Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reminder: Spam Stories Contest

End of day Friday (May 1) is the last chance to enter our contest to create a little scene from the Subject lines and senders of spam/junk mail. Up to 200 words, post it on the blog entry announcing the contest:

Recycle that spam to win prizes!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hermaphroditic Heroes

by Raelene Gorlinsky

I am stunned by the number of romance heroes who possess both male and female "parts". They've got two pairs of nipples, one for each gender. Two sets of lips. And four arms and a multitude of fingers.

How else would you interpret descriptions of our hero that refer to his male nipples--this must be to differentiate them from his female ones, right? His manly arms hold the heroine while his masculine fingers stroke her body and his male lips seduce her. So what are his female arms, etc, doing? Just hanging there? Or maybe waiting for another guy to join the fun so they can have a turn too?

If you are talking about a male character, believe me, we know his body parts are male. Cut out the unnecessary words. (Well, okay, if he's an alien or a weird paranormal creature, then you might have to be more specific.)

This isn't to say that you should never use such descriptors. Sometimes it is appropriate or accurate to differentiate, to draw a contrast between a feminine and masculine characteristic. A "masculine chin" describes a square, strong chin--and could be used in reference to either a man's or woman's face. Not all men are broad shouldered, so we all understand that "masculine breadth of shoulder" means wide shoulders. "Male scent" can be an allusion to the scent of sex, of pheromones, or even just to differentiate a "clean masculine scent" from the smell of cologne.

But please, never, ever write "his male penis". Not unless he's also got a female one.

Have you seen a description like this that left you laughing or groaning?

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Misplaced Maidenhead

by Raelene Gorlinsky

It's not just our romance heroes who sometimes have a bit of a reality problem with their genitalia. (See "Every Dick Has It's Day" blog post.) A lot of heroines have a part of their pussy that's in the wrong place. And behaves oddly.

We all know the scene:

Corwyndonus of the Cleaving Cock soothed his innocent young bride. "Do not fear, my dear. 'Twill hurt only this first time, and for but a few moments. I promise to be gentle." He then positioned his mighty staff at her virginal entrance. Slowly, slowly he entered her; inch by inch. When but halfway to his goal, he felt the brave barrier that resisted his masculine invasion. "Best I be quick," he murmured to Shy Sheilandra. Drawing almost fully out, with but the head of his massive organ still within her, he then thrust mightily to demolish the gate of her keep, burying himself to the hilt. Sheilandra screamed shrilly, beating on his shoulders with her dainty fists and sobbing with agony. "Shush, my dearling, the deed is done," Corwyndonus soothed her.

Later, as she lay exhausted on the bed, he gazed with masculine pride at the blood dripping from the sheets to the stone floor--proof of his virility and her virginity.
Ahem. Let's lead the charge in eradicating this ridiculous romance novel cliche. The fact is, the hymen is part of the external female genitalia. It is a thin, flexible membrane partially covering the opening of the vagina. Over half of women feel no pain and have no bleeding when the hymen is ruptured--which can happen during various types of physical activities, not just sex.

So the hero does not get several inches in and then burst through some barrier. He most likely doesn't feel the hymen at all, his penis slides right past it when he starts penetration. And the poor virgin (well, no longer virgin) heroine is not going to have to lie on blood-drenched sheets --at most a few spots, if anything. Except, of course, for the "wet spot"--but that's his fault, not hers, and anyway, why wasn't he wearing a condom?

From Wikipedia (yes, I know, not always the most reliable source, but a place to find basic facts):
"The hymen is a fold of mucous membrane which surrounds or partially covers the external vaginal opening. It forms part of the vulva, or external genitalia. [...] It is not possible to confirm that a woman is a virgin by examining her hymen.
"In the normal course of life the hymenal opening can also be enlarged by tampon use, pelvic examinations with a speculum, regular physical activity or sexual intercourse. Once a girl reaches puberty the hymen tends to become so elastic that it is not possible to determine whether a woman uses tampons or not by examining a hymen. In one survey only 43% of women reported bleeding the first time they had sex."

