By Lisabet Sarai
It’s early in May. I have just submitted the final manuscript for my latest Excessica book, entitled Fourth World. I’ve been planning this book, a collection of paranormal erotica, for quite a while, so I sent it off with no small sense of satisfaction.
Over the past two days I’ve been immersed in editing the seven tales that comprise this volume. As I read and re-read them, I was startled to realize that not one of them has an unambiguously happy ending. That’s very rare, for me. I generally consider myself an optimist, and I’d definitely label myself as sex-positive. So why am I suddenly publishing a whole book of stories where no character gets exactly what he or she wants? A book in which at least one character actually dies by the story’s conclusion, while others are irrevocably damaged—where the surviving protagonists live with grief, confusion, frustration or profound ennui?
You might surmise that I wrote these tales during a difficult time in my own life, that they mirror some negativity in my own soul. That’s not the case, though. The stories in Fourth World cover more than a decade of my career, a decade, as it happens, of great success and personal satisfaction.
Another theory might be that these stories represent a reaction to the relentless emphasis on happy endings in romance. There’s some truth to that notion. When I wrote “Renfield’s Lament”, about two years ago, I was feeling fed up with HEAs. I deliberately crafted the darkest tale I could imagine, just to see how far I could push the envelope while still arousing my readers (and myself). Some of the earlier stories in the book, though, come from the period before I began writing erotic romance at all, when I was blissfully innocent about the demands of market and genre.
Perhaps the ambiguity in these tales reflects my convictions about magic. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved fairy tales and fantasy, but even back then I understood that power always exacts its price. Miracles occur, but they require sacrifices. Wotan forfeits an eye in his quest for wisdom; Frodo Baggins loses a finger in fulfilling his quest. No one walks through the fires of the supernatural and emerges unscathed. Plus, one has to admit there is something seductive about the shadows, something hypnotic about evil, especially when it clothes itself in exquisite, responsive flesh.
Ultimately the why doesn’t matter. These stories are what they are. Of course, once I’d noticed the dark trend in the book, I started to worry. Should I throw in a couple of lighter tales, to balance the cruelty and violence (physical and emotional) in the ones I’d originally chosen? Would anyone actually buy this book without at least a few happy-for-nows?
I decided against that compromise. The seven stories in Fourth World make an organic whole. They represent some of the most intense erotica I’ve ever written—scalding, twisted, nasty, no-holds-barred lust, triggered and augmented by magic. I personally find the endings satisfying, at least from a literary perspective. They have an inevitability that feels right.
There’s something freeing for me about publishing this book. Readers who want happy endings can pick up some of my erotic romance or romantic erotica, which is mostly what I write. Fourth World is aimed at those of you who are braver, or more curious—people who recognize that when you have blood-sucking demons, someone’s going to get hurt.
To them, I say: come explore the shadows with me. Welcome, darkness.
It’s the 19th of May. That means it’s Sexy Snippets Day! Time to share the hottest mini-excerpts you can find from your published work.
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, if you’d like.
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. 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!
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
by Donna George Storey
“Carnegie Mellon Researchers Find More Sex Doesn’t Lead to Increased Happiness.” Variations of this headline made the news a few days ago. It even got discussion time on Larry Wilmore’s Nightly Show. I had a hunch the headline was misleading—these things always are, especially when it comes to sex–but I wasn’t surprised the story was all over the Internet, because this “scientific discovery” played right into the sticky hands of our society’s erotophobia.
The Carnegie Mellon University website provides a more detailed—and perhaps unwittingly humorous—description of the study. With grant money from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Carnegie Mellon researchers recruited 64 married couples who were not having any particular difficulties in their sexual or emotional relationships. They “experimentally assigned” 32 of the couples to have sex twice as often as they usually did for a three-month period, while the control group of 32 continued to have sex whenever they desired it. The couples filled out surveys about their sex habits and happiness at the beginning and end of the study as well as shorter surveys each day.
At the end of the study, the couples who were asked to double their sexual activity were slightly less happy with their sex lives “in part because the increased frequency led to a decline in wanting for and enjoyment of sex.” This study was published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.
Yes, let’s pause for a moment to roll our eyes and say, “Um, can the Pennsylvania Department of Health ask for its money back?”
Now, back when I was an undergraduate, I used to enjoy volunteering for studies run by the psychology department. They usually paid me a nominal fee, enough to buy a blend-in at the nearby ice cream parlor, but my real motivation was trying to figure out what the researchers were really testing. Even then, I suspected that what they told me was not the whole story, a suspicion confirmed by studies described in social psychology books, which, for better or worse, I read for fun. Unfortunately the Carnegie Mellon researchersmight have been so distracted by the word “sex,” they themselves didn’t realize what they were really studying, which is what happens when you coerce people to engage in pleasurable activities rather than do so of their own volition. Is it any surprise that fun becomes a chore rather than a pleasure?
The study’s lead investigator, George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology (Economics? Well, as I always say, sex does sell but not for as much as you think), stated that the findings were a surprise and a disappointment because, “We were expecting that the people who had more sex would enjoy it a lot and would be happier, and it would be good for the relationship.”
Right, I know. I’m happier when I’m having “more” rather than “less” sex myself. While I am heartened to know that the original intention was sex-positive, I am still concerned that funds for a study of sexuality, which are very difficult to find in our country, were squandered with such obvious blindness, not to say simple-mindedness. Yet this study received funding and was published. On a positive note, the professor did develop a bit more insight into the flaws of his endeavor.
