Hello Katherine! Thank you so much for visiting Written Butterfly with me today! It’s such a pleasure to chat with you.
No, thank you for having me here! It’s lovely to have a chance to blather some more about this book, which I love passionately!
So tell me…
Q) How did you dream up the dynamics of your characters?
Well, it was a bit of gradual process. It really all started with Julia/n, this truly gender-fluid cross-dresser with a wonderful ability to switch between female and male identity. I spent some months dreaming up Julia/n and wondering what story could be written about him/her, and then out of the blue I inherited this pair of lovely high heeled boots from a dear friend who died. These boots were really the catalyst for the plot to take off. The other character in the story, Nina is this girl who really has trouble “being a girl”, due to a past of bullying and abuse, but these lovely boots are tempting her to get out of her darkness, and express her feminine side… Nina does not know where to start, and that is where Julia/n steps in. For most girls, being a woman is something you learn organically from a very young age, but for these two characters it is something that they learned from scratch, and have to practice diligently … hoping to get it right, more or less.
Q) Woman as a Foreign Language sounds like such a fascinating story. What drew you to write this book?
I have always been fascinated by gender-variant characters, I suppose. There was one in Black Carnival, my debut novel, although that was a completely different story (very fetish-y!). And there was one planned for Spellbreakers, but s/he didn’t make it into the novel because it was already so damn long and rife with secondary characters!
Julia/n really exploded in my dreams after watching “The Danish Girl” (ok, I have a bit of a thing for Eddie Redmayne, lol), but in the end it was based on several different sources. Nina, and her struggle with her past, is a profoundly autobiographic character. So this story became a cathartic process for me.
Q) What type of research did you undertake to write in an authentic voice?
This is an interesting question, because the story is really written in two different voices (as far as I could!). Nina’s side of the story is written in present tense and first person. It was not really a conscious decision. The first few paragraphs of the book started out as a page of my diary, not really as a story, and then the style stuck. I had meant to convert it to a more conventional POV, but, no, I just couldn’t. She is a bit of a scared animal, looking out on the world from out of her armor, ready to run or hide, so this very “in the moment” voice was just right for her.
Constructing Julia/n’s voice was a much more calculated process, partly because really I had to do a lot of research on the mechanics of cross-dressing and all that goes with it, so it produced a somewhat less instinctive and more literary narrative (which fits the character in several ways, since s/he’s a professor of English literature!). I spent about three months or more reading tons of articles, blogs and forum posts by cross-dressers and transwomen and talking with some wonderfully generous persons who shared their experiences (often in very intimate detail, bless them!) before I felt comfortable tackling Julia/n, and even then I preferred to remain in a deep-third point of view for her, which gave me a little more emotional wiggle-space. I would have felt a fraud writing her in first person POV.
This discrepancy in tense and POV is an unusual arrangement in romance books, but I think (and so did my editor, luckily!) that it suits this particular story very well. And I don’t see why romance authors should not try a more experimental prose from time to time! J
Q) Did you plan all your characters out before you started this story or did they develop as you wrote?
In essence they were pretty clear-cut from the start, not so much by conscious planning as from, shall I say, sudden revelation! But of course much fleshing out occurred along the way, especially for Julia/n.
Another major change that occurred in mid writing was the decision to include Nina’s mother and extended family in the story. Originally Nina’s history of psychological abuse was to be carried just by her memories, but then I realized that it made for a lot of telling, and that if I had the family IN the story, I could show a lot more, and also have a villain that I could write from personal experience! Although Nina’s mom is not my mom, she is a bit of a sum of many different people in my background. Shudder!
Q) Do you have any habits that get you in the writing frame of mind?
I listen to a lot of music (it really helps me to slip into a different world), and often try out dialogues aloud (something that must be pretty mind boggling to accidental witnesses). And I generally reread some of what I have written before starting to write. That really helps me to get back in the voice of the characters and the flow of the narrative. Each character usually has a “totem scene” that somehow catches his or essence for me, and it’s my key to get back under their skin. For Nina, it was the very beginning of the story, where she is daydreaming about Julia. For Julia/n it was this very humorous scene where he goes to work, all distracted by thoughts of Nina, and ends up in the wrong classroom.
Once I start typing I am usually pretty instinctive though, I let the characters do their thing and see where it leads.
Q) What are your upcoming projects?
There are two or three stories that I have started already that are vying for attention, but I think the winner is this contemporary, slightly paranormal book called “The Very Select Au-Pair Agency”. This may end up being split in two related short stories, since it is really two interwoven tales about two widowed fathers finding love in two “very special” (read: slightly witchy!) nannies.
And I have this story which is a bit of a dark twist on the ubiquitous shifter-theme.
And a fantasy story based in the region of France where I live … and one with dragons…
So many ideas, so little time!
What do you do when the woman you want to be … is a man?
Nina’s abusive childhood left her feeling so vulnerable when wearing anything flimsier than combat boots that she has spent her whole adult life dressed like a gang boy. But when she meets the tall, glamourous, charismatic Julia (actually her cross-dressing neighbor, Julian, going out en femme), Nina is seized by an overwhelming and terrifying urge to finally express her own femininity.
