Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Eroticon 2014



 Eroticon 2014: a festival of erotica and celebration of sex blogging
Where: Armada House, Telephone Avenue, Bristol, UK
When: 8th and 9th of March 2014

Cost:
Single session tickets £25
One day tickets £100
Two day tickets £150
 
Promotion for ERWA members:
10% off tickets during February 2014 – from 1st February 2014 until  23.55pm 28th February 2014
Use code ERWA10 at checkout

Contact info:
Eventbrite discount page (they can use the code in the tickets page but this link pre-populates the code):

About Eroticon 2014...

Eroticon has been running for three years now and as the organiser I get more out of it year on year.
I came up with the idea of the conference to give sex bloggers and erotica writers an event dedicated to supporting their craft in a safe and non-judgemental space, but it has become so much more than that.

Every year I meet the most amazing people who support each other and me to become better writers and bloggers; the atmosphere is alive with ideas, openness and kindness.  The writing and blogging workshops are really inspiring and of course it’s a great place to network with editors and publishers, I am so proud when I hear back from writers that have gone on to have their work accepted into anthologies or signed publishing contracts since attending.

I’m super proud of this year’s schedule with a great range of practical and discussion sessions planned.  There are writing workshops from Ashley Lister, Kristina Lloyd and Primula Bond, advice on how to market your books and blog from Ruby Goodnight and Michael Knight as well as insight into commercial writing from Cara Sutra and a guide to getting your anatomy in the right place in your erotica stories from Lily Hastings. 

Of course I can’t go without mentioning the sponsors that make the event possible and who all come along to meet up with writers and bloggers in the hope of signing them up to their projects; this year we are welcoming Velvet Books, Constable Robinson, House of Erotica, Doxy Massager and Give Lube.

With just six weeks before the event I’m delighted to offer ERWA members a 10% discount on tickets throughout February with the code ERWA10 when you buy your ticket.
You can buy tickets for the full weekend, one day only or for single sessions.
All weekend and day tickets are fully catered and guarantee entry into our social events.

I hope to see you all in March!
Ruby Kiddell

Heroes and Villains


Confession time! I’ve been totally gorging on J. R. Ward’s dark and sexy Black Dagger Brotherhood novels. Honestly, I’m totally addicted! These seriously delish novels along with the fact that I’m working on the final rewrite of an epic fantasy novel got me thinking about heroes and villains. First of all, I want to be almost as afraid of the hero and I am of the villain. Secondly I want to be almost as attracted to the villain as I am the hero. Oh the angst! I honestly can’t think that anyone could really fall for a vampire or a werewolf or a ghost or a powerful witch, or any other paranormal or fantasy hottie and not be terrified at the same time. For that matter, even in just a really good erotic romance, the hero is so much hotter if he’s dark and dangerous.

A part of what makes good story that has even an inkling of romance in it, work for me is knowing that the hero could easily turn and destroy the very thing he loves and longs to possess. More often than not, the best heroes are really antiheroes, striving, or being forced by circumstances, to be greater than their nature, and the more difficult the struggle, the more endearing I find them to be.

In fact, there are times when the only separation between the hero and the villain is how willing he is to do battle with his own flaws. The fact that the lover is not safe raises the level of the tension and the excitement. And yet that danger makes the sex all the hotter and the angst all the angstier.

I remember seeing Frank Langella’s Dracula back in the day and thinking, as I watched the horribly delicious scene in which he takes Lucy, even with the terrible truth of what the end result of his sexy attentiveness to her would be, who could possibly refuse even if they had not been under his thrall? He was a gentleman, he was charming and mysterious, he was hypnotic, he was gorgeous, he was terrifying. And I wanted him!

NBC’s new steam-punkish re-think of Dracula with Jonathan Rhys Meyers blurs the lines between the hero and the villain still further in the battle with flaws. I want him too! In fact I want him much more than I do Jonathan Harker, but then Jonathan Harker has always taken a sad backseat to Dracula in his full glory.
Dangerous heroes and seductive villains aren’t just for paranormalsies though. Writing as Grace Marshall, I found that the villain in The Exhibition, the third of the Executive Decisions novels was an evil nasty piece of work, and yet oh so fuckable, even though, like Dracula, the chances of surviving such a shagging intact weren’t good. And yet …

It’s not so much that evil is sexy as it is that nothing is really all that black and white. It’s the contradictions that make for a good, chaotic story, and it’s the shades of grey (Oh please tell me I didn’t just say that!) where the story takes place. If I want to shag the villain and run from the hero, then how can I trust my own heart, and how can I possibly keep from turning the pages? Those flaws are oh so sexy and oh so scary and those endearing character traits in a truly delicious villain make us squirm, makes us uncomfortable in our fantasies, and from a fictional point of view, what the perfect place to be.

But what happens when I write the baddies? Why do I love being in their presence so much? And even more to the point, what does it say about me that I find them so easy to write? Am I all of those people, the heroes, the victims, the incidentals and the baddies all rolled into one neurotic, twitchy woman? Do I have all of those traits somewhere hidden inside me — the fantasies about being the evil tyrant as well as the fantasies about shagging him? I doubt there’s any way to peek into the strange depths of my own psychology that’s quite as revealing as writing a baddie. I shiver at the thought.

On some level we writers live on the page in all the characters we create, whether they’re hot and gorgeous and deliciously flawed in sexy ways or whether they’re evil and twisted and scary as hell. The darker parts of me are kept in check and held in balance by all of the other parts of me, all of the other parts that participate in the tenuous semi-democracy of my inner workings so that the evil demon in me and the potential sociopathic tyrant in me and the petty back biter in me are all channeled in full bloom onto the written page. Instant therapy? Am I scaring you yet? I promise, I’m harmless –ish.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Most Relaxing Music In The World

For the last two months of 2013, I was seriously depressed. I have bipolar disorder, which I've talked about on this blog before, and my doctor tried a new medication on me. It didn't work. I sank into a pit of despair I hadn't been in in many years. In fact, I had forgotten how horrible I used to feel. When it was unbearable but I had enough composure to ask for help, I called my doctor. I'm now back on my old medication, just a slightly higher dosage. I'm fine now. I don't ever want to go through that again. That nightmare has long been over.
One thing I did while in the pits was self-medicate through music. I listened to a nature sounds radio station, an alternative therapy station that played New Age and ambient music you'd hear in reiki healing, massage sessions, and holistic health spas. I also listened to trance music in the afternoons as a way to pick myself up. This music was very soothing. I even played it in the bedroom so I could listen to it while I slept, and it helped me to sleep well. As an afterthought, I've considered buying some French and Italian language CDs to play while I sleep so I may learn Italian and brush up on my French.  I used to do that in college with cassette tapes and it works.
So imagine how intrigued I was to learn that a study determined which songs are the most relaxing tunes ever composed. Granted, this study was conducted by a bubble bath and shower gel firm and the sample size was tiny (40 women), but it's still fascinating. The song deemed the most relaxing tune ever made was "Weightless" by Marconi Union. The study determined this song is so relaxing you shouldn't listen to it while driving because it could make you drowsy! Here is "Weightless":



