Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Twelve Stages of Intimacy

Whether or not we know it, we romance writers are writing about biology. Unconsciously, we’ve honed in on the biological imperative for humans to mate and reproduce. We just do it in a very entertaining way.

A while back I took Mary Buckham’s online class  “The Twelve Stages of Intimacy”. Mary showed the link between this biological imperative and writing with sexual tension that leaps off the page.

Mary explained that since survival of the human species is the name of the game, the male’s job is to convince the female to have sex with him.

Through courtship, the male coaxes the female into noticing him, responding to him and if all goes well, to mating with him. He monitors her subtle responses to him as they move up the ladder of intimacy. If she gives him clues that his advances are not welcome, she is telling him that the party is over. Three-fourths of the twelve stages of intimacy, from stage one through nine, can be and usually are conducted in public, for no other reason than to increase the trust level of the female.

While the male human’s objective is to have sex with the woman he desires, the female’s objective is to protect herself. A liaison between a man and a woman is much more costly for a woman since it could result in a pregnancy, or in past generations, a loss of reputation. She must be much more cautious before agreeing to have sex. In modern novels where birth control and reputation are not an issue, some other obstacle must stand between the lovers. When the reasons for them not to have sex are even stronger then their desire for it, sexual tension results. And it’s this push/pull of sexual tension that gives romance novels excitement and zing. Ms. Buckham says: “Sex itself creates conflict—when to have sex means physical risk, to deny sex means emotional risk—thus conflict.”

It’s the romance writer’s job to constantly raise the tension between the hero and heroine. Mary Buckham says that the best romance writers recognize this. They acknowledge the twelve stages of intimacy and note the passages along the way; the first meeting of eyes, a first kiss, a warm touch.

Here’s an example from writer Tami Hoag. Her heroine sizes up the hero in her novel “Still Waters”:  "He had what she called the “lean and hungry look”—a tough athleticism, a certain predatory animal magnetism that radiated from the hard planes of his face and the angular lines of his body, and charged the air around him. He didn’t much look the part of a sheriff in his pleated tan Dockers and lavender polo shirt, but there was no mistaking the air of authority. Uniform or no, he was the man in charge, the dominant male."— Still Waters—Tami Hoag.

Ms. Hoag zeroes in what women look to first in a man, his position and authority. Biologically speaking, she is checking out his potential as a provider and protector for future offspring. Men tend to check out a woman’s looks first to see if they appear healthy and young enough to bear children, again biologically speaking. 

Romance writers ignore the steps of intimacy at their peril. If a significant moment of intimacy is glossed over and not given the attention it is due, the reader is not given that build up of sexual tension so needed for a satisfying read. If steps in the intimacy process are completely skipped, for instance eliminating touches and gazes and skipping straight to a kiss, the reader will unconsciously know something is missing, even if she may not be able to put her finger on it. She will leave the book unsatisfied. The steps of intimacy between a hero and heroine might not always occur in the exact order set out by anthropologist Desmond Morris, but they must occur for the love story to feel ‘real’. Mary Buckham says the best writers of sexual tension celebrate each stage: “They linger, dwell, focus a reader not only on the physical action of each stage, but the emotional reaction, the impact of each stage on the key characters.”

So what are the steps? Without further ado, here are the Twelve Stages of Intimacy.
1) Eye to Body
2) Eye to Eye
3) Voice to Voice
4) Hand to Hand
5) Arm to Shoulder
6) Arm to Waist
7) Mouth to Mouth
8) Hand to Head
9) Hand to Body
10) Mouth to Breast
11) Hand to Genital
12) Genital to Genital

Do you take the twelve steps into consideration when building the relationship between your hero and heroine?  Mary Buckham will be teaching her class on sexual tension called "Sex on the Page" at Writer's University in September 2011. This class will use the ideas of the 12 steps of intimacy. I highly recommend Mary's Buckham's class to any writer interested in learning to create sexual tension in her books.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Writer's Voice

Editors and agents often say they're interested in a writer’s voice, and that they’ll know an interesting and distinctive voice when they read it. Having a unique voice can lift your work out of the slush pile and into the rarified stratosphere of bestseller-dom.

So, what is voice, and more specially, how do I find it?

Maybe the place to start is by figuring out what voice isn’t. Literary agent Rachelle Gardner says that voice shouldn’t be confused with style or technique or branding. It has nothing to do with whether you write in first person or third person. It’s not a technical question of writing, but more of emotional one.

Gardner says: “…your writer’s voice is the expression of YOU on the page. It’s that simple—and that complicated. Your voice is all about honesty. It’s the unfettered, non-derivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes, coming through in every word you write. Voice is all about your originality and having the courage to express it.”

The trouble with most writers, and most people, Gardner believes, is that we spend our lives wearing a mask, showing the world a face that is not our own. When it comes time to write with a truly honest, authentic voice, we find it difficult to find that voice inside us. She also believes that because we’ve been bombarded since infancy by all sorts of media, including books, movies, and television, it’s very easy for our writing to sound like something that has come before. Gardner says that finding your voice is “… a process of peeling away the layers of your false self, your trying-to-be-something-you’re-not self, your copycat self, your trying-to-sound-a-certain-way self, your spent-my-life-watching-television self. It’s like going to psychotherapy, delving deep and allowing the real you to emerge, only in this case you want it to find its way on to the page.”

