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Summer

Tomorrow my baby graduates from kindergarten and the school year ends. This is a time of year that I am quite conflicted about. On one hand summer means that we don’t have to adhere to a tight schedule, and I don’t have to police homework or bedtimes. On the other hand, it is about to become immensely more difficult to get writing done.

June is actually almost a complete disaster, writing-wise. I’m going away with the girls on my own for two weeks to the East Coast, and then when we get back I’m having surgery. Nothing serious, per se, but I’ll still be out of commission for a week.

On the up side (?) my research for Plunder is coming along.

I’m on my fourth research book. I’ve read about ships, pirate myths vs reality, the history of rum, and now another book on pirates. I’ve had to go and correct an embarrassing number of things already, and it’s only the start. An example is that pirates did not wear boots. I have multiple books on race and slavery in the Caribbean, and I’m trying to think of a way to include those important details without either creating a white savior or ignoring them altogether.

As long as I can read and take notes, which I will be able to do, then hopefully I’ll be making some forward progress.

But the balance between family and work is going to go out of balance, and I’ll need to find a way to move forward. I get cranky and antsy when I’m not writing.

With the holiday, I’m only posting Tues and Thurs this week, and I hope to go back to Mon/Wed/Fri next week.

Writing a historical book and research

In preparation for writing the full version of Plunder, I did some research. I read a few books and thought I had “enough” to write.

After reading a lot of historical romance by Beverly Jenkins specifically and others more generally and reading an unrelated comment about anachronisms like desks when they didn’t exist, I realized that what I thought I knew and how much I needed to know were two very different things.

I may have overcompensated by buying 15 non-fiction titles on pirates, the history of rum in the Caribbean, racial politics, ships, and so forth.

I am still making a conscious choice to ignore some of the less desirable traits of piracy (the rape, the violence, the fact women pirates were super rare–we only know of two during the “golden age” of piracy in the Caribbean) but I want to get other things right. I want to get the ships right. I don’t want William to win Puerto Seguro via poker when it would have been cribbage (side note, I learned cribbage last weekend). I don’t want them wearing boots when no one wore boots in that era unless they were riding horses. Things like that.

To some extent, I’m sort of doing a Titanic story–the details are mostly correct (in the movie the details of things like china are painstakingly correct) but the actual love story is implausible.

If you write historical fiction, how much research do you do?

 

When a story isn’t yours to tell

Every writer fails, and we all have story(ies) that go unfinished for any number of reasons. Sometimes they defeat us. Sometimes they aren’t our stories to tell.

I have been working on a ghost story since roughly 2002. A couple of years ago, I answered the question “What is your next book about” on Goodreads with this answer.

My novel, which I’m just calling “The Ghost Story” publicly, dates back to a Halloween contest on Literotica over a decade ago. I wrote a short story for the contest, but to my surprise the characters wouldn’t leave me alone.

I was inspired by several things–my deep love of New Orleans, my fascination with New Orlean’s unique history-especially placage relationships, and my desire to write a ghost story.

I’ve actually tried to write this story various times over the last decade, but I would inevitably get stuck and rather than keep writing I would just keep trying to make that part perfect. Things like having kids and moves also would break my momentum and I would pick up something else and put the book down again.

This is the first time I’ve tried to sit down and write it since becoming published, so hopefully this will be the time I succeed

It seems like wanting to turn my short stories into novels is a particular curse of mine (coughPlundercough).

But the point is that this story has defeated me time and time again.

Yeah, they’re vampires, but they’re hot men who “lived” in New Orleans, so it’s the best image I could find

The last iteration that I tried to write had dual timelines–one the events leading up to why there’s a ghost in the first place, and the second in modern times (2014 per my last drafts).

I think one of the problems that I keep running up against is that a key part in the historical chapters deals with plaçage, or the process by which a black girl would enter into a business relationship with an older, white man in New Orleans. There is a trope in literature called the “tragic mulatto” and I had been desperately trying to avoid falling into that trap.

As a regular person, I adore New Orleans. I almost moved there before meeting my husband–our relationship killed my plans, and New Orleans is like the lover who got away.

