Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Self-Publishing And Promotions - An Experiment


Elizabeth Black writes erotica, erotic romance, and horror, and she lives on the Massachusetts coast. See her bio at the end of this article.

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It seems everyone is self-publishing these days. More authors are jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon when they read about success stories like J. A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking. Why pay a publisher most of your earnings when that publisher (especially if it is tiny and for the most part operates out of someone's kitchen) does little of the work? Authors who are published by large publishers these days must do most of their own promotions. Some authors must distribute their ARCs to professional reviewers on their own because their publishers don't send books out for review. It's even tougher to find readers to review your works on reader blogs. So lots of people self-publish, hoping to repeat the successes of Konrath and Hocking.

Not all of them succeed. In fact, cases like Konrath and Hocking are rare. From what I understand, most self-published authors barely sell fifty copies of their books in the book's lifetime. You don't hear much about that.

As an experiment, I self-published two erotic fairy tales, "Trouble In Thigh High Boots" (erotic Puss In Boots) and "Climbing Her Tower" (erotic Rapunzel). Like so many small press authors, I was tired of working my ass off promoting and writing and taking home only about 40% of my book's worth. I wanted the 70% I could get from Amazon, especially since I did most of the work myself anyway. Far too many small publishers are really self-published authors operating a start-up out of their kitchen. They add a dozen or so authors (often new authors) to their catalogue to give the appearance of professionalism. These are people with little to no publishing and/or marketing experience. These publishers provide editing and cover art - and that's about it. Since I did most of the work including promo as opposed to most of my publishers promoting author's works, I wanted to see if I could make a go of self-publishing.

It's much harder than most people think. Granted, I've been self-published for only four months. It's too soon to say whether or not I have been successful.

I choose to avoid Kindle Select. I wanted my books to be available on as many distributor sites as possible, so I opted for Kindle Direct, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, Apple, and a few others. I never made it to AllRomanceEbooks although I should list the books there. I'm still figuring out Calibre. Now that I'm considering Kindle Select for a three month trial run, I'll forgo ARe for the moment. I've also chosen only ebooks for the moment, since I can't afford to release print books. 

One big problem many writers face is that their books are lost in a sea of millions of books, especially on Amazon. This is especially true of self-published writers. How do you get noticed? That's where creative promotions come in. The Holy Grail is to find readers rather than promoting to other writers. Here is some of what I've tried so far:

Professional editing and cover art: I hired a cover artist and an editor. That was the first thing I did. They put me back several hundred dollars for both books, but the expense was worth it. My books are professionally edited - something all self-published writers should strive for. One valid complaint of some self-published works is that they are full of errors and are presented in an unprofessional manner. My covers are beautiful and easy to read. I've seen some self-published authors and even small presses skimp on the covers. There's more to making an effective cover than choosing free or low cost stock photos and slapping some text on them.

Professional and Reader Reviews: Some small presses don't even send out books for review. I sent my ARCs to review sites and individual reviewers myself. Good reviews drive books further up in the ranks, but they can be hard to come by. Amazon recently removed what it considered questionable reviews from author's books, including perfectly legitimate four and five star reviews. Hit-and-run one-star reviews that serve no purpose other than to attack the writer remained, driving the overall rating of the books down. Reviews can be gamed. Sock puppets were a big problem. Like so many writers, I was disturbed to learn some best-selling authors (most notably self-published wünderkind John Locke) had paid online services several hundred dollars to write positive reviews of their books to artificially boost sales.

Social Media Sites: Facebook and Twitter are mixed bags. Facebook's new algorithm allows for only less than 100 of your friends to see your posts at a time, therefore you lose a great many potential readers. You must be careful promoting on multiple groups because Facebook may ban you temporarily or permanently for spamming. Even seeking friends who are possible readers is risky, since there is a new item below friend requests asking if you know the person outside Facebook. Ignore that feature. If you click on "no", that person's account may be penalized for up to a month.  Despite all that, Facebook is one of my favorite places to be, especially when it comes to networking with other writers and publishers, and finding submission calls. I do see results from my promoting on various reader groups, so Facebook is worthwhile. I've heard from writers who get plenty of mileage on Twitter, but I'm not as active on Twitter as I am on Facebook.

Reader Forums: Forums such as Kindle Boards and Goodreads are great places to find readers. The problem is writers are discouraged on most reader forums from plugging their own works. If they plug, they are sometimes flamed and attacked. I've run into many writers who have had bad experiences with Goodreads. According to Hocking and Konrath, rather than endlessly advertise your books, you must engage readers. I agree with that. So go into these forums with the intention of talking about your favorite books. Join in the crowd. Get to know people. A big problem with this approach is that it takes an incredible amount of time and it's not guaranteed to get anyone interested in your books. Time that could be spent writing is spent hanging out in reader forums hoping to get lucky. I used to post on Kindle Boards but I've since slowed down. I've never had much luck with Goodreads.

Live Chats: I highly recommend live reader chats if you can find them. My favorite live chat is the Night Owl Romance Live Chat. I'm a member of an online writer's organization that meets with readers on Night Owl every two months or so. Plus I have set up my own individual chats on Night Owl. These chats are scheduled a year in advance so if you're interested in participating, keep an eye on the forum towards the end of the year to sign up.

Contests: Giving away a book for free is a great way to get noticed. I've found initially I've given away more books than I've sold. It takes time but there is a payoff. Everyone loves free stuff, and people will come out in droves for a chance to win a free book. Just be careful of the collectors - those who are in it only for the freebies. These people have no intension of actually reading the book or buying your other books. They collect free stuff for the sake of having it. Hosting contests on your blog or Facebook page, for instance, is a great way to lure lurkers out of the shadows. Ask a contest question that requires more than a "yes" or "no" answer so you get some personal information about your contest entries. Then, engage them briefly. A little attention goes a long way. Plus you may make some friends doing this.

