Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Dynamic Tension



By Lisabet Sarai

So what is the difference between erotica and porn?

Oh no! Not that old chestnut again! I’ve been a member of the ERWA Writers list for almost two decades. At least once or twice a year, some newcomer resurrects that question. Those of us who have been around for a while roll our eyes and grin to ourselves, already knowing how the discussion will go.

However, as I was thinking about my ERWA blog post for this month, I had an insight on this issue, which relates to writing craft.

Porn is easy. Erotica is hard.

I’m not saying that porn is easy to write. Though some people believe it’s a snap to throw together a great stroke story, I know that’s not true. Getting people hot and bothered takes talent and work, skill and imagination. This is true of erotica as well, of course, despite the disdain lavished on our genre by the literary establishment.

What I mean is that in porn, things are easy for the characters. The focus is on obtaining sexual satisfaction, the sooner the better. Readers don’t want the author to put obstacles in the way of the characters getting off. Hence, porn rarely features any significant conflict. The path from meeting to fucking is smooth and direct, with few if any stops along the way.

Erotica (and especially erotic romance), in contrast, thrives on obstruction. Erotica authors are more likely to put their characters through an emotional or physical wringer before the final consummation. Meanwhile, erotica readers tend to be more accepting of deferred gratification than readers of stroke fiction, in return for a richer and more complex narrative in which the characters overcome internal or external barriers in their journey toward release.

Conflict creates dynamic tension. It prevents the characters from rushing headlong into a sexual connection. As conflict keeps the protagonists apartor at least denies them complete satisfaction—their level of arousal increases. When the conflict is finally resolved, the resulting experience, both for the characters and the reader, can be far more intense than the problem-free hookup in a stroke story.

Classic theory categorizes fictional conflict as man versus nature (or God, or demon – super-human forces at least), man versus man, and man versus himself. I hate the sexist terminology, but agree with the general breakdown. I’ve read (and written) erotica that used all three categories.

K.D. Grace’s recent novel In the Flesh offers a wonderful example of the first type of conflict. Her heroine Susan falls under the sway of an evil but mercilessly seductive disembodied entity who uses her natural sensuality as a route to destroy her. In fact, the perilous lure of supernatural sex is a common theme in paranormal erotica. It would be all too easy for Susan to succumb; she fights her erotic urges because she recognizes the danger.

Daddy X exploits “man versus man” (or more accurately, man versus woman) conflict in his fantastic short story “Spy versus Spy”. Nicolai and Lilya have been sexual partners for years. Their long acquaintance and shared history means each is still aroused by the other. However, neither trusts the other—for excellent reasons.

Conflict internal to the character is perhaps the most ubiquitous type found in erotica. Characters are often torn between their own deepest desires and their beliefs about what is acceptable, healthy or normal. Remittance Girl’s controversial novella Gaijin illustrates this pattern in the extreme. Kidnapped and raped by a Japanese gangster, her heroine still finds herself aroused—and hates herself for those feelings. In Cecila Tan’s Wild Licks, we meet rock star Mal Kenneally, an extreme sadist who never has sex with a woman more than once because he’s worried he’ll do serious physical or psychological damage. Uncertainty about sexual orientation or identity—religious guilt—memories of abuse —fear of losing control—struggles with fidelity—sex is an emotional mine field.

We erotica authors regularly take advantage of that fact.

How is this relevant to craft? If you’re trying to write erotica (as opposed to porn), you need to consider the question of conflict. All too often I find that stories I read in erotica anthologies are really just vignettes. They may be well-written, but ultimately they consist of sex scenes and little else. They’re not really stories. (Belinda made a related point in her Editing Corner post a few months ago.) Other readers may enjoy these tales, but I find them flat and unsatisfying. When I read erotica, I want something more complex and challenging.

Please note that I do not mean to denigrate stroke fiction. In fact, my observation about conflict can be applied to this sub-genre as well. If you want to write one-handed stories (and I’ve definitely done so), you should probably avoid conflict. Your readers very likely do not want characters who agonize over whether or not to do the deed.

Actually, it’s funny. Sometimes when I set out to write stroke fiction, I don’t completely succeed, because my characters’ motivations become too complicated. A good example is my story The Antidote. I wrote this very filthy tale in reaction to the self-censorship required by my erotic romance publisher (hence, the title). I wanted to create something full of no-holds-barred sex scenes. Instead, I ended up with an arousing but rather heavy tale about sex, society and deceit. Erotic, but not the porn I was trying for!

