Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Building writing muscles one kinky book at a time

As I suggested Monday, readers commenting here often have smarter things to say than I do.

Case in point, in response to my December 30 post about New Year’s resolutions, agent Janet Reid offered the following:

I think every writer should resolve to read more. One book that is outside their normal area of interest, or one book they've been meaning to read. Then WRITE about the book.

What they liked/what they didn't' and why. In 250 words or fewer.

I firmly believe the discipline of writing clearly and persuasively in limited space builds writing muscle.

Though I’ve always tried to pick books outside my comfort zone, I’ve never made a formal commitment to do it with any regularity (though for the record, doing it with regularity is good for your health).

Janet Reid knows a thing or two about helping writers improve (if you aren’t already following her Query Shark or her regular blog, get the hell out of here and go do it now). Taking Janet's advice, I decided to challenge myself to pick an outside-the-comfort-zone book each month.

First on the docket was Petals and Thorns by Jennifer Paris. That’s the pen name used by author Jeffe Kennedy for her erotica titles. The book is a BDSM fantasy, and if you don’t know what that means, see if you can figure it out from what appears on the first few pages:


Oh, and even better:


In other words, don’t blame the author if you damage yourself (something that seems likely if you attempt some of these maneuvers).

I’ll confess, I wasn’t sure I’d like this story. I’m no prude, and I enjoy a good erotica title from time to time. But fantasy? BDSM? It seemed like a bit much even for me.

The story totally sucked me in. Pun intended. Duh.

Want to win it? Leave a comment!
Petals and Thorns is a modern, erotica twist on Beauty and the Beast. Heavy emphasis on “twist,” by the way. The kink factor is high, and this probably isn’t the book to give your child’s kindergarten teacher as an end-of-year thank you gift.

In this version of the tale, Amarantha agrees to marry The Beast to spare her father’s life. The Beast can’t take her virginity unless she begs him to, and she only has to keep her legs together for seven days to win his fortune.

You see where this is going, right? I doubt you'll be shocked to hear Amarantha isn’t the only one begging for it by the end.

This was a fun, fast read – perfect for an evening by the fire with a glass of wine and a set of handcuffs.

I’m glad I read it, and I’m glad I’ve committed to this little outside-the-comfort-zone reading experiment.

Do you make efforts to read books you wouldn’t normally choose? Have you had positive experiences with it? Better yet, do you have any suggestions for books I should consider in the coming year? Please share!

Win! Win! Win!
Oh, and as an added enticement for you to leave a comment, Jeffe/Jennifer is giving one lucky reader his or her own digital download of Petals and Thorns. Woohoo!

Just make sure you get your doctor’s permission first.

42 comments :

C. said...

Just finished one of JR Ward's "Black Dagger Brotherhood" novels.

I've never been much for vampires, or paranormal romance in general, and I'm usually not a fan of any book that comes with a glossary in the front (too much a reminder of my college days). But she hooked me with her modern take on a vampire's life, and created these characters (male and female alike) that have depth and just felt fresh.

Definitely made me rethink what people are doing with vampires in romance nowadays.

Sarah W said...

I recently read Hard Magic by Laura Anne Gilman. Forensic investigators for magical crimes, fantastic world-building, and characters whose interactions are a joy to watch.

I'm also a little more than halfway through Ghost Country by Patrick Lee. As I commented elsewhere, the man owes me a couple hours sleep---it's riveting.

As for Petals and Thorns, I love fairy tale retellings, the twistier the better.

Even if I didn't, an erotic romance with two disclaimers? I'm in.

Plamena Schmidt said...

I just started a blog, and I've been debating whether I should review books on it or not. It would definitely helpful for my writing, but I'm afraid of offending the authors, etc. Are you going to only review the books you really liked?

elizabethreinhardt said...

I've gone to a few romance writers' conferences and talked to some inspirational writers. I love my romance hot, but I wanted to branch out, so I picked up Beverly Lewis's _The Secret_, a book that lots of people have loved about romance and the Old Order Amish. Not my usual, but I've been happily surprised so far by how into the book I've gotten! (By the way, every time I've sat down at a writers' lunch, I've chosen a seat between an erotica writer and an inspirational writer. Every time! I always wonder if they read into each others' genres...guess I'll have to ask next time!)

