Wednesday, January 30, 2013
I’m always a bit behind in the technology curve and even more so in the social media curve. I’m a toe-dipper in the techno-pool of social and promotional possibilities always testing the water to make sure it’s not too cold and not too deep. I like to make sure it’s navigable with my marginal skills before I hop on in. That’s a very long-winded way of saying that I finally discovered Pinterest over the Christmas holidays, and I am SO addicted!
The thing is I never thought I would be. I mean my job is to create pictures with words, right? It all happens inside my head, right? That’s what having a great imagination is all about, right? And yet, I’m like a kid in a candy store when it comes to the images on Pinterest. At first, I found that fact a little bit disturbing, a little bit like watching too much reality TV. Looking at lovely, brightly-coloured, preeeetty pictures for hours is – you know – a guilty secret that I really wasn’t sure I wanted to admit in public.
Oh, it all started innocently enough. It was just one more way to promote my novels. I put the cover images of my novels up on individual boards and added other related images that were relevant to the stories or the characters, and it was cool. But then I started a ‘fun stuff’ board, and a ‘sexy stuff’ board, and a board for myths and inspiration, and a board for my favourite places and favourite books, and a board for walking, and a board for garden porn…! You get the picture … er the image.
It’s no secret that I’m pretty neurotic. I’m forever navel-gazing and trying to analyse just what it is that makes me do some of the strange things I do -- like hurrying to finish my work so I can reward myself by looking at pretty pictures. That being the case, take my analysis for what it’s worth – an effort for me to convince everyone, but mostly myself, that looking at pretty pictures is a good thing, and that I really am okay. Honest!
The powerful parts of story, the parts that I remember most vividly are the parts in which the image is so clear in my mind that if I saw it on Pinterest, if I saw it in a glossy magazine, or if it were shared on Facebook or on telly, I’d recognise it in a heartbeat because I’d see it with way more than just my eyes. An image is a representation of the external form of a person or thing in sculpture, painting, etc. An image is the reflection in the mirror, the imitation of a thing. And the imagination is the place where those wonderful word images are created.
At the end of the navel-gaze, my fascination with Pinterest and pretty pictures isn’t really all that hard to understand. I see stories in pictures. By that, I mean what I read or what I write, I see visually in my head. Though I don’t see the characters in my stories as looking like actors or famous people, I see images that reflect their personalities, their actions and reactions to the plot unfolding around them, to the world they live in, to their response and reaction to each other. Words are the building blocks for images in story, for pretty pictures and scary pictures and sad pictures and happy pictures. Words are the finesse for images. Words take images to the next level by twisting and sculpting and recreating, by breathing life into those images and bringing them screaming and kicking from the world of the imagination out onto the written page. There’s a reason why the book is always better than the film. There’s a reason why the best images only exist inside my head -- as well as the most moving images and the most terrifying images.
Two years ago in August, my husband and I walked the Wainwright Coast to Coast path across England. We made the trip with two cameras and two BlackBerrys. Some days we took hundreds of images. Other days we took only a few because it was pouring rain and we just wanted to get somewhere warm and dry. I blogged that fourteen-day journey across Cumbria and North Yorkshire, from St. Bee’s Head to Robin Hood’s Bay, so I wanted as many images as we could get for my posts. Even now, two years later, I can look at those images, and I’m there! I’m there in the Lake District, on the top of Kidsty Pike in the wind and the mist, I’m there walking through the old mining ruins on the high level route between Keld and Reeth, I’m there on the North York Moors looking out over a sea of blooming heather.
Those photos along with thousands of images from hundreds of walks in the Lake District were revisited, studied and reimagined in my mind as I wrote the Lakeland Heatwave Trilogy. Now, so many of those images have stories beyond the stories, so many of those images take me places I could never go in the real world, but only in the world of my characters and their stories. Every image has a thousand stories, stories that I haven’t written yet, stories that I haven’t even imagined yet, stories that I won’t live long enough to write. So it’s not really surprising that my imagination is so easily captured by pretty pictures.
The power of image in a story is the power to take me there and make me want to stay for the whole thing, and not want to leave when it’s over. The power of image in a story is the power to take me there, then to make me wish I could leave, the power that won’t allow me to leave, even after the story’s over. That’s a lot of power.
I know a lot of writers use an image board, of some sort, to help them clarify in their heads elements of their story and their characters. I’ve never done that. The Pinterest boards of my work are all after the fact. But then perhaps I do something similar in my mind that I’d not really thought about until my Pinterest addiction reared its pretty head. Perhaps every story I write is a board of images, images brought more and more sharply into focus, as I write and rewrite, until they do what I need them to do, until they make the reader look hard and feel deeply. Well, that’s what I’d like to think, anyway. Maybe it’s more of a goal really, to make what I write clear and sharply focused and impossible for my readers to look away from without being moved in some way without being changed in some way.
Find me on Pinterest here: http://pinterest.com/kdgraceauthor/
Posted by K D Grace at 4:00 AM
Monday, January 28, 2013
Your book cover makes a huge impression - so huge it could affect your sales. An ugly cover could kill your sales because the idea is that if you don't care enough about your book to cough up the cash for a spiffy cover, what does that say about the content of your book? Ugly covers are unprofessional. They make you look like a noob.
That said, there are some covers so bad they defy imagination. What were these people thinking? I'm bringing this up because I had a truly fugly cover for my short sweet romance "The Storm". The publisher closed shop before the story was published so I was saved the embarrassment of seeing this cover in public. Here is it, in all its hideous glory:
Isn't that simply dreadful? The faces look like they were tacked on, and the edges have not been smoothed. You can't even see the ship. At least the title and my name are clearly visible, although they are in a nauseating puke green. I guess that's to symbolize seasickness. The cover is also very dark - hard to see. You can't even tell what the story is about judging by this terrible cover. It's a muddy, unclear mess. My story is a bittersweet romantic comedy with pirates. You'd never know from the cover.
Your cover is your entry into your potential reader's mind. It had better stick, and in a good way. The images should be crisp, clean, and light. Not muddy. Print should be clear enough to read in a thumbnail. If you can't see your cover well when it's in thumbnail you need a new cover. Remember that sites like Amazon display your covers in thumbnail format so it's important your cover be legible and attractive when small.
Here are some examples of bad covers:
There are more colors in this cover than a bag of Jelly Bellies. Plus why does the woman look like a Real Doll? She looks plastic - literally. I wonder if she has a vibrating cachet?
Where is her right arm? Why does she look like she's grabbing him by the 'nads or giving his ass a squeeze? Also, it looks like he's going to wrap the lasso around her neck. Not very sexy unless you're into auto-erotic asphyxiation.
There is so much wrong with this cover. Dull, muddy colors. Images of people that look tacked on without adequate blending or shading. Why aren't there any shadows below them? He looks like he's floating in mid-air. And why is her butt blacked out?
The following covers made me laugh so hard I spewed iced tea all over my monitor. Watch your titles for double-entendres. No further comment necessary.
Oh, about that terrible cover for my short story "The Storm"? I found an artist who painted a watercolor for me for that short story, which is now available for free on my web site. This is one of my favorite covers. It's beautiful. You may read the story on my web site at this link.
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/
Her Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/elizabethablack
Follow her at Twitter: http://twitter.com/ElizabethABlack
Thursday, January 24, 2013
by Kathleen Bradean
However you write is the right way to do it. Forget The Rules. If you plot out everything ahead of time, good for you. If you sit down and write with no idea where the story is going, that’s great too. I’m telling you this because what follows is my weird method and I’d hate for you to think it’s The Right Way or The Only Way to go about it.
I’m about thirty thousand words into The Night Creature. It will probably be around sixty thousand words when complete, so that’s theoretically half way through. Now I’m in what writer Jim Grimsley so accurately described as ‘the murk in the middle of the novel.’ If you’re into the journey through the woods metaphor, this is the moment when you lose sight of the forest for the trees. The ending seems unreachable. Maybe by now the story bores you. You fell out of love with it once you got to know it better. Hey, it happens. I’m wondering myself if I’m on the right track, if I’ll be able to tell the story I set out to, and if it’s worth telling even if I can. Yep, I’m stuck in the murk.
Several options here. 1) procrastinate 2) blunder around until I discover the right path to the end, or 3) give up.
Many writers have procrastination honed to a fine art. Deadline looming? Wash the dishes and vacuum the spider webs off the ceiling. Have a cookie. Then decide you need tea with that. Or scotch. Then go to FaceBook and look at cat memes. Stuck and floundering? Throw yourself into research. The internet makes it so easy. You don’t have to head to the library with focused questions and a limited amount of time and patience. Oh no. You can look up the price of a Hermes scarf in British pounds. Google Maps with street view is a fantastic tool. I found out there are no cafés on the same street as the Hermes store in Paris. I also know there are five Hermes boutiques in Paris, but I showed some restraint and only looked at one. Eventually, I had to get quite stern with myself and stop playing around with the wealth of information out there. As Mary Poppins says, “Enough is as good as a feast.”
Writing articles about writing a novel is a great procrastination technique, by the way. But now people are tracking my progress, so I feel a little pressure to stop screwing around and get it done.
Too much procrastinating is a bad habit, but it can be useful. It gives me time to step back from the story for a while and mull over the story arc and insights into who the characters have become as the story unfolds. The order of events tightens into focus. It’s a chance to play around with ideas before I commit them to words, or so I tell myself. The problem is that I’m stuck and until I can move forward, fooling around with research seems as useful as staring at that damned blinking cursor. What comes next? I have no idea! Leave me alone, you nagging black line of doom!
