If I’m having a really hard time motivating myself to write–and by write, I mean planting myself in a chair to just do it–I make a date. There are several advantages to making a date.
1. The time is scheduled. I feel obligated just because it’s in my datebook. I feel even more obligated if I announce that I have a writing date on Twitter or similar.
2. If I don’t show up, my fellow writer will be annoyed.
3. If I show up and don’t write, the date will be a failure.
4. If I don’t show up, or show up and don’t write, then I have to tell people I wimped out.
5. I always feel better after I’ve added wordcount.
So, essentially, a writing date shames me into writing. There are other reasons for writing dates, for instance seeing a writer friend, but right now, making myself write is the main reason for me.
So many books, so little time! How do I choose what to read next?
The illustration for this post is some of my giant To Be Read pile, extracted from its boxes and strewn all over my bed for its photo opportunity. (And let me tell you, that was a terrifying experience. I suspect the TBR weighs more than I do.)
Mostly, I keep books in boxes to cut down on dust, but it also helps me to prioritize. Books out of sight are out of mind. If I get a long-awaited book by a particularly beloved author who does not publish a lot, I will often stow that book away for a while, saving it for a special occasion. It helps if I can’t see the book lying there begging me to read it. Laura Kinsale’s newest, Lessons in French, is hidden away for that reason, as is the newest Caroline Stevermer, a middle-grade fantasy titled Magic Below Stairs, and Molly Gloss’ most recent novel, The Hearts of Horses, which I’ve been saving for quite a while. Can you tell I’m not a “dessert first” reader most of the time?
I’ve been known to save books for years after buying them in hardcover as soon as they were available, not reading them until long after they’ve come out in mass market paperback. Yeah, I know, it’s weird.
There are times when I will read a book immediately after I’ve received it. I do this if, for example, the book is a galley or ARC given to me by a friend for review (I often chat about books in my LiveJournal / Dreamwidth Journal). Or I’ll sometimes be enticed to read the book quickly because there’s a lot of online discussion of it, and I want to be able to follow along with the various reviews and discussions.
Mostly, though, I choose by impulse, from the one open box in my TBR. The books I feel I’m probably going to read in the near future are in that box. Sometimes I rotate books in and out of that box, or rearrange several of the TBR boxes, and perhaps even cull out a book or two I’ve decided I no longer want to read. I can’t describe the sense of luxury I get from looking at all I have stocked up to read. It’s a pleasure every time I look through and choose which book to read next.
What about you? How do you choose what to read next?
I found him in the guard-room at the Base.
From the blind darkness I had heard his crying
And blundered in. With puzzled, patient face
A sergeant watched him; it was no good trying
To stop it; for he howled and beat his chest.
And, all because his brother had gone west,
Raved at the bleeding war; his rampant grief
Moaned, shouted, sobbed, and choked, while he was kneeling
Half-naked on the floor. In my belief
Such men have lost all patriotic feeling.
–Siegfried Sassoon, Counter-Attack and Other Poems, 1918
After the blast of lightning from the east,
The flourish of loud clouds, the Chariot Throne;
After the drums of time have rolled and ceased,
And by the bronze west long retreat is blown,
Shall Life renew these bodies? Of a truth
All death will he annul, all tears assuage?–
Or fill these void veins full again with youth,
And wash, with an immortal water, Age?
When I do ask white Age he saith not so:
‘My head hangs weighed with snow.’
And when I hearken to the Earth, she saith:
‘My fiery heart shrinks, aching. It is death.
Mine ancient scars shall not be glorified,
Nor my titanic tears, the seas, be dried.’
–Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918)
I’m elsewhere today! You can find me talking about my top five favorite Marriage of Convenience novels at Monkey Bear Reviews.
I’m also a guest poster today at the Novelists, Inc. Blog on “Real Writers Have Business Cards?” Please drop by and check it out!
Information for an erotic romance can come from funny places. Sometimes you find exactly the little bit you need in a place you never expect.
My world building is usually pretty basic. I like to set things in a contemporary setting, a city that can be just about anywhere. I set up the characters in a world I already know. When writing angels, this took me back to my roots as a pastor’s kid.