“Perhaps couples changed the story they told themselves about why they were having sex, from an activity voluntarily engaged in to one that was part of a research study. If we ran the study again, and could afford to do it, we would try to encourage subjects into initiating more sex in ways that put them in a sexy frame of mind, perhaps with babysitting, hotel rooms or Egyptian sheets, rather than directing them to do so.”
Egyptian sheets? I haven’t tried those yet, but I am intrigued! And does the babysitter just watch the kids or get involved? But do remember, Professor, to think through the Egyptian sheet factor and put in a control group who does it on ordinary sheets. Otherwise you could embarrass yourself again.
Because, of course, the more significant part of this discussion is that its “findings” about sexuality have been reported all over the Internet, as, for example, the results of another article in same issue of the journal, “Dry Promotions and Community Participation: Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment in Brazilian Fishing Villages” was not.
Even the Carnegie Mellon website, quoted at the beginning of this post, is misleading, but in the popular press, the anti-sex message is dialed up.
Um, no, it finds that when you coerce people to have twice as much sex as they’d naturally choose to, they don’t describe themselves as “happier” in a survey.”
Please define “lots” for the audience, which is twice as much as you’d normally choose for three months, which should be more accurately described as “coerced sex.”
Actually, they’re linked in exactly the way I thought. Quality is a more important factor for satisfaction than quantity, but my experience also convinced me that having more satisfying sex does not make me less happy.
The study does not confirm that all sex makes you less happy, which is implied in this headline. Some kinds of sex in certain circumstances may indeed make you less happy, such as when you’re ordered to have more sex by a CMU researcher who clearly is not a very inspiring Dom, which the study does address in a limited way.
Quantity is definitely at issue as if our journalistic guardians want to assure us that “more” sex will be dangerous to our emotional well-being. If you think about it, “more” means desire for sex, as in “Gee, I wish I were having more sex than I am.” But the headlines assure us if we got what we desired, we’d be less happy, so the implied “scientific” warning is to stop wishing for sex and, uh, do more work or buy more stuff or go to church instead? The history of sexuality confirms that those in power have always been concerned with keeping sexual activity under control whether through law, religion or rhetoric–and, by the way, they always fail to accomplish this to their satisfaction. But, as we see, this noble and time-honored mission continues as of May 2015.
To be fair, if you actually read the articles, the study is described and the reader can draw her own conclusions about whether the feelings of couples who are forced to have sex impacts her personal sexual decisions and desires. Even the weirdest article, “Study Confirms Sex Does Not Make You Happier,” turns from anti-sex to a more supportive tone by the end. The articles themselves aren’t as negative, but how many people read beyond the catchy warning—“Don’t have sex, it makes you sad.”
On the contrary, the general conclusion in the texts is “the quality of sex is more important than the quantity.” Why didn’t that message make the headline?
The public is clearly hungry for more information about sex including thoughtful scientific studies, honest anecdotes, and advice that respects the importance of sexuality in our lives. Sadly, because of this desire for more knowledge about a taboo subject, such misleading and sensational headlines will continue to get the attention they do not deserve.
So, again fellow erotica writers, please keep on writing about the erotic experience with intelligence and insight. Your voices will indeed bring more happiness to the world!
Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman and a collection of short
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
NUTS AND BOLTS: Writing in the First Person Present, how and whyThere is an early problem with choosing to write a story in first person present – nobody wants to hear it.
Most erotica readers are women, they just are, and hearing the word “I” over and over reminds a woman too much of a really bad date. It can raise the specter of a self absorbed person boasting and bragging to impress you. Unless of
course that is the tone you want which is a rare thing but not impossible. “Slowly I raised my right hand and I placed the cigarette between my pouting but not unmanly lips as I was thinking of Ashley’s outrageous nipples and I shifted nervously from my left foot to my right foot and I arched my chiseled, masculine brows as I felt the squeeze of my legendary spam spear swell in my virile and aching loins. I groaned.”
So help me Jesus.
Nevertheless, writing in the first person present is the most commonly chosen form for popular erotic short fiction and there are good reasons for it. The first person present potentially at least, conveys authority and authenticity. It conveys immediate character and personality and can, potentially at least, convey the most intimate experience of that most intimate of human acts. Like the ghost of Christmas Present it invites the reader to get to know you better.
First person present, done well has the quality of afterglow pillow talk. Of late night confessions over a kitchen table. The pot of tea gone cold, the radio whispering as your mother reaches her fingers across the toast and jelly to touch your hand. “There’s something you’re old enough now to know. Your father, well he’s not your father. Not your real father. Well. There.”
So your challenge will always be how to win your reader over to what your character is offering. So much of writing is about seducing your reader and a person knows when they’re being seduced. How will you seduce?
One of the early creative decisions you’ll have to make is if the first person narrator is also the Deciding Character or telling the story of the deciding character from memory, something called “Apostolic Fiction”. (RE: Jesus never told his autobiography, it was told by his followers about him after the event.) Examples of apostolic fiction could be “Shane” or “The Great Gatsby” in which Nick narrates the past story of his friend Jay Gatsby. The Deciding Character is Jay Gatsby, but the story is told by someone else. In apostolic fiction an unreliable narrator can twist and bend the story to protect himself or to glorify his hero or to lie outright. It can also be a way of telling a story from another viewpoint, say a white settler telling the story of an Indian he knew personally.
