Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Could it be Magic?

By K D Grace

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been writing a new paranormal erotic series on my blog called Demon Interrupted. It’s one of the many stories I wanted to explore when I finished writing the Lakeland Heatwave Trilogy. I decided to try my hand with a serial and put the story out as a freebie serial coming out every three weeks. Of course being back in the magical Lake District, back with the Elemental Coven, got me thinking about sex magic. Again. Still!

I’m always struggling to get my head around why sex is magic, why human sexuality defies the nature programme /Animal Planet biological tagging that seems to work for other species that populate the planet. I don’t think I could write sex without magic, and even if I could I wouldn’t want to. I’m not talking about airy-fairy or woo-woo so much as the mystery that is sex. On a biological level we get it. We’ve gotten it for a long time. We know all about baby-making and the sharing of the genes and the next generation. It’s text book.

But it’s the ravenousness of the human animal that shocks us, surprises us, turns us on in ways that we didn’t see coming. It’s the nearly out of body experience we have when we are the deepest into our body we can possibly be. It’s the skin on skin intimacy with another human being in a world where more personal space is always in demand.

When we come together with another human being, for a brief moment, our worlds entwine in ways that defy description. We do it for the intimacy of it, the pleasure of it, the naughtiness of it, the dark animal possessiveness of it. Sex is the barely acceptable disturbance in the regimented scrubbed-up proper world of a species that has evolved to have sex for reasons other than procreation. Is that magical? It certainly seems impractical. And yet we can’t get enough.

We touch each other because it feels good. We slip inside each other because it’s an intimate act that scratches an itch nothing else in the whole universe can scratch. During sex, we are ensconced in the mindless present, by the driving force of our individual needs, needs that we could easily satisfy alone, but it wouldn’t be the same. Add love to the mix, add a little bit of romance, add a little bit of chemistry and the magic soup thickens and heats up and gets complicated. I don’t think it’s any surprise at all that sex is a prime ingredient in story. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s any surprise that it is also an ingredient much avoided in some story.

Sex is a power centre of the human experience. It’s not stable. It’s not safe. It’s volatile. It exposes people, makes them vulnerable, reduces them to their lowest common denominator even as it raises them to the level of the divine. Is it any wonder the gods covet flesh? The powerful fragility of human flesh is the ability to interact with the world around us, the ability to interact with each other, the ability to penetrate and be penetrated.

So as I mull through it, trying for the zillionth time to get my head around it, I conclude – at least for the moment – that the true magic of sex is that it takes place in the flesh, and it elevates the flesh to something even the gods lust after. It’s a total in-the-body, in-the-moment experience, a celebration of the carnal, the ultimate penetrative act of intimacy of the human animal. I don’t know if that gives you goose bumps, but it certainly does me.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Comfort Reads

I came across "comfort reading" while surfing the web. I have done this on numerous occasions, but I didn't know there was a term for it. According to Sarah Wendell at Kirkus Reviews, comfort reads are "a specific type of re-reading. Comfort reads are those books that are the reading equivalent of your favorite pajamas, the most fuzzy blanket, the familiar recipe, warm beverages, and everything that makes your body feel cared for and, well, comforted. Books that inspire that same feeling of being cared for are what I call comfort reads, and each reader's comfort read list is a little different."

I not only comfort read, I comfort watch movies such as "Under The Tuscan Sun", "Sirens", and "Half Light". I used to comfort game but I'm not into gaming anymore. When I did, I most often played the original "The Sims", games in the Myst universe, and Tomb Raider 2. The key was the repetition. I found solace in the familiar.

