Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Monday, November 28, 2016
Saturday, November 26, 2016
by Jean Roberta
So much has been said (even here in Canada) about the election of Donald Trump as President of the U.S. that I can’t think of anything new to add on a political level.
However, let’s consider how government by the “alt.-right” (loosely defined as a broad coalition of white male supremacists, proud gun owners, climate-change-deniers, Christian fundamentalists, and fans of robber-baron capitalism, unrestrained by unions or governments) might affect writers. The first thought that occurred to me was that new laws might criminalize erotic writing, as distinct from crude boasts about “grabbing pussy.”
My second thought was that legal censorship would not be the most serious threat to writers. The English writer Virginia Woolf came closer to the truth in 1928 when she gave a series of lectures which were later published as an essay, A Room of One’s Own, about how women writers are affected by a shortage of actual space and time in which to write. This argument could be extended to everyone who is socially and economically marginalized.
Thinking about my own past, I can honestly say there has never been a time in my adult life when I didn’t write anything. However, as a single mother in the 1980s, I always felt guilty about spending my scarce “free” time on any activity that didn’t involve tending my child or earning a living. I was also trying to finish a Master’s thesis in English, and this project – which is supposed to take a year or two at the most -- took me most of a decade, partly due to delays on the part of a supervisor who had other priorities, and partly due to lack of time, energy and self-confidence on my part.
The real wall that tends to keep marginalized or oppressed people out of “mainstream” culture consists of obstacles to self-expression. If you’ve been taught that your real purpose is to serve someone else’s needs (or that you have no purpose and might as well be dead), and if apparently random circumstances reinforce those messages, writing anything feels like an act of rebellion. Everyone has stories to tell, but the obstacles to telling them are likely to be internal as well as external.
As an instructor of low-cost, non-credit creative writing classes in the local university in the 1990s, I met students who wanted to express themselves in written language, but they were afraid of possible consequences. Several of them insisted that they would never write for publication because their relatives and especially their spouses would never forgive them. My students wanted to tell the truth about their lives, but they were afraid that their truth would offend everyone they knew.
My advice might have seemed contradictory on the surface. I encouraged them to write down their most shocking (to themselves) feelings, suspicions and experiences in very private journals that they never had to show anyone, including me. This was Step One. After letting this raw material cool for awhile, students could continue to Step Two: rereading the secret diary, and pulling out sections that could be reshaped to form poetry, fiction, drama, or creative non-fiction.
Turning a spontaneous rant, a rambling journal entry or a masturbation fantasy into a coherent piece of writing makes it more comprehensible to others. It’s the beginning of a conversation. And a conversation that includes enough participants can change a culture.
In the November newsletter of Circlet Press, writer and publisher Cecilia Tan defended what she does so brilliantly (IMO) that I can’t resist quoting part of her editorial:
“It was a tough night here at Circlet HQ as the election results rolled in and I probably don't have to tell you why--but I will. This wasn't about Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump for us. This was about the fact that the Trump campaign and the Republican platform are serious threats to our existence as marginalized people. Gay, lesbian, trans, bi, gender non-conforming, minorities in sexual identity of every kind, including survivors of sexual assault (and not to mention women and people of color in general) are all seen as less than human by the Trump camp. Literally.
So I thought it might be a good time to remind you all what Circlet Press stands for, and why even in the face of a difficult uphill battle, we're not giving up, and why even in the face of massive global upheaval, erotic fiction still matters.
1. Writing matters. All writing is a declaration of humanity.
The act of writing is self-expression in a declarative form. Whenever we make words, even if they are tweets, at the most basic level we are saying "I am here!" Unlike vocal speech, writing is a deliberate act, one that combines cognition with communication--with intent to communicate to an imagined other who is not present. It's a powerful act whether one is writing a personal blog, an article, a story, a letter, or even a diary entry. It might feel right now like putting down words doesn't matter. But it does. It does because you matter, your voice matters, your personhood matters.
2. Erotica is a claiming of sexual identity.
The extension of the fact that writing matters is that writing about sex matters in particular. Not only do we write "I am here!" but "I am queer!" (or whatever flavor of non-standardized sexuality or sexual identity you declare) No matter what your sexuality is--even if it's vanilla heterosexual--society has judged you for it and wants to tell you how you can or should do it. If you cannot be yourself in your private thoughts, you cannot be yourself anywhere. In our sexual fantasies is where some of us first discover our true selves, and then through that act of putting down words, of putting that fantasy to paper as if communicating with another sentience, we express that truth. There are those out there who literally wish death on us for being queer or sinners or 'liberated women.' Declaring our existence as sexual minorities and celebrating our sexuality with joy through erotica is an act of courage and an act of self-preservation, too. The more we are seen, the better we are known, the more space on the stage we take up, the more difficult it is to marginalize us. "
There you have it. The whole editorial is much longer than this, and it was intended for wide circulation. You can read it here:
Thursday, November 24, 2016
by Kathleen Bradean
Apologies in advance to non-US readers for the nation-centric post. Insert your own national holiday.