One of the greatest war novels in modern literature is “The Boat” (“Das Boot”) authored by Lothar Gunther-Buckheim, a German journalist who was assigned by Josef Goebbels to go on two U Boat patrols to provide material for propaganda articles. After the fall of Nazi Germany Buckheim wrote the novel Das Boot in first person present, which seems to be a common standard in German fiction. Although the Deciding Character is “The Old Man”, the U Boat’s Captain, the story is told by the journalist assigned to the crew to write about the U Boat experience. Apostalic fiction. As a device it gives a sense of intimacy and immediacy while at the same time allowing a view from all over the boat without being limited only to where the Captain is at any moment. The narrator can move freely with a journalist’s sharp eye for detail and still paint realistic scenes of great tension, such as the sounds of a British merchant ship sinking followed by a depth charge attack by a destroyer:
“Damned slow running time. I’d already given up.” The Commander’s voice is back to its usual dark growl. The breaking and cracking, roaring and tearing show no sign of coming to an end.
“Now there’s a couple of boats you can write off for good.”
Then a shattering blow knocks me off my feet. In the nick of time I catch hold of a pipe to break my fall. There’s a crash of breaking glass.
I pull myself upright, automatically stagger forward a couple of steps, jostle against someone, collide with a hard corner and collapse into the hatch frame.
This is it! The reckoning! Mustn’t let yourself go!
The hatch frame almost bucks me out. An enormous detonation tries to shatter my eardrums. Then blow after blow, as if the sea were a mass of huge powder kegs being set off in quick succession.
The narrator’s authority comes from the war experience Buckheim’s had of actually being in a U Boat during a depth charge attack. That authenticity is how he overcomes the problem of listening to that “I” over and over and earning the attention of the reader with his knowledge of the experience he’s writing about. The word “I” is used only twice, only when it can’t be avoided or replaced. Everything else is about the scene and the emotional experience around him.
In the opening paragraphs of your story you can choose to establish your narrator’s authority with the reader either by appealing to the insider’s knowledge your character has of the experience he’s describing, or appeal to the heart by presenting a character with a certain self deprecating honesty. Again, think of it as a date. You might warm up to a date who is capable of laughing at himself and seems to speak openly and honestly regarding his hopes and faults. This is especially important if you are presenting a narrator who is dislikeable. The reader doesn’t have to like your narrator. But they should be curious about them. They should want to care about what is about to happen to them.
Think carefully of that last sentence. It’s the soul of short fiction. The secret of horror fiction, erotic or romantic fiction, any fiction that attempts to create a visceral experience is that we must care about the Deciding Character. We don’t have to like them. Truly. But we have to care about them.
From my own poor stuff, I can offer two stories told in first person present by dislikeable narrators. Here is the voice of Nixie, a vampire girl originally from Bavaria, who as the story opens is on her way to retrieve her mortal lover who has abandoned and fled from her. She is tracking him by scent in this opening paragraph from “The Lady and the Unicorn”
Blood has a range of taste, as scent has a range of aromas. Blood has a high level taste and an under taste. It is a blending of elements like music. This is also the way of scent. The under aroma tells you there is a trail and betrays to you the direction. If the scent becomes fresher you are following the creature that produced it, so you must use the under scent to know which direction is older and which is newer. It is as though the air were filled with singing voices and you are picking out from the choir the sound of a single voice. The high scent will tell you the individual, the condition of the individual, if it is injured or sick, horny or filled with fear. It will tell you how to catch him, where he is likely to run to. To acquire the high scent the animal, or myself, must pause to commune with the air and pay attention. Close the eyes. Hold the nose still and just so. Let the night air speak. It is the same with the deep taste of blood, except that scent is on the move, and if you are tasting the blood—well. It is no longer on the move.
This is attempting authority with the reader through the character’s knowledge. Nixie sounds like she knows what she’s talking about. She doesn’t brag. She hardly refers to herself at all. She never tries to convince you how dangerous she is, but by the end of the paragraph she doesn’t have to.
Here is another very dislikeable narrator, Mack Daddy, a professional sex gladiator in “The Peanut Butter Shot” published in “Mammoth Book of Erotica VOL 11”:
They used to wrap tape around your hands to keep you from busting your knuckles up against the bones of somebody’s face. Me, it’s the opposite. I have to wear special gloves when I’m not in the ring. These gloves, they go for about $12,300, something like that, dermatologically custom made. The insurance pays for them, so like I give a shit, but that’s what they go for. I’ve got real warm soft hands. Women tell me they’re softer than a baby’s hands. My champion hands are insured by management for about $567,000. My tongue’s insured too, definitely, so I can’t drink anything hot or cold or eat spicy, which sucks but it’s the job. My tongue and hands are my weapons.
The old prize fighters would bust your nose or your ribs. A punch to the kidney that would make you piss blood for a couple days. We sex fighters, we bust your will to live. We take away your will to be free. People look naked to us. We see inside your mind. You just think you know what you want, bitch. I know what you really want, because that’s how I get you. That’s how I take you down. I look at you bitch – I know what you want way better than you do. I know it even before you know it. That’s because I see you. I see you like God sees you.
