Friday, February 15, 2013

On Corrupting, er, Recommending Books to Friends.

Here’s a little known fact: the real world I inhabit is almost totally free of erotica readers. That painful truth was made abundantly clear after the explosion of interest in Fifty Shades of Grey when I struggled to find someone, anyone who had read the damn book, and all I got was raised eyebrows or pitying shakes of the head.

Indeed, most of my friends and family got their first taste of erotica with my book. (The Heartwood Box currently on sale at Amazon for 2.99!!!!)

Moment of tearful pride.

Unsurprisingly, after reading my masterpiece, several of the more venturesome realized what was missing from their empty, smut-free existences and naturally turned to me for wise recommendations on how to get some sum-sum.

Obviously it’s in my interest to corrupt as many people as I can and bring them over to the Dark Side of reading in the erotic and paranormal genres--both for altruistic reasons to help my fellow authors and for self-interest, because the more smut being read in the universe, the more likely someone is to stumble on my book.

So here goes.

First off, I do not recommend Fifty Shades of Grey. There I said it. It’s too long, and the mentality is too teen. Besides, if you wanted to get into this genre, you’ve already devoured it or failed to finish it.

For first-timers, I also don’t recommend my Best of 2012 list. Bottom line: they are too hard-core. They are all M/M and five include highly non-consensual rape and/or slave scenarios. (Only possible exception: Shattered Glass, which is technically a “contemporary,” i.e. no paranormal elements of any kind, but still includes rent-boys and plenty of hot M/M lovin’.)

So here’s what I do recommend: Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark (IAD) series.

As far as paranormal goes, she is IT--the best by miles.

By light years.

Wonderfully plotted, witty, funny, with great heroines and ridiculously hot heroes, and full of the kind clever intra-series references that give a thrill to compulsive re-readers. Needless to say, the sex is scorching.  Of the eleven books published so far, I’ve only not-totally-loved two. (Ask me for the titles and I’ll 'fess up.)

I advise people to start with A Hunger Like No Other, since the novella The Warlord Wants Forever that begins the series is not that good and isn’t necessary to immersing yourself in her world.

At present I have totally corrupted at least one person, a tenured professor no less, who sped through IAD and promptly began reading in, drum roll please, HISTORICAL ROMANCE! (Lisa Kleypas’ superb Wallflowers series).

And seriously, for an academic, you can go no lower.

Victory is mine! (muhahaha)

A Hunger Like No Other (Immortals After Dark, #2)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Review of Bloodraven by P. L. Nunn


 There’s a moment about a third of the way through Bloodraven, when Yhalen, the young forester who was taken prisoner by ogres and then brutalized by them, uses his powers to heal his erstwhile captor, the half-ogre or ogr'ron, Bloodraven, who had also raped him, though not with the same cruelty.

    “Why?" [Bloodraven] asked instead. "Why do such things when my death would have benefited you far more?" 
    Yhalen bent over his knees, resting forehead on his forearm, perhaps not willing to answer, or not able to, strange creature that he was. 
   "Is that the way your people think?" he asked finally, as he turned his head to peer up at Bloodraven through the thick fall of the hair around his face. "That death is more beneficial than life?”

There are many, many things that I admired about this book: it’s a great high fantasy epic, with superlative world-building, compelling characters, action, adventure. But the book goes much deeper, exploring themes that have a resonance far beyond sword-play and magic.

Like the best books, it avoids easy answers for the complex questions it asks. The Ogres are a fascinating species. They are genuinely frightening and horrible, but they are not simply monsters. They are an entire culture--a peculiarly violent and non-adaptive one. There is almost nothing about them that appeals to the reader. They are brutish, violent bullies, with no ability to value anyone weaker. They destroy with wanton violence, but have no gift to nurture or create. They truly see death as more beneficial than life.

It is only through understanding them that Bloodraven’s actions can be seen as forgivable and that he can achieve stature as a genuine hero, which I think he does. There was another passage that struck me.

[Bloodraven] fingered the cloth, marveling at the tightness of the weave. The things that the men of the lowlands were capable of never ceased to amaze him. Those few stolen items that trickled up to the northern tribes were bartered at high prices, for even the mountain humans who worked in fear of their lives for the tribes, did not create such clever things. But then again, perhaps they were capable, but chose not to share with the race that had hunted and oppressed them for generations. Understandable. If he were in the same position he’d have offered nothing more than the simplest tasks demanded of him. Not for the first time he considered the tribal chieftains of old fools for choosing to make war with the humans instead of ally with them.

This is Bloodraven’s analysis. He is the sole product of this culture who seems able to question its basic premise: that the only value is in strength. He is the only ogre we meet who understands the contradiction that the ogres can see the value in the cloth itself but show contempt for the world of tasks that go into actually creating it. He can do this because he makes the effort to understand another’s perspective, whether it’s the people who will spend hours upon hours carving useless decorations in a chair or embroidering a piece of cloth just to create beauty, or the slaves who choose not to devote those hours of labor for masters who kill them on a whim and treat them with merciless brutality.

Ultimately, he becomes a stand-in for the nation-building emigrant: those visionary people who were forced to abandon the country of their birth because of its total failure to provide opportunities to grow and develop.

