New Release: In Your Atmosphere – 6 #erotic stories

Just in time for valentine’s day, we’re bringing you a new collection of stories of L.C. Spoering and myself. Now, for my part, I don’t have a date tonight and where I live, more people indulge in Cologne’s Stree Carneval this weekend than make mention of Valentine’s day, but so we have the have the finer things – the books, and films, the music and the secret thoughts :) .

In Your Atmosphere, Laila Blake, L.C. Spoering

We put together this anthology of couple’s stories, stories of lasting love because I think we all need such tales and remember.

Everybody knows the lure of what’s new and exciting, but sometimes it’s really the passion that lasts and builds in intimacy that captures the imagination. In Your Atmosphere celebrates the sexy side of romance and commitment in six sizzling stories about love, kink and the happily ever after.

Goodreads In your Atmosphere

 

 

Purchase here:

 

Be the Best Writer’s Block Buster – 6 Foolproof Strategies to Keep Writing

Visions of drill-sergeants march through my head and I laugh at them. What do they know about writing? Well, okay, sometimes you just have to push. There is a place for brute force in writing, but why go there when you can hack whatever blocks you in so many more pleasant ways?

First things first: Yes, I am a firm believer in the idea that there is no such thing as Writer’s Block, very much like there is no teacher’s block, no fireman’s or secretary’s block. We really need to stop mystifying ourselves. However. And that is a big one, so it gets its own sentence. However, there are pretty powerful blocking factors that occur so often that bets are, you have to deal with at least two of them if you want to finish writing anything.

 

So here are the 6 most common blocks to bust:

 

1. The Problem: Lack of Motivation.

A little obvious, sure, but a lot of the time the reason you are not writing is very simply because you don’t want to. Think about it: writing for many of us is somewhere in the nebulous area between a job and a hobby. It can feel a bit like doing your homework back in school: a lot of work every day with only a bare glimpse of the benefit at the end of a very long tunnel. But this time you are not in school: you’re an adult and you have a day job (or kids, or you’re not an adult and actually have school on top of everything). Nobody is after you like a hawk denying you video games or the Wi-Fi password until you’re done.

The Drill-Sergeant would say:

Write Anyway. Push through until your fingers bleed, you lazy mo-fo!

I would say: Be your own Cheerleader!

The reason you don’t want to write is because in your head, you turned it into work/homework/chores. This happens so easily because we’re humans and we’re idiots that way, but there are ways around it. One literally is to ruthlessly hype yourself up to write. Make a habit of thinking about your story while you do your actual work and your actual chores. Envision the awesome scenes you get to write that day, how well they well integrate and push your plot ahead. Think of the characters that you love and ask them how they feel about yesterday’s scene and how you can make them happy today.
And it may seem silly but it’s crucial in terms of brain chemistry: smile while you do it! Even if you don’t feel like smiling at first, smile anyway. It’ll become more natural as your scenes unfold in front of your mind’s eye.

 

2. The Problem: Lack of Routine

There are still writers who contest the importance of a daily writing routine in writerly success (and lets define success as finishing novels). For most of us, though, especially those of us who do not want to spend a year or two on the first draft of one medium-sized book alone, I’d seriously recommend establishing one.

A routine, after it is established, is basically a habit. When it’s a habit, you don’t have to make the conscious decision to write every day, you just take it for granted that you will. And that makes it so much harder to just skip the day. And then the next one. And the next. Imagine you were handling school or your day job like it wasn’t a habit: you’d have to convince yourself to get up and work every single morning, instead of just sighing and getting it done. Be honest, how often would you just stay in bed?

The Drill-Sergeant would say:

Get up an hour earlier, shut your door and write. No kids, pets or coffee allowed until you’re done. Now get down in that mud!

I would say: Designers, make it work!

If you can get up an hour earlier, that can actually be a great plan, especially if your afternoons and evenings are filled with children or other distractions. Personally, I can’t get up earlier than I already do (3:30 am. Oh, yes. I work weird hours), and in any case I’m not a morning person. But I still have a routine.

Routines don’t have to be tied to a particular place or time. I’d love, for example, to have a special little room for writing, which I only enter to write and which has a computer without internet connection. But I can’t afford that. If you can: that would probably help.

But in all seriousness, a routine is just a conscious habit of something you do for an hour every day. Because of my strange hours, I tend to do it when I feel most awake – or alternatively before I go to bed.

Crucial: Track your word count. And if you want, also track the time you spent. I use this spreadsheet and an app called Toggl (but mostly because I am curious about how much time I actually spent writing per week/per book etc.). In a way using these things can be an extra hassle, but there is no better way to keep yourself accountable if you have trouble with the actually-every-day part of the routine.

(And yes, you can take days off. Last months, I took 5 days off: 2 because I was seriously ill, 2 because a big translation project had destroyed my brain and 1 because I was lazy. Seriously. Don’t take off more than a day a week and aim for less.)

 

3. The Problem: Lack of a Support System

Most writers are at least a little bit introverted, but being a writer all by yourself is really hard. You have your family, who are somehow simultaneously really proud of your achievements and highly skeptical of your career prospects. And then there are you friends who don’t get it, when you want a whole weekend to yourself, just so you can totally immerse yourself in your story.

There is always the one friend or family member who loves to talk to you about your writing because they have an opinion on everything and always think they are giving you such… great advise. Or they constantly ask how many copies you are selling or whether it’s profitable yet. And let’s not forget the beautiful geniuses who love to tell you that they are totally gonna write a book one day, too. Cause it’s just that easy.

I love my friends and family (okay most of my friends and family), but I really don’t want to talk to them about writing. But I do need to talk to someone. Especially at the beginning while your ego is fragile and you need someone else along for the ride to keep you going. Why do you think AA members have sponsors? Why Weight Watchers meet in groups?

The Drill-Sergeant would say:

Um. What’s your problem, punk? You have me?

What I would say: Go get a support System.

