Mine: Own Your Body, Stand up for Your Sisters.

My LJ pal silk_noir roused my inner feminist with a recent post challenging supporters of women’s rights to “claim” their bodies. She urged us “to raise awareness of the sliding status of women’s reproductive health, the increasing lack of agency our representatives are willing to allow us, just the damn reminder that our bodies belong to ourselves–and we are the ones who must suffer the consequences of the future if we don’t act.”

I couldn’t help but accept the challenge:

mine.

Yes, that's my belly. And yes, that is red lipstick--Revlon's "Rum Raisin," if you're wondering.

That’s right. It’s my life, and it’s my body.

As a writer, I try not to use my blog as a political forum. My readers will come from many different backgrounds, and I will always respect that. But my body is mine (as you can see), and I’d like people to leave it alone. I don’t want to tell others what to do with their lives. I’d like the same respect. It is possible to hold true to your own beliefs while respecting those of others.

Women deserve the right to make decisions about their bodies. We deserve the right to have access to birth control. We deserve choices. We shouldn’t have to write “mine” across our bellies to remind the world that, as my friend Em once put it, “women are people, too.” I’m saying it for anyone who needs reminding.

So what about you? Are you in? Take the challenge; claim your body.

Own it, sisters. Take. A. Stand.

Creative Blocks and Feelin’ Rebellious

For a rebellious person, I am remarkably straight-laced. I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I don’t need drugs or alcohol to have a good time, and, as I already can’t run a mile without my lungs burning like Hades, I can’t figure out why anyone would want to make it worse by smoking cigarettes.

No, I’m not a party girl. I go to bed at 10 p.m., though if my insomnia kicks in, I’ll scribble on the yellow legal pad I keep next to my bed or read a book or magazine. I play by the rules, pay all the bills on time, stick to the speed limit, and park only in the designated areas. I am, for all intents and purposes, a good girl.

Yet I am fiercely creative, passionate about my beliefs, and, as an artist and an intellectual, willing to take risks in these arenas. When it comes to the laws of men, I am tame. When it comes to the vast, uncultivated territories of the heart and self, I am a wild pony. To be an artist, we have to be. An artist’s job, whether her medium is canvas, page, clay, or the stage, is to learn all the rules, see how elastic they are, how much they can be bent, and then to twist and weave those rules into all sorts of unusual shapes. In the wild world of creativity, I am a rebel.

the inner rebel

Lately, my inner rebel has reared her fiery head. Her hair changes every time I see her, from pink-streaked to fire-engine red to un-dyed and uncut, her clothes destroyed and paint splattered or sleek and sequined. Do you have a side of you that likes to rock out to Bon Jovi, driving through town blasting “Livin’ on a Prayer” with the windows rolled down?

Lately, my life has been wrapped up in deadlines and rules, and remarkably little writing has been getting done. My day jobs and chores have taken over. I’ve been feeling restless, yearning to uproot myself and do something spontaneous. Crazy for me isn’t what most people think of. I have no desire to go out and get wild and crazy in the typical sense. I can’t imagine why anyone would.

Crazy for me is a Wiccan ritual under a full moon, a desert yoga retreat in search of serenity, getting my hands dirty in the garden, opening a notebook or blank Word document and following the muses’ furious chatter. Crazy for me is creativity. Creativity is coming alive.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ― Howard Thurman

Our lives should be a balance of stillness and electricity, yin and yang, the usual and the unusual. When the balance gets thrown off, for me, that’s when the restless rebel rears her head. We all need to play and have fun. When I’m bored and fenced in, the inner artist wonders why I’ve only got two tattoos, why I haven’t lived in Paris, or why I’m ignoring all of the stories and poems that long to fight their way to the surface.

But I know enough now to recognize that I don’t need to hop in my little blue Yaris and drive to Arizona or yank out my passport and catch a plane to London. And I’ve always known that I don’t need parties full of people or glitter in the air. What I need is a blank page, an open mind, and a space for my restless imagination to run wild.

When I’m restless, it’s the wide open space of the page that I’m craving. That’s the artist in me. As long as my creative side has a space of her own, I’m on the right path. Even the quietest, the tamest among us has a rebellious side.

