Monday, July 14, 2014

Jay Hartlove: Taking Readers Out of Their Comfort Zone for Fun & Profit

[WARNING: Contains excerpts from stories that contain mermaid sex and violence and all the other fun things to write about.]

I like fiction that takes me places and gives me experiences I am not likely to get in real life. While I appreciate good storytelling and prose in any genre, I tend to spend my very limited reading time going places and doing things beyond my normal experience. So I am naturally attracted to genres with lots of imagination like science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I also like being excited about my fiction so I am also a fan of stories that push me to an edge and dare me to look down. Imaginative roller coasters have my name all over them.

You write what you know, so that’s also what I write. I am currently writing the third in a series of supernatural thrillers called The Isis Rising Trilogy. The first book, The Chosen, came out in 2011. The second one, Daughter Cell, came out in 2013. I am planning a 2015 release for Isis Rising. Thriller is the genre of danger. Throughout all three books, I keep my characters in an almost constant state of danger.

Because these books have a strong supernatural bent, folks have been tempted to call them horror. No doubt, horrible things happen. Horror has certain conventions that these books do not always follow. The labels are of course for marketing, trying to get found by the audience most likely to want to read them.

The horror label got me thinking about genre conventions. Even the thriller label carries certain expectations. If someone does not like roller coasters, then they will not want to try your roller coaster, even if it is the best one ever built. In fact, if it is the best one ever built, a non-aficionado will hate it even more. The same is true of thrillers. The same is true of horror.

What distinguishes these? What makes these genres love ‘em or hate ‘em? I think these genres take people out of their comfort zone. You get to go somewhere you are really glad to be able to come home from. It’s a great ride but you wouldn’t want to live there because it’s just too much. Readers who like being made uncomfortable, nervous, and on the edge of their seat are the ones who will flock to writing that pushes them there. If you’re not up for the challenge, then these genres are not for you.

To test my hypothesis, I looked around for another genre that also takes people out of their comfort zone, that is loved by devotees but generally avoided by folks who can’t handle it. I didn’t have to look very far. Erotica does the same.

While I was tightening up my courage to start the concluding book in the thriller series, I needed to take a break from piling on the expectations and let my subconscious percolate. So I took on a complete change of pace and started a fantasy romance. I wanted it to be a challenge, so I decided to publish it online for free in serial form as I wrote it. No going back, warts and all. The book is called Mermaid Steel and it is two-thirds done. It has been a blast.

I was advised early on by friends who read romances, that there is a fine line between romance and erotica, defined only by degree. So don’t be shy. This is a fantasy revolving around a romance, I protested. Don’t be shy, I was told, the readers will feel cheated if you don’t leave the lights on. Okay.

So here is my evidence to test the hypothesis. Below are excerpts from three of my books. The horror entry is the closing portion of the rather famous dentist chair scene from The Chosen. The thriller entry is a snake attack scene from Daughter Cell. The erotica entry is sex on the beach with a mermaid from Mermaid Steel. Although they take different paths, they all take you out of your comfort zone, get you excited, and then let you come back to your comfort zone satisfied. Read on and you decide.

Horror: The Chosen

After carefully peeling away the last layer of meninges from Bailey’s exposed brain, Silas checked his watch and verified he was still within schedule. His surgical gloves were covered with so much blood, he had to wipe his wrist clean on his right arm sleeve to see the watch through the latex. He surveyed his work to make sure the forceps clamps were holding as they squeezed off the blood vessels all the way around the edge of the sawed open skull. The long handles of the forceps, with their round finger holes, radiated out from his head to form a flower-like chrome crown that glistened in the intense white light of the swing arm exam lamp. The pinkish-gray brain had collapsed slightly since most of its usually supportive cerebro-spinal fluid had spilled out.

Silas pushed back the now gore-soaked gauze headband and verified that the flesh below the opening was still engorged and alive. He stepped to the sink and rinsed the blood off his gloved hands before exiting to the front office.

He returned with a blank sheet of typing paper and a large marker. He drew a single wide black line down the middle of the page and set it aside.

