Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How Dirty is "Dirty"?

I've been taking a bit of a break lately - but my writing life has also been pretty hectic. In the last eleven months, I've released five books (Fat Chance, Prescription For Love, Wrestling Harmony, Selkie, and Fighting For Freedom). I've done a blog tour. I've written several guest posts on different blogs, and I even set up a YouTube channel. I've been active on Facebook (most of the time), and Twitter (sometimes, but I'm still learning to like it).

It has been a busy year for me with a lot of change, and I'm definitely feeling a bit ... tired. So I've been reading - books, blogs, the news. Whatever I can get my hands on, really. So during the course of my reading, I came across a blog post where an author was debating the current lingo attached to erotic fiction.

Erotic fiction is often referred to by more conservative readers using terms like "naughty," or "raunchy," or "nasty." Then there's a looser, less inhibited crowd that uses terms closer to "sexy" or "hot," or even "dirty." For those of us who like the voyeuristic appeal of knowing everything that happens in the story - even the sexy parts - these "dirty" stories invite us into the bedroom, the bathtub, the backseat of the car, or wherever else our favorite couple is getting naked.

Back to the other end of the spectrum, in direct opposition to this type of "dirty" fiction, there's Christian romance, YA romance, and a few other forms of "clean" romance for readers not interested in all the details. For those who don't need (or want) every sexual detail to be included in the story, these "clean" reads give us the romance and the emotional connection - while leaving us tactfully shut out of the bedroom.

They leave us to fill in the blanks - or ignore them at will.

But really, why is one "clean" and the other "dirty?" And how does one choose which type to read (or which type to write)? Generally, the choice is simple enough; if you want all the gritty sexy details, you go for the "dirty" fiction - and you're often thankful to be reading it on a kindle or other e-reader, so the other people in the doctor's office waiting room can't see what you're reading. If that makes you uncomfortable or for some reason you simply dislike the full disclosure of "dirty" reading, then you go for something that tactfully leaves the sex out - even if you're still perfectly aware there's some sexing going on. 

And, there are even extra-"clean" stories where there's simply no sex at all - not even implied.

The romance reading community is obviously a pretty big mashup - so in such a mixed market, how does one choose what to write? On one side of things, if you're a "clean" writer, you might come off as too much of a prude for the "dirty" readers. And if you write lots of really intimate, detailed sex scenes, you might come off as a bit too open. A bit too "dirty."

Throughout the post I was reading (which I would link here, except that it's since been taken down), I kept finding myself pulling back to think on different books that I've read - both "clean" and "dirty" - and how those books reflect on my personal reading style. And while I've read my fair share of both styles - and I definitely have solid preferences - I like to think when it comes to my writing, I'm somewhere in the middle. Maybe not entirely "clean," but probably nothing close to what might appeal to the "dirty" crowd.

Then again, why do I have to identify as either?

I mean, sure - people want to know what they're getting. A strictly "clean" reader would likely be rather offended reading something like 50 Shades of Grey; likewise, a "dirty" reader with an affinity for BDSM, LGBT, or some other such "kink" might be highly disappointed to have picked up something decidedly "clean." So there's that, I suppose - the need to label the work based on the market so that people can find what they're looking for.

There's another side of the issue too, though - in themselves, the words "clean" or "dirty" imply that one style is good and the other is bad, respectively. One is something we can read in front of the children without answering questions about the image on the cover, and the other is something we often feel obligated to read in private, unable (or simply unwilling) to share our favorite new reads with friends if they're too "dirty."

I know a person who reads pretty exclusively "clean" writing. Even my occasional sex scenes are too "porny" for her, and she has told me several times that that while she loves my stories, she skips the sex. I've even had someone send me a message to tell me the generally pretty "vanilla" sex scenes in my writing render my books no better than common "smut." On the other hand, my books really don't contain an awful lot of sex - nor is it generally very adventurous sex. Because of this, I've been told that my books are prudish, and that while they're rich in plot and filled with characters that are emotionally engaging, they leave something to be desired in the lack of frequent and detailed sex.

Somehow, my books seem to fall on both ends of the "dirty" spectrum, depending on the "dirtiness" of the individual reader. And in my own life as a reader, I often find that books I think of as too "dirty" might not be quite "dirty" enough for others.

So really, how Dirty is "Dirty?" What makes a book too "dirty" for you, and what makes a book not "dirty" enough? Have you read any of my books? If so, where do they fall on your personal spectrum? Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Milestones Worth Celebrating

Yesterday was a crazy day full of excitement for me! Around noon yesterday, I took the final steps to publish Wrestling Harmony, the third book in the Kingsley Series.

And then began the waiting phase, refreshing my pages, watching for the moment when Amazon approved the files and published the book for purchase.

I needed something to do. Something to distract me from constantly checking to see if Wrestling Harmony had gone live yet. So, like all relatively new authors tend to sometimes do, I thought, "Hey, I'll just have a peek and see how my Fat Chance FREE Promo is going."

And then this happened.

