Part of the reason I keep a blog is to amplify new young sexy scribes like V.K. Torston. The author’s debut novel, Defiant Attraction (which is available for preorder!), tells the story of Sophia & Daniel – two arch enemies who find a common bond in confronting their parents…and comforting each other. Hot!
V.K. joins me on the blog today to hilariously dish about reality in romance, J.K. Rowling, and the challenges women writers face from a demanding industry.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m one of those rare born-and-bred San Franciscans, currently home-sharing with three other women, our three cats, and a pesky mouse all seven of us have so far failed to catch. Most days, I’m either watching local bands stumble through their sets, helping raise my small army of nieces and nephews, or climbing a scaffold in Painter’s Whites dreaming up sexy stories.
What do you love most about the craft of writing?
There always comes a point during the first draft where the story takes over and starts writing itself. This is when it really gets good, because I feel like I’m watching it play out rather than creating it. Plot points and character details I’d never planned emerge. The finished draft ends up a thousand times more interesting and complex than any outline I could have planned.
And darker. I never intend for my stories to be as angsty as they turn out! I blame Reality. As soon as the story and characters become real to me, I remember just how frustrating and complicated and beautiful “realistic” is.
Tell us about your latest project.
My upcoming novel, Defiant Attraction tells the story of two young adults in a working class suburb of Detroit. At the beginning of the novel, soon-to-be Valedictorian, Sophia Ramos and recent high school dropout, Daniel Cole have already been living together for three years. The relationship between Sophie’s mom and Dan’s dad has long-since deteriorated, but they have neither the money nor the motivation to officially break up and live separately.
As their respective parents’ alcoholism catapults an already precarious household deeper into dysfunction, Sophie and Dan set aside years of rivalry to form an unlikely alliance. Attraction soon sparks between them. Romance and rebellion twist together. When rumors fly as fast as internet connections, their passion becomes an unstoppable force smashing into an immovable object.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I think it must have been the day I finished my second manuscript. When I finished my first manuscript, I just assumed it had been a fluke I would never be able to replicate. And I think there’s a reason for that…
In the last couple of years, I’ve become conscious of a trend when it comes to creative women. Whether she’s a fine artist or a musician or an author, critics hesitate–especially if she’s under thirty. Her novel might be a NYT bestseller, her album might amass a devoted fanbase, her exhibit might be praised by every important name in the art world. Critics will always force feed us that same grain of salt: But can she follow it up?
The implication here is, “Maybe she isn’t actually that talented, that smart, that savvy. Maybe she just stumbled onto something good, and the chances of another such lucky accident are low.”
If I never again see the phrase “only time will tell” in another review of a young woman’s work, it’ll be too soon.
~’Romance and Erotica provide windows into the untold stories of others, as well as ourselves.’~
What drew you to writing romance?
Literature has always been a jealously guarded world. Agents and publishing houses acted as gatekeepers, deciding which stories got told and which authors told them. Writers of a certain profile dominated this system: white, male, expensively educated, and “connected”. Stories that spoke to a different experience or came from a different place were–with relatively few exceptions–shafted.
With the rise of e-readers, authors no longer need publishers to front the initial investment of printing a book. Pretty much anyone can write and publish. The resulting system is proving both more democratic and more inclusive. Any identity and any experience now has a platform. More types of stories get told. Romance has been the clear leader of this movement, and has encouraged expansion in other genres as well.
More importantly, Romance has always been primarily By Women, For Women, and romance novels remain the most popular medium for exploring female desire. One by-product of the self-publishing democracy has been the increase in explicitly sexual material. Personally, I believe this mainstreaming of erotic content puts women back in control of their sexualities.
Until basically Now, female sexuality has mostly been viewed through the male gaze, for male pleasure. Erotic literature gives women an outlet for individual sexual expression and an opportunity to consciously examine their desires.
In short: Romance and Erotica provide windows into the untold stories of others, as well as ourselves. And isn’t that what literature is all about?
Which books have influenced your writing style the most?
I’d be lying if I didn’t give primary credit to the inimitable, J.K. Rowling. As a member of the “Potter Generation,” I grew up with her stories, and their effect on me has been profound. Rowling is a master of storytelling and characterization, as well as a keen social observer. Re-reading her Potter series to my sister’s kids, I’ve come to better appreciate her subtly dazzling prose (though I will say, I think she deserved a better editor). I’m also a huge fan of Rowling’s post-Potter novels for adults–like The Casual Vacancy, which she published under her own name, and her Cormoran Strike series under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Everything she writes is deeply humanistic and nuanced.
