What dreams may come

Image by Anke Sundermeier from Pixabay

The vast room stretches two stories up to a sky-lit ceiling. The trainers bustle about in white leather miniskirts and heeled boots, their hair pulled back into severe pony tails that shimmer down their trim backs. The slaves are shackled to walls, or more accurately, to jointed cantilever frames that extend out from the walls and support all manner of interesting and embarrassing poses.

I am one of them, a novice, recognized by the minions of the mistress for what I am, enticed here by their veiled promises. I am naked, bound and gagged, unable to move. I am simultaneously aroused and terrified.

My trainer, a stunning brunette with crimson lips, approaches me with an enema bag. “You must be empty,” she says, “so the mistress can fill you.” I nearly come from excitement and terror.

The scene shifts to an outdoor café. My own master and the mistress drink espresso at a wrought iron table. I crouch at my master’s feet underneath, listening to their conversation. “She did well,” the mistress comments. “You’ve done a good job preparing her.” The pride I feel at pleasing her and showing off my master’s skill is almost more intense than my sexual desire.

* * * *

The above is a segment from a real dream. It’s not a fictional vignette concocted by my dirty mind—at least, not my conscious dirty mind. I’ve always had vivid dreams; I recall that my brother and I told each other our dreams when we were just kids. I tend to remember more of my dreams, I believe, than the average person, even though I don’t usually write them down.

I dream recurring landscapes: the cities of my youth morphed and mingled together, full of buses and trains and subways; a mansion with endless halls and stairways that I think derives from the Winchester Mystery House; an ocean-front resort during a storm, threatened by the gigantic waves; the rural town where I lived for more than twenty years. I dream repeating themes. I’ve been given the chance to return to college once again and I’m thrilled to be able to explore all the wonderful topics I had to pass up the first time around. I’m in college again and it’s finals week, and suddenly I realize that I’ve completely skipped attending several of my classes. Evil creatures, aliens or magicians or monsters, surround my house, while I try desperately to find a place to hide. And of course I dream of both my husband and the lovers from my past, as well as new women and men who tempt and torment me.

Sometimes I dream entire stories, with plots and characters who have nothing to do with me. In my dreams these days, I know that I’m a writer. I actually understand, while I’m dreaming, that there’s a narrative playing out on the screen of my mind and I try to remember the details when I wake. Often I do. For the most part, though, I haven’t managed to get these narratives out of my head and onto the page before they fade. Often I’ll remember the premise and the protagonists, but the emotion evaporates all too quickly. Once the excitement slips away, it’s hard to motivate myself to actually write down the dream. It seems stiff and empty.

I did write a poem based on the dream above. That dream was triggered by one of my rare reunions with my master. I’ve also got a hundred word “flasher” based on a dream:

Conversation with the Marquis

I dreamed of de Sade. He smiled gently down at me. “Come to me when you are ready.”

Pretending lightness, I replied, “I never said that I was interested in such things.”

“You need not say. I can see it in your eyes.”

I knew he spoke truly. When I looked at him I saw ropes biting tender flesh, instruments of steel and leather, candles, clamps, searing pain, scalding pleasure.

Suspended in awful desire, I fled. Waking, I found a volume of his tales by my bedside, inscribed with a single word.


I don’t think much of Freud’s views on dreams, but I do believe that they can carry truth. My dreams reveal to me my passions and my fears. They show me who I really am. They also fascinate me with their emotional richness and their sensory detail. John Crowley’s wonderful book Little, Big includes a character who spends as much time as she can sleeping, because she loves to dream. I’m not that extreme, but I’ve been known to wake in the middle of the night, go to the bathroom, then lie down again and resume a dream where I had left off.

I’ve also experienced a handful of dreams that I can only call prescient. In one, I sat by the hospital bed of a gravely ill former lover, trying to comfort him and ease his pain. I learned the next day that his father had committed suicide the night of the dream. In another, I dreamed that a dear female friend whom I hadn’t heard from in months was going to have a baby. Within two days, an email from me informed me that she was in fact pregnant.

Actually, my explanation for these experiences is grounded more in psychic communication over distances than in precognition. I’ve never dreamed a future that didn’t involve someone whom I cared about deeply. I suspect that there’s some sort of emotional vibration—electromagnetic waves of some sort—that can be transmitted between people who have a strong bond.

I do dream quite a lot about sex (surprise surprise). Sometimes very strange sex, involving hermaphrodites and detachable penises and public masturbation, sometimes nothing more than a glorious flirtation which cloaks mutual desire. In the last few years, for the first time (that I remember) I’ve started to have orgasms in my sleep. At least it feels that way. Of course, sometimes it feels like I’m flying, too.

Even though my dreams have been directly responsible for relatively few of my stories so far, I feel as though they nourish my imagination. I use bits and pieces of dream imagery all the time. And I have written a number of dream sequences which borrow the tone of my real night journeys.

I’ve been thinking about this blog post for quite a while. Last week, I woke from a dream that may well have been catalyzed by my pondering the topic.

* * * *

The blond young vampire sits on his motorcycle, his face serious. The air is heavy with erotic tension. “I’ve got to go,” he tells me and my girlfriend. “If I stay, I’ll hurt you.”

I take his hand and place it on my breast. He caresses me through my clothing. Desperate lust overwhelms me. I know that he feels it too, that it takes every shred of self-discipline he can muster to hold himself back. “Maybe you could hurt us a little,” I say, trying to tempt him, unable or unwilling to let go of this intoxicating desire.

I wake, wet and trembling, before he can answer.

Where Did the Time Go?

Over the summer, I attended my (GASP!) 50th high school reunion. I’ve adjusted to the shock of how many years have passed since graduation, and it was fun trying to identify old classmates that I hadn’t seen in years. After we got past the great lie that starts with “Gee, you look good!” some of us talked about what used to be. The passage of time might make you remember things as being simpler then, and perhaps they were because we didn’t have grown-up responsibilities, but I realized that some things in the world haven’t really changed.

In 1973, we had a Republican President (Richard Nixon), who authorized a break-in of the Democratic national headquarters to ensure his re-election in ’72. Hmm, a President tampering with an election to win a second term…what a dreadful notion! Following a Congressional investigation, Nixon resigned the following year rather than face impeachment and possible jail time. At least he knew how to take a hint.

Many of us who grew up in the late 60s/early 70s took an interest in ecology and the effects of air and water pollution on the environment. I attended school in the Cleveland area, and it was during this era that the Cuyahoga River caught on fire after years of pollutants being dumped into it. Environmentalists also began using the term Greenhouse Effect in reference to the deteriorating ozone layer and global warming. Fifty years later, we’re still paying the price and fighting the same battles regarding the climate.