Let me just say that at this point, I was adequately distracted. This has only happened to me once before, when I ran a free promo for Selkie  on September 21, 2103 - and watched as my book made it to:
  • #17 in KindleStore/KindleEBooks/Literature&Fiction/Fantasy/FairyTales
  • #21 in KindleStore/KindleEBooks/Literature&Fiction/WorldLiterature/Mythology, and
  • #1643 Free in Kindle Store.

I was excited that day, too, but Fat Chance has now completely surpassed those numbers. Just watch.
When I first saw this, I was with my cousin Dana - most of you know that she is also my main proofreader/editor. I seriously started squeaking incoherently, and then it took us a while to stop laughing at me before I could tell her what I'd seen.

And then ...

I write for the love of writing, for the thrill and the adventure of the story. I write because it's a part of who I am, and I've been writing since long before I got brave enough to share my words with the world. But it's like being an artist - when you spend your time putting your heart into something that comes straight from the depths of your soul, you can't help but hope that what you've done will touch someone else the way it touches you. That's why this one made me squeak a little, too. I broke the top 1000 free.

And then I broke the top 500 free, made it to the first page of the top 100 in ContemporaryFiction/Romance and broke the top 100 in Romance/Contemporary. I cried.

And this is the last time I checked before going to bed, growing closer to the top 100 free, almost into the top ten in ContemporaryFiction/Romance and close to the top 50 in Romance/Contemporary.

And then I woke up to this.

So I made Fat Chance free for today, too.

Edited to add: just in case you haven't clicked any of the relevant links or somehow still didn't know ... Fat Chance is now FREE all the time! So download it for yourself, tell your friends to get it and read it with you - and then check out the rest of the series here. (July 2018))

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Book Review: Departed, by Nick Stephenson

The Blurb
"Playtime's over ... Expert criminology consultant Leopold Blake is having yet another bad week. While tracking a psychopathic serial killer through the streets of London, the reclusive investigator realizes with chilling certainty that history is about to repeat itself - with devastating consequences. Where Scotland Yard and MI5 have failed, Leopold must find a way to hunt down and apprehend a ruthless maniac before he strikes again. 

And the clock is ticking.

Now Blake and his team must face their greatest challenge yet: an unseen force, intent on wreaking havoc throughout the city, is hunting on its home turf - and Leopold is about to realize that the good guy doesn't always win.

Departed is another exhilarating installment in the Leopold Blake series of thrillers, which can be read and enjoyed in any order.

My Review
This book starts out with a hook paragraph that successfully grabbed my interest and kept me turning pages:

"A human body plummeting from a cruising altitude of thirty-five thousand feet takes three minutes to hit the ground.  Low pressure and lack of oxygen cause loss of consciousness for most of the fall, until the last minute or so, where the average person wakes up just in time to see the ground hurtling toward them at over one hundred and twenty miles per hour."

It's a spectacular hook, right? I don't know if the information is entirely true - but honestly, I don't care. I was hooked. I also really like the premise behind the story both in the beginning and as it develops. It's a great idea. However ... the writing left something to be desired in many places, and there are several things about it that hold me back from actually saying that I love it - or that I even like it, entirely. In fact, these things completely disconnected my original hook into the story, and I had to force myself to finish the book, seeking out something that would redeem the story for me.

For one, Leopold, the main guy of the story, is an FBI consultant, contracted to investigate a case for Scotland yard. Though he is one of the main characters and this aspect of who he is as a character is made abundantly clear, he is all-too-frequently referred to as "the consultant" throughout the book. I don't know if the purpose of this is to lend mystery to his character or to remind the reader of Leopold's job, but for me it was almost like the insertion of an entirely new and unnamed character. This is done with a few other characters also, and at times, I found it distracting.

There are also dozens of places where the story and characters are entirely unrealistic, either acting like they know next to nothing when they should be more knowledgeable and well-trained, or spouting off unnecessary details that they shouldn't have known or been able to recognize in the first place.

But in spite of those things being horribly distracting at best and completely annoying at worst, there are also places along the course of the story where, as a writer myself, I would sit back a bit and marvel at the unexpected beauty of the prose. One such example says:

"He took a moment to soak in the beauty of her, always moved by the elegance of the human body in the moments before death, by the stillness and calm that washes over a person when they know there's nothing they can do."

This is a murder scene - and by the description, you're led in your mind to imagine a pretty grisly picture. And yet this man, vicious as he is, is taking the time to enjoy what he sees as beautiful, his handiwork. This particular passage was fairly well written and I liked it.

In the end, the book is somewhat redeemed as being worthy of the free read because the plot sped up and did actually surprise me a little with some of the twists. Still ... it's not five stars. It didn't "thrill" me, and I'd have been pretty mad if I hadn't gotten it on a free day.

In my Amazon review, I gave this book three stars, because in spite of the distracting elements and bits that were unrealistic, I do have to admit that there was plenty of content I did like. And to be fair, if it hadn't be so unrealistic in certain parts, I'd likely have rated it much higher.

