Writing, promotion, tips, and opinion. Pour a cuppa your favorite poison and join in.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The time it worked

This week I have been chronicling my journey to become a published author, and I've told you about my three failed attempts to publish a novel. And today, I get to tell you the happy ending--the attempt that worked.

As I mentioned yesterday, I got very close with Novel 2009, but it had some problems I needed to fix. I revamped the whole thing. Changed the main character, the setting, the title, and much more. I was happy with the result, which was the early draft of The Charge, completed in 2011. I went through yet another round of beta readers and another round of queries. I got a few query replies and blog contest nods, but the response was disappointing.

I didn't really want to shelve The Charge, but I was discouraged and decided to at least move on to something else for a while. So, in late 2011 and early 2012 I wrote a completely different novel (but that's a whole other story). I was feeling very excited about this new novel and was about to start querying it, but then something unexpected happened.

The publishing industry moves slowly and I'm not very patient. So, I had moved on before The Charge had really gotten a chance. I hadn't thought about The Charge in a while, then I learned that it had made it through the first round of the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Competition. Then, a month later, The Charge became a quarterfinalist. I didn't move to the semi-finalist round, but I did win a very positive Publishers Weekly review.

My success in the ABNA contest made me rethink everything. The expert judges and the Publishers Weekly reviewer thought it was great! The agents who read my query may not have fallen in love, or thought they would have trouble fitting it into the correct marketing box, but that didn't mean the book wasn't worth publishing. So, with my renewed confidence, I tried something new, I queried small publishers directly.

It didn't take long at all for me to get some full requests, and in about a nanosecond in publishing time, Curiosity Quills Press made me an offer.

Curiosity Quills Press: Literary Marauders

I have to admit, I was thrilled but also discombobulated. Things had happened quickly and not the way I had expected. I had no agent to help me negotiate the contract. Even after lots of research and consulting with friends, there was no way to be 100% certain that I was doing the right thing. But my gut told me it was the right thing to do, and I know I made the right choice.

My journey to publication was long and often painful, but I believe it all happened for a reason. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.

I'll save my last post for Saturday, my release date, so come back to help me celebrate!!

In the meantime, you can check out The Charge on Facebook and Goodreads.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

So painfully close...

To recap, this week I'm posting about my journey to become a published author. On Monday and Tuesday I talked about my first two unpublished novels, and now we move on to attempt #3.

I vividly remember the moment that I decided to write my third attempt. In 2009 I was going for a jog. The setting was perfect for inspiration - slightly stormy sunset sky, listening to good music, endorphins pumping. And it just hit me. I knew exactly what I should write, and I knew it would work this time.

I was sort of right. I sat down to write the novel that would eventually morph into The Charge, but the original concept was different enough I count them as two separate novels. Novel 2009 had a different title, (I'm leaving out the title because I'm thinking of using it again to title a new installment of The Charge series. ;) ) different MC, and even a different setting (no Texas! it was a fantasy world). So, yeah, it was pretty different, but my beta readers from that version will notice that the basic plot is the same and I even re-used a few scenes.

I got so, so, so close with Novel 2009. It won or got honorable mention in more than one agent judged contest, and I got a handful of partial and full requests. For me, being close, but not quite publication ready was harder than writing a crappy book that has no chance. It's this crazy roller coaster where you get contradictory feedback and have no idea how to proceed.

I had to accept the difficult fact that writing a good book is not enough to get published. I knew Novel 2009 had problems, but I also knew it had great things about it. Shelving a book you know is bad hurts like hell, but shelving a book you know is good is just horrible. It feels like such a waste and it's hard to know if you're doing the right thing.

But there is also a point where you've gone too far to turn back. I had put in so many hours, so much blood, sweat, and tears (okay, probably not any blood), I just had to keep trying.

Fortunately, my brilliant critique partners had given me all the insights I needed along the way to know where to go next, I just had to puzzle it all together and separate it from all the conflicting feedback noise.

And then...

*Spoiler alert* My debut novel, The Charge, comes out this Saturday! :)

Come back tomorrow to hear the best part, the story of my fourth novel and the one that would get published.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The novel I wrote in college

Today I'll be continuing my series about my road to publication. I wrote my first novel in high school and then took a break to write term papers and make mistakes. Then in college, I made another attempt at my dream of publishing a novel. This attempt was far more serious.

For starters, I wrote the novel on an actual computer. :) I joined a critique group and got feedback. And when it was all said and done, I queried agents. Although back then, most of the agents still wanted snail mail. I even sent my manuscript via snail mail. It sounds so ridiculous now! Thank God for the Internet. It certainly opened up the publishing world.

But back on topic, my novel in college was called The House of Saffron and it actually was the very beginnings of the story that would once become The Charge. Of course, not a single word from that original version made it into The Charge, but The House of Saffron was sort of a prequel to The Charge. That's one way to world build. Write in the same world for 10 years!

The House of Saffron was probably bad. I don't really know as I haven't re-read it. I'm a little afraid to. But it was certainly a step in the right direction. I sent only a few queries, like maybe five, before I decided to shelve it, which now seems like a somewhat lame attempt at publication. But to my credit, I also went to a conference and pitched my story to an agent in person, and as someone who's long suffered from social anxiety, that was no easy task! It was absolutely terrifying.

It was so taxing that I didn't even stay for the rest of the conference that I had paid for (okay, my mom paid for it). I just went home and went to bed. The agent requested a partial but ultimately said no.

