Monthly Archives: May 2012
by Jean Roberta
Like most free-lance writers, I hold down a day job that enables me to pay for food and lodging. Sometimes my multiple roles as an English instructor, a writer, a reviewer and a blogger make me feel insane, but at other times, I think they enable me to relate to students, other writers and editors with a certain perspective. If you are a writer who wonders whether editors eat nothing but raw meat, or you are an editor who wonders whether most writers avoided school while being raised by wolves, I recommend sitting on the other side of the desk.
In the 1980s, my Purgatorial Decade, I was struggling to survive as a divorced mother while endlessly revising a thesis for a Master’s degree in English from a Canadian university. The reason for the endless revising was that each chapter had to be approved first by my faculty advisor, then by other members of a committee whose job it was to give me additional advice. This usually involved telling me to add more footnotes to a book that eventually grew to 200 pages, with a 12-page bibliography.
To distract myself from the pain of this process, I sent a collection of lesbian stories (with no explicit sex in them) to a one-woman publisher who agreed to publish them as a book – but of course, she wanted me to make revisions first. At that time, I thought that too many people had too many opinions about how I should express myself on paper.
In the 1990s, I was hired to teach mandatory first-year English courses at my Alma Mater. In 1998, I joined the Erotic Readers Association, as it was called then, and began posting my stories in Storytime and critiquing the stories and poems of other members. Thanks to ERA, I got my first erotic stories published. Since then, approximately 90 (I haven’t counted lately) of my erotic stories have been published in print, and even more of my reviews have been published and posted in various places.
I’ve learned that every piece of writing could benefit from editorial advice. I’ve also learned that editors, like writers, have their quirks. A certain magazine editor who has a PhD in English seems to like contractions better than I do, and he often edits my reviews accordingly. (“The author has lived in New York, London and Timbuktu” becomes “The author’s lived in New York,” etc.) Several years ago, when Dr. Editor was editing my review of a book on representations of African-American history in film, he changed one of my sentences to read: “The Black Panthers entered the California state legislature with guns blazing.” I had to explain to him that in this famous example of real-life 1960s guerrilla theatre, the Black Panthers didn’t actually massacre the whole government of California. They simply entered the capital building as observers, dressed in black berets and leather jackets and carrying legally-registered, unconcealed weapons, all of which was legal behaviour under state and federal law.
In some cases, I have had to explain the difference between “lie” and “lay” (two different verbs) to the editors of erotic journals and anthologies. I have also learned that grammatical correctness is not the same thing as an effective writing style, and that editors can often spot a clunky or unclear sentence that I overlooked in one of my stories. Since most erotic story-writers are usually racing against deadlines, we don’t usually have time to let a finished story sit for awhile, then reread it with fresh eyes and revise it before sending it in.
As a Canadian writer, I have had to explain both to British and American editors that I can, in fact, change “color” to “colour” or vice versa, and that if a story of mine seems to have misspellings and “incorrect” punctuation, that’s usually because I originally wrote it to send to a U.S. market and forgot to change the style before sending it to a British editor. In one case, I was paid for an erotic story in a magazine by means of U.S. bills tucked between the pages of the magazine which was snail-mailed to me on the Canadian prairies from England. I never knew whether the editor believed that Canada uses the same currency as the U.S. (It doesn’t. Like British pounds, our paper money features a portrait of the Queen, but with distinctive Canadian images of Prime Ministers, maple leaves, beavers and canoes.)
As an English instructor as well as a reviewer, I have read many a sentence that is much more hilarious than the writer seems to have intended. Several years ago, I collected a page of these gems and circulated them among my colleagues in the English Department. Some examples: “The main character in this story holds a bottle of beer between his legs, where the symbolism is located.” “An allusion is something that is not real but seen to be very important.” “Passive writing is a bad idea because the past is gone.”
As a reviewer, I have read sentences in published erotica that have almost caused me to spew coffee over a keyboard. One of my pet peeves is the description of impossible activities: “Their eyes locked from across the room, their lips meeting in a passionate kiss as they tore each other’s clothes from their panting bodies.” In erotica, as in directing a play, blocking (arranging the positions of the actors in relation to each other and the audience) is crucial. If one character seems to have three arms, the reader will be unable to suspend his/her disbelief long enough to get into the scene. And while the Christian Inquisition believed that “witches” could have more than two teats, descriptions of such features should probably be reserved for speculative fiction.
This year, I was honoured to be invited to co-edit an anthology of more-or-less scholarly writing. This is the printed version of a lecture/performance series called the Queer Initiative which was started five years ago at the university where I teach. All the presentations on gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/non-heteronormative material have been given by faculty members or guest speakers from elsewhere; the presenters have usually read from notes. My job is to copyedit the written versions, which were all sent to me as attachments to emails.
