Pride this year was SUCH a blast. Exhausting, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much fun at an event. All in all there were four Bold Strokes Books authors present, Barbara Ann Wright (lesbian fantasy), Joel Gomez-Dossi (gay thrillers), Jerry L. Wheeler (gay erotica) and me. Barbara’s books sold out on the first day of the event, and mine sold out the following morning; Joel and Jerry did pretty well with book sales too.
There were so many great moments over the course of the event, but one of the most memorable was a group of Deaf women who were looking over our books – my partner Kaitlin was
bellowing “LESBIAN PIRATES!” enthusiastically promoting the content of our work ;) and one of them signed to her that they were Deaf. Since Kaitlin speaks some ASL, she began signing back, while the rest of us watched in fascination. I think the ladies had fun correcting some of Kaitlin’s signs, and Kaitlin enjoyed getting to practice her ASL with folks who could understand her (she’s always signing to me when her mouth is full or she’s sleepy or drugged up… and I just have to squint at her in exasperation and try to guess what she’s saying.) As it turned out, the group bought one of each of Barbara’s books and mine, and we got to sign them, and it was just a really lovely encounter with some lovely people that we might not have been able to meet if not for my talented fiancée and her wide repertoire of skills, LOL… I love my future wife. <3
So anyway, here we are on the first day (Barbara, Joel, me and Cricket). Not pictured are Kaitlin, and Barbara’s friends Erin and David who did an amazing job of promoting all our work and providing entertaining behind-the-scenes conversation.
My min-pin Cricket took her job as booth-babe very seriously, standing out in front of the booth and enticing guys and girls alike to come take a look at our books:
And here’s a pic taken with one of my readers, Jamie, whose excitement made me feel like a big celebrity - she was so sweet and came back both days to say hi and get signed books and postcards. <3
Another reader, Mercedes, also came by on both days – her girlfriend had emailed me a while back trying to arrange signed books for her as a surprise, so it was awesome to get to sign them for her in person! A couple of folks who had bought books from me at Pride last year came back this year to say hi again, too. Also got to meet another Colorado lesbian author, JJ Greene, who’s published with Bella Books. I wish that I’d made a list of everyone that I’d signed books for, so I could give everyone a post-event shout out - making a mental note to bring a little notepad with me next time so I can jot everyone’s names down.
BSB readers are THE BEST, seriously. We heard from so many folks who had such glowing, positive things to say about BSB’s books. When they’d already read our stuff (or fantasy/thrillers weren’t their cup of tea), we were able to make recommendations for contemporary romances, romances where the lead characters are persons of color, romances with transgendered characters, paranormal and urban fantasy, etc. by handing out BSB flyers and chatting them up about our personal favorites. Also got the opportunity to refer several folks just down the way to the Out in Colorado booth, for more awesome gay stories from Colorado-based LGBTQ writers. I’ve been mostly a lurker in the group for the past year, but I’m looking forward to participating in more of the OiC events in the coming year – they are really a fantastic group of people. <3
Jerry joined us on the second day, so we took another group pic (and this time we’d figured out how to make our BSB banner hang a little better):
And then we spent some chill time just hanging out:
As an added surprise, I ran into my friend Whirlwynd. I’ve known her for probably close to fifteen years now. She was an active participant at my Sailor Moon fansite wayyy back in the day, and one of the original beta readers of Sword of the Guardian. If you will recall, she also composed the beautiful “Echoes of Ithyria” musical theme that’s in the SotG trailer (and is now featured in the SotG playlist.) We’ve talked online for ages, but I think we’ve only met maybe once before, so I actually didn’t recognize her right away – I was signing a postcard for her and asked her to spell her name, and that was when I was like “OMG, Whirlwynd?? MY FRIEND WHIRLWYND??!! AHHHH!!” Naturally, we needed a picture. :P
So that you can understand what a phenomenally talented person Whirlwynd is, I am crossposting this amazing anime clip of her web series 20 Galaxies. That’s right – the woman IS MAKING HER OWN ANIME. You may all bow your heads in worship now. ^~ Seriously, just WATCH this work of art (and then bookmark her website for updates):
So anyway, overall this year’s Pridefest was probably the most fun thing I’ve done in a long time, and I can’t wait to do it again next year!! Maybe we’ll even be able to recruit a few more BSB authors into coming? *nudgeshopefully* In the meantime, I’m planning to attend another signing event in August with the Out in Colorado folks… will post more info on that as it comes…
After remodeling our office at home, I’ve had the chance to update my Daz 3D program and play around with more character art. I’m slowly updating the profile images for the characters, as I learn more and more fancy lighting, posing and rendering tricks. Anyway, I thought I’d share the new renders of Talon and her sisters from Sword of the Guardian – I’m especially pleased with the new Talon model, as she more closely resembles the image of her that I have in my head. :) And I love the way Lyris’ celestial fire turned out! You can also find these images on the SotG “Meet the Characters” page. Enjoy!