All ten songs in order of relaxation are:
1. Marconi Union - Weightless
2. Airstream - Electra
3. DJ Shah - Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix)
4. Enya - Watermark
5. Coldplay - Strawberry Swing
6. Barcelona - Please Don't Go
7. All Saints - Pure Shores
8. Adele - Someone Like You
9. Mozart - Canzonetta Sull'aria
10. Cafe Del Mar - We Can Fly
[Go to the link above to listen to all ten songs.]
I listened to "Weightless" and I didn't find it to be all that relaxing. I certainly didn't get drowsy. The ones that seemed to work with my natural rhythm were Enya's "Watermark", Airstream's "Electra", and Adele's "Someone Like You". I've always enjoyed Enya, anyway, so "Watermark" came as no surprise.
This got me to thinking about listening to music when reading, editing, doing research, or writing. I like to listen to music when working and reading. Not everyone does. I know plenty of writers who must work in dead silence, otherwise they can't concentrate. They find music to be much too distracting. Other writers don't mind lots of noise including wailing kids underfood, the TV blaring, the radio playing, game sound effects when the kids (or the husband) are playing World Of Warcraft. Some require all that chaos. Then there are the writers who prefer white noise playing softly in the background without anything else going on around them.
I like to listen to nature sounds and New Age/ambient music in the morning when I write, and trance music in the afternoon when I edit, do research, or work on particular types of scenes. Sometimes I listen to classical or Baroque music. For me, the type of scene or book I'm working on determine the music I listen to. When I was in that black pit of despair last year I couldn't write at all, but music I found relaxing helped me maintain my sanity. I often listen to the same music in the morning to get in a very relaxed mood so I may properly write romantic and sexy scenes. I can't be agitated and write erotic romance. I save the agitation for horror and dark fiction. :)
Here are some examples of music or ambient sounds I listen to that either inspire my erotic writing or put me in a safe and comfortable place where I may write at all.
First up, thunderstorms. I can listen to this all day and night and my heart rate will never go about 65. LOL



The same applies to the sound of ocean waves crashing. Plus these two videos run for ten hours! I live near the ocean so I don't have to listen to waves crashing on my computer. I can jump in my car, take a ten minute drive to the beach, and listen to the real thing. It's very soothing and inspiring. The only thing missing in this video is seagulls calling.



To me, Biosphere's "Substrata" is the most relaxing and beautiful ambient music ever recorded. "Substrata" consistently makes the top of "best of" ambient music lists. It's worth a listen.



This is my favorite song from "Substrata". Eerie. The voiceover is from "Twin Peaks".



I recently discovered "Duet" when I watched the movie "Stoker". Philip Glass's minimalism can be inspiring if his music is the sort of thing you get into.



Another song I discovered from a movie. The entire soundtrack to "Half Light" is beautiful, the love theme in particular. Plus the movie is quite good.



When I write erotic scenes, I often play "Principles of Lust" in the background. It suits the mood.



I found the study about the most relaxing music to be very interesting if flawed. Some writers love sound whilst others can't bear it because it ruins their concentration. Do you listen to music when you write? How about when you read, edit, or research? If you do listen, what are your favorite songs and types of music or ambient sounds?



Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Elusive Nature of Attraction

By Jean Roberta

Animals and children always seem to know what they like, and they show it. Human adults are more complicated, or so they seem.

How is this related to erotic writing? Before anyone’s clothes come off, attraction has to be shown. If the reader is going to be seduced along with one (or more) of the characters, the author has to make the attraction plausible. Since human interaction is the subject of most fiction, sexually-explicit or not, writers in general have to show attraction on various levels so that what follows from the attraction will seem believable. (I’m reminded of Virginia Woolf’s famous line about female friendship: “Chloe liked Olivia.”)

I recently went to a conference in Santiago, Chile, with my spouse Mirtha, who grew up there. We were thrilled to meet Mirtha’s five-year-old niece for the first time when her father (Mirtha’s half-brother, who is younger than Mirtha’s older son) showed up with her. While Mirtha and her brother hugged each other, Jessie the niece threw her arms around me. To my amazement, she seemed stuck to me for the next three days, whenever we all got together.

To understand my amazement, you need to realize that Mirtha is the only member of her family who is fluent in both Spanish and English. Her brother knows a few words in English, and I know a few more words in Spanish. Little Jessie speaks Portuguese, having been raised in Brazil, where Mirtha’s brother settled in 2004. (Jessie’s mother is Brazilian.)

Communication was a challenge, to say the least. Jessie chattered a lot, presumably about the kinds of things that are important to five-year-olds, then she would look at me. I would laugh, usually because I had no idea what she meant. Jessie would laugh too, and show me what kind of game she wanted me to play with her. (She did very good impressions of several animals.)

Jessie repeated a certain question slowly, several times, until I caught on: she wanted to know why my hair is white. (The Portuguese words for “hair” and “white” are not much different from the Spanish versions.) I told her in Spanish that it’s because I’m old. This amused her as much as everything else I said and did. She seemed especially amused that I held onto her legs whenever she would try to lean halfway out a window on the thirteenth floor to admire the view. “Peligroso!” (Dangerous!) I would warn her. She would giggle, even though all the adults in the room became equally alarmed when they saw her.

I don’t know why Jessie was attracted to the strange, foreign tia (auntie) with pale skin and hair. I found her adorable, of course, but the charm of a child (which even includes nerve-racking recklessness) seems self-evident, at least to me.

As all parents know from experience, children change a lot in short periods of time. Will Jessie remember me as her Tia in years to come? Will we ever have an adult conversation? Time will tell.

Attraction between adults which leads to intimacy in various forms might seem to be more logical than the whims of children, but it isn’t. “I didn’t know what I was doing” is a common way of explaining away a past relationship that has come to seem like an embarrassment.

Deep, visceral attraction (the feeling of a nail drawn irresistibly to a magnet) seems like the hardest aspect of a relationship to remember once it is gone.

As a reader, I find that some descriptions of attraction are convincing, and some simply don’t work. A tall, slim woman with big breasts may swoon over a man with sculpted musculature and a predatory glint in his eyes in a story, but physical descriptions alone (especially if they are cartoonish) don’t convince me that these two people would be equally attracted to each other in the real world.

As a writer, I will sometimes rework a paragraph until I’m tempted to throw the thing away. In most cases, the problem passage is part of the exposition that leads to the sex. Once it becomes clear that sex will happen soon, I’m on more familiar ground. Physical friction in some form turns most people on, so if a reader has stayed with me to that point, I have more confidence that the reader won’t leave during the climax of the plot, which is often a physical climax. During the resolution, the cooling-down part in which loose ends are tied up, I have some faith that an already-hooked reader won’t leave then either. And I like to write conclusions that imply the possibility of a sequel.

Hooking a reader in the first place by describing attraction between two or more characters is a challenge, especially if the writer doesn’t want to depend on stereotypes. How could I explain why the boyfriends of my youth appealed to me? Most of them turned out to be Mr. Wrong, and none of them resembled movie stars or underwear models. And then there was my first woman lover, who had no trace of feminine glamour, but who also lacked the physical fitness or boyish appeal of more conventional butches. She had a short, square, box-like shape. Yet at the time, her energy lured me.

The currents that pull some people together while pushing some others apart are still a mystery to me. Yet as erotic writers, we have a mission to explain what often seems unexplainable. I can only hope that if I bring enough enthusiasm to the job, some of it will be contagious.

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Coming to a Conclusion

By Rose B. Thorny (Guest Blogger)


As writers, we all know that there comes a time when we have to end it all.

Whether we’re plodding, strolling, prancing, or hurtling towards the inevitable, we know it is precisely that… the unavoidable conclusion that we must reach if we’re going to have a marketable product, even if we don’t actually sell it for money. By marketable product, I mean a story that satisfies someone other than the writer. The way I see it, the point of writing a story is to tell a story you have inside you, but the point of finishing it is to share it with others.

