Kathleen Bradean

Wait Your Turn!

by Kathleen Bradean

Many people start novels. Few finish.

It’s a bit like love, or lust. As the story idea comes to you, your enthusiasm soars and your imagination frolics through scenes. It’s infatuation. A rush.

Writing the story is a different task. You can’t gloss over parts that aren’t as fun, and the weaknesses become glaringly obvious. Each step is more of a buzzkill until you get mired down in the reality of producing a written work somewhere in the middle.

Relationships are work. This includes your relationship to your writing. When the excitement flames out and the going gets rough, it’s easy to get distracted by thoughts of other stories. The initial thrill of creativity is addictive and fun. Maybe one story muscles in, or it could be several.

I can’t tell you when it’s time to throw in the towel on a story. Sometimes, no matter what you do, it’s never going to work.

I can’t tell you when it’s time to walk away from a difficult story for “a while” to give yourself time to gather the grit to see it through.

What I can tell you is that slogging through the difficult work is the only thing that will ever get you to the end, and that developing a habit of dropping work to play with the newest, shiniest idea is going to leave you with a lot of failed novels  and nothing else.

If that pesky, enthralling new idea will not leave you alone, write down the idea and firmly tell yourself that it has to wait its turn. The reason it looks so great is because you’ve reached a difficult part in your current work. It might be something too emotional for you to handle right now. So step away and process it until you can face it. Or maybe you don’t know what to do next. This is writer’s block and you can find lots of advice on how to get past it. But try not to let another story jump queue. There was a reason you got excited by this idea for this story. Remember what it was, and fall back in love with it. You’ve put this much time into this relationship. Don’t throw it away.

 

Weird Writer Problems

by Kathleen Bradean

Have you ever been writing and felt as if the sex scene was going to ruin your story? I have, and was weird, because I’d started out to write erotica. It wasn’t one of those other genre stories where I reached a point where the characters were getting turned on and I had to make that decision to follow them or move on to a later scene. This was the point of the story. And yet…

I’ve mentioned before that I write in another genre. I made the decision to leave out sex scenes (honestly – because my father wanted to read my work and he wouldn’t if there was sex) and find it’s difficult to stop myself when it’s the natural progression of a scene. I often feel like writing little fanfics of my own work so I can write what I imagine follows rather than let all that lovely sex stay locked in my imagination.

Why would it be so easy in those stories to scorch the pages when sometimes it’s so hard to get into the mood to write the actual sex part of my erotica? I’ve seen writer burnout in this genre. Few of the writers I “came up” with at ERWA still write. But it feels like it’s a different issue than burnout.

I think – and this may be off base – but it seems to be an issue with the characters. The pair in my series have great chemistry. Even when it isn’t about sex with them, it’s about sex. I recently reread The Thin Man and it reminded me how fun it is to see a couple that’s so deeply into each other. There was no sex on those pages either, but you just knew between the scenes that Nick and Nora Charles were all over each other.

There’s an annual bad sex writing award – which I hate. The whole idea is to laugh at writers – usually big names – who did a terrible job writing sex scenes. In every case, I can sense the dread. The smooth writing becomes awkward. At times it feels as if they wrote everything else around it, maybe using a place keeper *insert sex scene here* then circled back at the end, leaned as far from their computers as they could, wrinkled their noses, turned their heads, painfully sputtered a few words across the page, slammed the computer shut and sent the manuscript off to their editor like it was a used diaper left cooking in the back seat of a car in Atlanta in August.

Have you ever felt like the sex scene ruined the flow of your story? Have you felt it ruined the flow of the story?  How did you fix that?

