Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Monday, June 30, 2014

Saying it Out Loud


I had a professor in Uni who taught English Lit, and much to my chagrin, he focused on poetry. Much to my surprise, I ended up loving the class, but then forgetting just what poetry does for the soul after the course was finished.  I’ll admit to penning a bit of doggerel and quite a bit of angsty verse in my teen years, but for the most part, I consider myself a poetery Philistine. Sorry Ashley Lister J

Fortunately for me, I do write filth fairly well, so no poetry required. Then I got invited to my first
poetry slam in London. I went because I had been invited by my good friend and fabulous poet, Mel Jones. I stayed until the last poem was performed because I was totally and completely enthralled. Since then I’ve attended several poetry slams including Ernesto Sarezale’s Velvet Tongue Erotic Literary Soiree, and I’m always, every single time, riveted.

While I’m not convinced that I should write or perform poetry – I shiver at the thought, what I am convinced of is the power that comes from reading a story out loud. Poetry, at least to me, is story distilled to its absolute essence. It’s the vodka of the literary world to fiction’s beer.

I’ve always read everything I write out loud during the final edit because giving voice to what’s written on the page makes it real, gives it power, and makes me aware of the weak links that don’t flow with the cadence of spoken language. I’m often asked if it matters if what I write can be easily read out loud, but I think it’s essential in story. The original storytellers, the ones who kept the oral histories of their people, the ones who were entrusted with the magic, the lineage, the mythology and the essence spoke their stories out loud, maybe around a campfire, maybe in the temple, maybe in a cave where artists painted their stories on the walls. Speaking the story out loud gives it dimension, gives it breath and shape and power.

I’ve been thinking about the power of the spoken word ever since the reading slam in Scarborough at Smut by the Sea. Yes, I read, but more importantly, I sat and listened to fifteen other people read. We were only allowed five minutes, so each reader had to distilled down their reading to the essence of what they wanted the listener to take away.

I love reading slams for that very reason. I love being able to take the message in aurally and visually, as I watch the reader/writer interacting with their work. Here is what I discovered; in those five minute segments, the sex and the heat of the sex the reader shared with the audience had way less to do with how much I remembered of their reading, how much I sat on the edge of my seat holding my breath during their reading, than the story woven around that sex.

I remember Jacqueline Brocker’s chocolate eclairs because I could close my eyes and taste the richness of them, the guilty pleasure of them, the phallic shape of them, the luscious crème filling. I remember Janine Ashbless’ vampires because I could almost feel the sting of the thorns of those red roses biting into cleavage, drawing little beads of blood.  Breathe, K D! Breathe!

The cadence of words spoken in English is hypnotic – ambic pentameter that feels almost like a heartbeat. (trying not to show my poetic ignorance again. Please forgive) The listener can feel it down deep in the belly. We live and breathe and move and share our stories in that rhythm.  

That the rhythm is hypnotic means it can just as easily relax us into a meditative state, put us to sleep, send our mind off wondering as it can excite and invigorate us. It’s when story is woven in with that hypnotic rhythm that our whole body sits up and takes notice. We experience a good story with far more than just our eyes on the page. A good story is visceral, and the more senses it touches, the more powerfully we experience it and remember it and long for more of it.

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.’ SOO NOT TRUE! Words have power! Lots and lots of power. And words spoken out loud have even more power. I think it’s really easy for writers to forget that, and a reading slam or a poetry slam can bring that fact home in a very real way. The rhythm of the spoken word can easily enough put us to sleep. That’s true. But the
rhythm of the story boiled down to its essence, read out loud can inspire, excite, stimulate and change us. I remember the story read out loud, and I want more of it. That sex is a part of that story makes the sex more visceral and more arousing.

