Because Beards * Cover Reveal *

Greetings authors! Maria, Adrienne and I have a wonderful new book to tell you about: Because Beards, an anthology that will donate all our profits to The Movember Foundation. The Movember Foundation funds prostate cancer research and support as well as other men’s health initiatives.  We all love reading stories about sexy heroes.  Join with us to help support the Movember Foundation, a group that works to keep our real-life men safe, healthy & strong.  XOXO

because-beards-cover

  • Title: Because Beards
  • Genre: Anthology, Romance
  • Cover Design: Jessica Hildreth
  • Photographer: Wander Aguiar, Wander Aguiar Photography
  • Cover Model: Jacob Rodney
  • Charity Donations To: The Movember Foundation
  • Release Date: November 1, 2016

Amazon: myBook.to/BecauseBeards
iBooks: http://tinyurl.com/zuse33r
Nook: http://tinyurl.com/jzlwv6s
Kobo: http://tinyurl.com/ztajbhj

Synopsis
Be it a little scruff or a full length beard, there’s nothing more attractive than a man with a well-groomed face. Masculine. Powerful. Sexy. Devoted. Lose yourself in this tantalizing collection of original short stories by your favorite romance authors in support of a great cause. Hipster CEO, bartender, best friend, baseball player—just to name a few—these men all have one thing in common: they’re bearded for your pleasure and deliver one hell of a happy ever after.
All proceeds from this anthology will be donated to The Movember Foundation, an organization that supports charities in the research and treatment of prostate and testicular cancer as well as other men’s health initiatives.

ace-gray-teaser-2

Written by Alexis Alvarez, Faith Andrews, M. Andrews, Jeannine Colette, Hayley Faiman, Angelita Gill, Ace Gray, Ruthie Henrick, Scott Hildreth, Evie Lauren, Jerica MacMillan, R.C. Martin, Emmanuelle de Maupassant, Leslie McAdam, Maria Monroe, Adrienne Perry, J. Quist, Renee Rose, Kacey Shea, Martha Sweeney, and Tom Sweeney.

angelita-teaser-1

#becausebeards #preorder #movember

We’re so excited about our sexy heroes.

alexis-teaser-1

Stay tuned for longer excerpts…coming soon! Our release date is November 1st.

heather-ad-5

 

It’s only 99 cents, it’s for a good cause, and it’s full of super sexy stories.  Thanks so much for your support. Happy reading! XOXO

teaser-for-maria2

siggie bar jen web 2

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

New Release – Casey’s Choice from Alexis Alvarez

Saturday+SpankingsGreetings! It’s Alexis  Alvarez here with a brand new release called Casey’s Choice, which released from Stormy Night Publications today.  It’s a kinky, spanky romance with sex, expensive art,  passion, punishment and love.

caseyschoice-cover-800-size

Blurb:

When trendy young artist Casey Reilly sneaks into Chicago’s most exclusive club under a fake name, it isn’t long before two rich, handsome men are vying for her attention. The club’s owner, billionaire Jax Hunter, is the first to make his move, but when he discovers her deception he has difficulty forgiving Casey.

After Hunter’s cold response to the truth about Casey’s identity leaves her dejected, Max Abbott doesn’t waste time in stepping in to pick up the pieces, and he promptly gets to work on mending her broken heart. But when Hunter decides to try to win her back, Casey will have to make the most important choice of her life.

 

Excerpt:

“This,” he announced, “is for last night.  It’s an example of punishment, the kind you might not like as much.  This is for your attitude.  I’m going to spank you, you’re going to take it without complaint, and you’re not going to come. At least, not here. After you go home, I can’t control what you do.”  But then he stepped forward, grabbed her neck, and whispered into her ear, “Yet,” and the mere idea of his control, and the feel of his lips on her skin, made her moan out. “God,  Hunter.”

Buy Links:

Amazon US:   

Amazon UK:

caseys-choice-5

 

Please stop by and visit all of the other talented authors in the blog hop.

Thanks, and happy reading! XOXO, Alexis

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Cover Reveal ** Boston **

Greetings, readers! It’s Alexis Alvarez with a cover reveal for my upcoming contemporary romance, Boston.  It will release on Amazon on August 16th. 

BOSTON-EBOOK-WEBSHARE

 

Blurb for Boston

Parker Minelli, a fitness trainer and cover model, is every woman’s dream. His Boston accent, chiseled abs and easy-going nature have women flocking to him. But when he meets author Abby, whose brains are bigger than his biceps, he sets out to prove that he’s more than just a pretty face.

Abby is thrilled—and a little breathless—when Parker agrees to work with her on her next book release. However, they soon discover that while opposites may attract, that doesn’t mean that they can overcome their differences. Especially when Parker’s supermodel ex-girlfriend reappears.

Will they be able to see the big picture and accept each other as they are, or will their differences close the book on their chance at love?

BOSTON-FULL-WRAP-FINAL-WEBSHARE

ARC Readers

 It’s filling up fast, but I  still have a few spaces available for ARC readers.  If you have a Kindle, love steamy contemporary romances with sexy heroes and a high heat level…and are willing to leave me an honest review on Amazon on the day the book goes live (August 16th), please contact me to sign up as an ARC reader. My author page is here and you can message me.

Goodreads

Find Boston here on Goodreads!  Add it to your TBR list today so you can share the delicious beauty of the cover.  Thanks!

Awesome People

I love how the cover turned out! I’d like to thank three very important people. Shane “Eyeball” Williams, thanks for modeling for me and letting me take the fantastic photograph of you during your trip to Arizona.  It was great to meet you and take your pictures!  Find Shane here on Facebook.

Shannon Passmore, you have mad skillz at cover design! Thanks for creating this amazing work of art. I’m proud to dress my book up in this gorgeous cover.  Find Shannon at http://www.shanoffformats.com/

Heather Roberts at Social Butterfly PR, thanks for the blurb (you have a great way with words) and all of the publicity and PR assistance.  You rock!  Find Heather at http://www.socialbutterflypr.net/

Thanks! Happy reading.  🙂

siggie bar jen web 2

 

Capturing Kate – new from Alexis Alvarez

Saturday+Spankings

Greetings, everyone!  It’s Alexis Alvarez with a new book for the SatSpanks blog hop! My latest novel has released through Stormy Night Publications and is available on Amazon and other platforms. It’s called Capturing Kate, and it’s a spanky, sexy adventure story about a feisty reporter and the handsome FBI agent who keeps her safe.

capturingkate_full

 

Blurb

Journalist Kate Klein knew reporting on a powerful businessman’s disregard for the safety of the local water supply was a dangerous assignment, but she is nonetheless shocked when she is taken captive, bound, and brought to a remote cabin. Her gruff yet undeniably handsome captor turns out to be a man named Sloan Masters who claims he is an undercover FBI agent investigating the same organization she has been trying to expose. Kate is unsure whether Sloan can be trusted, but he makes it clear that he plans to do whatever is necessary to protect her, whether she likes it or not. If keeping her safe requires taking her over his knee for a stern punishment to ensure her obedience, then so be it.

When Kate keeps some critical information from Sloan, a long, hard spanking on her bare bottom quickly proves that his warning was not a bluff. To her surprise, however, the painful, embarrassing chastisement leaves Kate not only promising to be good but also yearning for Sloan to take her in his arms and claim her thoroughly.

Sloan’s skilled, dominant lovemaking is unlike anything Kate has ever experienced before, and she finds her desire for him growing more intense by the hour, but she cannot help wondering if she is just a means to an end for him. When something goes terribly wrong and the entire investigation is put in jeopardy, can Sloan prove to Kate that she belongs to him no matter what?

Publisher’s Note: Capturing Kate is an erotic romance novel that includes spankings, sexual scenes, elements of BDSM, and more. If such material offends you, please don’t buy this book.

Excerpt

“Who are you, and why am I here?” She snuck a look up at him.

“I’m a FBI agent. I’m part of a team that’s working undercover.” He put down his wipes, and smoothed a piece of gauze over the cut. “My team has been working to infiltrate Mancini’s organization for the past year.” He ripped a long piece of white tape and attached the gauze at top and bottom. “There. That should hold you for a while. I’ll put some healing gel and gauze on your wrists, too, as soon I undo your hands. I’m sorry about the rope burns. And your face.” He winced as he looked at her, and brushed his fingers across her cheek. “Connor told me he slapped your cheek so he could tie you up.”  He hesitated, and his voice was low when he spoke again. “You’re damn lucky that Mancini called on one of our men to take you out.”

 

Buy Links

Amazon US:  https://amzn.com/B01I4N16Y8

Amazon UK:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01I4N16Y8

Capturing kate ad 8

 

Are you ready?

capturing kate ad 9

 

One more teaser….

capturing kate ad 7

 

Please visit the other authors participating in this blog hop. Their links are below. Thanks!

 

Capturing Kate – New from Alexis Alvarez

Saturday+Spankings

Greetings! It’s Alexis Alvarez, and I have a new book coming from Stormy Night Publications on Friday, July 8th.  Capturing Kate is a thrilling, sexy novel about a feisty woman named Kate, and the FBI agent who needs to keep her safe.  It’s a full-length novel with an HEA and scenes so steamy they’ll melt your Kindle.

Excerpt from Capturing Kate

He smiled, nodded, as if he were right about something. Then he raised one eyebrow.  “If it’s necessary, I’ll tie you back up, like I said. But first, I’ll do something else.”

“What – else?” She whispered the words, suddenly sure he had read her mind and knew exactly what she wanted from him, and the thought made her burn.

“I’ll turn you over my lap and spank you so hard that you won’t sit comfortably all day tomorrow.”  He pierced her with his gaze.

fbi book ad 5 web

 

Kate’s a determined reporter looking into corruption, and her whistle-blower source  is about to hand over the most critical information.  But when she ends up being kidnapped instead, it’s up to undercover FBI agent Sloan to keep her safe until the investigation is over.  Sloan’s chiseled abs and handsome face have her heart skipping beats, and even his non-traditional methods of keeping her in-line with his orders are sexy.  The days they spend hiding in his cabin safe house are exhilarating.  But the danger is very real, and when chaos erupts, they’ll have to work together to save their lives…and their hearts.

The book is full of steamy, explicit sex and elements of consensual BDSM, so it’s only for the 18+ crowd who enjoy reading about these kinds of things.  🙂

Stay tuned for the cover reveal and more excerpts here on my blog and on my Facebook author page. Please follow me for all the latest.  And thanks for reading!

Alexis on Facebook

Please visit the other authors participating in this blog hop.

Saturday+SpankingsThere are many other book snippets to enjoy! Happy reading.

Spring Fling Threesome

Greetings! It’s Alexis Alvarez here, ready to tell you about the Spring Fling writer’s conference in Chicago. My sisters and I attended, and it was our first book conference as romance authors!

sisters at convention

Maria Monroe, Adrienne Perry, and Alexis Alvarez (sisters!)

 

SF-website-banner

The organizers did a fantastic job! The conference was outstanding.

I’m excited to report that we drank at least $150 in wine at the bar (hi, cute bartender! Remember us?)  We also attended conferences, pitched to agents, and laughed so loudly and so long in our room that our neighbor came to bang on our door. We though we were in trouble, but she only wanted to join the party.  It was Jade Lee, a best-selling romance author who has published over 50 books.  When we told her what we were giggling about, she still came in to hang out, and we all had a great time talking. She gave us some excellent writing advice on top of it, as well as copies of her books.  She didn’t run away screaming!  This made us want to call our mom immediately and report:  “See? Sometimes when we laugh together like hyenas for hours, GOOD THINGS can come of it!”

jade lee

Jade Lee writes books that are sexy, romantic and fun!

I won a cool Indian-themed basket from Sonali Dev in the silent auction!  We also got to hear her talk during a panel.  Her concept of good romance writing inspiring “heart-gasms” was fun and provocative – loved it.  I’ve interviewed Sonali before for an article on writing and love her insight into editing and using beta readers.  (Read it here:  Getting The Words Right: The Magic of Editing.)

sonali graphic

We got to meet Christina and Lauren, the best-selling duo who write as Christina Lauren, and they were so nice. Like, really, super NICE. The kind of women who you want to turn into BFF’s and talk with on the phone every day because they’re just so interesting and cool, but it’s important not to stalk them too hard because they already have a BFF (each other) and a pretty busy life, what with writing a new best-selling book every few months and also having families.

christina lauren with text for web

Important Event:

Here’s a true story from the conference about how nice they are:  So Robyn Carr gave the big keynote speech, and it was a good one. She told us as writers that we need to work through adversity (she once had an 8-year dry spell), and that we can be the wings, not just the wind under someone else’s wings. She also had a free book on the table for each of us. So Adrienne and I went to thank her afterwards and shake her hand. She was busy chatting with fans, so we waited politely for our turn.  But the crowd around her was so big, and there were so many people waiting to meet her, that we couldn’t get in there. So we waited. And waited some more. We kept missing our opportunity to get in there and started to feel silly, because we were standing there, trying to say “hi” and kept getting cut off by other people. It was like when construction makes two lanes merge into one, but the other drivers are determined not to let you in, so you end up marooned behind the cones, blinking wildly, praying, “Let me in! Someone, let me in!”