I grew up in a home that was an odd balance of Christian Fundamentalist and Liberal Christianity. Creation and science were balanced on a fine edge and there was a constant pull between staying rooted in Biblical beliefs and living in a modern world.
When the idea of the angel books came to me, it made perfect sense to throw that same tug-of-war between the conservative values and modern life into the mix.
As part of this balance, I needed to cement the world of an angel, make it as simple and natural as the human world. I dug up all kinds of internet information and read multiple books on secular Angelology, but nothing seemed to fit the natural order of how things worked in my head.
When researching paranormal elements, there are many myths, legends and traditions to draw on for world building. The information I found on angels was vast, varied and often contradictory. On one hand it left me very confused in terms of what was ‘right’ but on the other it gave me the freedom to simply create what I wanted without worrying about being correct.
So I went back to my roots, where I first learned about angels. I went to Christian tradition and the Bible.
Yes, the Bible as research for an erotic romance.
There are areas where I wander a bit, filled in my own imaginings, other places I had to choose between Bible scholars deductions and some of the old traditional beliefs, but that’s to be expected in writing fiction.
In the end I simply chose information fit my storyline as long as I could find something in the Jewish-Christian tradition that supported it. This tradition is wide-spread and at least partially familiar in much of the English-speaking world today. With Risking Eternity, I tried to tap into these deep-seated roots.
My hope is that the result is easy for a reader to assimilate and accept. I want to push a but, suspend disbelief, and never hit a point where the reader has to stop and choose to accept a detail.
Did I succeed? I don’t know. That’s up to the reader to determine.
I often think of my writing process—the part that goes on inside my head—as composting. The worms of my brain take in information, process it, and expel it. (Okay, so maybe not the tastiest metaphor….) Maybe it’s more like stuff fermenting in a swamp?
My job as front person is to feed information to the worms.
I haven’t been writing a lot lately. I need to write; I’m on deadline; but it’s been hard for me to settle down to it. Since I journal about my process, I know this usually means I need food/information and processing time. In between sessions of forcing myself to write despite lack of energy for it, and making notes/organizing what I’ll be writing next time I sit down to write, and going to the gym in the hope something will be shaken loose, I’m reading a lot. Books are food for my worms.
I can’t always tell what I should be reading. My worms and I don’t speak directly. Also, they can’t speak because they’re worms. And imaginary worms, at that. So I just…read what I feel like reading, with the idea that it’s sort of like when you get a craving for citrus fruit or iron-rich meat. If I crave it, maybe I need it.
Last weekend, I made myself write. Friday night, when I had a writing date, every word was difficult. Saturday morning, the words flowed beautifully. Sunday, I was back to banging my head on the keyboard.
I’ll be interested to see how my writing goes this weekend, whether every sentence is squeezed out like…never mind…or whether my fingers will fly along the keyboard. The scary thing is, no matter how the writing feels at the time, it all seems to be about the same in the end. I might have felt terrible while writing a particular scene, and it will usually read just as well, or better, than the scene that flowed like water.
The important part is that I sit down and do it. All that worm excrement has to go somewhere.
My To Be Read book piles are scary. I suspect pretty much everyone who loves books has a TBR; if they’re not the sort who keep physical books around, or the sort to equivalently load up their e-readers, I would bet lots and lots of money that almost every reader out there has at least a mental list of books she would like to read someday.
My TBR consists of four boxes atop a footlocker. With some loose books on top. And a stack atop a nearby bookshelf, which is also full of TBR, all of it nonfiction. And a box completely full of short story collections. And various books on the shelves, mingled in with other books I have already read. And that little box I tried to hide beneath the couch. That’s not counting my wishlists, of course.
Does my giant collection make me stop buying books? Or even consider stopping? No. Because there might be an apocalypse, and I would definitely need something to read after civilization collapsed. After I read them, I could use them for insulation, or perhaps stitch covers together to make clothing. Best of all, I might be able to trade books for…more books.
I am trying to do better about getting rid of books. These days, I continually remind myself it’s all right not to finish reading a book if I’m not enjoying it. As soon as I’ve finished reading a book, or even when I’m close to the end of one, I try to think about whether I should keep it or share it. (“Share” feels better to me than “get rid of.”) I’m trying to be more ruthless about sharing books I didn’t adore.
