Category Archives: #Miscellaneous

So, what the hell happened?

I have this vision of myself, sashaying back into this space as if no time had passed and nothing ever happened. As if I hadn’t ignored this blog, my writer friends, my readers and my craft. But I don’t think it would feel right to come back without at least an explanation. It won’t just be a pity party, I promise.

 

The truth is, though, that my most productive writing time was the absolute lowest point of my life. I loved writing, but it was almost literally the only thing I had left that gave any confidence, any feelings of accomplishment or joy at all. And when I go back and read some of my earlier work, that still resonates off every page for me. I was isolated, suffering from deep depression, social anxiety that made it hard for me to leave my house. I was afraid of my therapist, afraid of opening the mail. I was scared of people and being seen and most of all, I was afraid that I simply wasn’t built to function in a normal life.

 

Throughout 2015, I was working hard to change all that. I got a part-time job – translating and writing for a media analysis company – and although I sat in a corner hardly speaking a word to anyone the first few weeks, it really turned out to be much less scary than I thought it would be. I was – and am – good at my job and was quickly promoted to a full-time position. I’m deputy head of the editorial department now and while I still recognize and remember the person I was a few years ago, it’s also hard to imagine letting it get this bad. Letting me be so unhappy for so long.

 

I didn’t mean to stop writing. But there came a point, where other things became more important to fight for. And writing is a struggle – a wonderful one, but it takes commitment and showing up every day even when it hurts. Even when you hate every word you’re putting on the page, even when someone writes a terrible (or even just a “meh!”) review and makes you feel like you’ve been so right about hating yourself all along!

 

So when I started working full time, but hadn’t worked on any of my other problems, I usually came home exhausted. I sat in front of my screen and the word processor would blur in front of my eyes and I’d go have a nap instead. Or I’d go eat something. Which is the next problem I had to tackle.

I went to see my doctor in 2016, and he basically referred me to a specialist for gastric bypass surgery. Now, I shouldn’t have needed that wake-up call. But apparently, I did. Like I said, I was busy getting my life together and actively ignoring all the other construction sites… like my weight, which had skyrocketed all through my depression.

 

So that became my next project. I did not get surgery – because I was terrified and also, I didn’t feel like I had actually tried all that hard. And at least I wanted to do that. I wanted to try and fix this without carving up my body.

And so I did.

I went from this… (and you can only imagine how much I cringe showing you this. Myself, at my heaviest)

New haircut, sleepy at the office.

Ein Beitrag geteilt von Laila Balke (@lailajblake) am

To this…

20171013_162701 (2)

I spent the last 18 months losing about 140 lbs. And although I made a few attempts in that time to get back into writing, I quickly realized that I couldn’t do both yet. I couldn’t stay as focused on my weight loss journey as I needed to be when I split my focus. I’m still on that journey and far from skinny. But I’m not in any immediate health danger, I feel great. I have a lot energy and I realized if it was between being actually skinny or being a writer… I want to be a writer.

I’m still working to lose weight and build and strengthen those healthier habits.  But I’m also writing again and have been for a while. Even if I had (and still have) a lot of anxiety about sharing that with you in case I’d just go and disappoint again.

 

For those who are still interested – and believe me, I’d understand if there aren’t many people left – I’m currently working on finally finishing the third and last installment in the Lakeside Series. And the end feels almost tangible. Maybe three more chapters to go (and then a lot of editing). It feels good – in many ways because this series has been weighing on me for a long time. I don’t like unfinished things and I am super excited about sharing with you where my mind has been at throughout this time, and what Moira and Owain’s happy ending will look like.

 

And before I finally wrap this up (because it’s getting wooordy), thank you so much for sticking around and reading this. For your empathy and patience for something that really scared me to put into words.

The post So, what the hell happened? appeared first on Laila Blake.

Triggers and Tough Truths

quote

 

We talk about triggers a lot, us the women and the queer folk and the people of color, us who would like the world to be a little bit better, a little bit more equal (not just a bit god damnit!) We often mean those little warning labels at the start of possibly inflammatory blog posts or articles.

I still rarely use them. Mostly because there many times when it feels like advertising instead, because we live in a society in which violence is entertainment and sexual violence doubly so. And I can’t even be preachy about it, really, because it works on me too. I also am lucky not to get triggered by blog posts, and when I do end up feeling bad, anxious and lingeringly icky after consuming an article or video, it’s usually because of subtle, strange things nobody would think of warning against.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

I want to talk about triggers in my offline life. The life we used to call the “real life,” before I grew up and realized my real life gets to be what I choose it to be.

