What’s in a Name?

It used to be that if you wrote romance, you did it under a pseudonym as a matter of course. Now, though, I see a lot more writers keeping their own names and proudly pointing to their book covers. These days, if you come up with a pen name, there’s usually a reason. Maybe you work as an educator or a lawyer or some other job where you can’t comfortably risk the exposure, or you write two different genres and need to avoid confusion.

Interestingly, if you look at old book titles, it seems like every pen name was Anglo. No matter what the author’s ethnicity really was, everyone was a WASP on paper. I don’t know how this came about. Woodiwiss isn’t a common name, after all. Nor is Heyer. But it seems to have evolved that way over time, and most authors seem to follow suit. Maybe because publishers believed an author’s name should be easy to pronounce, or maybe they thought it should feel familiar. Comfortable. But in so doing, romance authors’ names became homogenized to a surprisingly large extent.

When I first started writing romance, I knew I’d need a pen name because I also planned to write YA. I needed that separation between the sexy and the relatively chaste. So I came up with a name: Talia Daniels, a nod to my husband’s name. But when I went to register it, I discovered a bunch of Talia Danielses. Who knew?

So I decided to come up with a middle initial. And of course I chose Q, because, well, why not?

My husband, the aforementioned Daniel, scoffed. “What name begins with Q?”

“Quinn.”

“Use that. It sounds better than Q.”

And so Talia Quinn Daniels was born. The first time I said the name aloud was when the RWA board member called to say I was a Golden Heart finalist. It sounded awfully strange in my own ears, but I went with it. I figured I’d get used to it.

Until it came time to design my covers. Turns out Talia Quinn Daniels is an awful lot of letters to fit on a cover that needs to be readable in thumbnail format. The length of the name was crimping my design choices.

And so Talia Quinn was born. It still sounded strange to my ears, but again, I figured I’d get used to it.

Then I looked around and realized just how many other romance authors named Quinn there are. And I started to get “Find out the origin of your name!” Facebook ads talking about its innate Irishness. And, um, well, I’m not Irish. Not anywhere near. That doesn’t have to matter, but somehow it did. Because, by whitewashing my name choice, wasn’t I aiding and abetting the genre’s tendency toward a mainstreamed homogeneity? My real name is almost excessively exotic, and I like that about it.

I realize it’s unusual to change my name at this stage–not to take on a new authorial identity, I mean, but to keep the same one, only shift it slightly. But it feels right. And so I’m now:

Talia Surova.

My mother’s father came to America in 1910 as a nine-year-old boy. When he became an adult, he changed his name from Surovsky to something more Americanized. I’m simply changing it back. Returning to my family roots. So far it sounds a lot less strange to my ears. A lot more like me.

(note: I first posted this on the Firebirds group blog, which is where you’ll find the comments.)

sometimes it really is about the sex

(Note: this was originally posted at the Firebirds group blog.)

About a year ago, I wrote in my journal: “This is probably a very bad idea, but what if I wrote about sex workers? I’d have to do it under a new pen name, of course, but what if?”

And then I sat there and looked at it and blushed.

And then I thought about it some more. I realized I couldn’t write about jaded professionals because, well, that’s not my milieu. But I could write about people dipping their toes in that stream and the complications that ensue. It’s a rich terrain to explore, I think. In part because it makes me a wee bit uncomfortable and therefore makes my characters uncomfortable too.

Romances run the gamut from near-chaste just-kisses to everything-but-the-sex to peeking-through-the-keyhole to, well, flinging that door wide open. But sex—or at least, that lovely physical awareness of each other—is always a factor. Sex can, and usually does, complicate relationships, and sex without love gradually transforms into sex with love. The two are entwined. And yet how often does a romance deal specifically with the sex/love dynamic? Some do, of course, but I think most don’t.

But there’s more to this for me.

Some years ago, I found an anonymous blog written by a graduate student moonlighting as a call girl to make money. She wrote a lot about her clients, mostly about her interactions with them and why they sought her out. It was clear that many of them saw her as a friend and confidante, filling an emotional need, not merely a sexual one.

