Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Free Lunch in the Secret Cave

by Jean Roberta

Queers Were Here: Heroes and Icons of Queer Canada, edited by Robin Ganev and R.J. Gilmour (Windsor, Ontario: Biblioasis, 2016).

This book is a charming little anthology in which a group of “queer” Canadians answers the question: Who were your role models when you were “coming out?” One of the editors teaches history in the same university where I teach English, and I attended the local book launch.

In the introduction, the editors explain: “Our guiding purpose was the conviction that queer pioneers who challenged the dominant culture and fought for greater tolerance needed to be remembered and celebrated.” It seems that the 1980s were a crucial decade for most of the contributors, as they were for me. (I “came out” then too). Most of the contributors seemed to have been drawn to the “gay scene” in Toronto when they were young, and I recognized their references, even though Toronto seemed as far away from my prairie town as San Francisco or New York City.

The contributors are both male and female, and none of them emphasize the differences between gay-male and lesbian culture, but the differences are clear. Much of the urban “gay culture” described by the men seems exclusive to them.

This book fits into a pattern of recent histories of LGBTQ life in Canada since 1969. All of them discuss the long-term influence of the Omnibus Bill that was passed that year (under a previous hip, sexy Prime Minister, father of the current one), a sweeping piece of legislation which decriminalized sex between men throughout Canada, among other reforms. And of course, no book on “gay” life could avoid mentioning The Plague: the trickle of AIDS deaths in the early 1980s that soon became a flood.

Both these events left lesbians fairly untouched, except as concerned bystanders. In that sense, these events were parallel to the U.S. government’s drafting of young men into a war of imperialism in the 1960s, which supposedly inspired the rebellions of the Baby Boom generation and motivated American families like mine to move to Canada. I was a teenager at the time, but I didn’t need to “dodge” the long, uniformed arm of Uncle Sam. I was a girl.

Here in Canada, the Omnibus Bill has been described as another thing that helped to define a generation. Like the Stonewall Riots in New York City in the same year, the bill paved the way for “gay rights” by modifying (not completely ending) the legal persecution of male-male sex in Canada. This change was groundbreaking, but it had no direct effect on women.

Female-female sex has never been mentioned in the Canadian Criminal Code, which had its roots in Victorian England. There is an anecdote that Queen Victoria refused to sign a bill which would have criminalized sex between any two or more people of the same gender on grounds that “ladies wouldn’t do that,” but I have my doubts. I suspect that the gentlemen who wrote that legislation simply thought that whatever sexual games women could play with each other were unimportant (even if unladylike), and should therefore remain unnamed, even as a crime. At that time, few women had the rights of adult citizenship, so the law-makers probably assumed that improper behavior among girls or women could be privately dealt with by fathers or husbands.

Regarding the Plague, various writers and lecturers in queer venues in the 1980s tried to frame AIDS as a threat to everyone on the margins of society. An earnest lesbian acquaintance once tried to convince me (during a long car ride) that we should all start using dental dams and gloves in bed with each other because transmission of the virus from one female body to another had not been disproved. While I admired her good intentions, I felt as though she were advising me on how to protect myself and my dates from hurricanes and earthquakes, none of which happen on the Canadian prairies.

The Plague reached my town several years after I first read about its effects in larger cities, and I was sincerely upset when it destroyed the lives of men I liked and respected. I was disturbed when I read about the effects of AIDS on heterosexual women (or those who couldn’t avoid unprotected sex with men) in African countries. In the 1990s, I joined a drama group, directed by my sweetie, that went into schools to perform educational skits about HIV prevention. I wished there was more I could afford to do.

Nonetheless, the Plague didn’t seem any more universal in the world than a hurricane slamming into a Caribbean coast. Where were all the HIV-positive womyn-loving womyn? Where was the evidence that AIDS-related deaths were cutting a swathe through the Amazon Nation?

