My personal beauty standards

This post and the links in it contain advertisements for my book.

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Don’t judge a book by its cover? Ha! Well, I’m not strong enough not to. Not when I choose what to read, and certainly not when I choose my future husband (been there, done that). Longish hair and a leather jacket had me at hello, but that’s another story for another day. Suffice it to say that I have my own personal beauty standards, like a stain on my moral compass, and it won’t come out for love nor money.

The above picture sums them up pretty nicely – and don’t kid yourself about the turtle neck: it’s not optional!

I drew the picture for a course book in French that I once wrote and never got to use, but I still have the picture. Funnily enough, when I saw it again today I thought of Michael Vaughan of Pax fame. Now, he wouldn’t agree with me because he thinks he’s hideous, but if he was I wouldn’t be writing about him, would I? Especially not passages like this:

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Jamie’s hair swung in time with the music, a few strands sticking to his temples. Green and gold stage lights flitted in and out of his vision. Everything on the stage glowed: brass, steel, cufflinks, white shirts, even gold. Michael was chained to his harpsichord as usual, but when their eyes met, it felt like they were just inches apart. As Jamie lost himself in that lion tawny colour, the world came loose from its moorings and floated around in a shimmery mess.

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Shimmery mess? Yeah, that would be me. And look, I know Michael doesn’t actually exist, in that boring, concrete sort of way we call real. But if I’m to write about a character, they have to exist for me. If another character falls in love with them, I have to fall as well. Otherwise, how could I know how they’d feel when evening sunlight pierces amber eyes?
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“There.” Michael struck a match and Jamie started at the tiny explosion between his fingers. The flame leapt up and quickly ate its way through the dry bark and twigs. Shaken, Jamie watched Michael as he watched the fire grow. The setting sun painted his face and hair in copper shades, and when he looked up, his eyes burned with an elusive lion tawny colour.

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But it’s kinda shallow, I know that. To allow yourself to hold one type of appearance above all others. Still, don’t we all? And I comfort myself with the thought that we all like different things. A friend of mine likes bald men, for example, whereas I fall in love with the hair before I fall in love with the actual person (again, hubby being the prime example).

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And Michael is cute. He is. Jamie is charming, so he can get away with scruffiness and goofy grimaces and stringy, unwashed hair. But Michael has this ethereal quality that “might not beteem the winds of heaven / Visit [his] face too roughly” (Hamlet 1.2.144). If that sounds oddly feminine, I guess it is. I do like my men androgynous. Sensitive. Vulnerable. Pensive.

In a word, musicians. 😀

Not many need apply. Hubby asked me while we were binge-rewatching Game of Thrones which one of all the characters I found to be “the bee’s knees” (sic!), and I still haven’t come up with a reply. Some are interesting, others are charming and fun, and yet others have symmetrical features that I guess would qualify for western hemisphere heartthrobdom. But me? Nah. Most leave me cold. Yes, even Jon Snow.

Rival Poet AReBut when I do find a face I like, I get a whole book out of it. Or, in the case of Pax, a whole series! And so Sam Claflin inspired All You Can Eat, Ricky Wilson (yes, I’m admitting it!) was the template for Henrik in The Seventh Flower, and Ian McNabb (even bigger splash there, I’m really having an overly honest day!) will forever be my very own Kit Marlowe in Rival Poet.

And while we’re on the topic, I know I should be working on (the newly christened, yay!) Chains of Being (I’m keeping schtumm about that one, by the way, because I don’t want a defamation case to cut my career short, and anyway I’m changing absolutely everything about the two guys before hitting ‘publish’ so no one’ll ever know), but I have a messy old WIP about a PhD student that’s slowly morphing to accomodate Robson Green and Ben Mendelsohn! Just imagine the shy and lonely professor with Asperger’s whose world is turned upside down by a sloppy upstart who wears flip-flops to the office! Mmm… 🙂

So, shallow? Yup. But it’s a prerequisite for my authorhood.

Clickbait your book! ;)

Had some fun today imagining my books as clickbait articles. I urge my fellow authors to try it – at the very least, it’s an exercise that can narrow down the plot of a WIP or help you come up with those pesky blurbs.

This man met his celebrity crush at a party – but what happens next will melt your heart

10 things only bulimics will understand

Only one in 50 literature buffs can identify these 23 Shakespeare references. Can you?

Can we guess your favourite trope?

23 ways to say ‘I love you’ – the sixteenth one will make you cry

This is why you should never have a pretend relationship

5 behind-the-scenes problems musicians don’t want you to know about

He was a doormat for twenty-nine years – but you won’t believe what happens when they accuse him of this

Readers are freaking out over this gritty “romance”

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The dreamer in a world of rationals

This post and the links in it contain advertisements for my book

Christer isn’t a loner. He may look like one where he skulks at the fringes of every party and doesn’t talk to people unless he absolutely has to. But really, he’s not a loner. He would love to be with people. It’s just that in his experience, people don’t want to be with him.