I shelved my novel, which was difficult. But I had accepted that it wasn't ready for publication. Negative feedback made me defensive and ripped me to shreds, so it was too hard for me to make the improvements it needed. I was too young. I didn't have the confidence I would need to withstand the critique and query process.

But I knew I wasn't really giving up. I would make another attempt at publication, and of course, I did. Tomorrow, I'll talk about my third attempt at publishing a novel.

And now, enjoy the trailer for The Charge, my debut novel which will release this Saturday!

Monday, February 25, 2013

I've been waiting for this for 15 years

My week at Unicorn Bell happens to fall on a very special week, the week leading up to the release of my debut novel! So I hope you will indulge me with some posts that are more introspective than my usual fare. I'll be discussing my publishing journey up to now and some of my goals (and fears) for the future.

I've wanted to be an author for as long as I can remember. This goal faded in and out of focus over the years, but it's always returned. In high school my creative writing teacher pulled me aside and basically said, "You know, you're actually good at this." That stuck with me. It shows how even simple encouragement can make a huge difference for a teen. I bet the whole interaction lasted a minute or two, but I really took it to heart.

I started writing my first novel when I was fifteen-years-old. I wrote it by hand in a notebook. Then I transferred it to the family computer and saved it to a floppy disk. I was so nervous about anyone else reading it, I wouldn't even save it to the hard drive. Sadly, the floppy disk became degraded and I lost all of the work. I still had it in my notebook but I was so discouraged that I had lost all of my work typing it and revising, that I put it aside indefinitely.

The novel was probably too short and very bad, so maybe that disk degraded for a reason. :) I'm sort of glad that self-publishing wasn't a big thing when I was young. I was a stubborn little thing (still am) and probably would have wanted to publish right then and there. It's good that I waited until I had completed my fifteen year trial of rewrites and rejections. All that suffering and waiting made me a better writer, and probably a better person.

My fifteen-year-old self would be very annoyed that it took me fifteen years to realize her dream, but that finish line looks even sweeter after a marathon.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about my attempt at writing a novel in college.

Check out The Charge on Goodreads and Facebook!
The Charge

Friday, February 22, 2013

Far Away Eyes: Chapter 3

Today's submission is from Barbara from Far Away Eyes:

“Momma, do you remember what it was like to be fifteen?” I say in my most controlled voice, when I would rather be screaming at her. She is not going to let me go to the Baylor’s party, I know it.

“Hey beautiful girls,” Daddy says as he comes through the kitchen door from the back porch. Momma turns her stare on him, and I give him what I hope is my sweetest smile.

“Is there a problem?” Daddy asks.

[“Sandra thinks she should go to that party at the Baylor’s. We’ve discussed this over and over and I still feel the same. I don’t trust the Baylor boy, and I think Sandra is too young to run with that crowd,” Momma says.

“Now, Anne, it’s not the Baylor boy we want to place our trust in, is it? The question is whether or not we trust Sandra. I do. Don’t you?” Daddy asks and smiles first at Momma and then at me.

“Stanley, you know that’s not the point. Even a good girl like Sandra can easily be talked into doing things that go against everything she has been taught, under certain circumstances.”

Daddy looks at her and sighs. “Anne, you cannot control everything. This is one of those things that…,” Daddy stops mid-sentence. ]1

I look over at Momma and see her normal [‘do not mess with me’]2 look replaced with one of complete contempt.

“Sandra, Dee is tied up in the barn. Can you take her up to the low pasture and turn her out for me?” Daddy asks.

“Yes, Daddy. I’ll grab a sweatshirt, and go right out,” I say.

Momma is busy staring Daddy down. She’s good at that. [When she does, her look is pure mean.]3 I suppose at one time you would have called her pretty. Rich brown hair, which I did not get and those piercing green eyes that I did. Even after three babies she’s still slender. She can fit into my jeans, but hers are two sizes bigger. Heaven forbid, someone should think she has a waist or hips under all that denim. We do wear the same size shirt, but here it’s necessary to add to many layers everyone looks like a lumberjack. She and Daddy are so different. He’s so kind. I can’t imagine what keeps them together. She supports every decision he makes, but she doesn’t lift a finger to help out on the ranch. The kitchen and the kids are her responsibility, at least that’s what Daddy says.

Upstairs I grab a sweatshirt and pull it over my head as I come out of my room. I can hear them talking through the vent from the kitchen.

“She and Daniel Abernathy spend days out in the hay fields when we’re mowing. You never have a problem with that. Don’t you think they could have their clothes off and back on again before either one of us could walk out there to see why the tractor stopped?” Daddy asks.

“It’s not Daniel I’m worried about,” Momma replies.

“Maybe not, but he will be at this party too. Don’t you think he would take the Baylor boy apart before he would let him lay a hand on Sandra?” Daddy asks.

“You have a point. That poor kid is so crazy in love with her, I almost feel sorry for him,” Momma says.

This has a great teenage voice. I was a bit jarred by the present tense to start out with, but once I got into the rhythm of the piece, I didn't notice it. Otherwise:

  1. I wonder if her parents would spell out their discussion like that. I would think they would do more shorthand with each other.
  2. Full quotes: "do not mess with me"
  3. That is such a great line.
Do I sense a love triangle brewing? 

