So, you self-published a sex story. Wrote it yourself, edited it, slapped on a cover and uploaded it to the mighty Zon (that’s what those in the know call the big-boy of ebook publishing; get with the program, ‘kay?). Congratulations! And I mean that. It’s an achievement. You know how I know? Because it’s hard, and goddam it feels good (situation normal for us erotica folk). But I digress. Back to your sex story…
Then what happened?
You: It died.
Or it sold a few copies and then died.
Or you ran a free promo, moved a few copies, then it died.
Or you dropped a wad of cash on a paid promo, moved a nifty fifty or so copies but didn’t cover costs, then it died.
Sense a pattern?
These are all symptoms of the same thing—a book that can’t find its market. Sounds simple, right? Oh, I wish. There’s a whole tree of possible causes—nay, a forest—and if you have the time and energy, we can work through them. It’s a valuable exercise, because the only thing worse than pouring your heart into a book that tanks, is backing it up with a second.
In this and my next few Editing Corner blogs, we’ll look though a few of the reasons for stories tanking on Amazon, and techniques for breathing some new life into them.
Whoa, whoa, don’t get your dander up, partner. It’s just a heading. And let’s face it, I was only saying what you were thinking, am I right?
It seems logical. Stephen King writes awesome books, and he sells them by the truckload. You sell no books at all, so therefore… (see the heading above—I don’t want to have to say it).
But it’s not true. Or at best, it’s not necessarily true.
Have you ever bought a crap book? Or loaned one from the library? Of course you have—we all have. How could that happen? It looked a lot like books you enjoy. The title sounded interesting—the kind of genre you often read. The blurb made it sound like the kind of rollicking tale that would promise hours of quiet reading bliss. The signs were all there, and like a trusting soul, you bought it. It just didn’t live up to it’s potential.
It was a crap book with good marketing.
Just because your book doesn’t sell, that doesn’t make it a bad book, because bad books still sell. If it sells and gets universally terrible reviews, or if it sells and then readers seek refunds, or they seek out your web page to tell exactly how shit it is, then you might have enough evidence to say it’s a bad book.
No sales just means bad marketing, not bad writing. Don’t get me wrong, your book might be a steaming dog turd, but you can’t draw that conclusion from a lack of sales.
There are many things you can do improve sales, but doubling them won’t help if your current number is zero. Every single ebook sale is a three stage process.
Find…click…buy. Three steps. Would it surprise you to learn that apart from the manuscript itself, there are three key elements to marketing that you must nail in order to sell a single copy?
Those three things are Title, Cover, Blurb. They all matter. Miss one and you miss the sale.
A reader must be able to find your book. There are so many books out there; how do they find yours? In the first 30 days after publishing, your title will appear in the New Releases lists under whatever category you chose. Job done, right? But what happens after the first 30 days? Short of paid advertising, there are two organic ways readers will find your book:
Amazon’s search algorithm is not published, but there are some known facts:
So, title (and keywords) are important. Why don’t we just title our books with keywords?
“Hung Alien Jocks Drill Astro-Cheerleaders” (A sci-fi college erom novel)
There’s art to subtlety in an ebook title, but—and this is important in erotica—it’s easy to be too subtle. If you’re writing stroke erotica, then it’s not a great leap of logic to surmise your target audience is horny and impatient. You’re going to find that kind of person pretty forgiving when it comes to dumbed-down book titles.
Belinda’s rules for title and keywords:
If you’ve taken your dead or dying erotica and applied these principles, sexing up the title, spicing up the keywords, should you expect to instantly start selling more books?
You already knew the answer to that, and it’s “not necessarily”. Making your book discoverable is just the first step in the journey. Hopefully, now, you’re in a reader’s search results. Next time, we’ll talk about turning that into a click, and then turning the click into a purchase.
By Ashley Lister
A colleague got in touch with me the other day. He was sitting in front of a blank sheet, waiting for inspiration, and he wanted my advice: “I’m blocked,” he explained. “What should I do?”
My response was immediate: “Write a haiku.”
When it comes to physical exercise, we’re all sufficiently savvy to know that it’s sensible to warm up before running or pumping iron. If you start to run without having stretched your body into an appropriate state of limberness, then you court the danger of serious physical injury. If you start lifting weights without having stretched, then you could easily strain a muscle or tear something important.
And yet, when it comes to writing, a form of psychological exercise than can be as draining as a marathon and as challenging as any weightlifting competition, the idea of warming up with a brief exercise is invariably dismissed.
I know I’ve mentioned haiku on here before, but I do think the simplicity of the form is impressive. More importantly, I think the discipline that comes from writing a haiku, forcing oneself to focus on a clarity of image and a rigidity of syllabic expression, helps each of us to enter that special zone of focus that is needed for writing.
It’s a form of exercise that I try to use before each writing session. The concept is relatively simple. I need to write a single haiku before I can begin. This means I need to compose a three line poem where the first line contains five syllables, the second line contains seven syllables, and the final line contains five syllables.
