Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Time Before Beginnings



I really wasn’t going to do this. I really wasn’t going to write an end of the year post for ERWA because there are probably a gazillion of them out there. And yet the fact that there are so many indicates to me that there’s something so intriguing about the last few weeks of the year that even when we tell ourselves it’s no big deal, it really kind of is …

As I was walking along the canal the other day between rain showers, watching the moorhens leave water con trails across the surface, I was thinking about why this time of year is such a big deal. It’s dark, it’s dreary, it’s seemingly dead. Really, it seems like something we should just want to skip right through as much as possible, and yet we celebrate this time of year more than any other.  For several years I celebrated the seasons of the year with a Wiccan coven, and one of the best parts of that time in my life was the effort made to understand and live in sync with the changing seasons of the year. That I’ve held onto long after I left the coven. That ebb and flow remains an important part of who I am and how I celebrate.

Then, as now, the magic of this time of year intrigued me the most. In the Pagan cycle of the year, the winter months are represented by the direction of north, the cold, dark direction, the place where everything seems dead and silent. The days are short and the nights are long and it’s a temptation to go to bed early and sleep late. In the darkest days it’s even a temptation to follow the example of our bear cousins and sleep the whole dreary time away until the spring returns. The holidays aside, by the time January gets here it’s all about the return of the light. We’ve all had enough dark days, and we want sunshine.

So what’s so magical about that? Of course we want the sunshine. Who doesn’t? But the magic comes in the waiting. The dark powers of the north, the dark earth energy of the pagan wheel of the year is dream magic. It’s the time before beginnings. It’s the time when we sit with a cup of tea clenched in our hands and reflect on what has been, while everything in us looks forward to what lies ahead. On the one hand we dream of the past and we say our good-byes to this turning of the year, on the other hand, we dream and scheme and anticipate the future that will begin, just like new life, in the dark place. And we wait for the end that has to happen before the beginning. The time before beginnings. It’s a phrase that has no meaning if we don’t have a past to reflect upon. It’s a phrase that has no meaning if we don’t have a future to anticipate and to dream and scheme for.

This time of year the sun, when we do get it, is never very high in the sky, and it’s often a cold anemic sun. This time of year when everything seems so dead, there are already buds fattening on the trees -- the beginnings of the leaves that will shelter the birds and shade us from the sun when it’s at its most powerful. This time of year even the winter visitors, the waxwings and the fieldfares, are anticipating new beginnings, feeding up for their return to the north and for the raising of the next generation.

It’s in these dark days, in this space in between when it’s not quite the end, but it’s not yet the beginning either, it’s in this liminal space that we experience a magic that’s different from any other time of the year, a magic of stillness, a magic of holding ourselves tightly and inhaling deeply just before the sun returns and we’re off once again, running forward into the headroom and the creative momentum that this time before beginnings has afforded us.

Happy Time Before Beginnings!

Friday, December 28, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different...


This blog post is by Elizabeth Black, who writes erotic fiction and dark fiction. Friend her on Facebook and visit her web site at http://elizabethablack.blogspot.com/.

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It's Christmastime, and the man knocking at your door is wearing warm, red clothes. He carries a walking stick. His long, white beard reaches his belt. He may even have horns. When you answer the door, you see a pulkka, which is a type of toboggan pulled by reindeer that can't fly. The man turns to you and asks "Onko täällä kilttejä lapsia?" (Are there (any) well-behaved children here?) You should invite him inside since he came all the way from the Korvantunturi mountains. He's had a long trip.

No, that man is not Santa Claus. He is a Joulupukki, or "Yule Buck", which is a pagan tradition found in Finland. I learned this after watching the Finnish movie "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale". It's kind of a combination of the story of Santa and his elves and "The Thing". Very bizarre but good. According to the Internet Movie Database, this movie is about the following: "On Christmas Eve in Finland, Santa Claus is unearthed in an archaeological dig. Soon after, children start disappearing, leading a boy and his father to capture Santa and, with the help of fellow hunters, they look to sell him back to the corporation that sponsored the dig. And then there's Santa's elves, who are determined to free their leader..."

Intriguing, isn't it? This isn't your usual Christmas story. I like unusual folklore and it influences my erotic fiction. I specialize in erotic fairy tales. Most people look to Hans Christian Anderson and Grimm for their fairy tale inspirations. I've done the same with my two tales "Climbing Her Tower" (erotic Rapunzel) and "Trouble In Thigh High Boots" (erotic Puss In Boots). I'm about to publish an erotic version of "The Little Mermaid" but this one won't resemble the sanitized Disney version at all. Great pain stabs into the mermaid's legs and feet with every step she takes, like in the fairy tale. She also does not win the prince in the end, as in the fairy tale. Looking to the dark origins of such stories make the erotic tales much more exciting.

Even more interesting are stories based on unusual legends. Two of my earlier erotic short stories were based on Japanese folklore. In the first one, entitled "Mud Licker", rather than rely on the usual (and somewhat tired) vampires, werewolves, and zombies, I created an erotic creature based on the Japanese akaname. This creature lives in bathrooms and cleans them with its two foot long tongue. Imagine what else it can do with that tongue, and you have a cracking erotic story. My other story entitled "Fountain Of Youth" is based on a Japanese shapeshifting tale about a ... you guessed it ... fountain of youth. The lesson of that story is to be careful what you wish for. Both stories are available at Amazon. The first appears in the "Like A Myth" anthology published by Circlet Press. The second is a stand-alone short story published by Romance Divine.

My point is that writers need to look outside the box when they are considering inspirations for their fiction. European folklore tends to be the most common inspiration. Look outside Europe to Africa and Native American folklore as well as Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and other Asian influences for some very unusual folklore. Hence my interest in Finnish folklore during the Christmas season and Japanese lore. If you wish to write an erotic vampire story, rather than the usual blood-sucker who dresses like a head waiter, why not test-run the Indonesian jenglot? Aren't familiar with it? Look it up. And get excited over the possibilities.

When you broaden your gaze outside your normal comfort zone, all sorts of riches await you. Yes, you are treading in unfamiliar territory, but isn't that the point of writing? You test your resolve and stretch your writing muscles. If you want to stand out in the crowd, you have to do something different. Standing out in the crowd is very important since these days there is a glut of writers creating erotic fiction. It's easy to get lost in that sea of books. Here's a great New Year's resolution: Give your readers the treat of something they've never seen before. Not only will you expand your vision, you will gain some new fans. And new fans are always wonderful.