Speaking of paying the price, the average cost of gasoline was 38.5 cents a gallon, up from $.34 the previous year. By the Spring of ’74 it had increased to $.55, due to the Middle East oil embargo. Remember gas rationing, something that hadn’t been done since WWII? Shortages of crude oil and fluctuating gas prices still remain a fact of life. I recall some economist predicting in the late ‘70s that gas would stabilize once it reached $1.00 a gallon. Riiiiiight!

On the lighter side, we got our music fix from AM radio, vinyl records (albums and 45s), and cassettes. FM radio was still the refuge of easy listening, classical music, opera, and NPR talk shows. That year, a bouncy little folk tune called “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree,” by Tony Orlando and Dawn, captured the Billboard number 1 spot.

Further down the chart, Jim Croce warned us to beware of a cat named “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” while Roberta Flack moaned about her man “Killing Me Softly with His Song.” She might have been referring to Marvin Gaye when he sang “Let’s Get It On,” Kris Kristoferson asking “Why Me,” or Paul McCartney and Wings performing the slow dance favorite “My Love.” Diana Ross extended an invitation to “Touch Me in the Morning,” while Carly Simon chastised someone with “You’re So Vain.” Rumor has it that she wrote that song about her one-time lover Warren Beatty. Listen to the lyrics and judge for yourself. For contrast, Elton John coaxed us to get down with “Crocodile Rock,” Billy Preston asked “Will It Go ‘Round in Circles,” and Vicki Lawrence told us about “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.” This was also the year that Bette Midler broke out with her update of an Andrews Sisters hit from the ‘40s, “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy.”

Broadcast TV via rooftop antennas was the primary form of home-based entertainment, since we were a few years away from cable and home video. We still delighted in hearing Archie Bunker yell “Stifle!” on the number 1 show, “All in the Family,” while Redd Foxx did a Black version of the character on “Sanford and Son.” All things being equal, Bea Arthur’s “Maude” put a feminist spin on topical events. The other top shows that year were “The Waltons,” “M*A*S*H,” “Kojak,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Sonny and Cher,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “Cannon.” Compare those to what we’ve been watching over the past few decades and see how our tastes have changed.

The too-hip-to-be-square comedy show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in” finally ran out of jokes after six years. Does anyone remember presidential candidate Nixon’s appearance in ’68, when he posed the question “Sock it to me?” ‘73 was also the first year for the soap opera “The Young and the Restless,” still churning out angst and sexual hijinks after 50 years.

One thing that has remained constant is our appetite for movies, and we had some great ones to choose from. The American box office was dominated by “The Exorcist” (the #1 movie), and “The Sting,” a reteaming of Paul Newman and Robert Redford that also renewed interest in Scott Joplin’s ragtime music. “American Graffiti” (#3 on the list) struck a chord with many of us, thanks to its plot about high school grads enjoying their last night at home before leaving for college and the real world. Love the soundtrack album.

The rest of the top ten consisted of “Papillon” with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, Redford and Barbra Streisand in “The Way We Were,” Clint Eastwood reprising Dirty Harry in “Magnum Force,” the Depression-era comedy “Paper Moon” (starring Ryan O’Neal and his daughter Tatum), and Roger Moore’s debut as James Bond in “Live and Let Die.” The list also included two unlikely films, both rated X—the controversial “Last Tango in Paris,” which nearly tanked Marlon Brando’s reputation, and “The Devil in Miss Jones,” a holdover from the porno chic era.

Some of the other flicks that brought us to theaters and drive-ins were “Walking Tall,” “Serpico,” “The World’s Greatest Athlete,” “Enter the Dragon” (Bruce Lee’s big screen debut), “High Plains Drifter” (Eastwood on horseback this time), “Dillinger,” “Save the Tiger,” “The Seven-ups” (a sequel to “The French Connection”), “Shamus” (Burt Reynolds trying to revive the private eye genre), Woody Allen’s “Sleeper,” and one that achieved cult status, “Soylent Green.” Bet you can’t remember the last line of that movie, screamed by Charlton Heston.

The Oscar ceremony that year was noteworthy for the stunt pulled by Marlon Brando. He was the favorite to win the best actor prize for “The Godfather.” Brando decided to boycott the ceremony as a protest against Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans, and to draw attention to the standoff at Wounded Knee. Rather than communicate this by sending a letter, Brando asked a little-known actress named Sacheen Littlefeather to appear on his behalf, and explain his reasons for declining the award. Her speech was not well-received.

Did you know that year marked the debut of Spenser, Robert B. Parker’s fictional private eye? His first caper was the novel “The Godwulf Manuscript.” Mickey Spillane continued his comeback with a bestselling action thriller, “The Erection Set” (yes, that’s the real title). We also read “Breakfast of Champions” (Kurt Vonnegut), “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” (Richard Bach), “Once is Not Enough” (Jacqueline Susann), and a little thing called “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman.

Speaking of debuts, although it sure didn’t look mobile, the first cell phone was invented by Motorola. The introduction of the Xerox 1200 Computer Printing System is significant as being the first commercial Xerographic printer used to create computer output. Never mind that it took up roughly a third of a standard office. The ‘73 Chevrolet Monte Carlo was crowned Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, thanks in large part to its “Euro-style ride and handling.” With nearly a quarter-million cars sold that year, the model set a new sales record for Chevrolet.

The World Trade Center opened that year, FedEx began operations, and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency was founded. In what was termed “The Battle of the Sexes,” Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in a televised tennis match attended by 30,942, the largest live audience to watch a tennis match in U.S. history. It was also seen by several million TV viewers around the globe.

That was the year the BIC lighter was first sold. The company boasted that it could be lit up to 3,000 times before wearing out. I don’t know if anyone actually counted. Television commercials told potential consumers to “flick your BIC,” something that is still heard today. The sexually charged slogan was an attempt to compete with the leading lighter manufacturer at the time, Gillette.

And that’s the way it was. On to the next 50 years!

Through whose eyes?

Image by Irina Gromovataya from Pixabay

Of all the craft issues that bedevil new writers, point of view may well be the most mysterious. Novices frequently receive critiques that accuse them of the dreaded sin of “head hopping”, without really explaining what this is or more importantly, why it can be a problem. Blog articles about point of view natter on about “deep first person” and “third person omniscient”, confusing things further.

Even experienced authors sometimes mess up, producing slips in point of view. For example:

Horrified by her faux pas, Maria stumbled through an apology, her cheeks reddening and her lips curving into an embarrassed smile.

What’s wrong with this sentence, you might ask?

The problem here is that Maria, who is the focus character – the character whose point of view we’ve adopted – would not be able to see herself blushing or smiling in an embarrassed manner. Only an outsider, another character, could perceive these details. The point of view has momentarily slipped away from Maria. I could have said that Maria felt her cheeks getting hot, without violating point of view. But as soon as the narrative steps outside Maria’s head, the POV has shifted.

Why is this undesirable? We’ll discuss that shortly.