Carefully reading this material with a virtual red pen in hand has reminded me that academics are thinkers but not necessarily writers. I commented to my co-editor, who teaches Theatre, that a certain colleague of ours in Visual Arts sees connections that most other people probably miss (motifs in the visual imagery in several recent Hollywood films), but his insights are expressed in monster sentences. Co-editor grinned from ear to ear and added that our colleague also tends to speak in monster sentences.
I’ve been somewhat surprised by: 1) how satisfying it is to edit the work of other writers to make it look better, and 2) how receptive my colleagues have been to my editorial advice. In several cases, they have expressed relief that I’ve treated their subject-matter with respect even when making numerous changes to individual words, sentence structure and punctuation. Several of the writers have even admitted that the rules (or guidelines) of grammar are generally a mystery to them, and they are glad I seem to have a handle on this stuff.
Such fruitful negotiations make me wonder if world peace might be possible after all.
Jean Roberta is a long-time member of ERWA who once agreed to post something here every three months, beginning on February 26. At that time, unfortunately, she had just returned from a trip and was in the midst of chaotic home renovations, so this is Jean’s first post on the ERWA blog. Her monthly opinions column, Sex Is All Metaphors, ran on the ERWA website in 2008-2010. These 25 essays are now an e-book with the same title from Coming Together (www.eroticanthology.com) Jean’s reviews of erotic material appear monthly on “Erotica Revealed” (www.eroticarevealed.com), and she is also one of the six writers who blog on “Oh Get a Grip” (www.ohgetagrip.blogspot.com).
By Lisabet Sarai
Decades ago I read a science fiction
story about a planet where trends, fads and fashions would rise and
fall in a single night. The clothing styles popular at nine in the
evening might be totally different from those worn at four in the
morning. A unknown performer might become a instant celebrity, with
billions of admirers, then fade back into obscurity within twenty
four hours. Even language could evolve overnight, with new words
coined and yesterday’s favorite terms falling into disuse.
I wish I could remember the title or
author of this prophetic tale. It seemed original, almost
far-fetched, in the nineteen eighties. Now, aside from some expansion
of time frame, it quite accurately describes the reality of our
networked world, and especially the world of publishing.
Thousands of words have been devoted to
the “50 Shades of Grey phenomenon”. The popular media have
dissected the appeal of BDSM to the “mommies” who made the book
such a hit or wondered whether the book signals a precipitous decline
in morality. Erotica bloggers have rejoiced at the popular spotlight
shone on our genre or bemoaned the poor literary quality of the book
itself. Feminists have castigated the shallowness of the heroine,
questioning the consequences for the current generation of young
Everywhere I turn, people seem to be
debating the implications of E.L. James’ incredible success. On one
writers email list I subscribe to, a member asked, only
half-facetiously, whether 50 Shades of Grey might be some sort
of devious plot by the traditional publishing industry to test the
waters as to the popular acceptability of erotic fiction. Is 50
Shades of Grey a conspiracy? A fluke? An indicator of the tyranny
of mediocrity? A harbinger of things to come?
In my view, FSOG is significant
because it demonstrates the near-random amplifying effects of the
social Internet. The book started life as a series published on a fan
fiction web board. It happened to strike a chord with the
subscribers, then gained popularity via grass-roots dissemination of
information to new readers. The buzz grew exponentially, facilitated
by the ease of tweeting, forwarding, sharing and syndication in
today’s socially-oriented Web infrastructure.
I’m not going to say anything more
about this book – partly because I believe that more than enough
has been said already. My main point in this post is that the
Internet is a huge amplifier of ideas. Under the right
circumstances, a book, a song, a video, or a news story can attract
the attention of literally millions of people within a matter of
days. However, despite what many believe, it’s extremely difficult to
predict exactly what content will “go viral”. The content itself
is not necessarily the primary determinant of popularity. It’s all in
the luck of the draw.
Nevertheless, despite the random
element in Internet amplification, everyone is trying to game the
system. Publishing has become a frantic attempt to utilize viral
nature of the Internet to gain attention for one’s books. Almost
every professional author that I know spends significant amounts of
time on blogging, tweeting, Facebook, Internet chats, and other
promotional activity. We create banners and trailers to display on
review sites. We “like” each other’s books and leave comments on
each other’s posts. The goal is to seed the Internet as densely as
possible with references to our names and our books. In this scrabble
to be part of the Next Big Thing, books themselves hardly seem to
Last year, Amazon.com introduced the
Kindle Select program and generated a frenzy of excitement among both
readers and authors. A book enrolled in this program is available
exclusively for the Kindle. In return for granting Amazon these
exclusive sales rights, authors or publishers receive 70% of the
sales price of their books – significantly more than most ebook
publishers offer. In addition, publishers/authors are allowed five
promotional days for each title – days when the books can be
offered for free. Judicious use of these promo days can build the
buzz for a new book. Downloads of the free book affect the ranking of
the book when it’s for sale. “Likes”, tagging, reviews, and
actual purchases also push up the book’s rank.
Since this program came into effect, a
whole ecosystem has developed around it. There are a dozen
newsletters to inform readers about the latest Kindle releases. Many
sell advertisements to authors who want to increase their visibility.
There are websites and forums, for readers and authors. Self-styled
marketing gurus blog or publish their own books on how to get your
Kindle book to the top of the charts. I wouldn’t be surprised to
discover someone had published a book on how to get rich by telling
Amazon authors how to get rich. If so, I’m sure that author
hopes to ride the crest of the Kindle Select wave to personal
Toward the end of last year, one of my
publishers decided to go exclusive on Amazon for all new titles. I
have to admit that the initial effect on my royalties was dramatic –
and I’m nowhere near the top seller for this company. Now, every day
on the authors’ email list, my colleagues discuss their rankings
(sometimes on an hourly basis), announce their free days, and beg the
other authors to like and tag their books. The publishers are
spending lots of money on newsletter ads to draw in readers. They’ve
had some success manipulating the rankings of our books; my peers are
Personally, I’m skeptical. I doubt this
approach is sustainable. If we can work the system, so can everyone
else. Furthermore, the number of titles available on the Kindle is
growing at an astronomical rate – especially in the categories of
erotica and erotic romance. A goodly number of them are shovel-ware
or even plagiarized. (See
The competition is just plain ridiculous. Even for legitimate authors
(which I define as authors who actually care about what they put
their name on), tagging, liking and other actions are eventually all
going to cancel each other out.
I’d like to believe that when the
situation levels off, the best books will be the ones with the
highest sales. But experience suggests otherwise.
Meanwhile, after an initial jump in my
royalties, they’ve begun to fall. I need another release to push them
back up. I do have a book in the pipeline; it may be a few weeks
before it’s released. But how many other Kindle titles will show up
in the meantime?
Amazon is just one example of my point.
The Internet is dynamic, constantly changing and far too complex for
any individual to grasp. Strategies for search engine optimization
become obsolete almost as soon as they’re discovered, as Google and
its competitors tweak their algorithms. Two months ago the hottest
new facility for social networking was Google+. Last month it was
Triberr. Now everyone’s talking about Pinterest. If you can catch a
viral wave, ride it for all its worth – but I don’t think it’s
possible to summon one on demand.
And yet, authors can’t afford to
completely ignore the amplifying influences of today’s ubiquitous
connectivity. Or can they? One of the most successful authors I know
doesn’t blog, or tweet, or hang out on Facebook. She has a single
email list where she communicates with her fans (more than 500 of
them) – and she writes, every day, despite being a single mother
with two young daughters. Since she was first published, a handful of
years ago, she has produced over a hundred books (mostly novella
length). The majority of her fans buy every single one.
Meanwhile, here I am, spending hours
writing a blog post instead of my current work in progress.
by Donna George Storey
I started writing fiction in the spring of 1997, which makes
this more or less my fifteenth anniversary of dealing with the writer’s life
(see Kristina Wright’s spot-on post from last month, “What It Means to Be a Full-Time Writer” for what I used to believe sixteen years ago). It might sound like a decent chunk of time to
have experienced the perils and triumphs of academic, literary and erotica
publishing, and I do know a little more than when I started, but the realities
of the literary marketplace continue to surprise and mystify me.
Recently a good friend has started seeking representation
for her YA historical novel. Many people, especially those who want to write but haven’t, are ready to smirk at the pathos of a first-time novelist taking on New York. In this case, however, I’m excited for her, because I’ve read a draft and absolutely loved it. My friend lived in the country where the
novel is set, is fluent in the language, and has done significant scholarly
research on the time period. More than
this, she’s managed to weave her deep knowledge into a suspenseful story that
gives the reader an honest look at this culture through the eyes of a
believable, sympathetic young female protagonist. I’d be proud to have written this book. Need any writer say more?
My friend has also done her homework on the the process of
selling her novel. She’s read how-to books,
checked appropriate agent blogs and polished her cover letter and synopsis to a
shine. Apparently now agents don’t only
require that your current project be as timelessly classic as The Great Gatsby
while having the appeal to reach an audience at least twice that of the Harry
Potter series, you have to have an impressive set of saleable future projects
ready to push out the door in a year or two.
Since self-publishing is threatening to make the job of literary agent
obsolete, I have to admire their balls in being so extravagantly choosy. Or perhaps they figure only a blockbuster
author will be willing to pay the 15% to handle all the sub rights’
Even with an excellent manuscript,
my friend’s search may not be easy. If
the agents deign to reply at all, some will tell her one or more of the following: that
the book has no payoff; that it’s too fast-paced; that it’s too slow; that it’s
too obvious; that it’s too subtle; that it was well written, but they didn’t fall
in love with the characters; that the characters were likeable, but the writing
too esoteric; that they could only commit to a series; that she should change
the love interest or have the father marry a different character or have the
protagonist be prettier; that there is too much cultural explanation; that
there is too little cultural explanation.
It sounds like I’m joking.
Yet I realize, too, that beneath a very thick layer of
cynicism, I still actually believe in the grand romance of publishing. Let me roughly
outline the basic tenant of this sweet illusion.
The ultimate writer’s romance is the beautifully uplifting
belief in a kind of literary justice. That
is, if the publishing industry accepts and publishes your book, it is “good”
and if they reject it, it sucks, or is at least not good enough. What is published by New York is the
cream of the writing that is out there, because agents are selecting the most
worthy work submitted to them. Beyond
that is the most important criterion by which to judge a book—the number of
sales. The same logic applies. The more popular a book is, the “better” it
is. Although I will agree higher sales
are better for the publisher, agent and, to a lesser degree, the author, what I’m speaking of is the popular
assumption of quality, as in this book is worthy of the precious moments of your life you will spend in reading it. Therefore—and I probably shouldn’t mention
this book because I haven’t read it, but that deficiency is irrelevant for my present
argument—Fifty Shades of Grey is the “best” and most important erotica book
ever written because of its phenomenal sales figures.
If you’re tempted to point out my confusion between the
popularity of a book and its admittedly subjective “quality,” I believe that is
exactly what happens on an emotional level for many readers and critics,
including myself. And the reason I’ll
admit this is because of my hopes for my friend’s novel.
Talk about a fantasy.
In my fevered mind, the first round of agents she’s approached will all
immediately reply asking for the full manuscript with the following
Dear Ms. A,
I can’t tell you have thrilled and relieved I am to have the
chance to read an intelligent page-turner.
To be honest, these vampire-sorcerer-shapeshifter-dream-catcher
spin-off’s are starting to eat my brain.
It’s okay with me that this is a stand-alone novel, because most of the
world’s memorable literature has not been written as a seven-part series (I
mean really, who’s read all of Remembrance of Things Past?). It gives me great pleasure to serve
humanity’s higher need for an excellent story that will encourage its readers
to engage in deeper thought about actual historical events and what we can
learn from them, rather than worry only about making tons of sales with any old
crap that can be described with the hot-button tags of the moment. Thank you for allowing me to be genuinely proud
of what I do.
I’m setting up the auction for your book now.
Hot-Shot New York Agent
Because my friend’s novel is
one of the best things I’ve read in a long time, and that includes an
embarrassing number of disappointing but very popular Oprah Magazine
recommendations, I expect that the publishing industry will see the value of
her work, too, and realize how far they’ve gotten off track since the days of
Maxwell Perkins. Go ahead and laugh at
my naivete, I deserve the ridicule. However, many
readers out there, who confidently insist that advertising doesn’t affect them
in the least and that they watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians with
ironic distance, also fall prey to this appealing delusion. And many publishing professionals will swear
that their experience and instincts maximize the success of the projects they
choose to champion, while they, too, are constantly taken by surprise by what
actually performs well.
Few of us would admit that we still believe the free market
naturally brings us what is good and right, although in darker moments we might agree it gives us what we deserve.
But then why do we (okay, I’m sort of using the royal “we”) get so angry when what we are presented with yet
another disappointing mega-seller? Maybe
because deep down writers are romantics who still hope that our innate talent
will be seen by the right billionaire publisher who will then elevate us to the
level of the truly beloved Voice of the Culture? Or at least that a quality book will be
treated with respect and presented to an audience of readers who will feel
their lives are better for having read it?
Call me a foolish romantic, but a little illusion always helps
us on our writing journey. I still have
my fingers crossed for a HEA ending for my friend and her book–and wish the
same for all writers who have the courage to write what they truly love.
Donna George Storey is the author of the erotic novel, Amorous Woman. Her short stories have recently appeared in Best Women’s Erotica 2012, Best Erotic Romance, and The Best of Best Mammoth Erotica. Learn more at http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor.
By: Craig Sorensen
Sometimes they are fatal, sometimes they are life changing. Sometimes they are just a tiny space in time.
Perhaps a space that will be as easily forgotten as it
In my prior job, the corporate offices were in a building
constructed on a former pier that jutted out into the Hudson River. Standing at one end, looking to the other,
could look like a three mile walk.
Naturally a fast walker myself, this could lead to a
One day, I was late for a meeting on the Manhattan end, a
woman stepped around the corner from the endless cube farm down the middle of
the building at just the wrong time.