The distinction, of course, is not clear cut. That’s one reason we veterans sigh when someone brings up the porn/erotica debate. There’s really no black and white answer, only (please forgive me!) shades of gray.

Whichever direction your writing leans, though, you should consider the question of conflict. Are you going to give your characters what they want right away, or make them jump through hoops? Your decision makes a big difference in your readers’ experience.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sexy Snippets for March

Sexy Snippet button


So I woke up this morning, looked at the calendar, and thought "OMG! It's Sexy Snippet Day!"  That's what happens when you get a short month like February!

Anyway, today's your monthly chance to share your hottest bits of prose with the world.

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.

Enjoy!

~ Lisabet

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Fifty Shades of Republican

By Donna George Storey

The movie Fifty Shades Darker was released just before Valentine’s Day. No one cares. The box office on opening weekend was slightly more than half of Fifty Shades of Grey. The quality of the second movie may be a factor. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson did not return to do the sequel, which lacks the humor and sizzle of the first film, critics say.

Then again perhaps we’ve lost interest in the fate of Ana and Christian because our nation is too busy navigating our own intimate BDSM relationship with a billionaire? “You’ll let me hurt you, because you love me, right?” he snarls gently. “Don’t resist! You’ll enjoy it. Now stop calling your Senators and let me put these handcuffs on you. Trust me, it'll be something terrific...”

Not sure how that’s been going for you, but I’m learning a lot about myself from this experience.

Indeed I find it fascinating that the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon of just a few years past is suddenly painfully relevant to our everyday lives. This month I’d like to share some lessons from E.L. James’ erotic novels that illuminate the power of fantasy, BDSM and billionaires.

Don’t Bother Fact-Checking A Fantasy

Do you remember all the dire warnings about Christian Grey as a stalker and a dangerously controlling personality? Therapists and cultural critics alike worried that the female fans of Fifty Shades of Grey would be fooled into thinking that the relationship between Christian and Ana was desirable and that these poor women would then seek out sociopathic narcissists who would abuse them physically and psychologically. Many more criticized the bad prose, the passive heroine and the inane plot lifted from Twilight. Anna J. Roberts even analyzed the novels chapter by chapter to show how silly, embarrassing and wrong the story was at every turn (her commentary is highly entertaining). BDSM aficionados pointed out that James’ grasp of power exchange is misleading and amateurish—indeed she has little, if any, personal experience in the kink for which she has become famous.

In other words, Fifty Shades of Grey was fact-checked by therapists, experienced authors and editors, and BDSM practitioners. In every respect, it was found lacking. Four Pinocchios all around.

The fans of the series didn’t give a fig. They loved the story, even if it was “bad” and “wrong.” Adding to the huge audience of true fans were the curiosity seekers. Thanks to them and a celebrity-driven press, Fifty Shades of Grey became—and still is, because I assure you I will get at least twice as many reads for this column as any I’ve written without “Fifty Shades” in the title—a code word for “exciting, kinky sex.” So what if the actual sex scenes in the book are far more vanilla than advertised? E.L. James is still a rich woman.

Mind you, how many of us would appreciate our fantasies being fact-checked? What are the chances that any given neighbor spying on you while you undress is a gorgeous sexpot who somehow knows your pleasure buttons intimately without speaking a word once you finally beckon him or her over to your boudoir? Most of us know this is unlikely to happen in real life, but there’s no harm done if we merely imagine idealized encounters without consequences in moments of privacy.

Yet problems do arise when fantasies are taken so seriously that, say, you vote for someone who promises you a health care plan that covers everybody and costs less and offers more benefits except it’s not single-payer because that’s socialism--and you actually expect them to deliver on the promise.

Therefore, let us take note from the Fifty Shades example, that a “good story” trumps harsh reality when the desire to believe is strong.

The Strict Father and the Republican Party 

The general consensus seems to be that Fifty Shades of Grey is just a standard Harlequin romance that wouldn’t have gotten a second glance except for the BDSM. Apparently the novels finally made it completely okay for the ordinary Jane to think sexual thoughts about cable ties and handcuffs. Unfortunately, this openness has also brought out a lot of misogynistic cultural “analysis,” which says as much about the commentator as the topic. The books’ popularity was seen by some as proof that women naturally want to be submissive because they find their new “equality” in society a burden from which they long to escape into the arms of a billionaire with a secret playroom full of canes and whips. In other words, the Freudians were right that women are intrinsically masochistic.