Have you been in that situation? You’re feeling meek and small, and try to look like you belong, but every second that goes by, you feel more awkward, and soon you’re frozen into place like a terrified squirrel faced by a vicious alley cat? And there are huge used-car-lot arrows flashing right at you?

alexis is mouse

Soon we realized that we just didn’t have the guts to power through the crowd. So now it was clearly time to sneak back to Maria and confess our lameness (she was in the bathroom, sending us selfies) —

maria selfie

—but out of the blue, who should appear but Lauren, from CLo!  She smiled and said hi, and we said hi and that we were considering trying to to talk to Robyn Carr, but the crowd was too thick, and do you know what Lauren did for us? She interjected herself gracefully and sweetly into the scene, and introduced RC to us. And we got our books autographed.

So my takeaway from that is that Lauren is a Super Hero, and if we knew how to sew (we don’t) and if we had extra fabric with us (we didn’t) we would have made her some kind of cape as a way of saying thanks.  Also, she and Christina gave a very a)funny and b)moving keynote speech about how they became a writing duo, about perseverance and teamwork, about not giving up.  It inspired the three of us to want to write a team book.  We’re already finished with the rev 0. draft!

Oh, also? When Lauren & Christina give classes? They include pictures of themselves eating corn-dogs, and swear sometimes, and make jokes, and ask the audience for real-time feedback. FUNNEST TALKS EVER.  If you  get a chance to hear these two women talk live, TAKE IT. You won’t be sorry.  You need to read their books, if you haven’t already. They’re sexy, funny, smart and addictive.

Second Important Event

The other important part of the conference was Maria’s underpants. She had this Spanx-style garment to make herself look slimmer, and she noted that there was a hole in the crotch of it with little flaps, so you could — apparently — crouch down and open the flaps and pee instead of trying to wriggle out of the entire bodysuit.  I also have  a slimming garment with a similar hole, which I have never used (the hole, not the garment).

spanx

Maria started calling her garment the “Beaver Peeker.”  As in, “Guys, can you toss me the Beaver Peeker? I need to change.”  Or,  “Should I wear the Beaver Peeker tonight to  look skinnier for the dinner?”

We though that savvy women should have more names for this creative cloth, so we started brainstorming.

beaver spanx underwear

We brainstormed these over the course of the 2-day conference, and each new suggestion made us roll on the floor, nearly crying with laughter, howling until our stomachs hurt. It was so, so fun. They don’t all make sense. They don’t have to!

At the final dinner, we came up with some creative ones:

  • Quesadilla Let Me See ‘Ya
  • Taco Unlock-O

We were screaming with laughter about some of these suggestions when Jade knocked on our door. 

Later, on our way to the lobby for Starbucks, the bartender walked by with some people in suits. He nodded his head and smiled to us, and waved.

So to summarize our conference learnings:

  • The RWA chapters of Chicago are full of awesome, fun people. They put on a well-organized, insightful, fantastic, helpful conference. Well done!  Sign up for their next one.
  • Next time you’re shopping for a slimming undergarment, why not spice up the conversation by asking for it by one of the new names above?
  • When you’re waiting in the “pre-pitch” room, it’s a good idea to start a horse-drawing competition with all the other women to help settle the nerves.

horse contest

  • Way to make a new friend:  When someone shushes your seatmate during a class in a very loud and rude way, it’s helpful to write, “Shush, BITCH!” in your notebook and show it to her and giggle. Then you can laugh together later and becomes besties on Facebook.  **Only do this if your seatmate seems to have a good sense of humor.**

shush bitch

  • During the silent auction, it’s helpful to get specific when you’re bidding on a critique session with a best-selling author:  “Fifty dollars and a picture of a sexy shirtless man.”  You may be out-bid by someone with an even better offer (Melonie!), though, who seems to have inside knowledge of what the author likes:  “Sixty dollars and pictures of hot gingers.”  (Damn my inability to appreciate the ging!)

red hot

  • Penny Sansevieri has a GREAT class on getting the most out of Amazon. Take lots of notes.

penny

penny page

Notes from Penny Sansevieri’s Class

  • To make your sisters choke on their meal, send more selfies from the bathroom of you doing a duck-face. (Head and shoulders only!)

maria selfie2

  • Thanks to all the organizers, presenters, editors, agents and authors at the conference. We had a fantastic experience there and would do it again in a heartbeat.

We had a great time. Were you there, too?  Want to share your memories,  or suggest a new name for the Beaver Peeker? We’d love your comments!


Alexis, Maria & Adrienne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Sentence

Writing & Editing – Creating the Perfect Sentence

By Alexis Alvarez

I can still see the excitement in my German teacher’s face, how he radiated enthusiasm through his hands. His gestures grew like waves in a storm.  “This is one of the most perfect sentences ever written!” he declared. “And you are lucky to read and understand it in the author’s original voice.”

His gray curls bobbed.  “Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt.”

Light streamed in through the paned Barnard windows and I saw tiny flecks of spit hurtling like diamonds through the dusty air, and this accentuated his immense delight in the way the words moved in his mouth. He had us recite it aloud together, and we agreed on the perfection, the way it slid off the tongue, The German guttural and slick at once.

kafka book with quote

“Memorize it!” he exhorted us, and I did, the words ingrained in my brain after that one reading, my mind mesmerized with the cadence.

My German teacher’s  name was Marvin Shulman.  He was five feet something tall, and his energy for German, his love for words, radiated from his pores.  My mental image attached to his name is this: Seeing him lean forward in emphasis, as if only by approaching us with the words could he hurl them into our souls.

words

He spoke about something I’d felt in small bursts while reading – the joy of finding lines where the words fit together like puzzle pieces, as if they were meant to belong in that order, and the author was the first one who discovered it.

Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for other perfect sentences, and sometimes I write them down in notebooks, so I can enjoy them later like mind candy.

“Like a cat in the dark, your whisker touched something the wrong way and you backed out.”

-Mary Gaitskill, Veronica

“In the water, a dark plume of blood blossomed by her foot; as I looked, a thin red tendril spiraled up and curled over her pale toes, undulating in the water like a thread of crimson smoke.”

-Donna Tartt, The Secret History

divider 1

Every Author is a Translator

In her New Yorker article Teach Yourself Italian,” author Jhumpa Lahiri talks about the difficulties of learning a new language as an adult, and trying to become not just proficient, but expert enough to write in the new language, beautifully.   She studies Italian for years in America, but it is only when she moves to Rome that she begins to think in Italian and to reinvent herself as an author who can write in Italian.  In the beginning, it’s a torturous process full of gaps and halts, but the sentences she writes to describe it are so lovely that they shine, notebook worthy.

“I write in a terrible, embarrassing Italian, full of mistakes. Without correcting, without a dictionary, by instinct alone. I grope my way, like a child, like a semiliterate. I am ashamed of writing like this. I don’t understand this mysterious impulse, which emerges out of nowhere. I can’t stop.

It’s as if I were writing with my left hand, my weak hand, the one I’m not supposed to write with. It seems a transgression, a rebellion, an act of stupidity.”

san diego wall

She is determined to master the language to the point where the words work for her, within her, so that she can think in effortless Italian and make beautiful, perfect sentences in this new language that calls to her heart.

She does it: She learns to write so well in Italian that she doesn’t need to think of the words in English and translate in her mind into Italian; she does the more fundamental translation, that of images right into Italian.

Because all writers are translators.  We are learning the language of our own mind and soul, and finding a way to get the thoughts out in a way that other people can understand. Whether we do it in our native tongue or a new one, it’s a steep mountain to climb: how do you take the ephemeral wraiths in your brain and implant them into someone else’s head?

lahiri quote small

It’s a laborious process. Often I feel the way she did, writing in English, my native tongue. We have to translate our thoughts into words, and organize the words into something sensible and lovely; then the other person must read and interpret them.

It reminds me of Escher’s drawing of the hands drawing each other, turning from three dimensional to two dimensional and back: It’s something alive that gets flattened out, smashed into print before it’s resurrected in another body, and only the excellent writers create words that can send thoughts across this journey without being irreparably damaged in the process.

books

There’s no simple secret on how to do this.  But it’s possible to improve any writing through editing. The more we observe our work dispassionately, the harder we strive to improve our sentences, the better we’ll become at our craft.  And with practice, we can write some perfect sentences of our own.

divider 1

How To Start

Stop worrying about perfection and write what flows into your brain and out of your fingers.  Give your wordless images words; allow them ugly life, then you can mold them back into the images you see in your brain.  You can’t edit an empty page. There are some writers who don’t revise at all, but it’s rare.  Most authors find editing to be the most painful and most fruitful part of the  process.

collette quote with outline

It’s like assembling a box of old bones into some new animal the world has never seen, not even me. At first there’s a rough scaffolding of a shape, but it’s wrong: I have too many ribs, an ankle attached to a wrist, a sad leg dangling uselessly into space, a spine that diverges into two necks, one of which I must sever.  Over time, with great effort, I reassemble, remove, revise, until the beast stand firm, a shape emerged.  Only then can I start putting on the skin and the color, the delicate eyelashes and the sparkling teeth, the eyes that glance and burn.

When I have the animal, I can show it to other readers and allow them to tell me where it’s still wrong.  These people, my writer’s group and my beta readers, look at my creation and tell me where it’s broken, bleeding, dull, hollow.

hemingway quote

This part is the hardest part of my writing process, because sometimes significant changes are necessary, and they are difficult.  I feel like I’m doing brain surgery on most delicate tissue, trying to improve and refine without killing the host.  It would be easier to pretend the thing is  fine and  publish, but that’s the bigger misstep, because once it’s out there in the world, ready to roar out its presence, those flaws will make me wince every time I see it.

It’s not even that the editing process makes it perfect, it just makes it better.  Each thing I write, each edit I perform, I improve my skills. Malcolm Gladwell proposes in his 2008 book Outliers, and several follow-up articles, that it can take up to ten thousand hours to become an expert in many fields. He points to certain musical virtuosi, computing geniuses, and sports stars who put in significant amounts of time – nearly ten thousand hours each –  before becoming the master of their craft. 

paino with 10k

 

He reminds the reader that a certain amount of natural skill is necessary, and passion is what will keep you interested over the long haul– but for most people, putting in the time is fundamental.  People who skip past the practice right to the perfection are the exception, not the rule.

Don’t shy away from the hours your writing and editing take. Count them all as worthy steps toward your goal, although, of course, writers don’t always have discrete goals, but long, winding paths that last our entire lives.

divider 1

Common Writing Rules

How do you know what to cut, what to keep?  My process is this: Rules and readers.  I go through my work several times first, using basic rules of thumb to shorten and streamline, then I ask others to read it and give feedback on things big and small.  My writing group will pick out missing commas and redundant language as well as bigger plot inconsistencies, and my two sisters will give me gut-wrenching feedback about the story as a whole and what needs to change to improve it.

Some common rules that writers follow

  • Show, don’t tell
  • Avoid adverbs when modifying the word “said”
  • Limit adverbs everywhere else
  • Be succinct
  • Alternate long sentences with short
  • Use concrete rather than vague language
  • Avoid passive voice
  • Reduce “ing” verbs. (Ex: Use she looked instead of she was looking.)
  • Don’t repeat words too often
  • Cut the stuff that readers skip
  • Use outside eyes to help edit

There are more.  These can, and should be broken as necessary, but they’re a starting point, a good one.  In the rest of the article I’ll focus on avoiding adverbs, being succinct, “ing” words, and outside eyes for editing.

divider 1

Favorite Writing Rules: Avoid Adverbs — “Show, Don’t Tell”

For me, “show, don’t tell” and “use concrete language” are the most important ones; the “avoiding adverbs” –my current favorite — is part of that.

steven king quote 2

When I learned we’re supposed to be sparing with adverbs, I was sad. Obsequiously. Intermittently. Spasmodically.  Unskillfully.  You could  assemble a list of them and it would be a poem.

When I read the why behind it, I understood.  An adverb is often a short-cut that replaces details.  If you force yourself to eliminate certain adverbs, you will need to fill in the gap with a specific description, and this makes your story interesting and vivid.  Sometimes as the author you want and need your reader to fill in gaps, to make up their own mind about your characters, but it’s usually not in places where you’re clarifying something important about a character’s appearance, thoughts or actions.

No, you want to save that for places where they’ll catch hidden meanings or put together some clues you’ve scattered throughout the text.  Let them work for the intellectual, challenging connections. But for the fundamentals of your story? Those should be crystal.

 

divider 1

If you overuse them, adverbs hide what’s really happening. Compare the two versions below.

Original

He shouted loudly, gesturing wildly with his hands. His hair blew crazily in the wind, and even though she leaned forward intently she couldn’t understand a single word. Below them, the ocean churned.

Edited

He shouted, gestured, and it looked as though he were trying to shake water from his fingers. She couldn’t understand a thing. The wind tossed his hair over his face like a dancing veil. It seized his words and tumbled them down the rock wall to the sea, where they sucked under and drowned.

Maybe to you, gesturing “wildly” means waving your hands to and fro for emphasis. Maybe it means pointing a finger and shaking it, or slamming one fist into a palm. If I want the reader to see exactly what I see, I need to tell them. If I don’t want them to see exactly what I see – why not?  Is there a reason?

checkov quote w outline

For me, it was a shortcut. I was trying to get the pictures out of my  head and onto paper, and in order to do that before the ideas faded, I used adverbs as placeholders.

When I went back to edit, I replaced them with the more specific images. This made the passage longer, which is opposite of the “being succinct” rule. To make up for it, I went through the manuscript and cut out words elsewhere that added bulk without beauty.

Sometimes adverbs are the perfect fit for your passage, and if that’s so, use them proudly and unapologetically. Authors mix in a deliberate ratio of adverbs for emphasis, perhaps because they love the sound, perhaps because they want to grant the reader poetic license to see their own vision.

