Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Anatomy of a Good Sex Scene

She moaned and her breasts heaved as he thrust his throbbing member into her hot, wet channel.  When his sword filled her to the hilt, she cried out.  Never had she imagined his manhood would so completely fill her.  His body hit her womanly bundle of nerves over and over until she finally came apart inside, a white hot explosion that stole her breath and her heart....


What makes a fictional sex scene good?  Or bad?  Or boring?  Or off-putting?  Or humorous (intentionally or not!)?  The answer is, of course, that what might be effective and compelling in one story might not work at all in another.  Different genres make different demands and set different expectations, and how the author has sold the developing relationship determines a lot about what will be believable and effective.  So, the very unhelpful answer is:  we know a good sex scene when we read it.  And what's "good" might vary from reader to reader.

But, certainly there must be some elements that help push a sex scene closer to the "good" end of the spectrum.  For me, these elements include:

1) Necessary.  A sex scene that is included because it is somehow fundamental to A) plot development, including progression of the romantic relationship, or B) character development.  Sex scenes for sex scenes' sake can not only feel gratuitous but can also get tiresome.  Now, I like a good sex scene as much as the next reader (and maybe even more!), but too many of them have the potential to take the thrill out of a few well-placed, steamy ones.
2) Variety.  Missionary sex might be the most common position, but most readers are probably willing to suspend reality long enough for the hero and heroine to try a different position in each sex scene.  At the least, there should be something substantially new tried or achieved during or as a result of a sex scene.
3) Limit/vary use of euphemisms.  'Penis' and 'vagina' are probably too clinical for most of us to be used frequently in a good sex scene, but the phrase "throbbing member" probably makes us giggle or roll our eyes on sight.  If the book is erotica or has in another way been primed for explicit and intense sex scenes, then more explicit and hard-core word choices probably not only make sense, but work to heighten the eroticism of the scene.  But a lot of romance falls somewhere in the middle of heaving bosoms and, well, various four-letter c-words... ;)  The key then is to find the language that fits the story, fits the characters, and that isn't repeated to death (I once read a draft of a story that used "hot sheath" every time it referenced anything about the women's nether regions...).
4) Heat and heart.  This one might not apply to every scene an author might want to write, and certainly I can perceive an enticing story where the earlier encounters might be all heat and no heart, making the introduction of more emotional connections between the characters even more intense later.  But, for me, the most intense scenes are ones that involve both the emotional and the physical connections.  And seeing the hero reveal or admit or give into his emotional needs is, gah, always a turn on.
5) Talking.  And not necessarily dirty, although, again, big fan of the concept!  Talking can heighten both the emotional and the physical connection and intensity.  But, like with use of euphemisms, it takes some finesse.  Most of us, and most of the characters we connect with, don't talk like porn stars.  And, if our characters are otherwise mild-mannered and avoid expletives, it isn't likely they experience a massive transformation in the bedroom (unless that's part of the story).  It's important to make it real, serve a purpose, add to the intensity rather than distract from it, vary the dialogue, and keep it in character.

What do you think?  What makes a fictional sex scene work for you?  Or not?

Thanks for reading,

Monday, May 24, 2010

To Book Trailer or Not To Book Trailer

So, now that Forever Freed has a cover (!), I've been thinking a lot about marketing and promotion.  The release date is months off at this point, but I figure it never hurts to plan ahead.

Among the many possible options for marketing books, it seems book trailers are becoming increasingly popular.  My press has a specific page for the book trailers of its authors' books.  You can find them on YouTube.  Many authors have them embedded in their websites.  People link them off Facebook.  Book trailers are 1-2 minute-long videos that, like trailers for movies, preview the plot of a book.

I've spent a couple hours over the last week watching a variety of book trailers.  In general, book trailers offer a series of changing static images with non-proprietary music and text captions, rather than voice, narrating the plot.  The images of characters are usually stock models.  Only occasionally have I seen the use of moving pictures or voiceovers in book trailers.  The text narration usually gives about as much information for the book as a three-sentence pitch might.  Then, at the end, the trailer includes publisher/purchasing information and the author's website.

Some book trailers are well done:  the images are interesting, unique, change often enough to keep viewers' interest, and are even timed dramatically with the music.  Some do a good job of using limited special effects to hook you in visually, and coordinate all of that with an effective plot summary.  Others, though, feel amateurish.  Now, let me say that, since I have no knowledge myself of how to make these, I don't mean to criticize the efforts others have made to learn this.  But it makes me wonder about their usefulness.  The ones that struck me as amateurish had some of these characteristics:  images that changed so slowly that I got bored; funky special effects/animations that made me feel like I was watching a PowerPoint presentation where every slide came zooming in from the side or spinning in like a newspaper in an old-time movie; words that appeared one letter at a time that made me frustrated with the slow speed of the information; misspellings (yikes!); and cheesy music--and this is a tough criticism since an author can't just use that iconic theme song they had in mind the whole time they were writing to promote their book.