Obviously there are variations on the haiku form, and there’s the distinction between a haiku and senryu that I tend not to worry about, but I stick with the traditional form because it best suits my needs.
This was a whimsical one I wrote the other morning:
I’m worried because
One of my balls is larger
Than the other two
It’s nothing special. But the syllable counting and making this quip in a specifically concise manner, was enough to get my mind into my personal zone of creativity.
My colleague got back to me. He’d written a haiku and then managed to get a few more pages down on his current WIP.
By Jean Roberta
I love historical drama, but as someone once said, the past is a foreign country. They did things differently there.
In a recent television spectacle featuring Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth I, the never-married queen is courted by the Duc D’Anjou, a brother of the King of France. Their marriage would make a good diplomatic alliance to help England resist a threatened Spanish invasion. Apparently to her surprise, Queen Bess finds that she has feelings for the Duc, beyond her desire to secure her nation and possibly give birth to an heir. The Duc is in his twenties while the Queen is in her forties, but the age gap doesn’t seem to bother either of them. He praises her beauty in charmingly-accented English. He tells her that he likes “pro-TEST-ants,” and that his Catholic faith is a private matter that wouldn’t have to be an issue in their relationship.
However, religion is a serious matter to the English Parliament, and no one in the Queen’s government wants her to marry a Catholic. The Queen could simply overrule all her advisors, including her long-term admirer, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who wanted to marry her for years, but who was repeatedly turned down. In the film version, Queen Bess claims that “Robin’s” status isn’t high enough to match hers, although the sudden death of his first wife (found dead at the foot of a staircase) and the rumours of murder that circulated afterward would have made it reckless for Bess and “Robin” to rush into marriage. For better or worse, she rejects the Duc d’Anjou as well.
So what were the real deal-breakers that prevented Queen Bess from marrying any of her suitors? The age gap between the Queen and the French Duc (especially if she hoped to produce an heir) isn’t shown as a problem for anyone, including the concerned bystanders. The traditional explanation for her persistently single state was that the Queen was “married to her people.”
The theme of “forbidden love,” expressed in secret trysts, is still a compelling subject in erotic romance. It’s hard to imagine an official barrier between two people who are attracted to each other that could really keep them from sneaking some time together. It’s also hard to imagine any difference which couldn’t be seen as a barrier.
Religious differences, formerly a deal-breaker, don’t seem to keep people apart the way they used to. Does this mean that human society has evolved to be more inclusive than in the past? Probably not. Marriages between cousins were considered desirable in some cultures in the past, especially if there was a fortune that could thereby be kept in the family. On the other hand, marrying one’s deceased wife’s sister was considered so incestuous (or squicky for some other reason) that it was outlawed in England in the Victorian Age. Huge age gaps (mostly older men with younger women, but sometimes the reverse) were accepted, but gaps in social class were not. (At least upper-class men didn’t marry the servants, although they were certainly welcome to, ahem, enjoy their company.)
Before the “Gay Rights” movement of the twentieth century, sexual relations between members of the same gender were considered “crimes against nature,” and punished in drastic ways if not kept secret. (Some secrets were really facts that everyone knew and no one mentioned aloud.)
We are all products of our time, whether we want to admit it or not. For Americans in my parents’ generation (born just after the First World War), racial separation was enforced both by “Jim Crow” laws, and by social traditions that generally kept racially-defined groups apart. A mixed-race relationship was a very big deal in that era, although there were a few exceptional couples who managed to stay together.
I doubt if anyone can honestly claim to be free of prejudice in all forms when it comes to sexual attraction. What are the deal-breakers that have made some people in your life seem attractive but inaccessible, or not attractive at all? I’m tempted to do a survey.
I found a fun article about how your Myers-Briggs personality influences your sexual preferences. Do you like anal? Sex toys? Multiple partners? Now, there’s a handy test to help you find out how wrong you are about what you thought was your sex life.
You may read about the survey here at Metro:
It’s total nonsense but amusing nonetheless. I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Personality Test before. I always end up INTJ – Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging. With an emphasis on Turbulent rather than Assertive.
I’m in good company when it comes to writers. Isaac Asimov, Jane Austen, Sylvia Plath, Emily Bronte and Sun Tzu are INTJs. There are even INTJ fictional characters including Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarty, Hannibal Lecter, Walter White, Gus Fring (what’s with all the criminal masterminds?) and Victor Frankenstein. I like how Holmes and Moriarty are both INTJs. Lecter and Agent Clarice Starling are also INTJs. Nice juxtaposition, like a yin/yang of cold and driven people.
I also come very close to the following:
INTP – Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceiving
INFJ – Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging
INFP – Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving
The difference between T/F and P/J is nearly 50% in my case. I break even enough to consider them.
INTJ is The Architect, the rarest of the results (2% of the population), especially when it comes to women. Only 0.8% of women are Architects.
According to this new sexual preferences/Myers-Briggs study, I supposedly love doggy style. I don’t. It’s too impersonal. I don’t like staring at the headboard while my man bangs away. It’s also too hard on my knees.
