Archives for July 2010

Coining a New Term in Erotic Writing

For a prude like me it seems ironic that the first ever workshop I ever attend as a new writer is one on writing erotic fiction. Having my identity firmly connected to the idea of being a romance writer and having Jane Austen as my hero, the idea of writing toe curling sex scenes in any of my novels seemed impossible.

Which is exactly why I signed up for the workshop.

But now it’s been a few months and when faced with the question from Tiffany  – “I am curious to know how it went, if you would recommend it” I see its now time to think carefully about the new skills that Opal Carrew  tried to impart to me and consider if I have put any of them into practise yet.

Sadly, the truth of the matter is that no, I went to the workshop in January and yet I have not yet written anything remotely raunchy.

Honestly, the first six months of the year I was too busy reading educational philosophy to complete a university degree. And attempting to not appear too dumb in group discussions when people waxed lyrical about how enthralling and insightful such and such a piece was for them, when personally I considered whether the writer of the aforementioned piece was on drugs or I was needing to be on drugs to understand what the piece was (apparently eloquently) expressing.

Several weeks have elapsed since I completed my final course and it seems that the writing synapses in the brain are starting to fire up again. Instead of academic work I’ve been writing fiction and finding a certain pleasure in the completed scenes.  And obviously, I’ve been writing blog posts at a rate much higher than one a quarter.  I’ve also been revelling in the new e-reader that my husband bought for my birthday present, and reading copious amounts of books for no other reason than pure pleasure.

But I think the best thing that I learnt from the workshop was that I am no longer concerned about writing sex scenes that maybe required in my any of my stories.  During the workshop we were given ample opportunity to write erotic fiction pieces, create sexy characters, think about clever experiences to have sexual events occur… oh you name it… we did it!  So I don’t think that when the time comes (and it is coming soon) I will have any trouble writing erotic scenes for the book I’m currently working on. Obviously, I would probably need to read some erotic fiction to get into the right head space and remember all the turns of phrase erotic writers use to describe certain events. *ahem*

During Carrew’s workshop she took us through the story arcs that different genres follow. We spent a lot of time creating a rough outline for an erotic novel.  For any fiction to be classified romantic, even erotic romance fiction, the rule within the publishing world is that there always has to be a happy ending. You know the story,  Boy and girl meet. Fall in love. Have a falling out. Hate each other. Discover they can’t live without the other. Get back together. And this is where I brag about probably my one true claim to fame within the erotic fiction world right now. I coined a new term for the happy ending.  Boy and girl live happily f^cking after.

Yeah Tiffany,  I guess you could say I really learned a lot and would highly reccomend attending an erotic writing workshop.

Everything Austen II Challenge List

Sometime last year, for reasons unremembered to me now,  I found my way to the blog “Stephanie’s Written Word”  Maybe my memory of the reasons for  finding the blog is coloured by the fact that I wanted to take part in the Everything Austen Challenge and couldn’t. What can I say? Life with a busy four year old and academic studies got in the way of more readerly desires.
 
Cue to this year, and the starting date for the Everything Austen Challenge was July 1. Anyone along the Eastern  region of Canada or the United States would know that around that time, apart from the Tour de France starting, was one of the nastiest heatwaves ever to hit the region.  I don’t know many people who can handle heat and much worse, humidity that makes it feel like it 45C /113F   day after day!  Further to the discomfort, we didn’t own an air conditioner, making it sticky, smelly and sweaty in this glass walled, sun filled apartment.  So the idea of writing an entry stating what I would do for the challenge – even if I could have stopped my computer from overheating and fritzing out within five minutes – was much more than I could to do. But here it is, the end of the July, the extreme heat has blown out across the eastern seaboard, (or maybe it’s because we have blown out our budget and bought an air conditioner,)  but I now have the ability to get four brain cells to jump together and form coherent sentences.

The first activity I am currently undertaking is reading Cassandra and Jane ; A Jane Austen Novel by Jill Pitkeathley.  It fills me with wonder that for such a beloved author, we know so very little about her real life and have to fill in the gaps with hearsay and guesses.  And as a student of the past, who has never quite gotten over the inhumanity of not being born in Europe where I could fully wallow in all things personally interesting historically speaking, it’s a given that I will choose something historical to complete. 

University studies took over almost every moment for the last few years; watching television  has been a luxury that I had to forgo. But not now, and I intend to watch all things Austen. I have the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility, as well as the BBC 2008 production. I must confess that I continually put this version on late at night as I snuggle down in bed, thinking I have the staying power to watch all the way through in one sitting and never do!  I also own the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma, but as of yet I haven’t watched the 2009 BBC production and have been desperate to do so.  Now that I think about it, I also saw one episode of Lost in Austen which made me giggle, but never saw the whole series. I should defiantly rectify that.

I have accepted the idea that to truly push the boundaries of my comfort zone, I should perhaps read one of those (ghastly) Jane Austen and Zombies / Vampires / Other Gobbltygook books that were so much the rage just a year or so ago. I haven’t really made up my mind as to which one yet – I’m open to suggestions.  And of course, as befitting for a challenge  I must read some of the work from Miss Austen. I intend to read Persuasion and Mansfield Park; two novels I’ve never actually read.