No one was hurt in the collision, but I did feel awful about
running into her, and she was rightfully pissed at me, but the rapidity that
her expression softened stuck in my head.
It was no more than three seconds in my half-century of life,
an inconsequential moment, certainly not a pivot point in my life. It might well have been forgotten if my
fiction writing mind hadn’t taken firm hold of the idea and begun to turn it
I wrote the formative ideas for the below not too long after
the collision, then set it aside. I came
back to it, changed it, shifted it and grew it.
Could it really work into a story someone might like to read? I don’t know; this was what came
out. I guess this was a flash fiction
exercise in “iceberg writing.” Not
really a story itself, I built it on the idea of these two people, and set out
to illustrate them in tiny fragments of a single moment where they crossed,
showing only their gut reactions to an event, and hinted at a future.
Collision, ©2012 Craig J.
It seems this building has no end. Narrow aisles like ladder steps, the
crossbars occupied by the oblivious staff members of our most recent
A Nevada desert road stretches to infinity.
No terrain. No
rain. My meeting is at the far end,
somewhere up there. Ledger sheets will
lead to decisions that will affect the lives of every face that lies behind the
nameplates along the hall. Nameplates I’ve
never bothered to read. I turn my
wrist. My steps lengthen and pound a
My arms rise in reflex, one hand braces on a wool clad hip,
the other arm steadies a narrow waist.
Full breasts cushion my ribs like airbags deploy on collision.
“Bastard!” I don’t
know the flower in her perfume; her breath is cayenne.
My voice goes up two octaves like a knee to the nuts. “Goddamn!”
Juicy tears dangle from both sides of her chin. Did I do that? I grope for an apology. Her pinpoint pupils are a tiny dot in a field
of cobalt – the cold winter sun through an old bottle. Her porcelain skin gleams against the black
business suit, jacket half way on, her arms are suspended mid frame,
helpless. Helpless. I should ease away from her respectfully.
Astaire and Rogers wait for the music to start, but the
ensuing silence is more like the Novocain on an abscessed tooth. We remain, frozen. Her hand gathers my pink dress shirt into a
tight fist. Her hip presses slightly
forward into the hasty embrace.
I release her. “I’m
really am sor—”
“You should watch where you’re going.” Her words are a whisper. She gently pats my heart. Her pupils widen, suddenly black as a
mourner’s dress. Her nicked, thick
wedding band reflects the endless row of fluorescent tubes above.
“God, I am really sorry, Ms, um . . .” I lift my brow.
She sniffs hard, pulls back, finishes putting on her coat
and wipes both cheeks. “Huddleston. I—me too.
I didn’t mean it—I shouldn’t have called you—a—I mean, that.” She smiles then continues in the opposite
I savor the last hints of her scent and my sudden, rare, ripe
guilt. I look back and watch her walk
away. She doesn’t look back. Her pace looks angry, faster than my pace
when I ran into her.
I turn my popcorn hard on, something I regret almost as much
as asking her name, to twelve O’clock. “Well
I am. A bastard, that is, Ms
Huddleston.” I say too quiet for anyone
to hear. “Usually I am.” I am late for my meeting, but walk slowly, and consider.
I’ve been fortunate to have played host on my blog to a very interesting discussion on the rise in popularity of ‘cipher’ characters – protagonists who are blank slates. The most topical one at the moment is Anastasia – the female main character in Fifty Shades of Grey. She is, by no means, the only one. Increasingly, I’m coming across characters, in both erotica and in erotic romance, who have no goals, no aspirations, no talents, no agency. This is especially true when it comes to sexually submissive characters.
It goes against everything I was taught as a writer, and against all the most celebrated literary characters who are held up as exemplars of brilliant characterization. And yet these novels are wildly popular. Too popular to simply discount as literary flukes. Too well-liked to attribute their popularity to a readership lacking in discernment.
I think it behooves us as writers to examine how it became not only acceptable, but desirable to deliver up protagonists with no personality, no agency. And then to examine what has happened in our culture to support or encourage this change. Finally, I think we are required to consider the ramifications of this shift.
As interactive media evolved, it allowed for a very different kind of relationship between the story and the consumer. There were always role-playing games, like Dungeons and Dragons, but the rise of the computer game enabled the creation of story-space that required the immersion and active participation of the player. The once maligned 2nd Person POV became a necessary narrative device for interactive gaming. Writing games necessitated the author to, in essence, make a hole in the storyworld where the player could insert themselves, and allow enough flexibility of plot to make the player feel like he or she had invested enough agency to care about the outcome of the story/game.