[Yes, there are rare women who have a medical condition of an imperforate hymen (no opening). But that has to be dealt with surgically at puberty, to allow menstrual blood to leave the body. ]

If you are woefully unaware of the parts of the vulva, see the pictures at

So please, no more of those anatomically impossible deflowerings. But we'd all love to hear the most dramatically overdone such scene you've read.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Contest: Spam Stories!

We’re going to have a contest! With prizes! Free e-books!

Always wondered if there could be some use for the hundreds of spam/junk messages that flood your email inbox? Hey, we all want to be "green" - recycle and reuse. So don't waste those spam messages, use the Subject lines to create a story.

Using only the phrases from spam/junk email subject lines, create a coherent (well, okay, that's optional) little vignette, no more than 2oo words. Obviously, this works on the honor system, as we really, really don't want to have to check your spam folder - we have more than enough of our own to deal with.

Post your entry in Comments by May 1, and we'll announce the winner(s) the following week.

Oh, and your character names need to be the senders of spam. I regularly get email from Adromache Ashley, Maarumaaru, Rosabella, Simmy, Angelina – and my most frequent correspondent, Viagra.Official.Site.

So make use of all those replica watches and cheap handbags emails, along with such potential story elements as:
The world’s largest online chemist store
Compare top 5 male enhancers
Revolutionary med discovery for your love-stick
Be too hot to resist
Use our support and you will never feel ashamed with women
We know these pills work
Up to 75% off on all items
Burn Fat & Lose Weight with Acai Berry
Be rock hard and ready all the time
Need your advice
Feel 10 years younger in bed
The magic of Viagra
Do not underestimate the value of free pills
Erectile issues are not your fault
Buy a college diploma

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Every Dick has its Day

by Kelli Collins

Working where I do, I’ve had my fair share of conversations about length; the sort of discussions that start small then grow and grow, with everyone pontificating about their penis preferences. If frank talk about the lap taffy isn’t your bag, feel free to exit the page. No, really, it’s okay. Come back next week for a rousing post about appropriate tea service in Regency romances. We’ll wait for you to exit…

All delicate flowers gone? Good. Now the rest of us can come to grips with an irksome little trait found in nearly all erotica: HUMONGOUS penises. In my experience, an author can forget to mention the hero’s name, but doggone it, everyone’s going to know about his gargantuan, huge, massive, stretched-to-his-navel knob. Nine inches seems to be the most popular length (I’ve seen up to 14. Fourteen!). And did I mention the ubiquitous “velvet-covered steel” texture? But that’s another post…

I think any good penis conversation worth shaking a stiffie at should include some requisite data. So let me just whip this out: A 1995 study published in the Journal of Urology capped the average erect penis at 5.08 inches. Is that masculine scoffing I hear? Perhaps you’d prefer the Kinsey data, still one of the most exhaustive studies on penis size to date. Good ol’ Al has the median one-eyed monster at 6.2 inches. Interesting note: Kinsey’s study has the average African American at 6.3 inches; hardly a ball-busting difference. (One source,—which seems even more questionable than the ever-questionable Wikipedia—gives black males a generous 7 inches. “It’s twue! It’s twue!”)

But far more interesting to me is the female perspective. For instance, in a 2005 internet survey of more than 50,000 men and women, a whopping 85% of hetero chicks were happy with their man’s size (a positively flaccid 6% considered their man “smaller than average”). Then there’s the highly unscientific and wholly impromptu survey of twelve female friends—those I would have considered the randiest and most likely to be size queens. You could have knocked me over with a penis pump when a surprising eleven said it’s not the size of the bat, but the swing of the stick.

So why the fascination with size in erotic romance when—if my meager research is anything to go by—most women just don’t seem to give a damn? Is it really a fantasy for most readers to be impaled upon a 12-inch love-lever? Is there some romance-writing myth that says royalties will wilt without a substantial schlong? Perhaps authors assume most fans don’t want to read about what they might already have at home. Or is it as simple as, “Hey. It’s fiction…so why not?”

