Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Killing Main Characters, feat. The Deathly Hallows and Star Wars


Happy New Year everyone! What better way to see in 2014 than to talk about MURDERING YOUR CHARACTERS.

The way an author handles character death is often one of the most contentiously discussed issues amongst readers (and writers), and with good reason. Most people aren't particularly bothered when a nameless soldier or a snarling orc drops as part of a story's natural cannon-fodder quota, but when it comes to characters we've come to know and love over the course of a story, saying goodbye to some of our favourite fictional creations can prove to be very difficult indeed.

Some people are dead-set against killing main characters. They see it as unpleasant and emotionally trying; the sort of thing they'd rather avoid in their leisure time as much as possible. I'm the same way myself when it comes to certain sensitive topics, but I realise that that's a personal preference rather than one that should govern storytelling in general. Killing off main characters can be done in both the Right and the Wrong way, and I'd love to spend just a few minutes discussing the difference between the two.

So first off, why do we kill characters in stories? Like anything, it's to evoke an emotional response and/or move the story forward (ideally both). However, unlike most other plot devices, the killing of an established character draws a line under something you've spent pages, chapters, or even entire books building up. It's a risky move. You're building the most intricate house of cards you possibly can just so that watching it fall down will be all the more impressive when it finally happens. You need to time that final moment perfectly, and if it happens either too early or too late you're going to leave people feeling cheated and unsatisfied.

For me, one of the most horribly misused instances of character death in fiction happens at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This has often proven to be a controversial opinion amongst the people I've discussed it with, but I firmly stand by my viewpoint on it to this day.

Without spoiling anything too much, at the end of the final Harry Potter book we're treated to an epic final confrontation in which a large number of supporting characters (many of whom have been present since very early on in the series) are killed off. On paper, this seems fine. It's the climactic instalment in long-running series; the stakes must be raised, the drama must be heightened, and the tension must be stretched to breaking point, where the previously unthinkable happens and our heartstrings are wrenched in a way we've never experienced before.

The problem lies entirely in the execution. These character deaths are not relayed as a tense and dramatic series of events during the final confrontation; they are listed off after the plot has been resolved, like an obituary report. There is no room for the audience to take in the dramatic impact of what has happened, no room for the characters to grieve and be affected by their loss, no story to be progressed, and no tension to be heightened, since the plot has already been resolved by this point.

The strongest argument I've seen for the inclusion of these character deaths is one of tone. Deathly Hallows is the darkest instalment of a series that has grown progressively darker over time. Death, loss, and the brutal reality of Voldemort's new world order are all prominent themes by now. However, all of this happens in the final few pages of the book. By this point the tone has already been set, several main characters have died already (in far more appropriate manners), and it is far too late in the day to start turning the final book in the series into some grim statement on the realities of war. These deaths are further cheapened by the "happily ever after" epilogue that immediately follows, completely sweeping away any kind of tonal or thematic significance they might have had and leaving the loss of these well-loved characters feeling hollow and pointless.

In contrast, let's look at an example of character death being used appropriately in a story. I'm sure everyone is familiar with the original Star Wars, and the death of Ben Kenobi at the climax of the movie's second act. This is a death that serves many significant purposes not just in the narrative of the first movie, but its subsequent sequels as well.

First and foremost: Making the villain threatening. Darth Vader is often heralded as one of the greatest fictional Bad Guys of all time, a character that we love to hate, and this is in no small part due to his immensely threatening presence. When Vader kills Ben, we are shown in a very direct and visceral way that he is a force to be reckoned with. He defeats the wisest, most competent, and perhaps most morally upstanding character in the story, setting himself up as a foe who has not only ripped away the most grounding part of the central cast, but also as someone who is beyond even the most competent and effective member of our group of heroes.

Ben's death is also hugely significant in Luke's character development as the story's protagonist. As the movie enters its final act Luke is forced to stand on his own two feet for the first time in the story, without the guidance of an older, wiser voice of reason. He ceases to be a boy and becomes a man, proving that he is capable of succeeding beyond Ben's instruction. This also sets the stage for Luke's more rebellious and emotionally driven confrontation with Vader in the sequel, giving their duel far more emotional context and depth than a simple flashy lightsaber fight, and going on to enhance the impact of the "I am your father" moment, and the relationship the two characters then develop in the final movie.

The story of Star Wars as a whole is enhanced and enriched by Ben's death, whereas the same cannot be said for the myriad of deaths that occur at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

If you're gonna kill off your main characters you'd better be darn sure it's happening in service to the story at hand, because by default your audience is going to react negatively to it. Make that emotional investment worth it. Make it pay off, make it affect the story to come, make it influence our perception of characters and their motivations, and for goodness sake give us the breathing room to take in what has happened and have our own little emotional moment of grief and catharsis afterwards.

I could go on to talk about things like the effectiveness (and lack thereof) of shock value in fiction, but I think this post is already running on, so I'm going to leave it at that for now!
Happy New Years once again everyone, and I hope you all have a fantastic end to 2013!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Broken Moon Part 2 Published, and Merry Xmas!

Oops, I'm a little late with this one, but part two of Broken Moon is all done and available to purchase on Amazon and Smashwords, with other retailers to follow! Things are heating up in this chapter as the scene-setting starts to give way to relationships, emotions, and conflicts!

Still reeling from her life-shattering loss, alone on the mountain slopes and at the mercy of vicious feral werewolves, April is forced to confront the most terrible night of her life cut off from the support of her pack. Her only companion and protector is Cyan; the outsider, and perhaps the only person to whom she can reveal her conflicted feelings about her life back home. Cyan's involvement with the Highland Pack is about to become something more than a passing stay, and his night spent with April will mean dangerous consequences for both of them.

And on that note, it's time for me to disappear for Xmas! Things have been a little hectic this month, and I've been focusing more on writing than blog posts, but hopefully I can get things up and running again in the new year. I probably won't be getting much work done over the holidays, but I'm going to bring some editing on Wild Instincts: The Novel with me in case I have some quiet moments in between family gatherings and seasonal dinners!

Merry Xmas everyone, and have a lovely time! I hope Santa brings you everything you want this year!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

I'm on All Romance eBooks!

It's taken a year, but after finally getting my last bits of tax information sorted out I've started publishing titles on ARe! Yay!

You can find my titles on my author page here, available in epub, mobi, and pdf formats. At present I'm two thirds of the way through uploading His Darkest Desire, with a new chapter being released every day, so the complete series should be up by the weekend. The compiled novel version will follow shortly after, along with some of my erotic shorts/bundles. Wild Instincts may take a little while to find its way on to ARe, since the formatting and uploading process is much more time consuming than it is with Amazon or Smashwords, and I'd prefer to wait until I've completed another editing pass and released the compiled version before posting it.

In other news, still working on Broken Moon and edits for Wild Instincts: The Novel (it's not gonna be called that, but whatever, working titles) in the background. I've been held up with the whole ARe process (you wouldn't believe how many hours I had to sink into reformatting all my titles before uploading them), but the second chapter of Broken Moon is nearing completion and should be released within a week. Fingers crossed for a weekend release on that one as well, but no promises.

That's all for now! I've got blog articles I want to write, I really do, but recently things have been hectic with all the other tasks I've been dealing with alongside Xmas preparations and so on.

Happy holidays!

Monday, 2 December 2013

A Year in Self Publishing (Part 2)

Carrying on from where I left off a couple of weeks ago, today I'd like to talk a little about how my business model for self publishing has worked out over the past year.

When I initially hopped into the indie community I was planning to build up a portfolio of simple erotic shorts, cheaply priced and numerous in number, in order to work my way up to a reasonable income over time. Based on what I've heard from my contemporaries this is certainly still a legitimate way of making money, but there are a few tips and refinements to the model that have influenced my business model over the past twelve months.

First and foremost: a series sells better than half a dozen standalones. I hear this consistently from my contemporaries (not just when it comes to short stories, but full novels across multiple genres as well), and my own experience has confirmed it. The lion's share of my sales have come from my serial novels, and even my most popular short stories rarely break even with the sales of my least popular serial instalments. You want to give readers more of what they want, and there's no better way to do that than writing an ongoing story. It's very easy to read a standalone title or two by an author and then move on to other writers, but less so when there's a niggling need at the back of your mind to find out what happens next in an ongoing narrative.

This leads on to the pricing model. As most indie authors will confirm, you don't generally want to be selling anything that isn't a loss leader at less than the $2.99 mark. This is primarily due to Amazon's royalty rates, where anything below $2.99 can only net you 35% of the sale at maximum. While $0.99 titles can seem appealing, you have to be selling roughly six times as many of them to break even with a 2.99 price point.