What do you think?  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Golden Dawn: Chapter 3

Today's submission is from Aldrea from Golden Dawn

He entered the room, relieved to find his memory had proven true. Before him sat and hung the old cages full of tiny birds. He'd [help build]1 each wire frame and, looking upon them after so many years, a flush of pride filled him at the sight of them still whole. His gaze swung to the far end of the room where Ștefan stood with his caped back facing Herald.2

He grit his teeth as his father feigned ignorance of his presence. Ștefan knew he was here from the moment Herald opened the door. Herald traipsed the length of the room, halting a good dozen or so paces away. "Father," he murmured, then stood to attention, waiting to be acknowledged.3

"You return so soon, my boy." His father turned. One of the small birds was perched on his hand. A sparrow, perhaps; it looked plain enough. "Rarely do I see you after sunrise. What troubles you?" Ștefan stared at the bird as if the question were meant for its little ears.

For some reason his father adored the tiny, feathered creatures. Herald didn't see the reasoning behind the affection. It didn't fit with his father's usual requirements for personal entertainment. They weren't big enough for a meal, they'd little in the way of will to snap and, most importantly, their tiny hearts gave out at the slightest hint of torture. 4

Herald looked about the room, marking how many feathered lives filled the cages. More prisoners. Be it birds or people, his father did have a liking for incarceration. At least the birds had the good fortune to die of old age.

"An angel, father?" he said, forcing his mind to focus on the woman still trapped in the tower. Could he really call it a woman? Weren't angels meant to be without a gender? His treacherous thoughts fast recalled the subtle curves under her gown, his face warming. Definitely female. "Are you trying to get us all killed?" Images of the castle being attacked from the sky filled his mind, shunting aside the previous, glorious vision. Is that why I'm here? When it came to commanding warriors, only his brother had surpassed him. Protecting the valley from men was easy. Was it even possible to defend against angels?

"So you've met your task." His father smiled at the bird, stroking the frail breast with a thumb. "Do not be so concerned, Herald. She has been here a while."

A while? That didn't say much. To his father a while could mean anything from three centuries back, to last week. "Exactly how long?" The desire to know pulled the words from his throat before he'd a chance to stop them.

His father's dark brow twitched at his commanding tone, pale lips narrowing and speaking his father's displeasure louder than any words could've done.

Herald flinched under that stare. Younger siblings had died for lesser defiance. Where had the insolence to speak in such a fashion to his father come from?

Great ambiance. I'm so afraid of this father figure. He seems like a bad dude.
  1. helped build?
  2. Great setup. This is not a cozy chapter.
  3. And now we know these two don't have the best relationship.
  4. Curious. We really get a glimpse of this man through his fascination with the birds.
This is a very dark chapter. Definitely setting something up.

What do you think?  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Legacy of the Eye: Chapter 3

Our third submission comes from Patricia from her SF novel The Legacy of the Eye: 

Chapter 3—Graduation

Catrine walked into the main auditorium through the door by the stage. [The room was larger than any other she had been in at the Academy. The ceiling was two stories high like the council meeting room, but the arched windows overlooking the Center Gardens spanned the entire height. Catrine looked towards the teal flowerbeds and a longing pulled at her chest. She had not seen the park for two weeks and she missed it.

Her attention turned to those attending the ceremony. As a group, the audience rivaled the flowers. Instructors also wore the same basic uniform of the Academy, but in vivid colors to represent their areas of expertise. Seeing the faculty and graduates arranged by department reminded Catrine of the rainbow pattern of the Center Gardens.]1

Most of the one hundred students graduating that day faced the stage and Catrine caught sight of David slouching in the front row next to Julian. Maryanne and Solana also were already there.

Catrine walked towards them and took the seat on David's left. “I’m assuming they want us in alphabetical order.”

He straightened in his chair. “All they told me was that governance students got front row. [You’re late, by the way.”]2

“I was rewriting the Tutor Program contract. Why didn’t you come get me?”

He looked towards the stage. “I thought you had already left. You, of all people, should have been the first one here.”

Catrine had been [speculating about her royal birth for the past two weeks.]3 Uncharacteristically, David had refused to give any opinion. His determination not to talk about the subject had dimmed its importance in her mind. Right now, all she wanted was to get through the ceremony.

Gerald and the council walked onto the stage. Silence filled the room as the Head of the Academy stepped forward. “Graduates, we have gathered here today to celebrate your accomplishments. We have invited your parents to participate in this event, and many are in attendance. Please do not judge those who could not make it. Travel around the Tetracoil Galaxy is not as easy as your instructors might have portrayed.”

Catrine felt like he looked at her, but then she remembered the debate techniques she had learned in class. He probably had made eye contact with everyone in the room.

The headmaster continued, “The Academic Council will call each graduate individually. Your birthplace will be mentioned, along with the names of your parents. Academic dowries will be discussed in private, so schedule an appointment with the council when you finalize your plans. Graduates and parents, please join us on stage when you hear your name. We will start with the Department of Languages and Dialects.”

Gerald moved to the left side of the stage and Walter stepped forward. He read from the tablet in his hand. “Cynthia of Demia, child of Ann of Demia and Carl of Demia.”

Not even a minute later, a girl wearing a red Academy uniform stepped onto the stage.

A graduation in chapter 3? Nice. Usually this would open or close the story. I like that it's not the main event.
  1. Nice description. 
  2. Late to her own graduation? Things must be happening. That's good.
  3. So her focus isn't really on this graduation. 
The main thing I noticed was an overuse of "had". Many of the "hads" in this could be deleted, and the sentences wouldn't lose anything.

What do you think?  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fade Into Me: Chapter 3

Our second submission comes from Charity, from her YA fantasy Fade Into Me. Caedmon is the narrator of this section: 


"You look beautiful, Sedonia."