If school and work and life in general has taught him anything, it’s that he doesn’t fit in. Not necessarily because of his bisexuality, but because he has the wrong hobbies, the wrong body, the wrong outlook on life. Even in his own family, he’s the odd one out. Where his parents and siblings are rational and down-to-earth, he’s an out-of-touch dreamer who can’t seem to settle down. Yes, he’s been married, and yes he has a job of sorts, but compared to his brother the academic and his sister the seamstress, he’s sort of… blurry. Unfocused. And worst of all: doomed to be disappointed.

Because that’s the fate of romantics in this world of overachievers: they can’t keep up, and the world can’t keep up with them. They wish for magic, for perfection, and the more mundane parts of life just don’t measure up.

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Maybe that’s why he’s so shaken when he meets Henrik. It’s not just the weird power balance of him secretly knowing who Henrik is, it’s also the scary thought that this man who Christer has been putting on a pedestal for a year won’t measure up either. It’s actually impossible: the golden persona Christer has projected on Henrik is too divorced from reality to result in anything but disenchantment.

So of course he stays away, right?

Wrong. When has Christer ever done the right thing? Even though he knows that he’ll only bore Henrik to tears with his lackluster conversation, he can’t stop talking to him, telling him stories about the history of his own family and the derelict village where they’re celebrating Midsummer’s Eve. It’s as if a door has been opened and there’s no stopping the wind from blowing right through the musty old house.

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It’s frightening. It’s dangerous. Even if Henrik could ever see anything of worth in Christer, there are just too many obstacles in the way of an actual relationship. And make no mistake, a relationship is what Christer is after. He’s not the one night stand type and he won’t settle for less than perfection.

So yeah, it’s doomed, because A) Henrik is a serial dater, B) he lives five hundred miles away, and C) Christer is pretty sure that he’s only ever dated women. Not that this necessarily means he’s not bisexual too, but why would Christer have such luck? He’s used to his boring life where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens.

But then again this is Midsummer’s Eve, and miracles can happen – if Christer only lets down his guard enough to believe in them.

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Fourteen years and counting

This post and some of the links in it contain advertisements for my books.

The fourth of July means a lot to some people, and I’m one of them. Because July 4, 2003 was when I met my nemesis – no, sorry, love of my life!

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Now I’m a complete romantic fool. Maybe that’s why I write romance books. But my idea of romance isn’t always that… uh, romantic.

You see, I’m an INTP, which is a personality type according to the Myers-Briggs typology system (if you’re unfamiliar with the MBTI, this is an awesome site for information on it). Anyway, INTPs tend to be unsentimental about things, or at least that’s the stereotype. Think Sheldon in Big Bang Theory (or so I’m told, I don’t watch it). INTPs love ideas and finding out how things work and logic and systems. Flowers and champagne? Not so much.

Yet here we are.

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Chin-chin!

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So what gives? How can this purple prose Angst Queen who photographs backlit flowers profess to be an INTP? Well, because the stereotype is a, how shall I put it? Stereotype. Yes, INTPs love systems and ideas, but that doesn’t mean they’re all mathematical geniuses. Ask my primary school teacher what my math book looked like. We had a meeting about it.

Because this particular INTP (pictured above with romantic interest, flowers, and champagne) is interested in human systems. Language. Psychology. Sociology. Physiology. The hard sciences are meh, but anything that helps me figure out what the hell makes people tick? Count me in.

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(Last Communion)

You can see this again and again – in a romantic context – in my books. In All You Can Eat, I explore not only the psychology behind eating disorders, but also the way we sometimes try to scare off people before we let them in: the old princess-guarded-by-a-dragon-of-her-own-making mechanism.

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In Not Safe For Work, the hurdle to overcome is other people’s expectations and not being allowed to make your own decisions because the script has already been written by other people. A mindfuck I really enjoyed torturing my poor boys with – especially because of the added breathless stress of having that script spreading like wildfire across social media!

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In Rival Poet, I go full INTP and have my protagonists find each other through their writing. Sometimes you can hardly separate their creative collaboration from their lovemaking – because that’s what makes it romantic from my point of view: working towards a common goal, admiring and enjoying each other’s talent and intelligence.

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The same goes for the Pax series, where play-writing is replaced with musicianship. During the long and arduous periods where Jamie and Michael are unable to talk to each other about their feelings, their music talks for them.

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So I guess this all sums up my view of romance. I’m a sucker for one-to-one-ness, for the concept of soulmates and the one person who understands and appreciates you. But I don’t have my characters yell “I love you, honey” at every possible moment, and I don’t think any of them has bought the other flowers or chocolate. The closest I ever get to a Hollywood moment is this type of confession from Rival Poet:

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!

When Kit spoke, his voice was the mere wisp of a sound. “You’re going to hate this,” he prefaced. “Or laugh at me. But…” He stopped to breathe, to gather his courage. “I’m in love with you, Will.”

Will froze. Stared into those hypnotising eyes, that unique golden colour. In love? His whole upbringing rebelled against the words. They didn’t make sense. Loving someone was one thing, but being in love… that was just possible when one of the two was a woman.

