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What’s Your Rank? or Is Yours Bigger Than Mine?

by | May 24, 2018 | General | 3 comments

Always keep in mind that the guy who said, “Size doesn’t matter,” probably had a little dick!

Today we’re going to flop them out on the table and see whose is bigger, regarding sales that is?

One of the quandaries in writing anything is, “How are my sales doing?” How badly do I suck at this? Should I go back to truck driving?

To figure out how your sales are doing is sometimes an exercise in futility due to the scarcity of tools available. Looking at the two biggest publishing houses IMHO Amazon Kindle and SmashWords, how can we tell how sales are going?

SmashWords

Zip, nada, nothing is the short answer. I can find no tools for determining your rank on SmashWords. The one thing I do is go to the SmashWords’ home page and click on the category that you write in, such as Erotica. If you don’t see Erotica, then you have to turn off the safe filter.

Once you’re in Erotica, you have a choice, do I want to see my position in Erotica as a broad category or dig deeper in a subsection such as Men’s Erotica. Once you’ve selected your category, click on Best Sellers, Highest Ranked, or another ranking as desired.

My display shows twenty titles per page with covers shown. Then here comes the hard part. Scan down each page and keep advancing until you find one of your stories.

As an Example, today 11-May-2018, if I sort on Erotica | Menage/Multiple Partners | Highest Rated | Any Price | Any Length, we can scan down the stories and marvel at the topics and titles. You will quickly figure out that if you are not writing a story that involves animals, family members, breeding, whips, or gangbangs, then your rating is likely to suck.

Then voila, on the second page we see a familiar name, it’s moi. No clapping required, thank you very much, and autographs will be $5 each.

The story is “A Night At the Bar,” one of my cuckold – Hotwife stories. Counting down from the top, A Night At the Bar is 17 down from the top on the 2nd page. Therefore it is the 37th highest ranked Menage/Multiple Partner story on SmashWords as of today’s date (20+17=37).

By the same token, flipping to Lesbian Erotica | Highest Rated, we find “Nina The Fallen Ballerina” eighteen slots down the first page. I would assume that Nina is the eighteenth highest ranked story in Lesbian Erotica.

Then on the third page, five down from the top, we find “Nina, The Fallen Ballerina,” once again. Amazing how does that Larry Archer do it? Wait? Listed twice, does this mean that the story is twice as good? Modesty prevents me from agreeing, but I’d have to feel that it’s a computer screw-up, but hey I’ll take anything I can get, I’m not proud.
Modesty prevents me from going further, but you should be able to see that with a little hard work, you can get a rough idea of how your story is ranked on SmashWords.

The biggest problem with this is that like Homer Simpson, my mind tends to wander after about ten pages or so, which is the top two hundred and I usually quit and open another beer.

The one good thing about this exercise is that you can quickly figure out what sells by looking at the other stories. It’s not the story about a good church-going couple, who comes home, turns out the lights, and puts on rubber gloves to have two minutes of sex before running to the shower and washing that “stuff” off!

While we would like to think that we’re above it all, the truth is that kink sells and if your story requires plastic sheeting over everything and Wesson Oil, then you’re going to be a hit.

Amazon – Kindle

With Amazon, we have a number of tools at our disposal. I’m sure that you’ve discovered the Reports section of “kdp.amazon.com” where the daily sales are shown along with the normalized Kindle Unlimited results.

If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you’ll find your Royalties Earned report or as I like to think of it, how many lap dances can I afford this month?

Flipping to “authorcentral.amazon.com” will show your sales rank over time. The sales rank will vacillate up and down with your book sales and over time older books do not move the needle as much as newer books do. So it’s like the old saying, “Publish or Perish.” What I’ve read and it seems to be true is that you need to publish every month to keep your sales up. More is always better.

What I watch is the monthly Author Rank, which is an indication of how popular your stories are in general. The Sales Rank listing shows how each of your stories is selling and keeping the Sales Rank at 500,000 to 1,000,000 or lower should guarantee sales.

Assuming that your sales ranking for the story is between 500,000 and a million which is a decent figure for an erotic story that captures the reader’s eye. This ranking should result in sales of 5-10 copies per month at Amazon or $10 to $20 per month income and the same from SmashWords. Personally, I normally make two or three times as much from SmashWords, but let’s assume the same sales. Refer to one of my previous postings for more on sales by clicking here (an excerpt follows from the previous blog posting).

Excerpt

Before you start rolling your eyes, consider this. A sales ranking of 100,000 should result in the sale of 30 to 40 copies per month or $60 to $80 per month profit per published story.

When your ranking drops into the top one-hundred, you could easily be selling thousands of copies per month and be waited on hand and foot by nubile scantily clad servants who are busily stuffing grapes into every one of your orifices.

Rank To Sales Estimator from David Gaughran estimates your sales as follows:

#1 to #5 = 5,000+ books a day (sometimes a lot more)
#5 to #10 = 4,000–5,000
#10 to #20 = 3,000–4,000
#20 to #50 = 2,000–3,000
#100 = 1,000+
#200 = 500
#300 = 250
#500 = 200
#1,000 = 120
#2,000 = 100
#3,000 = 80
#5,000 = 40
#10,000 = 20
#25,000 = 10
#50,000 = 5
#100,000+ = fewer than 1 a day

From what I’ve seen, this estimate is relatively close. A 100,000 sales rank should return sales in the 30 – 40 per month bracket, but your mileage may vary.

But let’s not get carried away here, the cold, cruel truth is that assuming you are a decent writer of material other people want to read, you’ll likely have a sales ranking around a million. At least that’s what you need to shoot for initially.

SalesRankExpress.com

SalesRankExpress is a very handy site that shows how your story is ranked and whether it is “Safe” or not. If Amazon doesn’t appreciate your story and slaps an “Adult” rating on it, you can kiss goodbye any help from Amazon. Stories with an Adult rating cannot generally be found by searching. The only way someone will find your story is a direct link from your website or some other location or promotion.

As a suggestion, if you are self-publishing, make sure that you put your name in the “Publisher” spot when you list your story. What I’ve found is that if I search on author “Larry Archer,” it brings up a ton of other material but if I search on publisher “Larry Archer,” I get all my stuff and nobody else’s.

BookReport (GetBookReport.com)

I’ve just discovered this ranking program, and it looks to combine most of the features I’m looking for in one place. If you have less than $1,000 in sales per month, the program is free, so that means that it’ll be free for me for quite some time! My sales typically range between $150 – $250 per month so you can see that I can’t quit my day job anytime soon. The bulk of my sales are between Amazon and SmashWords with about 60% SmashWords and 40% Amazon. I think my sales are poorer at Amazon because they’ve “Adult” ranked two of my latest stories “Cheating Glory Hole Wives” and “Stripper or Nurse?“. I’ve managed to get Stripper or Nurse out of the Adult dungeon but have given up on Cheating Glory Hole Wives. There should be no reason that “Wives” should be adult but it’s often like arguing with a post or your wife.

If you want to publish on Amazon, tread lightly as once in the dungeon, it’s hard to escape. That’s all I’m going to say about that as I’ll start ranting!

BookReport allows you to select a time frame such as last week, month, 30 days, etc. and will display the best sellers and what your projected income will be over the selected time frame.

You also get your Earnings per Day which is handy if you’re doing some type of promotion and want to see how it’s working.

You get a breakdown by Marketplace (Amazon server) to tell where your stories are selling or not.


And then finally a breakdown by the individual book for the anally obsessed.

BookReport at least on first glance, tells me everything I need to know except if a book is ranked Adult or not. If you want sales, then you have to stay out of Adult or get most of your sales through other forms of marketing.

NovelRank.com

NovelRank is a super site that gives your estimated sales for the current month, the previous month, and the sales rank for the story. This is very handy for watching your sales.

Note: You can also track other author’s work so that you can compare your sales to theirs.

Tracker.KindleNationDaily.com

This is another site similar to NovelRank except it allows you to sort your stories on sales rank among other categories. This way you can easily see how your story is moving up or down in the charts.

For example, my stories have rankings that go from 240,000 to 1.6M, so most authors have nothing to fear from me.

The listing above of sales rank vs sales is helpful when you’re trying to figure out if advertising is working for you.

#AmWriting

I’ve got about four stories about 75% done, and if I could just focus, I’d get them out the door. I’ve just bought a new MacBook Air and given up on my Windows laptop. I’ve been installing software and trying to relearn how to do things the Apple way. Yes, I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid.

I’m trying to finish up the story “Crashing a Swinger’s Pajama Party.” This story grew out of a neighborhood couple who crashed one of our annual New Year’s Eve pajama parties and discovered some 50 or 60 couples trying to reenact one of Caligula’s events except we didn’t sacrifice any goats but maybe a few virgins! The initial part of this story is based on an actual event at our annual PJ party, then expanded by Lisabet Sarai’s and my perverted minds.

