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A Little Death: Guest Post by Horror Writer Luke Walker


posted by Lucy V Morgan on , , ,

7 comments

Mr. Luke Walker suggests that sex and death are as taboo in genre fiction as they are in real life. If you have ever announced that you write of lust or gore only to encounter slack jaws and raised eyebrows, then this article is for you.

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Death.

Have I got your attention?

Sex.

I’ve got it now, haven’t I?

So, sex and death: life’s two constants and the two subjects that link everybody in the world. And the two subjects that scare us more than anything else. We make up stories about them; we see them as either dirty secrets or areas we have to joke about in order to either make sense of them or reduce them to a manageable level. They’re two sides of the coin and I don’t see much difference between erotic fiction (Lucy’s area) and horror (mine). Lucy pulls back the bedcovers to show you who’s under there and to take a peek (or a long, hard look if you prefer) at what they’re up to. I, on the other hand, leave the covers where they are to check under the bed and see what’s in the dark, waiting to grab hold of your ankle.

Before we lose our virginity, sex is the big mystery. We hit a certain age and it becomes the main issue in our lives. We talk about it with our mates and we listen to rumours about her doing it with him while we wonder if we’ll ever get to do it. Then when it happens, we wonder if we’re doing it right or if we’re getting something hideously wrong and will be laughed about when the other person talks about it with their friends. After all that’s out of the way, we wonder if we’ll get to do it again. It’s a different mystery than it was beforehand, but the question inside that mystery is still there.

Then there’s death. That’s around us all the time just like sex is even if we don’t realise it or don’t want to think about it. As soon as we’re born, we’re heading to our end. If we’re lucky, that end will be decades down the line and we’ll have all the fun (and mystery) of life to come, but whether we’re lucky enough to have a long life or we’re marked for an early exit, that end is still coming. And there’s not a thing we can do about it. We all die and the world keeps going without us. It doesn’t care when we leave it. It’s too busy carrying on without us. And that’s just rude, isn’t it? How dare it continue from the day or the minute or the second we leave it? But no matter what we do, we die and it’s the job of the horror writer to show the world continuing without us. That’s the real horror of life for most people.

This last part is, I think, the main reason many people dislike horror in the same way they dislike erotica. They can say it’s down to horror and erotica apparently trivialising death and sex respectively. They think the horror writer and the erotica writer decrease the value of hugely important issues for a cheap thrill, and let’s be honest here: some writers do cheapen both just as some filmmakers think a horror film is about nothing more than blood splattering on the screen and some porn is designed to be gross in the same way but with different fluids. Some writers do this but nowhere near all.

Personally, I think a lot of people are either misleading themselves or outright lying to themselves when it comes to their dislike of horror and erotica. It’s down to a fear of sex and death. They can’t handle either and so can’t understand how others can or at least attempt to. They think the horror or erotica writer must have something wrong with their thinking if they want to explore unpleasant and deeply personal themes. They ask the writer why they write such subjects in a way that they don’t think to ask the thriller writer or the literary writer. It’s acceptable to explore humanity or try to excite them with a spy adventure; it’s strange to want to scare people or to arouse them.

Like I said, horror and erotica are two sides of the same coin. It’s the job of the writer of both subjects to treat their story and audience with the deserved respect. If some don’t understand this, that’s down to them.

Their monsters will get them in the end.

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Luke Walker has been writing horror and fantasy fiction for most of his life. Much of his work focuses on contemporary horror and fantasy novels although he has always had a love of a short, sharp shock of horror — a love which started at age nine when he read Poe's The Cask of Amontillado. A number of his short stories have been published online at Dark Fire Fiction. He is thirty-three and lives in Cambridgeshire, England, with his wife, two cats and not enough zombie films. His blog can be found here: http://getthegirlkillthebaddies.blogspot.com/

He still won't go into a wine cellar.

All Killer, No Filler: Writing The First Book in a Series


posted by Lucy V Morgan on , , , , , ,

16 comments

I think we've all read that book. It's the first in a trilogy (or a longer series) and it's one clunky chunk of world-building after another. Then the end comes and it's not really an end at all...[deep sigh of disappointment]. It's just an anti-climactic cliffhanger.

