July 4, 2012

controversy without the burn

Blogger's Note: I'm pleased to welcome author Amber Lin as today's guest blogger as part of her Goddess Fish tour for her book, Giving it Up

Leave a comment on this post for your chance to win a fabulous prize. One randomly drawn winner will receive a Giving It Up Swag Pack, which includes romance trading cards, a signed cover flat, a signature soap bar for showers together handcrafted by AnaBanana Creations and a $10 Amazon gift card. I'll draw a winner Sunday, July 8. As a bonus, one randomly drawn commenter on the tour will win an erotic romance prize pack, including paperback copies of Bared to You by Sylvia Day, Simple Carnal by Kate Pearce, Lessons in Letting Go by Cara McKenna (print combo of Willing Victim and Curio), Comfort Object by Annabel Joseph, a collection of signed Giving It Up swag AND a $50 Amazon Gift Card (BN.com or All Romance may be substituted).

How to Write a Controversial Book Without Getting Burned

By Amber Lin
Guest blogger

At the beginning I was a reader. I made up stories in my head but never a single story down, not for twenty eight years. Then, after reading another book about a heroine with a traumatic past, it struck me that these characters all reacted the same way.  Real people sometimes acted differently, and maybe I could write a book about that. Because that's what booksellers are looking for, I thought: original ideas. Oh, na├»ve me. :)

My first draft was horrid -- bad writing and worse grammar -- which I cheerily shipped off to unsuspecting critique partners. What I got back was love in the form of amazing praise about my voice and originality and hate in the form of thinly veiled orders never to write anything ever again. Even in my inexperience, something in me whispered that I was on the right track if I could move these strangers to such strong emotions. I learned later, as I produced mediocre manuscripts and received cursory line edits and a "good job!" pat on the back, that that was indeed something special. And since it was so raw, there was plenty of room for improvement in turning the hates to loves.

It wasn't until later that I figured out I was writing an issue book. It came as a shock to me, actually. You see, I wrote an erotic romance. I read in this genre and love it, so it was only natural that my book would end up in it. However, as I showed it to more people versed in the industry, published authors and agents, the reactions were of that love that of, about the writing and so on but...also confusion. What exactly -head tilt- is it? Why, I said, erotic romance! I mean, there’s sex. And romance! Yes, sure, they answered, but it almost reads like women's fiction. It deals with issues.

It does. The heroine of my book was raped by her best friend two years ago. Standard erotic romance fare does deal with issues like this, which sometimes comes as something of surprise to people who don’t read in the genre. But remember I said those characters all act the same way? Right, they all became born again virgins. After the trauma, they do not have sex again until they meet the hero and he earns their trust and so forth. This is fine, but it's also not the only naturally occurring response in real life.

Women, victim, survivors don't all stay locked inside chastity belts with true love as its key. In fact, some women react the exact opposite to trauma. In the case of my heroine it's a ritualized "date night", wherein she picks up a guy at a club for a night of rough, anonymous sex. If you're thinking this sounds exactly like standard erotic romance fare, so did I!

Except, well, remember that hate I mentioned? Yes, that mostly came in the form of statements like "I don't believe a rape victim would ever do that." And yet, they do, something I know because I’ve met them. So when this person doesn’t “believe” in it, what does that mean? Are they in some lower strata of society and she has never seen them? If I close my eyes, will these victims who refuse to follow the prescribed course disappear? Or they would say "I don't want my heroine to act this way." Does a natural occurring reaction to rape invalidate her victim status and make her unworthy of being a “heroine”? Does a woman who sleeps around deserve a romance-genre-anointed Happily Ever After?

Alas an issue book.

So, how to do this without getting burned? First you start with a seed of an idea and drop it into a large pot of cluelessness. Now stir in large helpings of skill, in the form of reading, learning and receiving critiques. When it’s time to serve, be sure to use your oven mitts. And by that I mean I surround yourself with friends and supporters. :)

However, the most important thing is the seed we started with. I believe most firmly in certain ideas, including that the proliferation of rape victims as born-again virgins is a form of victim shaming. So I’m not really going to get my feelings hurt if someone disagrees with me on that point.

I’ve had people email me saying that my book so accurately portrayed the psychological effects of rape that they couldn’t read my book. I’ve had people email me to say that my book so accurately portrayed the psychological effects of rape and that’s why they read and loved my book. So what I’m saying is, the book stands on its own. People will like or dislike, love it or hate it, but that doesn’t change the point.

About Giving It Up
Allie prowls the club for a man who will use her hard and then ditch her. Hey, it's not rape if she wants it. Instead she finds Colin, who looks tough but treats her tenderly, despite her protests.

He tempts her, but kindness and a few mind-blowing orgasms aren't enough to put her back together again. Allie has no hope for a real relationship. Two years ago her best friend betrayed her in the worst possible way – she’d be stupid to trust a man again. Besides, she has her daughter to think of, the only good thing to have come from that dark night.

But when her rapist returns, threatening her sanity and custody of her daughter, Allie turns to Colin. Under his protection and patient touch, Allie begins to heal and learns to hope. Colin’s no saint, though, and his criminal past draws danger of its own. Allie must fight to protect her child and the man she loves, hoping her newfound power will be enough to save them all.

"A ballsy departure from romantic conventions. At once gritty and tender, stark and hopeful."
- Cara McKenna, author of Willing Victim

"Giving It Up is an erotic, compelling story that takes us to the shadowy, lonely places but doesn't leave us there. Amber Lin shows us that romance isn't just for the rich and shiny. Love can find its way even into the dark corners of the most damaged hearts."
- Tiffany Reisz, author of The Siren

I’d perfected the art of fuck-me clothes. A surprising number of men asked me out, even at a grungy club on a Saturday night. Cute little college girl, they thought, out for a good time. I saved us all time by dressing my part.