How do female readers feel about the ever-present, bigger-than-average boner? I’m woman enough to admit the very real possibility of screaming in fear at the sight of a 14-inch penis. And guys? Do you snicker at romance heroes’ unrealistic appendages? Or do you perhaps feel—dare we say it?—the slightest bit intimidated by your fictitious counterparts?

These are the questions that keep me up at night. Even after some exhaustive lovin’ from my own humongous, gargantuan, huge, massive man.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Don't Tell My Mother...But Read This Book

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Have I mentioned my mother? I love her dearly. She is extremely proud of and brags about "my daughter, the publisher", but is completely embarrassed by what I publish. She doesn't read romance, thinks Nora Roberts writes smut, doesn't see the need for more than one kiss in a book. There are standing orders in the family--if anyone asks about my job, what it is the company publishes, the allowable response is "women's fiction". Not romance, let alone erotic romance! (I can't recall my mother ever using the word 'sex' in front of her children--all of us in our forties and fifties now.)

So...I'd really like to brag to the family about being quoted in a new book that is getting a lot of buzz. However, then Mom would ask what I was quoted saying, where she could find the book to read it. "Uh, Mom, it's called Beyond Heaving Bosoms. I'm in the chapter about sex in romance novels, and I talk about anal sex, menage a trois, and BDSM."

No, I think I better just take a pass on mentioning this one to the family.

However, I'm mentioning it to all of you.
Beyond Heaving Bosoms by Sarah Wendell & Candy Tan, (c)2009; Simon and Schuster; trade paperback; US$15.00

If you are a published or aspiring romance author, this book is well worth your time. It is entertaining and informative. The authors describe it as "for readers by readers". They clearly love romance novels but are not blind to some of the foibles and faults of the genre, the cliches and clunkers. Authors could learn a lot about their desired audience, about how to improve their plots and characters. I don't agree with all their statements and conclusions, but there is an incredible amount of advice about the history and current trends in romance writing, about reader expectations and preferences.

Who could fail to find wisdom in "A Hymn to the Hymen", "Top Ten Reasons Behind the Creation of a Virgin Widow", "The Three Most Fucked-Up Things Heroes Have Done and Gotten Away With", or "Everything I know About Biology and Physics, I Learned from Romance-Novel Covers".

And it's utterly charming that the chapters are named rather than numbered: Cleavage, Petticoat, Corset, Codpiece, Secret Cowboy Baby, WTF, Bad Sex, Love Grotto, Phallus, Heaving Bosom.

Be forewarned though, the tone is snarky and the language is salty (and fun).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Graphically Speaking

From the fertile mind of Kelli Collins

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Too-Good-To-Be-True Heroine

by Meghan Conrad

Everyone wants--or should want, anyhow--their heroes and heroines to be likable. Sometimes it seems like authors go too far, trying so hard to make someone likable and sympathetic that it has the opposite effect. Here are some ways to tell that you might be writing a heroine who's a bit too perfect.

She has no flaws. "Too intellectual" isn't a flaw, by the way. It's a positive thing (she's smart and well read) masquerading as a flaw, presumably because some people are threatened by smart women.

Despite not having any training, she's as good at the hero's job as he is--if not better.

She inspires unwavering love and loyalty from people who've known her for less than five minutes. If the people around her are willing to put themselves at risk for her sake, there better be a damn good reason. (Potential reasons: She can indisputably prove that she's the second coming of Christ, or...I can't think of another one, actually.)

Despite the fact that it's mentioned repeatedly that she is unaware of and doesn't care about her appearance, she's consistently described as the most incandescently beautiful woman in the room. This is a double whammy of too good to be trueness: not only is she completely unaware of how attractive she is, she doesn't have to try at all to be stunningly gorgeous.

Hand in hand with the last one, we have the heroine who's always perfectly dressed and accessorized. Her nails are color coordinated with her outfit, and her socks always match. She never gets a grass stain on her pants while she's fighting evil; she never breaks one of her implausibly high heels as she runs desperately from her stalker. I can get dirty just walking out my front door, and my socks never match. It can't be just me.

She overcomes nearly impossible odds--for everything. She's an orphan, she was horribly abused, she was homeless, and she also lost her five-year-old daughter in a car accident...and she's still optimistic, good natured and kind.