What about you? How do you rebel? What makes you come alive?

Going it without an agent? What you should consider before you sign on the dotted line.

Today, author and “recovering lawyer” Diane Capri is joining me on the blog to offer some advice for writers considering going it without an agent.

Much as I would love to think that it’s all cotton candy and roses out there, the writing biz, like any industry, does not work that way. Contracts are complex legal documents not to be taken lightly. The industry is changing, and it’s easier to find editors who are willing to accept unagented manuscripts. Many writers are now willing to go it without an agent, at least at first. Making the decision to publish without an agent means that the author will have to learn a new skill–or hire someone with expertise in publishing contracts.

Bottom line, we should understand the terms of the contract before we sign on the dotted line. Diane is lending us her legal expertise to point unagented authors in the right direction. Feel free to ask questions!

Q: As writers, we hear so many scary stories about authors who signed contracts without realizing what they were signing. It’s hard to tell what’s exaggerated urban myth and what’s an issue for genuine concern. For writers who go it without an agent, what should their main concerns be? Any red flags or big no-no’s?

A: There are many clauses in a publishing contract, and any writer who represents herself in negotiations should be aware of the most common ones. Copyright, royalties, advances, acceptance of manuscript, subsidiary rights, special sales, manuscript revisions, warranties, indemnification, termination of rights, options, and so on.  Pay particular attention to how unexpected events will be handled. What if the publisher goes out of business? When and under what circumstances can you retrieve your rights to this project and what must happen to get the rights back to you? A good primer is “Negotiating a Book Contract: A Guide for Authors, Agents and Lawyers” by Mark L. Levine.

Q: A publishing contract is a legal document–and a very complicated one. What are some resources for writers who want to learn more about the legalese of contracts? Are there any key terms we should know?

A: In addition to Mark L. Levine’s book, you might want to review “The Writer’s Legal Companion,” by Brad Bunnin and Peter Beren. Writers organizations such as Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America and the Author’s Guild are also good resources for contract questions. You can find the answers to most common questions online, but beware of the source of information. Understand that the law varies and is very fact specific, meaning that changing even one small fact in a question can make a difference in the outcome.

Q: Do you recommend that first-timers (or even experienced authors) hire a lawyer to review their contracts? If so, how can writers find lawyers who specialize in publishing contracts? What should they expect to pay for these services?

A: The  easy answer is that I am a lawyer and I hire a lawyer to review my contracts. Realize that no one can anticipate everything and a fresh eye is often helpful. Unexpected stuff happens. All you can do is apply the best of your knowledge under the circumstances. Understand that the deal could go south and before you sign, always ask yourself what you’ll do if this deal does fall apart. Everyone needs a “plan B.”

If you have a reputable and knowledgeable agent, s/he should be able to negotiate your publishing contract. But it never hurts to hire aknowledgeable lawyer to advise you privately. Just be sure the lawyer you hire has current experience in publishing contracts from the type of publisher you’re considering because the business changes constantly.

Lawyers charge either a flat fee or an hourly fee. For a first publishing contract, a flat fee is probably the way to go. Prices vary based on location (everything costs more in New York than, say, Iowa), expertise (the more expert the lawyer, the more expensive she’ll be), and jurisdiction, among other things.

When navigating uncharted legal territory, generally it’s good to ask yourself whether the fee is worth paying under your specific circumstances. A $500 legal fee may not be the best idea for a royalty-only book deal with no advance. Only you can put a price on your project. No one knows the work and its value like the author herself.

About Diane:

Bestselling author Diane Capri is a recovering lawyer. She’s a snowbird who divides her time between Florida and Michigan. An active member of Mystery Writers of America, Author’s Guild, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime, she loves to hear from readers and is hard at work on her next novel. Diane’s books, including “Annabelle’s Attack” and “Carly’s Conspiracy,” are available wherever e-books are sold. See her Amazon author page for more info.

