Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Some publishing history...

Got an email asking me about this, so I figured I'd put it all down in one place.

First there's the crap you hear from every author: "I've been writing all my life...blah, blah, blah." I was the editor of my fifth-grade class newspaper. I wrote my first short story right around that time. I wrote my first novel--probably more like a novella--in high school. (Wish I'd saved the frickin' thing. It had quite an unusual spec fic premise and erotic storyline. I wasn't a naughty girl in high school--I was actually quite a good girl, at least in terms of academic achievement and sexual restraint--but reading Lady Chatterley's Lover when I was 15 definitely sparked some fantasies that never quite faded.)

Okay, then I spent nine years in college. Couldn't write much during that time except course-related papers. Afterward I churned out batches of truly crappy poetry and some borderline good poetry, a little of which found its way into print. One poem even ended up in the Wisconsin Academy Review--why, I'll never know, because it pretty much sucked. I didn't go back to writing fiction until I was in my thirties--first romance novels, then "serious" novels, then romance novels again and, finally, paranormal erotica.

Don't know which direction I'll take next...


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Smut with a Story

Cemetery Dancer, my first novel for Ellora's Cave . . . how does it stack up?

Erotic romance, still struggling for legitimacy in the traditional publishing world, is often slammed for its lack of strong, well executed fictional elements: plot, setting, characterization, dialogue, prose style. E-book erotica, especially, is perceived as little more than energetic sex scenes, often laughable, loosely connected by lame and limping storylines burdened by sloppy, awkward prose.

I'm not entirely going to take issue with that notion. Sad to say, there is some truly dreadful writing in this category, compounded by equally dreadful editing. But once in a while, the "smut" actually comes bundled with a damned good story, well told. Might I be referring to my own little bag of verbal sins? Maybe. But that's really not for me to decide.

In any case, I think Cemetery Dancer is quite a trip. I love imagining real people thrown into extraordinary situations--wrestling with their fears, their skepticism, their rationalizations. I love constructing atmospheric settings to enhance these extraordinary situations. As a matter of fact, I've found that "world building"--currently a major buzz phrase in publishing--entails not only a vivid imagination but a good deal of research...at least if you're gonna do it right. And I revel in that. The book I'm just finishing, Plagued, required hours of extremely enlightening, extremely enjoyable delving into history. I'm hoping readers of erotic romance (since this is my first foray into the category) do appreciate good stories well told.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Inquiring minds want to know.

Some people have expressed curiosity about how I got my ideas for Acts of the Saints. Since I fully understand how maddening unsatisfied curiosity can be (like, how the hell did those quick-change artists on "America’s Got Talent" DO that?), I decided to provide some insights into the novel.

Television is responsible for the birth of Acts, the original title of which was Acta Sanctorum, a Latin phrase not many people would have understood. Waaaaay back in the mid-1980s, I occasionally caught the broadcasts of televangelists. At first, although I was somewhat entertained by their antics, I tended to dismiss them all as hucksters and/or laughable fanatics. Then I started paying closer attention. What I heard and saw I found both riveting and disturbing.

Right around that same time, Bill Moyers--one of my journalistic idols--did a two-part special for PBS that explored the beliefs and practices of fundamentalist Christians. I believe these shows were titled "Thy Kingdom Come" and "Thy Will Be Done." PBS also aired a special called "The Sword of Islam" about Muslim fundamentalists.

Yikes! thought I...and started doing some serious research.

These programs implied, whether intentionally or inadvertently, a strong likelihood of some very frightening fallout from such religious extremes. End-spectrum Christianity and Islam both embrace dominion-grounded theologies that are obviously at odds with each other. Throw expansionistic Zionism into the mix (or don’t, for that matter) and you’ve got a recipe for world war.
Just imagine what would happen if one of these religions, driven by its radical element, tried to claim the whole of Jerusalem. Oh boy. Here, again, come the Crusades...nuclear style.

Mind you, I’m not talking about reasonable, tolerant, ecumenically-minded Christians, Muslims, and Jews. I’m not talking about people who espouse a live-and-let-live philosophy. I’m talking about militant "We want the whole planet to be populated only by those who share our beliefs" ideologues. And they’re out there.