Then last year, I read a piece in an online magazine by a woman who had been a sex worker (porn star, phone sex worker, and sex therapist, I think) and was now going to school to become a nurse. When she told her friends, they all nodded and said it made perfect sense. She’d always been drawn to the helping professions. Sex worker or nurse—in some unexpected ways, the two are not so far apart.

This is the heart of my new book, Call Me Saffron, and the heart of the series that stems from it. The idea of looking at sex from a different point of view, whether it be through the eyes of someone who pretends to be a call girl, or someone who tries to get a job as a phone sex worker (spoiler: she’s not very good at it), or possibly someone who starts dancing burlesque, with its fascinating blend of artistry and come-hither sexuality. It’s the idea that sex can be both problem and solution. That it can foster intimacy. That it can lead to healing the heart.

Midway through Call Me Saffron, Samantha, my heroine, says, “When I came to your apartment in May, you asked me about myself. You wanted to know who I was before I—before we—”

And Dylan responds, “I’d expected it to be a simple physical release. A way of exorcising the image of Persephone screwing my best friend from my head. But when you walked in, all bravado and vulnerability, I had to know who you were and why you were there. What it meant to you. It turns out that sex is personal.”

Obviously, I didn’t take on a new pen name. As I started writing the book, I realized that it’s still my voice and still very much about the characters’ emotional arcs and their journey toward each other, and that the blatantly sexual situation they’re in is just a jump-start mechanism for this particular story.

I’m exceedingly proud of this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect. And maybe that’s why it worked out.

Here’s the blurb:

Samantha Lilly is in a long-term relationship… with her vibrator. She can’t handle a serious commitment, but casual affairs don’t do it for her either. So she’s resigned herself to being alone.

Her high-priced call-girl roommate Jeanine has other ideas. She persuades Samantha to take her place for one night with Dylan Krause, an incredibly hot prospective client recovering from a messy divorce. She says it’ll be good for Samantha to be with someone without her usual expectations and complications.

It’s more than good. It’s intense, extraordinary, and emotionally devastating. During their long, intimate night together, they bare, not just their bodies, but their souls.

But after that one amazing night, Samantha flees. This feels too real for her. And yet she can’t forget Dylan, even though she tries.

Then one day, he walks into the architecture firm where she works. Seeing him threatens to destroy the careful walls she’s built around her heart—and this time she can’t run away.

Call Me Saffron launches today. I’m running a launch week special discount; it’s 99c for a limited time before it goes up to its normal price. You can find it on AmazonNook, and iBooks.

If you read it, let me know what you think, and if the sex works the way I think it does.

blog tag post: writing process

There’s a blog tag going around the author community exploring everyone’s writing process. I’m sharing mine on the Firebirds group blog, but I thought I’d also post it here for interested readers. A look behind the curtain, if you will.

I was tagged by the awesome Sonali Dev, my Golden Heart 2013 sister (her debut A Bollywood Affair comes out in October) and I’ll tag a couple of writer friends at the bottom of this post.

On to the questions:

1)     What am I working on?

I’m finishing up pre-publication prep on one book, doing my agent’s notes on another, and developing a third. Yes, my head is exploding. But I suspect this is the way of the writer and I have to suck it up and get used to it. Multitasking, I am learning your secrets, yes I am.

First book:

Call Me Saffron, my sexy new contemporary romance. Here’s the blurb:

Samantha Lilly is in a long-term relationship… with her vibrator. She can’t handle a serious commitment, but casual affairs don’t do it for her either. So she’s resigned herself to being alone.

Her call-girl roommate Jeanine has other ideas. She persuades Samantha to take her place for one night with Dylan Krause, an incredibly hot prospective client recovering from a messy divorce. She says it’ll be good for Samantha to be with someone without her usual expectations and complications.

It’s more than good. It’s intense, extraordinary, and emotionally devastating. During their long, intimate night together, they bare, not just their bodies, but their souls.

But after that one amazing night, Samantha flees. This feels too real for her. And yet she can’t forget Dylan, even though she tries.

