Books and Heartgasms

This weekend I learned a new word. One that totally describes what I feel when I read good romance: a heartgasm. It’s a perfect term for that feeling I get when reading about a loving relationship between the pages of a book. A relationship between equals, between two people who respect and love each other despite their differences.

Those of you who follow this blog or my Facebook page know that I have strong feelings about certain things that have became a part of the romance novel scene (some that have been around from the beginning, other things that came later but are just as insidious). In the heels of E L James’ success, a lot of other romance writers and readers were sold on the idea that disrespect can be sexy.  I have quit reading many a romance book because of that idea. Including romances that have been international best sellers and critically acclaimed.

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Outlander is such a book. After hearing my friends and acquaintances praising the series as the most romantic book in years, I bought and began reading it. At first I absolutely loved it. What’s there not to love? A strong woman travels back in time to Bonnie Scotland to find the love of her life in the shape of this amazing, hunky Scot. The best part about Jamie Fraser is that he is strong but sweet, respectful, willing to lay his life down for the woman he loves, and in total awe of her beauty and strength. Even though there is way too much unnecessary sex in the story (my opinion) it didn’t bother me–it was loving and mutually satisfying.

Until a scene about half way through the book when Jamie sort of forces himself on his wife to “show” her who the boss was. I couldn’t read anymore after that. Before that scene there was the whole issue of a beating to put her in “her place”. However historically correct that may have been, the Jamie that I fell in love with in the beginning of the story ceased to exist and was replaced by someone very willing to do the unthinkable to prove to himself and the other men in the clan that he was man enough. Disrespectful and power-driven. I was very disappointed because the book was well written and the premise for the story was just up my alley. After all the first full length novel I ever wrote, way back before the new millenium (yes, I’m that old) was a time-travelling romance set in beautiful Scotland. My hero was from the same era as Jamie’s but he would never, ever disrespect his girl.

Heart icon. Vector illustration.

So back to the heartgasm. Throughout the years there have been many novels in different genres who have given me one. There have been YA novels, science fiction books, fantasy, women’s fiction, classics, and of course romance. It so happens it is the feeling I want to give my readers with my heroes and heroines, with their relationships and the way they overcome difficulties and obstacles together. The way they love and support each other while tackling their day to day life with all its troubles. That kind of thing–not the tough sex, the hot billionaire or the sexy biker–never fails to give me multiple satisfying heartgasms. What about you?

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A Writer’s Nightmare

As most of you know, I’m a traditionally published author (small, awesome publishing house). Being the weirdo that I normally am, I wrote a sci-fi/dystopian romance in 2016 told in three POVs and holding two separate romances–one F/M and another M/M, never once stopping to wonder how difficult it would be to market such a book (do you market it to the F/M romance readers, or the M/M?). The first sign that I was in trouble was when friends or beta readers began complaining about different things–too much romance (the sci-fi readers), too much sci-fi (the romance readers), main characters are too sexual, main characters are not sexual enough, it’s too intense, it’s not intense enough… I had one reader that actually tried to change the whole thing including the way I write and erase my voice. Holy shit!

After I submitted it to my publisher, I was told what I already suspected–that I either changed the manuscript radically, which meant breaking it into two separate romances, or they couldn’t publish it because of the potential marketing nightmare. At that point I had to totally agree with them. I had poured my heart and soul into this manuscript (which at times was emotionally very difficult to write) and I wasn’t willing to change it at that time. I was not being arrogant, just overwhelmed with it all. For me that story was one and I couldn’t imagine breaking it into two. It would be like leaving a part of myself behind.

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The manuscript had already gone through one round of professional edits, but after I had unsuccessfully tried to modified it to better fit the marketing woes, I knew it was back to a mess. So I hired my usual editor for another round of edits with the growing idea (which terrified me) of self-publishing it in the future. Unfortunately, my editor  broke the trust I had in him by doing an extremely superficial edit and taking off with my money. I may be trusting but I also know when I’ve been had.

I had a couple more people read it for content feedback and I was again disappointed that no one was willing to read my manuscript to the end. Beta readers were giving up after a couple chapters. It didn’t bode well. I almost gave up on the idea of publishing it. But in the end I couldn’t give up on my characters and the world I created. I felt I owed it to them to stay the course.

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I contacted a book cover designer I have admired for a few years and asked them to design my cover. I was delighted with the results. That cover is amazing (cover reveal to come in the near-ish future).