I’ve done at least three different models for Talon now, trying to achieve a face shape that really fits her. This one is the one I’ve been most pleased with. Her hairstyle has also gone through several iterations – the shaggier one that’s featured in the book trailer doesn’t really seem appropriate for a soldier, LOL… Anyway, every render thus far has been extremely difficult because her military uniform is actually designed for a male-bodied model, and it doesn’t want to fit the female one. I finally upgraded to the “Genesis” model, which allowed me to import the boy-clothes and auto-fit them to a more feminine figure. Much better! The weird warping is gone, and the lines are sharp and smooth again. After I got the face, hair and uniform sorted, then came the problem of lighting… lighting is something I’m still really struggling to master as it seems to be pretty arbitrary and hard to preview without rendering over and over again and tweaking in between. Ugh. Anyway, after working on this dratted thing for about 10 – 12 hours, I finally landed on a lighting setup I really like.
Used the “Genesis” figure again here, and copied over the texture and surface settings from Talon’s render to achieve the same skin tone. I had to alter the robe texture in Photoshop in order to take it from an ivory/black-trimmed fabric to a white one, but the results turned out very pretty. Also got to wrestle with the lights in this one, as she not only has the usual surround lighting but also a light that comes from the celestial fire in her hand… took a while to get something I was happy with, but I think this one’s pretty. I much prefer this bit of fire to the funny rotating glowing disc in the book trailer (at the time it was the best effect I could find!)
Sassy Miss Bria made me rediscover the fabulosity of the Morphing Fantasy Dress (MFD) and the amazing assortment of free textures offered by the very talented 3D artist Chohole. This character is built on the “Genesis” model again. I’m not entirely sure I love the lighting, but it’s still a vast improvement on my earlier renders.
This is the latest installment in a blog series on the elements of romance. We’re currently discussing Longing – what does it mean, how does it drive characters’ behavior, how does it affect the events of the story? Now that we’ve gone over the importance of creating breathless attraction between characters, it’s time to look at the next aspect of Longing, and that’s the Problem. A story isn’t a story without some conflict, an obstacle to overcome – and a romance isn’t a romance unless that conflict threatens to keep your lovers apart.
Let’s take a look at the Problems in a few famous romances, shall we?
The Thorn Birds – Aside from their significant age difference, Ralph and Meggie are kept apart by his role as a man of the cloth.
Antony and Cleopatra – Powerful enemy leaders fall in love and marry, but war, violence and politics bring about a tragic end.
Gone With The Wind - Shallow, materialistic Scarlett is too busy chasing after her first crush to recognize the value of Rhett’s love.
|Jane Eyre – Shy governess Jane falls in love for her dark and mysterious employer, only to discover that Rochester’s hiding his mentally-ill first wife in the attic.|
When Harry Met Sally – College friends Harry and Sally are determined not to let romance ruin their friendship.
Titanic – Wealthy Rose is captivated by the roguish, artistic, poor-boy Jack. The difference in their social roles, her arrogant fiance, and an enormous sinking ship keep them from being together.
Each of these is an example of a Problem – a conflict or barrier that must be overcome if a happy-ever-after is going to be reached. Interestingly enough, there are more sad-ending stories listed here than there are happy-ending ones- and that discussion is a whole other blog in and of itself. For the purposes of writing in the contemporary romance genre, though, a happy ending — or at least one that’s more positive than negative — is pretty much a requirement. So whatever Problem you dream up for your characters, you have to make sure you’re going to be able to solve it in a believable way by the end of the book.
