L – Listen, or Not


Listen to the mustn’ts, child.
Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child. anything can be.
Shel Silverstein

This has been a favorite quote of mine for the last year. The very idea that we can choose who we listen to is liberating, isn’t it? It’s our responsibility, of course, to choose wisely and to choose balance, but the choice is still ours.

We can choose to listen to people who talk only of the difficulty of publishing traditionally, of how hard it is to be discovered or build up sales, and all the rest of the doom and gloom. And it may be that the more moderate of those voices will help us.

We can choose to listen to people who honor creativity, believe in effort and and opportunity, and general affirmations of us as a person and as a creator. And it may be that many of those voices will help us.

The important thing is that we choose who and what we listen to.

Who are you listening to? How does it affect your creative work?

The Writer’s Google Search History

http://www.flickr.com/photos/86979666@N00/7623744452/Here’s a new twist on an old feature here at The Sarcastic Muse: Inquiring Minds. This time, I want to know.

We writers joke about our Google searches. Though someone in a secret bunker somewhere might raise an eyebrow at some romance genre searches, it’s the thriller and international crime writers that interest me most. My inquiry has several parts.

First, do you think the government is actively watching based on keywords, times visited, or length of time spent on sites for some optics? How active are they? What lands a person on the proverbial watch list?

Second, is anyone actually worried that a government employee might see their search history? (I worry more about my family as I’ve been researching the psychology of killers for years.)

And third, which is probably the heart of my question, do the alphabet agencies care about name, ethnicity, or other profiling data? If my parents immigrated from Serbia or my dad still writes to his cousins in North Korea, Afghanistan, or <insert geopolitical hot spot here>, or my brother took a new name when he converted to Islam, does that make the watchers watch more closely? What about ex-pats living in hot spots around the world? An average middle-class person who doesn’t hold a passport probably doesn’t worry too much.

But what about the rest of the world? Terrorism in all forms has become an increasing part of our lives, and, by extension, our fiction. Whether we need to know the blast radius of a pipe bomb, the epidemiology of an anthrax outbreak, what the FBI play book says about dealing with militia groups, etc, writers turn to Google. How concerned are writers in general? How concerned are writers with even casual ties to people or places the government is watching for?

This inquiring mind wants to know.

Comments are open to everyone. We can’t learn if we don’t ask.


The Romance Stigma

When someone discovers I’m a writer, I find myself  bracing for the inevitable question.

“What do you write?”

If you haven’t realized this by now, I write romance. Is this a bad thing? No, I certainly don’t think so. But I get the feeling sometimes people frown upon my choice of writing stories that slide neatly into the romance genre.

Romance itself isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I’m aware of this. I don’t judge those who prefer literary, non-fiction, fantasy, or horror, so why all the negativity toward my preference for romance.

“Oh, it’s unrealistic.”

“You must be so lonely you need to read romance to make up for not having a boyfriend.”

“You like reading all that smut.”

Seriously, we’re going to go down that road?

First of all, I’m happily married. Reading romance does NOT give me a delusional image of what a relationship should be like. It does NOT make me wish for something outside of my marriage. It doesn’t make me love my husband less, in fact, it makes me love my husband MORE.

As an avid reader of romance, I’ve become aware of several things.

1. Communication is the very cornerstone of a healthy relationship.

How many times have I read a romance where the only thing stopping the heroine and hero from finally achieving their goals is communication. I’ll give you a hint. It’s a lot.

Reading romance also gives you insight into things you’d never think to search for in your own relationship, things you should discuss openly with your spouse or partner. There is nothing wrong with being open about your dreams and desires, especially when it’s with someone you are sharing your life, body, and future. It may be the push you need to unleash the sensual self within.

2. Sex is NOT a bad thing, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it.

Whether it’s sweet inspirational romance or hot and steamy erotica, chemistry and sex play a huge role in the story. The same is true with reality and our own personal love stories. So often are we shamed for our enjoyment of sex with the person we love that we find ourselves not enjoying the intimacy that binds us as a couple.

As a writer of what I consider mainstream romance, I often have people call what I write porn or smut. Many of them have never even picked up a romance novel, let alone read one. All they see is that “clincher cover” (you know EXACTLY what cover I’m talking about) and suddenly I’m indulging in my lustful fantasies.

