Thursday, April 30, 2015
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Sunday, April 26, 2015
by Jean Roberta
Teaching creative writing to young adults (second-year university students) is an instructive experience for the instructor as well as the students. Lately, I’ve been reading stories and poems that overflow with passion: usually the frustration of rejected love, or a desperate need for someone who responds with indifference. For someone who has had this experience for the first time, it must feel as monumental as Hamlet’s dilemma when he asks himself, “To be or not to be? That is the question.”
Let me state here for the record that I haven’t become too old or jaded to feel moved by expressions of anguish by young writers. I remember being their age, and my life didn’t run smoothly either.
However, my current frustration with student writing is triggered by extreme expressions of emotion that seems way out of proportion to the situation, as set forth in the work itself. Readers can empathize with Hamlet because we know that he came home from university to find that his father had died under mysterious circumstances, and his uncle had suddenly married his mother. If such things happened in our own lives, we probably wouldn’t be happy.
The writer T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) wrote a famous essay setting forth his theory that emotion expressed by characters in literature should always be based on an “objective correlative,” some circumstance that makes it seem logical and appropriate to the reader. (He complained that Shakespeare didn’t really succeed at that in Hamlet.)
Poetry by beginning writers often looks like a stream of consciousness, focusing on negative feelings. This semester, I’ve noticed a lot of screaming in student poems. (“I could have screamed, “Screaming, I cried.” “I screamed at the dark sky.”) In most cases, the cause of the screaming is briefly referred to, and it doesn’t seem to me to justify such an extreme reaction.
I’ve been looking for the objective correlative, often in vain. This can be a sensitive topic to bring up with student writers that I interact with in person. I don’t really want to know all the details of their lives, and some things are none of my business. I don’t care whether the events in their work have been made up; making up stuff is what creative writing is all about. However, I don’t want to read page after page of first-person descriptions of screaming that seem to be “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I’ve read erotica that reads that way too. An attractive stranger walks into a room, and the first-person observer almost comes. I’m willing to let the writer take me into his/her imaginary world, but I need to be persuaded. If the observer woke up feeling horny, having dreamed about sex all night, her/his reaction to the attractive stranger would make sense, and I would probably accept it.
Maybe the attractive stranger looks exactly like a celebrity that the observer has admired for years, or maybe like an old crush. Maybe the “stranger” really is the old crush, and he/she has matured into a more glamorous, more successful person than before. All this could make the observer’s reaction not only logical, but almost inevitable. But the reader/voyeur needs to know the details.
Screaming in orgasm is likely to be a peak experience for the screamer. It’s probably something that doesn’t happen each time the person has sex. So if this happens in a sex scene on a page that I’m reading, I need to know what is unusual about this conjunction of bodies. The stars must have been aligned in just such a way that the friction feels exquisite.
I’m sure I’ve rushed into sex scenes in my own writing, especially when pressed for time. When the deadline for a call-for-submissions was last week and I’ve been given an extension by a generous editor, the characters need to get it on, fast. However, if a story or a poem doesn’t work for readers in general, or if the piece only makes sense to those who know the writer’s personal history, it just doesn’t work. I’m grateful to my students for reminding me of that.
Posted by Jean Roberta at 1:39 PM
Friday, April 24, 2015
by Kathleen Bradean
Like Donna, I had a topic in mind this month, but after I read Garce's entry on dialog a week ago, I was inspired to switch too.
During my morning commute, I've been listening to old radio programs from the late 40s and early 50s such as Suspense, The Shadow, Gunsmoke, The Falcon and Johnny Dollar. I've also listened to broadcasts of movie scripts such as Treasure of the Sierra Madre that were edited for radio and performed by the motion picture casts. No matter what genre it is, each of these programs are masterpieces of tight writing. Every line establishes or reinforces character and moves the plot along. With only the help of a foley artist and actors, the illusion of action is created. It's really quite miraculous and wonderful.
On the other hand, in a novel or short story, you can't get away with some of the crutches you can in a play, tv, or a movie.
For example, it's considered bad writing to have an "As you know, Jim" passage where a character explains something to another character for the benefit of the reader rather than for the other character.
"As you know, Jim, you were my college roommate. After graduation, we went to work together here. We were the best of friends. Then I dated your sister and after not-fully-explained-bad-event-in-the-past-that-caused-your-sister-to-take-up-with-a-yak-herding-cult there was a big rift in our relationship but we've got to put that behind us right now because the fate of the entire planet hangs in the balance!"