In terms of conscious influences, I draw heavily from the techniques of poetry and music. When I write, I’m very conscious of the sounds of words and rhythm of sentences. I also appreciate how economical poetry and lyrics have to be, so I challenge myself to engage complex feelings and ideas succinctly. Beyonce’s world-shakingly brilliant visual album, Lemonade definitely affected the way I use language. My primary work-in-progress, a companion book to Defiant Attraction presented through Dan’s journal entries, includes a motif inspired by the line, “Grief, sedated by orgasm / Orgasm, heightened by grief.”
Share a piece of your work that showcases your writing style best.
The following is an excerpt from the fifth chapter of Defiant Attraction, “Snapdragon”…
Soon we’re driving west, past gas station spires and red-brick auto body shops. Hand-painted signs fade on the facades of industrial buildings and determined blades of grass battle cracked concrete. Power lines rise and fall between skeletal towers. The sky stretches out above us, the same bright blue as our westbound Chevrolet.
I rifle through the glove compartment and sample his tape collection, mostly scratchy demos of his friends’ bands. A familiar orange-and-yellow case makes me smile—Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside. I must have left it there ages ago. Back when I made a hobby of annoying him, I used to crank the volume and sing along to Wuthering Heights in a shrill falsetto while he begged me to stop. It strikes me now that Heathcliff was adopted by Cathy’s family, ostensibly making him her stepbrother. I sincerely hope our similarity to those characters begins and ends there.
Stretching my arm out the open window, I let my hand rise and fall against the wind. I can’t remember a time when no one knew where I was—could never guess. There are no boundaries anymore. I feel as limitless as the sky.
Name three of your best writing tips.
1) Don’t talk about what you want to write–just write it! Talking is an outlet; it lets the steam out. You need that buildup of pressure to propel the story onto the page.
2) Start writing as soon as inspiration sparks. If you labor over your concept for weeks or months, you’ll find yourself frustrated when you start drafting. (Guess who’s super bad at taking her own advice here).
3) Think of description as a storytelling tool, not a decoration. Instead of going back and dusting your draft with adjectives, use specific sensory details to tell your story.
4) (BONUS!) If you look back at old writing and feel embarrassed by how bad it is, be proud of how much you’ve improved!
Dead or alive, name the writer you wish were your mentor and why.
I’m gonna have to bring it back to my main girl, J.K. Rowling! Not only is she uncommonly practiced (she’s published over a million words of fiction) she has continued to release novels regularly even though she donates all new profits. She truly writes because she wants to, and not just to pay the bills.
Most importantly, I admire Rowling as a person, as a thinker, and as a humanitarian. And she’s funny. There are so many amazing writers, both living and dead, but J.K. Rowling is someone I know I’d enjoy spending time with.
What would you say is your own interesting writing quirk?
I make silly faces and do weird hand gestures! My expression always matches the mood of what I’m writing, and when I’m trying to find a word or capture an idea, I have a habit of acting it out. If someone walked in on me while I was absorbed in a scene, they might find me grimacing like a loon and waving my arms around! (This has happened…)
Shout out an indie author’s who work you love.
There are so, so many, but If I have to narrow it down:
B.B. Easton taught me that it’s okay to break convention. Brittainy Cherry taught me that authors don’t have to distance themselves from their work. Saffron A. Kent taught me that heroines can be messy. Miranda Silver taught me that “erotic” doesn’t have to mean “not literary.” Mara White taught me that I can read anything–even exceptionally taboo and deeply challenging stories–if the writing is as stunning as hers. Every single one of these women taught me to be bold, to be smart, and to be myself.
And I have to give ultimate credit to Penelope Ward, groundbreaker of the contemporary Stepbrother Romance genre, and godmother to countless thousands of copycats. Were it not for her classic, Stepbrother Dearest and the seismic impact that novel had, I wouldn’t have these tropes to play with and subvert.
Do you have any specific writing goals in your radar?
I have a handful of works-in-progress I’ve been alternately plugging away at. Most are Contemporary New Adult romances in the style of Defiant Attraction, but I’ve been experimenting with other genres as well. One is a madcap time travel mafia thriller romance, and allegory about the immigrant experience. One is an Edwardian era Gothic Romance about ethnic identity. One is a political campaign drama Billionaire Romance inspired by my time as a progressive Field Organizer. The Diary of Daniel Cole will definitely come out next year.
But In the words of dismissive critics everywhere, “only time will tell!”
Thanks for joining us today. Readers, feel free to stalk this sexy author at the following links: