Why ignorance makes us better writers–and people

As I’m working on “Anchored,” my newest work in progress about a late-in-life (as in after retirement) coming out, I’ve been confronted multiple times by something that usually does not make me uncomfortable.

Usually.

In an ordinary way, I use my ignorance as an invitation. An opportunity. A gift, even.

“I didn’t know there were fifty million types of Pokemon,” I say to a five-year-old bursting with information parents and grandparents refuse to hear. “Tell me about them.”

“Really? You won an award for service? What did you do to win it?”

“You work as an intellectual property lawyer? What does that mean? What do you do?”

Eons ago, I coached reluctant speakers in how to make conversation. Ironic, considering I had always been reserved and reluctant to make conversation myself. Those lessons stuck with me, however, and I found that my single most effective tool was to find something the speaker knew that I did not.

Ignorance. When used appropriately, it can give the other person a sense of pride (“I know something you don’t!”), generosity (“Here, I’ll teach you what I know!”), or self-respect (“I’m important enough to deserve attention and interest!”).

The first and last are especially effective with children and others who may not usually be listened to.

On the whole, I have a positive attitude toward ignorance. This week, however, I’ve come up against ignorance in several areas that I need to know about now. Googling, talking to friends, and researching only carry me so far when I don’t have the time and hands-on experience to absorb the experience.

  • Work as a professional Domme
  • Boats, specifically cabin cruisers with a flying bridge
  • Condo and homeowner association rules, plus basic real estate practices
  • Ethical and professional obligations of a nurse practitioner with patients

Thanks to a wonderful network for friends and colleagues (and Google!), I’ve gotten enough basic information to make a start. I’m not accustomed to this much ignorance in such a short time, and the pressure mounts while up against such pressing deadlines. I’ve written 96,000 words since Christmas, and I have another 40,000 to write by the end of the month.

Yes.

When ignorance meets deadlines, it’s not pretty.

Then again, in the past I have researched a profession or location for days, weeks, and even months for it to appear as a single sentence in the final manuscript.

Ignorance makes us better writers, though, because as writers we tackle our ignorance. As a child, I learned all kinds of information simply to create the perfect metaphor or choose the best image for a poem.

Ignorance is a catalyst for us to try new things, learn new things, and listen to others. It’s all too easy to isolate ourselves amongst people who think like us and know the same things we do. When I talk to someone about his or her area of expertise, I gain much more than knowledge. I gain the connection of a fellow human being taking the time to share life experience with me.

I’m grateful that we all have different interests and areas of expertise, and that so many people are willing to open their hearts and lives to me. We love to give advice. We love to be “in the know.” But sometimes, the gift we give is to admit our ignorance.

I don’t know anything about this. You do. Will you share it with me?

So often, the answer is yes.

Thank you.

How will you use your ignorance today?

Online safety: How do you know when people are real?

When do readers cross the line when interacting with authors? As any female author of erotic and kink fiction can attest, the lines between fantasy and reality often become blurred when readers interact with authors. Inappropriate photos, nudity, off-color humor, clinginess, and tone-deafness to social cues make many authors wary of interacting with people online. Authors of naughty fiction cook meals for their children, run errands, mend buttons, and shop at home improvement stores just like anyone else. This may come as a shock, but I don’t fall over in glee when I receive unsolicited photos of naked genitals. *shock* I’m not flattered or turned on by instant messages laced with chat speak, misspellings, and crude suggestions.

Because I write spanking and discipline, too often readers can confuse my characters with me. I’m not secretly hoping to find a girl to discipline, and I don’t long for a chance to scold every person who giggles and flirts my way. I write discipline, my private life is no one’s business, and (as anyone would know who has read any of my books), I consider disciplinary/erotic spanking the height of intimacy and trust. If I have just met you, I will not receive sexual pleasure if you beg me to spank you. (Ana said sexual pleasure! Yes, I know.) I will joke about it with friends, but friends include only those who know to stop before a joke goes too far.

Online privacy is a hot-button topic, given many issues that have come up recently. A few months ago, I posted an explanation why posting photos without permission is a serious no-no. I’ll assume that we’ve all had the online safety talk, so I won’t go into the typical warnings to be careful of your phone number, home address, or identifying information.

Simply put, let me say this: You do not owe anyone your trust. Block, unfollow, unfriend, mute, and all of those social media options are your friend. No one has any right to be in your life, let alone a stranger on the internet. You don’t owe anyone explanations of why you cease contact, either. When the red flags go up in the back of your mind, listen to them. Too often, especially as women, we are manipulated by plaintive attempts to tug at our sympathy. “But I didn’t ‘know’ any better!” “Why won’t you at least talk to me?” “But I gave you my phone number!” But, but, but…No. Never. As recent events in blogland have richly demonstrated, we have no proof that people are who they say they are. In my case, I will give people the benefit of the doubt but err on the side of caution. No one “deserves” to have any information about you (unless, for example, someone is suspected of fraud or deliberate harm of another). Sockpuppets, or people creating extra accounts to vouch for or interact with others, are a serious problem online. Don’t accept another person’s word that someone is trustworthy. You are the one who will get hurt if it is not true, and people act differently in different contexts.

Bottom line: Please be careful. I want you safe and sound so you can buy all of my books. 😀

 

 

Meeting Oscar: Donor Sabbath (Win a free book!)

This post is part of an event called National Donor Sabbath that encourages organ donation. I have not received incentives, financial or otherwise, to post this story but do so out of commitment to the cause of organ and tissue donation.

If you’re here for Snippet Sunday, Saturday Spankings, Seductive Studs and Sirens, or Weekend Writing Warriors, please click here.

If you want to read the new Kat and Natalie story, “Spanking the Cockroach,” please click here.

If you want information about Ana’s Advent Calendar 2013, please click here.

A few days ago, I met Oscar*. His wife, Debbie, sat next to me.