Only… when Kit said it, it did make sense. In the secrecy of this room, in the greyness of predawn, with just the two of them present to hear it, it made perfect sense.

Will breathed in. “If it’s something you can be,” he replied slowly, “Then… I am too.”

Well. I guess that is kind of mushy. But if you’re not allowed to be mushy about the kiss at the end of the rainbow, then what other opportunities are there really?

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Chucking the ballast

What are you carrying around that prevents you from picking up new things?

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If there’s one tip I should take to heart – not only as related to writing, but other stuff as well – it’s that sometimes in order to move forward you need to chuck things out. Even though you’ve put in a lot of work on them. I mean, I’ll keep snippets of deleted scenes for years, trying again and again to include them in new stories – and it never works, because the tone is off, or I’m not thinking through how the old scenes fit into the new timeline.

I know this, and yet I keep making the same mistake. I’m so loath to throw away things I’ve toiled over for hours and hours, but sometimes… you just have to. Put it down to a learning experience and move on.

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I don’t know why I don’t do this more often. I mean, I love writing, and yet it’s like I avoid writing by reusing old stuff. As if I can’t trust myself to come up with new words.

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Or is it just laziness? I don’t know. But today I came across an amazing writing tip on Tumblr that really spoke to my fetish for logical hierarchies, and I decided to try it out. START FROM SCRATCH for once, instead of trying to squeeze a stagnated WIP into a new structure and ending up with an even bigger mess than before.

So. I brought a pen and notebook into the garden and got to work the old-fashioned way. And after ten minutes or so I had to run inside and continue on my laptop, because my longhand couldn’t keep up with all the brand new ideas that kept popping into my head!

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At the end of the day I had an entire new novel mapped out, and it turns out that I can actually use minor scenes from one of those pesky WIPs in this new story. But the thing is that this time I started with the structure, with a departure and an arrival point that guided everything else, so when I use old material I know exactly where to put it for it to make sense in the dramaturgy instead of just cramming it in any old where.

Now, I won’t lie and say that structure is everything. It’s a tool that takes you some of the way, but not all the way. Sometimes you need to break the rules you’ve set up to move forward. The plot is a map that guides you, but sometimes you need to ignore the map for a while and trust the terrain. The whole process is like a pendulum that swings between structure and anarchy. Use the tool until you get stuck, then chuck the tool and improvise until you get stuck, etc.

That’s how you build a story.

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The Seventh Flower: The club house

This post and the links in it contain advertisements for my books.

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Christer is too old for fairy tales. He’s not the kind of guy to pick those seven flowers, and he certainly isn’t the type to fall for someone he’s just met. Especially not a womanizing blogger named Henrik.

Besides, Christer’s previous marriage didn’t end with a happily ever after. So he has no interest in gifting his heart to someone who lives five hundred miles away and probably isn’t even gay. His family is right: it’s time he grew up and stopped dreaming.

But Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden is a magical night, and Henrik won’t stop flirting. As the midnight sun shines down on the misty woods, maybe there’s room for one last dream…

Find your copy at Amazon or Dreamspinner.

The Ace of Wands

That feeling… I think all authors must know about it. You empty your glass and you’re convinced that you’ll never write another word, because what is there to write about? You’ve said everything you want to say already.

And then there’s this thing – a movie, a smell, a view, something someone says – and it gets stuck on your mind like an autumn leaf clinging to a wet fence. And as it sits there, just shining brightly against the dull grey of the wood, another kind of light begins to creep up on you.

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It inches closer, slowly, whistling innocently… and then BAM! You’re bathed in the light of an inner dawn.

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You have to write. You have to write this new character, this laugh, this landscape, this perspective. You’ve described a hundred different smiles in your other books, but this one is different, and it needs to be set on paper. Come hell or high water. Otherwise that light will burn you up from inside.

You’re in love, and you want to shout it out to the world.

And then it ebbs. Sooner or later, it ebbs and peters out, and you look at the smile or the view or the funny dialogue, and you just go “Meh”. Because it’s done now. You’ve spent your ink again, and poured that light onto your keyboard, and there’s nothing left. Not even a couple of mixed metaphors.

You have a result: a few twinkling phrases, or a whole fragile structure with a series of flimsy, glittering strands of story clinging to it… and now comes the work. The editing, the fleshing out, the careful crafting. In Tarot terms, the spark of inspiration from the Ace of Wands have chosen a direction, gathered the input it needs and celebrated the first stage of the journey. And now the battle begins, where things will not always be so bright.

But you’ve got your flimsy strands, and look at them: they might only be lichen, but they’re beautiful.

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The Ne knockout

I don’t know what it’s like for other INTPs, but my extraverted intuition really doesn’t need much prompting to go off on a creative spree. Today I decided to just lie down and read since I have a bad case of lumbago (too much photography in cold weather?). Well, I managed three pages before I was hit by the Ne lightning and scampered off to the computer to cram a whole truckload of ideas into my article – ideas that were mostly unrelated to the book I was reading.

I mean… this is Ne, right? Like the erratic spangles on a river, glinting here and there, almost too fast to catch. And if you don’t snap that shot, they’re gone forever.