I was so busy this week, I didn’t have a minute to post that I had an article in the LGBTQ publication Divine Magazine, where I wrote about my conflicted feelings about saying goodbye to the Sanctuary world.
There’s this common trope/assumption in romance, whether as a genre or as a side plot in a general story, that real romance is unspoken. That passion is a man grabbing a woman and kissing her mid-sentence, that sparks fly when everything emerges according to chemistry and hormones and instinct. That the touch comes first, and how the girl (or guy, but usually the girl) reacts is the answer: kissing back or a slap to the face. That asking for permission before you do something lacks spontaneity, and if there’s no spontaneity, there’s no sparkage.
One thing I’ve learned as I write erotic romance, it’s that consent is sexy.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve written before on the value of ravishment fantasies within erotica. I love some good forced pleasure in fiction.
My point isn’t that fictional non-consent isn’t sexy. It’s that there is definitely chemistry in permission. And the reason why can be summed up in one word: respect.
It’s funny. I’m partial to erotic horror romance, and the things I tend to punish most in my stories is men’s lack of respect for women. It’s a mostly unconscious theme, but I notice it a lot in retrospect. You see it quite a bit in the Arcanium series, actually, which is fucking hilarious when you think about it.
My lovely villains will torture, maim, kill, damn, whatever. But consent is incredibly important to Bell. He has his own ethical code that flies in the face of most human codes, but if anyone touches his people without their permission, he takes revenge of biblical proportions. His incubus and succubus can’t feed from people in his circus, his sadistic Ringmaster can’t whip the people in the circus without cause, and those he tortures on a daily basis are usually that way because they broke his one rule of consent. It’s rooted in the whole vampire/demon idea of invitation and will to sin (although I’m not saying that what anyone is doing is sinful). But the result is a surprising respect among the demons and jinn of Arcanium for the lovers they choose, because when someone does choose the kind of things their kind offer, it means so much more.
Right now, I’m working on a long erotic novel—kind of an Old World gothic fantasy type thing with vampires and werewolves—Nocturnal Creatures. And while the monsters of this novel do some terrible things, they still value consent. My vampire king moves at my protagonist’s pace at every turn, pushing the boundaries to help her grow but not penetrating them. The wolves act on instinct and a certain level of sadism/masochism, but they still feel around the protagonist’s limits, checking periodically that what they’re doing is okay for her, asking what she likes, accepting what she doesn’t.
Bringing us to the Sanctuary trilogy. Call for Blood is coming out this month, in fact. And one of the themes that (again, unconsciously) runs through it is a deep value of consent. Renee wants her buttons pushed, but she needs the right to say no and have that ‘no’ respected. As soon as it’s not, she and her shifters have a problem.
I’m sure it’s not always perfect in my stories. The lines of consent are drawn differently between species. Incubi and succubi, in particular, blur the lines because they can’t help how much sexual energy they put out, and people certainly don’t consent to being consumed, whether by vampires, sex demons, or worse. And sometimes people are simply imperfect.
But asking for consent, gauging body language for continued permission, punishing non-consent while welcoming its illusion, the level of control necessary to restrain one’s non-human sexual desire… all of it is actually fucking hot.
Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t.
I love all these love triangle stories in the publishing world. Does she get the sexy fairy or the incubus? Does she get the vampire or the werewolf? Does she get the ghost or the ghoul? Who should she choose?
And I’m just over here saying, “Okay, so she gets the human, the werewolf, the shapeshifter, the vampire, the witch, every demon she can find and a few more that find her… What’s this choice thing again?”
For every novel, I have a few interesting tidbits to share about aspects of the story and/or its place in its series. I love movie trivia, so it only makes sense I’d do the same for my books. Here are a few facts about Contortion, the fifth book in the Arcanium series. As always, it’s best to read the book first, lest you encounter spoilers.
1. Valorie is named after the actress Valorie Curry, to whom she bears no resemblance.
2. Lennon is inspired by but doesn’t physically resemble Tim Roth. John is inspired by Leonard Roberts. Valorie isn’t really inspired by anyone. She’s just in my head.
3. Contortion differs from the other Arcanium novels in several different ways. Like Kitty, she’s a veteran cast member of the circus, but she doesn’t bring anyone new in, so this is the first novel where there’s no formal introduction to Arcanium. Secondly, most of my main characters, they struggle with the demon side of Arcanium; Valorie struggles with her humanity.
4. When I wrote Ringmaster, I was writing about a woman with hair all over her body when my problem is that I have trouble keeping mine on. In Contortion, I write about a woman who can twist herself into knots. I can’t even reach my toes without bending my knees.
5. Between getting a dayjob and edits for other Arcanium novels, Contortion took over three months to edit prior to submission, even though it took less than a month to write.
6. Valorie’s jeans when she steps through the portal are high-waisted and acid-washed. It’s really quite bad.
7. I affectionately call this story ‘The Bitch and the Beast.’
8. I consider this the most human of the Arcanium novels thus far. Coincidentally, it was also the least interesting for me to write (doesn’t mean I don’t like it, because I enjoyed spending time seeing things through Valorie’s eyes – just in matters of comparison).