So that’s how Acts of the Saints came to be. It’s simply a theoretical, imaginative extension of current realities.

I initially wrote it out long-hand, on a yellow legal pad with a batch of sharpened, No. 2 pencils at the ready, then typed it, chapter by chapter, on my Olympia manual portable typewriter. (Remember, kids, this was in the late 1980s. However, I still write this way when I’m sick of sitting in front of my freakin’ monitor, although the Olympia--God bless it, RIP--has long since found its way into some landfill.) I distinctly remember carrying the manuscript around in a leather briefcase my ex-husband had bought me. Why? Because, hell, I didn’t want the novel to be lost if fire or a tornado or undiscriminating burglars swept through my house while I was gone. (Again, I need to remind you I had no computer at the time, so I couldn’t make back-up copies. That painstakingly typed-out manuscript was the only version I had.)

I eventually did make more copies, but that process, too, was a major pain in the ass. Twenty years ago, especially in America’s outback, there were very few print shops--especially ones with collating copiers. I remember standing at some machines and doing one page at a time. Finally, I got a computer...well, a kind of computer. It was a monstrous IBM word processor with an equally monstrous (and noisy) thunka-thunka printer.

In the 1990s, I secured agent representation for the book. A New York agent--WOW!

Not. The submission process turned out to be a case of bad timing. Y2K was fast approaching, and publishing houses were apparently being flooded with what they called "millennial fiction." (Honest, that’s a term they dreamt up!) If they thought a work even remotely fit their definition of this invented genre, it was summarily brushed aside. The pigeonhole was just too crowded, and crap predominated.

I was flabbergasted. I’d never thought of Acts as a 2000-specific novel and certainly hadn’t intended it to be viewed as such...but that’s how it was seen. One editor even flat-out said it was too much like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (which he obviously considered THE definitive work of millennial fiction)--even though I hadn’t even heard of The Handmaid’s Tale until he mentioned it, and the two novels in fact have few similarities. After sending Acts to maybe six different houses, my agent finally gave up. There was no getting around the millennial-fiction prejudice.

So I shelved the manuscript.

Years later, I accidentally discovered the brave new world of e-publishing while surfing the ‘net looking for editing work. Acts was the first novel I submitted. It was immediately accepted by a serialized-fiction site that offered edgy stories in conjunction with stunning original art. However, the site folded when Acts was maybe a third of the way through the editing process.

This was probably for the best, at least as far as my book is concerned. The artist who was working on the illustrations was monumentally talented...but he either didn’t bother reading the manuscript or didn’t take instruction very well. Scenes were continually misrepresented. The character Catherine looked vastly different every time she appeared: first, like a young and sullen crack-head Latina (huh?); then, like a haggard and flabby old whore (huh?); finally, somewhat the way she was supposed to be--an unconventionally pretty but weary, 42-year-old blond woman with a mind and heart. But her depiction still wasn’t quite right. She looked flabby and frowzy. Martin was wrong the first time and way-too-much resembled Yanni after that, and the Summoner--I shit you not--looked exactly like Alice Cooper. Exactly. Even my editor’s husband noticed it. WTF?

So, I’m very glad a class operation like Samhain ultimately accepted the book. I don’t know where/how the cover artist found that stunning sculpture of St. Sebastian, but it’s perfect.

Why is the hero a Catholic priest? Because a.) Roman Catholicism has always taken serious knocks from fundamentalist Christians and b.) I have enormous respect for all the Catholic orders and for Jesuits in particular. (No, I’m not a practicing Catholic--I have some major issues with that church, as well--but the respect is still there.)

If you have other questions about the novel, feel free to ask. If you’d like to review it, please do. (Contact Samhain's Review Coordinator,
http://marty@samhainpublishing.com.) Promotion is going to end up being a bitch for me, since this is both an e-book, which most reviewers scorn and/or shun, and not easily categorized. And I sure as hell can't afford to place ads for it.

In the meantime I'll keep tackling the edits for my Cerridwen and Ellora's Cave books and keep working on the next volume in my proposed paranormal series for EC.