You’ll find many technical discussions of point of view on the Internet. These may be helpful, but in fact the whole issue can be distilled into a single question:

Through whose eyes are we looking as the story unfolds?

Characters provide the emotional energy in a story. In romance, especially, we authors want our readers to understand and to identify with the protagonists. A common way to heighten this sense of identification is to show readers the world as the character experiences it, that is, to tell the story from the character’s point of view. Strong and consistent point of view can bring the reader into the character’s world, enhancing the sense of sympathy and connection.

Clean and controlled use of POV also supports plot development. Plots often turn on various sorts of secrets. If a POV character doesn’t know about a secret, neither does your reader. When events conspire to reveal the hidden information, your reader vicariously feels the same sense of surprise or dismay as the character.

Does this mean you should have only a single POV character? Not necessarily. Decisions about POV characters should be based on the story you are trying to tell and the reactions you are trying to evoke. A common strategy in romance is to alternate the POV between the hero and heroine (or between two heroes or two heroines – the different members of the romantic unit). This makes it possible to show how each character’s feelings are developing. It also helps reveal misunderstandings or differences in expectations, upon which the plot often depends.

In contrast, a story with a single POV character focuses the reader’s attention exclusively on that individual’s inner life. Other characters act as external forces. Their behavior and their motivations can only be understood based on the main character’s observations, assumptions and judgments.

If you do decide to alternate point of view characters, you should generally avoid switching the POV too frequently. This is what we mean by “head hopping” – when POV shifts from one character to another on the same page, or (heaven forbid!) in the same paragraph.

An extreme case of head hopping can introduce serious confusion. The reader loses track of what each character is perceiving and feeling. I’ve read books with such chaotic POV management that I truly couldn’t tell what was going on.

Even if the story flow remains more or less clear, head hopping usually has a negative effect on reader engagement. As noted above, we want our reader to identify with the POV character, to feel what the character is feeling. Frequent POV swings yank the reader from one character’s perspective to another, interfering with the development of empathy and understanding. This diminishes the depth and intensity of the reader’s experience – usually not something we want.

A rule of thumb is that if you want to switch to a new POV character, you should introduce a section or chapter break to signal this. Rules are never absolute, of course. If you have a good reason to violate this heuristic, then go ahead. However, it’s important to consider your intentions and goals when you make this sort of decision.

What about the question of first person versus third person narrative? Authors sometimes mix up this grammatical issue with the topic of point of view, but in fact the two considerations are mostly orthogonal. Just to clarify, a first person narrative uses the pronouns “I” and “me” (or occasionally, “we” and “us”). A third person narrative uses character names as well as pronouns “he”, “she”, “him”, “her”, “xe”, “hir” or whatever. The selection of first versus third person definitely affects the feeling of a story and possibly the level of reader identification, but you can have either single or multiple POV characters using either.

As an illustration, here is short passage from my erotic romance The Gazillionaire and the Virgin, in its original first person mode, then revised as third person. This novel is told in the first person with POV alternating between the hero and the heroine on a chapter by chapter basis.

First Person Excerpt (Rachel)

I decide to drive myself, and choose the BMW for its aura of unobtrusive luxury. One look at my red Lamborghini, I suspect, and Theo Moore would run away screaming. Cruising up to his attractive but unremarkable building at exactly six, I pull into one of the parking spots labeled “Visitors”. My pulse, I’m annoyed to notice, is elevated, and my cheeks feel hot. Do I look as flustered as I feel?

A quick check in the rear-view mirror reassures me. My understated make-up enlarges my eyes and shrinks my rather prominent nose. Gold-plated combs sweep my unruly curls away from my temples into a semi-elegant cascade. Matching gold earrings dangle from my earlobes almost to my bare shoulders. My strapless gown of teal satin hugs my bust and hips like it was made for me—which of course it was. I practice a confident but non-threatening smile. Good evening, Theo. I’m so glad you decided to come.

The minutes tick by, but there’s no sign of him. Should I climb up to his door and ring? Or wait for him to work up the courage to come out by himself? Does he realize I’ve arrived? Is he watching out his window? Or cowering in his room?

I get more annoyed by the second. I am considering honking the horn, which I know will embarrass him, when he appears on the second floor landing. I recognize him by his height and bulk. Otherwise, he’s transformed.

In the custom tailored tuxedo, he’s distinguished and elegant. The sleek black trousers cling to what are obviously powerful, muscular legs. The jacket highlights his broad shoulders and trim waist. Not fat, oh no! He moves with unexpected grace, as if the formal clothing bestowed a sort of gravitas to subdue his usual gawkiness. With his dark hair slicked back from his forehead, he looks like some international man of mystery. The spectacles just heighten the impression of intelligence and sophistication.

Third Person Revision

Rachel decided to drive herself, choosing the BMW for its aura of unobtrusive luxury. One look at her red Lamborghini, she suspected, and Theo Moore would run away screaming. Cruising up to his attractive but unremarkable building at exactly six, she pulled into one of the parking spots labeled “Visitors”. Her pulse, she was annoyed to notice, was elevated, and her cheeks felt hot. Did she look as flustered as she felt?

A quick check in the rear-view mirror reassured her. Her understated make-up enlarged her eyes and shrank her rather prominent nose. Gold-plated combs swept her unruly curls away from her temples into a semi-elegant cascade. Matching gold earrings dangled from her earlobes almost to her bare shoulders. Her strapless gown of teal satin hugged her bust and hips like it was made for her—which of course it was. She practiced a confident but non-threatening smile. Good evening, Theo. I’m so glad you decided to come.

The minutes ticked by, but there was no sign of him. Should she climb up to his door and ring? Or wait for him to work up the courage to come out by himself? Did he realize she’d arrived? Was he watching out his window? Or cowering in his room?

She got more annoyed by the second. She was considering honking the horn, which she knew would embarrass him, when he appeared on the second floor landing. She recognized him by his height and bulk. Otherwise, he was transformed.

In the custom tailored tuxedo, he looked distinguished and elegant. The sleek black trousers clung to what were obviously powerful, muscular legs. The jacket highlighted his broad shoulders and trim waist. Not fat, oh no! He moved with unexpected grace, as if the formal clothing bestowed a sort of gravitas to subdue his usual gawkiness. With his dark hair slicked back from his forehead, he looked like some international man of mystery. The spectacles just heightened the impression of intelligence and sophistication.

As you see, I can describe exactly the same scene in either first or third person. In both cases, Rachel, my heroine, is the point of view character. Everything described is through her eyes. In particular, when she’s evaluating her own appearance, she can do so only while looking in a mirror.

Note also the way she describes Theo, the hero. She has theories about his feelings and the reason for his lateness – but they’re just that, theories. When he does appear, she doesn’t have much insight into his inner state – that can be revealed only when we switch to Theo’s perspective. On the other hand, she can explain how he looks and communicate her own feelings in response – an obvious attraction.