His voice is the opposite of Nixie. Aggressive, violent, expressing himself in short punchy sentences like jabs to the face; bragging like a young athlete full of himself.
As a general thing establishing your character by knowledge is easier than by heart. But heart is better if you can manage it.
The other thing that is quickly brought out in their voices is their Governing Characteristic. Listening to Nixie or Mack Daddy you get a sense of what drives them and of what makes them peculiar. Writing in first person, give your narrator a distinctive voice, not by speech dialects (“Aw shuckin’ lil’ lady yawl sure do got some kinda helluva bodacious tits on ya’, yessiree.”) but by attitude. If you want them to sound like they come from somewhere, or as in Nixie’s case if they speak English as a foreign language, don’t do it so much in goofy spelling but in syntax and sound, establishing personality by the words you choose and how you arrange them. Listen to the well-spelled parlor room formality and 19th century syntax in the narrator’s voice in Charles Portis’ “True Grit”:
““People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.”
That’s an amazing opening paragraph. You have the Deciding Character. You have the inciting event. You have the time and the place, the desire and the problem. There is great personality in that voice. If you read only that paragraph, you’d have a sense of a brave, righteous girl with a problem to solve and the ferocious tenacity to do it and you’d be about right. This is also a perfect example of establishing authority by heart, listening to the quirky and engaging sound of the woman’s voice as she recalls the events of her childhood invites you to care about her story.
What about a character who is insane? You can introduce the character’s Governing Characteristic by an obsession he repeatedly returns to, a kind of chorus that sounds several times. In Brett Easton Ellis’ novel “American Psycho”, Patrick Bateman is a yuppie Wall Street investment broker during the Reagan era, and incidentally a vicious homicidal maniac who is obsessed with his social status at all times. He shows his Governing Characteristic to us by the way he obsessively lists what every person he meets is wearing or carrying and often even how much money it costs:
It’s cold for April and Price walks briskly down the street towards Evelyn’s brownstone whistling “If I Were a Rich Man” and swinging his Tumi leather attaché case. A figure with slicked back hair and horn rimmed Peeples glasses approaches in the distance, wearing a beige double-breasted wool-gabardine Cerruti 1881 suit and carrying the same Tumi leather attaché case from D. F., Sanders that Price has, and Timothy wonders aloud, “Is it Victor Powell? It can’t be.”
Bateman does this over and over with each person he meets until it almost drives you crazy and then you begin to understand – he’s crazy.
So that exhausts my thoughts for what they’re worth on first person present. Until next time, do well.
|Photo: Alejandro Hernandez|
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust
Writing erotica is something of a paradox. Unlike mystery, horror, or sci-fi, erotica seldom takes the reader to wholly alien places. Unless you’re writing extreme BDSM, or Queer erotica aimed at a hetero reader, the sexual core of a story is something the reader has usually already experienced. At the very least, it’s something they’ve fantasized about. In a way, this is why so many people who haven’t written fiction before opt for writing erotica. Desire is something we’re all pretty familiar with. That should make it easy to write. But for that very reason, it’s also why a lot of erotica can seem stale and recycled. How many new ways are there to get your characters into bed? And how extreme do you have to make the sex to come up with something that doesn’t read like a thousand other stories out there? At some point, it can feel like diminishing returns on your efforts – as a writer or as a reader.
I’d like to talk about voice and narrators. When we start off writing, we tend to pick narrators who are very familiar to us. Often they are, at least partly, us. I have ceased to read much erotica these days, and I think partly it is because I seldom come across startling narrators or fresh voices or invitations to look at the erotic in new ways. I thought it might be helpful to look at a few strategies writers have used to pick up a reader and set them down in a truly unfamiliar narrative space.
Despite all the criticisms of Fifty Shade of Grey’s main character Anna, I think one of the reasons the story was so successful is that she is, improbably, a 22 year old virgin who never masturbated, never orgasmed, and never owned a laptop. For all the suspension of disbelief that demanded off the reader, it did allow James to frame the protagonist’s experiences as wholly new. And, I suspect, for a lot of readers, it allowed them to revisit a kind of innocence most of us, at least in my generation, lost around the age of 16.
I recently finished a zombie apocalypse novel binge. I was trying to figure out what the allure of the meme was. By accident, I ran across an extraordinary novel called “The Reapers are the Angels.” It’s going to sound insane, but it’s a cross between William Faulkner and George A. Romero. Part horror novel, part mystical road-trip, part literary masterpiece, the book tells the story of a young woman who has spent all her life in the post-apocalyptic world. She’s had no formal education and is completely illiterate. This allows the reader, through her narrative, to interpret reality in an incredibly different way. She is a strange mix of innocent savant and pragmatic brutalist. Consequently, what should be a very run of the mill zombie apocalypse novel is transformed into a poetic and deeply philosophical literary text that uses the genre to probe questions of history, memory, human relationships and guilt.
A narrator’s ignorance (hopefully more skillfully established than Anna Steele’s) offers the reader a new way in to familiar spaces. And crafting a unique and somewhat difficult voice with which to lead the reader in also helps to destabilize their assumptions.
