Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Guest Blogger Kate St. James - Oh Those Hot Canucks!

You know what I love about writing for digital publishers and small press? The ability to not only write what I love but to truly “write what I know” in regards to setting. For years the common advice bandied about Romance Writers of America was to set our books in the United States. That readers did not want to read about Canadian or Australian characters or any non-American characters unless you were writing, say, an England-set historical. I was never very good at taking this advice. I’m Canadian, so I feel more comfortable writing Canadian characters. I especially like to set my books and stories in British Columbia, because that I really know. I don’t have to worry that an American might say “soda” instead of “pop” or “sneakers” instead of “runners.” I try to remain true to my Canadian characters without sacrificing meaning or causing my largely American readership to scratch their heads. This does not mean that I never write about Americans, because I do. Usually from Washington or California, because that’s the closest to what I know. However, I decide on setting based on the needs of the story (characters’ occupations, etc.), not on whether Canadian settings sell.

I know, I’m bad.

Once I was reminded of just how bad I am. I pitched a single title to an agent at an RWA conference. As soon as I said the book was set in Vancouver, the agent told me I would have to change the setting. “Can’t you just move it south a little?” Well, no. If I start with Canadian characters, I keep Canadian characters. Because, well, they’re Canadian! They like to say “eh?” and sprinkle white vinegar on their French fries and indulge in poutines (Google it. Yum.)

Despite what this agent said, I’ve never received a rejection letter from an editor saying my settings worked against me. So I continued to write Canadian characters with the odd American sprinkled in, and I’m glad I did. I’ve now sold five erotic novels, novellas or short stories, and only one is set in the United States (Kiss Me at Midnight in Secrets 28: SENSUAL CRAVINGS). The characters, co-hosts for an ailing late-night talk show, and the TV setting, demanded it.

Both of my 2011 releases take place in Vancouver, British Columbia. And these Canucks are hot, hot, hot! Tea for Three, my first erotica short as well as being my first ménage, came out October 14th from Ellora’s Cave Exotika Quickies. My heroine, Layla Aziz, is an Egyptian-Canadian tea shop owner. Her two guys, Gil and Hunter, were both born and raised in British Columbia.

Here’s a blurb:
Uninhibited tea shop manager Layla Aziz struggles with her relationship with blond and buff construction worker, Gil Cuthbert. After years of sleeping with any dude who tickles her libido, can she remain faithful to one guy?

Then Gil surprises Layla by arranging a ménage with his best friend, dark and serious Hunter Cole. Gil, it seems, will do anything to keep Layla satisfied. That includes sharing her with ultra-sexy Hunter again and again. Not just for one orgasm-filled night, but for many more to come—as long as Gil’s in charge of her erotic needs.

Sign her up!

My first single title erotic romance coming from Samhain Publishing November 8th, A Little Wild, just happens to be the book I pitched to the agent who suggested I switch the setting. Like Red Sage Secrets and Ellora’s Cave with my previous releases, Samhain didn’t have an issue with the setting. At all. In fact, my editor is Australian. Digital publishing has expanded publishing into the international arena, for which I’m thrilled. My hero and heroine in A Little Wild, Zach Halliday and Tess Sheridan, are intrinsically Canadian to me. They grew up with parents versed in miles and feet and Fahrenheit while they deal largely in Celsius, litres (the Canadian spelling, which, admittedly, I changed to liters for Samhain), and kilometres (there, I did it again). (Bad, bad, bad). Tess is a lawyer who is never called an attorney (I’ve only ever heard that word on American television) and Zach is the son of Vancouver’s wealthiest entrepreneur (which is to say he’s not as rich as if he were the son of New York’s wealthiest entrepreneur, but he’s still pretty damn rich.)

About their story:

She wants a piece of his rock. He needs her, rock steady, in his heart.

Tess Sheridan won’t let anything stop her from making partner at a prestigious law firm, especially her notoriously soft heart. The result? She’s a handful of clients away from getting her name on that brass plate. And she hasn’t had sex in over a year.

When her best friend dares her to test-drive her erotic fantasies with a gorgeous stranger, she figures, why not? Loosening the reins will give her inner nympho some well-deserved pampering without jeopardizing her career goals.