It was funny after this that the husband was noticeably cooler towards us, but his wife was a lot friendlier especially when hubby wasn’t around.

What will typically happen to me is I’ll see something that will spark an idea for a story. Then I must at least get enough down such that at a later date, I can pick up my original idea and run with it.

This ends up meaning my “Draft” folder is full of 50-75% finished stories that one of these days, I’m going to finish. Time is always my worst enemy. With our Lifestyle, we always have a full schedule, then there’s work, and Wifey’s poker tournaments to eat up the remaining time available.

There are always House Parties going on or other socials, and we finally had to pull back and limit ourselves to weekends and Wednesday nights as we started ending up like Zombies and not the good kind.

On Wednesday nights, our bowling league, “Friends and Lovers,” is always fun and the alley told us that we have greatly increased their business. Our players run the gauntlet from scores below 100 to some who consistently bowl over 200 so you can tell that bowling is not the most important thing that we do on Wednesdays.

But it’s a lot of fun, and each team takes turns picking the restaurant to celebrate at afterward. One of the nice things about Vegas is that there are literally hundreds of places to have a decent meal and yet get home before it gets too late.

For more from my deranged mind, visit my website and blog, LarryArcher.blog. See you next month! If it’s the 24th, then it’s another day in the barrel with Larry.

Sexual Rehabilitation – #frustration #violence #flasher

by | May 21, 2018 | General | 5 comments

By Lisabet Sarai

How many acts of everyday violence are triggered by sexual frustration?

Or, looking at things slightly differently, how many serial killers, mass murderers and terrorists do you think have healthy, fulfilling sex lives?

There have been many studies linking male feelings of sexual rejection to violence. Sometimes the perpetrators openly complain how woman haven’t given them the attention they deserve. Alek Minassian, the man who ran down dozens of pedestrians, mostly women, in Toronto last month, raged against the women who had made him “Incel” (involuntarily celibate) and vowed to take down the “Chads and Stacys” – online term for people with active sex lives. In 2014, Elliot Rodger killed seven people, explicitly to punish women who had rejected him and men who were sexually active. In 1989, Marc Lepine murdered fourteen women and wounded ten more, claiming that feminism had ruined his life.

You might object that severe psychological problems were at the root of these crimes, that the difficulty these men apparently had in connecting with the opposite sex was the consequence of their poor psychological adjustment, rather than the other way around.

Look around you, though—listen to the way some men talk—and you will realize that a significant proportion of the normal male population is sexually unsatisfied, and angry as a result. This anger might not express itself in atrocities, but it definitely contributes to domestic violence. Men blame women for teasing them, then “not putting out”. They may feel it’s their right to rape a woman whom they perceive as open to sex, but who does not give them the satisfaction they “deserve”. Married men all too often view their wives as the enemy whom they must trick or bribe into having sex. They may justify extra-marital affairs based on the fact that their wives are “frigid”.

Male status is (still) very strongly linked to sexual success (at least in the minds of many men). Thus, not only do men who don’t have regular, enjoyable sex feel physically frustrated, they also experience a sense of inadequacy, especially in our media-saturated culture where they’re confronted every day by celebrity studs.

Please understand that I’m not blaming all this on the men. I believe that the generally poor level of sexual satisfaction experienced by all too many people, both women and men, is a product of how our society understands, presents, reacts to, and educates people about sex.

First of all, sex is still shrouded in shame. Talking and writing about it is not socially acceptable. The whole topic is understood to be fundamentally impolite, nasty, dirty, even evil. Look at Amazon’s attitude toward erotica. Sure, it sells, but you better keep it under wraps if you don’t want to get censured—or censored. Being open about sex still makes people uncomfortable.

Second, our culture often portrays sex is something you “get”—like money, or a degree, or a new car— not something you experience. “Did you get any last weekend?” is a common Monday morning greeting from one guy to another. This perspective tends to focus attention on quantity, rather than quality. Furthermore, it reinforces a view of sex as mostly physical, rather than embedding it in the context of emotional connections or relationships

Third, we’re led to believe that there’s a limited amount of sex to go around, so you’re always in competition. This attitude is prevalent in both men and women. If my husband’s having sex with his administrative assistant, he won’t have any left for me. This notion of sex as a limited resource fosters jealousy and encourages deceit. This is one explanation for why swingers seem to have happier marriages than the average straight couple.

For women, there are additional complications: the possibility of pregnancy, the realistic fear of physical abuse, and perhaps most serious of all, the fear of being labeled as a slut. As archaic as it seems in the twenty first century, sexually active and open women are still viewed in a negative light. Being a stud enhances a man’s reputation; equivalent behavior in a woman can destroy her credibility, threaten her social status, even cost her her job. (I know one erotic romance author who was fired and had to move to a new town when someone outed her.) Even when a woman genuinely craves sexual connection, it’s hard to work up the courage to say yes.

So what’s the solution? Obviously even if everyone agreed with me, we can’t remake society overnight. It’s clear from my personal experience, though, that education is key. Early experiences in the family strongly influence later sexual satisfaction.

I was fortunate to have parents who were pretty comfortable with sex. I never got the message that sex was dirty or wrong. My mom explained the nuts and bolts to me when I was a pre-teen, including the basics of contraception. She didn’t tell me to stay a virgin until I married—in fact, there was never any pressure to suggest that I was expected to get married—but she warned me to be careful, that I’d have a strong emotional connection to my first lover.

As a result (at least, I see a cause and effect relationship), I think I’ve experienced more sexual satisfaction than many women. Furthermore, I’ve seen the reactions of men to my sexual openness. So many lovers have complained about how hard it was to get women to have sex with them. They’ve been surprised and delighted by my eagerness for erotic connection.

If we want to bring up sexually fulfilled adults, we have to start when they’re kids.

But what about today’s men and women, suffering from isolation and frustration, blaming each other for their unhappiness? Could we somehow create an environment where they could learn to let go of some of the negative attitudes they have, not to mention the preconceptions about the other’s desires? Is sexual rehabilitation possible? Or are these people doomed to live out their lives without the blessing of great sex?

Violence and terrorism have become so common. In a way, it’s not surprising. Just imagine you’re a young man who believes in conservative Islam. How frustrating that must be! The women around you are covered and veiled. You can’t even admire their beauty from afar. You’re so desperate you’re willing to give up your life to experience sexual satisfaction in Paradise!

Here’s a flasher on the topic, to end this post on what I hope is a lighter note.

We Were Promised Virgins
By Lisabet Sarai

“By the Prophet, you are beautiful!”

“I’m Miriam. I’ve been assigned to your case.”

“Lie down, woman. I will take you now, before the others arrive.”

“No, no, Abdul—you mustn’t rush! Let’s begin with your licking me between my legs.”

“What? How degrading! No man would lower himself to such an act.”

“If you use your mouth on me, I’ll do the same for you. I see you need relief.”

“I’ll find relief in your virgin cunt!”

“Abdul? Will you eat me out or should I leave?”

“Don’t—alright… Mmm! You’re sweet as ripe pomegranate. Oh! I never…”

“Oh! Oh, yes! Oh, Abdul, YES!”

“Are you well, Miriam?”

“Very! Excellent job! Now you…”

“Allah preserve me! What a wicked mouth! I can’t hold back…”

“No need to.”

“No virgin would use such tricks!”

“I never said I was a virgin.”

“But we were promised virgins in heaven.”

“The bomb didn’t kill you. You’re being rehabilitated.”

“This isn’t heaven?”

“You’ve been transferred to the School for Healthy Attitude Generation – S.H.A.G.”

“I’m alive?”

“Very much so. Mmm. Tasty cum!”

“Whore!”

“No, I’m a volunteer. When you recover, we’ll fuck. Meanwhile, I have to work with the pussy grabber in the next room.”

When “Good” Girls Write Dirty Stories: Kate Manne’s “Down Girl” and the Logic of Misogyny

by | May 18, 2018 | General | 4 comments

I’ve always been a good student and a “good” girl. Or at least that’s what most people think, if they think of me at all. However, there is another side to me, one you here at ERWA know well, but that would surprise many: a woman who is deeply skeptical of authority and who dares to make my private pleasure public in prose, whether that be the joys of female sexuality or my delight in analyzing American history and culture.

In spite of myself, my “good student” ways led me to soak up the messages our society sends to girls and women. Even if I don’t agree with the values of the patriarchy, I know them and feel them and, I’ll admit, even live my life by some of these rules willingly. Still, sometimes I’m confused. How can men love their mothers, wives and daughters and still support laws and customs that harm women? How can so many men be against contraceptives? Do they want a future where they must either be celibate or have twenty children? Why do women as well as men attack the credibility of victims of sexual assault and harassment and make the assailant into the “true” victim? At times I wonder: If men didn’t need us for heterosexual sex, would they simply do away with all women since they seem to be so angry at them all the time?