I came to realize that lesbian sex (not to be confused with lesbian life) is the free lunch that we have all been told does not exist. Women don’t get each other pregnant, except when this is mutually desired, and one woman wields a turkey baster. Even then, the sperm has to come from someone else. Women are less likely to spread sexually-transmitted infections to other women than any other sexually-defined population. Although lesbians, even in Canada, have faced discrimination based on gender identity and general nonconformity, sexual activity between women here has largely occurred below the radar of police intervention.

The relatively conflict-free nature of lesbian sex becomes clear to me when I am deciding what kind of sex to describe in a story. Conflict in some form seems necessary to move the plot along, and in some scenarios, it’s easy to find. Sex between men and women can result in unwanted pregnancies, as well as disease. Women have reasons to fear violence from men. Men have reasons to fear manipulation from women.

Sex between men seems much less stigmatized now than it used to be, but HIV is still around. Plus there is still a feral, homophobic, straight-white-male subculture which seems especially dangerous now that it is less socially accepted than before. I don’t want any of my gay-male friends to seem too obvious among strangers.

Conflict between women in an erotic story usually has to come from something other than their sexual orientation. A story about the seduction of an innocent maiden by an experienced dyke is likely to seem unbelievable if set in the current era. How many young women, fresh out of high school in the 21st century, are unaware that sex between women is possible? How many are inclined to faint when they figure it out? (Fainting from pleasure seems like a different thing.)

I sometimes wonder why more erotic writers, of various genders and sexual inclinations, haven’t focused more on lesbian sex as a set of activities with a high ratio of immediate pleasure to negative consequences. Maybe it’s because lesbians are still often seen (if at all) as a subset of some larger demographic.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Pop!

by Kathleen Bradean

We live in bubbles nowadays. Social media makes it so easy for us to silence voices that annoy us. I am so guilty of this that I can't point fingers. The band director of my high school friended me on FaceBook a while ago. When I was tempted to reply to one of his diatribes about opioid addicts being weak by reminding him of the bottle of vodka he kept in his desk in the band room, I decided to block him rather than engage. Friends continue to speak to him, to try to soften his dogmatic view of the world and fact check all the nutter memes he posts. I don't know if they have more patience, lower blood pressure, or a sunnier view of humans than I do. Although, bless them, at least they have the stamina to keep the channels of communication open.

Bubbles are meant to be fragile. Easily pricked. But what I'm seeing is a calcification. Flimsy, transparent walls are becoming fortresses.

One of the most troubling turns in recent years - for me - is how the left responds to the right. Speakers at university campuses are either uninvited or met with violent protests. Weather or not the protesters are part of the campus community or not is a different discussion.  Freedom of speech is under attack from all sides. And to be clearly biased about it, after years of watching science and health education under attack in schools, I expect that sort of thing from the right, but the left was supposed to embrace and protect free speech. How could they betray that idea so easily? How can they be so intolerant and not see the irony of it?

I guess the answer is "two sides of the same coin." The sins of one extreme are reflected in the other. People are people. No matter what tenets they follow, some will chose to express it violently, many will blindly report memes without fact checking, and some will gradually grow quieter as they wait for all this ugliness to blow over. The last group includes me. Unfortunately, sitting it out isn't really an option anymore. I was in short-selling for a good swath of my professional career, so I definitely have a streak of "Let's wait to see how bad this can get while we eat popcorn" gallows humor, but even I know that mindset leads to such dire circumstances that dramatic implosion ends up being the only remaining option. While that's interesting to watch when it's a stock, when it's your country, it isn't so amusing.

This matters to erotica writers. The right has been trying to shut us down on moral grounds for decades. Heck, Utah recently declared porn to be a public health crisis, which is the new spin on "We consume more porn than any other state, so we know what we're talking about when we say we have to control your access to it." But there are stirrings on the hard left about safe spaces and trigger warnings and appropriation that are just as effective at silencing speech and art.

