Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Manual Labor

by Kathleen Bradean

When I think of Jane Austin writing the many drafts of Pride and Prejudice by hand, I get exhausted. She didn't even have the luxury of a self-inking pen.  No wonder only the rich were authors back then. Who else had the time?

Waaay back in the 1980s, when dot matrix printers were almost unreadably light and the paper had those holes in the sides for the printer feed, I'd use a clunky word processor program to write my stories, print them out, then literally cut and paste sentences and paragraphs on a sheet of paper as if I were composing world's smuttiest ransom note.  We had to do that because you could see so little of the page that it was easy to get lost moving paragraphs in the word processing program. Once I had what I wanted, I'd move things around in the word processor, make my other edits, print the latest version, and bring out the scissors to hone the story some more. All of that because I couldn't bear the thought of writing a story in longhand. You see, I'd lost so much time not being allowed to write through my teens and I had to make it up. I needed the speed computers gave me. Even though I was/am a crap typist, keeping up with the speed of my thoughts was easier on computer than writing longhand.

Almost three years ago, I lost a family member and the person-shaped wound left in our lives has become a black hole. Everything gets sucked into it. Nothing escapes that void. I wanted to write after his death, but couldn't. My creativity was gone. I tried so hard to put something down but until I was able to figure out the central conflict for the book, there was nothing to write. Normally, my imagination is hard to tamp down, but it was dead. No matter how much time I put into it, I couldn't imagine a conflict that would work. I made up a few, but knew they wouldn't support a book. They felt forced. Then writer Nan Andrews was visiting and I, as usual, was bemoaning my inability to write, and she said something that triggered a cascade of imagination. (This is why writers need to get together and talk. Most of us don't live with other writers, so what we do is so foreign to our families that they can't begin to know how to help us. Other writers do.)

Even though the ideas were suddenly flowing, I didn't sit down and try like mad to capture the deluge. I did what I hadn't done since before the time of computers. I picked up a notebook and a pen and began to write.

I wasn't writing the story yet. I was telling myself the story. Or, if you prefer, I was writing a synopsis/outline. When I was done, I waited a few days to mull it over, read it again, then picked up a pen and told myself the story again. I knew the weak parts because those are the sections I couldn't write as specific events. Those passages were more of a "Step twelve: a miracle occurs" comments that were huge red flags of plot weaknesses. The second time I wrote it down, those parts had more detail and were strong enough to support the following events. Soon, I may tell myself the story again. It can only become clearer with each step.

I've never been an outliner, at least not a written outline. I always sort of had one in mind as I wrote. But that was a nebulous thing, riding the currents of my imagination and libel to follow the stream of conscience anywhere it flowed. It was ethereal. This hand-written synopsis has a different feel. It's grounded, and I'm connected to it in a different and very real way. It is an idea, but it is physical, because it flowed from my mind through my hand onto paper. At this point in my writing life, I need this anchor to keep my creativity from falling into the black hole of loss again.

I don't know if I'll continue to write by hand, but for now, I like the connection it gives me to the words. I know I'll never write a whole novel by hand, but this may be my  new process. Write a synopsis, write it by hand.

Do you write by hand? Do you get a different feel for the story when you do? Have you changed up your writing methods to adapt to changes in your life?


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Red Lines, Rules and Limits



By Lisabet Sarai

Are there topics you feel should be unequivocally banned from erotica? Subjects about which you would absolutely never read—or write—in an erotic context? Do you believe there are some literary lines that should never be crossed?

Many people feel this way about rape or other forms of non-consensual sexual activity. Yet studies (here, for example) have shown repeatedly that many women (and some men) fantasize about being raped or forced into sexual activity. In general, these women understand that imagined coercion is very different from real rape. Finding the former arousing does not indicate a desire for the latter. Nevertheless many readers, and publishers, object to exploring this topic in erotica.