My current WiP is the first in a series (FIAS), and it's the first time I've intentionally written that way. As an intern, I read a lot of FIAS books. I've had my share of mulling over the issue recently, and I've come to the following conclusion: the first book in the series must be an entire story arc, and must function independently of whatever else you have planned. It's not the first third of a journey--it's a journey within a journey.

There are four important elements to consider when beginning a series, and they need careful consideration for the FIAS: Story Arcs, Protagonist(s), Ensemble Cast and World-Building.

Story Arcs
In a FIAS, you have two story arcs: the primary arc, which details the story in this book. There will be a beginning, a middle and an end for both the plot set up at the start, and the point of character conflict that has been brewing (got that? Arcs are made of plot conflict and character conflict). The secondary arcs stretch for the entire series and linger in the background to varying degrees. You will resolve points of them bit-by-bit, leading to a crescendo in the last book. By the end of FIAS, the reader must be satisfied by the end of these primary arcs. The secondary ones dangle to tantalise.

The most important thing to remember is that the secondary arcs should not overshadow the primary arcs. Book One still has to be drizzled with awesomesauce and served with a side of fuck-yeah if you want anyone to buy the second.

Protagonist(s)
Whether your protagonist has to carry one book or a whole trilogy, there are several important things to remember:

Keep them active When a character is thrown into a new world, it's easy to let them be swept along by exciting events and hot other characters. But don't let them observe from the sidelines or continually be rescued. Don't let them be passive. Secondary characters can be passive, but your protag is special. Special! The first time, yeah, she might stand there in shock. But the second time, she can't help but do something.
Never forget their point of conflict Protags are driven by their plot-lines, but their personalities shape their actions. I see lots of average girls thrown into paranormal worlds, for example, and they can be so dull. How has this girl been shaped by her first kiss, that thing that boy said to her at the prom when nobody was looking, the diary she found in the park and reads obsessively? And how does that shape affect the way she reacts to all these amazing things? Give her personal demons and throw her into the ring with them. She's got to finish this book a different girl to the one she was when she started--and not just because of a boy.
Beware The Chosen One You don't need a prophecy or a destiny to be awesome. Hell, it'd be nice to be the only one without a prophecy. That'd be fresh (and more page-turning). With a prophecy, half the time, you give away the end of the book at the beginning.

Ensemble Cast
 You need a strong ensemble cast to carry a series. Yes, they must not overshadow your protags, but equally, your readers have to long to meet them again.

Save the tortured souls for later on You want personal conflict in your FIAS, but too much can overshadow your bold new world, and your protag can come across as whiny. So shape your tortured, dark character as secondary in this book and let us love them in small doses. We'll lap up their book when it comes because you've done the groundwork. (This isn't to say that your FIAS protag can't be troubled, but there are varying degrees. In my experience, readers will tolerate a lot more depression and grit as a series goes on).
Beware the sausage fest Ensemble casts are often made up mainly of male characters. This doesn't have to be a bad thing--yay, more hot men!--but remember that your female characters will need to work twice as hard to be cool and memorable. Don't let them shoulder all the stereotypical crap; let them shine. And don't let them exist primarily as objects of desire for your male characters--it's far more interesting when not everyone fancies them, or even likes them.
Plan your secondary cast member as you would a protag They have their own background, own journey, own personal demons (perhaps literally!). Now you have to write them with just the tenth of space that a protag gets, but still get a lot of this across--enough to make them interesting. It's an exercise in subtext and the mark of a skilled writer. Get to it!
Don't forget the comic relief I see a lot of depressing books/dark worlds crying out for a sense of humour, and a good secondary character can be the light in the dark. A comic-relief character should have another purpose that is just as important in order to flesh them out.

World Building
FIAS has a tricky job to do: it has to draw us into an exciting setting, whether it's a contemporary advertising firm with lots of juicy gender politics, or Jupiter circa steampunk, where everyone has legs like a flamingo--and it has to tell us a full story. You've got to strike an important balance between asking questions and only answering some of them.

