Stepping Right Up…

Old-fashioned MicrophoneA few months ago I completed a very long compound interview for a review site.  The interview that was published was truncated and edited.  Here, now, is the complete and unabridged review.

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Q. What is the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?

Writers are sane?

Boy, we’ve got you guys fooled, haven’t we?

Seriously, I think the best defense against going around the bend at least twice a day – especially for writers with day jobs, and that’s most of us – is a cast-iron sense of humour.

Also, if you’re into indie publishing – and that’s more and more writers every day, too, then I think the best defense is what Ernest Hemingway called “an in-built shock-proof shit detector.”  You need it to sort the wheat from the chaff, the scams from the good ideas, and to simply survive – there’s so much disinformation and confusion out there these days.

Actually, I think that applies to any writer, period.

Q. How do you know when writing a scene that it has produces the desired or intended result, sexually and otherwise?

Well, if the scene isn’t working, the shit-detector goes off and the crap police rush in and…

🙂

Truth is, I’ve been writing a very long time and I *know* when a scene isn’t working because my writing pace slows…down…to…a…c…r…a…w…l.   As soon as I start procrastinating, checking email, checking my sales, or avoiding the writing, it’s a good sign I need to take the pulse of the scene or the plot and maybe apply some first aid.

Contrary-wise, the better the writing, the faster I write and the more pumped and physically agitated I get.  I *know* it’s going well.

Q.  What is the most difficult to write a sensual scene or a heated discussion between two characters?

Oh, sex scenes, always.  Always, always, always.

It has nothing to do with coyness (not after a decade of doing this), but everything to do with the challenge of writing romantic sex scenes properly – keeping track of body parts, coming up with a new and fresh way to describe essentially the same physical movements, keeping the incredibly delicate balance between sensual, sexual and romantic, and not wandering into “eeewww” territory, making sure there is still character and romance development even within the sex scene (ensuring the sex is neither gratuitous nor meaningless), finding a different or at least interesting place for the couple or group to do the deed…

All this work and on top of that there’s the evergreen challenge of finding new words, ways and phrases to describe body parts and actions – that’s a huge one – and avoiding my own personal cliches, which I’m sure my regular readers could recite for you without too much thought.

These are unique problems that an author faces when writing a sex scene.  And on top of that, she also must rouse the reader’s mood and/or her emotions if she is doing her job!

When one inappropriate word can kill the mood – and perhaps the entire book – for a reader, it becomes a complex juggling act.  Even then, there are outside factors at work that an author can’t predict:  Some readers, for instance, can’t stand the word “cunt” while others don’t mind it at all, or even like it.  Others object to the word “vagina” used for the same piece of anatomy.  I’ve had readers tell me that the use of either word has killed the scene, the book and the entire series for them.

Other readers have no problems with Anglo-Saxon nomenclature, but object to “profanity” (a whole other discussion)…which demonstrates the huge range of reader tastes.

While I can’t cater for every readers’ unique demands in vocabulary, I do try to find a middle road that will appeal to the majority preferences.

Q. Has there ever been a time when a scene you were writing became too emotional, and you had to step back?

I’ve written many deeply emotional scenes.  I’ve cried as I’ve written, hurt along with my characters and more.  I don’t like to pull away when the emotions get too tense, because I feel it dilutes the writing to let off steam somewhere other than the page itself.

The one time I did take a breather for a few minutes was many years ago when I was writing Diana By The Moon, and had reached the rape scene.  As a victim of violent rape myself, I was overwhelmed for a few minutes with memories that were still somewhat fresh (back then).  I had to let them play out and let them go, so I could re-insert my mind back into the scene I was writing and back into the characters’ boots, before I could go on.

I’ve got a lot better at channeling my own feelings through my stories these days, and also more experienced at ways to use my life experiences as resources for my stories.

Q. How difficult is it for you to put your characters into situations that will hurt them?

Dead easy.  It’s the stuff of damned good stories, and I’m relentless about making sure the conflict and difficulties my heroes and heroines face are the most overwhelming possible.  It’s not worth reading, otherwise.

“Hurt” can be both physical and mental, and I’ll pile it on both ways, as heavy as I can arrange it.

When I’m plotting, I ask two general questions to get the plot going:  “What’s the worst thing that could happen to this character in this situation, right now?”  “What would make it even worse?”  And I plot from there.

Q. Tell us some of the pleasures and pitfalls of being a writer?

The pitfalls are legion and they’ve been well documented everywhere: lack of income, lack of recognition, mountains of work, no time for a life and more.  Most writers are well aware of the pitfalls, but they accept them because they must write.

There are considerably more “pleasures” to being a writer, now I have moved to 100% indie publishing.  The freedom and creative license is incomparable.  The speed at which a book can be published is fantastic.  The income is streets ahead of legacy royalties.

Then there is the best part of all:  Readers telling me they couldn’t put my book down.  I hear it every now and again in reviews, and in emails from readers, and I will never get sick of hearing it.  It is the reward for writing.

Q. How difficult is it to separate the author form the person?

That’s the first time anyone has ever asked me that question.  I don’t consider “the author” to be a separate entity from “the person” so I suppose my answer would be “impossible.”