Then he peeled off his right latex glove and opened his mechanical hand. A sour yet slightly floral smell filled the air as he undid the locks and cracked open the large, bulbous center body of the prosthesis, exposing his normal sized, flesh and blood right hand cradled inside. As he lifted his hand out, the soft, form fitting plastic liner glistened with the wetness of low pH saline. So did the electrodes that filled the wrist area and, when closed, operated the mechanical hand from Silas’s nerve impulses without the need of moving his fingers. He inhaled sharply when the cool air hit his oversensitive skin. With his skin continuously treated by the ancient recipe of herbal solutions that circulated within the metal glove, and with no physical sensation allowed to raise the trigger thresholds of his nerves, his pink, printless hand was a direct open link to his nervous system. He smiled at the wisdom of purposely handicapping himself to gain this unique tool. He thought of the times he had used his hand in magical divinations.

Clearly, this would be the best use of it yet.

After running the water in the sink until it felt warm to his left hand, he gently rinsed the herbal solution from his right. He left the deactivated metal hand on the counter and stepped to a spot behind and slightly to the left of the dentist’s chair. He ignored the squishing sound his Vibram-soled wingtips made as he walked in the now enormous sticky pool of fluids and gore that had run down Bailey’s naked body and onto the black linoleum floor.

“Major Bailey, this is Silas Alverado. Return now to your previous state of perfect concentration. You still feel no pain and no physical sensation and you are mentally alert.” With his left hand he held the sheet of paper up about a foot in front of Bailey’s face with the line vertical. “Open your eyes and focus on the line.”

Silas very gently set his right hand down over the left rear portion of the major’s brain. He closed his eyes and calibrated the mental image of the vertical line to the pattern of nerve impulses he was feeling on Bailey’s visual cortex. When this image was clear he rotated the page so the line was diagonal, readjusted the image, and finally moved it to horizontal and did the same.

“Continue looking straight ahead,” was Silas’s command as he dropped the page out of Bailey’s sight. It took a moment to sort out the deluge of signals and visualize individual edges and shapes. Little by little he became familiar with the patterns of the countertops and cabinets that Bailey faced. Fine tuning the calibration, he began filling in textures, shades and shadows. Lawrence’s dead body slumped on the floor came into focus. Hints of color surfaced in the image. “Without moving your head, look around and describe to me what you see.”

“My name is Gregory Bailey and you are wasting your time.”

Silas laughed a quiet, gravelly chuckle as he, standing there with his eyes closed, watched through his victim’s eyes and saw every detail of the room in front of them.

“Now close your eyes and imagine yourself standing in front of the British Museum.”

After an hour of having the Major walk him through all the parts of the security system he needed to know, Silas sighed and allowed himself a moment to run it all through his mind again. He had clairvoyantly walked through the museum earlier that evening. But for some reason that he could not explain, there had been large parts of the security plan that he couldn’t fathom through astral inspection. This session had been a lot more work than he had hoped, but Major Bailey had filled in all the gaps.

He was about to lift his hand off the man’s brain when he was seized by a startling realization. In all his lifelong study of the occult, in all his learning of mankind’s beliefs and fears, never had he found a better opportunity to experience the most elusive process of all: death.

Not wanting to break the finely tuned connection between his right palm and Bailey’s brain, Silas opened his eyes and looked around to see what was within reach of his left hand. The assortment of instruments on the counter was too far away so he had to settle for the blood covered scalpel sitting in the chair’s ceramic rinse bowl. Silas considered his options and decided oxygen deprivation to the brain would give him the most controlled situation.

He realized that even under deep hypnosis the heart’s rapid beating response to raised levels of carbon dioxide would be difficult to control. He needed to prevent a runaway heartbeat. His target was clear.

“Major Bailey, you are now back in the room with me. You will continue to feel nothing, but concentrate on seeing everything that passes before you with objective, crystal clarity. Keep your eyes closed and think only of the images that appear to you.”

Silas regretted not having time to do anything for the man’s soul; he was after all an enemy of Rome and Israel. He was glad Bailey had such a strong spirit, and he wished the Major well in the upcoming war in heaven.

When he “saw” Bailey had properly emptied his mind and was waiting for visual stimuli, he reached around in front of his victim and plunged the scalpel directly into the man’s heart. With his left hand he felt the big man’s powerful heart muscle on the other end of the knife spasm deeply once, twice, and then go still. He was pleased to feel no indication that the pain of this fatal wound had made it past the lower brain centers up to the hypnotically controlled cortex under his right hand.

