Nocturnal Creatures begins

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Longest NightWith the first book in the trilogy, LONGEST NIGHT, which is available six days after said longest night, for which I apologize. But I had a cold that slowed me down during the proofreading process, plus holiday craziness.

Nocturnal Creatures was an experiment in several ways. It’s the longest thing I’ve written that’s high fantasy, and I gave myself a number of rules to keep it interesting. If you can spot the rules before I spoil them, you win a virtual cookie. Possibly a virtual kitten.

I hope to put these books out once a month, and then soon after the third one is available, an omnibus volume will be made available in both e-book and print, since I’d like to start offering my stories in print. Which means I need to get back on BLOODBOUND and WOLF GIRL sometime in the next decade. But I’m really looking forward to the omnibus volume. It’s gonna be big.

I wrote this when I was in the middle of working on a number of other vampire novels. I’d finished CALL FOR BLOOD, where I introduced vamps to the Sanctuary world, and I was either about to start or had finished SPIDER, which features a vampire-y Creature. What can I say? I have a type. But I try to do a lot of different things with them.

In the case of Nocturnal Creatures, it was one of three stories I wrote for a short story call for an anthology from Totally Bound. This little gothic erotic fairy tale came in over 20K words, which was too much, but it felt like not enough. So I set it aside and brought it out again later…and it turned into an over 200K-word story. This is my life, ladies and gentlemen. But I’m really pleased with it, and it does fit a trilogy structure, works just fine with the books separated. Each book really is its own story. And I hope you enjoy it as much as I still do.

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In the realm of the Crimson Kingdom, the demon king descends from his dark, dangerous castle on Longest Night to take for himself a new wife. She must be unmarried and unmarred by men, a pure sacrifice for the devil.

Asha of the Gray is one of the few women in the kingdom whom no man will marry and whom no man has marred, though she has had to fight every day to keep herself unruined, with the kingdom brothels just across from where she begs for coin every day.

When the demon king gifts her a winter rose and chooses her as his bride, he marks her for death. But though his castle is dark and strange and the king himself monstrous, not all is as it seems, and death may be a more welcome alternative than anything the Crimson Kingdom offers an unwanted woman like her.

Beware Longest Night

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red rose on snow

Photo by Jenna Hamra on Pexels.com

I’m not sure why I did it, but I wrote a song for the NOCTURNAL CREATURES trilogy—the kind of cautionary tale people hand down in oral form to remember a lesson. It’s the night after Winter Solstice now, but since LONGEST NIGHT didn’t get published in time, consider this my apology.

Every year on Longest Night
Flee from the streets and lock up tight,
For if the king comes to your door
He’ll steal you away forevermore.

Beware the woods, where wild wolves prowl.
Beware their teeth, their demon howl.
But above all, Crimson daughters here,
It is the king whom you should fear.

So daughters, wed and show submission.
Bind virtue to God and to his men.
For when devil offers a winter rose,
If rose turns red, he’ll bleed your soul.

Fathers, keep your daughters well,
Else after the twelfth clear church’s bell,
If daughter is found unmarried, unmarred,
The devil king will eat her heart.

NOCTURNAL CREATURES was my first long attempt at hard fantasy (albeit gothic romance with a touch of horror), with all kinds of world-building. It was incredibly entertaining. I’d done a little of it before with CALLING THE DRAGONS HOME, but that was a short story and literally my first work published through Totally Bound in 2012. I’ve since gotten the rights back to rework it into something longer. I’d like to think it’s in the same universe as NOCTURNAL CREATURES.

Hope this song gives you a glimpse into the Crimson Kingdom before LONGEST NIGHT arrives. Season’s Greetings!

SPIDER Trivia

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I’m so behind on keeping up with this, but in my defense, I’ve been editing FUNHOUSE (A7) and writing SKELETONS (A9), plus doing the final edits/proofs of LONGEST NIGHT (NC1).

SPIDER has been out for several weeks now. I received a wonderful review from Lisabet Sarai, who’s a big fan of the series (which absolutely tickles me), but since it’s the sixth book in the series, probably don’t get a lot of new readers. (For book links, check out the Arcanium page.)

