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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Author Interview: Madeleine Drake


Whipped Cream is pleased to welcome Madeleine Drake, whose latest book Faery's Bargain was released last month. Her debut novel, Blood Hero, was released earlier this summer.

I asked Madeleine how she distinguished between erotica, erotic romance, and pornography.

"For me, the difference is story. I see pornography as being strictly sex, with a premise that puts the participants together. (Pizza delivery! Hello, housewife in lingerie. How about a tip?) In pornography, the characters don't have to do anything other than have sex, and they're exactly the same people after sex as they were before sex.

"To qualify as erotica, there has to be a story--a plot line in addition to the sex. Whether that means the characters are slaying demons or making peace with their exes or trying to forgive themselves for letting their best friend down, there has to be some sort of conflict that gets resolved in addition to the sex. The characters have to change at least a little bit. But there's no requirement for the characters to stay together at the end of the story.

"Erotic romance is erotica where the characters fall in love during the course of demon-slaying/making peace/forgiving themselves. This is the hardest to write (but also the most satisfying, for me), because not only does the sex have to be good and the external plot has to be compelling, but also you have to show the hero and heroine changing as they interact with each other. Also, erotic romance has either a happily-ever-after ending or a happy-for-now ending--an ongoing relationship is implied."

When writing the story turns Madeleine on, she admits it's a good sign that the story is good. Her favorites are erotic romance, stories where the characters aren't just in lust with each other, but also like each other as individuals. She also likes strong female characters.

"They don't have to kick ass," she said, "but they do need to be brave enough to let another person inside their heads and their hearts as well as their bodies."

Madeleine is an ancient history buff, so almost anything she reads might wind up as fodder for a story. She is fortunate, however, that she has access to a university library if she need information on a specific culture. She always takes notes on anything she reads and stores them in binders by culture/civilization.

"You never know when some odd and interesting fact is going to be useful later," she told me.

She also shared that the internet's a good resource, though you never know where the information you need will be found.

"For example, when I was writing the fight scene for Blood Hero, I had books that described everyday life in ancient Babylon, but I couldn't find many pictures, and I was concerned that I wasn't imagining it correctly. When I searched for Babylon, all the pictures that came up were images of temples and palaces, or images showing the excavation of the city. You know, all the big showy stuff, not the humble abode of an average person.

"Then I remembered reading that life in rural Mesopotamia isn't much different today than it was in the ancient past (when the only thing you have to build with is clay brick and summer temps can hit 120 F, you're going to stick with the design that stays cool). I started searching with the term 'Iraqi village.' Guess what? There are tons of photos posted by American soldiers who've chronicled their visits to just about every part of the country. There were some fabulous pictures taken by a soldier who'd obviously befriended some of the people in a small village. Pictures of the courtyards, pictures of the houses themselves, pictures of the rooms inside. I compared those pictures to the descriptions in the books, and mentally edited out the things that were obviously anachronistic."

Madeleine's first publication credit was a short humor column, and she's co-authored a book on sacred sexuality and gender roles under another pseudonym. She has also worked as a technical writer for more than fifteen years. When she started writing fiction, she knew she wanted to write science fiction and fantasy, because that's what she read most. She also wrote some anime fan fiction for fun—and that's where she started writing sexy stories.

"I've always enjoyed reading erotica, but it wasn't until recently that I got into writing it for publication. I was feeling frustrated by how long it was taking me to finish a novel, and one of my critique partners, Gavin Atlas, suggested that I write a short story. 'If you write erotica,' he said, 'you could submit it to Excessica.'

"'I don't know how to write a short story,' I protested. 'All my short stories turn into novels.'

"Being the sweet guy that he is, Gavin offered to help. He spent hours discussing the differences between short stories and novels with me. He let me bounce story premises off of him, made suggestions for keeping the plot in the 5,000-10,000 word range, and when I finally wrote the story, he critiqued it. Blood Hero was born, with Gavin acting as literary midwife."

Her biological family knows about her speculative fiction writing, however they don't know she writes erotica. She thinks her brothers would be fine with it, but Madeleine believes that her mom has enough going on in her life without having to explain to her friends "why her daughter writes 'smut'," she told me. Her in-laws, on the other hand, are very laid back. Their response, when Madeleine's husband told them she'd sold her first erotica story, was to laugh and say, "Good for her."

"I haven't offered to let them read it, though, and they haven't asked," she said.

"What's the most embarrassing sex scene you’ve ever written?" I asked.

"I think all good sex scenes are a little bit embarrassing, not because they're sexual, but because they involve people being intimate emotionally. Part of the charge you get from reading a good sex scene comes from the characters' vulnerability. True intimacy means that you don't just see the good parts of people, you also see the parts of themselves that they're ashamed of. As a writer, I identify with my characters, so I feel their embarrassment when I'm writing their stories.

"And since when you write something--even something that you've never done yourself--you're still putting a bit of yourself into it emotionally. The thought that someone's going to think my stories are a reflection of my personal life is a little bit weird."

As far as her own embarrassing moments? "All of high school," she claimed.

On a personal note, I found out that Madeleine doesn't drink soda. She does, however, have a tea fetish, especially for green tea, either by itself or combined with other herbs.

She also would pick dark chocolate mousse, not too sweet, for all body parts if she had to pick something. For herself, though, she doesn't find eating food off another person as sexy.

She also doesn't see body piercing as inherently sexy, though she has always wondered what it would be like to kiss someone with a pierced tongue. But for her, if she had to pierce a body part, she'd choose her belly button.

"Anything lower seems like it would be too painful (and too scary if the piercing gets infected)," she explained. "I like my nipples the way they are. Facial piercings look cool, but they're not me."

"If you could be anyone you wanted, who would it be?" I wondered.

"A real person? Aspasia, Pericles' consort. She was smart, she was politically savvy, and she found a way to live as she pleased in the gender-stratified society of ancient Athens. I admire the heck out of that woman.

"But if we're talking fictional characters, I'd like to be Miri Robertson from the Liaden books by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. Because that Val Con is one big bundle of yummy."

Finally, I asked, "If you could give a new writer one piece of advice, what would it be?"

"Can I give two? The first would be to treat craft books like workbooks--don't just read the book, don't just take notes on it. Think about what you're reading with a current story in mind and ask yourself how the technique or principle applies to your story. How would you write that story differently if you were going to use that technique or principle? Do the exercises in the book for that story, even if you don't think you'll use the results. We learn best by doing. The fastest way to grow as a writer is to apply what you are learning about craft to a specific story.

"The second would be to write consistently. Write when you don't feel like it. Write even if what you are writing is crap. The more you write, the better you get.

"As a side note, on the days where you're convinced that what you're writing is crap--consider pushing forward and returning to those pages later. I had a very enlightening experience in a recent round of revisions. I started comparing scenes that I'd thought were good when I wrote them with scenes that I thought were terrible when I wrote them. Know what I discovered? All the scenes required about the same amount of editing. It wasn't that I was a better writer some days and a worse writer other days. It was that my internal editor was more active some days than others. If I'd listened to my internal editor, I would have scrapped some perfectly good scenes that just needed revision."

You can keep up with Madeleine on her blog, http://madeleinedrake.wordpress.com

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