At first the mental vision remained blank. Despite all the dispassionate science and methodology he had employed to get to this point, Silas couldn’t help but feel awash in giddy anticipation at what he was about to witness. He had treated this man’s body like meat to get the information he wanted, but now this stranger he had butchered was going to take him on a trip no one had ever traveled without tempting their own mortality.

Silas had spiritually voyaged beyond his body many times, including visits to the Land of the Dead. But the nature of the final one way trip, the path of the severed life thread, the voyage of the Ka unfettered, was something he could only dream of, until now. Sweat broke out all over Silas’ body and his lips trembled in a nervous, blissful smile. His excitement was so complete that, for the first time in years, his loins warmed and swelled. He waited and waited for the man to die.

Just as he was growing concerned that something was amiss, he caught a glimpse of a view of the room, but from a point high above Major Bailey, looking back down at the two of them. Since this was the typical start for an out-of-body experience, Silas waited for what would come next.

Then the image faded and nothing took its place. He pressed his hand harder onto the surface of the brain, fearful that somehow the connection had slipped. When this didn’t help he opened his eyes and checked it.

Cold, ugly, disappointment swept his joy away and left him feeling cheated. There was nothing wrong with the major’s cortex, it was his hand. He pushed down with a pressure that surely should have inflicted great pain on his oversensitive skin and it only hurt mildly. He had been touching the cortex too long and his nerves had fired too much, which raised their triggering thresholds too high for him to be able to sense the impulses of Bailey’s brain.

He arrested the raging temptation to vent his anger and dash the major’s brains across the room with his left fist. Instead, he lifted his now desensitized hand off the brain and quietly sighed while surveying the carnage of his dead victim.

It was as if he were seeing the hideous scene, with its stench of stale incense, urine, blood, and flowery herbs for the first time. The brilliant white light from the dentist’s chair swing arm lamp that had helped him so much in his surgery, now glistened off every blood smeared surface and brought every detail into gruesome clarity.

None of this bothered him as much as his disappointment at the failed death viewing. He calmed himself with the assurance that the knowledge he had gained from this session was ultimately much more valuable than even witnessing death second hand. He could, after all, always try it on someone else some other time.

He did nothing by way of hiding evidence; there was none to implicate him. In fact, he would be on his way back to the Caribbean by the time the bodies were discovered. When he washed his right hand and put it back in its metal surrogate, he was disappointed to find some blood had gotten past the rubber apron and stained his yellow silk tie.

Thriller: Daughter Cell

Three steps inside her front door, she dropped her large, black, bucket-like Coach purse by the couch and headed for the kitchen. She caught a flash of green out of the corner of her eye which propelled her into adrenaline focus. A thin green snake with brown markings had struck out from under the couch and sunk its fangs into the leather of her purse. She leapt back and sucked in a terrified gulp of air all in one motion. The snake immediately pulled back under the couch. It moved alarmingly fast.

Unfortunately, Sanantha was now in the dining area and couldn’t see around the

couch to tell if the snake had stayed under or moved out into the living room. She knew from childhood experience in Haiti not to underestimate the speed of poisonous snakes. She also remembered to fight the panic, keep her cool, and use whatever resources she had at hand. She had a hard time getting past her pounding heart and shaking hands to pull herself together.

She considered just leaving and calling an exterminator. The government was already investigating her. Could she afford being drawn into a criminal investigation now that someone was clearly trying to kill her? She didn’t have much time to decide between the unknown quantity of the police or the known quantity of the snake.

She ran into the kitchen and pulled a sponge mop and a broom out of the small broom closet. She then approached the back of the couch sweeping the broom enticingly along the edge where the snake had struck. As she prepared to bring the sponge mop down to pin its neck, the snake flashed around the end of the couch and came straight at her.

“Mon dieu!” She leapt up over the back of the couch and stood on the cushions

looking down over the back. The three and a half foot long snake reared up in pursuit but wavered, unable to make the vertical climb. Sanantha swung the sponge mop head round and swatted the snake as hard as she could into the dining room.

“You’re not putting me on the defensive,” she said through clenched teeth.