Every single aspect of my life is inextricably woven into, related to, or supports my writing.  My husband attends my writing conferences, helps me promote my books, and shares the benefits of my writing income.  My job, that most people would consider a fantastic career opportunity, I consider merely a day job that pays the bills while I get books published.

When I get up from the desk after a writing session, I don’t switch the author off.  I’m still thinking about the story, or about how to promote my books, or the subject of my next blog post…I am my writing.

Q. When you completed your novels do you breathe a sigh of relief or do you feel sad the experience has ended?

I often experience a tug of separation at the end of a book, and for those books I always hope the book will do well enough that readers will want more of the characters, so I can write a sequel.

For those books I’ve had the hardest separation issues with, I quite often return to reread them later, just to stay near them.  It’s from these re-readings that ideas for sequels emerge.

Some books, though, I know in advance are one-time-only deals, and we part at the end good friends, but with all the debts paid and the bill settled.

Then there’s the books that I *thought* were stand-alone that I found myself coming back to re-read over and over, until I threw up my hands and went “alright, already, I’ll give you a damned sequel.  Sheesh.”

After reading the blurb for Book 1: Kiss Across Time (May 1, 2013) in your new Kiss Across Time Series there was this:

Warning: This story features two super hot alpha vampire heroes, multiple sex scenes, including anal sex, MM sexual play, and MMF sex. Do not read this book if frank sexual language and sex scenes offend you.
*The time-space continuum was restored to order at the end of this book. Promise.

I loved it, couldn’t stop laughing. And I just had to ask…

Q. Is that gentle irony echoed though out this series?

I suppose it must be.  I’ve never considered myself as “funny”.  I find most stand-up comedy mind-numbingly boring, and pie-in-the-face slapstick humour makes me feel uncomfortable because it’s so juvenile.

I fell hook, line and sinker, however, for the high-level humour in The Big Bang Theory, while my parents were completely bewildered by most of the one-liners. *Intelligent* humour – wittiness, and smart characters exchanging smart comments – that’ll get me, every time.  I probably write that way as a result.

Other reviewers described the characters in KISS, and the second book, SWORDS (and actually, other books of mine, too), as “funny” and that tag always raises my brow, as I don’t set out to write humour.  I write the characters as they are, and if they come out with zingers, then so be it.

Q. When writing a story that contains graphic, sometimes turbulent sexual scenes, is there ever a time when it is too soon for the characters in a book to have sex?

Ooooh, now there is a tough question!

Short answer is yes – I think there are times when it is inappropriate for characters to have sex as soon as they meet.

However.

I wrote for Ellora’s Cave for ten years, and unfortunately, when I was writing for them, one of their primary guidelines was that there must be a sex scene within the first twenty pages of the book, or five pages of a short story.  I don’t know if this demand has changed since I moved on, but I imagine that as Ellora’s Cave is an erotic romance imprint, they would have a sexual content guideline of some sort in place.

An arbitrary rule of this nature absolutely guarantees that at least some stories are going to feature characters having sex before their natures and relationship might ordinarily dictate.  I know that I, myself, have had to wrestle with budding romances, growing characters and storylines in order to meet that twenty-page deadline and it’s a deadly one.  I’ve had more than one book returned with the demand to “add more sex to the front end of the story, please”.  (Now, you want to talk about gratuitous sex?  Scenes inserted into a story to meet an arbitrary “fuck count” should be added to that list.)  I’m only glad that I managed to add the sex in such a way that no readers or reviewers spoke the dreaded “gratuitous” or “unnecessary” word about my books.

Now that I am indie publishing, that arbitrary rule no longer applies, so my characters can have sex whenever it is appropriate.  Nearly a decade of training with the biggest erotic romance imprint in the business has left its legacy, though.  I tend to feature a lot of hot sex, and it emerges fairly early in the story.  But I no longer sweat to get it onto the twentieth page.  🙂

Why keep writing really hot sex?  Because I think that sex and what happens in and around sex during a new romance is where a huge amount of the falling-in-love stuff happens.  You certainly see him/her a different way after you’ve made love and seen them naked, and intimacy sky-rockets afterwards, too.  Why would I voluntarily dump such a huge opportunity to show all that romance and character building?

Even simply dropping down to “euphemisms” sex and open allusions [“He thrust into her” instead of “he thrust his cock into her”…or worse, “they joined together,” (bleh…!)] deletes intimacy and immediacy.  By glossing over some (or great swathes) of the details, the author is cutting the reader off from sharing the same intimacy the romantic couple would be sharing as they fall in love.  It’s an incomplete story.

Q. How do you cope emotionally with reviewers who seemed to have missed the point of your story completely?

I have a mixed relationship with reviewers, because I don’t write “normal”.  Someone once pointed to the shopping list of genres I had used to describe one of my books – KISS ACROSS TIME for instance, is a Vampire Time-Travel MMF Menage Paranormal Urban Fantasy romance series.  The observer pointed out that I mash genres.  It was such an apt phrase I’ve stolen it, and now describe myself as a genre-masher.

