Monday, November 21, 2011

On Steaminess

I was going to try to write some fiction late last week, but then I got pretty ill. I say pretty ill, because it was the sort of ill that snuck up on me and saw me vomiting while driving. A new life experience. Not one I'm in a hurry to repeat. (Okay, so I claim it was sneaky, but I probably could tell I was going to throw up and probably should have pulled over, but I was so close to home. I just wanted MY toilet. You know?)

In any case, I bedded down and pailed up (love carrying a bucket with you around the house... just in case).  I'm feeling mostly better today, though still a little weak from not eating anything for two-ish days (yay weight loss).  Also, I didn't get anything done, which of course leaves me stressed.  The good news is that, since I'd just finished, it was "okay" to fit a "break" in there.  The boss (me) is a bit peeved at the employee (also me) in this little business (mine), but otherwise, we're good.

This is a terrible intro for a post titled "On Steaminess."  What's hotter than puke, right?  Yahoo.

What I really wanted to respond to today was a wonderful little review I got from fellow author/ROWer Lauralynn Elliot.  (It was on Goodreads, and I think that link will work, but I can't check it at work.  Blocked.) Now, I'm not sure what exactly the rules of etiquette are for reviews and author replies and such.  Obviously, for super-professional reviews in super-important publications you probably should super-keep-your-mouth-shut.  At least, that's the traditional prevailing wisdom.

In these technological times, however, I can't help but question the mantra a bit.  Reviews on Goodreads are more informal, a little more conversational than something in, say, Publisher's Weekly.  As such, I feel like it may be a little more "okay" to want to reply.  Still, I don't want to do more than "like" it on Goodreads.  The last thing you want is to have some newbie author replying to all his reviews.  If you say "thanks," then it kind of sounds like you asked for the review.  If you reply some other way, you run the risk of sounding like you're arguing with the review or something.  It's a touchy situation, you see?

So I decided I'll reply, in general, on here.  This is my space.  If you're here, you're hopefully interested in what I have to say, and it leaves any reviews intact wherever they originate from.  Untouched, and unsullied by authorial presence, if you will.  In particular, I wanted to respond to the following completely fair and spot-on criticism:
The only thing lacking to me was the "heat" between the main characters
Reason being, I've heard this from several sources.  Lauralynn is just the latest.  And I'll be the first to caution romance readers... there's no sex in my book.  In fact, compared to what little I know of the romance genre, I probably gave the relationship aspect very short shrift. (I wasn't writing for a particular genre, though if I were, it was more action/adventure/fantasy than romance.  Part of why this novel likely would never had made it in traditional publishing.)  I was shooting for "sweet" and not "hot."  A big reason: I wasn't sure I knew how to write "hot."  Also, as I've said on here before, I wrote the novel with a very specific audience in mind: my wife and my little sister.  I'd hope my wife could handle any steaminess, but my 13 year old sister?  I steered clear of super-heat for obvious reasons.

Still, I'm not sure I may have done her and all future readers a disservice.  My sister has three older brothers.  She's not sheltered.  Point being, I probably could have added more steaminess, and been completely "safe."  It's something to keep in mind for future installments in the series.  I may just have to ratchet it up.  (Especially with Matthias... as I've been told he may be bit of a favorite).

Now, can you see how this might have come off like I'm hedging or making excuses?  I want to be clear... that's not the intention here.  If something is missing from my story, it's because of a deliberate decision not to include it, which may very well have been a mistake.  Also, it may perhaps be due to a lack of talent/experience with steaminess.  I'm not sure.  But it presents a great challenge for the next book.  And that's the point I wanted to relate.

I figured it was good to share this all here (and not directly with any one review).  That's sort of what this blog is for: a glimpse behind the curtain.  The underlying theme here at OTJW is one of learning.  I always want to be learning, improving, and challenging myself.  This is exactly why reviews and feedback (even if not in PW) are super-helpful.  It gives me things to work and focus on in the next books.  It's also a big reason I'm going back and forth between my two series; it gives time for feedback to percolate in.

