Guest blog: The Ingredients of Bliss

Welcome, Lisabet Sarai!

Inner and Outer Conflict
By Lisabet Sarai

No one ever taught me how to write a novel. Still, the very first one I wrote (Raw Silk, back in 1999) was accepted immediately by the publisher to whom I sent it (and has been reprinted to two publishers since). It’s not great literature, perhaps, but it has all the required features called out by texts on the writer’s craft: conflict, a plot arc, a climax, a resolution. The characters develop and change over the course of the book. There’s some nice symmetry from one chapter to the next. The ending leaves no serious loose ends.

I didn’t think about any of this while I was writing. However, I’ve been reading novels for as long as I can remember – lots and lots of novels. I assume that I’ve unconsciously absorbed quite a lot of knowledge about the typical structure of long fiction.

Since then, depending on your definitions, I’ve written seven or eight more novels – largely on instinct. I do make some conscious choices about novel structure, but to a large extent I’m going by what feels right.

Sometimes a critic will point out and praise stylistic or structural features after the fact. For instance, I had a reviewer comment on the Shakespearean allusions and parallels in Incognito. Aside from deliberately naming my heroine Miranda because her father was a Shakespearean scholar, I didn’t do any of that deliberately. However, I found the reviewer’s arguments persuasive.

The subconscious is a marvelous thing.

I was thinking about my latest novel The Ingredients of Bliss and realized it has a rather nice structural characteristic that I didn’t really plan. The book is simultaneously propelled by both an inner and an outer conflict. Although they are not directly related, the resolution of the outer conflict triggers or influences the inner conflict in a rather satisfying way.

The outer conflict is the heroine Emily’s quest to rescue her lovers Harry and Etienne from the clutches of a Chinese criminal gang. She hatches a multi-step plan that takes multiple chapters to execute. She encounters setbacks but pushes forward in her determination to save the two men.

The inner conflict revolves around Emily’s confusion about her feelings for Harry and Etienne. At the start of the book, she is sexually involved with both men, but is unsure about what role they might play in her future. Does she love Harry? Etienne? Both of them? Should she extricate herself from both relationships before someone gets hurt? The situation is complicated by the variability in her sexual role. Is she submissive? Dominant? Both? Neither?

As she perseveres in her efforts to resolve the outer conflict by freeing her lovers, answers to these questions become clear. I don’t want to tell you what she decides – I’d much rather have you read the book! However, I’m impressed by the way my subconscious managed to make it all work!


The Ingredients of Bliss by Lisabet Sarai

PG-rated Excerpt


I swiveled back to face Harry, feeling guilty as a kid who’d filched a pork bun behind his mother’s back.

“What have you been up to, Emily? You’re blushing.”

For the ten millionth time, I cursed my pale skin. But then Harry could read me even in the dark.

“Nothing. Etienne and I were just…um…just talking.”

“About what?”

He didn’t touch me, but I felt the force of his implacable will. He crossed his arms over his chest—he was wearing a red polo shirt that was just tight enough to show off his delicious pecs—fixed me those espresso-brown eyes, and waited for me to succumb.

I stared into my empty cup. I really didn’t want to share the content of Etienne’s and my recent conversation. It seemed too intimate, too personal. On the other hand, I owed Harry at least the same honesty that I’d given to Etienne.

“Ah—well, we were talking about you. About you and me. And about Etienne’s…uh…needs.”

“Excellent! It sounds as though he’s becoming a bit more comfortable with the whole idea.”

I nodded. I found discussing the chef’s masochistic desires in the broad light of day to be deeply disconcerting, but most likely it was a healthy sign.


“And he wants to come to my room, to ‘serve’ me. Tonight.”

“Perfect!” Harry rubbed his hands together like some cartoon villain. If he’d had a moustache, he’d have been twirling it. “Tell him he can come. No, order him to come.”

“But—what about us? You promised you’d come to my room tonight. Every time I look at the brass headboard on my bed, I get excited…”

“I’ll be there, love.”

I didn’t like that evil grin of his at all. Well, I did like it—perhaps too much, because I remembered the other times I’d seen it decorating his kissable mouth—but it definitely had me worried. “Harry? What are you planning? I don’t want this to blow up in our faces. We’re stuck here with Etienne for the next two-and-a-half weeks.”

He swung an arm around my shoulder and pulled me into a smoldering kiss. I forgot my concerns, at least for the duration. “Don’t you trust me by now, Emily? Nothing is going to blow up in our faces. We’re just going to take the next logical step in our relationship.”

Get your copy today!

The special VIP edition of The Ingredients of Bliss is now available from Totally Bound. This version contains a sizzling bonus chapter not available from other retailers. Totally Bound has the most advanced book selling site of any independent publisher on the web, with new One-Click ordering and direct delivery to all e-reader platforms.

Blog Tour Prizes

First prize: $30 gift certificate to Sur La Table (
Second prize: $20 gift certificate to Whole Foods Market (
Third prize: Three-pack of ebooks from my back list, including a copy of Her Secret Ingredient, the prequel to The Ingredients of Bliss.

I’ll also be giving a PDF copy of my own original cookbook, Recipes from an International Kitchen, to everyone who leaves a comment. AND I have a bonus $10 Totally Bound gift certificate for the tour host who gets the most reader comments.

To enter, simply leave a comment that includes your email address. You can enter once for each spot in the tour. For the full tour schedule, go to:

Goodreads page:
Amazon page:

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4 Responses to Guest blog: The Ingredients of Bliss

  1. Greetings, Ella! Thanks so much for hosting me today. I don’t think I’ve guested here before.

    I hope your readers enjoy my post and excerpt. And of course I want everyone to leave a comment… You DO want to win, don’t you?

  2. S.Dora says:

    Lovely to have you as a guest. I enjoyed your article a lot and I know enough of your work to know this novel is going to be a good read.

  3. Trix says:

    This one sounds fantastic!

    Trix, vitajex(at)Aol(dot)com

  4. Greetings, Ella,

    Thanks again for hosting me. I’ve drawn the winners. Your readers can find out more – including the details of my next tour, which starts next Wednesday – at my blog today:

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