Some writers have such intricate prose and vivid descriptions that an adverb here and there is good; it’s a breath between thoughts, it’s the oil that glides the story forward.

Take this example from Robert Hellenga’s The Fall of a Sparrow:

“The guitar had tremendous power and volume, tremendous resonance and sustain, more than Woody had been able to control; but the man skillfully damped the strings, now with his left hand, now with his right, so that the sound that came through was clean and penetrating, free from the resonator rattling Woody’d been aware of when he was playing. He didn’t know what to say.

‘Guitar like this can change your life,’ the clerk said when he’d finished the song. You don’t have to play it; just show it to people, let them look at it.”

guitar closeup small

When a great author mixes in a few adverbs with his or her gorgeous description, it’s almost like a compliment to the reader:  “I trust you to fill in the details. You get me.” The use of ‘skillfully’ here doesn’t hurt the passage. It provides a little bit of “you figure it out on your own” help, and that’s effective, because Hellenga’s words are rich and luxurious, and the additional of a bland helper now and then works.  He doesn’t just convince you that he’s heard this guitar; he convinces you that you have.

Here’s an example from Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, by Geoff Dyer:

“A dusty pole of sunlight poked in from the outside, illuminating a piece of Sanskrit written on a wall.  The boy pointed at the light, which pointed at the sacred text like the finger of a slow reader moving across the page of a difficult book. I continued moving too and the boy tagged along, keeping fractionally ahead of me, thereby subtly suggesting that he was being employed to guide me.”

His style is unique, his words gorgeous.  The adverbs  keep us moving along so we can see more poles of sunlight and hear the bells ringing.  Unpacking these particular adverbs into longer exposition would spoil the passage.

sun ray on sanskrit2

Some authors use adverbs all over the pages, tons of them, and still write best-sellers.  Donna Tartt’s book The Secret History is a favorite of mine, even though she shot her adverbs at it with a BB gun. She uses Greek mythology and  purple-tinged prose that hangs just on the right side of beautiful, and that makes it possible to forgive her for sentences like these:

“I know what he wants,” Charles said bleakly. “He wants us to come over to his hotel and have dinner.”

“Suddenly, his face changed. To my great surprise he cursed loudly and slammed down the receiver so hard it jangled.”

“Isn’t that interesting,” he said coolly. “I’m really not attracted to you, either.”

I don’t mind because she has glorious lines like these: “When I got to my room it was silver and alien with moonlight, the window still open and the Parmenides open on the desk where I had left it; a half-drunk coffee from the snack bar stood beside it, cold in its Styrofoam cup.”

mittelmark on adverbs

Maybe because Tartt uses so many adverbs from the very start, and because her book is  larger than life, a Greek tragedy come alive, it’s appropriate to have the characters overact their emotions.  Her adverbs are like stage directions for the mind. We imagine what to see as the storyteller narrates.

parmenides ad

Fans of J.K. Rowling may note the abundance of adverbs in her writing, adverbs which in no way hindered her stratospheric success.  People love her plot and her characters so much that they care little about her adverb usage.

divider 1

More about Adverbs: Don’t Let Them Mar Your Translation

If you use too many adverbs, you don’t thoroughly describe the images in your mind, and the reader misses the path you worked so hard to create. Yet if you unravel every adverb with a long explanation, you can end up with unwieldy text, top heavy and boring.  Sometimes it’s necessary to rewrite an entire passage when you eliminate adverbs.

Here’s a paragraph I wrote after interviewing a provocative local artist.

This is how I felt when I saw his shop

His art workshop was impeccably organized and obviously styled; more like a gallery than a place of labor, it was instantly obvious that he was abundantly in  need of praise, as much from himself as from others.  The works of art in progress were discomfiting and strange, everything designed to provoke unease. Even the way he organized his books spoke to his need for  grandiosity. 

Arranged as they were in shelves, in such a fashion that a single book could not be extricated without sending the rest tumbling, his organization let any guest know that he was so incredibly smart about art that he’d never need to read such a book again. They were not worth his time.  It reminded me of a person so rich that he had no use for the dollar bills that we peons coveted.  There was nothing humble about his space.

Rewritten

Soup-can-shaped containers waited in silent precision. Four feet tall, wiggly and large enough to hide a crouching human, they rippled at a finger touch. A white, powder-coated body exposed wires from a leg, a thigh, the torso, dripping them onto the shiny steel table across from his desk. This view was equally intimate and disturbing: his signature.  A hundred glossy hard-cover art books, arranged  in an intricate pattern of piles and floating shelving from which a single volume could not be extricated without disrupting dozens, were themselves an exhibit.

I once saw a picture of a wealthy man who lacquered an entire room in gold and hundred dollar bills, and it struck me that Tonnesen had a similar narcissistic arrogance; so convinced was he of his superiority that books on the subject, with nothing left to teach him, were best used as self-congratulatory décor.

 

bill tonnesen art

 The thing with adverbs is to use them with intent — verify that they’re the best option to make your sentence complete.  No published author has a perfect manuscript, so don’t use their mistakes and shortcuts as a justification for your own. Make your writing as strong as you can. In the long run, it will serve you well.

divider 1

Be Careful With “ing” Verbs

Renee Rose, USA Today best selling author of romance and erotic fiction, gave me an example of a before/after paragraph from one of her best-selling novels.

Original

“No,” he said and then had to lunge to catch her as she tried to escape. He wrapped both arms around her and held her tightly against his body. “No, Celia. I would never do that. Angelina was talking about you because she’s jealous.”

He could feel the shape of her firm breasts pressing against his chest through her thin robe and the image of their naked glory rose in his mind. His eyes strayed down to her lips again. She was looking at him full in the face, studying him as if to determine whether he spoke the truth.

Edited

“No.” He lunged to catch her as she tried to escape. With both arms wrapped around her, he held her tight against his body. “No, Celia. I would never do that. Angelina was talking about you because she’s jealous.”

Her firm breasts pressed against his chest through her thin robe and the image of their naked glory rose in his mind. His eyes strayed down to her lips again. She looked at him full in the face, as if to determine whether he spoke the truth.

Renee did a few things to clean up the passage.  She eliminated several “ing” words (progressive verbs).  By replacing “She was looking” with “she looked” she made the sentence crisper.

Sometimes the sense of motion or time passing is necessary to the story, or to your character’s voice, and if that’s the case, don’t hesitate to use an “ing.” However, many times authors use it as a habit. Be aware of when you’re using an “ing” instead of an “ed” and make it a deliberate choice. Overuse of “ing” words makes a passage fuzzy – a matted dog that needs a haircut.

Authors use “ing” words because they worry that time will snap by, sharp, and slingshot the action ahead of itself. That’s not the case. Readers know to extend or compress time using context. They don’t need a constant flurry of “ings” to remind them about it.

Too many “ing” words:

She  kept looking out at the sea during her coffee break while she was eating her sandwich.

Revision without “ings” makes it stronger:

During her coffee break, she ate the sandwich without taking her eyes from the sea once.

divider 1

Beta Readers Provide Valuable Input

My sisters are my two best beta-readers. They read my entire novel from start to finish.  Because they see the whole manuscript, they can give me overriding feedback about a character’s development and where it falls flat. In addition, they give me detailed critiques of sentences and paragraphs that should be fixed.

Here are some examples that Maria did for my novel in progress, Boston. She highlights the comments that need help, and puts her thoughts in a comment to the right.  I usually take all of my sisters’ suggestions, because they make sense.  (Don’t worry; many adverbs were harmed in the making of this story.)

comm3 from maria

She points out places where the language is clunky or offensive.

comm2 from maria

divider 1

Writing Groups Are Golden!

My writer’s group provides feedback on a chapter by chapter basis. During a typical meeting, each person takes a turn reading their segment aloud while the others follow along on hands-outs and take notes. The written-up hands-outs go back to the original author, who can use the comment to make improvements.

I’ve scanned several hand-outs with comments from my group. In each case, I used the feedback to make changes.  Some of the changes may seem small. Added together, these comments work together to make a book streamlined and sleek.

Bren commented on my excessive use of the word “I”.  My book is written in the first person, and it’s imperative to break up the “I-fest” and come up with creative ways to tell the story without inundating the reader.

bren edit 1

Edits from Bren

Angela always gets on me for my excessive use of semicolons. What can I say; I love the dang things.  She  pointed out my over-reliance on the word sex(y). When I edited, I found new words and maybe even got rid of a few semicolons; a sad process, but critical.

angela edit 2

Edits from Angela

angela edit 1

Edits from Angela

 

We point out things that work with a smile or an LOL, and are honest about things that don’t work. Jill gave me a smiley for a  good line, and suggested eliminating an entire paragraph, which I did. She gave me an idea for a better phrase, and I used it.

jill edit 2

Edit from Jill

Adriana asked for more detail on perfume; when I rewrote, I added in the exact scent (Light Blue, by D&G.)  She suggested ways to streamline and I took many of them.

adriana edit 1

Edits from Adriana

adriana edit 2

Edits from Adriana

Kacey pointed out that I used a lot of run-on sentences, something I want to fix.  Her reminder stayed in my head while I edited, and I was careful to mix it up — some long sentences, some shorter, for variety.

kacey edit 3

Edits from Kacey

Group members are honest when they find a phrase that sounds out of place or awkward.

kacey edit 2

I removed the “whore” reference. It didn’t work.

Make Your Editing Process Your Own

Your editing process might not involve beta readers or friends from a writer’s group, but no matter what you do, it’s critical to revise and improve your work. Sometimes, time itself is a wonderful editor.  Let the manuscript sit for a week or a month, then re-read.  After some distance, you may be able to make changes that would have scared or hurt you the first time through.  The point is to do what it takes to make our work better, to turn it into something that captures readers.

My favorite books are ones where I read something and exclaim, “Yes! She gets it. I feel this way. I am this way.” Or, “This is really what life is like.”  When you find an author who shines a light into your soul and illuminates something, not just in you but across humanity, showing you that a part of you which you considered fundamentally different is actually intrinsic to a greater population, it’s better than any magic trick in the world.   Words are finite, but some authors make them sing.

kafka quote

Franz Kafka, author of The Metamorphosis, supposedly said about writing:

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”

The interesting part is that sometimes our writing comes out muddy and watered down, and it’s only through editing that we get it clear and perfect.  Jhumpa Lahiri used all of Italy, the country, as her editor, while she was in the process of learning Italian.  We, too, can use everything at our disposal here at home:  Writer’s groups, beta readers, and self-reflection. 

Lahiri never stopped; just like Malcolm Gladwell’s “ten thousand hour” experts, she pushed on, day after day.  So do that.

The more we revise and edit, the closer we come to making perfect sentences of our own.

siggie bar jen web 2

divider 1

Bibliography / Credits

Kafka, Franz with  Ian Johnston. Die Vervandlung – Metamorphosis (German-English Parallel Text).  London: JiaHu Books, 2014.

Gaitskill, Mary.  Veronica. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.

Tartt, Donna. The Secret History.  New York: The Ballantine Publishing Group, 1992.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. “Teach Yourself Italian.” The New Yorker Magazine. December 7th, 2015 Issue. (With translator Ann Goldstein.)

Gladwell, Malcolm.  “Complexity and the Ten Thousand Hour Rule.” The New Yorker Magazine. August 21st, 2013 issue. 

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers. The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008.

Dyer, Geoff.  Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. New York, Vintage Books, 2010.

Hellenga, Robert. The Fall of a Sparrow.  New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1999.

Quote by Parmenides:  https://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/parm1.htm

Photography:  All pictures are owned and copyrighted by Alexis Alvarez.

book pile

I have hundreds of ebooks, but I still love my paperback versions!

 

 

Getting The Words Right – The Magic of Editing

Getting the Words Right by Alexis Alvarez

 

Retro styled image of a vintage typewriter with a blank sheet of paper

 

In 1958, an interviewer for The Paris Review asked Ernest Hemingway how much rewriting he did.  “It depends,” responded Hemingway.  “I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.”

The interviewer was curious. “Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?”

Hemingway replied, “Getting the words right.”

Getting the words right can take a month or a lifetime.  It is as simple as opening a vein, Hemingway was reported to say. In truth, it was the sports writer Red Smith who joked that writing was easy: “You just sit down and open a vein and bleed it out, drop by drop.” Still, Hemingway’s life as an author, replete with adventure and difficulty, is a testament to the beautiful irony of this oft-quoted phrase, and every author who reads it laughs and then says, “Yes,” understanding the agony of empty arteries and garbled pages.

The books get written – perseverance and dedication pay. Every author develops a method to distill the word flood into a sophisticated or wild vintage, using her style and voice to create something fresh.  Although good editing will never be described  in a perfect set of rote rules, there are enough similarities in the work flow of  successful authors, which, taken together, describe a  starting point for a solid editing process.   Reflection over time, outside eyes, and a ruthless scalpel are the keys to most finished manuscripts, regardless of the author’s genre and experience, with an emphasis placed on the ability to cut junk and keep the jewels.

I talked to authors who write suspense, romance, erotica and young adult fiction to find the unifying themes for an expert editing flow.  They are indie writers, authors who are affiliated with well-known publishers, and authors who move back and forth between the two. Some are newcomers to the writing world while others have been writing for years.  Yet they all share the same convictions about their writing – that only with significant self-reflection, help from other readers, and the ability to look dispassionately at their own work can they create their brightest masterpieces.