Loop Chats on Yahoo Groups: Yahoo groups are a mixed bag in similar ways that Facebook and Twitter are mixed bags. A big problem is that most groups are promo dumping sites readers don't visit. So it's all an echo chamber of writers promoting to each other. Yes, writers read but the purpose of posting to Yahoo groups is to promote your books to readers who aren't necessarily authors. I participate in live loop chats on the Love Romances Cafe Yahoo group several times per year. An advantage of loop chats over live chats is that readers don't have to be present during your chat to benefit from it. There is an archive of your posts so readers who drop by hours later have written material they may view at their leisure. This includes blurbs, excerpts, and buy links. You can't post long excerpts in live online chats. You'll end up with a case of TL;DR.

Blog Hops: I've had great results from blog hops. A blog hop is where a number of blogs with a common theme are linked on one web site, most often to celebrate a holiday. For instance, there are Valentine's Day, Christmas, and Halloween blog hops. I've done both romance and horror blog hops. You register your blog on the blog hop page and have a post prepared for the day(s) of the blog hop. Some requires a contest giveaway of a book or other swag. Want to try a blog hop and you write romance? Sign up for the July 4th romance blog hop at The Blog Hop Spot: http://thebloghopspot.com/sign-up-here/

Blog Tours: There are companies that will set up blog tours for you, but I've found it easier to simply set up my own. I contacted writer blogs and reader blogs, and asked if I could put up a guest post. Everyone I contacted said "yes". It helped that I already knew most of the people from Facebook. I often swap with them - I'll host them on my own blog. I set up a three week blog tour, running Mondays through Thursdays. Blog tours are a great way of getting exposure to a wide variety of people in a short period of time. If this sounds too overwhelming for you to do on your own, there are plenty of companies online that will do it for you, for a fee.

Radio Shows: I've co-hosted romance and horror radio shows on Blog Talk Radio with Marsha Casper Cook. Radio is a great format for you, your interests, and books in general. Plus it's interesting to put a voice to a name. Radio shows make you seem more real and human.

Special Sales And Free Books: One way to attract attention is to lower your book's price to $0.99 for several days as a promotion. An even better way to attract attention is to make your book free for a few days. Think of it this way. Your free book is downloaded on Amazon by 1,000 people. 100 out of those people actually read it. 20 of those people chat up the book with other readers because they liked it. Then those people buy and read the book, and pass on their own views of it to their friends. A snowball effect occurs.

These are the two books I have self-published.


TROUBLE IN THIGH HIGH BOOTS
Erotic Puss In Boots


Tita is a Puss In Boots with a little something extra. Being a magical creature, she shifts from a kitty into the form of an alluring, ginger-haired woman when the situation demands it. And what a situation she finds herself in! Her new master Dylan is a poor man who needs a boost in the world. Sly Tita uses her seductive wiles to pass him off to the villagers and the king as the Marquis of Carabas in order to help both of them gain their fortunes. Her plan is not without its problems. Dylan's malicious brother, Zane, lusts after Tita, and he wants her all to himself, but she refuses to succumb to his treachery. Being a cat first and foremost, she purrs in the arms of her many lovers but her heart belongs to only one man - the king. She hopes that in ensuring Dylan his lofty place in the world the king finds a place in his heart for her. Her life becomes an erotic adventure in reaching her goals.


CLIMBING HER TOWER
Erotic Rapunzel


Rapunzel has never known life outside her tower. She has never felt the company of a human being other than Mother, and she has never been in close contact with a man - until Prince Richard of Norwich climbs into her tower one dark night and sweeps her off her feet. Prince Richard introduces Rapunzel to erotic pleasures beyond her wildest dreams, and she wants more! In order to make her both his wife and his sex slave, Prince Richard needs to spirit her away from that tower, but Mother stands in his way. Prince Richard and Rapunzel begin a tantalizing and dangerous adventure in order to be together as one. And "let down your hair" takes on an entirely new meaning in their fevered embraces.

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", "Zippered Flesh 2: More Tales Of Body Enhancements Gone Bad", 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


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ecstasy For All or Hell on Earth

by Jean Roberta


In about 450 BCE (Before the Christian Era), give or take a few years, a jolly Greek playwright named Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata, a comedy about a woman leader who ends the war between Athens and Sparta by persuading all the other married women of Athens to refuse sex with their husbands until they stop fighting. (Meanwhile, Lysistrata’s Spartan counterpart Lampito is doing the same thing on her side.) By the end of the play, all the men are so horny that they agree to a peace settlement, to be followed by a feast and an orgy. And the women are as horny as the men.

The logic of the play is unassailable. If you had to choose between killing “enemies” in a war while risking mutilation and death or enjoying every kind of physical pleasure, which choice would appeal to you more? If you, as a non-warrior, had to deprive yourself of sex temporarily in order to pressure the warriors into a lasting peace, wouldn’t it be worthwhile?

Centuries later, in the 1960s, the protest movement against the American war in Vietnam (re-)invented the slogan “Make love, not war.” This command, as compelling as it seemed, was about as effective as Aristophanes’ play. (In the real world, the war between Athens and Sparta caused massive damage to both sides and ended the “golden age of Greece.”)

In fantasy, any activity that creates sexual pleasure can solve most personal and social problems. Sex is a form of exercise that burns calories, it enables two or more people to transcend their basic human loneliness, at least temporarily, and it increases the participants’ knowledge of themselves and each other. It is earthy and spiritual at the same time. Being desired is good for the self-esteem, and having one’s own desire satisfied is an antidote to negative feelings of all kinds. The hippies of the Counterculture of the 1960s and ‘70s proposed orgies and “free love” (sex outside the bounds of formal, committed relationships) as an alternative to materialism, the profit motive and organized violence.

We all know how that revolution turned out.

Ideas for erotic stories are not hard to find. I assume that sex fantasies are part of every person’s stream of consciousness. Utopian fantasies about ideal societies seem closely related to fantasies about satisfying sex. Erotic romance, with an emphasis on an evolving relationship between soulmates who live happily together ever after, seems like a logical component of utopian fantasy.

