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19 December 2012 Post By: VV

The Next Big Thing

Josephine Myles tagged me for The Next Big Thing blog hop. Check out her Next Big Thing, Junk—as usual, her story ideas are fascinating. In turn, I'm tagging Heidi and Ruth Diaz.

I'm actually discussing two projects, fairly closely linked.

What is the working title of your book?

The first one is a shorter novel written with Heidi (writing as Molly Ian) called The Dom Project, and the other is a longer novel written solo called Love is a Stranger. They're both part of a series tentatively titled LA Doms.


Where did the idea come from for the book?

I've wanted to write a non-m/m BDSM erotic romance for a while. I don't see myself writing m/m anymore, really, unless it's linked to The Druid Stone's Layers of the Otherworld series. It's time to move on. I'm not going to retire this pen name, although I'll be writing under a new linked one: Solace Ames. I love writing women again, and bisexual men being bisexual!

The Dom Project is a story idea that we worked out together. It's a simple story, but a very resonant one that drives some super-twisty relationship dynamics. We started off with a very realistic situation—a woman submissive getting into the BDSM scene keeps attracting asshole dominants—and then added a larger than life element: an old friend who is *gasp* secretly a dom. When he finds her anonymous blog complaining about all her terrible experiences (including dominants who think they're telepathic and can't spell orgasm correctly) he offers to help her out. They sign a one-month contract. With no sex. Will they make it to the end? Or will there be fucking? (yes)

Love is a Stranger is MMF and is a bit less light-hearted than The Dom Project, although it still has lots of wry humor. It's about a young free-spirited Mexican-American couple who had a great sex life, up until the husband gets a spinal injury in a car accident. He's recovering well when the book starts, but still in physical therapy.  They decide to spend part of the personal injury lawsuit money on a high-end rent boy who specializes in sexual dominance... not for him, but for his hard-working wife, to fulfill a fantasy she'd always set aside. Life is wonderful for a while, but when the money runs out, hearts start breaking. 

I started Love is a Stranger because I love MMF (especially the not-very-common submissive couple trope) and I love BDSM but find so much BDSM erotic romance terrible and predictable. I won't go on anti-FSoG rant here because I really can't be bothered. I haven't read it, and I know there's a lot worse out there. But here are some things I'm bored with:

- Fucked by the Millionaire type books. Ugh, millionaires and CEOs. As I've said before, I've been fucked over by them so much already, asking for more is the furthest thing from my mind. Also, I'm basically a Marxist. Also, I have an MBA and used to work in the corporate world, so I know in real life they are awful boring not very sexy people anyway. Fuck 'em. Except not really.

- "Authentic" BDSM books in which people spout FAQs about BDSM theory for the first two-thirds of the book in horrendously wooden dialogue. Booooring! I don't care if people have been in the life for decades if they can't write characters that aren't cardboard. I imagine this couple from The Onion whenever I start reading one of those books.

- Fantasy glitter kink books where every dom hero owns a club filled with nothing but super cool hot rich young perfect people. Some of these are very well written, and I don't have anything against them—hey, erotica and romance are all about being larger than life—I just prefer a slightly higher realism level.

- Subs that are "broken" and have to be "put back together" by the dominant.  Healing-cock BDSM, basically. I greatly dislike hurt/comfort and I'll leave it at that.

- Books that say they're BDSM, but don't actually have any kinky sex whatsoever! Grrr. 

- Racism. OMG SO MUCH RACISM. Both passive (all white characters, all white settings) and active (unexamined racial fetishism, slurs, racist stereotypes). Being an Asian woman and reading this stuff is like walking through a goddamn minefield. 

So I started off Love is a Stranger to write a story with all the stuff I wanted to see, inspired by the books I like. There are continuing themes from the m/m I've done, especially sex work and the intersection of sexuality and disability, plus I get to do so much more in terms of gender. My goal is to create characters who are flawed, but not broken pain ciphers, who come from diverse racial and ethnic and class backgrounds, who live and love in ways that are exciting and new. And they have a lot of kinky sex, of course! 