Talk to you again soon!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Out of the Comfort Zone: excerpt from ACTS OF THE SAINTS


I've been promising to post this, so here it is. Acts of the Saints was released September 12, 2006 by Samhain Publishing. Before proceeding, however, you MUST read the introductory blurb posted at the publisher's site: http://www.samhainpublishing.com/actsofthesaints.shtml. If you don't, you won't have much of a clue what this excerpt is about.

Catherine, housewife-turned-resister, is ultimately the true hero in this work of speculative fiction set in a Brave New World quite different from Huxley's. The following excerpt takes place after her and Theodore’s car breaks down in Iowa. They’re put up for the night by a young couple who, although Heeders, are sweetly naive and quite charitable. Jenny, one of these good Samaritans, takes Catherine to a chapter meeting of CWEEN, the Christian Wives’ Excellence-through-Enlightenment Network. The attendees are discussing the fate of a fellow member--a married woman who’s suspected of getting too close to a man other than her husband (even though her husband is, from what Catherine can infer, "an ignorant and abusive shit").

What Catherine sees and hears at this gathering ultimately, and literally, makes her ill.

**********

Ramona opened her Bible. "I've asked you all," she said, "to pray for Sister Muriel Raney while she's on retreat, so she might find deliverance. And to pray for our guidance, should she not let herself be delivered and we must then decide what to do."

Jenny raised her hand and was recognized. "I think it would be polite," she said, "to fill Cathy in."

Catherine wanted to curl against the wall but the group's attention forced her to sit forward. "Don't feel you have to. It's none of my business."

Most of the women, beneath their madonna smiles, seemed to agree, but they could hardly ignore an appeal to their courtesy. Ramona glanced around the room to read their faces. Finally she sighed, folding her hands on the open Bible. She looked at Catherine with opaque, no-nonsense brown eyes.

"Sister Raney is plagued by a checkered past. She accepted, or claims she accepted, Jesus Christ as her personal savior nearly a year ago. She joined CWEEN shortly afterward. But it didn't take us long to notice aspects of her thinking that clashed with these inspired words"--Ramona held up the Bible--"and the modern application given them by our Church."

"She reads hell-spawned trash, for one thing," Denice said.

"She’s a teacher," Jenny piped in.

"No matter," Ramona said. "She tried to justify her interest in that garbage by claiming a divine sanction of human curiosity. But we as one-hundred-percent pure Christians know better."

"The Devil is a cunning deceiver," Belle offered.

There were murmured amens.

"And then she began to denigrate her husband," Ramona went on. "Which is a snubbing of God's word--"

Louder amens.

"--bordering on heresy."

"Yes, Jesus."

"Tom has his burdens," Denice said, nodding and swaying.

Ramona snapped her a brief, censorious look. "Sister Raney has a hard time realizing that femininity's strength lies in submission and service . . . to God, to country, to family."

The women were all beginning to nod and sway, as if this were a familiar refrain, evocative of both noble and erotic purpose. Catherine tried to appear in concord, but she could feel her eyelids stretching in disbelief.

"Tell her about the dark-haired man," Lori Schmidt whispered.

For more reasons than she could immediately grasp, Catherine looked at CWEEN’s newest and youngest member. Lori's eyes, too, were wide . . . with fascination.

Catherine wanted to take her away. The girl had some imagination left, and Catherine wanted to protect it from further invasion by blank, sanctimonious nay-sayers. Suddenly, and more strongly than since Philip's disappearance, she felt like a mother again.

She wanted to reverse the trend set by this pallid coven and school Lori in whatever carnival of mysteries the girl had been banned from exploring. She wanted to tell her about the dark-haired men in every woman's life, and the books and music and private dances that kept the memory of these men unfading. She wanted to warn her about a god and country and family that demanded all the wrong things of a woman, or only small parts of the right things, and warn her about the curlicues of femininity that, left unchecked, tatted themselves into inescapable seines, their beauty as false as that of any symmetry in any engine of destruction.

Catherine thought about Philip and wished he'd been a girl. Then, guiltily, she recanted, and wished instead she'd had him without the dubious benefit of marriage to Gene. And she wished fiercely that she'd met Marty before she married Gene.