The observant among you may have noticed that there’s another difference between the original passage and the revision – verb tense. The original is in the present tense. We are in Rachel’s head, and she is describing her observations and emotions in real time. The revision is in past tense, which is a more traditional choice.

I personally like first person present for erotic romance and erotica, because I find it imparts a sense of vividness and immediacy. It’s tricky to write, though, and some readers object to stories told this way.

I switched to past for the revision because third person present stories are rare and generally sound – well, weird. If I’d retained the first person, the excerpt would have started as follows:

Rachel decides to drive herself, choosing the BMW for its aura of unobtrusive luxury. One look at her red Lamborghini, she suspects, and Theo Moore would run away screaming. Cruising up to his attractive but unremarkable building at exactly six, she pulls into one of the parking spots labeled “Visitors”. Her pulse, she’s annoyed to notice, is elevated, and her cheeks feel hot. Does she look as flustered as she feels?

I don’t think this would be an effective way to tell a story, but I hope this demonstrates that not only is point of view independent of the first versus third person dimension, but it’s also independent of time.

Next time you’re worrying about point of view, simply take a deep breath and ask yourself: through whose eyes do I want the reader to be looking? Let the answer guide you.

Cult Classic Confessions

People tend to get attached to certain films, books, TV shows and music to the point of obsession. We find something we like and just can’t get enough of it. Facebook groups, fan conventions and online clubs sprout up over just about anything. For proof, look at things like “Game of Thrones,” “Star Trek,” the Marvel superhero films and the James Bond flicks, to name a few. Many of these fall into the category of cult classics.

A cult classic is defined as something that is obscure or unpopular with mainstream audiences, but develops a dedicated fanbase through repeated exposure and word of mouth. After failing at the cinema, some cult films have become regular fixtures on cable television or profitable sellers on home video. The term cult film was first used in the 1970s to describe the culture that surrounded underground films and midnight movies. With the increase in cable TV channels in the ‘80s, and the need for inexpensive programming to fill air time, many of these films got another shot. Some movies that fit into this category are “The Night of the Hunter,” “Toxic Avenger,” “I Spit on your Grave,” “Mad Max,” the 1940s noir crime films “Detour” and “D.O.A.” and the Bond film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” It may surprise you to know that “It’s a Wonderful Life” was once considered a cult classic. It bombed at the box office and didn’t become popular until the copyright expired and TV stations could show it free every year at Christmas.

Sometimes, a film will develop such a following because, in the words of critic Michael Medved, “It’s so bad it’s good.” Many of them were made on a minus-zero budget which made cheap special effects necessary, with wooden acting to match. “Night of the Living Dead” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” are prime examples, but a better one is “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (1959). It was made by Ed Wood, probably the worst filmmaker ever. He was responsible for the forgettable gems “Bride of the Gorilla” and the cross-dressing melodrama “Glen or Glenda.” Wood began “Plan 9” with a home movie of his idol, Bela Lugosi, made shortly before his death. He listed him as the star to increase box office appeal, even though his screen time was less than two minutes. Wood then doubled the actor with a guy who was taller, thinner and younger than Lugosi. He also used hubcaps suspended from thread to mimic flying saucers. You have to see this one to believe it.

I found a DVD collection of films from the 1970s, called “Drive-in Cult Classics.” These were ultra-cheap flicks that were shown as the third feature at the drive-in, or at college midnight movie fests. The casts are comprised of C-list actors, the kind that popped up as supporting players on TV shows or in commercial crowd scenes. These were what we used to call sexploitation movies, the ones that took advantage of the recently-abolished censorship code, giving moviemakers free reign to put out just about anything.

The plots are confusing, most of the acting isn’t good enough for community theater, and some of the sex scenes produce more laughs than heat. One featured a bedroom encounter between a husband and wife, but the guy never took off his pants or shoes while wriggling atop his naked spouse. How realistic is that? Gratuitous nudity also abounds. In another film, an actress walked across the screen topless for no reason. That scene came at a place where the story bogged down, and the director probably couldn’t think of anything else to do.

And those titles! “Pick-up,” “The Sister-in-law,” “The Teacher,” “The Stepmother,” “Trip with the Teacher,” and “Malibu High Hookers,” to name a few. Check out these poster teaser lines:

“She destroyed her husband’s brother by the most immoral act imaginable!”

“She corrupted the youthful morality of an entire school.”

“She forced her husband’s son to commit the ultimate sin!”

“This high school senior worked her way through the faculty lounge.”

A prime example of a cult classic is “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975). A local theater used to hold midnight screenings of this one every year as part of their summer classic film series. I’d seen people showing up in costume and reciting dialogue along with the actors, so it wasn’t surprising. What did surprise me was when I attended a Sunday afternoon showing of “The Wizard of Oz.” I didn’t expect to see so many kids dressed in calico dresses, ruby red slippers and pigtails, accompanied by their mothers decked out as the Wicked Witch of the West, complete with brooms. I felt like I had entered an alternate universe.

I guess a cult classic can be anything you’re passionate about. What’s yours?

How to AI-Proof Your Writing

Artificial IntelligenceImage by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I recently finished the novel Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen. It was entertaining (as usual), though hardly deep, a typical over-the-top Carl Hiaasen story with a clever, contrarian, down-on-his-luck hero, a smart, sexy and amoral heroine, an array of truly nasty and disgusting criminals (professional and amateur), and some bizarre wildlife – in this case, giant Gambian pouch rats.

I’ve probably read at least half a dozen of Hiassen’s books. They’re not exactly predictable, but they share a basic framework, a set of common elements. Each story is different in detail, but the setting (Florida, often the Keys), the characters, the style, the pace and the plot devices do not vary much from one novel to the next.

It occurred to me that wouldn’t take much to create a fake Carl Hiasssen book. With that in mind, I logged into ChatGPT and asked:

Write me the first paragraph of a novel in the style of Carl Hiaasen.

Here is what the AI came up with.

In the sticky heat of Florida’s muggy embrace, where the line between civilization and madness blurs like the horizon at sunset, the days begin with a peculiar rhythm. Palm fronds rustle their tales of scandal, while alligators lurk beneath murky waters, guardians of twisted secrets. It was within this swampy theater of absurdity that Chester “Chet” Monroe found himself, a small-time private investigator with a penchant for trouble and a nose for the scent of danger. Today, as the sun clawed its way above the horizon, Chet’s day began not with the usual banalities, but with the promise of a bizarre case that would plunge him deep into the murky abyss of Florida’s most bewildering mysteries.

I was impressed. The prose is a bit more flowery than Hiassen’s usual, but this passage hits all the salient elements, except there’s no trace yet of the girl. It even has the wildlife!

Stepping out into the danger zone, I then asked:

Now write me the first paragraph of a novel in the style of Lisabet Sarai, author of Raw Silk.