At present I sell all of my individual shorts (~5k words), and serial chapters (usually closer to ~10k words) for $2.99, with bundles of three shorts at $4.99, and completed nine-part serials at $9.99.
I'm not gonna lie, it's pretty pricey compared many ebooks. However, you can often get away with this in niche markets like erotica where such pricing points are generally pretty acceptable for short stories. It's also been something of a necessity for making anything like a reasonable income for me. If I wasn't using this business model I wouldn't be able to justify writing full time, and I'm still making less than minimum wage overall.

If you're a prospective indie author, expect to get some unhappy reviews if you go for this pricing model. Thankfully the vast majority of my titles are sitting in a healthy 3-5 star rating range on Amazon and Goodreads, but 90% of the negative comments I get are based on the price of my titles (heck, one recent 2-star review mentioned it while admitting they hadn't even read the book >:|). I fully intend to lower my prices via condensing serials into longer segments, which I've already been working on for individual chapters (His Darkest Desire was around 6.5k words per chapter on average, Wild Instincts was closer to 10k, and Broken Moon should end up at even more), but at present it's just not a realistic option of I want to keep making a liveable income off my writing.

So in summary; this business model absolutely works. It's tried and tested by many authors, but if you're writing for glowing five-star reviews, it might not be your best option. Even if people love your work, some of them are still going to be peeved by the pricing point.

...And I think that just about covers all the main businessy things I've picked up in a year of self publishing! I've learned a huge amount about writing in general, of course, but that's something to cover in other articles.
Hopefully over the course of 2014 I'll learn a whole lot more!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Broken Moon - Part 1 Published!

Here it is! The first chapter of my brand new serial and sequel to Wild Instincts is now available to purchase on Amazon and Smashwords, with other retailers to follow!

Safety, security, and the promise of a doting mate. Everything a young female could wish for amongst the isolated Highland Pack -- and all things April has no choice in.
Part of her longs for more. For a relationship of passion rather than necessity, a life of discovery rather than obedience, and a future as something more than a mother to the next generation of werewolves born to her pack.

But the Highland wolves are strict in their rules, resistant to outside influences and viciously protective of their way of life.
When tragedy tears April's world apart, her only hope for salvation lies with a lone wolf from outside the pack; an exiled alpha with a dark past.
Is the Highland Pack's strict way of life the price she must pay for a safe future? Or is there something more for her waiting in the arms of the outsider, even when it sets a chain of events in motion that threaten to drive a dangerous divide between the wolves of the Highland Pack?

Romance, drama, intrigue, and a generous helping of steamy sex are all on the menu for this novel, and I'm more excited about it than any of my previously published titles!

As usual the current plan is to have it stretch over nine parts, and the total length should wind up at something in the ballpark of ~100k words. Unlike my previous novels and shorts this one is going to edge closer to romance than it is erotica, though sex is still going to be a prominent theme, and there'll be plenty of it in the chapters to come!

This is also the first story I've written that's been conceived as a novel from the very start. His Darkest Desire and Wild Instincts were initially short multi-part serials in my mind that later developed into novels, but with Broken Moon I know exactly what it's going to be right off the bat.
As a result I'm hoping it'll turn out to be a much better, tighter, more engaging story. I have a lot of stuff planned out already, and spent a long time fleshing out the characters and their personalities beforehand compared to my previous books, along with concocting a whole bunch of heartstring-tugging ideas for future plot developments!

It's early days yet, but I have high hopes for Broken Moon!

As the Xmas season closes in I'll be working on chapter two, along with starting another editing pass on the compiled edition of Wild Instincts. I'll also be posting more thoughts about my first year in self publishing next week!

Monday, 18 November 2013

A Year in Self Publishing (Part 1!)

Goodness, time really flies by, doesn't it?
Actually it's been a little over a year since I published my first few titles on Smashwords, and longer still since I first started looking into self publishing, but now seems like a good time to have a quick look back at how this first year in the indie community has gone for me.

Overall, I feel as though I've had a very strong start to my career as an author. It hasn't come on in the leaps and bounds over the months that I hoped for after my initial success last January, but it's certainly at the level where I feel comfortable calling this my "job", rather than just a hobby or something I'm struggling to break into.

Sales numbers started out slow (practically non-existent) last September, before picking up rapidly into the triple digits in November/December when I got published on Amazon and Smashwords started distributing me to other retailers, before peaking at pretty fantastic levels in February/March, and finally settling down into modest but consistent numbers over the rest of the year. Right now my sales are really starting to perk up again, and I'm hoping for the beginning of 2014 to bump my income up another notch and hopefully stay there for a good long while.

What's pleased me most about this year has been the consistency of sales, even when they've been less spectacular than I've hoped. I attribute this mainly to having books spread out across multiple retailers, rather than having all my eggs in one basket in KDP select or some similar service. If one retailer doesn't do so well, I can rest assured that at least one of the others is probably going to pick up the slack in some way. Even during drought periods of content when I've been busy working on a large project, or otherwise delayed by other happenings in my daily life, sales haven't dwindled away to nothing. This probably has a lot to do with the serialised structure I've been using with my releases. At most there's usually only around a month between releases right now, so I've almost always got something new-ish out there to attract attention.

However, the biggest help to me by far has been the free promotion for erotica titles available through What to Read After 50 Shades of Grey and more recently Korner Kafé Exposed. I send titles their way roughly once every couple of weeks, and my freebies every few months as per their submission guidelines, and the results have been absolutely fantastic. We're not talking massive explosions of sales overnight, more a consistent handful of purchases every couple of weeks, and incredibly helpful bumps to free titles to help them get into (and stay in) the top 100 in their category on Amazon.

Visibility is everything, and having a free title hanging around in the top 100 of its category has consistently netted me around double the number of sales I've gotten in months when my books have been floating around in the vacuum of low Amazon rankings.

Of course, getting into the top 100 of a popular category in't super hard, but staying there certainly is. Tempted to Submit, the first part of my debut eRom novel, has been as high as #2 in Amazon's free erotica category before, but it's never stayed in the top 100 for more than a few weeks at a time before other titles hop in to take its place, and the rank has always fluctuated wildly on a daily basis. Erotica is a big old slush pile, and new titles are being shovelled on every day. Unless you're a big name like Selena Kitt with lots of promotion and authorial clout across the web, it's hard to cling on to a spot in the top 100 and rely on it for consistent visibility over time.

That's where a nice niche can help!

The first part of Wild Instincts, my paranormal eRom title, has been hanging on to a very consistent rank and rarely moving more than ~10 spots up and down the top 100 of Romance > Paranormal > Werewolves and Shifters for roughly a month or so ever since it arrived there. A month isn't the longest time in the world, but the fact that a title can hold on to its spot so consistently tells me that there's far less competition in this subgenre, which should mean that Wild Instincts will carry on netting itself a lot of visibility for a good while yet, even if it slides a long way down the overall Amazon rankings.

The monetisation model of serials and shorts has definitely been a big contributor to my (very modest!) success as well, but I think I'm going to save that topic (and perhaps a few more) for next week!

There's a lot to cover in a year of self publishing, even for a quick and dirty recap like this, but hopefully I can get around to all the key things that have been most important to me by this time next week!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Pets & Punishment Published, The Great Edit-a-thon of 2013 is Complete!

Phew, it's been way too long since my last blog post, but I've been working hard to get Broken Moon #1 ready and this final bundle of mine put together.
Pets & Punishment consolidates the last three of my erotic shorts into one steamy package, and is now available to purchase on Amazon and Smashwords!

Whips and canes, cuffs and gags, leashes and collars -- some girls love nothing more than the firm hand of a domineering master to teach them a harsh lesson in the bedroom.
Filled with pain, pleasure, and sizzlingly wicked punishment, Claudia King presents three erotic shorts themed around BDSM, pet play, and rough, wild, passionate encounters.
Not for the faint of heart!

Contains:

Confessions of a Slut Puppy
More Confessions of a Slut Puppy
Punishing the Principal

Confessions of a Slut Puppy:

When Fiona's husband buys her a cute little puppy tail to wear in the bedroom she is more than happy to indulge him. With the long days at home driving her to boredom, however, her tail soon becomes more than just a sex toy, and she finds herself fascinated by the prospect of becoming an obedient puppy slave for the man she loves.

More Confessions of a Slut Puppy:

Fiona is her husband's obedient puppy slave, completely devoted to both him and the kinky games they play together. When the couple start to become involved with a local BDSM community, however, Fiona's husband soon has plans for her to serve more than just one master...