9. Was the second book written for NaNoWriMo 2014, started halfway through that month. I resolved to write 50k for each novel (at least 50k to finish the first novel, at least 50k to start the second novel), and I succeeded.
10. Shortest Arcanium novel thus far.
With the publication of Wolf Girl, it’s time for my favorite thing: book trivia. There aren’t any terrible spoilers here, but it’ll mean more if you read Wolf Girl first.
1. I wrote Wolf Girl for NaNoWriMo in 2011, the first NaNoWriMo I did in my hometown, and I was very quiet at write-ins (#introvert). Suffice it to say, when it came time to share a summary and excerpt from what we’d written, I received a few double-takes.
2. The original title was lengthy for NaNo purposes—The Wolf Girl and the Wizard Genius.
3. I tried to come up with another title, since Wolf Girl is so common. Nothing seemed to fit.
4. The character of Erik Nye was inspired by several things, including some controversies about boob-touching and hugging at conventions, the big bad geek trio in Buffy Season 6, and—to some chagrin—more of myself than I’d like to admit.
5. If I had to cast the main characters, Tora would be Vanessa Ferlito, Erik would be Michael Welch, and William would be Liam Neeson (which is not why I named him William).
6. The first book I’ve written so far that’s without a doubt dark erotica rather than dark erotic romance.
7. Takes place in the same universe as the Sanctuary trilogy.
8. Maya (Fortune, Arcanium Book 1) was my first published Latina protagonist, but Tora was my first written Latina protagonist.
9. The geek guy gangbang is still one of my favorite sex scenes ever. Definitely top ten. After all, they don’t know what’s really going on behind the scenes. They’re just having a good time, and in the end, so is she.
10. Tora was my original furry woman, although Kitty (Ringmaster, Arcanium Book 4) was published first.
At this point, I’m finishing CALL FOR BLOOD on principle, but I’m not at all confident in it as the end of the Sanctuary trilogy. I might have to give up on that goal entirely, since I can’t imagine a different ending to their stories. It’s not awful, but I don’t feel it’s something I can put out there in good conscience.
I keep telling myself it’s not because my writing abilities have gone away. The first two Sanctuary novels were unique little things, with prominent bisexual characters and an established polyamorous mini-society. I also managed to churn out the still awesome Arcanium series, and I’m hoping the Meridian universe continues to yield just as good fruit.
Still, since mediocrity is all I’ve managed to write this year, I do wonder whether my time is over – burn bright, burn out. I wrote more books last year than most people write in a lifetime. Maybe I wrote the lifetime.
It’s hard to have any confidence in what I do, second- and third- and fourth-guessing my talents at every turn, sure that I’m doing so much wrong or so much worthless, or that it doesn’t matter anyway, because I’m just not going to be heard, even if I had value to hear.
To tell the truth, I’ve lost my light. It’s not the muse that’s gone – that’s still around, giving me ideas. It’s the light. Something – my job, my unchanging situation, my loneliness – something has sucked all the light and color and joy from everything I loved, leaving very little behind. And even that little is disappearing. If life is just living and no more, I have to wonder what the work is worth, whether I have to do it or not. I try to make my own joy, but it’s about as fleeting as creating new and unstable elements. Everything is dull, flat, not terribly bad, just… dun, and slightly unreal.
Writing used to be one of my havens, but without a spark – not of inspiration, but of drive, of life, of joy – it just isn’t the haven that it used to be. There’s only disappointment that my escapes are increasingly my world, but can never truly be the world. I’m disappointed that I need to escape so much at all, until the oases themselves lose their charm.
I want a change, but I’m notoriously bad at it, and there’s no certainty in that change – that I can have it or that the change will do me any good. I’ve lost what little optimism for the future I had.
I’ll continue trying, because I’m used to working without light. NaNoWriMo’s coming up, and that’s something I simply have to do. But I have little confidence that anything I manage to produce will be any better than what I’ve done this year.
As usual, I feel compelled to share some of the behind-the-scenes tidbits from the Arcanium series. Here’s a look at the interesting trivia for Ringmaster. (Highly recommended that you read the book before the trivia.)
1. Kitty’s story was the second story I came up with as a potential sequel, but the fourth Arcanium book written.
2. I originally revealed her secret relationship with the Ringmaster as a ‘Behind the Curtain’ short story in the first Arcanium novel FORTUNE. Most of that short story ended up in RINGMASTER.
3. Kitty’s full name is Katharine Clanahan. The Ringmaster doesn’t have a name.
4. I came up with the character of Kitty as a reactionary response to my form of OCD, typically called trichotillomania or excoriation disorder. I’m obsessive-compulsive about plucking, shaving, and pulling hair from my body, to the point where I have scarring and have to shave my head. I’m understandably resentful of social grooming norms. Kitty is my complementary opposite, and I love her to pieces. I was going to write her an erotic novel, no matter what.