There are a few typical categories for Problems:
This usually manifests in a difference in social class, cultural background or economic status, where the two worlds that the characters come from are not accepting of the other or do not mesh well. It could also involve the interference of another person or group of people (like a parent, family group, or another admirer). Less commonly seen are the social “taboos” – falling in love with an adopted or step-sibling; falling in love with someone of the same gender; falling in love with more than one person at a time, and so on.
“Acts of God”, like the sinking Titanic, or situations of war and violence fall under this category, as do long-distance separations, vocations that prevent or forbid romantic partners, physical disabilities or anomalies, and even possibly the death of one of the partners (think The Notebook or Ghost.)
This category is very broad, and essentially encapsulates any Problem that stems from a character’s mental or emotional state. It could be that the character is afraid of being vulnerable, or is hiding a secret that they fear will cause their love interest to despise them. It could be fear of ruining a friendship, as mentioned above, or grief over the death of a prior partner, or an obsession with winning the heart of someone else. There might be a need for one character to forgive the other and learn to trust them again. It might be something as simple as pride, or as complex as abandonment issues rooted in childhood. It could be that the character themselves believes their feelings are inappropriate.
A truly gripping romance usually has intertwining Problems that come from all three of these categories… so in our next set of blogs we’ll explore them in greater detail. Until next time…
So my partner Kaitlin is hoping to paint the cover image for Prayer of the Handmaiden. It’s subject to my publisher’s approval, of course, but I did this mock-up in DAZ for her as a reference, and I thought I’d share it with all of you since I think it turned out pretty cool.
The very preliminary portion of the publication process has started- Bold Strokes has always been amazing when it comes to letting authors have input on their cover material, and I can’t wait to see what this one is going to look like! In the meantime, the third Ithyria book is (slowly) taking more shape in my head. I’m getting to know the characters better and trying to fit the different plot pieces together.
Lately, though, most of my creative time has been spent in preparing for Denver Pride this year. For the first time, Bold Strokes will have a booth in the merchant area, and several other BSB authors (including fellow epic-fantasy-lesbian-romance-writer Barbara Ann Wright) are going to be there. I admit I may be going a little overboard with the preparations, but after attending a few events now I’ve started to get a feel for all the things I wish I had at display tables, all the brilliant ideas that occur to me in the middle of the event that would work great for the next time. :P So I have lots of plans – a giveaway drawing, some free gifts for book buyers, and some fun display ideas… determined to make this event the best one yet, and I’m keeping fingers crossed that I’ll sell my stash out again! If you live in the Denver area (or will be here for Pride in June) please make sure to stop by the booth and say hi. <3
So this will be the last post discussing the “What’s the Attraction?” question. We’ve talked about some of the major elements of attraction – physical appearance, personality, skills and background. But as I mentioned in the original Longing post, the key to putting all of these together is illustrating for your audience how it is that Character A fills some need or complements some weakness of Character B. Another way of saying that is, you have to know what it is about each of your characters that makes them desirable to the other.
It’s usually not just one thing, but a combination of several. A person who is shy, for example, may be strongly attracted to someone outgoing, someone who takes the lead in social situations. Or, they might be attracted to someone else who is also shy, someone who will be a companion in a quiet corner while everyone else is busy talking.
A person who loves to exercise may be strongly attracted to someone with a lifetime of competitive sports experience… or perhaps to someone who pursues an artistic passion with equal enthusiasm.
And sometimes, a person falls in love with someone who changes their way of thinking in a way they wouldn’t have thought possible. The movie “Shallow Hal” comes to mind – a man obsessed with dating model-type women is suddenly “cursed” into seeing others’ inner beauty as opposed to what they look like on the outside… and finds himself in love with a woman who doesn’t look anything like his usual type.
Beware of over-developing one side of the attraction, and under-developing the other. Romance doesn’t work when the reader can understand why Character A loves Character B, but Character B’s acceptance of A doesn’t make sense – you’ll have a very hard time convincing your readers that your happy ending is plausible. This is one of the dangers with the “Perfectly Average Girl is pursued by multiple hot guys” story trope… when there is no explanation why the Perfectly Average Girl is someone that any of the dreamboats would pay attention to, it leaves the reader to roll her eyes and snort – and then quickly denounce Miss Perfectly Average as a “Mary Sue.”
