Monday, 18 December 2017

A Lampshade for Mother - A Guest Post by Janine Ashbless (@sinfulpress)


Here’s a tip for writing character enrichment for pantsers like me: when your character does something, especially something unexpected or odd or bad, assume that they have a compelling reason for it.

Everyone is the hero of their own story, after all. Everyone likes to think that they had justification for what they did.

I hit an excellent example of this in my Book of the Watchers trilogy. My heroine and narrator Milja lives with her widowed father, guarding an imprisoned fallen angel. In the first book she lets the prisoner go free and then her father dies (the two are not entirely unconnected, I might add), so Milja wallows in a great deal of guilt but is reconciled with her father’s ghost at the end. Now, throughout Cover Him with Darkness, Milja thinks about her father a lot … but she never really mentions her mother, who is simply gone from the scene. Her mother isn’t relevant to the story so it just didn’t cross my mind until the book was finished.

Then I read it back and thought, “That’s a little odd.” Why didn’t the woman even merit a backstory? Was Milja too young to remember her death? But wouldn’t Milja even yearn for a mother to turn to in her troubles, or mention how she wished the woman was there while her father lay dying? Why is Milja so emotionally separated from her mum? She must have a reason.

So in the second book of the trilogy, In Bonds of the Earth, I don’t fix the ‘mistake,’ I double-down on it. It’s a form of the technique known as lampshading. Milja still thinks about her father fondly – but she mentions her mother accidentally in passing and then deliberately walls the thought off. Something’s now clearly wrong there. My narrator has revealed herself as unreliable. She’s hiding something not just from the reader but from herself.

And of course the final piece of the jigsaw is for me, as the writer, to understand what that secret is. And in the context of the trilogy’s background situation and overarching plot, the solution to that turned out to be both perturbing and perfectly logical – a sort of “Why the hell didn’t I see that?!” shock that I hope I managed to pass to the reader by the end of The Prison of the Angels.

So when you’ve got a character oddity, don’t shy from it. Try running with it – because it can take you some amazing places.