That last part is the gamble, though, isn’t it?

Not long ago, I was involved in a discussion that arose from a writer saying, essentially, that she was “stuck” part way through a major project. Part of the discussion touched on where, in stories of any length, one is likely to get stuck, and I gleaned that it is not unusual for authors to stall when their stories are reaching the conclusion. If it had occurred to me at the time, I would have taken a little informal poll just to get a ballpark percentage, rough data on the number of writers who stall near the end of their projects.

Of the stories I’ve started and not finished, the majority of them are close enough to the end – beyond the major turning point – that I realize that point is where I have stalled. It isn’t that I don’t know how the story is going to end, because I have a very clear vision of the where and how of the conclusion. Of the stories I’ve written and finished, though, I think about how much easier it seemed to be to finish them before I’d had any successes.

The more stories I wrote and finished, the harder it became to finish them. While I was writing the final act of my later stories, I’d write a sentence or two and then I’d feel paralyzed. I’d have to get up and walk around, look out the window at the bird feeders, or get a coffee, then I’d sit down and write another sentence, then maybe do a chore – put on a load laundry, or walk out to get the mail (and that’s a fifteen-minute break, because out to the mailbox is a quarter-mile hike) then sit down and a few more words. It got really bad when I’d watch myself writing two or three words and then being so antsy I’d have to get up and move around for ten or fifteen minutes (taking deep breaths and feeling totally wired), before I could sit down and write another few words. I reached a point where it really just wasn’t fun. It was all anxiety about writing the perfect story.

I’ve thought about this a lot, just to try and analyze what’s going on in my brain when this unfortunate impasse occurs.

I’m not going to get into the mechanics of writing and how, if such a thing happens, you should just sit and write, write, write, even if what you are writing is crap. I don’t believing in writing crap on purpose, the same way I don’t believe in making a crappy dinner on purpose, even if I’m cooking just for myself. If it’s crap, it isn’t the story I’m writing and all I’d have, if I did that, is a good story with a crappy ending, which, I think, is why I’m subconsciously afraid to continue on to the conclusion in the first place – the fear of writing a crappy ending. To me, a crappy ending means there wasn’t much point in writing the story at all.

I’m also not going to be shy about saying that when I’m writing what I consider to be a good story, I sincerely believe it is a good story. My gut tells me it’s a good story. Of course, I don’t know if that’s misplaced confidence, or an example of perfectly appalling hubris, or pathetic self-delusion, or, by some weird twist of fate, true. I do know that when I read and re-read (and re-read) the story, up to the point where I’ve stopped, I find it entertaining. I think, “This is a story I would read right to the end, if someone else wrote it.”

And that’s when I wish someone else had written it… and finished it!! I think that if someone else had written it, they would have known, in advance, what the very best slam-bang ending would be, the one that would have the readers saying, “Wow…just wow.” I know what the ending is going to be, but I think what happens is that very special fear creeps in. It is the fear that the conclusion will not live up to the rest of the story, that it will be a disappointment, not to me (because I can self-delude with the best of the self-delusional), but to the reader.

With the stories I’ve written and finished, I thought the endings were good, but before I heard that from anyone else, first I would think it’s good and then I’d start thinking, “No, it sucks. Everyone is going to hate this. Why did you even put it out there?” And then I’d get the feedback and it confirmed that my initial gut reaction was on track – the story, including the end, was good.

And that is the bigger picture: Writing a good story and finishing it and having it acknowledged as worthy by one’s peers and other readers. That’s great, when it happens, but then the next story is all conclusion, by which I mean that before I’ve even gotten a few hundred words into it, I’m already thinking, “This is going to be a disappointment. I won’t be able to do it again. Even if the story line is good, the ending is going to be a letdown.” I can’t help but think that any success is a fluke and the odds of flukes continuing are not good.

Conclusions mean, to me, that I just have to keep getting better and better and better, but, in my experience, at some point, there is no better, there is only a “this is as good as it gets” plateau and after that, it’s just like the boiling point of water. The only thing that happens when water reaches the boiling point is that it starts evaporating. But there’s also no sitting on your laurels, because, well, that’s what everyone says… don’t sit on your laurels. The implication is that sitting on your laurels is the equivalent of failing. So what’s the alternative? Keep going, keep boiling that water in the pot. Keep proving to everyone that you’re as good as, or better than, your previous success. Keep walking along that edge. Keep that gut of yours clenched and those hands shaking and your heart pounding with anxiety wondering when the fall is going to come. Rest on your laurels and you’re a has-been failure, who loses all respect, or keep going knowing that, eventually, you’re going to fail anyway.

This isn’t just the ravings of an insecure, anxious wimp.

Very few published authors, whose work I enjoyed initially, maintained a level of quality and anticipation that has kept me coming back for more. Of course, there were/are some, a few, who have maintained the momentum, but so many others started out writing stories that had me gripped to the end and then something happened. Somewhere along the line, while their subsequent stories held the promise of, “Yesssss, that was a fabulous read,” the conclusions became predictable, and then, even the stories became repetitive and predictable, and the endings a yawn I saw coming.

I don’t want that to happen to me, but if it happens to so many oft-published professionals, with so many years of writing under their belts and so much more experience, how can I possibly expect it not to happen to me? Why would I be an exception to that? What would make me think I’m so special that I believe I would be? And that creates the specter of being a disappointment, the image of a has-been that nobody cares about or even remembers. “Yeah, what’s-her-name was good to start, but then, pfffft… she lost it. What was her name, anyway? Well, doesn’t matter.”

The conclusions become harder and harder, because every ending means a next beginning and the doubt is always present that there will either be a plethora of three-hundred-word beginnings, or no next beginning whatever, because all of it, and not just the slam-bang endings, will have dried up.

Okay, so if you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking, “This is the most downer blog piece I’ve ever read on ERWA,” and, perhaps, you’re right, but bear with me. Just keep reading a bit further… I’m almost done.

I started a story, way back in September of 2012. Just as I reached the turning point of the story, the part that heralded the conclusion, I stopped. Over the subsequent months of 2013, I went back to it regularly and re-read it, edited it (and by edited, I mean embellishing or changing phraseology, or finding a better word, or rewriting sentences – nothing major, just touch-ups), but never added to it following the last sentence of the story as it stood when I’d stopped. I really enjoyed re-reading the whole story over and over. I couldn’t see much at all wrong with it, and still don’t.

While it is unfinished, though, it holds all kinds of promise. I think the fear is that once I finish it, it won’t live up to the promise and, if I put it out there and it’s a flop, I will have neither the energy nor the inclination to do it all over again. The second fear is that if I put it out there and it is not flop, what do I do next? The expectation will be that the next one has to be even better, and if this one took over a year to write, and it’s good, how long will it take to write an even better one? I mean we’re not talking novel, here. I’m talking about a story that is, at this point, just under 14K, and it’s taken me fifteen months to get that far.

But here’s the upshot. I did get over the first hurdle of the conclusion. Over the past winter break, when I had thirteen days mostly to myself (if you don’t count getting up every two minutes to tell the new puppy, “Get down,” “No, you can’t have that,” “Drop that,” “Here, play with your toy instead,” and ask “Do you need to go out and pee?”), I actually sat down and wrote the pivotal scene that presages the final act of the story.