So why do I often have trouble completing either a work of erotica or of erotic romance in which all the characters get what they want? Because real life messes with my imagination.

In the real world, several decades after the advent of “Second Wave” feminism in the industrialized world (circa 1970), sexual harassment, gang-rape, and forced prostitution are rampant in countries once classified as “Third World,” and there is no evidence that these traditions are disappearing in the “First World.” I am well aware that my currently privileged life (secure job with good income, equal relationship) is an exception to the way most women live.

Lately, when I try to imagine a delightful scene of “ménage,” formerly defined as “group sex,” my mind’s-eye flashes on a scene of gang-rape on a city bus, committed by a group of male buddies who apparently assumed they would get away with forcing increasingly violent forms of penetration on a young woman who clearly didn’t want it, wasn’t ready for it, and hadn’t invited it.

Religious and cultural traditions in which all females are defined as worse than males in every sense obviously have an effect on male-female interaction, but violence against women is only part of the problem. Dread of sexual “perversion” results in homophobic persecution, and while same-gender couples in Europe and North America increasingly have the option of getting legally married, violence against unmarried non-heterosexuals, especially those known to be transgendered, is still widespread.

Deteriorating economic conditions for the majority of the population all over the world seem to intensify existing hierarchies of power. A man who doesn’t think he could be thrown in jail for beating his wife is more likely to take out his frustrations on her when he loses his job. An unemployed racist who blames immigrants (legal and illegal) for his poverty is likely to attack them one way or another.

The Athenians blame the Spartans, and the Spartans hate all things Athenian. The feast has been cancelled, and the orgy has been transformed into a massacre. After the most aggressive humans have killed off all the rest, the ultimate earthquake or tsunami is likely to swallow up the "winners."

The part of my mind that could be labelled “Leftist Puritan” warns me that thinking about sex when the world is on fire is self-indulgent at best. How can I think about tempting bodies when so many people lack the necessities for healthy survival?

The answer to Leftist Puritan comes from Physical Self. My skin, my sensory organs, my clit, my orifices, my spine, my fingertips all remind me that a desire for touch that leads to orgasm can’t really be separated from the experience of living in a human body. Puritan disapproval tends to separate my consciousness from the body it lives in. If I want to stay in touch with reality, trying to function as an ego floating in space is not the way to do it.

So, when looking for an erotic story idea, I bounce from fantasies that are hard to hang onto because they seem unbelievably good (or childishly naïve) to a joy-killing awareness of human violence and misery. And I’ve been writing long enough to know that reality can never be completely ignored, even when I’m describing a fantasy world. If a feast and an orgy on some distant planet (Pelopponesia would be a good name) are to grab the imaginations of earthlings, they have to be fleshed out in realistic detail.

For the sake of my sanity, I should probably limit my exposure to world news, and other writers should probably do the same. Yet if we want to write honestly about sex, we need to be aware that it is a language that can convey many messages, including some that seem paradoxical (whips and bondage to express fierce love or pride; sexual abuse or sexual rejection to express contempt). Sex is literally used to create life, to enhance life, or to destroy life.

In an earlier post in this blog, Lisabet Sarai claimed that real sex can be as good as our fantasies, and I believe her. I’ve been there too. Yet so much of what passes for reality convinces too many to give up hope. As sex-writers, we’ve taken on the mission of keeping the faith. It’s a challenge.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Writing This Novel IV

by Kathleen Bradean



The end is near! 

The last two chapters took longer to write than the rest of my novel. Usually, writing the ending is easier than the beginning because as you near the final chapters the story should be converging on the event horizon, collapsing on itself like a black hole, and the ending should be inevitable. Right? It will seem that way to the reader. It isn’t that simple for the writer.

What if you didn’t end up telling the story you meant to tell? That isn’t always a bad thing, but that means there are choices to make. You can follow through with the ending that seems to flow naturally from what you’ve written or you can force the story back on track in the final chapters. I’m not a big fan of forcing for the sake of plot, but if you feel strongly about it, do it. (because later you're going to rewrite the novel in such a way that the forced ending seems to flow naturally, but more about that next month.)

For Night Creatures, I chickened out and wrote a weaker, albeit happier, ending. My beta reader wasn’t impressed. He felt cheated that everything pointed to a darker conclusion. I should have known better. Considering the extremes of the rest of the story, the end was no place to play it safe. I promised to fix that in the next draft.

If you’re a complete pantser, you might not have any idea how your story should end. But as a storyteller, I’m sure you have an instinct for the natural conclusion. Quest completed? Goal achieved? Character transformation complete? Congratulations, you’ve reached the end of this tale. Don’t linger too long after the big climax but do give the reader a sense of closure.

Please, don’t wrap up all your loose ends in the final two paragraphs. Those should have been woven into the story as you were nearing the ending. Twist endings take a deft hand so be cautious with them. Have you ever seen the play/movie Murder By Death? At the climax, the protagonist yells at the assembled detectives, “You've tricked and fooled your readers for years. You've tortured us all with surprise endings that made no sense. You've introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before. You've withheld clues and information that made it impossible for us to guess who did it.” Don’t be that writer. (On second thought, since he was accusing parodies of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, maybe you should. Even the Doctor carries an Agatha Christie book with him in the TARDIS.)  

So… Now you have a completed first draft. Congratulations! That’s a huge accomplishment. Be proud of yourself. What’s next, you might be wondering. Send it off to a publisher?

Don’t. Don’t even think about that yet.

I used to think that if I were any good at writing my first draft would be perfect. *rueful chuckle* Then I read a quote that changed my mind. I wish I knew who to attribute it to. “Even F. Scott Fitzgerald wasn’t F. Scott Fitzgerald in the first draft.” Wait! What? Stories didn’t just flow from his fingers perfect and wonderful? He didn’t type The End at the bottom of his first draft then drop the manuscript on his publisher’s desk?  Holy smokes! So the work of writing isn’t simply the physical act of typing the words? Who knew? 