The phrase "men want her and women want to be her" is used in reference to her. That woman exists, but she's nobody that I'd want to be friends with, that's for sure. You want people to sympathize with your character, not hate her.

Speaking of someone we love to hate, remember that while there are some women who eat whatever they want, don't exercise, and are naturally a size two with not an ounce of cellulite, there are a lot more who are naturally a size twelve or twenty-two. Enough impossibly tiny waists, already!

There's no polite way to say this, but here goes: her bodily functions should not be charming. Bodies can be sort of gross. If everyone sighs adoringly every time your heroine belches, she's probably crossed the line.

**Thanks to Kelli Collins and Jaime Kurp for their assistance with this post.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Did She Really Do That?!

by Kelli Collins

She’s the bane of an editor’s existence, mentioned on pet peeve lists from here to Hong Kong, the one person sure to make us question our allegiance to our own gender—the TSTL heroine.

Ah yes. The good ol’ Too Stupid To Live chicks who make our mothers-in-law sound like Rhodes scholars. We’ve seen them in movies, met them in books, and bitch though we do about the impossibility of such people actually existing in real life, they *still* keep showing up. Inexplicably multiplying. Like bunnies on Viagra.

Surely characters with such staying power deserve our attention? After all, a wise bumper sticker once said, “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” So depending on your point of view, the following is either an ode in the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy…or a plea to take pity on long-suffering editors and readers.

You Might Be TSTL If…

You have sex with a stranger.

You have sex with a stranger…*without* protection. (TSTL Double-Whammy)

You accept a marriage proposal from said stranger after a month. Or a week. Or a day.

You “refuse to be afraid!” Very brave. And stupid. Fear might actually keep you alive.

You assert your independence by putting yourself into outrageous predicaments and/or extreme danger. (“I don’t need your help! I’ll just do this incredibly stupid thing all by myself instead!”)

When chased by a villain, you run upstairs (or into the basement), thereby ensuring your capture and possible murder/rape/torture. (TSTL Classic I)

You call your ex for revenge sex after a spat with your current lover.

You swiftly jump to illogical conclusions faster than a preschooler playing Xtreme Hopscotch.

You routinely wear laughably inappropriate clothes/shoes for every occasion. Who hikes in five-inch stilettos?

You’re easily blackmailed. (“Have my baby or everyone you love dies!” Um, if the villain’s willing to kill, he’s damn sure willing to lie.)

You think you can thwart the villain better than your ex-SEAL/Ranger/spy/cop hero.

You enter dark alleys and/or abandoned, creepy-looking buildings alone. At night. Without a flashlight. (TSTL Classic II)

You can’t say no to anyone, for any reason, including friends, family, coworkers, the hero, the postman, your butcher, the chick who served your dinner last night…

You think having a baby will save your failing relationship and/or stay in a relationship solely “for the sake of the kids”.

You confuse strength and intelligence with bitchiness and bossiness. (TSTL Trend du Jour)

You can’t make up your own mind. Ever.

**The TSTL list wishes to thank the following contributors: Raelene Gorlinsky, Donna Hoard, Meghan Conrad, Sue-Ellen Gower and Ann Bruce.

Monday, April 13, 2009

What Editors/Agents Want

My recent NECRWA conference attendance had an element in common with every writer conference I've attended. That is, the most common question presented to editors and agents: "What type of book do you want?" Authors are always very frustrated by the standard response heard at every conference: "A really good book." They ask what makes a really good book, or makes an editor/agent think a book is really good. If it was that cut-and-dried, if we could just lay out a list of elements, then every book published would be a best-seller because that's all we'd buy. But it's not that simple. It's like the Supreme Court Justice's comment when asked to define pornography: "I know it when I see it."

A story has so many elements--writer voice, style, pacing, plot, characterization, conflict and resolution, satisfying ending...and on and on. And what grabs one editor/agent will be ho-hum to another--personal experience, marketing inclination, and taste do play a part.