Post-modernism greatly influenced many aspects of creative content creation. There was a thorough democratization of the validity and worth of opinion and experience. Expertise, craftsmanship, authority of the subject were rejected in favour of the lived experience of the common man/woman. Entertainment types like reality TV have become very popular, valorizing the experience of the everyman – and turning it into spectacle. It also is very cheaply produced entertainment. It doesn’t require a lot of the creative expertise of earlier forms – actors, writers, set designers, etc.
From a literary theory perspective, the rise of new ways of understanding the author’s role in the narrative exchange between the text and the reader forced us to examine where meaning-making lies. And in the latter half of the 20th century, it was generally agreed that the reader played a much greater part in the reader-text-writer relationship than previously acknowledged. Readers internalize the written text and then, essentially, re-write it into their own experience. This allows novels to have the intensely personal impact that they have on us.
This has influenced writing enormously. Writers began to accept their roles as proposers of fictionality rather than transferrers of truths, and attempted to write increasingly more ‘open’ texts, in which the reader was left to formulate conclusions themselves. It no longer matters what the novel meant to the writer as he or she wrote it. Now all that matters is what it means to the reader through the filter of their interpretation.
So, in a way, it’s not all that surprising that startlingly vapid characters like Anastasia, are as popular as they are. As one commenter on my blog said: “I like to immerse myself into what I’m reading and imbue characters with my own thoughts and ideas.” And what better way to do this than to provide the reader with an essentially empty vessel? As another commenter wrote: “…she will be easy to step into as an identity character because so little of her is really fleshed out.”
It occurs to me that this is a reflection of a greater sociological polarization. Not only does it seem we are, as a factionalized society, unwilling to listen to an opposing argument or consider that any part of it might be valid, but now we can no longer even tolerate the fictional portrayal of characters who cannot be easily made into ourselves.
It would be foolish not to acknowledge that there are deeply feminist implications in the rise in popularity of female characters who have no goals or aims or aspirations other than to be a compliment to the male protagonist in the story, but I don’t really want to get into that discussion.
The desire for empty vessels into which we can insert ourselves literarily has broader implications that go beyond gender. At its heart, this relates to a society in which individuals have no interest in the experiences of others. It is not enough to sympathize with or be co-travelers on a character’s fictional journey. We have to have space made for us to be in the starring role. And I have to wonder whether this is a fundamental product of a consumer culture in which the customer’s voice is, ostensibly, the only one that matters. Have we had our consumer egos pandered to with such intensity, that we cannot tolerate the other, the alien, the different? If it is not our story, is it unconsumable to us now?
I think Barthes was simply a little premature. The ‘Death of the Author’ did not occur when we relinquished the role of meaning making to readers. But when writers can no longer write rich, complex, evolved main characters and are compelled, if they want to be popular, to write empty vessels instead, then it really is the death of the author.
It is fairly easy to program a computer to spit out a sequence of fictional events. And certainly, most of the scenarios we create in fiction are not all that new. The thing that afforded writers creative space was to write interesting characters who transgressed through those familiar landscapes in new and interesting ways. Now, it seems, we are not required to do that either.
Are we dead, yet?
Ever seen Sweet Smell of Success? If you
haven’t then you should: because, even though the film was shot in 1957, it
rings far too much, and far too loudly, in 2012.
In a nutshell, Sweet
Smell of Success (directed
by Alexander Mackendrick from a script by the amazing Clifford Odets and
Ernest Lehman) is about the all-powerful columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt
Lancaster) – who can make or break anyone and anything he wants — and the
desperate press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), who loses everything for
trying to curry favor with Hunsecker for … well, that Sweet Smell of Success.
… 1957 to 2012. A lot’s changed,
that’s for sure. But recently rewatching
this, one of my all-time favorite films, gave me a very uncomfortable
chill. But first a bit of history
(stop that groaning): you see, J.J. Hunsecker was based – more than thinly – on
another all-powerful columnist, the man who once said, about the who he was,
and the power he wielded as, ” I’m just a son of a
was even a word, created by Robert Heinlein of all people, to describe a
person like this: winchell – for the
man himself — Walter Winchell.
book, movie, star, politician – anyone who wanted success would do, and
frequently did, anything for both Walter and his fictional doppelganger J.J.
