Friday, October 28, 2011

How much sex does your romance story need?

I don't participate often, but I read a lot of forums in the Amazon Kindle romance group. Reading them is like watching reality TV crossed with a documentary. The latest one that nabbed my attention was a forum asking if readers prefer one sex scene vs multiple sex scenes per book. Discussions ranged from closed door to graphic to multiple scenes potentially making it erotica. Once again I was struck by the variety in reader preferences.  And once again, I was confronted by the inability of any one author to please all readers in a single book, perhaps not even in multiple books.

Honestly, when I write a romance I never stop to think about how much sex is in it. If asked, I would have to work at counting the scenes in any specific book I wrote (though I have a friend who does this for entertainment). I don't keep track because what would be the point? One book might require one scene. Another book might require seven or eight. To me, my characters indulge the urge when it seems right for them to do so. If I have created a situation where they desperately need each other and believe that, then they are not likely going to delay gratification for 300 pages.

I am not that kind of writer.

I am also not the kind of person who would enjoy books where delays are artificial and done to draw out the tension beyond what real humans would be able to stand and remain sane. My characters are mature adults. The older a person gets, the less they tend to play waiting games. So my older heroes and heroines tend to do what they want more frequently and more quickly than maybe younger characters might. However, character age is not the indicator for me either. Instead it is whatever seems most natural for that person's nature and situation.

In Dating A Metro Man, Jenna's and Seth's relationship is based on sex. Seth uses their sexual relationship to keep Jenna close to him while trying to convince her to love him back the way he loves her. Initially, the physical seems to be all they have. Seth hates the situation and spends most of the book trying to change it. If I had to make a guess without counting, I would say there are probably more sex scenes in that book than any other I have written, but if it's true, it's because sex was the basis of the main character's initial and tentative connection.

In Dating A Saint, Lauren and Jim go through a lot of turmoil before consummating their physical relationship. They have complicated lives and a lot of decisions to make before the connection between them could be safely expressed in a physical way. I did not shoot to achieve first time "romance book perfect" sex either. Lauren and Jim have to emotionally overcome a lot to be able to be in each other's lives that way.

In The Right Thing, the heroine has not had sex in a decade. She is over 50. When they finally get to the sexual relationship point, the scene is pages and pages long and took pages and pages to happen. It is paced slowly because the heroine needs to go slowly and the hero knows that. I would guess this is the longest sex scene I have written to date, not that "longest scene" was a goal either.

Just for a counter-balance, Dating Dr. Notorious has the shortest scene, but could possibly tie for the most scenes. In that book, Ben and Regina are both just those kind of people who make no excuses for their needs.

One theme that emerged from those commenting in the Kindle forum was that sex between the characters had to "further the story" to be of interest to most readers. Viewpoints on what that meant varied greatly, but the gist was that if the sex scenes didn't show the developing emotional relationship between the two characters, the reader felt cheated. Some readers commented that if a book had several scenes (like 7 or 8), it should be labelled "erotica" so readers would know it was mostly just sex. I don't agree with the labeling, but maybe it explains the variety of readers my work draws if that is a predominant thought in reader's minds.

I would like to think I use the sexual relationship between my characters to show they are getting emotionally closer--more intimate--in every way. In my writing, a sexual relationship shows the growing intimacy and is not just a reward at the end for my characters finally getting things emotionally right. Instead, it is laughter and experimentation and comfort and thrills and a metaphor for living life. Initial sex can be awkward or the most amazing moment. Repeat lovemaking can be amazing or fall off into awkward fast. That's just the nature of "sex".  Personally, I don't know how to pull off showing a real relationship between mature adults with one single scene on which their entire physical connection hangs. That might work for 16 year olds, but not for characters over 50.

Good romance is about emotion and making a loving connection. Good sex scenes reveal the depth of each character and hopefully a believable emotional connection between them.

And above all, at least in a romance, good sex scenes should show love.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Profound Thinking About Solar Energy

AM/FM radios became "boomboxes" which now are tiny MP3 players. Communicators from Star Trek are becoming real (look up the SIRI app for the iPhone 4S). It's getting really exciting to realize I've lived long enough to see the science fiction of my childhood become a potential reality.

I find energy self-sufficiency very appealing, so even the idea of detaching from the grid gets me excited.  So Justin Hall-Tipping's presentation is hopeful and very interesting. Now the big question is if I will see it happen in my lifetime.

Another question I have is WHY isn't some company in the US investing in this and making sure it becomes a reality? I hope there is and that I just haven't heard about it. Certainly there isn't as much cash in replacement solar panels and house wiring as there is in creating and selling electricity all over, but isn't energy conservation just worth doing because it's right to do for our world and planet?