If I can do that, then I can finish the story. And if a neurotic, anxiety-ridden, over-analyzing perfectionist with crazy-ass self-esteem and insecurity issues can finish a story, anyone can.

The End.

About Rose


Rose B. Thorny (the “T” is often silent) has been a denizen of ERWA since 2005. She has been published in the anthology, “Cream, The Best of the Erotica Readers and Writers Association,” and boasts stories in Volumes 7 and 10 of Maxim Jakubowski’s “Mammoth Book Of Best New Erotica,” plus stories and poetry in ERWA’s Treasure Chest. By day, Rose is a not-exactly-mild-mannered administrative assistant. The rest of the time, she is all over map trying to focus on writing, cooking, art, photography, wildlife and running the homestead with her husband, all the while, looking after three cats and now a new puppy. Rose is also an ERWA Storytime editor; she loves the thrill of reading work by the promising new writers who make ERWA the coolest hotspot in literary erotica.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Saving P. L. Travers

One has to wonder what was going through the minds of the Disney company when they decided to make the movie Saving Mr Banks. Did they truly think that in the internet age they could control their image as the company has in the past? Did they think the real story wouldn't come out? Or were they banking on the extreme likeability of Tom Hanks* and the immense talent of Emma Thompson** to overcome a story with no real tension, because we all know the movie got made? Let me be super cynical here and guess that they knew someone would cry foul over their rewrite of history and hoped the controversy would spark interest in what otherwise sounds like the sort of film I'd possibly watch on cable three years from now while working out when I couldn't find anything else to watch. (That should be a new Oscar category)

But why bend history until it broke, unless Walt Disney went to hell and he's coming before Satan's parole board, so the company decided to make a PR film to bolster his plea for early release. I'm just guessing here. Really, why did this story NEED to be told this way? Why did it NEED to be such an unctuous lie? "See the Feel Bad Movie of the Year!" Is the company coming up on a special anniversary or something? Maybe the 100th year of all things Disney and they wanted remind everyone who built the empire? (It was actually Roy, the financial genius brother, but facts should never get in the way of a good story. Even original source material should never interfere with Disney's version.)


The aims of the story told in this film seem to be twofold: make everyone believe that P.L. Travers was ultimately won over by the folksy charm of Walt Disney and she was happy with the movie he created; and convince us that she was a real cunt who deserved to be lied to anyway so it was okay that he did it, because his right to make the movie he wanted to trumped her right to protect her creation.

By every profile of her I've read, P.L. Travers did not suffer fools gladly. Amazing, talented, pioneering, intelligent, opinionated people often aren't nice, except when you're a woman because when you're female, your personality will always be the main focus of criticism of your creative output. It's unfair, but that's how the game is played. Unless you're P.L. Travers and you don't give a damn, or perhaps you simply feel that strongly about some matters. Then you dig in your heels and say "No," for personal reasons, for artistic reasons, for whatever reason you want to because it's your art and you should have a right to protect it from the things you most despise. And what Ms Travers despised was animation, American film, and all things Disney.

If you squint hard enough at this movie, you see P.L. Travers fighting hard for artistic integrity. Those who don't work to see her in a better light will only see an unreasonable woman being mean to America's Uncle Walt. What a bitch! Amirite? But even that doesn't bother me as much as the utter lack of honesty about what really happened. They didn't show her crying in misery at the premier that she (allegedly) had to beg for an invitation to. Because Saving Mr Banks was made by the Disney Company, they decided to Mary Sue it rather than give an honest depiction of the rather callous way Walt Disney lied to her.*** Showing her being drastically unhappy with the finished product would have made a much more interesting film. I wish they would have had the balls to reveal him as a ruthless bastard. Show him betraying his word, his honor, and not giving a damn because he got what he wanted. That would be braver. That would be a film worthy of critical acclaim.  Poor P.L. Travers was dead right all along to mistrust him. Alas, because the winner got to write the script, she will go down in cinematic history as the villain of the piece. So I'm here to say that it doesn't matter if she was the bitterest pill ever, she still had the right to protect her work without being criticized as a person for doing it.
 

*  remember when he used to be allowed to play assholes in film? I miss that.

** Isn't she the best? If I were ever to be stuck in a country house in England for a week, she'd be at the top of my list for people I'd like to hang out with, because, hey, writer and actor! And she's funny. Plus she seems like the type who'd know how to play sardines. 

***I will not argue that he understood much better than she how to make a hit movie.She wasn't the intended audience for his film. And it's possible that nothing he did would have ever made her happy. That still doesn't make it all right to promise something knowing full well you aren't going to keep your word.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cheating in Erotica

by Lucy Felthouse

Each and every month, I'm highly aware of following Lisabet Sarai's posts - they never fail to be awesome. This month, though, Lisabet has directly inspired my post - thank you, Lisabet!

Lisabet's post covered writing commando, or being free and writing whatever you want. Read the article, she explains it much better than me :)

There was a particular sentence, though, that gave me the idea for this post, and I'm sure Lisabet won't mind me borrowing it:

The inclusion of F/F and M/M in a book that is mostly M/F will evoke criticism from many romance readers, who seem to want a sort of genre purity.

Firstly, I agree with her comment and have found it to be true. But it led me to a slightly different way of thinking about the "genre purity" Lisabet mentions. There are many, many types of erotica and erotic romance, so many I can't list them all as we'd be here for weeks. Some of it reflects real life, some of it is much more seated in fantasy. But, the thing to remember is, for the most part, it's just fiction.

So why do readers dislike cheating in erotica and erotic romance? It happens in real life, it happens in television programmes, films, and it happens in other genres of book. But only in erotica and erotic romance does it get such a battering - readers really seem to dislike it, even though it's made up and the characters aren't real people - nobody's actually getting hurt. I'm not bashing anyone. Far from it, I'm asking a genuine question - how come, for the most part, erotica and erotic romance readers are incredibly open-minded and they'll read about anything from threesome and orgies, to BDSM, to anal sex, even water sports, blood play, and pseudo-incest but cheating is off-limits?

Please educate this poor confused writer :)

*****

Lucy Felthouse is a very busy woman! She writes erotica and erotic romance in a variety of subgenres and pairings, and has over 100 publications to her name, with many more in the pipeline. These include several editions of Best Bondage Erotica, Best Women's Erotica 2013 and Best Erotic Romance 2014. Another string to her bow is editing, and she has edited and co-edited a number of anthologies, and also edits for a small publishing house. 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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Writing Commando

By Lisabet Sarai

When I was in my mid-twenties – during my sex goddess period – I sometimes went out without panties. Walking around bare beneath my skirt, every current of air caressing my naked flesh, was thrilling to the point of addiction. It's not that I'm an exhibitionist (although perhaps we erotic authors all share a desire to expose ourselves). I wasn't interested in treating strangers to a flash of my pussy. Indeed, I would have been mortified if I'd accidentally revealed my bottomless state.

The appeal had more to do with a sense of freedom and a consciousness of risk, a heady appreciation of my own delightful recklessness. Most of my life I'd hewed close to the rules, an overachiever always trying to please others. I'd been shy and timid, dutiful and diligent, the quintessential good girl. When my hormones took over the helm, that changed. I found that I was far braver and more brazen than I (or anyone else who knew me) would have believed. And I loved that feeling, the notion that I was treading the edge rather than keeping to the straight and narrow.

My panty-less state focused my attention on the sensual. I became acutely aware of temperature and texture. Arousal simmered through me, ready to be sparked into flame by a chance encounter with a kindred spirit. Erotic possibilities waited around every corner, and, bare-bottomed and moist with anticipatory desire, I was ready to take advantage of them.

Writing my first novel felt very similar to “going commando”, though it came more than a decade later. I didn't worry about markets or reader sensibilities. I wrote what turned me on: wild, kinky, transgressive scenes, every assortment of genders, twosomes, threesomes and foursomes, floggers and spankings, nipple clamps and butt plugs, public sex, pony sex, anal sex, even golden showers. I pushed the limits of acceptability to the point that my editor actually made me tone down a couple of scenes (and this was back when Black Lace was billed as “erotica”, not “erotic romance”). My personal fantasies provided the energy to move the book forward. Craft issues were secondary. The book had already been accepted on spec, and I wasn't really thinking about what happened after it was published. The writing process itself was arousing.

I didn't know anything about genres back then., though reading Raw Silk now, I realize that it follows many of the conventions of modern erotic romance – except, of course, for its omnisexuality. The inclusion of F/F and M/M in a book that is mostly M/F will evoke criticism from many romance readers, who seem to want a sort of genre purity. They'd probably judge my heroine as promiscuous too, for having simultaneous sexual relationships with three different men, although in the end, in typical romance fashion, she chooses to commit to just one.

None of this concerned me back then. I wasn't so swept away that I lost sight of the story. Indeed, even now the novel's plot strikes me as quite tight and well-paced. I guess that was instinct, though, because my focus was squarely on the sex. Like those days when I eschewed undergarments and opened myself to adventure, I wasn't concerned with what others thought. I was free, writing for the pure joy of vicarious experience. I was in my heroine's mind and body, living my dreams through her. If others disapproved, so be it.

If you think catch a hint of wistfulness in my description of those times, you're not wrong. I don't go commando anymore. The notion embarrasses me – a sexagenarian exposing her graying pubic hair to the world? But I remember that intoxicating feeling of lightness and power. I miss it.

And my writing? I've had fourteen years of education on the tyranny of genres, what sells and what doesn't, what you can and cannot include in a book aimed at a particular market niche. I'm constantly tempted, for instance, to let my straight heroines indulge their occasional Sapphic inclinations, but I know that will be the kiss of death for any book aimed at the erotic romance market. Meanwhile, I have a difficult time keeping my erotica from becoming to “mushy”. Although I've had my share of zipless fucks, I've never found sex without some emotional connection – love, tenderness, loneliness, shared kink, whatever – to be at all arousing.

I yearn for the freedom – the innocence – of my first years writing erotica. I've started to realize I'll never be a best seller (and I'm not even sure I want to be). So why should I care about pleasing a mass of readers? I know there are some people who'll appreciate my particular approach, my personal blend of romanticism and filth. I should strip off my official author's uniform and just write to please myself, and them.

I can already feel the breeze.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sexy Snippets for January

Sexy Snippet Banner

The ERWA blog is not primarily intended for author promotion. However, we've decided we should give our author/members an occasional opportunity to expose themselves (so to speak) to the reading public. Hence, we have declared the 19th of every month at the Erotica Readers & Writers Association blog Sexy Snippet Day.

On Sexy Snippet day, any author can post a tiny excerpt (200 words or less) in a comment on the day's post. Include the title from with the snippet was extracted, your name or pseudonym, and one buy link, if you'd like.

I'm going to include an example here in the body of the post, to illustrate. I'll be away on the 19th, and I want you to have a model to follow. After this month, I'll post my snippets in comments, just like everyone else.

--------------  Sample Sexy Snippet --------------------

He's the sadist in our relationship. But I'm the one who's more extreme.

He wanted to strap a butterfly vibe to my clit, to ramp up my arousal so I could better bear the pain. Does he really believe I could be more aroused than I already am?

I'm immobilized in one of our dinette chairs. Leather cuffs secure my wrists and ankles. Woven straps encircle my thighs, my upper arms, my waist and torso. The first rasp of separating Velcro liquefied me. No, that's not right. I've been soaked since I served him dinner and he informed me, ever so casually, that tonight was the night.

He putters around the kitchen, drawing out the preparations, making me wait. My Master possesses an instinctive sense of timing – an asset for any Dom. He plays every action for greatest effect. The goose necked lamp from my desk has already been plugged in, ready to dispel any shadows. Spreading a clean towel on the breakfast bar beside my chair, he lays out his materials and implements, one at a time: latex gloves, a cigarette lighter, rubbing alcohol, cotton balls, betadine, gauze, surgical tape, and finally, two gleaming, silvery scalpels.

198 words from “Limits: A Love Story” in Spank Me Again, Stranger by Lisabet Sarai

---------------------------------- 

Please follow the rules. If you post more than 200 words or more than one link, I'll remove your comment and ban you from participating in further Sexy Snippet days. So play nice!

After you've posted your snippet, feel free to share the post as a whole to Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you think your readers hang out.

Have fun!

~ Lisabet 


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Digging Into the Past—and the Future—of Book Promotion

by Donna George Storey

The New Year always inspires me to do some housecleaning, but this year I found myself craving a deeper level of de-cluttering. Of course, this involves more than just filling up the trashcan, it means asking a lot of questions, too. What’s in this box that’s been sitting on top of my filing cabinet for years and do I even need what’s inside? The answer led me on a little trip down memory lane, but also posed new questions for the future of writerly self-promotion.

The particular box I mentioned just so happened to contain my promotional materials for the original paperback edition of my novel, Amorous Woman, which was released in the US in June 2008. (Predictably, it’s been re-released with another publisher as an ebook and takes up no space in my office). This included postcards, bookmarks, a well-thumbed reading copy of the novel and a sample press kit as well as a stand-up sign decorated with Japan-themed stickers: “Take An Exotic, Erotic Trip to Japan with an Amorous Woman.”

Ah, the memories!

It was educational—and utterly exhausting—to promote my novel all on my own, as the majority of writers must. In some ways I still haven’t recovered, and yet I met so many wonderful, generous people and had countless adventures that still make me smile. Reading with “In the Flesh” at the glitzy Hollywood Hustler. Speeding past the junkies collapsed on the sidewalks of downtown LA in a decrepit taxi at 1 am after taping the Dr. Susan Block radio show. The countless emails, phone calls, guest blogs, radio interviews, bookstore readings, bookstore visits begging the owner to help out a local author. This experience, more than any other, made me feel like I was a real writer because my eyes were truly opened to the reality that writing a book is but the small first step in reaching readers.

With Eden Bradley at our exotic, erotic booth (that's my kimono in the background)

The contents of the aforementioned box took me back to one event in particular—the West Hollywood Book Fair where I was part of a booth of “California Erotica Writers” in September 2008. (For anyone interested in a more detailed description of that hot, busy day, check out my blog post, The Last Hollywood Hustle).

Advised by a book fair veteran to provide freebies for the fairgoers to get their attention, I ordered some fortune cookies with my own erotic fortunes as follows:

Sip hot tea; swallow. French kiss your lover’s most sensitive spot.

Blindfold your lover; order him/her to remain still. Do things to make this difficult.

Caress your lover’s body with silk; try velvet, then your tongue.

Have your lover pick a number from 1 to 10. Caress his/her secret pleasure spot for that number of minutes.

FOR HIM: Sip crème de menthe; spread it over his member with your tongue. Blow gently.

Your lover’s been naughty. Maybe s/he needs a gentle spanking?

Give your lover an erotic book; mark your favorite passages first.