Yhalen too comes from a far more beautiful, but similarly non-adaptive culture, one that can survive only in the protected isolation of its Forest. All it takes is coming in contact with a far more violent people to highlight the limits of his people’s most cherished beliefs.

The bond the two of them create is epic--literally: it leads to the creation of a new, mixed people, human and ogre, that will nurture the dreams of all, instead of taking pride only in the ability to kill those that are weaker.

It’s a great story.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

On Content Warnings and my Reviews

Any reader in this genre will have become familiar with the content warnings that accompany most works with heavy erotic content. Personally, I love them because they help me weed out “sweet” books without hard-core sex. But I thought it appropriate to lay out my own policy for this site: I am not going to bother repeating content warnings in my reviews unless it is something I am talking about anyway. You can assume right here that anything goes in the stuff I read: gay, straight, actual rape, rape fantasies, dubious consent, non-consensual relations, BDSM, brutal violence, any and all sex acts. I have not found any categories of adult content that I exclude outright. Obviously, sensitive readers should know their limits and pay attention to the publishers’ warnings. If you do have questions about a book's content, feel free to post a question in the comments or email me directly.

Friday, February 1, 2013

My First Work of Fan Fiction: or a Review of Kari Gregg’s Collared

So back in September I read this amazing book, Collared by Kari Gregg. It’s an erotic fantasy set in the near future where an unexplained disaster involving agricultural products has made the entire world population far more dominant and aggressive—except for .1%. That .1%, called anomalies, have become far more submissive. In this new society, anomalies are like bleeding seals in a sea of sharks: the more aggressive predators are instinctively drawn to them, and they have no choice but to seek out protectors, praying that protection will not come at too high a price.

The story focuses on one anomaly, Connor Witt, a gay IT Director at “Trans-Global,” who is preyed on by his co-workers, friends, and ex-boyfriends, until the CEO of his company, David Martin, finally takes pity on him and claims or “collars” him. David, however, is straight and engaged and so won't have sex with him. Complicating matters, another executive in the building, Emmet Drake, who is gay, has also set his sights on Connor. The story focuses on the two dominant men's conflict over Connor, as well as Connor's own struggles with how to come to terms with his new status and personality, the ways he tries to hang on to the man he used to be and his confusion and loss when the world refuses him permission to do that.

I found it really brilliant, memorable, and scaldingly hot. My only issue was that it was short--roughly 140 pages. That's fine for the story, but I wanted more: more world-building, more intrigue, much more on the politics. Gregg drops tantalizing hints--as the story unfolds, Congress is debating revoking citizenship and most rights for anomalies, leaving them as virtual property of their masters--but those hints are not her main focus.

And therein lay the problem. The premise just had too many unexploited possibilities. A surprisingly complete alternative plot-line sprang into my head and would not leave--and I really liked it. I wanted it to come into being as fiction; I wanted to see where it would go.

Now, I am not someone who "does" fan fiction. Until the talk about Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight, I’d never heard of such a thing. I've since learned that it’s a vast galaxy, full of its own rules, websites, acronyms, legalities, and even scholars who are studying the phenomenon. But none of that means that I am prepared to actually write it! I can't make money off of it--I have better things to do with my time--and E. L. James notwithstanding, the whole idea is embarrassing. It's fan fiction, people!

But! but! but! This damn book would not leave me alone. Sooooooo I started writing Kari Gregg fan fiction--defined here as a novel set in the world she imagined in Collared. At the current count it is over 16,000 words, and I will probably try to finish it, despite its bastard status in the Lilia Ford canon.

I do not consider it a waste of time. I’ve learned a lot through the process--about a book and author I greatly admire and about my own fixations.

First off: I am neither interested in nor capable of writing a Kari Gregg novel. I poached her premise, but otherwise, there isn’t much similarity. My story is set twenty years after the events in hers and is MF, i.e. about a straight couple. Unsurprisingly, I spend a lot of time imagining the political and medical decisions that first denied anomalies (I call them omegas) their rights and then (in my book) saw them gradually restored.

More subtly, my notion of a submissive character is very different than Gregg’s. Gregg, at least in her long fiction, tends to focus on intensely and eagerly submissive characters. I wouldn’t call them cringing or abject, and they are definitely sexy, but I don’t think I could ever seriously write a main character as submissive as Connor Witt, and certainly not a female character. (For reasons I hope to explore in a later post, in D/s stories, I can tolerate a much more thorough domination if the submissive is male.)

Janie, my heroine, is unable to assert herself because of her “omega” condition, but otherwise she is not particularly submissive. It is the “Alpha” world around her that demands it--indeed, makes it dangerous for her to do anything else. She has a genuine love/hate with the man claiming her, and since she’s totally inexperienced, her story is also very focused on her fears and ambivalence about sex itself (which is very much a female story line). Basically, she is a lot more like the heroine of The Heartwood Box than she is like the hero of Collared.

As I hope is clear by now, I strongly recommend Collared. I’ve read more than 600 books over the last four years, and this is the only one that aroused a desire to fan-fictionalize. I’ll even go so far as to say I consider it infinitely more deserving of fan fiction than Twilight. I hope that Kari Gregg wherever she is takes this as a compliment--it is intended as such. Either way, I owe her thanks for writing such a provocative, inspiring story.