Yes, I am aware the problem description was leading up to that, but seriously. I was a floundering idiot with a far-off dream that I never even had the guts to try before I met my support system. Seriously. I have loved writing since I was a kid, but all I ever did was write fan fiction and later long rambling role-plays with friends. Every time I’d try to get my act together and write something real, I would immediately get intimidated by the whole thing and quit again usually about a chapter in. Then I met this beautiful tropical rainbow otter Lorrie (admittedly while playing role-play writing games with her) and she told me she’d written a novel. I read her manuscript and over the next few months listened to her tell me that she was writing a little most days, and before I knew it she had finished a second one.

That totally demystified writing to me. It made it seem totally possible and we’ve been supporting each other ever since. We are learning from each other, we make each other better. Every time one of us is down, the other helps her back up. Everybody needs someone like that. It’ll make you a way better, way more consistent writer to have someone who genuinely cares about you and your writing. Oh, and it totally helps if you feel just a tiiiny bit competitive – after all, if your writing buddy got their word-count in, so can you! Oh, but that’s where the competitive stuff should end. Always revel in each other’s successes as best you can.

How can you go about finding such a marvel? Writing boards are a good start? Nanowrimo always brings together a lot of writing enthusiasts. I met mine embarrassingly enough on rpg-directory. Just keep your eyes open and be nice to the people around you.

 

4. The Problem: You hate your writing

Now, if this is a general condition, there is not much I can say, except: put in the work or find a new hobby. Also: critically read as much good literature as you humanly can and I bet it’s not as bad as you think it is.

But what I am actually talking about here, is the momentary block that occurs when you know your last chapter/scene sucked and it feels like you building on shaky ground. I’m a perfectionist, so this is one of my major plagues. Even if I know for a fact that none of the desperately needed edits will affect the new chapter/scene I am currently trying so hard to get myself to write, it still feels like I am building on sand, on grimy, yucky toxic waste sand that makes me hate building.

The Drill-Sergeant would say:

Stop whining. Keep writing no matter what, just push through. You can always edit later.

What I say: Just fix it and be done with it. It won’t take that long

Seriously. Don’t believe all those people who say writing has to be one continuous flow of inspiration. If you don’t like the last scene, work on it until you like it. Not only will it save you work later on, it’ll also go with a big confidence boost and catapult you right back into the happy mind-frame you need for writing.

This is what I don’t understand about the whole “edit later” approach: Writing is supposed to be the fun part! And yet we are constantly told to rush through it as roughly and fast as we can,only to extend the not-so-fun part of editing. I don’t hate editing anymore, but if I have to choose between writing and editing, I’d choose writing every day. I don’t WANT to spend months editing when I can fix easy stuff in half-hour intervals between my regular writing schedule.

 

5. The Problem: You don’t actually know what to write

We don’t even have to go into a planner or pantser discussions here. Not knowing what to write actually affects both. And it’s not as obvious to discount as to say “no, no, here: this is what I want to write. I totally know, this isn’t why I’m blocked.” If you KNOW that you don’t know, it’s usually not a big problem – then you can just come up with something and bam! Unblocked.

Sometimes, however, I know exactly what I want to write in a chapter, how I want it to end. Maybe I envision the perfect cliffhanger and it all sounds perfect. And then I sit down and stare at the page and realize that either I have no idea how to get there, or that my naïve idea just doesn’t work on the page or I have to twist and force characters to make it work… and it all feels like a big clusterfuck of a hurdle that I just don’t even know how to begin untangling.

I don’t know what the Drill Sergeant would say.

Glare at you until you come up with a less existential problem, I suppose.

What I would say: Baby Steps

A lot of the time, you don’t actually realize this is the problem. You just feel blocked. So I think this tactic is worth trying anytime writing just feels impossible: Take a pen and paper and make really asininely specific notes. I often do these during lulls at work if I have to start a new chapter afterwards or don’t know how to finish a scene (once you internalize this issue, you usually know in advance when it is going to occur.) Here are some of mine. And yes that is how that notepad really looks like right now. I should invest in something a little sturdier if I am to carry it around everywhere.

Laila

Now, I know that for many people that would take the fun out writing, make writing feel like typing down ideas. But I have a different perspective on this. For me, by reducing the amount of multi-tasking you have to do, it makes writing a less brain-power consuming activity. And that way, all your attention can go to making pretty sentences and bring the scene to life in the best possible way without worrying about setting it up right in the first place.
If you get along fine without this, you’re golden. But if you often feel blocked, it might be worth a try. After all, you wouldn’t build a house all at once, either. First you lay a foundation, then a framework etc. Some things are easier to tackle if you separate them into smaller, more manageable chunks.

 

6.  The Problem: You can’t hack the plot

This is a really annoying one. It usually occurs somewhere past the middle. You are full of enthusiasm for having made it this far, you figure hey, it’s like hump-day: should be easy from here. Not.

Whether you never had a clear idea of how to wrap the plot up to begin with, or whether you had one that just doesn’t seem to work out as you planned it anymore, this is the place where you are most likely to get stuck. And not only does this make the rest of the book appear annoyingly nebulous, it usually makes you question everything you have written leading up to it, as well. After all, if the plot doesn’t work out, isn’t that because you didn’t set it up right? Tears and a dramatic loss of motivation are the result and often enough, your brain just shuts down and refuses to deal.

The Drill-Sergeant would say:

Stop whining. Keep writing no matter what, just push through. You can always edit later.

What I say: Fix it now. Figure it out.

It’s hard to criticize that approach, mostly because it seems to have a lot of devoted contesters. But it just doesn’t work for me. I refuse to push through something I don’t believe in. That makes writing depressing and heartbreaking and all I can think about is all the work I will have to put into rewrites and whether the chapter I am painfully forcing myself to write right now will be one of those I’ll axe in a few months.

I have actually let books rest for a couple of weeks while working on something else for this reason alone, although I don’t necessarily endorse this approach. (If you do follow it: make sure you actually work on something else in the meantime. Keep your brain active on writing matters, at least).

But the truth is, this one is gonna take some time. There’s no easy fix. If you want, start by reading what you already have and hopefully (usually) it’s much better than the nightmare you built up in your head. Then sit down and brainstorm. I like pen and paper – I also like mind-maps, and notes. I like to write down the different plot lines or character lines next to each other, to see how they interlink and how to fix whatever is not working for me.

