Denise Rossetti, What Lies Beneath – Guest Post

Please welcome my guest, Denise Rossetti!


What Lies Beneath

I remember reading somewhere that authors only write one story – their own. Over and over again, in every single book. I don’t recall who said it – it may have been Jennifer Crusie. Certainly the ‘core story’ is not a new idea, but it stayed with me. I was half fascinated, half horrified. What’s my ‘core story’? What have I been unconsciously revealing to the world? The fact that I write erotic romance gave the question a whole extra dimension of embarrassment.

But under all this is lurks an even more fundamental question – why write at all?

Like so many people, I always thought, ‘one day I’ll write a book’. Right.

You know how that goes. Real Life intervened and somehow, I never got around to it. But I continued to devour genre fiction – romance, science fiction and fantasy, mystery. Especially when I was bored or sad, I’d read rather than watch TV. What I craved was respite, the luxury of escape to another, brighter world for a few hours.

Then my life really did cave in, dark valley stuff. I was miserable. So I found I was staying up late, reading, reading, reading. After weeks of this, the idea of writing firmed within me. Heck, why not? Without a single, solitary clue, I wrote a category romance. (They were the shortest books I knew.) Word one, paragraph one, page one. I started around nine every evening and when I looked at the clock, it would be two in the morning. I did that for about seven months, night after night.

What I discovered was the sheer power of creating a world and disappearing into it. It’s heady. Reading rarely compares. I’ll never forget typing those six little letters, THE END for the very first time. I still do it when I finish a book, in fact. Then I delete them before sending the manuscript to my editor. Wouldn’t want her to think I’m like a little kid closing the last page on a fairytale.

So, in one sense, I write my own escape. (Life improved, by the way. I’m fine now, thanks.) It’s why my settings are creations of the senses. I’m a very sensate person. When I’m out shopping, I like to raise fruit to my nose for a sniff or stroke dress fabrics on the rack as I pass. I love bringing the scenes in my head to vivid, springing life – the Ten Nations Fair, the burnished wings of an Aetherii in flight, the slums of Sybaris, the gossamer-thin slingshot sails of a starship unfurling against the cold dark of space.

But it’s only the beginning. I relish how fantasy allows me to explore ideas as far as I can follow them down the wormhole of logic. And beyond! In worlds where magic works, I can use its transforming power to make abstract concepts concrete.

For example, in The Flame and the Shadow (Book #1, Four-Sided Pentacle series), I created a man who embodies the internal conflicts we all experience in an external, physical way. Imagine seeing the worst part of your personality rise up, manifested as a dark copy of yourself. Grayson, Duke of Ombra, is a sorcerer of shadows. He is literally at war with himself, because his shadow, a dark entity he calls Shad, has an independent life of its own. Much more than Gray’s mortal life is at stake. He and Shad are fighting for control of his sanity and his soul.

Read the first chapter here.

Erik Thorensen, hero of Thief of Light (Book #2, Four-Sided Pentacle series) has been granted a gods-given gift, a Voice so beguiling no one can resist it. But the Voice is a curse as much as a blessing, for once Erik used it to steal a soul, and now he must pay. What effect would it have on a person’s character, I wondered, to have the power to command anyone to do anything?

Read the first chapter here.

After consideration, I think my ‘core story’ is about what psychologists call self-actualization, the realization of one’s full potential. My characters are always deeply conflicted in some essential way and they grow by learning to accept and reconcile all aspects of themselves, not in any self-indulgent manner, but with clear-eyed love. Healthy, well-balanced individuals both like and love themselves.

Why the sex?

It interests me, all right? Yes, that way, but also because the act defines our dual natures, human and animal. Sexual acts are incredibly revealing about the most private parts of the psyche – what is done and not done, said and not said. Sex strips us bare, in every possible sense. It’s enormously powerful and it absolutely fascinates me.

But every scene in a novel must earn its keep, and the erotic ones are absolutely no exception. I make an effort to embed character development or emotional conflict in the sex, because otherwise it’s a waste of space. Which brings us back to character arcs and the core story.

Can you put your finger on what your ‘core story’ might be? Would your critique partners agree with you? Ask them! *grin* Can you identify the ‘core stories’ of your favourite authors?

My website.

My books.

My blog. I’d love you to drop in and say hello!

Updates, contests, free stories and general mayhem.


Thanks, Denise!

I’m at CapClave this weekend, but have pre-scheduled weekend posts.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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20 Responses to Denise Rossetti, What Lies Beneath – Guest Post

  1. Debbie Mumford says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing with us.

  2. Jennifer Leeland says:

    I LOVE "Strongman". I love how you lead your characters on a journey of self discovery. Awesome.

  3. Crista says:

    Great post!

    I'm not sure if this counts as my "core story" or not, but I tend to write about characters on the fringe of society who suddenly become the one person everyone turns to when things go bad. I guess what I'm trying to show is that every person has an essential role, even those we tend to discount as black sheep.

    I LOVED The Flame and the Shadow, and I can't wait to read Thief of Light!