I comfort read when I've had an especially trying time with life. Within the last two weeks, my computer broke down and the shower wall caved in. I kid you not. It has not been a fun time around here. The shower wall is temporarily fixed but it needs to be permanently replaced. I had to completely wipe my hard drive clean and start over again from scratch. The computer is fine now but I went without quite a bit for a little over a week. So, the time I normally spent online I spent reading and watching movies. There are several books I comfort read over and over again when I just want to sit back and force myself to relax. I usually read dark fiction but there are a few erotic books and romances that I enjoy. They include the following books:

"Thunder Heights" by Phyllis Whitney
"Haunted" by Heather Graham
"The Thorn Birds" by Colleen McCullough
"The Phantom Of The Opera" by Gaston Leroux (mostly the various stage versions)

When I comfort read, I usually read short stories because I have the attention span of a gnat when I'm tense. I enjoy reading collections of erotic short stories by Cleis Press and Xcite Books. I'll read the same books over and over again.

In addition to erotic works and romance, I read darker fiction. In fact, I probably read more dark fiction than anything else. As mentioned earlier, I prefer short stories when I comfort read. My favorite books to comfort read are ghost legends like those found in  "The Screaming Skulls And Other Ghosts" by Elliott O'Donnell and "Ghosts" by Hans Holzer. Yes, many of these stories are frightening, but I feel a cathartic release of tension when I read those kinds of stories. Many are revenge stories such as "Pearlin Jean of Allanbank", which is about a man being haunted by a woman who loved him who died when she was run over by the carriage he occupied. He drove on, ignoring her. She haunted him, making him miserable until the day he died. Such stories are soothing to me because in a sense they follow the Happily Ever After ending in romances. Revenge stories are satisfying because the wronged party is most often vindicated in the end. I've been burned my fair share of times, so I find these stories very gratifying. I love revenge stories.

There are plenty of romances in ghost stories. "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" is one. "Blithe Spirit" is another. When it comes to movies, of course, there is "Ghost". That pottery scene is a classic.

My husband sometimes comfort reads "John Carter Of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs. A close friend of mine rereads "The Door Into Summer" and "Glory Road" by Robert Heinlein. They've been favorites of his since his youth. My husband has enjoyed Burroughs since his youth. That may also be a key to the popularity of comfort reading. Quite often readers have enjoyed these stories since they were children. I first read the O'Donnell and Holzer books when I was 12 years old. I discovered "Thunder Heights" at about the same time. "The Thorn Birds", "Phantom", and "Blithe Spirit" came later.

Why is comfort reading so popular? I think it's because you are guaranteed the ending you wish since you're already familiar with the story. You get satisfaction that things will turn out the way you want them to. In romances, the Happily Ever After ending is of paramount importance. Even in books that are new to you, you are all but guaranteed the heroine and hero will overcome all obstacles and end up together. The road leading to their togetherness may be fraught with pain and hurdles, but there is satisfaction in knowing that they will overcome. Real life isn't like that. You don't always catch the brass ring. You don't always end up with your true love. You don't always get your vengeance against someone who wronged you. But when it comes to romance, those fantasies are guaranteed. Hence the satisfaction in reading new romances as well as rediscovering old, familiar ones.

I've named a few of my favorite books to read over and over again. What are your comfort reads?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why My "But" Is Here to Stay

By Jean Roberta

(Note: My apologies for arriving late. I had trouble posting this piece earlier.)

The word “but” seems wildly unpopular these days. According to television counsellor Dr. Phil, whatever follows a “but” negates whatever came before it. In the context of personal relationships, there seems to be some truth in this claim. When a guest on the Dr. Phil show tells a Significant Other: “I’m sorry I cheated on you, but …” the rest of the sentence is always an attempt to justify the behaviour that the speaker supposedly regrets. When the defense lawyer in a sexual assault case says, “I’m not really saying the victim deserved what she got, but. . .” the rest of the sentence usually implies that she, not the perpetrator, was responsible for an unfortunate misunderstanding. When someone in an on-line thread says, “I’m not racist, but. . “ well, you see the pattern.

My spouse, as a professional counsellor, agrees with Dr. Phil. She tells me that when I say, “I like X, but . . .” the sentence contradicts itself in a confusing postmodern style.

Allow me to present the case for “but.”