“We want everyone to know about the importance of organ donation,” she said. I was a little puzzled. Sure, organ donation is a worthy cause, but why would busy folks take time out of their lives to volunteer at educational events and donor recruitment? Everyone else I’d met had a personal connection, such as receiving an organ transplant years before.

As most of these affairs go, we went around the table to introduce ourselves.

“Hi,” said one woman. “I’m Sara Jacobs, and I received a heart transplant ten years ago.”

“I’m Aleesha Drake, and I had renal failure before receiving a kidney three years ago.”

I heard about dire prognoses and the years of health that followed these transplants. Truly, looking at these recipients I never would have known a doctor gave them a limited amount of time to live. Surely this group was unusual in representing the success stories rather than the failed transplants, but it still amazed me.

To have all of my organs in working order?

A blessing I had never considered a blessing.

Something to add to my Thankfulness Thursday lists, for sure.

Thank you, heart, for pumping blood and doing your job.

Thank you, kidneys and pancreas, for keeping me off dialysis.

Thank you, lungs and liver, for allowing me to breathe and process the necessary chemicals for me to live.

Thank you.

One woman grew teary as she told us that she received her kidney from an eighteen-year-old girl who died in a motorcycle accident. “I need to go home and write to her family,” she said. “I used to write them more often, but…” and she choked up.

Another woman said, “I’m a donor family. My husband died, and he wanted his organs donated.”

Then Oscar spoke.

“I’m Oscar Matthews,” he said. “I’ve been on the waiting list for a kidney for four years, and I’m still waiting for that special day.”

He paused, his jaw working up and down while his eyes reddened around the edges. Several listeners looked down or away to give him some space. After a moment, he flicked his hand toward his wife. As Debbie began to speak, Oscar took out a white handkerchief and pressed it to his eyes. A murmur of sympathy rippled around the room.

“We want everyone to know that donating organs can save lives,” Debbie said. “I’ve signed up as a donor, I’ve gotten all of my family to sign, and now I want to tell everyone how important it is to donate.”

Every day, an average of 18 people die while waiting for an organ transplant.

There are some common myths about organ donation, so common that Mayo Clinic has listed each myth with an explanation of fact. Examples:

  • Myth: I’m too old/young/sick to donate. Or: I didn’t qualify to donate blood, so I won’t qualify to donate organs.
    .
  • Fact: In the US, anyone age 13 and over (with parental consent) can register as a donor. If a child dies .before he or she turns 18, parents will have final say about organ donation.
    Fact: There is no upper age limit for donation. In fact, the oldest recorded donor (so far) was a 91-year-old who lived in Texas. Even if some of your organs are not great, others might work well enough to give someone a chance.
    Fact: The criteria for organ donation is more flexible than blood donation, and the criteria change frequently according to need and supply.
    Fact: A very small percentage of deaths qualify for organ donation. You must die in a hospital (or else the organs deteriorate and are unsuitable for transplant) and, at least in some states, be pronounced brain dead by two separate doctors who are not in any way connected with organ transplant services.+ For this reason, organ donation registries ask everyone to sign up, regardless of illness or other conditions, and allow transplant coordinators to test for eligibility at the time of death.
    .
  • Myth: I don’t want my family to pay for costs associated with organ donation.
    Fact: Organ donors are never charged for the donation.
    .
  • Myth: I don’t want to break rules of my religion by donating.
    .
    Fact: With a few exceptions, most major religions either encourage or permit organ donation.
    .
  • Myth: I want to be an organ donor, but my family will want an open casket funeral
    .
    Fact: You can donate your organs and still be presentable for an open casket funeral. Do you want to know how? Haven’t I squicked you out enough already by talking about death? 🙂

Besides the Mayo Clinic article, here are a few other common misconceptions:

Myth: If I checked “donor” on my driver’s license registration, I don’t have to do anything else.
.

Fact: While “first person consent” (consent of the donor rather than the family) is now legally binding, transplant coordinators will have to work with your family members. In some cases, family members can make details so difficult that the transplant cannot go through. Please let your family know your wishes to make sure they are carried out.
.

Myth: I don’t have to sign up on a donor registry because I’ve got it listed on my driver’s license.
.

Fact: Your driver’s license registration is a simple “yes” or “no” to organ and tissue donation (more about that later). By registering at Donate Life America, DonateLife Australia, or  Organ Donation (UK) (sorry, I don’t yet have other international links…please share if you do!), you can specify your wishes and simplify the process. If you are not listed on a registry, it will take extra steps to verify that you did indeed wish to donate.

.

Myth: I can only sign up for one state organ donor registry.

.

Fact: There is no national registry for organ donors. Yes, you read that correctly. If you are visiting friends or family in a state other than where you usually live, or if you regularly go between two home states (such as college students or snowbirds), you should register for each state.

Click here, if you live in the US, to register on your state’s donor list.

If you have links for donor registries in other countries, please share them in the comments. I’ll add them here.

At the end of the meeting, I took Oscar’s hand in mine.

“Would it be all right if I shared your story with other people so they can understand the importance of organ donation?”

His composure restored after the inevitable coffee and treats available at these types of affairs, he patted my hand. “I’d like that,” he said.

I nodded, a plan already forming in my mind. “Would it be okay if I prayed for you? I know there are many people who would pray for you, too.”

He caught his breath, paused again, and nodded. “That would be wonderful.”

If you have registered as an organ donor, please let me know in the comments. I will randomly choose one registered donor to win one free book from my backlist (excluding the anthologies).

If you are a registering as an organ donor for the first time today, you will receive TWO entries. 🙂

*Names and identifying details have been changed.

+”Brain death” is a specific definition that does not include “persistent vegetative state” (think Terry Schiavo or Karen Ann Quinlan). Neither Terry nor Karen would have qualified as organ donors.

How to be a great guest in 8 easy steps (plus bonus list of 6 top characteristics)

Be sure to visit Celeste’s Writing Prompt Wednesday to find a teaser of Kat and Natalie, book three!