Often it already helps to clearly formulate the problem. Problems are so much easier to solve once you name them precisely. Not: My plot sucks. Try: It makes no sense that the detective would continue to go after the murderer after losing his job. Or a current problem I am mulling over right now: Once the MC has solved her issues with the Fae, she can’t just walk back into her father’s castle and talk her way out of being away for a year and casually liberate her father from his tyrannical former advisor. That’s boring and too easy. Something more exciting has to happen.

Try radical thinking, try flipping all the rules of your story upside down, and investigate the motivation of your characters, re-read your favorite books. Whatever works.

And I don’t start writing again until I figure it out. Usually it doesn’t require nearly as much cutting and rewriting as I imagined and I’m back on the horse in less than a week!

 

Now, in all fairness, there is one problem for which I haven’t quite figured out a foolproof solution. But I’m going to tell you how I got through it anyway.

 

7: The Problem: The world sucks and everything is hopeless.

To be fair, this is not so much a writer’s block as an everything block. That’s what depression does. But it’s particularly nasty for all the things you need for writing: courage, creativity, self-love, confidence, hope.

I hardly wrote a word for 6 months last year because the world sucked and everything was hopeless. Now, I was recovering from a major depressive episode at the time and was working on getting my life back on track, so it wasn’t really time wasted, because I have a great job now and I’m feeling much better. But the truth is, the writing lapse came from a totally different stupid reasons and I just didn’t have the emotional resources at the time to recover from it faster.

We released a book – After Life Lessons – and the reception wasn’t quite what I had hoped. And here’s the thing. It wasn’t that a lot of people didn’t like it. That hurts, sure, but that’s not a real problem, even to someone like me, who tends to hear criticism 10 times louder than the praise of all the kind and lovely reviews I’ve gotten.

The problem lay in what they wrote. A lot of people pretty much hated exactly the things I love about the book. They complained that there wasn’t enough zombie action, which was exactly our intention – to take the zombie genre and cross it with some deeper, more emotional topics that we find far more interesting. Or they called the female protagonist names, called her bitchy and selfish. And we were so proud of the three-dimensional woman we’d created and it made the prospect of writing women’s characters for other women just such a sucky, limiting and unappealing prospect for a while.

That was tough. All the books I have penned so far have room for improvement. Of course they do. I am not a master writer. I think I’m pretty good and getting better every day. It doesn’t bother me when people point out my flaws. I probably know them already and am way harsher on myself than they could ever be.

But to bash what I love? That hurt. And it still does, when readers so eloquently point out to me that they don’t get me and I don’t get them. It shattered my belief that I would ever write something a lot of people would like, because apparently, I just love what people hate. How do you fix that? How won’t that problem just get worse and worse the more I write and find my voice as a writer?

The Solution, I think…

…is time and a mixture of all the different strategies outlined above. I worked on going easier on myself and part of that was to just give writing a rest for a while, to concentrate on editing and publishing and letting things rest. Hell, I tried meditating and other self-improvement stuff. It meant many long talking sessions with my writing buddy, a lot of reading of famous books that also had tons of reviews that just didn’t get what I loved about them.

And most of all, it took getting over that hurt and remembering all the things I loved about writing. It took healing and getting to a better head-space so that I would listen to myself and my friends again.

And you know what? That’s okay, too. No, there’s no such thing Writer’s Block. But we are all human beings and sometimes we don’t function the way we would like to. Sometimes we are not productive super machines, but that happens in every human endeavor.

So let’s be good to ourselves, try our best and silence that nagging feeling that it’s never good enough. We can all find it in ourselves to follow our passion, even through the bumps and chasms in the road.

On being social

I’m not afraid to admit it, nowadays: I’m an only child. Back when I was a child, in the 80s, it was a sort of novelty, us singular children– most of my friends had at least one sibling, and some had two or three more. It wasn’t until I was 10 that I even met another only child.

I didn’t mind being an only child, and it was only romanticized notions of siblinghood I longed for– the fantasies I had of a sister always revolved around the idea that she was close in age to me, and had my exact interests, and also thought I was super cool. I could have dug a sister like that.

As it was, I was one of those people who learned, early on, how to entertain myself. The kids on my block, my easy-access friends, had to go home for dinner just as I did, they went out of town, and church and the like, and so I was alone often. I like to differentiate between “alone” and “lonely.” Certainly I was the latter from time to time, but, truly, it was a rare occurrence. I was a voracious reader, and my parents were happy to indulge the obsession. I had bookshelves full to bursting, and was taken on frequent trips to the local library. I wrote, even from a young age, making friends of characters, and creating worlds and experiences for them.

I am an incredibly shy person. I’m not sure if it’s due to this alone-ness, or if I would have been naturally disposed to this personality even with a passel of siblings. At any rate, it is far easier to be shy when you’re okay with being alone– I can’t imagine being an extrovert who is painfully shy, the agony of wanting and needing social contact to feed your energy, yet being terrified of talking to others. That I garner my energy from quiet and solitude makes my shyness mostly inconsequential: it’s easy to never learn to swim when you live in a desert.

I have to say, though: all of this makes it hard to be sociable. I’m good with a person or two– I have a small group of good friends, people I feel know me well and I know them. I’ve met them through various channels– online, in class, at work, and living above me in an apartment. The thing is: it took awhile, and I am very poor at it.

Oddly enough, those who meet me tell me I’m outgoing and bubbly, talkative, and can’t believe that I’m painfully shy. I have been told pointblank that I’m not an introvert, that it’s not possible, because of how I react to people (which leads me to wonder: what is the appropriate behavior for an introvert in a social setting? To scream and duck? To sweat profusely and refuse to speak? I’m fairly certain, as an attribute, introversion would have fazed out of our DNA if it was truly that difficult to endure, but that’s a different topic). I’m a good actor, I suppose, or my anxiety drives me into some kind of stand-up comedy. I give a killer punchline while convincing myself that you hate me.

