Five books that take zero energy to read which makes me happy

There’s this little known fact of life about being a writer that no one tells you: it takes a LOT of freaking time to write a book. Most of us have to give something up in order to manage it. Some people give up sleep (which just-NO). Some give up being nice (let the spouse do all the work-also NO). Some give up food, clothes, and other essentials like bathing (NO NO NO).

I gave up … reading.

Seriously. I have so little time leftover after cooking and doing stuff with the family and sleeping and exercising, that I’ve been trying to fit reading in while I eat lunch. And during bathroom breaks (which is kinda TMI, isn’t it? Sorry…). Sometimes I read during commercials while I’m watching tv with the family, but with DVRing most of our shows, that leaves me about ten seconds.

So, I’ve begun reading stuff I’ve already read a thousand times. I know what happens. I know the characters. Practically no mental energy is used up trying to get into a book and then getting interrupted by life and then … well, forgetting the names of the characters.

I tend to reread things that make me either laugh or sob uncontrollably (and no, I don’t know what that says about my mental landscape, and I don’t have the time to figure it out, either, so we’ll all just have to deal).

Without further ado, here is my list:

Indiscreet

Indiscreet by Kasey Michaels

Hysterical. I mean, I need tissues when I read this because it opens with a scene where the main characters’ parents fall off a balcony while boinking. I generally laugh so hard I cry.

*****

AViewtoaKiss

A View to a Kiss by Caroline Linden

The hero is a spy. He wears a disguise … an UGLY disguise. The girl falls for him anyway. Totally awesome.

*****

BrideHuntBall

At the Bride Hunt Ball by Olivia Parker

In one scene the heroine throws a fruit at the hero’s forehead and he goes DOWN–>so freaking funny!

*****

SilentMelody

Silent Melody by Mary Balogh

This is seriously old-school romance (well, not for me, I started reading romances long before 1997, but still, you get the idea). The heroine is deaf. The hero is the only one who thinks she has a brain. Sigh-worthy, heartbreaking romance in this book.

*****

AtrociousLies

I Love Everybody (and Other Atrocious Lies): True Tales of a Loudmouth Girl by Laurie Notaro

Um, do I really have to explain this one? I mean, look at the title, come on! That’s funny! This is the one non-fiction book in the list, but I have to admit, I bet Ms. Notaro took some liberties with the hilarious stories in the book. She’s possibly a connoisseur of hyperbole, of which I heartily approve.

Bodice rippers had lame and pointless covers

Remember when bodice rippers (aka romance novels) actually had bodices on the cover? Remember when they were actually ripped off by the hero in chapter two? Yeah, those were the days. NOT.

Think about it. Who is the audience for romance novels? Yup, you guessed it: women. Mostly straight women who aren’t particularly interested in looking at other chicks (usually ones who are younger and skinnier than they are). So why in the world did all those awesome books of the past (and some not so past) have pictures of women and bosoms on the cover? I dunno about you, but um, where were all the hot men?

Fast-forward to NOW.

Hey, look—>

      

I think people have finally caught on. Yay. I have to admit, I’m partial to Evernight Publishing’s covers. When I’m desperate for inspiration, do you know where I go for help? Click HERE.

Don’t feed the trolls

A long time ago, on a computer network far, far away, I  encountered an anonymous individual freaking out big time over something or other. This person was trashing another anonymous user: calling him/her names, posting really, really uncreative obscenities. I used to lurk on usenet, reading stories, checking news, and generally being a giant nerd—imagine my astonishment when I discovered that a ginormous public forum will often generate phenomenally jerky behavior.

*insert sarcastic gasp of astonishment here*

A week later, this same person freaked out all over someone else’s post. And then again a few days later it happened again. It was like watching a train wreck.

The person trashing everything in sight on an online space is called a troll. Trolls like to cause trouble. They love flame wars and posting rage rants and if they can make a normal, ordinary individual strolling along the internet highway freak out, that is the ultimate WIN.

The only way to counteract them is to not freak out. Doesn’t matter how offensive they are, how crazy, how stalkerish, how absolutely evil, if you ignore the troll it will get bored and go away. Don’t feed the trolls the thing they most want: you flipping out in public. Trolls cannot be reasoned with. Trolls are irrational precisely because that generates the biggest upset.

What does this have to do with writing romance novels? Well, see, there are some people who like to post bad reviews on books in various places. Sometimes they just don’t like the book. Sometimes they don’t like the genre. Sometimes they just want to see if they can get the author to freak out in public. The reasons don’t really matter. The response is the same as what you would use for a troll: ignore, ignore, ignore.

As a writer, I’ve received my fair share of critique, reviews, criticisms—a lot of it bad. Some of them were mean. Some were heartfelt critiques kindly meant. The only two proper responses are: say nothing, or say thank you. That’s it. Those are the only two options. Ever.

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb says in his book, “Fooled by Randomness,”

A book review, good or bad, can be far more descriptive of the reviewer than informational about the book itself.