Focus on world elements relevant to this book One of my most common complaints as an intern is that an enemy/paranormal dimension is mentioned a few times but never explored, and it bugs the hell out of me (or equally, that an important element is not explored enough). If Villain X is currently in the background and you're going to mention her to set up meta conflict, I better meet them in this book, even if it's just a fleeting glimpse and I feel the impact of the mess they've left behind. Think breadcrumbs to the gingerbread house. When I do meet them properly, you better not let me down!
Do not be over-ambitious with your story arc You are telling this story in this part of your world. The others can wait. Don't visit other parts just to fill in a few chapters, and if you mention other elements in passing as world-building, show me how it's relevant to this book. Everything that I experience as a reader should be well-explained.

I hope all that was helpful. I'd love to hear your thoughts on writing the first-in-a-series. Any more tips? Or any examples of really excellent FIAS books that you've read?

Wanted: Guest Posts on Reading and Writing


posted by Lucy V Morgan on , ,

5 comments

Yes, that's right--I'm too lazy to post and want you lot to do it for me.

Ahem.

I  think platform-sharing is a wonderful thing, and I'd like to get busy with it. You're here, you're reading, and so you probably have a handle on the tone for my blog (blunt, informative, teeeeny bit of snark). If you've got something to say about books, I would love to feature you. Here are some suggestions...

For readers:

1) A "wish list" for your perfect book. Genre, plot, characters, conflict, the way it should make you feel...be indulgent. You can even mock up a cover (in fact that'd be awesome).
2) A llittle piece about your reading habits, or the place you love to read. An accompanying photo of your favourite spot would be cool.

For writers:


1) I am happy to conduct author interviews. If you'd like to be interviewed, please email me with a blog/website address, and writing excerpt so I can get a feel for your work.* (I'm probably not the place for your children's picture book/MG, but anything else goes).
2) If you'd like to share a tip on the craft, I'd love to see your article.
3) Tell us about your writing journey so far. What have you learned? What have your experiences been in publishing/attempting to be published?

These are just ideas; I'm happy to consider anything (although I won't be posting any fiction/poetry for this feature). Please try to keep your piece short-ish; if it's snappier to read, more people will read it. Please email your request to lucyvmorgan@gmail.com

I'm looking forward to sharing some lurve. Platonic, of course. Unless you ask nicely.


*I may pick authors that suit my own preferences purely so the content fits the tone of the site. It's not intended as offence and I will still think you're awesome. 

Probably ;)

Three Reasons Why Your Sex Scene Sucks


posted by Lucy V Morgan on , , ,

8 comments


1)      No Emotional Context

An emotional context is about the frame of mind your protagonist is in at the time, and it serves as the backdrop for all the physical action. Every sex scene has an emotional context, whether your character is passionately in love or just having fun with a stranger, and both should be equally present in your narration.You can convey it in a single phrase or a series of little hints--whatever suits the scene--but it must be visible. Tangible. Thrilling.

Emotions are, at their base level, chemical responses.  The “no strings” sex scene tends to focus on the chemical level of sex, yet it often forgets that "emotions" are just the psychological interpretation. Why is this character looking for no-strings fun? Go deeper. How does this new affirmation of her attractiveness make her feel? Has she ever done anything like this before, and what is this doing to her nerves? Maybe she’s done it a hundred times, but sees it in a different light because it’s with him. Is she excited? Afraid? How will this sex affect the rest of her life? How is this act, this moment, changing her? Real people think about this stuff on reflex during sex, and so should your characters.

Perhaps she’s detached. That’s a whole context of its own (see Angela Carter’s The Flesh and The Mirror for the best detached emotional context to sex ever). Maybe she’s staring at her reflection in the back window of the car while she rides him, noticing every freckle across her nose, and every raindrop that hits that window is like thunder. She is outside herself (whereas if she's enjoying herself, she is decidedly inside).

Focus on the build-up. If it’s a quick run from the club to the alley, I want to know exactly what she’s thinking. How his grip on her hand makes her feel. Whether the sweat beneath her clothes is still damp, has turned cold, is prickling against her skin—all these things imply important emotional subtext. Likewise, if this couple have been working together for months and this is the climax to weeks of tension, we need to lace their kisses with shock and doubt and fireworks. Make it crack and fizzle. Make it pop.

A sex act may lack desire, if it serves your narrative. But sex never lacks emotion, and that needs to come through in your scene.