For the Arcanium veterans, though, you know I love sharing my book trivia. They work better if you’ve read the book, but I don’t think I’ve included any spoilers.

978-1-78686-436-9_Spider_1500X24001) The number of elements that went into this story are ridiculous, and I suspect it’s a product of waiting too long between Book 5 and Book 6. I had most of the stories pre-planned, but time allows for additional embellishments. Still, it was the story I wanted to tell, and I have to hope I pull it off.

2) It’s the longest Arcanium novel at a little over 120K words (see aforementioned elements). FORTUNE was longer when the Behind the Curtain short stories were included but became more manageable after those were removed.

3) During some sex scenes, I literally asked myself how I could gross people out while they were turned on. Being unsettled and aroused at the same time is kind of Arcanium’s thing, but I really cranked it up for SPIDER.

4) I am not actually arachnophobic. I am, however, scared of common cockroaches. Madagascar cockroaches, however, are pretty cool. I included both. You’re welcome.

5) I made up a cult. I like to do that. See CRY WOLF.

6) Elizabeth is the first Asian protagonist I’ve written, although there have been other Asian characters. It’s not common to see Asian characters on erotic romance covers (or any covers, really), so I’m really happy that Elizabeth has such a place of prominence in the second half of the Arcanium series–so much so that she kicks it off.

7) Elizabeth is named after Mary’s cousin in the Book of Matthew. Elizabeth’s mother’s family had daughters named after virtues.

8) The haunted funhouse is easily my favorite Arcanium element, which is why it continues to play an important role in FUNHOUSE (A7) and HAUNTED (A8).

9) Elizabeth is my second heavily tattooed character. See CRY WOLF. But this and number 5 are the only things the books have in common. Funnily enough, I don’t have any tattoos of my own. It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to do but never have.

10) Part of a three-part plot arc shared with FUNHOUSE (A7) and HAUNTED (A8). The first five books can be read independently of each other, though they have a kind of character-arc progression to them, but Books 6, 7, and 8 require a certain knowledge of what came before.

SPIDER Coming Soon!

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Guess what’s available for pre-order on Sept 27 and coming out in wide release on Nov 5? And I can’t tell you how awesome it is to have a spider on an erotic romance cover. So much of Arcanium is just me going, How can I make people aroused and uncomfortable or grossed out at the same time? And I really gave it my all in SPIDER.

 

Oh, what a tangled web she weaves…

One moment, Elizabeth is the modest, religiously devout nanny who accidentally brings her four charges to a slightly inappropriate circus filled with all the things a phobic like her could ever fear. The next, she’s sucked into the demonic world of Arcanium and transformed into Arcanium’s newest oddity, the Spider.

Her anxieties and phobias quickly attract the attention of the Creature, the gargoyle-like guardian of the haunted funhouse, who feeds on fear—and she offers a veritable feast from which he can relieve her, especially after she’s been locked in a glass box with giant spiders crawling over her eight-limbed body all day.

However, she also catches the eye of her jealous ex-lover, who helped make her into the scared, secretive woman she’s become, a woman who wrapped herself in the piety of her childhood cult just to escape him.

Between Arcanium and her own personal demons, Elizabeth has all four of her hands full.

 

I feel like when I wrote my blurb, I was dryly amused at all the elements that ended up in the novel. It was quite ambitious and slightly ridiculous. But it worked, so I left everything in. And so many elements led to a longer book, if you like that sort of thing. It’s a 120K novel, at about 302 pages according to the book page at Totally Bound.

And that’s not all. I’ve written and edited FUNHOUSE, and it’s been submitted. I’ve written HAUNTED (which is the continuation of FUNHOUSE), and I’m just waiting until it’s approved before editing, because I don’t know whether I’ll have to rewrite the second half of it. It took a decidedly dark turn, but Arcanium is an erotic horror series, so I might be okay.

Also, while waiting for FUNHOUSE to be accepted and HAUNTED to be approved, I’ve been editing the Nocturnal Creatures trilogy. Each book has been double-edited, and it’s ready for the pro edit. I’m hoping to write Arcanium’s next book SKELETON for this November’s NaNoWriMo and self-publish the first book in the Nocturnal Creatures trilogy on Winter Solstice, which is when the first book opens. The schedule’s pretty tight, but we’ll see. As I can afford it, I’ll be self-publishing the others, then possibly publishing an omnibus volume as well.