What the hell was she doing here, with these people?

~~~~~


Acts of the Saints by K. A. Schuster
© Copyright by K. A. Schuster
Available from Samhain Publishing, Ltd.

TRADE PAPERBACK NOW AVAILABLE

at Amazon.com and My Bookstore and More
(within the Samhain site)




Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Comfort Zone" Fiction

I know I have a comfort zone when it comes to movies. This seems understandable, since movie-making is primarily a visual art. Today’s cinematic techniques can lead to an unnerving degree of realism. I don’t want to see certain acts like rape or torture vividly depicted. No way, no how. That "sadistic dentist" sequence in Marathon Man is definitely not something I want to sit through again. Anything worse than that--forget it. And today’s movies have gotten far, far worse than that.

Fiction, however, is obviously a verbal art. Images are suggested, not unignorably and inalterably presented, and their impact depends on the vigor of the reader’s imagination, which must weave together and then lend sensory substance to the word markers. I have a very vigorous imagination, so I suppose I’d also squirm if horrific acts committed by human beings in a realistic setting were described in grisly detail--one of the many reasons, I suppose, I’ve become disenchanted with Stephen King. But beyond such acts so described (and just-plain-bad writing, which makes me squirm from follicle to foot), I can’t imagine what else would fall beyond my reading comfort zone. Hell, I figure if I suffered through James Joyce, I can suffer through just about anything.

It seems other readers find many things too offensive for their imaginations to tackle.

I’ve found this to be the case with books that cover issues relating to sexuality, politics, and religion--"hot-button" issues--particularly if the book’s point of view falls outside the Milquetoast mainstream. I don’t quite understand this. Again, controversial material doesn’t bother me, no matter how extreme the stance, unless truly revolting, harmful acts are described (with a perverted degree of relish) in truly revolting and largely unnecessary detail. It seems crazily hypocritical, for example, to rant against a novel that depicts flag-burning and yet allow one’s children to watch movies and tv shows and play video games in which senseless violence is central. HUH? Better to stimulate critical thought and discussion than cultivate a bloodthirsty and/or jaded nature.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I HATE DELL

That's right. Dell. The computer giant. I've had it with that stinkin' outfit. The gloves are coming off.

Here are my experiences to date. When I first called them to order my system, which was early in 2004, I had to hang up and call again. Why? Because I couldn't understand a fucking word their "customer service" respresentative was saying, that's why. Then my printer turned out to be a lemon and had to be returned. Then I got a grossly overpriced color cartridge that was defective. Then, as I was scurrying to get contracts printed, the grossly overpriced black cartridge took a crap, even though it was still 23% full of fucking ink. Then, when I called to order new grossly overpriced and probably defective cartridges, I couldn't understand a fucking word their "customer service" representative was saying. Then I found out the cheesy WordPerfect program that came pre-installed on the computer is incompatible with the MS Word programs most of my editors use, resulting in endless hassles and delays!

God, how I wish somebody has slapped me before I got involved with that WE ONLY HIRE PEOPLE WHO SPEAK SHATTERED ENGLISH AND ONLY SELL MADE-IN-CHINA CRAP company!!!!! I think it's time for a boycott, seriously.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Cross Pollination

I MUST CONFESS (and please don't take offense) . . .

shapeshifters in romance fiction have always made me somewhat uneasy. In fact, just the phrase shapeshifter romance strikes me as oxymoronic. Why? I'll tell you why. Because we're talking about people who turn into CRITTERS on a regular freakin' basis!

How romantic is that?

How can you possibly trust someone who "shifts" all the time? It's hard enough to trust people whose bodies change in normal ways. People can be pretty damned shifty without shifting, if you know what I mean.

And don't tell me there aren't some unpleasant smells attached to these guys (just to make this post easier, I'm going to use male nouns and pronouns). I don't care how thoroughly they transmogrify from horny animal to horny human; there must be some lingering trace of brute stink. Ever been to a zoo? Even a clean zoo? Ever smell dog breath, cat piss, bear fur, deer shit, goat anything? Enough said.