Several popular techniques I’ll focus on include getting honest feedback from peers before publication (either through a writer’s group or beta readers), reviewing the book multiple times to look for inconsistencies and errors, and having the courage to make significant cuts or changes to the book, even if it’s difficult and time-consuming.

steven king quote

Writing groups come in all shapes and styles – some groups meet on-line only, and talk in message boards about works they have emailed to each other.  Other groups meet in person, read aloud each week, and get real-time feedback and critiques.  Still others combine real-life meetings and on-line interactions.  The popular internet site Meetup can locate participating writing groups by state and region; many authors are surprised to discover multiple writing groups exist in their neighborhoods.   I started my own local writing group in Chandler, AZ,  when I didn’t find the perfect one to fit my needs.

Beta readers are people who read a novel before it’s published and offer feedback and critique to the author, who uses the suggestions to improve the work.   Beta readers can be friends, family, peers; the common theme is that they are trustworthy and give helpful advice.

Sonali Dev builds reader feedback into her entire writing process in order to create a book that is smooth and polished.  Her system works well for her. Sonali’s novel The Bollywood Affair was listed as one of NPR’s 100 Most Swoon-worthy books and as one of NPR’s best books list of 2014, and her novel The Bollywood Bride was listed as a Best Book of 2015 for fiction by Kirkus reviews.  She has an interactive writer’s group, and uses feedback from trusted beta readers to refine her novels.

sonali graphic

Sonali is passionate about writing and about getting feedback ahead of publication so she can perfect her books. She told me, “I’ve always thought of critiques as absolutely essential to my writing.  I WANT to hear all the criticism, so I can see what I don’t see, and fix what I need to fix. But of course, this is why building trust with your readers is so important, because I instantly discard anything that I believe is a personal taste thing, or a lack of understanding thing. There’s this intricacy to each reader’s reading and reacting process.  When you get to know them, you work out what their comments really mean, and you get better and better at picking out what that means for your story.”

Sonali’s writing group meets in person several times per year and works together on-line  to provide assistance to each other. She says, “We do weekly goals and recaps and basically put out calls when we need something read/critiqued/brainstormed. Either an open call: Can anyone read my synopsis/chapters/MS? Or then we go to individuals who might have the specific skills we’re looking for.”

The feedback helps her make improvements to the story, such as this one:  “In the book I just finished, my hero and my heroine are both survivors of trauma and are trying to deal with a lot of pain. And their relationship is based on how they are able to process their own pain by sharing in and helping with the other one’s pain. My hero hurts my heroine a few times, without meaning to, but he still does. And this bothered my CP. Basically I realized that my aim in those scenes was to have the hero take care of the heroine. That was the important part that led to the growth of their closeness. It required a little work  and digging but I rewrote the scenes where he takes care of her but he doesn’t inflict the hurt first.”

Kacey Shea, a fresh new voice in the indie romance world who combines light-hearted humor with deeper themes, has used feedback from her writer’s group to improve parts of her manuscript for her well-received novels Uncovering Desire, Uncovering Love, and Uncovering Hope.  She says, “In the manuscript I finished a few months ago, one of the main characters is a drummer. There was a passage with him getting into his car and blasting the music for the ride. A group member said, ‘I want to know what he was listening to, because if he’s a musician, it would be important to him.’ I thought that was insightful feedback, and made sure to add that he was listening to AC/DC’s Back in Black.”

That may sound like a small change, but many of these little suggestions add together to make a character more coherent.

KACEY GRAPHIC

Writing groups can take time, and some people with full schedules and young children can’t attend physical meetings. For these writers, beta readers provide feedback about the manuscript and suggest changes.  In fact, many authors say that the beta readers are the most critical aspect of their entire process.

Sonali Dev has about ten beta readers for each book, some of whom include close family members.  She says, “I get different things from different beta readers, who range from experienced writers from various genres to regular readers. But generally a good beta reader is someone who replicates a reader well and is able to tell me what worked for them and what didn’t in terms of character, plot, pacing. My beta readers are a mix of author friends whose work I enjoy (mutual respect and love for each other’s writing) to friends who love reading and are honest and read widely and whose opinion I respect as a reader. I also seek out a few beta readers who are subject matter experts in a theme or subject my book touches on.”

Sonali sends early revisions of her book to a set of beta readers, makes changes, and then sends the next revision to a new set of beta readers for additional feedback. Doing it this way, she says, guarantees fresh eyes the whole way through and gives her the kind of insight she needs.

She offers this advice to authors who are contemplating using beta readers for the first time.  “Build relationships. Readers who can brainstorm their reactions are invaluable to me. Also the best readers are ones whose writing you enjoy and those who enjoy your writing. Sometimes even your closest friend just isn’t into the same sort of writing you are into, and then you’re both just wasting your time. Also, each reader has a different strength. Some do well at the scene level, others at larger story level. Take the time to learn and apply each individual skill.”

Renee Rose, USA-Today best-selling author of erotic romance, is enthusiastic about receiving honest feedback about her book ahead of time.  She says, “I think I’ve always been open to honest critique. I majored in creative writing in college and spent thirteen years doing technical writing, so I’m used to receiving feedback and edits. I almost always accept feedback from my beta readers. I’ve learned that any time I ignore a beta reader’s feedback, a reviewer is sure to leave the same opinion.”

renee graphic

Renee has hit #1 on Amazon in the Erotic Paranormal and Sci-fi categories in the U.S. and U.K., is often found on the list of Amazon’s Top 100 Erotic Authors and is a regular columnist for the website Write Sex Right.  Her most recent book, The Don’s Daughter, rose to the top of multiple Amazon charts.  She isn’t part of a writing group, and she picks her beta readers carefully, developing strong relationships with them, in order to continue her success in the marketplace. She explains, “A good beta reader has your best interest in mind and wants to help you do your very best. They are the sort of friends who would tell you that you have spinach in your teeth. They aren’t afraid to say what bothers them, and they know you won’t take offense, because the feedback is given from love.”

Renee’s process is streamlined.  She has four to five regular beta readers for each book who give detailed feedback and suggestions.  “I share a google doc and they track changes. This way multiple beta readers can give feedback or interact at the same time, and I can make updates to the same doc. They will give me feedback about plot holes, likes and dislikes of characters, word choice, sentence structure, and even punctuation. I rely heavily on my beta readers.”

One change she’s made to a manuscript based on beta feedback? “In The Hand of Vengeance, I originally had the hero’s dog die. My beta readers and professional editor both complained, so I saved Dog.”

athletic man with enthusiasm reads the book

One of Renee’s most trusted beta readers

Kacey Shea has recently expanded her team of beta readers from four to eight to increase feedback for her newest novel.  Because her large family and second career make it difficult to attend regular meetings in person, she’s moving away from physical writer’s group meetings and putting more reliance on her beta readers.   She welcomes honest feedback, saying, “My beta readers are crucial to my process. I won’t write another book without them! Feedback, both positive and negative, fuels me to be better, to stay on schedule, and to edit along the way.”

Instead of sending a finished book, she sends several chapters at a time to her beta readers, and gets continuous feedback as she writes. “I ask them to email or message me once a week, after they’ve read the chapters. I ask for them to share with me the feelings they get from the characters (do they like them, hate them, relatable), story (did it flow well, did anything make you stop and have to re-read), and anything else that stands out, the good, bad, and ugly. I honestly live for their emails/messages because my betas are smart, well read, and have a great sense of humor.”

Kacey has made major changes to books based on beta reader feedback.  “On this last book I wrote, I added an entire chapter based on one beta reader’s feedback that she felt jolted and completely taken out of the story from the transition of one chapter to the next. She actually thought maybe I had made a mistake and didn’t include it. The transition was too jarring and in turn I added a chapter that I not only love, but also develops the main character better. Sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, you can’t see with fresh eyes, and I think good beta readers do that.”

It’s not always easy to ask for and receive feedback, but a serious author does it anyway because the reward is worth the pain. Kacey disclosed to me, “I always get insanely nervous about sharing my work because it’s maybe the most vulnerable I’ve been. To let someone into my thoughts, my writing, is to share a piece of myself that most people haven’t seen. I’m an introvert who still struggles with opening up to new people, so I am learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable! For me, I don’t think this part will ever get easier.”

Leslie McAdam, a Wattpad writing sensation who recently published The Sun and the Moon to rave reviews on Amazon, says “Wattpad  is my beta.”  She doesn’t work with a writer’s group, but she gets large-scale feedback in other ways. She has hundreds of followers on Wattpad, some of whom have become friends and regular commentators on her work.  She explains,“With the chapter by chapter publishing format of Wattpad, and the constant votes and comments, a writer gets A LOT of feedback.  Since I pretty much write and post same hour because I’m crazy, I am basically letting the world see my first draft and comment on it.  And sometimes those comments shape the manuscript because people will bring up questions that they want answered, or things that bothered them.”

leslie ad 1bigger2

In addition, she works with a trusted critique partner to develop the books further.  She says, “I met Kristy Lin Billuni, who is both a grammar nazi and a former sex worker.  Her business is called sexygrammar.com.  She gives me feedback, from the ‘add commas’ here type, to the ‘my reaction as a reader was to think ___ when I read this.’  She is so helpful, I can’t explain it.  She used to work for a publisher reviewing manuscripts and editing them, so she knows both the business and the genre of romance novels/erotica.  She also knows STORY and a lot of the advice she has given me has stuck.”

Some of Kristi Lin Billuni’s suggestions include:

  • “Write the fun part first. If you’re struggling to write something it could be because it’s boring and you don’t need it.
  • Don’t use the word “was” if you can help it.
  • One way of looking at plot is that a story has certain questions and the plot is when you answer those questions.
  • Use the quirky, weird words to make it more interesting. Make the sentences lively, with sensory description.”

Leslie is adamant about listening to feedback. She urges other writers: “Don’t be too precious about your writing.  Make it strong but malleable.  Let in the criticism, even when it hurts. And if all else fails, whiskey.”

She gave me an example of a change she made based on feedback. “If  too many people call you out on something, it probably needs to be changed.  I had a joke in my book that I loved and NO ONE got it.  NO ONE.  I finally ended up taking it out because it was cleaner without it.  (I still like the joke.)”

jokes

Leslie’s jokes are far better than these. No kidding.

She recognizes that feedback is sometimes hard to take.  When this happens, she recommends taking time to think it over.  “Give it a moment.  Don’t react immediately.  Because maybe you’re defensive at first but later on it seems like a good idea.”

Despite being in a demanding job where getting writing critique is just a part of her day, she points out that receiving reader feedback as an author feels different, and it’s important to react appropriately to get the most out of it. 

“In real life, I’ve been a lawyer for fifteen years and have received near constant criticism of my writing during that time, from colleagues, clients, and occasionally judges or the other side.  At some point, you get used to it. That said, it’s still scary.  Every time I hit “publish,” I sit back and cringe a little, because I am scared of what they are going to think.  I like what I wrote, clearly, because I hit publish.  But what if they don’t agree with me?  That feeling/thought process hasn’t gone away yet.”

Leslie differentiates between various types of critiques, and how to respond to each.

“There are a lot of different types of criticism.  The type that is the easiest to take (that is not praise) is that which points out fixable things, like grammar or punctuation, errors in word choice, or things that you look at and go, ‘ah, that’s what is written but that’s not what I meant, let me change it.’  That type of feedback is no big deal.

What is harder to take is when people say that they don’t connect with your character or that the chapter isn’t resonating with them.  And when that happens, there could be a few things going on.  Maybe that person just isn’t your reader.  Like shopping at the super-huge Rose Bowl Flea Market, not everyone wants to buy your goods and it would be impossible to do so.  Maybe that person really likes Sci Fi and you write Historical Romance.  They are never going to like your writing.

But if the person IS your reader and something isn’t connecting with them, listen to them.  I had a chapter that was a climax to a book and I really liked the chapter and no one else did.  I asked Kristy to look at it recently and she gave me two items of feedback that really helped.  She told me that the chapter was all in the character’s head and I needed physical description, a specific, easy fix.  And she told me that my word choices were leaning toward generic rather than specific, and to use the weird words that make it more interesting.  Again, a specific, easy (ish) fix.  It was so helpful to show her the chapter and say, this isn’t working for others, how do I fix it?”

In addition to writing groups and beta readers, an author can get important information from reading Amazon reviews. Natasha Knight, one of today’s biggest names in erotic romance and dark erotica,  told me that she always reads her reviews carefully, looking for trends and commonalities.  “It’s often hard to take, but look at similarities. Chances are, if you’re hearing the same criticism over and over again, it’s not them, it’s you. Nobody is perfect and one of my favorite reviews is a 2 star I once received on Given to the Savage. There is value in this if you take it the right way.”

natasha graphic

Natasha is a USA Today Bestselling author who writes a variety of genres including contemporary, paranormal, post-apocalyptic, science fiction and fantasy. She is a #1 Amazon Bestseller in multiple categories. Her most recent novel, Retribution, hit the top ten listing on multiple Amazon charts when it was first released. Natasha is currently self-published, but when she started writing she was with a publishing company. She gave me an example of a change that was suggested by her editor/reader at the time.  “Captive’s Desire had some content edits. I’d not given Livia’s sister a happy ending originally and was asked to change it, and I understand why now. A satisfying ending — and not just for the main characters — is something people rely on in romance. At least I do when I read a romance.”