About Elizabeth Black

Elizabeth Black writes erotica, erotic romance, speculative fiction, fantasy, and horror. She also enjoys writing erotic retellings of classic fairy tales. Born and bred in Baltimore, she grew up under the influence of Edgar Allan Poe. Her erotic fiction has been published by Xcite Books (U. K.), Circlet Press, Ravenous Romance, Scarlet Magazine (U. K.), and other publishers. Her horror fiction has appeared in "Kizuna: Fiction For Japan", "Stupefying Stories", and "Mirages: Tales From Authors Of The Macabre". An accomplished essayist, she was the sex columnist for the pop culture e-zine nuts4chic (also U. K.) until it folded in 2008. Her articles about sex, erotica, and relationships have appeared in Good Vibrations Magazine, Alternet, CarnalNation, the Ms. Magazine Blog, Sexis Magazine, On The Issues, Sexy Mama Magazine, and Circlet blog. She also writes sex toys reviews for several sex toys companies.

In addition to writing, she has also worked as a gaffer (lighting), scenic artist, and make-up artist (including prosthetics) for movies, television, stage, and concerts. She worked as a gaffer for "Die Hard With A Vengeance" and "12 Monkeys". She did make-up, including prosthetics, for "Homicide: Life On The Street". She is especially proud of the gunshot wound to the head she had created with makeup for that particular episode. She also worked as a prosthetic makeup artist specializing in cyanotic blue, bruises, and buckets of blood for a test of Maryland's fire departments at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport plane crash simulation test. Yes, her jobs are fun.  ;)

She lives in Lovecraft country on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four cats. The ocean calls her every day, and she always listens. She has yet to run into Cthulhu.

Visit her web site at http://elizabethablack.blogspot.com/
Follow her at Twitter: http://twitter.com/ElizabethABlack

Monday, December 24, 2012

Writing This Novel part II

by Kathleen Bradean

In Part I, I told you about how I came up with the idea for my WIP (work in progress) and the title. This article will focus on the beginning of the novel.


Word One. Or, where to start.


You might be thinking “Hey, you told us about your vision of the story in Part I, why don’t you open with that?” That’s a great question. Many times your first impression might be your natural opening scene, but not always. I found this out the hard way with another novel I wrote. I had this wonderfully compelling first vision. However, after writing two drafts of the novel that didn’t work, I realized my vision scene was part of the problem. It set the tone for the main characters’ relationship, but it took place a year before the rest of the story. When I very reluctantly gave it up as something I’d know about but it wouldn’t make it into the novel, the third draft fell into place. Moral of that story: you can only try to make something work for so long before you have to drag your writing down to the cellar and shove it into a shallow grave with all your other darlings. I’m not going to open The Night Creature with the train station scene I mentioned in part I and I’m not sure it will make it into the novel at all, which means I have to come up with a different way to start my story.


The common advice writers hear is to start a story in medias res (In the middle of affairs). The definition of in medias res is that an important catalyst for the plot has already taken place before the story opens, a scene that will often be shown in flashbacks. Some writers take it to mean they should open the work in the middle of an action sequence. While opening your story with your main character busting a chair over someone’s head is action, without context a fight means nothing to readers. If you add context, the action is broken up by a lot of back story that muddles the scene and kills the forward momentum of the fight. Not a good choice. But going the opposite direction is also a problem.


Recently, I beta read a friend’s fantasy novel. It was good once I got into it, but it took a long time to finish the first chapter because he used what I call the Sound of Music opening. If you’ve seen the movie The Sound of Music, you probably don’t remember the very long opening sequence that flies you over the alps forever, swings toward Salzburg (are we there yet?) picks an alpine meadow to focus on (are we there yet?) slowly brings your eye down to a young woman sauntering through the lush grass, gets closer and closer until you can see her face, then she twirls, opens her mouth, and begins to sing. You probably only remember the twirl and the singing. And do you know why? Because it’s action. It’s interesting. That's the place where the networks tend to begin the movie broadcast because they don’t want you to flip channels after two minutes of snowcapped peaks. Similarly, my friend’s opening chapter started with the long shot view of the mountains, slowly bringing the focus down to a little village as it talked about the weather, the economy, the political structure of the area and the geography. That kind of opening sequence is bound to lose readers. The TV networks figured this out, so should writers. My friend fixed that in his rewrite and it made a huge difference. 


Instead of jumping into action without context or using a Sound of Music style opening, a better idea is to show the main character doing something (action rather than simply sitting around thinking) that will bring him/her/hir to the inciting incident rather quickly.


The inciting incident is what causes the story to happen. In Frank Herbert’s Dune, the inciting incident is when the Emperor orders the Duke to take over management of the planet commonly known as Dune. You never see that scene. That happens before the opening chapter, a good example of in medias res. As the story opens, you see the Duke’s household in the midst of preparations to leave their home planet for Dune. From word one, the story is in forward motion. Another good technique is to ease the reader into the setting and characters by starting a short time before the inciting incident occurs. Margaret Mitchell’s approach for Gone With the Wind gave the reader a chapter or two of normal life on the plantation, but still with forward momentum leading to the two inciting incidents-- Ashley announcing his engagement to his cousin Melanie (effectively dumping Scarlett), and news reaching the party that the war has been declared.


In my novel The Night Creature, I open the story at a party. The female and male lead characters see each other across the room. She wants to hook up with him and he wants her, but they remain on opposite ends of the room no matter where they move in the crowd. They’re chasing and evading each other simultaneously. This foreshadows the plot. It’s also in medias res because you find out later that he’s been pursuing her for a while and she’s been purposefully evasive. By the end of the evening, she lets him catch her. During sex, he bites her. This is the inciting incident. The bite transfers their roles. Now she pursues him and he runs away. As they find themselves trapped in a game without end, they struggle with all-consuming desire, obsession, and madness. I did mention that this story is gothic horror, didn’t I?