FaceBook isn't the only enabler. Google uses its logarithms to bring up search results tailored to my previous choices, so I see less of the whole world with every click. I'd love to chat with their programmers about what they're doing. It's fine to figure out that I like a certain type of shoe and change suggestions accordingly, but politics should be treated differently. Instead of showing me further extremes, how about pointing all of us to the middle? Even that isn't enough though. When we meet there in the middle, we have to start listening, even if we vehemently oppose what is being said.

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." ~~ Evelyn Beatrice Hall

"...Especially if it's smut." ~~ Kathleen Bradean

Monday, April 17, 2017

We've Moved!

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You'll find all your favorite contributors and features at the new Erotica Readers & Writers Association website, here:


Visit us frequently for incisive and provocative posts about writing, sex and society.



Thursday, April 6, 2017

Swifties Revisited

 By Ashley Lister

 More than three years ago on this blog I mentioned the swifitie. Because I still think it's a lot of fun, I figured it was time to revisit this writer-friendly parlour game.

Tom Swift was the central character in a series of books produced between 1910 and 1933, the majority of which were attributed to author Victor Appleton.  One of the characteristic (and much parodied) features of the narrative in these stories was the speech attribution. These attributions, usually adverbial, have become the source of an entertaining parlour game where the attributive adverb has to be linked to the content of the sentence, usually with a pun.

“We must hurry,” said Tom swiftly.
“I’m working as a security officer,” she said guardedly.
“I have a cold,” he said icily.
“Do you want to see my pussy?” she purred.
“But I asked for a cabernet sauvignon,” Tom whined.
“I was just looking at pictures of my mother,” Oedipus ejaculated.

Take a shot at producing a small handful of your own swifties in the comments box below. It goes without saying that these swifties are entertaining as a writing exercise, and a great way for warming up your pen hand and getting words on the page, but they should not enter into serious attempts at fiction unless you’re determined to stop your readers from enjoying your work.

I genuinely look forward to reading your swifties.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Editing ... Was it Good for You?


I love editing. Always have. I know many writers don’t share the love, but I think editing is one of the sexiest parts of the writing process. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that, for me, if the editing process doesn’t feel like good sex, then I’m not doing it right. 

Take it off!

Since I’m not precious with my words, one of the first, and probably easiest parts, of editing is taking it off. What I mean by that is stripping my WIP, undressing it, getting rid of unnecessary paragraphs, sentences, phrases, even whole chapters -- anything superfluous or repetitive. I need to be sure I don’t repeat what’s already been said or what doesn’t need to be said. I need to trust my readers’ intelligence. They’ll get it the first time. Readers are as anxious as I am to get on with it, to get to the good stuff. That means I need to pop the story’s cherry and move on to the main act. So my first editing goal is to undress my work, get it down to the story beneath, to what really matters, what will turn my readers on. My job, at this point, is to expose that story and then let it seduce me. If it can’t seduce me, then it’s not very likely to seduce my readers.


Tweak, Touch and Play

Once I can see what’s underneath, what’s really there, then I can begin tweaking, touching-up and playing. This is the time-consuming part. This is the point at which every single word matters. I learned how important each word is by writing shorter stories. When you have only 2K, every word has to matter – even more so with something as precise and boiled-down as poetry. Writers of novels – myself included sometimes forget this because we have a whole novel’s worth of words to play with. This is the point at which I remind myself that I’m making love to the story, and I want my readers to be seduced by what I’ve written. Every word is an erogenous zone. Every phrase can be stimulated and heightened and engorged until it literally bursts with meaning, with intrigue, with seduction for the reader.

Beware of Distractions  

I don’t want phones ringing or knocks on the door from the mailman when I’m having sex or when I’m editing. I don’t want anything that will pull me out of the moment. I especially don’t want anything that will pull my readers out of my story. That includes distracting words, actions that are out of character or excessive use of words and phrases. (My inner goddess definitely frowns on that sort of thing.) That also includes replacement words. I’m far less likely to be pulled out of the story by multiple uses of breast, and tits than I am by globes, orbs, mounds, hillocks. Fingers, fingers, fingers, please! Digits are for numbers and for anatomy lessons. If I can’t find a word that won’t distract the reader from the seduction, then I’ll try to rephrase. 

