Research

When you’ve lived with yourself for five decades, there are certain things you come to accept:

1) I don’t like cooked vegetables—I don’t have sensitive taste buds and eating is a texture thing for me … cooked veggies are really mushy.

2) I’m a terrible driver—I wouldn’t admit this in front of my kids and especially not to Mr. Nina, but it’s a fact and I’m learning to live with it (and avoid really busy roads).

3) Spontaneity went the way of my bikini. I plan or don’t bother.

4) I’m a risk taker—Though years ago this meant sky diving, snorkeling with barracudas and shooting rapids in an inner tube. But the most risky thing I do these days is not take my calcium and vitamin D and drive my electric wheelchair in high gear after two glasses of wine. Regardless, risk taking is still a part of who I am.

5) I’m a scientist—in every cell of my being, down to the last nucleus, there is a geeky scientist intent on doing research and learning everything she can about the world around her.

And it’s the last part that’s carrying me through this crazy world of writing novels. You see, when I was in high school and college, I was the kid everyone hated. When a research paper was assigned, I jumped in with both feet, happily spending hours at the library with periodicals and encyclopedias. (Remember those days?) I had my little index cards all color coded with quotes and factoids. I wrote until my hand was numb and usually turned that 5 page term paper assignment into a dozen pages of amazing prose.

Yeeeeeah, I screwed up the bell curve, but I couldn’t have been happier.

I know some of you are wondering what this has to do with novels and the answer is EVERYTHING. There isn’t a book I’ve written that didn’t require some kind of research on my part. Once it was to discover the chemical process of cat leukemia, which I based a deathly poison on. Then there was the time I went to the fire station to talk with the fire chief about all their equipment so I could write a vampire-firefighter. I’ve researched werewolf legends and faeries, even delved into the world of BDSM for a couple of my books. (And that’s when research can be a dirty word 😉 ) I love learning new things. Though I will confess sometimes research for one or two lines in a book can take me hooours.

I’ve never been able to type “research X here” and move on with a scene without running over to the internet and actually doing the research. I just can’t keep going forward until I know exactly how that little fact niggling in my brain is going to affect the story. Fortunately, over the years I’ve learned where to find a lot of the stupid things I want to know, so my research is definitely more efficient.

I love this writing gig. It’s like still being in school and learning something new every day. ‘Cuz if you know anything about it me, I’m really geeky that way. What about you? Have you done any really interesting research?

I’m actually recycling one of my favorite posts from last year. Not only because it got a lot of reaction and started some great discussions, but because I just don’t have the energy to pull something new and exciting from the well today. The Pierce house has been thrown a major curve ball and we’re kind of reeling from the impact not sure what’s going to happen next. Add to the fact that I’m trying to push through the edits of the third book in the Tilling Passions series and I’m just a little overwhelmed. Don’t worry, I’ll be back on my feet by the end of the weekend. In the meantime, please enjoy the post and all my Friday eye candy!

Okay I’m going to admit it. I LOVE the male torso. There is nothing sexier than those deep ridges accenting a sculpted abdomen. Can’t you just imagine running your hands over all the warm skin or better yet…licking along every rise and fall?

No?

Well maybe it’s just me and maybe it’s because I’ve become rather fanatical about the male torso since I started writing. (That’s my excuse. Actually I grew up on a beach and my fondness for the shirtless male came at a very young age…but I digress.) In my stories I don’t have the luxury of a picture to show the detail. It’s the description that drops the reader into the arms of my hunky heroes. The words that create the visual stimulus that makes a reader sigh with satisfaction. I know you’re thinking “well DUH, way to state the obvious Nina”.

But here’s my confession as I’ve gotten older it seems I’m moving farther in age from those really hunky young guys that totally make me drool. But I’m okay with that. It seems though many around me aren’t. Some get squicked out with the whole “he’s too young for me” thing. Well, yeah, that’s true. But I’m not talking about sleeping with the guy, just admiring him. Beauty is ageless in my opinion. And a great work of art whether it’s a brand new painting or a classic by Renoir should be enjoyed at any age.

I do have the added curiosity of REALLY looking at men (and women) now to see the subtle nuances of an alluring body. It gets kind of boring (for me and the reader) to paint every man or woman with the same broad brush strokes of the cliched descriptions. It’s the newness, the fresh angle that keeps the words flowing for me and (hopefully) the pages turning for the reader. So I stare and I admire.