Rain! Rain on Me!

by Kathleen Bradean

For those of you who don’t live in the western United States, it’s hard to explain what this drought has meant to us. I live in Southern California, which either stole, swindled, or skillfully negotiated water rights years ago that make us the villains of the west (See the movie Chinatown for a glimpse into this). Northern California suffered far worse in the drought than we did simply because we’d been sold the rights to the rivers up north. They had to eat of paper plates for several years rather than run the dishwasher and limit showers to once or twice a week, again, for several years. We simply turned off our irrigation in our back yard and let everything back there die, but were still able to avoid penalties for over usage when we continued to water out front (albeit on a reduced schedule). But then, it started to rain. Northern California got the brunt of it first and came out of drought months before we did, which seemed only fair. Now, it’s pouring outside and several times this week I’ve had the rare (for LA) pleasure of falling asleep to the sound of rain spattering on  the patio.

Metaphorically, that’s pretty much what happened to my writing the past few years. I simply couldn’t write. I wanted to. I had a manuscript due, but there was nothing that could drag those precious drops of creativity from a dry well. Then, finally, something happened and I was able to write again. I wish I could tell you what it was. Nothing in my life circumstances changed. The horrible things are still dragging along, and the good things are also unchanged. For those of you suffering from writer’s block, I wish I could offer you some magical solution, but I rally don’t know what made it possible to write again.

Okay, maybe I do, but it’s no magical bullet.

I forced myself to write. It didn’t matter how crappy it was. Things can be rewritten, but only if there’s something to rewrite, right? It wasn’t a smooth return. I would write a sentence or two then take a month to get back to it. I took a stab at several opening chapters and discarded all of them. (This is, unfortunately, my writing style. It’s wasteful and slow and awful and I don’t recommend it to anyone.) Then I went to visit another writer and she gave me an amazing idea that I ran with for a while until I decided it wasn’t going to work, but when you know something isn’t going to work, you have to have a vision of why not and that’s as close to an idea of what I wanted to do as I could find, so I tossed out those two chapters and began over again. Now I’m on the threshold of chapter three. It’s a dam bursting in slow motion, perhaps like the infamous Great Molasses Flood in January 1919, only not nearly as quick.

It’s relief to be writing again. Only now that I’m wading back into the waters, I’m remembering things about writing that I’d conveniently forgotten. Writing a novel is a hell of a thing. Every character is a moving part with their own motivations and personalities. It’s not so easy to shove dialog into their mouths and make it seem natural, and they never seem to naturally do what they need to to move the plot along. Unless, of course, you’ve created the right character, in which case of course they’re going to say and do those things you need them to. That means backing up and recasting parts, which is also a slow painful way to write that I don’t recommend, so try to start out with the right characters.

The main thing I’d forgotten is how long it takes to write action. It’s a quick little movie in my imagination that takes maybe ten seconds to play. Describing it in words takes forever. For-ev-er. But I hate it and I love it in ways that no non-writer could ever understand. It’s like a rain storm after eight years of drought. I knew something was missing, but I didn’t remember until the tortured drip-drop of words began to form lakes on my pages.

Are You An Artist?

by Kathleen Bradean

Are you an artist?

If you write, the answer would appear to be yes, but do you think of yourself as an artist?  It might seem a egotistical thing to say to yourself, much less out loud. Allow yourself to accept your place in this world as an artist, no matter how uncomfortable it might make you.

Do artists owe anything to the world?* As Donna discussed in her post, some readers seem to think it’s our job to be sexually enticing to them on top of writing stories that stir their libidos. I’m not interested in the delusions of entitled fools. What I’m talking about is the position artists have in society and how we bear a responsibility to that society.

We can weave subversive messages through our creations. Hope is a subversive thing. So are rebellion and conformity.  Acceptance of our desires and sexuality are themes we use to reach our readers and help them feel less alone. In the coming years, it may be even more important to give those things to our readers. So be an artist, and create.

* I’m not so sure that artists owe it to the world to share their art. It’s perfectly fine to create for yourself, for the love of it, and for no one else.    

Perilous Day

by Kathleen Bradean

Apologies in advance to non-US readers for the nation-centric post. Insert your own national holiday.

It sounded like a nice idea. Have a bunch of friends and family over. Eat a ton of food. Sit around the fire and tell ourselves a feel-good myth about our origins…

And then it happened.

