The Chase is On: Catch Her if You Can!

girlrunningtrophyIn case you didn’t get a notification in the last couple days, chapter 16 is now posted as “Catch Me If You Can“! The hunt is on, and Bre is the highest prize in the noble game of Hide and Seek. If she wants to survive, she has to run fast enough and hide well enough to ensure Rome is the only one to get his hands on her. But noble lust isn’t the only obstacle in this game. Lord Alonza threw in a cocktail twist, so now even wrong feels right. For the nobles, this isn’t so far from the norm. But for Rome and for Bre, being drugged in such a way might have devastating results. Even if Bre can keep her mind and body anti-noble and (most importantly) anti-Alonza, the Rome that comes to save her might be unpredictable at best. At worst? Every bit as beastly as he claims to be.

This chapter is highly sexual in nature, and largely non-consensual. There are drugs in play, on top of the nobles’ corruption and Rome’s beast nature. Not to mention, the nature of the game itself is very immoral. Sensual scenes will be fast-paced and/or riddled with moral confusion, not warm and fluffy and safe. It’s necessary for things to move forward. You have been forewarned.

You will, however, get that Rome vs. Alonza scene many of you have been waiting for. Which (I warn you) is gorey, and morally ambiguous. You may imagine how being present for this scene could affect Rome and Bre’s relationship, seeing as Bre has been raised in a temple environment which considers all life sacred.

I had to end this chapter sooner than I would have liked, because of the length. However, that might have turned out for the best, because it may make for a better transition point into the next plot twist. Yes, it will be primarily a plot twist, not a romance twist. Certain concerns have rcompletethecircleemained untouched by the storyline for far too long, and I intend to circle back around to them. That circle is just about complete. If you’ve read Book 1, you’ve waited about 1,200 [novel] pages for this. (I’m studiously trying not to think about what that means for revisions.) If you started with Book 2, a.k.a. the current story installment…let me know how you fare. Maybe consider flipping through the first several chapters of Book 1, if you can handle the slow pace. You’re all smart, so you should do fine putting the pieces together, even if you haven’t read Book 1; it’s not like it’s mandatory for understanding. But it’s kind of important to realizing the significance of Rome’s personal journey, as well as what it might mean for Bre’s past to finally catch up to her.

That’s all the hints you get, for now. :P

Worst Romance Reader Ever

It’s official: I must be the WORST Romance reader EVER!!!

I love Romance. I even welcome some of the nitty-gritty TMI stuff. So why is it that the last e-book sample I read, written by a respected Romance author, prompted me to make gagging noises and chuck my Nook across the room?

In the writing community, everybody is always talking about HEAs (Happily Ever Afters). And when I come across samples like I just read, it all sounds so suave—even when it’s the detached prodigal son watching a prostitute leave his bed. Bad Boy, okay yeah, I can dig that. But don’t romanticize him. Give me all his rough edges. Let his roughness come across in the writing. Let me feel him. Not feel what “good girls” want him to be underneath from the get-go. I want him to be raw. I want him to be work to get through to.

The last thing I want to do is bash on fellow writers. Indeed, these people have massive followings, so they must be doing something right.

Or everybody is just used to their favorites.

I, for one, have been spoiled off the cultured, individualized character perspectives of Fantasy novels (Teen/YA and otherwise) and manga, down to the things certain characters notice and the language they use—language which often grows and changes through the course of the book, as the character himself grows and changes. So when I start in on a stereotypical Romance novel, and everything reads across in the same smooth monotone, I start to skim. And skim. Until I realize: I’m going to be skimming through this whole book. And then I grunt and groan and flail and flop, because I thought I finally had that book that I was going to read all the way through, and enjoy—that one I’d stay up all night to finish. And instead, I got one I would have set back on the bookstore shelf.

Somehow, I’ve gone from my childhood habit of reading every book that I can get my hands on in my subject of interest, to garage-selling books I don’t like and rarely finishing any books at all.

They say that writers should read widely in their genre of choice. And that’s a nice idea. BUT what happens when you throw those “wide reads” across the room—repeatedly? What happens when that becomes the reason why you keep writing the unpublished manuscript you cart around from coffee shop to coffee shop?

At this point, I just want a good read. A good Romance read, with Fantasy elements, if at all possible. Something I wouldn’t push “snooze” through. It doesn’t have to be spectacular…just, not uniform. Not post-apocalyptic. Not exclusively sci-fi. With realistic, non-sappy, non-bratty, non-stereotypical fictional characters. I mean, come on, this is the Romance section, people! It shouldn’t be this hard to sell me on the male character. He doesn’t have to be a werewolf or a vampire. In fact, I’d prefer if he’s not. He just has to be special.