The opening of a novel doesn’t just introduce the character and their world. It should also give the reader a taste of what’s at stake for the main character. In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett wants Ashley, to flirt and be admired, and to get her way. She wants life to continue as it has up until now for her, only better. In Dune, the Duke Atreides, his consort Jessica, and heir Paul want to survive the political intrigues of the Emperor and eventually get off Dune with their fortune, power, and lives intact. My characters want the game to end. Yeah. Not going to happen. But that’s not the point. Show what your character wants, briefly. Then yank it from their grasp with the inciting incident. That’s where your story starts. Every book is different, so you could get to the inciting incident within a thousand words or it could take you a couple chapters, but get to it as soon as possible.


For an erotic novel, you might go with a sexual the inciting incident. Desire, lust, attraction, a gang bang, whatever is right for your story should be the catalyst to get the story moving. Sometimes the inciting incident is a situation that makes sexual discovery, seduction, submission, etc. possible. However, be wary of literary tropes. This is an excellent article describing them:   http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10360 I review erotica and have judged both erotica and erotic romance for contests, and I’ve seen a few tropes so many times that, as this article suggests, they make me want to hurl a book across the room. It’s a good thing I like my Kindle too much to fling it. So please, do not make the inciting incident be a bad break up. Don’t have your heroine take a bubble bath as she thinks (what did I say about sitting around thinking?) about making a radical change in her life. Don’t have her buy a fabulous house out in the middle of nowhere with only a mysterious Byronic hero alpha male for a neighbor. Just. Don’t. For me. Please.



How do you decide where to start? Do you go with your first vision? Is starting the novel the hardest part for you?



Next time, I’ll talk about why maybe I should learn to outline (but it won’t happen) and what to do when you feel like you’re up to your knees in muck that’s sucking you down into a writerly funk and you don’t think you can slog through it to the next chapter.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Not Naughty, Not Nice

By Lisabet Sarai


Warning: rant alert.

I had planned this month to blog about symbolism, allegory, allusions and archetypes, and how these can add depth and substance to erotic writing. However, then I read a book I'd agreed to review (without knowing anything about it), and found myself so massively annoyed that I just had to vent.

I haven't encountered such dreadful writing in quite a while. Malapropisms (“intangibly bright eyes”, “moved in perfect synchronicity”). Point of view that wanders from one character's head to another within a single sentence. Stereotypically extreme descriptions of anatomy,with every cock enormous and every breast and ass “large, round and firm”. Typographical errors (“nearly identikit paths”) and grammar gaffes (“grinded”) that suggest no editor ever came near the book.

The novel does offer a great deal, and considerable variety, of sex. Some scenes definitely deserve the label “gratuitous”, in the sense that they involve minor characters and are completely irrelevant to the plot. Other scenes are so extreme that they struck me as ridiculous. I suppose that if one is looking for pure sexual fantasy, realism doesn't matter, and I'm sure there are readers who would buy this book for the sex alone. The sex, though, is just as poorly written as the rest of the book, a strange mixture of sterile physical descriptions and romance-tinted purple prose. (I'm sorry, but I can't read the word “manhood” in a gang-bang orgy scene with a straight face.)

This novel was not, as you might suspect, self-published. On the contrary, it comes from a well-known publisher, a publisher that I would have expected to have higher standards – or at least better editors.

Why am I so upset about this? It's only one book.

The crux of the problem is – it's not. I'd like to believe this particular novel is an anomaly, but the last three books from this house that I've reviewed have exhibited similar, though perhaps less extreme, problems. Furthermore, I've encountered the same issues in recent books from other high-profile erotic imprints.

This book is symptomatic of a unfortunate trend in the erotica publishing world, namely, a willingness to accept and release pretty much anything, as long as it includes plenty of sex. Publishers are choosing quantity over quality.

In fact, this might be considered a rational business decision, because they have very little to lose.

Ebooks have radically altered the economics of bringing books to market. Authors no longer receive advances, so if a book doesn't sell, the company doesn't need to pay the writer anything. There's no risk involved in accepting practically every manuscript submitted. Meanwhile, production costs for ebooks are minimal. The only expenses a publisher shoulders are the labor costs involved in editing, formatting the manuscript and submitting it to sales outlets. (It appears that some companies are deciding to skip the editing process, in order to improve profits.)

In the days of print, publishers had to bear the financial consequences of bad decisions regarding who to publish. This tended to make them at least somewhat selective. Now, from a publisher's perspective, selectivity has almost zero advantage. The more books they release, the more money they make, especially since readers' appetite for sexually-themed ebooks appears to be insatiable.

What about reputation? That's a good question. Have these companies no shame? I'd be horribly embarrassed to put my name on a product like the book in question. Apparently such considerations doesn't enter into the equation for these companies, at least when balanced against cash.

Maybe I'm just an elitist snob. Perhaps an author's writing skill doesn't matter at all. A survey of the Amazon reviews for the book in question suggests there's some truth to this theory. The ratings are pretty much divided between five stars and one star, but quite a few readers claim to have loved the novel. Why should my opinions be any more valid than theirs?

Well - I am an author, an editor and a reviewer, who has been involved in erotica publishing for more than a decade. Although it's commonly believed that anyone can write an erotic story, I know that it takes serious effort and determined practice to capture the elusive nature of desire. Perhaps it is true, though, that almost anyone can write a story that includes sex, if all that's needed is the tab-A-in-tab-B nuts-and-bolts (or the nuts-and-cunts, if you will). It may be that this is all that readers want, after all – not insight, not joy, not surprise – just plain old down-and-dirty sex that they can wank to.

I've got nothing against wanking. But that's not enough to satisfy me as a reader - or as an author.

Publishers used to act as gatekeepers. Authors would lament that fact. We all complained about how our opus languished in the slush pile, ignored or rejected by those who had the power to turn us into best-sellers. The gates are wide open now; the slush-pile gets simply shoveled out onto Amazon and iTunes.

This is bad news for those of us who do care about quality writing. Our creations, the children of our souls, drown in the vast sea of (often terrible) quasi-porn that is now called erotica. It's trivially easy to get published and nearly impossible to get noticed.