xxx

Janine

*****

Excerpt from The Prison of the Angels:
The cold water flashed like white fire over every inch of my skin. It burnt my eyeballs and my lips and the inside of my throat, and beyond the white fire was a darkness so immense that it swallowed me whole.
I fell forever.
Something grabbed my wrist. Something so hot that it boiled away the darkness, so that there was suddenly light flashing in my eyes. I felt myself grabbed up bodily and lifted. I felt heat against my lips, blowing fire into my frozen lungs. I saw the wooden posts of a flight of steps, and then I pitched forward onto hands and knees in the shallow snow, choking up pond-water. In front of my blurred vision an inchoate swirl of darkness poured up the steps onto the lit porch and then disappeared. Unseen, something slammed against the door, a knock that made the house shake.
I was on the ground beneath the back porch of John’s house, I realized, shuddering.
Mama. Oh Mama. The thought seemed to come from nowhere.
Three times the knock sounded, and on the third the door burst open—outward, onto the porch—to reveal Egan in the lit room within; shaven, shirtless, and frozen mid-lunge for what I could only assume was a weapon of some sort.
He stared.
I tried to cry out.
“Milja?”
Grabbing his pistol he ran out barefoot onto the porch and looked around for enemies that were not there. Then he clattered down and pulled me up into his arms. I pressed my face to his neck and he carried me up the steps and over the threshold—not like a bride, but like a child he could hold tight against his torso, his wrists locked under my thighs. His skin blazed against mine. He hefted me into the kitchen and propped my ass on the table in front of the range.
“What the hell?” he demanded in a low fierce voice, sweeping locks of sodden hair back from my face. My hat seemed to have disappeared. “What happened, Milja? What were you doing out there?”
“Ice. I fell in the lake.” My jaw chattered. It was obvious I was telling the truth—I was soaked from head to toe, and after clasping me so close he wasn’t much drier himself.
“Feckssake, woman!” he growled. “What the hell were you thinking of?” He shucked off my coat, which lifted a sodden ton from my shoulders, then stooped to pull my boots off; ice-water spilt all over the floor.
I tried to strip off my gloves but my fingers weren’t capable of gripping anything.
“Come here, come here,” he said softly from where he knelt at my feet, grabbing my wrists and peeling away the useless gloves. He pressed my hands on either side of his warm neck, holding them there. They must have felt like ice-blocks to him, but he didn’t wince.
He looked like a knight kneeling before his queen, I thought. I could feel his pulse.
“I’ll go get towels, Milja. Are you going to be okay a sec?”
I nodded, though he probably couldn’t see it through the shuddering. He rose and hurried off, leaving me with the radiant warmth of the stove. I thought I should probably get the rest of my clothes off, but even after I struggled with my fly zipper my jeans seemed determined to cling to my bum-cheeks.
I heard the back door bang shut and I flinched.
Azazel?
Had he been gathering himself to come get Egan? Was he the one who had saved me from the black waters? Where was he now?
Egan came back in carrying armfuls of towels. “Alright?”
“I’m okay,” I told him, smiling through my shudders. He was still shirtless, and I could see the faint Ethiopian scars on his arm and chest.
He wrapped my hands one at a time in a towel, chaffed them dry, and then set them deliberately against the hard, hot wall of his torso.
Oh God.
Then he slipped all the buttons on my thick flannel shirt—the one I’d chosen this morning precisely because it wasn’t provocative or distracting—and he only slowed when he realized I was wearing just a bra-top underneath. My nipples stood in shamefully hard points under the stretch cotton. I tried to wriggle out of the long tartan sleeves of my shirt on my own, to spare his blushes, but everything clung like a freezing cold second skin and he had to help.
The shallow slash on my forearm wasn’t bleeding anymore, but each brush of his fingers felt like hot coals.
My wet garment made a slap as it struck the floor.
He draped a towel around my shoulders and another over my head. He started rubbing the water from my face and hair and scalp, his movements precise and gentle. For long moments I was buried in a soft darkness. I reached out, blind, to put my hands back on his bare ribs. I could feel his heart pounding beneath them, like a beast pacing a cage.
I have no idea when it all changed for him. When his grueling self-denial simply fell apart, like a garment worn and washed until the fabric was weakened beyond all use. All I knew was that he dropped the towel off my damp head, cupped my face in both his hands and—absolutely without warning—kissed me.

*****


Blurb:

Milja Petak’s world has fallen apart.

Her lover, the fallen angel Azazel, has cast her aside in rage and disgust. The other contender for her heart, the Catholic priest Egan Kansky, was surrendered back into the hands of the shadowy Vatican organization, Vidimus, after sustaining life-threatening injuries.
She has killed and she has betrayed. She is alone, homeless, and at the end of her tether - torn apart by guilt and the love she has lost.
But neither Heaven nor its terrifying representatives on Earth have finished with Milja.
Both her lovers need her in order to further their very different plans, and both passionately need her, though they may try to deny it.
Milja is once again forced into a series of choices as she uncovers the secrets Heaven has been guarding for centuries. But this time it is not just her heart at stake, or even the fate of a fallen angel.
This time, the choices she makes will change everything.
This time it’s the End of the World.
The Prison of the Angels is the third in the acclaimed Book of the Watchers trilogy, following on from Cover Him with Darkness, and In Bonds of the Earth.