Ariel Swan said...

I've always focused on my genre for the most part (women's lit with supernatural or magic realism angles) - but many times over the years they have been hard to find (that's why I wrote one). So I am forced to branch out into other works - which I don't mind. I read some YA last year and am moving back towards adult realism now. I also read a lot of classics. I have been toying with the idea of Romance for a while now too - and I am looking forward to your books because I think I would like some fun and sassy Romance - which your tone seems to be. This Petals and Thorns also sounds like a sojourn I'd be willing to indulge in. Anais Nin is the extent of the erotica I've read, but I am always willing to try something new.

Becky said...

I occasionally get curious and pick up something outside my normal reading preferences, but I don't make any specific effort to do so. Reading is my entertainment and my escape. I have a hard enough time doing all the other things that are "good for me", like exercising occasionally and eating my vegetables. I don't want my reading time to become a chore, too.

BPatterson said...

Ooh.. this book sounds good. I've been trying to step outside of my usual diet of Agatha Christie and Terry Pratchett, and read more literary fiction. So I recently read Devil in the White City. It was EXCELLENT.

Danica Avet said...

I'm not much for reading outside my genre. Might as well face it, I'm addicted to love! *cough*

However, my brother convinced me to read George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy books. They were...wow. Okay, so they might have influenced my writing a bit, but I felt like my head was going to explode with all the characters and kingdoms and subplots going on, but it was a fun read. I did enjoy them and I'm glad I read them.

Cherie Reich said...

Speaking of erotic books, I was asked to read and review THE KNOT ARTIST by India Wilson. Even though I typically don't read erotic books as a whole, I agreed to do so. It's an erotic political thriller, and you don't get too much into the political thriller part until about half way through the novel. The first part made me uncomfortable at times. It was well-written, but it was unlike anything I read before. It was so worth reading, though, in the end.

It's easy to read what you like, but I think it's great to step outside what you typically read. You definitely can gain an entire new perspective of a genre that way. :)

Jeffe Kennedy said...

The best part of Tawna reading Petals & Thorns is that I hadn't noticed the doctor's warning until she pointed it out. I kind of want to frame it now!

I've always been an eclectic reader - there's not much I won't read. I once had a critique partner who only wrote sweet/inspirational. She didn't want to write naughty, but she was excellent at reading it. We were good for each other precisely because we brought such different perspectives to the table.

Thanks for spotlighting my naughty little book, Tawna!

Patty Blount said...

Great advice from janet to read outside our comfort level, but even better is to build writing muscle by writing to a confined length. That's why I'm writing more short stories this year.

Brevity is a challenge for me. Janet frequently runs 100-word writing contests and boy, are they hard! I'm revising a story now and honestly, it's easier to write novels.

Petals & Thorns... making a note.

Karla Nellenbach said...

I read just about anything and everything, so it takes a lot to push me outside my comfort zone. HOWEVER, during the last year, I discovered the work of Joey W. Hill. The first book I read of hers I found in the bargain bin at B&N and it was categorized as 'paranormal romance'. I'm thinking, "Yay, more vampires." Boy, did my hair get flipped back by the very...er...adventurous sex scenes. Hello? YA writer here! :) But, it turned out to be a very compelling story, and even though hardcore BDSM erotica is not usually my cup of tea, I find myself quite drawn to Hill's vampire/angel/mermaid books. :)

Teri Anne Stanley said...

I usually rationalize sticking with a familiar genre because I feel like I paid my dues reading all that nasty "literature" in high school and college. I read Crime and Punishment, give me some smut!
But I do try to read a variety of stuff, in different format: I get mysteries and thrillers in audio books. For some reason, I can't listen to a romance, I need to read it (maybe to go back over the good parts more easily...)

Linda G. said...

I just read The Hunger Games (I know--I'm slow), which I had avoided because the subject matter seemed too painful to me. It was, but I'm glad I read it. Collins is a master at her craft.

Hmmm...may have to give Jeffe's novel a try. Think it'll burn up my Kindle? *waggles eyebrows*

Falyn Donaldson said...

I read a book a few months ago that was out of my "comfort zone" and it changed my life. I'm not being dramatic here. This is the book that inspired me to sit down and write the M/M/F that I had been avoiding for a while.