Yeah, yelling the cursor isn’t productive.
One trick to avoid being stuck: When you finish a writing session, get one or two sentences of the next scene down before you stop. That way you’re primed to move on when you open the file the next time. Or stop just short of the natural end of the scene. If you have an easy writing prompt to start with, you’re more likely to type the next sentence.
But what do you do if that doesn’t work? This is where the ‘this works for me but I don’t recommend it’ part comes in. The blundering about method. I go over what I’ve already written and tighten it up. You’re not supposed to start editing until the first draft is complete. The reason for that ‘rule’ is that some writers futz around with their first chapters forever and never move on. The reason I break the rule is that rules are really only guidelines, and guidelines are code for ‘this works for many people.’ That’s no guarantee it will work for you and I’ve found it doesn’t for me. That being said, the first novel you write, your major goal should be to finish it. Millions of people begin novels. Few finish them. Finish yours. Revel in the accomplishment. Slog through to the end no matter what. Then go back and edit. (says the woman who admits she doesn’t do it that way)
I try to write a linear, meaning that I don’t tend to write scenes out of order. Every sentence in your story should have forward momentum toward the end. Jumping ahead or behind disturbs the forward flow of the narrative. (That can be fixed in the editing process) But just because that’s what I prefer to do doesn’t mean it’s what I really do. A few days ago I wrote a wonderfully evocative scene but realized later that it occurred too early in the emotional arc of the story. Normally, I’d just delete it and write it again later.
You’re probably screaming right now. I know, I know. You’re supposed to save all your precious snippets and tuck them away for later. This is where my view of writing may differ dramatically from yours. I don’t think of anything I’ve written as a rare gem to be set in a tiara to make it sparkle. I’m not saying that you do, or that’s it’s wrong to feel that way. It simply isn’t my approach to my writing. While I write literary erotica, pretty prose isn’t my aim. So it’s rare that I feel anything I’ve written is too precious to delete. I care very much about the emotions evoked in my scenes though, so often the only thing I ‘save’ is an impression of the emotional impact.
However, this time I really liked the way the scene turned out. Plus it took me a long time to write. So I cut and pasted it to the end of my MS (manuscript). It’s lurking out there, waiting for me. Once I reach the right place in the story to incorporate it, I may have to entirely rewrite it to make it fit into the flow of the story. Or cut it if it never fits. I’m sort of brutal that way.
I knew that scene didn’t come next, but what did? Cut to me pacing in the backyard and thinking quite a bit about the story. For days.
Truly stuck at this point, this is when I daydream about being one of those writers who creates an outline before they begin writing. How lovely it would be to see that my next scene is ____. It’s written in stone. It’s meant to be. Yeah. No. The problem with outlines is that I discover the story while I’m writing it. An outline I wrote in advance would be worthless after the first major deviation from it, so why bother? Or worse, I’d try to force the story back to the outline and just… *full body shudder* Not going to happen.
Rather than give up on the novel now that I’m mired down in indecision, this is time to dig into my bag of writer’s tricks to get moving again. The first thing I did was make myself stay away from FaceBook and all other temptations. Then I deliberately wrote a scene I knew was wrong. I used a POV (point of view) character who had no business narrating any part of the story. I explored how she saw the major characters, what changes she noticed in them, and let her ramble on about things that mattered only to her. When I’m not sure what to do next, doing the most wrong thing helps me focus on the right thing. Sure, I wrote a thousand words that I deleted the next time I sat down to write, but I was writing, which beats glaring at the blinking cursor.
When even that trick failed, I broke another one of my rules. I wrote part of the closing scene of the story. I’ll probably have to rewrite it entirely, but it reminded me where I was headed, what was at stake for the characters, and all the events that must happen before they get to that moment. That got me moving forward again, but I also realized something that was wrong way at the beginning of the novel. When you have an option, write new stuff and move forward. Even though it’s killing me to leave the error, I’m working toward the end. I can fix the errors in the editing process. I keep telling myself that. I will avoid temptation!
Is it ever the right decision to give up? I hate to say yes, but the answer is yes. I know some writers who start off strong and know the ending but simply can’t write the middle of the novel. Part of it may be a loss of faith. Sometimes it’s something outside the book such as fear of failure, fear of success, or one of the other evil mind games we play on ourselves.
What if you can’t write more because the story reached a point where it bores you? News flash – if it bores he writer it will bore the reader, so save us all the grief and figure out how to make it interesting. Do you just want to get to the exciting stuff? Then deal with the dull stuff in a sentence or two and get on to the fun part.
But what if that doesn’t work? If you have a bad habit of quitting at this point, force yourself to slog through it. Forcing yourself to finish might not help you produce a publishable novel but you’ll have broken your streak of unfinished work. Then move on to another novel and force yourself to finish it. However, if it isn’t a habit and you just can’t write any more on this story and more urgent ones are hammering at your brain trying to get out, then your best option might be to set this one aside for a while, maybe forever. Give up. Making yourself miserable isn’t worth it. Do you have a contract for the novel? No? Then let it go. Yes? Oh man. You’re in a spot, aren’t you? Put on your professional writer hat (or panties) and try anything, everything, to get it done.
Whatever you do, no matter how uninspired you feel, force yourself to write. That’s my best advice to escape the murk in the middle.
Let me know if you have tricks that help you write when you’re not feeling it. I’m always interested in what other writers do.
Next time, I expect to have finished my novel. I’ll tell you how I brought it on home.
Posted by Kathleen Bradean at 5:30 AM
Labels: tricks to finish writing a story, what to do if you're stuck in the middle of a novel, writing this novel
Monday, January 21, 2013
By Lisabet Sarai
We were together in my living room, kissing – pretty hot and heavy. After a while, I thought it was okay to move to the next stage, so I began caressing her breasts. “No – don't...” she moaned into my mouth. So of course, I removed my hands. I was disappointed, but I figured I'd read her wrong.
She broke the kiss, sat back on the couch and gave me a look I really couldn't interpret. “Why'd you stop?”
Now I was confused. “Well – you told me to. My mom brought me up with the rule that 'no means no'.”
“I had to say no,” she replied. “I didn't want you to think I was a slut. But I really wanted you to keep going.”
A male friend of mine recently told me the story above. We both shook our heads at the how easily authentic sexual communication can be derailed by societal norms, mismatched expectations, and personal secrets that aren't shared. Of course, when you're with a lover, much of the communication is non-verbal, but when the signals are mixed, how do you know what to believe?
This conversation started me thinking about safewords. A safeword may be the only unambiguous and absolute form of sexual communication in existence. That's its sole purpose – to convey the message “Stop” (and that's why the actual word chosen doesn't matter). Once a safeword has been established, the dominant is free to ignore protests and refusals by the sub – to assume that in fact the sub doesn't “really” mean no, regardless of what she's saying at any particular moment.
In both the real world and in erotic fiction, though, submissives are reluctant to invoke that escape clause. Part of the resistance is a sense that by using the safeword, the bottom will somehow disappoint the top. In fact, a responsible top needs to trust the sub will safeword if necessary – that's part of the contract involved in the power exchange. A sub may recognize this intellectually, but feelings are a different matter. Using the safeword makes a bottom feel ashamed and inadequate, as if she doesn't have enough stamina or endurance to take whatever the top can dish out. Subs crave perfection – safewording makes it all too obvious that their devotion is flawed.
(Note: this may of course not be true of all submissives. I'm speaking at least partly from personal experience here. Also, although I use the female pronoun for submissives, that's purely for linguistic convenience.)
I wonder, though, whether there's another dynamic involved. Specifically, I wonder if ambiguity or uncertainty, the awareness that there are things left unspoken by both you and your partner(s), actually contributes to eroticism. Certainly, knowing exactly what your lover is thinking and what he or she is about to do strips a scene of some of its tension. When a lover asks me, “What do you want?” I'm reluctant to reply, not due to embarrassment (mostly) but because I want to be surprised. I don't want to script my own sexual encounters. I'd rather be spontaneous, and have my lover do the same.
Then there's the question of taboos and transgression. You want to violate the rules, to push the limits, to go further than you've gone before. At the same time, you're scared and uncomfortable. You're really not sure what you want, in fact. How can one simultaneously crave and fear being flogged? And yet some of us do, and that hovering on the cusp between desire and denial adds intensity to the experience.
I've been couching this theoretical proposition mostly in terms of BDSM, but it could well apply to non-kinky relationships as well. The sense of mystery enhances the thrill, especially when you're with someone you don't know very well – in a situation where sexual communication is likely to be the most fraught with uncertainty. If you knew everything running through your partner's mind, your lust might well turn to disinterest or even disgust. Better to leave some things to the imagination – even if you risk misunderstandings.
In writing erotic scenes, I've learned to let each participant keep some secrets. I believe this adds depth and authenticity. At the height of passion, we rarely speak of our past lovers – but they're often present in our minds. Worried about rejection, we don't share our deepest fears or our most fervent desires, even with long-established partners. And although I've always believed that open sexual communication is prima facie a Good Thing, perhaps that conclusion should be tempered by circumstance.
On the other hand, two erotic scenarios that most strongly push my personal buttons involve complete openness. The first is the notion of telepathic connection during sex. This is a familiar trope in romantic erotica, particularly in the paranormal vein, but that doesn't necessarily rob it of its effectiveness. There have been a few times in my life where I truly believed I was reading my lover's mind, and vice versa. Despite the qualms I voiced a few paragraphs earlier, those were powerful, even life changing, erotic experiences. I've used the device in some of my own stories and it never fails to excite and move me.
The second scenario involves a D/s relationship in which the submissive is “forced” to confess her kinky desires. The master or mistress requires full disclosure – no matter how filthy the content of her fantasies. To refuse to speak would constitute disobedience. And so, despite shame and embarrassment, the sub admits her kinks. She is rewarded by the dominant's acceptance and approval, in contrast to the condemnation that would be the consequence in the vanilla world.
I find this type of interaction incredibly arousing – both in fiction and reality. The Dom and sub are partners in exploring the depths of depravity. By revealing her secret needs, no matter how warped, the sub demonstrates her level of trust. Like using a safeword, this kind of revelation takes courage. A serious and skilled top will reward the bottom for being open – perhaps by bringing some of those fantasies to life.
Still, there may be thoughts the sub doesn't dare voice, even to the most accepting and amenable of Doms. Those (possibly very extreme) fantasies remain unspoken – but will the dominant somehow manage to intuit and act on them? (Perhaps using the mind-reading capabilities for which masters are known?) Don't we all hold some things back, even from those with whom we are most intimate?
Sorry to ramble. I'm curious to know what those of you who haven't given up on this post yet think. Is total openness desirable in the erotic realm? Or do the secrets we keep add to the complexity and richness of sexual experience?
Friday, January 18, 2013
By Donna George Storey
Sometimes life throws a humble monthly blogger a last-minute topic that she simply can’t resist. A friend forwarded an xoJane article to me called “The Audacity of Lena Dunham, and Her Admirable Commitment to Making Us Look at Her Naked.” The author discusses how actresses who do not meet the contemporary standards of “beauty” (read: super skinny with large breasts), such as Lena Dunham in Girls and Kate Winslet in Titanic, elicit passionate disgust for refusing to hide in a corner covered by a tarp because they don’t fit into a size 0.
As a female who has not escaped the pain of dealing with body image issues myself over the years—and if you have avoided our culture’s toxic messages, please let me know how you managed that miracle so I can pass the wisdom on to women young and old—I was angered by the insults lobbed at Dunham. Popular assumptions about female sexuality and attractiveness unfortunately have not evolved since I was on the dating scene. Yet I began to see that these same issues apply not just to my imperfect body, but to my scandalous profession: writing about sex. For example, in this quote from the article, we can easily substitute “genuine sexual experiences” for “ thighs”:
“We expect, weirdly, to be protected from Lena Dunham’s thighs -- as if Dunham herself must be made to understand how uncomfortable they make us, how DANGEROUS they are, to a media consuming public that doesn’t want to appreciate the variety intrinsic to reality, but who are happy to only see people and bodies that we instantly recognize and which do not challenge us. This goes for thighs, sure, but also for a wide array of other things as well, from race to age to disability. Don’t make us look. We don’t know how to process it. It’s HARD.”
Do readers who buy erotica expect to be protected from “real” sex? Sometimes I think so. Talking and writing about real sex is dangerous. Sometimes it makes us uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s difficult to process. It seems the market calls for gorgeous, almost freakishly toned bodies to decorate the covers, partners who have mutual and multiple orgasms, and a miraculous absence of shame, inhibition, or disappointment among other familiar elements of sexual encounters, especially with strangers. This is the safe and predictable way to write and read about sex. Of course, many readers are doubtless trying to escape difficult issues from real life when they turn to erotica, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But surely there’s something to be gained by allowing for variety, challenge, and a potentially healing identification with the complexities of real sex.
Not that there aren’t editors and writers who do take on these challenges. For example, Joan Price has taken on the radical task of presenting “senior sexuality” (that is, partners over—gasp—fifty years old) in a positive light. Just for a giggle, count how many positive images of sexuality involving older people you see in the media over the next few days. Indeed do you see any images at all? Since, hopefully, we’re all going to get older and have great sex for as long as possible, why wouldn’t we all want to see inspirational examples of this? Why must sex between older people be presented as ridiculous and disgusting? Or at best channeled into a fantasy of past youth? Is it perhaps that “senior sex” reminds us that our parents and grandparents and so many older, ordinary people around us are sexual beings? That might indeed be hard to process, but fascinating, too, if we have the courage to take the leap.
While I applaud the relatively recent trend of portraying nude male torsos on the covers of erotic books targeted at women, I also feel a pang that these naked men are invariably buff to the extreme. Any actual person with that level of muscle definition must do little else but work out and take steroids. I’m not naive enough to argue publishers switch to regular guys with beer bellies and atrophied biceps, but frankly I’m more turned on—or rather less turned off—by a more realistic image, just as I am by nuanced, believable stories.
I’m sure on some level we all take it for granted that our collective erotic imagination is corseted into a very narrow range of possibilities—young, predominantly white people with exaggerated secondary sex characteristics. But perhaps if we begin to question what society—and we personally—are pushing away when we settle for these cliches in our images and our stories, we might come to a deeper understanding of what we personally desire, and how those desires have been shaped and distorted to keep us “safe.”
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
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
By: Craig Sorensen
I’m a believer in cycles. My life has had many, and I have found great benefit in embracing them. But there is a distinction to make when considering cycles; they are not about a return to sameness, but a return to familiarity under new circumstances.
I left Idaho in 1980 to join the Army, and returned in 1992 after my dad passed away. Being with my brother and my mother recaptured something familiar, but much was different. I left Pennsylvania in 1989 and returned in 1995 to the same company I had worked for. They had changed, I had changed, and we all benefited from this in the form of a 17 year relationship that finally ended because our desires and objectives had become different.
I left the first home I had lived in June 1965 and returned there for the first time in July 2012. My memories of the place were surprisingly accurate, but my return taught me more about the truths and fallacies of memory than any million words can say.
Last month, here at ERWA, I gave a concise recap of the cycles that surround my love of storytelling. I’m not particular about the kinds of stories I tell, I only want them to be good stories. My entry into erotica in 2006 was fueled by a warm reception to my work that I had not found in other writing I had done. And make no mistake, I have gone down dozens of rabbit holes, both as an author, and as a man, in the many explorations I have made in erotica.
I started this post with stating my belief in cycles. But this does not assume fighting to go up the river that was just exited. Quite the contrary, it is about finding the familiar in what is new, knowing that this new river may be very different, but finding the sameness and growing from this combination, and hopefully adapting. Not traveling the same river yet again, but ultimately understanding the nature of rivers through experience.
And as much as I believe in cycles, I believe that life is a river. Some choose to fight the waves, some choose to flow, some choose to get the fuck out and sit on the bank. I choose to flow, and see what is around the next bend. Springs enter creeks, creeks enter streams, streams enter rivers, rivers enter wider rivers, and eventually you find the vastness of the sea.
I seek the sea.
One year ago to the day, I posted my first entry on this blog. That same day, I boarded a plane to travel across the US, and landed in a new destination, at a job very different than any I had known. Six months later, in mid 2012, I drove with my family across the US, including that visit to the first home I had ever known.
And through it all, my belief in cycles and rivers has grown. Through it all, a long cycle has been realized, as I resumed writing a series of stories that have emerged slowly from my imagination since I was a boy growing up in Idaho. In the meanwhile, I’m working as hard as I ever have at my day job. Somehow, thirty-two years of business experience have come to focus like the sun through a magnifying glass. A spectrum of business experience burns white hot, and I’m taking on challenges I never thought I’d be doing.
I’m seeing life in ways I never saw before.
And so I have been forced to choose whether I want to flow down the river, or return back up with many things. There is always the temptation to return back up the river, because though it might be tough to fight against the rapids, there were many good things up that river.
Along this large, new river, there are the sparks of familiarity. But this river is flowing fast, so I have to choose where to focus my energy to learn and keep up with the nuances of the currents.
And I have made that choice.
As much as I have loved writing erotica, and as much as I love those of you who I have met and gotten to know along the way, writing erotica is something that is up the current from where I am. Down current is the revitalization of a story that I have developed and grown too many times to count. The story, for now, is my most important work.
And along the way, a job that makes my days go so fucking fast that sometimes I can’t keep up. A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to stand a situation like this, but something in me was triggered, and now I’m lapping it up like a thirsty young boy, drinking crystal water from a spring cascading down a rock.
And yes, that last description is a description from my life. A memorable moment about the value of thirst, quenching, and the quality of water. A lesson about how water is cleansed as it flows.
Anyway, today it is one year since the day I first blogged here, and one year since I went to take a new job out west, where I grew up as a child.
Today is the end of a perfect cycle, and the perfect end to bid a fond adieu to erotica. It is the perfect day to thank each and every one of you who read my stories along the way, or were kind enough to follow my disjointed blog, which I will close down at the end of January. It is a perfect day to tell those of you I have met face to face, or exchanged emails with, how much I appreciate what I have gained from you. I only hope I have somehow reciprocated.
Am I completely done with erotica? If you think so, I ask you to reread this post.
But for now, I take in where the river runs. And I obey the power of the river.
I thank Lisabet Sarai for the opportunity to post to this ERWA blog. I thank all of my fellow bloggers, truly a who’s who of erotica authors and a group I am honored to have been a part of.
