Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Friday, June 22, 2012

Amazon buys Avalon

Here's an interesting development in the ever-expanding world of According to CNNMoney (June 4, 2012), Amazon now runs eight separate publishing lines.

Amazon buys 62-year-old book publisher Avalon Books

Erotica Readers & Writers Association

Thursday, June 21, 2012

In Praise of Grammar

By Lisabet Sarai

I recently reread a favorite book from my youth, Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone. Originally published in 1868, it is considered to be an early classic of detective fiction. An unscrupulous British officer stationed in India plucks the Moonstone, a massive diamond, from the forehead of a Hindu idol and carries it back to England. Misfortune, reputed to be the effects of a curse, dogs the man until his death, whereupon the gem becomes a bequest to his niece upon her eighteenth birthday. On the very night Rachel receives the stone, however, it disappears from her bedroom. Broken engagements, assaults, scandal, madness, illness, despair and death follow, as the mystery becomes increasingly tangled.

The first time I read The Moonstone, I was caught up in the story. That was long before I began my career as a writer. During this more recent reading, I found myself at least as conscious of Collins' style and craft as I was of the plot.

The novel unfolds in sections narrated by different individuals, each of whom (according to the framing conceit of the tale) has been asked to report on the events he or she personally witnessed relating to the loss of the diamond. Some of the narrators are major actors in the mystery, while others are peripheral. Collins does a magnificent job giving each one a distinctive voice. The various sections not only propel the plot, reveal clues and cleverly misdirect the reader's attention, they also create surprisingly three dimensional images of the characters – their motivations, prejudices and peculiarities. My pleasure upon this second reading of the book came as much from appreciating these unwitting self-portraits as from the gradual unraveling of the secrets of the stone. And much of the richness of these vignettes derives from the characters' differing use of language.

The experience started me thinking about the wonders of English grammar. Victorian prose tends to be far more complex grammatically than what you will find in modern novels. Sentences are longer, with multiple clauses, adverbial modifiers, rhetorical questions and parenthetical asides. Of course, some authors of the period produced sentences so pedantic and labored that they're painful to read. A more skilled writer (like Collins) uses these linguistic variations to express nuanced relationships that would be difficult to communicate with shorter, more direct sentences.

Consider the following passage, chosen more or less at random. The narrator (Franklin Blake) is a young gentleman, educated in Europe, and hopelessly in love with Rachel.

I might have answered that I remembered every word of it. But what purpose, at that moment, would the answer have served?

How could I tell her that what she had said had astonished me and distressed me, had suggested to me that she was in a dangerous state of nervous excitement, had even roused a moment's doubt in my mind whether the loss of the jewel was as much a mystery to her as to the rest of us – but had never once given me so much as a glimpse of the truth? Without the shadow of a proof to produce in vindication of my innocence, how could I persuade her that I knew no more than the veriest stranger could have known of what was really in her thoughts when she spoke to me on the terrace?

Complex indeed! We have both simple past (“I remembered”, “I knew”) and past perfect (“had said”, “had astonished”, “had suggested”). Blake is describing a past conversation with Rachel, in which they discussed another conversation that occurred the day after the diamond disappeared (a time previous to the first conversation). Even more intricate are the connections between facts and the counter-factual or hypothetical, both in the simple past (“might have”, “could I”) and more distant past (“could have known”). The tense inflections and adverbial modifiers elucidate relationships not only between different stretches of time but also different degrees of reality.

How many of us could pen a paragraph so complicated and yet so clear?

As an exercise, I tried to translate the passage above into simpler, more modern prose.

I could have told her I remembered every word. But I doubt she would have believed me.

I could have said that she astonished and distressed me. She had been in a dangerous state of nervous excitement. I had even wondered whether she really knew more about the loss of the jewel than the rest of us. But when we spoke, she hadn't given me the slightest hint of the truth. Since I had no proof of my innocence, there was no way I could convince her that during our conversation on the terrace her accusations were as much a mystery to me as they would have been to a stranger.

Even this reworking requires the past and past perfect. There's no way to get around them, since the distinction between the first and second conversations is crucial to the sense of the paragraph. I didn't manage to completely remove counter-factual expressions (“could have”,”would have been”), either. If I had, significant chunks of meaning would have been lost. As it is, I feel that the translation doesn't begin to compare with the original in terms of expressing subtleties of both logic and emotion.

Authors today have a tendency to view grammar as a necessary evil, a set of incomprehensible rules designed to trip them up as they proceed in telling their story. I look at it differently. Grammatical structures (and punctuation) exist in order express linguistic distinctions. As writers, we're fortunate. English is capable of communicating a bewildering variety of such distinctions, in wonderfully precise ways.

By comparison, I've been studying a foreign language where there's no grammatical difference between present and past tense, or between singular or plural, a language without articles or grammatical mechanisms for indicating that something is contrary to fact. Native speakers manage to understand one another, but I find the language frustrating in its lack of specificity.

I'm sorry to see the changes that are stripping English of some of its grammatical richness. One rarely encounters the subjunctive anymore, even in written communication. Semi-colons are practically extinct. Indeed, one of my publisher's house style prohibits them, along with parenthetical asides.

Since I began publishing, my own writing has followed the popular trends. I've learned to limit subordinate clauses to no more than one or two per sentence. I've been trained to avoid long passages in the past perfect and to eschew adverbs. I won't say that my writing has necessarily suffered; my early work definitely tends to be overly prolix. Still, I sometimes feel like rebelling against the starkness and simplicity of modern prose.

When that happens, I sometimes write something pseudo-Victorian. Here, for instance, is a passage from Incognito, ostensibly from a Victorian woman's secret diary:

I scarcely know how to begin this account of my adventures and my sins. Indeed, I do not fully understand why I feel compelled to commit these things to writing. Clearly, my purpose is not to review and relive these experiences in the future, for in twenty minutes’ time these sentences will be invisible even to me. Perhaps in the years ahead, I will trail my fingers across the empty parchment, coloured like flesh, and the memories will come alive without the words, coaxed from the pages by my touch like flames bursting from cold embers.

I have a secret life, another self, and that secret has become a burden that I clutch to myself, and yet would be relieved of. So, like the Japanese who write their deepest desires on slips of rice paper and then burn them, I write of secret joys and yearnings, and send that writing into oblivion.

Let me begin again. My name is Beatrice. The world sees me as poised, prosperous, respectable, wife of one of Boston’s leading merchants and industrialists, mother of two sweet children, lady of a fine brick house on fashionable Mount Vernon Street, with Viennese crystal chandeliers, Chinese porcelain, French velvet draperies, and Italian marble fireplaces. I devote myself to the education of my dear Daniel and Louisa, the management of my household, works of charity, cultural afternoons. In sum, the many and sundry details of maintaining oneself in proper society.

Though I have borne two children, I am still considered beautiful. Indeed, with my golden locks, fair skin, turquoise eyes and rosy lips, I am often compared to an angel. How little they know, those who so describe me. For in truth, I am depraved, wanton, and lecherous, so lost that I do not even regret my fall.

Ah, the glorious grammar!

Am I the only one out there aroused by this structural intricacy, as artful and constraining as shibari?

Monday, June 18, 2012

All About Pleasure: Erotica Writers in Bondage

by Donna George Storey

I always feel a flutter in my stomach when I sit down to write a new story.  Part of me is excited by the blank page, pregnant with potential to be the most sizzling, sexy adventure I’ve ever written.  But another part of me fears that I’ve “lost it,” that what comes out will be the same old rewarmed themes and scenes.  Once I get drawn into the the story, however, I’m usually having too much fun for such worries.  Writing erotica gives me a sense of freedom and possibility that I’ve never felt writing “literary” fiction or essays.  Exploring an important part of the human experience that has so long been silenced, showing that sexuality can be joyful and complex—no work I’ve ever done has enriched my mind and spirit as deeply.

The real constraints appear when it comes to putting erotic stories out there in the marketplace.  Just the other day I learned that one of my (non-erotic) publisher’s publicists refused to handle my book because she thought it would taint her reputation.  She hasn’t read the book, but in all fairness, it’s quite possible others would judge her harshly without full knowledge of the contents as well.  Far from being discouraged, such an attitude makes me all the more determined to write erotica, but it also reminds me that writers are not subject only to the whim of the muse. 

Of course, it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of books about sex, many selling phenomenally well.  It occurred to me, though, that the marketplace has certain categories and expectations of writing that involves sex, categories that literary erotica in particular defies.  Even if we disagree with these assumptions or intentionally subvert them as we write, the marketplace clings to what is comfortable for the society as a whole.  Thus, like it or not, erotica writers are bound by these conventions—and, unfortunately, I’m not talking anything as fun as rhinestone-studded handcuffs, suede paddles and safewords.  

I’d like to outline four of the most prevalent ways our culture “allows” us to talk about sex.  The first has the deepest and widest roots, the idea that sexual desire is the enemy of civilization and our higher nature.  Sex is acceptable only if properly controlled by the institution of heterosexual marriage for the purpose of procreation.  Otherwise the consequences of carnal activity are damaging, even deadly.  Not to deny maternal mortality rates over the centuries or the problem of sexually transmitted infections still today, but this fear of sexuality is expressed not just in abstinence education, but our popular and high-brow culture as well.  How many movies, TV shows and even literary novels rely on the rape and murder of a young woman to provide pathos and suspense?  Of those that don’t, how many involve ruinous adulterous affairs?  A “realistic” view of sex always emphasizes dire consequences.  This is how we are reassured the subject is being treated seriously. The Great Gatsby, for example, is considered one of the great American novels.  Its themes are complex and varied, but if we examine the sexual elements, well, doesn’t it all boil down to: “If you have sex with people above you in social class and outside of marriage, you will die”?

There are some exceptions—the Dutch movie Antonia’s Line comes to mind as a work that offers both positive and negative views of sexual expression.  However, in the main, the safest and easiest way to talk about sex and still maintain your reputation as a decent and concerned citizen is to emphasize its evil side:  child molestation, unwanted pregnancy, betrayal, sexual lust leading to the destruction of the social fabric and the breaking of the Ten Commandments.

There are places where sex can be portrayed as enjoyable, but only within the bounds of an erotic fantasy wonderland, the Pornutopia we find in most X-rated movies, Penthouse letters, and many erotic stories (including, I will admit, some of my own).  In this world, all the usual rules we learn in our ordinary lives are suspended.  There is no need to court a potential sex partner, they come on to us within minutes of first meeting.  There is no disease, pregnancy, judgment, regret or guilt.  Everyone reaches orgasm easily and often and is eager to try taboo acts.  At first blush this may seem an unfettered celebration of sex, but this fantasy world comes with restrictions of its own, which keep sexual pleasure securely within the realm of the impossible.  Any hint of ambivalence or complexity ruins the illusion.  My work was once criticized for this sin by a professional writer (not an eroticist).  He said every time he started getting turned on, I’d use a big, fancy word that would ruin the mood.  Pornutopia requires its own brand of purity.  Literary turns of phrase or any whiff of authentic complexity are the taboos here.

Some of the most enduring bestsellers in publishing are not fictional accounts of sex, but scientific studies of human sexuality.  In this case, safety and respectability are provided by an objective expert casting his cool, rational eye upon our base, animal urges.  Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, The Hite Report, Mary Roach’s Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, all of these books have escaped censorship, if not notoriety, because of their scientific credentials.  If the author doesn’t have a Ph.D. after her name, she must include a bibliography with copious studies and references to give the properly sanitized presentation.  Yet this mode of presenting human sexuality also has its distortions.  There is a temptation to transform human experience into numbers, focus on the bizarre extremes, and present a model of what is “normal” or at least average.  Objective it may seem, but even scientific studies should be viewed with a critical eye to the ways our cultural assumptions shape the “truth” about sexuality.

Comedy is yet another way that sexuality is rendered harmless.  In contrast to the tragedy and death in literature and melodrama, this view of sex focuses on the awkwardness, the farts, the hairy parts, the gaffs.  This is the typical approach of memoirists in magazines.  If the author and her husband attempt to act out a scene from Fifty Shades of Grey, for example, you can be sure the result will be ridiculous, and she will inevitably conclude she and her husband are too pedestrian (read “normal”) for such perversities.  There’s nothing wrong with seeing the humor in sex, or with getting in touch with our inner seventh-grader, but since the intended response is giggles and not something more dangerous like genuine arousal, the idea of sex as shameful, embarrassing and adolescent is dutifully preserved.

There are other strategies by which the disruptive power of sexual desire is neutralized while simultaneously used to titillate and seduce us to buy books and other consumer goods, but these four main approaches are the most common I’ve observed.  Of course sex actually does have negative consequences at times, but its pleasures can also help us transcend the restrictions of our daily lives.  Sex does deserve educated observation and analysis and can certainly be funny, witty, amusing, and even ridiculous.  Yet as artists who deal with sexuality, it can only benefit erotica writers to be aware of the deeply-rooted assumptions we face from the publishing industry so that we can challenge--or indeed utilize--them for our own benefit. 

So, the next time you see a sex scene on TV or read an erotic story, take a step back and question the implications of the story line.  What if, instead of getting raped and murdered, an adventurous and sexually curious young woman has a great time with that dark stranger? Could a couple try out partner swapping and decide they actually aren’t comfortable with other swingers, but be glad they had the experience anyway?  Are the questions asked in the survey of sexual activity you’ve just read in Cosmopolitan biased in a subtle, or not so subtle, way? And what if a suburban couple tries out bondage and ends up giggling, but also discovers the experience adds a new level of trust and excitement to their relationship? 

This level of realism has yet to be explored in the mainstream media, but as we sit down to write our next story or essay, with a fluttering stomach full of hope and uncertainty, we may indeed find ourselves taking a less-traveled path.  And, my fellow writers, isn’t that what the adventures of both sex and writing are all about?

Donna George Storey is the author of the erotic novel, Amorous Woman.  Her short stories have recently appeared in Best Women's Erotica 2012, Best Erotic Romance, and The Best of Best Mammoth Erotica.  Learn more  at

Friday, June 15, 2012

Become the Ball

By: Craig Sorensen

I’ve watched tennis for years.  I like the sense of sparring, and the unique combination of power and beauty that it embodies.  I watch all the majors:  The Australian Open, The US Open, Wimbledon, and Roland Garros (aka the French Open.)

Of course, being an author, anything I watch can be fodder for a story or a poem, and late in May, as Roland Garros was in full swing, I was watching the women’s early rounds.  One player started strong, then began to falter, but through determination, she won it in three sets.  Her transformation, the sense of determination, the way she took charge as her game became more intense.  I love that kind of game, and my mind wandered, wandered to a man watching the same thing; a man who has been searching, trying to find what he wants in a woman.  Maybe a vanilla sex young man who lives an orderly, gentle life and knows something is missing.  Knows some stirrings, some cravings come to him, but does not know how to express them.  He sees something in the tennis player’s determination, and her frustration which becomes focus.  He admires her power and becomes even more fascinated.

Epiphanies come in strange ways.

Becoming the Ball  ©2012 Craig J. Sorensen

I want to marry a tennis player.  Perky, tactile nipples poke through bra and pastel pink top.  Her moves across the court, a dance, she looks so playful as she wins the first set so handily.  The second set is no picnic.  She struggles, fights, but ultimately loses, and as the third set starts, bright white teeth nearly puncture her lower lip.

Man she looks pissed.  I lean forward, feel a bit of heaviness down low.   My eyes turn to her racket.  I absorb the grace in her swing.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything like it as her strokes get stronger.  Long thighs, thick in negotiating the court, flex.  Her biceps are grainy and shapely.  At the point of impact, the pop of the tennis ball, my testicles get tight.

Her voice is not longer giving up soft, gentle grunts.  It explodes, deep and hard on a wicked forehand.  It is even louder on the two fisted backhand.  The ball grazes the line.  She wins the point, pumps her fist.

I am hard.

Most every ball falls inside the court, until she regains control of the match.  She taunts with some serve and volley.  The wind up of a power stroke that results in an unexpected dropshot.  I whimper in the surprise, and the next shot is full power with no backswing.  I scream out.  My ass feels suddenly as hot as an iron.  I want it to feel hotter.

Why did it never occur to me before, how much I need a tennis player?  A golfer won’t do.  As good as it sounds to lie in the rough, or get caught in a sand trap, and as much as I might pull out a one wood to do her bidding, let’s face it, a pitching wedge and a putter just aren’t the same.

No basketball player for me.  Who wants free throws, tip offs and lay ups?

Maybe a hockey player?  A slap shot sounds promising, but I’m not sure I could handle the icing.

No, I need a tennis player who strings her racket tightly.  A woman who wins well, but loses badly.  A woman who bumps me deliberately in the change over.  “You’re going down in this set,” she says with a laugh, still looking sweet and pretty as a princess.

Of course, I’ll struggle every time out on the court, and yes I’ll win a point or two.

Long may she win the matches.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Stepping Outside Yourself

A couple of weeks ago, Jean Roberta wrote a marvelous post on what it's like to sit on the other side of the desk and act as editor. It got me thinking about some specific aspects of how I teach writing in class, and the flaws I see on a fairly frequent basis in the writing of even well published authors.

I've bemoaned the demise of the old-style editor before. When I hear accounts of writers being edited today by editors at their publishing houses, I find it sort of chilling. There was a time when every manuscript submitted to an agent or a publisher was considered to be 'in the raw'. There was an understanding that each piece of creative writing could benefit from a good, stern editor. But in those days, editors weren't proof readers or line editors; they were more like distillers of fine perfume, taking fresh, recent blooms and turning them into rare essences. They were often writers themselves who had subsumed their own aspirations in order to make other people's writing better.  But most of all they were readers. They could spot the difference between a brave stylistic approach and a mistake a mile off. To have this kind of regard - love, even - for another's work is an unusual calling.

Those days are, for the most part, over. If you want your writing (not just your spelling or your grammar) to be good, you're going to have to do the bulk of this work yourself.  A considerable amount of it you can simply avoid at the outset, by interrogating your plan before you start writing.  Some of it you need to do after you have finished the work and have allowed it to sit for a while, once you have some distance from it.

Different editors have different hot buttons.  I have two major ones: unbelievable characters and bad dialogue.

People will often say that you should separate yourself from your writing. That a bad review is not a bad review of you, but of the work. The difficulty with both the problems above is that they can sometimes point to the psychology of the writer, rather than a flaw in the writing. These are dangerous waters, but fertile, also.

Let us be honest, all the characters we write are, in some small way, part of us.  Just by virtue of the fact that we create them, this must be true.  There's no use saying this is bad practice and we should stop it.  It does help if you are writing, for example, main characters with a gender different to your own, or a large age gap, but not much. We invest ourselves into our characters like Geppetto breathed life into Pinocchio. We can't write living characters unless we imbue them with our lifeforce, but if we invest too much in them, we impede their potential to be 'all that they can be' and we are reticent to see them put at the kind of external and internal risk that makes for really good conflict in a story.

One of the first exercises I give to my writing students is designed to allow them the pleasure of writing themselves as characters. I ask them to write a portrait of a character who could easily be them.  Go to town on it, I say. Give your character all the attributes you think you have, wish you had, or hope you have. Make them beautiful, sexy, clever, agile, strong, virile, courageous, rich, etc.

Now think of the most awful, most humiliating, most unfair or tragic thing that could happen to them. They could lose all their hair overnight. They could find out they have HIV. They could suffer from a bout of explosive diarrhea at the dinner table in front of their date. Whatever it is you most fear, take your character there and put them through it.

Next, write a scene in which your character willingly, consciously does something absolutely reprehensible to you.  Make them steal, lie, cheat, sell themselves on the street for $20.  Whatever it is you think would be the worst thing that you could do in life, put your character there and make them do it. Don't make it something they have no choice about - don't allow them to be the innocent victims of circumstance. Write them doing it willingly.

These are some of the hardest pieces of writing my students ever do.  You cannot imagine how violently they balk.  Well, in fact, if you try these exercises, you probably will. And if you find this easy to do, then you probably didn't need to do the exercises.  But I will bet most of you will find it very hard. I know I do - I always do.

But once you've done it the first time, you never forget how to get yourself over the hump of reticence to really put your character at risk. You know you've done it and can do it again. And every new beloved character you create will be freer to be what they need to be in your story afterwards.

The other big problem for me is dialogue. I read a lot of stilted, unnatural dialogue, and not just in my student work. I find it lurking in places it has no business being: between the covers of books published by some of the biggest and most prestigious publishing houses in the world.

Bad dialogue is written by people who don't listen.  I have noticed that as writers grow older, usually, their dialogue gets much better. Steven King used to write atrocious dialogue. So did William Gibson. Now, both those authors write wonderful, vibrant, realistic interchanges between their characters.

The cure for this is eavesdropping.  Get yourself to a place where you can overhear conversations and listen, and watch. It's not helpful to do this in social situations where you know most of the people there. Because our prior knowledge and our relationships can deeply interfere with our objectivity. So, public spaces with a lot of strangers is the best option. Coffee shops and quiet bars are good because people often go there for the express purpose of talking. Notice how we speak to each other. Notice how, the closer we are to our conversation partner, the more telegraphic and abbreviated the sentences become. Notice how people establish their social position by what they say and how they say it. Notice how people put 'spin' on the ideas and opinions they're trying to promote.

The second part of the exercise is observation. And for this, you need to be able to put yourself somewhere you can stare at people. Which is why I love airports. People are stuck there for hours. Everyone is people-watching.

A great deal of our communication is nonverbal. Watch interactions between people. Look at the space they make or close between themselves and others. Look at the way they tilt their heads, nod encouragements to continue, apologize. Departure areas and arrival areas are interesting, too. How people say goodbye, how they meet. Not just what they say, but how their bodies speak. Those meetings and partings are hardly ever the cliched tearful farewells or ecstatic embraces of welcome you expect. I once saw a woman say goodbye to her departing husband at the entrance to the international departure area. All her gestures to him were exactly what you'd expect, but the minute he walked through the doors, the relief on her face and in her body was shockingly obvious. And I'm sure you can guess just how fertile my mind grew after seeing that.

Finally - this is the hardest one - take a trip down memory lane to the most painful interchanges you've ever had with others. Force yourself past what you felt, to get to what you heard, and then to what was actually said. What words, inflections, gestures triggered the most discomfort in you? There is a clear mechanism at work there. You need to find it. You need to discover how word-choice, inflection, context and back-story fed into the ways that you were vulnerable to those interchanges. Words can open us up, but they can also close us down.

Both these sets of exercises may help to make your writing better, truer and stronger. Both involve a significant amount of self-examination and there is undoubtedly going to be discomfort.  But I'm a firm believer that good writing is seldom painless.  In fact, I have a theory about the link between masochism and good writing, but that's another post.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Confessions of A Literary Streetwalker: What Is Sex ... And How Much?

So let's ask the question: what is sex – especially what is sex when it comes to writing erotica? 

I will not begin with a dictionary definition ... I will not begin with a dictionary definition ... I will not begin with a dictionary definition ...

It's a very common misconception that erotica is supposed to turn the reader on ... or to be exact, that it is supposed to be written to turn the reader on. 

There's a huge problem with that, though: mainly that you, as a writer, have no idea what turns a reader on.  Even getting the cheat sheet of writing for a specific anthology there is no way you can possibly cover every permutation of that theme. 

Let's pick anal sex, just to be provocative: some people like anal sex people of the pure sensation receiving, or giving; while others have their desire mixed with domination or submission, etc., etc, etc.  Bottom line – sorry about that – you, as an erotica writer, cannot cover everything, erotically, when you write.

So how do you know how much sex to put into a story – and how to approach what sex you do put into a story? 

What's odd is that the answer is in two parts – but boils down to what you are writing: and, no, I don't mean your audience but rather the format of what you are writing.

The good news first: when writing stories for a specific anthology you can be pretty easy-going with your erotic content – depending, of course, on the anthology editor's demands according to their call for submissions.  This is because anthologies, by their nature, will have a wide range of content and approaches to whatever the book is about.  

Back to butt sex: let's say my antho is underway and I'm picking stories.  To give the book an appeal to a wide range of readers I, as the book's editor, will pick stories that (you guessed it) cover all kinds of approaches and all kinds of levels.  That way whoever buys the book will, more than likely, get what they want in at least one or two of the stories.

Some of these might be very light, almost romantic, with only a bit of explicit content while others might be classic bumpy-grindy kind of stuff.  Typically if an anthology's theme is ... well, let's say 'deep' for lack of a better word than a simple anal sex book, the editor will be looking for stories that say more than insert object A into anus B – and, that being the case, sex would be less important than being able to tell a good and touching story.

Personally, when I edit an anthology I always look for stories that tickle my mind more than my libido.  In fact (trade secret here) my most common reason for rejecting a story is that it is just porn: in other words the author is saying nothing but sex sex sex sex sex over and over again.   Sure, this is just how I operate but a lot of anthology editors have confessed to me the same: the amount of the sex in an erotic story counts a lot less than the story itself.  

So when you write a story, how much sex is really very (ahem) fluid.  But the game changes when you write a novel – but even then the amount, and kind, of sex you put into your book is totally up to you.

But keep in mind that publishers want books that are what they are supposed to be – by that I mean that if you are writing the wildest BDSM book ever written then you'd better have a lots of ropes, canes, Sirs, Mistresses, and the like. 

The reason is obvious: a publisher wants to be able to market a book very specifically – and nothing annoys a publisher more than being told a book is not what the author says it is.  This doesn't mean the publisher is a villain, but rather you, as an author, need to be honest about what the book is – and, most importantly, whom it is written for

You cannot know what turns on your reader on, but if you are writing a book that is more story that sex then there's nothing wrong with saying that your work is, say, erotic romance rather than hardcore when you submit it. 

There are no formulas, no rules, no magic percentages of how much sex needs to be in an erotic novel – except for the obvious fact that you should know who will be reading your book and why.  A publisher who gets a book that is described as "literary but with several explicit BDSM sex scenes, written with female readers interested in romance with some hot male dominant spice" will make a book publisher very, very happy.  They may not be able to take it – for a wide variety of reasons – but at least they'll know what they are looking at without having to read it cover-to-cover to find out what you wrote. 

Similarly, you should be extremely aware of what that publisher or anthology editor cannot accept.  It’s always a good idea to be up front with anything (ahem) provocative about your story or novel (age of the characters, non-consensual sex scenes, beastiality, incest, violence, pee or poo, etc.) as many editors and publishers have issues with these kinds of things – and don't react well to reading submissions that, halfway through, they realize they cannot accept.

So to answer the question of what is sex – or, more precisely, what is sex to an erotic writer – the quick and dirty answers are that for short stories you should approach your writing with thoughts of telling a good story that still meets the erotic demands of the anthology editor; and with novels you can write whatever you want ... but be able to submit it knowing what you have written and the audience for who you have written it.

As with any genre, there are no absolutes as for what makes an erotic story erotic – but, also with any genre, try to develop what could be called literary street smarts: the intelligence to know that it’s not how much sex is in a story but being able to navigate the often stormy seas of what it means to be a professional writer.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Writing Exercise - Cinquain

As I’ve mentioned before, when I’m teaching creative writing, I tend to return to poetry exercises. Writing to the restraints of a strict poetic form requires a degree of mental discipline. Limited numbers of syllables, or the need for rephrasing to meet the demands of a rhyme scheme, often encourages writers to think about words in ways that aren’t familiar to those who focus solely on prose writing.

Which is my way of saying that I’ve got another poetry assignment for those brave enough to rise to the challenge. This month I thought we could look at the cinquain.

The cinquain is a five line poetic form that can be attempted in one of two ways. The traditional form is based on a syllable count as illustrated below.

line 1 - 2 syllables
line 2 - 4 syllables
line 3 - 6 syllables
line 4 - 8 syllables
line 5 - 2 syllables

Two lithe bodies
Press kisses together
Swift sigh moan shriek roar yes Yes YES!

For those who like to break away from tradition, the modern form of the cinquain is not dependent on such devices as counting syllables.

perfect, passionate
dancing, sleeping, dreaming,
yang to my yin

I strongly advocate exercises like this as the perfect way to preface any bout of writing. Athletes tell us we should never participate in sports without first doing some form of warm-up exercise. Musicians practice scales before performing. Doesn’t it make sense that a writer should practice their craft before teasing the right words onto the page?

If you have the time to try writing a cinquain, either traditional or modern, please leave your poem(s) in the comments box below. It’s always good to read fresh work inspired by these exercises and I hope you have fun with this one.