I’ll let Leslie Bennetts challenge this conclusion most eloquently in “Sex, Lies & Fifty Shades”:

“So when people pontificate about women’s intrinsic sexual nature, I find myself thinking: How do you know? How can we ourselves even know? From earliest childhood, women’s experience of sex is so inextricably intertwined with all forms of male control that submission is forever eroticized in more ways than we can possibly unravel. As females, we have been dominated physically, politically, socially, legally, and economically, and pop culture endlessly reinforces the message.”

So if it’s not that women just naturally like to be dominated straight from the womb, what could be the compelling appeal of BDSM to millions? I humbly present an alternate explanation for the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, and it has to do with the Republican party. I owe this insight to George Lakoff’s Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think.

Lakoff argues that conservatives in America believe in the Strict Father model of the family and by metaphorical extension, the Strict Father model of our government. In this traditional, patriarchal structure, the father/president has the primary responsibility for supporting and protecting the family/citizens. He also gets to whip their butts if they don’t follow his directions.

“He teaches children right from wrong by setting strict rules for their behavior and enforcing them through punishment. The punishment is typically mild to moderate, but sufficiently painful. It is commonly called corporal punishment—say, with a belt or a stick. He also gains their cooperation by showing love and appreciation when they do follow the rules. But children must never be coddled, lest they become spoiled; a spoiled child will be dependent for life and will not learn proper morals.” (Lakoff, p. 66)

Under the Strict Father moral order, humans are more powerful and important than animals and plants and the environment, adults are more powerful than children, and men are more powerful than women. Thus, if a woman challenges this hierarchy by assuming male privileges, she is threatening the natural order and must be punished. This explains why those who oppose government regulations on almost everything else are quick to legislate to control women’s bodies--and also why the environment is fair game for whatever we humans want to grab and exploit.

The liberal family ideal, in Lakoff’s terminology, is the Nurturant Parent model. In this type of family, parents of both sexes embrace empathy, nurturance, social ties, fairness and happiness in the family relationship. Parents earn their authority by acting kindly and fairly and setting an example for their children. Children are encouraged to express their needs and opinions. Men and women are equal. This model of the family has been gaining traction, particularly among younger baby boomer parents. The downside of nurturant parenting--and government--is that it’s hard work and involves self-doubt, constant negotiation, and expensive social programs.

The majority of American voters today are likely to have been raised in a family more closely resembling the Strict Father model. This is why conservative rhetoric about family values touches deep chords in so many Americans. Fifty Shades puts the focus on women’s experience of submission, but men, too, must deal with power hierarchies in every aspect of their lives. Those with a Strict Father worldview are especially intimate with hierarchy, authority and punishment for disobedience. Yet while hierarchical power relations start in the family, we find them flourishing in schools, in the workplace, the doctor’s office, the military of course, and pretty much any setting that you’ll find as the unifying theme for an erotica anthology.

Speaking of erotica, allow me to call in another expert to support my argument: Jack Morin, the author of The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Sexual Passion and Fulfillment. Morin introduced me to the idea of the “core erotic theme.” You can figure out your personal core erotic theme simply by identifying the sexual fantasy that is most likely to turn you on, especially when you’re having trouble getting aroused.

In my earlier review of Morin’s book, I mentioned that I found this quote relevant to literary erotica writers: “Many find it discomforting to tolerate the ambiguity of the erotic experience, to accept its mixed motivations, or to observe how the erotic mind has a habit of transforming one idea or emotion into another.”

Morin is describing the genesis of sexual fantasy. That is, our erotic minds take material from our actual experience--such as our family or religion-induced guilt about sex, our doubt about our desirability, or frustration about sexual limitations--and transforms it into arousing fantasies that address or redress or overturn the limitations of the real.  In erotic fantasies, we are often freed from the restrictions that rule our behavior in real life.  Lovers are abundant, orgasms even more so.  Even in the submissive role, the dreamer is always, in some fundamental way, in control of the situation as she or he manipulates all of the characters in the sexual drama unfolding on the imaginary stage. Our minds perform the magic of converting desire, humiliation, confusion and powerlessness into sensual pleasure and release.

In real life, there are always restrictions upon our desires and thus feelings of anger and powerlessness to manage in one way or another. No matter how powerful a Strict Father might be, there are always women, profits, federal employees and deals that elude his control. Although men have social privilege in the abstract, millions of individual men don’t experience those privileges for reasons of economic standing or ethnicity or any other quality that might lower status. We each have a complicated relationship with power, and a mind that readily translates these ambiguities into the language of fantasy. Fifty Shades of Grey was the first popular novel to give ordinary people the cover to explore more fully the intersection of power and sex—whether to enjoy it, condemn it or both.