I also don’t like cowgirl, which I believe is another preference for INTJs. This may sound strange, but I don’t like being on top because I get cold. It’s also hard on my knees. I like to be buried under the blankets while I make love. I stay warm that way. I also feel overexposed when on top. It makes me feel very uncomfortable and vulnerable. I do like side-to-side. That works well for both of us.
If I go by my other possible test results, I have the lowest average number of sex partners (ha!). I counted my lovers and they came out to just over a dozen. I came of age in the go-go 1980s so that number may be considered low for that era. Heh heh. I also supposedly would masturbate the least. Not a chance. I love my sex toys. I used to test them and write reviews. Companies would mail them to me for free. I got some nice ones, too – JimmyJane and Lelo. They can cost in the hundreds. I have my favorites and I use them.
According to INFP, I’m difficult to satisfy in bed and am most likely to be mistaken about what I like in bed. That one is close enough to being true, although I don’t know if the study means I don’t know what I want or if it means my partners didn’t know what I wanted. The former is not true at all. The latter has certainly been true. My past lovers occasionally not so much didn’t know but didn’t care what I wanted. I wrote them off fast enough.
Here are the categories for the Myers-Briggs sexual preferences survey. Are you a match or did you laugh your ass off? Me? I laughed.
Logistician (ISTJ) – least likely to share what they want in bed
Advocate (INFJ) – masturbates the least
Architect (INTJ) – loves doggy style
Protagonist (ENFJ) – second most willing to use sex toys
Virtuoso (ISTP) – most willing to have a threesome and is submissive in bed
Consul (ESFJ) – will likely decline threesomes and anal sex
Mediator (INFP) – difficult to satisfy in bed and most likely to be mistaken about what they like in bed
Entertainer (ESFP) – least likely to experiment with someone of the same gender
Campaigner (ENFP) – most likely to experiment with someone of the same gender Entrepreneur (ESTP) – doesn’t really fancy using sex toys and easy to please in bed
Executive (ESTJ) – has the highest average number of lovers and is most satisfied sexually
Commander (ENTJ) – most willing to use sex toys, likes role play and bondage, and very dominant
Logician (INTP ) – lowest average number of sex partners
Defender (ISFJ) – least adventurous in bed
Debater (ENTP) – most willing to have anal sex
Adventurer (ISFP) – second most likely to be mistaken about what they like in bed
Take the Myers Brigg test here: https://www.16personalities.com
Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and her two cats.
Web site: http://elizabethablack.blogspot.com
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/elizabethblack
Okay, I have to admit that I’m ticked off and it’s all Lisabet’s fault. Well its not actually Lisabet’s fault, she just wrote a blog post Consent and Complicity that got me fired up.
If you haven’t read it, take a minute and look it up. You should be able to click the link above to view it.
My problem is simply this, why are writers of erotica treated differently than writers of any other genre and their stories have to conform to different rules than others.
My top peeve is the use of rubbers in erotic stories. Why do we need a condom, will you get an STD from reading? Do we need to promote safe sex? Why?
Did Dirty Harry use blanks in his 44 Magnum, well did he punk?
Are James Patterson’s characters all nice Sunday school teachers, well hell no!
So why can other writers write murder and mayhem without any thought to their character’s safety? Is it written anywhere that we have to play nice? I’m mad and I’m not going to take this any longer!
When you read a fictional story, most people read to be entertained and a means to escape to another world for a few minutes. Well, and if you read one of my stories, I hope you get off also.
I don’t have any lofty ideals about my stories, I write stroke, plain and simple but that’s not the whole story.
An erotic story by definition is to entertain and stimulate the reader, not to teach a lesson. Unless that’s the actual intent of the story.
I never use a condom in a story because I think that the reader needs to imagine the feeling of bare skin on skin, not plastic rubbing together. The story is not going to somehow infect us but if you’re worried about it try spraying your books with Lysol.
I doubt that you can find very many people who would rather have sex with a rubber than bareback. Especially in today’s world, where we are constantly concerned about some disease such as Ebola, AIDS, Hep C, or some other God-awful thing that might make your dick fall off.
By the same token, if the thought of pseudo-rape or non-con scenes turns your crank, then why can’t we read that? If Stephen King can torture and kill people in his stories without raising an eyebrow, why can’t we have someone put clothespins on our nipples?
Personally, I’m not into pain but I know a number of people who really get off on it. That doesn’t mean that you have to read/write a story involving a flogger but you should have the right if you want to.
According to authors who use a conventional publishing house and have to deal with editors, there is often the comments that the editor makes them tone down their story to be sure it doesn’t offend someone.
That’s why I like to satisfy myself and my readers, not some editor somewhere, which self-publishing gives you that ability.
“Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like; it protects speech you don’t like,” Larry Flynt of Hustler Magazine.
A few days ago, Robert Buckley posted a biting critique of political correctness in publishing, especially in erotica. He cited a personal experience where an editor had labeled his climactic scene involving two people who had a sexual history as a rape because the woman had not explicitly given her consent to the encounter.