Oysters in the stuffing.

Oops. I should have posed a trigger warning. I can envision you recoiled in horror at the very idea of oysters inside your bird. I mean, awful, right? Don’t get me wrong. I love oysters. Fresh and briny, or cooked with spinach and bread crumbs, or even Acme Oyster House’s woodfire grilled oysters topped with Parmesan cheese (note to self – get back to New Orleans ASAP),  but NOT in stuffing.

Maybe you’re thinking, “That sounds kind of good,” or “I shall toss a virtual gauntlet at her for insulting great aunt Mildred’s famous oyster dressing!” or perhaps “I’ve had worse. Apples. Chestnuts. Craisins, for the love of god!” And you’d be right. And wrong. Heck, even I’m wrong for being anti-oyster stuffing. (Not really, but I’m playing my own Devil’s advocate) Because what you’re eating isn’t just stuffing. It’s never just stuffing. It’s a forkful of the past. Your past. And no matter if it’s oysters or apples or chestnuts, what you really taste is memories.

Thanksgiving isn’t just the bird, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. It’s so many side dishes and desserts. Some are regional favorites; some reflect our ethic background. Others were created by a home economist in the 1940s for the war effort or for a brand, printed in a magazine ad, and recreated faithfully every year since. (Green bean casserole, I’m looking at you.) It’s a complex amalgamation of who we were, who we are, and who we desire to be.

You may be wondering what this has to do with writing. It has a lot, actually. Since I’m the main cook, to me, Thanksgiving is a day centered on the kitchen. It’s a constant game of Tetris – trying to get the food to fit in the fridge as well as trying to bend time to my will so all these disparate dishes come together at the same time. To my sister-in-law, the day centers around the family room and making sure guests are having a good time. For the kids, the day is about finding out that yes, their cousin Perry really is a jerk who would lock the four-year old in a dark closet in the basement and leave her there until much later when someone else notices she’s missing. (true story). There are as many points of view on what happens that day as there are people sitting around the dining table, and just because I see it as an oyster-free stuffing day doesn’t mean that those who ate the oyster stuffing see it incorrectly. Sometimes, conflict comes from equally valid points of view. That doesn’t mean there has to be a hero and a villain. There just has to be oysters, and those who have the good sense to leave them out of the bird.

  

Manual Labor

by Kathleen Bradean

When I think of Jane Austin writing the many drafts of Pride and Prejudice by hand, I get exhausted. She didn’t even have the luxury of a self-inking pen.  No wonder only the rich were authors back then. Who else had the time?

Waaay back in the 1980s, when dot matrix printers were almost unreadably light and the paper had those holes in the sides for the printer feed, I’d use a clunky word processor program to write my stories, print them out, then literally cut and paste sentences and paragraphs on a sheet of paper as if I were composing world’s smuttiest ransom note.  We had to do that because you could see so little of the page that it was easy to get lost moving paragraphs in the word processing program. Once I had what I wanted, I’d move things around in the word processor, make my other edits, print the latest version, and bring out the scissors to hone the story some more. All of that because I couldn’t bear the thought of writing a story in longhand. You see, I’d lost so much time not being allowed to write through my teens and I had to make it up. I needed the speed computers gave me. Even though I was/am a crap typist, keeping up with the speed of my thoughts was easier on computer than writing longhand.

Almost three years ago, I lost a family member and the person-shaped wound left in our lives has become a black hole. Everything gets sucked into it. Nothing escapes that void. I wanted to write after his death, but couldn’t. My creativity was gone. I tried so hard to put something down but until I was able to figure out the central conflict for the book, there was nothing to write. Normally, my imagination is hard to tamp down, but it was dead. No matter how much time I put into it, I couldn’t imagine a conflict that would work. I made up a few, but knew they wouldn’t support a book. They felt forced. Then writer Nan Andrews was visiting and I, as usual, was bemoaning my inability to write, and she said something that triggered a cascade of imagination. (This is why writers need to get together and talk. Most of us don’t live with other writers, so what we do is so foreign to our families that they can’t begin to know how to help us. Other writers do.)