I was delighted to teach a credit class in creative writing for the first time in Fall 2013, at the university where I have taught first-year literature-and-composition classes for (as of spring 2014) a quarter-century. I had offered informal crits of other people’s writing in the Storytime list here at Erotic Readers and Writers, but I was nervous about doing this in an official capacity. How could I judge other people’s short stories, poems, scripts or opinion pieces and assign grades to them without being unreasonably biased in favour of what I happen to like? On a deep level, this question nagged at me: Why on earth should other writers (even those almost young enough to be my grandchildren) respect my opinions? Am I brilliant or famous?

As it turned out, it seemed surprisingly easy to evaluate student assignments by the same standards I use to evaluate academic essays on literature. This is my general checklist:

- What is the purpose of this piece? (In the case of an essay, I look for a thesis, a controversial statement which will be defended with fairly objective evidence, much like an appeal to the jury by a prosecutor/district attorney or a defense attorney in criminal court. Neither lawyer can be neutral, or defend both sides.)

- How does this piece approach its purpose? If this seems to be a mood piece, does it use descriptive language? Does the writer “show” a situation or “tell” about it? What are the advantages of the strategies used, if any?

- Is this piece written grammatically, in standard English? (In the case of an essay, ungrammatical writing automatically lowers the grade.) If a creative piece is written informally, in slang or dialect, is this an attempt to produce the effect of spoken language? If so, does it work? Is the piece a linguistic experiment? If so, is it understandable?

- Is this piece coherent, or does it switch viewpoints for no apparent reason? Is the pacing uneven? Does something important seem to be left out?

When grading the assignments of eager young writers (of stories, novels-in-progress, structured poems, short plays and essays), I found much to admire, but I always had a “but.” Usually I liked the plot premise, but sometimes I found the characters two-dimensional or the dialogue full of cliches. I was taken aback by the number of apparently unintended grammatical problems in student writing. In the case of structured poems, the technical problems were easy to spot. (This is one reason why I gave the assignment). How many sonnets, I asked aloud rhetorically, have lines that vary from eight syllables to thirteen?

So my evaluations usually started with praise for the general conception of the piece, followed by a “but.” Example: Interesting contemporary drama about a dysfunctional family (and aren’t they all, if you look closely?), but do Canadians in the 21st century say, “Mark my words?” (As far as I know, this phrase might still be a part of local speech in some quaint backwater, but I suspect the student was too influenced by the literature of the past.) Or: Exciting, ambitious fantasy story, but how can an immortal character drop dead of natural causes, and why does the invisibility cloak only work on some occasions?

This brings me to a recent discussion in the Writers list, here at ERWA. Someone said that as writers, we can never know why an editor rejected one of our submissions. This statement seems akin to saying that we can never really, really know what another person means. I can agree with this, but I’m not convinced that editors are especially cagy about expressing their true opinions.

I’ve received numerous rejection letters. Trust me. They no longer sting as much as they used to because I’ve also had approximately 100 stories (mostly erotic) accepted for print anthologies, as well as a novella and three single-author story collections. Some of the editors who reject Story A from me (despite my hope and faith that this particular editor will love this particular story) then accept Story B, which I sent in on a whim, not expecting much. As they say, there is no explaining taste. When an editor tells me “I really like this story, but it’s not what I’m looking for,” I usually have no reason to think this message isn’t sincere. I know that editors could usually say more about their choices than they usually do say (especially in rejection messages), but a brief explanation isn’t necessarily code for: “Your writing sucks, and I never want to see any more of it.”

I value the “but.” It’s a useful and meaningful word. Sometimes when I reread my own writing, I use the “but” on myself. (Still love the idea, but OMG, this passage is unnecessarily long and draggy. Or conversely, no wonder this piece was rejected. It has lots of potential, but it’s a fantasy novel in embryo that I tried to squeeze into just under 5K. In its present form, it probably wouldn’t make sense to anyone but me.)