George Lakoff’s Strict Father model is very helpful in understanding the conservative approach to family and government, but we must remember that both the liberal and conservative family models are essentially fantasies in themselves. Human patriarchs are never unassailable towers of strength and rectitude, nor are real-life nurturing parents always perfect models of kindness and equality. Both kinds of authority figures wield power they invariably abuse and both disappoint us.

Our current political situation has allowed us a naked glimpse of the abuses of power in government that is a disorienting blend of reality and fantasy that all too often bleeds into the surreal. However, when you involve another adult partner in playing out your fantasy, it is extremely important to get her or his consent at every step of the way. This is the difference between a purportedly pleasurable BDSM scene and assault and battery.

Where indeed will this unfolding relationship between our Strict Father leaders and our many Ana-like uncertain citizens lead America’s democratic experiment? Might Fifty Shades of Grey have the answer?

Does America Get A Happy Ending?

After much self-inflicted drama and misunderstanding (spoiler alert), Ana and Christian end their travails as a deliriously happy married couple with two adorable children. Their chief problem in life is getting the kids to sleep. Ana, just by being herself and also saving Christian’s sister from an evil Princeton-alum kidnapper, has “cured” Christian of his kink and healed his heart.

That’s the fictional version. So what about our real-life power-kink tale? How will the American people deal with the unprecedented challenges presented by our billionaire Master? Will we live happily ever after in the end?

I’ve decided to be optimistic. In this, too, let’s take our inspiration from E.L. James and move this plot as best we can away from dysfunctional obsession and toward a supportive relationship between government and citizen that honors our Constitution and the rule of law. The “how” this happens is, of course, the most important question for every story.

Yet unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, the citizens of the United States are the authors of this narrative. The ending of the story lies in our hands. Let’s make it good.

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, March 15, 2017

How much of the extraordinary do you require?

So how much do you need to be drawn out of your world to enjoy a book? Any book, any story? We all read popular fiction to escape the mundane cares and routines of life. But how much of a leap are you looking to take?

Folks who like police procedurals I think require a story to be severely grounded in reality. They're not looking for the primary detective to suddenly sprout wings. SciFi fans, however, are ready to plunge into realms utterly alien from our everyday world.

How about people who read erotica? They are a bit more difficult to pin down, because the genre itself spans so many other genres: erotic SciFi, erotic mystery, erotic horror. Some are only looking to satisfy a yen for fantasy. The anonymous man and anonymous woman who agree to a session of bondage in an anonymous hotel room. Readers don't need to know anything about either character; they just need to place themselves in the story and vicariously experience what the characters experience.

Perhaps one requires a bit of embellishment to that bare-bones trope. The man becomes a tycoon, the woman becomes the willing, or maybe just a tad reluctant sex slave of the man as they jet off to exotic locales.

It's the same trope, just better dressed.

But I've always wondered why a character has to have an extraordinary life to experience extraordinary eroticism. Maybe the idea is only people with access to wealth and power have access to the erotic. Who wants to read about Joe Everyman having sex with Mary Everywoman? What chance do they have to visit a penthouse, much less a penthouse bondage chamber?

But, you know what? I think the ordinary made extraordinary is what gives the eroticism pop.

They say, write what you know. Well, I don't know any tycoons. Nor am I acquainted with the sort of women who flirt with them.

What I know, where I'm from, is the realm of the blue-collar working class. So I tend to write protags who occupy street level. Some examples: a city health inspector with a suppressed domination urge, who falls into a relationship with a tough, Chinese-American police detective with a craving for humiliation.

Other working class protags include a baker and a long-haul truck driver, a few dozen cab drivers, and a stationary engineer (you know what a stationary engineer is, right?) Anyway, this stationary engineer and the love of his life are brought together after a bout of the flu and a case of diarrhea ... hers. He cleans her up after she loses control of her bowels and nurses her back to health. Eeeewww! Right?

Similarly, I concocted a sweet, shy lady plumber who gets loosened up in the shower by a young man who uses a home brew formula to rid her of the stink of sewage she had nearly drowned in.

Really? I bet you thought if it stunk it can't be romantic. Well, you're right. There's nothing sexy about diarrhea. But, every so often, unless you're a romance novel tycoon, diarrhea happens and sewage exists, and most folks make a living at street level and get their hands dirty ... and not just their hands.