Despite all of this, I find myself leaning towards wanting to make one (or, rather, have one made...) for Forever Freed.  I think it could be fun and it seems like, even to have one made, a pretty reasonably priced form of marketing (take a look at Goddess Fish Promotions:  their packages seem very reasonable as do their a la carte fees: goddessfish.com)  But, I still can't decide whether I think book trailers are actually useful.  And this is where I need your help.

To the readers out there:  do you watch book trailers? do you enjoy them? do they make you buy a book? or are they something you track down for a book you've already bought and really liked?

To the writers out there:  do you have book trailers for your works?  do you have any information on whether they shape sales or earn you new readers?  are there other benefits you've found from using trailers?  In short, are they a useful form of marketing?

Thanks for reading,

Monday, May 17, 2010


Today is the day I need to remember when the rejections come in or I don't get much work done or my WIP refuses to cooperate.  Today is one of the good days.  Today is excellent.  Here's why:
  • My editor told me she finds the premise for my contemporary "very interesting" and has the full in hand
  • I got my first choice in agent appointments for the July RWA annual meeting
  • And, I got the cover art for my very first novel and I LOVE IT!
For a writer, or at least for a newbie author (I have to start getting used to using that word!), a day like this is one in a million.  And thanks to my friends and family for sharing the high with me!


Thanks for reading,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ghosts in the family

There’s a reason I love supernatural weirdness so much – I grew up with it.

Everyone in my family believed in ghosts. My grandmother regularly regaled us with stories of angels and hauntings as we sat around her kitchen table on Friday nights.

My great-great-grandmother was born in Italy and though she and her family had immigrated to America, she never learned to speak English. She was not happy that her Italian-American grandson married a German-American girl. When my grandmother got pregnant the first time, my g-g-grandmother put an evil eye curse on her. Many cultures believe in the power of the evil eye to bestow bad luck on someone envied or disliked. My grandmother felt odd all through the pregnancy and was certain something was wrong with the baby. Towards the end of the pregnancy she became very anxious, and woke up one night to the vision of a beautiful angel hovering at the foot of her bed. The angel reassured her that the baby would be fine, and after that my grandmother put her worry to rest. My mother was born on May 1, 1945, without an elbow joint in her right arm and with only four fingers on that hand. At the time, no one doubted it was the result of the curse. And while, by the time I was hearing these stories in the 1980s, everyone understood there was a genetic explanation for it, the stories of the curse and the angel were still regularly told. (And, lest my mother come and haunt me for mentioning this story, I should say that she was perfectly able-bodied. The only thing I ever really saw her struggle with was hooking the clasps of shorter necklaces.)

It was perfect, actually, that these stories got told at my grandmother’s house, which was notoriously haunted. Weird things happened there all the time. Her cross necklaces constantly disappeared and reappeared in completely different locations. Once, the grease in her electric French fryer pot boiled over – it wasn’t plugged in. Her formal living room was one of the creepiest places any of us ever knew. It looked perfectly normal, but it felt, well, creeptastic. All of our family’s holiday parties were at her house growing up, and despite the fact that there were a lot of us (she had 6 kids…), we all pretty much avoided that room and crammed into the kitchen and den. Occasionally, people reported feeling watched in that room and in the bedroom immediately above it. And we all accepted this as reality.

My aunt’s house at that time had its own weirdness. First of all, when they moved in and started some remodeling, they found a weird horned-goat-head thing painted on the drywall under the paneling in the living room (I would’ve been on the phone with my realtor about two seconds after that discovery…). For a long time, they’d come home to a houseful of lights on that they hadn’t left on. The TV would turn on by itself. Once, when the TV wasn’t working, they came home to it being on. (The hairs on my arm are standing up as I’m writing this!) And, most famously, they’d hear footsteps up and down the stairs between the kitchen and the upstairs that once materialized into a male ghost dressed like a lumberjack. My aunt – who isn’t afraid of anything – asked him to go because he was scaring her family. He never appeared again.

So I come to all this supernatural stuff naturally. And, these are just some of the weird things I grew up with. It was normal and accepted. How about you? Any good ghost stories in your family’s past?