Reading out loud has always been a test for me. If I read my sex scenes out loud and the story doesn’t demand them, require them, use them, need them, then they don’t belong. Reading out loud exposes the true essence of the story in a way that nothing else can do, and hearing other people read their stories out loud is a very intimate experience for the reader/author and the listener. The sharing of stories out loud links us back to roots older than written language, back to the roots of story itself, forged in the experiences and the myths of our ancestors. We writers share those roots in a powerful way, and it’s good to be reminded of our role as the Keepers of Story by clearing our throats, opening our mouths and giving our story voice.



Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rug Burns, Broken Dicks, and Monster Penises – Realistic Sex in Erotic Fiction


Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.

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It seems to me that often enough in erotic romances, the sex is not only unrealistic, it is something that is not humanly possible. Now that anyone can upload erotic fiction to the internet and call themselves authors, readers must separate the wheat from the chaff. And get a load of that chaff! There is sex with Bigfoot who has a foot-long (or more) schlong. Alien sex. Perfectly built doms who tie their subs up in such a way they should be laid out on a stretcher and sent to a hospital. Anal sex that defies the laws of nature. Lack of lube. Lack of foreplay. The list goes on.

Did you know that there are awards giving out for poorly written sex? Here is an excerpt from the 2012 winner of the Bad Sex Awards, Nancy Huston's "Infrared". 

No sooner have we settled onto the bed and begun to remove each other's clothes with the clumsy gestures of impatience than I realise Kamal also knows about passivity — yes, he also knows how to remain still, fully awake and attentive, and give himself up to me as a cello gives itself up to a bow. Arching his back, he surrenders his face, shoulders, back and buttocks, waiting for me to play them, and I do — I play them, play with them. Most men are afraid to let go like this — whereas with a little finesse the wonders of passivity can be tasted in even the most violent throes of love-making.

In a delirium of restrained desire, I weigh, stroke and lick Kamal's balls, then take his penis in my hands, between my breasts, into my mouth. He sits up, reaches for me and I allow him to explore me in turn. He runs his tongue and lips over my breasts, the back of my neck, my toes, my stomach, the countless treasures between my legs, oh the sheer ecstasy of lips and tongues on genitals, either simultaneously or in alternation, never will I tire of that silvery fluidity, my sex swimming in joy like a fish in water, my self freed of both self and other, the quivering sensation, the carnal pink palpitation that detaches you from all colour and all flesh, making you see only stars, constellations, milky ways, propelling you bodiless and soulless into undulating space where the undulating skies make your non-body undulate ...

And orgasm — the way a man's face is transformed by orgasm — oh it's not true they all look alike, you have to be either miserable and broke or furiously blasé and sarcastic to say they all look alike — to me, every climax is unique.

My body hurt just reading some of that, especially the bit about arching his back and surrendering his face, shoulders, back and buttocks. I pictured a man having a seizure. "Violent throes of love-making" should not lead to unintentional pain, right? Then there were the horrid similes and all the undulations.

Why don't these people ever suffer from injuries from their passionate rolls in the hay? The most common injuries from sex play are most likely vaginal tearing or breaking, back injury, penis breakage, yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and foreign objects stuck where they don't belong. Richard Gere isn't an internet meme for nothing, you know. Why don't lovers ever get carpet burn? Why don't BDSM aficionados ever get chafed wrists or ankles or sore joints from having their arms and legs pulled to the limits the human body can tolerate? No, lovers are "transfixed" or "propelled into undulating space". No one ever needs Vix Vapo Rub after an afternoon of hot, steaming fucking.

I speak from experience when I mention penis breakage. When my husband and I were younger and much more stupid, we got into a hot bout of sex play and… I broke his dick. I've never heard of this happening, but it's apparently much more common than you'd think. It was even covered on the American TV medical drama Grey's Anatomy. Dr. Mark Sloan got into some heated passion with intern Lexie Grey resulting in painful and embarrassing injury. The staff didn't know the identity of the "lucky" lady who did it so there was much guesswork going on.

When it happened to my husband, he heard a very loud snap, and then the pain began. Thankfully, it didn't require surgery. There was nothing to do but let it heal itself. All was fine and good until it happened again a few years later. He told a friend of his at his old job about it. That guy always gave me the biggest smile whenever I saw him. I think he was jealous we were so into it, although all of us could have done without the pain.

On a lighter note, I recall reading an excerpt from an erotic romantic comedy that described a woman's queef. It was meant to be funny, but I just cringed. A queef is a pussy fart, in case you haven't looked at the Urban Dictionary lately.


Such sexual accidents, while realistic, don't make for much romance although in some cases a little realism would go a long way to make the sex more believable. How about pink skin from the leather cuffs or an average-sized penis? Why are so many alpha males built like an Angus bull? Yes, I know it's about escapism, but still... What do you think?




Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Ivory Tower vs. the Garden of Vulgar Delights: The Feud Continues

by Jean Roberta


I’ve written here before about my comfortable niche in the English Department of the local university, where I teach nuts-and-bolts composition and literature to first-year students plus the occasional course in creative writing. I have access to funding for writing-related travel, which includes erotic writing conferences, readings, and award ceremonies. Every three years, I submit a Faculty Review Form on which I brag about my accomplishments, including publications. Before I compiled my list for 2011-2013 inclusive, the friendly department head told me that I don’t brag enough; he advised me to list every review and blog post I’ve written, as well as every erotic story I’ve had published and every panel I’ve sat on. His summary of my latest Faculty Review begins with a statement that I am a model of productivity for the whole department.

My personal experience leads me to hope that writing about sex is no longer something that anyone needs to keep hidden under a fake identity, complete with over-the-top pen name (Scarlet Veronica Filthy-Mind) and manuscripts/publications in a lockable trunk.

But I seem to be living in an oasis of exceptional acceptance. Here is the latest piece of evidence that scholarly endeavor, as practiced in universities, is still widely considered far above – or at least far separate from – sex-writing of any kind.

In March 2014, the friendly department head circulated an announcement to the rest of the English Department about a one-day conference to be held at De Montfort University in Leicester, England, on June 3. The event was titled Reforming Shakespeare: 1593 and After. Here is the description:

“This is a one-day scholarly symposium on the kinds of alteration that have occurred to Shakespeare’s writing as it has made its journey from author to readers and playgoers. ‘Reforming’ may take the sense of being given new shape as authorial or non-authorial adaptation, rewriting, borrowing or allusion and arguments about any of these processes in connection with Shakespeare fall within our purview. ‘Reforming’ can also suggest correction and improvement, including censorship, editing, and tidying up of text to make it conform to new conditions of reception, and contributions on those topics are also welcome. Send proposals for 15-minute papers to Prof X and Prof Y.”

My first reaction was: How cool is this! I noted that the conference was:

- Not being held at one of the ancient, prestigious British universities (Oxbridge)
- Apparently not dedicated to bardolatry, or reading/teaching the works of Shakespeare according to some time-honoured method, and
- All about work that could be described as Shakespeare fan-fic, innovative performances, parodies, and other spinoffs.

I wished I could find a way to get to Leicester for this event. But alas, I didn’t see how I could justify travelling all the way there from the middle of Canada while I was teaching an intense, six-week course.

I decided to spread the word, especially to my fellow-contributors to an erotic anthology: Shakespearotica: Queering the Bard, edited by Salome Wilde (Storm Moon Press). This collection, I thought, would fit in perfectly with the theme of the one-day conference. All the stories involve “queer” (lesbian/gay/bisexual/gender-bending) characters in Shakespearean plots, and some of the stories are quite faithful to the originals. There is much same-sex emotional intensity and gender ambiguity to be found in Shakespeare’s plays, as well as much bawdiness. He wrote plays in a time when all the female parts were played by males, some of whom continued to cross-dress when they were not onstage. Whether the Bard was “queer” himself has never been decisively proven, but there are mysteries in his life that have never been completely cleared up.