But even people like these can have a transcendent moment, an epiphany of passion and the erotic. And the grit under their nails might just be the magic dust that makes it all seem real.

Just sayin'




Saturday, March 11, 2017

Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker: PENIS, COCK, DICK, MEMBER, ROD, ETC. By M.Christian

In case you might be wondering what I've been up to lately, check out this link to the articles I've been doing for the great Future Of Sex site. Other things brewing, but writing about the sexuality of tomorrow has been a blast!



PENIS, COCK, DICK, MEMBER, ROD, ETC. 

Erotic writing isn't any different than any other form of writing: you still need a plot, characterization, description, a sense of place, suspension of disbelief, and so forth.  Thinking otherwise will only put training wheels on your writing, which – believe me – readers and editors can easily pick up on.  If you sit down and try to write a damned good story, that happens to be about sex or sexuality, the result will generally be much finer artistically than an attempt that's just tossed off.  The instant you approach a story as just anything, you'll demean yourself and the reader. The bottom line is that there really isn't much of a difference between a great erotic story and any other genre's great story.
One difference between erotica and other genres is that erotica doesn't blink: in just about every other genre, when sex steps on stage the POV swings to fireplaces, trains entering tunnels, and the like.  In other words, it blinks away from the sexual scene.  In erotica you don't blink, you don't avoid sexuality; you integrate it into the story.  But the story you're telling isn't just the sex scene(s), it's why the sex IS the story.  Something with a bad plot, poor characterization, lousy setting, or lazy writing and a good sex scene is always much worse than a damned good story full of interesting characters, a great sense of place, sparkling writing and a lousy sex scene.  The sex scene(s) can be fixed, but if the rest – the meat of the story itself – doesn't work, you're only polishing the saddle on a dead horse.
Aside the lack of blinking, the other difference erotica and other genres is repetition: a lot of people preach that it's poor writing to use the same descriptive word too many times in the same section of writing.  In other words:
The sun blasted across the desert, scorching scrub and weed into burnt yellow, turning soft skin to lizard flesh, and metal to rust.  Outside LAST CHANCE FOR GAS, the radiation of the explosion had turned once gleaming signs for COCA-COLA and DIESEL into rust-pimpled ghosts of their former selves.
Parked outside LAST CHANCE, there was a rusted pickup collapsed onto four flat tires, the windshield a sparkling spider web under the hard white light of the sun's explosion.
That wasn't terrific, but the point is – aside from the poor metaphor of the sun as an explosion – the word rust springs up a bit too much.  It's not that bad a description, but having the same word pop up repeatedly comes off as lazy, unimaginative, or simply dull.  To keep this from happening, many writing teachers and guides recommend varying the descriptive vocabulary.  Now you don't need to change rust to corrosion or decay or encrustation once you've used it once in a story, but if you need to use the same kind of description in the same paragraph or section, you might want to slip in some other, perhaps equally evocative, words as well. 
But let's go onto that exception for erotica.  In smut, we have a certain list of words that are required for a well-written erotic scene: the vocabulary of genitalia and sex.  If you follow the Don't Ever Repeat rule in a sex scene, the results are often more hysterical than stimulating.
Bob's cock was so hard it was tenting his jeans.  He desperately wanted to touch it, but didn't want to rush.  Still, as he sat there, the world boiled down to him, what he was watching, and his penis.  Finally, he couldn't take it anymore.  Carefully, slowly, he lowered his zipper and carefully pulled his dick out.  Unlike a lot of his friends, Bob was happy with his member.  It was long, but not too long, and had a nice, fat head.  Unlike the rods his friends rarely described, his pole didn't bend – but was nice and straight.
It's another bit of less-than-brilliance, but, hopefully, you'll get the idea: if you follow the non-repeat commandment, you'll quickly run out of words to describe what the hell's going on in your story.  With women's anatomy it gets even worse: I've read a lot of amateur stories that go from cunt to pussy to quim to hole to sex ... somehow turning a down-and-dirty contemporary piece to a story that should be called Lady Rebecca and the Highwayman. 
It's more than perfectly okay to repeat certain words in a story – especially an erotic one – if other words just won't work, or will give the wrong impression (is there anything less sexy than using hole or shaft?).  My advice is to stick to two or three words that fit the time and style of the story, then rotate them: cock to dick, pussy to cunt, etc.  Some words can also be used if you feel the story is getting a bit too thin on descriptions  – penis, crotch, groin, etc. – but only if kept to a very dull roar. 
One of the best ways to avoid this problem is to describe parts of the character's anatomy rather than using a simple, general word.  For example, lips, clit, glans, balls, shaft, mons, etc.  Not only does this give you more flexibility, but it can also be wonderfully evocative, creating a complex image rather than a fuzzy impression of the party going on in your characters' pants.