She chased the snake around the corner, her two long weapons ready out in front of her. The snake wasn’t in the dining room. There was nothing for it to hide under, so it had either gone into the kitchen or down the hall into the bedroom. She really hoped it hadn’t gone down the hall, because that meant way too many hiding places. She advanced on the kitchen. As soon as she peaked around the counter, the snake hurled itself at her. She jumped back out of the way, and it raced past her and down the hall.


She didn’t want to give it time to find a good hiding place, so she chased after it. Thankfully it had gone into the small office and not her bedroom - fewer things to hide under. She considered closing the door and giving it a few minutes to calm down. She knew snakes like this one could go from calm to killer in an instant. She respected the snake and wanted to do right by it. After all, her Voodoo gods often appeared as snakes.

On the other hand, no amount of respect was going to dissuade its interest in killing her.

The space under the standing bookshelf was too low for such a muscular creature. That left the computer desk. It was long enough that she could guess wrong on which end it was under. She poked at the carpet in front of the desk with the broom while

holding the sponge mop up in her fist at the ready. She waited and prodded and waited what seemed too long.

Finally, she heard a loud, cat-like hiss under the far end of the desk. She dragged the broom slowly and noisily against the carpet in front of where the sound had come. It struck! She slammed the mop head down across its neck and held it to the floor. It hissed furiously and its thin, muscular body squirmed with all its might.

Sanantha dropped the broom and leaned her weight onto the mop handle, determined not to let it wriggle free. The mop sponge was about five inches behind its head, so it still had room to twist around and try to bite the block of sponge that pinned it. Sanantha stepped down on the exposed neck space, clamping its head to the floor with her shoe. She dropped the mop and bent down to grab its flailing body with one hand. She could feel its sinewy muscles squirming under its beaded skin. She slipped her other hand down next to her shoe and wrapped her fingers around its throat, right up against the snake’s head. When she thought she had a good firm grip, she lifted her foot and picked the creature up. It fought mightily, lashing at her with its tail, but she had it.

She got her first good look at it. It was quite beautiful, and camouflaged perfectly for a leafy jungle floor, with oval brown and green spots on a light green background.

She spoke calmly to it as she walked to her bedroom. “I am really sorry you got dragged into this situation, Monsieur Serpent. I wish there was another way you and I could end this conflict. Whoever brought you here has forced me to consider ending your life. It is your nature to want to kill me now, and I just can’t have that.”

The dark wooden cabinet looked like a tall freestanding jewelry case. She reached down with the tail-end hand and flipped open the latch. The front doors swung open to reveal a collection of stone figurines at the bottom of the black-painted interior, surrounding a central wooden pole that ran its full height. The pole was painted with two intertwining snakes, one black and one white. The base of the pole was mounted in a hole in a stone block at the bottom of the case. The figurines were arranged on this altar stone. Standing among the figurines was a bundle of fragrant white incense and a bottle of rum.

Sanantha knelt down in front of the altar and held the snake aloft. She lowered her head and prayed. “Madame Erzulie, Grand Lady of Mercy, I apologize for not lighting any incense or pouring you any drink. As you can see, my hands are rather busy. If the earnestness of my voice can convince you to hear my entreaty, please grant me my prayer. Grand Matrisse, I cannot tell anyone this snake was left here for me. It is one of your servants, so I come to you for guidance. If there is any way to save this unfortunate creature, please inspire me. If there is no other way, then please forgive me.”

She remained still for a moment, holding the snake as securely as she could, waiting for a sign. It wrapped its muscular tail tighter around her arm and jerked with all its might, hissing angrily, fangs extended. She held on, letting her soul open piously to any message that would give her a better option.

None came.

“Then, in Your holy name,” she declared sadly, “I will hold whoever brought this innocent here accountable for its life.”

She was thankful that she had remembered to put her cleaver back in the knife block on the kitchen counter where it was within easy reach.

Erotica: Mermaid Steel

“Passion is good. Maybe it makes us dangerous. It certainly moves us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise.” She ran her fingers through his chest hair. “Like this.”

He stroked her neck and arms. “I love touching your skin.”

“Is that so? ‘Cause I’m starting to really appreciate all your body hair.” She squeezed his chest and shoulders and then gently ran her hands over the curves. “All these hard muscles covered in soft furry curls.”