Punishing the Principal:

Uptight Principal Alexandra's newest teacher Bret aggravates her to no end, but when she invites her cocky colleague to her house for a serious talk about his future, tempers and passions quickly flare. Does Lex really want to punish him? Or is she the one longing to be punished, spanked, forced, and made to feel like a whore for the first time in her life?

15000 words total.

---

So! This means that my great edit-a-thon of 2013 is finally complete (and just in time!). All of my old erotic shorts from last year should be updated across most retailers by now with minor revisions and much tighter editing. I've done my best to turn all of those pesky hyphens into emdashes, turn a few commas into full stops, iron out some awkward run-on-sentences, and catch as many typos as I can. I'm sure there are still a few lingering problems, but I think I can safely come to the end of 2013 feeling a lot more confident about the quality of my back catalogue!

Now that I've cleared most of my backlog I'll probably do another article soon about my first full year in self publishing (gosh, it's flown by!) sharing some of my experiences, the tricks I've picked up, the mistakes I've made, and what I'm hoping to improve upon in the future. I'm by no means a seasoned veteran yet, but I've definitely reached the point where I feel confident in calling myself "a writer".

Next up on the schedule is publishing the first chapter of Broken Moon, followed by further revisions of Wild Instincts in preparation for release as a standalone novel at the beginning of next year.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Sneak Peek: Broken Moon (Wild Instincts Sequel)

I've been toying with a few different ideas for blog articles this week, but when I got up this morning my brain really didn't feel up to getting in-depth and intellectual about sex or writing or literary critique, so instead I've decided I'm going to gush about my upcoming novel instead!
Very minor spoilers ahead, but since the first chapter isn't even finished yet you don't have to worry too much about me revealing anything beyond the bare-bones of the plot. Heck, even the blurb will probably end up containing more spoilers than this!

Broken Moon, a serialised paranormal romance, is a loose sequel to my previous book Wild Instincts, taking place a couple of years after the original and featuring the original book's antagonist Cyan as the hero.
Yep, Cyan the nasty, domineering, predatory alpha who tried his very best to keep the hero and heroine of the last book apart, culminating is some pretty unforgivable actions on his part.

As the title implies, Cyan is a deeply damaged individual by the time we meet him in Broken Moon. He's undergone some rehabilitation since his days of villainy in Wild Instincts, but he still has a lot to atone for. The story centres around Cyan's discovery of the reclusive Highland Pack, a brand new bunch of werewolves who have their own collection of problems to deal with, both internally and externally.

April, a young Highland Pack werewolf, is caught in an uncertain spot in her life where the pull of her instinct urges her to settle down and conform to the expectations of her peers, while her human side longs for something more than the arranged mating and female responsibilities she is destined for.

When April's sheltered life is viciously torn apart before her eyes, the only source of comfort to be found within her rigorously structured community comes from the wild outsider Cyan.

Forbidden romance, love and loss, guilt, redemption, and a healthy dollop of intrigue will be the main themes of April and Cyan's story, and you can bet there's going to be a whole lot more along the way!

Broken Moon is intended to work as a standalone novel, but a lot of Cyan's development will naturally be linked to the events of Wild Instincts, which should hopefully mean there's plenty for fans of the first book to sink their teeth into without alienating new readers!

This time I'm going for a third person omniscient perspective rather than limiting myself to one character. There will be frequent perspective shifts between April and Cyan as we experience both halves of their romance, and already I'm totally digging the freedom to hop between heads and explore exactly what makes both characters tick!

While Wild Instincts started out as a erotic romance, the way the story developed often had me coming up with excuses for the sex, rather than it occurring as a natural part of the story. With that in mind I've decided to go for a straight up romance theme with Broken Moon so that I don't feel shackled down by the obligation to throw in a gazillion sex scenes. Don't worry, though, I can assure you that this book will still be very steamy from the start, with plenty of sizzling and sensual scenes between the main characters. I still love writing sex, after all, I just want it to feel like a treat rather than a once-per-chapter necessity.

I can't give an exact timeframe for when the first chapter will be out, or on how long the novel will end up being (though you can pencil in nine parts/100k words like the previous book), but chapter one is currently around a third finished and should be out some time in November.

I also have another erotica bundle in the works that should hit the shelves in a week or two, so keep an eye out for that!

Monday, 21 October 2013

So Bad It's Good

When it comes to the quality of a piece of media there's usually an inverse bell curve that demonstrates how entertaining it's going to be. The middle-of-the-road is often bland, tedious, and forgettable, but it's the truly great and truly terrible that stick with us and provide hours of genuine entertainment.

I've never been much of a "so bad it's good" aficionado, but I'm still familiar with things like the infamous scene from Troll 2, and the superbly awful Harry Potter fanfic My Immortal. What I want to discuss, however, isn't explicitly to do with these great examples of people trying and failing, but rather the idea of media being able to provoke a positive reaction even when it's bad and terrible.

I'm not even talking about hilariously bad movies or fanfiction here, it extends beyond that to books, articles, and movies that are genuinely offensive to us in some way. I myself am guilty of watching youtube videos and reading publications by certain "news" sites that I know are going to rile me up, purely for the sake of having a good old rant with some of my friends about how dumb and awful these things are.

Of course, I'd generally advise against that sort of media consumption (I don't believe much good comes from pursuing things that you know will aggravate you), but it's still an itch that we sometimes feel compelled to scratch.

So why do we do it?
I think it all comes down to catharsis. We can surround ourselves with lovely and pleasant things all day long, but every now and then part of us craves a little contrast so that we can appreciate quality all the more. I often have boring evenings sitting in front of my computer feeling as though I've got nothing to do with my evening, even with the wealth of entertainment the internet has to offer me, but if I spend a week away from home cut off from the online community you can bet I'll relish every second spent in my desk chair once I get back.

That's not quite the best analogy when it comes to media, but you see where I'm coming from. Even things like awful, deplorable, bigoted news articles can in some small way have a positive impact on us, as they tend to allow for a window through which we can crystallise and vent our opinions on certain issues. Sometimes it's good to watch something that makes you angry, or frustrated, or disillusioned, because it creates a cathartic moment for us to contrast against our everyday lives.

For a writer I believe this is especially important.
I've spent long stretches of time thinking about things that are unpleasant, unsavoury, and sometimes deeply depressing, because I want to understand how to better incorporate these ideas into my work. It's through some of the most morally unwholesome opinions I've heard, and some of the most difficult periods of my life, that I've crystallised not just how I feel about certain topics, but how I might go about illustrating that in writing.

It's hard to qualify that kind of stuff as "entertainment" in a direct sense, but if nothing else it's still important and intellectually stimulating.

I may be looking too far into the appeal of things like Troll 2 and My Immortal when I go off on a tangent about the creative importance of works like this, but My Immortal was, and has always been, by far the greatest reminder to me about the dangers of using too many adverbs in my writing. Even though it's first and foremost a hilarious read, it's still been a pretty significant educational tool in highlighting to me a lot of the things someone can do wrong in writing.
It's not always necessarily about catharsis or seeking out the educational value in things like this, but I still think terrible media holds an important place beyond just being "so bad its good".

Sometimes a little dose of what's bad can be exactly what you need.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Creatures of the Night Bundle Released!

Spooooky!
Since Halloween's coming up I figured now was a perfect time to re-edit and repackage three of my old erotic shorts into a nifty bundle involving all sorts of beastly and paranormal sexytimes!
Creatures of the Night is available now for purchase on Amazon and Smashwords!

* * *

Mysterious, frightening, and furiously passionate -- the creatures that lurk in the night embody our darkest and most erotic of fantasies.
From beautiful vampires to lustful beasts, Claudia King presents three erotic shorts themed around the monstrous and the paranormal.
Not for the faint of heart!

Contains:

Taste Me, Take Me (MMF, Vampire)
Mated by the Minotaur (M/F, Monster)
Ravaged in the Stables (M/F, Paranormal)

Taste Me, Take Me:

Two beautiful strangers have been watching Rachel from the crowd whenever her band performs. Tempted by the pair, when Lane and Stefan finally introduce themselves she finds herself accompanying them back to their apartment that very night, only to discover that her handsome admirers are not just hungry for her body, but her blood as well.

Mated by the Minotaur:

Princess Cilissa's cruel father has had enough of his wayward daughter's disobedience. Sentencing her to be thrown into the Minotaur's labyrinth, Cilissa has no choice but to accept her punishment.
The maze is dark and endless, and her only hope is to find a way out.
Somewhere in the darkness the beast stalks her, ravenous to claim the beautiful young princess and make her body his.

