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NaNoWriMo the Second Time Around

Writing imageSeven years ago I started my first NaNoWriMo in the most auspicious circumstances. I was ensconced in the Red Lion Pub in the middle of Avebury stone circle with my dear friend and wonderful author, Helen Callaghan. The Red Lion is reputedly the most haunted pub in England. Avebury is the largest stone circle in Europe. It was pouring down rain and every pagan in South England was there to celebrate a soggy Samhain in the stones. Perfect place for me to begin Love Spells, which would eventually become Body Temperature and Rising, the first of the Lakeland Witches Trilogy. And yes, there was a ghostly encounter while we were there. At the time, I had published a few short stories but no novels.

For me, that first NaNoWriMo was tough. I stressed over the fact that instead of the required 50,000 words for a NaNoWriMo win, I needed 70,000 words to finish the novel I had in mind. The situation was made even more stressful by the fact that I had several other writing projects with deadlines to deal with. Never mind all that. Those of you who know me, know I’m a pit bull when it comes to word count. As my poor husband can attest, I turned into the Queen Bitch of Surrey for the month of November. BUT the novel got finished and stowed in the drawer while I wrote and published The Initiation of Ms Holly and The Pet Shop, and THEN the timing was right for Body Temperature and Rising. That was seven years ago!

Eleven novels, several novellas and numerous short stories later and I finally am getting around to doing IMG_3564my second NaNoWriMo. It’s all about timing, and this year the timing was right. Auspicious beginnings? Well it all started with breakfast at home in our sunny dining area – yes there was sunshine! With my hubby at my side no doubt girding his loins for the month-long battle he feared was to come — especially since this year’s NaNoWriMo effort is even bigger. I’m figuring the finished product to weigh in at 80 – 90,000 words. Mind you I did a lot of prep in advance … er … well not that much actually, since I didn’t know I was even going to write it until on the train coming home from Smut Manchester. But I did begin with a chapter by chapter synopsis and a good idea of where I wanted to go.

This NaNoWriMo, I’m a happy little camper. Poor Hubby keeps looking at me wondering who I am and what I did with his wife. BUT this NaNoWriMo is about enjoying the hell out of writing a seriously fun story with characters who are full of surprises. All of that fun I missed out on with the lovely characters in Body Temperature and Rising because I took the whole event too seriously, I took myself too seriously. Having fun with what I write makes it a whole lot less stressful where word count is concerned. AAAAND … strangely enough, the less I stress about word count, the easier the words come. Result!

NaNoWriMocrest-05e1a637392425b4d5225780797e5a76I can thank the lovely and talented Kay Jaybee for the inspiration for The Tutor. And yes there will be several scenes involving a tin of pears in heavy syrup. That being said, the novel is more likely a Grace Marshall sizzle than a KDG inferno, but it’s early days. We’ll see.

For those of you who are doing NaNaWriMo this November, I wish you all the very best of luck. Write like the wind! For those of you who are just checking what’s coming up the pipeline as far as good reads go, I reckon there’ll be a lot of great novels coming from NaNoWriMo 2015. And do keep a lookout on this blog to see details of The Tudor as it evolves. With that in mind, here’s a little first draft, rough excerpt from The Tudor. Enjoy! And please remember, this is a work in progress.

 

The Tutor:

Struggling writer, Kelly Blake, has a secret life as a sex tutor. It’s strictly a no touch deal — advice only, and it pays the bills and keeps her solvent. Reclusive sculptor, Alexander ‘Lex’ Valentine’s, sculpture is in high demand, but Lex has his own secret. He can’t stand to be touched — by anyone. Sparks fly when he seeks out Kelly’s services. After a rare appearance at an exhibition turns into a fiasco, rumors fly that Lex and Kelly are engaged. The press feeding frenzy forces Kelly into hiding with Lex until rumors die down. Intimacy may not require touch, but can it survive the secrets uncovered as their sessions become more and more personal?

 

The Tutor Excerpt:

Kelly took a deep breath and tiptoed down the hallway to the master suite, then with a soft knock on the doorframe, she stepped into the open door.

A man tall and broad of shoulder stood with his back to her silhouetted in front of the window overlooking the city.

“Mr. Valens?” she said softly when he didn’t turn around. “I’m Kelly Blake.”

“Please close the door behind you.” His voice was a rough edged baritone, as though he’d just risen from sleep. A bedroom voice when they hadn’t yet begun – she didn’t know if that was a good sign or a bad one.