The jasmine-scented breeze whispered through the latticed windows, teasing the delicate silk curtains into a seductive dance. In the opulent chambers of an ancient Rajasthani haveli, secrets and desires mingled like forbidden lovers, waiting to be unmasked. Rani Devika, the enigmatic mistress of this clandestine sanctuary, reveled in the power she held over those who sought refuge within her sensual embrace. Her eyes, dark as the midnight sky, shimmered with a forbidden knowledge, promising both ecstasy and peril to those brave enough to succumb to her allure. Tonight, as the moon cast its ethereal glow upon her domain, Rani Devika prepared to embark on a journey that would unravel the very fabric of pleasure and pain, leaving nothing but raw silk in its wake.

I don’t know if you’ll agree with me, but I think this is pretty awful. It barely makes sense. At the same time, it does include a variety of references that make it clear the AI knows something about my books: the reference to Rajasthan, the allusions to eroticism and power exchange, the repeated use of “silk”. The purple prose, on the other hand, is truly cringe-worthy. Perhaps I am flattering myself, but I don’t think anyone who’s familiar with my work would ever mistake this for something I’d written.

Carl Hiaassen is far more famous that I am. It’s likely the AI has ingested a good deal more of his oeuvre than mine. (That does make one wonder whether ChatGPT has actually been trained on the full text of our books – and if it has, did OpenAI buy them, or was the training done on pirate copies? I decided I just don’t have sufficient energy to pursue this disturbing question.) All things being equal, though, I suspect it would be much more difficult for an AI to generate convincing Lisabet Sarai fakes. The main reason for this is that, unlike Hiaasen, I think it’s far more difficult to predict what you’ll find in one of my books, given another.

I write in many different genres and a variety of styles, from raunchy to lyrical. Most of my titles are stand-alones as opposed to series. Sex is the one common element that appears in almost all of my work, but the treatment of erotic content swings wildly from story to story, from spiritual to romantic to thoroughly depraved.

Just to illustrate, I’ll share the first few sentences from some of my books.

Only when faced with the stout oaken door to Randerley Hall did Gillian Smith’s considerable resolve fail her.

In the dead of night she had fled her Aunt Martha’s London townhouse, mere hours before her diabolical guardian planned to denounce her as a deviant and a thief. She had endured the seven-hour rail journey to Tavistock crammed into a reeking third class carriage, struggling to remain awake in order to guard her meagre possessions. (The Pornographer’s Apprentice)

“Holy hell, woman! You’re insatiable.”

Lauren suckled Elliot’s unresponsive dick for another thirty seconds before giving up with a sigh. “I thought you might enjoy another round, baby. That last one went by a bit fast. I only came once.” (The Slut Strikes Back)

I’m used to getting what I want. It’s not because I’m smarter than most people, or richer. (Although I am. These are documented facts, not boasts.) No, I usually succeed because I don’t give up. I’m tenacious—or just plain stubborn, if you listen to my mother. (The Gazillionaire and the Virgin)

It would have been much faster to fly.

Alas, Cecily Harrowsmith—special agent for Her Majesty the Queen, expert in the martial arts of three continents, past mistress of princes, potentates and the occasional prime minister—was afraid of flying. She despised herself for this weakness, but not enough to board one of the Empire’s sleek, viridium-powered airships, strap herself into her seat and hope for the best. (Rajasthani Moon)

“So, Michael. Have you been a good little boy?” Neil loomed over me, one hand against the wall on either side of my head. “Do you deserve the goodies that Santa’s brought for you?” Leaning forward, he trailed a wet tongue up my neck, from my open collar to just below my earlobe. When I squirmed in response, he flattened his pelvis against the lump growing in my jeans and fastened his mouth on mine. The fake beard got in the way. He ripped it off and resumed kissing me, while his hands slipped around me to cup my ass. (A Kinky Christmas Carol)

Hours past midnight, the village slept, dappled in silver moonlight and inky shadow. Bess kept watch at her bedroom window, lost in a waking dream. The breeze freshened as dawn grew closer. Occasional gusts sent clouds scudding across the sky like sheep before an impatient shepherd. The full moon sailed high above the moors, sometimes revealed, sometimes obscured by a veil of wind-tossed mist. (By Moonlight)

If you happened upon these separate passages, would you know they were all penned by the same author?

Would ChatGPT?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m seriously concerned about the impact of generative AI on the business of writing. It takes me six to eight months, minimum, to write a novel. In that time, how many dozens of books could an AI spew out? Some of you may remember the scams that hit Amazon when they first introduced Kindle Unlimited and started paying based on pages read. Huge gobs of nonsense text assembled automatically from public sources flooded the store and depressed the income of legitimate authors.

Today’s AI can do much better at creating plausible-sounding books. And tomorrow’s? I shudder to think about the implications for the market, especially since there are plenty of unscrupulous humans who won’t hesitate to pass off AI-produced prose as their own work.

So I’m not optimistic, in general, about shielding authors and other artists from the impacts of AI. I do believe, though, that by writing diverse, unpredictable, original stories, we can reduce the chances of being specifically copied or impersonated by an AI system.

For me, as a reader as well as a writer, originality is the Holy Grail. I know that some people love to read familiar plots, traditional tropes and favorite kinks. Not me. Quality prose matters a lot, but I’ll forgive some awkward sentences or grammar errors in a book that surprises and delights me with its creativity. I strive to deliver that same sense of unexpected excitement and wonder to my readers. I really don’t want to write the same book twice.

From a marketing perspective, this is a problem. I have no “brand”. I’ll never be a best selling author, because I refuse to deliver the predictability that many readers crave.

But diversity is one way to protect your writing from AI’s “stochastic parrots” – at least for now.


Well, Excuse Me!

I read a post on a reviewer’s website that made me rethink online courtesy. This woman went on a rant about authors who aren’t considerate enough to say “thank you” when she reviews their books, often at their request. She held the opinion that after she spent “hours reading and reviewing” a book, the least the author could do was “take a few minutes” to send a follow-up e-mail, especially if it was a good write-up.

Wow – I thought we were all on the same page! I used to write book reviews for a romance site and I didn’t expect flowers when I favorably critiqued someone’s book. That isn’t why I did it and I can count on one hand the times an author reached out to thank me or question my parentage. If they did drop a line, I appreciated it, but it wasn’t what I lived for. I know a lot of authors who don’t communicate with reviewers because they don’t want it to look like they’re sucking up or influencing the outcome. If I hold a contest and offer a book as a prize, I always ask the winner to let me know what they thought of it. I don’t ask them to post a review, but just share their opinion so I’ll know if I’m reaching my audience. This is something else I don’t count on because people say they will, but usually don’t. It’s all part of the game and no, I don’t take it personally.

