make a living, an author needs to cultivate a base of devoted readers who will want to buy everything she writes. 1,000 is an arbitrary number, but the point is, the number is finite, and attainable. Those are the two principles upon which I based my Yahoo! newsletter group. People have to sign up for it, so it is voluntary, and I respect my readers’ time by using it strictly for the purpose of announcing new fiction and author events. I look at newsletter group membership as a metric for my progress in cultivating that reader base I’m after.
So, about a week before Rust Belt came out, I uploaded the first story, “Hero,” onto my group’s file’s section. I then sent an announcement to the group that the file was available free for a limited time only, and that the second story, “Stay,” would go up the Friday before Rust Belt‘s release. I also contacted the readers who had written to me directly, and posted about the offer on my blog, my Twitter feed, and several m/m oriented LiveJournal communities and Yahoo! groups that I frequent. Response was solid. Newsletter memberships increased by about 40%.
I repeated the same process on the following Friday when “Stay” went up, and this time response was even stronger and I began to get some messages from people applying, that indicated word of mouth was starting to take place. At this point, I was very happy with my decision to make these stories available to my readers for free, and with my timing in doing so just prior to a related book coming out.
And then, I did a podcast interview with All Romance eBooks on the night before Rust Belt‘s release. This was a stroke of pure luck facilitated by quick action and a willingness to be adaptable. Prior to all of this free download jazz, All Romance eBooks had sent around a list of promo activities available gratis to authors with books for sale with them. One of them was a podcast interview and reading. It was not the most sought after of the opportunities available, so they had openings fairly soon, and I happen to love reading aloud and have a good voice for it. So I jumped at the opportunity and was fortunate that the timing worked out the way it did.
The interview went great (and of course one of the things we talked about was the free download offer), the reading was well received, and when I woke up the next morning, my email inbox was a solid wall of applications to join my newsletter. I was over the moon. Hits to my blog were off the charts on the day of my new release, and people who never would have heard of me otherwise were suddenly very interested in what I was doing, and, they had an opportunity to sample some of it for free.
Rust Belt was one of Loose Id’s best-sellers for the first two weeks of its life, and as for my newsletter memberships, those increased a hefty 550% from where I originally started. Without a doubt, a goodly portion of my success with this venture comes down to pure luck. The interview with All Romance eBooks coming when it did put everything into overdrive. But, even before that, I was experiencing good solid returns on my efforts. And I think there are a few key factors to that. One is timing. Putting the stories out just prior to a related new release created a nice feedback loop where the two events fed each other’s buzz. Staggering the two downloads increased my opportunities for promotion. And most importantly, the stories promoted the new book, and gave people a chance to essentially sample it for free.
Also, and I have no hard evidence for this, just a gut feeling, but I don’t think it would have worked nearly as well if I had simply given “Hero” and “Stay” away on my blog. Making the stories available only to my newsletter group added value to membership in that group, and it also required something of the person who wanted to download the free stories. I didn’t charge them, but they had to request membership, which by Yahoo’s rules requires they write me a note about why they want to join the group (and those notes are a wealth of useful feedback). They also had to provide me with their email address and, essentially, commit to accept announcements from me about new releases in the future. All of these elements combine to make the relationship between myself and the recipients of those free stories a reciprocal one. That’s a more enduring bond than just snagging something for free on some one’s website. And, I was braced for a bunch of people to join, download the stories, and then un-join, but interestingly enough, that hasn’t happened. With one exception, everyone who signed on to the newsletter during the time of my offer has stayed.
This experience has given me a lot of new insights into effective promotion. Maybe one of the most helpful and reassuring is the understanding that promo is not something you have to do, or should do, every day. Constantly flogging a book runs you the risk of becoming white noise. But shorter bursts of concentrated effort, combining different platforms (All Romance eBooks, Twitter, blog, newsletter group) and different events (interview, giveaway) can amplify the results and get you much stronger returns than any one of those things alone.
Incidentally, as of this writing, “Hero” and “Stay” are still up on my newsletter group, but only for a few more weeks. Pretty soon, I’ll have another opportunity to promote all of my David and Seth stories, and my newsletter group, when I announce that the free offer is coming to an end.
Thank you all for joining me today. I hope you’ve found something useful in my account, and, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Thanks again, Vickie, for lending me your blog today!
Thanks, Jessica! It was great to have you! (And she does have a wonderful speaking voice. I’d totally ask her to read me bedtime stories.)
Related Post: Online Promotion – Is It Worth It?.
I may have mentioned once or twice (ahem) how much I love the “marriage of convenience” plot. I recently finished reading one of Mary Balogh’s recent novels, First Comes Marriage, which I really enjoyed, and which also got me thinking again about why I find that plot so rewarding, particularly in historical romance.
Obviously, you can generate a lot of plot tension simply from two strangers having to work together to accomplish a goal. In the Marriage of Convenience, those goals can vary. For instance, the goal might be simply to create a child who will be heir to a title; or for the hero to provide financially for a woman for whom he feels responsible; or for the heroine and hero to extricate themselves from a social disaster.
You can separate those three situations into two general types that are subtly different. In one version, the simple act of marriage solves a problem (averting social scandal); the resulting marriage then becomes the problem to be solved, in any one of a variety of ways. In another version, the marriage itself begins as a problem that must be solved – the couple is married, but how to do they go about life in order to achieve their goals? What must they give and give up to their partner? What process do they follow, what series of problems and their solutions? Also, occasionally an outside conflict is introduced, that must be solved along with the marriage conflict.
I’m not sure yet if these distinctions are useful ones to make when reading a Marriage of Convenience novel, but they might be useful when thinking about how to plot one. At base, any Marriage of Convenience plot is more about the period after the wedding than the wedding itself. But the period before the wedding might also be useful to create thematic or character issues that can then be strengthened, deepened, once the tension is increased (once the two characters are bound by law).
Another issue I’m considering is the previous relationship. Did the hero and heroine know each other before the wedding? Even if they’ve known each other for years as, say, friends or neighbors, there must be essential elements that are not known, and I think those elements would need to be dramatically significant (hence the popularity of Secret Angst). Without some mystery, there can be no discovery. If the couple are new to one another, for instance the aristocrat who marries the country mouse vicar’s daughter, revelations of character might need to proceed at a different pace.
I’ve rambled on long enough for now, but I’m going to continue to think about the subtleties of this type of plot.
Related post: Why I Love the Marriage of Convenience Plot.