Ravaged in the Stables:

A wild girl living by her own wits, Kay is both fascinated and intimidated by the exotic wolf men living in the woods nearby. When one of the beasts comes to her aid, however, she soon finds herself alone with him in the stables, and Kylar the Wolf is intent on making Kay his mate in a night of furious passion.

* * *

So! That means there's only one more bundle (containing three more shorts) to go and I'll be all caught up on redoing my back catalogue, at which point I can get on with the full novelisation of Wild Instincts and begin my other new projects in earnest.

Also as another update, it seems as though some ebook retailers, Amazon included, are cracking down once more on certain erotic titles (predominantly from self-published authors) that feature various "taboo" themes. Fortunately this has only hit two of my titles, my M/M bundle and one of the stories it contains, but I've managed to tweak the title and description of His Girlfriend's Daddy to make the implied-pseudo-incest-but-not-really less obvious. The bundle is back up, but I'll have to redo the cover of His Girlfriend's Fantasy (to use the new title) in order to get it back on Amazon's shelves as a standalone.

I considered writing another blog post detailing my thoughts on this latest absurd wave of censorship (and the horribly inconsistent and frustrating way Amazon is handling it), but really I wouldn't be saying much that I hadn't already outlined in my post on The UK Porn Block. I feel very strongly on issues of media censorship, and the stifling of sexual outlets and fantasies is never something that I've considered to be healthy for society as a whole.
The good folks over on kboards are involved in a lengthy discussion on the subject that you can check out for more details and accounts from various authors who are having their whole livelihoods messed up by this Victorian attitude to porn and sex-based media.

I should have some more regular releases appearing in my schedule now that my last novel is out of the way, so keep your eyes peeled for more updates coming soon!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

"Good Writing"


Today's topic might be a bit of an argument of semantics, but the term "good writing" has always been a bothersome one for me. In its strictest sense this generally refers to the words on the page; the clarity, pace, voice, and structure of the sentences an author strings together. The issue, for me, comes in the distinction between good writing and a good writer, along with the way many people use the phrase "good writing" to describe a book they enjoyed in the most general sense.

Funnily enough, you don't have to have very good writing to be a good writer. Your prose can be as basic and utilitarian as it comes, but if it's used to create a compelling story with engaging characters and a gripping plot, readers are still going to be glued to the pages from start to finish.
I recall Stephen King mentioning in his book On Writing that he doesn't consider himself a good "writer", merely a good storyteller.
I'd very much say the same of myself.
I don't try to be poetic or sublime in my writing (I've been trying my best over the past year to simplify my prose as much as possible, if anything), I just try to convey the point as clearly as possible to facilitate the scene at hand. When I sit down at my keyboard I'm not generally thinking about what I'm doing in terms of individual sentences, but the scene they construct as a whole, and the place that scene has in the greater narrative.

On the other end of the spectrum you have writers who are incredibly eloquent and poetic, but who don't do a very good job of putting together a story that holds the reader's interest. A while back I tried to read Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, and I took two things away from my experience; firstly, that Peake's prose was amongst the most eloquent and poetic I'd ever read, and secondly, that his work was massively inaccessible to a modern audience.
I don't like to say that authors from his generation are "bad writers", because the standards of storytelling from fifty years ago were very different to what we understand today, but Gormenghast, for all of its delicious turns of phrase, is not a story that will suck many people in.
It is not, by our standards, a well-told story.
A piece of art? Certainly. But not a well-told story.

So where am I going with all of this?
Well, the other day I read a comment on a forum from someone who had taken a brief glance at a fellow author's novel, and returned within a few minutes to reassure them that they were a "good writer".
I had to pause and scratch my head at that. Of course, I'm sure they author in question was a wonderful writer, but it made me think about how a lot of people are liable to read short passages of prose, assess how "well written" it is, and then go on to classify the author as either a good or bad writer based purely on the way they construct a paragraph.

I'm guilty of this too! I often find myself dipping into successful novels on Amazon, casting my eyes over the excerpt, and reassuring myself that "I could've written this. Being a good writer isn't so hard!"
Of course that's silly, because the success of a book has very little to do with the "writing" in its most literal sense. J. K. Rowling isn't successful because she can turn a phrase like Shakespeare, but because she can construct scenes and storylines that lend themselves perfectly to a thoroughly gripping page-turner.
It's not so much about the words we use, but the world we build out of them, and that's something that can never be assessed at a quick glance.

The phrase "good writing" is mentioned so often in book reviews that it's often hard to discern exactly what someone means when they use it. Was the book really made great by the author's mastery of prose? Or was it more to do with the scenes and characters they created, the plot and pacing, or any one of a dozen other things?

Don't get me wrong, good writing is still an important part of any novel, but in my eyes it's relatively low on the scale of things that make most readers fall in love with a book. And yet, because it's the most immediately and visually apparent quality of a novel, many readers (myself included) tend to attribute a lot of their superficial impressions to "good writing", when really they should be talking about something else.

Now I feel like a massive nerd for fixating for so long on how people use a single phrase.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Wild Fates Released!

Here it is at last, and hopefully well worth the wait! Around twice the usual length of most of my chapters, the dramatic conclusion to Wild Instincts is finally done and available to purchase on Amazon and Smashwords!

The Wood Pack and the Mine Pack have finally come head to head, and as both werewolf clans struggle for dominance Lyssa is caught in the middle, pursued by her old alpha and racing to save those she cares about most from the devastation of the conflict.
Cyan's presence brings back dark memories of her instinct and the past she shared with him, and only one other wolf can save her, both mentally and physically, from his relentless obsession.


So that's it! My second novel is done! In the coming months I'll be doing another big editing pass as I attach all the chapters together for publication as a standalone title, but it'll be a while before that's done.

It's a nice reflective moment to look back on everything I've done this year, and Wild Instincts has very much been my big writing project of 2013. I'll be starting work on new novels before the end of the year, but unless I can somehow squeeze them out within three months alongside all my other projects they're not likely to top my werewolf eRom's place as my largest time investment.

I feel like I learned a lot more about myself as a writer (just as I did with my first novel) working through Wild Instincts. It started out as a pretty standard eRom initially, with short(er) chapters crammed with sizzling sex, but as early as part three I realised that the erotic element wasn't necessarily going to drive this story in the same way it did in His Darkest Desire.

Looking at it overall, Wild Instincts is really more of a steamy romance that verges into New Adult territory than it is an eRom. Had I known exactly how it was going to turn out from the start I'd likely have rebranded it a little and altered the sex scenes to match. It was first and foremost a story I wanted to tell, rather than an erotic fantasy I wanted to explore.

Having said that, I tried my very best to make every sex scene sizzle all the same, and there are plenty of them to enjoy within the novel's ~96,000 word length! Given that the story wasn't explicitly about sex and kink, however, I often found myself spending a long time thinking up reasons for each sex scene, and wracking my brains for ways to vary them up without every chapter having a routine "...and then Thorne and Lyssa had sex, because they felt like it" moment.

It was a tough project to get through at times!
I'm still proud of the end result, but it's taught me a lot about planning out the tone and erotic content of my future projects. If I write another Wild Instincts (which I just might be!) it'll likely be branded as a steamy romance from the start rather than erotica, and when I get to work on my next eRom title I'll make sure to tie the sex into the ongoing story much more firmly.

Sorry for the slowness of blog posts again, but it's been all hands on deck to finish up this last chapter! Once the final kinks with Amazon are sorted out I should be back on a much more regular schedule, starting with releasing a spooky paranormal erotica bundle just in time for Halloween!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Sizzling Little Details

I'm late on the blog posting!
It's been a busy week trying to wrap up the final chapter of Wild Instincts after my delays, but fingers crossed I can get it released by the weekend. In the meantime, though, I thought I'd whip up a quick post about one of the elements that can really sell a sex scene for me; the sizzling little details.

For me, I've always treated sex scenes as akin to action scenes in literature. Yes, hurr-hurr, they are quite literally about a lot of action happening, but similar to a fight or a chase or a struggle against danger of some sort, sex scenes are all about moving characters from point A to point B via the medium of an exciting, adrenaline-fuelled sequence that is designed to entertain through both the visceral and the emotional aspects of it. The emotional side (or the touchy-feely/plot related/character-driven stuff) follows pretty much the same rules as any scene in a good story, so that's a whole different topic (and probably one I've mentioned before), but when it comes down to the visceral element, a sex scene really needs something special in order to sizzle.

This is where things like word choice, pacing, sentence structure, and tone all come into play to create an experience that is just devilishly sexy from start to finish, and for me a big part of what makes a sex scene memorable is the small things the author mentions.