She stood beside a large rhododendron just out of sight of those gathering for her wedding. Her hair was swept up with ringlets breaking free to frame her face. The dress shimmered in the light that danced through the leaves overhead. For a moment I set the magic free, knowing none of the humans would see it anyway. Sedonia’s aura twinkled around her, playfully touching all the life around her.

"I see you brought Kathryn with you." She nodded to my date standing by the waterfall.

"She came on her own, but I'm glad. My time’s up today and I have to accept it."

"Caedmon, I'm sorry you didn't find your Anamchara. Remember, you can still love and be happy."

"You're the best example of that. Are you sure this is what you want? You have a choice."

Sedonia's eyes sparkled. "He's a good man. Kind, honest, and he makes me laugh."

"But you don't have to marry a human. Think of all you're giving up."

"A couple hundred years traded for happiness?"

"You can never come home."

"Then you'd better keep us safe. All my life I'll watch for your influence in the human world. Move them closer to ascension. I know it's in you."

Father joined us and took Sedonia's hand. "It's time. Are you ready?"


"I'll see you after." [I didn't want to watch Sedonia release the part of her that made her Abhithian. It was hard enough knowing what it meant. From this day forward she would lead the life of a human, a shorter time on this earth. Life without the ability to feel the life forces flowing through every living thing. She would no longer be able to participate in keeping the balance between creation and destruction.]1

Kathryn and I took our seats. Soon I would have to tell her who I really was. If I was lucky, crossing from the human realm to what we jokingly called the Fae wouldn't drive her insane. Her fiery hair and Irish heritage gave me hope. She had a wonderful imagination and believed in fairies and leprechauns. Maybe the truth wouldn't be too hard for her to accept.

I tried to focus on the arbor up front, but a nervous energy moved through my body. Swirls of color, unseen by the humans around me, rushed up the hill. I’d never experienced such a rush this side of the veil. Something magical called to the colors and I had to know what it was.

Very sad chapter. It's like an ending, although something is coming. 

The only specific thing I noticed is the "1" note: perhaps this would work better as a separate paragraph. 

But the other thing was this felt very static. Because this is taken out of context, it might be a pause between things, and that would be good, but this doesn't feel to me like it's going anywhere. But that's just my impression.

What do you all think?  

Monday, February 18, 2013

Branded: Chapter 3

So, this week I asked for your chapter threes. (I still have a couple spots open if you want to submit.)  

One of my quirks is I have a hard time reading something with comments. I see the comments and not the substance of the piece. So, my comments are all at the end. 

Our first submission comes from Katie, an excerpt from chapter 3 of Branded:  

[The area was charred, and the small sand beach of the creek was strewn with half burned bodies. Jasmine spun and ran back behind a boulder.]1 “I don’t want to look!” she gasped. “It’s horrific! And what if someone I know is there?”

Andrew rested his hands on his hips. “You three stay here. I’ll go look.”

“I’ll come with you,” I offered.

He swung on me. “No. You stay here in case it’s a trap. I don’t want any of you to get hurt.”

He handed me his bag and wove his way through the trees to the creek. I watched him as Jasmine clung onto Jenna.

He reached the creek and scanned the area. Then he darted across to the closest body. I saw him tilt the head back, [then he covered his mouth to hold back his need to vomit.]2 He checked all the bodies one by one, before he checked the pile of supplies on the edge of the far tree line. He carried several items back up to us and set them down to distribute among our packs.

“There were a few people I recognized; Mr. Davis from primary school, your hairdresser, some kids from one of the other high schools, but no one we really knew well,” he told us.

“What do you think happened?” Jenna asked.

“The enemy thought the same thing we did and took them out,” he answered as he zipped his bag up. “We need a new strategy if we hope to meet up with people. There was a radio that was destroyed, but [beside it was a message.]3 It said: The Kangaroo of Burragorang’s toe has sharp claws and still twitches.”

“What does that mean?” Jenna asked.

Andrew grinned and pulled out our map again. “Burragorang is the lake that Warragamba [dam]4 created.” He flattened the map out and pointed to it. “If you look at it, it’s kinda shaped like a kangaroo mid-bounce.”

We all leaned over to stare at it. “I guess it kinda does,” I muttered.

Andrew continued, “So the toe of the kangaroo…” he pointed to the southernmost tip of the lake, “[Has]5 sharp claws: so it’s armed–and still twitches: there are people still alive there.”

“[You’re]6 nerd factor really pays off sometimes, Drew,” I grinned.

“Shut up,” he grunted. “Now, I think we should follow this creek southwest until we meet this fire trail which goes south and will bring us out just north of Warragamba…”

“Wait,” I muttered. “That’s a long hard way around. Why don’t we just follow the Nepean and stay hidden?”

“Because,” he answered, raising his eyebrows. “We need to move deeper for a while. Around the edge of townships are easy targets. We’ll take a week or so to make that trek, so it’ll give us time for that area to be swept and forgotten about.”

“But what if we take too long and there’s no one there?”

He met my eye. “Then we’ll have survived another massacre.”

Wow, a lot must have happened in chapters 1 & 2. Sounds like they're on the run. And this keeps the tension going. Then the little things: 

  1. Nice image (well, not nice...). Maybe a little more?
  2. Why are we sure that he's holding his mouth to hold back vomit? This would be a more powerful image if this was described instead of stated.
  3. Message? Written in the sand? On a piece of paper?
  4. Should Dam be capitalized (since it's a proper name)?
  5. has doesn't need to be capitalized (since it's in the same sentence as the previous quote). 
  6. Your
Great chapter. Now I want to know what came before this.