It sounded like a nice idea. Have a bunch of friends and family over. Eat a ton of food. Sit around the fire and tell ourselves a feel-good myth about our origins...
And then it happened.
Oysters in the stuffing.
Oops. I should have posed a trigger warning. I can envision you recoiled in horror at the very idea of oysters inside your bird. I mean, awful, right? Don't get me wrong. I love oysters. Fresh and briny, or cooked with spinach and bread crumbs, or even Acme Oyster House's woodfire grilled oysters topped with Parmesan cheese (note to self - get back to New Orleans ASAP), but NOT in stuffing.
Maybe you're thinking, "That sounds kind of good," or "I shall toss a virtual gauntlet at her for insulting great aunt Mildred's famous oyster dressing!" or perhaps "I've had worse. Apples. Chestnuts. Craisins, for the love of god!" And you'd be right. And wrong. Heck, even I'm wrong for being anti-oyster stuffing. (Not really, but I'm playing my own Devil's advocate) Because what you're eating isn't just stuffing. It's never just stuffing. It's a forkful of the past. Your past. And no matter if it's oysters or apples or chestnuts, what you really taste is memories.
Thanksgiving isn't just the bird, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. It's so many side dishes and desserts. Some are regional favorites; some reflect our ethic background. Others were created by a home economist in the 1940s for the war effort or for a brand, printed in a magazine ad, and recreated faithfully every year since. (Green bean casserole, I'm looking at you.) It's a complex amalgamation of who we were, who we are, and who we desire to be.
You may be wondering what this has to do with writing. It has a lot, actually. Since I'm the main cook, to me, Thanksgiving is a day centered on the kitchen. It's a constant game of Tetris - trying to get the food to fit in the fridge as well as trying to bend time to my will so all these disparate dishes come together at the same time. To my sister-in-law, the day centers around the family room and making sure guests are having a good time. For the kids, the day is about finding out that yes, their cousin Perry really is a jerk who would lock the four-year old in a dark closet in the basement and leave her there until much later when someone else notices she's missing. (true story). There are as many points of view on what happens that day as there are people sitting around the dining table, and just because I see it as an oyster-free stuffing day doesn't mean that those who ate the oyster stuffing see it incorrectly. Sometimes, conflict comes from equally valid points of view. That doesn't mean there has to be a hero and a villain. There just has to be oysters, and those who have the good sense to leave them out of the bird.
Posted by Kathleen Bradean at 12:00 AM
Monday, November 21, 2016
By Lisabet Sarai
Here are the first two paragraphs of one of the best books I’ve read in the past decade, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern:
Your first page can and should raise questions in the reader’s mind. What’s going on? Where are we? Who are the actors? What are their relationships?
We all know that great characters are the key to keeping readers’ attention. One way to open a tale is let your characters immediately speak up, so readers get a sense of their quirks, personalities, and motivations.
I learned this from Kathleen Bradean. Years ago she critiqued a short story of mine on the Storytime list. I knew something about the piece was not working. It felt leaden and plodding, especially at the start. However, I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.
Readers have limited attention spans, especially nowadays. Hence, all else being equal, you should keep the sentences in your first paragraph as short and direct as you can manage. I’d never recommend that you dumb down your English to increase the size of your market, but first sentences are almost like advertising slogans. They should be brief and catchy.
Saturday, November 19, 2016
It's that time again! Are you excited?
Want to get the rest of us excited?
Today's your chance, because once again it's Sexy Snippets Day!
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. No extra promo text, please!
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!
Of course I expect you to follow the rules. One snippet per author, please. If your excerpt is more than 200 words or includes more than one link, I'll remove your comment and prohibit you from participating in further Sexy Snippet days. I'll say no more!
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.
Friday, November 18, 2016
Sexual assault has been a topic of much discussion these last months. I’ve already written about how rape was dealt with in what I now consider “my” time period, the 1910s (quick answer, not all that differently from the way we do today and, um, that’s not good for today). I wasn’t looking to pursue the topic further, but on November 8 I happened to pick up a book, which I found listed in a course syllabus on gender and sexuality, entitled Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture—and what we can do about it by Kate Harding.
First let me get this out of the way. “Rape culture” has been with us forever, and I’d argue it’s the attention to the issue rather than the cultural support for it that has been on the rise. Back in 2012, when Harding shopped the book proposal, her editor and agent urged her to finish the book in six months, because rape was a hot topic that would be long past the news cycle if she waited longer. Harding took several years to finish, but “fortunately” for the marketing of her book, the topic is as relevant as ever.