Buy links:
*****
Author bio:

Janine Ashbless is a writer of fantasy erotica and steamy romantic adventure. She likes to write about magic and myth and mystery, dangerous power dynamics, borderline terror, and the not-quite-human.
Buyer beware! If you like dark romance and a hard-won Happily Ever After, try "Cover Him with Darkness," "Heart of Flame," or "The King's Viper." If you prefer challenging erotica, go for "Red Grow the Roses" or "Named and Shamed" instead. All her other books lie somewhere on the spectrum between.
Janine has been seeing her books in print ever since 2000. She's also had numerous short stories published by Black Lace, Nexus, Cleis Press, Ravenous Romance, Harlequin Spice, Storm Moon, Xcite, Mischief Books, and Ellora's Cave among others. She is co-editor of the nerd erotica anthology 'Geek Love'.
Born in Wales, Janine now lives in the North of England with her husband and two rescued greyhounds. She has worked as a cleaner, library assistant, computer programmer, local government tree officer, and - for five years of muddy feet and shouting - as a full-time costumed Viking. Janine loves goatee beards, ancient ruins, minotaurs, trees, mummies, having her cake and eating it, and holidaying in countries with really bad public sewerage.
Her work has been described as:
"Hardcore and literate" (Madeline Moore) and "Vivid and tempestuous and dangerous, and bursting with sacrifice, death and love." (Portia Da Costa

Author Links:

Janine Ashbless website: http://www.janineashbless.com/
Janine Ashbless on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janineashbless
Sinful Press website: https://www.sinfulpress.co.uk


*****

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Monday, 11 December 2017

When is it Okay to Hit a Girl? - A Guest Post by JL Peridot (@jlperidot)


Confession time: There’s a fight scene in my novel and, even though it made it past the editors and publisher, it still makes me nervous.

It’s my Meet Cute, but there’s nothing cute about it. She’s genuinely out to hurt him. So later, when she’s sizing up the damage, she doesn’t expect him to feel bad about the welt across her face or the bruises on her body.

Now, I don’t condone violence against women, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that women should be coddled either, because in our own ways, we can be violent too. Sure, a guy can live by the rule that he won’t hit a woman, but what happens if this woman threatens his life? What if she’s as capable a fighter as he is? Now how about if he can respond with reasonable force?

Does any of this make it okay to hit her?

Because the stakes are potentially so high, I’m uncertain about writing scenarios like this. And yet, here it is in the opening chapters of Chasing Sisyphus. I hope I handled it well enough for today’s readers. I want to believe that merely depicting a man hitting a woman isn’t going to hold up the feminist movement.

To the contrary, I hope that this fight scene exposes my readers to the multitude of questions that spring up around the concept of violence. In this day and age, where equality and womens’ rights are finally mainstream conversation, it seems useful to be asking about these nuances, so we can talk about what the right answers might be.

Big thank you to The Brit Babes for having me on your blog.

Chasing Sisyphus excerpt:

He couldn’t make out her face, but he sure noticed her tight silhouette as she walked by the Nova Legion statue. She seemed a little upmarket for the scene and, come to think of it, he didn’t remember seeing her leave. She was probably still there, waiting under the streetlamp like a femme fatale in those movies Keats kept on mute at his desk on a tiny TV.

Somewhere nearby, a door shut. At any other time, it would have been another pip of noise in a filthy district. But it was too quiet around here. Too few people to make a sound like that seem normal. Anywhere else, it would be the sound you shut out. Here, to Rhys, it was a dog whistle.

“Keats, I heard something,” he said. “Gonna go check it out.”

“Not a good idea, Carver. There’s a chase at the north end. Cap’s called the cars in. You got no backup.”

Don’t need it. If the kid’s still here, he’s alone.”

“You’ll be in deep shit if the boss finds out. How do you even know it’s him?”

We’ve been watching this guy for weeks. I got a feeling he’s onto us. Or, if not us, then someone else who wants him out of action.”

“C’mon, Carver—”

“Keats, I just know, all right? I’m going in. You got eyes on me or not?”

“Jeez! All right…where you heading?”

“Building two thirty-four on the corner. Going in via the south entrance.”

CCTV’s busted on the west side, but I got eyes on the north exit. Actually, building report says the east and west fire escapes are busted, too. You keep the south door covered and your boy ain’t going nowhere.”