Zach Halliday has enjoyed his bad-boy reputation to the fullest, but now it’s time to leave the relative safety of the family corporation and prove he can stand on his own in the business world. That doesn’t mean he’ll pass up an opportunity for some incredible phone sex with the beautiful strawberry blonde he met in a bar.

When business overlaps with the bedroom, Zach sees something special in Tess and is determined to convince her he’s the man she needs, anytime, anyplace. She can backpedal, but come hell or high-climbing-wall, he wants the fascinating, complicated sex bomb in his bed. Over and over again…

How do you feel about Canadian characters and Canadian settings? As a reader, do you like expanding your reading beyond American settings? Or do you prefer your romance a little closer to home? Does it just not matter anymore?

Kate St. James lives in Canada with her adoring family. She keeps trying to kick them out, but they're sticking like glue...for reasons she can't figure. It's not like she's a model wife and mother. Or is she? Therein lies one of the great mysteries of Kate's generation.

An avid reader since childhood, Kate loves spending her days writing about the hot men and adventurous women populating her head. When she's not engrossed in her fictional worlds, you can find her chasing her hound in the hills above an azure lake, ignoring the smoke alarms blaring from the kitchen, or endlessly renovating her house.

Kate’s Website: http://www.katestjames.com


Susan Lyons/Fox said...

Hi Kate! Good for you, for sticking to your guns. As another British Columbia, I feel the same way. I kept hearing that Canadian settings wouldn't sell, and Canadian heroes weren't sexy. Hah!! But I know Canada's a great place and I wanted to share it with readers - and let them know how hot Canadian guys can be. I wondered if I'd have the guts to stick to my principles if an editor ever said, "I'll buy your book if you change the setting to south of the border." Well, thank heavens it never happened! My first 4-book series for Aphrodisia was set in Vancouver, and Kensington didn't say a word about the setting. In fact, LoveLetter magazine in Germany asked me to write a feature about Vancouver because my books and setting were popular with their readers. So, 16 publications later, with many of them set in Vancouver, my vote is that authors write a variety of settings, whatever works best for their story and characters. Nothing against the USA, but I love reading books set in Canada, Australia, and elsewhere.

Katie O'Connor said...

It is so nice that you have been able to stick to your guns. I finally resorted to having characters living in towns with no names or geographic locations.

It is just silly. I love small town stories, and each small town is like another, no matter where they are.

Congratulations on all your successes.

Kate St. James said...

Hi Susan,

Susan, I loved it when I found out that you were setting your books largely in Canada, too. I feel the same way as you - nothing against American settings! I write under two names and my other name has set more stories in the U.S. Again, it's usually a matter of the story/characters needing it. Or that I've visited an area and fallen in love with it and then start brewing ideas for a book set there.

I haven't sold to Kensington, but the late great Kate Duffy once phoned me up to reject the novella that became my first Secrets sale (Good Vibrations, Secrets 21). It's set in Calgary, Alberta, and she didn't say boo about the setting. In fact, she wanted me to continue to write "close to home." She had concerns about other aspects of my writing, though. She didn't want to see that story again, but to have me work on something else. So I reworked that story and sold it to Secrets. I worked on other ideas for Kate, but the magic sale never materialized. In fact, I still have a submission with her, except she's not around anymore, sadly.

Kate St. James said...

Hi Katie,

I always name the province or state, even if I have a made up town. Otherwise, the setting doesn't feel "real" enough to me. I have set books in real towns then changed the name of the town so I could fictionalize it to suit my needs. Especially with a small town. If I'm setting a story in a big city, I usually don't feel the need to fictionalize it. But if the characters escape the big city for a weekend or whatever, then I might fictionalize that setting. Setting stories in big cities gives me the leeway, however, to create fictional places within the cities.

Marion Spicher said...

Some time ago, at a Vancouver Island workshop, I spoke about my unfinished manuscript to a Canadian Toronto agent. She said, "Don't write about Canada. Nobody will buy your book." I reeled in surprise.

Yes, compared to 300 million Americans, there are only 30 million Canadians. I realize in 1864 historical fiction, a story about a Scottish pioneer heading west in Canada requires sprinkles letting American readers know that most Canadian pioneers moved west much later than those in the US, and that challenging terrain and lack of funds/support slowed the development of transportation and communication. My challenge is to make the hero's settings/actions believable to US readers at such a late date.