What genre does your book fall under?

The Dom Project is m/f BDSM contemporary erotic romance. Love is a Stranger is MMF BDSM contemporary erotic romance.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This is the image that perfectly represents The Dom Project. It's from August Magazine featuring Daniel Henney. I would also accept Rick Yune. I wish I could figure out what the name of the other model is... she's also perfect!


Here is another inspiration pic, of a younger Aaron Kwok—our dude has tattoos.


What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

It's like Fifty Shades of Grey except the heroine works for Special Collections hunting down rare vintage porn and the hero is an A/V tech at her university so I guess it's actually not like Fifty Shades of Grey at all, and I suck at these synopses.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

We will be submitting it, but I don't want to go into more detail than that.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I started Love is a Stranger first, then paused it for The Dom Project. We're 43k out of 58k now... soooo close! For Love is a Stranger, I'm 33k out of an estimated 90k. It's got three POV characters after all *fans self*

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Books by Cara McKenna (I'm turning into a huge Cara McKenna fangirl), Charlotte Stein, Scarlett Parrish, Tiffany Reisz (very very different tone, but I admire how she's done innovative stuff), Varian Krylov's Hurt, Light Switch by Lauren Gallagher. Basically, complicated erotic romance that messes with tropes.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I think I answered that above... hmm.

For Love is a Stranger, this song and video.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The Dom Project has an erotic candlestick polishing scene. And literal pearl clutching.

Here's an excerpt from one of the lighter parts. For a sexier one, check out Heidi's blog.
“So how do we handle the money?” Robin asked. She felt awkward bringing it up, but better a little awkwardness now than an embarrassing wallet-shuffle in front of a rack of dildos.

John stopped walking and put his arm around her shoulder. She leaned in closer, into his warmth. Even though it had gotten harder for them to talk, the language of touch always came through.

There was a cool breeze this evening, blowing in from the Pacific and sweeping the smog clouds away. A beautiful evening for a movie and a dinner date. Or a movie and a dinner and an expedition to a sex shop.

“I was thinking I could buy you something, and you could buy me something,” he said. “Of course, I already have the serious gear.”

“So I should get you something frivolous,” she mused. “A Hello Kitty cock sack? I wonder if they have those.”

“No thanks. But doesn’t she have a friend—the black penguin dude? He looks kind of domly. You could get me one with him.”

“Not if you ever want me to sleep with you again. ‘Domly’ or not, I don’t know if I can take a man seriously when he has a penguin on his junk.”

“And yet Hello Kitty is okay.”

She flashed him a coy look through her eyelashes, tucking her hands behind her back as she twisted on her heels. “I may or may not have had a very nice session with a dominatrix who had a Hello Kitty tattoo on her hip.”

John raised an eyebrow and grinned. She hadn’t told him everything about how she got started in the first place; it was too much fun teasing him with bits and pieces. “Did you pay for it?” he asked.

“No.” Robin walked onwards to where lewd mannequins beckoned behind glass. Hand on the door, she tossed him another piece of the puzzle. “I bartered for it.”
Here's an excerpt from Love is a Stranger showing a typical work day for one of our protagonists. It's a sex scene, but not one of the sexier ones.
Paul parked in the shadow of the glittering silver Escalade. He’d been to this Beverly Hills house several times before, enough to not really care that his own Camry didn’t fit in.

He texted the people inside. -At the door.

When he put his hand on the door and swung it open, that reliable magic struck.

He walked in like he owned the place, his latest review had said, and it wasn’t the first time someone had used those words. Knowing Jay and Adriana had written them made the reading of it more satisfying than usual, though.

He walked in like he owned the place.

“What the hell are you doing here?” CJ asked. He was a big man, built strong, a little more solid around the shoulders than Paul. He worked in sports but he’d never been a player, and Paul imagined he probably had a home gym and a personal trainer.