If you’ve read an adult Romance-Fantasy story that you absolutely fell in love with, feel free to leave a comment below and give it a shout-out! I don’t care if it has mature content, but I DO care if the sex is pointless; character development through sex is an art form. The story doesn’t have to have sex though, just decent Romance with Fantasy. So GO! List away! PLEASE! I’m dying of suaveness overdose and bad storytelling styles.

Splitting the Nitty-Gritty of Chapter 16

Once again I find myself mid-scene, and already far overshooting my chapter word count goal.

*Sigh.* No wonder this chapter is taking so much longer than expected.

If you thought last chapter was full of unexpected twists and turns, this chapter will blow your socks off…and blow your hair out. In fact, right now, far as I am into writing this chapter, I’m having trouble thinking back to how I left last chapter. Because so much has happened in between—so much that it’s looking like I’m going to have to “call it a chapter” (as compared to “calling it a day”) before I consider it truly done. Which, yes, means a cliff-hanger. And not where I wanted to leave it, either.

Chapter 16 will not be for the faint of heart. You all wanted to see Lord Alonza get what should be coming to him, at Rome’s hands. I told you that would be coming. And it is. But I warn you, it will be the goriest thing you’ve read yet—and will probably alter your impression of Rome forever, just as it becomes the wakeup-call for Bre.

You all know Rome thinks himself a beast. Bre thinks he’s just a hunter. With a little help from an outside influence, Rome is about to prove her wrong.

I warn you that the intimate scenes are reading very masculine at this point, even from Bre’s perspective, because they are very male-driven. And the scene where Alonza gets his hands on Bre turned my stomach to write. I’ve decided to leave that scene in, for the reasons I discussed last blog post. As for whether Rome is just as in-the-wrong, I will leave that for you, as the readers, to decide. I only ask you to keep in mind that Rome has been defying his own nature in order to stay with Bre, and he has made no attempt to sugar-coat that. Also keep in mind what the “Wheat Girl” has to say this chapter, because it is VEEEEEERRRRYY significant.

I will try to edit through what I have written so far, so that I can post it (hopefully) sometime in the next few days. But I warn you, it’s the thick of the relational conflict. The point where you start to see the extreme levels of the reality of everybody’s bad sides. So it’s not all going to be pretty. And it’s going to be heart-attack paced.

The Self-Entitled Villain

brainstorm_character_bAs I’ve been writing chapter 16, I’ve realized I don’t know Alonza as well as I think I do. As an author, I expect to know most of the important things about my characters. But Alonza’s personality is so close and yet so estranged from my own, that it’s easy to overlook his motivations. Through diagramming a brainstorming web, and listing off what Alonza wants from Bre, I realized that Alonza’s flaws are mostly entitlement and self-importance. He places his own worth above that of others, and fails to see why other people shouldn’t do the same. Why they shouldn’t give themselves over to his whims. Why they shouldn’t subject themselves to him. Therefore he feels justified in using nefarious means to get whatever he wants—because, of course, he deserves it, simply because he is who he is, and everyone should recognize that.

entitlementUnfortunately, because entitlement and self-importance run so rampant throughout our culture (in real life), they have become almost the norm of treating other people. Meaning, Alonza’s villainy doesn’t stand out as obviously as I assumed it would. This is actually quite sad, as a statement about our culture.

So, my challenge in writing chapter 16 is to make Lord Alonza stand out, as a villain easily distinguishable from the other nobles, from Pandora, from the temple, and from Rome.

You may be surprised that I just included Rome in that list. So was I, when my scene between Alonza and Bre in private turned out to look like a Rome-gone-wrong.

Through this, I discovered that the line between Rome’s self-confidence (in his abilities, and in his place in the food chain) and Lord Alonza’s arrogance (born of his self-entitlement) is very thin. The difference, in case you were wondering, is that Rome has a conscimaster-servant_dummiesence. In other words, if he hurts someone (like Bre, or the “wheat girl”), he feels it. There is something in him that condemns the action, even if he tries to convince himself it was necessary or that it’s just “what he does.” Alonza, on the other hand, would not interpret what he feels when he hurts someone as “condemning.” In fact, he would interpret the internal pressure as pushing him to continue, like he’s going to feel that twinge inside until he experiences the pleasure of finally getting what he wants.