I make it a point to follow up with bloggers who have interviewed me or featured my books, because it’s common courtesy, and often results in a return invitation. I was raised by a generation that believed in sending “thank you” notes, and it’s a habit. The one time I received a terrible review on a blog, I actually left a comment for the reviewer, thanking them for their honest opinion. I didn’t like what they said about me or my book, but I chose to take the high road and show them that I wasn’t bothered by their negative comments. In other words, “Screw you and your ill-informed opinion!”

A friend once asked me to review one of his books when I was contributing to that online review site. We had appeared at the same author events, and supported each other’s literary endeavors. The problem? I wasn’t into the genre he writes and I didn’t think I’d appreciate his story. I tried to explain this but before I knew it, a package arrived in the mail containing his book. Autographed, of course.

I read it, found it to be better than I expected and wrote a four-star review. Actually, that was generous because he had self-published and there were numerous problems, which I didn’t mention in the write-up. I sent him a separate email summarizing my observations in a constructive way. Apparently, he expected a rave review because he didn’t communicate with me for a year after I posted it. I looked up some of his reviews on Goodreads and discovered that many were less flattering than what I wrote. In fact, a couple of them were downright nasty. Beats me why he wasn’t happy with four stars.

One of my Lodge brothers liked my books and asked if I would critique a few draft chapters of his first endeavor. He was a retired Fire Department Chief and wrote a fictionalized story based on his career. It sounded like an interesting concept, but had we not been friends, I would’ve told him I was too busy. As it turns out, I should have. My comments were constructive and designed to help him produce a better manuscript, but he didn’t see it that way. When I suggested that he might want to “dumb down” some of the technical jargon and insider references because readers might not understand them, he took an attitude with me, claiming “Everyone knows what those are!”

Apparently not everyone, because I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. Ever since then, I’ve been “too busy”—unless someone hires me to edit their work.

The remarks I mentioned earlier gave me cause for pause. The person referenced “hours spent reading and reviewing” books, but I wonder if she has any idea how much time and effort an author invests in getting that book ready for her to read. We agonize over every word, comma, revision and rewrite. We worry that the cover might not convey what the story is about. We sweat out a release date then become sleep deprived from promotional activity once it’s released. We anxiously await feedback and when we get it…we’re chastised because we didn’t say “thank you”?

As I said, it’s all part of the game and there is no right or wrong approach. Some people express themselves beautifully through the mouths of their characters but fumble when it comes to speaking from the heart. I fall into that trap myself at times. I suppose that’s why we choose to write, to express our feelings and opinions, and that’s a great skill.

For what it’s worth, I don’t expect a “thank you” note for this post, either. Just buy one of my books. And a nice review wouldn’t hurt!

Friends and Lovers

Image by Khusen Rustamov from Pixabay

I was primed to want him long before I met him. Was this a deliberate ploy on my husband’s part? Or just the consequence of my hyperactive sexual imagination?

“James is a really good friend,” K told me. He’d known James for years before I appeared on the scene, during his tumultuous period living in San Francisco. “He’s a physicist. Does research at UCSF hospital.” My ears perked up. I’ve always found intelligence to be an aphrodisiac. “Oh, and you should see his paintings and sculpture. He’s really talented.” Oh my! An artist too! Was I wet already?

We were on our way cross country and planned to stop in the City by the Bay before heading south to Los Angeles. Having spent the last few years in grad school on the East Coast, K hadn’t seen James in a while, but he assured me that we’d get a warm welcome.

“And did I tell you about his time in Japan?” K executed a neat maneuver to pass a battered, dusty pickup, then pointed the Subaru straight across the sere plains of eastern Colorado. The Rockies were blue-gray shadows hugging the horizon.

I squeezed my husband’s thigh. “No, I don’t think so. What was he doing in Japan?”

“Working in a sex show.” He gave me a quick glance, as if to gauge my reaction, before returning his gaze to the empty, monotonous highway.

A tingle swept through me. “You’re kidding, right?” At that point I hadn’t yet visited Japan, but everyone had heard bizarre stories about the Japanese sexual underground.

“No, not at all. For three months James and his partner performed live in some club in Tokyo. Fucking on stage six nights a week.”

I sat silent, staring into the distance and pondering this thrilling and disturbing concept. I considered myself a free spirit, a bit of a sexual outlaw, but public sex, for money? What sort of person would engage in such behavior?

“Why?” I asked finally, expecting some wild tale of extortion or human slavery.

“He was curious to see what it would be like,” K responded with a chuckle.

I was quiet for a long time after that, contemplating with excitement and trepidation the prospect of meeting this “friend”. I had no idea what he looked like, but I was already half in lust.

James turned out to be lean and loose-limbed, a good half a head taller than K, with unruly hair, a soft voice and an easy laugh. As K had promised, he offered us the spare room in his Mission District flat. We shared take-out Chinese, red wine from a gallon jug and lots of pot. We talked about art, science, philosophy, politics. Well, K and James talked, mostly, catching up after years apart, reestablishing the bonds of their friendship. I listened, uncharacteristically mute, watching James’ long, expressive fingers trace patterns in the air as he explained some nuance of electromagnetic theory, wondering how those fingers would feel feathering across my nipples.

K asked about James’ partner – ex-partner as it turned out – but the one subject we didn’t discuss was sex. Still, the entire evening buzzed with erotic tension. When James looked at me, I felt the heat simmering in his lanky body. What had K told him about me?

I honestly don’t recall how we ended up in bed together. All I remember is how easy it was, how light and relaxed – how friendly. I didn’t worry about jealousy; that seemed a non-issue as I mounted K and James slid his cock (long and thin like his fingers) into my rear hole. My first double penetration – only the second or third time I’d ever experienced anal sex, actually. I can hardly believe, looking back, how little resistance James found. At the time, I was too turned on to even think about the question. I was neither surprised nor shocked. It was obviously the natural thing to be doing. We all agreed about that.

Sandwiched between a man I loved and my new lover, I felt not only acute pleasure but a delicious sense of connection. I was cherished and desired, giving and receiving. The brazenness of our actions thrilled me. The three-way intimacy kindled a new kind of joy.

I remember the details of the next day more clearly now than I do that incandescent night. The three of us went to see a matinee of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. We strolled down the San Francisco sidewalk, arm in arm in arm, with me in the middle once again. I wore a flouncy white cotton dress I’d bought in Tijuana, with nothing underneath. I felt like a dirty angel, high on residual arousal, perversely proud we’d been brave enough to push friendship to its next obvious level.

Even after K and I moved back East, we remained close with James. We attended his wedding. Later, after their son was born, we visited him and Priscilla in their redwood-encircled cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains. We never had sex together again, but our mutual erotic history gave the relationship a special poignancy. I knew James remembered, as I did.

Four decades later, we’ve mostly lost touch. James’ struggles with addiction and psychiatric problems have weakened the connection. I regret that deeply. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate more fully how remarkable that episode really was – despite the fact that it felt inevitable at the time.