There are no new stories; only unique ways of telling these old stories. And to do that we need to find our voices.

How do you find your own writing voice?

You begin by discovering what you like to write and to read. Anne Lower says she discovered her voice by acknowledging her strengths and interests. By being honest with herself, she came to know exactly what she wanted to write and in the process found her authentic writing voice. Writers life coach Erin Reel recommends reading the competition both new and old. Find out which voices resonate with you.

Daily writing tips says voice is all about choice: “Voice is all about the choices you make: the topic, the story structure, the phrasing, the vocabulary, the details. But there’s more to it than that; there’s also the passion for the subject matter, and the fortitude of opinion.”  In other words, the more passionate you are for the subject matter the more your voice will shine through.

You can also find your voice by continuing to write. Anne Lower exhorts us to “Write, write and write some more.” Frequent writing allows us to become more comfortable with our thoughts and gives us the courage to express what we really want to say in the way we want to say it. Erin Reel tells us to concentrate on the story we want to tell. Write as many drafts as it takes to get to that authentic voice. Don’t worry about editors and agents and contracts while you’re writing; just concentrate on the story. Don’t think about the business side of writing until the story is done and you have something to share with the world.

Steven Pressfield believes that each type of work requires its own voice, and that the writer’s job is to allow that unique voice to serve the work: “To me the trick is getting your own ego out of the way. What voice does the material want? Find that. You the writer are not there to impose “your” voice on the material. Your job is to surrender to the material–and allow it to tell you what voice it wants in order to tell itself.”

The keys to finding your authentic writing voice are courage, time, stamina and persistence. Refuse to settle for anything but what is authentic and unique about your writing.

Have you discovered your authentic writer’s voice or are you presently on a journey of discovery to find it?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What I Did on My Summer Holidays

I had a lovely holiday in July. But even though I was in vacation mode, I still thought about and worked on my writing. Let me tell you about my holiday.

We started our holiday by driving to Saskatchewan for a wedding. Actually, we started our holiday by having to put four new tires on our car. Nothing like spending a small fortune before the holiday even starts! But I digress. The wedding was beautiful. The ceremony took place on a small hill overlooking the Qu’Appelle Valley on the farm of the groom’s family. The weather was perfect, warm but not too hot and no rain. Even the mosquitoes stayed away. Best of all, many of my relatives that I don’t get to see too often were there. It was a chance to catch up with family under joyful circumstances.

After the wedding we headed south into North Dakota to do some golfing. My husband is an avid golfer, and though I’m not as much of a keener as he is, I enjoy a beautiful day out on the course. I wish I could tell you that I played great, but it’s not nice to lie. But we did play some beautiful courses, including Bully Pulpit Golf Course in the North Dakota Badlands. It’s an absolutely breathtaking course and a definite challenge for a golfer like me! We toured Theodore Roosevelt National Park and saw wild horses, one buffalo and dozens of prairie dogs. They were adorable!

Part of the reason for our trip into North Dakota, aside from golfing, was to give me a chance to do a little reconnaissance for future books, and for a current WIP. Back in 2009 when I attended the Surrey International Writer’s  Conference and had a blue pencil workshop with author Susan Wiggs, she suggested that I move the setting of my novel, “Welcome to Paradise” from rural Saskatchewan to rural USA to appeal more to American readers. Since I had been thinking along those lines myself, I decided to take her advice and move the story to North Dakota. After this trip, I think I know where my hero and heroine will now live. All I have to do now is to revise the whole story. Yikes!

After the North Dakota Badlands, we moved south to Rapid City, South Dakota and the Black Hills. Of course we made the obligatory visit to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument, which both are truly impressive. We had a fun day in Deadwood. We did the tourist thing and took a bus tour with an enthusiastic bus driver who pointed out highlights of the town and took us up to Boot Hill to visit the graves of Wild Bill Hitchcock and Calamity Jane.  After the tour we ate lunch at a restaurant owned by Kevin Costner. Several of the costumes Kevin wore in his movies were on display which made for fun browsing while we waited for our food.
Mount Rushmore

Crazy Horse Monument

Crazy Horse model

Wild Bill's grave

Calamity Jane grave

But even Kevin Costner didn’t deter me from my writing goals. One very early morning while my husband golfed solo in Rapid City, I worked on revisions to another WIP, called “Home Fires”. I managed to figure out some plot problems that had previously vexed me, so I felt good about that. Also under the heading of writing related pursuits, was judging a contest. I signed up to judge in the preliminary round of the EPIC EBook Competition and received the books to be judged while in Rapid City. With only a week to read six books, I scrambled to read my entries. It was only after finishing the fourth book that I reread the instructions to the judges and realized that since I was a preliminary round judge, I only had to read the first three chapters of each book! And the moral of the story, boys and girls, always carefully read the instructions!