 

He was sweet, which is unusual for a street flirt. I had an inkling he was about to ask me out when he slowed down as I approached, when he changed the side of the road to match mine when I tried to get out of the situation. I didn’t want him to chat me up, but the sun was shining and I’d had a really nice day at work and so when he did, I wasn’t quite able to shut it down. Being cold and dismissive is something I had to learn, and still have to prepare for, or the good old people please inside me rears its smiling Manic Pixie Dream Girl head.

But he was sweet.

He spoke English better than German, which tends to win me over. He asked me what I do and how I like it, he asked what I enjoy in my spare time and showed an interest. And he a sweet, smiling face that didn’t look threatening.

For the sake of fairness, I should say right now that this is not a story about how I was raped. Nothing quite so dramatic and horrible and important. But it is a story about how we got to talking about the tv shows we liked and why not hang out some time this week and watch one together, get to know each other.

I’m an introvert, a tv-hang-out session is my dream first date. And he said he was one, too. I still don’t know if that was the truth. But he gave me my number. He wasn’t pushy for mine, like most of them are. And so I texted him, and we arranged a date.

 

In hind-sight, maybe I could have been smarter. My alarm bells could have run sooner, like when he acted like I was probably surprised he found me attractive and wanted to go out with me. Or when I finally figured out in one of his texts that he’d followed me out of the train just to talk to me.

He showed up 15 minutes late – which given Cologne’s public transport really isn’t a big deal – but he immediately said, “I bet you’re surprised I actually showed up, aren’t you? I know you’re surprise. I could have texted but I thought I’d like to surprise you.”

I smiled and shook my head. I wasn’t surprised; there’s nothing surprising about a man who finds me attractive and wants to get his hands on me. In fact it is the most annoyingly predictable part of dating in general.

I offered him something to drink. He looked around, at my photos and my books and my DVDs. You know, intimate stuff like that. And he immediately hated my cat. Now, my dad doesn’t like cats either, and it’s not an issue of like-me-like-my-cat, but the way he flinched and aggressively shushed her away was unattractive. And it also put me on the defensive; he had me apologizing five times before we even started to watch something.

That at least started out fine. He took my hand after a while and it was warm and large, and for a second I managed to forget about his hatred for pets and thought that maybe, just maybe, I could be a normal person with a nice date with someone who’s actually interested in me, not just my boobs or my ass, and both of them as fast as possible, please.

 

It’s not that I am shy or prude (even though neither of these things are bad in any way). But I’ve had sex or intimate touching too early before, and it has always felt to me like I was the girl selling tickets at the box office: For a while, we are both in the same place. We interact, maybe exchange a few niceties, which end up designed to make me smile and hand over the ticket. And in that moment, he takes my body into a dark room with him and I am left on the outside, hardly even able to look in, and definitely not part of the experience.

It’s when he does all the pushing. I let him hold my hand, so it’s probably okay if he wants to put his arm around me, if he wants to kiss me before we’re 15 minutes into the show.

At that point, I told him I really just want to hang out together. I have no interest in having sex or anything like that. He plays offended for a second and then reassures me. We get a little more comfortable and the show continues. He starts kissing my neck, licking it, scratching me with his beard.

I don’t feel anything. I’m not invested in him enough, not turned on enough, just not in the same room.

“I want to touch your skin,” he says as he pulls up my shirt. I pull it down and so he weasels his hand under it.

“Oh, do you?” I ask. I raise my brows and sigh. No. I didn’t stop him. I didn’t say What about what I want? People pleaser. I hate that girl.

I stopped him when he straddled my lap, pulled up my shirt and started peeling away my bra. I said, “Hey. I’m not into this.”

He grinned, made puppy eyes and went, “Awww come on. Just five minutes.”

That’s when I pushed him off me. Hard. It felt good, for one glorious second it felt good.

And then he got angry. I don’t know if you ever tried to explain to a man who’s never even heard about feminist theory or rape culture, that no, I am not accusing him of trying to rape me. But yes, he’s doing something wrong.

It’s not fun. As you may have expected.

I asked him to leave, which he made me repeat I think a total of 6 or 7 times. Always asking whether I’m sure. His voice got loud and aggressive.