The muscles of her stomach tightened in nerves, but she did what he said, carefully pulling the door to behind her. When she turned back, she found herself the focus of the man’s full attention. Though he was still little more than a silhouette in the subdued lighting, she felt as though she were under the microscope. “Please sit.” He motioned her to a wing-backed chair facing a plush dark blue sofa. She felt his gaze on her as she settled in the chair, but he made no effort to move.

Bernini Hades and Persephone close uptumblr_lg4h59T3z31qe2nvuo1_500            She set her bag on the floor next to her and sat back with her hands clasped in her lap, noticing that there was wine, coffee and an assortment of snacks on the coffee table. She smiled and nodded to the small feast, are you interested in food play, perhaps, Mr. Valens?”

He started at the sound of her voice as though she had suddenly regained his attention from where ever else it had been, but in truth it hadn’t wavered from his studying of her person. Strange that in spite of being the center of his focus, she didn’t feel threatened or ogled. “Oh no. I just wasn’t sure what the normal protocol is for a visit from a … sex tutor, and I decided that hospitality is never out of place. Though,” he stepped forward a little and the lamplight caught his half smile, tinged in mischief, “I have heard that you do interesting things with canned pears. Sadly those aren’t on the room service menu.”

She chuckled softly. “Well I certainly could have brought a can if that’s what you wanted.”

His laughter was like velvet against her skin and her forearms rose in goose flesh. “I don’t know what I want, exactly.” He rubbed a hand over his stubbled chin, then he added, “you’re not at all what I expected.”

“What exactly did you expect?”

“Someone a little more like Dr. Ruth,” he said.

“Sorry to disappoint, she said.”

This time they both laughed, and he moved to set across from her at the end of the sofa and for the first time she got a good look at him. His dark hair was mussed, as though he, or someone else, had just ran fingers through it. It was in need of a cut, hanging to the collar of a faded denim shirt. He wore jeans that were nearly as faded and a pair lightweight hiking boots. Though the lighting was subdued, there was a thin scar that began dangerously close to his right eye and curved across his jaw toward his ear, disappearing in his tussled hair. It shown in pale relief against the stubble of several days.

“I didn’t say I was disappointed,” he said.

“Well if it’s any consolation, you’re not exactly what I expected either, not in this place anyway.”

He chuckled softly. “I should have met you in Dillon’s apartment. We’d have probably both been more comfortable there.”

“Your PA?”

He nodded

“Now he looks like he belongs here,” she said.

“He probably belongs here more than I do, Ms. Blake,” he said.

“Kelly, please call me Kelly.”

“Kelly,” he said. “You do look like a Kelly, much more than you do a Dr. Ruth.”

There was a nervous laugh, and he poured them both a glass of water. As per his PA’s warning, she waited until he set the glass on the coffee table in front of her before she reached for it, took a sip and then smiled up at him. “Now then, what can I do for you, Mr. Valens?”

Her question seemed to unsettle him. He reached for the water glass and knocked it over, then Writing pen and birds 1_xl_20156020cursed and looked like any second he might bolt.

“It’s all right. It’s just water. Sit still.” She said, “I’ll get a towel.” She found the bathroom and took her time in returning, giving the man a chance to collect himself. Male ego could be a fragile thing under the best of circumstances, and whatever it was that had driven him outside his comfort zone to solicit her services meant this was definitely not the best of times. When she returned, he’d moved from the spot and once again stood in front of the window, but this time he turned when he heard her.

“Leave it,” he said, but she knelt on the floor and gave the pristine carpet a brisk rubbing before leaving the towel to absorb the spill and returning to her chair.

“It’s only water and it only went on the carpet. I spilled a glass of red wine down the front of an elderly Chinese gentleman’s white shirt in Lausanne once, and I wasn’t even drunk.”

He laughed. They both laughed and some of the tension left his broad shoulders. “Oh sure, I can laugh about it now,” she said, but at the time I was mortified. It was the poor man’s birthday. He was there with his whole family.”

He settled tentatively on the arm of the sofa while she cleaned. “What happened?”

“Turns out the gent didn’t speak any English. None of his extended family did either, so I ended up having the waiter translate from English to French to the one teenage daughter there who did speak French that I would pay for the dry-cleaning, that I would pay for the whole dinner, which I sure as hell couldn’t afford, that I would do anything including becoming his slave until his next birthday.”

“And did he … take you up on any of your generous offers?” He asked, settling on the sofa, slightly closer to her, but still a safe distance.