What about incest? Despite the difficulty authors experience in publishing fiction that features sexual activity between adult family members, the taboo topic is a turn-on for a significant subset of readers. The wildly popular step-brother romance sub-genre has provided a “safe” way for readers to experience the forbidden thrill of being attracted to a close relation. I personally consider this as a bit dishonest. I’ve had incestuous dreams about my own brother. I’d never act on them, but that doesn’t mean the dreams weren’t a turn-on.

Bestiality? If sexual activity involving animals is so horrifying, why are shifter stories so successful? Not to mention the cryptozoological “taken by bigfoot” sub-genre? Forcing oneself upon a dumb animal in the real world would be immoral, but the beasts in erotic fiction tend to be anthropomorphised. The human participants feel some sort of sexual connection with the horny dog or the sleek, predatory tiger. I’ve read some amazing erotica based on human attraction to animals. Does that mean I plan to have sex with my cat? Of course not.

Sex with children may be a hard line. Adults getting sexual with kids too young to object or to understand is definitely wrong. There are no extenuating circumstances. But how do you define “young”? Is fourteen too young? That’s how old I was when I gave away my virginity, to a guy who was twenty. I knew exactly what I was doing (well, in theory, at least). During the teen years, desire is confusing and inchoate, but overwhelming in its power. Memories of that period, when every emotion cuts to the quick, offer tremendous possibilities for meaningful and moving—as well as tremendously arousing—erotic fiction.

My clearest personal line involves erotic fiction that portrays inflicting serious violence, physical harm or death as arousing. I avoid such stories when I can. I’ve read enough erotica, though, to know that not everyone agrees with this boundary. Are the people who write such stuff fundamentally evil? Am I qualified to judge?

These are not easy questions to answer. If you think they are, I believe that you’re fooling yourself.

The core issue relates to another kind of line: the line between imagination and reality. Is someone who finds a taboo topic arousing in fiction likely to perform such actions in real life? I’d argue that most readers of erotica distinguish very clearly between the fantasies evoked by erotic fiction, no matter how extreme, and the life they live outside of books.

Of course there are individuals who do enact this sort of forbidden scenario in the real world. There are men who kidnap women and hold them prisoners in their basements for years, who secretly abuse grade school kids, who screw their prepubescent daughters. These people have always existed. Does our writing about the sort of crimes they perpetrate encourage these people to commit these crimes?

Does an author who writes about a serial killer encourage murderers in the real world?

How much of the horror that people express about various taboo topics is rational, and how much is based on their personal discomfort? I will leave that question open for you to ponder.

Publishers and online venues like ERWA don’t want to make readers uncomfortable. They’re also worried about getting in trouble with the law. Hence, they establish various rules about what content is and is not acceptable. These rules tend to be idiosyncratic, depending on both the personal beliefs of the owners or operators and their perception of their market. For instance, I had a publisher reject one of my stories once because they had a policy prohibiting the portrayal of priests and nuns in erotica. In the romance world, very few publishers will accept any work that includes bodily fluids (“golden showers” or “scat”) even though there’s no legal reason for them to reject such stories (and it’s possible to write about these topics with both grace and heat). These publishers are convinced their readership will find such content “gross”.

Rules can change. Last year, the ownership of ERWA changed hands. Now, the ERWA staff members are debating whether to remove the prohibition of incest erotica on the public website. Perhaps you will consider me an incorrigible reprobate, but I am in favor. I believe we should have as few rules as possible.

In my view, erotica should not only turn readers on, but should also expand their perspectives. Sex is inextricably intertwined with so many other emotionslove, guilt, ambition, shame, anger, and compassion, to name just a few. Erotica derives its singular power from this psychological complexity. It’s not a safe genre, or at least it shouldn’t be. Sometimes the most arousing stories are the most disturbing.

Does that mean nothing is sacred, nothing forbidden? That’s something each of us has to answer for ourselves. There are few, if any red lines that I can discern. Defining what is and is not acceptable in erotica is a dangerously slippery slope.

Red lines in erotica remind me a bit of limits in BDSM. Limits are personalthe activities I totally reject might be the ones that most turn you on. Furthermore, limits can change over time. Tomorrow I might consider doing something that terrifies or squicks me today. Finally, the most erotic BDSM encounters often result from pushing limitsmoving beyond the edge of what’s comfortable and familiar into new experiences and new insights.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Sexy Snippets for September



Greetings to all erotic authors!