 

Yesterday, we had a terrific discussion about the good and bad about hosting houseguests. Turnabout is fair play, and today we’ll talk about the ways houseguests can make life easier for hosts…and get asked for a return visit! Just as our parents told us that playing nicely and sharing toys would result in more playdates, the mark of a successful visit is to be asked back.

 

How do you do that? Never fear; Ana is here!

 

Let your host know if you have special needs. Some people are afraid of mentioning allergies or religious/medical conditions because they don’t want to make more work for their host. As someone who loves to host guests, please believe me when I say: My goal as a host is to feed you, entertain you, and make sure you have a wonderful time. If I spent six hours preparing a welcome meal for you, I will be upset and frustrated to find you can’t eat anything because I sautéed the vegetables in a non-stick skillet that contains gluten residue that will set off your celiac disease. If you are diabetic and need a dedicated trash can for your disposed needles, ask. If you are a recovering alcoholic and feel uncertain about dinner parties where drinks are served, let your host know ahead of time.

 

Differentiate between “want” and “need” when making requests of your host, and accept “no” as an answer. What I find most frustrating, as a host, is when guests provide me with impossible requests that aren’t necessary. If someone visits me while I am living abroad and I say that the local stores don’t sell curling irons, the stores don’t sell curling irons. Dragging me to fifteen stores in ten hours won’t change that fact. Save that kind of request for something critical, such as medication or help replacing a stolen passport.

 

Respect your host’s schedule. Because I live in an area with heavy rush hour traffic (who doesn’t?), I appreciate when guests give me options for flight times. If the only flight time available will mean traveling during rush hour and public transportation is not an option, I always ask my hosts to drop me off early enough so they can return before rush hour. I double-check my arrival and departure times with my host, and I send a copy of my itinerary so she will have the flight number, airline, and other information to check the flight status.

 

Respect your host’s belongings. Most hosts put out the best bedding, linen, and dishes for their guests. My favorite bedspread is only used for guests. Imagine my surprise when a guest spread her suitcase on top of it and carried it around my home as a shawl, allowing the ends to drag on the floor! I cringed, but I didn’t say anything.

 

Ask before you use. My dearly beloved mother took it upon herself to use my computer during a visit…and broke it. Irreparably. Even if she had managed to not break my computer, she truly would not have wanted to find my secret naughty identity. Another time, I was horrified to hear that a guest helped herself to my rice cooker. I didn’t think to tell her not to use it because, as a guest, I would never think to use a host’s possession without asking permission. I bought that rice cooker with the paycheck from my first full-time job, and it’s traveled with me to countless new homes. Not only would it cost a great deal to replace, but it also has enormous sentimental value.

 

Help out—without being asked. Unless your host tells you that the kitchen is off-limits (and not a polite, “Oh, don’t worry”), pitch in with everyday chores. Wash your dishes or put them in the dishwasher. Wipe off the table and counters. Change the empty roll of toilet paper, if a new roll is easy to find. If you track dirt into the living room, ask for the vacuum and clean up the mess. Wipe your hair out of the shower drain, and don’t smudge towels and washcloths with your cosmetics. If you want someone to pick up your wet towels and clean up after you, pay for a hotel.

 

Be aware of all the things your host does for you but doesn’t mention. If your host lives in a tourist area and has frequent guests, she may have already seen the sights multiple times. Pay for her ticket as a thank you for her company. If she drives you around in her car, it takes expensive gas to do so.

 

Cook for your hosts or take them out to eat. In many cultures, sharing a meal establishes an inviolable bond. If you like to cook and your host is willing to let you use her kitchen, offer to cook. If your attempts at cooking would violate fire codes, take your host out for a meal.

 

 

The Six Bests of Being a Guest, According to Ana:

 

#6 Leave clean (or at least neat) linens. If my host has allowed me to use the laundry machines, I always wash and dry bedding and towels and make the bed before I leave. If not, I strip the bedding and leave it in a neat pile at the foot of the bed. Your host has likely spent time cleaning and preparing for your arrival, and you will save her work after your departure.

 

#5 Leave a thank you note and/or gift for departure. Most people know to bring a host gift when arriving, but an outstanding guest will leave a small gift and/or note when leaving. I like to leave a note on the nightstand or bed so my host will discover it after she returns home. Even a small “Thank you for everything” note with a Hershey’s kiss can make a big difference.

 

#4 Pay for airport parking. Arriving at an airport to be greeted by your host is a special treat. Few things are sweeter than the sight of an excited, waving friend as you enter the baggage claim area (or exit customs inspection). Airport parking may cost as little as a few dollars, but your host has donated time and gas to pick you up. Unless your host insists, pay for the parking. It’s a tiny gesture that demonstrates a great deal of consideration. If you can afford it, pay for gas when your host stops at the gas station, too.

 

#3 Be neat and prompt. One guest told me she wanted to visit a local amusement park, so we arranged to leave the next morning. Instead, she slept until nearly 1 PM. By the time we arrived at the park, the crowds were intense and parking scarce. When I am a guest, I always get myself ready for outings so no one has to wait for me. I leave the guest area or bedroom tidy (okay, perhaps I might shove some clutter out of sight!), especially if I am visiting for more than a few days.

 

#2 Provide for your own special needs. If you have food or other allergies or are on a restricted diet, pack what you need or ask in advance for a trip to the store where you can buy what you need. If you want sugar-free yogurt or organic dried cranberries, or your children will only eat name-brand sugar cereal, take that responsibility for yourself.

 

And the #1 best characteristic for being a guest:

 

Appreciate your host. Even if things don’t go according to plan, and even if you swear never to return, thank your host for having you.

How to be a great host in 8 easy steps (plus a bonus list of top 6 characteristics)

Have you ever visited or hosted good friends, only to realize that some friendships are better off with distance? There is truth to the adage that fish and guests stink after three days. As someone who enjoys traveling and has many international friends, house visits and homestays have become part of my life. I’ve experienced fantastic visits, horrendous ones, and everything in between. Today, I’d like to share some insights on what guests appreciate.