I’ve been considering these questions for a lifetime, but just this past week, I actually got some interesting answers, thanks to Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, by Cornell professor Kate Manne. Professor Manne’s book is not a beach read, but it’s accessible and especially relevant in these turbulent times. It clarifies so many things about being a woman in our man’s world and about my own actions as an erotica writer, as well as the nature of what men want from women and why they’re so mad when they don’t get it.

I can’t do justice to Manne’s argument in a blog post, so I’ll try my flawed best with a summary of those points that directly impact my experience of writing and promoting erotica. First, Manne discusses the popular, or “naive,” conception of the misogynist as a man who hates all women irrationally, just because they are women, like the way Hitler hated Jews. By this definition, misogynists would be rare. After all, most men love their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters or some subset thereof. And many women are misogynists, too—could they hate themselves in such a way?

Manne then presents a more satisfying functional definition of misogyny as the means by which a patriarchal society polices and patrols female behavior. Sexism holds that women are naturally subordinate, or more euphemistically complementary, to men. Misogyny attempts to put wayward females back in their designated place by “condescending, mansplaining, moralizing, blaming, punishing, silencing, lampooning, satirizing, sexualizing, belittling, caricaturizing, exploiting, erasing, and evincing pointed indifference.” (Manne, 30)

Misogyny also valorizes women who behave properly. Manne’s framing of proper behavior was particularly enlightening for me, in what she calls a bad gendered historical bargain (from the female perspective, that is):

“Women may not be simply human beings but positioned as human givers when it comes to dominant men who look to them for various kinds of moral support, admiration, attention, and so on. She is not allowed to be in the same ways as he is. She will tend to be in trouble when she does not give enough, or to the right people, in the right way, or in the right spirit. And, if she errs on this score, or asks for something of the same support or attention on her own behalf, there is a risk of misogynistic resentment, punishment, and indignation.”

Thus women owe men of equal or superior social status their good will, what Manne calls “hers to giveor feminine-coded goods and services: attention, affection, admiration, sympathy, sex, and children; also mixed goods such as safe haven, nurture, security, soothing and comfort.

Masculine-coded perks and privileges are “his for the taking”: power, prestige, public recognition, rank, reputation, honor, “face,” respect, money and other forms of wealth, hierarchical status, upward mobility, and the status conferred by having a high-ranking woman’s loyalty, love, devotion. (Manne, 130)

If a woman tries to take what is “his,” she is “bad” and misogyny punishes her by calling her out as selfish, negligent, irresponsible, ungrateful, and unfair to men. (Manne, 87)

Manne compares our reaction to this “unnatural” dynamic of female self-regard to a situation where a waitress refuses to take our order, then asks us to serve her. Who wouldn’t be outraged by this betrayal of expectations? Where’s the service with a smile? (Manne, 50)

As I mentioned earlier, women, too, police the behavior of other women. Consider the female commentators who blame #MeToo victims for wearing the wrong clothes, not being strong or savvy enough to fend off a boss’s advances, and worst of all, destroying a good man’s career because she’s a whiny drama queen who wants attention and lots of money.

I also found Manne’s explanation quite reasonable concerning why some conservatives so vehemently oppose the ACA’s coverage of female contraception but not coverage of Viagra: “…We can now make sense of contraception coverage becoming a common point of contention, too. She is asking to be provided with an antidote to human giving—and in a way that often highlights her human capacities being deployed in self-development or geared toward financial success, that is, his province. The latter also threatens to turn her into a usurper.”

Whether this resentment of women who put their own pleasures first must lead all Americans to have families of twenty children is another matter, of course. But at least the outrage makes more sense.

As I was reading Down Girl, I also had some insights into the relationship between misogyny and my erotica writing.

As long as I can remember, I knew I existed to please others. I was supposed to be a good daughter and student and be as attractive a female as I could manage, given my natural limitations. The stares and catcalls of men on the street that began when I was 13 were a reminder of what movies, TV and magazines preached: I existed to please male eyes and egos. I learned to be careful when flirting because if I gave my attention to one boy, then another, the first would take it personally and punish me. While my actual relationships were not nearly as reductive as the messages bombarding me from the media, I knew that, rightly or wrongly, my chief purpose was to be a loyal girlfriend and wife, an enthusiastic sex partner, and a devoted mother. Public achievements were icing, as long as they didn’t interfere too much. As an empty-nester, I’m doing community service and baking cookies for the holidays to please the palates of my friends. Yes, I have my secret life as a rebel, a scholar, and a feisty truth-teller, but for the most part, I’ve chosen the safe route for a woman in a patriarchal world.

Writing erotica under my own name, of course, is the exception to my conformity. I have felt that I am a “bad” girl—the closest I’d ever come to hanging out in the smoking area in high school–for speaking frankly and positively about the female sexual experience. It has been mostly thrilling, although I have been occasionally attacked and shamed.

Manne’s book made me reconsider just how “bad” I am.

For indeed, am I not still a “good” girl in terms fulfilling my patriarchal purpose of pleasing men? I’d guess most of my readers are women, but I’ve gotten fan mail from a good number of men over the years. Many men read erotica because they are genuinely interested in women’s sexual experiences, and that’s a good thing. Still, as I’ve gathered from our cultural messages, sexuality seems like the only thing about women your “average guy” would be genuinely interested in reading about–with the goal of satisfying his own sexual desires. The type of erotica I generally write affirms the desirability of the heterosexual erotic experience (with some lesbian detours, but men like that, too). My work offers support and solace and might even serve as a surrogate partner. If I wrote instead on female friendship and quilting, I’d probably have zero male readers, no matter how eloquent my prose.

On the other hand, a “bad” female erotica writer would make male readers uncomfortable. Some writers I admire greatly do. While I sometimes challenge traditional sexual values, I tend to do it gently, with humor, and accompanied by a fundamental pleasure in male company. What’s there for a man to hate?

I’m not saying any of this is wrong. I just find it interesting how my way of being in the world has been informed by these time-worn values.

Manne also made me more aware of my internalization of the danger of trying to claim any position of privilege traditionally seen to belong to men.

When I published my novel, Amorous Woman, I found it hard to “toot my own horn” to promote the book. It felt dangerous, selfish, and stuck-up to claim for myself public importance as a Published Novelist. Who did I think I was?

I managed to overcome my reluctance by framing my book as my “child.” I had given birth to her and owed my newborn baby a good start in life. Thus I transformed myself from a selfish, egotistical artist into a self-sacrificing mother. That kept me going through many a cold call or excruciating snub from a “serious” bookstore that didn’t have the time of day for novels like mine. My little girl needed me to be strong!

To be honest, I sincerely do not see my work as a means to show the world how great I am. I see it as a way to connect with others, assure them they are not alone in their feelings and desires. I also felt a duty to present a view of Japan that engages with but also transcends stereotypes as a way of paying back the warmth, humanity, and hospitality of my Japanese friends.

So I just have to face the fact that I’m bad at being the bad girl. I’ve learned my good girl lessons too well: Stay safe in a man’s world by being the pleaser, the giver, the titillating, but reassuring entertainer.

Yet I won’t fall prey to another common misogynistic reflex—that anything a woman does is automatically devalued. Manne agrees that men still want women around because the comforts they give are “truly valuable: they are genuinely good and the lack thereof bad. Consider that, as well as affection, adoration, indulgence, and so on, such feminine-coded goods and services include simple respect, love, acceptance, nurturing, safety, security, and safe haven. There is kindness and compassion, moral attention, care, concern and soothing.” (Manne, 110)

I also happen to know many men who give these wonderful human qualities to me and other women–it’s just that it seems they’re allowed some time off now and then with no harm done. Still I’m proud to value those qualities and offer them freely to my family, my friends, my colleagues and my readers. Thanks to Manne, though, I’ll definitely examine my feelings of safety and danger and “good” and “bad” as I continue on my writer’s journey.

Write on!

Hmm… I think I’ve seen this somewhere before…

by | May 11, 2018 | Editing Corner | 10 comments

One of the indoor activities I do with my son is to print off the ‘disaster movie bingo’ card I have on my hard drive, and then watch one of the many daft movies floating around on Amazon or Netflix. Widely-ignored scientist? Check! Scientist separated from wife? Check! Heroine survives hurricane with hairdo intact? Check!

There are twenty-five items on our card, and I think that the highest marks are tied between 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and San Andreas.

We play this game as a chance to be creative. It’s fun to chat about what we’d change with the plot or characters to make the film more unpredictable. It helps us to think laterally. However, just as viewers expect certain elements of a disaster movie to be in place, readers have expectations of romance and erotic romance.

World and character creation is tough in any genre. But in romance or erotic romance, with so many story expectations, it can be really tricky to take a common partnership dynamic, a frequent sexual dynamic and a familiar setting, and make something completely new out of it.

I don’t believe for a second that anyone who’s writing for the joy of it writes a story where their main characters sound just like all the other characters they’ve read about and loved. There are inspirations, yes. But people write to bring their own characters to life.

Nevertheless, there are a group of recognised personalities who crop up all over the world of romance and erotic romance who will seem instantly familiar. I’ve summarised four such prototypes in the colossally exaggerated summaries below.

# # # #

The nearly  hard-hearted hero

His heart has been hermetically sealed and locked in a vault. He’s too tough for affection or conversation. You have to go at his immaculately-mortared walls with a JCB before he so much as cracks a smile.

  • But there’s always one way in, right? There’s always a tiny door through which the heroine/reader sees his very well-hidden soft side:
  • He may only speak to the rest of the world twice a year, but he makes a 100mph round trip three times a week to water his grandmother’s spider plants.
  • He’s in the ‘Big Brother’ programme and spends every other weekend giving his tiny pal lessons in how to ignore women and field-strip rifles.
  • He only roars at the heroine and knocks her to the ground to save her from accidentally stuffing her head into a woodchipper.
  • He has a pet bunny/ancient dog to whom he is unwholesomely devoted. He can also be trusted to leap over the fence and give his neighbour’s baby goat mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or rear baby squirrels by hand.

 

The Helen of Troy tomboy

 Benjamin put down the chainsaw and whisked the little towel from her handy belt to wipe the sweat from her face. She shouldn’t have worn her size-six leggings, though they protected her legs from the flying splinters as she single-handedly took down the copse of dead trees at the far end of the football field. Sweat glued her blue tank to her body, drawing unwanted attention from every jock in the school, and that of a few nerds, all of whom silently admired her lack of self-consciousness. Lumberjacking brought her peace. Benjamin got back to work, ignoring the random taunts from the entire cheerleading squad, who’d gathered at the treeline in full make-up just to emphasise how unlike them she was. They didn’t intimidate her in the slightest; having grown up with sixteen brothers, all in the military, she knew how to handle herself.

Nuff said, I think.

 

Poor wee self-sacrificial sausage

This is the guy with such a tortured past that he thinks he’s good for nobody, despite the entire cast of the book trying to tell him otherwise on a page-by-page basis. Really, he just won’t be told. He’s on his way to hell, and he won’t take anyone with him. He spends hours alone in his garage, using mufflers to block out any attempts of other characters to so much as compliment him on the nifty paint job on his vintage Mustang.

When the heroine finally engages him in conversation, he gets out of telling her how he really feels by diving between a toddler and an oncoming SUV. Alternatively, he’ll protect her from his scumbag personality by taking her to a ball game, leaving her in her seat while he ‘gets snacks’, and then voices her personal flaws over the PA system. That’ll put her off him for life, thus preventing any hurt feelings in the long term. Because there is no short term for the sacrificial sausage.

 

The reclusive artiste, Mr Clam

He’s the most amazing thing that the public have never heard of. He’s a reclusive painter who came out of art college with plaudits coming out of his backside, but who gave it all up to care for his brother. Having abandoned his dreams he’s abandoned life, and has long since sent his muse packing with aggressive warnings not to show her face around him ever again, in case he’s tempted to follow his ill-fated dream. Being such a sensitive soul, he’s also got a fantastic palate, and could, if he put his mind to it, get some help to look after his brother while he entered and won the next series of Masterchef.

He’d love someone to love, but they have to genuinely understand his inexplicable paintings, and understand his need to cut himself off from the universe on account of the meltdown he’d encounter if anyone tried to coax him back to the limelight.

He probably wears a smoking jacket and/or a beret.

# # # #

Okay, I warned you about the colossal exaggeration! But I’m sure you’ve come across more than a handful of characters who fit these moulds.

In light-hearted discussion with other editors about these main character (MC) prototypes, a theory emerged about a general tendency towards layering traits. What am I on about, you may well ask.

Okay, let’s take the reclusive Mr Clam as our working example. A writer has decided they want their character to have heavy responsibilities, to be on the shy side, and to have almost savant levels of creativity.

It’s a tripartite starting block for the character, and that’s fine. But what can then happen is that the writer come up with a number of ways in which each of those character features are displayed in practice, and puts nearly all of them into use. For example:

Heavy responsibilities

  • Never has any time off and can’t get respite care
  • Doesn’t have hobbies outside his areas of genius
  • Has been battling depression for a number of years.
  • Works exclusively from home
  • Brother is very hard work and they struggle to get on

Shy side

  • Finds it difficult to start or sustain conversations
  • Avoids social media
  • Gets all shopping home-delivered
  • Turns down seminars and courses
  • Timid about critiquing other artists’ work because he’s suffering imposter syndrome after so many years ‘off the scene’

Highly creative

  • Is excellent chef
  • Brilliant artist
  • Harassed by mother into arranging flowers for church as a child
  • Used to enjoy doing the costumes for drama groups as a teen
  • Writes wonderful poetry.

It’s only when you get significant layering of traits under each element that makes up the MC that a painfully familiar character emerges. It’s not about lack of imagination (the contrary, in fact), but about raising the probability that the writer’s using traits which are often seen before because so many of them are being used.

So, how can this tendency towards trait-layering be taken down a notch once it’s been recognised?

 

Seek out the double-edged swords

In its simplest terms, this means focusing on one particular trait that a character has, and seeing how it works for and against him. Using Mr Clam again:

His work as an artist makes good use of his ability to focus intensely, but he’s terrible at multi-tasking, which means he invariably fails to preheat the oven. He may love home cooking, and have a fantastic palate, but his successes are somewhat hit and miss.

If he struggles with his relationship with his brother, then he’ll need an outlet. He will drive out to get his own shopping but only at one particular store, where the owner is so grumpy that there’s no danger of small talk. He also wants some contact with like-minded souls, so he does do social media, but only Twitter and Reddit. He also still helps the drama group with their sets, but takes items home to work on, rather than doing the painting in situ.

 

Evolve quirks and contradictions

Perhaps his hand-eye coordination is exemplary, but he has no sense of direction. So, he’s an excellent driver with good reflexes, but cannot for the life of him read a map (a source of endless embarrassment).

He’s shy until someone gets him on a topic which is a bugbear, at which point he has to be silenced with duct tape.

He’s intolerant over issues where he’d be expected to have compassion. Perhaps his brother’s condition and demanding behaviour have caused Mr Clam to emotionally associate immobility with impatience, because that’s what he puts up with all the time.

His dark and angsty painting is phenomenal, but his dark and angsty poetry puts people to sleep.

 

So, there are a couple of techniques to steer a character off the road oft-taken. I hope they’re helpful tips. To sign off, here are some extremely useful resources for digging into all peculiar corners of the character’s life and psyche:

https://www.amazon.com/Plot-Thickens-Ways-Bring-Fiction/dp/0312309287/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1525944745&sr=1-2&keywords=the+plot+thickens&dpID=51bKiLDnM%252BL&preST=_SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Positive-Trait-Thesaurus-Character-Attributes-ebook/dp/B00FVZDVS2/ref=pd_typ_k_rtpb_1_341689031_4/280-1884416-4836332?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=1YP15VRMHTNEZ873G6N2

Writing Exercise – Point of View: Third Person

by | May 6, 2018 | General, Writing Exercise | 7 comments

by Ashley Lister

Over the past couple of months we’ve looked at first and second person point of view. Whilst both of these are useful ways to convey a sense of story, neither of them are as popular as third person point of view.

 

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.

 

If first person point of view is like a diary entry, and second person is like a recipe, I like to think of third person point of view being where the story is narrated from the perspective of someone sitting on the shoulder of the main character. Notice, in the example above, we’re told how Victoria can hear the tick of the Grandfather: but we don’t have Victoria telling us she can hear it. This distancing of narrative voice removes us slightly as readers, so we’re not as fully invested in the character. However, we are able to get a full picture of the world from the main character’s perspective: a much fuller perspective than we would have had from the somewhat limited perspective of a first person narration. (NB This fiction comes from my short story ‘Victoria’s Hand’).

 

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.
She was dizzied by the rush of rising power.

 

Third person is one of the most popular points of view and, in the contemporary marketplace, it’s the go-to position for writers when they’re trying relate events. Obviously, this will feel more natural for some writers than others. However, as with all the tools at our disposal as writers, it’s well worth trying this point of view to see how it works for your narrative voice.

As always, I look forward to seeing your work in the comments box below.

Ash

Amazon Scammers Take Over Kindle Unlimited – Game Over for Real Authors?

by | April 29, 2018 | General | 3 comments

I’ve been quiet about Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited Program, and self-publishing in general, for several years. Part of me just gave up. (It really does feel good when you stop banging your head against a wall!) I’m an old cynic about Amazon now, I guess. They have been squeezing authors, paying us less and less, since the program started.

Personally, I’ve removed most of my books from the program, even though I’ve left a lot of money on the table doing so. Why? Because it’s unethical. There’s no other way to say it. Authors are getting screwed by Amazon every which way in the program. I kept a few books in, hoping to entice those all-you-can-eat Kindle Unlimited readers into paying customers.

I am, however, now rethinking that. Why? Because any author in the KDP Select Program is now in danger of losing their account.

I’ve been accused of being “Chicken Little” in the past, and here I am again, screaming at the sky. But this is reality. This is happening.

I’m going to let my author friend, D.A. Boulter explain it to you in his open letter to Jeff Bezos. He explains it much better than I do.

And it happened to him. Authors, it can happen to you. Readers, it can happen to your favorite author.

Even if they did nothing wrong whatsoever. 

OPEN LETTER TO JEFF BEZOS from author D.A. Boulter

Mr Bezos:
 
I opened my email program and found I’d received a message from your company.
 
The mail came from ‘content review’, asking for my attention, and I got the immediate feeling that this would be bad. I didn’t know why I’d receive that message now; I’d done nothing with my account in almost six months, haven’t changed a bit of content at all. Thus, it was with no little consternation I opened the message and found that my account is in violation, and if it continues to be so, I’ll be faced with penalties up to and including the termination of that account.
 
What did I do wrong? Actually, nothing. Not a thing. Amazon claims that accounts suspected of ‘manipulation’ have borrowed my book and I therefore accrued ‘illegal page reads’. I’m told that Amazon doesn’t offer advice on marketing, but I’d better be careful because if this happens again, well, see the termination threat above. There’s only one problem with that: I don’t do marketing. I’ve never hired any marketer, and for the past year or more I’ve not even advertised any of my books. The only advertising I get is by word of mouth. Yes, I sometimes – but not always – put a notice in one of the infrequent entries in my blog, and I sometimes, but not always, make a mention of a new book in the two writers’ forums of which I’m a member. Other than that, nothing. I’m lazy, know nothing about marketing, and don’t want to spend the energy finding out about it when I could be writing.
 
So, because Amazon alleges that suspect accounts have borrowed my book through Kindle Unlimited, I’m in danger of losing my account with Amazon. I use the word alleges, because Amazon up front refuses to give any details on their ‘investigation’. At first I found myself just sitting there, stunned. Then I looked up my stats. I’d sold three books so far in April, and had 3000 page reads in nine days. What kind of manipulation was that? Like a fool, I asked.
 
Why do I use the words ‘like a fool’? Because we can rarely get any sort of a straight answer when dealing with Amazon KDP. I asked, “What sort of manipulation?” I got the reply that they rechecked my account and stand by their determination; I will not be paid for illegal page reads.
 
See what I mean? I didn’t ask them to assess the status of my account or to reinstate my page reads. For the leader of a multi-billion dollar industry, you can’t seem to hire anyone for KDP who can read and understand a simple sentence in plain English.
 
I keep daily records of my sales and pages read through Amazon-provided KDP reports. After receiving this letter, and conferring with other authors with whom I share certain authors’ forums, I discovered that the letter would refer to my March totals, not my April month-to-date. I checked my March figures. Of the 24,829 Kindle Pages read (from the daily reports), I find that Amazon has now removed 15,924 or 65%.
 
As the book which constituted over 80% of my previously counted page-reads contains upwards of 750 Kindle Pages, I have to suspect that your company believes that I contracted marketers to “read” a grand total of 21 copies during a 31 day span, grossing me some $72 (approx). You must think I engage the bottom of the barrel marketers.
 
Amazon has a great reputation with respect to customer service. In fact, I’ve enjoyed just such great service. Last year, a CD I ordered from one of your 3rd party suppliers in Germany failed to show up in the stated time – in fact, I didn’t complain until some weeks after that time had passed, wanting to give the CD every opportunity to show up. Within hours of my finally making a complaint, I received a choice of them sending a second CD or giving me my money back. I chose to receive the second CD. It took 8 weeks to arrive – but I don’t blame Amazon or the 3rdparty retailer, because the postmark on it showed that the German Post Office had received it only 3 days after my complaint (and one of those days was a Sunday and Monday was New Years Day, as well). It was marked Luftpost (airmail). So, I blame the Post Office – either the German PO, the Canadian PO, or both. (The first CD never did arrive.)
 
Yes, you are rightly proud of your company’s customer service. However, the concern that you and your company show to your customers falters somewhat when dealing with your content providers – those of us who write books and place them in the Kindle Store and especially in Kindle Unlimited.
 
When I began providing content to Amazon in 2010, things were simple. If someone liked the presentation of an author’s book, they bought it outright or read the sample and then bought it. The author then collected the royalty. If the customers didn’t like our presentation or the sample, they didn’t buy it, and we received nothing. And, finally, if the book did not live up to their expectations, they returned it for a full refund and again we received nothing.
 
There existed no way to scam the system to get more royalties than we deserved. Customers either bought our books or they didn’t. They bought short books, long books, epics. They either paid the price we set – or they didn’t buy. No one had a valid complaint over length or price; if they didn’t feel they got value for money, they didn’t buy the book or they returned it. The only scamming that occurred came from a very tiny minority of readers who bought books and then returned them on a regular basis. Some authors noted that book after book of theirs got purchased and then returned, in order. This suggested a multiple returner. We lived with it.
 
Then came Kindle Unlimited. KU started out and remains an irredeemably and irretrievably broken system. Its terms and make-up were almost created with the interests of scammers in mind, and it continues to provide them with the means and opportunity to – let us not mince words – steal money from legitimate authors. That went for the original iteration of KU and every iteration since then.
 
We legitimate authors don’t know what to do. We can only complain, but that rarely gets us anywhere. We hate scammers even more than Amazon does. They steal our money, not Amazon’s. We hate the manipulation of rank that goes on. We believe in value rising to the top. We work very, very hard to provide the best reading entertainment we can. So, yes, we hate scammers. And, at times, we try to do something about it.
 
Example: One scam entailed putting up books full of repeated sentences, paragraphs, or short chapters – thousands of pages worth of repeated verbiage. A poorly-made cover and an enticing, though totally inaccurate description, accompanied the publication of these books. The authors in one of my groups spotted them, and we counted something like 40 obvious scam books in Amazon’s top 100. Eight “authors” with five books each. If a scammer had someone “read” one of these books (with 10,000 pages or more by my estimate), he’d make $50 for that one read.
 
I took it upon myself to report this to Amazon. All I wanted was an e-mail address to send the details to. Unable to find such on the Amazon site, I went the route of “Chat”. Upon discovering that I was not a customer who had been cheated out of money, nobody really wanted to hear from me. Over the next 45 minutes (I still have the transcript), I got passed through 6 different representatives, the last of which agreed with me and gave me an e-mail address. Those books quickly got taken down. I thought I had done my part. It took time, caused frustration, but a blow had been struck for justice.
 
You’d think that your company would be happy. I thought so, too. On my own time, I had investigated and presented the evidence. Amazon had struck quickly to maintain its honour. All was well with the world!
 
Then it occurred again just days later – the exact same sort of scam. Another 20-40 books. Annoyed with the scammers, I sent a second e-mail, only to get told that I should use “Chat” – they wanted to subject me to another 45 minutes of pass-along only to get told in the end to use the email address I’d just used? Not a chance; I then gave up.
 
So, if I’m a customer, I get treated royally. If I try to help Amazon prevent fraud in KU, I’m a nuisance. I’m a nuisance, because this fraud didn’t really hurt Amazon financially – they had already set aside the pool of money – it only hurt legitimate authors who would receive less for their page-reads.
 
We legitimate authors hate scammers with a passion. But then, Kindle Unlimited – as well as being a haven for scammers – is something of a scam in itself.
 
The contract we sign with KU gives Amazon exclusive right to sell and lend out our books; we can place them on no other platform. For this, Amazon undertakes that they will pay us per kindle-page read (present edition of KU). However, it turns out that Amazon does not have the ability to accurately determine how many pages get read. Scammers depend upon this weakness for their scams to bring in the money they steal from legitimate authors.
 
Authors have imaginations. You might consider possession of such as a prerequisite for the trade. We’re curious, inquisitive. Thus, when things seem just a little off, we investigate and talk among ourselves. At first we accepted Amazon’s word that they would pay us for pages read at face value. Then we noted strange things, and began experimenting. The result: we have determined that if someone borrows a book, downloads it to their Kindle reader and then turns off the wireless, bad things can happen. If that person then reads the book through – every page – but then returns to page one before again turning on the wireless and syncing with Amazon, the author gets credited with only one page read. This, in effect, is Amazon stealing from us. Amazon uses our content to entice readers to KU, promising to pay us for each page read, then paying us less than ½ cent for an entire book read – no matter how many pages.
 
I have often seen my page reads tick up by one page. [Let’s face it; I’m not a heavy hitter. I don’t sell a lot of books, and I don’t get hundreds of thousands of pages read per month – or per day – like some do. So, I can note this sort of thing better than more popular authors might.] And seeing my stats tick up by one page, I wonder if someone read one page of my book before putting it down, or if someone read through my whole book and then returned to the beginning before syncing with Amazon. Did I get my half-cent for one page, or did I get paid a half-cent for seven hundred and fifty pages? Did Amazon pay me justly according to contract, or did Amazon scam me out of three dollars? I don’t know, and Amazon relies on non-transparency to ensure that we don’t have more than the minimum amount of information useful to finding out.
 
KU’s lack of transparency doesn’t stop there.
 
When it became obvious that scammers were getting the monthly “All-Star” awards, and authors made this clear in blogs, in posts on forums, etc., Amazon’s solution to the problem seemed to be to make it more difficult … no, not more difficult to scam an “all-star” status, but more difficult to see the results of the scamming. Amazon stopped publishing the names of the winners, making it even less transparent.
 
When Amazon reacts to problems, it often uses a shotgun, where a rifle should be used – in other words, the solution often hurts the innocent as well as the guilty – often more than the guilty, because the guilty, if caught, simply abandon that account and start another. We legitimate authors cannot do that – or, if we do, we lose all books previously published.
 
Take this present situation. I, who have absolutely no control over who reads my books, find myself in danger of losing my account. Why? Because someone Amazon considers a scammer has borrowed them. I didn’t ask anyone to; I didn’t pay anyone to; I didn’t do anything. And my sales figures should show this to be the case. I had an average of 800 pages read per day in March (initial figures) of which you claim an average of 513 per day were scammed. No scammer worth his salt would try for a $2.50 per day payout.
 
I put in a lot of work to write a novel. It takes me a minimum of about 400 hours work to get one ready for publishing – I’m not fast. Sometimes it works out; other times I get a flop. One of mine (which I still believe is a fine novel) has sold 103 copies in almost 4 years. That’s $200 for 400 hrs work, or $0.50/hr. Not near minimum wage. A scammer puts in a couple hours work and nets thousands. We legitimate authors don’t think this is fair. But that’s what KU invites, what by its very composition it has always invited.
 
As I said, I don’t advertise – not any more. I did try AMS, but it gave me a very poor return on investment. And AMS has authors bid against each other to get what the Amazon algorithms once gave for free. The last time I tried for an ad, the bid went up over $1 per click. I think I got about 1 impression and no clicks before I gave up. At $1 per click, I would need a 50% success rate to barely break even. In fact, more likely I’d be paying Amazon more than my book is worth for the privilege of finding a reader. And Amazon knows that and still operates AMS like this. If I were to pay those readers a dollar each from my own pocket to read my books in KU, I’d make money – but that would be scamming, and I’d lose my account. So, doesn’t that make Amazon Marketing Services somewhat of a scam in itself as well?
 
To finish, I’m threatened with termination of my account for no valid reason; AMS doesn’t work for the author; KU is filled with scammers, and the innocent are tarred with the same brush by what? association? by the fact that alleged scammers may actually have read our books?; Amazon doesn’t seem to care who they damage with their shotgun attacks; Amazon actually scams us by not paying us for pages read – because they don’t know how many pages are read, and they knew they didn’t know this from the introduction of Kindle Unlimited. Yet they said that they did, and made a contract with us on that basis.
 
To protect my account, you have forced me to withdraw all my books from Kindle Unlimited when their present terms finish (one’s turn was up today – my best earner – and it’s out, the others should be gone by the end of the month). I can’t stop anyone from borrowing my books if I leave them in – I have no control over that aspect – and if the wrong people continue to borrow them, I may lose my account. I understand: your game; your rules (even though they are generally undefined publicly, and the internal definitions change at a seeming whim and without notice).
 
There is much more I could say, but this letter is long enough as it is.
 
So, if you can, sir, please tell me one good reason that I or any other legitimate author should endanger our accounts by maintaining any books in KU? (I already know why scammers should: they get our money – and in large amounts.)
 
D. A. Boulter.
 
 

Long-Term Relationships v. The Thrill of the Chase

by | April 28, 2018 | General | 2 comments

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. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page. 

Read her short erotic story Babes in Begging For It, published by Cleis Press. You will also find her new novel No Restraint at Amazon. Enjoy a good, sexy read today.

 ___

I recently celebrated my 25thanniversary of the day I met my husband. We’ve been married for 13 years. Our relationship is a bit unusual in that we lived together for over a decade before marrying for no reason in particular. We were living our lives and were too lazy and busy to have the ceremony and sign the paperwork. When we finally tied the knot, I joked I married him for his health insurance.

Long-term relationships are different from initial romantic attraction. I’m sure readers have noticed – and wanted – that most romances are about that initial romantic attraction leading to a HEA or HFN ending. Serials are popular because readers becoming invested in characters they grew to love when those characters first met.

Limerance according to Wikipedia is “a state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person and typically includes obsessive thoughts and fantasies and a desire to form or maintain a relationship with the object of love and have one’s feelings reciprocated.” The heart-palpating rush when you hear your shiny new lover’s name and how your pupils dilate when you see that person is limerance. Limerance is that infatuation stage you find in budding romantic relationships. It’s good to remember this fevered state does not last long.

Romance readers love that feeling of infatuation they get when they read about their favorite characters. They can live vicariously through the stages of the character’s relationship, from initial attraction to conflict to honeymoon phase to a deeper and satisfying longevity. It helps to remember that the fevered intensity of a budding relationship is a temporary thing, and that when the high settles that doesn’t mean you are falling out of love. It means the love is deepening.

Over the years, my husband and I have learned from each other and we’ve changed in ways that have benefited our marriage. Jealousy isn’t an issue for us. Jealousy is a common feeling in newer relationships. I’ve been jealous in some of my past relationships, even in one case of going out to dinner several times with another man to make the man I was interested in jealous. It didn’t work. That relationship did not last.

I see and accept my husband’s flaws, and he does the same for me. There is very little he does that gets under my skin. I certainly don’t see him as a knight in shining armor which may be a feeling you have for your partner in a newer relationship. Your love interest can do no wrong and you feel that person is perfect in every way. It’s the old rose-colored glasses phenomenon.

As you get to know the person you love, you will find conflicts in personal views, taste, habits, and even how to raise children. During infatuation you see only the good things about your partner. When the not-so-good things rear up, don’t panic. You’re only finding out your love is human.

When written well, romances depict all of these stages and in the HEA ending, the couple successfully deals with conflict and grows in the process. Conflict is necessary to grow. It doesn’t have to mean fighting. It means the characters are removing those rose-colored glasses and are seeing each other as they really are, warts and all. Accepting those warts (the ones that are acceptable – I’m not talking about abusive relationships) and not trying to change the other person are both important qualities in a healthy, long term relationship.

The whirlwind of romance is a wonderful feeing that can be experienced when reading romance novels. The reader puts herself into the main character’s shoes and experiences what that character feels. It’s a safe way of experiencing the ups and downs of a relationship without actually being in one. In your own case, just remember that although the passion inevitably dies down, a deeper love will flourish in the healthiest relationships. And that’s what matters most.

Aww Gee, Do I Have To Wear A Rubber?

by | April 24, 2018 | General | 4 comments

Rant for the day by Larry Archer!

Does Stephen King dismember his victims with a rubber knife? Did Jaws chomp up Captain Quint with plastic teeth? Did Maverick shoot down Russian fighters with a BB gun or bang Kelly McGillis with a dildo? What about Chucky and that delicious Jennifer Tilly (pant, pant, pant). No, No, No, No, and No!

So why do we have to put on a rubber when we bang out some smut story on our Underwood? This is not Randy “I can’t put my arms down” from A Christmas Story where we have to protect ourselves against our parent’s imagined fears, both seen and unseen?

I am continually amazed when someone says, “Your characters didn’t use protection in your story!” WTF?