FOR HER: Don’t take off your lingerie tonight—make him (or her) “work around it.”

Have phone sex—even if you live together.

Make love anywhere but the bedroom. Be creative with the furniture.

The cookies--Would you like to try a grownup fortune cookie?--actually were relatively successful in getting the grownups to come over to the booth so I could chat them up about my novel. Without them, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a single person to listen to my pitch! Although I didn’t intend it to be self-serving, those who got the fortune suggesting you give your lover an erotic book smiled cynically, and I vowed to substitute a different fortune next time. (I still believe an erotic book is a good gift, and it doesn’t have to be my book!) While I would never call myself an outgoing person, for the sake of my novel, I took on the role of salesman as best I could. One athletic, silver-haired gentleman even asked me if I was from L.A. When I replied I was from the Bay Area, he smiled and said, “You seem like one of us,” which pleased me then, but feels more complicated as a compliment in retrospect.

Of course, I can’t let the rosy haze of nostalgia mislead you about the thrill of my self-planned book tour to Hollywood. I stood at that booth from 10 am to 5 pm and sold 5 copies total, all to strangers—which was the best record of all of my boothmates. And all the visitors weren’t so nice. One boozy woman monopolized my time for 20 minutes, driving away potential customers. Another older gentleman chatted for a long time without buying a book, but before he walked away, he did press his crumbled, uneaten fortune cookie into my hand as a return gift.

It was fun to sift through the contents of the box and reminisce, but my present goal to clean house called me back to 2014. Would I ever use a sign, a press kit or even the bookmarks again? Would I ever attend a book fair to promote my work or traipse around to local bookstores, discovering all too intimately which owners respected erotica and which seemed to take pleasure in sneering at smut?

This, Dear ERWA Blog Reader, is my question for you. Is face-to-face promotion a thing of the past? Are bookmarks and homemade signs merely momentos or worth keeping as tools in my arsenal for promoting my next book? I cannot say that a single event I attended resulted in monetary profit, although I came away with invaluable memories. It seems to me that for reasons of cost and convenience, the future of promoting now lies solely in the Internet ether.

In the midst of writing this month's post, I happened to read Rachel Kramer Bussel’s column in Dame, “Why Is Self-Promotion Considered the Eighth Deadly Sin?” Most writers, including myself, are more comfortable sitting alone at their computers making stuff up, so it’s no surprise that many, even the successful ones who’ve gotten world-class promotional opportunities like Jonathan Franzen, bemoan the necessity to peddle our own wares. Online promotion certainly does offer real benefits to a writer who is more comfortable writing than soliciting fairgoers to come over to her booth for a chat-up. On the other hand, I sometimes feel that all the Facebooking and Twittering is too much like making faces at myself in the mirror.

Promoting my book is not about me and my wonderful talent, as the uninitiated might think. That was one of the most valuable lessons I learned from my first efforts back in 2008. Promoting is about making connections. In her article, Rachel has a great quote from creative badass blogger, Justine Musk:

“Social media is about finding a way to tell this ongoing, multiplatform kind of story that resonates with your so-called audience because it’s about them, it’s not about you. It serves the audience, not you. Not all marketing is bad marketing. Good marketing is about making an emotional connection with the people whom you are meant to serve.”

I couldn’t agree more. But I have to admit that thus far social media has not provided the same potential for intimacy—although I do feel all warm and fuzzy from the Facebook messages on my birthday—and as I look ahead, I know it will be a challenge to find ways to make a real connection amidst all the noise and distraction of the online universe.

If you have any words of advice, please share!

Wishing you a Happy and Creative 2014!

Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman and a 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

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Stoker Poker: The Art of the Vampire Story













I think being the mortal lover of a vampire would be like being somebody’s pet goat.

Baby goats are very cute. As they get older they get less cute. They start to smell gamey, get creepy looking eyes, act stubborn and ornery, and look more and more like food. All your happy little goat life, the human who owns you is very nice to you, feeds you, hugs and pets you, plays with you. Then one fateful day, he comes up to you with something shiny in his hand and he’s suddenly not very nice to you. No, not very nice at all.

We'll come back to that, but first let's talk about the rules of Stoker Poker.

Writing vampire stories is a lot like starting a poker game, you announce the rules before you start, Five Card Stud, jacks wild. You can do this, but you can’t do that. Bram Stoker vampires are not Stephanie Meyer vampires. Meyer’s vampires sparkle charmingly in sunlight, and pose and sulk like unemployed Abercrombie and Fitch models. Stoker’s vampires burn up in sunlight, sometimes explosively. A stake in the heart is terminal. Not big on garlic. They can snack on a human, or drain them to death in a single draft according to mood and need. By Stoker Rules, to “turn” a human (beginning with Mina Harker) you have to deliberately give them vampiric blood to drink, just biting them is not enough. In some mythos such as Lingqvist’s “Let The Right One In” just being bitten, dead or alive, is all it takes. “Sookie Stackhouse” vampires are made according to Stoker Rules, “Anita Blake” vampires are Stoker Rules, more or less, and so are Anne Rice vampires. Stoker Rules vampires are usually intensely erotic on the outside but only as a means to an end. Eroticism is bait for the hook. Once they get you alone – you stay fucked.

I approached the relationship between my Bavarian vampire girl Nixie and her lover Dan with Stoker Rules. Deal the cards. Play the cards you’re dealt. Seven Stud, Stoker Rules.

In the story “The Lady and the Unicorn”, things begin with Nixie telling the story to the reader as she walks down a lonely dirt road at night in the dark. Like an exquisite bloodhound she is trailing her runaway mortal lover’s scent in the air and has almost caught up with him.



“. . . He left me during the day in a trail of strewn clothes and broken dishes all through our little house. And other things also, which he left behind and I have brought with me in a little gym bag I carry in my hand as I walk down the dirt road following his scent. Because of what is carried in this bag, I know he loves me still. He could not have left behind a sweeter valentine. . . .”



Ooo! A valentine! What can it be?  Perfume? Godiva chocolates? Fruit flavored condoms? Much later in the story, Nixie shows us the kind of valentine Daniel left behind for her:





" . . . I move in close to him, touching him again – and oh the joy to feel him against me, the heat of him - still holding my bag, but stepping close enough for my breasts to aggressively brush up against him. I’m trying to get him to put his arms around me, but he steps back and I feel his fear. “Why?” I say.

“I got to know if you’re all right.”

“No – why did you not want to be there, alone? You were afraid.”

He looks down, ashamed. And afraid.

“Why, my love? Why were you afraid?”

“I thought you might be looking for me.”

“Of course I was looking for you,” I say soft and slow, feeling the bag in my hand grow heavy. “Why would I not look for you? Why would you not want me to find you alone? I’m still your woman. Don’t you want to be alone with me?”

“I thought. . .” He is really sweating it now. It is miserable to see. “I thought you’d be pissed.”

Whispering. “Why would I pissed? Hmn. Now, let me think.”

He only looks at me with those angry frightened eyes, and I wish I were blind. This is not the Daniel I came to find.

“Why would I be pissed, kuschelbaer?” He is looking at the bag now. He knows. “Oh, I wanted to give you these. Look what I found beside my little bed.” I put the bag on the ground, unzip it and reach in. One in each hand, I show him. A hammer in one hand, I show him. A sharpened piece of wooden broom handle in the other, I show him. I hold them out to him. “Is this why I would be pissed at you? You think?”

“Dammit Nixie!”

I thrust them out to him. “What are these? What are these?”