Natasha doesn’t use beta readers or a writer’s group (she lives in The Netherlands, and the closest genre-specific writing groups are hundreds of miles away in the UK).  She goes through her manuscript herself at least five times, revising and making changes as needed after spending time in between reflecting and thinking about the storyline.  She hires a copy editor to help clean up the manuscript when it’s almost ready for publication.  Her process is thorough so she can catch as many flaws as possible.  Here’s Natasha’s flow for editing:

“I first write the story and when I’m about three chapters from being finished, I book my editor so I can get on their calendar. I submit once I’ve read it through and revised myself about five times after the first draft is done. Once the editor gets my MS, I like two rounds rather than one because I tend to make a lot of changes between the two.

The first round is the hardest, but I go through the changes one by one, and accept or reject. My manuscripts at this point look like a very badly done test with more red than anything else! Once that’s done, I go through and read the MS again, revising along the way. I make notes as I go on timelines to double check as I do this, and end up reading it through probably twice more before sending it back for round two.

Second round is easier, but I’m really paying attention now to errors in timeline or hair color or anything the editor and I may have missed. I’ve worked with great editors, but I think it’s important to note that this is your book and your name is going on the book. If the editor missed something, you’re the one who looks bad, so it’s really important to be very present during this stage of the revision and make sure your story makes sense and flows and that you don’t have storylines that drop off or don’t match up between chapters. This happened in one of my books where, during this round, I found an error in one of the secondary character’s storyline. It was kind of major and I’d missed it after multiple readings and so had the editor (it happens, we’re human). You’ve just got to really be paying attention and not reading when you’re tired or the kids have the TV going in the background or anything.”

Most authors agree that regardless of whether or not you use beta readers or critique partners, a final content editor is critical to catch errors.   The content editor is responsible for grammar and spelling and general continuity, and usually does not offer any kind of advice about plot, pacing, or characters.

Kacey Shea says, “I would never be able to publish a book someone else has not laid eyes on. It’s impossible for me to catch errors at a certain point because I have been reading it over and over and my brain already knows what it’s supposed to say. Attempting this solo doesn’t sound like a good time to me!”

Many authors find a content editor through word of mouth from author friends, and some have eagle-eyed friends and family who help with the read-throughs. Going through every single word is critical.

mark twain quote

 

Natasha Knight recommends, “Ask questions if you’re hiring someone for the first time, and get references. Be very clear up front on your expectations. And ultimately, trust your gut. It’s your book, be humble and be open, but also know that you know it better than anyone else. Stand up for yourself and speak up when you’re not getting what you expected or what was promised.”

Even before sending a book to the copy editor, authors get it as clean as possible first, to give the editor the best chance to make it perfect. Kacey Shea comments, “I change the font between edits. It’s amazing how things pop out when it looks different! I also give myself time. Enough time so that when I’m reading it’s not something I’ve seen twenty times before and hopefully I’ll catch errors, double words, etc. And even though I do hire a copy editor, I have at a minimum three people I trust read though the final copy to look for errors, all of whom have not read the book before. It’s always fascinating, and a little scary, how many errors can slip through at this point.”

Leslie McAdam offers this advice to authors who may feel nervous about their  grammar expertise  — do the best you can, use others to help, and focus on how to make the book more meaningful to the reader.  “I wasn’t an English major (I majored in Forestry) and I have some hang ups about grammar and writing.  I haven’t let that stop me from writing, I’ve just tried to suck as much information as I could.  One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given about writing is to ‘lower the level of abstraction.’  What that means is instead of saying ‘he harassed me,’ you say ‘he called me every day at seven in the morning and let the phone ring three times and hung up.’  It’s more specific.  I think that as you edit, look for ways to lower the level of abstraction so that the reader is more engaged in the story and can really picture what’s going on.  Always think of the reader, even if you’re writing for yourself.”

Good looking man posing with axe Good looking man with axe

One of Leslie McAdam’s Fans

If you’re still stuck? If the editing process is so painful that you want to give up? Maybe you need to change something bigger than a few words, or even a major plot twist.  Are you writing what you really love? All of the best writers groups, beta readers and  content editors  in the world can’t improve a work that doesn’t resonate with readers – and in order to connect with them, you first have to connect with yourself.

Sonali Dev says, “When I started writing novels, I was trying to write this really complicated literary novel, and I was very lost. And I kept hearing write what you love, write what you love. And I had this love story in my head. I had TB and I was stuck in the house and I was too depressed to write my literary novel. And I said, well, you know, I’m going to write what I love and this love story that’s been in my head, which was The Bollywood Bride. I grew up watching Bollywood films, and what romance readers are seeking and what the Bollywood audience is seeking are exactly the same, which is an emotional connection, emotional highs and lows. People who criticize the predictability of romance or of Bollywood films misunderstand the point of both. The point isn’t  logic. It’s feeling. We hunger for that emotional bite, those highs and lows and that—I call it a heartgasm. That’s what both have.”

Remember to keep the heart of the thing, even as you busy yourself with the myriad details involved in editing and publishing a book.  Don’t let your story get lost in the flurry of details and revisions, in the Oxford commas and the adverb deletion.

pages with words

The authors quoted in this article are experts at their craft, and they’ve all created brilliant stories that I love,  and one thing I respect about each one is her unique and strong voice.  They  put their heart and soul into their writing. Despite the fact that there are significant differences in their editing processes, they all do the hard thing – they listen to feedback and edit, even when it’s nerve-wracking and heart-smashing.  You can’t mimic their results by copying their formula, but reading about their experiences can help spur new ideas to try.  Their commitment  reminds me of another quote by Red Smith:  “I made up my mind that every time I sat down to a typewriter I would slash my veins and bleed and that I’d try to make each word dance.”

The point is to get creative and do what it takes, using ideas from other writers and your own, to turn your work into the best thing it can possibly be.  In the end, if you do it well, you will get your words right.

Happy Editing.

siggie bar jen web 2

b8004fc2-945d-446e-80bd-70ef491eb3ea

Find the Authors & Editors:

Sonali Dev

Leslie McAdam

Renee Rose

Kacey Shea

Natasha Knight

Kristi Lin Billuni (SexyGrammar.com)

References

Real Quote by Hemingway:

The Paris Review, Spring  1958, No 18:  Ernest Hemingway, The Art of Fiction No. 21.  Interviewed by George Plimpton.

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4825/the-art-of-fiction-no-21-ernest-hemingway

Quotes by Red Smith, incorrectly attributed to Hemingway:

The Quote Investigator.  http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/09/14/writing-bleed/

https://killzoneblog.com/2012/11/the-perils-of-internet-information.html

http://oztypewriter.blogspot.com/2015/03/making-blood-splattered-words-dance-off.html

hemingway farewell to arms

 

“She couldn’t take her eyes off the spanking bench.”

Saturday+SpankingsGreetings! I’m Alexis Alvarez, and I’m here on today’s Sat Spanks blog hop to share a piece from my new spanky BDSM romance, Myka and the Millionaire. It’s a full-length novel with an HEA, and it contains all kinds of delicious, consensual kink…and a generous dose of spanky delights.

Blurb for Myka And The Millionaire

Computer expert Myka Thomas is determined to start her own business, and the last thing she needs is a man bossing her around and getting in the way. But Gabriel Chevalier is not just any man, and when the dashing, dominant millionaire makes his interest in her very clear, Myka cannot resist his advances. Stripped bare, spanked soundly, and brought to one shattering climax after another, she soon finds herself both yielding ever more completely to his command of her body and even begging shamefully for more of his masterful lovemaking.

As Myka juggles two demanding jobs, she savors the time she spends in Gabriel’s palatial home. When she is in his presence, surrendering to his firm, loving control seems natural, even when that means submitting to a painful, embarrassing spanking when she has been disobedient. Before she can stop herself Myka is falling hard for Gabriel, but can she dare to risk giving her heart to a man with so many shadows in his past that there may be no room for her in his future?

Publisher’s Note: Myka and the Millionaire is an erotic romance novel that contains spankings, sexual scenes, anal play, elements of BDSM, and more. If such material offends you, please don’t buy this book.

Excerpt from Myka And The Millionaire

Myka pointed. “There.” She couldn’t take her eyes away from the spanking bench, and the woman cuffed to it, naked, offering her body up to the man beside her.

Gabriel guided her over until they were standing a few feet away. He whispered into her ear, “We never interrupt a scene unless it’s a safety concern. We’ll stand back and watch from here, yes?”

The man bent down to whisper something, and although it reminded Myka of the couple in the previous club, she felt safer here. But when the man picked up something from the floor, Myka caught her breath, clutched more tightly at Gabriel’s arm. It was a leather paddle, black and long. It looked wicked; the leather shone in the dim light, and the whole thing looked powerful. No toy, this. It seemed capable of delivering serious pain. But she felt a sharp flare between her legs, looking at the thing, imagining how it would feel on her own ass. Wielded by Gabriel’s hand.

 

Myka ad for twitter with book cover4Want more excerpts?

Love and Submission

“There’s a fine line between pleasure and pain”

Myka and the Millionaire…

Buy Links

Amazon US

Amazon UK

AllRomance

Kobo

Barnes and Noble

Apple iBooks

Google Play

Myka ad for twitter 1

Myka ad for twitter with book cover8

Please visit the other authors on the blog hop.

Happy reading!

How To Give A Blow Job: Chapters 1-3 from Return

ad for return for twitter2Greetings! I’m Alexis Alvarez, a romance author. Today I’m sharing the first three chapters of my novel Return, in which my heroine and her BFF discuss the finer points of certain oral maneuvers, and how to find the best tutorials on Google regarding said maneuvers.  All for book research, of course…

Return is the story of Ava, an aspiring novelist, who bases the hero of her BDSM novel on sexy gym trainer Damian.  When he finds out that he inspired a book, he demands payback — they’ll act out every kinky scene, with him as the dom and her as the sub.  The passion is incredible, but the path to love is twisty and uncertain. There is an HEA, and some readers said it made them cry in a good way.  Return has received 4 and 5-star reviews on Amazon.  Enjoy!

Excerpt from Return (First Three Chapters)

Chapter One

 

Ava Grimaldi twisted one of her long, brown curls around her finger and grinned at her best friend, Claire. Light streaming through the large plate-glass windows sparkled into the space, creating blinding white flares on her laptop screen as she folded down the lid and picked up her cup of coffee.

“So, how’s the writing going?” Claire asked, setting her steaming latte onto the table. She smiled at Ava and slung her purse over the back of a mismatched wooden chair. “I’m late, but you know I’d never miss our Saturday morning coffee here at MoonBeans.”

“I’m on a really sexy scene right now,” replied Ava, blinking back the solar glare and sipping her Americano. “Coincidentally, this particular short story starts in a coffee house very similar to ours.” The eclectic Chicago café enveloped them with the deep aroma of espresso and the sounds of low chatter, grinders and soft jazz, and Ava gestured as if inviting the atmosphere to join them.

Ava shot Claire a mischievous smile, crossed one lean, muscular leg over the other and continued, “About my novels—I’m nearly going crazy waiting for my first book to come out in stores. It will happen in the next two weeks for sure, Claire! And for the second book? I just sent the latest copy to my editor last night. I added in that scene she wanted. You know,” she lowered her voice and leaned forward, “that special one.”

She giggled and made a hand gesture near her mouth to let Claire know exactly what kind of “special” was on the menu.

Claire snorted. “I can’t believe you’re writing another kinky sex novel, Ava. Before you started your part-time author gig? I would never have guessed that you were the one with the dirty mind. You always came across as innocent and clean, the fresh-eyed computer programmer next door.”

“Hey,” Ava protested, and took a sip from her hand-painted green and blue mug, a modern-art ocean in her hands. “Coders are cool. I’m representing my kind, you know? Showing that numbers geeks have many talents. Who better than a math expert to capture the beauty of a sixty-nine in words?”

Claire rolled her eyes and tapped the side of her cup. “I’m curious. You must have given hundreds of specials to be able to write about them so well. Am I right?” She gazed at Ava with her Inspector Detective look, the one where she narrowed her pale blue eyes and pulled some of her brilliant red hair into a fake moustache.

“Claire!”

Claire grinned. “In round numbers. Estimate it.”

“Well,” Ava shot back, “how many times have you specialized?”

“Me?” Claire paused and deliberated, releasing the fauxstache. “I mean, Ryan loves a good special. So, at least once or twice a week.”

“Really?” Ava was impressed. “Wow.”

“Well, sure. But he gives as good as he gets,” replied Claire with a wink. “Now you answer, Ms. Perverted Hemingway.”

Ava retorted, “You know I prefer to be called Emily Dick-inson.”

“e.e. cum-mings?”

“Francis Ford Coppola-feel.”

“Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Haha.”

Woody Allen.”

There was a pause, then Claire interrupted. “And you totally changed the subject. Is it weird to ask? I’ve just been wondering.”

Ava fidgeted. “You’re funny. Honestly? Not often. Okay, once. Half of once.”

Claire popped upright in her chair. “Seriously?”

Ava shrugged. “I haven’t been with that many guys, Claire.”

Claire still appeared astounded. “I thought I was kidding about calling you innocent.”

Ava rolled her eyes. “I’ve had plenty of sex, okay? It’s just never been earth-shattering, I guess. And I never really wanted to try doing a blow job with any of them. It’s a mental thing.”

Claire had a strange look on her face. “How did you do half? You only licked one side of it?” She giggled.

“Shut up! It was with my ex, Matt, last year. He started pushing my head, and it tweaked my neck in this awkward way, and I got pissed. Then he told me I wasn’t doing it right, and I broke up with him. Not just because of that, but it was the final straw on our lukewarm romance.”

Claire slammed her cup down as hard as a cardboard container could go, causing coffee to slosh out of the plastic lid and onto her hand. She licked it off, commenting, “Never waste a good Java.” Then she continued her interrupted tirade. “What a jerk-off. A guy can’t just shove your head down there and be all, Blow me, baby. Maybe he was blaming you for his lack of sexability.”