I only have so much room in my apartment, after all. And I need room for the To Be Read.
After much pondering and asking people, I decided to have bookmarks made for The Duke and the Pirate Queen. I am very much not an artist, so I hired Jax Cassidy of Jaxadora Design to make pretty ones that utilized the book’s cover. I chose Iconix to do the printing.
Jax completed my designs with a couple of days, tailoring them to specifications for Iconix, and Iconix sent me a quote within an hour or two of me uploading the designs; at my request, they held the invoice until I’d also uploaded postcard designs, so I could pay for both at once and have them shipped in one batch. Awesome service.
Why am I telling you all this? Because it’s the first time I’ve ever had bookmarks made. It’s an experiment. And I plan to report on my experiences.
The first thing I learned was that, yes, someone who knows about design can do a much better job than I can! You get what you pay for.
The second thing I learned was that it’s handy to have some little text items to include on the bookmark: descriptive blurb, review quotes, brief summary of the book. Left to my own devices, the back wouldn’t have had any information but my website URL.
The third thing I learned is that most reviews, even ones that loved a book, don’t yield short, punchy quotes suitable for use on bookmarks. Unless I am doing it wrong. I sort of knew that blurbs were an art form.
I’m planning to make the bookmarks available to bookstores and librarians, so if you’re affiliated with one of those, let me know and I’ll send you some!
I will probably bring some to RWA Nationals, as well. I know the audience there will be mostly writers, but writers also read. And I will have plenty of bookmarks.
Related post: Online Promotion: Is It Worth It?
Please welcome my guest, Evie Byrne!
On the Female Vampire
A monster is monstrous because it violates accepted boundaries. Often these boundaries are physical. Creatures of the twilight world like minotaurs, werewolves, insectoid aliens, selkies, sirens and mermaids cause fascination and discomfort because they are cross the reassuring threshold that separates human from animal. Vampires are generally human-formed, but still they manage to be more transgressive than any other monster. They violate boundaries right and left. They’re neither dead nor alive. They occasionally shift form. They live on blood–which makes them cannibals, which, needless to say, is a big boundary–or perhaps it makes them parasites, which aligns them with the insect world–or maybe it makes them demons, which aligns them with the spirit world. And when they’re not invading your body, they’re invading your mind. When you submit to them, you submit body, mind and soul. They own you. They’re slavers. They break all of our laws, conventions and beliefs–and tempt us to break them too.
For a vampire, feeding is sex. It’s a penetrative act of possession. One so powerful that used to eclipse intercourse. Dracula ruins Lucy far more completely than any determined rake. Anne Rice’s vampires, as I recall, don’t have sex. Having experienced the ultimate act of penetration and surrender, they loll around in sensual, bisexual languor. But those are old school vampires. Something has shifted in the perception of vampires of late. Vampires in popular literature and entertainment have become more sexual, more heterosexual and almost exclusively male.
The vampires of today’s romances are masculine, desirable heroes, relieved of both sexual ambiguity and the stench of the grave. This new breed of male vampire is generally isolated and sympathetic in his misery: Mr. Rochester with fangs. He’s an alpha male of an extreme sort, coldly handsome, immortal, preternaturally strong, supernaturally persuasive, and fitted with penetrative equipment both upstairs and downstairs, all the better to claim you–if you’re the one and only woman for him. This makeover strips much of the shivery terror from the mythos, but the trade off is that it makes room for hot fantasy.
But what of the vampire heroine? Female vampires are scarce on the ground, any sort of female vampire, much less a romantic heroine. They occasionally appear as slutty minions in vampire gangs, or as a minor antagonist. And of course, in some romantic vampire tales the hero vampire will elevate his love to immortality by turning her, but that is the end of the tale, not the beginning.
My take on this–and please do feel free to argue otherwise–is that while we’ve normalized male vampires enough to make them romantic heroes, female vampires remain too trangressive to be heroines.