The internet is a blessing for people like me: you can meet people on your own turf and have time to figure out what to say and how to say it! No one can see you! You’re a genius with spellcheck! In the early days (back when we paid for AOL by the minute), I hopped into chatrooms and bulletin boards, and was quickly treated to my earliest dose of internet attacks. I was young, though, innocent still, so that I plugged along.

There was Diaryland, and Blogspot, when I got older, and then Livejournal. I participated on a couple boards for young and radical mothers, joined up on forums for writers and role players. I was, dare I say, POPULAR.

However, in the past few years, things have shifted. Perhaps it’s my age, and my inborn tendency to be stubborn, slowing me down. I feel like the crotchety old lady waving at the kids on her lawn. I DON’T UNDERSTAND THE NEW SOCIAL MEDIA. I can roll with Facebook, but apparently that’s for grandmas anyway. I’m okay with Twitter (and have some absurdly low join number, making me either elite or pathetic), and I’m moderately capable at Tumblr. Past that, I suck.

Social media is all about conversation, but, it feels to me, like walking into a room of strangers and having everyone stop and turn to look at you and wait for your introduction. “Hi, I’m Lorrie! My favorite book is… uh… I have one, I’m sure. Favorite movie? Um, that one, with the blonde…?”

My husband hangs out on Reddit, which appears a little like a crowded bar where the drink names are in a different language, and I can’t find the bathrooms. Goodreads groups confuse the hell out of me, with huge threads where the replies overlap and I’m genuinely afraid of making a fool of myself with my poor memory for what I’ve read in the past year, let alone my life (intellectual cred is much more difficult to fake).

I’m making an effort. I’m seeking out blogs now, something I’ve avoided over the years as the internet seemed overrun with them. It seems less threatening: even on blogs that garner a lot of comments, it’s as though I met up with the writer in the corner of a party and we’re sharing a laugh. It’s calming.

Being social on the internet is apparently one of my jobs now, in this writing and publishing gig. I feel a bit like I did when I changed schools at ten: nervous, and kind of nauseous. I’m myself, but also a brand, and I really REALLY want people to like me.

Hey, how about you leave some links for blogs you like in the comments? I’ll bring you a glass of wine and we’ll hide out by the garage door for a bit, take a breather from that party. I hope you like my jokes.


The End of a Series: Saltwater Skin

Bringing a novel onto paper and into distribution is a thing of satisfying (and terrifying!) beauty. But doing the same to a whole series, of concluding something that has been with you for so long, beats it by a mile as I am currently finding out!

The Breaking in Waves trilogy was not originally conceived as a series at all. My short stories simply had been accepted into several erotica anthologies, and it felt like a shame not to follow that up with an erotic publication of my very own.

BIW-series-banner

At the time, I just wanted to write a piece that was all about my own impressions of bdsm and the people who practice it, as it appeared to me, and as – in my limited reading erotica reading experience anyway – was rarely depicted in erotic romance. I wanted to write about consent and laughter, about kindness and the normality of it all. I wanted regular-looking people with a regular to modest income, who just acted like regular people who want to get to know each other and enjoy each other’s predilections (okay: more or less. The time contraction for the sake of the novella format did impose certain limitations to reality lol).Breaking in Waves Series

The point is: I was writing it very much as a statement piece. It wasn’t really about the characters or their story, but I fell in love with them anyway. And by the end of Driftwood Deeds, I knew I wanted to give them more: backstory, real character and a satisfying conclusion. And so Trading Tides and Saltwater Skin were conceived.

Trading Tides is the dark moment in the trilogy, it puts their young relationship to the test. I knew very early on that I wanted to write about distance relationships, about sustaining love through phone wires and internet sessions. Especially before 50 Shades, bdsm still felt so taboo, it was and still is hard to find local people, the pool is just a lot smaller and the chance to fall in love in that pool becomes somewhat tiny (not least of all because there are a lot of nutters around lol). So I feel like distance is an issue faced by a lot of D/s couples, and I wanted to pay tribute to that and explore it.

In the end, it was probably the hardest to write emotionally, because it revived so many old memories of my own, of fighting against a current that feels overwhelming at times, of longing and need and feeling alone in a world full of people because the one person you want to be with is miles away. But of course that also made it incredibly gratifying to bring to a happy conclusion. 

Saltwater SkinAnd then came Saltwater Skin, where Paul takes over as narrator, which posed challenges of its very own as well. He always had a very distinct voice in my head, a strong character who deserved to express all of his own thoughts and impressions and to not just be seen through Iris’ eyes.

He is definitely a character I fell for hard, and who still makes me swoon: troubled, thoughtful hero who works hard to overcome is issues to finally be the man he wants to be. Saltwater Skin will be released next week alongside a Complete Trilogy Collection (although because of issues they are actually already available on AllRomance and Smashwords), and there is something wonderful about starting into the New Year with a finished long-term project. As much as I love Breaking in Waves, its completion opens up so much space in my head, so many possibilities and new story ideas. And I can’t wait to see if readers like spending time in Paul’s head as much as I did!

I’m still giving away free review copies, by the way. So anyone who would like to review Saltwater Skin (or other books in the series as well) in January or February, please contact me at laila@lailablake.com!

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Driftwood Deeds, Breaking in Waves #1, Laila Blake goodreads-badge

Trading Tides, Breaking in Waves #2, Laila Blake goodreads-badge

Detail of female hands tied up with rope goodreads-badge 

 

 

 

A year in review

It’s that time of year, where a frantic scramble to get things done is not only predicted, it’s somewhat expected. In my life, we have not only the holidays, but also both of my children’s birthdays flanking Christmas, and my visions of my own personal deadlines so I can look over my year of work and be pleased with myself.

I frequently make myself sick this time of year.

Three days before Christmas, and I still must venture out for a few small presents for dear friends, but this writing business stops for no one.

The year has been a modest one in terms of word count. I started, and then stopped around 50k, a tightly-wound story about a family in the throes of crisis, having written myself into a corner. I hope to go back and figure out how to unravel this, because I think, at the heart of it, the story is a sound one, and interesting. With Laila Blake, I completed a collection of short stories centered around our characters from After Life Lessons (you can find it here), as well as the first draft for the second, and final, book featuring those characters and their post-apocalyptic world. I completed the first in a trilogy about a dystopian world with a mysterious narrator, and rewrote 3/4 of a novel I originally completed last December, giving this year a sort of fun, cyclical sort of ending. Several pieces of erotica were also accepted this year, and a few have come out in print already, with more planned in anthologies next year.

This year, on a lot of fronts, was more dedicated to the publishing side of writing, which is a much newer experience for yours truly. Editing is one of my favorite activities, and one of my greater skills, and I found myself doing a lot more of that this year, with several rewrites and edits on After Life Lessons before it went to print in April, as well as several edits on At the Edge of the World, which came out in August. I also have picked over and helped groom Laila’s first two installments of the Lakeside Series, and the last in her Breaking in Waves trilogy.

From there, I am still a little floundering, still learning to swim, in a way. Lilt Literary is slowly gaining steam, and with it, we are working on aspects of publishing that are mostly new and foreign to us. I used to work in marketing, in advertising, but on the production end: I wrote and composed ads, I did not sell them. I am innately shy, a little terrified of talking to just about anyone– I had a friend once comment that I never looked in anyone’s eyes, something I’d never really noticed, but find myself doing kind of constantly unless I know a person well.

Marketing yourself is hard. It is even harder when you, as a person, don’t do well talking yourself up, not to mention live in a society where women are, for the most part, conditioned to shy away from self-congratulation, from believing they’re worth listening to, or caring about. Selling a book is a little like selling yourself– I’m not one to compare a book to a baby, but, certainly, it represents a large amount of time, and effort, and skills, and, so, it’s a product of you, of your abilities. Telling someone how great it is, and that they should care about it, read it, is like telling them why they should be your friend. It’s uncomfortable at best, horrifying at the worst.

Independant and self-publishing means you’re doing a majority of the work of a book on your own. You write it, you proof it, you edit and re-edit, you design and format and convert files, get it to distributors, advertise. At Lilt Literary, we’re lucky to both be trained as editors, and proof-readers, and pride ourselves on tightly-written and edited work. Laila is a wizard with graphic design, and has produced jaw-dropping covers for all of our books.  We’ve become well-versed with computer formatting for different output (both physical and digital), and in many avenues of distribution.

My confidence wavers at advertising. As a small-time publishing house, we are shut out of many traditional channels: obviously we’re not going to be able to put an ad in a widely-read magazine, or get ourselves on a talk show. Our budget is smaller than a traditional publishing house, and so getting our books on the shelves of local and national bookstores isn’t within our ability at this moment.

There is a stigma attached to independent and self-publishing, too, one that is, and isn’t, accurate. With the ease of Amazon uploading, for instance, a person can take a poorly-written fanfic and have it for sale in 5 minutes flat. What is a beautiful invention– the ability to reach masses with a click of a mouse– can be burdened by lack of quality control. While this is a topic for another time (and I do love talking about it), the point is more: it’s hard to get noticed, harder to get people to read, and believe, in your ability when you are not coming out of a big-name publisher.

It’s definitely been a learning process, but one that is slowly becoming easier, clearer, and showing results. Over the last year alone I, and we, have learned so much about getting our books to readers, and making a successful profit, that I’m actually excited about doing more in the new year, where, even a few months ago, I even loathed writing an email to a potential reviewer.

It turns out writing is an ever-evolving practice. Who knew?

Here’s wishing you the happiest of holidays, and bountiful new year.


Gift Inspiration Driftwood Deeds

If you’re anything like me, two weeks before Christmas you’re probably not exactly done with your Christmas gifts. For me, that is because my family is made up of die-hard pragmatists when it comes to material things, who almost impossible to find presents for. So I researched gifts for people who appreciate such things in a series of book inspired gift ideas.

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My Breaking in Waves series is set by the seaside, full of ocean treasures, long lost stories and love.

Etsy: Sea Glass Necklace, by lacylauragray — $7.50

In the first book, Paul takes Iris on a walk by the sea-side, to an abandoned beach where he finds all the raw materials for his work-work: driftwood and rope, sea-glass and rusty fishing gear. They walk around the place in wellington boots, searching for treasure and forging a very first connection.  They find little glittering fishing lures, and pieces of sea-glass glittering in the sand.

 

“So you think I like broken things?” I asked after a long time, voice warm and tinged in this quiet, restful moment. Paul Archer looked at me over the rim of his cup, which he held in both hands to drink as though it was an Asian bowl.

Etsy: Asian Bowl with Chopsticks Holder by SwampFires, $25.00

“I think you understand them, notice them,” he corrected, then tilted his head, put the cup down and pulled his glasses from his face. He wiped the hot water condensation from the lenses before resetting the glasses on his nose in that charming gesture. “And maybe, you feel drawn to them, too.” (Driftwood Deeds, Chapter 3)

Although primarily a screen-writer, Paul likes to work with his hands. He makes beautiful things out of driftwood: furniture and decorative objects. Later in Trading Tides, she makes a bed-side table for Iris because she needs somewhere to rest her books when she’s asleep. He likes the stories he imagines in old wood, long cut from its tree.

Driftwood Dock for iPad and iPhone, by Docksmith — $120.00

It has history embedded in its markings, a history of growth, and then another long story of getting lost and found by the beach. Driftwood inspires him to write, and — in a way — driftwood inspires him to be the person he wants to be, the person he grows into throughout the series.

Paul is like a knotted, washed out piece of wood, Iris finds on her day at the beach. A piece of driftwood that compels, inspires her with its beauty and its history, with the soft sheen of its form. And she takes it with her, slowly working new life into a man who long thought the most exciting parts of his life were in the past.

Handmade Leather Paddle, by ThePaddleman — $40.28

Instead, they start their tumultuous love story – and of course it’s not simple. Great passion never comes easy. But then Iris doesn’t like easy. She likes pain and the test of endurance. She likes the way Paul reaches for a leather strap to spank her rear.

“You didn’t want to wear any of them,” he says after a while. I pause, try to gather my thoughts. Then I shake my head.

“But you want to be mine?”