Honestly…most of the books I read only have a love scene if it pushes the story forward. That’s how I write, and that’s what I prefer to read. Does reading romance turn me on? Yes, it does.

I love the idea of love. I’m obsessed with the concept of romance. I’m addicted to sexual tension and the chemistry that pulls two people together. I find it fascinating and beautiful. I am unashamed of my passion for romance novels, both in writing them and reading them. Love and sex are wonderful things, and there should be no shame in exploring them in prose.

I may never write literary prose or the next great American novel. But I don’t care.

I write romance because I adore it, and because the world could always use a little more LOVE.

Feel free to leave your comments below…Thanks for stopping by.

@–/— Kirsten

Sex or No Sex…That is the Question

So you want to write a love scene, huh?


Let’s see if we can break it down to make it easier for you to tackle that dreaded love scene you’ve been avoiding for months.

First thing’s first, let’s ask ourselves a few questions.

Is the sex needed? Does it push the plot forward or help your character’s grow? I personally only write a sex scene if it pushes the story in the right direction or if it forces the characters to grow, either positively or negatively depending on the story. So, is the sex necessary to SHOW their journey? I emphasize show, because it’s too easy to tell. That’s the point of writing the sex scenes, to show the intimacy and how it affects the characters, not to mention the plot. The sex isn’t porn to get your reader turned on, it’s to show the connection, the bond between the characters.

What are your character’s telling you? Yes, I realize this makes you sound crazy, but I’m dead serious. Your characters will lead you if you let them, and going against them will make the story or the scene sound forced. Trust your characters to know their own story and lead you down the right road. Believe me, some of the best scenes I’ve ever written have come from letting them take control, and not just in the bedroom. *wink*

What is the point of the scene? Really think about this…is it sex for the sake of titillation or is it a dynamic revelation of emotion for the characters? This always comes at the editing phase for me. You really have to think about it. If you’re writing a romance, this is important because the entire focus of the story is on the relationship between the characters. Sex is a major factor in that so you have to take it into consideration. Do I need to show the intimacy to really portray the emotions and conflict of the story? It comes down to personal preference of the author to be honest. You can’t write something you don’t feel coming from your characters. Don’t sell your soul by adding sex just to have it there. If it doesn’t work, don’t do it.

What’s your heat level? There are many different types of love scenes with heat levels ranging from sweet to erotic. When I say sweet, I don’t mean closed door sex (when you lead the reader to the bedroom door and then slam it in their face.) I mean generalizing the experience, a soft touch here, a vague euphemism there. Let the reader know they had sex, but don’t go into detail. Erotic is going into hard core detail, drawing the scenes out, making them encompass most of the story. Erotica itself is about the sex more than the plot. Romance is about the plot more than the sex.

My publisher, Breathless Press, has a Heat Level Chart (this is taken directly from their submissions page HERE):

0 – No love scenes.

1 – Sweet Confections: Unconsummated sensual scenes, or love scenes that contain no description of actions.

2 – Monogamous couples. Infrequent loves scenes with no graphic language.

3 – Explicit love scenes with graphic or strong language.

4 – Frequent and explicit loves scenes/graphic depictions of sexual situations. May include BDSM, D/s, homoerotic sex acts.

5 – Diablo Delights: No holds barred high frequency of sexual interactions with strong erotic content. Extreme BDSM, group sex, ménage, ménage a trios. No HEA (Happily Ever After) required.

My stories normally hover around a 2 or 3, depending on the language I use. This chart may help you figure out how “hot” you want your stories to be. I will be writing a post in the next few weeks about the language we use in romance and some of the “trigger” words that make me cringe as a reader. (Everyone has their own trigger words, but I’ll only address mine.)

Another thing that may help you determine your heat level is your comfort zone. It’s kind of hard to write BDSM or ménage when you’re not comfortable with it. So make sure you write what you’re comfortable with, or your discomfort will show in the prose.

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment or questions. I’d love to discuss this more, but I don’t want to bore everyone. *giggles*

Until next week…

❤ Kirsten


What is Strength in a Female Character?