Unfortunately, being "a really good book" does not always guarantee being a successful book in terms of sales. Current market trends and reader fads, the publishing and book retail climate, the author's reputation and fan base, and again on and on... So many things impact a book's sales potential, as much as the story itself. (Every editor/agent knows the frustration of having a book they feel is absolutely fantastic, and seeing it not get the attention it should or be a hit with enough readers.)

Frustrated in their attempt to pin down "what do you want" from the editors/agents, the authors then move on to asking what we don't want. (No, we don't answer, "We don't want a really bad book.") Specific genres or plot elements will be raised as contenders for "I've heard no one is buying any more ----." Recently the common comment is that publishers don't want any more vampire romances. Yep, it was asked again at the NECRWA conference, and one of the editors or agents (alas, I don't remember who spoke up for us on this) gave the standard and very true response. You can still sell an editor on a book in an over-populated genre, as long as it is not the same-old-same-old. It needs a new twist or unique take. Go read lots and lots of vampire romances--and then write something different, make an element of your vampire or your vampire's world a change-up on what everyone else has written. (Forget having your vampire sparkle in sunlight--it's been done.)

Right after returning from this last conference, I read a new book that I would indeed say is a really great story and a new twist on an overdone genre. I wish I'd read it before the conference so I could have used it as an example. Angels' Blood by Nalini Singh. It's the start of a series, and is about vampires, vampire hunters and angels. Vamps and their hunters are way common in paranormal romances nowadays; angels are newer but look to be heading toward overused territory. But Ms. Singh's book just...stunned me. Blew me away. I love it, it will easily rank on my top-ten list for the year. Her development on the character types is unique; her vampires were intriguing and her take on "angels" was fantastic and startling. Her world building is superb and incredible. This is the perfect example of "not the same-old-same-old". And it had the effect that editors and publishers want from readers--it sent me immediately to the author's website to find out what other books she had, when the sequel to this one would be out. (Aargh, not for a year! Torture! But two novellas in the same world will tide me over to the next novel.)

So, you want to know what types of books agents and editors want? A really good story that will play on current reader tastes but is different from all the rest. Is that enough information? Okay, get writing.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I Tried to Buy an eBook...

by Raelene Gorlinsky

...and it was an incredibly frustrating experience.

Keep in mind that I work for an e-publisher, I regularly read books in digital format, and I have bought lots of ebooks previously. If this week's effort was so difficult for me, no wonder people new to ebooks get turned off or don't understand. How many potential ebook readers do we lose because they can't figure out how to get the damn book?

After going through two days of nonsense at two very well-known ebooks sales websites (one of them the largest third-party ebook vendor), it occurs to me that in past I have always bought direct from e-publisher sites. Not just our own, but a number of other e-pubs. And I've never had any problems with making the purchase and downloading the book and being able to open it to read. So why would an ebook vendor site have so much less grasp on how to make the experience clear and uncomplicated for readers? They should be as experienced at this as the e-publishers, understand what their customers want and how to make it simple for them to spend money and want to come back later and spend more money.

Okay, it was easy enough to get on either site and search for the title. Then I discovered that it is only available in three digital formats - none of them the formats I prefer. None of them the most popular formats, that work on multiple devices and don't require limitations on viewing format and usability. Well, okay, I told myself I could work with another format if necessary, although not my preference.

Kudos to the smaller of the two sites for having a good chart explaining the various formats, what devices they did or did not work with, and other important usability information. Boos to big-vendor site for making such information difficult to find and incomplete.

So, which format to choose?

Format #1 was definitely out - it is encrypted with a key based on your credit card number. What, I'd have to remember which card I used to buy each ebook?

Formats #2 and #3, although less desirable than the format I wanted, seemed like they would work for me. The reader software for most formats is a free download, and in fact I already have most of them on my laptop. So I'd tried to buy - and got walked through a maze of screens about having to download and register the software, but not being able to do that because I already had it downloaded. And neither site would let me read the downloaded book without registering the free software. Huh? I previously downloaded the reader programs direct from the software manufacturers, and they don't require registration. After much research and more tedious mazes, I found out on smaller-site that I can manually register my device PID. But why would I want to and why do I have to?