Paul brushed past him like he didn’t even exist.

“I called him over,” Mary said. She was naked, except for high heels, and carried a riding crop. “I wanted to show you how a real man fucks, you goddamn sissy bitch.”

“No,” CJ moaned. “Don’t do this to me.”

Paul had to fight to keep a straight face at this point. Once past the protestation stage, he enjoyed these sessions, but CJ’s love for melodramatic delivery was always dangerous.

The rope was on the hall end table. CJ struggled weakly. Paul held him down with the minimum of full body contact. CJ wasn’t really his type, but he was good-looking enough that Paul regretted not being able to stick something in him while he was down there. CJ didn’t go that way, unfortunately.

Paul tied the last knot and moved to let Mary have a go at her husband, her full breasts quivering magnificently as she struck with the crop.

When she was panting with exertion and nicely worked up, he had her against the wall, then on the floor, not two feet away from where CJ lay bound, his eyes wide and stricken.

He came inside her. Went to the spa-sized bathroom, threw away the condom and washed his hands. Waved goodbye on the way out. “I’ll lock the door behind me,” he told Mary. She was always nervous about that.

“Thanks,” Mary said. “See you next month.” She turned away and looked down on CJ with cool delight, very much like a cat, and nudged a pointed toe against his thigh. He moaned again, and this time it sounded entirely real.



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06 December 2012 Post By: VV

When "Bullying" is not Bullying

There's a fairly new clearinghouse site for information on the SGRB. It's called "stopthegrbullies.net"—please note the dot NET, not the dot com. I thought I'd go ahead and link to it and help it out in Google ratings.

We've had a run-in with the SGRB over a drive-by on The Druid Stone. Aside from personal antagonism (and the fact that the majority of the authors they defend are absolutely indefensible) here are some reasons why I'm against them.

I believe in honesty. 

Being an author doesn't mean I stopped being a reader, and I'm also a reviewer. I'm very proud of my reviews, which are often unprofessional, eccentric, profanity-laced and long. I like honest reviews, so anything that encourages honest reviews, I also like. Enforcing arbitrary niceness rules via the threat of stalking—a SGRB tactic which has been well-documented at the above site—doesn't encourage honesty, to say the least.

Authors are not entitled to politeness and are never above judgement.

I usually believe in separating the book from the author. If I made a resolution to stop reading assholes, I'd probably have to throw away half my library, because being a good person only partially overlaps with being a good writer. This gets a little tricky in today's contact-rich social-media-driven environment, and although I try to separate the book, if someone really makes me angry, I don't feel like supporting them by giving them money, and my enjoyment of the book is going to be affected. So I see where other readers are coming from.

I cannot stand the "you're not allowed to judge!" mentality. My philosophy is judge away, and then prepare to be judged if your judgement is especially stupid or offensive. If someone says "I am not going to buy this book because the author is a sexual predator", that sounds fair to me. If you say, "I am not going to buy this book because the author is gay," well, I (and a lot of other people) are probably going to be judging you pretty badly for that.

Authors should not comment on reviews unless welcomed or invited.

I don't think this is some eternal moral principle, it's just good sense and good social skills. Reviews are primarily for other readers.

I read almost all my reviews. I'm thick-skinned about them, so I mostly enjoy the hell out of the process. I love reading reviews that really engage with the book and make connections that I hadn't even thought of myself.

I've had bad reviews, some that I considered well-reasoned, others that were a) factually inaccurate b) personally insulting c) racist. They don't bother me that much. C) comes with the territory for writers who take multicultural narratives seriously, like my cowriter and I do—not just giving lip service, that is. I'm a woman of color who's fairly open about talking about race so I've seen a lot worse on the internet. The more people that read my books (hopefully) the more of the objectionable stuff I'll get... but that's the inevitable price to pay for much more of the awesome fun ego-boosting stuff.