Apparently everyone knew except me. Ernest Hemingway stated, “The first draft of anything is shit.”  That might be a bit harsh, but I’m not about to argue that succinct comment with him. (I’m aware that he couldn’t win a debate with a flower at this point, but I meant hypothetical him. You knew that.)

You’re going to have to write a second draft. Even if you didn’t force the ending. Even if you never made a typo. Even if you ruthlessly polished every word before you finished your first draft, you’re going to have to do a second one. I can hear you groaning from here. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. And I sympathize. I truly do. I’ve always hated reading my work once I finished writing it. Telling the story is fun. (Let me dream here that the first draft wasn’t a pain in the butt.) Fixing the first draft is the same work without the creative fun. This is the craftsmanship level of writing. This is where you put in your time.  


So – onward to the second draft, right?

Sorry. No. I have some advice that I hope you’re ready to hear. This is one of the biggest secrets of writing. It’s probably the most important trick up a writer’s sleeve. Are you ready for the big reveal?

Patience.

Boo. That’s no fun. I know. It sucks. It’s a virtue, fer chrissakes, and I’m not exactly a virtuous person. I hate it and part of me wants to rebel against it, but I’ve learned how important it is.

My novel needs all the breathing room I can give it. Yours does too. A couple months is ideal, but at least give it a few weeks. The longer the work, the longer the break. Don’t open the file and don’t touch anything for a while. Time will make you more objective and you’re going to need that distance.
 ~

Do you have problems bringing your story to a close? Do you know before you start how it will end? Has the ending ever changed while you were writing your novel? Share your tricks for wrapping it up.


Next month, we’ll talk about the second draft.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Allure of Sex at Work



When Tiffany Reisz decided to make her joke about an office-supply erotica anthology into reality, I was very excited. I, like many writers and creative types, adore stationery. I love to go into Staples and Ryman (UK stationery chain) and wander around, looking at things, even if I have no intention of buying anything! Also, back when I was at college, many, many years ago (*feels very old*) I actually used to work in a one of the shops belonging to aforementioned UK stationery chain, when it was still called Partners. It was just a weekend and day-off-college job to earn me some cash which I was supposed to spend on my education, but inevitably spent on booze, clothes and, of course, stationery! So, okay, I did kind of spend it on my education, then ;) I enjoyed the job, and many years later it provided the inspiration for my story in Felt Tips, A Stroke of Peach.

And now I’m getting to the bit about the allure of sex at work! Back then, I sadly did not have sex on the premises of the stationery shop. Thinking about it, I’ve never done the deed of the premises of any of the places I’ve worked, and I work from home now, so that opportunity has been lost. Damn. Anyhow, the allure has always been something I’ve been aware of, and it is a very popular fantasy amongst males and females alike, so when I thought about my potential Felt Tips story, I was leaning towards the topic of sex at work very quickly. But I wanted to do something a little different from sex in the office, and that’s when I decided to pull on my experience of working in the stationery store.

Just like any other kind of workplace, having sex there would be risky, forbidden and guaranteed to get you fired. And therein lies the allure—whether or not someone will actually take that risk, if it’s something that floats their boat, they’ll think about it, fantasise about it. Their boss, a colleague, someone else altogether... everybody loves a little bit of the forbidden, don’t they?

So if this is something that appeals to you but you don’t want to run the risk, then why not grab your copy of Felt Tips quick-smart and check out A Stroke of Peach? You can live vicariously through the characters, and as far as I know, you can’t get sacked for doing that!

Happy Reading! x

*****

Shoshanna Evers, Kelly Jamieson, Karen Stivali, Karen Booth, and forty other authors share their office-supply-inspired fantasies in Felt Tips, an eclectic anthology of erotic literature. This collection is edited by bestselling author Tiffany Reisz, who contributes “Teacher’s Pet,” a brand-new Original Sinners short story. All proceeds from the sale of Felt Tips will be donated to an organization that helps struggling schools supply their classrooms.


*****
Lucy Felthouse is a very busy woman! She writes erotica and erotic romance in a variety of subgenres and pairings, and has over seventy publications to her name, with many more in the pipeline. These include Best Bondage Erotica 2012 and 2013, and Best Women's Erotica 2013. Another string to her bow is editing, and she has edited and co-edited a number of anthologies. She owns Erotica For All, and is book editor for Cliterati. Find out more at http://www.lucyfelthouse.co.uk. Join her on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to her newsletter at: http://eepurl.com/gMQb9

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Another Revolution

By Lisabet Sarai


Most people have crappy sex lives.

All right, I will admit that is an overstatement, intended to get your attention. Furthermore, I suspect it is less true for the readers of the ERWA blog than for the population in general. However, the claim is not too far from the truth. The Durex Sexual Well-being Survey for 2007-2008 found that of nearly 19,000 sexually active adults from 26 countries, only 44% reported that they were fully satisfied with their sex lives. 38% of women surveyed experienced orgasm “only sometimes”, “rarely” or “never”. Although more than 60% of all respondents reported having sex at least weekly, the average time for foreplay plus intercourse was less than 20 minutes. Almost half of the respondents said they would like to engage in some sort of sexual activity other than their current practices (though the reported interest in specific activities such as oral sex, anal sex or BDSM tends to be around 10% per practice – supporting the old adage about different strokes).

The statistics above tend to confirm what I've heard over the years from friends and lovers. Men feel as though they never get the sex they need. They're amazed and delighted when they meet a woman who's sexually relaxed, assertive and experimental (like me). Women report that men are selfish or incompetent lovers who leave them feeling frustrated and used.

Personally I've been extremely fortunate. Through a combination of luck and courage, I've had a wonderful sex life – exciting, diverse and enlightening. I've been blessed with intelligent, sensitive, adventurous partners who weren't hung up on the virgin/whore dichotomy, who respected me even when I shared – or acted on - the filthiest of my desires. I've tried everything on the Durex list of “other” activities, and quite a lot of other items not on their menu.

On the flip side, I've had very few really bad sexual experiences. Of course I've had ho-hum sex, and I've had my heart broken once or twice, but I've never been raped or abused. On the occasions when I've ended up with a bastard in my bed, I've known enough to walk away.

For me, sex has been a path not only to pleasure but also to self-knowledge. Some of my liaisons, of course, were no more than hot and heavy romps with few metaphysical implications. What I remember, though, are the encounters that changed me – experiences of communion, insights into who I was and what I really wanted, glimpses of spirit peeking through the veil of flesh. As C. Sanchez-Garcia wrote a few days ago, sex is more than just instinct or entertainment. The urge to couple and connect is a fundamental aspect of our humanity.

Because of my personal history, I tend write erotica that focuses on good sex – joyful, fulfilling, empowering, and transformative sex. The underlying message in much of my work is simply that sex can be good for you – both for your body and for your soul. I want my readers to know and believe that the sort of experiences I describe are not just some fantasy ideal. They too can enjoy their sexuality, not just vicariously by reading my stories, but by being willing to reach out and grab some of that goodness for themselves.

Earlier this month, Remittance Girl suggested that both porn and romance are in some sense damaging to their consumers because they “ultimately leave people constantly yearning for a reality that cannot exist”. Although I appreciate her point (as well as its elegant expression), sexual and emotional happy endings do in fact exist in the real world – not forever after, of course, but for longer than the brief moment of climax.

My erotica frequently explores this territory of sexual fulfillment. It's a far more complex landscape than one might imagine. Perhaps the critical difference between my work and the more stereotyped instantiations of either porn or romance is that satisfaction is never guaranteed. It is, however, possible. I fervently want to convey that truth.

Remittance Girl notes that refusing to definitively choose either side of the Apollonian/Dionysian dialectic is a revolutionary act. I agree. One should not compromise truth for neatness.

On the other hand, I personally think that writing about good sex that ends well is also a revolutionary act. Many forces in society broadcast the message that if you have sex, you'll suffer later, partly because giving in to lust can in fact undermine the stability that is the “civilized” ideal. A number of past posts on this blog have commented that for a book to be categorized as “literature”, sex must be portrayed in a negative light. Those who indulge in carnality must be punished, by misfortune or ostracism.

Well, guess what? In the real world, it doesn't necessarily work that way. My own life demonstrates that fact. Considering the way I behaved in my twenties and thirties, I should be totally miserable – damned, ruined, ravaged by disease, saddled with feeble illegitimate children, scorned by society. Instead, I'm solvent, healthy, childless by choice, moderately productive, a respected member of my community, and in a loving relationship. Oh, and I'm still close friends with a number of my former lovers. My mother told me I was destined for hell, and perhaps she was right, but in the meantime, I have no complaints.

I do write darker erotica sometimes. Some encounters are destined for tragedy. A number of my stories conclude with the deaths of the protagonists. A woman is burned at the stake as a witch. Star-crossed lovers commit suicide rather than be parted. A jaded sex addict is consumed by an exquisite tentacled monster. I have played in the interstices between Eros and Thanatos. Even in those tales, though, there's some sense of transcendence. On the verge of death, there's a weird joy that comes from surrender and acceptance – a kind of afterglow. I don't think any of my tales are likely to leave you feeling depressed.

I enjoy thinking about sex, writing about sex, dreaming about sex. I suspect this shows in my work.

If the people who read my stories come to believe that sexual happiness is possible, I'm delighted. If they want more for themselves – all the better. Maybe that will stir them to try something new, to move past their fears, to be more honest with their partners.

That would be the sort of revolution I'd be proud to support.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Death of the Erotica Webzine?

I learned just a few days ago that the erotica webzine Oysters & Chocolate has closed down.  I expect everyone else knew this a while ago, but fortunately I’m used to being at the blunt edge of news and fashion trends.  In any case, I was very sad to hear that yet another fine erotica literary magazine has faded into history.

When I first started writing erotica, I dutifully sent my stories out by quaint snail-mail to print magazines like Libido and Yellow Silk.  Both of them ceased publication before my work was saleable enough to receive back more than a Xeroxed fortune-cookie-sized rejection.  However, soon enough I did have more luck with the then-revolutionary online magazines like Clean Sheets, Scarlet Letters, Playboy’s CyberClub, Fishnet, Ruthie’s Club, dearly departed Oysters & Chocolate, and finally The Erotic Woman and the ERWA galleries (the only two left standing from my publication list).  There are numerous other fine webzines that I won’t mention for space.  Most of these focused on an edgy, complex, not-always-feel-good—also known as “literary”--type of erotica. 

More important than a list of the fallen brave is the question of what is filling the void left by these magazines.  I don’t have a confident answer, but I’ll hazard a guess that it’s not uncommon for a new erotica writer to dash off a story, throw it up on Amazon for ninety-nine cents, then dive into the self-promotion madness before she even really knows who she is as a writer--all the while receiving plenty of encouragement for business savvy.  Of course, there are some publishers who still put out fine anthologies and welcome newcomers, but for me the webzine world was the perfect place to ease into publication and meet editors, not to mention share my work widely without imposing too much on my friends’ pocketbooks.

I have a temperament that has never loved rules or authority figures, so part of me is thrilled with the new “Wild West” atmosphere of self-publishing.  I firmly believe that anyone who takes the time to write about sex, even in a formulaic way, is going to be paying more attention to an important aspect of our humanity that is still reviled, even as it is harnessed to manipulate us by providing the addictive hit of “ideal” sex. (See Remittance Girl’s recent Apollonian & Dionysian Dialectic: Inner Conflicts and Revolutionary Acts for a discussion of this and other thought-provoking arguments about what makes for a compelling erotic story).

Yet I think we do lose something important with the demise of an editorial vision on the web.  As scary as gatekeeping editors can seem from the writer’s point of view, I appreciate that they work hard to select good stories for their readers.  With the advent of self-publishing, it’s the reader who has to wade through the slush pile—and pay for the privilege.  During the golden age of the webzine, you could click on over with confidence you’d be getting a certain level of quality.  For writers, the magazines also provided an easy way to research and be inspired by a wider variety of stories selected by veteran editors.  I learned a lot from my reading.

I may be flashing my West-Coast-hippie-romantic undies here, but I’m still dismayed by how often people invoke money as the reason they write erotica or retire from doing so.  Or rather how we’re all okay with that as the most important reason to do anything at all. 

“I thought I’d get as rich as E.L. James writing a dirty book, but it didn’t happen so I quit.” 

“Smart move, follow the money, honey—maybe try Hollywood or country music?”

Which reminds me that erotica webzines paid little or nothing.  This probably lessened their appeal to new writers as well.  Yes, I know, we all need to make a living and pay the orthodontist, but presumably most of us have sex for pleasure and emotional connection without plotting a way to get paid for it.  Why should writing about it be any different?  And why shouldn’t we enthusiastically celebrate authors who write on even without thousands in royalties?  (One inspiring example of the spiritual approach to writing erotica is described in Garce’s Confessions of a Craft Freak: Sex and the Apprentice Writer.)  I'm not saying refuse payment or stop promoting, just, you know, appreciate there are other ways to be a success.  Otherwise, we’re buying into the system that puts profit above all.  Really.

Now I definitely don't believe the golden past is unquestionably better than the alloyed present.  After all, in the old days ice cream only came in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, and now we have Americone Dream.  But while I’m reminiscing, I’m old enough to remember way back to about 2005 when traditional print editors suddenly decided they wanted to cash in on the erotica revolution.  Many writers I know got juicy contracts for anthologies with big publishers, which meant not just money but respect.  I had great hopes this would be the break-through for sexually explicit writing that dares to go deeper than titillation followed by a chaser of sin well punished.  Finally, we were being taken seriously by the Big Boys.  Alas, the hoped-for deluge of profits did not come and they dropped us cold, proclaiming erotica dead.

We could probably have an interesting discussion about whether 50 Shades of Grey genuinely revived the erotica cause or not, but obviously millions are still intrigued by sexuality and what other people do and think about it.  Like any writer, I hope my work will be read and appreciated, although I’d choose fewer readers who appreciate what I do over millions who are getting a faked sensibility in the name of sales.

I guess I’ll just pull out the Americone Dream while I wait and see how this chapter in the publishing-and-money saga plays out.  I can always soothe myself with the undying truth that whatever form it takes, humanity’s curiosity about sex and its meaning in our lives is here to stay.

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

Friday, February 15, 2013

Confessions of a Craft Freak: Sex and the Apprentice Writer

I’m a craft freak.

My relationship with books, words and even wooden pencils is not normal or even especially healthy.

My car, my bedside, my jacket pockets are littered with little notebooks and odd scraps of paper. Alongside the books are piles of notebooks of all sizes and purpose. Pencils and fountain pens have a fetishistic fascination for me which can be disturbing and geeky to behold.  I have more fountain pens and pencils than I will ever use but not as many as I want.

Being a craft freak is how I make up for not being the world's greatest writer.  Maybe you can relate, I don’t know.  It's just how I've adapted. It's an adaptation that has changed me.  I started out hoping to be a great writer.  Over time I am becoming the path itself. I am an enthusiast for language and for words well written.  A well crafted sentence makes me swoon with pleasure.  A passage from Shakespeare or Nabokov makes me mumble to myself with demented happiness.

I've come to the conclusion over time that writing is unique among the art forms in that literary talent is a precious luxury if you have it, but you can get by without it if you have sufficient enthusiasm. If you have to choose between talent and working very hard on the right things, choose hard work.  Pay your dues at the keyboard and the talent might find you.  If you want to draw or paint, you need certain brain wiring. If you want to be a musician you need certain brain wiring. But you can develop an ear for the written word if you read a great deal and if you teach yourself to read well.  Quality fiction writing is a thing that can be learned if you have audacity, observation, fanaticism and an iron butt.

I'm an Apprentice Writer. Let me define that.

Many years ago publishers drew a line between "popular" fiction and "literary fiction".  Popular fiction was the kind that people paid money for.  Literary fiction was that endangered species of everything else.  In my case I write literary erotica mostly. 
The fact is very few people, I think Stephen King said it was less than 5%, make their income exclusively from writing fiction.  These would probably be people who work in formula genres, such as television staff writers and most popular novelists.  Nobody ever earns a living from writing poetry or short stories no matter how good they are.  Writing literary short stories is for suckers; people who are content to write their hearts out for stuff very few people will ever read and for which you’ll usually get paid peanuts or nothing.  But that doesn’t mean we’re not the happiest suckers in the business.  Maybe you can relate, I don’t know.

Norman Mailer observed, and I agree, that you can't learn much from only reading the immortals, guys like Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, or Nabokov, names to conjure with. They're over your head for the time being, but they can give you an idea of how high you can reach. You'll learn more craft-wise by reading people on your own level and aspiring respectfully to reach past them.  A bad story written by someone else is as valuable to your journey as a good story.

All those guys, Dostoyevsky and Nabokov, most of the time they didn't know what they were doing.  They wrote shitty first drafts.  The difference is, they knew how to work around this and they did it by writing their asses off and ferociously overhauling their work over and over. Ernest Hemingway rewrote each of his short stories up to thirty drafts apiece with a wooden pencil. Dostoyevsky rewrote his novel "The Idiot" five times completely from scratch, from the bottom every time, using notebooks and a dip pen while struggling with epilepsy and a gambling addiction.  Nobody invited him to any Iowa Writers Workshops either.

It's great to be a genius, but hard work is better.  Walk down the aisles in a used book store where the romance novels are; I guarantee there will be at least two aisles stacked tall with white and red Harlequin paperbacks that ladies of letters have been churning out in their spare time like hamburgers, writing in the kitchen when the kids are asleep, or at the laundromat or at their office desks during lunch.  A person with heart can definitely do this. 

We write erotic stories here. Erotic stories are the most ancient and universal genre of story telling, second only to religious mythology, going back to the Neolithic fires of people who hadn't learned to feel shame, telling stories to each other of  nature gods who fucked lustily and gave birth to the world. Though often despised and banned, it’s a proud heritage.