I mix genres with an egg beater.  None of my books stick within traditional genre lines, and I think that often confuses readers and reviewers who are used to more confined story-telling.

One of the most common phrases in my reviews is “I didn’t know where this was going at first…” and the other one is  “A *very* different story…”

So, there *are* reviewers who do miss the point of my stories because they have expectations I didn’t meet because I don’t write like JD Robb, or Hamilton, or….  That’s another thing.  I’ve never, not once, ever, been compared to another writer as being “like xxxx.”  I prefer to think that is a positive thing.

As for the reviewers who miss the point:  I console myself with the thought that there are many more smart, savvy readers who love my stories and some of those readers even tell me so.  Those are the *best* emails and reviews in the world.

Q. How do you come up with the names for your leading characters?

Naming is SUCH a critical step for me.  It helps shape and define the character and very often helps give me a hint to their background and personal history.  Like Tolkein’s Elves, I take names very seriously.

I have half-a-dozen go-to resources for names and naming, name meanings, etc., and I start researching based on the meaning of names, and most particularly, on race, region, country, etc., which all have an impact on the name and the character.

Occasionally, I’ve been forced to change the name of a character (publisher demand, for instance).  That’s a disaster for me, because there is so much built into one of my character’s names.

For instance, Veris, one of the heroes from KISS ACROSS TIME, is a 2,000 year old vampire from what would eventually become Norway.  In otherwords, he’s a viking.  I can’t remember how I stumbled over the name “Veris” for him, but it’s not Norwegian…it’s not even Scandinavian.  However, I really, really wanted him to be called Veris, because “Veris and Brody” has great cadence.  It rolls off the tongue.   By that time, my mental picture of Veris had been set…along with the name.

So I dived into my resources, and came up with this idea:

His current full name is Dr. Veris Gerhardsson, but his real name is actually Väinämöinen and later he added the surname Gilmárdal.  He stopped using his real name when he travelled from his homeland into Saxony, then over to Britain where the Saxons raided King Arthur’s lands.  He switched to “Veris” for reasons that emerge in the second book, KISS ACROSS SWORDS, and the fact that everyone has trouble pronouncing Väinämöinen.

…and so Veris’ history started to build.

I do this with every major character, and some of my minor characters are 100% built around the characteristic suggested by their name.  It’s a quick way to grab a stand-in or filler.

Q. What is it about the bad boy we love to hate that is so compelling?

Ah…bad boys.

I don’t know about “hating” them…I don’t think I’ve hated a single one of my bad boys, and I’ve created a few:  I tend to lean toward very alpha heroes in my paranormal romances, and the bad boys are a mix of alpha and really bad attitude.

But most bad boys aren’t – not really.

I’ve had the…well, the misfortune to meet one or two genuinely “bad” people in my time, and I’ve noticed that most of them, if you didn’t already know their reputation, you would mistake for being the sweetest, nicest people in the world.  They speak soft, don’t swear, use nice manners….they have nothing left to prove, so they slide through the world leaving no impression at all in their wake.

Also, the truly evil ones, the ones that have done terrible things, for them redemption is not a possibility, because they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong.  Their world view is so out to lunch, they think they’re justified and quite normal.  So “redemption” isn’t a concept they can even grasp as applicable to them.

That’s the difference between romance bad boys and the real thing.

Romance bad boys are really good guys at heart.  They’ve done bad things, yes, but they know it and it bothers them, deep down, even while they’re pretending they’re having the time of their life.  For these guys, it’s all about redemption – which comes via love.  Love melts their shield and brings them to their knees, and we all just love seeing them fight it every step of the way until they can’t fight it anymore, and give in.  Their surrender is one of the sweetest moments in romance, isn’t it?

Q. How do you get into the head of your characters when writing a sex scene?

Well, I hate to let you down, but I do it exactly the same way I do for any other scene.

Sex scenes have all the unique challenges I outlined for you earlier, but at their core, they’re just another scene like any other in the book.  They have dialogue, scenery to negotiate, plot points to hit, and character development.

Plus, the sex scene doesn’t live off in its own little world, behind a closed bedroom door.  Most of my sex scenes develop straight out of the middle of some other scene, so I’m *already* in the head of my characters and the sex is a natural outcome of what is already happening.

Q. What makes you laugh?

Many things.  Do you have time for a list?

My cat, Strider (one of three – Merry and Pippin are the other two), who I swear has ADHD, and bounces off walls in the morning once he’s had his breakfast.

A sincere compliment often makes me giggle because I’m still learning how to take compliments like a lady.  Just can’t seem to take that one in properly.

The latest variation in the depth of silliness that humanity can plunge to.

Talking animal videos that the BBC put out.  They make me spit coffee on my keyboard, every single time.

…actually, British humour in general, it’s so dry.

Public notices everywhere.  The grammar is sometimes truly atrocious.

There’s more, but that’s a start.

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I always like to end my interviews with a question “Just For Fun”.  Tracy, if you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?

D’uh, Ring Master!  I, the control freak, would simply have to have centre stage for the entire performance, plus get to do one or two special crowd-pleasing stunts of my own, all while keeping the show rolling on…

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