Friday, February 4, 2011

Welcome to Lily Harlem

Lily Harlem is an award winning author who lives in the UK with a workaholic hunk and a crazy ginger cat. Several years ago she swapped working on a hospital ward for sitting at a desk overlooking farmland. Now she allows her imagination to run free and wild, revelling in using the written word as an outlet for her creativity. In her spare time she loves to paint, horse ride and take trips to the movies to immerse herself in yet more fiction. You can find Lily’s stories at Ellora’s Cave, Total-E-Bound and Xcite as well as in numerous US and UK anthologies.

Creative writing - erotic romance by Lily Harlem
Thanks so much for having me at ‘Heroines with Hearts’ it’s great to be here. I’m going to chat just for a moment about my writing and then share some thoughts and tips which I hope will be of interest and will work in any genre.

For the last few years I’ve been happily immersed in the world of writing erotic romance. People often shy away from the word erotic – and so they should if they are under 18! Pure erotica, as a simple description, is a graphic story about a person’s journey of sexual discovery. Erotic romance is your typical person-meets-person, they fall in love, have hot sex – which the reader gets to hear all about - then live happily ever, or at least happy for now. I’ve settled into writing ‘contemporary’ erotic romance, my couple, nearly always heterosexual, are in the present day, they don’t have fangs or howl at a full moon, or conjure up fantasy figures from the past to whisk them off their feet, no, I write about the first, dizzy rush of passion becoming forever in the world in which I live. I read other stuff, paranormal, historical, but contemporary is my preference for writing. Take a look at my website to get a feel for my books and see what I have coming soon – again only if you are over 18, whilst there’s nothing explicit on my site, some of the links will take you to erotically romantic excerpts. So, with the term erotic out of the way, lets get down to the creative part. On the very first day of my creative writing course at university, the lecturer scrawled on the board with a flamboyant flourish – “Willing suspension of disbelief.” I was hooked (excuse the pun!) not only by what this meant, but the fact that I’d been doing it every day, for years and years, without even knowing it had a name. Whenever I read a book, watched a movie, went to see a play, I was willing suspending my disbelief, allowing myself to become immersed in a story I knew was fiction, I was investing in characters who I was well aware weren’t real.

So if readers understand that the plot and the characters are all a figment of the author’s imagination does this mean that as writers we can have loose endings or feeble characters? – of course not! Readers want to be fooled but they’re not daft. They want to believe in their disbelief. Which means a writer has to be skilled in planning his/her plot and prepared to go back over it with obsessive scrutiny. He/she should know her characters so well they lift off the page. The things they say and do should flow and shouldn’t be jarring – for example, if Ted is always relaxed and easy going and suddenly starts stomping around the reader will want to know why. If the author doesn’t give a reason – say, his pet hamster just died – then a niggle will be playing in the back of their mind, they’ll be wondering what is happening to Ted. If this is never explained the book becomes an unsatisfactory read. It ‘is’ of course a great way to introduce a new part of the plot. Perhaps Ted is having an affair and his mistress is putting pressure on him to leave his wife. He’s stomping around but snaps to his wife that he ‘is okay’. Now his actions are not matching his words, a very useful tool in creative writing, it hints that there’s an undercurrent of unease, or a mystery, or sexual tension. Now your reader is reading between the lines and your character is becoming three dimensional.

When I started writing romance, and especially the sexy elements of the stories, I soon learned what sort of phrases worked and what didn’t, what situations were unbearably clichéd. I did this mainly by reading the genre but also with the use of a crit partner who told me kindly but firmly when something was not a romantic expression but a toe-curlingly embarrassing example of purple prose. Many publishers of erotica and erotic romance and romance have lists of the big NO NO words and expressions – I won’t give details of my Ellora’s Cave ones here though because they’re rude!! But whatever you write it is well worth having someone you trust take a look at it before you submit. Try and be open-minded about feedback and don’t be too precious about every single word you’ve written. Sometimes it just has to go!

Something which I learned very early on in any genre of creative writing is the importance of using all the senses. I’m sure you’ve all talked about that a lot here at ‘Heroines with Hearts’. Touch and sight are the two senses which most people gravitate to, but sound, smell and taste have an important role to play. It is well worth using them in all manner of situations and try mixing and matching. For example – “As she stepped into the silent back room of the cathedral the scent of incense laced her tongue.” Three senses are covered in one sentence, sound, smell and taste. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the environment your character is in, work through your own senses and then just write it down, whatever you feel, smell, taste etc. But if the sense thing still doesn’t come, go back through a story and deliberately add it in. Sometimes it can be as simple as describing the scent of your heroine’s hair, pick a nice fruity shampoo if that suits her personality, or for him, choose a sexy spice for his aftershave, say cinnamon or sandalwood. These little points can really make a story come to life but like eye colour, you only need to mention it once or twice in a whole novel.

Here are some more quick tips I use when I write, maybe I’m a bit kooky but hey, it works for me -
When writing dialogue just go for it, let it flow out of your fingers as fast as you would speak. Don’t even think about speech marks and punctuation, or if he’s scratching his head and she’s licking her lips, you can add all that in afterwards – dialogue moves the story forward and if you can get it flowing naturally then you’re onto a winner.

Don’t get bogged down with adverbs, eg. he groaned ‘loudly’, she panted ‘heavily’, it’s considered much less lazy to write ‘his groans were loud in her ear’ or ‘her heavy pants filled the small space’. There’s usually a way to describe your scene better if you circle around the adverb and it will make the story meatier.