HIS & HER’S Leather Infinity Cuff Bracelets, by MemorylaneJewelry — $80.00

“Yes!” There’s a sharp, hot knot in my stomach and I reach for his hand on the wall, cover it with mine. “Of course I do. I am. And I want… I want to wear something of yours. I want to be reminded all the time. Just…”

“Just what, baby girl?”

“I think maybe I want something of yours. Something that’s you. Or me. Something that’s about us. (Trading Tides, Epilogue)

Leather Journal, by CLWorkshop — $40.00

And, of course, in the very last book – Saltwater Skin, which will be released in January – Paul has given Iris more than a leather cuff, and a collar. He also gave her a diary, he bound from the same piece of leather. A diary for her to him, to write in her thoughts and her feelings, to express everything she finds hard to say out loud — like all of us should.

 

 

Lastly, there are still the books – ebooks for now, although there will be a print edition of the full collection in the new year! But then, who doesn’t love a book appearing on their eReader, a new one a friend enjoyed before us?

Driftwood Deeds, Breaking in Waves #1, Laila Blake goodreads-badge

Trading Tides, Breaking in Waves #2, Laila Blake goodreads-badge

Detail of female hands tied up with rope goodreads-badge

Pre-order on Amazon

Release date: Jan 6th 2014

 

 

Wordcount-Binging and the Quest for Flow

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged in writer circles anymore – see what I did there? – that bringing as many words as possible onto the page in each sitting is the key to writerly success. Espoused everywhere you look, from the ever-popular Nanowrimo to blogs, podcasts and self-help books for writers, the basic idea seems to be that finishing a book is hard, and the easiest way to get through it, is to do it as fast and painlessly as possible. Get the words out there, vomit them onto your text processor, and most importantly: don’t think about it at all. That’s the way to Flow. Flow, that magical word that has been making the rounds for a while, state of infinite creative potential when the mind is linked-up, perfectly aligned to spill out your inner genius.

I don’t know how ADD we have become as a culture that we think it necessary to explain and mystify the benefits inherent in a state of enduring and enjoyable concentration, but that’s all it seems to be. Despite being often compared to a runner’s high, that feeling athletes seem to get when the rush of endorphins from physical exertion overpowers pain and exhaustion, there isn’t actually any link between the two. I shouldn’t have to point out that one includes the exercise induced rush of hormones and the other, well, doesn’t.

Now, I am the last person to diss Flow. Flow is amazing. I just seriously question whether Flow really has anything to do with the word-vomit we are often called upon to expel into our manuscripts. To clarify: we are supposed to just write down whatever comes to mind without caring about spelling, phrasing, the beauty of words, sentence and melody or even the appropriate wording of dialogue. Least of all should we think about theme or repeating topics, motifs and metaphors. The resulting text might require more editing (according to some sources up to several times the amount it took to write), but that’s supposedly worth it, because the important thing is to get it out of your head as soon as possible.

Now, I am the last one to complain about our generation’s obsession with speed, but… really? I am not in the position to judge other writers and what they enjoy about writing – but while I agree wholeheartedly that prolonged periods of concentration and the efforts to increase your writing output in an effort to keep the story alive and active in your head – I can’t abide by the dogmatic nature of the rest of it.

First of all: As a translator, I achieve Flow all the time.
This is relevant here, because you cannot stop thinking, evaluating and constantly assessing the whole picture while you translate. Now, according to Flow-espousers, this should prevent Flow. My inner critic is on 100% of the time, I constantly check terminology, look up words, compare them to earlier usage within the text, make sure this is the best way I could possibly express any given sentiment etc. And still I achieve Flow.

In fact, I achieve Flow faster and easier than I do in writing. That’s not because I enjoy translating more. I don’t. But I believe simply because translating is a more immersive activity, just BECAUSE you have to concentrate so hard on so many things at once. You can’t help it. In writing, it’s easier to waver a bit, not to be fully invested in the task at hand.

Secondly: I simply cannot enjoy shoddy worksmanship, no matter how many times I tell myself that I will edit it later. For me, writing is primarily a set of skills, not some magical spring inside of me that produces the clearest water if I just let it run free. I enjoy finding just the right words to unlock just the right feeling while I write. That’s what makes it fun for me. Finding out just how a character would say something is so integral to the character development, I can’t imagine leaving that until the very end. And yes, I love theme. Sure, some emerge later on, but I start every book with certain themes and motifs, and yeah, I do keep them in mind while I write.

After all: Finishing a book isn’t actually that difficult.
It is when you do it for the first time, because if you’re like me and most other people, you are constantly plagued by worrying if you can actually do it, if it’s worth all this misery when it sucks so much anyway, and why in the world you would do this to yourself to begin with. But once you have finished that first book, it’s just as difficult as any long-term task you choose to engage in and that has to compete for your attention with your Netflix account, with sleep and friends, and the normal fluctuations in creative self-confidence.

It’s definitely not difficult enough to warrant this desperate close-your-eyes-and-think-of-England approach. Besides, if you’re anything like me, this is exactly the approach that will mess most with your self-confidence.

I’m the kind of person who has to read back a few paragraphs in the morning when I start writing. And there is NOTHING that will kill my motivation faster than seeing how bad my own writing was the day before. I need to see something that at least resembles the standard I want to see in novels or else I’m hanging in my chair, close to tears about my lack of talent, faster than you can say Flow. And bam, the creative confidence cycle has hit rock bottom again.

Instead, I could write a just a little bit more slowly (I still tend to reach at least 1000k in an hour), but write deliberately, thoughtfully and with intention. That way I actually enjoy what I’m doing while I do it, and when I reach back the next morning, I am full of motivation for the next stretch.

And yes, I see no reason whatsoever why writing the book faster only then to take longer on editing is in any way a win for me at the bottom line. I enjoy writing a lot more than editing. So how stupid would I have to be to rush through the thing I enjoy only to pile up more work for me in the area I enjoy less? Not to mention that editing gets exponentially more painful the messier the first draft is to begin with.

The only thing that matters in the end is that we, each of us, finds the writing process that we find enjoyable.  But concentration and thoughtful writing doesn’t have to be anathema to Flow and good, speedy writing.

