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.

I don’t understand it, bruh

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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?”

Contortion Trivia

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contortion_800For 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.

Wolf Girl Trivia

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Wolf GirlWith 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.

Losing the Light

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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.

Ringmaster (Arcanium Book 4) Trivia

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ringmaster_exlargeAs 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.