I don't believe that reviews are sacrosanct. I simply believe that the author of the book is the absolute last person in the world who should jump in and criticize them. And that includes whipping up fans or friends to come in and white-knight. Try to stay the hell out of it. Save the explanations of authorial intent for people who've made it clear they want to hear them. Otherwise, intent is basically irrelevant.

Complaining about bad reviews should be done privately. Or do it publicly, if you can make it entertaining and non-blaming.  Here's a recent example from the author of a book called Throne of the Crescent Moon:
But attacking people who give you bad reviews as a class is petty, vindictive and disrespectful to all readers.

Bad reviews do not constitute bullying or abusive behavior.

This is the most important point, and one that sends me into a soaring rage. I had to deal with racist abuse from the age of six on through fifteen. I had my peers physically attack me, throw rocks at me, try to poison me, tell me twenty times a day that everything about my body and face and voice was wrong. I had no choice in the matter. The idea that giving someone a one star for a book is ANYTHING compared to what I went through is disgusting, appropriative and morally bankrupt.

I take it very personally.

I'm giving five (public) stars to Readers have Rights.

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03 December 2012 Post By: VV

Mark of the Gladiator Blog Tour Wrap-Up


I love all the comments we've been getting this tour! Thanks, everyone, and thanks to all our hosts!

I have to brag a bit and say that we've gotten some awesome reviews.  Here's a super passionate one and here's an impressively comprehensive one.

You still have time, up until Dec. 10th, to comment on any of these blog entries to win a threesome deal: The Druid Stone plus prequel "Cruce de Caminos" and sequel "Galway Bound" in the ebook format of your choice. And there's another Goodreads contest ending on the 10th to win a gorgeous print copy of Mark of the Gladiator.

Here's the blog tour wrap-up:


At You Gotta Read, we have a short excerpt that packs a powerful punch, as Anazâr prepares to perform special duties for his master. Consent is pretty damn dubious—although this master/slave dynamic isn't the core of the story, it's still there.

At Words of Wisdom from the Scarf Princess, I interview Heidi Belleau. We love this cross-interview format, by the way, because we can cut to the chase and ask the questions that matter. Heidi waxes eloquent on Spartacus and gives some insight into the structure and dark humor of Mark of the Gladiator.

At Well Read, it's my turn to be interviewed. I talk about my experiences with Latin, and how crucial I felt it was to show women with flaws and strengths who both suffer and survive in order to balance out the common issue of m/m manpain über alles. And what it might have been like for Marc Antony to give you a pep talk.

The Pen and the Muse has an entry with a lighter touch that explores the dynamic of the love triangle. By the way, this is a triangle that has the most definite of resolutions! However, we use this entry to play up a bit of uncertainty and suspense in the beginning.

Elisa Rolle puts up the most serious post, a discussion of Roman sexuality and masculinity.  As I mention in the post, "The Romans had no conception of 'gay' or 'straight' as sexual identities." So what did they have? It's a fascinating subject.

Do you want to know more about ancient love poetry? How about hate poetry? Book Reviews and More by Kathy has a post where I discuss some very beautiful and nasty excerpts.

At Sinfully Sexy Book Reviews, we count down our top seven hot Roman warrior dudes. The list is pretty Spartacus heavy (including Tony Curtis). The blog did an awesome job with the images.

Bending the Bookshelf has another educational post, this one short, and um, blunt, about sex toys.

Thus ends the blog tour. Vale!


We also posted on our own blogs. Heidi has a Five Facts post where she mentions her dream casting for the movie. I go on a long, image-heavy rant about the difference between Nubians and Numidians and the failures of portraying ancient Africa in general.

I'd also like to mention our USA Today HEA Romance Blog post: "Women Who Love Men Who Love Men: The Appeal of M/M". This was a wonderful opportunity to represent m/m and recommend books for readers new to the genre. We kept it short due to length constraints and touched on lots of different areas.

We're happy to answer any questions about the book, the process, or the contests.