Ava frowned. “He turned out to be pretty toolbox. But also? We didn’t have the right chemistry. Things between us were… tepid.”

Claire tilted her head and her freckles glowed in the sunlight. “Remind me why you dated him in the first place?”

Ava shrugged. “In the beginning, he was actually kind of sweet and funny. It was only later on that things fell apart.” Her eyes crinkled as the next thought came to her. “And if I’m being completely honest, I thought dating Matt would get my mind off of Damián. Not the best reason to start a relationship, apparently.” She gave Claire a wry grin and lifted her coffee cup. “Live and learn, or so they tell me.” She took a deep sip of the creamy drink and savored the hint of hazelnut.

Claire sighed. “Ava. You’ve been mooning over Damián for how long now? Half a year?”

Ava ran her finger along the table, mopping up a stray drop of coffee and using it like paint to make a swirl pattern. “It’s not a big deal. I date other people. It’s only a crush… it’ll burn out eventually, right?” A ray from the window made the droplets glow like tiny suns.

Claire pushed at her cup. “But you don’t really date other people, not more than one-time deals. I know you like working out at Damián’s gym. And you spend a lot of time with him since he hired you off-hours to design his website. And he is really handsome. But—”

Ava broke in, thinking of sexy Damián. “Right? He’s gorgeous. It’s frustrating, because he flirts with me a lot, and I almost think there’s something there. Like last time when we met about the web design. He asked a lot of personal questions, and we were teasing each other. He got so close, and looked right into my eyes—I thought he was going to kiss me.” Her voice lost some spark. “He didn’t, though, and the next time I saw him at the gym, he was distant. I was something useful and dull, like a folding chair.”

Claire tapped Ava’s hand. “Folding chairs can be fancy, Ava. Did you know that the Versailles Palace in France has folding stools made of hand-carved, gilded walnut wood, covered with silk and velvet cushions with tassels? Fit for a queen. Or should I say king? Because you want him to sit on you, right?”

Merci beaucoup, Claire,” said Ava, making a face. She did, in fact, want Damián’s hot, muscular body on top of hers, his dark eyes shooting her looks of passion, his warm brown skin hers to touch. She could almost feel her fingers running through his black hair, her mouth meeting his. And when it came to Damián, she’d be more than happy to lock her lips around the most intimate part of his anatomy. She’d do almost anything with him, including every wild escapade in her own romance novel.

While pondering this, she felt the small pang of concern that had been hitting her more often as the publication date of her first book loomed closer. Maybe? Maybe it wasn’t so cool that the fictional hero of her debut novel was kind of—well, nearly one hundred percent—modeled on real-life Damián Perez.

Tired of fantasizing about Damián, Ava had tried to exorcise him from her thoughts by writing her kinky sex novel with him as the hero. And when it came time to publish, she didn’t tell her editor that the protagonist was remarkably similar to a flesh-and-blood person. She probably shouldn’t have done it, but the truth was that she liked the character so similar to real-life Damián. This was a piece of her soul, now, this book; she didn’t want to change anything. This was her fantasy all written out, his face and body and traits mixed in with some imaginary, hot alpha-male sex.

Damián would never read a BDSM romance, so he’d never find out that his body and gym, his art and his love of rock climbing, his sexy accent and his Puerto Rican heritage had formed the inspiration for her hero. Who knew if anyone would buy it? Even if they did, what were the chances they’d even recognize him, especially since there was all the BDSM, something he surely wasn’t into? And she’d changed his name.

Still, though, she felt guilty, like she’d stolen something valuable, something irreplaceable.

She shook her head, as if dislodging the thoughts, and added, “Yes, but I don’t know if I’m his type. His ex-girlfriend? Mariana? She’s so pretty that I’d want to fuck her if I were a lesbian. She’s that hot. And she’s his ex. The one who didn’t make the cut.”

Claire shook her head back. “Didn’t you say Mariana was a raving bitch? See, personality matters to him, if he exxed her. Way to be a real man, Damián.” She raised her cup in a mock toast. “There’s hope for him yet.”

Ava waved her hand. “Of course personality matters. But you need the spark of attraction. And he can get any sparkplug he wants. He has infinite choices. I guess I’m not his, even if he’s flirty sometimes. Maybe I’m just not cute enough. No, I mean—something enough.”

She paused to think about it. Was she enough? At twenty-six, she was fit and toned, with a happy smile and sparkling green eyes and long curling hair (Claire often told her it was Pantene-worthy); her friends often complimented her witty attitude and her generous spirit. She was successful in her career as a programmer and worked hard to do her own private consulting jobs on the side. She had loyal friends and a happy life, a comfortable routine. She knew she was pretty, but she wasn’t the kind of woman who got constant catcalls, free drinks in bars, and so many phone numbers that her purse fluttered and bulged with hopeful scraps torn from the hearts of handsome men.

Damián was in his thirties and seemed successful at everything he tried, at least from what she knew of him—his art, his climbing, his sports. He had the full attention of every single woman at the gym, and even the happily married moms liked flirting with him. Although he didn’t seem like a vacuous player, his effortless ability to capture the attention of every female in the vicinity seemed unequal to her own, weaker pull on humanity. She didn’t like that.

Claire poked her back. “You’re perfectly cute as you are. Anyway, it’s not about cute. It’s just about chemistry. And moves. If he doesn’t make a move, and you’re too chicken to make one yourself? Stop obsessing. No more furniture or auto shop references. Move on.”

Ava grimaced. “Yes. I know. But sadly, the Good Decision Center of my brain didn’t get the message. Apparently the appropriate neurotransmitters are either on strike, or incredibly lazy.”

Claire laughed. Then she leaned forward, her head tilted, expression eager. “Ava, I need to know. How are you able to write about all this stuff if you haven’t actually done it? Your sex scenes are seriously hot. Not all stuff I’d do, like the bondage and spanking… but some of it’s wow. Like the blow job scenes—they really work. I tried one of your techniques with Ryan, the grapefruit thing? And let me just say, Oh. My. God. Happiest boyfriend in the world.”

Ava lowered her voice. “I research it. I have, like, eighty BDSM and graphic sex romances on my tablet. Don’t tell anyone,” she interjected. “I’d die if people at work knew.”

“You know I would never,” said Claire. “I take my HR confidentiality to heart. But seriously? Just reading gives you all of those ideas?”

Ava smiled with pride. “I have a good imagination. And I Googled dungeons and spanking and BDSM and blow jobs. I learned things, Claire.”

Claire bent over in her chair, laughing. “I can just see you watching blow job videos and taking notes!”

“It’s not that funny,” protested Ava, but she was laughing, too. “You’re right. I do take notes. It is kind of hilarious.” She leaned toward Claire and confided, “You know what? It’s harder than you’d think to find a good blow job tutorial on Google,” and giggled with pleasure at her friend’s surprise.

Claire regained her composure and scoffed. “Ava. I seriously can’t believe you looked that up. And I can’t believe it’s hard to find a BJ video.”

Ava raised her eyebrows. “Videos, yes. Tutorials, no. If you Google ‘how to give a blow job,’ you will not find any actual footage of a real blow job on a real penis. Sure, there are tons of articles. But the only teaching videos are porn stars demonstrating on a banana.”

Claire protested. “But, potassium. So good for you.”

“It’s okay to see it done on a banana, but you know, it’s even more helpful to see it done on a real person. By another real person.” Ava’s voice rose. “Turns out you have to search for ‘blow job video’ and leave out the ‘“how to.’ Then you hit the mother lode, pun intended. But it’s surprisingly monotonous work, sorting through all the three-ways, disgusting stuff, and amateur hour. Most of it is repetitive and dull, made to appeal to a misogynistic asshole.” She shuddered, took a sip of coffee and added, “Also, I wanted to watch something that’s doable by two people who aren’t porn stars. So it was a big job. Pun. Anyway, I’ve watched, say, well over a hundred blow jobs.”

Claire acted impressed. “Sounds like you have a Bj.D by now.”

“Oh, you can just call me Doctor Blow. Hey, if you want any pointers, I can send you a list of my favorite clips. I mean, I’ve never done one, but I could probably teach a class by now. Isn’t that ironic?”

Claire snorted. “I… think I’m good. But thanks. And douche-ball Matt would kill himself if he knew what he missed,” she said with a raised eyebrow.

Ava warmed to her topic. “When I first started my research, I found a few websites reference this one movie, Caligula. There’s a blow job scene in the middle of this orgy? She starts with a graceful thing with both hands. It’s actually very pretty. Like a finger ballet.”

Claire was holding her stomach. “Ava. You’re killing me!”

Ava gestured, stacking her two hands as if gripping a cucumber, then rotating her wrists in opposite directions while moving both hands up and down and wiggling the fingers. “This is really the most popular technique in all of the videos, too, at least on the huge long dicks.” She demonstrated again. “Isn’t that elegant? It’s like I’m making pottery on one of those spinning wheels. Or doing an ethnic dance.”

Claire snorted, spewing coffee, trying not to laugh. “Ava, stop!”

Ava smiled and shrugged, a “who, me?” kind of guilty shrug. Then she continued her explanation. “I didn’t want to pay for any hardcore sites just to see some sex. Who wants to give their credit card information to a porn website? I wanted free research, Claire. Free.”

Claire was wheezing. “I can’t even breathe!”

Ava sighed. “So I ended up with some useful footage, but I did have to clean malware from my computer a few times.”

The two laughed together for a few more minutes, but suddenly Ava felt tears pricking at her eyes. She brushed at her lids.

“Why do you look sad?” Claire asked with sympathy.

“I don’t know,” said Ava, rubbing at a rough spot of glaze on the handle of her ceramic cup. “I guess it’s a little lonely, Claire. I write about these hot encounters and my first book is being published, but I still don’t have a special someone.” She blew out her breath. “Well, I’ll just keep on being myself and doing what I can. Karma will eventually lead me to my perfect match.”

Claire thought about it. “If Ms. Karma doesn’t produce, there are tons of dating websites. I’m sure someone out there is ready to appreciate your fountain of knowledge. Or to use your knowledge on their fountain. Ha! I’m so funny.”

Ava rolled her eyes at Claire. “Hilarious.”

Claire patted Ava’s arm and jingled her keys as she stood. “Ava? I have to go. Ryan and I are having lunch with his parents. But can I treat you to dinner this week? I need to thank you for spending so many hours teaching me that financial budgeting software last month, and how to deal with my stock options at work. Seriously, if it weren’t for you? I wouldn’t be so, what do they call it? Solvent.” She sliced a finger across her neck. “They’d be coming to repossess my freckles by now.”

“Oh, you know. That’s what friends are for,” said Ava, blushing. “No big deal.”

She had actually spent a significant amount of time helping fix Claire’s financial records, and had plans to do her friend’s taxes and help her start investing. “You’re my best friend,” she reminded Claire, “so it’s time well spent. But,” she added with a grin, “I won’t turn down a dinner at that sushi place with the moving conveyor belt.”

“Extra wasabi and sake if you get on top of it and act like a sexy cover girl while you ride around the bar,” encouraged Claire, wiggling her eyebrows and striking a pose.

The two women hugged, and then Claire left, waving her fingers in a small goodbye as she took a final sip of coffee and tossed the empty cup into the trash. Ava watched through the thick glass and saw her friend purse-fishing to extract a box of white Tic Tacs while she hurried to her car.

Alone at the table, Ava took a sip of her now lukewarm and no-longer-pleasurable coffee. Since she was not meeting anyone’s parents, or anyone at all, she didn’t need a mint. And for some reason, that thought made her want to cry hard. “Stop,” she told herself. “You’re twenty-six years old, not six.”

She didn’t usually go to a Saturday class at Damián’s gym since it was a longer, tougher workout. But today she needed to burn off this nervous anxiety and vague sadness, so she decided to head over. She was toned and strong, in good shape, but it was always important to stay on top of it, not to lose the routine. She wasn’t going specifically to see Damián, of course—only to work out.

And just for the hell of it, she ate three mints on the way.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

As Ava walked into Fitness Zone, the previous class was still finishing up, so she stood along the side of the immense floor to watch, inhaling the odor of sweat, newly installed wood, and fresh air from the open windows and the old loading dock door. The main workout space was as large as a regulation basketball court and held specialized equipment for Damián’s personal training and boot camp classes: metal bars, weights and clips along one wall, pull-up bars and rings in one section, stacks of sit-up mats and ab mats in a far corner, and racks of medicine balls next to them.

The walls were still a pristine white; since this was a new business, Damián often told his clients that they got to experience the growth and development of his gym along with him.

Damián Perez was standing with his hands on his hips, shouting out encouragement. His muscular legs and arms were damp with perspiration, and his thick black hair was mussed. Ava loved the color of his skin, a light tan, like coffee with a lot of cream, and his brown eyes framed with thick black lashes.

He smiled at her and nodded his head, and Ava’s stomach flipped as their eyes met and a sizzle of electricity zinged through her body. She swallowed and blushed as he held her gaze a second longer than necessary before turning back to his class.

“You made it through the kettlebell swings and four-hundred-meter runs,” he urged, “these push-ups are the last part. Finish strong.” He added, “Everyone—it’s important to do these moves correctly, to get the most out of the exercises and to avoid injuries. When I tell you to change something, I’m not just being picky, okay? I’m making sure that you don’t get hurt.” He stepped closer to a plump, middle-aged woman panting with exertion. “Kayla. Shift your hands to just underneath your shoulders and spread them out a bit more. Now flex your butt and quads hard as you do the push-up. Yes.”