Craig J. Sorensen
January 15, 2013
Posted by Craig Sorensen at 8:37 AM
Sunday, January 13, 2013
|Die Grenzen Meiner Sprache, K. Rakoll, limited edition digital print, 2007.|
Is this going to turn into another discussion of the pornography / erotic fiction divide? Well, in a way it is. Because as humans, we are peculiar creatures, and we often come to understand things by knowing what they are not. But I hope this will also be an essay of encouragement to erotica writers; A way to say that writing about the erotic experience in all its richness and complexity a very difficult but worthy endeavor.
Well, before the Enlightenment, humans had a very good sense of what they were and what the purpose of their life was. We were put here to serve God. To do His bidding. To repay Him for the gift of the sacrifice of His son, on the cross. As Jacques Derrida observed, as gifts go, it was one with horrific strings attached. But nonetheless, within the Judeo-Christian world, as humans, our nature and our purpose was given to us. How well or badly we stuck to that purpose was judged in reference to something external and beyond us. God was our judge. Of course, Descartes presaged the end of all that, Kant compounded it, and by the time Nietzsche was stinking up the slipcovers and declaring the Death of God, we were on our own. We were responsible for describing ourselves, for engineering our own purposes, and for judging ourselves.
And if that's the case, it should be easy to use language to do that, shouldn't it?
What a number of 20th Century thinkers found out, especially in Europe where they get the funding to lie around thinking about such things, is that there are parts of the human experience that simply stretch language (our ability to conceptualize and communicate them) to its limits. And, it turns out, this occurs in very interesting places. Usually, but not always, at the extremes of experience. It is not unreasonable to believe that there is something important to be learned about ourselves in these places where language fails us, if only because of the phenomenon of the fact that it does. And it is not a coincidence that this European fetish for examining these limits of language is also the place where people feel that literature can contain a hefty dose of erotic writing and still be considered literature.
As unappetizing as their works might seem now, two writers really braved the frontier and lived (through the survival of their works) to tell about it. Sade and Sacher-Masoch. Ironic, isn't it, that both these writers were obsessed with the extremes of the erotic. So much so, that many people don't consider what they wrote as very erotic at all. But they eased the way for the many more palatable examples of the subject that came after them. And although a lot of 'naughty' writing emerged from Victorian England, and there was the mind-blowing anomaly that is James Joyce, it is not entirely unfair to lay the blame for why some of us take eroticism so seriously almost wholly on the French. Because even though they didn't write it all, they published a lot of it, critiqued it, and generally felt it to be important enough to discuss seriously and, more to the point, philosophically.
Anyone who has attempted to write the sensation of an orgasm, without resorting to the cliche bullshit that has emerged as the babyfood of erotica, knows how insanely frustrating it is. Just describing the physical reality is hard enough, but the minute one attempts to describe how it feels, how it affects our sense of space, time, our perceptions of the other, present in the moment, etc., well, it's a total bitch. All the very best textual examples of it have a suspiciously poetic quality to them. Because Octavio Paz was right. It turns out that the tighter we hold onto empirical, analytical language, the more abject our failure. So, one way people go about it is to circumvent the problem by not describing it at all, and leaving it to the mind of the reader to fill in the slippery (pun intended) details. Another is to opt for a sort of pot-throwing approach: using language as the clay, but letting the subtle chaos of unconscious - a kind of potter's wheel - to do some of the work. Allowing the language to be slippery, lumpy, imprecise by using metaphor and surreality, rhythm, cadence, and semiotics to deliver an impressionist rendering of the event. This, of course, can result in some very nasty purple prose. But it can also result in something that approximates the sublime. It isn't a particularly economical method; you have to be prepared to consign a lot of your efforts to the garbage.
But I've only used the example of the orgasm. And I don't want you to think this even begins to describe the challenge of writing the erotic. Because, pulling out to a larger view of the challenge, erotic desire is even harder to get a handle on. And sure, you can use the image of a hard cock to symbolize erotic desire, but it's a piss poor symbol. It equates to how erotic desire plays out on the body, but it gives no hint at all as to what erotic desire does to the mind.
Pornography does a marvelous job of showing you the surface of what's going on when people get all up in each other's business. For the most part, it shows us sex. People going at it. And if we weren't such complete species bigots, a filmed sequence of dogs fucking should also do the trick for getting us in the mood to fuck. But I'd ask you to accept the premise that to scratch the biological itch is not, in itself, erotic. If we're honest, we've all have experiences of getting off and shooting our respective wads, that were utilitarian rather than erotic. But if Bataille and Paz are right, and eroticism is not about copulation, reproduction, or simply physical sexual release or even the fleeting, purely physical pleasure of orgasm, but rather the strange excessive meaning we have piled onto the human sexual experience, the mental pleasure present in the erotic moment that often lingers afterwards or even rears its head when there's no prospect of an erotic encounter in sight, then pornography fails utterly. And, in all fairness, so does a lot of erotic fiction.