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26 November 2012 Post By: VV

Mark of the Gladiator and Ancient Africa

Buy it at Riptide Publishing,
Amazon or ARE
Add to Goodreads
Mark of the Gladiator releases on November 26th in ebook and December 3rd in print, and you can enter to win a free print copy here. I'm incredibly proud of this book on so many levels. This is the most tightly structured and suspenseful book we've ever done. I'm very happy with it, and I'm especially happy about the advance reviews that speak of rapidly alternating confusion and delight at the plot twists. As a reader, I love the moments where I yell WHAT! (in a good way) and look wildly around me.

This is also our book that has involved the most historical research, and that's saying a lot, since many of our books are research-heavy. As always, the research was quite enjoyable. I know a lot about the subject already—that doesn't mean I got everything right, just that I didn't start off with a blank slate—but I also learned some fascinating new material.

In one of the upcoming blog tour posts, I talk more about my background in classics and why I'm fascinated with ancient Rome (it starts with Asterix and travels through Catullus). But for this post, I'd like to zero in on one of my historical pet peeves. Have a historical rant!

In case you haven't heard of the term "potato rager" before, I learned it last year, and love it. It describes someone who RAGES when potatoes are mentioned in medieval Europe, since potatoes come from the Americas and are a fairly recent addition to European diets.

I'm not exactly a potato rager, if only because in my opinion USians know too much about Western European history. It's depressing as hell when my countryfolk know the difference between a Viscount and an Earl in 19th-century England but can't name a single President of Mexico. So I'm not a potato rager, but I am a little bit of a Rome rager. A stirrup-rager, if you will (Roman cavalry didn't have stirrups). And one thing that especially enrages me is how stupidly Africa is treated in popular media about ancient Rome.

Africa is not a country. It's a continent. It's not just any continent, it's a huge continent, many times bigger than Europe—and if there were any geographic justice, Europe wouldn't be a continent at all, it would simply be the Northwest Asian subcontinent.

In the ancient world, as today, there was a huge variety of ethnicities, languages, architectural styles, religions, etc. to be found in Africa. During the height of the Roman Empire, Egypt and vast sweeps of Northern Africa were under Roman control and influence. Roman Africa was integral to the empire in a way that, say, England was not.

One mark of sloppy history is throwing in an African character and randomly calling them a Numidian. I think colorblind casting can be awesome, but if the European characters aren't cast colorblind, then non-European characters shouldn't be, either. And people from Africa have very distinctive, different features depending on where they're from.

Numidians, for example. The old Numidian empire was based in Western North Africa, and the people were mainly ethnically Amazigh, commonly known in English as "Berber"—I put that in quote marks because many regard it as a pejorative name, since it shares the same etymology as "barbarian". The people themselves do not use it.

Here are some modern day Amazigh men.


Here's an ancient depiction of King Juba of Numidia, who reigned from 60 BCE to 46 BCE and was an ally of Pompey.


Here's an ancient depiction of Jugurtha, another famous Numidian king.


Ancient Nubia was south of Egypt and thousands of miles away. Here are some modern-day Nubians:


An ancient depiction of the wife of Pharoah Amenhotep, Queen Tiye (1398 BCE – 1338 BCE), who was Nubian:


An Egyptian depiction of a Nubian:



A modern-day depiction of one of the Nubian pharoahs—Nubians ruled Egypt during the 25th dynasty.



Weirdly, any time there's a black character in an ancient Roman movie or TV show, they're usually called a "Numidian": Noel Clarke in Centurion, Djimon Hounsou in Gladiator, Peter Mensah as Oenomaus in Spartacus.

The ancient Romans were much more familiar with the geography of Northern Africa. In their imagination, Northern Europe was a cold, mysterious place inhabited by savage, childlike people. The lands beside the Mediterranean sea, on the other hand, were long part of their recorded history. The people that lived there were often hated and warred against (such as Carthage) but they certainly weren't ignored.