All that writing, while painful, had to eventually lead to this. We’ll see how it goes. But I’m excited for the Arcanium series, guys, and schedule willing, I might be able to finish it out next year.

Completed SPIDER

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1263440_49661335tortureI’ve been a busy bee since last November. I finally found a system to writing that takes advantage of the hours when I’m still productive. It’s not as fast as when I was writing full-time, but it’s more than I was doing for two and a half years.

I finished writing SPIDER (Arcanium Book 6) mid-November, then started on FUNHOUSE (Arcanium Book 7 and 8 – it’s a two-parter) right afterward. Finished that in February. I was trying something new for Arcanium, a soft reboot, and it ended up making both stories much longer than the others, because they weren’t one-shots like the others. SPIDER’s first draft came in at 151K words, and FUNHOUSE clocked in at 199K words.

After three rounds of edits, I cut SPIDER down to 123K before submitting it yesterday, roughly two years after first starting (had to stop because it wasn’t working, worked on NOCTURNAL CREATURES instead) and a year after trying again. That’s still long, but if necessary, there are a few other things I can remove – it just wouldn’t improve the story to do so at this point. However, no amount of cutting is going to keep FUNHOUSE in one book, hence the two-parter.

I was upset about it for a while. Still am. But there’s nothing left to be done unless I want to scrap the three-book arc altogether and start over again, which I really don’t want to do, because the stories are good. I’ve grown in the two years since the first five Arcanium novels. The storylines are more ambitious. But long novels can be expensive through a publishing house, so even though I don’t want to split FUNHOUSE, it must be done, and I hope you can forgive me for any irritation that comes from that.

However, it was really nice to be finished with SPIDER. Because FUNHOUSE was so much longer than expected, I’m about a month behind on my flexible schedule, so I had to do my edits in a hardcore fashion that makes it more difficult for me, but the outcome was worth it. I have a project to complete for April, but I should be able to get started on FUNHOUSE edits in May to finish in June. Then I’ll probably have another project to work on before starting to write SKELETON (Book 9). Hard to imagine I’ve written that much just within my wonderful demonic circus universe.

Time for stats, because I like numbers.

SPIDER Stats:

First draft word count: 151,181 words

Submitted draft word count: 123,034 words

Projected word count: 100,000 words (If I drank, this is why I’d drink.)

Days to write: I wasn’t keeping track this time. There were a lot of breaks. Let’s say a cumulative three months.

First line: “In retrospect, Elizabeth should have looked up what kind of circus Arcanium was before bringing the Bishop children.”

Largest number of sexual participants at once: 6. Boom.

Number of sex scenes: Roughly 8? But there’s a shit-ton of sexual tension, and the scenes themselves are intense.

I did a lot of things where I’m not sure whether I’ll have to tone them down or not, because Arcanium tends to push the envelope, and the issue of consent comes up a lot in SPIDER and FUNHOUSE due to plotty things. The fact that it’s horror erotica means that I hope people know what they’re getting into, but I still worry.

And because of the nature of SPIDER specifically, I paired a number of things with my sex scenes that don’t normally get paired with sex, which makes me happy. I hope they let me keep Arcanium hella weird. Because it’s only going to get weirder.

Finished a project

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853190_97444239bymapeicI’m more active at my Facebook page than I am here, simply because I’m thinking more in the short form than long form these days. Novel-writing has been taking all my long-form brain cells. Namely, trilogy-writing. Did it start as a trilogy? No. It started as one of the three short stories I wrote in the attempt to satisfy a submission call for a werewolf/vampire MFM anthology. The first two were too long for the call. Intervention ended up working for it, and I sold Red Queen as a novella. But the project I’ve been working on demanded fuller investment. Little did I know how much fuller it would become.

So I started working on Nocturnal Creatures (formerly Tooth and Claw) in late June,  expecting it to be a single novel finished by the end of August. Turned out it wanted to be a trilogy to satisfy the threesome/moresome relationship arcs to more satisfaction, and I just finished the last book tonight, mid-February.