Bob was dumb-founded – and I would have been, too. Lovers don’t need to ask permission. Even in an erotic interlude between strangers, mutual attraction can often be assumed, signaled by behavioral cues. We are, after all, writing for adults, not children who need every detail spelled out.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of readers who enjoy stories involving dubious consent, or even completely non-consensual sex. You can wring your hands all you want, but survey after survey has documented the fact that many women have rape fantasies. Do these women actually want to be raped? Of course not. That doesn’t diminish the erotic charge associated with being “forced” to submit to sex.
One reason this fantasy is such a powerful aphrodisiac is that it relieves the woman of responsibility for sexual activity. If you’re coerced into having sex, nobody can label you as a slut. You can remain a good girl even as you’re enjoying the enormous cock (or cocks) pounding your holes.
Intellectually, I can understand the appeal of non-con fantasies, but this particular kink doesn’t really push my personal buttons. I can recall only one book I’ve written that had elements of dubious consent (Rajasthani Moon). The novel begins with the heroine being kidnapped, whipped and fucked by a sexy bandit. The whole scenario is intentionally very exaggerated, treated in a light-hearted manner. No one could possibly doubt that Cecily Harrowsmith, secret agent extraordinaire on a mission from Queen Victoria, is having an excellent time. In general, serious non-con does not float my boat.
On the contrary, you might say I have a consent fetish. There are few things I find as arousing as explicitly agreeing to do something naughty. Even in a vanilla relationship, saying “yes” to passion is exciting and empowering. There’s always an element of risk in sex, emotional if not physical. When you overcome the fear and claim the pleasure, you reap incredible rewards.
Consent is even more potent in the context of dominance and submission. Nothing turns me on like a submissive agreeing to be tormented and used by a dominant. Admitting your deviant desires—taking responsibility for your own fantasies, twisted and taboo though they might be—scenes featuring this sort of dynamic never fail to get me wet.
My very first published work included this sort of interaction:
He leaned closer. “I want to tie you here, hand and foot, so that you will be more completely at my disposal. I believe that you want that, too. But you must tell me so. I will not do this without your permission.”
Kate was silent. She had never been so unsure in her life. Fear, suspicion, shame, and distrust warred with curiosity and desire. In his arms she had felt both sheltered and helpless, and she longed for those feelings again. Yet he was essentially a stranger, she reminded herself—a stranger with a shady profession and an unsavory reputation.
When she looked at him, though, she saw attentive concern in his eyes, belying the fierce reality of the cock which pulsed hugely from his fly. The sight of his manhood sent a delicious weakness through her limbs. I must be crazy, she thought, as she nodded her assent.
“Do it,” she murmured, and did not trust herself to say anymore.
With expert skill, he bound her wrists with the silken braids. “Silk is a marvelous substance,” he commented. “So soft, but incredibly strong. Like you, my little Kate. I know that you can endure much. Much more than you would believe.”
~ from Raw Silk by Lisabet Sarai
In more recent work, I’ve continued to explore the same themes, in perhaps more subtle ways:
“Look at me.” His tone was softer but no less firm. I raised my eyes to his, which were the startling blue of glacial ice. I shivered and burned. “You’re new, aren’t you?”
“Yes, Sir,” he corrected me. My nipples tightened inside my bra.
“Yes, Sir.” Just his voice was enough to make me ache.
“What’s your name?”
“Cassie, Sir. Cassie Leonard.”
“Don’t look away, Cassie. Look at me. Do you know who I am?”
“No, Sir. I just started at Lindenwood this week. Before that I was in the rehab department at Miriam Hospital.”
“My slaves call me Master Jonathan.”
My earlobes, my nipples, my fingertips, all seemed to catch fire. I wanted to sink through the floor. I didn’t want him to see how his words excited me.
But he did see. I stared at my hands, knuckles white from gripping the rail.
“You have a boyfriend, don’t you?”
“Yes, Sir, I do.” An image of Ryan rose in my mind, his brown curls and uneven grin, muscled chest and hard thighs. I did love him, truly I did, with his quirky humor, his gentle fingers and his boyish ardor. He was a fine young man. My mother approved of him.
“He doesn’t satisfy you.” It was a statement, not a question. Tears of remembered frustration pricked the corners of my eyes. “Why not, Cassie? Is his cock too small?”
I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation with a stranger, a patient, a half-paralyzed man forty years older than I was. I stole a glance at Dr. Carver. His mouth was firm but his eyes sparkled with suppressed mirth.
“No, Sir. His cock is fine.” Ryan was justifiably proud of his meaty hard-ons.
“What is it then? Is he a selfish lover? Does he come too quickly for you?”
Guilt washed over me. Ryan would happily spend hours licking my pussy and fingering me, trying to get me off. The only way I could manage it was to think about scenes from the kinky porn I hid from him. Whippings and spankings, gags and handcuffs, all the clichés that I couldn’t stop myself from wanting.
“Well? Tell me, Cassie. What do you need that he doesn’t provide? What do you want?”