He turns away. He can’t look at me, but I am trembling now. I can’t stop myself or what I feel. “What is this?” I shake them at him. I stamp my feet. I know I’m ruining everything, and I can’t help it. I love him so terribly I want to bite his nose. “Is it a sexy new game you want to play? You can dress up and be the fearless Mr. Van Helsing, jah? And I will be sexy little Miss Lucy, in my nightgown in my toy coffin, and you will climb in with the hammer and the stake, yes? - and we will play and do the rinky-tink together and have some fun, jah? Would you like to maybe do that now? Now is a good time. Let’s play Van Helsing – “

“Shut up! Shut up!”

Now he is almost crying and I am almost crying too. I shake them at him, screaming“What were you thinking?”

I hate this, to be so cruel to him. I try to calm myself and remember what it really means, finding there the hammer and the stake discarded beside my bed. “You couldn’t do it, could you?”

“I couldn’t do it. God help me, I couldn’t do it.”

I hate myself for doing this, but this is the road I must lead him down, until he is tame again. “Why?” Softly I speak, because I would be his lover again and he is almost mine. “Why not?”

He shakes his head.

“I want to hear it. Please say it. Say for it for me, please. Why couldn’t you kill me in my sleep?”

“Because I couldn’t. I love you. God forgive me.”

“Why God forgive you? What’s wrong with being in love with me?”

Nordchen, I love you with all my soul and I always will. But. But, you need. . . that is. Somebody needs to . . . you need to be put down.”





So there it is. There’s the dynamic. Each one in this relationship has a hold over the other. Each is deadly in their element. Each is vulnerable out of their element. At night, if you’re Daniel and she takes a notion to kill you, she’s going to haul off and kill you and there’s not a damn thing you can do that would stop her. She’s been killing people for a hundred years and she’s good at it. You will die at her leisure. But in the daytime, she is helpless. At your mercy. She sleeps in the same room as you and she has placed herself willingly in your hands. No secret vault. No locked coffin. No gimmicks. You’re her lover, her man, she trusts you to behave yourself in the day as you trust her with your life at night. Its not the fearless vampire hunters who could kill her, she knows how to handle them. She’ll see them coming before they see her. Its you who could kill her. Lovers are supposed to trust each other, but this is trust on a special level. She trusts you with her life in the day. You trust her with your life in the night.

It's not so obvious in the stories, but when Daniel has sex with Nixie, his semen has an unusual composition that replaces the need for blood. I made this part of the deal in order to set up a moral dilemma. This always seemed like an intriguing sexual fantasy to me, one that was never explored by other writers. What if you were a man with unique semen that could replace a lady vampire’s need to steal blood from the living? Maybe a small harem of lady vampires? Oh, baby. For a lady vampire who doesn’t want to kill, this could be very liberating. So as long as she’s keeping you happy and keeping you coming, she doesn’t need to hunt. This is the unspoken theme under the surface of the story “Singing In The Dark”, in which Nixie struggles with her urge to attack a man in a rail yard at night. Daniel’s been fucking her regularly for a year and keeping her off the streets, so the practical need for blood isn’t the problem. But what Nixie has discovered is that she is addicted, beyond blood, to the need to kill. For its own sake.

A vampire is a serial killer with style. Nixie is a specific creature, she has a specific nature that goes with being that creature. What she discovers about herself is that she is addicted to the act itself of killing prey. She needs to roam the night and hunt and experience death because this is who she is and who she must be. Daniel’s semen has replaced her need for blood, but not her bloodlust.

Now this is a moral problem for Daniel, when he realizes this is her nature and she can’t change it. That makes him morally responsible. If your lover, the passionate love of your life, is sneaking out at night and killing people, shouldn’t you turn her in? Or “put her down” as he says. Even if the wolf loves you, don’t you have an obligation to your fellow sheep to deliver them from her? But the wolf loves you. Trusts you with her life. What are your moral responsibilities when she comes home one night covered with blood and tells you its pigs blood? You want to believe her, but isn’t that blood on your hands also? For some reason this never seems to come up much in vampire romances. You're harboring a skilled serial killer who is perfectly capable of turning on you. And you know it. You're responsible for keeping her in business. Wouldn't that be a problem? It'd scare shit out of me.

Its hard for Nixie too, because the fact is loving one goat very much makes you not want to kill goats. Part of her wants to kill people, but now a new part of her doesn’t. So she’s in great turmoil over what has become a dual nature. This is why she says to the reader in Lady and the Unicorn, that for one of her kind to fall in love is a disaster, a fatal catastrophe. It is a crippling experience for a predator to fall in love with its prey. This is also why in “Singing in the Dark” she practically slaps the man in the railyard to death as she yells philosophical questions at him, deciding his fate. His fate is in fact her fate, to live or to die based on his proof of innocence.

So this character dynamics business has more than one level. There’s the more obvious “I love you, please don’t kill me.” And then there’s the one under the surface, of a higher or more universal moral question. It can get as twisted as you want to make it.

Somehow the idea of a vampire lover, or any non-human lover is very romantic and erotic. Why? Why is it not in fact a huge pain in the ass? I asked this question to Charlane Harris, author of the hugely popular Sookie Stackhouse novels which became HBO’s “Trueblood” series. She didn’t know. And you’d think she’d know, because this has made her a very rich writer. She doesn’t. I asked Dacre Stoker, author of the international best seller “Dracula: The Undead”. He didn’t know either.

I think this is something hard wired into us as human beings, because its so ancient. In the old stories of Greek mythology the gods and goddesses very often came to earth and took mortal lovers into their beds, and when they wouldn’t cooperate they just raped them, resulting in semi-divine children such as Perseus and Hercules. Jesus Christ no less was the offspring of a mysterious relationship between God almighty and the otherwise Virgin Mary. In 1978 in the movies Superman flew with Lois Lane above the clouds and set women’s hearts a flutter all around the world. Nobody seems to be able to explain it, but it’s a part of being human somehow. To be chosen from the common herd of goats by the gods or the supernatural sets you apart, it means you must be somebody special.

Everyone wants to be special.

Especially if the gods and goddesses like to eat goats.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Overwriting

I have a confession to make: I’m a chronic over-writer. In fact, unless you are one of those very few people who do almost all your editing while you are writing the first draft, you do too. There isn’t anything wrong with over-writing. It’s a mistake to think that you can leave it as is. And this is a sin I do find a lot of new writers (and many old ones, too) commit.

To put it simply, over-writing is using too many words, and not the right ones. Or it is mistrusting language not to do its job or mistrusting your own use of words. Sometimes you’re too damn anxious to get your point across. Sometimes over-writing happens because you’re attempting to describe something complex and nuanced and you take a number of runs at it. So over-writing is very much part of the process of writing: it’s fertile, it allows you to play with the way you get things across, but it’s not okay to dump that onto a reader. This is where thinking poetically is very helpful. Poets often aren’t good at constructing a plot, or characters, but they are excellent at using language carefully and strategically, and we can learn a lot from them. I will get to an example of this in a minute, but first I want identify some of the common places where overwriting happens. I want to make it clear that this isn’t something you should ever be thinking about in your first draft. This is the test to which you should put a piece of writing once the first draft is written.