“They wouldn’t hear of it. Instead they insisted I join them for their celebration. I didn’t understand a word and neither did they, but they were all lovely, and when it came time for cake and the happy birthday song, they all insisted I do it in English. Solo. In front of the whole restaurant. It was one of the most fun evenings I’ve ever had.” She chuckled, “and that fact alone should tell you that I spend entirely too much time in my own company.”

“Now that, I can relate to,” he said, offering her a broad, easy smile. He looked so much younger when he smiled so unguardedly. She was betting he didn’t do it often.

She refilled his water glass and settled back in her chair. For a long moment they sat in silence. She had learned long ago that it was best to let the client speak in his own time.

“I need to masturbate a lot,” he finally blurted out, then downed all of the water in a single gulp.

“High libido isn’t unusual in busy people,” she said, “especially if their work is creative.”

He nodded. And then there was more silence. This time he fumbled with the bottle of wine. She watched as he opened it and poured himself a glass. He poured her one too before she could refuse. Then he drank his back in one go. “I mean a lot,” he said, slapping the glass down on the table with a thwack for emphasis. “I’m aroused all the time. If I did it as often as I’m aroused, I’d never get anything else done.” He shifted in his seat and folded his hands in his lap as though he were about to say a prayer or just in case she should glance at his crotch. She didn’t. A part of what made her good at what she did was that other peoples’ situations never titillated her. They intrigued her. They brought out her sense of empathy. “Do you?” he asked, clearing his throat loudly and pouring himself another glass of wine.

“Do I masturbate a lot,” she asked.

He nodded as though his head were suddenly loose on his neck.

“I do, yes. But I’m a creative and my job is both stressful and exciting. I need an outlet. It sounds like you do too.”

He nodded. This time more thoughtfully. “I … for complicated reasons I’m not in a relationship either, so no help from there,” he said. “I’m sure that would make it easier.”

“A lot of creatives don’t have time for a relationship,” she said. “Love of their work is their relationship.” He hadn’t said that he was a creative, but she could tell. She could always recognize another creative person.

When he still said nothing, but downed the second glass of wine just as quickly as the first, she thought it best to press the issue just a little bit at least while he was still sober. “Mr. Valens, what exactly is it that you need? If you’re expecting me to advise you to masturbate less, and to give you ways not too, well I think that’s a little premature. I would suggest that perhaps you need to masturbate as much as you do because of your circumstances. That’s certainly my case.”

“You don’t know my circumstances. You can hardly compare your case to mine,” he blurted. “You’re a lovely woman who could easily have a partner whenever she wanted, hell you could pick and choose.”

She bit back her response, for some strange reason wanting desperately to tell him that he had no idea what her situation was and he had no right to jump to conclusions. The urge nearly took her breath away. One of the reasons she was so good at what she did was that she could stay neutral, let people tell their stories, let them tell her what they needed in their own time. She took a steadying breath. “I’m not comparing anything with anything Mr. Valens, and since I don’t know your circumstances, I’m generalizing until you give me enough information to make an intelligent suggestion.”

“So I’m supposed to tell you what to do?” He said.

“No, but it would help if you told me what you need from me.”

He ran a hand through his already mussed hair, and she noticed it was trembling. “If I could get what I need from you, or from anyone else for that matter, I wouldn’t be here. Look, this was a mistake. There’s nothing you can do. Dillon knows it, you know it, and I know it. I’m really sorry I wasted your time. Dillon!” he shoved his way up from the couch just as his PA and Tuck came into view. “I need to leave. Now.”

The PA shot an accusing look at Kelly, who shrugged, and then back at his boss.

“Who the hell is he?” Valens said, nodding to Tuck.”

“Her bodyguard,” the PA said.

To this, Valens laughed out loud, then shot Kelly a look that suggested he was seeing her for the first time. “If there was any place on earth you don’t need him, Ms. Blake, it’s here with me.”

clear typewriter_n“What the hell happened?” the PA said.

“Nothing the fuck happened, what did you think would happen?” Valen’s reply was little more than a growl.

“Look it’s your suite,” Kelly said, hunching her bag up onto her shoulder and moving past Valens, careful not to touch him. “I’ll leave. I’m sorry it didn’t work out,” she said softly.

Valens nodded, avoiding her gaze, pushing back against the wall of the entry way as far from her as he could get, but not so far the she couldn’t see the sheen of sweat on his forehead, the dilation of his pupils and the way he cupped his hands protectively in front of his fly. She quickly looked away, not wanting to know if he had an erection or not, though she was certain if she had looked, that’s what she would have seen. She left quickly with Tuck right behind her.

