Erotic fiction author Cotton Nightie selected that particular pen name not only because the term is a byword for sensual comfort, but also because the heroine in every one of her stories ends up wearing one at some point.
With a background in writing business and technical documents, Cotton has always been a writer, but only recently has she discovered her voice in fiction.
“When I began writing The Other Half,” she explains, “I knew right away it was different. The story seemed to write itself through me and would not let me rest until it was complete. I learned so much in the process and made some very good friends who helped me revise and edit my draft. When it was complete, my early readers encouraged me to make it available for others to enjoy as well.”
Cotton’s follow-up novel, Kate’s Journal, is scheduled to be released in March of 2014.
How long have you been writing? What made you first decide to write?
I’ve written all my life, but only been writing fiction again for the last year. This is my first foray into fiction since I wrote short stories in college many, many years ago.
I started writing again to tell a story I’d been pondering for years. I made it to about 75K words before I realized I had no idea how to tell a compelling story. My plot was solid, but writing interesting characters was much harder than I’d realized. I also had no idea how to build tension in the story, create meaningful conflict, or inspire feelings in readers. It was a sobering realization, but a necessary one.
A writer I’d asked to mentor me made some cogent observations. I identified so strongly with my story that I couldn’t take criticism in a productive way. He suggested that I write smaller, less complicated stories to practice writing dialog and descriptive scenes. He also pointed out that takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient at a complex skill like writing. Then he repeated the old author’s axiom about how the first three books a novelist writes are shit.
It was tough to hear, but I actually listened to him. He surprised me when he suggested switching to a genre I didn’t identify with as strongly. By writing outside of my ordinary comfort zone, it might be easier to focus on the story structure, character development, and to write better dialog and descriptions. I believe he was right.
I wrote my first novel length story and published it in May of 2013. It’s called The Other Half and tells the story of a poor, young woman named Julie Polk. When Julie meets Jack he is a broken man, crushed by his recent divorce and lost without his two beautiful daughters. Julie sees his good heart and decides to give him a reason to hope again. Their budding relationship is turned upside down when his ex-wife, Sophie, disrupts them with plans of her own.
I learned so much writing that story. Despite it’s movie-of-the-week plot, I was able to mix up some romance tropes to make surprising twists along the way. I was very happy when reviewers said it wasn’t as predictable as they expected, and it got better ratings than I expected for my first novel. In the end, I fell in love with the characters, especially Julie’s best friend, Polly. Jack’s mother, Claire, was another favorite, and required writing her dialog with a French patois, which I especially enjoyed.
How are you similar to Julie Polk, protagonist of The Other Half? And how are you different?
I’m nothing like Julie. If anything, I’ve got more in common with her mother in the story. The truth is, none of my characters are me but many of them have characteristics of me and people I know.
How did Kate’s Journal come about?
When I started writing again, I wrote little stories and posted them to Reddit and my website. One of my first stories began as a sweet love story between two twenty-something cousins, Kate Miller and John Alderman. Their new relationship is complicated when Kate’s best friend Jules Adkins admits she’s loved Kate for years. When I started thinking about the next book, this story came to mind. I decided to call it Kate’s Journal.
Using the original short stories as a guide, I wrote a sixteen chapter outline. I moved around some of the plot elements to make the pacing work better, but kept the main elements the same. The first word of the rewrite hit the page on October 26th, and I wrote the last of the 86,000 words on December 20th. I gave it some time to rest over the holidays, then started self-editing in the middle of January.
I hired a freelance story editor and a separate copy editor to work with me on the draft, and have been so pleased with the results. The story editor helped me adjust the level of detail, improve the character’s dialog, and see the plot holes I’d inadvertently left in the story. I got busy rewriting based off her her initial critique, as she followed up with corrections of my style and grammar. After we finished our passes, I hired a copy editor to go over it one more time with a fresh set of eyes to catch any grammar or punctuation issues we might have missed. If all goes as planned, the book will be released on March 15th.
What is your creative process? Do you have a daily writing routine?
I write during lunch and in the evenings while watching television with my spouse. When I’m drafting a new story, I will write between two and three hours a day. Editing and other activities cut into my writing time, but I still manage to get an hour in most days. I drive with my radio off in the car to be able to plan out the next few scenes or tasks. I’m determined to knock off a chunk of those 10,000 hours and become a proficient writer.
How have you evolved creatively over time?
I am striving to improve my technical story telling skills and hope to eventually write the story I’ve kept in the back of my mind all my life.
In your opinion, what separates good or great erotic fiction from bad or mediocre erotic fiction?
I admit that at a high level, the plot to Kate’s Journal sounds like a bad erotica incest story, but I tried really hard to treat the characters and the subject matter with realism and sensitivity. In the same way two movies can both have the same general plot and feature nudity with explicit sex, the first could be basic porn and the other an award-winning art film. For example, the film Room in Rome featured extended sex scenes between the two women who star in the movie, but it would be hard to say the point of the movie is the sexual encounters they have.
I make this distinction because the point of Kate’s Journal isn’t the description of sex acts. The story explores how three people can find a way to preserve their relationships with each other in a complex love triangle. Sex is certainly part of it, but not the point of it.
What is the biggest misconception people have about your writing, or the erotic fiction genre in general?
I love writing stories about people in relationships, and I write them without the prudish compulsion to shut the bedroom door. If I offend uptight readers who have to have sex with the lights off, so be it. Real people fuck, and realistic characters should, too. Explicit sex can be used to expose more than their flesh, it also gives a view into the heart of a character and how they feel about themselves and their intimate partners.
Many authors find the publishing process to be a bit frustrating. What was your experience like?
Formatting ebooks was challenging and fun, and making professional cover images and blurbs was as well. Other aspects of the publishing process such as marketing, author websites, and social networking all required significant research and time. Figuring out how self-publishing works on Amazon, Smashwords, and Google took far longer than I expected, but I eventually got my book listed on all three services. All totaled, I’ve sold a couple of hundred copies since May and have bought a few large boxes of coffee for my Keurig with the money I’ve earned.
Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?
I read books on writing, including the seminal book On Writing by Stephen King. However, I’ve found books on writing less helpful than simply reading books and studying how the author puts together the plots, scenes, and characters. I enjoy books from many genres, but prefer thrillers, fantasy, and hard science fiction. My favorite authors include L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Anne Rice, and Larry Niven.
I’ve read too much to have a single overriding influence, but if you put a gun to my head I’d have to say either Stephen King, George Martin, and Anne Rice. Note that influential is not necessarily the same set of authors as my favorites.
What turns you on?
Writing sex scenes seriously revs the old engine.
What has been the happiest moment in your life?
My kids are my happy thoughts, just like Robin William’s Peter Pan in Hook.
If you could snap your fingers and go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and why?
I would go to the Agate Cove Inn in Mendocino, California and never leave. It’s a little bed and breakfast with individual cabins overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I’ve been there twice with my spouse over the last twenty years, and each time we’ve gone it gets harder to leave. There is something magical about it, nestled between the redwood forests and the Anderson Valley wineries. I love good Cabernet and Merlot wines, and some of the best wines I’ve ever had were produced in that valley. Sitting in big Adirondack chairs and watching the sunset is something I could never get tired of. It’s a place made to write, with beautiful gardens, quiet nights, and no phone service at all.
What are you working on next?
Kate’s Journal, Part 2! I actually wrote the ending to the series first, so I have an 85K draft already for the next part. After that, I have no idea!