Monthly Archives: July 2013
By K D Grace
I had a sex blogger ask me once how I could possibly write
about things I hadn’t experienced. My answer at the time, though accurate, was
a bit flippant I suppose. I said that it’s fiction. It’s no more difficult for
me to write about sex that I’ve not experienced than it is for Thomas Harris to
write about serial killers when he certainly isn’t one.
I think I can write about sex I’ve never experienced, would
never even want to experience in the real world because I have a big brain. Oh,
not my brain in particular. All humans have ‘em, and we use them in sex even
when we’re not having sex. The thing about having a big brain is that it adds a
new dimension to a biological act. In the hormonal, pheromonal soup that drives
us to fuck, we get the added pleasure of making it up as we go along. In our
heads — anyway we like it. And this, we can do completely and totally without
the help of anyone else.
Which leads me to wonder how much of fiction writing – any
genre of fiction writing – is really our big brain masturbating – first for our
own pleasure, and if we get lucky and our work gets published, then we get to
be exhibitionists and do it for an audience. Is that yet another layer of our
sexuality? There’ve been countless of books and essays written on the
connection between sexuality and creativity, and I’ve experienced it myself.
When it’s right, when I’m in the zone, the rush, the high, the incredible buzz
of getting characters and plot to move together in just the right tango of conflict
and passion and drive, the experience from a writer’s point of view is
extremely sexual, and yet somehow better than sex. It’s sex on steroids, it’s
free-falling, it’s roller coaster riding, it’s fast cars, mountain tops and
touching the tiger all rolled into one. And it all happens in some nebulous
part of our brains that only a neurosurgeon might be able to pin-point for us.
And who cares? Who cares as long as it gets us there!
Those moments don’t happen often, but it doesn’t matter.
They happen often enough to push us forward, to keep us going and writing and
longing and digging deep for the next wild brain-gasm. I just came off of one
of those experiences while racing to finish the draft of The Exhibition. It was a late-night write, a dark, dangerous sex
scene in which the characters staged a coup and completely took control of the
action. I came away staggering, looking down at my hands, wondering how the
hell I wrote that. I was too hyped to sleep, too creeped out to think about who
might be waiting for me in my dreams after what I’d just written. And yet … And
yet I felt stretched, expanded, like for a second I’d seen sex at the core
where the dark and light meet and swallow each other up. And what’s left is a
wild, crazy pull to translate what just happened into some kind of written
account that will convey that feeling, that sense of being beyond myself, yet
deeper into the dark recess of myself than I felt really comfortable going. And
as any writer would, longing to drag my reader right in there with me, into the
dark, into the fire.
It was a long time before I could sleep. It was a long time
before I felt quite like myself again. And that’s what got me thinking about my
big brain, which at times, seems so much bigger than just the space in my head.
And I guess maybe I do have to experience something in order to write about it.
But the big brain creates that experience in the privacy of my own head. That
being the case, how could I not keep going back for more? How could I not want
desperately to write what my big brain allows me to experience? How could I not
want to bring it out and flaunt it for the reader’s full participation?
Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of
genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the
Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four cats.
I went to my first meeting with a local writers group
recently. The last time I was in a writers group was at least thirty years ago.
I must have driven past the place hundreds of times, but I never noticed it.
It’s a little hideaway tucked into a corner. I like to take the scenic route
home occasionally, driving past the rocky beaches next to the ocean. This
writers group is along that route. My husband and I were going for a drive,
when he noticed the sign on the building. I must have tunnel vision or
something, since I have never noticed it before.
I would love to join a writers group, especially a local
one. I live over an hour from most writers groups in this area, and I simply didn’t
want to do all that driving. This one is ten minutes away. I couldn’t resist.
One major disadvantage in my mind in being a writer is that
it is so isolating. I have my writer friends on Facebook and elsewhere on the
Internet, but I wanted to be around real, live, breathing people. Make eye
contact. Smell cologne and perfume. Speak in real time. Mingle in meat space. I
craved companionship. I can’t speak for all writers, of course, but I wanted to
belong to a group of people with similar interests. I also wanted to belong to
a group of people who could help me in my writing career.
Now… my main worry was what would the members think of
erotica writers? I had already visited the web site, and I saw lots of notices
about readings for poetry and literary fiction. Would I fit in? I also write
horror, dark fiction, and fantasy. Would dismembered bodies go over better than
erect penises? I had no idea, but I was willing to risk it. I’m not ashamed of
what I write, but I do want to be accepted and I want approval. I want praise
for a job well done, and I want people to show interest in my work.
I worried about disapproval, but I sucked it up and went to
a poetry reading I saw listed on the calendar.
I had a blast.