I'm tempted to publicly take the publishers to task here, to broadcast the fact that they're putting out shoddy products. Unfortunately, I suspect it would make no difference. The only kind of protest I can make is resolving not to submit my work to them. But of course they couldn't care less. They have hordes of eager wannabee writers sending in their stories, dreaming of fame and fortune. They don't need me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why I Don’t Want E.L. James’ Royalty Checks

By Donna George Storey

Recently I’ve been pondering the influence of celebrity culture on the life of an ordinary artist, in other words, the majority of us who have not “made it big,” but merely continue to create with more down-to-earth rewards like a publication in an anthology a few times a year.  While our society has supposedly done away with hereditary aristocrats, we seem to have created glittering replacements whom we alternately worship and depose: actors, musicians, very rich businessmen, and the occasional throwback scion like Paris Hilton or John F. Kennedy, Jr.  The perks and pitfalls of celebrity are of course most pertinent to the famous themselves, but I think the values and fantasies that support it affect us common people, too.  Venture into the creative arts and you are immediately judged by the standards of national stardom.  This was brought home to me when my novel was published back in 2008, and a good portion of the congratulations were spiked with questions such as “When will it be optioned for a movie?” “How is it selling?“ or “Are you rich yet?”  In other words, instead of celebrating what I had done—actually finished and published a novel I was proud of--I was being reminded of the definition of “true success” that only comes to a tiny percentage of writers.

Back in 2008 I could argue that erotica was a ghettoized genre, and Big Money would go nowhere near such a frankly sexual story as mine.  But now along comes E.L. James to prove that a lie and to rekindle questions as to why I’m not making as much money as she is when I know more about U.S. geography.  Although Remittance Girl’s latest post here is chiefly a thought-provoking discussion of how erotica and erotic romance are binary opposites, due to my own recent musings, her opening sentence in particular lingered in my head:

“There are probably a number of outstanding erotica writers out there who have written delicious novels full of BDSM kinkiness wondering why their royalty checks don't look anything like those of E.L. James.”

There is, of course, the issue of popularity (meaning tons of money) versus quality of writing (what we’re told is important but often apparently is not), which is another column, but I’ve also heard/read many authors off-handedly remarking that they would certainly like to be raking in that kind of dough.  But, surprisingly perhaps, I most definitely would not.  I have a number of reasons for this, which I would like to share in the hope you may take heart and possibly use these arguments the next time a drunk at a party corners you and asks when you are going to dethrone the lady who wrote Fifty Shades of Grey.

Reason #1: Rich people have to buy nine houses.

I’m serious.  Rich, famous people seem to be required to have residences all over the country, nay, the world.  Once I tried to work out why anyone would need so many houses.  Okay, so there’s the main residence, then the ski cabin and the beach cottage.  Possibly an apartment in a city where you visit often for business.  A castle in Ireland, that would be fun.  But then what possible need would you have for the other four?  I have trouble keeping my two-bedroom bungalow presentable as it is. 

Reason #2: The kids of rich people are destined to be miserable.

I had my first taste of this phenomenon my freshman year at Princeton when I encountered the children of U.S. Senators and famous writers as well as the descendants of legendary industrialists.  These kids had tasteful, expensive wardrobes and the habit of leaving dirty coffee cups around for weeks for the maid.  They spent summers studying art in Florence or sunning in San Tropez instead of working as a secretary at the IRS like I did.  But in spite of having everything they wanted, they seemed perpetually dissatisfied.  Could it be that having less makes you appreciate what you have? 

Reason #3: Rich people suddenly see distant relatives for the first time in forty years.

I once read that Oprah was constantly fending off relatives and old friends who tried to hit her up for “loans” once she had ascended to fame and fortune.  I come from a large Catholic family with thirty cousins, all of whom have families.  If I did my duty by them and their doubtless valid needs, the E.L. James-sized royalty checks would shrink to nothing as fast as you can say, “Nice to see you again, Cousin June... and Ben... and Jim...and Karen....”  Better to keep the contact to Christmas cards once a year.

Reason #4: Contrary to what you think, rich people always have to worry about money.

Sure, you’d think those royalty checks would mean the end of money worries, but the problems are just beginning.  Not only do you have to buy eight more houses, you have to pay folks to manage them, plus your twelve vintage cars and your yacht.  (You don’t want to be a cheap-looking rich person, do you?) And that great agent who always returns your calls?  Do you think that will continue if your future doesn’t look as lush as your past?  You don’t want to be a one-hit wonder, nor do you want to make of fool of yourself like J.K. Rowling, naively attempting an adult novel with actual sex in it.  Shudder.  You’re famous now and you have a reputation to build higher and higher to the stars. 

Reason #5: To keep those checks coming, you will have to let others define your success.  Indefinitely.

In his memoir Who I Am, Pete Townshend ruefully described how every time he wanted to go off and do an independent project, his business advisers would try to convince him to involve the other Who members which would automatically make the endeavor a financial success.  Sometimes he succumbed, other times he didn’t.  He still made money solo, but not Big Money, enough to make those who skim off a percentage really, really happy.  And remember, even if you try your best to give your audience what they want, not everyone responds with adoration.  Very successful writers may have their time in the limelight when all the mean kids they knew in middle school will regret their bullying because said new celebrity obviously really was cool deep inside (and maybe old Donna will be good for a loan now that she's rolling in it?).  But success always brings out the sharks and critics.  Soon enough the insults will be hurled again.

I don’t know about you, but after all considering all of these rich people woes, I feel relieved I typically get $50 per story sale.  Think of all the problems I don’t have!  Instead I can love my little house, teach my kids the joy of economizing, and write what intrigues, amuses and inspires me. Some writers do make a living with words, albeit that very few of them are fiction writers, and I respect what they’ve achieved.  I do have my own particular yearning—to connect with readers who “get” me.  I’ve been lucky enough to meet some.  But in the end, the greatest luxury is to travel to a space where money and “success” don’t mean nearly as much as creating new worlds and reveling in the beauty and power of words and ideas.  Those royalties flow every time I sit down at my computer to work on a story, tax-free.

Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman (recently released as an ebook) and a new 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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Crossroads Coming into View

By: Craig J. Sorensen

In 1990, I started to write a book based on a fantasy world that had rattled around in my head since I was a kid.  I finished over 100 pages, then the story became disjointed.  I moved on to writing other things.