But that sort of dialog is often in plays and movies. While I grit my teeth at it, I'm sure most people in the audience don't realize how ridiculous it is for, say, a CSI tech to explain to another CSI tech why they're lifting latent prints off an item found at a crime scene.
That's not the only way prose writers are more constrained by the form they work in.
While His Girl Friday is an amazing movie, writing overlapping dialog in a short story rarely works well. (I tried to write an example. It sucked. If you don't want to take my word for how difficult it is, watch His Girl Friday or any other Howard Hawks movie then try to recreate one of the more manic scenes on paper and see how far you get.)
Dialog in prose has the disadvantage of not being spoken. (Although I strongly suggest reading all your work, not just dialog, out loud before you submit it anywhere.) Tone and meaning have to be conveyed through the reader's imagination rather than benefiting from the skills of an actor to bring out that meaning for the audience.
Dialog is a strange form of art. The writer isn't trying to replicate the way real people talk, Real people take too long to get to the damn point, say um a lot, and spend far too much time talking about things that aren't the exciting plot points of their lives. So what we're aiming for is a completely artificial construct that serves the story but is worded in such a way that the reader could imagine a real person saying it. No. They have to be able to hear it in their imagination in that character's voice and it has to ring true or your readers are going to roll their eyes.
If you can, try to listen to a few old radio broadcasts and pay attention to what those writers were able to do with dialog, a foley artist, and maybe and organ riff or two. It's not the same as writing prose, but it will give you new respect for the power of dialog.
Posted by Kathleen Bradean at 4:00 AM
Thursday, April 23, 2015
by Lucy Felthouse
I had a conversation with someone recently that went something like this:
Woman: Oh, you'll have to lend me one of your books to read.
Me: I thought you were buying one? (I'd previously given her a business card with a link to my website, etc)
Woman: Oh, I was. But then I thought I didn't want to spend any money on it, in case I didn't like it.
Me: (in a jovial tone of voice) That's my livelihood you're taking away.
Woman: I'm not! I just wanted to lend one, then I'd give it back.
Me: What, with sticky pages?
This then, fortunately, diverted the attention away from the conversation and made everyone giggle, and it wasn't brought up again. But it made me think: what value is put on books? And I mean in all genres, not erotica specifically.
From what I can see, not much. Why do people balk at spending a couple of quid/dollars on an eBook (paperbacks, of course, are a different kettle of fish as they're usually more expensive) which will hopefully give them hours of reading pleasure (and maybe other kinds of pleasure, too!), and possibly then be read again sometime in the future? Yet they'll think nothing of spending more on a cup of coffee, which will be gone within half an hour, and not have any lasting impact on their life. The cup of coffee would have been made very cheaply, quickly and easily. Sure, it probably tastes good, but that's it.
A book wouldn't have been written cheaply, quickly or easily. Writing isn't any of those things. Yes, some people can write much faster than others, but that still doesn't make it an easy task. It's hard work. Enjoyable, yes, but still hard work, and, most importantly, a valid job/occupation.
I wonder if this is what it comes down to: people thinking writing isn't a proper job. Because, for the most part, we can set our own hours and have some freedom, it means it's not real. Therefore, if it's not a proper job, then we shouldn't expect to be paid properly.
Naturally, people "in the know" realise this is a load of rubbish. Although I don't write full-time, I'm gradually building up my volume of writing to boost my overall income. I don't rely on it, because I can't. Not by a long stretch. Therefore, it's important that my work (and every other writer's) is valued. Even if it's not a full-time job, it is still a job. Just because we enjoy it, love what we do, doesn't mean we should do it for free, or a pittance. Folk mistakenly believe that all published authors earn a fortune and therefore, what's one freebie here or there?
Sorry, not happening. I already run quite a few giveaways on my site, in my newsletter, as part of blog hops, and so on. And they are for people actually interested in reading my work. I hope that they will read one of my books, like it, and buy another. Maybe recommend it to their friends. If they don't like it, fair enough. Reading is subjective and, as much as I'd like to, I know I can't please everyone. But at least there's a chance of gaining another valuable reader. In the case of the woman above, I'm not sure I would have, regardless of whether or not she enjoyed my book. After all, if she's not willing to spend money, take a chance on a book/writer, then she clearly doesn't value writing.