Why is it that Dean Koontz can dismember his characters with abandon using a chainsaw, but I can’t have two people screwing unless they have a raincoat and rubber gloves on? You know, the big thick yellow ones that come up to your elbows and ensure you don’t get any of that icky “stuff” on you.

When you can get an STD from reading one of my stroke stories, then I’ll consider making my characters wear a rubber when they play hide the wiener.

In school, I had to read “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” which was about some guy who dreamed of being different people; fighter pilot, doctor, and probably porn star in the Hustler version. He didn’t wear a rubber and probably didn’t put on his seatbelt either!

Fictional books are often a form of escapism for the reader. We get to imagine anything our little pea brains can conjure up. Like getting to bang Stormy Daniels, why should Donald get all the fun, not to mention watching hookers pee on the bed? Personally, I would have chosen the Playboy Playmate myself, but there is no accounting for taste. I’m more of a leg man than a boob man.

When you lust after your next door neighbor, the stripper who sat on your lap, or maybe the milkman, do you think about running to the drugstore or gas station to pick up condoms? I know that I don’t! The feeling of skin on skin is far better than with a layer of plastic in between and much easier to fantasize about.

Writing an erotic story, I don’t think about safety, and I don’t want my readers to think about it either. Getting laid with a rubber is not near as much fun as bareback so why would you want your characters to put on protection before doing the nasty? Just like Dean Koontz, I don’t worry about my characters as they are all fictional and impossible to hurt unless I allow it.

Well, other than the times Wifey has on her leather bustier, thigh-high leather boots, and riding crop that she uses to correct her slaves! Then I’ll stand back an extra three feet to be sure I don’t get anything splattered on my camera!

My erotica is not designed to teach you a safe sex lesson, just the opposite. If you wanted safe sex, then you can screw your boring wife or husband on the first and third Friday (let me check my calendar). We want to have sex in the produce aisle with that hot chick from People of Walmart. Just flip her skirt up and make mad passionate love amidst the cantaloupes while hoping the guard on his electric scooter doesn’t catch us! Afterward, we’d zip up our pants and join Wifey as she tries to figure out which detergent to buy to get those stains off the front of her blouse she bought from Monica.

Like in a story I’m working on. The husband finds out his wife was in a gangbang and asked if they kissed her. Her response, “Why would they want to kiss me, they just wanted to fuck me!”

I’m not sure why reading someone’s comment that your characters needed to wear a condom puts me over the top, but it always does. Like Walter Mitty, I want readers to imagine a situation they would never normally find themselves in and especially not in their normal safe, dull environment with their pipe and slippers.

Few of us are ever in a situation where they can do things like be in a gangbang or be the gangbang’ee, so literature is the escape mechanism to let our imagination fly free. Sort of like those rock climbing crazy people on a sheer rock face without a rope.

In the real world we have to make compromises, like not smoking when we fill the lawnmower with gasoline, but in our minds, we can be King (Queen) of the World. Sort of like ZZ Top when they sing, “We could have had Miss October, but we waited until November.”

That was the rant for the day, and maybe next month I can finally post the article I wrote like two months ago, which keeps getting thrown under the bus.

Remember that reading erotica does not cause STD’s but may create friction burns, kind of like the carpet burns you got in high school. Use lubricant as necessary and remember to stop when you need glasses.

As always, check me out at LarryArcher.blog or on Twitter at @Archer_Larry.

“Erotica from the Dirty Mind of Larry Archer.”

P.S. See Lisabet I can stay under 1,000 words!

Controlling Time

by | April 21, 2018 | Writing Craft | 2 comments

By Lisabet Sarai

Can you control the flow of time? I’m not talking about managing your own time in order to be productive (though that would be a worthy topic for another article). I’m referring to managing the flow of time in your stories.

Authors of paranormal or speculative fiction, where time travel is a common element, might answer in the affirmative. Historical writers also need an acute appreciation of time. Those of you who write in other genres, though, might not have thought much about the question. You might be more focused on building compelling characters, producing vivid descriptions, or writing realistic dialogue. If you don’t consciously control the passage of time in your books, however, you may create problems your readers.

In most fiction, time provides the sub-structure for the story. The events that comprise the plot are associated with different temporal “locations”, strung out from the past to the present like beads on a string. A close author friend of mine uses the metaphor of a clothesline. He writes scenes as they occur to him and then “hangs” them on the line in temporal order. (See his example below. You can read about his method at the Oh Get A Grip blog).

Plot “clothesline” by C. Sanchez-Garcia

Aristotle advised dramatists that all the action in a play should occur within a single day. That approach might work for a short story, but novels usually stretch over a longer duration—anything from days to centuries. This expanded span introduces a variety of risks for the author.

The risk of confusing the reader. Your reader needs to understand when things are happening in order to make sense of the story. Thus, you need to clearly communicate the temporal “setting” of each scene (including flashbacks or scenes from the past that are described by your characters).

The risk of “losing” periods of time. If your story jumps from point A in time (e.g. Monday) to point B (e.g. Saturday of the same week), what happened during the intervening days? This might not be relevant to the story, and you don’t necessarily need to fill in the blank period in detail, but both you and your characters need to be aware that the gap exists. As a reader, I find it really irritating when a new chapter begins a month later than the previous one, without the author telling me anything about what occurred during that period. In general, as time progresses, things change. Longer time periods result in more significant alterations of people, situations, and environments. Keep this in mind as you write.

The risk of repeating periods of time. This is the flip side of (2). Make sure you don’t end up with two Saturdays in a row!

The risk of factual or celestial gaffes. Authors frequently use natural phenomena to anchor a story. Phases of the moon are a particular favorite of mine. If the moon is full during one scene, I need to actively consider what phase it will display a week later. Certainly it won’t still be full! Seasonal variations are another example. My novel Necessary Madness begins in late November, in New England, and continues through December until Christmas. I describe the weather as progressively colder and more inclement, as it usually is in Massachusetts during this period.

The risk of logical gaffes. Humans expect a logical sequence of phenomena, from cause to effect. A glitch in your fictional time line can create a situation where an effect is described before its causal event has occurred. For example, a character might mention another individual in the story, before the two have met or learned of each other’s existence. A reader might or might not notice this sort of error. In the former case, she’ll be confused. In the latter case, she’ll be critical of your skills as a story teller.

So how can you avoid these sorts of problems, especially in a longer work like a novel? One common technique is to create a time line for your story. The line should start at the earliest event you describe (even if that is in the past when your story begins) and should extend to the tale’s conclusion. As an example, here’s a time line I used as I was working on my M/M speculative fiction novel Quarantine.

Quarantine historical events timeline

Quarantine events timeline

Because this story takes place in the future, but is influenced by history, I’ve broken my time line into two parts. The first has a larger granularity (years) and shows historical events leading up to the beginning of the book, both personal to the characters (above the line) and public (below the line). I’ve included the public events because they are mentioned by the characters.

The second, more detailed time line shows the course of the story events themselves. Its units are days. The book takes about two months to unfold. As we get toward the climax, the days of the week become important because the “Freedom Crossroads Rally” event must occur on a Saturday.

The second half of the detailed time line reflects chapters I hadn’t yet written at the time I created these diagrams. I was not completely sure about how the end of the book would play out and that uncertainty shows.

I’ve used diagrams for my time line, but a spreadsheet might work as well. One problem with using graphics is that there’s no obvious way to record details (like the phase of the moon or the timing of the tides) that might be ancillary to the tale but still important from a consistency perspective. With a spread sheet, each row would represent one point in time (one triangle, in my graphical representation). Then you could define columns for date, day of the week, scenes or events related to characters, external events, phase of the moon, or whatever, expanding the definition as necessary to capture the information you need.

Quarantine has a relatively simple, linear plot, and thus can be handled by a single time line. Some books, especially those with multiple point-of-view characters, may have multiple parallel time lines. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, by Gordon Dahlquist (one the best books I’ve read in the past decade!), features three main characters, each of whom has independent adventures. Their individual time lines merge in certain scenes, then diverge again. I don’t know if Dahlquist used time lines (if he didn’t, I’d like to know how he kept track of such an incredibly intricate tale!), but I’d imagine if one tried to do so, one would need separate time-tagged event sequences for Miss Temple, Cardinal Chang, and Doctor Svenson, braided together like the multiple channels of an ancient river.

Handling time in Quarantine was relatively simple for another reason. The book is narrated using “standard” third-person limited, past tense. I’ve written four novels at this point using first person, present tense. It’s a tricky combination but one that I like for erotica because of its immediacy. Here’s a bit from my erotic thriller Exposure narrated by exotic dancer and (it turns out) amateur sleuth Stella Xanathakeos:

It’s early, and it’s Monday, slow. He’s the only one sitting close enough for me to use my stare, and it isn’t working. He’s good-looking in a clean-cut, straight-laced sort of way. Blond crew cut, blue-eyed, muscles that show even under his expensive suit. At least it looks expensive to me.