Let a story brew in your head. Have the idea, jot it down if you need to, and then sit quietly and play out the scenes like watching a film in your imagination. It will give you a clear picture of what you want to achieve in your writing and help you with the tiny details.

If the house is quiet make the most of the peace and get busy getting those words down! You can iron and dust and cook with everyone around chattering and demanding help with homework and lifts to friends and clubs. Writing, for me at least, requires silence, so silence has become a very valuable commodity in my life.

Incubate the final product. When it’s written tuck it aside, for a few days, longer if you can, then go back to it. I can guarantee you’ll spot silly mistakes, inconsistencies or simply find better word choices to slot in. There’s nothing worse than sending a manuscript off and then on a re-read seeing stupid errors. In fact now, when something has gone I refuse to look at it again unless it’s with an editor.

I hope that some of my ramblings have been of use or at the very least interesting. If you are keen to find out more about writing erotic romance then the Erotic Readers and Writers Association is a great resource for hot romance and erotica and also lists open calls for submissions and contests.

But most of all, above and beyond publishing and contests, enjoy writing and never, ever, give up believing and embracing your skills and talent in whatever genre you’ve settled in.
Lily Harlem
Winner of the 2009 Love Honey Award for Erotic Fiction

Thank you very much for being with us today, Lily - and for giving us so much food for thought! We wish you every success with your books.

Here is some information about Lily’s books:
She had a new release out on 27th Jan at Ellora’s Cave called Mirror Music - the second novella in a set of three about the London rock and roll scene, the first being Mattress Music and the third Ménage a Music (no release date on that one yet).

Mattress Music – first in series out last November –
Lately, Nina’s fun weekend hook-ups have been more ho-hum than hot damn! It doesn’t help that she has three flatmates and is forced to play loud music to mask the sounds of her lovemaking. Talk about distracting! Of course, there’s another reason Nina’s less than satisfied these days…she’s just having a hard time admitting it.
It’s a good thing she’s met Ian, then. Not content to be a weekend hook-up, Ian is set on giving Nina what she’s been missing while making her admit what she needs. His talented fingers—and other body parts—are up to the task. But Ian’s not admitting a few things himself. Turns out his fingers can do more than make Nina’s body sing.
When she discovers his secret, it’s time for both of them to face the music.

Mirror Music – new release out 27 Jan 2011-
As Robbie Harding belts out hit song Jenny to a packed Wembley Stadium, my heart tears, my mind fudges and my insides heat to a lusty, pulsing boiling point.
Why me more than the other 90,000 screaming fans?
Because I’m Jenny—he’s singing about me.
The guy is sex on legs with a voice to match and has starred in all my hot dreams since the day boys became interesting. For three precious years, it was more than hot dreams. Turns out he wants me back in his life and his bed. How can I resist?
So with lots of naked, sweaty and downright dirty time to make up for, I wield my backstage pass, hunt him down and refuse to be star-struck by the boy next door. Seems Robbie agrees, as he insists on tuning in to my needs and rediscovering our rhythm before we even reach a bedroom.


  1. I am absolutely thrilled to be here at Heroines with Hearts, there are so many fab posts to read as I scroll down the page :-)

    Also, the last in my musical series, 'Ménage a Music' has just been given a release date of the 1st March, which means that soon the whole set will be available. Phew! Its been hard going working with rock stars, they get a little unruly at times!

    Lily x

  2. Some excellent tips, Lily for which I for one thank you.

    Your pointing out what erotic romance is was useful too. Totally absorbing.

    Thank you for being with us and for sharing so generously.

  3. I don't write erotica, but I enjoyed reading your post.

  4. Lily,
    Great article on erotic romance writing. Excellent tips for any writier. Congratulations on your Love Honey Award and on all of your releases (you've got a nice list of books). Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  5. Thanks so much for your kind words. Writing has become totally consuming for me and I wonder how I filled the time before it took over - reading probably! LOL

  6. Great post, Lily. As a writer in the same genre I appreciate your words :)

  7. Lily, thank you for being here today! I haven't yet been able to visualize an entire story like a film, but I can compose scenes like that. Do you jot down a plot outline or story arc before you actually write?

  8. Hi Ana, I usually have a plot outline written down and in my head several pretty detailed scenes spinning around. I find as I'm writing the extra bits come together as long as I have a clear idea of my characters.

    Hey, Avril, great to see you here.

    Lily x

  9. Hi Lily, and welcome to HWH.

    Great write-up and informative, too!

    It may sound weird, but I cut my writing teeth on detached wild erotic themes: no long-term relationships involved. I then switched to romantic entanglements and indepth love affairs. Now I don't write or read erotica as such, I incorporate it into mainstream romances. ;)


  10. GREAT, informative post Lily! Thanks for sharing!

    hugs, Kari Thomas

  11. Great tips, Lily! And congrats on your recent and upcoming releases!

  12. Hi Lily,

    Sorry I'm so late chiming in...I've been away from computer access all day.

    Thanks for joining us here at Heroines with Hearts. Great post!

  13. Great tips, Lily! You sure know what you're doing. I always have to go on an adverb-hunt when I'm done with a rough draft. ;) And your advice about the incubation period is spot on. Thanks for the post!

  14. Hi Lily,
    Great blog and some very worthwhile tips.Thank you.



  15. Thanks so much for having me. Hope some of the tips were useful.

    Happy reading and writing.

    Lily x