Other thoughts?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Submit Your Chapter 3

Recently, I pulled up a couple old projects of mine. I read through them. They weren't bad, to start, but then when I got into them... They all started to fall apart right around chapter 3.  

Chapter 3? 

So, this week I thought I'd see just how weird I am. I'd like to see your chapter threes. Submit any part of it, up to about 500 words, and we'll see what we can make of it.  

Send them along to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

All You Need

"I must have made some sound of distress, for there was a sudden up upheaval of bedclothes as the stranger in my bed vaulted to the floor with  the heart-stopping suddenness of a pheasant rising underfoot. He came to rest in a crouch near the door of the chamber, barely visible in the pre-dawn light.
Pausing to listen carefully at the door, he made a rapid inspection of the room, gliding soundlessly from door to window to bed. The angle of his arm told me that he held a weapon of some sort, though I could not see what it was in the darkness. Sitting down next to me, satisfied that all was secure, he slid the knife or whatever it was back into its hiding place above the headboard.
"Are you all right" he whispered. His fingers brushed my wet cheek.
"Yes. I'm sorry to wake you. I had a nightmare. What on earth-" I started to ask what it was that had made him spring so abruptly to the alert. 
A large warm hand rand down my bare arm, interrupting my question. "No wonder; you're frozen." The hand urged me under the pile of quilts and into the warm space recently vacated. "My fault," he murmured. "I've taken all the quilts. I'm afraid I'm no accustomed yet to share a bed." He wrapped the quilts comfortably around us and lay back beside me. A moment later, he reached again to touch my face.
"Is it me?"he asked quietly. "Can ye not bear me?"
I gave a short hiccuping laugh, not quite a sob. "No, it isn't you." I reached out into the dark, groping for a hand to press reassuringly. My fingers met a tangle of quilts and warm flesh, but at last I found the hand I had been seeking. We lay side by side, looking up at the low beamed ceiling.
~ ~ ~
I turned toward him. "I don't hate you."
"I don't hate you, either. And there's many good marriages have started wi' less than that. Gently, he turned me away from him and fitted himself to my back so we lay nested together. His hand cupped my breast, not in invitation or demand, but because it seemed to belong there.
"Don't be afraid," he whispered into my hair. "There's the two of us now."

~~Diana Gabaldon "Outlander"

All you need to know about love. In a simple passage.

Sweet Treats

And for a Valentines Day Special Treat....

I have a submission!

No...Not that kind of submission! Sheesh....that was yesterday. Man...

This Novel is an Historical Time Traveling Romance/Fiction. The two main characters have both traveled back into the past...but neither of them are aware of this...

Title of the Novel : Paradise Tours

  Katherine stretched her legs out, wiggling her toes. She took another
sip of the whiskey, wishing for tonic water or ice. So many things to miss,
she thought, glancing over at Jack who was watching the embers burn. The
light from the lamp accentuated the highlights in his hair, and she wondered
what it might feel like to run her fingers through it, what it might feel
like to kiss him...
     What would he do, she wondered, if she got up and went over to him?
     She took another sip from the cup and set it aside, rising and going
over to stand before him. She began to unbutton her blouse.
     "What are you doing?" he asked, almost choking.
     "What does it look like I'm doing?"
     He shook his head, rising, stopping her with his hands. "You don't have
to - "
     "But I want to," she said, cutting him off, "unless of course, you
     "Oh, I do, but..."
     "But what?"
     "Are you sure?"
     "Then let me," he said, unbuttoning the next, his fingers surprisingly
agile with the tiny flat buttons.
     "I take it you've done this before," Katherine said.
     "A couple of times," Jack said with a smile, slipping her blouse off,
letting his hands skim lightly over her shoulders and down the length of her
arms. "You?"
     "I was married, remember?" She smiled back.
     "Oh, really?"
     "Well, almost," Katherine amended.
     "Then this won't be the first time you've been kissed..."
     But it felt like the first kiss the way he brushed his lips against
hers, slowly, teasing, and when his tongue came to part her lips she
couldn't help but sigh, pressing closer to him, wanting to feel him against
her. Her arms twined up around his head, her fingers in his hair, those
golden strands.

Great beginning to a love scene. I love the teasing. The back and forth unsure-ness. I also like how underneath it all they're both not really who they think they are...:) Kinda adds another element to the whole thing. And I Still don't understand why this novel hasn't been picked up...*snarkity grumble*

What does everyone think? Please add your thoughts!

And enjoy this celebratory day of love!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How 50 Shades Got it Right

Please say that you watch Big Bang Theory....Because if you don't you missed this gem of a scene.

I would advise you to swallow any liquids you have in your mouth before hitting the play button...

Seriously. Fucking. Hysterical.

And I truly believe that we have 50 Shades to thank for this.

And for a few other things. I think that we've become a bit more accepting of people just in general. We've let go of our Puritan roots...just a little. Hopefully we can stop taking sex So Seriously, and learn to laugh at it...just a little bit more in my lifetime.

Taboo things are becoming less...well..taboo.

I'm not so sure Incest will ever be widely acceptable (The popularity of Game of Thrones doesn't have that much sway over popular opinion!)...But everyone should read the Wideacre Trilogy by Philippa Gregory. The main character, Beatrice, is a sociopath in the extreme. And the books are riddled with  other, more acceptable, taboo passions.