He has not taken his eyes off me since I strutted onto the stage, but his face is without expression. It’s like he has walls behind his eyes. I can’t see into him at all. Now it’s me that’s getting frustrated and hot under the collar. I’ve already stripped down to my pasties, boots and thong. I peel one of the tassels off my nipple and dangle it in front of him. He looks only at my eyes. He’s measuring me, sizing me up for something.

I prance around on my stiletto heels. I shake my hips, do a slow, sensuous shimmy, cup my tits in my palms and offer them to him. No reaction. I take off the other tassel and attach it behind, where my butt cheeks meet, a lewd little tail. There’s a whistle from a table in the back, but Mr. Clean just continues to study me.

First person present narration complicates the control of time because you can’t allow significant gaps. It feels odd if the narrator’s voice simply disappears for a day or two, then pops in again. The events in Exposure (except for the final chapter, which is something of an epilogue) take place over the course of a single week. Every moment of Stella’s time needs to be accounted for. Furthermore, she needs to give the reader clues when the time line advances without her providing a blow-by-blow description.

Three quarters of the way through writing Exposure, I discovered that I’d lost a day. I was tracking the days of the week because the plot required it. I realized that I’d skipped from Thursday to Saturday without Friday ever happening. This necessitated some temporal repair work on my part!

Perhaps the most complicated juggling of time I’ve done as a writer is my short story “Underground”, recently published in the ERWA paranormal anthology Unearthly Delights. In this tale, less than 7000 words long, I begin in the present:

So maybe it’s not totally sane. I’ve always been fascinated by madness.

As for safe, where’s the thrill in safety?

You can’t, however, deny that it’s consensual.

Ducking into a blank alley, one of thousands in this city, I make my way to the metal door near the end. The keypad gives off a faint green luminescence. I tap in the combination and the door swings open; my pulse is already climbing. My boot heels ring hollow as I descend the industrial steel steps, and the thump of the bass rises to meet me. Excitement wells up, flooding my cunt, even before I’ve buzzed the final door and been admitted to this most particular and perverse playground.

The techno soundtrack punches me in the solar plexus. My heart stutters like I’ve been shocked by a defibrillator. Delicious weakness sweeps over me, a premonition of what’s to come.

I give the readers a glimpse of my narrator’s personality and desires, just enough (I hope), to pique their curiosity, before shifting to a flashback:

The long years before I found Underground and Z seem like some bad dream—an endless series of fetish groups and kink clubs, personal ads and bar hook-ups, as I searched everywhere for someone who could understand and satisfy my particular needs.

S&M folk like to believe they’re tolerant and accepting. They weren’t ready to tolerate me, though.

The remainder of the story flips back and forth between past and present. Each brief section set in the present advances the particular scene initiated at the start of the story. Each flashback (there are three such sections) reveals more about who the main character is and what she really wants. The tale ends in the present, as the narrator reaps the consequences of her history.

This was a pretty ambitious time line. It took me several rounds of edits to get it right, to create the correct balance between flashbacks and current events, and to make sure the action was advancing consistently in the present. In fact I didn’t fully grasp my target temporal structure at first. The crits I received on the Storytime list helped me to clarify my own goals.

I’m tempted to warn “don’t try this at home”, but in fact, you need to follow your own instincts about the time progression in your stories. If you feel that you need a complex time structure, don’t ignore that insight.

My goal in this article is simply to focus your attention on the question. Maintaining awareness of time in your work can be critical not only for helping your readers understand your tale but also for creating special emotional effects as I did in “Underground”. Sloppiness about time can make your tales annoying, confusing, even unreadable.

 

The Timeless Allure of a Naked Girl: The “Fifty Shades of Grey” of 1915

by | April 18, 2018 | General | 4 comments

“Have you seen Stella?”

It was a question everyone was asking on the streets of San Francisco during the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a world’s fair laid out like a glittering necklace across the Marina District from February to December of 1915.

Banners and lapel buttons added to the urgency of word-of-mouth dares (Laura Ackley, San Francisco’s Jewel City: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, p. 256). No red-blooded man could resist the temptation to gaze upon Stella’s charms. A reported seven million gave in to their curiosity and desire.

Stella was the surprise hit of the Joy Zone, or simply “The Zone,” as the midway of the Pan-Pacific Exposition was known. A dime got you a two-minute viewing of the fourteen-foot painting, displayed in a dimly lit room and gussied up with a bellows behind the canvas, which made Stella’s body appear to breathe.

A 1915 dollar is worth about $25 today, which means two minutes with Stella cost about $2.50. Ten cents could buy you breakfast at a workingman’s cafe. $2.50 might get you an inexpensive cup of coffee today, so I’m not sure the calculation is totally accurate. Nonetheless, the exhibitor, Edward A. Vaughan, priced his attraction just right. Investing $4000 to display a painting he had exhibited with limited profit for years, he netted $50,000 or $1.5 million in today’s dollars.

Stella is the work of a minor painter, Napoleone Nani of Verona, Italy, who created her in 1893. Critics judged the painting mediocre, remarking that Stella’s breasts had an interesting lack of relationship to gravity. Some observed that one could see more skillfully realized nudes on the walls of the official art pavilions or the statues throughout the fair for no extra charge. Audrey Munson’s lovely form was so ubiquitous that she was known as the Exposition Girl.

But, contrary to all common sense, Stella surpassed all other beauties in popularity.

Fifty Shades of Grey received a similar tepid evaluation from critics—and yet, the money still rolls in.

Indeed the millions who paid to see Stella were not interested in the artistic excellence of the painting. They embraced the anticipation, the titillation, the knowledge that every other man at the fair was partaking in the same experience, and a fellow mustn’t be left behind. A man paid for the dark corridor leading to the viewing room, the suggestively dim lighting, the ache of the two-minute limit, the illusion that Stella was a living woman displayed for his pleasure, not a distant figure, no matter how lovely and realistic, representing Beauty or Liberty or Patriotism. Stella allowed a man to gaze upon her with desire for those two minutes. She returned his gaze with an expression of accessible welcome (not to say vapid affability).

It would be almost ungentlemanly to complain that Stella was a con. She was part of the carnival atmosphere, like Coney Island, where vacationers knew they were being ripped off by the weight-guessers and barkers, but laughed it off as part of the experience. If Stella—and Fifty Shades of Grey—promised to transport us to a realm where we experienced sexual satisfaction that was unlike any before, but didn’t exactly deliver on its promise, well, we were all in on the joke.

Knowing what I know, I still want to see Stella.

As a woman in 1915, I probably wouldn’t have been allowed. A photo outside the attraction shows mostly males in fedoras and a few women, but I do wonder if any respectable lady would dare to be seen handing over a dime at the ticket booth? Perhaps at night, a brazen hussy might sneak in to be secretly disappointed yet emerge flushed with the thrill of transgression?

But I live in 2018, so I figured it would be easy to find a photograph of Stella online, now that Edward Vaughan is no longer around to demand his dime. Interestingly enough, it proved harder than I thought. After a bit of looking, I first found a postcard from a later exhibition on Pinterest and then a copy on a blog about San Francisco world’s fairs. The outside of the exhibit is different from the Pan-Pacific entrance, so perhaps it is from Vaughan’s later attempt to cash in on his treasure, hopefully calling Stella “one of the world’s masterpieces of paintings in the nude.”

I was disappointed in Stella the postcard. But again, the painting itself is not the point. What I really crave is the experience of viewing Stella in her fourteen feet of glory, her friendly face inviting me to dream of union with a fantasy (to be her if not be with her, to paraphrase Austin Powers). The rising and falling of her chest might make me wonder, in spite of myself, if she was alive and truly gazing back at me, unlike those cool, perfect paintings and statues outside. Best of all, I could tell others, with a twinkle in my eye, that I had indeed seen Stella.

I’m that cool and don’t you forget it.

Stella was a woman of a particular moment on the verge of destruction. World War I was raging in Europe during the fair. That war destroyed a way of life, and such innocent sexual diversions were outdated. But erotic titillation remained an important part of the fair experience. Sally Rand’s fan dance at the 1933-34 Chicago Century of Progress was the sensation of the Midway. The nudity was another illusion: Sally wore a body stocking, although little was left to the imagination. Her Nude Ranch on the Gayway at the 1939-1940 Golden Gate Exposition was again the most popular attraction at the fair, but there was real nude flesh to be seen. Scroll down for the most revealing photos of the Ranch I’ve found online. Again, the women seem so cheerful and friendly, like Stella.

Perhaps a naked woman with a smile on her face never goes out of fashion?

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