5. Some of the ways she does her beard in this story are inspired by Captain Jack Sparrow and Albus Dumbledore.
6. Victor didn’t have a name for the first 8,000 or so words of the story. I just called him ‘&.’ Seriously.
7. The ending changed several times before I finally reached it.
8. A new oddity turned up in RINGMASTER that wasn’t been explained in the novel or in previous novels: Marcus, the rotting man. He’ll get an explanation eventually.
9. Two sexual encounters Kitty has are referenced but not expounded upon. Those stories will be in the accompanying ‘Behind the Curtain’ short stories for RINGMASTER.
10. Many thanks to bullwhip expert Anthony De Longis for his Youtube video. I’ve used a bullwhip myself and have one in my closet (from a cattle ranch, not for play), but it’s been over fifteen years since I’ve wielded it, and I really needed a refresher.
It’s been a rough set of months, so I haven’t put up a trivia collection for Aerial. I love reading movie trivia and getting tidbits of information about TV shows and music. I continue the tradition with my novels. Enjoy! (As you might imagine, this is best read after you read Aerial.)
1. The only Arcanium prequel, set three years before FORTUNE. So the timeline is out of sequence, yet AERIAL just felt right as the third book. It wouldn’t have made sense as the first one, since everyone would have expected Arcanium to be a primarily MM series. But AERIAL is only one of two Arcanium novels with a prominent MM relationship. The other is SILK (Arcanium Book 8).
2. Often through the sex scenes, I’d get so into it that I’d forget Seth and Lars had to be touching each other. I’d have to go back and change the choreography to reestablish the connection.
3. Seth is inspired by Simon Baker, Lars by Taye Diggs, the twins by Jewel Staite.
4. Lars’ name used to be Lance. I decided against the puns.
5. This is my first primary MM novel ever, and my first story written entirely from a male POV. It was nerve-wracking to write, to say the least.
6. By the time I’d worked a while on this book, I realized I like putting characters in mobile homes, even though I’ve only been in one once in my life.
7. There were many times while working on AERIAL that I just wanted to shake Seth and Lars, throw the Kinsey scale at them, and say, “Bisexuality exists!” But as straight-identified men, they have a bit of a mental block against the sexuality spectrum. To them, it’s either straight or gay, period. It makes for wonderful but not particularly enlightened angst.
8. I often wrote ‘Seth and Lars’ in AERIAL to the point where my brain started combining the two while I typed, and I’d want to write ‘Sars and Lars.’ Not sexy.
9. Seth and Lars had their characters first fleshed out in a ‘Behind the Curtains’ short story in the original FORTUNE. I integrated most of the aspects of that short story into several scenes in AERIAL. I also integrated parts of the Joanne and Jane ‘Behind the Curtains’ short story from FORTUNE into AERIAL.
10. The hardest part about this story was the choreography—in the ring and in the bedroom.
The tales that emerge aren’t based on my hopes and dreams. They aren’t fantasies, per se. They just…happen. My brain likes to be prepared, so it gives me 21 possibilities for 21 steps ahead before I even realize I’m doing it.
This same quality makes my anxiety especially problematic, because it means I can tell you all the ways things can go wrong. It makes my fear of the apocalypse persistent. It offends my anti-romantic sensibilities when my brain jumps ahead and imagines me in a relationship before I even know someone, and I have to rein it in with a certain amount of disgust.
But this same quality also makes novel and series writing a lot easier. So, qualities that are maladaptive in my social situations are more adaptive in others. Take, for instance, dissociation. That’s kind of a job requirement for a writer.
Also, my sense of empathy, which inspires a great deal of my dissociation–and which also makes creating opinions on major issues and ethical concerns difficult–makes me good at slipping out of me and into my characters.
I wish more of these traits could be more adaptive in my real life instead of just my writing life.
1. When I was thinking about all the Arcanium stories I wanted to tell, Carousel popped up out of nowhere, with none of the established Fortune cast or the possible oddities or skill sets that I have in my list. But it took on a life of its own at the last minute. I was excited to start it.
2. Caroline is named after the main character in the movie The Skeleton Key. Whenever someone calls her by name, I tend to imagine Gena Rowlands calling it in that creepy, horror-movie voice with her Louisiana accent, even though Caroline is from Oklahoma.
3. Riley is a conglomeration of inspirations, but Colm is inspired by Julian Sands.
4. The female clown Tragedy, in look and behavior, is partially inspired by Emilie Autumn.
5. While I knew the clowns were going to be a part of Carousel, I hadn’t planned on the clowns playing quite as big of a role. That kind of just…happened.
6. Tragedy and Comedy’s names are self-explanatory. The male clown Murphy is named after Murphy’s Law.
7. Colm started out as human. Then I got bored. Changing him to demon made everything better.
8. Caroline is my youngest protagonist so far.
9. I wrote Carousel and Aerial (Arcanium Book 3) back to back, more than half a year after writing Fortune.
10. I’d really love to ride the Arcanium carousel.