Adjectives:
To be pedantic, let’s define what they are. Adjectives are words used to modify nouns. I’m not saying they’re bad. We need them often, to be precise about what qualities the noun has. ‘A soft bed’ informs the reader that the bed has the quality of being soft, not hard. But before you settle on the phrase, consider if there is a noun that will allow you to dispense with the adjective. Could you use nest, or cocoon? Could you use a noun that implies both bed and soft? Or could you use an adjective that did more work for you? Something that added more meaning to the phrase? A cosy bed? Cosy is an adjective that is going to imply soft, if we’re talking about beds, because hard ones aren’t cosy at all but, more than that, it’s also going to add a sense of rightness and belongingness to the phrase. Or what about ‘hard edge of the table’? Have you ever met a soft one? The hard here is simply not needed. Same with ‘a big gulp of coffee’ or ‘a big gulp of air’? A gulp IS a large amount of liquid or air taken down at once. You don’t need the ‘big’.

Adverbs:
I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged on this one before, but I’m going to do it again because I read far, far too many erotic stories where someone ‘lightly brushes his fingers over her skin’. For some reason, I really overreact when I hit phrases like this. ‘Brushes’ implies light, soft strokes. You don’t need the lightly. Same with ‘whispered softly.’ A whisper is soft. You only need to use an adverb when you want to use the verb in an unexpected way, i.e. ‘he whispered viciously (hoarsely, harshly, gratingly).

Redundancies:
The room was empty. There was no one there.
Yeah, don’t laugh. I’ve read this. And we all do this sort of thing while we’re writing a first draft. It’s the ‘circling around’ I spoke of earlier.

She screamed and screamed until her throat was raw.
I think I may have actually written this one. What’s with the ‘and screamed‘? I guess I wanted you to know she really did do a lot of screaming, but the modifying phrase ‘until her throat was raw‘ does the job.

He wept. The tears rolled down his cheeks.
I’m absolutely certain I’ve written this. It’s stupid. And either sentence is so much more powerful on its own than the two combined. More isn’t better. More gums up the writing for the reader.

Erotic description:
One of the acknowledged problems for anyone writing erotica is that, although English offers us a wealth of options when it comes to many nouns and verbs, it isn’t particularly generous when it comes to sexual vocabulary. There is no other word for a kiss. Consequently, we do need adjectives and adverbs to fine tune the meaning. What kind of a kiss was it? Languid, intense, rough, studied, thoughtless, hungry? Sometimes, I try to do without it. She pressed her closed lips to his navel, his hip, his thigh. All the while watching his cock creep to life.

Repetition:
As much as the ‘again and again’ problem is giggle-worthy, it’s also important to recognize that repetition is a powerful form of rhetoric. Where would Churchill or Martin Luther King Jr. have been without it? We’re back at poetics: not what the words mean, but what impact may be had from they way they are used. Repetition can reveal character, it can deepen the immersive experience of a written description. And, as speakers, we repeat ourselves when we talk. It can signal indecision, insecurity, anxiety, desperation. It can alert us to a character at the edge of language, where it fails to be enough. Here repetition informs us, not of the meaning in the words, but of their inadequacy. This becomes an issue of a writer’s honour. Are you being lazy or are you making a conscious choice?

Evil words:
I call them evil, because they sneak into my writing all the time and I don’t notice I’m doing it. Some are common to many writers and some are highly individual. My evil words are just, really and even: I’ve (just) right this minute done a word search through this post and found five instances of ‘just’ that didn’t need to be there at all. WriteDivas has a lovely list of over-used and unnecessary words, as well as some examples of cliches and pat phrases. A good way to brutally edit your work is to take each of those words and phrases, and do a search for them in your document. You’re not going to want to delete every instance of the word ‘really,’ but at least 80% of them go. The 20% that you make a conscious choice to keep is the birth of your style as a writer.

Style:
Style is really one of the hardest things to define in writing. It is a combination of so many aspects of writing that, like porn, it comes under the ‘I know it when I see it’ headings. But what it isn’t is accidental. It might start off as accident, but by the time you get to call it style, you’ve recognized what you’re doing and made a conscious decision to keep on doing it. This is why it usually takes writers many years and a good deal of experimentation to acquire a ‘style’ of their own.

I bring this up because there are excellent reasons to completely disregard everything I’ve said above, in the right circumstances. When you, as a writer, judge the circumstance to be right to consciously over-write, then you are making a stylistic decision. That’s fine. Just don’t over-write because you were too lazy to edit.

Poetry as an aspirational exemplar for prose writers:
I’m going to offer you the second stanza of the poem “Men” by Maya Angelou. Her language is gorgeous and fierce. There is repetition, there are adjectives and adverbs, but they are all used consciously, to produce a powerful effect.

One day they hold you in the
Palms of their hands, gentle, as if you
Were the last raw egg in the world. Then
They tighten up. Just a little. The
First squeeze is nice. A quick hug.
Soft into your defenselessness. A little
More. The hurt begins. Wrench out a
Smile that slides around the fear. When the
Air disappears,
Your mind pops, exploding fiercely, briefly,
Like the head of a kitchen match. Shattered.
It is your juice
That runs down their legs. Staining their shoes.
When the earth rights itself again,
And taste tries to return to the tongue,
Your body has slammed shut. Forever.
No keys exist.

Metaphor and simile:
The last thing I’d like to point out is that sometimes correcting your over-writing means writing more, not less. Notice in the stanza of the poem above, Angelou is opting to use similes and metaphors instead of resorting to adjectives or adverbs to deepen meaning. And it is so much more vivid.

One day they hold you in the
Palms of their hands, gentle, as if you
Were the last raw egg in the world.

The simile of the ‘last raw egg in the world’ is just so much more powerful than writing ‘he held me gently.’ True, she’s using more words, but she forces you to imagine exactly how precious, how breakable the last raw egg in the world might be.

Your mind pops, exploding fiercely, briefly,
Like the head of a kitchen match. Shattered.

Here we have adverbs galore, but it resolves into the simile of ‘the head of a kitchen match’ bursting into flame. It is a brilliant and terrible piece of imagery. Erotic, incandescent and also destructive.

It is your juice
That runs down their legs. Staining their shoes.

And here is the metaphor to end all metaphors. It’s just so fucking clever and so fertile. You probably recognize the allusion to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Lemon Song’ but they stole it from Robert Johnson and Arthur McKay. She’s appropriating the phallocentric metaphor of ‘squeezing lemons’ and juxtaposing it. Your juice, in this poem, is more than sexual body fluid: it is hurt and pride and hope and wasted love. And those stained shoes, in the next stanza, just keep on walking by.

My point in deconstructing that last piece of poetry is to remind you that even in prose, if getting rid of your adjectives and adverbs and redundant words is frustrating you, try building a metaphor or simile to get the meaning across instead. It’s almost always stronger writing.

Process:
Over-writing is only a problem when you don’t recognize it as an early stage of the writing process. Think of writing as trowing pottery on a wheel or sculpting. The first task is to shape it roughly and explore the possibilities that material has to offer. At this point, it’s important to have too much of whatever it is. You want enough to be able to go to the next stage, which is to judiciously refine it into a final version.

I meet so many first time writers that believe they can sit down and write something brilliant in a single sitting. It’s certainly possible to do it, but very unlikely. Be prepared to approach your work in three stages. Write it out in as full a way as you can and let it sit for a while. Go back with an eye to purging it of over-writing – get rid of all the repetitions, redundancies, cliches, memes, etc. Then let it sit a while longer. Finally, revisit it for a final proof reading and an eye to adding back the things that will make up your unique style.

Question from one of my students: “Isn’t there a quicker way to do this?”

My answer: “No.”