I know the economics. I understand the reasons research for super amazing cell phones has outdistanced the technology for creating more energy efficient cars. I just want some altruistic company to rise above the economics and do it anyway.

Justin Hall-Tipping: Freeing energy from the grid | Video on

While it was very interesting to think about using solar energy for my own needs, it was amazing to hear it was already happening elsewhere in the world, but it was more humbling to hear HOW it was happening.  The first half of the "barefoot movement" presentation is about a unique take on the value of education, but do hang in there to learn about grandmothers being trained as solar engineers.

Bunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movement | Video on

I am a writer because I am interested in the world and how we all interact with it. These positive discussions and ideas put forward by kind and caring individuals make me hopeful for the world.

If I'd been better at math, I might have been a scientist. <thinking...thinking>  Okay, probably not, but I could so, so easily be a cheerleader for what these two presentations offer.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Promoting your books and yourself

Wow, have I learned a lot about marketing and promotion in the last six months! Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of promoting books and myself, what I know fits metaphorically on the top of stick pin compared to what is possible. When I make time to research, like I did today, I come across unique approaches that hadn't even crossed the edges of my imagination. Today I discovered fantasy author Alexander M. Zoltai who focuses promotion efforts through his Second Life site, virtually ignoring (pun intended) other social media.

Collecting friends on Facebook and learning to interact in a valuable way with them has been the pinnacle for me so far. I generally just post a book release notice everywhere I am online (Twitter, Facebook, Website, Blog) and cross my fingers. I hear other Indie authors laughing as they read this. I think I even hear them whispering "lame, very lame". That's why I'm looking into what else I can do.

Lately, a few readers have sent email asking if I was thinking about doing Facebook contests or contests on any of my personal sites. I'm a Goodreads author and they encourage that as well. I'm not opposed to doing contests. I'm just not very clever in that area. At the risk of my womanhood, I will confess that I never host baby showers or wedding showers except under duress. I don't throw a lot of parties. My real life socializing consists of quiet, spontaneous dinners of under six people which are usually reciprocal to someone who has already invited us so I don't seem rude.

So this week I thought I would look at Facebook contests and see what they were about. I posted a notice asking my FB friends about them and got a few replies. I've been asked by author friends to help them with their contests, but I couldn't even figure out how to do that well.

Deciding experience was going to be the best teacher (as is usually the case), I entered a Facebook contest. It was a Reader's Digest challenge to "write your life story in 150 words". Twitter and blogging have made me a word count ninja (soft of), so I thought I would give it a shot. Publication was promised to the winner, so I immediately envisioned tons of Reader's Digest readers downloading my free book and discovering me. (Hey, if I didn't have fantasies, how the heck would I write?)

There are money prizes as well, but that's like a hoping for a winning lottery ticket. I prefer the promise of publication because it will increase my online presence and maybe find readers. Call me crazy. Any online publishing is important because all online mention of you moves your name higher in Google searches. Here's a link to my Reader's Digest entry if you're interested in checking it out. At the risk of sounding like a politician, "your vote is appreciated".

So using Second Life for book announcements and promotion was interesting and unique, but I also discovered today that you can list your blog on Kindle. It costs a Kindle user who wants it about .99 cents a month to subscribe to your blog, but the blog gets delivered directly to their Kindle device. Not being a Kindle owner yet, I am not sure of why this is advantageous over a free subscription to the RSS feed on the site or electing to have it delivered to email like I usually do. Maybe once I get my Kindle Fire next month I will understand.

I signed up as an author willing to do Kindlegraphs and wondered if anyone would want those for my books. I have been quite surprised at the requests.

It doesn't pay to be skeptical. Here's my mini-lecture to myself: "You published your book. Now you have publish yourself."

To do that, you have to find people interested in you. For best results, you have to keep an open mind.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Profound Thinking About Your Stuff

I updated the title of this post because I decided I wanted to do more of them. I am calling these "Profound Thinking" because they encourage exactly that in people.

My brain requires regular feeding to feel alive. This feeding requires me to travel a bit outside my homey box and get inspired. Inspiration comes from many places, and this comes from my significant other who stumbles up one these gems and shares. "You have to watch this," he will say.

Now I pass it on. This is worth five minutes and forty-nine seconds or however long it takes. Just something to think about:

Graham Hill: Less stuff, more happiness | Video on

Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Release: Created In Fire

There is nothing better for me than ending a week by announcing a new book.

Created In Fire is now available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

It will be available at Apple, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, and Scrollmotion in approximately two weeks, probably during the last week of October. I will update these links as soon as it is available.

As an FYI to those who don't want to wait two more weeks on Apple or Sony to get the books (I love you all, more than I can say), Smashwords provides formats that work on almost every reader. You can read the Smashwords .epub file on iPhones and iPads. Here is a link to the Smashwords FAQ about how to load the files on your devices. Scroll down the list and look for the "How do I download to my XXX device?" information.