Dear Dude: here is your box. Conform.

The other day I read an article that talked about the pressure men in our society have to conform to an ideal of masculinity. (fyi, I’m American, so: western culture.) The author of the article claimed that girls don’t have any trouble being tomboys but guys have a great deal of trouble expressing anything that doesn’t conform properly to the masculine norm. Did I ever mention the GRIEF I got when I was a teenager for having short hair, wearing a baseball cap, and riding my bicycle as often as I possibly could? No? Well, now I have. Who says girls don’t suffer from pressure to conform to femininity? They do. So does everyone else.

Even so, the idea that we are finally able to talk about people and their obsessive attention to whether or not the dude in the cubicle next door is guy enough for them is a relief (substitute ‘garage next door’ or the ‘line opposite yours’ or whatever job you prefer for ‘cubicle’). As a writer of romance novels, I’m intimately familiar with the idea of what’s hot and what’s not when it comes to men and honestly? The possibilities are ENDLESS.

Different people like different things. I have a girlfriend who adores long hair on a guy. I know another one who could care less what a dude looks like as long as he has a brain. Scientists turn her on. I have another friend who doesn’t like men who wear makeup. Another who does. The one thing my friends all have in common, however, is a severe hesitation and deep fear of telling other people what really rocks their world. Why? Because none of them like men who fit into society’s view of what a true man is/does/looks like.

This is tragic.

I don’t know why it continues to surprise me, considering that the human race has been knocking boots for, well, how long has the human race been a species? Yeah, that long. At any rate, what makes a dude masculine isn’t his hair length or what he likes to read or how fit his body is. It’s all of those things combined. And none of them.

Years ago I read a book by Jo Beverley. The hero wore heels. And powder. He was also ruthless, intelligent, and remarkably powerful. From that moment on I began questioning everything I’d thought about what it means to be masculine. As a writer I need to know what makes men tick (or any character, man/woman/child). I need to know what makes most of my readers tick. I also need to somehow preserve my sense of voice and write what I find interesting, amusing, and erotic. To do that, sometimes I stretch the boundaries of what my readers probably feel is comfortable. My job is to make those stretched boundaries believable. Some of my men have long hair and some have none. Some are white, some are not. Some of them are young. Some are heading for the wrong side of 40. It works because my headspace is delightfully flexible when it comes to attractiveness.

The tragedy comes in when we put our books down and surface back into real life. My husband likes to dance. He also likes to work on old cars. These two things are so completely opposite of what society says a guy should be that it amuses me to tell uptight people about his hobbies and watch them try to reconcile what they believe is right with what actually is (Don’t worry, I’m not an asshole. I only torment people who deserve it). He also has long hair. He’s not white. He’s crazy smart. All of these things sound like a recipe for a failed marriage, right? Uh-huh NOT.

The thing is, if you unpack almost any man or woman, you’ll soon realize that they’re not conformists either. People like and are many different things but what they’re willing to show you is only a very small part that generally matches what society says they’re supposed to be. The people I’ve met who suppress their deepest sense of self are usually miserable and tend to crack open violently at some point in their lifetime. The people who let it all out are happy, but often ostracized. The pressure to be and act a certain way is incredible, and not just for men.

So where do we get these ideas about what makes a man masculine? From each other. From what our parents say. From our peers. It’s a self-sustaining methane gas factory. If I wasn’t a writer I’d probably find this cycle of oppression/repression indescribably depressing. Luckily, I have the best platform in existence from which to seed change: fiction. Instead of writing reality, I can write what I wish was reality. I can make all my characters’ dreams come true. And if my hero has long hair and likes to wear eyeliner, I’m subtly encouraging every reader who falls in love with that particular fictional character that it’s okay to be who you are and like who you want.

If you can’t safely tell anyone who you are for real, that’s okay. If you can, that’s okay too. The most important thing is to stop drawing boxes around yourself. Free your mind. If you do that, all the boxes we’ve placed around other people will eventually disappear, too.

Marketing in the Dark, aka Stumbling Around on the Interwebz

I began writing romance novels in 2010. To learn about the industry I read  the blog posts, reference manuals, submission guidelines, write-a-romance self-help books,  scraps of letters left behind by famous authors, and all of them agreed on one thing: the writer needs to be her own marketer. I would have to be responsible for my own promo. Oh, sure, some publishers place a few ads here and there on websites and in Romantic Times, but for the most part, the writer is expected to take on the bulk of advertising her work.

Fine, I thought. I can do that. I’m really determined. Stubborn. Obsessed with the desire to be an author. I designed my website, filled in all the tabs and dotted the i’s. I posted my favorite quote and came up with a witty saying that encompassed what I believed to be essential to a romance novel. I envisioned my blurb rocketing across the interwebz, a viral string of characters that made readers click all my buy links.