That’s just how I see it. It has nothing to do with the young man’s age or whether it’s appropriate for me to be with him. It’s about the beauty of the package. (Okay … now YOU need to get your mind out of his pants and back to his chest.) I meant the WHOLE package. Is it really so wrong to outwordly admire someone who is the same age as your children? Or am I way off base here?

I’d love to know how you see it. And while we’re at it … what part of the anatomy catches your attention?

As any of you who have visited here before know, I’m VERY visual. When I’m writing I have pictures of my hero and heroine open in a document. I’ve done searches for scenes whether it’s an alley or a beautiful hotel suite. I need to see it to describe it.

Okay, so I’m writing a sequel to Maid for Master, that’s taking me back to XTC Resorts and the world of hedonistic clubs and BDSM. This means I’m often searching the internet for pieces of equipment or sexy toys or … ya know … whatever. I have my Google safe search set to “off” which means things could get a little dicey on my computer when I hit the search button.

Since the daughter that’s currently living with me is off at college classes or work, I’m left on my own to do these searches without worrying what’s going to pop up on the screen. But there have been times when she walks into my office at inopportune moments. Now, it’s not like my children don’t know what I write. Still, no one wants to know their mother looks at stuff like that. It’s sort of like hearing your parents in the throws of passion. You know it happens … you just don’t want it confirmed.

I’ve become very adept at shutting windows on my computer at lightening speed when the door opens. But I know evidence of my naughty explorations is written in the guilt on my face. I’m a grown woman. I love what I write. But I still feel funny when sexy pictures are open on my computer, even though I use them to create sensual scenes in my stories. It’s an odd juxtaposition.

So what about you? Do you have a guilty pleasure you keep hidden? Something you know isn’t really wrong, but would make you blush if you got caught?

I love creating new worlds. Granted, I do it every time I decide to sit down and write a story. But my newest book A Touch of Lilly coming June 9 from Ellora’s Cave takes place in deep space. Totally a whole new world. I thought I’d share a little bit about how I created this world and its inhabitants.

First of all, I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a VERY visual writer. I need to see a scene before I can describe it. Usually I have it in my head, but sometimes it requires a walk around the internet. In one of the scenes Dallas is taking Lilly into an alley. I wasn’t sure I could describe it well enough, so a quick google image search and I found this image to the left.

And since we’re in deep space I had to imagine aliens. My first step was to think of the images I’ve seen from Star Wars to Star Trek. Since those aliens already belong to someone else, I needed to stretch my imagination. First I figured I needed about 5-6 different types of life forms. Not too many to confuse me or the readers, but enough to make it different from earth. So we have …

Ickbatas – soft snout, jade eyes, smells like leather, reptilian skin, 2 penises (it is an erotic story after all *g*), many appendages. This is the description that I started with. So when I did a google image search, I came up with this image. And yes, that’s Jar Jar Binks. Of course I couldn’t use him but it was the right idea. And his body doesn’t really fit the “many appendages” and squishy body that I ended up with, so in my notes I have … head of Jar Jar Binks, body of Jaba the Hutt.

Xerick – This alien has two heads, beady eyes, eight holes for hearing and royal blue skin. For this alien I simply searched “two headed alien” and came up with the picture to the left. Close enough.

Then there are the Znedus which are tall and skinny with large eyes and hoofed feet for walking in the desert and I found a great picture for them, but I can’t seem to locate it now. And the same goes for my Braugtot (which can take the shape of any inhabitant, but has a facial tattoo that is like a fingerprint for telling them apart) and Ka’als (which have deep mahogoney skin, golden eyes and nose ridges … the cover artist did a nice job of re-creating Thaegan, the other hero in my story). Unfortunately I can’t find the pictures I used for these aliens. But it will give you an idea of how I find my life forms.

In the next couple of days I’ll talk a little bit about the language and the weapons.

Okay, the fact is, I love doing research for my stories. I’ve talked to retired FBI agents, a detective, an architect, and firefighters. I’ve visited police stations, newspaper offices, and fire stations. It’s amazing the places I get to see when I explain I’d like to use the information in a book. I love it.

Then there’s the research that takes me places. And this one took me high, high, high! If you haven’t figured out from the picture clues …

I went in a hotair balloon!

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It was my maiden voyage. And I loved it! But what’s not to like? Of course I was very nervous. Not about flying (I’ve been skydiving) … but about my MS. My legs are so weak. Though I can walk, standing for any amount of time is difficult. So they put me in a balloon with seats. Yay!