There is a Chapter 1 excerpt in Facebook Notes if you want to read that in advance, plus my books allow for at least 20% sampling at all retailers that support sampling.

I also decided to include one more tiny teaser scene with this announcement. Since these books deal with family, I thought you might enjoy this tiny discussion between a father and son. Thanks for reading!

Michael smiled and studied the satisfied expression on his father’s face. “I hope you get to look like that for the rest of your life.”

“Look like what?” Will asked. “What do you mean?”

“Contented,” Michael told him. “It’s an emotion I long for but have never felt—well except once, but it didn’t last long. If Carrie would just believe I love her, I think I could find it again.” 

“Contentment is one of the harder emotions to hang onto,” Will said, rising to refill his mug. “It helps if you’re the type of person who regularly counts blessings. Sometimes it’s hard for me, but I keep working at it.” 

“Like being grateful Carrie is here for me to help, instead of her living alone and dealing with being sick by herself?” Michael asked. 

Will nodded. “Yes. That’s a good start.” 

“How long until I get to the contented part?” Michael asked, raising an eyebrow. 

Will shrugged and laughed. 

“Shane was right. You and Mom are not getting any wiser as you age,” Michael said bitterly. 

“You learn wisdom by surviving trials and it looks like you’ll be developing your own soon with all the challenges you’ve attracted to yourself,” Will said, choosing not to be offended by the opinions of the two men he raised. “Michael, you’re thirty-four. It’s time to stop being mad that your mother and I don’t have solutions for you anymore.” 

Michael thought about his father’s statement, ignoring him as he sipped his coffee. “Well, growing up sucks too then,” he said, laughing despite the ache in his chest. 

“I’m sorry you’re having a tough morning, son,” Will offered, fighting the grin that kept twitching the corners of his mouth. 

He shouldn’t laugh, but it was hard not to. He knew his stubborn eldest was going to push, shove, and do God only knew what else to the woman sleeping down the hall. Michael honestly thought he would win the stubborn contest between Carrie and him. 

Will figured it was extremely wise not to point out the futility of that to an already frustrated Michael. He was just glad Jessica was letting him live with her until they found a house to buy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When You Hate The Hero

What is a writer supposed to do about a review blasting a character's--well, character? It is certainly a dilemma at times to figure it out if you are looking to reviews as a indicator of reader contentment with your work.

First, the writer should probably ask if the comment is fair about the character. So in the case of Dating A Cougar, I had to ask questions like "Is Casey sexist?" The answer is "Yes", or at least he has sexist moments. Is he controlling? Yes, he could be seen that way. Many military men are prone to wanting to control everything and everyone in their environment. It's part of their training and a trait that seems to carry over into the rest of their life. Most get a handle on it, but some of it always remains in their character I think.

Also, I think a writer should look at other more positive reviews of the same character. Compare them and consider that it might just have been that one person or those two people who felt the way they did.

My writer dilemma in dealing with negative reviews about Casey in Dating A Cougar is that I intentionally wrote him to be exactly who he was in that book. As a writer, I couldn't have made a Marine less a Marine for the sake of making Casey less offensive to some female readers. What would be the point of downplaying his personality or the eighteen year military career I gave him? The whole point of matching a less-than-perfect, but extremely strong alpha hero with an equally  strong alpha heroine who thinks she doesn't need to change is to enjoy the two of them wrestling for compromise.

So how can I respond with any writer action to satisfy a reviewer who comments about not liking my hero? Well, I can't, or I guess I should say in the instance of my hero Casey at least--I won't. My characters are vetted by beta readers before I publish which helps me achieve a modest amount of assurance they are likeable. However, you can't please everybody and that means your characters won't be able to do it either.

Before I published my writing, one of the lessons parenting three children taught me is that sometimes you have to refuse something to a person you deeply care about for a higher purpose. During a particularly fierce argument about why she was not being allowed to do something, my oldest daughter as a teenager yelled "I hate you" to me. I was caught off-guard by the directness and sincerity of her comment at the time, but knew as her parent I was right to set that particular limitation for the greater good of both of us and our family. Having been trained at the Bill Cosby Show school of parenting, I pushed the blubbering mother emotions aside and yelled back "Good! That means I'm doing my job."

I think that's how I feel about the negative reviews of Casey in Dating A Cougar. A reader can be disappointed, and I have to accept that it's okay for that person to just not like the hero if they say they don't. Really in response, the only thing I can reasonably say is thanks to authors of the negative reviews commenting on Casey being the kind of man I meant him to be in the story. I can only say thanks for letting me know I did my job.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

An Irishwoman Wrestles Death and Wins

October is cancer awareness month. My first sincerest hope is that this disease has not touched your life and never does. It is my second sincerest hope that one day the world is going to figure out how to beat it--all of it. Having seen the process up close, I don't think the answer is surgery, chemo, or radiation. Those are very elaborate band-aids, and at times they help, but they are not cures. My daughter became a science experiment before the end of her life. No offense to the medical community or doctors of any sort, but there just has to be a better way.