As someone with a degree in history, I am fascinated by the sexual history of New Orleans, because it is so unlike that of any other city. Plaçage relationships were usually arranged at or after the Quadroon Balls. Jazz came out of Storyville, the red-light district. The Black Creoles’ relationship to white Creoles, other free black citizens, “Americans,” and slaves is the subject of many historical texts, which I’ve read over the years since my first visit to New Orleans.

But there is the problem of me, a white woman, writing about a black woman’s life. In the end, I’ve decided that changing the ghost’s backstory entirely is for the best. Not because I think my original idea is bad, it’s that I’m not the right person to tell it. No amount of research will make this particular story work. I will fuck it up—with only the best intentions, but good intentions pave the road to hell for a reason.

Does this mean I’m never writing a romance with a character of color? No. I think I did Arjun justice in Capturing the Moment. I think I did the character of Saanvi justice in “Love is a Virus.” I think I can write the Lioness in the shifter novel, a black woman, with respect and sensitivity.

Plunder is set in the Caribbean, which means I can’t ignore the issue of slavery–especially given that William won Puerto Seguro (Safe Harbor) via a bet. In the current draft he doesn’t want to be a slave holder, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to deal with the slaves who are part of the sugar cane plantation. They distrust him, and with good reason. He must use an intermediary to do so–in this case the man who has been like a father to him, who is also black, and therefore more trustworthy. And because this is an incredibly sensitive part of the book, and one I have a lot of potential to fuck up, I am asking my betas to go over with a fine toothed comb. My research isn’t worth a damn if I can’t write it well. Depending on their verdict, the plantation could be deserted upon his arrival on Puerto Seguro, which is a cheap sidestep, but it may be better to do that. But I’ll still have to deal with the question of slave ships, and the role slavery played in that period of time.

I have a number of beta readers who aren’t white, and they know that I won’t push back if they tell me I’m fucking something up or being a Becky. An example is that in an early draft of Capturing the Moment, I used a food metaphor in relation to RJ–that his eyes were like liquid chocolate or something. One of my betas sent me an article discussing why that’s a bad thing, and I changed it.

I think my job as an author is to remember that the world isn’t white and to include POC characters, when I can do so with thoughtfulness and respect–and hopefully without fucking it up. But it is also my job to know when to stay in my lane and not tell a story.

Moreover, it is my job to elevate the voices of POC romance authors through the purchase of their books (because money talks) and reviews of their work/recommending their work to my romance-reading friends. Can I write a book with a black character/s? Yes, I can. But Alyssa Cole, Beverly Jenkins, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Talia Hibbert, and Shelly Ellis (among others) can do it immeasurably better.

Plunder Update

In my 2017 Year in Review post I noted that I was about halfway through the Plunder rewrite. It is not only finished but my betas are gleefully ripping the second draft (which ended at 76+k words) and I’m doing rewrites to prepare to send it to my final beta, a really talented editor/IRL friend, Jessica Augustsson after which I’ll send it to publishers. This year. I’m committing to it.

Since I’ve been hyping this book for what feels like damn near forever, here’s another sneak peek.

William took a long, slow inventory of her body. She had raven hair cut in a sassy short cap, and bright green eyes. What did her father think of that? The man hadn’t struck William as progressive. A sharp chin, raised in defiance. The shirt and breeches looked borrowed, and the dingy bit of rope holding up her pants taunted him, daring him to give it a tug and sink to his knees to worship her. Bree’s cheek’s flushed, and she bit her lip. Her arms came up and crossed over her breasts—delicate, gentle mounds he looked forward to tasting. His breeches suddenly felt suddenly tight.

“Your father owns the Maya.” He played dumb.

“Is he alive?” she asked.

He nodded. “There’s no need to shed his blood. But there was also no need to keep those in charge above decks. Makes the lads more afraid.” He glanced down at the gash in her shirt. “Seems to rile up lasses, though.”

The sound that came from her was almost a growl, and he grinned.

“You’re unmarried?”

“Yes. What of it?”

“I find it hard to believe no man has tried to marry you.” He really did. She was fire and passion, and he felt drawn to her like a moth to a flame. Were the men near her school complete milksops that they felt threated by her?

“I find proposals tedious.”