Sex, just like action, has the potential to get very dull very fast if it isn't done well. Even if you're emotionally invested in the characters, reading about Tab A being inserted into Slot B for the dozenth time can get pretty old if it isn't spiced up with something new. This can be varied (particularly in more exotic erotica) by introducing new positions, new acts, and even new partners, but even vanilla sex can be made thrilling all over again by the inclusion of a dozen sexy little details.

I love the minor moments that make a sex scene feel real. Things that not every author always mentions; things like the texture of a partner's clothing, the contrast between the fabric of a choker and the smoothness of warm skin, the tension of sharp nails scratching across flesh and the delicious shiver it elicits. I like the tightness of a partner's grip, the brush of stubble, the friction between two perspiring bodies, or the hot bite of the whip as it cracks against the heroine's back.

In general storytelling I'm usually against heavily intricate description like this, but it plays a core role in arousing your readers, and in the context of a sex scene it's a massive part of what makes the material engaging.

Interestingly enough, I also have a liking for sex scenes that do the exact opposite of this -- eschewing detail for the sake of painting a more long-term picture of the act. That's a topic for a whole other time, though.
In general terms, sex scenes are an intimate, action-packed, visceral experience on top of the emotional aspect that should be present in any dramatic scene (assuming you're not just going for one-off sexy shorts -- in that case the visceral element is much more important!).

Honing in on the sizzling little details and really making them your own is a fantastic way to make a sex scene stand out from the crowd, and it's what separates many of my favourite erotic scenes from those that are largely forgettable.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Sympathetic Characters

Sympathetic characters have been on my mind a lot lately, in no small part due to super-secret upcoming novel plans involving them, so I figured it might be fun to write a blog post talking a little bit about what these characters are and why they exist!

A sympathetic character is, as the name implies, one towards whom we feel sympathy, and this is often a defining characteristic when it comes to adding depth and relatability to characters we wouldn't otherwise be so keen to get on board with. Of course, protagonists and heroes are generally always sympathetic, but that comes with the territory, and they wouldn't make very good heroes if we didn't empathise with them in this way. But when it comes to other supporting characters -- or sometimes even antagonists and villains -- a little bit of sympathy can go a long way.

To but it as concisely as I can, any character you tend to look at and think "Oh, so that's why they're like that", is probably a good example of sympathy being used to add depth in a way that makes us feel a few feelings. Gollum from Lord of the Rings is an excellent case in point when it comes to sympathetic characters. He's not a particularly nice creature, granted, but he isn't a thoroughly evil and malevolent one either. We come to understand that he is the way he is because the ring has poisoned him and made him reliant on it, much like a junkie doing whatever he can to find his next fix. We're sympathetic to the wretchedness of him, and the small part of Gollum that still wants to do the right thing buried deep beneath the surface.

This is generally what the sympathetic character is intended to accomplish a lot of the time; making us empathise with and relate to an otherwise unlikeable or immoral individual. It's especially useful when telling a story focusing on a more villainous character as the protagonist. We're much more willing to get on board with a bad guy as the hero if we understand the reasons behind why they're a bad guy.

Of course, as usual, I'm largely talking about conventional storytelling here. You can still very much write a thoroughly nasty and irredeemable jerkbag as your hero and make a good book out of it, but a character like that isn't going to tick all of the right protagonist boxes in the traditional sense.

So how do you make a character sympathetic? Well in the shower this morning I came up with a couple of pretty standard tropes you tend to see used a lot for accomplishing it. The most oft-used is the weepy backstory reveal. If you create a character who acts like a jerk because of bad things that happened to them in the past, then people will generally feel sorry for them rather than being instantly judgemental. Gollum, Severus Snape, and even General Woundwort, who I talked about last week, are all prime examples of this. We have a tendency to excuse others of their shortcomings (to greater or lesser degrees) if they've had a rough time of things themselves.

The second, and rather more interesting, in my mind, method of creating sympathy towards a character is to make them the lesser of two evils. This kind of characterisation suits antiheroes particularly well. In the original Star Wars, Han Solo is hardly a paragon of innocence and virtue like Luke Skywalker, yet he is a far cry from the villainy of Darth Vader. In a world of corrupt cops, the officer who only accepts bribes sometimes becomes the good guy, because he elevates himself above those around him by comparison. I like this kind of characterisation because it doesn't make excuses for a character's behaviour. It allows writers to explore otherwise unpleasant or unlikeable individuals in a context where the reader is forced to latch on to them in the absence of anyone more suitable.

Those are just some of my thoughts on sympathetic characters and how we create them for today. I've been pretty slow on the writing front this week due to a yucky bout of illness and other ailments (I'm getting over it now!), but Wild Instincts #9 is still coming along. More releases and blog posts to come now that I'm clawing my way back into the saddle!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Review: Watership Down

Ah, a real classic!
Watership Down was one of those movies that traumatised me (and many others) as a child with it's gruesomely graphic depictions of bunny-violence, and a downright disturbing and genuinely horrific tone overall.
Don't get me wrong, it was still a great and memorable story, but sheesh. Please don't show the film version to your young kids, guys.

I didn't actually get around to reading the original book until I was at university, but boy am I glad I did! Rather than being a harrowing tale of violence between fuzzy animals, the book is far lighter and easier to digest than the movie adaptation. It was the one novel that really sold me on Richard Adams as an author, and later led on to me reading my all-time favourite Maia.

This is genuinely a book for all ages. It has a wonderfully compelling moment-to-moment narrative, with our cast of bunnies embarking on their journey to find a new home after their original warren is destroyed, combined with a thoroughly charming and fleshed out world of fantasy seen through the eyes of an animal, and topped off with a pleasant scoop of intellectual subtext to boot!

Perhaps my favourite part of Watership Down is the richness of character the book has. It would have been very easy to make the bunnies in this story relatively simple anthropomorphic creatures who behave in more or less the same was as humans, but Richard Adams really pulls out the stops by creating an entire bunny culture and mythos to support his cast of characters. They have their own belief systems, language, rituals, and limitations (one particularly cute detail I enjoyed was learning that Adams' rabbits are unable to count higher than four). Just like in any well-executed tale of fantasy these details are woven into the narrative as and when they are appropriate, rather than bogging down the story in heavy exposition to get you up to speed with how everything works in bunny-land. It's a wonderful collection of detail and characterisation that lends the book a distinct sense of individuality and identity, making Watership Down a place you can genuinely lose yourself in despite its everyday setting in the real world.

Alongside the supporting details the book boasts a wonderful cast of characters that, while simple, fill exactly the variety of roles that I adore in a story like this. Amongst others you have the leader, the warrior, the thinker, the intuitive one, the stubborn one, the fallen hero, and, of course, the antagonist.

The Big Bad in this novel, General Woundwort, is one of my favourite villains in literature (in fact, I even wrote a university paper all about him!). Like the other bunnies he is characterised incredibly simply, but incredibly effectively. He's big and scary and dangerous, but he also has depth and a degree of sympathy to be felt towards him. Rather than just being the boogeyman of a fun childrens adventure, he feels like a real person (bunny, whatever) with motivations and reasoning behind his actions. Without spoiling too much, even his status as a villain is left slightly ambiguous up until the last moment. If you've read my Werewolf series Wild Instincts, a lot of what happens in that story is inspired by Watership Down, and one character in particular has more than a touch of General Woundwort in him!

Besides the story and characters, there's also a nice amount of literary subtext to be found in the novel (an unintentional amount, according to the author, but one can't help but feel that an intelligent writer like Adams tends to incorporate these ideas naturally). The idea of the hero's journey features prominently, along with an exploration of various social structures (anarchism, democracy, and dictatorship) seen in the different rabbit warrens the characters come into contact with over the course of the story. There are also connotations to Homer's Odyssey, and this thread of epic storytelling is a common one to be found amongst many of Richard Adams' works. Thankfully, again, none of these themes are handled too heavily, providing a pleasant accompaniment to the story rather than ever becoming the central focus of it.

Watership Down is a great example of everything I love in an easy, but memorable read. It's simple, elegant, effective, and just deep enough to suck you in without ever becoming too heavy. When a book can be just as compelling for young children and literary scholars alike, I think it's genuinely something special.
I will say that Watership Down never really made me feel those highs of emotion that some other books have, but that's hardly a detriment to the story considering its subject matter and audience.

It's a stellar read, and one of those books that I think everyone should have a copy of somewhere on their shelf.

I'd give Watership Down a bunny-licious Required-Reading Out Of Ten!