Beloved is another breathtaking novel that presents the reader with a history they think they know, but purposefully uses disorienting narrative voices to force the reader to reconsider what they think they know. On the surface, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a horror story. It has ghosts and terrible secrets, supernatural events and eerie synchronicities. But beneath the clever structure and the lyrical language is a deeply serious examination of how we construct identity and how the tragedy of belonging to someone other than oneself puts all relationships under erasure. There are many narrators and many voices in Beloved, but they all have one thing in common. They are all haunted by the past. This fundamentally changes the way they read the present and, consequently forces the reader to also do the same.
It doesn’t matter whether you set your story in the past, the present or the future, as long as you create narrators who navigate the world differently to the way we normally do. Give them a believable reason to have to use a different interior map, and you create radically alien points of view. It gives you the opportunity to examine the familiar with new eyes, from strange tangents. To deconstruct commonly held assumptions of the way the world works – especially when it comes to experiences we believe we feel at home with like sex and desire – and offer them to your readers as almost unnatural experiences.
Language can also play a big role in disorienting your reader. It seems counter-intuitive – to make your writing harder to read – but when done well, it’s a devastatingly effective device for taking your reader to a familiar place and making it feel like somewhere new. Novels like Trainspotting, The Road and Beloved all use challenging dialects and really strange turns of phrase to immerse the reader in what feels like a new world.
Even something as simple as going through your text and consciously tweaking every adjective, adverb or metaphor into one you’ve never read or used before can have a radical effect. You might end up with jarring, uncomfortable language, but if your plot is strong enough, you can pull the reader through it. Much like stroking a cat backwards, you may not produce a comfortable piece for your reader, but I promise you, you’ll produce something different to anything you’ve written before and take your reader on an unexpected adventure.
“Many people hear voices when no-one is there. Some of them
are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day.
Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing.” –Margaret Chittenden
Maybe it was because of a
recent birthday – thank you very much,
that’s very kind – or perhaps it’s because I just realized that I’ve been
at this, being a ‘professional’ author for over 20 years – shocking, I know – or possibly it’s because of a few …. (ahem)
sad experiences recently but I want to revisit something I’ve said before.
I really wonder about
writers. Okay, internet, let’s
hear what you have to say: artists, musicians, actors … how to you treat your
fellow creators? I used to have a
wonderful roomie who was a musician.
We used to chat all the time about this, that, and other things but a
lot about how even though there’s a sense of competition among his fellows
there was also a lot of camaraderie: he’d come home full of bright energy from
playing for hours and hours with other musicians … just jamming.
Meanwhile I’d spent the night
struggling with getting a stubborn story to cooperate, but mostly dealing with
one insanely arrogant writer after another demanding they receive special
treatment (oh, as a matter of transparency, I work as an editor and a publisher
in addition to trying to deal with my own writing ‘career’). This all came to a head when I realized
that for those two decades of being a published about I currently have only a
dozen or so fellow authors I consider to be ‘friends’ (and Facebook doesn’t
Sure – as a writer myself – I
can understand why … but that doesn’t make it right. Again, I’m not sure what it’s like to
be a painter, actor, photographer, musician, or victim of any other creative
pursuit, but writing is damned hard: we
get little or no respect, no money, and everyone and their Great Aunt Maude
thinks they can do it as well. Our
years of work, the care and concern we put into our stories and novels, are ignored
unless we sell something – and then only if it makes millions – or if you take home
some pretty little trophy. If you
have a day job – and every writer out there does, and if they aren’t then
they’re either lying or a member of the rare 1% of writers – you know the
deafening silence that comes when you mention finishing a work.
But what’s worse is that far
too often it seems that the greatest barrier every writer must face … are
other writers. Like said, it’s understandable … but not excusable: we get our
teeth bashed in, our souls crushed, our work ignored – or slammed by trolls –
and so, wounded, we try to bolster our scarred egos by wrapping ourselves in a
cloak of supposed superiority.
Write erotica? I’m better than a pornographer. Write science fiction? I’m better than a romance writer. Write romance? I’m better than a thriller writer. Write thrillers? I’m better than a science fiction
writer. Have 5,000 Facebook
‘friends’? I’m better than someone
with none. Won an award? I’m better than anyone who hasn’t. Write for a blog or site? I’m better than anyone who
doesn’t. Have an agent? I’m better than someone who doesn’t have
one. Write a novel? I’m better than anyone who hasn’t. Sold to a ‘big’ publisher? Then I’m better than anyone who
hasn’t. Sold a book for five
figures? Then I’m better than
someone who hasn’t. A
professional? Then I’m better than
someone who hasn’t sold a word. Become
a ‘name’? Then I’m better than anyone
No, it’s fucking pathetic.
Oh, I’ve heard all the lame justifications
for this arrogance: if I treated everyone equally then I’d never have time to
write, that everyone has to earn their stripes, that you should take public pride
in your accomplishments. But
that’s exactly what they are: excuses.
The bottom line isn’t taking time, or the fear of becoming a full-time
mentor or support system. The
awful trust is that treating other writers poorly makes weaker authors feel
Like said, I understand it –
and, I’m ashamed to say I’ve fallen victim to be on more than once
occasion. But that doesn’t mean
I’m not aware of it – as well as despising myself when I do it.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The idea of basic human
kindness aside … actually, I should just stop there: why shouldn’t you help
other writers? Answer emails, try
to help as much as possible, don’t treat others as less than what you are,
offer opportunities, be inclusive, don’t become cliquish, don’t ask for special
treatment … we are all in this
Okay, so you want a pragmatic
reason? How about this old
chestnut: be careful of who you step on while you’re moving up – because you’ll
be meeting them on the way down.