A few days ago, I returned from a visit that was not without complications. Some unexpected assumptions from my hosts took me (and my budget) by surprise, and I questioned whether the standards for hosting houseguests have changed. I have many years of experience both hosting and visiting, but I scoured the internet for advice on hosting etiquette. I found extravagant advice (buy your guest her very own fluffy robe and slippers!), over-the-top advice (download this packet to fill out a comprehensive file on your home, neighborhood, local tourist information, emergency numbers, and insurance information), and painfully obvious advice (spend time with your guest). Clearly, there is a need for this kind of information.

Due to geographic distance, special events, and the desire to spend time with loved ones, we will all have to be a guest at some time or another. (Unless you are wealthy enough to afford hotel stays wherever you go, which I am not.) I think most people want to be a good host, but they may not realize what can make a guest uncomfortable.

Of course, guests can make a host uncomfortable, too…but that’s for tomorrow. 🙂

Be realistic. As a host, you might want to cram every possible attraction into the visit, but crowded itineraries can leave both you and your guest tired and cranky. Do you spend more than you can afford, take time off work when you have an impending deadline, or try to ignore a knee injury that causes you pain? It may sound noble, but by overextending yourself you will unconsciously place more pressure on your guest to have a good enough time to justify your sacrifices.

Be clear about house rules and boundaries. Do you have a toddler or a pet? Guests who do not have children or pets of their own may not know to lock the safety gate, keep doors closed, or refrain from feeding inappropriate snacks. Do you expect guests to use self-service for meals and cleanup, or is your kitchen off-limits? Do you remove shoes, or are you nauseated by the odor of bare/sock/stocking feet? Some hosts view their kitchen as sacred space and are offended if a guest tries to help. Everyone has different house rules (and you may not be aware of them until they are violated), but take the time to give your guests a heads-up about expectations.

Explain the idiosyncracies of your home. My bathroom has a faulty fan and a pathological ability to grow mold. In other words, taking a shower or bath means wiping the walls with a squeegee, leaving the fan on for half an hour or so afterward, and keeping the door open. Your home may have a toilet lever that needs to be held down to flush properly, a sticky door lock that needs extra coaxing, or nearby construction workers who start jackhammering at 7 AM. Let your guests know so they aren’t surprised.

Don’t expect guests to adore your small children. Many people, including me, love children. However, even the most diehard child lover may not necessarily want to be woken at 5 AM by your six-year-old banging the door open with requests to play. Because of my health issues, I cannot come in contact with diaper wipes or most soaps and personal products. That means, much as I might wish to, I can’t give your child a bath or change her diaper. I once took an eight-hour car trip with a friend who seated me in the back, next to her three-year-old son, and proceeded to talk with her husband in the front seat for all eight hours. That was a long trip, and I’m a confessed baby addict. As a guest, I appreciate when hosts allow me playtime with their children but don’t use me as a free nanny.

Don’t expect guests to adore your pets. This concept is shocking to many, but not all people love pets. Some are actually terrified of pets, especially dogs. When I visit one friend, her large Labrador dog steps on my feet, licks me in unmentionable places, barks, noses through my bag, and hovers one pace behind me. Another friend was offended when her three tiny dogs barked at me and I didn’t pick them up. If someone doesn’t dote on your pets (as long as it is not rudeness or insults), let it go.

Provide meal options. One family I visited didn’t eat meals together but instead ate snacks whenever they felt like it, individually. While they invited me to eat anything I wanted, I felt uncomfortable rummaging through their fridge and cupboards. On a recent visit, my hosts took me to restaurants (of their choice) for all but two meals of my visit…and I was expected to pay my share. I was caught off-guard, especially because the restaurants were out of my price range. Not everyone has unlimited budgets, and if you don’t feel like cooking you can always offer to take your guest to the local grocery store so they can buy food. Making a grocery store trip is a good idea regardless, since your guests may have special dietary needs.

Don’t involve your guest in conflict. One of my most uncomfortable visits was when a friend and her husband put me in the middle of their fights. I like my friend and her husband equally, and it was incredibly painful to hear them yell at each other. As a guest, few things are worse than planning for a vacation and ending up on Geraldo. Of course, sometimes conflicts happen and you can’t help it. Maybe a heart-to-heart with your guest, if you are good enough friends, will give you some perspective. But if you only want to vent, consider how awkward your friend will feel when she is staying in the same house as the partner you just put down.

Be honest, but be compassionate. Even the nicest guest will get on your nerves at some point. My personal pet peeve is guests who don’t help out with meal preparation and cleanup (but more on that tomorrow). Is it something that you can’t tolerate, or can you let it go? If it will bother you enough that you need to say something, say it early rather than in the heat of anger. Remember that your guest is not on her home turf, may be feeling uncomfortable, and likely does not know what you expect.

 

The Six Bests of Being a Host, According to Ana:

#6 Internet access and charging ports.

These days, this is nearly a basic need. I greatly appreciate when hosts ask me about internet setup. That way, I don’t have to feel awkward asking them for a wi-fi password. If for some reason they don’t or can’t allow me to use internet, I appreciate knowing ahead of time so I can take care of things in advance.

#5 Target/Wal-Mart/grocery store runs.

Whenever I pick up a guest at the airport, we stop by Target/Wal-Mart and/or the grocery store on the way home. That way, my guest can pick up any essentials she forgot to pack and any food or snacks she prefers. This is especially helpful for guests with allergies or strong dietary preferences.

#4 Respect for your guest’s boundaries.

You may adore your small children and pets, but not everyone does. One thoughtful host, seeing I was overwhelmed by her three dogs running all over me, asked her husband to bring them to a different room. Another host warned me that his live-in elderly aunt had dementia and might ask me offensive questions, and he gave me advice how to handle it. Yet another host, when I asked if something were wrong, said that her husband was having a hard time and needed some space. I appreciated this kind of information and understanding from all of my hosts, and it made the trip much smoother.