Enumerating a list of my long-time friends, I’m a bit embarrassed to realize how many of them were once my lovers. One might point to this as evidence of my unbridled promiscuity during my twenties and thirties. I interpret this fact differently, though. I’ve always been sexually attracted to people I like and admire, both women and men. Although I’ve had close friendships that were completely platonic, without the smallest shred of desire on my part, that’s not the norm for me. The intellectual and emotional buzz from meeting someone special transmutes into sexual desire.

In most cases, I’ve refrained from acting on my lusts, especially in recent years. Instead, they spill over into my dreams. Even people I haven’t met in person – people I’ve come to know and love remotely, in the guise of Lisabet Sarai – have found their way into my night visions. That’s one reason why I am reluctant to get closer to some of you in the real world. Friends are always welcome. At this stage in my life, though, I probably don’t need more lovers.

Pass the Popcorn

It’s summertime, and the living is easy, according to the old song. Among the many warm weather activities many of us will indulge in, movies still make the list. There have been a lot of films that use this time of year as a backdrop, and many of them rely on standby tropes like summer camp or vacations. Romance usually plays a big part, too, along with funny situations. Here are a few good ones, in no special order. How many of these have you seen?

“The Parent Trap” (1961) – This Disney production has Hayley Mills playing a dual role as teenage twins who were separated at birth when their parents divorced. They meet for the first time at a summer camp for girls, and plot to get their parents back together by switching places when camp is over. Yeah, I know—too cute, right? Just accept the premise and roll with it. Along the way, enjoy watching Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara as the clueless parents. This was remade in 1998 with Lindsay Lohan, in her film debut.

“Gidget” (1959) – “Hey, gang—surf’s up!” This is the original beach party and surfer flick, starring Sandra Dee, Cliff Robertson, and James Darren. It’s about a teenager’s introduction to the California surf scene and her romance with a young surfer who teaches her how to hang ten, among other things. In addition to inspiring a television series, the film is considered the beginning of the “beach party’’ genre, and is credited as being a big factor in the mainstreaming of surfing culture. It also popularized the nickname Big Kahuna, for Chief (Robertson’s character, a professional surfer and beach bum the kids look up to).

“A Summer Place” (1959) — This romantic drama is a prime example of a steamy soap opera, loaded with melodrama, angst, tears, and sex. Infidelity, pre-marital sex, bigotry, class snobbery, alcoholism, teen pregnancy out of wedlock—there are enough vices here for two movies. The plot, for those who care, concerns two teenage lovers from different social classes who get back together 20 years after a summer vacation at a resort. They must then deal with the passionate love affair that’s developing between their own teenage children from previous failed marriages. It stars Richard Egan and Dorothy McGuire as the middle-aged lovers, and Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue as their respective children. Percy Faith’s recording of “Theme from A Summer Place” spent nine weeks at number one on the Billboard singles chart. You might not have seen the movie, but you’ve probably heard the song.

“Summer School” (1987) — This Carl Reiner-directed comedy stars a pre-“NCIS” Mark Harmon as a high school gym teacher who is forced to teach a remedial English class during the summer break. He’s a former pro athlete who lucked into a Phys-Ed job, but doesn’t have a clue about how to teach or motivate a class of underachievers. The film co-stars Kirstie Alley and Courtney Thorne-Smith. If you’ve seen “The Breakfast Club” or “Welcome Back, Kotter,” the group of misfits Harmon is assigned to teach won’t provide too many surprises, but they seem like a fun bunch.

“Summer Rental” (1985) – Here we have another Carl Reiner comedy, this time starring John Candy, Richard Crenna and Rip Torn. Candy is an overworked air traffic controller who takes his family to the resort town of Citrus Cove, Florida, where he clashes with local big shot Crenna. There are a lot of good sight gags and enough quirky characters to make up for the one-joke plot. Candy is great to watch as the put-upon family man who finally gets pushed to the limit. And speaking of John Candy…

“The Great Outdoors” (1988)– This vacation comedy, written and produced by John Hughes, pairs John Candy with Dan Aykroyd. Supporting roles feature Stephanie Faracy, and Annette Bening in her film debut. Candy once again plays a harried family guy who looks forward to their annual summer getaway at a Wisconsin lake resort. A dark cloud appears in the form of Aykroyd as the brother-in-law from hell, who seems to exist only to make Candy’s life miserable. There are some very funny bits, and the comic timing between Candy and Aykroyd is just right.

“National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983)—The first and still the best of the series (with the possible exception of “Christmas Vacation”), this features the Griswold clan on a cross-country summer road trip to enjoy some quality family time. At least, that’s what Chevy Chase has in mind until they’re actually on the road to Wally World amusement park. Along the way, they take a side trip to visit his mentally-vacant cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid). The whole thing is one mishap after another, with some hilarious gags. Chase’s meltdown and rant toward the end is classic. Like all of the “Vacation” films, you’ll see things that will make you think “Been there, done that.”

“Meatballs” (1979) – This Canadian comedy, about a ragtag group of teenagers at a second-rate summer camp, is noted for being Bill Murray’s first starring role, and for launching the directing career of Ivan Reitman. The two would team up again for “Stripes” (1981) and “Ghostbusters” (1984). Murray is a camp counselor, whose personality and manner will remind you of his lounge lizard character on Saturday Night Live. There really isn’t much to the plot, elements of which were reprised the following year in “Caddyshack” (“The slobs versus the snobs”), but it’s all very funny. The film was hugely successful, and followed by several sequels that had no connection to the original except the name.

“Jaws” (1975) — “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Summer had traditionally been the dumping ground for low-budget drive-in flicks until this one broke box office records and became the must-see movie of the year. A quaint New England island is terrorized over the busy July 4th holiday by a huge shark with an equally large appetite. Director Steven Spielberg supplied plenty of suspense, thrills and adventure, and the cast plays it beautifully. Legend has it that the line about needing a bigger boat was ad-libbed by star Roy Scheider, and it became a popular catchphrase.

“American Graffiti” (1973) – The marketing campaign for this coming-of-age movie posed the question “Where were you in ’62?” That’s considered to be the end of the ‘50s American rock-and-roll era, before the British Invasion. The story takes place on the last night in town for a couple of recent high school grads who are leaving for college the next day. Or will they? Cruising, drag races, sock hops, make-out sessions by the lake, carhops on roller skates, and oldies from car radios announced by Wolfman Jack make this a nostalgic and bittersweet look at more innocent times. Director/writer George Lucas (“Star Wars”) based the story on his own post-HS summer experiences. The cast includes Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark and a little-known actor named Harrison Ford. Look for the film debut of Suzanne Somers as the blonde in the T-Bird who catches Dreyfuss’s attention.