Let’s take a step back. In the 19th century, when all vampires were monsters, female vampires were perhaps even more vile than their male counterparts. Being the weaker sex, they could not hunt fairly. They fed either through sexual guile or by preying on children–making them lower than low. Painters and poets of that age were enraptured with idea of the female vampire as a seductress. Victoria posted a Baudelaire poem about a female vampire on this blog just a couple of weeks ago, and if you didn’t see it, it’s well worth a read. [http://victoriajanssen.blogspot.com/2010/05/metamorphoses-of-vampire-charles.html]
For these sensitive 19th century poet types, the female vampire was the embodiment of feminine devourer who, if left unchecked, sucked dry the masculine life force. She was definitely an erotic figure, but that eroticism was laced with repugnance and the fear of emasculation. One minute she’s slinking up to you, cleavage bared, and next thing you know, you’re not hanging around the Montmartre cafes with your friends anymore. You’re working as a clerk and helping out with the housework.
But I digress.
The sexual power of the female vampire threatens social norms. Earlier I spoke of the penetrative aspect of feeding. It’s inherently a sexual act. Yet while the male vampire may feed on men, he seduces women. (That is, unless you’re reading specialized erotic fiction.) The female vampire tends to be more openly bisexual, so voracious in her appetites that she cannot be constrained by gender. This perception is strong, and continues from the earliest female vampires to today. Miriam Blaylock, as portrayed by Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger (1983), is a sleek, glamorous, ruthless bisexual hunter. She takes both Susan Sarandon and David Bowie as lovers–and eats a child in the bargain as well. To me, she has always been the modern archetype of the female vampire.
Stepping back to the present again, to this time when the male vampire has become a sympathetic hero, the gulf between the female vampire and the male vampire has widened even further. He has special needs. She’s a monster.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m just saying the terrain has changed. I can’t address all vampires in all genres, only the vampire tales written today by (mostly) female authors for a (mostly) female audience under the banner of romance. In this genre, the prospect of being devoured by your lover is eroticized, as it was for those 19th century gentlemen, but now it is not framed as repugnant. Instead, it is the ultimate form of acceptance and bonding.
That sexual dynamic only works one way, however. It’s hot when an alpha vamp claims his mate through blood and sex, but that power relationship cannot be flipped. When a female vampire penetrates her human lover, it somehow makes him less of a man. Her claiming of him might make for good horror, but it doesn’t add up to satisfying romantic fiction.
The double standard goes on. The intense predatory drive that makes a male vampire sexy doesn’t translate in the same way for a female vampire. That same drive makes her a dangerous, unbalanced stalker. Similarly, a male vampire is usually portrayed as handsome and aware of his magnetic attraction, but he’s not vilified for it–in fact, it’s part of his appeal. Whereas when a female vampire uses her seductive powers, its trickery. Doing so breaks the unwritten commandment that a romantic heroine be modest: either she doesn’t know she’s ravishing, or doesn’t care. Only wicked women use their looks like a blade.
It’s all about reader identification. The best part of reading a romantic fantasy is imagining what it would be like if you–ordinary, human you–found yourself face to face with a creature of the otherworld. How would you react? Could you love such a being? We enjoy experiencing a romance through the eyes of a woman whom we can relate to–an ordinary woman who finds herself in extraordinary circumstances. It is much harder to relate to a heroine who is a powerful, ruthless, bloodthirsty, and possibly immortal.
And that’s not because we don’t appreciate a powerful female, but rather because being unable to identify with her takes some of the fun out of this particular kind of reading experience. One of the oldest and most compelling storylines is the one in which an ordinary person tests herself against powers and mysteries beyond her imagination–and earns love along the way. That kind of story always hits the spot. There’s good reason for its enduring popularity.
So as much as I like a lady vampire, I don’t expect to see them crowding romances as heroines any time soon. And having thought about this for a while, I’ll admit I’m okay with that. I like the idea that they can’t be domesticated into do-gooder heroines who settle down into a happily-ever-after. Like their progenitor, Lilith, they embody the darker side of female power, and that stuff is too powerful to be bottled.
Love and Pain by Edvard Munch, 1894
Evie Byrne is the author of three hot vampire romances: Called by Blood, Bound by Blood and Damned by Blood. Link. In the spirit of full disclosure, she admits that while two of her heroines are down-to-earth, regular humans, her third heroine is a vampire who is as wicked as the day is long.
Thanks so much for the great post, Evie!
Anyone have any comments on female vampire characters?