An article I recently read said that one way to make a villain more villainous is actually to not only make the villain more relatable (so readers can understand and almost sympathize with why they’re doing wrong), but also to make the villain the flipside of the hero. To make them like the hero, if the hero had had a different experience, or gone a different route. I’ve read this about minor characters (in general) too.

sketch by Shady95

[sketch by Shady95]

A reader of my story once told me that I should never write something I don’t feel comfortable with. That may sound straightforward, to your ears. But what makes a villain truly villainous? Is it not the heinous crimes they commit? Don’t authors showcase the evil misdeeds of their villains—things they don’t agree with—in order to make a point? Doesn’t the protagonist have to defeat said villain to make a point about the evilness of their deeds? Therefore shouldn’t the misdeeds, and the villain themself, make readers (and author) uncomfortable?

That’s where I get hung up. I can’t stop every time I get uncomfortable writing a villain, can I? And yet, I don’t get uncomfortable very often while writing (unless I think someone is reading [or trying to read] over my shoulder as I’m writing).

The more villainous I try to make Alonza, the more uncomfortable it makes me. But if I’m honest with myself, part of that discomfort comes from Alonza not doing what he’s supposed to—or other characters not responding to him how they’re supposed to. I have a story track in my head, which is great…but my characters have taken on lives of their own. Just like real people, my characters’ responses to news or provocation depend largely upon the right wording, the right tone and volume of voice, the right accompanying gestures or body language, and the right timing.

For instance, if Rome calls Bre a “good bitch” in a seductively affectionate tone, Bre’s probably going to realize that’s not meant as the traditional insult. Whereas a more hotheaded, reactionary character like Kitiora might throw a fit, pull away, and even slap him.

If Alonza drags Bre into his personal chambers and does things that ride the line between cruelty and the promise of pleasure, she’s definitely not going to enjoy it. Because no matter what, her heart is already set on Rome. BUT, if she is given something that tampers with her normal rational state…she might be more receptive (despite her will), and he will look like less of a villain. Even though taking away her ability to contest him is definitely villainous.

See my dilemma?

Chapter 15 Finally Posted!

Chapter 15 is finally posted!!!! Hooray!!! 🎉 It’s called “The Scars that Bind Us.” The title is derived from one of the secrets Labriella has been keeping from Rome, the proof of which she wears on her back. You knew the whipping was going to be bad, and twice as bad because it’s done by someone Labriella knows and loves. What Rome doesn’t realize is that it’s not Labriella’s first picnic (so to speak). Being whipped again dredges up all kinds of awful memories for Labriella—the knowledge of which could easily compound Rome’s guilt over fulfilling what he already considers to be a nightmare. The tavern prostitute warned Labriella that she would have a hard time keeping anything from Rome, especially if they were to get intimate. Now it’s time to face the past, and determine whether they can ever truly move forward.

Can Bre ever be more to Rome than a broken servant?
In fulfilling Bre’s request, has Rome lost her affection forever?

Already, several of you (my dear readers) have reviewed! How happy that makes me!

And wow, so far all the feedback has been positive!

I apologize for making you worry that I might have scrapped the story and launched headlong into revisions. I know I have done that in the past. I’m actually trying very hard not to do that right now. I’ve got all kinds of revision ideas, to be sure. But I’ve figured out it’s so much easier to work on things like plot structure and detail consistency/importance when the story is already written (probably because I have to write “by the seat of my pants,” since outlines are more of a suggestive launchpad than representative of the actual life of my writing). So I’m trying to get as far along in the story as I can, before I revise again. I figure if I have a clearer picture of where I’m going now than I did when I was writing volume 1, then I’ll have an even clearer picture of what needs to happen (past and future) when I’m in volume 3, etc. Then I’ll be able to consolidate, and emphasize the important stuff.

But let me be clear: The story continues to defy my storyboarding expectations. It twists and turns anew, because it has a life of its own. It grows like wildfire. So instead of trying to pen it in (don’t mind the pun), I just try to herd it in a general direction. And, as this happens, the characters deepen and create their own quirks and eccentricities, and develop their own internal conflicts of interest. After the “herding” phase, I will try to insert little things here and there to make sure there is a plot. But for now, I’m going to try to just keep on writing. I realize that every time I take a workshop, or read a book or blog about writing technique, my writing changes. (Which is for the better, but develops style, character, and narration inconsistencies with previous versions.) When I write a new chapter, I have to be careful to stick with the story that’s already written, not the one I’ve altered in my head.