Born in BC and living near the border in WA State, I've felt torn, but lean towards my original passion for the story. Thanks for this blog post, Kate.

Kate St. James said...

I know just how you feel, Marion. I have a book under my other writing name that I was advised to set in Alaska if I wanted a remote feeling. But I didn't feel at all qualified to write about Alaska. "Remote" feels different in Canada than the U.S. because we don't have the population, as you say. That's why, when I do set a story in the U.S., I make sure it's somewhere I've at least visited so I have some idea. That's just me. I like to have been there.

I do think digital publishing has opened up settings for writers. However, Susan Lyons/Fox is a great example of a Canadian writer now writing for Berkley and Kensington who's been able to retain her Canadian identity and keep readers interested.

On the other hand, I have several writing friends who do set their books in the States. I love that digital publishing has opened up writers to more choices than was possible a few short years ago.

By the way, I eventually sold that small town Canada book, to a small press that didn't question at all my use of setting. It just wasn't an issue.

Phoebe Conn said...

I visited Vancouver several years ago with a friend and was impressed by how beautiful a city it is. I loved the museum with Northwest Coast Indian art and would gladly read a story set in Canada.

Kate St. James said...

Thanks, Phoebe. Vancouver is a beautiful city. But it rains a lot. So you have to like the rain. :) Or at least be able to tolerate it.

Gwynlyn said...

The odd American, huh? Is that the only variety of American you write? Or do we all naturally fall into that category? LOL No, you needn't answer. I like you too much to put you on that particular pinpoint.

You need to be true to your characters. If they're Canadians, then so be it. I don't think the world view is as narrow as it once was, so you keep on keepin' on, doll.

Kate St. James said...

Gwynlyn, I wondered if someone would catch that. At least I didn't write "strange American." LOL.

I'm pretty odd, so when I write American characters, they usually wind up sort of off-beat.

Thanks dropping by!


Kelly Jamieson said...

The Canucks have taken over the Naughty Nine today! I'm so excited! Welcome Kate and other fellow Canuck commenters!

I do sense that there is less restriction on setting than there used to be. My reluctance to use my own "back yard" as settings for my books is mostly because it doesn't seem very interesting to me. But then, to someone who lives in the deep southern US, maybe it is exotic and interesting.

I wrote my first Canadian hero in Breakaway - he's a hockey player, though the book is set in Chicago. Recently my book Faceoff for the Ellora's Cave Oh Canada series was set right here in my home town and I did get to talk in kilometres and degrees Celsius! (My editor has caught me on those exact things - soda vs pop, runners vs sneakers, LOL!)

Kate St. James said...

Hey, Kelly!

Tea for Three isn't in the Oh Canada series, even though it's set in Canada. I think because it's a short story and they wanted longer stories for Oh Canada. I didn't submit it for the theme because of that.

See, I would be fearful of setting a book in the Deep South because I would get so much wrong. I had a cp from North Carolina, and she'd write "pocketbook" and I'd say, "shouldn't that be purse"? etc. I also had a cp from Caliornia, and I wrote her about a story set in L.A. (Kiss Me at Midnight in Secrets 28) and asked, do you say pop, soda, soda pop or what? Her reply, "Soft drink."

Speaking of mistakes, I think I have a characters in Kiss Me at Midnight dipping her French fries in gravy...or maybe I caught that in time. I knew Americans didn't use white vinegar on French fries, but I had no idea about the gravy thing being Canadian. I'd have to re-read the novella to see if I caught it.

Love that you wrote about a hockey player. How Canadian!

kog said...

I like authentic settings. If the book is set in Texas, use local slang and vocab. If a book is set in Canada, use Canadian phrases. Etc.

I would far rather have a clear, consistent voice telling a great story than get yanked out of a good plot because the author throws in what they think is a regional expression.

In short - 'cause I'm rarely brief - keep writing stories set in Canada if that's what you know. Your writing will shine through.

P.S. I love learning about different cultures - reading Oz and NZ authors is so much fun - get to learn slang and read about places I dream of visiting.