And a merman? Hell, dude is half fish all the time! At least, I'll bet, he isn't inclined to make those offensive tuna comments about women.

Speaking of mermen, I once read a book that featured a young lady getting all frothy over one of these creatures and finally (dig this) marrying him. I had to read the book because I volunteered as a judge for the Eppies a while back, and it was thrown my way.

Many parts of the book pushed many of my buttons--the laugh button, gag button, groan button, huh? button--but there was one line that pushed all the buttons at once. Just before the heroine decides she MUST do the do with the ichthyic hero, the author gives her this justification (I'm paraphrasing here): Ethel just had to fuck him; she didn't care if he wasn't of her species.

I shit you not.

Boy, that shivered me timbers. Can you imagine yourself--ever, under any circumstances--feeling that way? I thought, yiiy, if aliens ever do invade our planet and try to breed with us, Ethel Merman (bwahaha) will be the first in line. Under those circumstances, though, I suppose her mindset would be beneficial.

So, maybe I was traumatized by that book. Maybe that's why shapeshifters creep me out. I know the problem isn't my lack of imagination. Uh-uh. There are just some things I don't want to imagine.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Penis MAXIMUS

I MUST CONFESS . . .

as a writer I’ve always been torn on the "penis maximus" issue in romantic/erotic fiction. We all know good goddamned well that most men consider themselves fairly fortunate if they fall within the six-to-nine-inch range. And most of the most must eke out their gratitude from the lower end of that range.

And, hey, their self-satisfaction is completely justified. I, for one, have never felt particularly cheated by an average Mr. Happy--not, that is, unless Mr. Happy’s trainer is noticeably lacking in endurance, finesse, enthusiasm, rhythm, or basic wienie-wielding competence (like getting it in the right hole, dumbass).

So, now that we’ve covered mundane realism, on to romantic/erotic idealism. Any writer who deals in this stuff faces a conundrum. We know we must pay homage to the appendage. Readers expect it and RWA requires it. (I think this dictum is in the secret rulebook you get from them after paying your outrageous membership dues--or pirate from them if paying membership dues is against your religion.) We cannot avoid a nod to the nuke, a curtsy before the cuke, a tip o’ the tam to the pink torpedo (that one is for writers of gay erotica set in Scotland who happen to be Spinal Tap fans). And even though we’re all hip to the dick trip in real life, we’re not allowed to portray ordinary winkies in our fiction. If we did, trust me, books would fly against walls. No siree, they must be extraordinary winkies. Dig it:

Ella--called SalmonElla by those bitterly disgruntled men unworthy of her passionate gifts--peered hungrily at the only man who was worthy: Peter Proudpunt. As she squinted through the parallel slits in the locker’s door, he began to shed his grass-stained uniform.

Peter promptly peeled off his pants, sliding them over his tight end. Ella’s breasts ballooned within her already cramped hiding-place as desire inflated every vein in her fatty tissue. She held her breath in anticipation, even though the strain this put on the locker’s thin walls threatened to give her away.


Then Peter yanked down his jockstrap, removing the nut cup...

...and, Oh God! there it was, flopping flaccidly into the fluorescent light. What a cute little cock he had, what a pretty, almost poignant little pecker! Ella tilted her head, admiring it. A cockle, she thought with a pootang pang, a veritable cockette.
How sweet, that gherkin stem. How overwhelmingly...common.

Okay, see what I mean? A run-of-the-mill member, respectable and effective as it might be, doesn’t inspire believable rhapsody (and we must rhapsodize about the danged things, I’m tellin’ ya!) Hell, even calling it a "phallus" seems inappropriate--way too hightoned--unless, of course, it’s a wee bit of a hang-dog widgie on a magnificent statue, like Michelangelo’s David. But now we’re getting into a whole different, weird kind of Pygmalion subgenre that could very well rival MMBDSM with undercurrents of EIEIO.

So please, brethren and sistren, forgive us this day our penis-maximus clich├ęs. We don’t freakin’ believe them any more than anybody else does. We’re just putting out there what’s expected of us. (And, uh, kind of enjoying it!)