Saturday, March 30, 2013
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
by Jean Roberta
Everyone who writes erotica and posts it in semi-public space, such as the ERWA lists, knows the basic rules: no non-consensual sex presented for arousal, and no sex of any kind involving characters under the age of consent in their jurisdiction. In North America, this is generally understood to be eighteen, the current legal age of adulthood. And “underage” sex in a story can include masturbation by a horny teenager who is clearly not being coerced or manipulated by anyone else.
Did your earliest sexual feelings take you by surprise long after you had reached puberty, had your first drink, learned to drive, developed crushes on a few other people, and voted for the first time? I thought not. The years between twelve or thirteen, when physical transformations change a child into a youth who looks more-or-less adult, and eighteen, when one’s adult status is recognized by the rest of the world, are full of new experiences. Whether or not these experiences include a technical loss of virginity, they are likely to include coming to terms with itches and urges that can feel like demonic temptation, especially if one has been taught (as I was) that “nice girls” never have them, and “nice boys” don’t act on them.
In today’s cultural climate, there seems to be an enormous gulf between the general parental belief that teenagers can be persuaded to abstain from sex because it isn’t good for them and the teenage tribal pressure to “hook up.” Regardless of how an individual responds to that pressure, it’s hard to imagine how a teenager today could be as sexually ignorant as my grandmother (born before 1900) was said to be on her wedding night. Even the kids who aren’t doing it are thinking about it. This was largely true fifty years ago, when the “Baby Boom” kids, born just after the Second World War, reached adolescence. Our parents were usually vague about why they didn’t want us to listen to rock-and-roll, but we knew.
What everyone knows is still what no one can afford to say out loud. I am well aware that young people with little knowledge or experience of sex, and no legal rights, are more vulnerable to abuse than are their elders. This is why the legal concept of “statutory rape” (sex committed by an adult with someone not old enough to give meaningful consent) makes sense. But there is a huge difference between not wanting a younger generation to be hurt (if that can be prevented) and pretending that completely banning all descriptions of their sexuality can make it go away.
Two recent events illustrate the problem with the current prohibition on “kiddie porn.” A respected colleague of mine in the university where I teach was charged with downloading child porn on his computer at work. This case hit the local media in January, and the newspaper article claimed that someone in the university had reported him to the police. Since then, Colleague seems to have disappeared without a trace. No one I’ve spoken to knows any details – or if they do, they’re not telling. He was supposed to be tried in February, but no outcome has been reported.
This case makes my head swim and my heart ache. Considering that literary scholars have an interest in the early lives of the writers they study, and considering that Colleague has studied such diverse topics as the novels of Benjamin Disraeli (British Prime Minister under Queen Victoria, the first from a Jewish family), the stories of Oscar Wilde and the history of the detective novel, I wonder what “child porn” actually means in this case. I’ve been acquainted with Colleague for years; we’ve worked together on the organizing committee for gay/lesbian/bi/trans/genderqueer Pride Week and we’ve discussed strategies for teaching grammar to first-year students. He never seemed like a predator to me. Who reported him for what? And for what purpose?
In February, about a month after my colleague’s arrest, a conservative professor of political science at the University of Calgary gave a talk at another university which was recorded on a cellphone, then posted on Youtube. Tom Flanagan, the professor, was recorded saying:
“I certainly have no sympathy for child molesters, but I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures.”*
Within a week, Tom Flanagan was notorious for supporting “child porn.” All the Canadian institutions with which he had been associated have uninvited him, cancelled agreements and generally distanced themselves from him.
I never thought I would agree with a conservative on anything, but I can’t help recognizing some common sense in Professor Flanagan’s statement. “Pictures” can include cartoon images or even suggestive drawings of young bodies. They can include sepia-toned photos of naked children taken in the nineteenth century by the likes of Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, which were regarded as sentimental images of Innocence personified by a Victorian audience, but which look creepy to suspicious viewers now.
I don’t know if the material that attracted my colleague’s interest showed the actual abuse of an actual person. That question seems crucial to me, and as long as I don’t know, I can’t have a clear opinion on the case.