Monday, 2 September 2013

The Art of the Dress

One particular element of characterisation that's always been of interest to me is the way in which we design what out characters wear. This is generally something that has much more of a direct impact in visual mediums, but it's an important part of literary storytelling as well.

What a person wears can tell us a lot about them. Along with their physical appearance it's often one of the most important factors in forming a first impression of someone. A talented storyteller will be acutely aware of this, and tailor a character's wardrobe around a specific emotional response that they want to elicit from their audience. This is something that can vary from scene to scene, chapter to chapter, but often a well-constructed character will have a "signature" outfit or look that we identify them with. Bruce Wayne wears a suit. Rocky Balboa has a pair of boxing gloves and shorts. Count Dracula wears a high-collared cape.
A signature outfit can reinforce a character's profession, social status, attitudes, and the setting they find themselves in. Just like how we all have our own personal styles of clothing that reflect certain things about us, the same is true of our characters. The way one of your fictional creations dresses should never be chosen carelessly, as it's one of the most powerful characterisation tools we have to make a first impression with.

For me, clothing is something I rarely describe in great detail in my writing. I've always been a fan of allowing the reader some leeway to paint their own picture in their head (I think this is especially important in erotica, where the physical fantasy of the main characters needs to be as ideal and personal for each reader as possible), but nevertheless, I'm always careful to drop in a few telling hints to guide the audience's perception of my characters.

One of my favourite little clothing tidbits comes from my soon-to-conclude serial Wild Instincts. Most of the characters in this steamy werewolf romp dress similarly; jeans and jackets and boots, the sort of rough and practical clothing that suits a life lived in the wild. The antagonist Cyan, however, is described as wearing a hunting jacket. This is an incredibly minor detail, but I absolutely adore how much it's able to convey about his character through the addition of that single word. He is a hunter, a predator, an alpha male. It gives him a savage and determined edge, and a ruggedness that many of the other characters lack by comparison.

Another intentional clothing choice of mine pops up in His Darkest Desire. While the protagonist Nina is not exactly a secretary in the conventional sense, nor is her love interest Elliot a traditional businessman, I very much wanted to sell the fantasy of the powerful boss dominating his personal assistant. As a result, Nina's choice of fashion often involves crisp blouses and skirts, while Elliot dresses in smart and businesslike attire. Even in several of their bedroom scenes Elliot is described as wearing his classy white shirt, rolling up the sleeves and undoing his top buttons to maintain his air of dominance while allowing a hint of something more wild and passionate to creep in.

Clothing is also something that can be varied from scene to scene to challenge our perceptions of a character. A great example would be the "sexy lady" reveal of a female character often seen in movies, where a previously plain or strictly professional character is seen letting down her hair, putting on a slinky dress, touching up her makeup, and finally descending down a flight of stairs accompanied by some alluring jazz. It's harder to have this same effect in literature, but taking the time to describe how a character's appearance might have changed from one scene to the next is always a handy technique to use when you want your audience to think about someone in a different way.
Perhaps the businessman's suit has a small tear in the shoulder we've never noticed before. Perhaps the golden watch we're so used to seeing around his wrist is missing. He has a coffee stain on the hem of his shirt that's just slightly too big to tuck out of sight beneath his belt, and his tie looks as though it was knotted carelessly and in a hurry.

Of course, none of this is strictly necessary, particular in literature, but it's an important gizmo in your toolbox to be aware of. If you describe a character's clothing, your audience is going to respond to it. Make sure that the response you get is the one you want, and try never to dress your characters haphazardly because you didn't take the time to consider how it might reflect on them.
Signature outfits, wardrobe changes, and first impressions are all powerful tools an author can use to influence subtle characterisation.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Ethics in Writing

Here and there I've danced around the idea of ethics and morality in writing over the course of running this blog, but I've never taken the time to actually sit down and discuss the topic directly. My articles on dark fantasies and pen name ethics, while certainly within the same ballpark, haven't really addressed the subject of what is and isn't okay to write about in depth.

So, let's dive right in!
I'm sure I've mentioned it once or twice before, but I do not believe that any subject matter should be off limits when it comes to storytelling media. Be it sex, violence, drugs, or adult themes across the board, any topic has the potential to be used in an appropriate, artistic, informative, or just plain entertaining fashion. However, I do believe that all of these topics have the potential to be used in inappropriate, damaging, and irresponsible ways.
In my view, an author has a degree of responsibility towards their readers. This will vary depending on the genre and subject matter they're dealing with, but when a person picks up a book (or engages with any other form of media) they're entering a mutual understanding with the creator that sets up various expectations in their mind. If a story is light and fluffy and fun, the reader is unlikely to take anything that happens too seriously. If it's a quick and smutty erotic romp, they're going to be expecting kinkiness and sizzling sex across the board from start to finish. But if the story is serious, realistic, and poignant, you can bet your money that the reader will be listening intently to a lot of things the writer has to say.

This is a shades of grey topic, and the degree to which this investment by the reader can vary is enormous, but in its most simplistic form this basically means that if an author sets themselves up as a figure of authority, chances are a few people are going to take what they say to heart.
Now, I'm not saying that every reader will necessarily act on what their favourite author conveys to them through their books, but I couldn't sit here with a straight face and pretend that fiction never affects us on a personal level in some way. We've all laughed, cried, and re-examined various areas of our lives because of the stories we've been told. Stories are one of our oldest and most effective learning tools. No author can be completely absolved of responsibility when it comes to what they write under the excuse that "it's just fiction". Fiction can often be just as powerful as a classroom when it comes to putting new ideas in our heads.

Phew, looking back at the paragraph it seems like I'm making stories sound a lot scarier than they are. So what's my point in all of this? Should we never talk about dark or disturbing subject matter for fear of it having a negative effect on our readers?
Of course not. That would be absurd. Let's not forget that learning goes two ways -- it can both encourage and dissuade us from new ideas. This is why, at least in my view, the most appropriate uses of dark and unpleasant subject matter in fiction are either those that present it in such a fantastical or absurd light that it becomes detached from reality (like say, the ridiculously over the top violence in a Quentin Tarantino movie, or a forceful bodice-ripping sex scene fuelled by pure erotic fantasy), or when it takes the material 100% seriously and uses it to tell a cautionary tale.
Good examples of this latter point would be movies like Saving Private Ryan, or books like The Clan of the Cave Bear. Both of these stories deal with horrific violence and incredibly dark themes, yet the thematic purpose of this material is to unsettle and disturb the audience. Quite the opposite of encouraging negative behaviour, these stories make a clear point of illustrating how abhorrent acts of violence are in a way that resonates with viewers/readers on an emotional level.

The flip side to this is essentially propaganda media. Thankfully, not many storytellers in the grand scheme of things are setting out to manipulate their audience in a way that could be construed as morally dubious, but it's still an issue to watch out for. My overall point in all of this is that authors have to be careful in how they present their subject matter. I believe that far more "unethical" writing is a product of negligence than it is of intent. When authors present serious subject matter in a semi-serious light, that tries to be realistic while failing to appreciate the tact required to handle serious topics effectively, then you end up with misinformed and misleading ideas creeping into your work. It's things like weak doormat characters in BDSM novels that never question or stand up to their partners that bug me. Romances that unintentionally glorify borderline-abusive relationships, or realistically presented power fantasies that hamfistedly construe unbridled violence as something to be applauded.

Fortunately, these ideas have pretty limited potential to affect their audience in and of themselves. But having said that, think about how our perceptions of things like weight and body image have been influenced by the media over the years. Not just in advertisements, but through TV, movies, and even books almost across the board. It's hard to argue that widespread portrayals of heroes and heroines as beautiful, slender, well-proportioned individuals haven't had an effect on many of us in one way or another.
Even simple ideas like how you choose to portray your characters can have an effect on your readers, and when these ideas start to self-perpetuate, they have the very real potential to alter how others think and behave.

It may be a small effect that our writing has, but it's not one to be ignored out of hand. At the very least, it's something every author should be aware of in the back of their mind. When dealing with ethically provocative material, make sure you know how, and more importantly why you're choosing to handle it.
An author shouldn't be crippled by the weight of responsibility behind what they write, but it should always be there in the back of their mind, asking them to question, think, and consider.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Wild Challengers Published, and The Next Novel(s)!

Whoop, it's about time! Chapter eight of Wild Instincts is all done and available for purchase on Amazon and Smashwords, with other retailers soon to follow!
Everything is coming together in preparation for the dramatic conclusion in this penultimate instalment of the series, and I really like that snazzy pink filter I picked for the cover.