“You were okay with it! I didn’t do anything wrong! I respect women! I like you and I know you like me too, I just don’t need a month to decide whether I like someone! You didn’t say no!”

I did. But not very loud. And I certainly didn’t say yes. I didn’t say it with my mouth or with my body. I turned away, leaned away, squirmed out of his embraces whenever I could.

I guess it’s subtle – if it’s all about what you want, and I’m a means to an end.

 

When he left, I started to cry and I wanted to shower. It took me a while to realize that he reminded me all too starkly of my ex when I was 18. The boy who’d made sex a chore for me, something the man pressured, cajoled, begged, charmed out of me. Never the thing I wanted, desired. There was never enough time to get there.

I never actually said “No” to him, either. I said, “Really, again?” I said, “But we’re watching the movie…” I said, “I’m really tired, can we just cuddle?” I said, “I’m still sore.” I said, “I have to be at work in an hour and I don’t want to shower again.”

I guess all that was really subtle, too.

 

He also knew what he wanted. And when he wanted something the touching and the groping, the relentless pushing, that’s just something that happens. And when I push his hand away, that’s not saying “no” – I guess that’s saying “Try again in 2 Minutes.”

 

So I cried. A lot. And I sat, staring into space, going over everything I said and everything I did. And over the way his voice changed and his eyes weren’t cute anymore; they suddenly were the eyes of a man who could hurt me.

I had trouble falling asleep and when I did, I had nightmares and kept waking up bathed in sweat. In the morning, I was still staring into space, starting to come up with appropriate responses: the things I should have said when he belittled my feelings, when he snorted at the idea someone like me could tell him what to do and what not to do. After all, wasn’t I supposed to be grateful for his attentions?

I ended up forgetting my keys, and I cried in the bathroom at work. The service to open up my door set me back 200€ and there’s a part of me that is still sitting here, staring into space, trying to figure out what I could have done differently – yesterday and when I was 19. I’m still a hair’s breadth away from starting to cry again.

And so I write it down. It’s what I do.

 

The thing that gets me is… I could have wanted him, if he had given me a little more time. If he had talked and laughed and been a person with me, rather than a guy who’s after sex. It’s the least sexy thing in the world, the way their personalities glaze over and I don’t even recognize the fun person they were a few minutes before. And I’m just so, so tired of it sometimes.

The post Triggers and Tough Truths appeared first on Laila Blake.

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.

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!

goodreads-badge

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 

 

 

 

Forbidden Fruit: Blog Tour and Interview

Among all the happy release news this month, this is probably the most exciting. I have been in more anthologies with Cheyenne Blue than I can name off the top of my head, and I have always adored her stories, her style and her approach to erotica. So now, not only did she chose one of mine for her fabulous anthology, as luck would have it, I also get to interview her on my blog today.

Settle in comfortably, you’re inffcb for a treat. First you get to know the awesome person that is Cheyenne Blue, you also get a glimpse at her story Out for the Count, published in her fabulous new Ladylit anthology Forbidden Fruit: Stories of Unwise Lesbian Desire.

 

Cheyenne, you’ve just made the jump from writer to editor – is this a truly new field for you? What drew you to editing an anthology?

Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire is the first erotica anthology I’ve edited, but it’s not my first editing experience, nor my first anthology.  I’ve edited for a now defunct epublisher, as well as freelance editing, both fiction and non-fiction.  A few years ago, when I was living in Ireland, I put together an anthology of local writing that was sponsored by the local Arts Council.  That was a great experience that whetted my appetite for more.  And what’s more obvious than the genre in which I’ve written and contributed to anthologies for over ten years? When the opportunity arose at Ladylit (www.ladylit.com), I jumped at it.

Forbidden Fruit has been a wonderful editing experience, and that’s due in a large part to the seventeen wonderful contributors and the lovely people at Ladylit.

What was the hardest thing about the selection process?

The rejections.  I’ve had loads of them over my erotica career and so I know firsthand that they’re not a nice thing to receive.  They’re not nice to send either.  I received many good submissions that I had to reject either because they were not the right fit for Forbidden Fruit, or because they were too thematically similar to another story.  For example, I received three stories in which the forbidden fruit was a partner’s or ex-partner’s mother. All excellent stories, and I was very sorry to reject two of them.

I’ve always really enjoyed your writing – do you have a special approach to erotica?