Spanking. For one. Bondage. These types of things. Snippets of Spice. Things that make a reader take notice. Things that make a love scene stand out and make you clutch your book just a little bit harder...in a good way. Make you wonder, "Who else knows about this?", "Who can I tell about this?", "Who can't I tell about this!?".

There is another amazing series out there by Jacquilin Carey called Kushiel's Avatar. So good. Great at pushing boundaries. In the simplest terms possible, it's about a woman who enjoys pain, that is trained as a spy...in a fantasy world.

" My breath caught in my throat; I heard a mewling sound, unaware it was me. It was the sound of a dumb animal in pain. Surely now, here, there could be only agony...
Would that it were so.
Even this...even this. My body betrayed me, accommodating the agony, inner flesh torn, slick with desire and blood, accommodating...him. the dreadful iron reaving me in twain, all of it. I laid my cheek on the bedclothes, scratching roughly with the rhythm of his thrusting , staring into the darkness. Let him kill me with it, I thought. let him. Pleasure mounted, inexorable, unspeakable. My fingers clenched on the bedclothes, clenched and released. A crimson veil fell over my vision."

 Jacqueline Carey, "Kushiel's Avatar"

So how about you? What are your thoughts when you run across these scenes in your romance books? Do you take notes on how to add them to your own stories? Or do you skip ahead, reaching for the brain bleach?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Men are from Mars, Women can say Boob Without Giggling

Are there any good Male Romance writers out there?

I don't know.

Can men write romance? Is it possible for men to get inside what a woman wants and really flesh it out in a book?

Judging by the lack of male Harlequin authors, I'd say no.  But then there's Nicholas Sparks. I have not, admittedly READ any of his books, but I have seen two of his movies. Lovely, Romantic stuff. Both of which had really hot sex scenes in them. (Not sure if the books did or not..."The Notebook", and "Walk to Remember".) Regardless...he may be the exception that proves the rule.

*Riffles through bookcase*

George R.R. Martin. Amazing writing. Fantastic Epic story. Crap Romance. Well...ok. No. I think the problem is that people die too fast in these books to really get invested in each other. Seriously. Death is only romantic (ala Romeo and Juliet) if it's used sparingly. Not every other chapter. Gah.

Patrick Rothfuss; Again. Amazing storyteller. Lead character spends the first book allergic to women. The second book *SPOILER* his first time is with a fairy. In a magical land. And it's perfect. And he learns all he needs to know. Of course. This interlude in the book kinda drove me a bit batty. I understand all men want to be considered the great and powerful Oz in bed, but really Patrick. An all knowing Fairy as your first? Really?

Brandon Sanderson.  Jim Butcher. I don't think they even have romance per say in their books...

Orson Scott Card....nope.

Mark Hodder. Hmmm...Let's change tact.

Of course I have a bunch of the classics. Count of Monte Cristo. Sherlock Holmes. Treasure Island. It always surprises me that the old classics don't have more sex in them, considering how depraved the Victorians really were. Though I guess...it was all about appearance!

Ken Follett! Pillars of the Earth! There's some great lovemaking in there...

They were both breathing hard now. Jack held her head in his hands. She stroked his arms, his back, and then his hips, chest. At last she broke the kiss, breathless.
She looked at him. He was flushed and panting, and his face shone with desire. After a moment he bent forward and kissed the delicate skin of her throat. She heard herself moan with pleasure. He moved his head lower, and brushed his lips over the swell of her breast. Her nipples were swollen under the coarse fabric of the linen nightshirt, and they felt unbearably tender. His lips closed over one nipple. She felt the heat of his breath on her skin. "Gently," She whispered fearfully. He kissed her nipple through the linen, and although he was as gentle as could be, she felt a sensation of pleasure as sharp as if he had bitten her, and she gasped. 
Then he went down on his knees in front of her.

~Ken Follett "Pillars of the Earth"

So it appears I am wrong! How about that! First time for everything! HA!
What other men are out there that can write great love scenes?


Monday, February 11, 2013

Why 50 Shades got it Wrong

To be fair...I'm sure 50 Shades has it's place. And I don't have anything against explicit sexual literature. (And I use the term lightly). But it was so poorly written. So very very poorly written. I don't want to laugh and say "Um. Yah. That is not what a woman would think/say/do EVER." when I'm reading a sex scene. Fantasy is one thing, but it has to be based in some semblance of reality in order for me to get lost in it. Do you see?

That said...Diana Gabaldon has written some of the most absorbing...Historical Romance (?) books on the market. Personally I would argue the are simply Historical Fiction. I mean every good love story has sex, yah? Romeo and Juliet has sex...Elizabeth and Darcy have sex...we just don't get to read about it. In Diana G's books she writes it in. Very well. And tastefully. And it makes you lust after the lead character Jamie as though he were a living, breathing, entity. She writes seduction. Not just sex. He acts like a stubborn, bullheaded scotsman. She acts like a self-righteous know it all. But some how...these are two of the best suited lovers in a long time. And when they get together...you feel what they feel.

"He was surprised. 'You don't need to wait? I canna do it again right away after....'
'Well, women are different.'
'Aye. I noticed.' He muttered.
He circled my wrist with hes thumb and index finger. 'Its just...you're so small; I'm afraid I'm going to hurt you.'
'You are not going to hurt me,' I said impatiently. 'And if you did, I wouldn't mind.' Seeing puzzled incomprehension on his face, I decided to show him what I meant. 
'What are you doing?' he asked, shocked.
'Just what it looks like. Hold still.' After a few moments, I began to use my teeth, pressing progressively harder until he drew in his breath with a sharp hiss. I stopped.
'Did I hurt you?' I asked.
'Yes. A little.' He sounded half-strangled.
'Do you want me to stop?"
I went on, being deliberately rough, until he suddenly convulsed, with a groan that sounded as though I had torn his heart out by the roots. He lay back, quivering and breathing heavily. He muttered something in Gaelic, eyes closed.
'What did you say?'
'I said,' he answered, opening his eyes, 'I thought my heart was going to burst.'
I grinned, pleased with myself. 'Oh, Murtagh and company didn't tell you about that, either?'
'Aye, they did. That was one of the things I didn't believe.'