If, perhaps, there's one question I could level at my readers here, it would be this.  How much do genre-induced preconceptions effect your expectations of steaminess in a novel?  Would you say a "cool" romance novel with adventure is a "hot" adventure novel with romance?  Obviously each reader is different, and heaven knows I'll be the first to toss out genre labels (a good book is a good book), but I think expectations are a key part of a reader enjoying (or not) your book.  If you sit down to a movie expecting Michael Bay and instead get M. Night Shyamalan... well, you might explode angrily.  Or, in a twist, not.


Elizabeth Anne Mitchell said...

Matt, with all respect to your reviewers, I felt that any lack of heat between your characters was due to the whole "why is this happening with that person?" I liked the "sweet," because I think that is what does happen with a really different person; one is thrown off, and goes more slowly. Did I completely misread your novel, am I so ancient as to be ridiculous, or on the contrary, am I really still a very innocent 13? LOL.

Matt said...

Well, one of things I was shooting for was to try and portray a healthy, realistic relationship between paranormals. (Not like, co-dependent or super needy). My personal experience has never really been a love-at-first-sight one, and while I've certainly felt lusty toward a woman right away, I generally didn't act on it. I play things pretty close to the vest, and Michael reflects me to that extent.

I find it interesting to try and cram extraordinary people into very ordinary feelings. One of my basic beliefs is that no matter how odd the background of the person, we all experience a lot of the same feelings and motivations at a basic level. I transpose that a bit onto my paranormal characters. If done correctly, it should help the reader relate to a character that isn't plainly human.

Plus, it was a bit couched in mystery, wasn't it? Being a fan of thrillers, I was trying to tap into a bit of the tension there.

Rather than being ancient, I might simply chalk it up to different strokes for different folks here. The relationship that you (and I) prefer may not work as well for them. What one person finds sweet, another finds corny. Obviously you can't please everyone all the time.

However, it still stands that I could flex my "heat" writing muscle a bit more in the next book, as you would expect their relationship to grow (especially with an engagement). It also may help to show the other side of the coin with different characters. Sort of a "have your cake and eat it too" approach that broadens the reach. If I can do it well, that is. That part remains to be seen :-).

Nadja Notariani said...

I believe you have a plan, then, sir.

I read romances often. And I absolutely adore them. I've read romances that never give graphic description - but leave it to be understood. These books - when the tension is built in that wonderful, stomach dropping, goosebump giving way - satisfy more than those books that describe every body part in vivid detail, having their participants complete gravity defying, laws-of-physics-breaking feats of 'freak-hair-fly' acrobatics/contortionism. But that's me. Some readers love the ultra graphic and 'in your face schtooping extravaganzas' - to each their own. But heat is nice.
Personally, I like the slow approach. I also enjoy fireworks when I finally get to the 'arrival' in the story. So...flex those muscles.
And, uhhmm, yeah. Matthias...That would be a good place to start. Just sayin'. ;}

Matt said...

I thought you'd like the plan :-). I have some good ideas, too. Say what you want about Taylor Lautner, but I think gratuitous shirtless scenes are hilarious. Especially if you can work it in cleverly. :-D

Anonymous said...

Matt, I do want to point out that I said that lack of "heat" was perfectly ok. :) I just said it was different than what I was used to, so it certainly wasn't a criticism. I only have actual sex in a couple of my books, and it's VERY mild. I don't usually write graphic sex scenes. The one I'm about to write in the last Libby Fox novella will probably be a little more intense than my usual stuff, and it's still mild compared to the "norm". I've actually been criticized by reviewers for the lack of sex in my books. Having said all of that...I thought the romance in your book was very sweet, and please don't change that to suit other people. It's YOUR book, and you have to be true to what you want to write. You're a GOOD writer, and you will get even better as time goes on. If you want to add a little "heat", that's ok, too. But make sure it's what YOU want.

Keep writing because you rock! :)

Matt said...

Oh no worries. Like I said, I've heard that elsewhere as well (heck, my Mom was disappointed before it was released: "No sex?" Then, she paused: "Wait, that'd be kind of weird, wouldn't it?"). Mostly, I wanted to shamelessly highlight your good review and muse a little on the subject. I look at it less as a critique and more as a challenge. It's like... how can I throw the "heat people" a bone in the next book. I definitely wouldn't compromise a story, but I'm totally not above a "thank you" scene for some of my early readers. Plus, I want to stretch and grow as a writer, and feedback like yours gives me great focus.

Thanks and have a wonderful holiday!

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