Lyssa and Thorne are finally together, but their old alpha has no intention of allowing the couple to live happily ever after. With the future of three werewolf packs hanging in the balance, Lyssa is forced to sit back and watch as her decisions threaten the lives of everyone around her.
But her mate is an alpha too, and Thorne's own plans may be enough to keep their newfound friends safe, if only he can embrace his leader's instinct and rise to the challenge. Tensions build as the impending conflict approaches, and Lyssa and Thorne must decide whether to leave their fates in the hands of others, or do everything they can to hold on to what they have.


This of course means that my second serial novel will be wrapping up very soon, leaving my schedule completely clear for work on new projects. With that in mind, I think it's time for another little update on my future writing plans!

In terms of clearing the backlog, I have a couple of things still left to do. My great 2013 re-edit of my earlier material only ever got half-done, so once Wild Instincts is finished I plan on going back to tidy up six of my original titles and re-package them into two bundles focused around BDSM, and kinky paranormal/monster erotica. Three of my worst selling (and least favourite, and most poorly thought out) erotic shorts will be getting the axe and disappearing from my sales lists, as I don't think the time investment in redoing them along with covers etc. is worth it, and I want to make a push towards upping the quality and consistency of my content across the board. So if you want to read the atrociously edited and dubiously purposed Erica's Desire, Erica's Instruction, and The Nympho Girl Next Door, now might be your last chance. I'll probably be pulling them from Amazon and Smashwords within the next couple of months or so. Who knows, one day those titles might reappear in a bundle somewhere, but for now they're going into retirement.

Alongside all of that I'll be publishing the completed Wild Instincts as a standalone novel at some point down the line, but that's likely to happen closer to Xmas. The really exciting news is what new content I'll be working on next. Currently I have two novels in the pre-production stage ready to get going once I wrap up my current eRom. Both of them are really solid, exciting concepts, I feel, and I just can't make up my mind which one I want to focus on.

Option 1 is an explicitly erotic story set in a vague historical/low fantasy setting, with the theme once again being BDSM. This story would be closer to His Darkest Desire in tone, with the focus being more on the sex and sexual exploration of the two main characters than the external plot (although, there will of course be a plot). What I'm interested in doing with this idea is writing a hero and heroine who aren't necessarily particularly good people; they're deeply flawed, damaged, and morally questionable in their actions, but through meeting one another and exploring their darkest sexual desires they're able to slowly understand what makes them tick, and realise that there is something good in each of them struggling to get out with the help of the right partner.

Option 2 will be a loose sequel to Wild Instincts, another eRom focused more on the romance and the story than the sex. It will be set in the same werewolf-infested forest as the first novel, and will star at least one of the existing supporting characters as the protagonist (though who it is, you'll have to wait and see! Hints will be dropped at the end of the first book). Besides that, it will be a completely new story set some time after the original, featuring some of the different werewolf packs and a whole new cast of characters. I really enjoy the werewolf societies and mythos I've been building up over the course of Wild Instincts, and I'd love to return to that setting to tell a new story with this sequel.

So which one do I choose to write? How do I decide?!
Well you know what? I'm not gonna. Variety is the spice of life after all, and I really want to get back to having multiple projects on the go at once. We're still in the very early pre-planning stages, but right now I'm pencilling in both of these novels as projects I want to start work on once Wild Instincts is finished. This'll probably mean an alternating release schedule of chapters split between the two projects, but we'll have to wait and see how it all pans out. At present I don't have any plans to return to writing erotic shorts, as I think I've made the transition into full-length serialised novels pretty firmly now.

So keep your eyes peeled for all sorts of exciting new titles coming down the pipeline in the near future! I've got a lot to be getting on with!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The UK Porn Block

Those who follow UK news will be aware that the government here have recently been pushing a bill to enforce opt-out ISP filtering of porn and other objectionable material nationwide. What this means is that the vast majority of internet users here will have their browsing automatically filtered to prevent access to porn and other adult materials by default. The system can be opted out of by contacting your ISP and asking them to remove your filtering, but will otherwise remain in place.

I take big, big issue with this. The proposed system is essentially intended to protect children from the dangers of the internet by restricting access to adult material, which is certainly a goal I'm sure many parents would applaud, but the implementation and underlying moral message to this bill deeply concern me.
In a nutshell, the government is sending the message sex is bad and wrong and damaging to youngsters. I fully respect the right for parents to want to keep their children from being exposed to this content, but internet filters are already widely available for families to put in place if these issues concern them. The idea of censoring media on a nationwide level like this sets a disturbing precedent for the government to make moral decisions that should be firmly in the hands of individual families. If this system was opt-in, then I'd be much more supportive of it. Offering an easily accessible route for parents to restrict their children's access to adult material is a absolutely fine, but the fact that this system will be "on" by default is going to result in a situation where many families are subject to this filter without necessarily understanding it.

What bugs me so much about the bill is that it hinges on this idea that censoring or hiding information is a good thing, while perpetuating the idea that sex and sexuality are these taboo subjects that corrupt and damage society rather than enriching it. We should not be shoving porn under the couch and pretending it doesn't exist, we should be encouraging youngsters to have a healthy and well informed perception of sex. A huge amount of my sexual education during my teen years came from the internet. I watched porn, I discussed sex online, I visited sites related to sexual health, and as I got older that curiosity expanded into a genuine interest in sex (beyond the norm), playing a large part in me pursuing my current career as an erotic author.

The argument can of course be made that pornography portrays an unrealistic and potentially misleading (or damaging) view of sex. But to that I say: how is this any different from the way the media portrays any other type of subject matter in fiction? Sex, violence, emotional issues, personal relationships, social attitudes, heck, even everyday conversation are all fed to us via the media with varying degrees of realism. Why is the portrayal of sex so special?
Despite the hypocrisy of deeming porn fit for censorship while still airing graphic violence on publicly funded television, this decision perpetuates the bizarre Victorian attitude that sex is something better seen and not heard; that hiding it away and pretending it doesn't exist will somehow result in a more healthy and well-adjusted society than one that cultivates a responsible and well-informed understanding of sex.

This leads on to the more practical issues of implementing such a filter. No internet filter is perfect. Either it is too lax to accomplish the intended purpose, or it is so tight it restricts access to more sites than intended. How will these filters treat websites related to sexual health? Sexual discussion? Topics on sexual orientation? Gender issues? Will young adults whose parents leave this filter on be able to access the sort of information they need as they begin to experience these issues during their teenage years?
It's a worst-case scenario, but the idea of restricting a teenager's access to this sort of information in the digital age is an absolutely deplorable crime in my eyes. Unfortunately, with reports of the filter being even more strict than originally thought, this state of affairs seems more likely than not.

As a new media person, laws like this hit very close to home for me. While I won't be affected directly by this bill should it go through, the idea of allowing this sort of censorship to perpetuate an archaic view of sex across the nation makes me very sad. We as a society should be beyond this fear-mongering view of the media and how it portrays adult subject matter.

I was very tired when writing this post, so hopefully I managed to articulate my points clearly, but this is an issue I feel very strongly on. We need to grow up and stop treating sex and violence in the media as boogeymen corrupting our youth. Parents and education systems that fail to teach children to understand adult topics are the culprits here.

If you're a UK citizen and feel strongly on the issue there is an ongoing petition here that challenges the ISP filtering bill.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Submission

Following on from last week's post on dominance, this week I'd like to talk about the idea of submission, along with how I approach it in my writing.
For me, submission ultimately boils down to the idea of exploring unsafe or unsettling elements of the human psyche within a safe space. Much like watching a horror movie to get scared, or peeking at something from between your fingers, part of us is drawn to the appeal of being vulnerable, exposed, and threatened in some way. Of course, in the real world this is something we tend to avoid at all costs, and with good cause. But within a safe, secure context, and in the hands of a partner we can trust, sexual submission becomes a way to experience a dark thrill without ever having to put ourselves at risk in order to do so.

I talked last week about the idea of control, and how the varying levels of it between partners can create an exciting sexual dynamic in the bedroom. For a submissive, the lack of control is the truly exciting part of sex. Not only does it provide an erotic psychological undertone to the entire situation, but it can lead to some of the most incredibly intense physical sexual responses as well. This is once again verging into personal preference, but similarly to the idea of dominant partners wanting to be challenged, submissive partners wanting to be pushed is perhaps the most keenly erotic element of a dom/sub relationship for me. The ultimate moment of sexual bliss for a submissive (something which you'll probably have picked up on if you've read any of my BDSM stuff!) is being driven to the tipping point of comfort and held there, right on the edge, between intense stimulation and unbearable discomfort.