To sum up: Numidia = North Africa, Mediterranean sea, horses, camels, mostly under Roman influence. Nubia = southern Egypt, Sudan, Nile river, pyramids, hippos, crocodiles, mostly not under Roman influence. Both with a high level of material culture and technology.

In Mark of the Gladiator, we wanted to take real advantage of Rome's status as an amazingly cosmopolitan city. There were slaves and free people from all over the Mediterranean region and beyond, mixing together. Our hero is a Numidian, from the fringes of the empire—he fought on the losing side in the Roman civil war, in the forces of Cleopatra and Marc Antony. His fellow slaves, the female gladiators, are from all over the empire. Two of them, The Sarmatian and The Aethiopian (she has a Nubian name, but claims to be from further east) become especially crucial to his survival, and are characters we absolutely fell in love with... and hope you will too!

The Actium connection is actually why we decided to make our gladiator hero Numidian. In the very first chapter, he has a dream of riding across the desert on horseback to join the auxiliary legions and fight in Greece, a continent's length away. His epic journey is one of the linchpins of his psyche, a defining experience.

Numidia, in Mark of the Gladiator, represents the past. It's a defeated empire, and a land to which our hero knows he can never return. One place in Africa, on the other hand—the evocative city of Adulis in Aksum—comes to represent the future for several characters, although I can't really give away more.

Mark of the Gladiator is at heart a romantic suspense book, full of intrigue and action and sex, not a history lesson. But I've greatly enjoyed reading advance reviews that say, "I learned a lot from this!" You can read up on some of our research in the back of the novel, where we have a glossary and an Authors' Note. In the future, I might do another photo post where I show some of the images that inspired us while writing.



Goodreads Book Giveaway


Mark of the Gladiator by Heidi Belleau

Mark of the Gladiator

by Heidi Belleau


Giveaway ends December 10, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

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12 November 2012 Post By: VV

Back!

I don't know what I would have done if November 6th had turned out differently, but I was fairly confident my side would win. And it did. Woohoo! I'm very heartened.

My family and I did a lot of work in the election. I went to North Carolina, the closest battleground state, several times for GOTV campaigns, and my oldest son, who is ten, helped out on the last trip. I called. I did data entry. After we won, I showed my son this video of Obama crying while he thanked campaigners.



There were some pretty big stakes for me. I don't have health insurance. My children both have special needs. Losing this election would have meant financial and medical disaster for our family.

We're also not white, and I was terrified by the naked racism I saw in so many parts of the other side.

In the 1996 presidential election, more Asian-Americans voted Republican than Democrat (we're a diverse group and some are very conservative). Since then, the Republicans have alienated us so much, and Asian-American Obama supporters have worked so hard, that Obama won us this year by 73%. 73%! That's more than Latinos at 71%. Suck it Latinos! Jejejeje. Just kidding, mis hermanos!

In other relevant political news, the first openly gay person of color has been elected to the House this year, and he's Japanese-American: Mark Takano.


I also found the message of this clip to be very inspiring. In two words? Hate lost.

I'm dipping my toes back into social media and looking forward to reconnecting. However, I'm scaling back in a lot of ways. There are certain values in the m/m writing community, certain directions things are going, that are just not healthy for me. This doesn't mean I'm necessarily going to stop reading or writing it, but I can't be any kind of insider anymore, if I ever was.

I've been writing this whole time. The project I started on is not the project I'm working on now, but I'm still excited about all of them.

I'm working on Mark of the Gladiator promo posts with Heidi now, and it's hard work but a lot of fun to delve back into Roman history. There's a lot of sex and violence in MotG, but it has a humanist core. I can't stress enough how much the Steven Saylor mysteries have influenced that approach for me. Although I won't have a full post on that, I just wanted to give a shout out to any other Roma Sub Rosa fans. Vale!

Best wishes to everyone and especially people who have lost something or someone in Sandy. My friends in NYC are OK but I still feel terrible about the situation. Please give here. I'm going to go donate blood as soon as I get better (I'm sick with a nasty head cold/ear infection).

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