#3 Anticipation of your guest’s needs.

It’s a small thing, but I love when hosts give me enough washcloths for the days I will stay. Almost all the time, they give me one set of towel and washcloth. Then I feel awkward asking for more, unless they’ve shown me where to get them. I don’t own a coffee maker, so I let people know they can walk next door to buy some or pick up instant coffee at the store (another reason store runs are a good idea).

Put a plunger in your bathroom (or the guest’s bathroom, if you have a separate one), and perhaps a few…ahem…personal supplies. It is a truly terrible experience to flush the toilet in a host’s bathroom and watch the water continue to rise. 😉

#2 Honesty about limitations.

A friend once informed me she would visit at my busiest time, and she wanted us to drive two hours to do an expensive activity that didn’t interest me. I politely told her that she was welcome to visit, but I would be at work all day and she would need to arrange for her own transportation. Another friend of mine likes guests but hates playing tour guide, so she gives her guests a house key, city and public transportation map, and a suggestion that they meet up for dinner.

And the #1 best characteristic of a good host…

 

Enjoy time with your guest. If you are having a good time, so will she.

Tuesday with Ana: So you want to try a little spanking, but you don’t like pain?

This past week, I received a delightful question from a reader. For the sake of brevity, I’ll modify the conversation.

Reader: What is a spanking?

Ana: Do you mean for kinky sexy fun, or for discipline?

Reader: The way it is in your books.
Ana: Do you mean the relationship dynamic?

Reader: Yes. It might be fun to try it, but I don’t like pain.

Ana: Oh, a spanking doesn’t have to hurt a lot! There are many ways to do it. You could swat a bit, rub a lot, and swat a little bit more.

Reader: That sounds just about perfect!

Ana: How would you like me to write a post about this?

Reader: Oh, yes please!

I mentioned this conversation to a few other “spank-no” readers who enjoy the benefits of spanking but not the “ouch” factor. The response was quite positive, and one reader mentioned that even after years of spanking she still doesn’t enjoy the pain.

How do you give spanking a try if you’re not keen on pain? First of all, start with slow, gentle steps. For people who don’t relish giving or receiving pain, intimate contact can make the experience enjoyable. Perhaps you could try a hand swat over thick clothing, such as jeans. It shouldn’t hurt much, and you will most likely giggle at the new sensation. It’s common to feel embarrassed or awkward when you begin, so keep it light-hearted. A friend of mine received her first “spanking” when her husband swatted her once with a plastic spatula while they were both cooking. She laughed, he laughed, and they went about their ordinary life.

Remember your first kiss? Your first crush? You did a little dance, going forward and backward while taking tiny steps. Trying spanking is similar. Have a little playful fun, retreat to your usual method of interaction, and try some more. You might find that it is wonderful, or you may realize you don’t like it. Don’t put expectations on yourself or your partner. If you like the spanking, great. If not, you still have your relationship.

Okay, you tell me. We fooled around a bit, but that’s not enough. I want to try a real spanking.

The next step I would recommend is a gentle spanking. Make yourself comfortable so you won’t feel rushed. One good position for beginners is for the spankee to bend over the back of the couch. It’s not very intimate, but it gives support and is easy to maintain. Lift your hips over the very top of the sofa back, and your bottom will be in prime position for swats.

Another good position is for the spanker to sit on a bed with the spankee lying across the lap. Legs can be bent so feet rest on the floor, or the spankee can lie flat with legs across the top of the bed. This also gives back support while allowing for touch.

Once you’ve found a position that works for you, experiment with your clothing. Do you prefer having your panties and skirt/pants on (to feel less self-conscious, or to lessen the pain), or do you like the sensation of skin against skin? Try a few swats with the hand, without worrying about technique. You can get silly, if you want, and pretend to play bongo drums. 🙂 Talk to each other and make sure you both feel all right with what’s happening.

One small trick: spankings hurt far less on skin that has been warmed up. You can do this with light hand spanking, but you can also use a heating pad on your bottom. You may also find that keeping on panties only is a good compromise between too much pain (completely bare) and not enough contact (completely clothed). A thin layer of clothing can absorb much of the surface sting while still giving you lovely warmth.

At first, stick to just the hand. Hand spanking has a built-in safety limit (especially for women who keep hands soft with moisturizer and creams) because the spanker will feel it, too. There’s a reason Natalie only gives Kat a hand spanking as a reward. 🙂

If you want to experiment with implements, try ordinary household items. Modern hairbrushes, hollow and lightweight plastic (don’t confuse these with the heavy, solid wood kind that terrorizes naughty spankees across the globe..or globes), are a relatively mild first implement to use. Be careful not to use items with sharp edges that can cut into the skin. Another implement that most people have lying around is a wooden spoon. I’m a fan of wooden spoons. 🙂 However, the tiny surface area can  leave wicked bruises and pain, so use it lightly at first. Wooden spoons are great because they are cheap, round, easy to grip, and ubiquitous.

If you are willing and able to make a financial investment, a small leather paddle (similar in size to a large hairbrush, but all leather without the bristles) can be wonderful. Smaller implements are better at first because they are easier to aim, but you have to be careful not to strike too hard or all in the same spot, unless you like bruises.

After you’ve experimented with different kinds of spanking and feel more comfortable, you may discover a paradox. You don’t like the sting of the pain, but you love the soothing, blissful afterglow. You may relish the…ahem…intimacy that comes with the spanking. 😉 At this point, my advice will sound counterintuitive.

In order to get past the “ouch” factor and get to the happy relaxing place, you need to accept the pain.

Too many people give up on spanking because they say, “Ouch! Ouch! Stop!” Then the spanking stops too soon, and they are left with pain and not pleasure. When you and your partner have built up enough trust, you should be able to read each other (and communicate with each other) so the spanker can help you push past the pain. At the same time, pushing too hard can leave you anxious, frustrated, and confused. Relax, immerse yourself in the experience, and give up control. Try increasing the spankings a little at a time, or if you prefer the approach of diving head-first into cold water, try a rapid fire of hard spanks. Especially with wooden implements, your bottom will build up a tolerance/numbness during the spanking until the impact feels like a deep tissue massage rather than pain. Relax, give yourself into the experience, and breathe.