I finished my first book in 1994.  It was a modern fantasy, based on an uptight businesswoman who enters into a series of dreams, each of which features a door where she can wish for something and will receive it.  A sort of homage to the saying, “be careful what you wish for, or you will surely get it.”  Actually, it was more about “be careful how you wish for it.”  The dreams summarily invaded further and further into her real life, and vice versa.

I tried to find an agent or publisher.  I had no writing credits whatsoever.  I only tried a couple then slipped the book into a three ring binder and stashed it in a box.  Truth was, the writing quality wasn’t where it should be, and deep down, I knew that.  I went back into poetry and short stories, which I had played with since I had joined the Army in 1980.

Fast forward to 2004, and I returned to that story I’d start in 1990.  Over the years since then, I’d come back to the idea time and time again, written bits of it, built back stories and character sketches, drew pictures and maps.  I committed, January 1, 2004, to finish the first installment of the trilogy I envisioned by the end of the year.

And I achieved that goal. 

I planned to find a publisher or an agent.  I didn’t actually submit to anyone, I just looked hard enough to know that selling a novel about an imagined ancient world, a story with no magical element to it, would probably be a hard sell, especially for an entirely unpublished author.

And so I tried my hand at literary short stories.  I found some encouraging words, but to the point, from one prospective editor, “you write really well, but your story lacked vibrancy.”  It was a fair cop.  The stories I had been writing just didn’t sparkle.

One nasty little story I had written among my literary efforts sat off to the side, certainly no lit mag would want it.  Then my wife sent me a call she had seen.  Seemed that nasty story was a possible fit.  I sent out the story and had an acceptance within 24 hours.  Never mind that the magazine folded before the story was published.  I was paid.  I was an author.

Seems I had a home in erotica.  I found my energy there.  Something in my writing filled in. The characters were more lively, the settings and situations more vibrant.  A mountain I had seemed unable to climb suddenly seemed more ascendable.  A timely slowing of my duties at my day job left me my early waking hours to devote to my writing, and the success I was experiencing in erotica spurred me on.

Fast forward to late 2011.  I have around forty published short stories to my name and a couple of completed books in the hopper, even more in the works.  I’ve hit almost every goal I set for myself when I decided that I needed to get my “street cred” as a writer.  In truth, I’ve achieved some things I did not anticipate.

Suddenly, a crossroads appeared in the windshield.

To be continued…

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Erotic Romance vs Erotica: Order vs Chaos

Hans Bellmer, The Brick Cell
There are probably a number of outstanding erotica writers out there who have written delicious novels full of BDSM kinkiness wondering why their royalty checks don't look anything like those of E.L. James. This post is an attempt to explore why that is, and how the Erotic Romance genre is, philosophically and politically, almost the binary opposite of Erotica.

You would think that genres which predominantly focus on the nasty things two or more people get up to in bed would be closely related. Superficially, and commercially, they look very similar, but readers know they are not. Underneath the hood, ideologically, they stand almost in opposition to each other, despite the subject matter they share.

Modern erotic romance novels conform to the mythic structure of a classical comedy described by Northrop Frye. People meet, they become lovers, chaos ensues, but social order is finally restored in the form of a wedding. Although most erotic romances no longer end with a wedding, the 'Happily Ever After' convention is maintained through the explicit culmination of the romance in some sort mutually agreed upon serious and long-term emotional commitment to each other. By the end of the story, we are left with a stable 'family-like' unit. We go from order to chaos to order.

Even when the pairings in an erotic romance are non-normative, i.e. gay, lesbian, bi or trans romances, they still ultimately pay obeisance to the prevailing cultural dominance of a 'normative' relationship structure: two people, together forever. Even when the story revolves around a menage, it either ends with a pair at the end, and the third party neutralized somehow, or an hermetically sealed threesome that, for all intents and purposes, results in a place of domestic order.

No amount of wild, kinky or transgressive sex in the middle can mitigate the final conservative outcome of a neat, socially recognizable and culturally settled bond. The outcome of all these stories is essentially a conservative one. One that supports and perpetuates the prevailing social order.

I cannot recall who said it, but one very famous murder mystery writer once said that her readers were people who had a very passionate love of justice. No matter how gruesome the murders or thrillingly evil the murderer, he or she is inevitably caught and made to answer for the crimes.  The convention of the genre demands it. The readers expect it and are left disgruntled and unsatisfied when the implicit promise of the narrative is not delivered.

I would echo this by suggesting that, no matter how explicit, licentious or debauched the  sex, erotic romances promise something similar. These two individual characters with their chaotic taste for erotic adventure find each other and this perfect matching up of desires neutralizes whatever destabilizing influences they might have on society. The inevitable pairing at the end guarantees the reader a return to emotional and sexual order. Erotic Romance lovers are essentially ideologically conservative in their appreciation of a restoration of the social order.

But, according to Georges Bataille (the French writer and thinker who spent more time considering eroticism that almost anyone else on the planet) this conservative social order and eroticism are almost mutually exclusive.  Eroticism, said Bataille, is a uniquely human phenomenon that results from an excess of sexual energy. (Unlike almost all other animals, humans indulge in sex far more than the continuation of the species demands. Our instinct to have sex might be procreative, but our desire to have it far outstrips the needs of nature.)  This excess, this eroticism, is a dangerous and destabilizing force, he said. Which is exactly why all cultures, in one way or another, have attempted to control the effects of this energy and why so many of our religions, taboos and customs are especially focused on matters of sexuality and violence. Foremost amongst the mechanisms used to control these desires is the institution of marriage and the promotion of monogamous, procreative relationships.

Bataille, Lacan, Zizek, Deleuze, and others have made interesting observations on how one of the most effective ways to control humans within society is through work. Work occupies us, distracts us, commits us to the social order.  Spouses, mortgages, and 2.3 children turn out to be a very good way to keep us occupied, working to support them. So the myth of the romantic ideal of the permanent single partner whom we lust after in perpetuity and love eternally serves that hegemonic structure well. Perpetuating that myth through erotic romances encourages us to aspire to that myth in reality, make it our loftiest of all goals, and ultimately to internalize and validate that authority and its rules of social order with enthusiasm.