There were about twenty people present. I was one of several
new people, and I was welcomed with open arms. Most members were over sixty. I
didn’t talk much about myself except to say I was a writer, I lived in town,
and I have been looking for a writers group for some time. I mostly asked
everyone else about themselves. When I told one woman I wrote human sexuality articles
for a sex toys company in London as well as erotica, she gave me “the
look” (most erotica writers probably know what I’m talking about), but
once I explained a bit further, she had shown interest. Several others reacted
in a similar fashion. At the very least, I piqued their curiosity.
Despite my fears, I fit in. I felt welcome. That meant a
great deal to me. A man read some of his poetry, and I enjoyed myself. It felt
good being in a group of pleasant people. I shared wine and conversation out in
the back yard after dark in a very relaxed atmosphere. Not only did I feel
welcome, I welcomed them into my world.
I wonder how many erotica writers are slightly embarrassed
over what they write? I’ve heard plenty of horror stories from my Facebook
writer friends of family who disapprove of their sexy stories. Some have chosen
pseudonyms to protect their jobs, especially if they teach young children.
These writers don’t get much support from their friends and family, which may
make the isolation some writers experience more distressing.
The next event I’ll attend is an open reading for anyone who
wants to read aloud – an open mike night. I’m not quite ready to read yet. I’d
rather get to know everyone better first before I drop my smut on them, but
I’ll bring a little something along in case I feel brave and decide to read
anyway. My stage fright isn’t only about reading erotica. It’s about reading
any of my works aloud. How many writers feel a lack of confidence over what
they write? I chose the perfect story to read if I decide to do it. It’s sensual
and even poetic. I have a feeling it will be praised, and I like basking in
friendship. Groucho might have said he’d never be a part of any club that would
have him as a member, but that’s not for me. Even though I’m a loner at heart,
it feels good to belong.
By Jean Roberta
I was lucky enough to be young when the “Sexual Revolution” of the late 1960s and early 1970s was happening, and it coincided with the birth of “Second Wave” feminism, so called because it looked like a revival of “First Wave” feminism, which gathered strength from about 1850 to the First World War, when adult women gained the right to vote in Britain, the U.S. and Canada.
The guys I dated in high school and afterward all wanted me to know that sex was a wonderful thing, and that I had no logical reason to say no, since we were living in a time of sexual freedom and Women’s Lib. I even heard rumors about exotic experiments in “group marriage” or communal living in cultural meccas such as San Francisco. I really hoped that the old sexual double standard was dying out all over the world.
As an erotic writer, I would love to write realistic stories about relationships based on pleasure for everyone involved, as well as general good will. I only have to turn on my TV to realize that a culture that would support such generosity is still nowhere in sight.
To write about women who are sexually exuberant, creative, as horny as animals in heat, yet also intelligent, practical and powerful, I need to write fantasy. I can’t see any alternative. A world in which women are not horribly stigmatized for enjoying sex outside the bonds of monogamous marriage (or for openly enjoying sex at all) is not the world we live in. Even now.
Consider the latest news in the media. I understand that the birth of an heir to the British throne is newsworthy, but realistically, neither the little princeling nor anyone else in his family is in a position to govern an empire. Not anymore. The arrival of little Prince George was really not a political issue, yet a horde of reporters has been endlessly commenting on the miracle of an ordinary birth, the new mother’s wardrobe, the princeling’s pedigree, and the reactions of everyone on the scene. Why has this event pushed every war off the front page of every English-language newspaper? Could it be a hysterical celebration of traditional marriage and childbearing? Could it be that Princess Kate is being held up as a model for all women in contrast to the waywardness of her deceased mother-in-law, Princess Diana?
Well, maybe I’m being a grinch about all this. The princeling looks cute (as far as I can tell) and his parents look happy. I wish them all well.
However, there’s more. Anthony Weiner, currently running for Mayor of New York City, was caught “sexting” yet again. He has apologized to his wife and the voting public for making inappropriate comments to someone in cyberspace, and for displaying his, um, weiner. He has apologized and asked for public support.
Eliot Spitzer, former Governor of New York state, another married man who was caught in an indiscretion, is now running for Comptroller of New York. He also hopes the public can forgive him, and he has supporters.
While we’re focusing on New York, let’s consider Melissa Petro, who is not currently featured in the news. She is a gorgeous young woman who sold sex via Craigslist for 11 months while she was a graduate student. In due course, she earned her degree and a job as an elementary school teacher in the Bronx. By all accounts, she was loved by her students and respected by her colleagues. In September 2010, she protested the closing of the “adult services” section of Craigslist by writing about her experience under her real name.
See her piece, “Thoughts from a Former Craigslist Sex Worker” here:
The administration of her school discovered this admirably clear, brief, straightforward article and fired Melissa. The Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg himself, said that she should be removed from the classroom. Since then, she has not been able to find another teaching job. It looks as if her teaching career has ended because she is known as a Fallen Woman. So much for human rights in the workplace.