Kayla’s form improved. “Do you feel the difference?” He watched and waited intently for her reply.

“Yes,” she said, in between breaths.

“Keep breathing the way I told you,” he added. “If your heart rate is getting too high, switch to knee push-ups. It’s more important to stay safe and maintain good form than to do a million of these, got it?”

Ava’s eyes tracked Damián’s form, and fantasies danced in her mind: Damián pulling her in for a rough kiss, his brown eyes flashing passion; her fingers spreading out across Damián’s hard chest, touching his shoulders; her hands running over his sexy ass, his quads clenching, her thighs too—

Kayla nodded, face red with exertion, and Damián moved to the next client.

“Michael. You’re not going down far enough at the bottom. Make sure that your chest brushes the floor before you come up. Keep your back straight. Got it?”

Michael grunted in reply, but his back straightened, and on his next rep, his chest brushed lower to the floor.

Ava’s mind filled with new images: Damián making a sexy sound as he brushed her breasts with his rough hands, bodies and mouths going up and down—

She drank some of her lemon-flavored water, then started at a touch on her shoulder as her friend Stace came up behind her.

“They’re just finishing up?” Stace asked. “Now we know how we’ll look in exactly one hour.”

Their friend Ben joined the group, his blond hair flopping forward into his face. “Looks like they’re beat up. It’s a tough one today. Get ready for the pain.” Ava always chatted with Ben and Stace during classes, and lately, it seemed as if the two of them were acting a little more interested in each other than usual.

“But it’s the good kind of pain,” Stace said, making a face. “The pain that lets you know that you’re already stronger and sexier. That your ass is on the way to magnificent.”

Ben glanced at Stace’s backside. “Don’t think you have much to worry about,” he told her with a grin.

“Sweet talker,” Stace said, and she wiggled said backside as she sashayed past to greet a handsome man with an impressive six-pack, shooting Ben a sidelong glance.

Ava stepped back into a beam of sun as Stace passed by, and reached with both hands to arrange her curls into a ponytail. As her Lycra shirt pulled tight with her motion, she noticed Damián looking at her, gaze intense. Her stomach lurched.

Ben reached out and touched a strand of hair, tugging it. “Wow, Ava. In the light, your hair has pieces of gold in it. Are you a secret princess?” He smiled at her, but Ava saw his eyes glance past her to land on Stace, who turned back, her gaze snagging on Ben’s hand. Ava knew Ben wasn’t flirting with her, not really—Ben was like a big brother. She figured he was using her as a prop to try to make Stace jealous.

“It’s no secret,” Ava said, trying to look at Damián without being obvious, wondering what he thought about her hair in Ben’s hands, and if he cared at all. “I got a certificate from a Cracker Jack box and everything, so it’s totally legit. I await my prince.”

“Who’re you waiting for?” Stace asked, coming closer and stepping up to Ben’s shoulder, a minuscule tinge of frost in her voice, and she crossed her slender brown arms across her chest.

Damián’s head turned sharply and his eyes moved over Ava, making her glow.

Ava smiled. “Well, I assume a handsome young royal is coming to pick me up and bring me back to his castle, where we will live happily ever after. Or possibly I’ll just drive myself home and stop at the grocery store for green beans, because that’s my donation this week for the soup kitchen. I always like to mix up my schedule, keep things fresh.”

Damián met Ava’s gaze, then averted his eyes, checking something on his clipboard.

“Although, at the soup kitchen,” Ava continued, “it’s not random princes who want to climb up my tresses, but insects. Last month we had a few guests with lice and all of us volunteers had to tie up our hair in bandanas and nets. We all avoided it, though. Whew, right?”

Ben dropped Ava’s hair and angled his body more toward Stace.

“I’m a different sort of Rapunzel,” Stace said theatrically, gesturing at her tight black cornrows with dozens of blue beads.

Ben’s smile was wide now. “Your hair is crazy perfection,” he said. “And remember, you have that ass.”

Stace’s grin was immediate. “Hey,” she complained, poking him in the chest. “Perv.”

Ben wiggled his eyebrows at Stace, then leaned in to continue the conversation with her alone. The two of them murmured in low voices, small shrieks of laughter and deep chuckles punctuating their space, Stace’s hand fluttering like a shy bird to land tentatively on Ben’s arm.

 

 

The timer buzzed, and Damián shouted, “Time. Great job, everyone.”

He walked among the athletes, stopping to talk to each person, give a high-five and ask how many push-ups they’d completed. He wrote the numbers onto his clipboard.

Ava couldn’t take her eyes off of his strong body, and when he glanced her way, she was still looking. His eyes met hers briefly and he shot her a smile. Butterflies awoke in her stomach and started a frantic dance as he came up to her.

“Ava, good to see you,” he said in a low voice, putting one hand on her arm. The touch alone sent a jolt up her spine and she tried not to suck in her breath.

“You too,” she said, unable to stop a smile from stretching her face. He was smiling back at her, and then he leaned forward and kissed her cheek. Ava was unable to mask a small squeak of surprise at the touch of his lips on her skin. Kiss me again, kiss me for real, she urged him in her mind.

He turned to the assembled athletes. “Everyone for the eleven a.m. class, five minutes until we start warm-up,” he called, striding to the center of the gym floor. Ava felt tingly from his attention and an extra bounce boosted her movements.

Stace looked at her with raised eyebrows, cleared her throat and hitched one shoulder in the direction of Damián. “What was that?” she whispered, sotto voce.

Ava took a deep breath. “What was what?” she answered, and bit her lip to hide her pleased smile. “A lot of Hispanic guys give their friends kisses on the cheek,” she informed Stace. “It’s a thing. A sort of, you know, respectful happy greeting.”

With narrowed eyes, her friend retorted, “Girl, he never kisses me on the cheek to say hello. Or Ben.”

“Ha.” Ava grabbed one ankle with her hand and stretched out her quad, just shrugging as Stace pursed her lips.

Ben was listening. “You saying you want a kiss?” His eyes were trained on Stace’s, and as the tension between her two friends ratcheted without warning into something more private, Ava took a step back, smiling.

While loosening her calves, Ava let her mind wander back to her first romance book, the one she’d discussed with Claire. It had taken nearly seven months, but soon it would actually be sold in real stores, to flesh-and-blood people! Too bad she couldn’t tell everyone about it, though.

What’s your novel about? she could imagine her mother asking. Or maybe her aunt Chelsea. Or her very conservative boss in the IT department at work.

“Oh, you know,” she might answer. “Just the standard romance book. Let me know your favorite chapter. Did you like the part where he spanks her with a paddle and fucks her from behind while she’s bound and wearing an anal plug? Maybe you really enjoyed the chapter where he teases her and denies her an orgasm for a while, makes her give him a blow job with her hands tied behind her back, whips her with his belt, and then gets her off with his mouth?”

Yeah… no. This was going to be the kind of book that was better shared with a small, selective audience. And hopefully millions of anonymous strangers.

After class, Ava was covered with sweat and her muscles were trembling with exertion. “The good kind of pain,” she murmured aloud. She couldn’t help but wonder about other good kinds of pain, like how it would feel to have Damián’s hard hand slapping her bare ass. She’d written her sexy hero with Damián in mind, hoping to banish him from her fantasies. Instead, she couldn’t stop thinking about what sex with Damián would be like. Would he be suave and gentle? Or rougher, harder? Or both, depending on his mood?

As she walked over to grab her water and gym bag, swiping her face with her towel, Damián called her name.

“Ava? A moment, please?”

Ava loved Damián’s voice: the depth of it, the rough timbre and the faint Puerto Rican accent that deepened when he was excited about something, like healthy eating or fitness.

“Of course!” she said, and then, feeling a bit too eager, she forced herself to take the time she needed to catch her breath. “What’s up?” she asked, taking a sip of her water, enjoying the tart bite of citrus.

“My website. I need to make some changes. Do you have time today to help?” His eyes flashed, and his muscles stood out with more definition now that he’d been demonstrating various exercises to her class. She could smell a hint of sweat and faded cologne, and it sent a wisp of desire spiraling through her body.

Was he standing closer to her than usual?

His eyes were large and brown, with flecks of gold and hints of green. Clear, gorgeous eyes. And those thick lashes.

Oh, he was talking.

“I need to change the scroll speed on a banner ad, and something’s wrong with the font sizing on a few of the dropdown menus.”

Ava paused. “I have some things to do. But if it’s just a few questions, we could do it this afternoon.” She kept her voice crisp and professional. Sure, she’d been hoping Damián would say, “I find you wildly attractive and I want to take you home and fuck you into Monday.” But she could handle website stuff, too.

“Would three p.m. work?” Damián asked. He was standing closer, Ava was sure of it. “If you don’t need to get ready for a hot date, or anything?” His smile held a question.

“Three is fine,” she told him, biting her lower lip without exactly meaning to. But while she was at it, she decided, she’d give the lip a little lick, too.

A muscle jumped in Damián’s cheek. “Three it is, then,” he said. Ava’s heartbeat sped up, and she steeled herself to be cool.

“Yes,” Ava agreed. “The usual coffee shop?”

“Sure,” said Damián. “I’ll bring my laptop. I really appreciate how much work you’re putting into this website. It’s a big success thanks to you!” He reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. The touch was electric.

Did he touch me longer than he touches other people?

She frantically tried to do some mental approximations, found it too confusing, gave up.

Her polite smile felt fake. “I enjoy helping businesses be as successful as possible,” she parroted. “It’s a pleasure for me to see how well the site is running and to know it’s helping you gain new members.” Although this was generally true for all of her clients, she did a mental gag at how trite she sounded.

Damián didn’t reply, though, as several other people hovered nearby, waiting to talk to him. He turned to Elsie, a blond bombshell wearing skintight leggings and a bra-style tank top.

Elsie twirled her braid. “Damián! I’m trying to get down to fourteen percent body fat and, ohmigod, I’m stuck at a plateau. Do you think I should add more kale to my green smoothies? Or do, like, a second workout daily?”

Damián leaned toward her, intent on his reply. Elsie smiled and licked her lips, flowing into his personal space like bubblegum lava, and Ava wanted to snap her in two.

“I guess I’ll see you later, then,” said Ava to Damián’s back.

Under her breath she added, “I need to get to five percent body fat so I can just slip under the door when I come home. The key is, like, too slow. Maybe I could get to zero percent and hire myself out as a shadow! Ohmigawd?”

“Did you say something?” Damián turned. “Ava?” His eyebrows were raised and Elsie frowned, cut off mid-sentence.

“No, I’m totally, like, good.” Ava spoke in a matter-of-fact, cheerful voice with only the tiniest tinge of Valley Girl. “See you.”

 

 

Ava showered and examined her closet with a frown, wanting to look good but not trying too hard good. It was a delicate balance that required the counsel of a BFF.

“I need some fashion advice,” she announced, sitting on the bed in her underwear with the phone propped at her ear. She held up a gold sandal to examine its worthiness for today’s meeting.

Claire was enthusiastic. “Lay it on me. I’m channeling my inner Claire-mani as we speak. I am now Dolce and Claire-bana.”

Ava laughed and continued, “What screams I’m hot without even trying as I meet you here in the coffee house to discuss website stuff?”

Claire was quiet for a moment. “Are you meeting Damián?”

Sandal in hand, Ava responded, “He asked me to make some quick changes to his site.”

Claire spoke in an even voice. “I’m worried that you’re letting him take advantage. Would you meet another client on Saturday at a coffee shop? Or would you require them to stick to a scheduled appointment?” She added—and this annoyed Ava, who knew her own hours better than anyone—“I know you do your personal web consulting after hours, when your regular IT day job is done. But you need to really protect your time so you don’t get overwhelmed with it all.”

“Claire! Don’t make this into a deal,” Ava said, putting down the gold sandal and picking up a white one for consideration. “No. Okay? I never meet my clients on the spur of the moment. But, well, Damián asked me, and it will only take a few minutes. Besides, the customer is always right… right?”

Claire sighed. “Or do you mean, the customer is right when you want to sex it up with him?”

“Whatever,” Ava answered. “But his website is nearly done, and I won’t be working with him directly much longer.” She put down the white sandal. “Why? Do you think I’m being a doormat or something?”

Claire said in a neutral voice, “I don’t think you should do extra work for free because you have a crush on him. If he isn’t into you, it’s not good to torture yourself, like you’re dangling an unobtainable carrot in front of your own nose.”

“Well,” said Ava with a flash of irritation. “I have to meet him today, because I promised. But what’s wrong with looking good?”

“Nothing,” Claire responded. “You are pissed.”

“I’m not pissed,” retorted Ava. “Forget I asked.”

“Now you’re sulking,” cajoled Claire. “Wear that shiny gold top you have. And here’s some real fashion advice: why don’t you just put on your big girl panties and tell him you’re interested?”

 

 

Chapter Three

 

Black jeans and the gold blouse ended up making the cut, along with the gold sandals. Ava applied her makeup to be subtle but pretty, with soft pink gloss on her lips. Her cheeks were still flushed from her workout and her smooth skin needed no powder or creams. A spritz of her favorite floral perfume and some dangling gold earrings completed the ensemble. Her reflection smiled back at her with eager eyes.

Claire’s undergarmentary advice floated through her mind. Writing a book about kinky sex had given her self-assurance, not only because it was being published, but because she’d embraced something new and found success. She could definitely say that she wore her BGPs while writing. Why did she need to put on granny waist-highs with guys?