An article I wrote about my daughter dying of cancer last year was released on Wednesday. I wrote it for a support site serving mostly women looking for help and encouragement. Seeing the truth in black and white was a bit tough for me, tougher than I expected, but I needed to start to talk about it. It is not something I talk about constantly, but it also doesn't need to be something hidden in a dark part of my life. I want everyone who has watched a loved one die of that horrible disease know that what people say during it is true. It really does get better. It just takes some time, and more time for some than others. And while you are passing through that time, you have to allow yourself the things you need in the process. Some of us heal best by lighting a candle for others trying to find their way out of the dark. My way out was to create my stories.  Here is a link to the article if you haven't seen it and are interested.

Then Steve Job died this week. He was a business person I admired, but also he was a human who seemed to try his best to give back to the world when he could. His cancer changed him. Do I know this personally? I know this by knowing that no one I have ever met that had cancer or was any way intimate with someone with cancer could have remained unaffected. From my perspective, his life was filled with many examples of working to find the value in what he was doing. He wanted to make each moment count for as much as he could. This has been my mantra since I turned 50 and started seeing younger co-workers in my stressful job dying all around me. My daughter's death was the brick to my head that finally got me going in the right direction. A year or so later Steve Jobs' death is a reminder. He was 56, just three years older than I am. He had a full, wonderful, adventurous life from my perspective looking from the outside in, but as I write this post I find myself sincerely hoping he thought the same thing about his life. I also wonder if he felt finished with what he came here to do when he died. Had he wrung every drop of everything he could from it?

Well, I'm not done yet. I have tons of stories left to tell and I hope I have time. I'm of Irish heritage so I'm going to go have a drink now and lift a glass to his memory and my daughter's . I'm also a Philosopher so while I'm drinking I will ponder the meaning of life as well. I doubt I will get very far. More and more I'm starting to see that life is more about the journey than the destination. I wish I had known that when I was 30, but am thankful to at least know it now.

If you haven't listened to Jobs 2005 commencement speech, it's worth fourteen minutes of your life if you liked the man at all. He's telling his stories in it. I can respect that. This link is compliments of the The Passive Voice blog. Thanks PG.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Eitd, Etd, darn it I mean Edit

Knee-deep in revisions for Created In Fire, I am uber conscious of wanting the book to be as good as it possibly can be. Though there are no truly perfect books these days, the biggest cross I bear as an Indie writer is trying to do an acceptable level of editing on the books before publishing them. Unfortunately, the total responsibility for that rests on me and I have become a terrible editor of my own work. I seem to have traded the perfectionist tendencies I had as a technical writer for creative ones.

While I'm not unhappy with the trade, it's hard to work out the perfect editing process when you control all aspects of it which may be something in traditional publishing's favor with editors serving as gatekeepers for book perfection. Still I have no longings to go that route, so I just want to find a process that keeps me from getting negative comments in reviews about the books needing more editing. I am very grateful to every reader who has bought my books and loved them despite their mechanical flaws. Because of that gratitude, I am taking more and more steps to fix the first published version of every book because all readers deserve the best content a writer can produce. I also have no problem fixing content after release and publishing a revision if one is needed.

My book The Right Thing is probably one of the cleanest books I've published so far because my editor saw it twice. Created In Fire is being seen twice by the editor as well, plus it will also see a proofreader.

Six books into my publishing career, I have learned some things about myself as a writer. One issue I struggle with is to actually stop writing (aka creatively altering the story) when I start editing, but this is not an easy thing to do. My tendency is to keep on writing new content which I discovered introduced new errors faster than my editor could find them. So now I'm adding a proofreader at the end of my process and letting that person look at it after I have finally stopped "fixing" things. Though  he lives in another state, I can still hear my editor sighing with relief.

In self-publishing, it takes a while until you have money enough to hire the amount of help needed. Not many of us can get by with letting a spouse or a friend edit. I'm not 100% there yet, but I am getting closer. I normally put a revision up within a month of initial release because by then I have the time to go back through the book more slowly and without pressure. Time and distance help with the objectivity that is critical to seeing the errors.

Recently, I had the first series books reviewed again for print versions and found yet more tiny errors that needed correcting. So I will be shortly be releasing revised ebook versions of the Never Too Late Series.  Don't ask how many times Dating A Cougar has been revised. I'm too embarrassed to put the number in this post.

Now it's my turn to sigh. I do that a lot when I'm editing.