I’m tired, I’m frustrated, I’m way behind on my writing schedule, and I intend to throw this trilogy into the deepest, darkest digital trunk I can find and not look at or even think about it for at least a year. That’s how long I’ll need to recover from over six months working on one project. And no, it didn’t feel like three. It felt like all one book in three parts. For reference, I wrote each of the Arcanium novels in less than a month each because I was writing full-time. Six months more than pushes my limits.

The stories feel solid. I forced myself to take my time, go through everything now so I have less to work on later. But I’ve played and replayed this story in my head, and I can’t stand it one minute longer for now.

A teaser, though:

Longest Night (Book 1)—On the year’s longest night, out of the handful of eligible, unwanted women in the entire kingdom, Asha of the Gray is selected to marry the king, a monster who lives in the castle far above the civilized districts of the kingdom and who only keeps his wives a year. Word count: 73,386

Beasts (Book 2)—Leaving on a journey to unlock the mystery of the northern ghost kingdoms, the king leaves Asha in the care of his returned army of wolf warriors and under the watchful guardianship of his most trusted friend, the mercurial captain of the guard.  Word count: 74,286

Grayling (Book 3)—Upon the king’s return, the mysteries follow him and threaten to destroy everything he built as well as every connection Asha reluctantly forged with the demons, monsters, and beasts that surround her. Word count: 113,102

The total word count was 260,815, at around 406 pages of single space, size-12 font. The biggest challenge, aside from writing the whole damn thing at all after the first book, was that I wasn’t allowed to use the words ‘vampire’ or ‘werewolf’ once. Made things a little more interesting. It’s not the first time I played with high fantasy. I’d say it was set in a similar universe as Calling the Dragons Home, my first story published by Totally Bound. The whole election season riled me up. I suppose a took out a lot of aggression through the story. Romance it might be, it’s still got a heavy dose of Gothic horror in it as well, because I’m me and can’t help myself.

I’m taking a break to do some editing, because my brain’s ready to pop like an old toaster. As soon as I gather up my strength again, I’ll resume work on Spider, Arcanium’s sixth novel. At least the Arcanium stories are basically standalones. They really do feel like separate projects that way.

Call for Blood Trivia

callforblood_800I’m a hoarder of movie facts, and I love sharing little tidbits about my novels as well.

1) The plot of Call for Blood was originally quite different. Renee was supposed to be put before a supernatural court for killing Grant, and the vampire lawyers were supposed to represent her. However, the concept was too close to the court scene in Wolf Girl, and I couldn’t make it work as a whole novel.

2) I wrote all the way through the Somnambulist scene before I realized I’d forgotten about Sebastian from the end of Cry Wolf. Since I felt I was missing something, I stopped writing Call for Blood and started from the very beginning, writing him into it. Turns out adding him made Call for Blood so much better.

3) The Somnambulist was named from the German expressionist movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

4) The inspiration behind Sebastian is Jonny Lee Miller. The inspiration behind Michael is Bill Skaarsgard. Brett Dalton was the inspiration behind Brian. Anita is a construct of my own mind.

5) Can we all just take a moment and marvel at how unhelpful Max and Ki’s respective parents are?

6) Renee’s aversion to lace is based off of my own. I’ve always loved lace, but I’m unable to wear it.

7) I toyed with a novel or a trilogy based on the Givens Family, but I think it’s time to let this universe go, sadly. There are plenty of other vampire stories planned.

8) Like with Winter Howl, I did not know what Renee would choose until I reached the climax of the novel and couldn’t wait any longer.

9) When the Sanctuary trilogy was part of Totally Bound Publishing, I would have had to focus on a heterosexual pairing as much or more than a homosexual one. Once it was moved to Pride Publishing when Totally Entwined split, I could allow Renee to have net more FF sex, which was nice, even though FF lesbian or bisexual stories don’t do well in queer publishing.

10) I’d originally wanted a scene between Grant and Jake in Winter Howl, but it was never right. I ended up reusing the concept of Jake exploring MM fantasies (despite being mostly straight) in Call for Blood, and damn, it was as hot as I remembered.

Consent is Sexy

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1269145_41051931trublueboyThere’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.

fortune_800 (2)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.

callforblood_800Bringing 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.