I changed a few things according to suggestions and critiques from others, tightened up the writing (I have a tendency to be wordy), and hired another editor to do a final round. After the edits were done, I went over it again twice, tightening it even more, paranoid as I am now that my writing truly sucks. I went over it once more after a friend of mine had formatted it for publication (and amazing friend that she is, she was willing to do it again after subsequent changes).

My book now has an ISBN and I have to choose a publication date in the next couple days. I’m already paralyzed by all I will have to do. Because I have a couple more books releasing this year, there is a very short window to publish this one so it doesn’t conflict with the others. Which means I have to do it within the next month or so.

Frightened and stressed young business woman

My nightmare is not over yet because after suffering so many setbacks and getting bad feedback for two years, I’m terrified of how the public is going to respond to it. I have now invested more money into this book than possibly all my other six together and, being my first self-pub, I’m sailing in uncharted waters from where I expect a monster to jump out at any moment.

Do you think I did the right thing sticking by my story or was I a total dunce and should have just scrapped it?

Snow Jewel-Cover Reveal

Title: Snow Jewel
Genre: Romantic Fantasy
Release Date: June 30, 2018
Cover Designer: Soxsational Cover Art
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A princess on the run, an ex-slave returning home. Together they must battle prejudice and superstition if their love is to survive.

When Princess Milenda arrives at Isvärld, a land of snow and ice, she’s hoping for a quiet life with her new husband, Jaali. What she gets is anything but.

Even though happy he’s returned, Jaali’s people can’t see past the color of Milenda’s skin, a color she shares with the hated Mabaya Warriors who have been stealing and selling their children into slavery for centuries.

Freya, a goddess of the icy kingdom, tasked with protecting the princess and her man, doesn’t seem trustworthy, and their only true ally is Milenda’s flying lizard, Mjusi. But even the mutsi is acting strangely.

Will their love for each other and Milenda’s special gifts protect them from the dangers around them or will they meet their doom in the one place that promised them safe harbor?

Snow Jewel is the second book in The Jewel Chronicles. A unique interracial romance set against a breathtaking fantasy world with complex characters and twists at every turn. Let Snow Jewel take you to another world.

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Author of We Will Always Have the Closet, Desert Jewel, and Loved You Always, Natalina wrote her first romance in collaboration with her best friend at the age of 13. Since then she has ventured into other genres, but romance is first and foremost in almost everything she writes.

After earning a degree in tourism and foreign languages, she worked as a tourist guide in her native Portugal for a short time before moving to the United States. She lived in three continents and a few islands, and her knack for languages and linguistics led her to a master’s degree in education. She lives in Virginia where she has taught English as a Second Language to elementary school children for more years than she cares to admit.

Natalina doesn’t believe you can have too many books or too much coffee. Art and dance make her happy and she is pretty sure she could survive on lobster and bananas alone. When she is not writing or stressing over lesson plans, she shares her life with her husband and two adult sons.

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Becoming Visible

I recently bought a children’s book called The Invisible Boy. After skimming through it a few times, I had to buy it. I knew exactly how the boy in the story felt like because I’ve been invisible for most of my life.

As a child and the oldest of three girls (my sister and my cousin), I craved for attention much like most kids do. Not because I was neglected or ignored (I was lucky enough to have a very loving family) but I was always the “cold one” or the “sulky one”. I had a tendency to sulk or be contrary. And I was very quiet. What people didn’t understand was that I was uncomfortable showing affection or letting people know how I felt or voicing my wants and needs. I just didn’t know how, pure and simple. So I sulked, for lack of a better way to express my feelings.

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I was also constantly mad at myself for being scared of everything, of not taking risks, of not eliciting the same type of comments my sister got for being sweet or my cousin for being a dare-devil. I was moody, small, and introverted. Nothing people really paid attention to.

In school I went mostly unnoticed by the teachers (not brilliant or dumb enough) and the other students (too shy, too inside-my-head).

Imagine my pleasure when I found the written word, the power to express my feelings without actually having to speak. It was magic. It didn’t take me long to realize I had finally found my voice.

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I wrote many stories, some shorts, some long, some never finished. I wrote a million letters to poor unsuspecting friends who probably thought I had lost my mind. The girl that never shared opinions or feelings could not stop talking now in her newly found language.

My love for the written word was so strong I mastered it in several different languages by the time I was out of high school and I eventually became a published author in a language other than my native one.

Writing is who I am. When I write I’m not so invisible anymore.

Writing Warrior

Writing is not for the faint of heart. What looks like an innocuous activity, perfect for an introvert, is in fact a minefield for those who like me, doubt themselves at every step and suffer from bouts of depression and/or anxiety. I speak not of the actual writing but of the publishing—the exposure of your writing to the scrutiny of others, the opening yourself to criticism. If you already doubted yourself beforehand, wait until your words are being read by total strangers, people who may have a total different view from yours, people who may not connect with your characters or your story the way you’d expected them to.