Weapon in hand, Rhys crept inside and shut the door behind him. It was dark. The only light came in from the street through gap-tooth blinds and dusty windows. It took a second to adjust.

Broken floor tiles and peeling wallpaper lined the foyer. A lamp hung from a wall, still intact. This might have been a nice place once, before the city’s worst years. Now it stood waiting for the official condemnation that would put it out of its misery. Like the rest of this district.

The stairs creaked under his weight, the ceiling creaked above him.

“Keats, we got residents here?”

“Negative. Power and water were cut off twelve years ago. Why, you see something?”

Gunshots exploded above. No time to answer. Rhys popped the safety and legged it up the stairs.

* * * *

Adria hadn’t counted on the tripwire. This kid knew someone would follow him home one day. He’d strung a line of empty soup cans across the apartment hallway. When she kicked that out, a hefty serving of iced water came down squarely on her head. Gooseflesh prickled her neck and shoulders. The muscles in her jaw seized in the cold. Against the shock, she scrambled to her feet, fired up to catch the stomping and crashing in the other room before it got away.

A figure ran past the doorway.

“Stop!” she yelled.

It rounded the corner. Adria gave chase.

She scanned the room. It was dim at best, thanks to the streetlights from outside, but she saw enough. Computer equipment and various peripherals lay strewn across the floor, some still plugged into a transportable battery in the corner, emitting tiny lights and numbers.

A window slammed shut. The glass shattered. Shards crunched and ground beneath Adria’s boots as she hurried in pursuit of her fleeing target.

When she stepped out onto the fire escape, two hands rammed her into the ladder. The whole balcony shuddered from the collision. Pain flared down her shoulder, but she kept her grip on the gun. She held it up with her good arm and fired.

Two shots.

Missed.

She stumbled backward, clutching her burning shoulder, but the railing crumbled under her weight. Adria grabbed what was left of it with both hands as her footing slipped away.

It looked like a four-storey drop. Maybe five if she’d miscounted. Her legs dangled over thin air while from below came the clatter of broken pieces of railing, along with her gun, as they hit the concrete.

Overhead, her target stomped away on the rungs and disappeared onto the roof.

Adria’s shoulder raged. She tried to pull herself up, but couldn’t take the weight with just one good arm. Her feet kicked out, searching for a foothold, but the grill beneath had long withered away to slivers of rust and sharp edges.

Water and sweat dripped into her eyes. She swiped them helplessly on her sleeves and winced as rough seams grazed the skin. The railing creaked in her clammy grip. She could always let go. If she timed her landing right, maybe she’d get away with a broken ankle and a tetanus shot. Surely it only looked like a long way down.

Then she heard a gunshot from inside the apartment.

Chasing Sisyphus blurb:

Bounty hunter Adria Yuan is hot on the trail of her final hit: a notorious hacker wanted by the city’s elite. With the reward, she can pay for her brother’s surgery and finally get out of Basilica City. Trouble is, her line of work’s not exactly legal, and she’s barely staying ahead of the cops who want her target, too.

Detective Rhys Carver may be a little unorthodox, but he’s a good cop. Born and bred in Basilica, he does his part to keep his city clean. As clean as it gets, at least. And with Adria suddenly in his sights, it’s going to take more than falling in love for him to let her go.

As the pair close in on their mark, they are unwittingly drawn into a high profile conspiracy that could thrust the whole of Basilica into chaos. Can Adria and Rhys set aside their differences, and their desires, to save the only home they know?


About JL Peridot

JL Peridot was told she stops being a girl the second she puts on a uniform and steps into the dojo. This was the most empowering thing anyone’s ever said to her. From her home in Perth, Western Australia, she writes erotic romance, and sometimes just erotica, while complaining about all manner of sporting injury.

     Blog: http://jlperidot.com
     Twitter: http://twitter.com/jlperidot
     Instagram: http://instagram.com/jlperidot
     Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jlperidot

*****

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