Monday, August 27, 2012

Anything but That

I think it’s safe to say most writers are avid readers. It’s definitely true for me and the small group of writers I’m acquainted with. Before I realized I wanted to be a writer, I just loved to read. Now that I’m both a writer and a reader, I find that reading other novels, including those not in my own genre, helps perfect my craft.

Since investing in an electronic reading device not too long ago, I’ve done quite a bit of reading. Most of the books in my library are either romance or contain an element of romance. Not only do I write in this genre, but it’s one of my favorites to read, provided it’s not a historical romance. Only one author has ever been able to interest me in a historical romance, and that has more to do with supporting the author than being interested in the genre.

As I’m sure you can imagine many romance novels contain sex scenes. Some are more graphic than others. Some are downright amusing. Some just curl my toes and not in a good way. Of late, I’ve noticed what seems to be a trend of self censorship in some of these novels, which can be identified in just two words: her sex

I’ve run into a rash of stories where the woman’s vagina is being referred to as “her sex”. This trend isn’t confined to conservative novels either. It’s even crossed over into the erotica genre. Since when did writers develop a fear of putting a name to the female anatomy? I say the female anatomy because I’ve seen it there most, but it’s popped up a few times when referring to men. I have to say, I find it a little funny that an author will throw out every name under the sun for the penis, but confines her description of the vagina to “her sex”.

Although I chuckle, I can understand how easy it is to censor your work. The first novel I published, Letters from Linc, contained quite a few sex scenes. While no one seemed to find them vulgar, the frequency with which the characters had sex left some readers unsettled. When it was brought directly to my attention, I defended myself and explained it was expected for the characters to be going at it frequently. Not only were they newlyweds, but they’d spent the first few months of their marriage on different continents. After I broke it down like that, most people understood, but it changed my approach to sex scenes. In the follow up novel, After All These Years, I was a lot more cautious with not only how often the characters copulated but how I described it.

For writers who aren’t comfortable with or have never written sex scenes, it can be a daunting task to produce something that doesn’t smack of sex manual. What I mean by smacking of sex manual is a basic description of the act akin to what you’d find in a step by step guide. Readers don’t want us to say the man inserted his penis into her vagina. What we should say is the mystery. To me, it’s dependent upon the characters themselves.

The problem is many writers, including me at times, have a difficult time separating author from character. After my dad and my grandma proudly showed off my second novel, Extraordinary Will, it made me rethink my descriptions of sex scenes. I became even more self conscious when my dad admitted skipping over the scenes in my stories because as he put it ‘fathers don’t like to admit their little girls know about such things’. 

What’s a writer to do then? Here’s what I do. First, I write my first draft the way I want it. If I want to say he rammed his cock into her dripping folds of flesh as if it was the last time he’d fuck her then I say it. Not only does it allow me to get the vulgarity out of my system, but it keeps me from getting hung up on the scene and being unable to proceed. Second, I try to get out of my own head. When I write, I’m no longer Trish. I’m the protagonist. That means I want to say things she’d say and describe them as she’d describe them. If she’s a virginal girl who’s never missed a Sunday of church in her life, she’s not likely to say cunt unless there’s a wild streak in her that I’ve taken time to develop so as not to shock readers when it happens. If my protagonist is male, you can bet I never say penis. I’ve yet to meet a man, except maybe a doctor speaking in a clinical setting, who refers to his penis as a penis. Third, I pretend my family and friends are never going to read it. I always find it easier to share my work with strangers who have no emotional investment in me, which includes the sex scenes. Oddly enough, when I omit or provide tamer versions of sex scenes, a large chunk of my readers beg me to turn up the heat in the future chapters.

To other writers I’ll offer one more suggestion. If you’re not comfortable writing sex scene then don’t. Gloss it over, hint at it, skip it, but please for the love of Pete do not use the phrase “her sex” or “his sex” unless you mean her sex life was good or his sex life was lacking since getting married six months ago. Anything but that!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Never Say Never

Not too long ago, I told you how I’d broken down and taken a tiny step into the digital age by getting the iBooks app on my smart phone.  Well, last week I turned that tiny step into a giant leap and bought myself a bona fide electronic reading device.

This decision was motivated by two factors. Number one: Much to my surprise, I’ve been enjoying reading books on my smart phone, but the screen isn’t conducive to prolonged reads for people with sub standard eye sight. Number two: Like it or not, electronic books are the new industry standard. If I don’t get on the e-book train, I could miss some good reads.

When I went into the store, I was in search of a Kindle. This decision was based on absolutely no research. It was strictly the name that made me want the Kindle. I do have a few colleagues who own one and swear by it so in my defense I think that qualifies as some sort of research.

I don’t know if I picked the wrong day to go on this shopping excursion or if the demand of the Kindle device far exceeds the supply in my area, but this was mission impossible. After coming up empty at the first two stores, I headed into the third with my hopes pretty low. I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t she just order it on line, oh say from Amazon? I wanted to see it first. I was most interested in the size of the screen. My eyesight isn’t the best, remember.

Wouldn’t you know store number three was out of the Kindle as well? By this point, I was pretty frustrated. If there’s one thing you probably don’t know about me it’s that I’m not a patient person when it comes to having to wait for what I want. Tired of chasing the Holy Grail of the electronic reading world, I shifted my focus to the Nook.

The price on the Nook was comparable to that of the Kindle as were the features. Even better, the store had the Nook in stock. If ever there was a reason to buy such an important piece of electronics, I’d say that was it. So I bought my Nook and a nice cover for it because there’s no way I’m going to chance dropping it, especially not after being too cheap to shell out for the extended warranty offered by the store.

In the last week, I’ve read several e-books. I’ll save a review of the quality of these books for another time. I’m just here to say that I did something I swore I’d never do. Not only did I buy an e-reader, but I’m glad I did. Just goes to show that old cliché is right. Never say never.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

Back Your Files Up

After reading the title of this blog, there are probably some of you humming an old school rap song by Juvenile. Though that's by design, I can't quote the lyrics, at least not without paying for the rights which we all know I'm not going to do for this blog. We can also see I'm getting off topic before getting on, but the title is quite fitting.

Not too long ago, I shared with you a tale of woe in which a virus infected one of my manuscript files. Given that the novel was almost completed, it was devastating to lose so much of it. Even worse was knowing the disaster could've been averted if I'd just backed up my files on a regular basis. It took that loss for me to stop being so lazy and stop thinking it wouldn't happen to me and to start doing what every responsible writer should and back my files up.

Since that horrible day last year, I not only have my computer set to auto save every few minutes, but I do a weekly back up of all of my files. Okay, my husband does the back up, but I make sure it gets done. Despite this faithful effort, I haven't needed to take advantage of my back up files, at least not until a few days ago.

After a long, hard day of work at my day job, I came home and powered up my computer. I was all set to settle in for satisfying night of editing. I chose the file I was currently working on and immediately received a familiar error message. I knew all too well something corrupted my file. Reflecting on it now, I'm pretty sure I know what caused the corruption, but I won't get into it now.

Unlike the last time I couldn't open one of my files, I barely registered a reaction. That's not to say I wasn't irriated, but I sure wasn't the weeping, wailing mess I was last year. There was no need for me to panic, not when I had a back up on another computer. In less than five minutes, my computer whiz of a husband deleted my old file and replaced the new one. Being that I only back up once a week, there were some prior edits that weren't saved on the replacement draft, but it wasn't anything I couldn't give a quick fix.

I was much happier having to replace only a few pages of my work as opposed to a few hundred. Moral of the story? Back your files up! And if you don't know the Juvenile song I'm speaking of, you can likely find it on You Tube.