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Romance Writers Blog Challenge: Favorite Thing I’ve Written

I’m very late to the game on the weekly Romance Writers Blog Challenge, but here we go.

What is your favorite thing you’ve written and why

The obvious answer would be Capturing the Moment. After all it’s the book I finished. It’s the book that was accepted for publication by Totally Bound. It’s the book that’s currently on sale at The Ripped Bodice. Or maybe it’s Renewal, since that was my first sale. Or my pet project–The North Pole Chronicles (all of the three installments thus far can be found under the Deliciously Free tab at the top of the page).

But no, the answer is Plunder. As I lack a publisher and a cover at the moment, please accept this picture of Hook from Once Upon a Time.

Plunder is the longest thing I’ve written by easily 50% more book. It is the most complex. Capturing the Moment was a slice of life–one day in Siem Reap as tourists. The main characters were the majority of the book with very little in the way of secondary characters (her driver, her sister, the owner of the Indian restaurant). Because I grounded the book in real places, doing things that I did (mostly–no naked photo shoots in the falling down temple at Preah Khan, for one), it didn’t feel like I had to do a ton of world building in the same way that I did for a historical book with an actual bad guy, and two ships’ crews among other characters. You may never have been to Angkor Wat, but I have and I can describe it for you. I’m just as much a stranger to 1700 as you are, which made it both harder to write and something to be proud of.

I did tons of research to bring Plunder to fruition. With Capturing the Moment it was unintentional research–it was a trip I went on as a vacation from my life as a wife/mom (off topic–solo travel is awesome). All of that research was exhausting. Figuring out things like what clothes they’d actually wear, and that desks hadn’t been invented yet and a ton of other anachronisms that I’m sure my editor will find and help me fix even with that research. I’m really proud of the effort I put forward.

Beyond that, I think Bree and William are hands down my favorite characters thus far. She’s sarcastic and independent and isn’t here for anyone’s shit. He’s charming and arrogant and sexy as hell. Together they’re explosive. Maybe I shouldn’t say that because it will set your expectations too high. But I’m saying it. My betas say it, even when they are picking apart other aspects. The chemistry is off the charts.

Maybe it will get picked up by an agent. Maybe a publisher will want it. Maybe I’ll self-publish. But whether it sells five copies or five million, I’ll still be incredibly proud. And my goal with the next book is to take my game up another notch.

 

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.