Then one day, he walks into the architecture firm where she works. Seeing him threatens to destroy the careful walls she’s built around her heart—and this time she can’t run away.

It goes on sale June 9th. It’s Book One in the Greenpoint Pleasures series, which is closely linked with my Greenpoint Artists series, with lots of cross-over characters.

So here’s where I am with it:

Copy edits and proofreading: check. Ebook formatting: check. (Well, mostly.) Cover: check. Book up on NetGalley for reviewers: check.

To do: write acknowledgements page. Format for print. Bite nails to the quick in anticipation of launch. Hold breath in anticipation of same. Release breath, realizing that two weeks is too long to hold my breath. Bite nails some more.

Second book:

My contemporary YA. My fabulous agent has given me excellent notes, the kind that deepen secondary relationships and add richness to the world. The kind that don’t require a major overhaul, but that do require just the right words in the just right spots. In other words, the kind that make me second and third guess myself. But I’m making progress, and this is good.

Third book:

The next one in my Greenpoint Artists series, the sequel to Hold Me Tight. It’s tentatively titled Dream of Me, and is about Georgette, who holds her emotions at bay by psychoanalyzing them to death, and the man she’s only seen in dreams—or so she thinks. It’s not a paranormal story. It may or may not involve a smidge of amnesia. And that’s all I’m saying right now.

The sequel to Call Me Saffron is calling my name, but I’m plugging my ears and ignoring its siren call.

 

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’ll only speak for the romance novels here, not the YA.

I write contemporary romance. It’s a hot subgenre right now, but generally only in two arenas: small town and erotic romance. In the post-Fifty Shades world, the latter usually involves billionaires and BDSM. I have no objection to either type of novel, believe me, but that’s not what I write. I’m a city kid. I grew up in New York City, went to college in Boston, and have lived as an adult in both Los Angeles and New York. I could write a country-set book, sure, and maybe someday I will, but I love my cities. I think the close-knit community exists here, as does local color. And it’s what I know well.

I also tend to write prickly or difficult women who guard their hearts, paired with not-alpha-but-not-beta-either guys who often have a strong nurturing streak. Is that unusual? I’m not sure, but maybe?

 

3)     Why do I write what I do?

I love reading all kinds of romance—and all kinds of books, for that matter. But you have to adore research to write historical, and you have to excel at world-building to write paranormal, and you have to love kink to write erotic. I like writing books that take place here and now, with real-world problems, but with a fairy-tale sense of slightly heightened reality.

 

4)     How does my writing process work?

I’ve always thought that writing fiction is a balance between left brain and right brain. This pretty much defines my process. I’m not exactly a plotter and I’m not exactly a pantser. I’ve written extensively detailed synopses (on What’s Yours is Mine), but I’ve also written out just a few pages of thoughts before starting (on Draw Me In).

In general, I get the kernel of the conflict or inciting incident and open up a brainstorming file on my computer, where I ask myself tons of questions about plot, character and conflict. When I start thinking about it while taking a shower and riding the subway and making dinner, I know I’m onto something. When I’m too impatient to wait any longer, I start writing the manuscript, which carries with it all those writerly why-did-I-think-this-was-a-good-idea moments interspersed with spots of pure joy. Then one day, I write the last words and close the file.

And then open it again for the first revision.

Then I give it to my spouse, who reads it and gives me feedback. He’s a fabulous first reader, because he works in TV editing and is aware of emotional throughlines and is able to analyze when he’s falling out of the story and why.

Then I rewrite the sucker.

Then I give to a few trusted beta readers who are also writers.

Then I do their feedback.

Then I give it to my editor, who is my copy editor, but also has a really good eye for when something is going to feel off to a romance reader.

Then I do her notes.

Then she gives it to the proofreader.

Then I do those edits.

Then I’m done and the characters go off and live their lives. And I miss them but wish them well in their new life together.

Then I open up a new brainstorming file and do it all over again.