Tonight’s ensemble consisted of a tight halter and short skirt with cheap, high-heeled sandals, bouncing hair, and bloodred toenails. The scornful looks of the other women didn’t escape me, but I wasn’t so different from them. I wanted to be desired, held, touched. The groping fingers might be a cheap imitation of intimacy, its patina cracked with rust and likely to turn my skin green, but they were all I deserved.

My gaze panned to the man at the bar, the one I’d been watching all night. He nursed a beer, his profile harsh against the fluid backdrop of writhing bodies. His gray T-shirt hung loose on his abs but snug around thick arms.

He glanced over but didn’t hit on me. I didn’t know why I kept tabs on him either. I wasn’t exactly discerning. I was trolling for sex, not a life partner. There were plenty of men here, men whose blackened pasts matched my own, who’d give it to me hard.

Something dark and decidedly feminine roiled up inside me.

She was hot. If he wanted to score, he probably couldn’t do better, even with me. I tried not to stare. She walked away a minute later—rejected. I felt unaccountably smug. Which was stupid, since I didn’t have him either.

Maybe no one had a chance with this guy. I was pretty enough, in a girl-next-door kind of way. Common, though, underneath my slutty trappings—brown hair and brown eyes were standard issue around here.

I glanced up to see a cute guy wearing a sharp dress shirt checking me out. Probably an investment banker or something upstanding like that. Grinning and hopeful. Had I ever been that young? No, I was probably younger. At twenty-two I felt ancient. The world had already crumbled around me and been rebuilt, brick by brick.

“Sorry, pal,” I said. “Keep moving.”

“Aww, not even one dance?”

His puppy-dog eyes cajoled a smile from me. How nice it might feel to be one of the girls with nothing to worry about except whether this guy would call tomorrow morning. But I was too broken for his easy smile. I’d only end up hurting him.

“I am sorry,” I said, wistfulness seeping into my voice. “You’ll thank me later.”

Regret panged in my chest as the crowd sucked him back in, but I’d done the right thing. Even if he were only interested in a one-night hookup, my sex was too toxic for the likes of him.

I turned back to the guy at the bar. He caught my eye, looking—if possible—surlier. Cold and mean. Perfect. I wouldn’t taint him, and he could give me what I craved.

About the Author
Amber Lin loves to read angsty romance with plenty of sex, so it was no surprise that her debut book turned out to be erotic romance set against a dark urban landscape. She writes with one rule in mind: it has to get worse before it can get better. She lives with her husband, son and passel of puppy dogs in the great state of Texas.

Website: http://authoramberlin.com/
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5827158.Amber_Lin
Book Video

Don't forget to leave a comment for your chance to win the Giving It Up Swag Pack or the Grand Prize. Follow the tour and comment on other blogs, too, for more chance to win. Visit http://goddessfishpromotions.blogspot.com/2012/05/virtual-book-tour-giving-it-up-by-amber.html.
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  1. Very interesting book! I think I saw this somewhere and was intrigued.

  2. This book sounds like a winner. Can't wait to read it learn more about Colin and Allie.


  3. What an interesting post, Amber. I love a tough heroine, but Allie doesn't sound altogether likeable...even though this is very much the result of her rape. As a reader, I can chalk it up to post-traumatic stress, but I still may not like her choices/her behaviors. I'm nor really sure what to make of it. It sounds very intense...not lite, fluffy summer reading!
    Happy July 4th...

  4. I'm trying to step of the erotic romance cliche also, and write something just a wee bit different. Is the world ready for us? We'll see! Great book idea, and interesting excerpt. Thanks for the contest, Happy Fourth of July!

  5. It sounds so intense, but also beautifully done.


  6. I think everyone deserves a HEA and your heroine more than most. She had a very difficult period in her life, and needs a lot more.

  7. I'm so glad you had the courage to write that book despite it being a "problem book".

    claudigc at msn dot com

  8. @Leah That's what I like to hear ;-) Thanks.

    @Joanne Thanks!

    @Catherine Lee Good points! I think when you write controversial, it's not for everyone. Allie has been considered likeable... sometimes not... but that's definitely not my goal in writing my characters. To be intriguing, compelling, smart, even entertaining are a lot more important to me than likeability.

    @Bellina What I tell people is that for every "rule" you break, you set the bar a little higher for your execution. When I started, my writing from a technical POV was okay. If I had wanted to write a traditional romance, maybe it would have been enough. But not for this. And even when now when I get a bad review for Giving It Up, they will often express that the writing was very good, but they just had a problem with X or Y, and that is a good thing! If it was bad writing and a controversial plot, I'd probably just get slammed :)

    @Anonymous Thank you!

  9. Thanks for your post. Nice excerpt.


  10. Very interesting thank you. I know I will be deeply affected by GIVING IT UP.


  11. Even though the theme was controversial, I thought the author did a great job writing it & conveying Allie's pain & struggle. I think even flawed characters deserve a HEA.
    asiancocoa94 at aol dot com

  12. @bn100 Thanks!

    @marybelle I hope so :)

    @AsianCocoa Thank you!! That was my primary goal in writing Giving It Up so it's great to hear that part is resonating with people :-D

  13. Very, very interesting. I'm really looking forward to reading Giving it Up. The story sounds great.


  14. Fantastic book! And not your typical romance either, because it is much more intense and deeper, and fabulous writing by Ms. Lin!