NOTE: I enjoy reading how other people approach their female characters. I’d love to hear your opinions on the matter.


Image: Morguefile

Recently, I saw an interview with a former female gang member from Chicago who went back to the streets as a “violence interrupter.” She intercepts gang fights — or the beginnings of gang fights — or when she believes things are about to turn ugly. Firstly, I asked myself, “Would the media have even covered this story if it were a male intercepting gang violence?” And then, secondly, I asked myself, “Why is she considered strong?” I think my assessment of her strength and that of the male interviewer probably diverged at the fact that she was a woman. While he saw her present courage as the core of her strength, I looked at her past and what drove her to that courage instead.

What drives a woman — anyone — to go back to a place of pain and violence? She stands among these boys and speaks to them, demands that they do better. And they listen to her. She isn’t strong because she has the guts to march into a crowd of delinquents and take them head on with words. It’s not because she’s fearlessly facing potentially dangerous situations. These factors demonstrate her courage and determination, yes, but they are only facets of her strength as a person. When we look beneath the present, external presentation of the character, we can see the truth of her strength: The fact that she overcame her past and returned to help those who are similarly bound.  The steps she took to overcome herself to get to the now of her life. That she gets up every day and works to change things, to help a bunch of kids that everyone else has given up on.

Her strength is her ability to lock eyes with them and understand their pain.

That, my fellow writers, is a character I want to read. This is a woman whose story I remember because the underneath is so beautifully written, so beautifully strong and moving. Not because of her situation, but because of what she has done. This is a person I’d want to meet. This is a person who is real.

I suppose my question for you is what do you think makes a strong female character? And why do we have to define strength according to gender?


Image: Morguefile

In genre literature, there seems to be a shift in the perspective of how many writers view strength in their female leads. I’ve seen this from both men and women novelists in a range of genres: where they’ve written the heroine in such a way that belies her femininity, that tries to redefine her in a way that makes her (perhaps unintentionally) more masculine. In romance novels, for example, I’ve read several heroines that are defined by their attitudes. Sarcasm and wit are deemed “strength” — as if an intelligent, vocal woman is such an oddity that it automatically gives her the “strong” quality. I see a lot of external expression: the woman’s refusal to bow to the will of the man she’s supposed to fall in love with, the woman’s refusal to bow to the will of the society that wishes to contain her. The flaunting of how she will not be conquered, beating me over the head with her independence etc, etc. And though these are properties of a strong personality, they are not necessarily properties of a strong character. The two do not necessarily equal one another.

The fantasy or sci-fi genres seem to have the same problem. Authors who claim to have written a strong female character have often fallen into the cliche of masculinizing their female leads without realizing it: by giving her excessive physical strength, strong sexuality, swearing, etc. Sure, these qualities are not a bad thing. Sure, they sometimes lead to a deeper, core strength. But, again, how can a strong female character be so easily defined by surface structures? By attitudes? Authors who are afraid of being accused of writing a “weak” female character tend to move from one cliche to another, from the traditional feminine damsel and straight into the masculinized warrior-woman (which do have a purpose, but making one just for the sake of a “strong” female character is counterproductive), and they miss the point entirely.

Isn’t strength deeper than that? Deeper than the personality, than the outward appearance? Than the label? Subtler? Enduring? Strength is usually something a person finds within herself when she has no other choice. When the choices come to falling and failing or pushing forward despite the odds, despite the pain. I’d rather see a character that has to acquire her strength through action, through overcoming, through endurance, than have authors spoon-feed me their characters’ “strength” from the beginning, based on what they believe is a deviation from societal norms.

Strength is not necessarily brazen. It doesn’t need to hit the reader like a battering ram. Strength isn’t even strong, sometimes. External, outward strength is well and good, but that’s not what’s usually interesting. Sometimes strength is in what we don’t see. Sometimes it’s so simply complex that we almost miss it — or it overwhelms us. But without the how of strength, we’re left with a shell of a character. A hard exterior with nothing on the inside. This goes for both male and female characters in all genres. This goes for us as writers, too.


Certainly I cannot discuss the entirety of this subject in a 1000-word post, but this is a subject I’ve had on my mind for quite a while. How do you write strong characters? Strong women? Are there any particular female characters that stand out to you?