Perfectionism versus Practicality

Like most writers, I’m a voracious reader. I’ve also edited a dozen or so anthologies by other authors. Hence I’m pretty sensitive to problems in other people’s prose: grammar errors, misspellings, typos, missing or inappropriate words, and so on. Even when I’m deeply engrossed in some fabulous story, I can’t completely ignore this kind of issue. It’s frustrating to encounter these slips. I’ll admit that they affect my evaluation of the writer. Indeed, more than once I’ve given up on books because of their persistent errors.

It’s a lot easier to see nits in someone else’s story, though. We tend to be a bit blind to typos and such in our own work, partly because we’re not just reading the text. We know what we intended to say, and all too often that’s what we see on the page.

Back before self-publishing, our publishers supplied dedicated editors to help us find and fix this sort of issue. That was part of deal – the publishing company supplied editing, a professionally designed cover, maybe even some marketing, in return for a significant chunk of the profits. Of course, these editors varied in their level of skill – I remember arguing with one woman who insisted that passive voice was ungrammatical – but it was still extremely helpful to have another set of eyes scrutinizing your prose. (On the other hand, now that I am reclaiming the rights to many of my traditionally published tales, I’m noticing nits that the editors missed.)

When you move to publishing your work directly, though, you’re on your own. Obviously you can pay for a professional editor, but given that I am unwilling to go into the red with my writing business, that’s not something I can afford. So I read, and re-read, edit and re-edit. When I can, I run my works in progress through the Storytime critique group, where we have a number of very sharp-eyed members. I think my books are fairly clean. (In terms of errors, not the sexual content!)

But I can’t claim they’re perfect.

Ignorance is bliss. As long as I don’t know about the errors, I can pretend they don’t exist. The other day, though, as I was preparing an excerpt for a blog post, I noticed two ugly typos in the same paragraph. I fixed the problems in the post, of course. Now I’m wondering what I should do about the book itself.

Since the title is self-published and only available as an ebook, it’s not a huge amount of work to upload new manuscripts to Smashwords and Amazon. There will of course be a lag before the new version is available. And anyone who bought the book before the correction may notice the error. Still, I tell myself that this is what I should do, that I owe it to my readers.

Suppose, though, that after I do this, I happen across another nit. Should I upload yet another version? When do I stop? Is it feasible for me to aspire to a perfect manuscript (from an editing perspective)?

Do other readers notice these bugs?

I’m in a quandary here, balanced between perfectionism and practicality. I have more than sixty self-published titles currently available. I also have a very demanding day job. I can’t spend hours every day editing and uploading.

But I hate the idea that readers are reacting the way I do when I hit errors – shaking their heads and thinking that I really don’t care.

Behind the Mask

“The difference between involvement and commitment is like an eggs and ham breakfast—the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed.”

That quote was credited to Anonymous. I don’t know who this Anonymous guy was, but he sure got around, judging from the number of quotes, stories, poems and songs credited to him. He must be getting on in years, because you can trace his credits back to the 1600s. If you look around, you’ll see that he’s still putting stuff out there, but in a different forum.

The anonymous persona continues to get a workout online, largely on social media pages that focus on political topics. People love to rant and rave and post outrageous rhetoric. Not many are brave enough to use their real names, though, and prefer to hide behind pseudonyms. It makes you wonder why they’re afraid to take credit for their opinions. Maybe it’s a feeling of false security, thinking “I can say what I want, and no one will know it’s really me!” That’s also SOP on dating websites, chat boards and adult entertainment sites, but for different reasons. A lot of people still think there’s a stigma to admitting you went online to get a date. That isn’t the only reason folks play it cool, however.

People have figured out that potential employers, colleges, lending institutions and friends use social media as a character reference. Law enforcement agencies monitor sites, too, especially in this era of increased domestic violence and human trafficking. When I worked in civil service, I was careful with my social media pages. I didn’t “friend” anyone who was in a subordinate position, and I didn’t use my real first name, the one that appeared in my personnel file. My friends know me by my middle name, and I publish under that moniker. I listed my occupation as “writer/photographer,” working at “self-employed.” Nowhere on my profile does it say which state agency I worked for, or what position I held. I set it up solely to promote my writing, and to network with friends in the business and some former classmates.

I took these extra measures because word came down that the good folks in Administrative Services were monitoring the online postings of state employees, whether they were on the clock or not. Big Brother was compiling dossiers on the worker bees to see what they were up to. Did one of them post an unfavorable comment about the current administration? Put a red checkmark next to their name. Did someone indicate allegiance to a left- or right-leaning organization? Better keep an eye on them. Did anyone endorse a candidate in the upcoming election or donate money? They are so screwed!

I think one of the reasons for this is the ongoing push for transparency by news organizations, especially those investigative teams that boast about “holding government accountable.” The Freedom of Information Act allows them access to the records of public employees. When I was still working, one such request resulted in a major metro newspaper publishing the name and salary of everyone employed by the state. Most of us looked at it to see how much our co-workers were being paid. The result was a lot of bruised egos, and comments like “That slug is making how much more than me???”

It seems that the majority of authors who write romance (whether it’s erotic or vanilla) use a pseudonym. This can be for a variety of reasons, especially if they pen hot erotic romance. Using an alias for that kind of writing could save you some embarrassing explanations at family gatherings or in the workplace. I’ve found that for some reason, many writers don’t want people to know that they write books or blogs in their spare time, no matter what genre they write. When I’ve asked some of them about this, the responses I’ve received ranged from a desire to separate professional from personal (I get that), to a shrug and an awkward silence.

The Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez said “Everyone has three lives—a public life, a private life, and a secret life.” There’s more truth to that statement than many of us like to admit. I once had a psych professor who claimed that everyone was guilty of harboring “secret sins,” things you did that you would never, ever tell anyone about. I’ve also been told by friends in the legal profession that criminal attorneys take their client’s secrets to their graves because they’re ethically bound to do so. That may explain why many of them fall prey to substance abuse, like alcoholism.

There are several online sites where people can post erotic fiction. Naturally, no one uses their real names. This anonymity allows their id to concoct outrageous fantasies involving a variety of fetishes. Some of the posts I’ve read weren’t half bad from a writing standpoint. Others, though, were so poorly written I hoped none of those folks ever pursued a publishing career. I made the same observation about some self-published romance writers when I reviewed books. I realized why they were self-published, because many of them would never have made it past the submission process for a good publisher. A lot of those writers didn’t believe in hiring an editor, either.

I have a good friend who has been writing erotic fiction for nearly 50 years. He began with “one-hand books” in the 1970’s and he’s still cranking them out, but in self-published digital format now. He’s always hidden behind a pseudonym, and the only time he used his real name was when he attempted a mainstream romantic adventure novel. It didn’t catch on, so he went back to writing what I call porn with a plot. When I asked him about it, he explained “I write under this name, and I sell books. I write as myself and nobody cares!”

There’s something to be said for anonymity.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


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