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Of course getting into that big old basket began the adventure. You’re supposed to do it really fast. So as the balloon fills and the basket lifts, I grab the side of the basket and push with my arms, lifting my leg as high as possible. The pilot, Wild Bill, reaches over the side, muckles onto it, pulling it over the edge while my DH lifts me up from behind, pushes on my butt and basically throws me in. All the while its lifting off the ground from its side to a standing position. Then two young ladies jump in (quite gracefully I might add) and off we go.

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We had the good fortune of being the first one up so we got to see the other balloons fill and lift. Beautiful. I make jokes about living in northern Maine, but it is breathtaking here.

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For an hour we floated over the landscape. No noise save for our voices and the whoosh of the blow. (What they call the push of fire to lift the balloon.) Peaceful. The pilot was a gentleman my age and of course I flirted shamelessly. He was teaching one of the young ladies how to fly so listening to him was so much fun. And it won’t surprise you when I tell you I discovered Wild Bill’s dossier because I am fascinated by people’s life stories.

The flight was wonderful. Breathtaking! Everything you would expect it to be.

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Landing … um … yeah well, that was interesting. Bill told me he wanted me to go down with the basket. I’m all good. I knew I couldn’t jump out (which is what the other two passengers did!) So I settle onto the seat, curl into the corner of the basket, holding onto to one of the rope handles. We bump along the ground and the ground crew grabs the basket, the girls jump out and help the crew guide it along until it settles down. Then it tips over sideways with me still in it. One of the crew says “What do we do with her?” Bill replies “Leave her.” I just start laughing. He was right. Tucked there in the corner of the basket. I’m out of the way! LOL!

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When the balloon is mostly deflated, a couple of the crew show up to help me out of the basket. But my legs had gotten really weak. So getting up was difficult. Bill, being the sweetie that he is … walked over, grabbed me by the waist, lifts me with little effort and sets me on my feet. I just giggled. He was so understanding about my disability. They were all wonderful!

Never let people tell you that you can’t do something because you’re disabled. My multiple sclerosis rarely ever slows me down! And if you ever have a chance to fly in a hotair balloon … take it. It was outrageously expensive, but we’ll eat macaroni and cheese this week … and I’ll always have the memories.

That evening they lit the balloons up …

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*sigh* I love research.

Okay, Mother Nature. Enough is enough. Yesterday we got another foot of snow dumped on us. I’d like to say this picture is what I’m looking at out my window, but I have to thank Google for providing this image. But it’s so close to my back yard I couldn’t resist posting it here.

Beautiful? Yeah.

Annoying? You betcha!

The snowbanks are so tall (6-10 feet depending on how it’s piled) no one can see around them. Pulling out of a road is like a house of horror… you never know what’s coming at you. The towns are essentially running out of money, sand, and salt… so plowing isn’t done until the last flake falls. The roads have become a permanant white ribbon of hard packed ice, perfect for a horse drawn sleigh ride, not so hospitable for my little Honda.

Poor DH worked his usual 12 hours yesterday, schlepped home and spent about 3 hours snowblowing the drive. And of course, I can’t do anything more than stand in the window and cheer him on.

We have 4-5 feet of snow on the ground. More snow than we’ve had in the last 3 years combined. And… oh, fun! more snow is coming in all weekend (as in 3 days worth). I’m going to be buried until June!

Snow, snow disappear
Don’t come back for another year!
You’re cold and wet and not much fun,
I’d rather be basking in the sun!

But enough about the weather. This whole thing has made me wonder about the location of my stories. 5 novels into my career I realize I’ve set all but one of my stories in Maine. Why wouldn’t I? It’s what I know.

I did have one editor reject my novella saying that the story was good but the location didn’t pull her in. Huh. Got me to thinking. Do I read a book and pay attention to where I am or do I get so wrapped up in the characters that the location doesn’t matter? I didn’t used to read that way… now I do.

Now I understand that some stories like Sandra Brown’s Fat Tuesday (which is the first story that turned me on to her writing) need to be set in a specific locale. Her novel takes place in New Orleans and the location becomes another character. The heat and party atomosphere of Mardi Gras affect the story. It matters where they are. The plot is driven by the characters including the location.

But take Nicholas Spark’s The Notebook. Another winner. Love the book, love the movie… but I couldn’t tell you exactly where it all took place other than somewhere in the south.

So, do you care where the story is? Reading (especially romance) is a fantasy… I get that. It’s an opportunity to be drawn away from your world into some place new, exciting, perhaps a little scary. When you pick up a book do you want to be carried away to exotic places or is it the people that draw you in? Perhaps a balance of the two?