My mouth filled with cotton. I couldn’t speak. I was acutely aware of my rigid nipples pressing against the starched fabric of my uniform. My clit pulsed like a sore tooth inside my sodden panties.
“Cassie, I’m waiting.” His sternness sent electricity shimmering through my limbs. “Don’t disappoint me.”
I dared a glance at his face. His left eyelid drooped slightly. His eyes snared mine. I couldn’t look away. One eyebrow arched in an unspoken question.
“I—um—I want him to, uh, to do things to me. That he doesn’t want to do.” I tried to break away from his gaze, but the force of his will held me.
“Things?” He sounded amused. A fresh wave of hot, wet shame swamped my body. “What sort of things?”
“Uh—tie me up. Spank me. Use me. Treat me like his slave.” It all came out in a rush, the desires I’d never shared with anyone except Ryan. Even then, I’d only shown him the tip of the iceberg, the least perverted of my needs. “He wouldn’t, though. He was shocked when I told him. Disgusted. Said that I had a filthy mind.” The tears that had gathered earlier spilled out over my cheeks.
“I imagine that you do, little one, delightfully filthy.” His voice was a caress, soothing and seductive. “I knew that right away, just from your reactions to my voice. Your deepest desire is to submit to a strong master, isn’t it?”
“Yes—Sir.” I felt relief, now that I’d admitted my secret. He at least didn’t seem to condemn me.
“You want to be beaten and buggered, shackled to the bed and split open by a huge cock. You want to bath in your master’s come, maybe even his piss. To be forced to service his friends.”
It was thrilling and horrible, listening to him enumerating my darkest fantasies out loud. My clit felt the size of a ripe plum, swollen and juicy, ready to burst. I nodded, still finding it difficult to expose myself so completely.
“I will do those things for you, if you’d like.”
~ from “Stroke” by Lisabet Sarai, originally published in Please Sir: Erotic Tales of Female Submission, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel.
Why do I find this scenario so exciting? Well, I’ve been there. I’ve stood in front of my master and been invited to admit that what he wanted to do to me, I wanted, too. I’ve consented to things I’d never dared to imagine. I’ve writhed under his blows, turned on despite the very real pain, recognizing in wonder that I’d asked for this. That realization raised the erotic temperature to an even more fevered level.
Certainly I wanted to please him. Knowing he truly appreciated my surrender made it all the sweeter. But the intensity of my arousal derived more from other aspects of our interaction. His vision, seeing through my good-girl persona to the twisted creature underneath, a woman I hardly knew existed. His whole-hearted acceptance of my deviance. My secret, shameful, delicious knowledge that I was complicit in my own debasement.
We shared the communion of outlaws, two souls with perfectly complementary fantasies. I’d stepped over that line deliberately, trusting him and myself.
He and I are still in touch, though separated by many thousands of miles. He recently sent me a video of “Wolf Like Me”, by the group TV on the Radio. I’d never encountered this song before, but now I can’t get it out of my mind.
Charge me your day rate
I’ll turn you out in kind
When the moon is round and full
Gonna teach you tricks that’ll blow your mongrel mind
Baby doll, I recognize
You’re a hideous thing inside
If ever there were a lucky kind, it’s
You, you, you, you
I know it’s strange another way to get to know you
You’ll never know unless we go so let me show you
I know it’s strange another way to get to know you
We’ve got till noon; here comes the moon
So let it show you
Show you now
I concur with his suggestion that the lyrics hold many D/s echoes. We both understood it in the same way—as an invitation to venture beyond the bounds of convention and normalcy, into the fierce, hot, wild unknown of power exchange.
An invitation to consent.
The New Year is starting off right for me with two appearances at ERWA. In addition to this column, I have the honor of being this month’s ERWA Awesome Author. Choosing a story and writing an updated bio got me thinking about why I love erotica writing and ERWA, which has been and continues to be an awesome group of writers. Thus, I decided to take a break from time travel and talk about the power of point of view.
The story I chose, “Frank and Eva” published in Alison Tyler’s Sudden Sex, presents a sexual encounter from the different points of view of each partner. I think many readers enjoy experiencing the same situation through the eyes of different narrators—I certainly do. My appreciation of that approach in erotica dates all the way back to 1997 and one of the very first literary erotic anthologies to inspire me to write: The Mammoth Book of International Erotica, edited by Maxim Jakubowski. In the story “Watching,” by J.P. Kansas, we first take the husband’s perspective as he comes home early from work to discover his wife masturbating to one of his pornographic videotapes (hmm, maybe we are going back to the distant past after all?). The husband watches, thinking he is unobserved, but in the second part of the story, we learn from the wife’s perspective that she knew he was watching and in fact was performing for him. The couple’s responses to pornography and their curiosity about the other’s responses are explored to fascinating and humorous effect.
She-said-he-said stories are often assumed to present mutually exclusive versions of the truth of an event. We think we must somehow take sides—one person is more “right” than the other, or at least their worldview fits more closely to ours. But a story like “Watching” reveals that when we experience the sensibilities of both partners in an encounter, the result can be as rich and layered as two people making love.