Surprised, William burst out laughing. He closed the distance between them and traced a path from her collarbone to the dirty rope holding up her breeches. “Virgin?”

She paled. Then she lifted her chin in arrogance. “Not after tonight.”

He laughed. “What am I to call you, minx?”

“Brianna. Bree. And you? What shall I call you? Blackguard? Criminal?”

Her brashness was an aphrodisiac. He answered her with a kiss. His mouth was gentle and her lips opened for him. Her arms trembled as she slid them around his neck, instinctively pulling him closer. His hands stroked down her back, cupping her bottom, pressing himself against her.

“William,” he murmured. He nuzzled her neck and he felt a shiver run down her back. “My name is William.”

She shoved him away. “What game is this? You proposition me, hold me hostage in your quarters and then kiss me like a love-struck cabin boy?”

It was a direct hit to his ego. He flinched, as love-struck cabin boy hit a little too close to home. He was sliding down a slope with no handholds.

His voice was rough with desire when he spoke. “Any wench can open her legs and ignore a man pumping above her. That’s a hollow victory. I want your complete surrender. When I take you, you’ll know who it is inside you.” He stepped close to her once more, bent to her ear and whispered, “You’ll want me there.”

2016–The Year in Review

2016
From the loss of Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, and Carrie Fisher (among so many others) to the political disasters of Brexit and Trump, I think we can all admit that 2016 kind of sucked on a macro level. I had two procedures (one major) on my spine and continue to have chronic pain, but at least I’m (mostly) out of a wheelchair now.

However, it’s wasn’t all bad.

Recommended Reads

I wanted to read more than I did in 2016, but I still have some year end recommended reads that I’ve reviewed this year. I’ve joined the Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge. Follow my progress and add me as a friend here.

  • I loved Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Short Fiction, edited by S. Andrea Allen and Lauren Cherelle. It includes two stories by one of my favorite authors, K.A. Smith. Read my rave review here.
  • Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins was so amazing, I ran out and read a ton more of her books. There aren’t a ton of authors of color in mainstream romance, and she’s possibly the best of the best. Not only are her stories well plotted, she does her homework on the history as well. My review here.
  • Basically anything by Kait Gamble (I reviewed five of her books here, but I read even more) but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Sins in the Sand. By the way, she just published a new book, Faking It, which I’ve bought and am looking forward to reading.
  • Basically anything by Alisha Rai (I three of reviewed of her books here, although I’ve read even more) but my favorite is Glutton for Pleasure.
  • Finally, one of my favorite reads of 2016 was Tamsin Flower’s serial novel, Alchemy XII. It opens on New Year’s Eve and continues month by month through December. (I was a beta reader for this series, and I loved every minute I spent with Harry and Olivia.)

Big Publication News

(Check out my Published Works page for a complete list of purchase links if Amazon Kindle isn’t available in your country)

 

Capturing the Moment

under-the-mistletoe

My first solo title, Capturing the Moment , and my first anthology, Coming Together: Under the Mistletoe were published and both have received great reviews!

 

Other Publication News

  • Intrepid Horizons, edited by Jessica Augustsson, included my story, Dumped. Blurb–A Unicorn’s (former) Virgin is left out as bait for a dragon, but things don’t go exactly as planned.
  • Rogues, edited by Delilah Devlin, included my story, Plunder.  Blurb–Sparks fly when the Caribbean’s most fearsome pirate falls under the spell of a sexy spitfire who’d rather send him to Davy Jones’s locker. I am working on a full-length novel version of this story, which will hopefully be published in 2018.
  • Coming Together Under the Mistletoe, edited by me, included two of my stories Kid Comet and an updated version of Baby it’s Hot Outside.
  • My essay An Expat Fourth of July was published by Long and Short Reviews.