 

I’m tagging two of my favorite writers:

Firebird/Lucky 13 sister—and six-time Golden Heart finalist—romantic suspense writer Sharon Wray, whose blog posts always touch my heart and make me cry in the best way.

And Firebird sister, historical romance writer Kathleen Bittner Roth, who has such maturity and insight, she too makes me choke up, and who has sixteen kajillion lovely historicals coming out this year (or possibly just six) from Kensington and Entangled, with the first to be released on June 9th.

Look for their posts next week on their blogs.

introducing Call Me Saffron

My next book now has a Goodreads page. With a description and everything. (But no cover yet. Cover reveal will be May 16th. Stay tuned!)

Here’s the blurb:

Samantha Lilly is in a long-term relationship… with her vibrator. She can’t handle a serious commitment, but casual affairs don’t do it for her either. So she’s resigned herself to being alone.

Her call-girl roommate Jeanine has other ideas. She persuades Samantha to take her place for one night with Dylan Krause, an incredibly hot prospective client recovering from a messy divorce. She says it’ll be good for Samantha to be with someone without her usual expectations and complications.

It’s more than good. It’s intense, extraordinary, and emotionally devastating. During their long, intimate night together, they bare, not just their bodies, but their souls.

But after that one amazing night, Samantha flees. This feels too real for her. And yet she can’t forget Dylan, even though she tries.

Then one day, he walks into the architecture firm where she works. Seeing him threatens to destroy the careful walls she’s built around her heart—and this time she can’t run away.

 ~*~

It’s sexy and emotional, and I loved writing it. It was a singular experience. Every time I thought I knew what happened next, I was wrong. I went through half a dozen discarded outlines, but you know? The book is way better than if I’d stuck to my original plan. Samantha and Dylan knew what they felt, and what they were going to do next. Better than I did. And they were right.

Call Me Saffron is not technically part of the Greenpoint Artists series. Instead, it’s Book One of a companion series, the Greenpoint Pleasures series. Samantha is not an artist, but she does live in the same neighborhood. In fact, Alanna from Hold Me Tight and her friend Georgette drop by at one point for poker and pizza with a side order of commiseration.

  ~*~

Call Me Saffron will go on sale June 9th. Stay tuned for excerpts and something else… what was it? Right, that cover! (Yes, I’m excited. Maybe. A little.) (More than a little.)

Georgette’s story

So you may be wondering what I’m working on next. Well, there are two answers to this.

First, in Hold Me Tight, we met Alanna’s studio-mate and best friend, Georgette Soren. Georgette is a down-to-earth, centered psychology grad student who loves painting but sees it as a hobby.

Lately, Georgette’s been having these strange dreams about a man who seems to be going through some kind of emotional angst. And, of course, since she’s an artist, she paints the subject of these powerfully evocative dreams, as in this moment from Hold Me Tight:

A man dressed in torn blue jeans and a wrinkled button-down shirt crouched in a stark, empty room, clutching his head like he had the mother of all headaches. The man had dark, unruly hair and a wild-eyed expression, but he was dead sexy in a Byronic sort of way.

Alanna whistled. “That’s not Sam.”

Georgette put down her brush. Her hair was falling down around her face in dark kinks, and she had a slash of paint across her nose and another on her cheek. She looked like a madwoman herself. “I know! I dreamed it, and I had to paint. He seemed so real. I could see his stubble, Alanna. And this crease on his cheek where he’d been lying for too long.” She shook her head. “The subconscious is a powerful thing.”

Georgette has taken classes in dream analysis. Georgette understands dreams. Dreams are symbolic. They are never real. Strangers in dreams are people who don’t exist.

Except when they do.

The book is tentatively titled Warm Me Up, and should be ready to publish in early summer.

I’ve got another book in the works, which will be done sooner. It’s not a direct sequel in the Greenpoint Artists series, more like a sideways one. Alanna and Georgette appear in this book, and characters from this one appear in Georgette’s story. Think of it as two series that cross-populate. Cross pollinate. (Crisscross?) It’s a sexy concept and a psychologically complex book. I’m loving writing it. I’ll tell you more about it soon. Expect it out this spring.