Connect with her online:

Website: http://DianeCapri.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/@DianeCapri
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Diane-Capri/187483551314626

Brand Is Not Evil: Learning to be our ‘authentic’ selves

I hear a lot of conversations on the blogosphere and in the Twitterverse about author brand. This is an ongoing dialogue and a topic that won’t go away anytime soon. Maybe in the post-apocalyptic world, we won’t be worried about things like “author brand.” We’ll be too busy pillaging for ammo and trying to take out as many zombies as we can with a single blast from a sawed-off shotgun. But alas, here we are, zombie-free—for now…

I’m currently taking a workshop with the talented and entertaining Kristen Lamb called “Blogging to Build Your Author Brand.” It’s meant to take the fear out of blogging and social media for writers. And you know what? It’s working. Workshop participants are opening up to each other, asking questions and sharing stories and advice. We’re making mistakes, learning, laughing, and creating, just as we do as writers. We’re not learning sales techniques or gimmicks. We’re just being who we are. What we’re learning is how to communicate that more naturally when using technology. We’re learning how to join the conversation.

At my day job, I work in public relations for a large research university. On a daily basis, I weave the university’s brand into my work. I rarely write marketing copy; I mainly write feature articles–narrative journalism. In short, I tell stories.

Now, wait. I know that brand for writers is different than brand for organizations. But at its core, it remains the same. The technique is different, but what brand is doesn’t really change. It changes its shape, but not its essence.

Take, for example, a university. It might have 10,000 students, 100,000 alumni, 1,000 faculty and staff members. It might have sports fans and donors and prospective students and parents of students. And you know what? All of those people have a story. They have a tie–for many of them, a very emotional one–to that school.  And those ties can be powerful things. So what’s a brand? A brand is the common thread that runs through those stories. A brand is the university’s strengths, what it has to offer, what people can expect of it, what it consistently delivers.

People tend to vilify brand or over-complicate it. We think brand is something corporations use to lure in buyers and stay in the black. And maybe sometimes brands are used that way. But that doesn’t mean that’s the only way–or, quite frankly, the right way–to use a brand. The best brands work because they are authentic.

I would argue that a brand is more than just a name + product. At the end of the day, Starbucks isn’t just about coffee, it’s about community. Yasmine Galenorn’s books aren’t just paranormal romance novels, they’re stories about healing, belonging, courage, and seeking meaning and connection in life. They’re about sisterhood and friendship as much as they’re about romantic love. And I love to read her blog because she seems so genuine. She comes off as a very open-minded and compassionate person, but also one who says exactly what’s on her mind.

There are lots of writers out there. But say you write paranormal romance. Well, there are lots of paranormal romance writers out there. So what can we expect of you? Who are you? What do you have to offer? Will you make me laugh? I had to stop reading Jeaniene Frost’s books at night because my laughter roused my husband from a sound sleep. Are you so red-hot we have to take an ice-cold shower after we read your books? Are your books sweet and uplifting? Will you make us cry and then put our hearts back together in the end?

Kait Nolan gave a commenter on her blog some great advice—advice that helped me too, because, while I work with brand for organizations at my day job, applying brand to myself as an author is a different ballgame. She said:

“YOU are the brand. No matter what you write, YOU and your name are the thing that needs branding. That’s what you have when you don’t have books out. You have YOU and the reputation and relationships you build. Which is really what social media is for. … What blogging and social media does is SELL YOU.”

(Check out Kait’s blog post about “Social media Ennui,” which spurred some really great conversations.)

Can we go from hermit crab to butterfly?

Since we’re writers, we are by nature thinkers. Many of us run the risk of over-thinking. Thanks to Kristen and Team WANA1011, I’m starting to come out of my hermit crab shell and be more of my authentic self. It’s impossible to connect and be yourself when you’re hiding away in your hermit crab cage.

Before we vilify brand, maybe we should think of it this way: At its best, brand is genuinely, authentically, and purely us. What draws us to the page? What do we love? What are we passionate about? If we write what we love, brand should come naturally.

No, you are not just a brand. You are a complicated person. We’re all complicated. But you have a brand, whether you realize it or not.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Am I right? Am I just another PR gal, full of crap? Did I drink the Kool Aid? Seriously, I want to know.