P.P.S. I am Canadian. And named Kate. Are we the same person? :p

Kate St. James said...

And I must say, I love being able to write "grade twelve" instead of "senior year," etc. I confess that I often use "feet" instead of metres - that's my age showing. :) Metric came in when I was a child, but it's never truly stuck, as Kelly would know. For example, I think in Celsius and kilometres but in feet and inches. The meat department at the grocery store, the meat is weighed in grams, but my recipes are in pounds and ounces. Being Canadian is a mishmash, and I sometimes try to reflect that in my stories (like in A LITTLE WILD, I mention that Canadians still use square footage, not square metres, when discussing real estate, etc). What I usually try to do is avoid using feet OR metres and describe the distance another way. This is especially handy describing the weather. I know that 85 F. is hot enough to suntan but I couldn't tell you what fifty F. feels like. So instead I'll describe my weather in terms of the coolness of a breeze, or what my characters are wearing. That way American readers don't have to try and figure it out.

The odd "feet" slips in even when my characters are young enough that they might use "metres." But my kids are over 20 and THEY still say feet when they mean metres. It's kind of interchangeable. Even though yards and metres is more exact. :) It's rough being Canuck!

Kate St. James said...


Yes, we are the same person. I've been trying to hide that from you. Darn it, now you've found out. :)

This year I read a Samhain book by an NZ author and I noticed she always, always, always used metric. I think, because Canada is neighbour to the U.S. and we inhale a lot of American culture (I love HBO for example), that's partly why we're a bit of a confused lot. It doesn't help that the stoves are in Fahrenheit and the weather in Celsius. :)

kog said...

I remember the official switch to metric - I think I was in grade one. I think you're right about our proximity to the U.S. meaning that we are exposed to more pounds, inches, etc measurements.

For me, I've lived in both the U.S. and Canada, so I am "fluent" in both metric and imperial. I don't think about it much.

Good point about using other ways to describe distance - I hadn't thought of that. The downside of being a techy type, I tend to be very literal and precise (aka anal retentive) about accuracy.

Lots of food for thought! Thanks, Kate.

kog said...

Forgot to say - Susan - I remember when I read Love, Unexpectedly being pleasantly surprised to a) read a story set in Canada and b) that it took place on a train travelling across from Montreal to Vancouver! Loved the character of Nav. He is yummy.

Jennifer August said...

Lovely post about sticking to your guns, Kate and well you should. I love your books. Lots of yummy sex melded so well with humor. To be honest, I never even blinked at the idea your characters were Canadian. Good on you... And am I the only one thinking of dirty limericks now?
There once was a Canuck...

Kate St. James said...

kog, I had a funny experience with my Australian editor for my Canadian-set single title releasing next week from Samhain, A Little Wild. My heroine was buying milk and a character asked her "what's with the huge milk jug?" My editor had never heard of buying milk in jugs, so googled it and came up with those little one-litre bags of milk you put into reusable jugs way, way back in the day. Then I had to explain we don't use those bags (I don't even see them in the store anymore) and a huge milk jug is 4 litres, which I found out from American friends is about a gallon. Once she knew Americans had jugs and Canadians had jugs, my jugs could stay. But she'd never heard of them before. :)

Hi Jennifer!

Thanks for dropping by. And, LOL, I'm sure you could come up with a dirty Limerick that rhymes with Canuck without my help. :)

I had a lot of fun blogging with this group. Thanks so much, everyone!

Diana Duncan said...

Personally, I LOVE reading stories set in all different places. I read to escape (and maybe learn a little something in the process, whether it's about hot sex...or hot fries. *G* Vinegar? Really? Like the Brits, eh? ;)

Great Job, Kate, and you keep on bringing us those hunky Canadian heroes.

Kate St. James said...

Hi Diana,

Not exactly like the Brits. They use malt vinegar. We use white vinegar. I'm starting to think it's strictly a Canadian thing. When I was in New York at the RWA conference last summer, I asked for white vinegar at a restaurant, and they brought me three different things before they got it right. I explained, you know, you can kill weeds and whiten diapers with it? That's what we use on our French fries.

Thanks for the vote of confidence on the Canadian characters!