Today's the 19th of the month, and you know what that means, right?  It's Sexy Snippet Day! I hope you've got a really sizzling snippet to share with us today.

The ERWA blog is not primarily intended for author promotion. However, we've decided we should give our author/members an occasional opportunity to expose themselves (so to speak) to the reading public. Hence, we have declared the 19th of every month at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog Sexy Snippet Day.

On Sexy Snippet day, any author can post a tiny excerpt (200 words or less) in a comment on the day's post. Include the title from with the snippet was extracted, your name or pseudonym, and one buy link.

Please post excerpts only from published work (or work that is free for download), not works in progress. The goal, after all, is to titillate your readers and seduce them into buying your books!

Feel free to share this with erotic author friends. It's an open invitation!

Of course I expect you to follow the rules. One snippet per author, please. If your excerpt is more than 200 words or includes more than one link, I'll remove your comment and prohibit you from participating in further Sexy Snippet days. I'll say no more!

After you've posted your snippet, feel free to share the post as a whole to Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you think your readers hang out.

Enjoy!

~ Lisabet

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Who Writes Excellent Sex Scenes (and Who Gets to Decide)?

The question of excellent sex scenes came to mind when a friend forwarded an interview with writer Lidia Yuknavitch from the Lenny Letter’s August 12 issue. Yuknavitch has been lauded as one of the few authors today who writes about sex “well.” I’d read Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water back in 2014 because I was curious as to why she was getting such praise, and also because I apparently needed a reminder as to why I should never listen to such marketing hype. Predictably her portrayal of sex, which ping-ponged between the acceptably literary theme of incest trauma and Penthouse-style lesbian group encounters, was more or less par for the course. In my opinion, one can find better writing about sex by any author here at ERWA.

However, two years on I’d pretty much forgotten about that experience so I read the interview with a fresh mind and—what do you know, I really liked it! If her novel had been anything like the interview, I would have liked that, too. I especially liked this part concerning writing about sex:

Suleika Jaouad for Lenny: It seems almost impossible to write a sex scene without clichés. In what ways are you interested in changing the script about how we write about sex and sexuality?

Lidia Yuknavitch: I think the worst lie of all that we’ve inherited about our own bodies is that the stories of sexuality and sexual identity are already written. The reality is, we haven’t even finished figuring out who we are yet as a species — let alone what to do with our bodies. For me, sexuality is a whole terrain or territory that you explore your entire life, from birth to dirt. We’ve yet to even begin to liberate the full story lines of our bodies.

I don’t sit in my office and go, “I’m going to write a really cool sex scene.” I hope we leave behind forever the idea of the sex scene on page 49, which is a market invention. If you want to write an excellent sex scene, you have to liberate it from the idea of a sex scene. Like I was saying before about violence, you have to thread sexuality through every part of a character or a person’s life, rather than limiting it to a titillating few pages where something juicy happens. You have to understand that sexuality is omnipresent in your body — your entire life.

Truer words were never spoken. Makes you want to jump in bed and explore some territory with a partner of one sort or another--not excluding one’s own trusty hands-- and get back to the keyboard to write down some new truths about the body-mind connection. That’s the fun part. But what does this fine sentiment mean for us erotica writers in terms of the day-to-day process of writing and publishing? Well, unfortunately, we not only have to take on the mysteries of sensuality and the challenges of wordcraft, we have to take on the contempt of the world.

In spite of the high accolades (unfortunately, I also forget where I read the praise that motivated me to read The Chronology of Water), Yuknavitch herself does not escape the contempt with which sex writing is still treated in our culture. I keep notes on books I’ve read (are you horrified?) and they’re skimpy for Water, but I did record word-for-word this passage from the introduction by Chelsea Cain (a writer of bestselling thrillers) about meeting Yuknavitch at the Portland writing, or “therapy,” group led by Fight Club’s Chuck Palahniuk:

“Chuck Palahniuk brought up the idea of inviting her. ‘She writes this literary prose,’ he told us. ‘But she’s this big-breasted blond from Texas, and she used to be a stripper and she’s done heroin.’ Needless to say, we were impressed.