I read the entire book on the night of November 8 and was impressed with this observation: “... Rape myths, like all myths, are designed to serve up psychological comfort, not hard facts. As Grubb and Turner put it, ‘To believe that rape victims are innocent and not deserving of their fate is incongruous with the general belief in a just world; therefore, in order to avoid cognitive dissonance, rape myths serve to protect an individual’s belief in a just world.’ (Amy Grubb and Emily Turner, “Attribution of Blame in Rape Cases: A Review of the Impact of Rape Myth Acceptance, Gender Role Conformity and Substance Use on Victim Blaming,” Aggression and Violent Behavior 17, no. 5 (2012): 443-452 quoted in Asking For It, p. 23).
Harding presents this useful flow chart for preserving our comforting belief in a just world:
Someone reported a rape. Proceed as follows:
1. Did she ask for it? If no, go to 2. If yes, go to 8.
2. Was it really rape? If yes, go to 3. If no, go to 8.
3. Did he mean to do it? If yes, go to 4. If no, go to 8.
4. Did she want to have sex with him? If no, go to 5. If yes, go to 8.
5. Is she lying about whether she consented? If no, go to 6. If yes, go to 8.
6. Was it really such a big effing trauma? If yes, go to 7. If no, go to 8.
7. The kind of rape you’re describing is very, very rare. Like, so rare that it’s practically nonexistent. Go back over steps 1 through 6, until you find your error and end up at 8.
8. Everything’s fine! No need to be upset! (Harding, p. 23)
Or to summarize: Ladies! Sexual contact is good if you just loosen up, and if it’s a little bad for you for some reason like you didn’t want him to do it but he did anyway, well, shy of being brutally injured or killed, get over it, for crying out loud--we’ve got important problems to deal with in this world.
Harding waits until the last chapter of the book to reveal the personal meaning of this darkly humorous flow chart. She herself was raped during the first few weeks of her freshman year of college. She was at a party in a tight dress she had borrowed and had partaken of some spiked punch (stop right there at step #1, she was definitely asking for it). An apparently romantically interested older guy asked her to dance and afterwards guided her outside. Without further ado, he pushed her down on the ground, and in spite of her saying “stop” and physically resisting him, he put his penis inside her, “finished,” then got up and left without a word. Harding was seventeen and a virgin. The story deserves a longer telling, because the aftermath is as much a violation as the initial event. But--it may seem strange now, but it won’t later--the parts that really stood out to me were these: the initial doctor she saw was gentle and kind and offered to call the police and use a rape kit. Harding didn’t know the rapist’s name and didn’t want her parents to find out what happened to her so she refused. But the doctor she saw as a follow-up for an STD test after the rape showed palpable disdain for sexually active young women. And when Harding saw the man who raped her on campus the very next day, a person she knew said, “Oh, no. That’s _____. I know him. He would never do that.” (Harding, p. 208)
Harding then doubted her own eyes until someone else told her later that same man had raped her when she was sick in bed and on codeine. He had also been accused of other rapes, but the school didn’t find grounds to discipline him. Harding decided to pursue a complaint at the college. They determined she had been raped, but based on the evidence, they couldn’t be sure it was the man she identified.
It so happens I know someone who had a very similar experience in the 1970s. But the college was bigger, and she never saw her rapist again. She did end up dropping out of the college, like Harding, but she never called that event “rape” until years later.
Like almost every woman, I’ve experienced verbal sexual assault (not just “harmless” wolf-whistle salutes but demeaning, aggressive comments), several public exposures in train stations, and a couple of male bosses who did creepy, inappropriate things. I’ve had just two encounters with the hands-on physical sort of assault. The first occurred when a man rammed into me in Avignon during the Bastille Day fireworks and groped my buttocks with rough but assured hands before he pushed his way on through the crowd. The second happened outside Grand Central Station when a weird-looking old man shuffled close, jabbed me hard in the breast with his elbow, then sprinted away. That one hurt like hell and almost knocked me over. No observing bystander offered to help or asked if I was okay. I remember feeling very ashamed that they had witnessed the assault, as if I had somehow deserved it. Both of these events happened back in the 1980s, when stuff happened to young women on the street all the time and you just dealt with it. Yes, those were bad experiences, I thought, but whew, lucky me, I was never forcibly and painfully penetrated by a callous man who got away with it.
Then, in the early sleepless morning of November 9, I remembered that I had been. It happened forty years ago. The man who got away with it was a gynecologist.
Forty years ago, my mother took me to the office of a doctor I initially thought I’d name in this article (he’s likely dead). However, I discovered his son, or a guy with the same name and a “junior” after it, still practiced gynecology in the same small suburb. One must think twice about naming perpetrators in our current climate. A man's good name is his greatest treasure.