Hunsecker. Their power was absolute
… even a rumor, a fraction of a sentence could mean the difference between
headlines and the morgue of a dead career. As Hunsecker puts it to a poor entertainer who crossed him:
“You’re dead, son. Get yourself buried.”
to 2012: we have iPhones, Ipads, Nooks, Kindle’s, 4G, Bluetooth, Facebook, Twitter
… in many ways we’re just a food pill away from every futuristic fantasy ever
put-to-pulp. But there’s a problem
… and it’s a big one.
think it’s time to bring winchell
back … not the man, of course, even if that were possible, but the word. Yes, a lot has changed from Walter and Sweet Smell of Success but, sadly, as
the old cliché goes: “the more things change the more they stay the
Internet has altered – quite literally – everything, but in many ways the
speed, and totality, of its change has made a lot of people, writers to readers
to just-plain-surfers, desperate for benchmarks: a place or person to go to
that, they hope, will be there in the morning.
writers this often means an editor, site, or just another writer. In the ‘biz’ these people are called names: meaning that mentioning by them
seems to have a kind of rub-for-luck power for other writers – with the
ultimate prize being (gasp) noticed
by them. Sadly, this make-or-break
mojo is occasionally true – though a surprising large number of these “names” are
only divine in their twisted little minds.
said it before and so, naturally, I have to say it again: writing anything –
smut to whatever you want to create – is damned hard work: all of us writers
put our heart and souls down on the digital page and then send it out into a
far-too-frequently uncaring digital universe. No writer … let me say that again with vehement emphasis
… is better than any other writer. Sure, a few get paid more, have more
books or stories published, but the work involved is the same – as is their
history: name any … well, name
and you will see a person who, once upon a time, was sitting in the dark with
nothing but hopes and dreams.
is why these … winchells give me
unpleasant flashbacks to Lancaster telling Curtis: “Son, I don’t relish
shooting a mosquito with an elephant gun, so why don’t you just shuffle
I will get to the point: never forget
that what you are doing, as a writer, is special and wonderful. Yeah, you might be rough around the
edges; sure, you may be years away from stepping out of the shadows and into
the blinding light of being (gasp) a name
yourself; but you deserve respect.
have a simple rule. Okay, it might
be a little harsh but it keeps me going in the face of trying to get out there
into the big, wide, and far-too-uncaring world: ignore me and I ignore you.
likes and comments, twitter responses, by the way, don’t count. That’s not communication – at least not
to me (not to sound like a crotchety old man). If I write anyone – an editor, site, or just another writer –
and I don’t get an answer then I wish you into the cornfield. The same goes with rude responses … like
the writer who asked me to promote her book. I said that I would if she’d promote mine as well. Quid
pro quo, right? She never
wrote back – not even after a few polite suggestions for mutual exposure … so I hope she likes popcorn.
rude, not answering messages, playing the “are you a name? If not then
screw you” game: there is no reason for this behavior. Never!
of trying to suck to up names or
support them and their sites with a pathetic fantasy that you, too, may
actually be seen by them, find some real, true, and good friends: people who
will hold your hand when it gets dark and scary; who will bring you along no
matter where they go; who understand the bumps in the road because they, too,
are on the same path; who will understand kindness but also karma – that good
a winchell may taste good, at first:
being able to consider yourself better than other writers, to associate with
other names in the business, to be
able to make – or break – anyone who want for whatever reason you have … but
there’s a great Hollywood expression that rings in my head just as loudly as
any line from Sweet Smell of Success:
Always be nice to the people
you meet on the way up, because those are the very same people you’ll be
meeting on the way back down.
closing, remember that anyone, anywhere – name
or not — who doesn’t treat you with at least professional equality, mutual
respect, or just simple human politeness is, to quote from Sweet Smell of Success: “A
cookie full of arsenic.”
When: June 7th, Delilah Devlin; June 17, M Christian
Where: ERWA chats are held on the ShadowWorld chat server, channel #erachat.
(Follow the link above. On screen you’ll see ‘Connect to ShadowWorld IRC’. In the Nickname box, key in your name. Leave the channels box at #ERAChat, and click ‘Connect’. A chat text box will appear at the bottom of your screen)
GLBT erotica is a genre to be reckoned with, and ERWA will help interested authors with two GLBT Live Chats with the Pros. Delilah Devlin and M Christian will be on hand to answer questions, offer advice, and exchange ideas with authors of GLBT erotica. Whether you’re penning your first gay fiction, or are a spicy-seasoned pro, don’t miss this opportunity.
1) Delilah Devlin will host a live chat Thursday, June 7th, at 8:00pm EST, (5:00pm PST; 1:00am GMT).
Delilah Devlin is a prolific and award-winning author of erotica with a rapidly expanding reputation for writing deliciously edgy stories with complex characters. Ms. Devlin has published over 100 erotic stories in multiple genres and lengths. She is published by Avon, Black Lace, Kensington, Harlequin, Atria/Strebor, Cleis Press, Ellora’s Cave, Samhain Publishing, and Berkley. If you want to know how to do the deed, Delilah is the lady to talk to. This is your chance to chat live with her.
Read about Delilah at http: www.delilahdevlin.com.
2) M. Christian will host a live chat Saturday, June 16th, at 3:00pm EST (12 noon PST; 8:00pm GMT).