  4. Denise Rossetti says:

    Hi Debbie, thanks for the welcome! I love to talk about the craft, but don't often get the opportunity, so I was delighted when Victoria invited me. *smile*

  5. Denise Rossetti says:

    Hey there, Jennifer! Thanks for those kind words, because that's exactly what I was aiming to do. Which I guess is back to my 'core story' – reconciling and coming to peace with the different parts of yourself.

  6. Denise Rossetti says:

    Hi Crista, I think you've crystallized your 'core story' beautifully. The idea of the outsider becoming part of his or her community is very powerful emotionally and spiritually. It's hugely satisfying for a reader to take that journey with your character.

    Thanks for the kind words about TFATS. I love that you loved it! *beaming* Hope you enjoy Thief of Light too.

  7. Mel Teshco says:

    Hi Denise,
    I love that you're a sensate person – it makes me no longer question my need to touch clothes in the shops, sniff perfume at the counters LOL!!! Sounds good to me =)
    You definately write in a visual way, to paint a story is a real art!

  8. Kate Pearce says:

    I enjoyed your post immensely. Every time I think about my core story I come back to the notion that everyone deserves to be loved for who they are and that they become lovable when they accept themselves for who they are-and as I write erotic romance, that aceptance often starts at the very basic level of a person accepting their own sexuality and learning to express it and share it with others.
    Whew-I think that's it :)

  9. Denise Rossetti says:

    Hi there, Mel! Well, I have to face, I'm hopeless at the visual arts. Stick figures, anyone? LOL So words are all I have left – and as anyone who's met me knows, I have plenty of them! heh heh

    Seriously, though, I'm so glad you think it works. Thanks.

  10. Denise Rossetti says:

    EXACTLY, Kate! Couldn't agree more on that one. But isn't it fascinating, to see how we have to think to arrive at what our 'core story' actually is, whereas it just pours out onto the page – quite unconsciously most of the time.

  11. Savanna Kougar says:

    Well, I tried to comment, but it's been lost somewhere out there… in blogger land.

    The gist… I create my own fantasy worlds to live in. That's one reason I write them.
    As far as a core theme, one of them is justice, achieving real justice, which naturally allows for the growth of my heroines and heroes.
    Plus, I like to write a vision of what life could be like, instead of how it is on Earth, how we've all been trained to be. That includes sexuality.

  12. Cathleen Ross says:

    I'm reading your book and loving it at the moment, Denise. It's scary to have to look at yourself and why you write, especially as an erotic author. I can certainly understand my core when I look closely.My stories are about female power. I had to give up my career for my asthmatic baby just when I was surging forward, but I started writing so I wouldn't go mad. My daughter is now delightful as I've spent so much time with her, though power is still an issue especially as my husband lost his job. I do so love to be on top!
    Cathleen Ross

  13. Denise Rossetti says:

    Hi Savanna! I love playing goddess, it's one of the biggest, most empowering payoffs for the authors of fantasy fiction.

    In fact, I'm wondering if empowerment is a part of your core story, especially given you're talking about natural justice and the righting of wrongs.

    I agree on the sexuality aspect too. I couldn't bear the thought of homophobia endlessly recurring across the known worlds, so in my fantasy societies, there's only one group who condemns it. (In STRONGMAN.) For everyone else, sexuality is a non-issue. They just shrug – love who you love and harm none.

  14. Helen Hardt says:

    Hi Denise, I wandered over here from Suz's loop. What a wonderful and thought provoking post. I'll have to think about my core story. I tend to write about heroes who are a little haunted. And I so agree about sex stripping a character bare. Sex scenes are much more than heat in a book; they're essential to characterization, in my opinion. But of course the heat is nice, too ;). Thanks so much for sharing!


  15. Denise Rossetti says:

    Hi Cathleen, you see your core story very clearly – much more so than I did. Actually, I'm still not sure I've reached all the way to the real foundation of mine! Scary…

    Powerful female charcters resonate with most women, I think. Me, for sure. *grin*

    Glad to hear you're enjoying TFATS.

  16. Denise Rossetti says:

    Hi Helen1 Welcome to a fellow Suzette! (We have the same fabulous editor at EC.) It can take a while to think all the way through the layers to your core story. eg, are your characters haunted because they were abandoned? or because they had to do terrible things to survive?

    And ditto on the heat! *wg* I do enjoy it, but there has to be more than hawt bodies doing hawt things,or I get bored. Couldn't agree more!

  17. Sandie Hudson says:

    Hey Denise, your post really hit the spot with me, besides spending time with my family, I'm happiest when I'm writing. It is the one thing that when I feel things are not working out that I find release.

    Thanks for the great post.

  18. Denise Rossetti says:

    Yes, Sandie, in our writing we have control of our world and everyone and everything in it. So seductive when Real Life isn't co-operating! If only I could convince the rest of the universe to do things my way I'd be very happy. *g*

  19. Denise Rossetti says:

    Hi Victoria! Thanks for having me visit. Your blog is a nice place to be. I had a great time. *smile*

  20. Victoria Janssen says:

    Thank you for visiting!

Comments are closed.