But the reality is that eroticism is a fleeting, liminal human experience. It does not - cannot - last long. And it would not be so attractive or precious to us if it could. Erotic heights are by their nature impermanent, chaotic, and fundamentally transgressive. Our greatest erotic experiences occur right at the edges of the limits imposed not only from without (in the form of prohibitions, taboos and religious interdictions) but more importantly, at our inner limits of the rules of behaviour we have internalized. Erotic ecstasy is the place where we lose ourselves, not just to another, but to the structured world. This, of course, cannot be sustained.  Or rather, it can only be sustained in death.

A person who gives themselves permission to enter this state of erotic rebellion is an anathema to the fabric of social order, since none of the rewards that society can offer them have any value in that moment. They are in a state of revolution against the stable, against categorization, against limitation, against even language itself. And this is what lies at the heart of all the best erotica. This essentially transgressive, anarchic, unconstrained state of being.

It took me a fairly long time to fathom why I, as a writer and reader, had such a deep antipathy toward the narrative structure of erotic romance. What's wrong with me? Why don't I like a good love story? Why can't my characters end up blissfully happy and together forever? I have come to feel that the underlying text of the story-form of the erotic romance is a type of conservative social propaganda. Not 'unfeminist' as some feminists have claimed, but simply reflective and supportive of the status quo as regards all our positions as productive, functioning and controllable members of the current social structure.

I am, at heart, deeply anti-authoritarian.  And although in my everyday life, I am a quite a law-abiding, acquiescent citizen, I am not interested in taking that part of my world into my fictional writing.

The eroticism that does interest me lies in the opposite direction: that place of impermanence, transgression, and dangerous erotic experience. Its very instability is what I find so blindingly beautiful, intriguing and exciting.

So it is really not so very surprising that, despite the veneer of transgressiveness, Fifty Shades of Grey has done so much better than well-written, more erotic, more informed pieces of erotic fiction. Because beneath all the surface naughtiness, E.L. James' 'global shocker' strongly reinforces a very stable and conservative social order. And, the truth is, most readers are far more comfortable with that.

(And before anyone jumps all over me, I would like to underscore that I've used the word 'conservative' to mean ideologically at home with the status quo and traditional social structures. I haven't accused anyone here of voting Republican.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker: What Makes a Good Publisher? (Part 2)



Before I begin (yet again), a bit of disclosure: While the following has been written in an attempt to be professionally and personally non-biased I am an Associate Publisher for Renaissance E Books. 

Now, with that out of the way (one more time)...

#

Wanna hear something scary?  The build-up might be a bit slow but, believe me, the punch line is more than worth it. 

It begins like this: I'm in the middle of my all-time favorite part of writing – publicity and marketing (and, yes, that was sarcastic) – of a new book of mine called Stroke The Fire: The Best Manlove Fiction Of M.Christian, which is basically my own personal best-of-my-very-best queer erotica, and I'm doing one of those round-robin guest blog things and a question comes up, "How long did it take you to write the first draft?"

Well, without going into the silly details of how I work I answered that, since the book is made up of stories I've written since I first started writing, technically the book was started in 1994.

Got that?  Well, here it comes: that basically means that the book was 18 years in the making ... now that is a terrifying thought.

What this has to do with this Streetwalker is that it got me thinking a lot more about publishers and publishing – and, believe me, after (sigh) 18 years I've had more than my fair share of them.  That, plus the wonderful comments I got on my previous installment, really got my wheels turning.

One of the big revelations I had as my wheels cranked was to agree with many of the comments my first publisher Streetwalker got: a publisher should, naturally, be considered on the quality of its materials and presence.  After all, if a publisher is sloppy with its contracts and site and so forth that doesn't bode well.

But I also have to say that a misspelling here or there shouldn't necessarily be enough to make a writer walk away: typos, do, after all, happen to the best of us.  Some have suggested doing research on a publisher before signing and while that may, on the surface, be a good idea I can't help but think of all the great books, films, etc., that have gotten petty, spiteful and – let's use the word – stupid comments on places like Amazon, Netflix, and all the rest. 

An excellent reason to use the word stupid, by the way, is that the world of writing, editing, and publishing is extremely small and it is far too common for a person to jump from one publisher to another – so venting bile at one target may, actually, hit a lot of targets ... and too often targets that you might not want to have hit sometime in the future.

So reviews are not a good judge of a publisher – though I do think chatting with other writers who may have worked with a publisher is a good idea, if just so you know what to expect – what really does make a good publisher?

A very common mistake a lot of writers make is that they feel a publisher should be a writer's best friend.  That's not to say that that a publisher shouldn't be supportive and enthusiastic about their authors – that's actually extremely important – but just that there is a big difference between being someone being a friend and suggesting that you swim in shark infested waters.  A good publisher should be encouraging but also have the experience and business sense to know what is good for their writers – and so be able to tell them things like: "We love it.  We think it's wonderfully literary.  We want it.  But don't expect it to sell a lot of copies."

I've said it before but those cranking cogs have brought up how important it is that a publisher, beyond anything else, is a business – and the business, so to speak, of any business is to make money ... not just for the company itself but to be able to pass along that success to its authors as well as allow it to grow through things like expanded marketing and advertising.  By the same logic, a bad publisher is one that doesn't take responsibility for a book's failure: after 18 years I still have nightmares about giving a publisher exactly what they wanted – only to have the book bomb – and my craft being blamed for its failure.  A mature and professional publisher understands that while they may know a lot there is still a universe of things that can happen – good or bad – to a book, and that tossing away an author only shows insecurity and irresponsibility.  A good publisher should be there to pat a writer on the back when things go wrong and tell them to keep working.  That's not being a best buddy: that's just understanding that writers are resources -- and that keeping a resource is simply good for business.

The ebook revolution -- no duh -- has changed everything, but it's sad that a lot of publishers out there haven't changed the way they operate: they put pressure on writers like every book could be their last – when the financial risks and stress are now considerably less; they focus on trying to make one book a best seller – when a single title is far less important than having a good quantity (and quality) of books so when one sells they call do; they are pathologically addicted so social media to the point where the writer ends up spending more time tweeting than writing – when it's clear than while social media is important it is not the only way a book achieves success ... and that, once again, sometimes it all the social media in the world won't do squat.