M. Christian, editor for Sizzler Editions, is an acknowledged master of erotica with more than 400 stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, and Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica. If you want to know what GLBT editors want (and don’t want) and how to make your submissions stand out, M. Christian will be happy to answer your questions.
Read about M Christian at http: www.mchristian.com.
By Ashley Lister
My wife informs me there are four types of orgasm.
The Positive Orgasm, characterised by the exclamation, “Oh! Yes! Oh! Yes!”
The Negative Orgasm, suggested by cries of, “Oh! No! Oh! No!”
The Religious Orgasm, identified by exclamations such as “Jesus! God! Jesus!” and the Fake Orgasm, typified by the words, “Oh! Ashley!”
Dialogue in fiction serves three main functions:
- Dialogue advances plot.
- Dialogue demonstrates character.
- Dialogue shows relationships.
Dialogue is one of the main challenges that needs to be mastered for anyone wishing to write credible erotic fiction. Connoisseurs of pornography repeatedly complain of unconvincing conversations and asinine interjections
spoiling the ambience of sexually explicit material. Editors of erotica frequently bemoan the monological exchanges typified by banal exclamatories in erotic scenes. No one expects the fictional participants of a sexually explicit encounter to exchange pithy views on Keats or Kierkegaard. Yet most readers would prefer characters who can say something more insightful than, “Yeah, baby,” or “Oh! No!” or even “Oh! Ashley!”
It’s worth noting here that the current vogue in writing stands against the overuse of speech tags and modifiers in dialogue. Whilst it is occasionally helpful to say, John complained; Jane asked; he stammered; or she exclaimed (etc), it is acknowledged that these verbs should be redundant if the dialogue has been well-crafted and is fulfilling its function correctly.
Consider the following:
“What are you telling me?” John demanded.
Jane glared at him. “I’m telling you that it’s over,” she bawled.
“It’s-” he began.
“Don’t make this any more difficult than it already is,” she interrupted.
He shook his head. “I’m not making anything diff-”
She didn’t let him finish the words. “Goodbye, John,” she said finally.
“What are you telling me?”
“I’m telling you that it’s over.”
“Don’t make this any more difficult than it already is.”
“I’m not making anything diff-”
The modifiers in Text 1 slow the pace of this exchange. In the first line, “What are you telling me?” John demanded, it can be argued that John demanded is redundant. John is asking an explicit question and these are not usually ‘whispered’ or ‘said huskily’ or ‘ muttered whimsically.’ The reader should be able to infer from the heated nature of this exchange’s opening that John is demanding an answer. Telling the reader this much borders on being too expository and writing beneath the readers’ abilities to understand the narrative.
Similarly, in lines 3 and 4, it can be seen that the modifiers are unnecessary.
“It’s-” he began.
“Don’t make this any more difficult than it
already is,” she interrupted.
Because the reader will understand that John has been interrupted – a fact implied by his single word utterance, ending in an abrupt en-dash – there is little need to tell the reader that John has been interrupted. This over-explaining carries connotations of the annoying tautology found in exchanges such as:
“Why don’t you smile?” asked Jane, urging John to smile.
“I am smiling,” said John, smiling.
Perhaps the most intrusive redundancy in Text 1 is the last line.
She didn’t let him finish the words. “Goodbye, John,” she said finally.
All the previous arguments against overexposing the interruption can be applied to the first sentence in this line. John’s previous utterance finished halfway through a word and ended with an abrupt en-dash. Whatever Jane says after that is almost certainly an interruption.
The sentence could have effectively ended with Jane saying, “Goodbye, John.” The final three words, ‘she said finally’ are unnecessary and potentially confusing. We already know that Jane is saying these words so there is no need for the author to tell us ‘she said’ them. We also know that they have been spoken at the end of the exchange so
there was no real need for the word ‘finally.’ In some ways this provides a dead-cat bounce: the initial impact of the statement being followed by an unneeded echo that does not offer the reader anything new and dilutes the finality of the original statement. This is the author being overly indulgent at the expense of the story and the characters.
In this argument Jane should be given the last word but the author has taken that privilege away from her.
Having said all of the above, the conservative use of modifiers does help to ascertain the identity of the speaker. Modifiers can also convey additional meaning that is not explicitly or implicitly present in the reported speech. In line 2 of Text 1, the reader is shown that Jane glared at him. This is necessary information for providing story detail. Without this information the reader doesn’t know if Jane is avoiding eye-contact or fighting back tears of regret or shampooing her hair and considering a henna rinse. Because no one glares at people when they are joking (or doing anything other than being part of a confrontation) the single verb is giving the reader a lot of detail about the vitriolic nature of this exchange.
As with all matters in creating enjoyable fiction, the onus is on the writer to present a clear and unambiguous text for the readers’ interpretation and entertainment. And, as with all erotic fiction, the essential point is to keep thinking about the reader with every word that’s written.