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Then there are the sales–or lack thereof. I torture myself on a daily basis by checking my rankings. As a traditionally published author I don’t have access to actual numbers until the royalties come in–or as I call it, Total Depression Day. When my books are on the bottom of the ranks (which happens way too often) I feel it as a personal criticism, a statement of how much my writing really stinks. “Nobody likes my books” or “I suck at writing” are common thoughts running through my mind as I watch that cruel graph line plunging toward its death.

I do bounce back, mostly because writing has been my passion since I was a little girl with too many stories in my head and no one willing to listen to them. So after I cry for a while, I wipe my tears, drink a strong cup of coffee, and write on.

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My mom always told me that the only thing you can’t hope to change is death, so as long as there is life, there is hope. I hang on to that hope for dear life and I keep going. And who knows? Maybe one day my books will actually sell well.

The Character Conundrum

I’m always nervous to write about characters I’ve written about before. When I wrote Blind Magic, I agonized over Marcy. And more recently as I wrote the second in the Jewel Chronicles, I lost quite a few sleeps over my two main characters, Milenda and Jaali.

You’d think it would be easier to write characters you were already familiar with but it isn’t. When you’re a fiction writer you get to think of your characters as if they are real. You get attached to them, you love them and live in fear of not doing your characters credit, letting them down somehow.

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The hardest characters I’ve written so far were all from previous stories–Marcy from Loved You Always and Jaali and Milenda from Desert Jewel. Once I was finished I was happy with the results, but the process was painful.

In June 2018 the second of the Jewel Chronicles will be published. In it my young princess and her beloved Jaali take refuge in the Northern Lands while they wait for a safe time to return to Afrika. I needed Milenda to be the same brave and kindhearted young woman she was in Desert Jewel, but I also needed her to be a little clueless and unsure of herself because of her new setting. I was so afraid I would make her look weak after having made sure she came out strong and courageous in face of adversity in the first book.

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I wanted Jaali to regress a little when it came to his inner demons without making him sound like a helpless victim. Jaali had made such strides into killing his demons in the first book, I didn’t want him to lose that now.

And then there was Mjusi, the flying lizard. He was the only character I had a clear picture of where he was going. But even then, I was not sure of how to take him there.

Being a pantser I love that moment when everything comes together in a logical and beautiful way, small elements of the plot or the setting turning into great catalysts of character development. I was very pleased with it when I finished it and I’m hoping my readers will too.

How have you dealt with recurring characters and how have you avoided failing them?

 

Snow Jewel Teaser 1

**Coming June 2018**

Romance On A Mission

If you read a few of my romances you may have noticed a common thread running through all of them, no matter if the story is set in the imaginary world of the angels or a very real town in Maine. My characters are diverse. They come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, some have disabilities, others are emotionally scarred in one form or another. But they all have one thing in common—they all want to be loved and are willing to move heaven and earth to protect those they care for.

I’ve heard it before as I’m sure you did too—the old adage (not so old as it turns out) that claims you can’t write a diverse character unless you are one yourself. I’ve heard the maxim from certain readers and from literary agents, from members of the LGBT community, from African Americans, Hispanics, people with disabilities or mental illnesses. Pretty much from every minority group everywhere. Because let’s face it—there is no way to fully understand what someone feels or goes through unless you’ve been through it yourself. But wait! Actually, even people who went through similar things felt about it differently because there is only one YOU.

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I don’t subscribe to this philosophy, though. Most writers have a well-developed sense of empathy and as such, and to use myself as an example, I may never fully comprehend how a gay man feels when faced with prejudice but I can come close. Nothing annoyed me more throughout life as being excluded from things because I didn’t quite belong. I was too or not enough of everything. People will bring up just about anything to exclude people they somehow don’t think belong with them.

I believe that no matter where we come from, what our ethnicity is, our religion, our state of mental or physical health we all have one thing in common—as my characters, we all really want to be loved and be happy. So, I write romance with a mission. Sounds silly but after a lifetime of being told I COULDN’T for so many reasons, I wanted to write about characters who in spite of all obstacles, in the end COULD and DID.

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What do you think? To which school of thought do you subscribe and why? In the next few weeks I will be posting some blogs about characters and character development. I know I’ve done it before but I want to go deeper. I’d love to hear from you too, and I’m opening up for guest blogs focusing on characters (their creation, inspiration, favorite ones, most hated ones, etc). Just email me and we’ll go from there.