I already wanted her to sit by me.

There was more. Chuck told us that some really famous edgy writer—I didn’t recognize her name, but I pretended that I did—had given a talk at a conference about the State of Sex Scenes in Literature and she’d said that all sex scenes were shit, except for the sex written by Lidia Yuknavitch. Maybe Chuck didn’t tell us that. But someone in the group did. I don’t remember. I think I was still thinking about the stripper thing. A real-life ex-stripper in our writing group! So glamorous.

Yes, we said, invite her. Please.

She showed up a few weeks later, wearing a long black coat. I couldn’t see her breasts. She was quiet. She didn’t make eye contact. She did not sound like she was from Texas.

Frankly, I was a little disappointed.

Where was the big hair, the Lucite platform heels? The track marks?

Had Chuck made the whole thing up? (He does that sometimes.)

How was he describing me to people?” (The Chronology of Water, p. xii-xiv)

As you see from this excerpt, people can’t stop talking about Yuknavitch’s breasts. In fact, the cover of Water is graced with a female swimmer’s naked nipple, which some bookstores covered with a Bandaid.

Good God, we really do need a new way to think and talk about sex, don’t we?

But I must conclude this peek into the culture of Chuck Palahniuk’s writing group with a final juicy bit, in case you were feeling jealous that you aren’t a member. Far from wowing that uber-cool coterie with a striptease, poor Yuknavitch apparently ended up running to the bathroom and cried when another member told her the father incest in her story was trite. Granted it has become so in literary fiction, but if one really was raped by dad, that remark would feel insensitive to say the least.

But this isn’t a post about the shallow values and cruelty of writing groups. It’s about “excellent” sex scenes.

I’m not going to tell you how to write them. I’m going to tell you why the question itself is a problem.

First let us notice how even a writer who has managed to write the only good sex scenes in the history of human storytelling is still safely ghettoized. Naturally someone who writes like this must be carnal, trashy, living on the margins of the law and have sleazy fashion taste. Writing about sex cannot merely be a cerebral act, an act of the imagination. Sex writers must have literally experienced the dirty deeds they write about and show the track marks on their bodies for all to see. We don’t ask murder mystery writers to pull a bloody corpse from the closet, but sex writers need to arouse us in the flesh. A shy woman in a concealing coat cannot write good sex. The potential field of venerable sex writers is thus narrowed considerably and keeps in check our own vulnerability to the disruptive power of sex.

More importantly note that neither Cain nor I can remember exactly who gave Yuknavitch such high praise. Instead some vague expert has made the pronouncement, someone who needn’t answer to anyone, an entity so vague that that the words seem to come from God herself. Remember, though, it only takes one critic with the word “trite” on his lips to strip her of her crown. And yet, so many have faith that the promise of the best sex (scene) ever will be fulfilled by someone, some day in next month’s issue or next year’s novel. In the meantime, there are many examples of intelligent, creative, well-crafted stories about sexuality out there and especially here at ERWA, but for the most part the literary establishment chooses to ignore our existence, just as it ignores the rich variety of sexual experience itself.

Yuknavitch herself acknowledges these problems in her interview. “Excellent” sex scenes are not free standing, carefully circumscribed entities on page 69. Excellent sex scenes don’t follow the script or if they do, they infuse it with something more. And for me “liberation” includes not just our own efforts in writing, but opening up the writing group to everyone. Sexual pleasure and expression are not just the province of a lucky gorgeous, young, well-endowed, celebrated few—or in other words, those who can play themselves on TV.