Oh, and I have two laptops and want to be able to load and read ebooks from either or both. Without having to buy two copies. The vendor sites were very obscure about how to do this, since I can't make copies of the downloaded book file or email it. Which leads to...

A word on DRM: Put me firmly in the anti-DRM camp. As far as I'm concerned, it does nothing to stop ebook pirates, who have no problem getting around the "protection". It merely aggravates readers and discourages them from buying ebooks. Both vendor sites warned me that the book is DRM-protected to the point where I can't copy, move, or print it. Yes, I read and love ebooks, but sometimes I want print. My laptop and I have an intimate relationship 14 hours a day; occasionally I want to read from paper. I read myself to sleep at night, and laptops or ereaders are not comfortable companions under the covers. Paper doesn't hurt me or itself when it falls from my drifting-to-sleep hands.

And it went on and on like this - annoying and frustrating roadblocks to just handing over my money for a book to read. Yes, I could have kept going and probably worked around the problems, but why should I have to? And would a less-ebook-experienced person be able to or even be willing to try?

Oh, yes, I did then go to the webstore of the book publisher (traditional NY print publisher) -- same problems.

I still don't own the book. I really, really want this book, and it's not available in print. My next step is to email the author and beg. I doubt it will get me the book I want in the format I want, but it can't hurt to try. I'm not about to subject myself to any further frustration in trying to buy the thing online.

And I'll stick to buying direct from e-publisher sites from now on, thank you.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Future of Bookstores

Lost in the Pixels of a Good Book by Elizabeth Bluemle

This blog article is by a children's bookseller. She talks about becoming enamored of the apps on her new iPhone, her discovery of e-books, and then her amazement that she actually could enjoy reading them.
" was, quite frankly, a micro-revelation. It didn’t matter what format the book came in; once I was reeled in by a skillful writer, I was lost in Neverland."

She has a very thoughtful discussion on how e-books affect the business of bookstores, especially indies such as the one she works for.
"E-books are a hot topic in the industry right now, and there are many actual experts out there writing thoughtful articles on the topic who know a lot more than I do. Like all of us booksellers, I want to know how this tiny revolution will affect my store. For one thing, it will add yet another lasagna layer to the deep dish of competition for book sales."

"How can booksellers convert our handselling expertise to have a role in recommending and distributing e-books, too, so that instead of losing sales to publishers and online vendors, we might earn a small piece of this ever-growing pie?"

Do read her full article, and give some thought to the future of bookstores. Between online retailers (Amazon-who-will-take-over-the-world) and e-books, what niche or special need can brick-and-mortar bookstores fill to stay in business?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Conference: New England Chapter RWA

by Raelene Gorlinsky

I had a great time at the NECRWA conference in Massachusetts two weeks ago. The hotel was comfortable, the food was excellent. Even my plane flights were good - on time, and not crowded!

The chapter members were marvelously friendly and helpful. My thanks to all of them, especially chapter president Cindy Gregory (who amazed me by remembering I am diabetic and making sure I got a sugar-free chocolate bar!) and member Kate Sohl, who transported me between airport and hotel and kept me well-entertained with her stories.

This conference had what I most appreciate - ample opportunity to talk with people and to network. I got to chat with ECPI authors in attendance, to aspiring authors, to published authors, and to editors and agents. I love to discuss the publishing industry with others, get their take on what's going on, what's hot, what trends are developing. Brenda Chin from Harlequin was especially informative and interesting. Jessica Faust is one of the agents I most admire in the business, I read her blog regularly. Alas, agent Meg Ruley and I had time only for a passing greeting, due to our schedules; we've met at previous conferences and she's a great and fun person. I enjoyed chatting with experienced authors/conference speakers Lisa Gardner, Jessica Andersen and Jennifer Greene.

I was impressed with the quality of the pitches I heard, and am eagerly looking forward to receiving several submissions.

And of course it was very gratifying that my workshop was so well-attended and successful - people commented on it all day. Nothing like making people pretend to be serial killers or nipple-sucking giraffe shapeshifters to keep an audience's interest!