Every writer begins the same way, which means that not only do we all
share the same pain and frustration but that that annoying little upstart you’re
dismissing could very well be the person who be in a position to do some
tremendous professional good, or – even better – become a true and wonderful
Money does not equal skill,
awards are pointless, popularity comes and goes … if you write, if you work
hard on your craft, and if you have the incredible bravery to actually send
your work out into the world then you deserve respect. If you don’t
get it from other writers don’t blame yourself or your work: you’ve just
encountered the shameful side of the world of professional writing.
But don’t let them beat you
down and certainly don’t roll that shit downhill. Yes, wish those that treat you poorly into the cornfield …
but keep your door open, and offer the hand you wish you’d receive. I’m an atheist but I do believe in the
maxim “Treat others the way you’d wish to be treated.”
This can be a monstrously hard
thing to do – being a writer – but it
doesn’t have to be.
And always, always, always remember that no writer is better
than any other … and if you disagree with that then face it: you’re part of
By Ashley Lister
One of the reasons why I advocate using poetry as a warm up
exercise for writing is because it gets us to think about words in different
ways. When we write poems like the limerick or the sonnet, we end up
considering rhyme patterns. When we write poems like haiku and cinquain, we
count the syllables. When we write poems
like the triolet or the rictameter, we consider the impact of refrains and the effectiveness
of repetition. This month we’re looking at the diamond poem and considering word
Shouting, shrieking, screaming
The diamond poem is seven lines long. 1 x noun, 2 x
adjective, 3 x verb, 4 x noun, 3 x verb, 2 x adjective, 1 x noun.
mentioned before, the benefits from this exercise are considering word classes
and how they are used. Also, as a piece of concrete poetry, I do think diamond
poems look pretty on the page. Another added bonus is, because of the absence
of prepositions, they tend to sound like ‘proper’ poetry.
As always, I look forward to
seeing your diamond poems in the comments box below.
By K D Grace
It’s that time of year again! May is International Masturbation Month and, as one who is proud to be a frequent masturbator, and one who believes our creativity is deeply connected to our sexuality, I feel it’s only right to honor the occasion. Several years ago, I came across a fabulous article by Eric Francis over on Betty Dodson and Carlin Ross’s Sex Information Online site. Every time I revisited, I’m reminded why I liked it so much.
validate the single lifestyle don’t discuss masturbation. The surprising answer seems to be that masturbation is a subject even happily single people just aren’t comfortable discussing. But what intrigued me most was Eric’s speculation as to why that might be:
‘I would propose that masturbation is about a lot more than masturbation — and that’s the reason it’s still considered so taboo by many people, and in many places. First, I would say that masturbation holds the key to all sexuality. It’s a kind of proto-sexuality, the core of the matter of what it means to be sexual. I mean this in an existential sense. Masturbation is the most elemental form of sexuality, requiring only awareness and a body. Whatever we experience when we go there is what we bring into our sexual encounters with others — whether we recognize it or not. Many factors contribute to obscuring this simple fact.’
I read this through several times, savored it, and read it again. The ancient Egyptians believed masturbation was a creative act in its own right. In the Heliopolis creation myth, the god Amen rises from the primeval ocean, Nun, and masturbates the divine son and daughter into existence, and they populate the world. Even if I look at the Judeo/Christian myth in the first two chapters of Genesis, in which God speaks the world into existence, I am still looking at a solo act.
I love Eric’s line, ‘Masturbation is the most elemental form of sexuality, requiring only awareness and a body.
Awareness and Body. What a fabulous combination! Eric even goes on to say that whatever we take from that proto experience of masturbation, we bring into our other relationships as well. In other words, it’s formative, that solo act, that original creative force. It brings awareness and body together. Isn’t that what it’s all about? The discovery of who we are in relation to ourselves is key if we are to be able to properly enter into discovery of ‘The Other.’ Doesn’t the act of creation, metaphorical or otherwise, begin with taking an inventory of what we’ve got to work with and learning how best to work with what we have to bring forth what we hope to create?
Creation as a solo act is an experience with which every writer is familiar, an experience in which we masturbate the world into existence — our world, our characters, our plot — all an act of solitude, all an act of imagination. And I can’t possibly be the only writer who feels that experience viscerally as an act of self-exploration, an act of self discovery.
Awareness and a body. Masturbating the world into existence. It happens all the time. At the risk of offering too much information, my understanding of sex, my deepest understanding of my own sexuality, comes from awareness and my own body. That’s what I have to work with. My understanding of writing, my deepest understanding of the creative forces in me also comes from awareness of self and all that awareness can imaginatively create.
I’m astounded that in a world where solitude and the meditative tradition is a part of almost every religious discipline, we
shy away from the very concept that could have well given birth to it, awareness and Body. Can there really even BE awareness without a body? And how can we possibly understand the boundaries and the limits of either without the two rubbing up against each other. Our act of one-ness, our proto-sexuality, as Eric Francis calls it, I suggest is by its boundary-exploring nature, also our proto-creativity.
Masturbation Month honors awareness and body and the discovering of our own boundaries, that which separates us from everything else. And beautifully, amazingly, astoundingly, it is discovery and exploration of our own boundaries that eases and enhances our journey into connectedness.