A good publisher understands and encourages their authors to do marketing – but never at the cost of writing the next book.  Readers, after all, can only buy a book once: so putting a few royalty eggs in one very small basket makes no sense – far better to put a few royalty eggs in a lot of very small baskets.

18 years ... it makes my blood run cold but I hope what's come out of all this  time are some pretty good stories, a few book books, more than a few scars -- and what I hope may be a certain degree of wisdom. 

Part of being a writer – especially a professional one -- is being able to grow and learn.  Who knows where you may be in 18 years but I hope that my reflections here and in other Streetwalkers may make your own journey a bit smoother.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Writing Exercise - Christmas Poetry


 By Ashley Lister

 There’s no specific tradition of Christmas poetry. There’s no rigid form where a poem has to comply with restrictive-rhyme-scheme A or arbitrary-syllable-count B.

However, there are some features of poems that do make some poems typical of Christmas.

Typically, a Christmas poem will mention Christmas or the baby Jesus or will include some capitalist allusion to gift-giving. Sometimes a Christmas poem will mention Santa and some bullshit about this being a magical time of the year. Quite often it will be easy to make cynical comments about their content.

Most commonly a Christmas poem will be written in rhyming couplets. These are fun because they give a piece a sing-song quality. They can be even more fun if you have to force a rhyme because it allows the poet to share a joke with the reader/audience about the complexities of rhyme.

I’ve written a poem below that illustrates the way a Christmas poem can include some of these features of couplets and forced rhyme:

‘Twas the build up to Christmas and the regulars here
Were writing their way to the end of the year
Through me and M Christian: and Craig and RG
Writing and blogging  - erotically.
From Donna George Storey and Lisabet too
Perfecting our blogs for the reader (that’s you).
There’s Kathleen, KD and (of course) Jean Roberta.
There’s Lucy and Elizabeth (who write every querter)
It’s more than just blogging about the sex/writing scene
So make sure that you visit us through 2013.

If you have time, why not write your own Christmas poem that starts with the words, ‘Twas the night before Christmas…

The challenge here will be to do something erotic with the subject matter. Most material written around the holiday season tends to focus on satisfying the demands of children. The innocence of childlike expectations does not always sit well with the experience of sexualised adult fiction. Nevertheless, I know the readers of this blog are nothing if not innovative and so I look forward to seeing your poems in the comments box below. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Erotic Lure Newsletter: Dec '12 -Jan '13

From the Erotica Readers & Writers Association
By Lisabet Sarai
_______

Dear Festive Fetishists,

Since I'm certain every one of you has been very, very good throughout 2012, we're giving you an early holiday gift - a super-sized, super-sexy edition of the Erotica Readers & Writers Association website. Here at ERWA, naughty and nice go hand in hand (sometimes with other body parts involved). Follow me as I lead you on a quick trip through our wild winter wonderland, where you can sample some of the less traditional but unquestionably delightful joys of the season.

The Erotica Gallery is bulging like Santa's sack (no, that's NOT what I meant), piled high with literary treats to spice up your December. We welcome renowned GLBT mystery author Greg Herren as our special guest. Greg is sharing three of his steamy gay tales. Don't be confused by the different by-lines, which represent Greg in his various incarnations.

Four other guest authors, including yours truly, have contributed holiday stories in every shade of the rainbow. Then the Storytime crew takes over, stuffing your stocking with everything from festively filthy humor to hot, sweet holiday love. Don't miss the flashers; you'll be amazed by what our authors can do to you in a mere two hundred words!

Reading to ring your bells:
http://erotica-readers.com/GD/S/Erotic_Fiction.htm

I'm sure you've all finished your seasonal gift-buying, but just in case I'm wrong, prance on over to the Books for Sensual Readers section for dozens of fabulous gift ideas. Like variety? Anthologies have something for everyone's taste. Check out the new collection DUTY AND DESIRE: MILITARY EROTIC ROMANCE, edited by Kristina Wright (a military spouse as well as a talented author and editor). Then there's Violet Blue's anthology of women's fantasies, LIPS LIKE SUGAR, or FANTASTIC EROTICA: THE BEST OF CIRCLET PRESS 2008 - 2012, edited by Cecilia Tan and Bethany Zaiatz. And who could resist the holiday-themed collection from Storm Moon Press, entitled MILK AND COOKIES AND HANDCUFFS?

Looking for something longer? Sample my unabashedly kinky (but romantic) erotic novel NASTY BUSINESS, or Blakely Bennet's D/s romance MY BODY - HIS, or Rupert James' edgy tale STEPSISTERS. The resurrected Black Lace Books has reprinted Eden Bradley's luscious tale of dominance and submission, THE DARK GARDEN. Sean Michaels' gay erotic romance BENT features some very twisted characters, and Ronica Black's THE MIDNIGHT ROOM offers a sensual peak into F/f BDSM.

Do you detect a theme here? You've got to make allowances for who's doing the choosing! Actually, we feature plenty of books that don't involve bondage, discipline, spanking or similar subject matter. Browse the various links in our sidebar to find anthologies, erotic romance, vintage erotica, classics, sexy self-help, gay and lesbian fiction, and lots more.

I'm sure I don't need to remind you to use our affiliate links to purchase the books you select. Anything you buy after clicking through to Amazon or Amazon UK benefits ERWA, not just erotic items - even that blender for your mom or the latest video game for your kids.

Stimulate your mind (and other parts of your anatomy):
http://erotica-readers.com/ERA/EB/Erotic_Books.htm

And what if there's someone on your list who doesn't like to read? How about a hot Adult Movie or two? This month we feature John Stagliano's stunning opus "Voracious", an intense, transgressive work of erotic art. Your next door neighbors might enjoy "Voila", where a meeting with the brazen bisexual brunette of the title shakes the world of a young couple in love, or maybe the playful, sensual all-female flick "The Office Girls 3". For the more hard-core of your acquaintances, check our Dirty Smutty Porn category. I recommend "Job Swap", a set of sizzling vignettes sharing the premise of a surprise substitute for the regular personal trainer, pizza delivery guy, etc., etc...