Because now, I’m curious.

Okay, I can’t post today without first making note of what a tragic ending Heath Ledger had to his life. The man was only 28 with a young child. News reports state that he is best known for his role in “Broke Back Mountain”, but I fell in love with him in “10 Things I Hate About You” and “A Knight’s Tale”. Both are wonderful, fun, family movies. Though I’m not a star-watcher, I do find it sad and a little disconcerting that young people in Hollywood seem to be imploding at an alarming rate. How and Why he died will be the fodder for entertainment programs for years to come. Somehow I think they’ll miss the fact that this man grew up with a family in Australia and there are parents and siblings mourning his passing. It’s just such a tragedy. I’m just saying…

Okay, shake that off.

So, I’m working on Meghan’s story and delving into new territory that has me scratching my head. I dont mind this. It means a little diversion from writing to plunge into research. Yay!

Did I mention I was a geek in school? I love learning. (I have a head full of useless information that isn’t quite broad enough for Jeopardy! but certainly can raise eyebrows at a dinner party.) So doing research is right up my alley. I’m not very efficient at maneuvering the internet so I often take wrong turns and end up spending time reading material meant for doctoral thesis research… no seriously. I’ve done that before.

My CP and I argue… I mean have lively debates… on whether research for crimes or historical facts is more time consuming. But a reader can get pulled from your story just as quickly whether you’ve put your heroine in the wrong undergarments in medival times or your cop hero does something at a crime scene that just wouldn’t happen. 

Now history was never a subject that tripped my trigger, but I loooove reading historicals. I take for granted that the information the author is feeding me is accurate.

But throw me into a science fiction story where the science is wrong and I’m like… unh unh… don’t even go there with me dear author. I’ll give them one pass, but if it persists, the book goes back to the library unread. (I refuse to watch “Little Nemo” because it is filled with inaccurate information… and I’m not talking about fantasy stuff… I love Disney’s talking animals… actual stuff that just doesn’t happen in nature. But I digress…)

Which then made me wonder. How many times are you willing to suspend belief of fact in a book, before you throw in the towel? (And I’m not talking about two strangers falling in love in 20 pages… I write romance people… allow me to keep that fantasy.) I just wondered how important is it that the author has done her research? or is it something you simply take for granted?

What follows is a frank discussion on writing erotica. If you are easily offended or not over 18, you should stop now and find another blog. Otherwise, onward… 

Okay, it’s on my mind. I’ve been trying to avoid this blog. But I can’t. I just have to know what people think. You see, I’m into research. I love learning… about anything. And as a former biology teacher, and now a published erotic author, as you can imagine… nothing is off-limits.

My latest research is taking me into the realms of male/male sex and BDSM. Okay, I know some of you are blushing, but hey, as an erotic author I’ve learned to type these words without hesitation or embarassment. (I can even talk about my books to acquaintances without my cheeks turning to red orbs of fire. As I blush at the drop of a hat, this both surprised and intrigued me.) 

The fact is, good writing in the erotic realm requires not only great characters, emotion, and a story line that carries you through the entire novel, but the ability to strike a cord in the hearts of your readers during the love scenes. Hence my foray into some interesting research.

Fortunately, I belong to an online group of erotic writers. Nothing is off limits. We have frank discussions about all aspects of sexuality (as well as writing and the publishing market). It’s wonderful. I’ve asked some interesting questions about pushing limits and actual experiences of other writers. What I’ve learned has amazed me.

Mostly, I was surprised by the fascination of female readers to pick up books involving what I would have previously considered stories for gay men. The m/m storyline. Hmmm… it made me wonder why women would find this such a turn-on. So I asked.

Mostly I got embarrassed giggles and lots of “I have no idea why it trips my trigger”. But then one reader was able to explain the role-playing aspect. Putting oneself in place of one of the the heros. And it was this total, slap on the forehead, “aha” moment. Because isn’t reading romance all about getting caught up in the fantasy… being taken away to another place… another moment in time… another relationship? Allowing yourself to believe that all is right with the world and in the end, love will prevail, and the lovers will overcome all and get their happy ending?

So, now my research is stretching my writing; making me look at relationships differently; taking me in new and very interesting places. I’m not sure where exactly the next “what if” will take me, but I’m thinking Kara’s writing will be taking a backseat for awhile, at least until Nina has had an opportunity to explore more indepth these new dircections. 

So let me know, what do you like to read? And in this case… I’m not just talking erotica!

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