What was it like your first time? How did you learn to manage the “ouchiness” and still enjoy a spanking?

Tuesdays with Ana: Why and how to avoid POV shifts

Disclaimer: Conventions and attitudes toward shifting POV (point of view) within a story can change depending on the genre. In some types of stories, such as romance, some readers and publishers expect writers to alternate chapters between POV of the two romantic leads.

Second disclaimer: “Headhopping”, or shifting between two or more character’s POV within a short time frame, is a standard that has changed with time. Many older romance stories use this technique, but most current publishers discourage it.

Third disclaimer: I dislike POV shifts. Not everyone does.

Good morning and welcome back to Tuesdays with Ana! Are you feeling refreshed and secure in your identity as an author?

Today we’re going to talk about a problem that most writers face at one time or another, POV shifts. Here are some questions that writers ask:

  • When is it okay to shift POV? At a chapter change? Scene change? Paragraph change?
  • Is it okay to shift POV, period? Or should I only stay with one character’s POV?
  • Why can’t I use 1st person POV?
  • What is headhopping, and why can’t I do it?
  • I want to do something wild and crazy with POV shifts. Can I?

Let’s start with the third question, “Why can’t I use 1st person POV?” By 1st POV, we mean a story that uses “I” in the main character’s narration. Examples include Desire in Any Language, Editorial Board, and The Way Home, as well as Claire’s part of the story in The Vengeance of Mrs. Claus. Writing in 1st POV gives a story intimacy, and it brings the reader closer to the character. Not all publishers accept manuscripts written in 1st POV, which is why some writers are told that they “can’t” use it.

You can do anything you want, but your choices may limit what publishers will accept your work.

I prefer 1st POV and use it for a few reasons. One, I write F/F. If I say “she” and “she”, the reader won’t know whether I mean Kat or Natalie, Mira or Eunji, or Spring or Rachel. Repeating the characters’ names for clarity can make the narrative feel stilted. Using 1st POV is a matter of simple practicality. “She” and “I” are easy to distinguish.

The other reason that I use 1st POV is that my stories often focus on emotion, personal growth, and the inner journey of the main character. Take Kat, Mira, and Spring, for example. All three stories focus on their struggle to come to terms with who they are. 1st POV works well because it allows me as the author to bring my readers right into Kat, Mira, and Spring’s inner thoughts. I don’t tell you what they are thinking and feeling; I make you feel it.

Does that mean 1st POV always works? No. As much as 1st POV gives intimacy and emotional depth to a story, it limits what you can show and tell as an author. For the entirety of The Way Home, Desire in Any Language, and Editorial Board, we only see and hear the story from Kat, Mira, and Spring’s POV. (With 1st POV there are techniques to show that the narrator is unreliable, but they take practice.) This can make things difficult. Kat, for example, is shy and sensitive. When she reacts to Natalie’s words or actions, I as the author have absolutely no way of showing that Kat’s perception is limited or even flawed. Believe me, I have tried! The problem, however, has been that I created such a sympathetic narrator that most readers take Kat’s interpretation at face value. The intimacy of 1st POV has its risks.

In revising Lighting the Way, the forthcoming sequel to The Way Home, I added three scenes from Natalie’s POV. Is that headhopping? Breaking the rules? (No, because my editor told me to do it…and I am a good, obedient author who always does as I am told…)

When can I shift POV, you ask? I’d point to the above example. If your story is stalled because you have tried every other approach but can’t make things work without shifting POV, give it a try.

Reasons to shift POV:

  • This information is crucial to the story, but there is no way that the main character would know it. (Suspense is often a good example.)
  • My publisher or genre expects me to do so, or this is a clearly established pattern that I have followed throughout the entire story. (In romance, authors often change POV so that readers can understand both characters’ journeys toward finding each other.)

Reasons not to shift POV:

  • It’s easier to switch to the other character’s POV.
  • I’m tired of writing from this character’s POV.
  • It will give variety to the story.
  • Ana told me not to.

Why do I dislike and discourage shifting POV, especially for newer and beginning writers? Shifting POV is easy and tempting, so much that we may do it for the wrong reasons (see above).

Shifting POV is easy to do, but it’s difficult to do well.

Staying in one character’s POV is good discipline and training to learn the limitations of that character’s POV.

Once you have mastered the art of staying in one POV, you’ll see the depth in exploring that perspective. If you begin by staying in one POV, later on you will be able to shift POV purposefully, to accomplish a specific goal (see above). It will make your POV shifts that much more powerful, and it will charge your story with extra narrative oomph.

If you begin by shifting POV, or without learning to distinguish when you are switching POV, you weaken a powerful storytelling tool (changing POV) into the dreaded “headhopping”.

What is headhopping? Shifting POV haphazardly, too frequently, and without a specific reason.

Respect the power of the POV shift. Use it responsibly, wisely, and well.

Thus saith Ana. Go forth and sin no more.

(Can you do something crazy? Of course. But only if you understand how and why.)

What about you? What do you think? How have you used POV shifts in your own work?

Tuesdays with Ana: On Creating an Author Identity

Author identity. Branding. Finding your voice. All of these are favorite words in the writing and publishing business, but what does it mean on a practical, personal level?

Lately, I’ve been asked the following questions:

  • How did you decide to write F/F?
  • Why don’t you write sexual books?
  • Was it a deliberate choice? Why?
  • How do you decide what to write about?

Similarly, I hear questions from new and aspiring writers:

  • How do I know what I want to write about?
  • How do I become a better writer?
  • I have lots of great ideas, but I don’t know how to put them into one story. How can I do that?
  • How can I decide what kind of author I want to be?

Today, we’re going to look at this last question.