2)      You’re Not Being Honest

Let’s get this over with (I know it squicks some people out) but a positive sex scene is written to arouse the reader. You write it as pleasure for your characters, but on the flip-side, it’s pleasure for your readers, too. One sure fire way to make a scene sexy? Be daringly, shockingly honest about your own quirks and desires.

I am not saying you shouldn't write a fetish that isn’t for you, or not write BDSM if you’ve never tried it. The internet is a labyrinth of yumminess where research is concerned. But if you cannot see the pleasure in an act, it will show in your writing--and it will not pleasure your reader.

Write about your deepest fantasies. Be bold, be brave. Be detailed. You will nail the emotional context so much better if you do this. A hot sex scene doesn’t have to be about four different positions, half an hour of anal and a 69, all performed on the bonnet of a Ford Focus; get really detailed with a single oral sex scene and you’ll, ahem, hit the spot. I want to know exactly what his tongue does and the response it provokes. Remember to vary your description and vocabulary as much as he various his technique--your sex scene is not a list of stage directions, and likewise, do not write the same fuck three times at different points in your story. Remember, too, that detail can be conveyed in one knowing, clever sentence as well as it can in a whole paragraph.

We all have our little quirks when it comes to sex, whether it’s a certain erogenous zone that we could have stroked for hours, a name we like to be called, a role-play we feel naughty just thinking about, or a special scent of massage oil that a partner bought for a special occasion. Don’t be embarrassed. Throw them in. Nobody has to know where you get this stuff from. You might be surprised as to how many of your readers relate to it. When they feel like you’re right inside their heads, saying the things nobody dares to say—you're awesome, and they're right in the palm of your (slightly sticky) hand.

Honesty extends to your phrasing. Do words like flower, nub and folds turn you on? How about sopping pussy or thick-veined column? No, me either. Surprising, that. When you  write honest sex, don’t be afraid to use the “correct” words. Hell, you don’t even need euphemisms; just talk about how he’s “inside” you. We’re big boys and girls, and we know how it works…

3)      You Confuse Fantasy With Implausibility

A positive sex scene is about idealism. It’s about the sex we all want to have. There’s a big difference between fantasy sex and implausible sex, though: fantasy sex could happen; implausible sex, probably not. Do we want to feel like this could happen for us one day? Absolutely.

Here are a few examples:

Fantasy sex: she has one or two awesome orgasms.
Implausible sex: she has orgasm after orgasm. It might happen for some women, yes, but it’s a list rather than a reader experience. Quality over quantity, people!

Fantasy sex: she enjoys a tension-filled build-up to orgasm.
Implausible: she comes as soon as he touches her. Again—poor experience for the reader. We like the foreplay. Hell, we need the foreplay!

Fantasy sex: he has an eight inch cock. Still big enough to make you say “ooh!” but you could probably find this guy in a club (not that I’m going to suggest a reliable method, ahem).
Implausible sex: he has an eleven inch cock. Does it happen? Probably. Is this comfortable for any woman? Not unless she’s built like the Bat Cave, no.

Fantasy sex: he learns what to do as she teaches him, or by his own yummy experimentation.
Implausible sex: he instinctively knows how to make her orgasm and gets her there in three strokes. Yes, being dominated is fun. But the dom who can mind-read, to my knowledge, has yet to be invented, and being dominated is about control of your mind as much as your body.

Fantasy sex: she has a threesome with two men. One is cocky and knows what he wants; the other is just a little bit shy, but is mind-blowing as he gets braver. The battle for control is always present and exciting.
Implausible sex: she has a threesome with two beef bus football players and they merrily bang her as if they do this every night.


See how these three link together? Honest, plausible sex with emotional depth is ALWAYS hot. Even if you’re writing a suburban melodrama and your characters are going through the motions, nail the context and it’ll still have shades of ow.

If you’d like a few examples of my own, you can find them here and here (at the end of the story). Others that spring to mind in published fiction: Imriel's visit to Balm House in Kushiel's Scion; anything by Alan Hollinghurst; Kody Keplinger's The Duff. Feel free to link in your suggestions in the comments section--I love recs!