I’m glad everyone (so far) seems to feel that in chapter 15 Rome and Labriella have made actual relational progress. I messaged with Tsunayum about how difficult this is to accomplish, realistically, without fabricating circumstances and rushing “wishful thinking” changes in character. Rome, in particular, is difficult to handle, because he can’t appear or sound soft when he’s actually feeling soft-hearted; it would be out of character for him. Likewise, Labriella is prone to internalize all her insecurities, and deem her own issues of self-worth too insignificant to be worth mentioning. It’s a tenuous balancing act to have the two characters push and pull their hidden sides out of one another, to promote interpersonal change, without being too radically unrealistic in reaction and in methodology.

Before publishing, I hope to move this sort of event up sooner, to happen earlier in the story. But we’ll see.

Thanks for all your support! I will be re-launching into writing chapter 16. It will be Party Day 5—the day after the token of favor, the whipping, and the healing and limeyness. The event of the day will be a sort of Hide-and-Go-Seek/Sardines, to the effect of “You keep (for the day) what you catch.” Expect some unexpected twists. ;)

Delays, Character Growth, & Reviews

If you read my post a month ago, and/or if you’ve been checking my FictionPress profile, you know that the long delay on posting chapter 15 has to do with getting caught between job training and deleted story files.

Despite giving in and buying iSkySoft Data Recovery software, which was advertised as being able to retrieve overwritten files (even from OS X Yosemite), my original chapter 15 story file (which was not sent to the trash can when overwritten) was nowhere to be found, leaving me to reassemble the beginning of chapter 15 from my handwritten rough draft. Unfortunately, piecing together the multiple versions of that rough draft into the previous “perfect” progression proved impossible. So I had to reconstruct the entire beginning from scratch (not from memory). Due to frustrated brain meltdowns, during which I quite literally pulled some of my hair out, I had to space out my sessions working on this cumbersome project, which drastically slowed my update time frame (to virtually nonexistent).

However, I did not give up. And Scrivener’s “split,” “merge,” “duplicate,” viewing together in-line, and sidenotes features have been a great asset. Now I can finally say (with a reasonable amount of pride) that the beginning of chapter 15 is finished. I have also swept through the bulk of chapter 15 numerous times to do minor edits, to move a few things around and change a few tones, etc. And now, finally, I am back to the end of chapter 15.

Despite the frustrating length of time it is taking me to construct and fine-tune chapter 15, I don’t regret taking my time. Nor do I think any of the chapter’s reworkings were unnecessary. (Except maybe the overwritten beginning—which you can thank a friend of mine for me not giving up on it altogether. The chapter almost ended up without any beginning framework/context, just for the sake of being done).

The reason why it’s taking me so long (besides the setback already mentioned) is because the character growth in chapter 15 is so exponential and so significant to the story that it has to be perfect. It’s a pivot point in Rome and Labriella’s relationship, where a lot of simmering internal issues are brought to a boil through external circumstances. How Rome and Bre respond to each other, within chapter 15’s context, determines how they relate to each other for the rest of the book, and the rest of the story. And the big, long scene that makes up the body of the chapter cannot be broken up. The word count right now is at about 11k. If I go with the ending I’ve already written most of, I’ll end at closer to 14k. But (as much as I like that scene) I’ll probably end up saving that scene for later, meaning I’ve still got a thousand words or so left to write.

Even with my 3-month absence, I still appear to be picking up new followers on FictionPress. O_o I am surprised, yet flattered. I guess some of that is probably because story-hungry readers are now on summer vacation. I remember those days, when summer meant vacation…*Sigh*

Anyway, to those new readers, I say welcome! Glad to see my story has hooked you in ;)

I have been responding to FictionPress member reviews via private message, usually within a few days. I’m sorry, guest reviewers, that I cannot respond to you in this way, so you’ve had to wait much longer with no response. Please know that I have seen your reviews, and continue to skim back over them as I write (I’m not ignoring you). I see your outcries about rules among nobles—namely, about a noble’s “right” to discipline another noble’s servant—and explaining that issue is part of why it was so important for me to rewrite the lost sections of chapter 15.

I have written Tsunayum privately, but I would like to say to my other readers that I am sorry if you (like Tsunayum) felt betrayed by Rome’s allusion to future circumstances involving Pandora and a bed, in the opening lines of chapter 1 (in book 2). The intention was foreshadowing, but maybe it was a bit much to open the story with, since you are given no context for Rome’s unhappy overview of the events he will (eventually) relay to you. I cannot, however, make any promises about this event being omitted from the actual storyline, because it marks another planned pivot point in the story.

I may post an excerpt from chapter 15 here to help hold you over, if finishing the chapter takes more than a couple days.