~Diana Gabaldon "Outlander"

Diana does this a lot. The use of dialogue. The byplay between characters to get at what she's trying to convey. It's very clever. And not a single Inner Goddess sighed anywhere...

So. What do you think? Taking into account that there's a place for every type of scene...Does this type of dialogue heavy byplay leave you cold? Or is this what you're aiming for in the bedroom of your books? So to speak...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Days of Wine and Roses

Love is in the air! Doo do bee do be do be doo!

Crap...is that Barry Manilow? Now that's gonna bug me...


Romance! Love! Seduction! Sex!

I'm looking for submissions along these lines.

What gets you going?

Does your Inner Goddess Soar to the stars at the thought of 50 Shades? (Don't even get me started...) Gasp! Oh my! Penis!

Do you need things spelled out for you in very specific details, ala Ann Rice's Beauty's Series. (3 million times better then 50 Shades...)

Do you prefer to have your heroine ALWAYS be involved in some sort of threesome with two BEAUTIFUL men. Both of whom are somehow not *quite* right for her until the end when one is shown to be *JUST* right and the other WAY wrong. And the sex scenes are just kinda skirted around and hinted at in very frustrating annoying ways. Because this is very realistic. You know. How adults handle things. Harlequin novels seem to think so...

Seduction is another way that I think is quickly being lost. Think Pride and Prejudice. The whole book is the seduction. The whole story is how Darcy gets Elizabeth, and how Elizabeth gets Darcy. And not once do we see the word penis!

So Send me your Romantical Submissions! We shall critique them together!

Anything is fine. We're all adults here! Though I do think that sending me a submission where you can see how many times you can use the word penis would qualify for a trip to the Red Room of Pain.

Now Cock on the other hand....that's TOTALLY different. That's rather British and therefore Classy.

Try to keep them under 500 words!

May the force of Love be with you all!

Oh! Ps....send them to: unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Genders: individual variation

Gender roles are stereotypes. Very few people match the description exactly, most people partly match it, and some people don't fit in at all.

Oddballs are a magnet for stories. Tension is built in to their situation -- the shy, quiet boy in a society where men are expected to brag and strut around. A firecracker girl who's expected to be demure. Instant angst: just add a love interest.

I am fond of partial matches, too. When someone is completely outside the norm, society can sometimes cut them loose, put them in the "just plain weird" folder and not expect them to conform. It still feels like rejection, to the victim, but there's a certain freedom in that. People who partially fit the gender role norm are often pressured to "fix" those last few things. Pressure can get harsh, hurtful, behind closed doors.

I'd like to open up the comments to thoughts on your favorite examples of characters struggling with gender roles. Firecracker girls confined by patriarchal societies are a popular topic -- and rightly so, but I also find the idea of a woman proving herself strong and powerful within the confines of her restricted life to be an interesting story too.

Some of the biographies of Elizabeth I touch on that. Though she ultimately rose above the period's expectations for women, she still had to take them into account when forging her identity. To be a powerful woman, she had to remain unmarried. (As a side note, it's fascinating to me that for centuries, women were cast as gender with the "dangerous" sexuality -- seductive, corrupting, luring men away from intellect and rationality. Whereas today, male sexuality is the one that isn't trusted, the one that women and children need to be protected from. They're "dogs" and we shouldn't be surprised if they want to hump anything that moves. There's truth on both sides, to be honest, and also more capacity for self-control than is given credit for.)

But anyway. Tell me how your favorite characters didn't fit into their society's gender roles. It can be tricky to tease those out from the other roles they have to fill -- as family members, in positions of authority, or as friends -- but let's see what we can do.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Constructing genders: more questions

Here's another way to define the negative space that is an "ordinary" American female: what is each of these forces telling her she is?

For most of us, this is Christianity. Being non-religious does not get you off the hook -- American culture is deeply rooted in Christianity. I'm going to use the vaguest expression of Christian principles, here, since it's such a fractured thing: love God, and love your neighbor. At its root, it's a pacifist, community-oriented faith.

Various parts of federal and state governments assert that women have the right to vote, hold office, get an abortion, receive assistance in buying food, not be sexually harassed the workplace, not be beaten up by her husband, etc.

These are the long-term habits of society. From the past, we inherit ideas about how women should behave, what they want, what they ought to do. Some of these are rooted in biology, some in old philosophies and religion.

Side note: I think that in a lower-tech world, one can get away without pop philosophy. Part of me thinks this is something of a lag between current behaviors and tradition... but let's not get distracted by my rambly thoughts.
Popular philosophy
Feminism, pop psychology, consumerism... each one has a different message. Women as locked in a struggle with men. Women as a pair of boobs that help sell the latest diet soda. Women as needing to control their bodies.

Charismatic individuals
Culture holds up a variety of role models for women; there's a lot of argument over how skinny they are, how promiscuous they are -- how close to the ideal they are, in short. But whether we're talking about the latest swimsuit model or Hillary Clinton, there are complex messages there.