I contacted Salome Wilde, U.S. editor of the anthology, and asked if she could spread the word to the rest of the contributors. I was hoping that one of them might live close enough to Leicester to make the trip worthwhile. Salome asked me for the name and contact information of one of the organizers, so I sent it to her.

A few days later, I got this email from Salome:

“Just an update to say I contacted Prof X.” This person apparently claimed there was no way to make use of the book, “as there will be no display or way to share it, and as it is in early June, I [Salome] can’t possibly attend. . . I was even thinking of giving an eBook to everyone who attended, or perhaps sending a flyer.” Apparently Prof X didn’t see how a book like Shakespearotica could possibly be included in an event named “Reforming Shakespeare.”

Sigh. I couldn’t help wondering if I (as a Canadian English instructor/erotic writer) could have bridged the cultural gap between a British Shakespeare scholar and an American erotic writer/editor, but maybe not. That gap might be unbridgeable, or I might not be the right person to bridge it. I can’t help feeling as if I threw Salome Wilde under a bus after she graciously accepted my story (loosely based on the Shakespeare comedy Twelfth Night) for the Storm Moon anthology.

Maybe I should be grateful that Prof X didn’t erupt in rage over the proposal that a discussion of Shakespeare spinoffs should be contaminated by “smut.” Even though I remind myself in these cases that things could be worse, I don’t feel grateful at all.

William Shakespeare (or whoever wrote under that name) knew in the 1590s that sex was a part of life. I wonder when the scholars who study his work will figure it out.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Penny Dreadful, and other stories

by Kathleen Bradean


I hate it when a story is written so completely around a song that if I don't know the song, the subtleties of the story are lost to me. Or worse - when I really, truly hate the song  So I'm wary of talking about a tv show or story that readers of this blog might not have seen before or dislike. Given the international scope of the readership here, it makes it even harder to appeal to everyone.

But...

A while ago, Lisabet Sari introduced me to The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. I loved that novel, so I searched for more by him and found his collection of short stories Pump Six and Other Stories. If you write short stories, I strongly suggest these to you because he write amazing short stories, but I also suggest it for a specific story The Fluted Girl. This story of extreme bod modification is amazingly erotic, in that it doesn't flinch from the eroticism, but it also doesn't seem to try to be erotic.

So go read it, then comment here or shoot an email to me and we can discuss his work.

And since I already brought up something you might not be familiar with, I have to ask

Are you watching Penny Dreadful? If you're a fan of the original literary works that inspired some of our best monster movies, you'll love Penny Dreadful. It's like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but steeped in the brooding romanticism that spawn the original tales. Sin weighs heavily on their shoulders. My god, even the house two of the characters lives in has arsenic green wallpaper! They are literally surrounded by poisonous air.

Caliban - Doctor Frankenstein's creature - is no mute, grunting zipper neck. He rages against loneliness and speaks of poetry. Then he does something terrible and you hate him.  But while I always read Shelly's Frankenstein as being a warning about what happens when scientific man clashes with nature, this interpretation has me rethinking it. the problem with Caliban, why he's so terrible, is that he wasn't loved. He was abandoned. While that's not a new problem produced by the industrial age, it often feels that way.  

So far, Dorian Grey has bedded three of the cast. He's debauched, but you can see the boredom. I loved the scene when he was at the theater because it reminded me so much of the scene in Oscar Wilde's novel when Dorian was on the cusp,before he turned wicked. I wonder if we're going to see him walk the line between debauchery and evil for a while. (I also wonder if he'll turn out to be Dracula).

I can't wait to find out what further sins Sir Malcolm Murry committed in Africa while he was playing at being Alan Quartermain. We know he let his son die. He's searching for redemption in trying to save his daughter Mina (yes, that Mina, from Bram Stoker's Dracula). But I suspect he unleashed this horror on the world when he was in Africa searching for the source of the Nile.