One of the reasons I think it fails these days is because we have come to mistake any form of sexual experience for an erotic one. I encounter this a lot, when someone on twitter DMs me and says: 'Wanna see my cock?' You may laugh. But think about it. This COULD be an erotic experience if I personally thought that there was something deliciously dirty and transgressive in gazing on a nameless, disembodied cock. If I was brought up to believe that such a symbol of decontextualized sex was inherently bad. Sadly, I wasn't. To me it's just a biological specimen out of its jar. Now, if the person offering to show me the cock is an exhibitionist who has some sense that showing his erect cock, while withholding the rest of his presence, is somehow dirty or bad or nasty, it might very well be erotic for him. But on the whole, it's just a matter of a very utilitarian urge to get off and a vain hope that a few words from me with make the process slightly easier. In a way, it's an attempt to complete the process more efficiently. The truth is, a lot of sex is just this. There's nothing wrong with it; its the human animal following his misguided and very confused instinct to spread seed. But its not necessarily erotic. This is why I feel Bataille is right. That eroticism requires some form of conflict, of personal transgression - even if that transgression doesn't seem particularly transgressive to anyone else. As Octavio Paz said: "Sexuality is general; eroticism, singular." This is why one person's porn is another person's eroticism. The mistake is in assuming we are going to always agree. The art is in judging when we do.
Another reason why we might fail is because we try to insert love as a central site of eroticism. It isn't that love cannot be present in eroticism. For some people, getting there without it is just not an option. It is simply that a lot work that straddles the erotica/romance divide ends up moving the focus by mistake. This phenomena of erotic transcendence is an admittedly emotionally, one might even say spiritually, dangerous place, if one reaches it at all. And for many people, going to that space with someone you don't trust is too frightening to contemplate. How many people can you honestly say you trust, but don't love? Of course, some of those people you can name are out of bounds, because of the taboo of incest, or because they happen not to be the right gender for your particular orientation. But on the whole, if you love someone, you trust them, and this allows you to go to that exhilarating, awe-inspiring, frightening place with them. So love may be a prerequisite for even attempting the journey, but not for the experience itself.
For me, some of the most successful erotic fiction involving romantic love occurs when one of the characters loves but does not trust the other, or trusts but does not love the other. Because either of these states are socially problematic and set the stages for some kind of transgression that enables the opening of the door to eroticism.
And this leads me to the last of the examples I'll offer of where writing the erotic can be difficult. There is a word that is used often in philosophy, critical studies and among those of us who count angels on the heads of pins: Alterity. It means 'otherness'. But what makes it a good word is that it encompasses the very strange dilemma we, as individuals, face every day of our lives. It is The Other. The one who is not us. Everyone but you. There's a lot of funny stuff that happens when you study how we relate to The Other. And it gets even weirder when we let that Other into our personal space. Weirder still when we touch the Other, or the Other touches us. Here, for instance, we get a strange and beautiful paradox, examined eloquently by another French guy by the name of Jean Luc Nancy. When someone kisses you, and your lips touch, are you kissing them, or are they kissing you? Are you feeling your lips being met, or meeting theirs? Yeah, it's a headfuck, I know. But when it comes to the realm of eroticism, you can see how we are getting into a place, with regard to this paradox, that gets freaky strange. When I thrust into you (just pretend I have a cock, because sometimes, I'm convinced I do and no one else can see it), am I penetrating you or are you consuming me? What is more aggressive, penetration or consummation? If you just want to look at this from a purely physical perspective, as happens in porn, there is no paradox. But once you start to examine the interior experience of this physicality, it's easy to get lost. It's why people, quite correctly say, they lose themselves in each other. At the point where this is occurring, we lose what Bataille called our 'discontinuity'. We stop being discontinuous separate beings. We get to somewhere beyond that, where I don't know where my body begins and yours ends. And where sometimes, I don't know where I begin and you end. We are at that fleeting moment of ego death. And how can I speak when I am not me anymore.
This is where language fails us. At this, often momentary, point of transcendence. There is no air in the void. Nothing to inhale and use to enable us to speak. And it's over so fast. We fall back into our bodies, and our individualities, and it's over.
To me, all good erotic writing attempts, in some way or another, to represent those experiences, those eerie little miracles that occur, even though 'God is Dead'. My guess is that we are almost always going to fail to capture that state. But I believe that even getting close tells us immense things about who we are as humans and what we are meant to be, since it's our job to do it now.
On the other hand, it has been theorized that eroticism is simply one of the grand narratives perpetuated by modernism, and is already dead. But that's another post.