 

Reading Like a Writer

(From the Archives)

When I read as a writer, what I read — no matter what it is — but especially if it’s fiction, becomes a whole different Book stacksanimal. I realized this after reading a particularly fabulous short story that completely enthralled me for the course of several thousand words. And when I came back to the real world, I found myself not only analyzing what made the story so amazing, but analyzing how I as a writer read it differently than I would if I weren’t a writer.

I don’t think any writer can approach a story without viewing it, at least to some degree, on the level of the writing. As I analyzed my story reading style, I realized two things. First of all, I always think back over the story after the fact and try to figure out what made it work for me or not. That process within itself can’t keep from changing the story. In a way it becomes a story of multiple plots and constructs the writer never intended, but my mind can’t keep from creating. If in my analysis there are lots of changes I would make, things I would have done differently as the author, at some point it becomes my story, the one I’m writing in my head, and no longer the story the author intended.

Writing pen and birds 1_xl_20156020For me, the big clue to how I esteem the story is the point at which I begin to analyze. If I’m analyzing the story as I read it, then it’s clearly not going to get five stars on the K D story critique scale. The sooner I begin my analysis while I’m reading, the fewer stars the story or novel rates from me, until at some point it becomes an exercise in editing and recreating it as my own story rather than reading for pleasure. When that happens, the whole process becomes a different experience than the one the writer intended.

If, however, I get totally lost in the story, then my whole internal landscape changes. The writer in me is temporarily replaced by the fascinated little girl who simply loves a good story. When I am pulled in, rough and tumble, to the world the writer has created for me, the story becomes multi-dimensional and experienced twice, sometimes thrice over, sometimes even more. When I’m in the queue at the supermarket, or in bed waiting to fall asleep, when I’m waiting for the bus, I can have the secret pleasure of reliving that story over and over.

Being pulled in is the first part of experiencing a great story. The second part, the analysis part, happens after the fact.books_xl_4571699 When the story moves me, excites me, changes me, then my analysis of it is a different process. Because I don’t feel I can improve on it, analysis then becomes taking the story into myself from a write’s point of view. In other words, what is it that makes this story so fantastic, and how can I incorporate some of that fantastic -ness into my own writing?

A perfect story, a story that pulls me in and devours me whole is a lingering experience. I’m a firm believer that a good story should somehow change the reader. But a good story should also change the writer. A good story should be like discovering a view from a mountaintop that we didn’t know was there before, a view that changes everything, the waterfall we didn’t see, the storm we never expected, the castle that dominates the landscape. A really great story has the potential to make me a better writer, a better weaver of story, a better seer of nuance, a better wielder of my craft.

But a good story should change more than just my views of my writing world. It should touch and stimulate in ways I would not have expected. It should open up the landscapes in my unconscious and my imagination. In some ways, a good story acts as a Muse, and that is the pinnacle of what a writer can glean from a story. I won’t say that doesn’t happen with badly written stories as well, after all the Muse chooses her own time and place. But with a good story, somehow the appearance of the Muse seems more numinous, more dressed for the occasion.Sleeping woman reading181340322466666994_IswNAb85_b

For me, the most powerful element of any story is the key relationship and how it expresses itself. That expression is
often sexual, and a well-written sex scene carries with it the weight of human emotion. It carries with it the drive to reach that magical point where two become one, where we are as close to being in the skin of ‘the other’ as it is possible to be. The power of sex and relationship in story can hardly be overstated. Even in mediocre stories, the power of love and relationship can still pull me outside of the editor-me and into the roil of the archetypal story of human need. To me, that means we erotica writers wield one of the most powerful tools in the writing craft; sex in story. Use it poorly and it just sounds stupid and crass. But use it well and it will be the moment in the story that the reader remembers while in the queue at the grocery store, while drifting off to sleep, while waiting for the bus. And it will be remembered with that ache of commonality of all humanity, the driving force within us all. Keeping that in mind, I don’t think it’s any wonder that so many writers fear writing sex.

 

We Survived 3 Days Without Wi-Fi

2015-08-26 15.45.02I just got back from ten days in the Scottish highlands with the last three spent on the Isle of Skye with on Wi-Fi no cell
phone and the nearest neighbor a mile up a very rough gravel track.