His hands wandered over her tunic, gently massaging her sides and back, all the way down to her dorsal fin which was planted in the sand behind her. “Oh, damn. I wanted to get you some cocoa butter so your skin won’t dry out.”

“Actually, I brought some.” She reached over to the net bag and pulled out a jar. In reaching over she stretched out across his lap. He took the chance to start massaging her back.

“Mmm, that’s nice. It works even better with this,” she said as she handed him the jar over her shoulder.

“I can’t use this with your tunic still on.”

“Well then do something about it.”

He ran his hand up her tail, lifting the hem as he went. He slid the cloth up over her fin and up to her shoulders. She heard the jar pop open and then she felt his hands, greasy with the butter, sliding and squeezing up and down her back muscles. She moaned, relaxed over his legs and wrapped the end of her tail around his back, hugging him.

She reveled under his strong hands. He worked up and down her length, and seemed quite taken with her fin. He also spent some time massaging her hips, behind, and the top of her tail. She knew she was built differently there than he was used to, and it felt good, so she let him rub her there if he wanted to. Then she noticed a distinct bulge pressing against her side that wasn’t there before in his lap. She was glad he was enjoying this too. She rolled over and swept the tunic up over her head and off. She sat up halfway, wrapped an arm around him, and started stroking and kissing his chest.

He held her up with one arm while caressing her ribs and fondling her breasts with his other. “Oh, the sand is sticking where I used the butter.”

“That’s all right. There’s nothing back there that sand will hurt. Just don’t get sand on my front and we’ll be fine.”

He seemed to take a minute to think about this.

She realized why. “That’s right. With her legs spread, you can enter a woman from behind. I noticed you were examining my backside. Sorry, I’ve only got the goods up front.”

“I’m fine with that,” he said as he slid his hand down over her tummy.

She reached up and pulled him down to kiss his lips as he rubbed around her opening. He tasted good, like a Merrow, after eating her food. She caressed his cheek and decided two days of beard would be too scratchy for a proper kiss.

He massaged her hip bones and the muscles of the top of her tail, again exploring how she was built and giving her great pleasure at the same time. She waited for him to slide his hand into her. She surprised herself getting so aroused in the anticipation.

She kissed him with vigor and slid her tongue into his mouth, licking his teeth and palate. He surprised her by capturing her tongue with his lips and gently sucking on it. She was thrilled by the sensation just as he slid his fingers inside her. She moaned into his mouth and involuntarily tightened her grip around his back with her fluke.

He released her tongue and grinned. “I guess I won’t be needing any more butter." He slid his fingers in deeper and suddenly stopped. “What’s that?”

She blinked and frowned. “Let me explain.” She reached down and extracted a handful of round stones. “After our attempt the other night, I thought maybe there was something I could do to help things along.”

“You’ve been stretching yourself with stones? Chielle, have you hurt yourself?”

“No. It was a bit painful at first, but mostly it’s just been sore up in my abdomen.”

“You didn’t have to go to such extremes.”

“You said yourself, we are makers, and we can find a way to make things work.”

“I kind of thought… the solution we came up with the other night…worked fine.”

“That was a lot of fun. The truth is, for all your hairy, lumpy, sharp edged self, I want you inside me.”

He scooped her up in his arms and hugged her to his chest. “I’m not going to argue with you.”

She hugged him back, but then slipped her hand down between them. “You, sir, are overdressed.” He released her and she unbuckled his belt.

He leaned back on his folded legs and raised his hips so she could slip his pants off. His manhood sprang out in all its glory as she pulled them down.

She reached around behind her and grabbed the jar of cocoa butter. She smiled up at him. “My turn.” She started rubbing her hands over the muscles of his stomach and then the bones of his hips. She kept eying his swollen member, knowing that he wanted her to work on it, but she made her way around it and down onto his thighs. She reached around and squeezed the taut domes of his buttocks. His shaft was almost in her face when she squeezed, and it jumped, as if begging her to suck on it. Finally she ran her hands up his inner thighs and caressed his sack. What a strange place to put them. Again his member twitched. She smiled up at him and his face was aglow with anticipation.

At last, sliding and squeezing, she ran her hands around the hairy base and inched her way up to the head. Altogether it was longer than the widths of both her hands. She knew how long it was. She had sucked its entire length into her gill channels the last time. She wondered how much of this she was going to be able to get up inside her, even with the stone stretching. She swirled and squeezed up and down its length, it swelled under her touch, and his breathing deepened and quickened.