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I love vampires, and I'm not afraid to admit it

I am perfectly comfortable admitting it: I love vampires. I’ve been reading vampire romance for as long as I can remember. I devoured every Anne Rice novel I could in high school and college, reading some of her Vampire Chronicles novels two and three times to fill the gap between publication of the books. While I’ve always been drawn to paranormal elements in general, the vampire was always my supernatural creature of choice.

And now I’m writing them. I was twenty-five pages into a ghost story when my first novel, Forever Freed, slammed into my head nearly fully formed – character names, plot points, setting, and all. And I fought it. Because it was a vampire story. And that’s been done, and done, and done, right? Wrong, I say.

As a reader, I keep picking them up, enjoying how different authors reinterpret the genre (to my mind, vampire romance has arguably become its own genre). J.R. Ward made them leather-wearing, food-eating, molten hot warriors. Christine Feehan made them a separate species, the good-guys-gone-bad, former ancient Carpathian males who lost their struggle against evil when they couldn’t find their rare female life mates in time. Stephenie Meyer made them venomous marble-skinned high school students whom the sun doesn’t harm. Lara Adrian made them the descendants of an extinct (or are they?) alien race that coupled with human females, and has the good Breed warriors fighting against the evil Rogues who gave into their darkest nature. These days, vampires are more than just the blood-thirsty undead with pointy teeth, if they have fangs at all (Meyer’s vampires don’t).

So what is it that attracts me and so many others to vampire romance? What makes these stories so compelling despite the fact that it’s increasingly hard to find or write an original take? What makes vampires as characters engaging and interesting and attractive, to both readers and writers. Here’s what I’ve come up with, so far:

Forbidden romance. The usual construct pairs a male vampire with a human female. Right from the beginning, the relationship is characterized by conflict. He wants her blood, but he also wants her heart. He craves her companionship, but the rules of his world forbid him from revealing his true nature (usually). He’s immortal, and she comes with an expiration date. He’s killed, and she’s an innocent. He’s the bad boy. The one we’re supposed to stay away from but just absolutely can not. The forbidden nature of it all is a huge draw.

Brooding, tortured souls. Most of our vampire heroes didn’t want to become vampires, feel guilty and possibly even shamed over their natures, and don’t feel worthy of the human women they come to love. Not that they usually reveal these feelings, at least not until push comes to shove, but we feel for them. Becoming a vampire doesn’t usually change the essence of who they were as a human – if they were good alive, then they’re still fundamentally good undead. Yet, they’re so good, they often can’t perceive their own worth. And it makes the reader their biggest cheerleader.

Transformations. Vampire stories are full of transformations. Vampires who discover their worth through their lovers’ eyes. Vampires who struggle against huge obstacles to overcome their dark natures. Vampires who manage to control their darkest needs rather than give into them. Vampires who fight for the good against evil. And, then, of course, there are the actual transformations, that is, from human to vampire. And boy does imagining that raise all kinds of interesting questions: Does losing your mortality necessitate the loss of your humanity? And what does it mean to become immortal? What would that life really be like? What would it be like to know you didn’t necessarily have to live every day to the fullest, because there would be a never-ending supply of them? Where would meaning come from if life was no longer as precious?

Sensuality. They move with preternatural grace. Their features are breathtakingly beautiful. Their mere presence sets your heart to racing and your breathing into pants. By their very nature, vampires can charm you, or dazzle you, or glamour you, or mesmerize you. At root, all of these are about their innate and unfailing power to seduce you. To sweep you right off your feet. To show you untold pleasure. And who doesn’t fantasize about that happening?

Darkness. A lot of what I’ve said is more about the “good vampires.” But the recent trend in the genre has been to go dark, dark, dark (and even the good ones can be dark sometimes). And, let’s just cut right to the chase, this darkness is often just as important if not more so inside the bedroom (or the dungeon, or the dark alley, or the seedy nightclub…) as out of it. So now we’re talking about sex involving biting, blood play, growling, snarling, feral instincts, possessiveness, dominance and submission, and kinks of all kinds. And it’s all okay. It’s perfectly normal. Because they’re not human. They’re not beholden to the same set of morals and norms as us. And, while we’re reading their stories, neither are we. And we’re right back to the forbidden again….

So, are you a lover like me? What is it that draws you to read (or write) vampire romance?

Thanks for reading, 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Good News and a Question

There's been a lot to feel happy about in the last few days:  Mother's Day (complete with chocolate fondue at the Melting Pot.  I mean, people, a big pot of warm melty chocolate with strawberries and bananas to dip!!!  Er, sorry, got a little carried away there.  What was I talking about?  Oh, right, so:  Mother's Day, my daughter Cara's 6th birthday today, two of my students (I teach college history) sending me emails saying how much they enjoyed my class this semester.  It's been great.