Here's a little challenge for you to try out if you want an intimately personal example (don't worry, you don't need a dominant billionaire and a sex dungeon for this one): The next time you're working out, or going for a run, or just struggling to drag a heavy bag full of shopping home, push yourself to go just a little bit further than usual. Force yourself to do ten extra seconds on the treadmill, or squeeze out five extra push ups, or hold that uncomfortable position just a few moments past the point of endurance. Then imagine it happening in a sexual context. The physical rush you get from that moment, the mind-numbing almost-panic of knowing your body is on the brink of what it can stand, is the holy grail of sexual submission. It goes without saying that reaching orgasm during a moment like that is utterly incredible. Whether it's accomplished through bondage, spanking, orgasm denial, breath restriction, or any other kind of kinky practice, the end goal is always to reach that tipping point without being driven beyond it into the realm of discomfort. A skilled dom will bring their sub to the edge and reel them back in over and over again, and it'll blow their mind.

Needless to say, this ties in very strongly with the idea of needing/wanting to give up control, but it's a desire that manifests for many different reasons. The sub who needs an evening of catharsis after spending all day in control at work is just as much a tried and true archetype as the sub who has a natural desire to let others take control in all areas of their life.

This leads on to how I like to write submissive characters. I have no doubt in my mind that there are many dominant/submissive couples out there where one partner is an assertive asshole while the other is a timid doormat (and, spoiler alert, it's not always the way around you might expect). However, when it comes to writing, this is something that I feel should be avoided at all costs. Submissive characters should not be timid doormats, and if they are, it shouldn't be without very good reason (such as having an arc that leads to a more confident personality).
Again, this is somewhat personal preference, but my moral compass when it comes to writing points me very firmly away from intentionally glorifying negative or damaging themes in my work. I never, ever want to perpetuate the idea that it's okay for a wife (or husband) to allow their partner to walk all over them because it satisfies a sexual tingle they have deep down inside. Just as I don't believe in writing gritty military thrillers that paint violence as glorious and heroic, I'm not comfortable with erotica that portrays submissive characters as weak and ineffectual. That isn't to say I think it's wrong for a book to ever do either of these things, but it has to be presented in the appropriate context (hint: light and steamy erotica isn't always the best place to be injecting heavy social commentary on sex).

So don't make your submissive characters doormats, but that doesn't mean they have to be strong, outgoing, self-driven individuals either. They simply have to be able to think for themselves. Explore the reasoning behind why they're submissive. In Wild Instincts I gave the heroine Lyssa a very plot-device-y reason for being submissive (one that runs counter to her proactive and self confident personality), but as the series goes on I've hinted at the idea that she needs something (or someone) to help take the weight of the world off her shoulders. She's strong, but brittle, and she needs the help of the right partner to help her bend before she breaks.

A good rule of thumb, and one that applies for any area of characterisation beyond just the submissive/dominant example we're discussing here, is to make it a part of who your character is, but not their defining characteristic. Your character sketch should never just be "Submissive Girl", just as it shouldn't be "Christian Man". Create the character first, then think about why that character is submissive, and tie it in with the rest of their personality. The weakest characters I've written are always those that stem from a two-dimensional archetype that constrains them into a specific role rather than allowing them to grow and take on new traits.

Just like Dominance, Submission is a broad area to cover, and I'm sure there are just reams and reams of essays that could be written exploring the psychological and physical motivations behind it, but this is just my little window into what I think are some of the most prominent aspects of being sexually submissive. It might be an area I return to in the future, and it'll certainly be something I continue to write about in my stories.

And that, for now, is the end of my brief take on Dominance and Submission. Hopefully it was an enjoyable little read!
I'l be back from vacationing next week, so blogging and writing should be able to resume as normal.


Thursday, 1 August 2013

Dominance

Now that I'm away on vacation I thought it might be a fun idea to do a couple of blog posts that delve once again into some deeply sexual subject matter. To that end, I've decided to write two little articles here, one this week and one next week, covering the topics of Dominance and Submission.

The idea of "control" in the bedroom has always been critical to me in my understanding and appreciation of sex. When I talk about dominance and submission, I'm not just speaking in a strictly BDSM Master/Slave context, but rather in a universal one that applies to just about any sexual encounter you can imagine.
There will always be an element of "who's on top", "who's in charge", or "who's taking the lead" whenever we have sex. It won't always be obvious, it won't always even be consistent, but it'll always be there. It's part of what makes up a couple's sexual dynamic, and it's often a large part of what makes sex so exciting (or not so exciting) for many of us.

Traditional sexual roles tend to view the male as the dominant and the female as the submissive, and while I'd venture to guess that this is still generally true for the majority of us, there are plenty of couples out there that buck this trend, and a great many more that dance around it more than they realise.
Dominance can play a part in who makes the first move, who puts the condom on, who has to work to get their partner going, or who clings on tighter in the heat of the moment. It's just as much a part of the minute details as it is part of the more obvious ones.

Anyone who takes an interest in sex culture in general will probably be familiar with the terms Dom, Sub, and Switch (dominant, submissive, and someone who alternates between both). While I'm not really fond of sexual labels like this in general, I pretty firmly identify with being a Switch myself, and I've always been able to appreciate the appeal of both dominance and submission in the bedroom, along with how a little fluctuation in our roles often leads to some very exciting encounters indeed.

One of the sexual themes I use in my writing pretty often is Disobedience; the idea of a sub having a moment (or more than a moment) of uppity resistance to their dom, spurring the sex scene to whole new heights of intensity. This might be coloured by personal preference, but I believe most doms secretly crave a little disobedience in their submissive partners. After all, a thoroughly obedient partner never leaves room for their dom to exercise a little discipline and reinforce their commanding position in the bedroom. This also feeds into the subservient desires of the sub, by demonstrating that their partner will not tolerate any disobedience and reminding them of their place.
The sex scene I wrote in Wild Changes is a textbook example of this. At the climax of the chapter, the heroine Lyssa takes a more confident and provocative role than usual for the express purpose of goading her partner Thorne into unleashing his dominant side and forcing her to submit to him. The submission is what Lyssa craves deep down, but in order to achieve it she ends up taking a more dominant role than usual, at least initially.

This leads on to the second segment of Dominance I wanted to touch on: How to write a dominant character.

Now of course, everything I've talked about in this post so far is pretty much an idealised version of reality for the sake of illustrating my points. In the real world there are plenty of couples who settle into their dominant and submissive roles without ever challenging one another, or subs who challenge their doms and find the response they get less than satisfying, but when it comes to writing we're often concerned with an idealised, sexy, star-spangled version of reality in general.

So what makes a good dominant character? Some authors, unfortunately, believe that a strong/dominant male should simply be a demanding asshole who refuses to bend or compromise, and overpowers his partner with brute force or sheer unstoppable sex appeal. Aside from being an incredibly one-dimensional archetype that doesn't often leave much room for exploration, characters like this are often difficult to like for many readers. I've read plenty of stories that deal with some pretty unappealing (and at times morally reprehensible) "heroes" who fall into the trap of becoming the generic dominant jerkbag who doesn't have anything going for him beyond the ability to satisfy the heroine's desire to be overpowered.

Now don't get me wrong, "generic dominant asshole" is still a sexy archetype to begin working with (it was certainly the template for Elliot Wolf in my Darkest Desire serial), but it needs to give way to something with more depth pretty fast if you're interested in writing anything beyond a short sexy romp, otherwise such characters quickly become tedious and unlikeable.

Secondly; dominance is not simply about brute force or an unwavering will. The deeper side of dominance, the part that tickles your brain and makes you tingle with longing, comes from the subtleties of it. A dom who doesn't need to be forceful has always been the epitome of male sex appeal for me. He can be softly spoken, calm, disarmingly relaxed; but beneath it all there's a hardness and a confidence that compels his sub to obey.
This often feeds into the more psychological side of domination, lending itself well to scenes where the dom asserts himself by forcing the sub to take a more introspective role, guiding them patiently through their own wants and desires rather than pushing them too hard. A good example of this would be a dom slowly spanking his partner, holding his strokes for so long and so teasingly that she becomes desperate, craving the punishment and perhaps actively begging for it as he gets inside her head and toys with her deep-seated desires.

The topic of dominance and submission is a big one to tackle, but hopefully this post has provided some food for thought on both dominance in general and how to approach writing a dominant character. In retrospect I could've split this article up even more to cover the writing side of it in more detail, since we've barely even scratched the surface there, but perhaps it'll be a future topic to cover!

Stay tuned next week for when we slip on the handcuffs and sink into the subject of submission.