Thank you! *beams*

I don’t have a special approach to erotica.  As with any fiction I write, erotica has to be firstly a story, and then a story with sex in it.  If sex isn’t an integral part of the tale, then it doesn’t belong there.  I have a folder full of unfinished stories, snippets, and ideas (it’s huge) as a result.

Where do you tend to draw your inspiration from?

Most of my stories start from a somewhere.  That is, I have to have a setting in my head before I start writing.  Even if I’m writing a story set in a generic bar, in my head it will be a bar I know on Colfax in Denver, in Brunswick Street in Melbourne, or a backcountry bar in Arizona.  It has to be a real somewhere for me to write about it, even if that “somewhere” is not a noticeable part of the story.  Then the characters can spring from someone I saw somewhere, or whose conversation I overheard in a coffee shop.  Things get extrapolated from these basic starting points.

 

Can you tell my readers a bit more about your story in the collection: Out for the Count?

My story, Out for the Count, is about Linn, a casino security guard, who befriends a card counter in order to identify her and bar her from returning to the casino.

I have a relative who very successfully supplements his pension by card counting.  His tales of big wins are matched by his stories of being escorted from the premises by casino security.  I’ve always thought that scenario offers great potential for a story, and it seemed like a good match for Forbidden Fruit.  Plus I took advantage of having my very own technical advisor on hand (for the casino aspects, not the sex!)

 

Here’s an excerpt:

The keys she saw in Francesca’s purse do indeed fit a Lexus. A silver late-model one. Linn sinks into the leather seat, fakes a wide-eyed look around. “Lovely car,” she says, and leans forward to twiddle the radio dial.

Francesca slaps her hand away, and as Linn feigns hurt, Francesca picks up her hand and presses it to her lips, kissing away the red mark.

This time, Linn’s gasp is not feigned. The touch of Francesca’s mouth on the back of her hand sends a jolt of silver desire along her arm. One touch from the red lipsticked mouth pressing a kiss to her flesh, and she’s molten. Wide-eyed she stares at Francesca.

Francesca withdraws. “Did I read you wrong, darling? If I did, it’s a first. I thought you knew what you were getting into. You don’t want poker tips any more than I want to give them.” One side of her mouth lifts in a half smile, and she seems amused.

Caught off balance by the directness, Linn stammers an apology, but Francesca leans across the gearshift and presses her lips to Linn’s. She kisses her hard, her mouth firm and assured. Her hand rests on Linn’s thighs, pressed protectively together. A shaft of desire pierces Linn’s belly. She knows the parking garage is covered by CCTV, she knows that Raoul may be watching this, but right now, she doesn’t care. She wants Francesca with a fierceness, an immediateness that equals Francesca’s own post win high. It’s doubtless going to be a euphoric fuck for Francesca, but Linn is there with her, and if Raoul is watching—well, she will make her excuses to him later.

So she kisses Francesca back, pushing her tongue into Francesca’s mouth, and tasting the lust that leaks from her. But she keeps her thighs together; Francesca is probably so high she would fuck here in the parking garage, uncaring of security cameras. But Linn won’t go that far. Indeed, she thinks, she will stop this soon. But not just yet.

She breaks the kiss. “Your hotel.”

Francesca starts the Lexus. Linn lets her hand settle on Francesca’s thigh as they follow the ramps to the exit.

Outside it’s dusk, and away from the casino there are only the quiet streets of a town which reeks of desperation. Linn’s fingers explore higher, up to the juncture of Francesca’s thighs, over her skirt. And then, when that isn’t enough, she reverses direction, lets her fingers crawl down to her knee and repeats the process underneath the skirt. Francesca’s bare skin is smooth and warm. When Linn’s fingers touch the edge of her panties, they are damp.

******

 

The next stop on the Forbidden Fruit blog tour is Allison Wonderland http://aisforallison.blogspot.com  who is interviewing Ava-Ann Holland.

Leave a comment on any post in the Forbidden Fruit blog tour to be entered into a random draw to win one of these great prizes.  Prizes include a paperback copy of Girls Who Score, lesbian sports erotica edited by Ily Goyanes, Best Lesbian Romance 2011 edited by Radclyffe, Wild Girls, Wild Nights: True Lesbian Sex Stories edited by Sacchi Green, an ebook of Ladylit’s first lesbian anthology Anything She Wants, and a bundle of three mini-anthologies from Ladylit: Sweat, A Christmas to Remember and Bossy.  All of these titles contain some stories written by the fabulous contributors to Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire. You must include an email address in your comment to be entered into the draw.