So far, both my colleague and Professor Flanagan have been stigmatized and ostracized; this is what I know beyond a doubt. I don’t know if any actual child or youth was harmed by either of these men. As academics, they both had the ability to influence a vast number of young adults, mostly over the age of majority. And university students have an obligation to evaluate what they hear, based on its merits.
As a university English instructor and an erotic writer, I can’t pretend I’m not nervous. Literature, even the stuff not labelled “erotic,” shows a spectrum of human behaviour, including some that my students’ parents might not approve of. I don’t mention my own work in class, but some of my former students have discovered it. So far, my academic supervisors have been incredibly supportive of everything I do. I hope their support never wavers.
In the current social climate, I would hesitate to write or post any expression of underage sexuality, including my own quirky fantasies and drawings from many years ago.
Braver souls than I have posted well-written, thoughtful work in the ERWA lists that seem to feature underage characters – but their ages are never clear and in some cases, they discover their sexuality in some other era or some other world than ours. It`s always tempting for erotic writers to sift through our own fantasies and experiences for ideas, and to consider the first spring buds of our current sexual identities. Writing about early lust shouldn`t be so dangerous.
There have been moral panics in the past about the supposed dangers of homosexuality or any sexual activity that becomes known to anyone besides the participants. Panic tends to obscure details and shut down debate.
In the case of the two profs accused of being defenders and consumers of “kiddie porn,” I really hope that cooler heads will eventually prevail and that the whole truth will come out. Enforced silence has never supported justice. Or creativity.
*For more information, see: http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/tom-flanagan-says-he-was-trapped-into-child-porn-comments-1.1180824#ixzz2OQWe6Yqo
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Foreplay. I don’t mean with your characters (although that’s fun stuff to read) I mean your readers. Don’t just toss them into a sex scene. Seduce them first. Use your sensory writing to evoke a mood then mercilessly push buttons to get them hot and bothered. Tease them. Manipulate them. Make them feel the warmth of a lover’s breath just under their ear so they’ll shiver. Make them want a lingering touch next. Take your time. Do a thorough job of it. It will leave them with the impression of a great sex scene even if you never describe a sexual act.
Reflecting on your work will give you a lot to tackle in your second draft, and expanding on the ideas your subconscious seeded in the first draft will add depth to your story.
Deleting characters can cause huge plot problems. Let me restate that. Deleting characters should cause huge plot problems. Everyone on the page should be there for a specific purpose, like cogs in a machine. If you can remove one and nothing changes, they shouldn't have been there in the first palce. (I'm talking about main and secondary characters here, not the extras in the background) When I removed the two from mine, a key part of the plot suddenly didn't happen, so I had to transfer their actions to one of the remaining characters. Different characters have different motivations even if they do the same thing. (For example: I eat sashimi because I like it. R will only eat it when it’s served to him and it would be rude to refuse it.) That meant, yes, exploring the motivations of the character and making sure they made sense. That was a lot of work, and typically the kind of stuff you do as you're writing the first draft. Maybe instead of calling this one my second I should have called it First Draft version B.
Between changing the sequence of events and eliminating characters, the second draft left me with a lot of work to do. (Thus the five drafts.) I wouldn’t have made those changes if I hadn’t strongly felt they were necessary. Unfortunately, I can’t explain to you why I felt they had to be made or how you might sense that your story arc needs that kind of revision. (I hope for your sake that it never does. This is why I often say "This is what I do, but I don't recommend it to anyone.") Readers might feel that the way a story was told was the only way it could have unfolded, but writers know that there were many possibilities. More than one path can lead to the same destination. Part of choosing the path is talent, part of it is craftsmanship, all of it is the mysterious (wonderful) process of creativity.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
But it's also important to get out and about. Don't worry, this isn't a lecture on health or anything, it's more of a piece about how staring at the same four walls isn't overly good for the imagination. I take my dog for a walk every day (granted, the walks are shorter when the weather is horrible), and I don't work weekends. During those times, I do my best to go and see something a little different, have some fun. Because it's those experiences that fire the imagination, even when you're not expecting it. Even if you don't get any inspiration while you're walking or visiting a place, you may clear your brain of the dull stuff and give yourself time to think about your next story. As putting one foot in front of the other doesn't take an awful lot of brain power, you can think about your characters, your storyline, your setting. Or, if you're busy chatting to someone or doing something exciting, you can rest assured that whatever you're doing may later spark a story idea.
I can attest to all of the above. Staring at the screen, or the four walls doesn't really help when I'm seriously stuck with someone. However, walking the dog gives me time to think up new ideas, or to work out how I'm going to start a story that's been floating around in my head for a while. This time is invaluable.
When it comes to visiting interesting places, be it cities, stately homes, ruins or stone circles, I just live for the moment, take lots of photos, and if something comes to me later about that place that I can write about, then that's just a bonus. I've written about tons of places after the fact, including London, Paris, The Peak District, various stately homes, and so on. It's great fun, but it does give me awful wanderlust!
I know that everyone is different and works in different ways, but if you do find yourself stuck, then I can highly recommend getting out somewhere. Go and walk in the countryside, explore a town or city with no particular aim in mind or visit a tourist attraction. You'll be surprised at what it can spark in your creativity. Even if it doesn't, though, at least you had fun. And fun is a valuable commodity in itself.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
By Lisabet Sarai
Monday, March 18, 2013
Dreams and fantasies—we treat them as if they’re night and day. Night dreams speak to us in inscrutable codes that require the interpretation of Sigmund Freud or a book on dream symbols. On the other hand, our daydreams, sexual fantasies included, are generally read as transparent, a simple expression of will and desire. If you fantasize about being tied up by a billionaire, your husband had better get nervous the next time Bill Gates happens to drop in on your monthly book club meeting.
This literal view is often applied to erotica, sexual fantasy’s bookish sister, as well. Erotica writers (who we all know don leather corsets and thigh-high stockings every morning whatever their sex) write stories about their own experiences. Erotica readers in turn are highly disposed to act out these stories at home. I’ve been told by two different people that all the farm supply stores in Iowa sold out of rope soon after 50 Shades of Grey soared to fame. I suspect it’s an urban legend, but it proves my point. Our society is rather blinkered and literal-minded when it comes to sex.
This might be one reason why some people are hesitant to write erotica or openly share their fantasies. A woman who gets turned on by an aggressive lover obviously wants to be raped in real life and is ambivalent about sexual equality in society at large. If a man likes dominatrix stories, surely the only thing stopping him from signing on with an official domme is the cost. I haven’t yet seen a quick-n-easy explanation for the M/M boom of fiction by women for women (hmm, good old-fashioned penis envy times two?), but maybe that proves my point, too.
By simplifying sexual fantasy in this way, it may seem we succeed in transforming our uncontrollable, mysterious imaginations into something safe and explicable, while reminding us that unbridled sexual urges are weird, transgressive, and often illegal. In any case, it keeps people quieter about the steamy dramas in their heads.
Except erotica writers.
The apparent danger of a more complex, nuanced view of sexual desire is yet one more reason why sexually explicit writing must be denigrated as filth and trash. However, if you read an erotic story (which includes daydreams and fantasies) with a careful eye, I’m sure you’ll find it as rich and elusive and worthy of analysis as any literary short story. Freud already showed that can be done. But the recent attention to (and many would say misunderstanding of) BDSM got me thinking about how power infiltrates this process of reading and writing erotica at every level, even without rushing out to buy up the rope supply at your local feed store.
If you think about it, sex and power have something very important in common. From childhood on, we’re forbidden to discuss either openly. I hardly need elaborate on the fact that sexual information is deemed harmful to minors, but our society’s power structure is equally off limits. As children we’re not supposed to question the authority of our parents, teachers or other adults. Those who do are punished, if not physically as in the past, then by diagnosis of a behavioral problem and medication. And besides, we live in a democracy where everybody is equal, and if anyone is losing the race up the ladder, it’s their own lazy fault, so what’s to critique?
Nevertheless, in the media and our lives at school, home and church, we constantly witness the workings of both sexual feelings and power play, but we can’t acknowledge them honestly. At best, they’re hidden behind safe cliche. Thus, I would argue, these two forbidden elements of human interaction are forced below the surface, into the darkness of night, if you will, and can become suggestively entwined in our imaginations. Erotic stories break one taboo. Erotic power play stories battle two—which is why they may be so compelling.