The Kink Factor: Author Shara Lanel dishes on the difference between sweet and erotic romance

**EXPLICIT CONTENT**

Today, I’m turning the blog over to award-winning romance author Shara Lanel. Romance is a complex genre, ranging from the chaste to the downright naughty. Shara’s post helps shed some light on the distinctions between “sweet” and erotic romance.

Shara’a latest book, Blame it on the Night, will be available for purchase on Nov. 15–be sure to check out the link to a free excerpt below!

***

Do you want to follow the hero and heroine into the bedroom? Or would you rather stop at the door and give them some privacy? This is generally how I think of the difference between “sweet” romance and most popular romance today. But “sweet” doesn’t mean there’s no sexual tension. Pride and Prejudice is loaded with sexual tension culminating in one sweet kiss. Many romances have incredible sexual tension with very few love scenes.

However, I would say most popular romance today ventures inside the bedroom. This ranges from somewhat flowery, rather vague, one-page love scenes—which I tend to skip—to the several-paged, we’re-right-in-the-bedroom-with-you love scenes. To me, the line between these romances, generally not labeled erotic, and those that are labeled erotic comes down to word choice. One particular word that my mom disapproved of when she read my first novel, ENLIGHTENED LOVE. In erotic romance the sex needs to be descriptive (fuck, cock, pussy, etc.—can you guess which word Mom didn’t approve of?), raw, maybe some kink, frequent, and each scene should last several pages. And you still need to have that sexual tension.

My erotic romance books TELEKINETIC KISSES and FINDING MR. RIGHT IS MURDER aren’t really structured different than “traditional” romances, but the sex scenes take it up a notch.

Then there are the stories my mom hasn’t read. For these the sexual premise becomes very important. If your hero/heroine just met and don’t particularly like each other (conflict), why would they have sex in the first couple of chapters? Even if they have the classic “mistake” of a one-night-stand, what’s going to make them have sex in chapter three and so on? You can’t just throw a sex scene in there if your plot doesn’t call for it.

In BLAME IT ON THE MOON, Kitty can read minds. Therefore, she’s immersed in Haden’s erotic thoughts before they even speak to each other. In THE MEN ON MARS, Nate walks in on Helena in a threesome, and Helena is highly motivated to do whatever it takes to get a ride to Earth. Other examples: maybe your hero’s a stripper or a voyeur or your heroine’s an FBI agent undercover in a BDSM club. Maybe your heroine’s curious about the BDSM lifestyle and your hero is very happy to teach her. In other words, there are other sexual forces at work, not just random hopping-into-bed-together. In one story I’m working on, the hero finds out about the heroine’s very sexy backstory.

When I entered PRIMITIVE PASSION into contests or pitched it to agents before published, there were drastic differences in opinion (scores) because some people didn’t see Heath as heroic. Sylvia needs his help to get out of the jungle, but he has a price: three days of obeying his carnal demands. But without Heath’s demands, Sylvia wouldn’t have discovered new things about herself and the story wouldn’t have been erotic.

As a writer, you learn to target different publishers by researching books similar to yours and seeing who published them. Then you may cater a story toward the requirements of that specific publisher. This is the same when it comes to erotic romance. A publisher may want male/male, interracial, or ménage-a-many. A certain amount of kink may be expected or a certain familiarity with the lifestyle. The nice thing about the publishers I’ve worked with is that they’ve helped me up the heat level if I didn’t quite hit it in my manuscript.

So what’s the difference between erotic romance and erotica and porn? Well, first and foremost, we always have a happy ending, but the erotica I’ve read seemed literary or thought-provoking rather than sensual. Many movies labeled “erotic” do nothing for me. Meanwhile, porn seems to me male-centric and based on plot-less fantasy. “A sexy woman comes up to me in a bar, says she wants to do me in the bathroom, and then calls her friend to join us…” A lot more explicit, of course, but totally lacking in motivation.

Feel free to post questions or comments!

Here’s an erotic romance excerpt from my upcoming release, BLAME IT ON THE NIGHT, coming to www.Loose-Id.com Nov. 15!