Just the thing to get you moving after a big holiday dinner:
http://erotica-readers.com/ERA/AM/Adult_Movies.htm

You're probably not going to buy a sex toy for anyone on your gift list (but then again, I might be wrong). But what about you? Don't you deserve a present or two? This month in the Sex Toy Playground we have entertaining, honest reviews from Mr. and Mrs. Toy and Kyra Saunders, as well as our regular Sex Toy Scuttlebutt column featuring the latest and greatest erotic implements. My eye was drawn to the Verspanken Male Masturbator (lovely colors!) - though I have to admit that I really can't figure out how it works! Might be fun to experiment, though...

Find yourself a plaything:
http://erotica-readers.com/ERA/ST/Sex_Toy_Playground.htm

Inside the Erotic Mind, our members explore the ever-popular questions of what do men and women, respectively, want in a partner. You may be surprised by the answers (and their variety). To add your own opinions, just click on the Participate link. (The "men" and "women" topics are separate threads. You're welcome to contribute to both.)

Imagination knows no limits:
http://erotica-readers.com/ERA/ITEM/Inside_The_Erotic_Mind.htm

Authors, I haven't forgotten you. I know what you want for the holidays: a best-seller! Visit the ERWA Author Resources pages for help making that dream come true. This month Donna George Storey winds up her "Cooking Up a Storey" series with an exhortation - "Let's keep on changing the world - one dirty story at a time" - and a lavishly illustrated recipe for holiday cookie mice. (You've got to take a look, even if you don't bake!) My Naughty Bits series also concludes this month with a look at the scary future, my take on what future technology holds for authors and readers.

Meanwhile, for lots more articles on writing, marketing, craft and culture, visit the ERWA blog. Nearly a dozen renowned erotic authors serve as regular contributors. Bookmark the blog and visit it often.
http://erotica-readers.blogspot.com

The Calls for Submissions listings change almost daily. Recently added new items include Mitzi Szereto's call for zombie erotica, GLBT anthologies from Storm Moon Press, a call for gay time travel stories from Rob Rosen, and, believe it or not, a call for scholarly articles about the future of erotic romance post-Fifty-Shades from the Journal of Popular Romance Studies.

Find a home for your opus:
http://erotica-readers.com/ERA/AR/Erotica_Authors_Resources.htm

Our featured Web Gem this month is Stiff Rain Press. I know the talented folks behind this relatively new imprint, which offers a home for erotica featuring taboo subjects.  Stiff Rain Press is a publisher of erotic literature written by adults, for adults, featuring adults. While some might not agree with the artistic merits of Erotica, we, like many before us, simply wish to present our art without censorship. Our authors work very hard to provide high-quality, well-written erotic literature that is both titillating and notable, and it is our sincerest pleasure to present these compelling stories that will leave our readers wanting more.

Please visit Stiff Rain Press for more information about our authors and their upcoming SRP releases.
http://www.stiffrainpress.com

Well, all good things must come to an end, including 2012 - and this newsletter. I wish you a holiday season full of wonder, joy and pleasure, and I look forward to seeing you all in February, with more arousing fiction, authorly advice, and groan-inducing double entendres.

Celebrate - however you please!

Naughtily yours,
Lisabet

--
All's fair in lust and business
NASTY BUSINESS  - BDSM erotica from Lisabet Sarai

Visit Lisabet Sarai's Fantasy Factory   
http://www.lisabetsarai.com

Write, learn, and play on ERWA email list at:
http://erotica-readers.com/PRIVATE/index.html_

Friday, November 30, 2012

Voyeur or Body Thief?



One of the most intriguing parts of story for me has always been the way in which the reader interacts with it, more specifically the way in which the reader interacts with the characters in a story. I find that interaction especially intriguing in erotica and erotic romance.

To me, the power of story is that it’s many faceted and it’s never static. And, no matter how old the story is, it’s never finished as long as there’s someone new to read it and to bring their experience into it. Like most writers of fiction, I’m forever trying to analyse how a powerful story is internalised, and why what moves one reader deeply, what can be a life-changing experience for one may be nothing more exciting than window shopping for another.

In my own experience as a reader, there are two extremes. I can approach a story as a voyeur, on the outside looking in from a safe distance, or I can be a body thief at the other end of the spectrum and replace the main character in the story with myself.

One extreme allows the reader to watch without engaging and the other allows the reader to create sort of a sing-along-Sound of Music- ish experience for themselves. As a reader, I’ve done both and had decent experiences of novels doing both. As a writer, however, I don’t wish to create a story that allows my reader to be a voyeur of a body thief.

As a writer I want to create a story that’s a full-on, in-the-body, stay-present experience from beginning to end. I want characters that readers can identify with and are drawn to but don’t necessarily want to be. I want a plot that feels more like abseiling with a questionable rope than watching the world go by from the window of a car. I want to create that tight-rope walk in the middle. I want to create that place in story where the imagination of the reader is fully engaged with the story the writer created. That place is the place where the story is a different experience for each reader. That’s the place where the story is a living thing that matters more than the words of which it’s made up. It matters more because the reader has connected with it, engaged with it, been changed by it. In that place, the story and the reader are in relationship. Neither can embody the other, neither can watch from a distance. The end result may be a HEA, the end result may be disturbing and unsettling, but at the end of a really good read, the journey to get there is at least as important as the end result.

Erotica and erotic romance are by their nature a visceral experience. Though I think that’s probably true of any good story. I don’t think good erotica can be watched from a distance any more than it can be the tale of the body thief. While either will get you there, there’s no guarantee that the journey will be a quality one. And I want a quality journey. I want to come to the end wishing I hadn’t gotten there so quickly, wishing I’d had the will power to slow down and savour the experience just a little longer. I want to come to the end wondering just what layers, what subtleties, what nuances I missed because I got caught up in the runaway train ride and couldn’t quite take it all in.

A good read is the gift that keeps on giving. Long after I’ve finished the story, the experience lingers, and little tidbits that I raced through during the read bubble up from my unconscious to surprise me, intrigue me, make me think about the story on still other levels, from still other angles. When I can’t get it out of my head, when I find myself, long after I’ve come to the end, thinking about the journey, thinking about the characters, thinking about the plot twists and turns, then I know the story has gotten inside me and burrowed deep. There was no pane of glass in between; there was no body for me to inhabit because all bodies were fully occupied by characters with their own minds and their own agendas. The experience extends itself to something that stays with me long after the read is finished and makes me try all the harder to create that multi-layered experience in my own writing.