We who write this transgressive genre are the literary equivelent of punk rockers.  Literary erotica especially has a unique satisfaction. It searches for a kind of truth in furtive midnight sheets.  A good love story should give love a bad name. A good sex story should give sex a bad name when it comes from licking your tongue in the dark wet spots of your soul and tasting and reporting about the human heart, and when its done right it stands for the ages, like King David seeing Bathesheba for the first time bathing nude on a roof top or Joseph being thrown in prison for refusing to fuck Pharaoh’s wife. People have been writing about sex for a very long time.

I'm a craft freak.  Maybe you can relate, I don’t know.

I don’t think that my opinions about things are all that interesting so in the next several months I'm going to share everything I've found out so far that I know for sure is true about the act of story telling, and then I don’t know what I’ll do.  God I wish it were more.  Don’t ask me how to get a literary agent, I don’t have one and if you’re not making enough money to be worth stealing you probably don’t need one. Don’t ask me how to get published. I'm published and it’s not as big a deal as you might think. Don’t even ask me about blogging and self promotion because I’m not especially good at that either.

What I know is a good story when I read one.  Also, I have a lot of faith.  I fiercely believe that I have some bombshell stories down inside and anybody reading this has those stories within also.  The problem I have, and maybe you have, is that these really good stories are buried under a big pile of bad stories.  You have to dig them out.  You have to dig down to where they are by shoveling shit with a keyboard faithfully and persistently until the day you hit gold. 

That’s what I have faith in.  I believe the gold is down there, every day I pay my dues at the keyboard.  This faith has gotten me this far and from this day I find myself in the company of writers here at this very blog whose stuff I was buying and devouring long before I ever imagined I'd get to share the same stage with them.

Wow!


Next month:  “The Elements of Short Story Structure”

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Apollonian & Dionysian Dialectic: Inner Conflicts and Revolutionary Acts

A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away, there was a guy named Nietzsche who had a hell of a time getting people to spell his name correctly. He also had an unfortunate way voicing his opinions that makes him, to this day, rather annoying to read. However, all that aside, some of his ideas were so phenomenally clever (some of them were crap, too, but we'll leave that for now) that they radically influenced almost all the European thinkers that came after him. And they do, to this day, as anyone who has read Camille Paglia (another thinker with an awkward mode of address) can attest to.

Nietzsche wanted to get past the whole, very Judeo-Christian good/bad divide. He wanted to explore what forces were working on man to account for the way they behaved. Living during a time when people had begun to fear their cultural spirit was flabby and weak, he could see that a great many people were just too civilized for their own boots. And being trained in the classics, he reflected back on his early education and came up with the concept of the Apollonian and Dionysian dialectic. He felt (probably because he didn't know much about how appallingly Greeks treated women and slaves) that the Ancient Greeks had found a much better balance between their instinctual selves and their civilized yearnings.

What the hell has this got to do with erotica? Bear with me.

Apollonian forces are all the civilizing factors that allow us to get along with each other. They favour control over nature, discipline over instinct, rational thought over emotional drive. Dionysian forces are... you know, the opposite: chaos over order, instinct over culture, creative, libidinous, wild, violent, etc.

At the center of every good erotic story is a battle between the Dionysian and Apollonian forces within the characters. This is how great erotica manages to have conflict without writing a sub-plot about battling Nazi zombies.

Now, you might think that something like modern porn is wholly Dionysian - it's all about giving in to base instincts and indulging in wild pleasures, right? But step back. Porn does have a hidden Apollonian side to it. Porn tells you HOW to fuck. It shows you what you should look like, act like, sound like. It offers a 'fuck ideal'. Although you may not notice that with your hand around your dick, while the large-breasted blonde gets it up the ass and sucks dick at the same time, believe me, subconsciously, you're being schooled in how to do it right.  This is why crazy-like-a-fox Slavoj Zizek can say that porn is ultimately a conservative art-form and get away with it.

Similarly, a lot of erotic romance might look like two crazy fools engaging in ton-o-kink, and falling into the chaos of unending love (Dionysian). But actually, if they're pairing up and planning on negotiating a mortgage together by the end of the story, they're ending up in a very Apollonian place. Most romances offer the reader a 'love ideal'.  Society likes those neat family units.

What, I argue, makes good erotica far superior an art form to either porn or romance, is that it refuses to offer 'ideals'. It recognizes that tension between the Apollonian and Dionysian forces, celebrates it, focuses on the storm of it, and leaves the reader with that battle unresolved. 

Why do I think that's good?

I think it mirrors our real, lived experiences far better than either porn or romance.  In truth, we live with those competing forces all our lives.  Even poor, uptight T.S. Eliot was left pondering whether he had the rakish temerity to eat a peach and let the juice dribble down his chin. 

Writing characters who are so wholly committed to either the Apollonian or Dionysian sides of their personality diminishes your ability to take them through a good, meaty story. If your character is too ready to take the plunge, too accepting of all the chaos that indulging in the Dionysian entails, it's going to be hard to effectively write any tension in the story. On the other hand, if your character is too hell bent on finding the right man with whom to settle down and start a family (or too hell bent on populating the perfect BDSM dungeon), you've got the same problem.

Revealing the inner tension of each character's Apollonian and Dionysian side (and fighting your own Apollonian or Dionysian preferences to get them to a place of static commitment to either camp) will allow you to leave your reader with characters who will haunt them beyond the end of your story, because although the story may have ending, you allowed the universal battle live on.


Now, if you're a savvy writer who wants to sell books, then right about now you are thinking... I don't care what you say, Ms Philosopher Name-Dropper, people want 'ideals'. 'Ideals' sell.

Yes, they do. They absolutely do. The public has been fed so many visions of an 'ideal' in the media, they're completely addicted to it. When they don't get it, they get pissed off, just like any junky who finds out his fix is actually almost all baby laxative.