I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I use “but” (a co-ordinating conjunction that balances two grammatical units of equal weight), I hope the reader will understand that I’m really trying not to be obscure, snarky or completely negative. No one’s art – and no one’s life --could honestly be summed up as all good or all bad.
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

How Porn Made Me a Better Person

By J.T. Benjamin (Guest Blogger)

I’ll never forget my first real exposure to pornography. The June, 1979 issue of Playboy Magazine featured Monique St. Pierre as Playmate of the Year, and Louann Fernald as Playmate of the Month. The former was European, Nordic, sleek, sultry, and exotic. She wore a glamorous, shimmering evening gown on the cover of the magazine. The latter was homegrown, olive-skinned, buxom and as wholesome as the sundress-wearing college student-girl next door she was. 
And I was hypnotized by both. The magazine had been “borrowed” by a friend of mine from his older brother, the same way I “borrowed” it from my friend. (My shameful introduction into a life of crime and debauchery). 
To this point, my Catholic upbringing had induced me to fear sexuality; any sexual image, any sexual concept, any sexual thought meant the hellfire of eternal damnation. And yet, when I gazed upon those gorgeous, nude, sensual images, a little voice in the back of my head told me that when considering the opportunity to see more full frontal female nudity versus the risk of eternal damnation,, I decided to take my chances. The flames of Hell? Nothing compared to Playmate of the Month. 
So began my descent into Hell. I masturbated. I fantasized. I procured more porn. More Playboys. Penthouse. Hustler. Then came the movies. The first few were in the company of others, at which I laughed and pretended to be more amused than aroused, but after a while, I stopped pretending and I simply watched the movies alone. Then I started reading porn. Oh, sure. Some people called it “erotica,”, but I knew that if I read it or watched it and I got a hard-on, it was porn. And I embraced it. And watching it or reading it made me a better person. 
How? I’m so glad you asked.

First, as the saying goes, “Once you’ve seen one woman naked, you want to see them all naked.” My exposure to the sultry Monique St. Pierre and the charmingly homespun Louann Fernald only made me want to pursue examination of the female form in every way possible. I examined naked women in every way, shape and form Pale skin, dark skin, olive skin, blonde, brunette, redhead, large breasts, little boy breasts, firm ass, long legs, short legs, buxom figure, petite figure, every possible configuration, and every possible way to look beautiful. I gained an appreciation for the female form that can only come from considering all the possibilities. Through pornography, I saw beauty and sensuality in everyone.

Then, came the exploration of alternative sexualities. At first, like most ignorant adolescents, I initially saw homosexuality or bisexuality as some sort of aberration or deviation. Once I started exploring pornography, I saw these alternative sexualities as something as normal as my fascination with girls with glasses, 140 IQs and fishnet stockings. Lesbian sex? Okay. Bondage? Sure, why not. Leather? You bet. Homosexuality? Okay with me. Not my bag, but still. 

Ultimately, I figured out that what (or who) turned other people on wasn’t my problem or even my business, because, as the saying goes, “Different strokes for different folks.”

Thirdly, I have turn-ons, kinks, and depravities. Thanks to my exposure to porn, I realized everyone else does, too. It’s no more appropriate for me to cast judgment on the kinks of others as it would be for those others to cast judgment on my kinks. So, when the issue of same-sex marriage came up, it was easy for me to decide which side to choose. Everyone’s entitled to their own pursuit of happiness. I wouldn’t have come to this realization without exposure (through porn) to this notion.

Finally, ultimately, in my opinion, the goal of porn is arousal. Either the arousal of one’s partner, one’s own arousal, or even the arousal of total strangers. For myself, porn isn’t fun if someone else isn’t having fun. I take pride in the fact that when I’ve been intimate with others, I’ve exerted the utmost effort in giving as much pleasure as possible to my partner or partners. For the most part, as far as I’ve been led to believe, I’ve been successful in that effort more often than not. I wouldn’t be so diligent in those efforts if not for the exposure to porn I’ve had over the years.
In short, thanks to my exploration of pornography I’ve learned how to be curious about sex, adventurous about sex, tolerant about concepts of arousal divergent from my own, and I’ve acquired a general notion that someone else’s idea of pleasure is simply none of my business. 
So, why do I write about porn? Well, I just want to give something back. 