When it was as big as it was going to get, which was kind of daunting, she rolled back onto her tail, pressing her pelvis up as fully as she could. She looked down and her opening was standing wide. “Your turn.”

He leaned forward over her and hesitated for a second. He looked at her position, folded back at an extreme angle, and must have been alarmed at how alien she looked. He spread his knees and positioned up against her. He slid himself up and down across her opening and let the head dip in. Everything was slippery and the motion was effortless. She felt his size stretch her open and probe for depth.

She held her breath waiting for the pain of him hitting bottom. He rocked his hips with small thrusts, each one a little deeper. She hadn’t even noticed, but she had wrapped her pelvic fins up around his bottom and her hands around his waist. His rocking and pushing was as much her pulling him in.

He noticed her holding her breath. “I got this,” he assured her. Finally he pushed and could get no further. He pulled almost all the way out, then pushed all the way in, seeming to measure how much stroke he had. “Yeah, this is fine.” He ground out a rhythm, slowly at first.

She was taken with how gentle he was at the bottom of each stroke, clearly not wanting to hurt her. She looked up at him and he smiled back so lovingly, she felt like she would melt under his touch. She looked down and guessed he was getting about halfway in. He seemed pretty happy with that. She was ecstatic. She finally felt like they were really mating.

For all of the attention she had focused on length, she still wasn’t feeling much for width, which was key for her pleasure. “Can I try something a little different?” She slipped her tail out from under her and rotated her pelvis to the side. This let her bend herself more open to him.

He watched as she squirmed into position, then nodded his agreement. “Sideways,” he commented. He grabbed his member to guide it, and she gasped at how his lifting pressure rode right along her inner sides where she wanted him. He rolled his hips and pushed it up into her, smiling at the fit. His width finally was hitting her sides right. She reached around and held him, though at an angle, with her pelvic fins.

He sped up his stroke, and she could feel the muscles of her pelvis squeezing against him inside her, caressing his length, sucking him in with each hastening thrust. Her breathing quickened as did his pumping.

She let go of his buttocks with her fins and let him take over the now frantic pace. He was sweating all over, and his skin glistened in the orange light of sunset. She was amused how he smelled musky in his exertion, like seaweed. He breathed in short, forceful blasts through his nose, while she found herself gasping for air through her mouth. She felt powerful, rhythmic waves of tension roll out of her hips and down her tail. She loosened her hands around his waist, grabbed him by his powerful shoulders above her, leaned her head back, and just let him take her.

After what seemed a blissful eternity of flailing abandon, he grabbed her pelvis hard and pushed one final deep thrust. Suddenly she felt a flood of warmth rushing up inside of her. She wrapped her fins and arms and tail around him and held him tight, savoring the muscular pulsing. He held his breath and twitched his whole body against her.

The waves down her tail mellowed to ripples. She took a deep, shaky breath and smiled up at him. “Told you we could make it work.”

He scooped her up in his arms and leaned over her in a long tight embrace which she returned eagerly. He held her there for a long moment while she reveled in the sheer joy.

Jay Hartlove starting writing professionally in the gaming industry with Supergame in 1980. He blogs about spirituality and teaches seminars on the craft of writing. His short fiction has appeared twice in the Hugo Award winning Drink Tank. Jay's first published novel, The Chosen, won Best Thriller at the Independent eBook Awards in 2011. Daughter Cell is a medical thriller and the next in the Isis Rising trilogy. The third and final of the Sanantha Mauwad mysteries is called Isis Rising, and should be out in 2015. In 2013 Jay was selected as one of the "50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading," by The Authors Show.

The extensive research that went into The Chosen is up on the book's website in a playful, interactive Tarot Card spread at Jay is also posting chapters as they are done to a serial fantasy romance called Mermaid Steel. He has also written a musical sequel to Snow White called The Mirror's Revenge. All of these projects have their own Facebook fan pages. "Like" them to stay up to date.

  • The Chosen is available here. Its Facebook page can be found here.
  • Daughter Cell is available here.
  • Mermaid Steel can be read free here. Its Facebook page can be found here.
  • Facebook page for Mirror's Revenge can be found here.

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