Monday, January 30, 2017
Saturday, January 28, 2017
Thursday, January 26, 2017
by Jean Roberta
Over the years, I’ve read a lot of advice on how to write, what to write, and how to promote it. Some of that advice has been contradictory, while some of it might have been brilliantly relevant to current trends, and for particular writers who are not me.
During the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s, I was warned by sister-feminists that “porn” was a male writer’s genre, and that its goal was to reduce live women to objects, or sex toys without wills of their own. There was evidence to support this theory, and “jokes” about the sexual abuse of women have not disappeared from the culture. They probably never will.
However, I discovered that sexually-explicit fiction is as diverse as fiction in general. In fact, since most human beings secretly or openly want sex in some form, it’s hard to imagine a narrative about humans in which sex is absent. In some cases, the sex shows up in a central character’s dreams and fantasies. In nineteenth-century fiction, it often shows up in Latin/legal terms. (“They were caught in flagrante delicto.”) In “literary” fiction, the sex used to appear in euphemisms (“And that night, they were not divided”) and metaphors (“The earth moved”).
Since the sex is already there, I thought, coyly lurking between the lines, why not bring it out into the light so we can see it? If the sex is meant to violate the will of one or more of the participants, an explicit description makes that clear, and readers can respond.
Writing about sex felt thrilling when I first tried it. I knew that most of my relatives, not to mention friends, coworkers and other acquaintances, would probably disapprove and consider me misguided at best, but it was still a big relief to describe things I had actually done as well as things I had only imagined. Okay, I thought, call me a slut if you want, but if you never think about such things, why do you read my stuff?
The Erotic Readers Association (as it was called in 1998, when I joined) was a great source of support. Other members consoled me when I complained on-list that my stories seemed to disappear into the Bermuda Triangle when I sent them off to editors in response to calls-for-submissions. (My first three erotic stories had been “accepted” in the 1980s by a small publisher that mailed me a letter, then immediately went bust.)
I began getting stories published in anthologies, and I thought the thrill would never wear off. It never completely did, but as Lisabet has mentioned, books are more ephemeral now than we bookworms of the Baby Boom generation ever believed in our youth. Having dozens of erotic stories in anthologies has not made me famous on any level, nor has it provided a reliable income. Thousands of books are published each year, and most of them probably won’t be remembered in another generation.
Besides all that, as M. Christian has said somewhere (probably in a blog post), there are only so many ways to describe sex. Characters, situations and plots can be different in every story, but body parts are limited, and what can be done with them fits into a few categories. I grew tired of repeating myself, and I hesitate to go far beyond my own experience in describing elaborate scenes that might be physically impossible. (And on that note, unclear sentence construction can suggest that a character has three arms, three breasts, or three balls, or that two characters can grope each other from across a room. The logistics of a sex scene have to be carefully managed.)
My age has probably played a role in my desire to write about something other than sex. I doubt if I will ever completely turn off like a burned-out lightbulb, but I no longer feel as if I will just die if I don’t get some. And if I don’t need it desperately, it’s hard to convince myself that my characters do.
In short, I have begun to stray into other genres. According to those who advise writers to discover their “brand” and stick to it, this is a problem. If I have a brand at all, it is clearly erotic fiction.
During the past two years, I’ve written several stories that are not sexually explicit, and most are still unpublished. My story for an anthology that is meant to tweak the imaginary world of a famous horror writer was tentatively accepted, but I haven’t been offered a contract, and this project seems to have no clear completion date. I wrote a queer mystery story for a Sherlock Holmes-flavoured anthology, and I haven’t had a response yet. (In fairness to the editor, he probably hasn’t had time to make decisions yet.) I sent a fantasy story to an editor who said explicitly in the call-for-submissions that the anthology was not meant to include erotica. This editor sent me a flattering rejection (“This was an enjoyable read, but it’s not quite right for this collection”), so I sent the story to a speculative-fiction magazine that rejected it.