And this is why I bring up Nietzsche and Zizek, and why I feel erotica is a fundamentally revolutionary, political act. Because I believe that feeding people 'ideals' is like handing them smack.  And you can accuse me of being a patronizing, arrogant elitist - that's fine. But all those unrealistic, ideal-driven narratives accumulate, and ultimately leave people constantly yearning for a reality that cannot exist, or comparing their lives to fairy-tale fictional worlds and feeling like, if only they were cleverer, smarter, richer, better-looking, thinner... everything would be perfect. And ironically, this tends to make them go out and buy stuff that promises to make them all those things. Corporate profits go up and people's sense of self-worth, purpose and ability to cope with the ups and downs of a real life go to the wall.

When D.H. Lawrence published Lady Chatterly's Lover in 1928, he did something utterly revolutionary. He wrote explicit sex scenes in a literary world that had never tolerated them. He wrote about sexual love between people from radically different classes in a world where that was a serious social transgression. He wrote the ending it deserved. Not a happy one, but one where the characters were left transformed by their experiences.

There is no use pretending that, in a world saturated in porn, writing explicit sex is transgressive: it's not. And not only has fucking the help become acceptable, it's a goddamned porn meme. But writing stories that offer no ideals, and don't force the battle between the Apollonian and the Dionysian to a neat conclusion... that IS transgressive.

So do it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Seven M.Christians: Number 2 - Queerer Than You Can Imagine


The thought of that makes your blood run cold, doesn't it?  Well, rest assured, there's no reason to be scared ... well, maybe not that much of a reason to be scared...


The thing is I haven't really talked a lot about myself for a while so I thought it would be a fun little experiment to post a series of essays about little ol' me: where I came from, my professional journey, being an editor, being a publisher ... and even my hopes and dreams for the future.

Hope you like!



Queerer Than You Can Imagine

Wanna hear a funny ... well, if not funny then at least odd ... story?  In our previous installment you heard of my journey from amateur to professional writer.  Pornographic (mostly) but a professional writer, nonetheless.

Since I published by first story in 1993 I've been – to put it mildly – writing up a storm.  I'm not going to inflict my entire bio on you (that's at the bottom of this piece as well as on my site at www.mchristian.com) but let's just say that I've written quite a few stories – that have been collected into quite a few collections – as well as more than a few novels.

Onto the funny: quite a few of those stories, more than a few of the collections, and most of those novels – plus a serious number of anthologies where I've been an editor – feature gay or lesbian characters.  In fact I've had stories in the celebrated Best Gay Erotica, Best of the Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Transgendered Erotica, and I was even a finalist for the gay literature award, the Lambda's...

Anyway, I think you get the build-up, so here's the punchline:

I'm straight.

Not even bisexual.  Oh, sure, I've gotten more than a few offers (very flattering) but, as I like to say, Mr. Happy only responds to women.  Now I also like to say I'm politically gay in that I vote a very purple ticket and consider gay rights to be the litmus test for any politician, nation, city, and so forth; socially bi in that I have no problem kissing and telling my male friends that I love them; and sexually ... like I said: straight. 

Now I want to be very clear that my reason for being a non-queer author in a queer world did not spring from any kind of deception: I am very out about being a straight guy (though a few of my gay friends don't believe me), and when I teach classes in smut writing I tell my students – with great emphasis – never to lie about who they really are to sell a story. 

How I got to where I am is actually a simple – but important – story, especially for writers.  It started very simply: a friend of mine suggested writing a gay story for a special anthology.  Now, I had never thought about anything like that – hell, I'd only just selling stories so I hadn't considered much of anything – so I gave it a shot.  Surprise: it was bought.  This put me on the gaydar, so to speak.  Soon I was not just writing gay (and lesbian) stories but editors and publishers were actively seeking me out to write for them.  No dummy, I wrote what people wanted to buy ... which puts me close to where I am now.

While I may, at worst, be a literary opportunist – one of my taglines is, after all, is that I'm A Literary Streetwalker With A Heart of Gold – I truly feel honored to be not just accepted but in many ways honored by the gay and lesbian community.  I've been brought to the verge of tears more than once by a gay, lesbian, bi, or transgendered person telling me that anything I wrote has touched them, or when a member of the community asks me to write for them.

In this, I feel, is a lesson for any writer: I did not know – at all – that I could write queer stories until I tried.  Who knows what you could be good at until you try?  I tell my students all the time to try, experiment, with everything and anything – even if it’s something you may not even like.  The worst that happens is that you find out that a certain genre is not for you, but then you could be wonderfully surprised that you not only enjoy, but are quite good at, writing for that genre.

Stretch, play, have fun, try, experiment ... in writing but also in life, to get a bit philosophical. 

Before I close, I want to touch on one final thing.  Often I get asked is how I can write about characters that don't share my sexual orientation.  Now, writing beyond yourself is what fiction is all about: horror writers don't really kill people, science fiction authors don't – mostly – come from other worlds ... you get the idea.  Fiction is fiction, and good fiction suspends our disbelief to the point where we forget that what we are reading isn't exactly true.

But I do have one bit of advice that's come from being a straight guy in queer clothing: I don't write about queer characters ... I write about people.

While I may not know what being a gay man is actually like, and I'm not equipped to know a lesbian one, I do know about hope, fear, delight, wonder, the giddy thrill of arousal, the nervousness that comes with the first few moments of sex, the lightheaded joy that comes when lust turns into love ... I may not know a few (ahem) details but I know what it means to be a human being, and no matter what anyone says we are all, down deep where it matters, more alike than not.

Yes, I write about gay characters, but – following my own advice – I am also constantly trying to expand my repertoire: challenging myself as much as possible.  I've tried my hand at romance, horror, science fiction, non-fiction, mysteries, historical ... sometimes I succeed, sometimes I feel I need a lot more work ... but no matter what I write, and where my life goes from here, I will always hold in the depths of my heart a love for all the gay men and women who have been so kind and supportive of me and my work. 

I may not know everything about what it means to be queer – but I certainly, absolutely, totally know what love feels like.