Equally appealing, for me anyway, is the true pleasure of considering the possible “meanings” of a sexual fantasy and its power dynamics. There are no right answers in this exercise, of course. Rather the more possibilities you can come up, the better.
Take the ever-popular femsub story. The simple reading is that women naturally liked to be dominated by the superior male, and these fantasies are an honest expression of a timeless female desire. I’m a feminist, but to be fair, maybe there’s something to this (especially if you replace “female” with “human”). But take a closer look at someone else’s story or your own, and what else could be going on? Wow, the subordinate partner seems to possess power—less obvious but critical to the game. Because the dominating partner—whether boss or billionaire, duke or doctor—desires the sub and aims to know and please her.
But why stop there? I’m reminded of the controversial scene in Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina where Bone transforms her step-father’s sexual abuse into masturbatory fantasies. Could femsub fantasies be a way to work through the subordination and repression women still face today? If the authority figure is ordering us to be sexual, then we can be obedient good girls by complying while also enjoying sensual pleasure. Could it be that a cool, distant dom also gives us permission to get off without the prescribed romantic relationship making us honest women?
For men, I’ve noticed that delayed ejaculation is a common power play device in erotic stories. What might be going on here? Might it recreate a man’s experience of sexual scarcity and helplessness, his satisfaction fully subject to the only important question on earth—will (s)he or won’t (s)he? Does it play with the reality that everyone, men included, are punished and ridiculed for sexual feelings outside of a very narrow scenario, and god knows exhorted to wait, wait, wait? Yet, doesn’t it also show a very macho self-control over a powerful desire? And the payoff is that we all know when the tension has been building for a long time, the release is all the more powerful.
Of course every fantasy and every story will have its own unique elements—my goal is not to endorse another form of simplification. Rather, I’d like to encourage erotica readers to enjoy power’s slippery lubricant along with the other more visible and tactile varieties. To me erotic stories are much more than a masturbation aid. They are windows to our unspeakable desires within and our complex relationship with our culture’s sexual values and myths without. The mystery of night and the intensity of day all mixed up together.
So bring on the billionare and let the fun begin.
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, March 15, 2013
A vignette follows the basic form of the structured short story except that it is confined to one impressionistic scene or event. Most flashers are vignettes. Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote both forms of story, defined a short story as having all elements strictly combine to form "a unique and single effect". That describes a vignette. A one scene, one act story where the exterior and interior elements combine to produce a single focused dramatic effect.
You could care about this if you're submitting to a publisher who is looking for stories of a restricted length, as most vignettes will be under 2000. Writing a vignette will mean that you'll be writing something like a prose poem, with a limited budget of words, character arc and narrative arc. A lot of what is being said will be buried under the surface or off stage, the way Ernest Hemingway does in his vignettes “A Clean Well Lighted Place” and “Hills Like White Elephants”. The pacing will usually be immediate, moment by moment, without sub plots or jumps in narration. If you try to do the pacing differently, you'll be working in a form closer to traditional fairy tales, which are usually plotted stories dwarfed into little bonsai trees with broad pacing and very thin character development ("The princess languished in the high tower for ten years. One fine day, a handsome prince was riding by and glimpsed the princess waving to him from a window in the tower.")
A well crafted vignette can pack the emotional wallop of a gunshot to the face if it is based on a strong image or a unique premise. My two personal favorites are Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" and Chuck Palahniuk’s "Guts", both of which I plan to reverse engineer here some day in a future entry. "Masque" is a strong image story that begins with broad pacing which very quickly narrows down to the minute by minute events of a single evening. It has essentially only one character of substance, Prince Prospero, surrounded by a nameless crowd and eventually a red figure with no speaking lines. It is a masterpiece of description and atmosphere. It perfectly achieves Poe's ideal of a "unique and single effect". "Guts" has a unique premise it presents through a single narrator, telling a series of short vignettes, ending in a vignette of his own experience. “Guts” is one of the most notorious short stories ever written, known for causing audience members to faint in horror during public readings – even when read aloud in foreign translation. You can read either story in the time it takes to drink a Tall Latte at Starbucks. In the case of Guts, you may not be able to finish your latte for other reasons. “Guts” is a masterful example of pacing and description also. The descriptions are sparse, reported as dryly as Hemingway and yet you’ll soon find yourself cringing.