“Frank and Eva” was really fun to write. I don’t often write stories from the male point of view, but when I’ve dared to do so, I’m always particularly engaged in the task. It’s exciting to imagine what it’s like to be another person with different experiences, all the more so in intimate circumstances. Of course, I always check my male POV stories with a male friend for any glaring inaccuracies just in case I’m way off base!
The challenge of crossing that distance reminds me of the discussion of “social distance” in Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy. In his exploration of they ways groups feel alienated from each other in our society, author Christopher Hayes identifies two types of social distance: horizontal and vertical. Horizontal occurs between people of roughly equal social station. The examples he gives are members of different races or religions who might live in the same city but occupy different worlds. Vertical social distance is the gap between those in authority and the people who are affected by their policies and decisions. These days many people, whatever their political views, feel our leaders are out of touch and unresponsive to the needs of ordinary citizens. (Twilight of the Elites, 184-186)
However, Hayes’ model doesn’t really capture the special form of social distance between different genders. We live in close proximity, often intimately, yet male privilege and the very different ways genders are socialized mean there is always a distance in how we experience the world.
She-said-he said stories are a way to cross that distance in the reader’s and writer’s mind. If we approach the exercise with empathy and sincere curiosity, I believe we help close that distance between us. Why not give it a try?
Happy New Year and best wishes for a creative year ahead!
When the #metoo movement got under way I was cheering along the sidelines with just about everyone else who was appalled, but perhaps not surprised, at the volume of complaints by women who had had to endure sexual harassment ranging from crude remarks to physical abuse. The up-swell of indignation from women who had been mostly silent or muffled was profoundly uplifting. But even as I applauded I anticipated the inevitable backlash.
All great notions eventually become co-opted, usually by the self-righteous, simple Simons who take it upon themselves to take up other folks’ crosses, unbidden, and impose judgment on who is and is not true to the movement. Like the peasants weilding pitchforks who give way to committees sentencing offenders to the guillotine.
I recall watching a panel of women giddily anticipating the accusations to come against men going back decades, with one even suggesting that women who did not come forward with their own j’accuse were betraying the sisterhood. It was eerily similar to the McCarthy-era call to name names. How soon, I wondered, would the blow-back commence?
What does this have to do with writing, not just erotica, but any genre? There already exists a serious form of censorship that confronts all writers. Publishers now employ political correctness checkers who scour manuscripts and galleys for anything that might offend. I wonder, though, if they are wasting their money, because time after time, it has become evident that you can’t avoid offending someone who wants to be offended. Take the recent social media scourging of a Caucasian girl who wore a prom gown based on a Chinese garment. The initial instigator, without revealing whether he was Asian or not, said she had no right to wear it. You might as well proscribe white people from eating Chinese food.
I recall getting into a spirited argument with two editors at a newspaper I worked for over the use of St. Paddy’s day. The edict had come down that we were to avoid it at all costs, and this in a city where a good portion of the population considered themselves as Irish as Pat Murphy’s pig.
I was astounded. Yet I was told the term Paddy was offensive to the Irish. Notwithstanding my opinion that you can’t offend the Irish, I offered to take my editors on a stroll through a nearby neighborhood and count all the businesses with Paddy in their names: Paddy’s Pub, Paddy’s Hardware, Paddy’s Florist.
But I might as well have been taking to the three monkeys.
As a writer I’ve encountered PC censorship. Once I submitted a short story for an anthology that was initially accepted with enthusiasm. Then the editing process began.
The story centered on a pair of first responders who had a romantic history between them but were on the verge of breaking up. During the course of their shift they would find themselves in a life or death effort to rescue a pair of kids from a tenement inferno and come this/close to losing their lives.
Later, in the privacy of the back of their ambulance, with their bloodstream saturated with adrenalin, their lust and need for each other erupted in a physical encounter that would include fist pummeling (the woman on the man), shredded clothing, buttons flying, panties ripping, cursing and piston-pumping sex.
The editor said I would have to rewrite the scene because it was a rape.
The editor said it was a non-negotiable point. It was a rape because the woman had not explicitly given her consent to the encounter.
Wait a minute, I said. These two are crazy about each other, even if they are going thr0ugh a rough patch. They are steeped in adrenaline and hormones. Do you really think they are going to take a time out to she can say it’s okay if they fuck like demons?
I eventually satisfied the editor by adding a line where she screamed I want this. But it seemed to me silly, unrealistic and unnecessary.
Later in the process the editor said another reader damned it as a white savior narrative, because the characters were white and the fire occurred in an immigrant neighborhood. At that point it occurred to me that the story was being edited by a committee and each member had a PC checklist. I began to wonder what the hell they liked about the story in the first place.
I would not be surprised if consent becomes a bigger issue for writers of erotica. Even surpassing the days when calls for submissions almost all insisted on sex-positive stories. For those of us who like to write with a sensible dose of realism, and all others who have any experience with just living, sex isn’t always positive, and neither is love.