 

Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire is available directly from the publisher, Ladylit or from Amazon, Smashwords, and other good retailers of ebooks.  Check out http://www.ladylit.com/books/forbidden-fruit/ for all purchasing information.

Misogyny kills. Again. Be shocked.

This is hard.

You all know I blog about feminism. This is important to me. And then something like the Elliot Rodger massacre happens and I want nothing to do with it. It feels like only last week that this other guy killed the girl who refused to go to prom with him, like I was only just getting over that one.

I could deal with it when I read the news. Sort of. I couldn’t watch his videos or read parts of his manifesto. And when the next day social media kicked in and my dashboard erupted in twitter screenshots of people who congratulated him, thanked him, drank to him… I think I stopped and left the computer and in a way, I’m still avoiding this issue.

It’s too much sometimes. And I get so, so tired. Do you guys feel that way sometimes? Like you try to talk about misogyny and how dangerous it is, and what we can do and nobody really listens? And then something horrible happens again and invariable it’s pushed away as the acts of a “lonely virgin” suffering from mental illness, and that’s it.

It hurts. I’m not personally affected, no, but it hurts. And I could have been. You could have been. Man or woman, straight or gay, whatever color your skin is. You could have been. Misogyny kills. And I’m so tired of it all, of all the things people will say to protect themselves from having to actually think about this, from having to actually make some changes in their lives.

These are some of those things:

 “Oh in case feminists didn’t carefully pay attention to the news, you know who killed 4 MEN and 2 WOMEN. Which gender suffered more? That’s right.” (actual tumblr quote)

1. This is not a suffering competition. We don’t tally score. This is not a women against men crusade.

2. Misogyny kills men and women. It always has. It’s not a women’s issue, however much it is always portrayed that way. Men have many privileges over women, yes all men. Not just some. All of you. Read Charlie Glickman’s post if you want to learn more about that.

But the truth is that women aren’t the only victims of a patriarchical system. When men abuse women in the home, young boys suffer, just as much as girls. Boys suffer when they are told Boys don’t cry, or called sissies, pussies or any other term for “female” when they show emotion.

Teens are further disconnected from their emotions and compassion, through the media, their friends, their fathers, and yes, women as well, be it their mothers or anyone else.

Their sexuality is warped away from intimacy and tenderness and towards crude entitlement, to using women’s bodies as masturbatory tools, to seeing them as things for their pleasure without a clue as to what pleasure actually is.

And yeah, sometimes misogyny kills men, too. Like it happened in this massacre. But that doesn’t make it any less of a misogynist crime.

So yeah, men are victims, too. What else can we expect from living in a society with such seriously screwed up ideas of gender and what it should be?

He was just mentally ill. It has nothing to do with women. If he hadn’t felt entitled to them, it would have been over something else.

First of all: are you a psychiatrist? No. Then you’re talking out of your ass to cover this little uncomfortable feeling inside of you makes you avoid the actual issue here.

Yeah, it looks like he was suffering from a mental illness. That’s an important discussion (sad that it only ever comes up when white straight young men shoot people, but okay). To be fair, he was from an extremely privileged background, so getting help for that should have been about 100 times easier than for 99% of the population. I have a mental illness, I know lots of people with mental illness. It’s not card blanche. You go get help. You work on yourself. And that’s really hard.

Elliot Rodger may have felt this intense level of entitlement due to a mental illness. But he didn’t feel entitled to be on the cover of Rolling Stone and shot up their head offices, or to be on some football team.

No. He felt entitled to something that a vast mass cultural narrative taught him to feel entitled to: sex from hot women. Not love, not intimacy, not a happy relationship or the meeting of minds – no: blonde sorority chicks he never actually met, just “desired” for their looks.

This is not a coincidence. And it’s not all down to mental illness. Mental illness may have provided the trigger but misogyny is the soil, the plan, the gun. And every time someone denies this, we give it more power.

 

So can we just repeat together: women don’t owe men sex. Women are not free prostitutes who service men for a drink, a sleazy compliment or pick-up-line or anything else men have come up with to “get laid”. We are human beings. As much as you have preferences (as in, if you wouldn’t date a “fat chick”, or a “crazy one” or a “clingy one” or etc.) they do, too. They don’t owe you anything. Never. There’s no such thing as a “friendzone”. There is rejection, and it sucks, and both men and women experience it all the time. Learn to deal with that. And move on.

How are we still talking about this?