Happy Masturbation Month!
Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica,
erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her
husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web
site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon
Let’s play a game. You’ve written what you think is The Most Unique And
Exciting Story In The World, and you want to send it to a magazine or an
anthology submission call. You do exactly that and wait eager – and anxiously –
for over a month to get either an acceptance or a rejection. An acceptance will
be met with many congratulations and toasts with champagne – and pinches to
make sure you’re really awake.
A rejection, which deep in the back of your mind you may actually suspect
you will get because you are a writer and you may thrive on disappointment, will
leave you devastated. Or you’ll shrug it off and send your magnum opus
elsewhere. It’s a toss-up.
Rinse and repeat.
While you play the “hurry up and wait” game, you may wonder
how unique your story really is? Chances are, its theme has been seen before in
many different incarnations. Editors run into the same old stories all the
time. They often talk of common tropes that leave them guessing the plot and
ending before they even finish reading your submission. There are some tropes
many editors wish would never cross their desks. Those tropes should be buried
and the ground sown with salt.
Here are some examples of those kinds of common and tired tropes. First
up, here is a list of subjects Bartleby
Snopes Literary Magazine managing editor Nathaniel Tower is tired of seeing in
lit magazine submissions:
Death Endings – For the love of everything
that is sacred about literature, stop killing off characters in violent or
sentimental fashion in order to achieve an ending. Characters die in
approximately 12% of the submissions we receive. 99% of these deaths are
pointless and make the story worse. Character death is not a substitute for a
Opening with sex or masturbation – Nothing
turns me off faster than a story that opens with a masturbation or sex scene.
I’m all about being thrown directly into a scene, but sometimes there needs to
be some literary foreplay. If there’s an erect penis in the opening line of the
story, I probably don’t want to read it. Interestingly enough, these stories
are almost never sexy.
Sentimental cancer stories – Yes, nearly
everyone has been affected in some way by cancer. I’ve had family members die
of cancer. It’s been at least five years since anyone said anything new with a
Stories that open with light streaming
through the window – How many stories can begin with some type of light
bursting forth through a hunk of glass? Apparently there is no limit. At least
15% of stories contain some type of light coming through something in the
opening paragraph. There are often dust motes thrown in there for good measure.
Please, no more dust motes.
Stories that begin with someone coming out of
a dream or end with someone realizing it was all a dream – You’d
think that all dream stories would have been banned from the universe by
now. It seems as if many writers haven’t gotten the memo. I’ll personally kill
the next character that wakes up from a dream at the beginning of a story. And
ending with a dream? Well, that’s even worse. You might as well just call the
story “Nothing Happened At All” and leave the rest of the document blank.
Alzheimer’s stories – Like cancer stories,
only worse. These writers all pretend they understand exactly what it’s like to
have Alzheimer’s. The worst offenders are those stories told in first person
from the point of view of the Alzheimer’s patient. If I could forget one thing,
it would be Alzheimer’s stories.
Cheating significant other stories – Whether
the cheater is a man or a woman, these stories generally pack as much punch as
an empty bottle of sugar-free Hawaiian Punch. There’s almost always a scene
where someone is packing a suitcase, as if we’re supposed to feel some sort of
relief at this newfound freedom from the tormented relationship. The only
relief is when the story ends.
Machinegun bonus – Here’s a quick list of
other things I’ve seen way too much of:
References to Nietzsche
Stories of thwarted creative genius
Bad things happening to trust fund kids
This is a portion of a list of stories seen too often by Strange
Horizons, an online speculative fiction
magazine. It is helpful in that it can steer you away from what
you may not suspect are common tropes. Please visit this web page often since
the list is updated and changed on occasion. Also visit the page now anyway,
since this is a very long list. The examples below are only a small part of it.
Creative person is having trouble creating.
Weird things happen, but it turns out they’re
not real, like in a dream. (There’s that dream thing again.)
Technology and/or modern life turn out to be
A place is described, with no plot or
A “surprise” twist ending occurs.
The “surprise” is often predictable, hence no longer a
A princess has been raped or molested by her
father (or stepfather), the king.
The narrator and/or male characters in the
story are bewildered about women, believing them to conform to any of the
standard stereotypes about women: that they’re mysterious, wacky, confusing,
unpredictable, changeable, temptresses, etc.
Teen’s family doesn’t understand them.
Twee little fairies with wings fly around
Christine Morgan has written horror, fantasy, erotica, and thrillers.
She has also edited numerous anthologies, including “Fossil Lake”,
“Teeming Terrors” and “Grimm Black”, “Grimm Red”,
and “Grimm White”. Her list includes some other common tropes:
Child characters that do not behave/sound
like kids! I’ve seen too many otherwise good authors present a child character
as if they’ve never even been around children in their lives.
The above can also apply to animals, or any
other different/differing perspective. In fantasy or sci fi, urban fantasy,
horror, whatever; if you’re going to give me a non-human race, then that’s what
I want to see played up, the differences, the exoticness; don’t just make ’em
humans with special effects makeup.
Any of the overdone sexism tropes: fridging,
smurfette syndrome, automatic love interest, passive prize women, etc. That
should go without saying but the fact it still so often needs to be said is
almost more annoying.
think the term came from crime dramas and thrillers, where the body was found
in a fridge or freezer or something) is what they call it when someone, usually
a female character, is killed to motivate the male character … most recent
example that pissed me off was when I watched Thor: Dark World, when the easiest way to get Thor and Loki to work
together was to kill Frigga.