It’s Not All About Plot!

Every second genre book, it seems, features these descriptions somewhere in its product description: they are fast-paced, action-packed, and plot-driven. Short, dramatic sentences underline the idea.

Nobody is safe. It’s the end of the world as we know it. Death lurks around every corner. She must solve the riddle or pay with her life. Your basic summer block buster description. Only… I kind of despise summer block busters.

Now, obviously, I recognize the value of a well-structured plot. I even get the action elements and the driving suspense, especially in Dan-Brown-style thrillers. That’s part of the deal. I just don’t understand why all so many others genres are this quick to adopt the strategy. Are readers really looking for a breathless thrill-ride when they pick up a fantasy or sci-fi novel, or even more puzzlingly, when trying to decide on their next YA or general fiction read?

Some definitely do. But there’s also a valuable and vocal part of the reading community who don’t. Personally, I almost always forgo books advertised this way, and when I stumble onto one that follows this principle without making it quite so plain in the description, I tend to end up disappointed. It’s just not what I am looking for in my reading experience.

Cassandra Clare’s books, for example, always strike me as too plot-heavy. And she is by far not the only one in the YA/Paranormal/Fantasy/UF etc. community. I actually think she creates great characters and hints at really interestingly interwoven relationships, but whenever we get a little more into those, another plot point crops it short and sends the reader careening into another plot complication that doesn’t ultimately change the outcome at all.

Plot, after all, is only one ingredient in the whole book recipe. It may feature more prominently in thrillers and mysteries, but each genre mixes the available components a little differently and I, for one, think we should continue to celebrate that. There is world-building, to name just one, which may just be a subtle after-taste in contemporary romance, women’s fiction or many general fiction stories, but it can be deciding factor in Sci-fi/fantasy novels. Harry Potter, for example, isn’t perfect in all respects for me, but the world-building alone is so uniquely imaginative, quirkily adorable and well-crafted throughout, that I will never say a word against the series and probably love it for the rest of my life. Another great example for this would be Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.

My personal favorite is character development though, and with it the development of different relationships as well (including, but definitely not limited to romantic ones). The moment plot concerns are starting to override character developments, my reading enjoyment starts to slump drastically and if the trend continues throughout the book, it will leave me feeling unsatisfied and a little empty. Like fast food, maybe, except who am I kidding Fast Food is awesome. (Can you all tell I’m sitting at work and haven’t had breakfast yet?)

In my Lakeside series, the first installment By the Light of the Moon is definitely the plot heavier one, whereas the sequel A Taste of Winter focusses more on character development. That’s why I think the latter is a lot better, but I also know that not everybody feels that way. Some readers liked the increased plot density of the first book, and to be honest, as a book of mine, it probably had ample character development too and maybe I overdid it a little bit in the sequel, indulged in what I like to read and write best.

I like plot. I’m a plotter myself. It is important to me to figure out what will happen throughout the book and which plot twists can best lead characters and readers to both the final climax and a satisfying ending. But I also balk at creating unnecessary twists just so that every chapter ends in cliff-hanger, to send characters and readers on wild goose chases only to come up empty and be pretty much in the same position they were three chapters ago. I’ll always rather spend those chapters on getting to know the characters and how they feel about it all, how the plot events changed their world and how they accommodate and react. Some of my favorite scenes in A Taste of Winter are the ones that show Owain dealing with the prejudice faced by his kind, and his determination to overcome it, for example, or Moira finally growing up and coming into her own strength in the relationship.

But those scenes slow down the reading experience, I’m told by countless how-to guides to writing. They put the brakes on that non-stopping thrill-ride, while the characters enjoy the landscape, go for a drink in a road-side café or park in a lonely alley for a clandestine blow-job. I get that.

But then, I’ve always been a friend of landscapes, road-side cafés or clandestine blowjobs, myself. I care more about having a good time getting to my destination, than to get there as fast as possible.

Now I want to know about you, though! How do you feel about the plot/character development proportion in novels?

Feminism & The Adult Industry

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For years some of the most well-educated, scholarly individuals have dedicated a portion of their studies to a subject that could make the rest of us blush: Porn. It’s been evaluated for insight into human sexuality, relationships, culture, societal standards of beauty, and recently, it’s infiltrated the discussion of feminism.

feminismSex-positive feminist writer Wendy McElroy, wrote an educational article for Free Inquiry Magazine where she discussed feminist views on pornography. She claimed that most feminist opinions on pornography can be broken down into three basic categories. The first are those who oppose pornography, with a large portion believing that it’s misogynistic. The second category take an agnostic approach, believing a woman is entitled to do whatever she wants with her own body. Members in the third group refer to themselves as being sex-positive or believing in the idea of sexual freedom. Those in the third group are the ones most likely to also point out the potential benefits that porn can provide women with, and are believed to have formed in opposition to the anti-pornography feminists within the first category.

However, personally speaking as a feminist, I find that I most relate to Adam and Eve contributor/blogger Dr. Kat. For those unfamiliar with Dr. Kat—her doctorate is in Human Sexuality/Clinical Sexology—she frequently discusses the need for society take away the stigma of sex, make it less shameful, and embrace it for the beautiful act that it is.

Although she works to empower women by helping them have more satisfying relationships and sex lives, she’s also sympathetic to the idea of some being turned off by pornography. It’s part of the reason why she’s also quick to mention that no matter where you stand on the subject, the adult industry has been listening to all sides of the feminist argument, and it has been making changes to the types of porn being produced.

Today, more companies are choosing to make pornography that either caters towards a female audience or shows an equal share in pleasure by both parities invovled. The Guardian quoted female pornography director Anna Arrowsmith, who (although she doesn’t overtly say so) sounds like a feminist herself by saying, “I have fought long and hard for women’s right to sexual expression and consumption, as well as for freedom of speech.” Arrowsmith focuses her films far away from the overtly fantasized if not cliched “narratives” of horny school girls and nymphomaniac nannies in order to tell stories of love and passion that women can relate to. With films such as hers growing prevalent in the industry, feminists can feel comfortable in enjoying them because those involved are being treated as equals, not as objects or toys in a misogynistic fantasy.