 

 

Happy Birthday, Desert Jewel

This time last year I was celebrating the release of my second book, Desert Jewel. This book is very important to me for different reasons.

One of the reasons is that I absolutely poured my heart out building the world of Desert Jewel and its characters. In a way, Desert Jewel is my humble homage to Africa and its people. I spent a lot of my childhood and teen years in different places in Africa and I wanted to somehow honor the magic of a world where the modern mixes with the ancient and science mingles with myths and superstition. Princess Milenda and her ex-slave, Jaali will always hold a special place in my heart. I recently finished writing the second in the series and will be starting the third and last one very soon.

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The other reason–and likely the most important–is that the publishing of this book in particular saved me from a very dark place. I have struggled with bouts of mild depression off and on all my life, but last year I went through one of the worst ever. I had to literally drag myself out of bed every morning and couldn’t take pleasure in anything at all. In fact, the morning I received the email from my publisher offering me a contract for this book, I had done just that–dragged myself out of bed, already in tears for no apparent reason and sat down to look through my emails just for something to do. I was on vacation in the mountains with my husband, but my mood was so low I hadn’t been able to enjoy any of it.

That email changed my life that morning. I’ve never told this to anyone, not even my family, but the kind words in that message just brought joy back to my life, the life I was beginning to believe to be worthless. Which goes to show you never know when a kind word may make all the difference in someone’s life.

So today I celebrate the one year anniversary of Desert Jewel’s release and a professional relationship that has enriched my life and given me great joy (and a LOT of work, lol). So let’s hear it for Hot Tree Publishing (hoot and holler)!!!

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I’m running a celebratory giveaway in my Facebook page. Go check it out for a chance to win an autographed copy of the book.

P.S.- Depression isolates. When you’re depressed you feel all alone, which in turn prevent those suffering from depression from seeking help. Keep an eye on those you love for signs of depression–withdrawing, frequent tears, lack of energy, indecision…my family thought I was just being difficult, couldn’t read the signs, an all too-common reaction. Don’t just assume they are being a pain. Dig deeper.

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Heavensent-Behind the Character

My fourth book will be released to the world next Saturday (July 15). If you follow me, you know I’m a sub-genre hopper–like a rabbit or a frog, I hop from one sub-genre to another for no rhyme or reason other than to write the story in my brain. Possibly not the best thing for me as I build up my platform but on the other hand, that’s who I am as a writer. Why not share it with my readers?

Print

Lavender Fields is a M/M Paranormal Romance and had strange beginnings. Not unlike most of my books, this story started as a flash fiction piece written from a picture prompt, but took a whole unexpected life of its own.

Sky Heavensent was to be a girl alien at first (don’t laugh), but–pantser that I am–as I wrote the story she turned into a he, and the alien became an angel. By the time I was finished, the angel in my story grew to mean something much larger than just a character in a book. Thus the decision to turn a few pages of writing into a full-length novel.

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Sky was born of some very deep beliefs I carry about humans and the way we relate to each other. It also embodies a lot of my hopes, fears, and emotional baggage.

As a character he’s not perfect. In fact, among his kind he’s an outcast ( know, I know. Another one), a very clumsy angel who seems to be an expert at making his boss, Gabriel, irate beyond what should be possible for an angelic creature.

But he is perfect in so many other ways. He’s color-blind, gender-blind, difference-blind. Like all angels he’s made of pure love but unlike the others he actually practices what he preaches. Sky is willing to do just about anything for what’s right even if that places him in all kinds of danger.

He has a big heart and he’s not afraid to use it.

This KissLF

Writing Lavender Fields was an amazing experience because it came from the depths of me, those corners of myself that remain under wraps most of the time. I’m a terrible introvert who is incapable of participating in a conversation involving more than two people. So, a lot of what I think, of what I feel, of what I believe stay buried deep inside. Writing this story was in so many ways a release because the characters (all of them but Sky in particular) spoke for me.They all have a little bit of myself in them (including Caleb’s foul-mouthed younger sister) but I dare anyone who knows me to figure out what.

In fact, I believe that Sky was indeed heaven-sent. Have you ever written a character who meant a lot more to you than all the others?

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GIRL ON THE VERGE BY PINTIP DUNN RELEASE WEEK BLITZ

Hello Readers! Welcome to the Release Week Blitz for

Girl on the Verge by Pintip Dunn!

Check out the excerpt below, and
be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

 

Congratulations Pintip!!