All of these things influence each other, of course. Things that persist long enough become "traditional" -- though even fossilized old ideas can change. Like the one that said women were not capable of serious, rational thought and therefore could not be trusted to vote in elections.

What kinds of messages do the men and women in your world get, from these institutions in their world?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Constructing genders: some questions

(checks empty mailbox) All right, here we go...

If you're building a unique culture for your story, thinking about gender roles will cover a lot of territory. These are some questions to get your brain burbling. I'll answer them with regards to women in current American culture -- since it's something we all know about. I'm just laying out a pattern, so let's not argue specifics.

What's the ideal, in this culture? 
We all have an idea what a "super-mom" is like -- that attractive 30something woman with the wonderful hubby, a great career, well-behaved and smart kids, squeaky-clean house, and always has time to whip up super-delicious cookies for the school bake sale.

At what point does "ideal" become too much? 

When does having it all become unreal? Dangerous? "You can never be too rich or too thin," they say...

What allowances are made for reality? 
Perfection does not exist, and we all know it. How many flies in the ointment are allowed? Is a woman still Super-mom if she has a bad hair day now and then? If she came home to find the kids put Palmolive in the dishwasher and there's sudsy water all over the floor? What if Super-mom turns into a bitch every month because of PMS? Or she has a pack-a-day smoking habit? Where does she stop being Super-mom and become "ordinary"?

What's completely unacceptable? 
When would an ordinary bystander call Social Services? Surely if we saw a mother beating her child with a belt -- but what about a light swat on a diapered bottom? Everyone has their own parameters here, but step back and look at culture in general.

What's marginally unacceptable? 
As with the boundary between Super-mom and "ordinary," what's on the low side of acceptability? Yesterday's dishes piled in the sink? Kids are getting in trouble at school? Everyone's 20 pounds overweight?

What is considered "ordinary"?

This is the hazy area that we're trying to define by way of negative space -- by defining the boundaries around it.

The underlying theme here is what society as a whole consideres important in people (in general) and a gender (in specific). That opinion is shaped by many forces: religion, government, tradition, popular philosophy, charismatic individuals... things you'll have to wrestle with in the process of defining gender roles in your created world.

I've also kept to surface-level behaviors here. What about sexuality? Does Super-mom have dozens of orgasms in missionary position, or can she enjoy being on top too? Where do whips and chains fall on the acceptability scale? Playing with food?

Not for you, for our culture in general. It's a moving target, yes.

Other behavior patterns in play: clothing/modesty, aggression, kindness, substance use/abuse, showing emotions...

How are each of these categories of people perceived?
And how are they treated? Are those close to the ideal showered with adoration and opportunities? Hated? What about the unacceptable ones? How are they portrayed in the culture's own stories? How much pressure is put on them to conform to society's standards? What form does it take -- shunning? harassment? legal action?

Your turn
Apply these questions to men, whether in here-and-now reality or your created world. Post it in the comments! And ask questions! This will be a kinda free-form week. If something good comes up in comments, I'll run with it.

I'll make a case study of one of my cultures, if someone asks for it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Free Gender Check

I will be your host next week, so I am posting this a little early to give you time to ponder...

One of the (many) things writers worry about is portraying the opposite sex accurately. And it's well that they should; we're different creatures, men and women. But there are enough similarities, along with those differences, to make anybody loopy.

This has been on my mind because I've recently been engaged in a lengthy discussion of gender roles. I didn't want to subject you all to a week's worth of ramblings about actual and hypothetical social construction of genders... you're welcome... so let's do some critiquing.

I am CALLING FOR SUBMISSIONS of a scene wherein you are concerned about whether your opposite-gender character is acting "appropriately." What that means, exactly, is a hazy thing. We're talking about individual characters, not stereotypes. And we're not talking about specific behaviors like leaving wet towels on the bed -- I mean the more general "would a guy admit to this?" "would a woman freak out over that?" sort of thing. You'll probably get hazy answers, but we'll try to keep it all gender-oriented.

On second thought, I'll include outlines/synopses in this, too, if you're concerned about the character's behavior over an entire story.

Submissions can be up to 1,500 words. Please try to explain your concerns in the email. A brief character sketch for the character in question would probably help too -- is this meant to be a macho guy? a girly girl? a sensitive, artistic type?

Email to unicornbellsubmissions at gmail dot com, subject line "Gender Check."

Since we're mostly women here, I expect a lot of scenes involving male behavior -- and I hope some men will offer their thoughts on submitted scenes. But I also think that if enough women apply their personal experiences of men to the submissions, we can offer useful insights as well.

If you all FAIL to submit, I may be forced to ramble about social constructions of gender. You've been warned. :D

Friday, February 1, 2013

Day Four - Hooks #20

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier, dramatic and compelling.

Hooks - #19

I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual. He didn't sound right. 

Jim Butcher is my drug of choice. He wrote the Furies of Calderon, a fantasy series. 

The above quote is from my favorite wizard of all time, Harry Dresden, who is the MC of Storm Front, an urban fantasy series. 

Hooks - #18

You know me, then? I thought so. It is rare for travelers to journey to the high lands at the start of winter.

Hooks - #17

I am dead, but it’s not so bad. I’ve learned to live with it. 

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion made the switch to the silver screen today. Excellent book.

Hooks, #16

I’ve been in love with Sandra Baker since the second day of the sixth grade. That’s when I stopped thinking girls had cooties and started noticing they had breasts. Nothing much has changed since then.