About the Author

J.T. Benjamin, latter-day hippie, writer, philosopher, and porn pundit, has been a member of ERWA since 1998.  These days he's working on the Great American Sex Novel when he's not a cubicle slave for The Man and being devoted to his Lovely Wife, children, five dogs, three cats, and his mortgage.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads.

by Kathleen Bradean

I was thinking about characters. In particular, secondary characters. Someone, and I wish I could remember who, said that good secondary characters have something else going on. Meaning that they don’t sacrifice their entire lives to serve the plot. Maybe Samwise Gamgee did that for Bilbo Baggins in Lord of the Rings, but your secondary characters are going to seem more realistic if they know other people beside the main character, and have their own goals and ambitions. If they have a name, they have a fate, and it shouldn’t necessarily be tied to the main character’s fate. 

Tom Stoppard wrote an entire play around the problem of secondary characters.  In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead*, Stoppard follows two secondary characters from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The title comes from a throw-away line about their fates near the end, the last they are heard about. From the beginning of Stoppard’s play, the two are aware that they’re in an unnatural world. The one we think is Rosencrantz flips a coin over and over and it always comes up heads. They vaguely remember being summoned, but nothing before that. They know they are on their way somewhere but aren’t sure why. They aren’t even sure which of them is Rosencrantz and who is Guildenstern. This reflects the scene in Hamlet where the king and queen use different names for them. It isn’t until much later, when Hamlet names them, that they know for sure.

Because they have no agency outside serving the plot, they are trapped by it. At the end, the one we think is Guildenstern comments that there must have been a point where they might have said no, but they missed it. He thinks it must have been near the beginning. Truthfully, it was before the play began and they were brought into existence to fill a specific purpose.

Along their way, they fulfill one of their purposes in the play Hamlet, and that is to meet the troupe of players who will help Hamlet confront his uncle with the murder of this father. They run into this troupe many times in RAGAD. They even watch them perform a mummer’s play version of Hamlet, including their own deaths. The leader of the troupe offers many cryptic warnings, but the two have no ability to flee Elsinore. They will play out their parts.

This is the truly clever thing about this play (other than the dialog, and the conceit, and everything, actually. When Hamlet says, “Words. Words. Words,” he could have been praising Stoppard). When R&G are onstage (in Hamlet), the scenes in RAGAD are the scenes from Hamlet. But when they leave the stage in Hamlet, we follow them rather than the other characters. We get an accounting of their time. The problem is, they have no idea what to do with that time or even why they have been summoned to Elsinore by the king and queen because they are, even in this play, mere secondary characters whose only reason to exist is to serve the plot of Hamlet. Even their deaths have no significance. Their deaths happen off stage and are merely noted by a line—in Hamlet. For poor R&G, they must see it through to the end, because they are offstage in Hamlet but always onstage for RAGAD, a play in which their deaths are a scene.

I watched both a full production of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead for this article. (I suggest a full version of Hamlet because, to misquote a line from Amadeus, ‘There are just as many words, Majesty, as required. Neither more nor less.’ A truncated version of Hamlet is a crime against art. This version with David Tennant is very good. If you only know him as The Doctor from Doctor Who, you’re in for a treat.) If you have time, I strongly suggest watching both within a short time frame to better appreciate how they interlock. You can learn a lot about secondary characters, if only to realize that when they walk offstage in your story, they should have a background, memories, an identity—everything that makes them a whole person in their own story. Imagine how dull it is for your secondaries to wait in suspension for your MC to walk through the door. Or even to give them a name.

*If you have not seen it, please watch Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Tom Stoppard is amazing. (You can view it in parts on YouTube as a last resort).