Know Your Audience: The Romance Conundrum


posted by Lucy V Morgan on , , , , ,

4 comments

I have been locked away in the editing cupboard with Chairman and its slowly shaping sequel, The Whored's Prayer. Among other things, I've had to fill in some paperwork that got me thinking about reviews, and reviews got me thinking about audience. What is my audience for this book?

I'm lucky in some respects because my work was online for a good year. I was able to garner opinion before I polished it for publication (not something I'll do in future--I did not anticipate the hundred ways a girl like me could abuse a dialogue tag [wince]--but still). The feedback I got told me that professional men and women, from their twenties upwards, liked my book. It was that kind of interaction that led me to first label it as commercial fiction; no particular "crowd" liked it, but it seemed to have a bit of mainstream appeal. If I had to describe it, I'd say it was a bit of Belle de Jour's sexual politics, a lot of Dexter's identity crisis and, erm...well. Let's just say that if Law and Order got really dark and sexy, it might be something like this. Whore and Order :P

Of course, it's not really commercial fiction, especially where romance is concerned. It deals with strong themes of infidelity, sexual identity, prostitution and, er...knives. Everyone's faults are on parade and cuddly chick-lit, it is not. But there is a lot of sex, and the plot centres on the heroine's relationships, so when it comes to reviews...the romance and erotica crowds seem like the obvious place.

Right?

Two issues, then:

1) Romance and erotica are different genres (sexual content aside, romance promises a relationship arc and a happy ending; erotica doesn't. They've blended a bit for erotic romance, which is romance with some rather loose morals). But romance and erotica tend, for the most part, to get reviewed on the same sites. By the same people. And this leads into number two...

2) I've often observed that men get away with way more than women in romance. The men can commit all kinds of sins, but many are not forgiving of a female character who does the same. In order for a book to work, you have to connect with the main character on some level, and without wishing to sound patronising at all, I have to wonder how a polyamorous whore(!) will work for a fan of romance--or indeed, a large swathe of people. My protagonist is pretty damn flawed; she's a tax lawyer working as a call girl on the side, and she's struggled all of her life to be faithful. The book really isn't about her being a call girl--that was more of a symptom of her issues and it's come to an end--it's about her figuring out who she is and what she wants, and how she deals with those things reflected in a partner. The guy she falls for is the most monumental prick in a lot of respects--he cheats, he manipulates--but he's perfect for her. And she is really not sure if she's comfortable with that. In book two, they confront their flaws head on, and a big mess ensues--but confront them, they do, and the end result is optimistic.

 I see reviews all the time where characters get lambasted for their flaws, and in romance, yes, your heroine should be likeable. This ain't romance. But where the hell else do I send it for review, then? (There's also a difference between a deliberately flawed character and bad writing, but that's a whooooole other post). In theory I'd say, it's not romance, don't send it to romance sites. But it is erotica. It may appeal to some romance fans. And my head will explode soon. Duck!

I have been wondering for some time if there is room in the romance genre for intricately flawed heroines (if they can be called that). So often, in order to give the heroine a human element, she's given some past bad experience that has put them off love--it's almost a requirement these days. What about all the tiny facets of a person that go into shape them as an individual with issues? Why can't we strip those people bare and see how they tick in relationships? Real humans are so much messier, and the drama factor is so much higher*. They aren't as predictable; they make choices with their pants as often as their hearts and heads. They are normally cast as villains, which is sad. We've got anti-heroes, but we haven't got anti-heroines (and no, a kick-ass girl who has lots of casual sex is not an anti-heroine. She's another misogynistic pastiche). A lot of this goes against everything that is comforting about a good romance read, and yet...I find myself missing these guys. Maybe it's a personal preference. Can a good romance novel still push your boundaries, or do you look to other genres for that? I'm curious.

Have you struggled to find an audience for an interstitial book? Or have you read a similar novel, and what was your response? Do you like your protagonists to be inherently good people, or is it enough for them to just wonder about being good, to have a go? As a reader--especially if you read a lot of romance and erotica--just how tolerant are you?

*I'd say this occurs with chick lit or women's fiction, but you really struggle to get away with strong sexual themes in these genres. If you do, they tend to come from very detached protagonists.