And then...my editor at The Wild Rose Press requested the full manuscript of my novella, Hearts in the Dark.

I am completely in love with this little story about two people who get trapped in a pitch-black elevator.  Will their blindness be terrifying?  Or freeing?  Is personality or physical appearance more important to attraction?  Is it possible to fall for someone you've never seen?

Here's what Shakespeare thought:  Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

What do you think? (Comment by clicking on that little (#) comments link down there...)

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Yup, that's Detroit up there

I think Detroit's nighttime skyline is just fantastic.  But that's not the reason it's in the title bar for my blog.  Detroit is the setting for my first novel, Forever Freed.

I've only been to the city once, for a conference on African-American history, but it was still an almost immediate decision to locate my story there.  Here's why:

1) Detroit has an average of 75 sunny days a year.  That's a lot of cloud cover, folks.  And that's a good thing for all the sun-sensitive vampires that inhabit the city in my world.

2) Detroit has the 4th highest crime rate in the U.S. (2009 statistic) and in 2007 was #1 in murder rate, #2 in most violent crimes, and #4 in robberies.  All of this made for a good setting for some bad guy vampire types to be setting up shop and staying relatively unnoticed.

3) My main villain founded the city of Detroit.  For real!  Antoine Laumet, the Sieur de Cadillac, was a French explorer who achieved some political and economic prominence in Canada before founding Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit in 1701.  The Jesuits thought him corrupt and "evil," to use their own word from late-seventeenth and eighteenth-century accounts, particularly for his trading of alcohol and firearms to the Indians.  Their charges landed him in jail twice, once in Quebec and once at the Bastille after he returned to France in 1717.  The king ultimately pardoned him and gave him a political appointment in Castelsarrasin, where he died at the age of 72 in 1730 -- though not in my story!  In Forever Freed, he finds and strikes a bargain with an ancient vampire in the south of France who changes him and two of his sons, and all three return to the New World in 1733.  As the leader of the vampire underworld, Detroit really is his city in every imaginable way.

4) Detroit has a huge number of abandoned historic homes and buildings -- one source says this, "Detroit is known for one of the most stunning collections of pre-depression architecture in the world."  In my world, hero-vampire Lucien Demarco has spent most of the 60 years he lived in the city restoring historic homes from the turn-of-the-20th-century as memorials to the human wife who was murdered the night he was changed.  The vampire bad guys inhabit quite a few of the prominent abandoned buildings in Detroit (Lee Plaza, Belle Isle Boathouse, Michigan Central Depot).  AND, the incredible Forgotten Detroit website details the exterior and interior appearance of all of these buildings, giving me great visuals to use for setting scenes.

So, that's the whyfor of Detroit.  I'm paying it homage here, and in the book.  I always had this idea that, if the 'Forever' Series managed to get published and make any money, I'd make a donation to the Detroit Historical Society or Preserve Detroit.  Who knows?  It's what Lucien would've done.

Thanks for reading,

Dipping my toes into the scary, scary waters of blogging

Well, hello there.  And welcome to my blog.

I've held off on starting a blog because I feared that taking the time to write one would interfere too much with book-writing time.  Still, I've taken the plunge with the hope that all writing is good writing and this writing has the great benefit of giving me the opportunity to interact with readers like you.

I'll mostly be talking about books and writing and publishing, but as a wife and mother and full-time working professional, real life will certainly make an appearance from time to time.

I started writing fiction in the summer of 2008.  In less than two years, I have written approximately 500,000 words of fiction!  The number reflects one heavily revised and soon-to-be-published paranormal romance novel (Forever Freed, publication information to be posted as soon as I have it), one contemporary novella I'm currently shopping for publication (Hearts in the Dark), the first chapters for two other paranormals (Forever Young - the sequel to FF, and The Night-Mare, which will be daarrrkkk), the first four chapters to a women's fiction/chick lit (The Fantasy Life of a Middle-Aged Wife), and two completed fan fiction novels in the Twilight fandom (a fandom that's so fortunate to have the full support of the original author for fan fiction).  I have a half dozen stories in my head all fighting for center stage.  Each of them talks to me at different times, giving me a tantalizing character arc here or solving a tricky plot point there.  So, they're all in there percolating - and I wouldn't have it any other way.

So, let the writing continue!  And let the blogging begin!  And let them eat cake!  (And please send people over here to join in the fun....)

Thanks for reading,