I don’t mind telling you that it was rough, that moment when we discovered we were cut off from civilization!!! The first thing we did after we got unpacked was make the trek by foot to the top of the hill, cell phones held high in a desperate attempt to get at least a tiny whiff of a signal – just enough to check and send email … oh pleeeze dear Techno-god!!! But alas it was not to be …

We made our way back down the hill, twitching in withdrawal and growling unpleasantries beneath our breath while cursing the first born of the booking site we’d used that had promised the place had Wi-Fi. But we quickly forgot to be disgruntled when we saw the first intimations of the sunset above the sea. It was the beginning of the domino effect. As we descended the hill, for 2015-08-26 18.50.09 HDRthe first time we paid real attention to the tumble down ruin of a building next to our cottage, the ageing phone box next to it, the thistle in bloom, the hulking shapes of mountains under blankets of clouds. All the while the sunset just kept getting more glorious. Finally, a use for our iPhones! At least a hundred pics later and a nice glass of red wine in hand, we let the midges take over the great outdoors while we sat in the huge window seat in the front room and cheered on a pair of pipistrelle bats in their hunt of said midges in the court yard. By that time we’d nearly forgotten the lack of Wi-Fi.

We slept in total silence that night, something town folk rarely experience. There was no traffic noise, no people noise, not even any settling of the cottage, which I reckon was probably old enough to have been well-settled by now. Even the sea was just far enough away that we could see it well, but not hear it.

IMG_2875Long toward morning I awoke to find another view, something I couldn’t capture with my iPhone no matter how many photos I took — the clear night sky with no light pollution! None! I had no idea there were so many, many stars! The whole Milky Way was splashed across the heaven and, from the dormer window, I craned my neck to take as much in as I could for as long as I could. I stood shivering beneath the view certain I’d just experienced some seriously powerful magic. Everyone else slept and that moment, that glorious view was beautifully and intimately mine. That moment, one I could neither tweet nor capture on iPhone, was for me the highlight of a trip jam-packed full of jaw-dropping experiences. That moment, dark-night private and achingly beautiful, was mine to treasure.

In the morning we made breakfast together laughing and joking, planning and scheming with only the aid of maps and books. From the window we watched the swallows flit about and a charm of gold finches picking at the wild flowers and grasses gone to seed.

2015-08-26 15.29.45In the slow but magical disconnect from the internet umbilical cord, we saw things differently, shared things differently, spoke to each other more reverently, and everything felt more focused, more brightly colored, more three dimensional.

On our way back to the cottage at the end of day two, we punctured a tire. Up on a high cliff above the sea just as the rain was setting in and the wind was picking up, Raymond got out to change the tire, and my sister and I got out to cheer him on and offer what help we could. We had no way of calling for road service to take care of it for us, no way of doing anything but getting on with it. He had just barely got the spare and the jack out of the boot when a car pulled up behind us, and a young man hopped out to help. The older woman with him stood and talked to my sister and me.

We discovered they owned one of the farms in the valley below, and she had seen our hazard lights go on from there. Her nephew had been bailing silage in the field so she told him we were in trouble and they came to our aide. They had us all sorted and back on our way in just a few minutes. This was a very powerful reminder of how people live in community without Internet. They watch out for each 2015-08-26 15.43.57other. I’m not so young that I don’t remember a time when that was the case, and yet I’d forgotten what it felt like in practice.

When our third day in Skye dawned wet and rainy, we drove into Portree and, while Raymond dealt with the punctured tire, we connected briefly to the slow, overworked Wi-Fi in the Cafe Arriba, ensconced with our coffee amid a gaggle of other wet tourists doing exactly the same thing. The connection wasn’t great, and we honestly didn’t mind. Once the tire was sorted, we were off exploring the Trotternish Peninsula in the rain. That night back in our cottage, as the sky cleared to display a resplendent waxing moon, we cooked dinner together, we talked and laughed and schemed and relived our memories of a damn near perfect holiday. We all agreed that we weren’t even a little sorry for our time without Wi-Fi.

The next night, down in Carlisle on our way home, we were once again in our own little Internet worlds trying to catch up while we waited for the waitress to bring our meals. It was jarring and a bit sad 2015-08-27 13.23.46to feel that freeing experience slipping away. But here I am, writing this on my iPhone on the last leg it the trip home. I’ll email it to myself then put together my blog post once I’m home, and by Sunday noon, you’ll be reading it complete with pictures I’ve downloaded. I will have tweeted it and share it on Face Book and will be well and truly back to being my techno- dependent self. We all will. The truth is we’re the slave of our technological connectedness as much as it’s our servant. I’ll take me the better part of a week to catch up, but I’ll treasure those few days of intimate disconnection, and maybe I’ll be brave enough to disconnect on purpose from time to time now that I know that I can, now that I know that I won’t die from the lack of Wi-Fi, and especially now that I know the rewards are so worth the disconnect.

 
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