 

 

 

From the author of The Darkest Lie comes a compelling, provocative story for fans of I Was Here and Vanishing Girls, about a high school senior straddling two worlds, unsure how she fits in either—and the journey of self-discovery that leads her to surprising truths.

In her small Kansas town, at her predominantly white school, Kanchana doesn’t look like anyone else. But at home, her Thai grandmother chides her for being too westernized. Only through the clothing Kan designs in secret can she find a way to fuse both cultures into something distinctly her own.

When her mother agrees to provide a home for a teenage girl named Shelly, Kan sees a chance to prove herself useful. Making Shelly feel comfortable is easy at first—her new friend is eager to please, embraces the family’s Thai traditions, and clearly looks up to Kan. Perhaps too much. Shelly seems to want everything Kanchana has, even the blond, blue-eyed boy she has a crush on. As Kan’s growing discomfort compels her to investigate Shelly’s past, she’s shocked to find how much it intersects with her own—and just how far Shelly will go to belong…

Girl on the Verge by Pintip Dunn
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
Publisher: Kensington

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A fish swims beneath the open staircase in my Khun Yai’s house. A real live fish, with its translucent fins fluttering in the water, its belly gold-scaled and bloated from regular feedings. If I part my knees, I can catch long glimpses of its lazy swimming through the gap in the stairs.

Of course, I’m not supposed to part my knees. It’s not ladylike for a twelve-year-old girl, not here, not in Thailand. The land where my parents grew up; the place that’s supposed to be my home, too. That’s what the banner said, when my relatives came to pick us up at the airport. “Welcome home, Kanchana.”

Never mind that I only come to Thailand every couple years. Never mind that I don’t look like anyone else here, with my American build and my frizzy, out-of-control hair. Never mind that I don’t look like anyone in my hometown, either, since I’m the only Asian girl in school. Never mind that the only reason we’re here now is because my father’s dead and my mom can’t keep it together.

For a moment, pain lances through me, so sharp and severe that it might as well slice my heart in half, like in one of those video games my friends like to play. I squeeze my eyes shut, but that doesn’t keep the tears from spilling out. Neither do the glasses sliding down my nose. And so the tears drip down, down, down, past my unladylike knees, through the gap in the stairs, into the fish basin below.

The drops scare the fish, who swims away with its tail swishing in the water, no longer languid, no longer lazy. So, even this creature wants to get away from me—from my grief, from my strangeness—as quickly as possible.

“There you are, luk lak,” Khun Yai says in Thai, coming down the stairs. She is my mother’s mother, and since we arrived, she’s used the endearment—child that I love—more often than my name.

“You’re up early.” She pats her forehead with a handkerchief. It’s only seven a.m., and already sweat drenches my skin like I’ve taken a dip in the basin. No wonder they take two or three showers a day here.

“Couldn’t sleep. Jet lag.”

“I’ve been up for a couple hours myself.” She eases onto the step next to me, her knees pressed together, her legs folded demurely to one side.

Immediately, I try to rearrange my body to look like hers and then give up. My legs just don’t go that way.

“What do you want to do today?” Khun Yai asks. “More shopping?”

“Um, no thanks.” I make a face. “Didn’t you hear those salesgirls at Siam Square yesterday? They rushed up as soon as we entered and said they didn’t have anything in my size.” My cheeks still burn when I think about their haughty expressions.

She sighs. “The clothes there are just ridiculously small. We’ll go to the mall today. They should have something that will fit you.”

I stare at her diminutive frame and her chopstick legs. “One of the salesgirls asked how much I weighed. Another grabbed my arm and said I felt like a side pillow.”

“They didn’t mean any harm. It is just the Thai way to be blunt.” She catches my chin and tilts up my face. “You are so beautiful. I wish you could see that.”

I could say so many things. I could tell her that I’m ugly not only in Thailand but also in the United States. Even though I’m not big by American standards—far from it—I could confess how the boys call me Squinty. How those Thai salesgirls snickered at my poodle-fuzz hair. I could explain how I’m from two worlds but fit in neither.

But I don’t. Because my words will only make her sad, and there have been enough tears in our family.

 

 

 

 

Pintip is a New York Times bestselling author of YA fiction. She graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with an A.B. in English Literature and Language. She received her J.D. at Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the YALE LAW JOURNAL.

Pintip’s first novel, FORGET TOMORROW won the RWA RITA® award for Best First Book. Her other novels include THE DARKEST LIE, REMEMBER YESTERDAY, and the novella, BEFORE TOMORROW. She is represented by literary agent Beth Miller of Writers House.

She lives with her husband and children in Maryland.

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