The book I'm talking about is a M/M/M/M Sci-Fi Erotic by Tymber Dalton, Acquainted with the Night. I laughed, I cried, I even threw a temper tantrum at one point. It was great! I highly recommend any book by this author (yes, I've read them all.)

Jen J. Danna said...

I don't normally read narrative non-fiction, but I'm about a quarter of the way into The Devil in the White City which is about the building of the Chicago World's Fair in the early 1890s and the serial killer who used the Fair to lure his victims to their death. And I have to say that I'm really enjoying it. I don't read nearly as much as I should (simply due to time) but it's something that I really need to work on - reading more and reading outside my genre.

Matthew Rush said...

Hmm. I don't purposely go out of my way on my own to select titles I wouldn't otherwise choose, but if I hear good things about a book, usually from other blogs, I will give it a chance no matter what genre it might be.

I would probably never choose to read a BDSM Fantasy, but if I win a copy I promise I will read it.

Suz said...

Ack! I totally do want to win this for my book review blog :O)

http://averagejanesbookreviews.blogspot.com

Brandi Guthrie-Sellers said...

"This was a fun, fast read – perfect for an evening by the fire with a glass of wine and a set of handcuffs."

I'm sold. Lol.

I've spent the majority of the past two months reading YA and I'm craving something different. You can only read about so many beautiful-but-misunderstood girls locked in a love triangle before you want to pluck your eyeballs out.

Definitely time for something different.

Christina Auret said...

I pretty much read anything that stands still long enough, so I can't actually think of any book I would consider to be outside my comfort zone.

I did avoid Sci-Fi for a long time (between the ages of 13 and 16 I think), mostly because the first three or four books I tried in that genre were terrible clunkers. Then I read Flowers for Algernon and that changed everything. I'm glad it did, because one or two of my subsequent favorites were Sci-Fi

Jessi said...

I'll try anything (genre-wise!), so count me in.

I just read Wuthering Heights for the first time, and I couldn't believe how much I loved it. As an adult I haven't read a ton of classic literature, I admit... probably because it reminds me of being forced to read it in school.

Lynn Colt said...

I love my book club because it makes me read outside my comfort zone, and discover amazing books I never would have picked up on my own.

But Petals and Thorns I will read on my own ;) Count me in!

Dana said...

Heh... I totally want a disclaimer for the front of my book. :)

I tend to read pretty widely, but have actually avoided romance/erotica for quite a while. Might be time to step outside of my comfort zone. :)

Simon C. Larter said...

Handcuffs? Again? Srsly? What an odd coincidence....

CKHB said...

I promise to stretch out first before trying anything I learn in this book...

Patty Blount said...

The disclaimer compels me to ask one question...

Where uh... does one find an "experienced practitioner" and would doing so get me arrested?

Geoffrey Cubbage said...

Fancy that, I'd just a few weeks back updated my Goodreads page with a few short words -- exactly the recommended reading/writing exercise -- on an erotic graphic novel that really took my breath away (hur hur hur).

Of course, the next day at work about three of the charming, middle-aged women I work with mentioned seeing my update. I think the moral of the story here is that some forms of exercise are best done privately (hur hur hur).

Abby Minard said...

Outside my comfort zone would be Oprah books- well, anything depressing and considered "literary" is usually a good bet its outside my comfort zone.

Glad you could open up and read some erotica ;p That would be outside my comfort zone as well ;p

Erin said...

Lol... thank god for the e-readers... now we can read anything, anytime, anywhere w/out the whole "whatcha reading" prompted by some of the more... eh... flamboyant covers.

I can read just about anything... with the exception of the Twilight books... just can't do it... read a sample of the first book and I was done... couldn't stand it :) However, I did love Host...

Tawna, love your blog! read it daily

Jami Gold said...

Wow, you make that story sound enticing. :)

I recently read Stephanie Perkins's Anna and the French Kiss. I've read a fair amount of YA recently, but they've all had a paranormal bent (my usual genre). This one was straight-up contemporary, something I haven't read since I was about 14. I enjoyed it, but I think I'd have to do a whole blog post to go into why (which I might do :) ).

Meika said...

Ooh, that book sounds fun! I just might have to pick it up.