A feminist group has even taken it upon themselves to reward those like Arrowsmith who are taking part in the movement, creating the Good For Her Feminist Porn Awards—better known simply as the Feminist Porn Awards, according to The Week.

With the wide range of pornography available, it’s likely that there will be something within the industry that you don’t prefer. But at least it’s a step in the right direction to create a portion that isn’t demeaning. Whether you enjoy watching pornography or not, the question remains: Are female porn stars or those that enjoy pornography (even slightly) performing a feminist act? Since there’s no rules on what type of feminist you have to be, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Does feminism have a place in pornography?

Hipster call to support indie publishing!

Now, listen here, you hipster. You put down that caffe crema and turn off that Dandelion Hands album, stop stroking your beard and reading Teju Cole, and focus on me.

You’re not a bad guy, Mr. Hipster. You like to support the indie spots in town – you visit the coffee shop that has no siren on its sign but prices even higher, with a pierced barista who refuses to smile; you still buy vinyl, from the punk store that employs the barista’s clone; you patronize the ancient barber down the block for your weekly hot neck shave; you even take your dollars to the bookstore run out of a decaying storefront that keeps a cat and sells more used books than new. You’re conscientious about how you use your money, to whom you pay, and what you support. You’ve contributed several Indie Go-Gos, Kickstarters, and GoFundMes for filmmakers, artists, bloggers and nostalgia generators alike. You’ve got good taste. Better than any of your friends.

So why are you still only reading books from the big six publishers? Go take a look at your bookshelf and jot down the names of the publishing houses for me. I’ll wait.

You’ve got Random House and Penguin on your list, don’t you? HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster? You missed Hachette and Macmillan, but my point is: out of those books you glanced over, only maybe one was from a small house (nope, that one you just wildly defended? That’s an imprint of Penguin). I’m not judging your reading selection – those are some really great books, and every writer deserves an income. That you pursue such a wide variety of authors and genres is quite commendable.

However (you knew there would be a however, right?), you’ve missed a beat. Where you strive to spend your dollars with businesses and people who, you feel, embody your beliefs more closely, by shopping locally, organically, and ethically, by giving more money directly to the producer of your goods, you’re not doing so with your reading.

There are more writers than books, truly, and definitely more than books that are published with the aforementioned publishing houses. For every book on the shelf by Jonathan Safran Foer, there are about a thousand other people typing madly in their ill-lit apartments and on their work latops, in coffee shops and on college campuses, in cushy studies and between two squalling babies. There are more stories than books published, too, more stories about fantastic new worlds and the drudgery of the same life troubles, characters with no vowels in their names and at least 654 named Mary.

But, you say, self-publishing has no regulation for quality! Any dumbass can write something and have it uploaded to Amazon in minutes, complete with a shitty cover and no editing!

Right you are. But, if you’ll remember, big name doesn’t equal quality. Remember Twilight? Remember 50 Shades of Grey?

Like anything indie, self- and independently-published works have a wide variety in quality. Indeed, some people finish a 50 page Word document, save it, and hit upload on Amazon with nary a thought for formatting, editing, or even spell-check. They make a cover in Paint. This appears on searches next to best-sellers, next to meticulously-created works.

Music the same way. Anyone can record a song on an iPhone nowadays, on a computer, and have it on the web in a few minutes. A Facebook fan page can be arranged before the file is finished formatting. A BandCamp site can be created with just a login and a credit card. This, of course, doesn’t mean that every band on BandCamp is shitty – far from it. Are there awful albums on the site, terrible sounds that can hardly be called music? Well of course.

Generally, you’re happy to give a band a listen, right, Mr. Hipster? If it’s not in the Top 40, you’ll check out a sample, maybe even throw in a buck to download. Indie bands and musicians helped change the face of how we listen and collect music as we know it. Napster, and everything that came after, made it easier to access bands that might not be able to afford a van to come to your state, or press CD’s to sell at shows, let alone ship to stores hundreds of miles away. The sounds of the world were suddenly in our reach. Big record labels were terrified.

Now we have hundreds of indie labels, ranging from companies created to curate some of the best rock bands, like Frenchkiss Records, to labels created specifically for a single artist to maintain and control their own vision of their music, like Ingrid Michaelson’s Cabin 24 Records.

Indie labels are celebrated in music. So why not your books?

Of course you’re going to have to sift through some stinkers. Not everything brought to print or digital is going to be worth your time. And of course it might take more time and effort than going to your local bookshop (even that one with the cat, hipster) and picking up whatever cover catches your eye. But isn’t some of the glory in finding something truly special, in being the person just that far ahead of the curve?

Writers, like artists, like musicians, work – long and hard hours crafting and creating engaging stories, and then even more time polishing them. Self- and independently-published authors continue working: in formatting and graphic design, in coding and advertising. From start to finished product, and well beyond – after all, once the book is published, the work of getting people to read it has just begun.

To appeal to your egalitarian side, Mr. Hipster, I want you to know: I hold no bitterness against the traditionally published, or, even the publishing houses that take them on. A large amount of the books I read, myself, are from those very lists. There is, indeed, often a reason these people were picked by Random House, by Penguin: they’re usually pretty damned good (and profitable, but that’s a different subject). You’re welcome to read them just like, in the securely closed confines of your house at night, you’re welcome to crank up your secret Maroon 5 albums. No one is taking your hipster cred for that.

But you’re going to lose points if you don’t put your money where your mouth is. Indie means indie, means supporting those who are doing the work, and getting more of your money to those creators. Indie means fostering the new and the interesting, and the weird, and demanding your right to it.

Think of it this way: would you be happy listening to only what the radios want play? Why should you be happy only reading what the publishing houses want to print?

You can get back to your espresso and iPod now, Mr. Hipster. I believe in you, even if I think you need to lose the beard.

This blog entry is mostly a work of satire, and should be taken tongue firmly in cheek. When I say mostly, I mean I wildly support the work of Teju Cole and other authors of his ilk, and I’ve been known to drink Starbucks. But I really do hate beards, and think you should buy more independent and self-published authors if you believe in supporting artists and progressive thought. Because duh.