Cruel Beauty: Pure Love or Wicked Love?

Cruel BeautyCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Summary:
Nyx is trained from childhood to take down her future husband, the Demon Lord of Bargains, who holds the kingdom of Arcadia captive and offered the bargain that stole her mother’s life. Knowing the mission will cost her own life, she grows to resent the people around her, who are allowed to be happy. Nyx faces her fate squarely, but neither her husband, nor his servant, nor the house they live in are what they appear to be. She starts to fall for her husband’s tranquil servant, a shadow who desires to help her but is unable to lend much assistance. The lines between hate and love blur as Nyx realizes that the resentment and selfishness in her own heart are not so different from the quick-witted wickedness of her doomed husband, and that he may be the only person who does not ask anything of her. In the end, the fate of the world rests upon the choice of embracing pure love or wicked love, who to betray, and whether once-in-a-lifetime love is worth sacrificing the rest of the world.

This is a paranormal/occult Beauty and the Beast novel, set in Greco-Roman times, in the kingdom of Arcadia. Multiple Greek gods and myths are referenced throughout the book, as the belief system of the majority of the characters.

My Thoughts:
The book started off pretty redundant and slow, with the recurring theme of Nyx’s hurt from her father’s inaffection, disgust toward her aunt’s affair, and internal battle against hating her sister Astraia (who was not chosen to wed the Gentle Lord because of her resemblance to their dead mother) and hating her mother (whose death began Nyx’s life of revenge). I felt like I really didn’t need these themes hammered home as many times as they were within the first couple chapters.

Once I figured out that this story was not about an epic take-down, but about solving riddles, I was able to sit back and enjoy it. The fact of the matter is, nobody really knows that much about the Gentle Lord, a.k.a. the Demon Lord. And certainly nobody but his wives and the doomed people he’s bargained with know much of anything about his house. The only person who seems to know stuff is Shade, who is bound not to tell, and the Kindly Ones (who aren’t so kind, and aren’t so available). Everybody else is trying to figure stuff out. Once you see the story as one big puzzle, it makes a heck of a lot more sense.

What really threw me was that Nyx’s original tactic for taking down the Gentle Lord’s house (with him, and probably herself, inside it) was almost irrelevant. She needed to find the rooms, yes. And they had massive significance. But it felt like there was virtually no point to all that world-building about Hermetic sigils and workings, except to give context for her father’s position. I think Nyx only used a sigil once in the entire book (turning off her bedroom lamp once to show how it works doesn’t count). And her “virgin knife” never made an emphatic comeback. Not to mention, throwing away her only true trump card—her virginity—didn’t make that big of a splash. Not only was it not played up after all those nervous warning bells in the beginning, but it didn’t make any difference to the outcome. She drops her dress, and then *bam* next scene. I thought, Wow, that could have happened a lot sooner, with virtually no ripples.

It was about halfway through the book that my mind started doing gymnastics, attempting to guess the answers to all the riddles and how they all tie together. It got super fun from there, though not a lot more emotional until nearer to the end. I won’t tell you the ending, but I will tell you that it’s worth getting to. And, DON’T SKIP AHEAD!!! Seriously, you’ll be soooo confused, because at one point the chronology becomes super important. If you read the book in order, you’re already getting pieces from all different parts of the chronology, so skippers beware. I didn’t skip, but if you do, you’ll just jumble the brain-bending ending.

If you’re intrigued by the book’s cover blurb about an unconventional Belle and a not-so-charming lord, this is definitely the book for you. If, however, you are waiting to see that there’s a lovely Prince Charming beneath that gruff, scarred male exterior…go find another book. Part of this book’s charm is that it doesn’t conform to that old-school/Disney pop-culture transformation; it’s more realistic.

I really enjoyed this book, as a story full of puzzles and riddles and mysteries and unconventional romance. The heroine is smart (but not too smart), and doesn’t give up easily, and she doesn’t change all that radically. This book is very much about loving people as they are, and loving within your capacity to love.

So, don’t read this book for the assassination action. Read this book to get to know Ignifex and Shade, the two juxtaposed, troubled men that Nyx is not sure she can save.

In all honesty, I would have liked some more details in the narration—more narrative coddling and in-depth, in-their-head emotional action. I felt a bit distanced from the characters, like I was watching the story unfold rather than feeling my heart race when I looked at one guy or the other, or almost drowned in a supernatural pool, etc. But I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint exactly how this should have been incorporated, because I feel like all of the characters were intentionally distant; they all had secrets. And the secrets were what made the book interesting.

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