Exploration

While exploration is a part of the tweak, touch, and play process, it’s also the place where I discover hidden meanings, hidden tidbits, sometimes whole bits of story that need to be teased and written or rewritten and brought into focus. I can’t count the number of times I’ve discovered depth in my characters, secrets, quirks, emotions I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t made the effort to make love to my story during the editing process. Exploration is searching out the little moles, the scars, the sensitive spots that turn the story – and the reader -- on.


Bring it to Climax

All of this effort is heading for the big climax, the pay-off -- the story version of the Big O. While that’s true, the story is
also about the journey, making it last, sustaining the pleasure and building it. The biggest part of editing, for me, is making sure that the journey, the tweak and touch and play are so gripping to readers that they’ll want it to last just a little longer, just a few more pages. I don’t know about you, but on a great read, I find myself slowing down near the end because I don’t want it to end. I want to make it last, even as I can’t wait for the pay-off. I need to have that experience while editing my own work or how can I ever expect the reader to have it? I need to feel that journey to the very end, right down to the blaze and fireworks of the climax. After it’s over, when I’m basking in the afterglow, I need to feel slightly bereft as the experience lingers in my mind, hopefully, long after the fact.

If I feel that way at the end of the editing process, then I’m confident I’ve done my job as a writer, and it’s now time to lean back on the pillow, have the imaginary cigarette and ask my readers, ‘was it good for you?’

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Playing in Someone Else's Garden

by Jean Roberta

My actual posting date was March 26, but my post wasn't ready then, and someone else's post conveniently appeared. I hope I can slide this into an available date.

One aspect of sexually-explicit fiction that doesn’t seem to be discussed much is its connection to parody (or in some cases, libellous caricature), or imitations of work that is usually taken more seriously. Sex is a funny activity in some literary traditions, dating back to Lysistrata (ancient Greek comedy from approximately 450 BC). The British tradition of the Christmas pantomime is always advertised as family-friendly, but there is usually a “Dame” (over-the-top female character played by a man in drag) and a lot of double-entendres intended to amuse the adults while going over the heads of the children, who are entertained by the fast-moving plot, which often occupies the same territory as a Walt Disney movie: a familiar story such as Aladdin or Cinderella. Adding sex (even in the form of mildly naughty suggestions) to a traditional story tends to debunk its seriousness.

In the lead-up to the French Revolution of the 1790s, Queen Marie Antoinette was apparently a favourite subject of satirical writing, some of which focused on her “furious womb” or supposed inexhaustible appetite for sex with people other than her husband, the last of the French kings named Louis. The purpose of this type of porn was clearly to ridicule the contemporary Court, and it didn’t help that the Queen Consort was originally a foreigner from Austria. I don’t know how much influence this kind of underground fiction had on the actual revolutionaries who stormed the Bastille and dragged much of the aristocracy (including the royal family) to the guillotine, but it certainly didn’t encourage the kind of respect for the hereditary upper class that lingers on in Britain to this day.

There is a parallel tradition in porn films, which I discovered when I held a position on the local film classification board in the early 1990s. Some porn films are deliberately based on popular mainstream movies of the time, which is why I got to watch Edward Penishands, among other epics. The relationship between Hollywood and the porn industry seemed to be friendlier than that of Marie Antoinette’s detractors and the ancien regime. As far as I could tell, the people who produce visual porn often want to comment on popular culture, not necessarily to sneer at it.

Two literary traditions that have contributed to sexually-explicit art (both porn and more complex erotica) are fan-fiction (including “slash”) and tell-all paperbacks with titles like: I Was Joe Rockstar’s Sex Slave. When I was starting out as a sex-writer, just before the beginning of this century, I didn’t think I was influenced by either of those genres.