You can read “Guts” for free courtesy of Chuck Palahniuk at his web site:
For an example of a vignette, I will also volunteer my own poor stuff, because that is the easiest for me to access. Here is an example of a vignette I wrote from the ERWA Treasure Chest called "Fidelis":
1. Time and Place
The first scene should draw the reader into the action. It introduces the Deciding Character, reveals his governing characteristic, provides a panoramic view of the situation, eventually unpacks the causative event and presents the first obstacle or attempt by the deciding character to respond to this event. That first obstacle usually marks the end of the set up and the first act.
For example, try this exercise.
Imagine standing inside of an old barn. Look at the barn, and describe the barn. Now describe the barn from the point of view of an older man or woman who has just walked in. That's the deciding character. Now - have the character describe the barn during a passionate sexual experience - that is a causative situation interacting with a governing characteristic, depending on how they feel about sex. Voluntary? Rape? Describe the barn from the view of walking in after the deciding character has received the news minutes ago, that a son or daughter has just been killed. Sex. Death. Same barn. Very different view.
One of my all time favorite hookers is the beginning of Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea", that old thing they shoved down your throat in high school. The first sentence goes:
"He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty four days now without taking a fish."
Now that dry little sentence is one hard working hooker. Break it down. In stark sweeping lines like a Zen ink and brush painting he has given you the deciding character ("He was an old man) with a governing characteristic (who fished alone in a skiff) a panoramic view ("in the Gulf Stream) and a problem and a desire ("he had gone eighty four days now without taking a fish.").
Here's the beginning of Vladimir Nabokov's “Lolita”, my favorite novel of all time:
"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-Lee-Ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta."
I defy you to read that and not want to know what happens next.
he middle act begins immediately after the causative event that ends the action of the first act, and the deciding character has been set into motion with a specific desire or a specific problem to overcome. And there must be one, whether it's a vignette or a plotted story. Hear me. A desire. Or a problem. Or even better - both. By the end of the first act of a plotted story the reader must know what the deciding character is after and why. I've seen so many stories up for crits in ERWA's storytime that had an interesting premise but the deciding character was weak either because he/she wasn't up against something or he/she was passive, acted upon instead of acting. The deciding character doesn't have to be the narrator, the deciding character doesn’t even have to be likable but the deciding character is the one who drives the narrative arc forward starting from the causative event. I come from the old school of pulp fiction, along with many of my literary heroes. With Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E Howard the story always came first, and it had to come at you two fisted and fast. The hero/heroine had to definitely be after something in a manner that kept you turning pages. Whatever genre you write in, if the deciding character is passive or unmotivated, that story will fall flat.
Coming to Death or "Would you like cheese on that McGuffin”?
The middle act will usually begin by the deciding character trying to achieve the object of desire. Alfred Hitchcock had a generic word for this thing, a "McGuffin". A McGuffin is whatever the deciding character is chasing after. It could be his kidnapped wife and daughter, a briefcase with nuclear codes, a piece of ass, true love or just a little peace and quiet, but the McGuffin has to be there somewhere and someone has to be chasing it. The middle act is about the McGuffin and the changes that are occurring to the deciding character and the people around him, including the villain, in their mutual pursuit of the McGuffin, whatever that is. The obstacles and the scenes ideally should build in a rising crescendo of tension with increasing difficulties with the last obstacle leading into a very special moment. Romance formula writers call this "The Come to Realize" or "Black Period". Adventure and thriller writers often call it the "Coming to Death" (no jokes please). It's that moment when everything is lost. No hope. Kaput. Honked. The two lovers hate each other's guts beyond words. The hero is fatally wounded. The McGuffin is beyond any hope of reach. It's all failed and gone to shit. That's when act three begins.
For an example of a plotted story I would like to offer "The Lady and the Unicorn", again from the ERWA Treasure Chest. This is a fairly long story that captures all the elements I have just described:
The Interior Elements of structure
As the Irish say, if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.
Or as my Aunt Myrtle used to say when I was a little kid and told her my big plans –
“Well bless your heart, dear.”
Till then, bless your heart too.
Posted by Garceus at 12:30 AM