So let’s get away from this idea of scarcity and exclusion. We need countless new stories about our bodies and erotic minds told through countless sensibilities. And we need to listen to these stories respectfully, without jumping to judgment immediately or sniggering, because exploring new territory is a tentative, sensitive endeavor. What does this mean to a writer sitting before the blank screen? Well, we each have to come to terms with this in our own way, but I hope we can all acknowledge how courageous erotica writers are to give our talents to such important work. On that note, I’ll leave you with another excerpt from Yuknavitch’s interview that I found inspiring:

SJ: What are your best words of advice for fellow misfits and aspiring writers?

LY: I’m trying to help us remember that we invent our own beauty and our own paths and our own crooked, weird ways of doing things, but that they’re not nothing and they matter, too. We’re the half of culture that doesn’t take the paths that are sitting right in front of us. Our song may be a little off-key, but it’s a kind of beauty, too. I know I’m not the person who thought that up, and I’m not the person who invented that as a truth, but I can sure stand up and help remind us not to give up, that we have a song, too.

Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman and a collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Flattery to the Extreme

I have a friend who has a preternatural talent for clever turns of phrase and pithy remarks. Spend any amount of time in his company and bon mots go off like cluster bombs. I'm constantly telling him, "I'm going to steal that one." And he just brushes it off – yeah, sure, feel free.

I have stolen a few of his best and included them in fictional dialogue of my own, but not before Googling the phrase, just in case he picked it up from someone else. 

I think we all pick up on clever remarks, and those of us who write are likely to recycle them in the mouths of our characters. But a quick Google check might reveal a phrase's origin, or more importantly, whether it as fresh and original as you thought. You don't want to use it after it has become a meme or cliché. What's clever today has a briefer shelf life due to social media.

It might also keep you ought of trouble; what if it's a quote from a copyrighted work? There's fair use, and then there's being fair and giving credit.

I think, though, stealing lines is fairly common among writers. It may even be the sincerest form of flattery, or homage. I think it's the same as, for instance, using a locale that figures prominently in the work of an author you admire. Or even borrowing a minor character who inhabits that locale. Of course, you might want to do the courtesy of giving the other author a heads up. The few times other writers have asked me if they could borrow a character my response was always, "Wow, sure." It was fascinating reading my own characters as interpreted by someone else. Truly, it can open your eyes to another facet of a character you thought you knew inside-out ... I mean, you created them.

Outright plagiarism has surfaced in the news recently. Taking someone's unique creation and passing it off as one's own is the ultimate mortal sin among artists. The majority of such claims seem to arise out of the music industry. The latest, Led Zeppelin's exoneration of charges it plagiarized it's iconic "Stairway to Heaven."

You have to wonder, though, with only so many notes at one's disposal, and with all the music already created by our species over thousands of years, how anyone comes up with a distinct melody. Haven't you ever begun humming a tune and seamlessly segue into another tune with a similar melody? And yet, we recognize each as a distinct song.

It's a bit more difficult, I think, to plagiarize a known written work, or a speech, for that matter. Changing a few words just doesn't do the trick. If the current political season has taught us anything, it's just plain stupid to try that.

Unless it's a blatant rip-off, like lifting Michelle Obama's words wholesale, I tend to cut the accused offender a bit of slack because of something that happened to me.

While writing a story that came to be called "What Was Lost" – featured within "Cream" an amazing anthology of stories written by members of the Erotica Readers and Writers Association and edited by Lisabet Sarai – I took a break to watch a war drama, "The Lost Battalion."

Well, the movie ended in the wee hours, so I hit the sack. The next day I finished my story in time to post it to the ERWA critique list.

Among the responses I got was from a friend and an extraordinary writer of erotica, Helena Settimana: "I bet you watched 'Lost Battalion' last night."

Huh? How'd she know that? Then she quoted a line I used in the story. Think of what happened next as an epiphany delivered with a kick in the ass. I had had the line in my head and it fit perfectly into the mouth of my main character. The fact that I had, quite without intention, stolen a line from the movie frankly scared me.

Nothing of the sort has happened since, but it does give one pause, and perhaps a bit of empathy for the random artist who used a string of notes, or a series of words in a particular order that turned out to be part of someone's else's work.