I learned about Kirk/Spock “slash” in the 1980s, and I was intrigued that some writers were willing to spend time and effort constructing a love affair between Captain Kirk and the half-alien Mr. Spock from the Star Trek TV series, even though stories about copyrighted characters couldn’t be “published” for sale. They could only circulate in the form of little ‘zines, and then on-line, among devotees. I liked Star Trek, but I didn’t feel moved to write about a male/male affair between two major characters since I didn’t have male plumbing myself, and didn’t think I was likely to get the details right.

In 2000, an anthology titled Starf*cker: A Twisted Collection of Superstar Fantasies was published by Alyson Publications. It was edited by a major sex-writer, Shar Rednour, who collected other sex-writers’ fantasies about actual people whom they hadn’t actually fucked, or vice versa. I was aghast. To this day, I don’t know why that book didn’t give rise to a flurry of lawsuits. This seemed like an updated version of eighteenth-century porn about Marie Antoinette.

I had already promised my Significant Other that I would never violate her privacy by describing her in my stories about sex. I thought I had even less right to describe sex scenes starring real people I had never met in person. I prided myself on being saner than a celebrity stalker.

However, the popular culture of today and yesteryear has a huge influence on sex-writing, and every literary tradition involves a certain amount of imitation. Anne Rice’s homoerotic vampires of the 1970s are clearly descended from the nineteenth-century vampires of Bram Stoker and Sheridan Le Fanu, even though every writer seems to have a slightly different take on the bloodthirsty undead. Writers with a distinct style and an appealing imaginary world tend to spawn imitators.

Over time, I wrote two stories based (at least loosely) on Lewis Carroll’s dream-like novel, Alice in Wonderland (1865), a BDSM fantasy based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” a story about a contemporary woman who composes raunchy little ditties in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan (who wrote comic operettas in late Victorian England), a lesbian fairy tale based on “The White Cat” by Countess d’Alnoy (circa 1690s, pre-revolutionary France), a modern lesbian threesome involving a version of the Shakespeare romantic comedy Twelfth Night for a Shakespeare-themed queer anthology, and a sexually-explicit story about the conception of King Arthur, based on the brief version in Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (from the 1480s, itself based on French sources).

After all this frolicking in the imaginary worlds of earlier writers, I was prepared to write something more clearly satirical, even if it didn’t include explicit sex scenes. In late December, I tried my hand at a Sherlock Holmesian mystery story which suggests more scandalous sex than it delivers. (Several women are found naked and murdered, but the thickening plot reveals something much different from Victorian conceptions of lust, adultery, or perversion.) I don't know yet whether this story will be published in the foreseeable future.

In the winter of early 2016, I read a call-for-submissions that had been cooked up by a publishing couple at an annual literary con in Baltimore, Maryland, named Balticon. The working title was "Inclusive Cthulhu" and the stories were to be based on the work of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). The editors asked for stories which would horrify Lovecraft himself by deliberately challenging his prejudices: racism, White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant chauvinism, class snobbery, misogyny, homophobia. The stories needed to be Lovecraftian in some sense. I wrote a story and sent it off. After several months, I was asked for revisions which I was glad to make (the revised version gives my plucky heroine a happier ending). I waited some more.

At last, the editors have sent out contracts and announced that the book, now titled Equal Opportunity Madness, is due to be launched at Balticon near the end of May 2017. I’ve never been to this con, and I would love to go. (Baltimore is the setting of the comic musical Hairspray, about the cultural Spirit of the Sixties. I experienced that as a teenager.) I bet Baltimore has good weather in the spring, and a trip could be inspiring.

Alas, I'm afraid to cross the border from Canada under the current political regime. Before I could board a plane, some new ban would probably be in place. As a Canadian citizen who was born in the U.S., I could be treated with suspicion even if I travelled with no electronic gadgets whatsoever.

I’ll just have to stay in my own real-life setting until the regime changes, while visiting others only in my imagination.
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