I would love to hear your comments on this. Am I crazy? Over-sensitive? What? Should I just lend her a book?
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Sunday, April 19, 2015
Do you know what today is? It's Sexy Snippets Day! Time to share the hottest mini-excerpts you can find from your published work.
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 post excerpts only from published work (or work that is free for download), not works in progress. The goal, after all, is to titillate your readers and seduce them into buying your books!
Feel free to share this with erotic author friends. It's an open invitation!
Saturday, April 18, 2015
I’d planned to write my column on another topic this month, but I was overcome by the desire to write this one instead. I’ve also recently been overcome with inspiration to write a brand-new story, which is unusual because unless a story is for a specific call, I tend to let ideas steep for months or even years. This time the characters, the setting, the plot just popped into my head and insisted on immediate expression. It’s romantic when the Muse leads the dance, and fittingly this story is an erotic romance. An historical erotic romance. I don’t usually write in this genre, although I’ve veered close. Perhaps it’s high time? Historical romance was a favorite guilty pleasure as a teenager. In novels by writers like Anya Seton, the eroticism was never explicit, but my vivid imagining of what happened off the page no doubt planted the seeds of my erotica-writing future.
Every story needs obstacles, of course, and I’m discovering that the historical setting supplies a fresh abundance of them. The stakes are high if a woman even walks in public with a man. An impulsive kiss is a delightfully taboo act. Chaperones watch proper young people in love as intently as voyeurs at a peep show, so there’s plenty of drama in just finding time and place to be alone.
Still because it’s erotica, my characters find opportunities for sensual delight. That’s expected and I’m comfortable writing erotic scenes. Yet, just recently, I was both amused and bemused to discover something that truly made me blush as I wrote.
I blame my male protagonist for the example below. He told me he wanted to say the following words to try to convince the woman he loves to marry him. Go on, Donna, just write it down for me, he said.
“There’s a wall between us now, and that’s as it should be. But I want to do so many things I can’t do, simple things. Reach out and take your hand when someone’s watching. Brush my fingers through your hair when it’s down around your shoulders. Kiss your cheek, your ear, your neck, your lips. Wake up beside you. Eat breakfast together. But once we’re married, Elizabeth, the wall will disappear. When our wedding night comes and we start our life together, we can do all of those things and more. And what I want most of all is to make you happy. I promise I’ll do that in every way I know how.”
I’m pretty sure my heroine wants to hear this. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind hearing such sentiments from a future or even current husband. But as I wrote, a little voice whispered, “Oh, jeez, it’s such a female fantasy that a guy would actually say something sappy like this. They just don’t.” And I blushed. Partner-swapping, anal sex, Japanese fetish clubs—my cheeks stay cool and pale. But gooey, earnest declarations of love—oh, the obscenity!
Erotic romance is often—disdainfully--called women’s porn. I used to interpret that to mean that it arouses women, but is gentler, less explicit and safely couched in emotional connection. The way all things designated as feminine tend to be. This still might be true, but while I pondered my discomfiture, I came to appreciate there might be another reason for the comparison. Women might want a lover to get on bended knee and say s/he will dedicate his/her life to making them happy, but in real life it happens about as often as an attractive stranger of the desired sexual orientation is overcome by the urge to give a man a blowjob in a stalled elevator.
In other words, our porn gives us what we yearn for, but don’t get nearly enough of in real life. But we’re still kind of ashamed of what we want, because there are plenty of people out there who are happy to make fun of us for it. In my case, one of those people lives inside my own brain. (There seem to be a lot of people living there.) Coming of age in the midst of the Sexual Revolution, I got the message that having sex was always cool for a liberated woman. Falling in love was a far more private, scary and vulnerable thing to do. The legacy for me: baring the heart is scarier than baring mere skin.
Or maybe trying to express deep emotions is hard no matter what the genre or the sex of the author? It’s much easier to be clever and cool. I have to remember that back when I first started writing erotica, I would also occasionally blush when I wrote a scene that pushed me into new sexually explicit territory. For me, I almost feel as if I should let my characters share their intimate declarations of love off the page. It’s too private a matter for strangers to be watching on. But perhaps, with practice, emotionally explicit writing will get easier too?
I’ll let you know as the process unfolds!
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, April 15, 2015
Posted by Garceus at 1:00 AM