Syndrome is what I’ve heard it when you’ve got your group of characters, each
of whom is characterized by some trope or type … the jock, the nerd, the
weirdo … and the girl … because that alone is enough of an identifying
love interest is when a female character is added to the cast or in the story
and the main focus is only to be which guy gets her. My own beloved Gargoyles did some of that with Angela,
when, the moment she appeared, all that mattered was who she’d end up with. It’s
related to the passive prize woman thing, where the primary purpose of having a
female character at all is so the hero has something to win or gets the girl at
the end, whether anything else in the story had led up to it or not.
Radclyffe is an American author of lesbian romance, paranormal romance,
erotica, and mystery. She has authored multiple short stories, fan fiction, and
edited numerous anthologies. Here are a few themes/character notes/plot-lines
that seem overused in submissions she has seen:
who are relationship-phobic because they were cheated on. While this may be
crushing at the time, most people do not swear off love and/or sex forever
because of an unfaithful gf/bf/spouse etc.
who are unavailable because they are mourning a dead spouse (while tragic in
real life, and I’ve used this storyline myself :), it’s getting to be
YA’s – along
those lines: dying teens as main characters
main characters (snarky, petty, narcissistic) – not the same as
arrogant, confident, alpha
International settings no one
would want to visit on a good day
Fantasy/sci-fi characters with
veiled morality tales (or social/political polemics). Write an essay or op ed
Fault in Our Stars clones
where one character dies (might be a great story, but it’s not a
with no BDSM scenes (seen the movie?)
where the villain is declared insane and justice is NOT served
So there you have
it. Now you are armed with examples of what to not submit. Expand your mind,
avoid those kinds of tropes, and create something that may truly be The Most
Unique And Exciting Story In The World.
Author’s Note: My
story Infection appears in the
Terrors. My story Black As Ebony,
White As Snow shall soon appear in Grimm
White. Both books are edited by Christine Morgan. My short erotic story Like A Breath Of Ocean Blue shall soon
appear in Best Lesbian Romance 2015,
edited by Radclyffe.
by Jean Roberta
Teaching creative writing to young adults (second-year university students) is an instructive experience for the instructor as well as the students. Lately, I’ve been reading stories and poems that overflow with passion: usually the frustration of rejected love, or a desperate need for someone who responds with indifference. For someone who has had this experience for the first time, it must feel as monumental as Hamlet’s dilemma when he asks himself, “To be or not to be? That is the question.”
Let me state here for the record that I haven’t become too old or jaded to feel moved by expressions of anguish by young writers. I remember being their age, and my life didn’t run smoothly either.
However, my current frustration with student writing is triggered by extreme expressions of emotion that seems way out of proportion to the situation, as set forth in the work itself. Readers can empathize with Hamlet because we know that he came home from university to find that his father had died under mysterious circumstances, and his uncle had suddenly married his mother. If such things happened in our own lives, we probably wouldn’t be happy.
The writer T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) wrote a famous essay setting forth his theory that emotion expressed by characters in literature should always be based on an “objective correlative,” some circumstance that makes it seem logical and appropriate to the reader. (He complained that Shakespeare didn’t really succeed at that in Hamlet.)
Poetry by beginning writers often looks like a stream of consciousness, focusing on negative feelings. This semester, I’ve noticed a lot of screaming in student poems. (“I could have screamed, “Screaming, I cried.” “I screamed at the dark sky.”) In most cases, the cause of the screaming is briefly referred to, and it doesn’t seem to me to justify such an extreme reaction.
I’ve been looking for the objective correlative, often in vain. This can be a sensitive topic to bring up with student writers that I interact with in person. I don’t really want to know all the details of their lives, and some things are none of my business. I don’t care whether the events in their work have been made up; making up stuff is what creative writing is all about. However, I don’t want to read page after page of first-person descriptions of screaming that seem to be “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I’ve read erotica that reads that way too. An attractive stranger walks into a room, and the first-person observer almost comes. I’m willing to let the writer take me into his/her imaginary world, but I need to be persuaded. If the observer woke up feeling horny, having dreamed about sex all night, her/his reaction to the attractive stranger would make sense, and I would probably accept it.
Maybe the attractive stranger looks exactly like a celebrity that the observer has admired for years, or maybe like an old crush. Maybe the “stranger” really is the old crush, and he/she has matured into a more glamorous, more successful person than before. All this could make the observer’s reaction not only logical, but almost inevitable. But the reader/voyeur needs to know the details.
Screaming in orgasm is likely to be a peak experience for the screamer. It’s probably something that doesn’t happen each time the person has sex. So if this happens in a sex scene on a page that I’m reading, I need to know what is unusual about this conjunction of bodies. The stars must have been aligned in just such a way that the friction feels exquisite.
I’m sure I’ve rushed into sex scenes in my own writing, especially when pressed for time. When the deadline for a call-for-submissions was last week and I’ve been given an extension by a generous editor, the characters need to get it on, fast. However, if a story or a poem doesn’t work for readers in general, or if the piece only makes sense to those who know the writer’s personal history, it just doesn’t work. I’m grateful to my students for reminding me of that.