I feel as if I have started over. If I continue to write fiction without sex scenes, I will continue to send it to editors and venues that probably don’t recognize my name. The competition might be even more intense than it is in the erotic fiction market, though this is debatable.
I am grateful that the “Writers’ Block” I thought I had when I was responsible for a child and for too much unpaid work, while scrounging for a living, seems to be permanently gone. As Virginia Woolf put it so well, a woman writer needs a room of her own, and I now have several. And while I’m on sabbatical, I’m not distracted by the day job.
What I didn’t expect, and what writing coaches never seem to acknowledge, is that the Muse changes over time. For that matter, individual identity changes over time. As long as that is the case, I’m not sure how more “successful” writers (in terms of royalties and name recognition) manage to promote their “brand” for a lifetime without burning out. That seems to be one fate that ever-changing writers don’t need to fear.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
by Kathleen Bradean
For those of you who don't live in the western United States, it's hard to explain what this drought has meant to us. I live in Southern California, which either stole, swindled, or skillfully negotiated water rights years ago that make us the villains of the west (See the movie Chinatown for a glimpse into this). Northern California suffered far worse in the drought than we did simply because we'd been sold the rights to the rivers up north. They had to eat of paper plates for several years rather than run the dishwasher and limit showers to once or twice a week, again, for several years. We simply turned off our irrigation in our back yard and let everything back there die, but were still able to avoid penalties for over usage when we continued to water out front (albeit on a reduced schedule). But then, it started to rain. Northern California got the brunt of it first and came out of drought months before we did, which seemed only fair. Now, it's pouring outside and several times this week I've had the rare (for LA) pleasure of falling asleep to the sound of rain spattering on the patio.
Metaphorically, that's pretty much what happened to my writing the past few years. I simply couldn't write. I wanted to. I had a manuscript due, but there was nothing that could drag those precious drops of creativity from a dry well. Then, finally, something happened and I was able to write again. I wish I could tell you what it was. Nothing in my life circumstances changed. The horrible things are still dragging along, and the good things are also unchanged. For those of you suffering from writer's block, I wish I could offer you some magical solution, but I rally don't know what made it possible to write again.
Okay, maybe I do, but it's no magical bullet.
I forced myself to write. It didn't matter how crappy it was. Things can be rewritten, but only if there's something to rewrite, right? It wasn't a smooth return. I would write a sentence or two then take a month to get back to it. I took a stab at several opening chapters and discarded all of them. (This is, unfortunately, my writing style. It's wasteful and slow and awful and I don't recommend it to anyone.) Then I went to visit another writer and she gave me an amazing idea that I ran with for a while until I decided it wasn't going to work, but when you know something isn't going to work, you have to have a vision of why not and that's as close to an idea of what I wanted to do as I could find, so I tossed out those two chapters and began over again. Now I'm on the threshold of chapter three. It's a dam bursting in slow motion, perhaps like the infamous Great Molasses Flood in January 1919, only not nearly as quick.
It's relief to be writing again. Only now that I'm wading back into the waters, I'm remembering things about writing that I'd conveniently forgotten. Writing a novel is a hell of a thing. Every character is a moving part with their own motivations and personalities. It's not so easy to shove dialog into their mouths and make it seem natural, and they never seem to naturally do what they need to to move the plot along. Unless, of course, you've created the right character, in which case of course they're going to say and do those things you need them to. That means backing up and recasting parts, which is also a slow painful way to write that I don't recommend, so try to start out with the right characters.
The main thing I'd forgotten is how long it takes to write action. It's a quick little movie in my imagination that takes maybe ten seconds to play. Describing it in words takes forever. For-ev-er. But I hate it and I love it in ways that no non-writer could ever understand. It's like a rain storm after eight years of drought. I knew something was missing, but I didn't remember until the tortured drip-drop of words began to form lakes on my pages.
Posted by Kathleen Bradean at 12:00 AM
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Visit me at my blog Beyond Romance: http://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com