What no one tells you is that once you’ve got a book out there, you have NO WAY TO TELL if your promo/advertising/marketing is doing any good. Why? Because for the most part you can’t track real-time sales. Siren-BookStrand has a nifty author login that lets you track sales on their site, but to my knowledge, they’re the only ones that offer this feature. (Please correct me if I’m wrong and just functioning with a lack of information.)

As far as sales go at Barnes & Noble or Amazon or any number of other distributors, the only time you find out how many copies you’ve sold is when you get your royalty statement, SIX MONTHS later. Frankly, it’s enough to make me tear my hair out with frustration. You can track sales ranking (and we do, oh we do, obsessively) but they don’t really give you a lot of information about the actual sales. I assume the publishers know the numbers. Possibly the distributors, too. But the one person who needs that information the most, the writer/amateur-marketer, does not have it.

How does one figure out how to promo their book, then? How does one know if this ad was successful or that one was? Answer: you don’t. All you can do is work on your website, make friends with other writers (for support, so you don’t lose your mind), and connect with readers in any way you can think of. This might include email, newsletters, blog posts, rain-dancing, community chants, etc. And most importantly: write. If you don’t like the act of writing for its own sake, then you’re in the wrong profession. The writing sustains me when all else fails and I’m staggering around in the dark night of the interwebz, hunting for answers.

So, dear reader, the next time you receive an email about a new book or watch an author frantically posting on Twitter, cut her a break. It’s probably because she’s desperately trying to succeed in this crazy profession against impossible odds and invisible obstacles. And someone turned the light out on her.

 

ETA: Looks like things are changing. I just stumbled across an article that says Random House launched an author portal allowing “access to comprehensive sales, royalties, and subsidiary rights information.” Awesome. Now if only Amazon and B&N would provide information about ebook sales aside from the book ranking numbers (you know, like actual sales numbers) I’d be happy.

mmf, m/m/f, mfm, mm, what the?

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Ever since I received an odd review on one of my books, I have wondered how much readers know about the weird terminology that abounds in the erotica world. “What the bloody hell are all those slashes?” some might have wondered a few years ago. Then the slashes disappeared and all that was left were letters. What’s with all those letters? The reader who posted the review probably didn’t know what mmf meant. Here is a primer:

The slashes originated with fan fiction, specifically when a cadre of enterprising writers began writing stories about certain characters on a beloved television show *cough* Star Trek *cough*. Seems many of the fans of this show decided that there was a ton of delicious romance going on under the surface and they categorized their stories with a sort of shorthand so that everyone would know what they were getting into when reading them. So, Kirk/Spock attached to a story meant that it detailed a romantic relationship between those characters. Yes, yes, a male/male relationship. M/M. Or as we would say today: mm.

Fast forward to 2012 and voila! Tons of mf  and mmf and mm and mfm and even mmmmmmmf all over the romance novels at Siren-BookStrand as well as other publishers. What  the hell? The slashes are gone and instead we’ve got a pile of letters. Personally I think everyone just got tired of typing all the slashes, especially when the abundance of mmmmmmmm’s began to come out (heh, punny).

Basically, the m stands for male. The f stands for female.

mf –> male with female

mfm –> male with female and another male, male/female/male. The guys don’t touch! Classic menage. Often involves brothers with one woman.

mmf –> male/male/female. The guys often do touch each other, as well as the girl. True menage!

ff –> female/female. Femme slash. Femslash.

mmm –> male/male/male. Guys all touching each other.

mmmmf –> male/male/male/male/female. Could also be mmmf or mmmmmmmmf or whatever. Everyone touches everybody. Most of the time. With trapeze (kidding! or wait, really?)

Crazy, huh? It’s code! It’s code just for us! Personally I think it’s cool to have a type of code that details exactly which body parts touch or do not touch in erotica. It makes buying the books much easier if you know what’s going to happen inside. It makes avoiding your squicks much easier. There are other codes too:

BDSM –> bondage discipline sadism masochism but it basically means a novel with any or all of these and included submission as well. There are a whole pile of fun codes that go with this!

BD –> bondage and discipline

Ds or D/s or D&S  –> dominance and submission

S/M or SM or S&M –> sadism and masochism

There’s a bit more involving tops and bottoms and switches. These terms aren’t really just used in BDSM however, they’re also used in mm fiction and sometimes in mf and ff fiction.

top –> the one who gives

bottom –> the one who receives

switch –> someone who is capable of both

A lot of these terms seemed to originate in the fan fiction communities across the internet, at least when applied to writing. There are also a ton of genres and tropes like sex pollen, bonding fic (ahem, like my Dream Marked series), kinks (knife play, fetishes, etc.), angst, fluff, and on and on. If you’re curious, check out Fanlore. It’s a great resource.

Anyway, maybe this will help when perusing the shelves at your favorite online bookseller. If you know what you like or don’t like, remember to check the book description for the erotica code. It might save you some money and quite a bit of angst.