How can you decide what kind of author you want to be?

As I’ve said before, my author identity kind of happened on its own. I’m a niche (nonsexual F/F DD) of a niche (F/F DD) of a niche (DD). 😀 But at the same time, I transcend categories (or at least I like to think that I do!). Sometimes, being a PITA has its benefits: I know what I want, and I know what I want to be. On the other hand, if that author identity is not the most easily marketed one at that particular time, things can get a bit challenging!

If you are unsure what kind of author you want to be, view it as a positive.

You get to actively choose your identity, rather than having to work with what’s already been determined. Look around. Do some research. Investigate publishers and authors who appeal to you. This is a time for exploration, getting to know different styles, and spreading your wings.

Clarify YOUR goals and passions, not what someone else defines for you.

Although we all envy the authors who strike it rich with their first multi-million-copy bestseller, few authors write for a steady, substantial paycheck. Even fewer will be able to quit a day job and write full-time with the first book. For that reason, it’s all the more important that this be YOUR endeavor from the very beginning. Take out a notepad (or open a new blank document). Jot down some of the reasons you daydream about being an author. Can’t think of any? Here are a few of mine:

  • I never found a story that completely satisfied me, so I wanted to write a book that would fulfill my own needs for a good story.
  • I want to write stories for other people who also haven’t been able to find what they want.
  • I want to make people think, to smile, and even for a small moment feel as if the world were a better place.
  • I want to get better and better at my craft with each piece of writing.
  • (honesty time) I still harbor a secret (no longer secret) fantasy of becoming rich and famous. 🙂

Your goals might be similar, or they might be radically different. Is your goal to hit bestseller lists? Get accepted by a top six New York publishing house? To earn a certain amount of money per month or year? To publish a certain number of books within a certain time frame?

There is no wrong goal (unless it’s to rob a bank). The only wrong goal is the goal that doesn’t work for you. For me, to be named as the best new erotica writer of 2013 is probably not the most realistic goal. For one thing, I don’t write sex scenes. 😀 Hoping to sell ten million copies of your first book is probably not realistic, either.

What will make writing and publishing worthwhile for you? What do you hope to achieve?

Clear out the distractions.

Paradoxically, over-focusing on your goals can put so much pressure on you that you lose sight of what brought you to writing in the first place. One of my favorite scenes in Editorial Board is when editor Rachel forces author Spring to look deep within herself for what makes Spring an author. (If you want to know more about my philosophy on writing, you may want to read this book. Formerly writer-blocked Spring’s re-discovery of her identity as an author is the heart of the story.) Spring remembers a scene so simple, so ordinary, and so small that she wouldn’t have noticed it in an everyday setting: bringing her mother dandelions. That tiny image of dandelions centers Spring, brings her back into touch with herself, and frees her to begin writing again.

Not all of us are lucky enough to have a Rachel to help us in the process, but we still can practice small moments of silence to remember who we are.

Hold onto the joy.

After the initial elation of becoming an author wears off, the work can quickly feel like drudgery. Sending your poor, neglected book out for review after review, only to receive zero or negative responses. Bothering your poor, overworked friends in the hope that they will help to promote your book. Appearing on endless social media circuits giving the same 30-second elevator pitch to bored strangers. Endless revisions, fights with your editor, gnashing of teeth over the cover art and blurb and formatting. Did I mention endless revisions? Lighting the Way, the second of the Kat and Natalie books, will be published on June 6th. I wrote the book in just under two weeks; I’ve been editing and revising for eight months.

As I mentioned last week, author burn-out is a serious risk for all of us who work in labor-intensive jobs. I work on multiple projects at multiple jobs at once, and the workdays are long. I can’t remember the last time I took an entire day off from work, but I can remember the last time that the stress and overwork made me ill.

Yet I still consider myself lucky. I’m writing the stories that burn inside of me to be told. I get to connect with people who enjoy the stories I write. I’m surrounded by a community of fellow authors who each offer his or her own wisdom and talents. I am blessed with wonderful readers who enrich my life with your stories, notes, and correspondence.

And most of all? I get to write.

Yesterday, after celebrating a significant milestone in a project that has stretched over endless months, I sat down to write a scene for an upcoming novel. Four hours later, I found myself in a curious writing hangover, half in this world and half out. Consumed by the lives I had created.

After a day like that, I could write for weeks.

Are you looking for how to create your author identity? Relax. You’ll find it.

Just be prepared to be surprised.

Tuesday with Ana: On dealing with author burn-out

Hello, my lovelies. I’ve missed you. 🙂 I’ve missed your shining faces, your silly comments, and your sweetness and camaraderie. To those of you who are reading this, I thank you for sticking by me even when I’ve been off and on for the past few weeks. Issues with internet, electricity, health, job deadlines, and some exciting news have all conspired to keep me peddling furiously on the great hamster wheel of life.

(Can you actually peddle on a hamster wheel? Ah, well, you know what I mean.)

Today’s topic is author burn-out, although it can apply to any profession or endeavor. If you’ve experienced it, I don’t need to explain. If you haven’t experienced it, I envy you.

We often see burn-out in high-labor, low-profit jobs such as teaching, nursing, or childcare. We can also see it in high-profit jobs such as business, but many times we become burned out because we work too hard at a job. Not because we are driven to earn a profit, but because we care passionately about our job and want to make a difference.

Sometimes, we forget that we are a community. In our drive to succeed and to perhaps be just a little bit better than the competition, we isolate ourselves in an attempt not to give away our secrets. We worry that we are not as productive, as accomplished, as recognized, or as successful as others.

Being an author in the ebook publishing industry is both the worst and best job I can imagine. Long after I gave up my dream, I’ve become a published author who is able to write the stories I love best. I get to connect with people who read my stories and care for the characters I create. I write for publishers who support me, support my work, and believe in me. I get to talk with other authors and readers who have touched my life and allowed me to touch theirs. What could be better?