Also, usually Character A and Character B have a few different reasons for being attracted to each other, and a few of the same reasons. Those differences and similarities are what make their relationship multi-dimensional and rich to the reader, and help create separate personalities and identities for each character. While it is possible to successfully write a relationship where the characters like each other for exclusively the same reasons (i.e. - you’re hot, I’m hot; you’re into running and I’m into running; you’re outgoing and I’m outgoing; you’re from an abusive home and so am I, etc.) it also runs the risk of creating a sense of shallowness and/or codependence. And while it is possible to successfully write one in which the characters like each other for exclusively opposite reasons (you’re a beauty, I’m a beast; you’re strong and I’m weak; you’re outgoing and I’m shy; you’re a princess and I’m a pauper, etc.) it runs the risk of making it appear that one character might be taking advantage of the other, or that the attraction may be unbalanced, or that their love is likely destined for failure because they have nothing in common.
Once you’ve determined what it is that attracts your characters to each other, you’re ready to move on to the next step of establishing longing between your characters – and that’s the Problem. The thing that keeps them apart, the obstacle or conflict that needs to be overcome in order to reach happy-ever-after. Stay tuned… we’ll be digging into that one next!
So I have a couple of exciting things to share today. First off, I’ve already said this on Twitter, but it’s time to announce on the blog that Prayer of the Handmaiden has been accepted for publication with Bold Strokes. The publication date is set for 2015 – I know that may seem like a long time, but the editing and publishing process can be lengthy, and this novel came in at about the same length as Sword of the Guardian – it may lose some weight in the editing process ^~ but it’s a hefty manuscript at the moment and will take a while to polish into something worthy of all of you. <3
So to help stave off the wait, I have added a bunch of new fun stuff to my website, and I have more goodies planned over the next several months.
To start off with, I’ve finished putting together the Branded Ann playlist with some favorite piratey songs that (at least for me) evoke the tone and emotion of the book.
Prayer of the Handmaiden now has its own page, with an Author’s Notes/FAQ section, some preliminary character bios, and perhaps best of all, the first chapter of the book is available for your reading pleasure. There will be more fun things coming, too… I’m working on a recorded reading of the second chapter, quite a few more 3D images, a priestess playlist, and possibly a library of details about the world of Ithyria. I’m kicking around the idea of writing a few short stories, too – and maybe making another animated book trailer. So stay tuned!
My apologies for the lack of posts lately – I’ve been preoccupied in work on Prayer of the Handmaiden (and a bunch of day-job work as well.) But I’m back and ready to keep going with this blog series! So thus far we’ve covered three attraction factors now, physical appearance, personality traits, and special skills. Now we’re going to talk about another, and that’s your character’s background. For this post, I’m going to use a handful of some of my favorite Bold Strokes Books for examples. :)
Though we’d all like to think that we’re open-minded enough not to care about our love interest’s family and history, the fact is that a person’s background often plays heavily into our attraction for one another… Our penchant for “Cinderella” stories, where a commoner wins the heart of someone rich and powerful, is testament to that. So here are a few bits about your characters’ backgrounds that might come into play:
Fame and Fortune
The quintessential Cinderella complex. Does your character have money? If so, is it an inherited family fortune, or is it something they earned for themselves? Or, is your character from a well-known or influential family? Are they related to someone awesome (or someone whose shadow they’re trying to escape?) This last one can be particularly interesting, especially if your character is going to discover, during the course of the story, that they’re actually some long-lost princess or the illegitimate child of a Wall Street tycoon.
The Dark Secret
Another classic – a character with something to hide. A secret mission, a mistake made years ago that carries heavy consequences, a true identity that’s being kept under wraps. Secrets make for opportunities to create intensely emotional scenes as your characters get to know one another.