Miss Vanessa Ives - played by Eva green - is absolutely amazing. I can say enough about the demands of this role and how she unleashes her power and vulnerability in equally amazing turns. (I only wish the writers would nail down the relationship between her and Sir Malcolm, because it swings from open hostility to almost friendly and back again which makes no sense)

And of course, we're all waiting breathlessly to find out what sort of creature Ethan Chandler is. (even money is on werewolf)   Oh! and Billie Piper returns!

One of the things about this show is that it takes the parts of the source material most monster movies ignore and runs with it. It's a good reminder of the comparative strengths and weaknesses of movies and novels. I know I often find myself thinking in cinematic terms when I write. That may be because of the mini-movie going on in my head of the story. But writing to a cinematic vision - so to speak - takes away from the richness of the story that can only be explored in a novel.



  
 

    

Monday, June 23, 2014

Getting Together

by Lucy Felthouse

Writing is a very solitary thing. Something you have to just sit down and do, all by yourself. Yes, you may have other people involved in the research stages, and you may have beta readers once it's finished, then editors, publishers, cover artists... the list goes on. But the specific act of getting words down on the page is a lonely task. Nobody can do it for you, and unless you're super-talented (and if you are, I'm very jealous), you probably can't talk to people while you're doing it.

Which is why it's nice to have writer buddies. Whether you know them in real life or just online, they're a valuable bunch. There to encourage, to rant with, offload on, ask questions, sympathise, celebrate, commiserate... as much as friends, partners and families may try to be and do all of those things, it's really only other writers that truly get it.

I'm very lucky in that I have writer buddies living locally, ones I see on a fairly regular basis, as well as ones I chat to pretty constantly online. Some of those I get to see occasionally, too. One such example being last weekend (not the one just gone, the one before!). A whole bunch of erotica and erotic romance writers and readers descended on Scarborough on the east coast of England for Smut by the Sea, a day of smut, workshop, socialising and fun. And fun it was! There was lots of chatting, giggling and all of the above supportive-types things going on. It's so nice to be reminded you're not alone as a crazy writer that's battling away on something that's bloody hard work, often for very little reward.

Now it's all over, I'm already thinking about the next such get-together. Which is in November. I'm sure it will be upon us within the blink of an eye. So if you're in the UK and can get to Manchester... it'd be great to see you there!

Happy Reading,
Lucy x





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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, is book editor for Cliterati, and is one eighth of The Brit Babes. 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

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Porn: A Public Health Crisis?

By Lisabet Sarai

Just over a month ago, I happened on a syndicated column in my local newspaper, entitled “Porn in the US 'a public health crisis'”. As soon as I'd digested it, I knew I had the topic of my next blog post for ERWA. I didn't bother to save the article; I was sure I could find it on the 'Net when I was ready to sit down and write. Sure enough, this afternoon I googled “porn public health crisis” and got pages of links to the basic story. For example, here's more or less identical text to what I read, from www.telegraph.co.uk:


I noted some of the other domains where the item appeared: christianpost.com, christian.org.uk, sermonaudio.com, godlikeproductions.com. Clearly the religious establishment loved this article.

The content derives from a press conference preceding the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation Summit, held in Maryland suburb outside Washington, DC in May. The primary points of this rather histrionic report are that most US teenagers have viewed Internet porn by the time they're thirteen or fourteen and that exposure to these “degrading misogynist images” has extreme negative consequences. To quote the article:

Mary Anne Layden of the University of Pennsylvania, who specialises in sexual trauma, said pornography has been a factor in every case of sexual violence that she has treated as a psychotherapist.


"The earlier males are exposed to pornography, the more likely they are to engage in non-consensual sex – and for females, the more pornography they use, the more likely they are to be victims of non-consensual sex," she said.