Even though the ideas were suddenly flowing, I didn’t sit down and try like mad to capture the deluge. I did what I hadn’t done since before the time of computers. I picked up a notebook and a pen and began to write.

I wasn’t writing the story yet. I was telling myself the story. Or, if you prefer, I was writing a synopsis/outline. When I was done, I waited a few days to mull it over, read it again, then picked up a pen and told myself the story again. I knew the weak parts because those are the sections I couldn’t write as specific events. Those passages were more of a “Step twelve: a miracle occurs” comments that were huge red flags of plot weaknesses. The second time I wrote it down, those parts had more detail and were strong enough to support the following events. Soon, I may tell myself the story again. It can only become clearer with each step.

I’ve never been an outliner, at least not a written outline. I always sort of had one in mind as I wrote. But that was a nebulous thing, riding the currents of my imagination and libel to follow the stream of conscience anywhere it flowed. It was ethereal. This hand-written synopsis has a different feel. It’s grounded, and I’m connected to it in a different and very real way. It is an idea, but it is physical, because it flowed from my mind through my hand onto paper. At this point in my writing life, I need this anchor to keep my creativity from falling into the black hole of loss again.

I don’t know if I’ll continue to write by hand, but for now, I like the connection it gives me to the words. I know I’ll never write a whole novel by hand, but this may be my  new process. Write a synopsis, write it by hand.

Do you write by hand? Do you get a different feel for the story when you do? Have you changed up your writing methods to adapt to changes in your life?

Avoiding Redundancy in Multiple Sex Scenes While Writing a Novel

by Kathleen Bradean

Two months ago, I asked readers to tell me what topics they’d like for us to cover. Martin asked how to avoid redundancy in sex scenes while writing a novel. I tried to pass that on to Lisabet and Donna, and they did answer, but this question deserves deeper investigation.

For purposes of discussion, I’m going to over-simplify a few things, such as an observation that there are two types of erotica novels. The first is a fun romp of sex scenes loosely tied together. The other is the exploration of a character through the lens of sex and sexuality.

If you’re writing the first type, the aim is variety. A Donna mentioned, avoid redundancy by bringing in different or multiple partners, using different sexual acts, adding elements such a voyeurism, and increasing the stakes be it more intense BDSM or the possibility of being caught or whatever fits the plot. The result should be light and fun for both the characters and the readers. (I don’t mean light as an insult. It’s difficult to maintain an upbeat tone page after page. I couldn’t write a breezy story if my life depended upon it. But I do enjoy reading them.)

If you’re writing the second type, you’re probably going to have fewer sex scenes than in the first type, but that’s up to you and what best fits your story. You can use all the tools available to the previous type, but this isn’t sex just for the sake of sex. This is a carefully crafted sexual encounter designed to transform the character. Titillating your audience isn’t necessarily your aim or an inadvertent outcome, although there is absolutely nothing wrong/right/good/bad if it happens. Redundancy shouldn’t be a problem here because you are focusing on what this particular encounter means to a character at this specific point in their life. Since your character should be changing throughout your novel, at each sex scene they have a slightly different take on what’s happening and you’re going to help them grow through it. So even if in both scenes the sexual positions and partners are the same, the emotional outfall might be very different. Maybe the first time the character is over the moon that this person wanted to have sex with them, but the second time, they feel used or sad. You also have the luxury of writing bad sex/sex gone wrong/discomfort with what happened/mixed or complicated feelings. We learn a lot through setbacks in life, and so should our characters.

Martin, I hope this is what you meant by redundancy. If not, let me know.

Feel free to add your thoughts on this.

You Are Not Billy Mays

by Kathleen Bradean

Last month, I asked writers what they wanted to see addressed on this blog. One of the comments was about how to make your book stand out among the many others.

There’s an answer to that, but first, I’d like to mention a few things not to do. I’m being realistic here, not touchy-feely. (Feel free to add to this list in the comments. I’m sure you all know bad writer behavior by now.)