 

Other Stuff I Wrote

  • Flash Fiction (for Wicked Wednesday) Dream or Nightmare
  • Flash Fiction (A Wicked Wednesday Top 3 story) Off Limits
  • Flash Fiction (for Wicked Wednesday) Keep the Shoes On
  • What I did for Lust, will be included in the upcoming anthology, Prompted.
  • Kid Comet, the third in my North Pole Chronicles series, was in Under the Mistletoe.
  • I further updated Baby it’s Hot Outside, was in Under the Mistletoe
  • For Love of Snow White was submitted
  • I expanded my first published story, Renewal, and submitted it
  • Lab Rats, was rejected (nbd, how publishing rolls)
  • Forbidden Territory was rejected (nbd, how publishing rolls)
  • I expanded Love is a Virus, and it was rejected (nbd, how publishing rolls)
  •  I wrote the first draft of the full length novel version of Plunder. (It sucks–all first drafts suck)

2017

My writing goals for 2017 are to finish Plunder and to write 5-10 short stories, including at least one more installment of the North Pole Chronicles.

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My Plunder Playlist

**Disclaimer–Yes, I’m a total romantic version of pirates fan. It was probably inevitable that I’d write a pirate novel. I’m going to mention the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. If you haven’t seen them, see Curse of the Black Pearl and skip the rest unless you absolutely feel the need. I will say, though, that Mick Jagger as Jack Sparrow’s father was an inspired bit of casting.**

Music is as instrumental to me as breathing (pun intended). So when I’m writing, I usually have a playlist going in the background, and not just to block out Sofia the First or Teen Titans Go. When I wrote the short story version of Plunder, I didn’t have a song or a playlist in mind. However, when it came time to write the novel, I decided one was necessary.

I was wasting time on Youtube, as one does, when my recommendations came up with this…

 

I had no idea that my life was missing this, but it was. I then spent several hours watching Peter Hollens videos.He has an amazing catalog, including any number of gorgeous duets with his equally talented wife Evynne.

Not only was the Pirates medley awesome, but it made something click for me about Plunder.

My heart is pierced by Cupid

I disdain all glittering gold

There is nothing can console me

But my jolly sailor bold.

–My Jolly Sailor

The thing about Plunder is that both Bree and William are sailors, and they’re both crazy in love, despite their constant banter/fighting. So the lyric work both ways…Bree about William, William about Bree.

I immediately bought the song, and it is the cornerstone of my playlist. Because they did such a great job, I went over to the Pirate of the Caribbean soundtracks. I have the entire Curse of the Black Pearl soundtrack, and from the World’s End soundtrack I added “Drink Up Me Hearties Yo Ho” and “Hoist the Colours.”

Interestingly enough, My Jolly Sailor Bold isn’t on the soundtrack of Stranger Tides, despite it being the song the mermaids sing to enchant sailors so they can turn vampire, drag them into the water and eat them. However, you can find countless covers on YouTube.

 

Disney, however, didn’t write this song. It seems to be based off an 18th or 19th century shanty, depending on which version of My Jolly Sailor Bold you believe to be the origin song. To read more, go here.

So, my playlist (all of which can be bought on Amazon or iTunes, depending on your preference) is The Peter Hollens Pirates Medley, Hoist the Colours, Drink Up Me Hearties Yo Ho, and the full Curse of the Black Pearl soundtrack.

Happy Pirating! I should be finishing my edited version in the next few days and sending it off to betas. Once that happens, my playlist will look a lot more like this…

Sidenote–Check out Todrick Hall’s videos, too. He’s so incredibly talented.

First drafts suck and the process of writing a novel

first draft suck

Last week I finished the first draft of the novel version of my short story, Plunder. I wanted a minimum length of 50k and ended up at 42k. There’s so much that needs to be cut or repurposed, like the chapter of exposition. There are secondary characters whose names I lost track of, and ones who need to be fleshed out. There is a lull about two-thirds of the way through after I break up my couple  that needs a lot of work. Tertiary characters flip between being alive and dead because I lost track. It is a jumbled, disorganized mess. But that’s okay.

edit without mercy

The biggest challenge I’ve faced with the novel is the sheer scale of the story.

Where Capturing the Moment had two main characters and two secondary characters, Plunder has two main characters, and tons of secondary characters. The nature of life on a ship means that I had to flesh out some portion of the crew, and with something like seven named secondary characters on two ships, it’s easy to lose track of who is who and what their personalities are.