For real folks, and believable characters, sex – and love – is indeed a battlefield.
by Ashley Lister
Happy New Year everyone. I hope 2019 brings you all that you deserve, and may your happiness and pleasure be enviable.
Last month I wrote about the importance of description and the lovely Lisabet Sarai was sufficiently sagacious to remind me that it’s a common error in new writers to include too much description. Consequently, I thought that this month we could look at balance in writing and description.
Before we begin, I’d seriously recommend watching this video from the hilarious Weird Al.
I think this song illustrates how easy it is to overwrite any piece of fiction. Weird Al is parodying ‘Trapped in the Closet’ and is doing it with his usual panache and style. In one scene, when the couple have decided to go out for a meal, we’re treated to the following lines:
“We head out of the front door.
Open the garage door.
Then I open the car door.
And we get in those car doors.
Put my key in the ignition.
And then I turn it sideways.
Then we fasten our seatbelts…”
This is funny because it’s so much unnecessary detail: far more detail than any audience would ever want. However, if this was in a piece of fiction, we wouldn’t be enjoying it. Rather than feeling as though they were immersed in the physicality of the situation, our reader would simply become bored with the iteration of dull minutiae. And the golden rule of all fiction is: never bore the reader.
So, how does this apply to description? Well, frustratingly, description can sometimes be the dullest part of a piece of fiction. Below is my least favourite piece of description in all of literature:
One step brought us into the family sitting-room, without any introductory lobby or passage: they call it here ‘the house’ pre-eminently. It includes kitchen and parlour, generally; but I believe at Wuthering Heights the kitchen is forced to retreat altogether into another quarter: at least I distinguished a chatter of tongues, and a clatter of culinary utensils, deep within; and I observed no signs of roasting, boiling, or baking, about the huge fireplace; nor any glitter of copper saucepans and tin cullenders on the walls. One end, indeed, reflected splendidly both light and heat from ranks of immense pewter dishes, interspersed with silver jugs and tankards, towering row after row, on a vast oak dresser, to the very roof. The latter had never been under-drawn: its entire anatomy lay bare to an inquiring eye, except where a frame of wood laden with oatcakes and clusters of legs of beef, mutton, and ham, concealed it. Above the chimney were sundry villainous old guns, and a couple of horse-pistols: and, by way of ornament, three gaudily-painted canisters disposed along its ledge. The floor was of smooth, white stone; the chairs, high-backed, primitive structures, painted green: one or two heavy black ones lurking in the shade. In an arch under the dresser reposed a huge, liver-coloured bitch pointer, surrounded by a swarm of squealing puppies; and other dogs haunted other recesses.
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
As a piece of description, I think this is effective and I can’t fault Brontë for the detail of her description. I can clearly picture the villainous old guns and the liver-coloured pointer. But I think this also slows down the pace of the story and, speaking personally, I think there is a strong danger of the reader becoming bored. The description is static – nothing is moving and nothing seems to be happening other than the narrator standing in the doorway and taking a mental inventory of what he can see.
By contrast, this is how I started a piece of description on a short story:
The parlour was quiet enough so Victoria could hear the tick of the Grandfather from the hall outside. Stark spring sunlight filtered through the net curtains to illuminate the elegant furnishings. The family’s finest bone china was laid out on a lily-white tablecloth. The afternoon tea was completed with freshly baked French fancies. Sitting comfortably in one of the parlour’s high-backed chairs, Victoria placed one lace-gloved hand over the other, adjusted her voluminous skirts, and stared down at Algernon as he knelt before her.
She knew what was coming.
She had anticipated this day for months.
Before he started to speak, she knew what he was going to say.
It was the first time they had ever been together without a chaperone. Unless he had come to the house with this specific purpose her parents would not have allowed her to spend any time alone with a suitor. The idea of her being alone with a man was simply too scandalous for civilised society to contemplate.
“Victoria, my dearest,” he began.
There was a tremor of doubt in his voice. Victoria liked that. It suggested he wasn’t entirely certain that she would say yes. His bushy moustache bristled with obvious apprehension. His Adam’s apple quivered nervously above his small, tied cravat. His large dark eyes stared up at her with blatant admiration. He looked as though his entire future happiness rested on her response to this single question.
Here, what I’ve tried to do is make the description dynamic rather than just being static. We hear the sound of the clock. The sunlight is filtering through net curtains and Victoria is adjusting her voluminous skirts. I’ve also tried to use description to help build the narrative tension. So, in the final paragraph, when the reader is wondering what Algernon is going to ask, and how Victoria is going to respond, I’m drawing out the moment by describing Algernon’s appearance, from his bristling bushy moustache to his quivering Adam’s apple.
Description allows us to inhabit the world the writer has created, but there is a time and a place for it. Too much unnecessary detail leads down the road of the Wonderful Weird Al song. Description that is static slows down the pace of a story. Keep your description dynamic, and have it work to keep your reader interested.