At the same time, the competition is intense. There are several million (okay, perhaps I am exaggerating slightly) new ebooks on the market, and even writing at top speed I can’t hope to keep up with the most prolific writers. I pour time and effort into social media, only to find that I’m missing a crucial element or need to learn about a new technique or outlet. And, no matter how much time and energy I invest, there is always someone who outshines me in multiple areas. And darn it if I could break through the unspoken ban on reviewing F/F stories. People read, buy, and enjoy F/F. Why can’t we get more reviewers on record to say so?

I’m often asked (though not recently) how I can manage to do all that I do. The answer is that other people manage to do far more. The more I think about it, the more depressing it is.

Have you ever felt the same way?

The advice I’d like to offer today is this:

  • If you want to drive yourself crazy, compare yourself to others.
  • If you want to overwork yourself into the ground, focus on your inadequacies.

Simplistic? Perhaps. But sometimes truisms are called that because they contain truth.

We may not have been given equal and identical skills, talents, and connections. I may long for someone else’s achievements without recognizing my own. I think many of us secretly wonder, deep down, if we’re quite as good as the person we use for a comparison.

Today, I’d like you to do something for me. For yourselves.

Find someone whose work you admire, either someone established or someone new, and let that person know how much you like his or her work.

Here’s the catch:

Without comparing yourself.

I find that the authors I most genuinely enjoy reading and getting to know…are the authors who are generous in their praise of others. I don’t mean flattery in the hope of getting reciprocation, but genuine, no-strings-attached recognition of another’s talents and accomplishments. It doesn’t have to always be about work, either. The small notes of friendship, both writing and receiving, have brightened many of my days when I have been stressed.

It’s a funny thing. When I think about my own accomplishments or lack thereof, I get dispirited. When I find reasons to rejoice on someone else’s behalf…pretty soon I find myself happier as well.

How about you? How do you handle burn-out? Whom will you recognize today? (Feel free to keep the second part private, if you wish.)

Advice for Newbie Authors: Don’t listen too much to advice (Tuesdays with Ana, Part 3)

I’m over at Adaline Raine’s today, and Kat and Natalie are giving an interview! Please say hello. 🙂

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Well. My post for today has changed dramatically from what I had originally intended. I was planning to introduce the first scene of The Way Home and talk about when we have lost the person most special to us. That will have to be a topic for another day.

Instead, the shocking success of The Way Home has prompted questions and discussions from more than a few people in the past week. How did I get into the Top 100? What did I do? What did my publisher do? How can other people succeed?

I am embarrassed to be asked these questions because success is such a chancy thing. This week’s Top 100 may be next week’s garbage can liner. It’s not that I mean to be disingenuous, but I honestly don’t know. Wonderful people who have supported me, a wonderful publisher who believed in me, and luck?

What I can offer today, however, is this piece of advice to new and aspiring authors:

Don’t listen too much to advice.

Yes, really. Don’t try to publish too soon. Don’t focus so much on writing to a market/publisher’s demands/algorithm of what will sell well…that you lose sight of why you began writing in the first place.

Because, honestly, if you are writing solely for the money–fiction is not the best place for you.

I have been told a great deal of advice on this journey:

  • Don’t make it too difficult to understand. You need to spell everything out for the reader.
  • If you want to sell well, you must have sex.
  • If you insist on not writing sex, you must include gratuitous details of the spanking in order to satisfy readers’ needs for titillation.
  • You must include characters on your cover, or else the book won’t sell.
  • Write what readers want to read, not what you want them to read.
  • If you insist on writing your way, your books will never sell.
  • No one will read F/F.
  • No one will read F/F without sex.
  • You use too many fancy metaphors.
  • You can’t use first-person point of view.
  • You can’t write in the present tense.
  • Your book won’t sell unless it has a romance.
  • You book must be a romance and alternate between the two main characters’ point of view.

The problem with this kind of advice is that it fails to take into account individuality of writers. I don’t want to be the author of the next Fifty Shades. Nor do I want to be the next Stephen King.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticizing either, just saying that’s not the kind of writing I do. Instead, this is the kind of advice that I have found helpful on my journey:

  • Go to your readers for advice. What do they think?
  • What I keep hearing you say is that you like the story the way it is.
  • You have something important to say.
  • You won’t be happy writing for the mass market, so why try?
  • Writing should be difficult. Take the time to do it right, and don’t let it become facile.
  • Make me feel something.
  • Sometimes you need to step away and take a break.
  • You can’t control how well your book sells. All you can control is producing the best product possible.
  • I know that you can do better.
  • I want your story to give me permission not to like the characters all the time.

But the best piece of advice is something I learned on my own. Because I don’t write sex, don’t (usually) write M/F, don’t write conventional romance (don’t write conventional anything)…I never had the opportunity to be blase about my identity as an author. From the very beginning, it’s been clear and simple.

Anastasia Vitsky is an author of F/F DD fiction. She writes about the real-life ups and downs rather than the fantasies none of us can hope to achieve.

My first big success, The Way Home, came about because my publisher insisted on marketing it as a F/F story…rather than apologizing for it containing a F/F storyline. I will never appeal to everyone, so instead my publisher helped me to appeal most strongly to the people most likely to buy the book.

Your author identity will be different. Only you will know your strengths. Don’t let anyone else tell you that you must fill a certain mold in order to succeed.

Don’t apologize for who you are. Make it your strongest asset.

The-Way-Home-3D

The Way Home
Natalie always wanted a little sister.  Kat didn’t know she was allowed to want anything…or anyone.

Kat, a shy farmgirl, arrives at her freshman dorm with a backpack, a suitcase, and her mother’s wish for Kat to attend college “at least until you get married”. Her roommate Natalie, a confident and fun-loving social butterfly, decides sight unseen that Kat will become her best friend for life. Natalie teaches Kat about college life, academics, and friendship by taking Kat under her wing…and over her knee.

Then their lives fall apart one fateful night on campus, and for the rest of the decade Kat and Natalie struggle to find their way back to each other. Their way home.