I do have the odd little thought in the back of my head that I should attempt some other kinds of challenges that make the most of my own personal skills and abilities. Something like trying my hand at completing some examples of embroidery from Miss Austen’s time. And maybe having a go at cooking a meal such as people from late 1700 to the early 1800’s would have enjoyed.  As I said, odd little thoughts. And that, I should think, will see me through six months worth of Everything Austen.

Melting Pots, Mosaic’s and Canadian Literature

For me, one of the privileges of living in countries such as Australia and Canada is that there is a blending of peoples from the four corners of the world and the cultures that they bring to a new homeland.  There is no room for the homogenisation of culture in a new country. The best of everywhere melts together and blends into a new thing altogether, or according to the cultural mosaic theory, everyone comes together and keeps themselves separate whilst creating a new whole together. I personally believe it’s one of the greatest strength of a new nation that there is room for everyone, but the pros and cons of such ideas  as melting pots or mosaics are obviously a whole other blog entry and thought process altogether!  So it was quite striking to me to read what could almost (almost) be considered mildly sour grapes in reading about an immigrants story in The Globe and Mail

 Writer Carole Enahoro’s satiric novel upends every cliché about Canadian writing – if you can still call it that.
Diasporic fiction is nothing new in Canada – it is fast becoming our national literature.
And the furthest frontier ever for anything that might credibly be called Canadian literature.

 
It seems that as a nation created of native and diasporic peoples, reading novels based in far away countries is a common theme, possibly even growing in popularity. Within my own critique group the women are enjoying listening to my romance novel that I’ve based in Australia, which bears witness to the idea that Canadians enjoy reading stories based in other countries. But it seems to me that if you are a country that welcomes strangers to your homeland and invite them to make it their own, of course the newest artistic members of society are going to use the memories, experiences and ideas that come from their original homeland into novels that are published in their new home.

And to be honest I’m not sure where its written to be the literature of a nation, a novelist  must reflect the nation within the story to carry the title of the said nations literacy excellence. I’m willing to confess that personally, I don’t have a great deal of interest in Carole Enahoro’s book – it doesn’t sound like my kind of story. But the tone of the article really made me burn with frustration. True, I might have interpreted John Barbers article completely. Maybe he really is praising the strange places that immigrants are writing about in their debut novels which are most obviously not Canadian in setting. Maybe there aren’t any sour grapes in the tone of this piece; maybe I’m just plain wrong. And if you think that’s the truth of the matter feel free to leave a note telling me so.

But I don’t think I am.

Luna – Julie Anne Peters

One of the main characters within the novel “Luna” by Julie Anne Peters reminded me in some ways of Sidney Poitier’s portrayal of the character Dr. John Wade Prentice in the 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” 

 Dr. Prentice was the perfect man in every way but one. Well educated, compassionate, hard working, funny and successful, the only thing that gave Joey Drayton’s parents any reservations about their daughter marrying him was that he had black skin.  Similarly, Liam/Luna is a straight A’s high school student with a job on the side testing games which earns him mega money.  Good looking (even if in a feminine manner) the world appeared to be at his feet.  He was perfect.

Except for one, minor fly in the ointment.

When I sat down and first opened the cover to the book, I desperately wanted to like the character ‘Luna’, and such was the thrill of finishing university and having the freedom to read for pleasure rather than academic research, I read the whole book over the course of one day. Zoom.

Done.

Immediately when I closed the book I couldn’t make up my mind about Luna.  Sure, I could feel sympathy for the plight of a person who feels like a female inside and has a male body outside – the reality in which Peters writes about transgendered people is stark, strong and insightful. The pain that Luna lived through is hard to comprehend. And yes, we can give lip service to the idea of a person being trapped in the body of the wrong sex, but really understanding it is way beyond most people’s day to day comprehension.

Once when I was little Dad let me try on his hunting jacket. It was huge; it hung to the floor, and it stank.  But what I remember  most was the weight. As if that coat would break my knees and drag me down and trap me inside and smother me. That’s how it felt with Liam. Like I was trapped. Suffocating. Was that fair? No. Life wasn’t fair. Liam proved that.    pp. 180

But after a couple of hours I found myself actually angry with her.  In fact, if I tell the truth and Luna had been a real person, I would have wanted to shake her until her teeth rattled around in her head. Because despite the flicker of understanding that other people were involved in her life that her choices would have an impact upon:
“Yes,” she insisted, squeezing my forearm.