Plunder is told from Bree’s perspective, unlike Capturing the Moment which showed both Meg and RJ’s points of view. It is very challenging to not tip my hand or give things away before their time. William is an alphahole, but I need my readers to still root for he and Meg to figure things out.

I have realized that in order to effectively edit the novel I need to create

  • a master document wherein I list all the characters and details about each of them
  • a chronological timeline.
  • chapter by chapter summaries–some of the exposition in a later chapter was dealt with in casual conversation earlier.
  • a sexual summary–style, position, allegories I use for orgasm. I don’t want to get repetitive, or miss out on something.

editing

I’m not going to start editing yet. I’m still too close to the story. My plan is to take a few days off, write a short story or two, and start the edits in June. I’ve shared the document in all it’s disastrous glory with my husband, but I will spend a month (or more) polishing it to the best product I can create.

When I wrote Capturing the Moment, I knew that my setting was accurate because I based it on my own visit. As I said in my guest post with F dot Leonora, I’m a photographer like Meg. I had to look up some details about art and the proper name of an instrument, but I was on solid ground. With Plunder, I’m dealing with a foreign time period and selective historical accuracy. The closest I’ve come to being a sailor is working as a costumed guide on the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum in college. I know nothing about rigging or the other jobs on a ship in the 17th. Research is only going to get me so far. I’ll need to consult with someone who knows their stuff as Bree is supposed to be a skilled sailor and fix the details I’m bullshitting today.

Once I’m done with edits, my husband will give it one last look. When both of us have signed off on it, I’ll send Plunder to my betas. They’ll need time to read and provide their comments.

During that lull, I’ll work on other projects.

When I have beta feedback, I’ll digest their thoughts and then revise Plunder further. I may send it to one more round of beta support or editorial support. A story is never really “done”–it just reaches the point where you are going to send it in or futz with it forever. I also call this the I keep editing, but now I’m making it worse instead of better. That’s the point where I’ll submit it for publication, and cross my fingers.

pirate 1

What does first draft, unedited hot mess look like? Here’s an example…

She was just about to head back to William’s cabin when it happened. A wave rose up and slapped the Ghost, tippping it starboard. She thought she heard a scream, and looked up in time to see the man from the foretop falling. He hit the gunwhale and slipped off into the sea.

“Man overboard!” Bree screamed, but her words were drowned out by the shrieking wind.

The starboard side of the foresail was unmanned, and began to flap. Bree might not be a pirate, but she was a skilled sailor who knew her rigging. She took a deep breath and dashed over to the ratlines and began to climb. The ropes were slick with rain, and she fought to keep her footing. Once at the crossbar over the foresail, she grabbed a piece of rope and knotted it about her stomach as the missing sailor should have. That would hopefully keep her alive if she fell, and she retied the knots that had gone slack.

The storm was like a living predator, snarling as it attacked its prey. Lighting slashed across the sky. She was soaked to the skin by the drowning rain. Waves tossed the Ghost, water sometimes crashing over the deck. Bree clung to the mast, keeping a close eye on the sail, listening for orders.

Bree prayed that the Maya was safely moored somewhere far from this storm. The thought of losing Marcus and James was unbearable. She looked for William, worried that he, too, might have fallen victim to the storm, but he wasn’t near her, and she couldn’t see the aft of the ship. Her heart twisted, but she remained focused.

The storm quieted, but she knew it was just the eye, and that the eerie calm wouldn’t last.

“Lass!” The pirate above her at the fore topsail called down.

She looked up. “Yes?”

“Can’t decide if you’re brave or dumb as a rock, but good work.”

My thoughts

  • “just” is one the worst offenders when it comes to filler/unnecessary words in my writing
  • Living predator? As opposed to a dead one?
  • I really know nothing about rigging, although I looked up proper names for things online
  • “the man from the foretop falling” what?
  • Would tying a rope around her waist save her if she fell? Really?
  • The storm needs more description. Do more than those few sentences.
  • She cares about Archie, the ship’s boy she befriended as well as Marcus and James

It’s not a bad passage, but it’s a really important one in the story. It needs expansion, more details (including support from someone who knows something about ships and sailing), and other editing support.

Here’s the thing, though. You can’t edit what you haven’t written. I wrote this, so now I have something to edit. In a month or so.