[I am posting this on behalf of Jean Roberta, who is having computer problems. You can contact her at jean2551englishlit [at] yahoo [dot] ca ~ Lisabet]
By Jean Roberta
This is the season when I sometimes wish I had written more winter-holiday romances: stories about a man and a woman finding love in picturesque snowy landscapes (on a ski trip, lost in the woods, or under the city lights surrounded by decorated Yule trees) with little or no explicit sex. Stories like this get posted, published, and reposted a lot during this season. I was invited to send any of my holiday romance stories to be reprinted. Alas, none of my stories fit.
There is “Amanda and the Elf” (under 2K), a raunchy little piece in which Amanda, an exhausted divorced mother of two children, is visited on Christmas Eve by a studly elf she hasn’t seen since she was a horny teenager. (Hint: he is really a masturbation fantasy, small enough not to be threatening, but with superhuman ability to satisfy any woman who wants him.) Although the elf is likely to show up in Amanda’s life again, their relationship doesn’t exactly have a quality of “happily ever after.”
This story first appeared in Merry XXXmas, a holiday anthology edited by Alison Tyler (Cleis Press, 2005).
Then there is my historical story of clandestine lesbian love, “A Visit from the Man in Red.” One of the women has a child by an abusive ex-husband, as well as a set of parents who expect her to find and marry a better man as soon as possible. The year in 1968, when a sweeping Omnibus Bill modernized Canadian culture by legalizing sex between men and making divorce easier to get. The two women arrange their own secret Christmas celebration, and when the ex-husband threatens to ruin it, the day is saved by a man in a red uniform: a closeted gay “brother” in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Again, this is not really a romance.
The story was first published in Naughty or Nice? – another holiday anthology from Cleis, edited by Alison Tyler (2007). Then it appeared in my single-author collection of women’s erotica, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past from Lethe Press in 2013.
Then there is “The Feast of the Epiphany,” a story with no explicit sex in which two women and two men go out for supper on “Ukrainian Christmas,” as it is called on the Canadian prairies: January 6 or 7, when Christmas is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church. The narrator, a divorced woman who is trying to find her way into the lesbian community, has a crush on the other woman, who seems strong, capable, and comfortable with her identity as a dyke. The men are also mutually attracted, but one believes that monogamy is part of heteronormative oppression, and he has had a “friendship with benefits” with the supposed dyke. The other man feels strongly about the need for commitment; he was disowned from his Orthodox Jewish family for being gay, and doesn’t want to waste his love on someone who can’t be loyal. During a lively discussion, the waiter (who is also gay, of course) jumps in as a mediator. There is a fairly happy ending for all the characters, but is this “romance?” Maybe, but it’s not highly seasonal.
This story was accepted (somewhat to my surprise) for Coming Together: Into the Light, a more-or-less erotic anthology of stories about revelations, edited by Alessia Brio, published by Phaze Publications in 2010 as part of an erotic series that raises money for worthy causes. This volume won an EPPIE (Electronically Published Internet Connection) award.
When one mushy movie after another with “Christmas” in the title shows up on my TV screen, I sometimes wonder why I haven’t written a narrative like these. They look easy to write, and I seem to be capable of throwing characters together.
However, as I was told by one of my English profs many years ago, you can’t write a convincing plot about something you don’t believe in. This was his warning to those of us who might have the hubris to think we could make lots of money writing traditional romances for Harlequin in the U.S. or Mills and Boone in the U.K.
I have written about sexual relationships between men and women, and in some cases, I’m very fond of my characters and want them to be happy together. (My “bawdy novella, The Flight of the Black Swan, is set in the1860s, and features an official marriage which serves as cover for two same-gender love affairs. This book is sexually classified as “bisexual.”)
In general, however, I don’t believe that the social, legal, and economic inequality between men and women which prevailed in Western society for centuries leads to True Love. I suppose I’m a feminist killjoy. There have always been loopholes in the patriarchy, and women have made great strides in the last fifty years, but if you think male violence against females is fading into history, you are out of the loop. Every step forward made by women seems to be met by enormous resentment from men.
To throw a hero and a heroine together, I need them both to be exceptional, and I need their circumstances to be unusual. A sprig of mistletoe isn’t enough to persuade me that two people who have serious objections to each other (the “Dearest Enemy” romance trope that I’ve written about elsewhere) can suddenly fall in love, or recognize that love was there all along. The magic of the season doesn’t seem like an adequate reason why two people would want to spend their lives together. If it wouldn’t work in March or September, it wouldn’t work better in December.
I could refer you to several recent posts in social media about the unpaid “emotional labour” largely done by women, especially during the winter holidays, when gifts must be bought, feasts cooked, houses decorated, and social events planned. In real life, all this work doesn’t usually lead to melting glances between an exhausted woman and a typically clueless man who has no idea what she wants him to do.
In my own real life, I am living happily with my spouse, the woman I have been with since 1989. (Next summer, we plan to put on some sort of celebration for the thirtieth anniversary of our first overnight date.) We love this time of year because the break from paid work gives us a chance to become couch potatoes watching mushy movies together. Maybe I should write about that.