Julia/n has not only a slightly split personality but also a thoroughly broken heart. What s/he wants most is a partner who will love both Julia and Julian. While Nina learns from Julia how to be a woman, Julian discovers that they might well be made for each other, but it will take a struggle against prejudice and a whole conservative mind-set before they can follow their hearts, and express their true, unique, and beautiful selves.
“Well, are we going out this evening or what?” asked Julia, seeing Nina sitting down still naked on the bed.
“Oh, it will take me two minutes to get ready,” said Nina, smiling up at her. “I am not such a woman as you,” she added, grinning impishly.
“Oh, indeed?” said Julia, and pinched her nose in passing, then went to the wardrobe to fish out some stockings, a pocket bra and breast forms. Boobs were invariably the first thing. She liked her body well enough, as a man or a woman, except for that flat chest. A girl should have tits, and a boy should have some muscle at least, but somehow, she had failed to achieve either. The sweet, soft, bouncy weight of the breast forms immediately made her feel better about herself. Stockings were always the next thing. Her legs were as smooth as silk in any case, but the sleek feel of stockings on them was almost an aphrodisiac. Time was, long ago, when she was much, much younger, when just wearing a pair of stockings would give her a hard-on. She was not such a green horn anymore, luckily, because the last thing she needed right now was an erection.
She stood in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirror, and pulled on her gaff half the way. She gently maneuvered her testicles back up to where they were before they dropped (if only they had stayed there, she thought despondently, and not for the first time), then gave her empty scrotum a slight twist and pushed it down and back towards her buttocks. She was on the point of tucking her penis down and under the same way (if she laid them side by side, they looked every bit like labia through her gaff … et voilà, instant pussy… more or less), when she caught sight of Nina’s eyes. Nina was still sitting on the bed, still naked, and gazing at her with those gorgeous gipsy eyes, studying everything Julia did and every inch of her body. Julia threw a look at her own lean, white figure in the mirror. She was standing with a hand between her legs and her gaff askew, half way between her knees and her hips, which felt somewhat less than graceful and dignified, and she wondered what Nina was seeing that was so entrancing.
“What?” she asked, smiling.
“Nothing. I did wonder where they went, when … you know.”
Julia grinned. “They don’t go very far, worry not.”
Nina stretched herself long, like a happy cat, still gazing hungrily at her, eating her with her eyes.
And suddenly Julia stiffened. “Oh dear,” she said.
“What?” asked Nina, in a somewhat comical echo of what Julia had said less than a minute earlier.
“Er … ahem. Stop looking at me. Just don’t. I can’t tuck it with a hard-on!”
Nina covered her face with her hands, vainly trying to suppress a fit of laughter. “I didn’t do anything. I didn’t!”
Julia was laughing too by now. It was hopeless. She let the whole lot hang out again and took two short steps to the bed (the gaff half-way up made it impossible to step out properly). She kneeled on the bed and started tickling Nina’s feet, the back of her knees and her sides.
“I didn’t do anything, I didn’t,” Nina repeated, between peals of laughter.
“Ah, but you were thinking, don’t deny that you were thinking.”
“Ok, ok, maybe I was, a little bit, please stop, stop, please!” Nina turned on her side, and curled up in a tight ball, still shaking with laughter. Julia stopped tickling her and pushed her on her belly, wiggled out of the gaff, then straddled Nina’s small buttocks and leaned down to nuzzle her neck and the back of her head.
“What were you thinking, you imp? Mh? What were you thinking?”
She bit gently into Nina’s earlobe and kissed her cheek. Nina smiled beatifically.
“That you are an elf, an angel, a goddess.”
“A female-female she-goddess? Really, with all this embarrassment hanging out all over the place like this?”
She let her cock and her smooth, smooth balls brush Nina’s buttocks, smiled and kissed her again.
“Always. You will always be a goddess to me,” murmured Nina, drinking in the kisses, her eyes closed. Her hand searched for Julia’s hand, their fingers wove together of their own accord, and Nina drew the hand closer to kiss Julia’s fingertips one by one, adoringly. Julia smiled and pressed her breasts down on Nina’s back, rubbing them gently on her shoulder blades.
She kissed Nina again and again, on her temple, cheek, eyelid, nose, the corner of her mouth. She was so precious. Sleek, small-boned, but fierce and sharp, like a bird of prey, hooded and caged, but never quite tamed. And I have set you free, and you chose to fly to me.
“I love you. Darling,” she whispered in her ear, in her huskiest, deepest voice, and Nina shuddered all over while her spine gave a twist, as Julia knew it would. Nina turned under her, to hug her and draw her body down. Julia moved her knees within Nina’s legs, and just like that, without any difficulty, her untimely erection found a place to go.
So wet. How can you become so wet just by looking at me? What do you see that nobody else ever saw? What do you see that even I don’t see? Julia sank her face in Nina’s neck, to kiss her, bite her, whisper in her ear, yes, oh yes, whisper and murmur and cajole, until my voice will make you melt, my love, my love, my love.
You can also find an exclusive excerpt on my website, here:
And of course you can download the beginning of the story for free from Amazon!
Buy links, excerpts and samples:
Woman as a Foreign Language at Evernight:
Woman as a Foreign Language on Amazon.com:
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