1) You Are Not Billy Mays. If you don’t recognize the name, he’s an infomercial star. He sells things, and I’m sure he’s good at it or they wouldn’t keep hiring him. However, you are most probably not a professional pitchman with a team of experienced ad writers working for you.  Yes, you’re a writer, but that’s not the same as being a marketing genius or even a great pitchman. So you’re not likely to write such a great blog/ Face Book/ tweet that you’re able to turn your ad into sales. That means that you’re just adding to noise and clutter that is instantly forgotten.

2) People hate you – HATE you – if you friend them on Face Book or Twitter and instantly spam them. And by instantly, I mean anything from seconds afterwards to a month. You will be blocked.

3) Unless you’re J K Rowling, no one is going to read your press release.

4) You will be damn lucky if your publisher does anything to promote your work. Getting readings, onto panels at Cons, etc. is up to you. It’s even more difficult with erotica because people still treat it like it’s toxic.

5) You can be really kind to other writers, help promote their work, review it, recommend it, and every other thing you can think of to help them but don’t expect them to turn around and do you the same favor. I’m sorry, but it’s true. So do it out of the kindness of your heart and because you really believe in their work, but don’t for a second think that there’s some sort of karma investment in helping other writers that will pay you back dividends.

I hope you’re not too bummed out, because my best advice for getting your work noticed isn’t going to make you any happier.

Think about how you find books to read. You might look for reviews or find the recent award nominees in a genre, but poll after poll shows that the large majority of readers buy books based on a recommendation from someone they know or trust.

So how do you get someone to enthusiastically evangelize about your book?

You are not going to like this answer.

It seems too simple,

And not very helpful.

But it’s the one thing you have to do. Just one thing, After that, fate is in the hands of readers.

Are you ready for the big reveal?

Write a damn good story.

What Do You Need?

By Kathleen Bradean

As I was trying to figure out what to write about this month, my thoughts naturally turned to the question of what readers of this blog want to know. What advice or insights do they hope to glean from our entries? The answer depends on individual writers and where they are in their craft, or what they’re stuck on right now. So what I’d like to know (and probably some of the other contributors here would also like to find out) is what topics would you like to see us delve in to? What do you need help with? From grammar to tales of how we got started, what is it that you’d most like us to talk about?

We’re listening.

All You Sexy Beasts

by Kathleen Bradean

As many of you know, I write a fantasy thriller series under another name. A character in the third book in the series suffers from arthritis so severe that he can barely use his hands. He’s an elderly gent, recently retired, and still has an eye for the ladies. I got a very sweet thank you note about that.

While I wrote him as elderly, I knew a guy in high school with this problem. His fingers were permanently curled into fists even though he had several operations to cut the tendons in the hopes that his fingers could straighten out. And they would, for about six months, before slowly clenching again. A teenager stuck with the hands of an old man. Everyone past a certain age knows what it’s like to feel like you’re twenty or thirty until a mirror cruelly reminds you that no, you’re not. Inside, you’re a very different person than you are on the outside.

We don’t see enough people like this erotica. We don’t see them in real life and definitely not in our stories. In real life, we can’t seem to bear the idea of anyone with physical problems being a sexual person. It seems a real taboo.

I’m not fond of fatal disease porn, those romantic stories about angelic people teaching important life lessons before dying from cancer. Mawkish sentimentality I think is the usual critique, but I think it’s worse than that. It makes being ill and bearing it bravely all a person is. It makes illness seem like a key to higher insight about the human condition. It takes away a person’s right to be furious that their body is betraying them just when things are getting good. And it might make a normal person who might have a real reason to complain about their plight from time to time feel as if they’re somehow experiencing their life wrong.

So while I don’t advocate that approach to characters, I think we need to push boundaries this way. We need to examine why the thought of a differently abled person having sex makes us so uncomfortable, and why sexy is the hardest attribute to accept for them.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica

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