Things like career history, education, and childhood all fall under the category of life experience. Perhaps your character is a world traveler, or has worked with her father in his glass-blowing workshop since she was a toddler, or spent years in military training. Perhaps they’re a five hundred year old vampire who has fought in both World Wars and ran a speakeasy during Prohibition. Darker stories might include someone who has been the victim of abuse, or spent some time in a mental institution, or had to raise a disabled younger sibling by themselves. What a person has been through in their life, their triumphs and their failures both, is often a draw. We respect survivors. We feel compassion for those who have experienced pain. We admire those who have seen and done things that we haven’t. And a person’s life experience doesn’t have to be unusual to be attractive – it just has to be something that will evoke a bond with their love interest.
So we’ve now covered four key elements of attraction. My next post will talk about they all come together to create something magical…
So this week we’ve talked about physical appearance and personality traits, and today we’re going to talk about another attraction factor: skills. It’s a pretty basic fact of human attraction that we admire folks who are able to do awesome stuff. When developing longing and attraction between your characters, one of the questions you should be asking yourself is, what are these characters particularly good at? What is going to catch their love interest’s attention? Generally, skills fall into three primary categories.
Physical skills could be general, like strength, flexibility, dexterity, great coordination, or even just having good aim. Or perhaps they have a particularly sharp sense of smell, taste, or hearing. They might have perfect pitch. Or they could have refined abilities in a specific activity, like sword fighting, acrobatics, basketball, sharpshooting, or ping-pong. They might be beautiful dancers.
If your character is paranormal or supernatural in nature, there are even more possibilities. Perhaps they heal quickly, or can fly, or have super speed… lots of possibilities here.
Mental skills include things like knowledge, reasoning, and intuitive abilities. Perhaps the character speaks several languages or is able to learn new information quickly. Perhaps they are clever strategists or excel at math or science, or they’re inventors always coming up with a new gadget. Maybe they are good at reading people, and manipulating them. Charisma would be a mental skill, as would business savvy.
If the character is paranormal or supernatural, perhaps they have the ability to read minds, or influence others’ emotions, or process information faster than a normal human being.
Now technically, artistic abilites are usually a combination of physical and mental skill… but it’s such a broad category that it really does deserve separate discussion. There’s a reason why so many people are drawn to artistic personalities. Artistic skills could include music, like singing, composing or playing instruments; or it could be more along the lines of storytelling, like writing novels, directing films, or acting. They could also have to do with visual arts: painting, drawing, sculpting, photography, computer graphics. Or they could be in the creation of useful or pretty day-to-day items, like sewing, metalworking, leatherworking, papermaking, carpentry, gardening, and so on.
For example, my girlfriend is ambidextrous, knows American Sign Language, is an accomplished fencer (yes, that’s with a sword!), is good with computers, and enjoys painting, metalsmithing, and leatherworking. I find all of these things attractive. ^~
Now very few people are virtuosos at everything, so it’s best to pick just one or two things for each character. Too many awesome abilities, and you run the risk of creating “Mary Sues” – those dreaded fantasy-perfect characters that end up being too annoying to be cool. But if your character has a pretty singing voice, or is great with a bow and arrow, it stands to reason that these are things their love interest is going to notice and admire. Admiration leads to longing, and longing is what you want to establish in order to create a good, satisfying romance.
It’s also probably important to note that a favorite romance trope is that of the “un-special” girl – the girl who is average in every way, with no remarkable skills and average looks, who manages to somehow catch the eye of the dashing, sexy, way-out-of-her-league hero. Think Bella Swan from Twilight. Personally, I try to avoid this trope whenever I can, because I think it’s dangerous. While on the one hand it does inspire the hope that all of us, no matter how uninteresting we feel, have a chance at a storybook romance – on the other, it also risks sending the message that a person’s worth is defined by who falls in love with them. And that’s not a message I would want my kids growing up with. :P
Anyway, next up, attraction factor #4: Background
‘Branded Ann’ is a hardcore pirate story, make no mistake. But the slow redemption of Ann and the accurate atmosphere of the Caribbean in that time make it an immersive read. It felt to me like I was in Tortuga, Port Royal, and on the Ice Queen; Merry Shannon did such a wonderful job describing the scenery. For lovers of lesbian pirates, ‘Branded Ann’ is one of the best I’ve ever read. I strongly recommend it!
Thanks Rachel! I’m so happy you liked it! :) :)