I was fifteen and hadn’t menstruated yet. Although both my mother and grandmother had had their first period at eighteen, it was deemed necessary I be checked out to make sure I wasn’t dangerously defective. My mother said this man was the best gynecologist in town. She was a nurse and her friend from nursing school had worked for him for years.
Before the physical exam, I was sent alone into the doctor’s office. He asked me, very brusquely, a series of questions, which included, “Have you had sexual intercourse?” Nervous to start with, I was taken aback by such an abrupt question and didn’t answer. The doctor glared at me over his bifocals. “No,” I choked out, my shame in the midst of the Sexual Revolution having more to do with never having had a boyfriend at my advanced age. I had a feeling he didn’t believe me. Perhaps he did later.
In the examination room, we were joined by a nurse. She closed the door and stood there impassively. I know now this is the law to prevent misconduct, but it felt to me at the time that she was stationed there to keep me from escaping. I undressed and lay down on the table. I heard the doctor say, “Do we have a small speculum?”
“No,” the nurse replied, “should I get one?”
The doctor seemed impatient. “I’ll just use this one.”
Suddenly a searing pain shot through me as something cold and hard was pushed deep between my legs. I cried out and my hips thrust up off the table and twisted reflexively, as if my body was trying to get away from the intrusion.
“Relax,” the best-gynecologist-in-town barked. “Keep still. I can’t examine you if you’re moving around like this.”
I tried my best to remain still through the pain, but my body was still jerking and I heard myself moaning, ah, ah, ah. It really hurt.
“Don’t make so much noise. It’s not that bad." Then he said to the nurse, "Help me.”
She came over and took my hand, which was reassuring, but also pressed my arm and shoulder down against the table to hold me in place. “Just relax,” she repeated.
The doctor finished and walked away without another word, although afterwards in his office, he did tell my mother there was nothing physically wrong with me that he could tell at that point.
In the car on the way home, I told my mother that the examination had hurt a lot and the doctor had yelled at me to keep still and be quiet. Actually, I said, he was pretty mean to me and I never wanted to go back to him. She was not happy about what happened, but she said the man was an excellent doctor and a top surgeon, but he had a gruff bedside manner and might not have been the best choice for an inexperienced girl. She discussed it with her friend who worked at that office, but while they thought it was unfortunate for me, they gave him the benefit of the doubt. He was known to be moody and was probably having a bad day.
My mother did take me to another doctor a few years later and explained that I’d had an unpleasant experience at my first examination. This doctor was gentle. He used a smaller, warmed speculum and explained every step at a slow pace. But from my perspective, the horse was already out of the barn. Since I’ve been able to choose for myself, I’ve always gone to women gynecologists.
Yet for forty years I never called that first experience assault.
We live in an interesting world where calling someone a rapist or a racist is treated as an offense, one as bad as the behavior that provoked the remark. To be honest, I don’t care what you call a situation where a sexually inexperienced teenager is quickly and forcibly penetrated and told to stay still and take it. I’ve finally named it to my own satisfaction.
For the record, I know I cannot legally call it rape. Through my mother, I “asked for” what that man did to my body. He would, perhaps, call it a routine examination with an annoyingly uncooperative patient. But allow me my truth that it was something far more than a “gruff bedside manner.” The doctor caused me pain for his own convenience and scolded me because he didn’t want other people in the office to hear my sounds of distress--a cover-up, if you will. The doctor did nothing “sexual” but he most assuredly abused his power. And it’s not sexual desire but the abuse of power, I appreciate so fully now, that is at the heart of rape culture.
And wow, it took me this long to realize why I inwardly recoil at the words “just relax” when a man says that to a woman in bed on screen or in life. There’s always something new to learn about ourselves, isn’t there?
I also want to say that the women who aided the doctor have my sympathy. Female nurses have suffered greatly because of male doctors’ general arrogance and, often enough, endured ongoing sexual harassment in the service of their profession. Mothers in particular have gotten a lot of personal blame for failings that are as much a result of their own societal repression and pain. My mother died an excruciating and unnecessary death courtesy of excellent doctors and a pharmaceutical company that cared more about profits than patients. But I do wonder—what were these nurses really thinking? How much did they have to numb themselves to how women are treated in the world?
Since I wrote the first draft of this essay on November 9, I’ve learned that many women throughout America have been triggered about past sexual abuse by the presidential campaign and its result. We feel in our bodies the misogyny and dismissal of our basic rights to respect and safety. Many of us have been brought to tears, as I was. Many of us fear for the future. But at least we can name it now.
How does this all tie into erotica writing? Well, this is why it is extremely important that women and men are able and allowed to name their experiences, good and bad, “sexual” or otherwise, and give them meaning in their own lives. I hope there is a day when the law and the AMA will define certain acts in a way that does not re-victimize the victim. When many tell us that what erotica writers do is obscene or trivial, speaking and writing truthfully about the experiences those in power want silenced is always an act of courage.
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