Want To Follow Nick, Give His Books A Shot, Or Find Out More About Him? You can do that here: Amazon / Twitter / BlogWebsite

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Addressing My Youth

Several months ago, I had a conversation with a friend; during that conversation, she suggested that I write a letter to a younger me. 

And while I loved the idea, it terrified me too. Young life wasn't always easy for me, and my childhood was about as far from rainbows and roses as it could possibly get. It isn't always easy to talk about, even with the people who know me personally, people that have literally gone through it with me.

But writing is my outlet - has always been my outlet. So I can write to a younger me, can't I? Surely I can find something to say to myself, some wisdom that I've gained through the experiences of my youth?

I let it sit. I let it rest. I let it form itself. And then?

A few weeks ago, I was driving with the wind in my hair (because the a/c in the car doesn't work) and my children were with me, quiet in the backseat (because they couldn't hear anything over the wind in the car windows at 70mph anyway). We were on the way to see my mother for basically the first time in over a year (due to her various illnesses), and I was praying as I drove that at least for that day, she would feel well enough to really be their grandmother, the woman they've known all their lives - and not the sickly, fragile woman I don't want them to think of when they remember her.

The drive to my mother's house is long and scenic, through several wooded areas on the outskirts of Knoxville. I was disappointed to see that the leaves hadn't yet begun to take on the colors of fall, but the green reminded me - as always - of when I was sixteen and Mom and I had just moved to Tennessee from central Florida.

My life at that time was complete chaos which, while chaos itself wasn't new to me, this particular kind was. I was leaving my father behind, which was painful because we had always been very close and I hadn't even had a chance to say goodbye to him. I was leaving my best friend, a girl I had quite literally grown up with - and the pain of us hugging and crying as we said goodbye in the parking lot at her first job was still desperately fresh as I looked moodily out the windows at the passing scenery.

But it wasn't all bad, and I still had hope; there was a boy that I loved deeply, and he was moving with us. We would be staying temporarily with my grandmother, which would put me back in touch with my most favorite cousin, who had always been more like what I imagine the blessing of a sister to be, and who I had missed painfully during the time we'd been apart.

I had no idea how much my life was really changing at that time, no idea how so many moments from that summer would continue to shape who I am now. And I didn't have the wisdom of today to get me through. But now, I can tell the old me that it's gonna be okay - with the knowledge of today's me. With the help of:

"A Letter To A Young And Stubborn Me."

Hey, me,
          Life can get a little rough sometimes, can't it? I bet right now, you're aching because the boy is gone. You're aching because some of your relationships with people that you've counted on to always be there will never be the same. And I'll bet you're just so damn mad at being young that you can't see straight. But let me tell you that it's gonna be okay.
          That boy you're crying over is not the person you think he is. Not yet anyway - but one day, when he isn't angry anymore, the two of you will clear the air. He's not for you though, and you're not for him, so you might as well let it go and move on. Take a lesson from him, carry the good with you as a standard for every man to uphold, and take the bad as a checklist of deal-breakers to protect yourself with. You'll add to both of those lists over time, but the man who fits the list will elude you for a while - so don't be so serious all the time, okay?
          The people who have walked away from you will be replaced by the passage of time, some by new people who will also hurt you. Some will walk away ... but others? There will be many people who will help you to see who are and the potential that lies inside of you. I'd tell you about one of them, but I won't - best to let you be surprised when you realize who it is.
          In the meantime, stop being afraid to fail that one person you've always been dying to impress. It can't be done. Processing that loss will take a while, but loss is part of life. When you've accepted that some things aren't meant to be, take the time to get to know yourself as you are, and stop trying so hard to be what other people seem to require. If you need help, listen to the ones who tell you that you're beautiful, who look at you and see intelligence and good humor, who see talent and an unbelievable spirit of such fine quality that it's terrifying. If you haven't met someone who make you feel like that's what they see when they look at you, be patient. He'll come along, and I promise he'll be worth it.
          As you're becoming me, you're likely to feel a lot of self-doubt; there's no escaping that. You'll experience loss, and love, and more loss. I can tell you that it won't turn out the way you planned, and you won't end up where you expected to. You'll veer off the path, you'll explore what life has to offer. But you'll be proud when you've become me, to realize that you haven't veered too far, you haven't explored enough darkness to get trapped in it, and there really is light at the end of the tunnel. Something to work toward, someone to believe in.
          And I know you don't believe this yet, but it's you.
          Remember to love yourself, accept yourself, and believe yourself. And chase your dreams; they are not as out of reach as you think.
          Love, Me

And this letter? It isn't just for the young me. It isn't just a reminder for the new me. If you're reading this and it speaks to you, then listen to it. Stop waiting for that one thing that will make your life worth living. Stop waiting for that one person that will make you a person worth loving. Stop waiting for that one event that will make it all worth it.
Because just like me, you are already a person worth loving, a person worth living a life that's worth living. And right now, if you use it, this moment is that moment that will make it all worth it.