They used to say, put a keyboard in front of a chimpanzee and give him enough time, he'll eventually bang out "War and Peace." I doubt either the chimp or its observers would live that long. But the human brain insists on putting things in order as it recycles information it receives all day.

Maybe whenever you come up with a great line, you should try saying, "Gee, I wish I'd written that." You know, just to reboot your brain's quality control.

Just sayin'.



Sunday, September 11, 2016

Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker: Fetish By M.Christian




Of all the things to write, I feel one of the all-time toughest has got to be fetish erotica. Gay or lesbian—or straight, if you're gay or lesbian or bisexual—is comparatively a piece of cake: just insert body part of preference and go with it. For gay erotica, it's a male body, and for lesbians, it's a female body. For straights, it's the opposite. You don't have to create the ideal man or woman; in fact, it's better to describe characters that are a bit more ... real. Perfection is dull, and can be bad storytelling, but a body with its share of wrinkles, blemishes, or sags can add dimension and depth.

The same goes with motivation, the inner world of your character. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: the trick to writing beyond your own gender or orientation is in projecting your own mental landscape into the mind of your character. You may not know how gay sex, lesbian sex, or straight sex feels, but you do know what love, affection, hope, disappointment, or even just human skin feels like. Remember that, bring it to your character and your story, and you'll be able to draw a reader in.

But fetishes are tougher. To be momentarily pedantic, Webster's says that fetishes are: "an object or body part whose real or fantasized presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification." That's pretty accurate—or good enough for us here—but the bottom line is that fetishes are a sexual interest that may or may not directly relate to sex. Some pretty common ones are certain hair colors, body types, smells, tastes, clothing, and so forth.

We all have them to some degree. To open the field to discussion, I like breasts. But even knowing I have that fetish doesn't mean I can really explain why I like big ones. It's really weird. I mean, I can write about all kinds of things, but when I try and figure out what exactly the allure of large hooters is for me, I draw a blank. The same thing (even more so) used to happen when I tried to write about other people's fetishes.

But I have managed to learn a couple of tricks about it, in the course of my writing as well as boobie pondering (hey, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon). I've come up with two ways of approaching a fetish, at least from a literary standpoint. The first to remember that fetishes are like sex under a microscope, that part of their power is in focusing on one particular behavior or body part. Let's use legs as an example. For the die-hard leg fetishist, their sexuality is wrapped around the perfect set of limbs. For a leg man, or woman, the appeal is in that slow, careful depiction of those legs. The sex that happens after that introduction may be hot, but you can't get away with just saying he or she had a great set of gams.

Details! There has to be details—but not just any kind of detail. For people into a certain body type or style, the words themselves are important. I remember writing a leg fetish story and having it come back from the editor with a list of keywords to insert into the story, the terms his readers would respond to and demanded in their stories. Here's where research comes in: a long, slow description is one thing, but to make your fetish story work, you have to get your own list of button-pushing terminology.

The second approach is to understand that very often fetishes are removed from the normal sexual response cycle. For many people, the prep for a fetish is almost as important, if not as important, as the act itself. For latex fans—just to use an extreme example—the talcum powder and shaving before even crawling into their rubber can be just as exciting as the black stretchy stuff itself. For a fetish story, leaping into the sex isn't as important as the prep to get to it. Another example that springs to mind is a friend of mine who was an infantilist—and before you leap to your own Webster's, that means someone who likes to dress up as someone much younger. For him, the enjoyment was only partially in the costume and role-playing. A larger part of his dress-up and tea parties was in masturbating afterward: in other words, the fetish act wasn't sex; it was building a more realistic fetish fantasy for self-pleasure afterwards. Not that all of your literary experiments need to be that elaborate, but it does show that for a serious fetishist, the span of what can be considered sex can be pretty wide.

The reason to try your hand at fetish erotica I leave to you—except to say what I've said before: that writing only what you know can lead to boredom for you and your readers. Try new things, experiment, and take risks. In the case of fetishes, it can only add to your own sensitivity and imagination—both in terms of writing and storytelling, but maybe even in the bedroom.

And who could argue with that?