Strong claims. I would like very much to see the scientific evidence supporting them. I'd also appreciate information on sample size and sample selection. Was the non-consensual sex self-reported, or independently verified? Was there any control for demographic or historical factors such as economic level, educational level, family conflicts, substance abuse, or other mental health issues unrelated to sex?

There's also a serious logical flaw hiding in Dr. Layden's statement. When treating victims of sexual violence, she has noted that porn shows up in most cases. This does not necessarily mean that porn leads to sexual violence. The causality could very well work the other way: individuals prone to commit sexual violence tend to use porn as fantasy material or a substitute for action. Furthermore, her personal observations in the therapeutic environment say nothing about the effects of porn on the population as a whole.

The article then shifts to discussing the effects of porn on the individuals who participate in creating it, a journalistic sleight of hand that leads the reader into thinking that perhaps this is the ultimate fate of the poor teens who've become porn addicts.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not generally in favor of young people being exposed to hard core porn. I don't subscribe to the hysteria evident in those attending this conference. However, I'm concerned by the fact that, to quote Dr. Gail Dines, “"Porn is without doubt the most powerful form of sex education today.” This may well be true, and I find it most unfortunate, because porn is not intended as education.

Whatever you think about visually-oriented commercial pornography – I'm assuming that everyone's talking about photos and films here, not written material – you have to admit that it does not present a realistic picture of human sexuality. Most porn utilizes stereotyped scenarios and body types, building an ideal world to help the viewers get off. Nothing wrong with that, if you're an adult, with real world sexual partners. You know that it's all fantasy, intended as hot fun.

Teens, though, don't have the basis to make accurate judgments. A young man who sees porn studs with huge cocks pounding away for hours is all too likely to feel inadequate about his own more normal endowment. A young woman who watches big-boobed bimbos eagerly taking facials may believe this is what's required in order to appeal to the opposite sex. The lack of emotional connection one sees in a lot of porn may mislead teens into thinking that sex is a purely physical activity, a sort of sport, as opposed to one of the most profound and important aspects of human experience.

The article doesn't explicitly cite a solution for the so-called crisis, other than to get the government involved (often a very bad idea). Dr. Dines suggests we need “programs out there that get kids to understand how porn is manipulating them." The subtext of the article, though, is that the whole problem would go away if porn just disappeared.

I have an alternative solution. How about some serious sex education? Education that honestly acknowledges the fact that teens have sexual desires, that offers them reliable information about their own bodies and feelings as well as about those of the opposite sex? If we're worried that porn is sending the wrong messages about sex, let's expose kids to positive, pleasurable, respectful models of sexual experience. Let's teach them that sex is natural, not dirty; that it's an act of connection, not of conquest; that they can always say no, but that they're also free to say yes. Teach them about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases, so they can protect themselves. Debunk the myths. Encourage them to ask questions and to communicate their uncertainties. Help them get past their embarrassment to real knowledge. And yes, do explain that porn is a business designed to make money, and that they shouldn't take it too seriously. Don't condemn it, though. That which is forbidden only becomes more attractive.

While we're at it, too, how about allowing fiction to be frank about teenage sexual liaisons? Would you rather have your adolescents read an explicit book about kids their own age having sex, or watching Kink.com?

America is notoriously squeamish about sex, though. In fact, I believe that various bans on portraying sexual images and describing sexual relationships in mainstream media are part of the reason the porn business is thriving. (Technological issues also play a major role, of course.) The more puritanical the country becomes, the happier the porn purveyors will be. Every restriction on erotic content makes their products more valuable.

I don't think porn is a public health crisis. However, it may well be an educational crisis. Public media do shape both opinions and behaviors. I'd hate to think that an entire generation knows nothing about sex except what they've learned from watching porn. They'd never realize what they were missing.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sexy Snippets for June





We're just a few days from the start of summer. Let's heat things up here at the ERWA blog. It's the 19th of the month, which means this is the day to look through your manuscripts and  share your Sexy Snippets!


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 and 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.