So now holidays are over and I’m back home and back at the day job. But it’s been a great summer with hot temperatures, sunny, rainless skies and few mosquitoes, three things that rarely happen together in this neck of the woods. So, dear readers, how did you spend your summer holidays? Did you take a break from writing for the summer, or did you manage to squeeze some plotting into your schedule?  Did you, or will you get a chance to get away for a vacation?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Welcome Guest Blogger Cherie LeClare

Please welcome fellow Wild Rose Press author Cherie LeClare. Like me, Cherie writes for TWRP's Vintage Rose line with stories set during the Second World War. Unlike me, she's actually visited France! Cherie shares with us today pictures from her visit to France, and some gorgeous shots of her home in New Zealand. Take it away Cherie!

Champagne and Beer

Both my novels are set in 1944 during World War II, the first in Normandy, France(French Kiss) and the second in my home country - New Zealand(Kiwi Kiss).

I wrote French Kiss before traveling to France, so was very pleased, when hubby and I took a coach tour of Normandy in 2007, to find the landscape, dwellings etc. very much as I’d described them – thanks to library books and internet research. Phew, that was a relief!

Spring. Ooh la la, Paris – it really is as magnificent and as beautiful as I’d imagined. At our very first evening meal I tasted genuine Crème Brûlée, yum! Cruising along the Seine river, which flows serenely through the city, my eyes and ears were agog at the magical sights and sounds of Parisians at play in the balmy evening air. We were herded back onto the bus for a tour - the wide tree-lined streets, squares and gorgeous buildings of the ‘new’ part, then a “Quick, look left” instruction from our tour leader to catch a glimpse of the dimly-lit, narrow, preserved cobbled street of the ‘old’ city. 

We were whisked past the Ritz Hotel where Princess Diana stayed and saw the tunnel where she died. The Eiffel Tower lit up the sky in a dazzling light display and we caught part of a military ceremony at the Arch of Triumph.

There are many fountains – they ‘spring’ up almost in every square - and bridges span the Seine at very short intervals – a city perfectly designed for romantic strolls hand-in-hand.
The Normandy(Normandie)countryside is picturesque and peaceful, and the chateaus breathtaking. How I would have loved to spend more time at the elegant 16th century Chateau Chenonceau, built over the Cher river, with two gardens – one for the wife and one for the mistress! It’s hard to believe the excess of aristocratic wealth and extravagance in  centuries past, until you visit these treasures.

Aah, the delightful small towns and villages we explored, with their ancient, cobbled, narrow streets. Plus more artistic fountains. We did champagne-tasting at a Loire Valley cellar, snail-tasting at the Trogladyte ‘La Cave’.

My imagination ran wild at Mont St. Michel – a dark, brooding former abbey and prison built on a high rock on a tidal estuary. “Don’t be late back to the coach,” the tour leader warned, “Or you’ll have to swim.” I later wrote a spooky short story set there.

Last, but not least, French food is to die for! I’ll never forget the Parisian Onion soup – thick and aromatic, topped with a generous layer of melted cheese dripping down the sides of the huge bowl…mmm!

Au Revoir, France, and back home to New Zealand, the setting for my second World War II novel Kiwi Kiss.

New Plymouth, New Zealand
Nelson, New Zealand
New Zealand consists of two islands in the Pacific separated by a stretch of ocean called the Cook Strait. I was brought up in New Plymouth on the North Island but now live in Nelson on the South Island. The whole country supports a tiny population of only four and a half million people.

Southern Alps at Kaikoura
 Both islands have beautiful mountains, beaches, rivers, lakes and other natural scenery, along with sophisticated cities and amenities.

But New Zealand in 1944 was a very different place. Cut-off from the rest of the world by distance, its  population was raw and naïve, champagne was ‘foreign muck’ and beer the working man’s tipple. The American warships, docked in Auckland and Wellington, brought glamour and excitement from the outside world. The Marines had seemingly unlimited access to supplies of war-rationed goods, such as stockings and chocolate. This, naturally enough, made them very popular with the young women. The local men, however, apparently became quite jealous and this caused some scuffles!

New Zealand, today, is no longer the isolated, insular place it once was. In fact, we consider ourselves now to be truly ‘global citizens’.

Please visit my website to read excerpts and reviews of French Kiss and Kiwi Kiss. Here's a blurb from "Kiwi Kiss": 

Nineteen-year-old Ruby Miller knows pain and loss. After catching her fiancé in the arms of another, the last thing she wants is to fall in love again, but handsome American sailor Mac Mackenzie is hard to resist. Mac, too, preparing to leave the South Pacific haven to battle against the Japanese, strives to avoid any emotional entanglement, but since he met Ruby, he's rethinking his decision.
They both know what they want, but when tragedy draws them closer, how long can they hold out against what they both need?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Welcome Guest Blogger Cherie LeClare

The holidays are over and it's back to work! Fellow Wild Rose writer Cherie LeClare, author of French Kiss and Kiwi Kiss, will be my guest on August 4, 2011 and will share beautiful pictures of her home in New Zealand along with some shots from her travels to France. Visit Cherie's website at Please join us!