This lingerial confidence lasted all the way to the coffee shop until she saw Damián. He was looking down at his laptop and his body radiated a quiet power that sparked a darting, nervous warmth in her stomach. He was wearing worn blue jeans and a trendy button-down shirt, and was easily the sexiest man in the place.

Damián stood to greet her, and Ava noticed that his hair was styled and he looked freshly shaved. She wondered how his smooth jaw would feel close to her own skin, and blushed.

“Ava. Thanks for meeting me,” he murmured, catching her eyes with his and leaning forward to kiss her cheek, just like he’d done at the gym. She could smell the citrus-sandalwood of his soap, and his own clean skin, and she liked it.

“You look lovely,” he added, his eyes perusing her with new intensity, one hand resting on her arm.

While Ava pulled up his website, she tried to ignore the tingle in her cheek, and the matching tingle in her lower abdomen. She also tried to ignore the two hot college girls who were looking at him and whispering.

Damián went to the counter to get coffees and Ava didn’t offer to pay him back. She knew he’d insist, especially since she was here doing him a favor. Although he’d paid her consulting fee upfront, she continued to meet with him as needed for follow-up support and didn’t charge him for it.

“Thanks,” she told him, accepting the cup, trying not to suck in her breath when their fingers touched.

“You’re welcome,” Damián smiled back, his gorgeous dimple-revealing smile.

The changes were easy and Ava showed him updates as she worked, but she was aware of his body and his proximity to hers, an undercurrent of heat. There was an invisible stretchy band between them, because when he got within a few inches of her, she felt warm and bubbly; when he leaned back, the bubbles faded.

An hour later, the changes were done; Damián grinned at her and said, “I know you’re probably busy. Thanks for doing this.”

Ava laughed. ”I’m terribly busy,” she replied. “You are so lucky you got some of my time.”

“Well,” Damián answered, “right now I do consider myself a very fortunate man.”

A flush rose from her neck to her face as Ava’s eyes snapped to his; she bit her lip and ducked her head back to the screen.

Damián paused. “Like another coffee?” he asked in a neutral voice.

Ava’s heart beat faster. “Are you having more?” she asked.

“Yes, sure,” said Damián. “I’ll get you one, too?” His accent sounded thicker, his voice rougher.

“Okay,” said Ava, more casually than she felt, and bit back a smile, watching him walk to the counter. She took an even breath and glanced out the large windows at the sky. The light was muted and the air hung motionless, heavy with potential. She tried to remember if she had an umbrella somewhere in the trunk of her car.

“Two medium coffees, room for cream,” Damián told the barista, and Ava felt a sudden joy that he not only remembered how she liked her coffee, but also that he liked his the same way. The grinder whirred loudly behind the counter, sending spirals of new burst beans flowing into the air to overtake the undertones of latte and caramel.

When he returned and handed her a cup, she wasn’t sure what to talk about. But Damián asked easily, “So tell me, Ava, what is it that you work on in your spare time?”

“I’m writing my second novel,” Ava answered. “The first one is actually going to be sold in stores this week.”

“Congratulations,” said Damián, taking a sip of coffee and giving her a broad smile. Ava watched his neck as he swallowed. “What’s it about?”

“It’s a, ah, romance,” said Ava. And then, feeling bold, she added, “A very sexy romance novel,” and licked her lower lip. “Written under my nom de plume, Erin Rutherford.”

A muscle in Damián’s cheek twitched, but apart from that Ava couldn’t see any obvious reaction to her admission. “Very sexy, huh?” he queried.

“That’s right,” she returned. “You can only imagine how fun it was to research.”

Damián’s eyes flared with something more than she’d seen from him, and he was now regarding her in a frankly assessing way. She felt his eyes move over her breasts to her lips, back to her eyes.

“I’d like to read it sometime,” he said, maintaining eye contact.

Ava smiled. “When it hits the stores,” she suggested, “maybe I’ll offer private readings.” Then, feeling a little overwhelmed with her own words, she changed the subject. “So, Damián, tell me more about your art. You still paint, yes? And do photography?”

Damián nodded. “Yes, I painted some pieces on commission in the past. Right now, though, my big thing is that I sell photographic prints and lithographs of my most popular works online. I’ve actually become a pretty big name in the modern art scene in Puerto Rico.” He ducked his head and gave a slight grin. “But the gym is my full-time passion now and doesn’t leave me much time for painting and sketching. I’ll get back to it once I get the gym fully functional, but I do miss it.”

“Why?” Ava hesitated. “If your art is so important, and sort of your full-time career, I’m curious why you’re taking the time to start up a gym from scratch? It’s such a lot of work.”

He nodded seriously. “I’ve lost some family members to health issues that could have been avoided if they had exercised and eaten better. I really want to help people, in their memory.” His voice was somber. “This has been on my mind, starting a gym, ever since I lost my father to diabetes complications ten years ago. He was significantly overweight and smoked, and developed a heart condition. When he fell and broke his leg, his body didn’t heal right after the surgery. He got gangrene and had a leg amputated, then his kidneys shut down, and he died. It happened so fast, Ava. It was heartbreaking. The worst part was, he lived his life ignoring all advice on how to be healthier. It could have been different.”

“I’m so sorry.” Ava gave him a sympathetic smile and put her hand on his for a second. “That’s sad.”

“Yes.” His voice was solemn. “It is. None of us, nobody in the family, ever really lectured him or took him to task. We just let his health go… and go… until he went. It was hard to talk to him about it, so nobody ever did. Not that he’d listen, anyway. But I feel the need, now, to help people who want to be helped. So, I love my art, but it’s on hold for now while I make this happen. This is big to me, you know?” His voice was urgent.

“Maybe you could combine your two passions, and do portraits of people at the gym?” suggested Ava. “And use them as personalized artwork on the walls.”

Damián pursed his lips as he thought, then said, “That would be a great way to show my dedication to helping the clients, as well as highlighting the personal family feel I want to build at my gym.” He smiled.

Another idea occurred to Ava. “You could even do a huge mural,” she exclaimed. “You could paint pictures right onto the wall, of various gym members doing exercise, and include motivational quotes. It would be beautiful and inspiring at the same time, and so much better than plain old white.”

Damián nodded. “I can see it.” He looked into the distance over Ava’s shoulder, as if envisioning the gym wall. “I didn’t realize you put so much thought into the aesthetics.”

Ava shrugged, but her cheeks glowed. “It’s the same with web design,” she explained. “Content is king. But aesthetics can make or break the user experience, and make a difference in whether a person chooses to view your website. For you, people will come to the gym because of the classes and your training skills. But having a well-designed space that’s comfortable and motivating—that’s not really just fluff. The whole ambience helps create an uplifting mood, and that will help people want to come back again.”

Sipping his coffee, Damián nodded. “I’m only one year into this project. I’ve always planned that when my gym is complete, it will be designed with the right colors, flow, spacing and art to hit the right psychological high for clients. Now that I have all the equipment, and I have a good flow of clients, I can start to improve the décor and design.”

“You’ve read studies about how color affects mood, right?” Ava liked how his eyes were lit up, making them look more green than brown.

Damián agreed. “Yeah, in art classes in grad school. It’s been proven that color can affect mood. Green for calm, red for energy. Is that what you mean?”

“Yes. And space matters, too,” Ava continued. “I read a study about foot traffic in department stores. When people are faced with an obstacle in a main walkway, like a table of shoes, they choose to pass on the right seventy percent of the time. So smart storeowners put eye-catching, easy-to-sell merchandise on the right-hand side, and the more ordinary, bland things on the left.”

Damián was interested. “I don’t know how that could affect me,” he remarked, “but it’s a little creepy that marketers know so much about shopping habits.”

Ava grinned. “You need to put a table of women’s running shoes right inside the front door, and, to the right of that, a display case of gym shirts, protein powder, energy bars and stuff like that. Since people walk to the right most times, they’ll see the display case. And you know, protein powder practically sells itself. And to help them not go left? Maybe a pit of alligators. Something like that.”

His chuckle burst out so suddenly that Damián almost choked on a mouthful of coffee, and Ava found that so funny that she started laughing. She couldn’t help but notice with a flash of guilty pleasure: Those two girls? The ones who’d been staring? They were looking over with undisguised jealousy… and it was totally awesome.

After the laugh, though, they both fell into silence, and Ava perused multiple conversational forays. More about murals? Why are baby carrots just ground down big carrots and what do they do with the extra carrot pulp? Do they sell it for veggie burgers? To zoos? Or to carrot juice companies?

“What?” Ava was so engrossed in her discards that she missed what Damián was saying.

“So I guess I’m lucky you didn’t have a date this afternoon?” Damián said in an easy voice, but his eyes were intense.

Her voice rose on the reply. “Looks like you’re single today, too?”

Mariana’s fit of anger was a popular source of gossip in the gym; everyone knew how she’d yelled at Damián in front of a class and stalked out. Talk had been so fierce about it that the gym was packed for a week. Flagging members came out of the woodwork like nighttime roaches to gossip about the flame-out. But she wasn’t sure if he was already dating someone new.

Damián cleared his throat. “I am single,” he said, a hint of question in his eyebrows.

Ava smiled back, feeling her face get hotter. Make a move, she encouraged herself. Claire is right—either get onto the field or leave the stadium. But she wasn’t quite sure how to do it in a subtle yet obvious way. Classy yet sassy. And some part of her wanted him—if there was going to be a move made, here—to make it. To show that he had true interest and was not just taking lazy advantage of hers. She wanted a man who would take charge.

“Well,” she said. “The website should be good now, but let me know if you have more questions.”

They stood in a mutual agreement to leave. He laid a hand on the small of her back as they walked to the exit, and Ava felt a shiver of warmth run through her body.

Their cups landed into the trash at the same time and Ava spoke automatically: “Five points.”

“What?” Damián looked at her with an amused smile.

“It’s a thing,” Ava explained. “If I toss something into the trashcan and it makes it in without hitting the floor, then I get points.”

“Your hand,” remarked Damián, “was right over the can, Ava. Hate to be a spoilsport, but five points? For that? Two, tops.” His grin made her swoon. “And that’s factoring in extra points for being cute.”

Ava pretend-punched him in the arm as her pulse quickened. “Don’t be a sports snob,” she chastised. “Some of us are not NBA material.”

“NBA material? If you can’t make a trash shot at that distance, you are looking at bifocal material, Ava,” Damián clarified. He stepped back a few feet and balled up some napkins. “Now watch carefully and learn. This is worth points.” He made a show of stretching his arms and rolling his shoulders in their joints.

Ava crossed her arms and leaned against the door. She scoffed. “No way you make that shot. Too much air resistance. The napkins aren’t balled tightly enough. You need tighter balls.”

Damián chuckled as Ava realized what she’d said and burned red. He grinned at her and shook his head as he continued loosening up his arms.

Ava recovered her aplomb. “You are so not making the shot.”

“Bet you?” Damián raised one eyebrow at her.

“Sure,” said Ava. “Safe bet for me. Because you’re going to miss.”

“What do I get if I make the shot?” Damián asked, his voice lower, the teasing tone gone. His eyes were locked onto hers.

“What do you want?” murmured Ava, in as provocative a voice as she’d ever heard come out of her mouth. She raised her chin and kept his gaze, and smiled just a bit.

Damián smiled, too, then turned and tossed the napkins, which suddenly seemed to be very tight and balled up, directly into the trash. Ava swallowed and pushed open the door, letting outside air flow past her into the shop. She exited into the parking lot without a word, holding the door for Damián, who took it and then put his hand back on her, this time onto her shoulder, the touch possessive.

“I’ll walk you to your car,” he said.

Ava felt the heat of his hand through her shirt. He was walking so closely that their bodies brushed. She was one hundred percent sure now that he was flirting, and she was so filled with nervous energy that her body was nearly vibrating.

The parking lot was quiet, the coffee shop in a closing lull and, for the moment, they were alone on the blacktop, just the two of them and the pre-twilight air, a hint of a chill in the dusk and some tentative clouds assembling on the horizon. When they reached her spot, she managed, “Well, thanks for the walk. And the coffee.”

“No. Thank you, Ava.” Damián’s voice was husky and deep, his accent strong.

Ava dropped the laptop case by the passenger door and fumbled for her keys, which had unhelpfully disappeared into the inner depths of her purse. Damián took the purse and set it next to her feet.

“Leave that for now,” he murmured, and stepped closer, forcing Ava to back up against the driver’s side door. He leaned his hands onto the car on either side of her head, trapping her between his warm body and the cool metal. Ava gasped and her eyes widened, seeking his. “Ava,” he said, “there’s something here, something with us,” and it didn’t sound like a question.

 

Want more? Buy it on Amazon or read for Free with Kindle Unlimited.

Return on Amazon US

Return on Amazon UK

 

Blurb for Return

Ava Grimaldi models the hero of her kinky erotic novel on her crush, sexy gym owner and artist Damián Perez, without asking his permission. When Damián finds out, he’s furious, and Ava is worried he will sue her. Damián demands a different payment entirely, though, and soon the two are involved in an intense BDSM relationship of their own.

With each sexual encounter growing more passionate and personal, Ava falls hard for Damián, but is hurt when he continually insists that their relationship is only physical and temporary. He refuses to acknowledge their relationship in public, even though he spends time with his bitchy ex. Eventually Ava has enough of being second best and won’t settle for less than she deserves. Can they work through their misunderstandings and hurt to start again, this time with a basis of trust and love?

damian teaser 2siggie bar jen web 2