 “Yes Re. I’m always in here crying on your shoulder, asking your advice, taking up your time. It isn’t fair to you. All these years, I haven’t been fair to you.” She sat back on her haunches.  “I’ve been so self-centred, so self-absorbed. I haven’t taken your feelings into consideration. I’ve leaned on you too hard. Depended on you too much.”  pp.212

 
My conclusion was that Luna didn’t care about anyone but Luna and her problems, and in the end she ran away to did what was best for her and didn’t think about the repercussions for anyone else left behind in her wake. Ironically, several days later I’m back to feeling a sort of sympathy for her, understanding why she thought  there was no other option and that she had to do the things she did.
“I was only doing what needs to be done. This is life or death for me, Re. If I don’t transition, I don’t want to live.”
All the blood drained from my face. How could she say that? She couldn’t mean it.
Our eyes met and understanding flowed between us. Total comprehension.
Life or death.
I got it. I finally got it. The change had to come in me. My acceptance of Luna, my support of her transition, my seeing her as a real person.  pp.213

Regan, Luna’s long suffering sister however, I wanted to throw my arms around, tell her how incredible she was. I wanted to tell her that she needed to be able to live her own life and not worry about everyone else’s needs all the time.  The times she allowed Luna’s needs to over ride her own happiness spoke to me on a very personal level.

The basement lights were out, which spooked me. Liam wouldn’t be in bed already. Chris reached over and took my hand. “It’s just family stuff,” I mumbled. “It’s not you.”
“Hey,” he said. “Family shit can wear you down.”
That was an understatement. I was suddenly angry. Here I was with this incredible guy who made me feel special and bought me dinner and took me to a move and wanted to spend time with me and all I could think about was what my brother was doing, what he was thinking and feeling. How I should have left him alone on his birthday, not tonight. Not the way he was acting.  pp.233

But maybe that’s the magic and the true power of Peters writing. That she could take such a difficult, almost forbidden  subject and infuse such humanity and emotions into the characters is quite a feat.  A book dealing with an area of sexuality that on the whole is still very much shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding by mainstream society could have veered off into a nasty example of cheap titillation. Instead, Peters has written about the issue of being transgendered with dignity and respect. 

I really enjoyed this book. But because I’m not sure that there are perfectly happy endings in this kind of situation for a family, I found myself hoping that Luna would find peace eventually and that Regan would find the freedom to be herself.

The copy of this book came from my local library.

• Paperback: 248 pages
• Publisher: Little, Brown
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 0316733695

Judging a Book by its Cover

If you’re a fan of the ‘Project Runway’ program with Heidi Klum then you’d love the latest incarnation of the style in the show Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. In this reality series, a group of artists face new challenges every week, where the worst work of art results in the dismissal of the artist until there is an ultimate winner who will have their own showing at the Brooklyn Museum.

Last night was the perfect challenge for a writer to watch. The contestants were to create a new cover for one of the following classic novels; The Time Machine, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Pride and Prejudice, Dracula, Alice in Wonderland or Frankenstein.

The ultimate aim for almost any writer is to see their book in print, slick in a perfectly designed new dust cover, sitting gaily on the shelf of a book store with strangers picking it up and taking it to the check out. Because when a writer has a story idea, they often slave over the work for months, sometimes even years. From little more than a random thought of “I wonder what would happen if…” they have written and then re-written sentences until they don’t even resemble the original version. They had agonised over the placement of every comma, colon and full stop. The characters have become so real in their heads that sometimes phone calls and emails from people in the actual world are ignored because the flow of the story is such that it demands a writer’s full attention.  Finally, an agent falls in love with the story; send it to one of their numerous contacts in a publishing house and JACKPOT! You have sold your story and it’s going to be published so that people everywhere will be able to read the fruits of your imagination – the goal of every hour of work you put into writing the story in the first place.

So it comes as a little bit of a shock that as a writer we will have no say in the cover art of the story. I’m imagining that’s something akin to telling a mother that she has no say in what her new born child is going to wear home from the hospital. Someone (a stranger!) is going to create a cover that is supposed to represent your years of work. They are going to create what will be the first thing a person sees, and sadly, will probably judge whether or not to buy your story. And it’s this reality that made the episode three, “Judging A Book By Its Cover” such an incredible one. The ultimate prize for the winning artist was for their work to grace the cover of the Penguin version of whatever classic novel they had pulled out of the hat, or paintbox as the case maybe.  As you would expect in a show with 12 artists of various abilities and specialities, some of the results were amazing and others… not so much.

The artist Miles Mendenhall confessed that he hadn’t read the book he had been assigned (Dracula) and calculated that it would take him four hours to read. Taking four hours out of a seven hour work period to cloister himself off to read a book so to better portray the story in his artwork impressed me as an author. Just as watching Jaclyn Santos, working on a cover for Pride and Prejudice, admitting she had only read a synopsis of the book before embarking on creating a work that had herself on the cover, half naked with a top hat in one hand, frustrated me both as a writer and fan of the author. And let’s not get into the whole deal that she spelt Austen with an “i’ like the Texas city.

Given the choice between the two artists, as an author I would hope for a Miles to be assigned my book cover – an artist who respected my form of art enough to take the time to represent my work whole heartedly. I would hope for an artist who saw taking the time to get to know the story as vital to the portrayal of the story in the cover.  And it reminded me that the old saying on not judging a book by its cover is sadly very true. 

And just for the record, if anyone in the States just happens to know the eventual winner personally (John Parot, LA, California – The Time Machine) and he is willing to sign a copy of his front cover…please – feel free to hook me up!