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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

So Why Aren’t You Famous?

by Donna George Storey

I’ve been meaning the write a column about our culture’s obsession with celebrity for some time, as I believe this inescapable aspect of American life affects even humble erotica writers. However, the subject always seemed too huge and I was never sure where to begin. I finally realized that I can extend the discussion of fantasy and celebrity over several installments, which leaves me the leisure to begin with an explanation my own relationship with celebrity culture.

On the face of it, I’ve always been more bemused than enthralled with celebrity worship. I first remember seeing its dangers at around age 9 or 10, when I heard that TV viewers used to write to Robert Young, the actor who played Marcus Welby, M.D. on television, asking for medical advice. How could people be so stupid as to confuse an actor with a real doctor? Yet not long after Ronald Reagan was elected president, followed by Arnold Schwarzenegger winning the California governorship in a recall election. Again I wondered how so many people seemed to believe an actor’s heroic triumphs on the screen could translate into real-life competence where there was no script, no studio pressuring for a happy ending.

I’ve never made it a priority to know which celebrities are trending or who’s the hottest new leading man or lady—in fact I’m rather proud of my ignorance. As a democrat and an iconoclast, I don’t really see why someone deserves special treatment just because they starred in a movie or TV show. Celebrities usually seem to attain their place through good looks or “lucky” parentage. (My loss of innocence as to the value of literary celebrity was a slower process, but certain recent blockbusters proved the final blow to my belief in the publishing industry as a meritocracy.)

Yet, as much as I might want to ignore celebrity culture, it isn’t ignoring me, in particular in my writing life. I first experienced this personally when I put together a book proposal about my mother’s death from the diabetes drug, Rezulin. In retrospect, the effort was as good a way to deal with grief as any, but I learned that it would be quite the uphill battle to get such a memoir published even if the safety of pharmaceutical drugs is an issue critical to everyone. Nobodies do manage to find publishers, and sometimes their books sell, but bookstore research showed that celebrities had cornered the market on personal tragedy memoirs--Brooke Shields is the voice for postpartum depression, pundit Morton Kondracke had enough recognition to publish a book on his wife’s Parkinson’s disease. Granted I surely could have worked harder to get my story published as a book, but I followed the advice of the standard agent’s nonfiction rejection and wrote an article instead.

But the secretly corrosive effect of celebrity culture really hit home when I published my first (and thus far only) novel, Amorous Woman. I’d always wondered if I had it in me to write a novel, and with a little help from my friends and numerous cases of Snapple, I managed to finish a book I felt told my truth about my experiences in Japan. Many people were very appreciative and supportive, but plenty more hit me with “Is it on the bestseller list? When will it be a movie?”—all reminders that I was not a “real” writer because it only counts if your writing makes you rich and famous.

This was more an annoyance than a dark crisis, but I do remember feeling miffed that all the effort and life-research I put into writing the book didn’t seem to count if it didn’t become a national sensation like, gee, about .001% of books published. I distinctly remember thinking how ridiculous it would be if you had to be a celebrity to matter at all. No food, no water, no basic human dignity allowed to anyone who didn’t at least have a small part in an HBO drama. In a sense, that’s what we do to writers when we assume only the rich and famous are worthy of consideration.

Maybe there are some writers who are so well-grounded that they are immune to our society’s definition of success: riches, fame, invitations to the best parties, and most important of all, having an agent who returns phone calls. I’m more than halfway to being that writer, but I still find that the assumptions of a celebrity-worshipping culture distort my sense of what to write, in particular, the value of writing to the market. I’ll talk more about this in next month’s installment, but for now I invite you to think about the ways you embrace (me: a guilty purchase of a magazine with an article on darling little Prince George) or resist (me: reading academic deconstructions of fame in the mass media age, which actually do help bring sanity).

As spinners of fantasy ourselves, the fantasy of celebrity is a relevant issue to our work and our imaginations. I look forward to discussing it with ERWA blog readers in the months to come.

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