The bottom line is what while there is a core similarity between a good erotic story and any other genre, there are a few important stylistic differences – and, as the old saying goes: viva la difference!


Scope/Research/Logic


by Daddy X

                                        

Scope is a quality I look for in a read. When I engage with a book, I want more than just the story. I want to know what the story implies and impacts in a larger sense, how it relates to fundamental cause and effect.

When our mind wanders, one thought follows another, establishing a kind of sense to us, a logical progression incorporating our own experience, knowledge and reason. Problem is, to someone else our so-called logical progressions may not make sense. Plotting a path of logical thought can be a quite personal thing. If our reader knows something about a subject, it is perfectly possible for them to fill in connective blanks supplying their own experience. But how do we supply just enough correct information to lead the reader to what they suspect are his/her own conclusions?

Perhaps a few examples will more effectively explain this tie-in of scope and logic:

When I read Simon Winchester’s “Krakatoa”, a non-fiction work, not only did I learn how big the explosion was in 1883, how it reckoned to be the loudest noise humans have ever experienced. I learned that the blast was heard in Australia, all the way from Indonesia. It affected the skies for years, creating lower worldwide temperatures. The eruption launched eleven cubic miles of the planet into the air. I learned that there was no dawn in the area for three days

I also learned the workings of the geological structure of the inner earth, below the crust we live on. How currents of molten metamorphic rock constantly flow in predictable patterns over millions of years. How these destructive vents we call volcanoes, though devastating in violence, are actually relief valves, periodically releasing pressure that if not checked, would result in much bigger cataclysms.

I learned that the eruption of Krakatoa could have been connected to the first known act of Islamic extremism. The notion that the world was ending made earthly matters no longer relevant.  How it all fits together. Logical cause and effect—backed by history and research.

Winchester does his due diligence. Research, research, research. In this case, research is certainly an indispensible tool.

Another book, this time fiction, Smilla’s Sense of Snow was a mixed read for me. Popular back in the 90’s, they made a film (which I didn’t see) of the screenplay. Although I read it at least twenty years ago, the conflicting impressions are still clear.

Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg began as an all-encompassing read. The first person MC, an immigrant female investigator, is working a murder in Denmark. While relating her story, the history of her mother’s native land and people comes alive with facts and anecdotes about the Greenland culture and how they fare socially when transported to Europe. Her people are described to fit within the sturdy genetic and cultural stock of our far northern Inuit tribes.

(Consider the village in “The Highbottom Affair”, available in “The Gonzo Collection” for a fuller, more fanciful description of these people.)

Those tangential drifts didn’t detract from either the flow of the story or a reader’s attention. Hell, it was one of those books that one resents any time not spent reading. The book had scope. Everything happening on the ground coincided with the MC’s drifts of whimsy. In the first half.

Unfortunately, at one point, the story turned around on its face. It was as though another writer (a not-too-bright one) had pushed the author away from the word processor and took over, turning the story into cheap sci-fi deep-core earth bullshit run-of-the-mill pap.

 If it sounds like I’m angry about that—I was. Although I got over it—at the time I felt as though something had been stolen from me. A stellar read had been bastardized and I still don’t know why. Maybe they ran out of info? Not enough research to get through the book? So they piled it all up front and filled in the rest for readers with a double-digit IQ? Man, was I pissed!

Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” really did deserve its Pulitzer. Not only was the story wondrously compelling, her research seemed faultless. Being in the antiques trade, I saw that her impeccable references to art history and enlightened attention to aesthetics appeared to represent a tremendous amount of knowledge.

But did it really? Can authors, using selected and sometimes subtle facts and hints, fake that knowledge? Can we give ‘em a little that seems like a lot? Give the reader enough so that their own logical thought progressions will provide veracity? This is fiction, after all.

The idea of research is daunting, and for me, not much fun. Writing is fun. But what constitutes the correct level of inside info to convince a reader? Yet not get weakened by inaccuracies or omissions? How to work those subtleties to our advantage as a writer? I know there’s no substitute for knowledge, but can we fake it in fiction? Is there some fine line that can be walked? Anybody have a process?

What would one even name that skill?