About Shara:

At age 10, research to Shara Lanel meant hopping aboard the local steam engine and writing the equivalent of The Great Train Robbery.  Nowadays, she gets hands-on research at the Writers’ Police Academy. Give her a gun and she might hit the target…or a pedestrian. She swears her characters are much better shots, hitting the bulls-eye with the villains and the heart.

BLAME IT ON THE MOON, winner of the HOLT Medallion, delves into the life of a werewolf wanted for murder, while FINDING MR. RIGHT IS MURDER introduces you to the girl-next-door who, in the middle of an adult slumber party, finds a body in the freezer. Shara’s novels are always full of suspense and hot romance, whether set on the moon or in a Mexican jungle.

Shara resides in Richmond, Va., with a clingy dog, an action-oriented son, and a handsome hubby. Don’t put her in the kitchen, unless you want to burn it down, and her green-thumb is hit-or-miss, but she excels as a bibliophile, hoping she never has to pack up and move, since her hubby might see just how many volumes she really has.

Making Dreams Come True: Are dreams just for fairy tales?

As I venture down the path of my life, I have to wonder if we really can make our dreams come true. How much of life is luck, fate, and serendipity?

Perhaps some of life is luck: being in the right place in the right time, writing the right book at the right time, meeting the man or woman of your dreams when you’re both in the right place in life. Well, when it comes to writing books, I think if the book is good enough, it’s always the right time. Fads—vampires, zombies, tropical settings, or yoga—will come and go, but if a book has heart, it will find its place in the world. Because love, death, grief, sadness, redemption, passion, healing—those things never go out of style; life is always full of them. When our books have heart, they will find their place. I believe that.

So how much of life is luck and how much is hard work? There are musicians with extraordinary talent who haven’t won Grammies or signed deals with major record labels. In my hometown, I met a musician named Rachel whose voice could haunt you or move you to tears, it was so beautiful. And she didn’t just have talent, she also had an incredible heart. Rachel was one of those people with a contagious vibrancy. You couldn’t help but be happy around her. Rachel happily taught drum circles at the local heritage center and performed in small coffee houses. She’d found her calling, her heart, her dream. She ran a small nonprofit for disabled children. I didn’t know her very well, but she seemed to be as much of a fulfilled, self-actualized human being as one can be. I was young when I met her, a college student, and she inspired me. Growing up, I didn’t know any artists, but I knew I wanted to be one. Meeting her helped me become a better writer and a better person.

One thing we rarely say in our driven, ambitious, workaholic society is that it’s okay to not want to be the next biggest thing. In the last few months, I’ve started to step back and realize that I don’t want to work three jobs and eighty hours a week. Even if I love everything I do, doing all of it is killing my health. It’s okay to not be Wonder Woman. That’s a lesson I’m still learning. Saying no and toning down my nonstop activity don’t come easily to me, but I’ll keep trying. I am soooo far from perfect. And I kinda like the freedom to make mistakes, even if I don’t like actually making mistakes.

I do believe that dreams come true, as long as they’re realistic ones. At five-foot, I’ll never be a basketball player. Even if I were taller, I have no athletic talent to speak of (a video of me playing tennis could easily become a YouTube sensation). We all have limitations. There are some dreams we can make come true (penning a memoir) and some that are beyond our ability to accomplish (marrying a prince). Some things, like winning the lotto, are just luck. Many are not.

I believe if we want to be published authors or make a living selling our paintings or direct a documentary or design websites or whatever our hearts desire, we can get there. Maybe not right away. It might take five or 10 or 20 years. We might have to take detours. Life gets in the way.

Dreams, if they’re achievable, can be achieved, but we have to set goals and work toward them. We’ll never get a job in marketing if we don’t apply. And we might apply for a hundred jobs before we get one answering the phones for a marketing director. Our first novel, our opus, might be rejected 40 times. It might never sell. It might sell 200 copies. But there are other stories to tell. It’s a long road. At the end, it won’t look like what we thought it would. Real dreams change along the way.

I’ve wanted to be a published author for as long as I can remember. Ten years ago, it was a distant dream. Today, it’s closer. I work toward it every day. I’m determined to make it happen. I believe in making our dreams come true.

What are your dreams? What goals are helping you to make your dreams come true? What dreams have you made come true, and how did you make those dreams a reality?