I've always read a fairly wide variety of books, but this past fall, I picked up the Hunger Games series. I've never been much of a sci-fi/futuristic/dystopian kind of gal, and I hadn't read YA since, like, fourth grade. But I LOVED this series. And a lot of the books I've been adding to my TBR list are, in fact, YA dystopians. Go figure!

NotJana said...

I don't read nearly enough. It doesn't help that I'm a relative slow reader either or that I'm easily distracted by funny things like your blog (okay, I admit I'm usually reading it at work, trying not to laugh out loud if my boss is nearby).

But, after already deciding on reading more this year, I've read Janet Reid's comment to your new years resolution post and I'm now using that fancy notebook my sister gave me for last Xmas to write down notes/thoughts on books I've finished reading.

Incidentally the first book making it in there was a bit different then my usual stuff. Then again, after stal... um... following Sean Ferrell on Twitter I couldn't resist NUMB - and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

lora96 said...

Recently I read Soulless by Gail Carriger despite my aversion to all things vampire and werewolf. It was so funny, charming, and clever that I rushed out to buy the sequel.

My comfort zone was (like Linda's) not populated by dystopian YA until last year when I became a rabid Hunger Games fan.

So, bring on the doctor's warnings!

farfromgruntled said...

I am also trying to challenge myself with different books this year! I'm a young (but getting swiftly older) writer and I write mostly literary short stories at this point. But, I don't actually READ short stories because I love novels more than anything.

This year, I am reading at least one short story collection a month. Even if it kills me, dragging me away from my novels kicking and screaming!

www.farfromgruntled.blogspot.com

Jeffe Kennedy said...

I'm just going to jump in and thank Tawna for introducing me to you all! It's been such a lovely day, reading all the fun comments.

Also, @Suz or any others, if you don't win, I'm sure I can arrange a review copy. ;-)

AlaskaNicole said...

You had me at kinky book! ;)

I think it's a great idea to branch out and read books you would usually skip over. Reading a new type of book is so refreshing and if nothing else, you'll enjoy the reading experience that much more.

Thanks for sharing!

Janelle said...

I usually read a variety of things, so I'm game for anything!!

Out of my comfort zone would be non-fiction, although there are quite a few that I've read and thoroughly enjoyed!

I've been wanting to read this since it came out, so I really hope I win!!! ;o)

Tawna Fenske said...

Love the comments, guys, keep 'em coming! Can't wait to see who ends up winning the book.

Tawna

Kerry Schafer said...

In all honesty, I only read this book because Jeffe wrote it. Let me clarify - I only started it because Jeffe wrote it. And then I couldn't put it down. Here's the thing - Jeffe (or Jennifer, lol) manages to write BDSM and make it beautiful. I will add to the disclaimer: this book requires availability of either multiple cold showers or - well, that experienced practitioner might be handy to have around the house.

Clever_Cherry_Betty said...

Right now I'm reading a book a month outside my comfort zone because I'm participating in the Crusie Cherry Forum Gothic Book Club. So far I haven't liked anything. So far they've all been fairly old titles. Last one was The Fall of the House of Usher which crossed gothic into horror as far as I'm concerned. But commenting, reading comments and learning about writing a gothic romance in the future has been fun.
Next month is a reread of Jane Eyre. Didn't like it the first time. Don't expect to like it this time.
I like some erotica, too. Have you read Erin McCarthy. I love her Fast Track series. And the book covers are gorgeous shirtless men. Doesn't get better than that.

Taymalin said...

I read The Dowry Bride by Shobhan Bantwal, which is a book completely outside of my reading box. Generally, I stick to thrillers and urban fantasy, with the occassional meander into mystery.

I'm glad I read the book. Bantwal did a fantastic job of writing about a terrifying topic and making an impact on the reader, without making the book depressing the way so many "issue books" tend to be.

And there was a wonderful romance in the book which had me falling head over heels for the hero withing the first few chapters.

pensees said...

Jeffe, you wild woman. Hope I win (if it's not too late already)!

I usually read adult romance, but have been wandering about in YA, chick lit and historical fiction (though I want an undercurrent of love in all of them).

The most recent book I read outside my typical genre was The Other Boleyn Girl and it blew my socks off. The way that Gregory breathed life into those historical figures made me feel as if I were there. Impressive.

You know, but not as impressive as a book with two warning labels. *grin*