Maybe Canada is a more humane country for young women to live in. After all, Canadian women got equal status with men (on paper) in 1982, when the Charter of Equality Rights was signed. In 1983, our laws against rape (as it used to be called) were thoroughly overhauled, it was renamed sexual assault, and no longer has anything to do with the victim’s reputation, in theory. In 2005, we got same-sex marriage, which implies that all spouses (including the heterosexual majority) have equal status under the law.
Surely any girl who is growing up in Canada now is even better-off than I was. But no.
In September 2012, 15-year-old Amanda Todd, who lived near Vancouver, British Columbia (on the west coast) posted a heartbreaking 9-minute video about how she had been hounded since she sent an image of her naked breasts via webcam to a man she met in cyberspace. This event eventually caused her to change schools twice in a fruitless effort to escape being persecuted as a “bad girl.” After two unsuccessful suicide attempts which were met with ridicule, she succeeded in October 2012.
This was not an isolated case. A 17-year-old on the opposite coast (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia) hanged herself in April 2013. Rehtaeh Parsons had been persecuted for two years, since four boys had sex with her at a drunken teenage bash, someone photographed the scene with a cellphone, and these pictures went viral. Rehtaeh’s mother has defined the event as gang-rape and has criticized local police for not taking action sooner. A national reporter on court cases, Christie Blatchford, has claimed there was not enough evidence in this case to prosecute anyone for sexual assault.
Rehtaeh’s stepfather responded to Christie Blatchford by pointing out that Rehtaeh’s state of intoxication (as shown in the cellphone images) indicated that she could not have given meaningful consent.
Any resemblance to another recent case involving a drunken teenage bash in Steubenville, New York, is painfully obvious.
I am not interested in arguing whether Rehtaeh Parsons was sexually assaulted or not, or whether Amanda Todd, as a “child,” responded to a dare by exposing herself to a stranger because she didn’t know any better. Re Melissa Petro, she was a grown woman who clearly arranged to meet men for the purpose of exchanging sexual services for money.
None of these events seems to me to be an adequate reason for the orgy of harassment, ostracism and life-threatening abuse that followed. As far as I can see, none of this is about “bullying in school” or the ages of the victims or the use of modern technology (evil computers). This is about the persistent, irrational hatred of young women who are perceived to be sexual beings.
This is Biblical, like the stoning of the woman taken in adultery—except that, in that case, Christ was her advocate.
When reading and hearing about these cases, I find it hard to stay calm and focus on writing fiction. Whatever happens to male politicians who cheat on their wives, in person or in cyberspace, they are not subjected to the lynch-mob persecution of any woman who is even suspected of being less than “pure.”
So far, the media loves Princess Kate, with her breezy, “modern” fashion sense and her apparent immersion in an ancient feminine role. As long as she never steps out of line, she might not be attacked.
We all need to imagine and create a better culture. We need it now, before another case hits the headlines.
By Kathleen Bradean
Please read Remittance Girl’s excellent write-up on all things censorship in the UK. Then don’t get too cozy, my US friends, seeing as
we’re living in a pre-fascist society hurtling toward doom of our own making if
things don’t turn around fast. And Canadians, gosh, I hate to say it, seeing as
you’re usually the sensible neighbor compared to our ‘drunken frat boy passed
out on the lawn, ‘ but you’ve got some weird-assed reactionary crap going on
under your own roof lately too.
It seems the churches have about given up on controlling us.
I mean, they do try, but even the choir is sneaking out during the sermon to
play hide the communion wafer with each other. So here come our governments stepping
into the power void. Seems humans can’t survive without someone wagging a
finger in our faces. They learned from the churches that the best way to
control people is to thwart natural sexuality, but the government doesn’t want
to be obvious about it, so they’re trying to shut down the ability of UK citizens to search for
erotica and adult content.
Hmm. Amazon just won a HUGE contract to host government
stuff on their server farms. Perhaps the whole ‘hide the literary salami’ game where
they disappeared all erotica (except big seller FSOG from a big publisher got a
magical pass) was just a sales demonstration of their might with
index-obliteration. Hmmm. Oh wait, that
sounds like a conspiracy theory. They probably just did it because… reasons. “Oh,
we’re Amazon, and we’ve decided money is gross! Get away, evil sales.” Yeah. I can totes see that.
This week, Tumblr sent multiple fandoms into vaporlock by
hiding all their slashy fanfic memes, as well as the sites that played by the
rules and admitted they had adult content or were NSFW. (and got shamed into sort of bringing them back)
And then there’s that whole thing with Blogger turning
uptight maiden auntie on anyone with links to ickle adult sites on their blogs.
This affects all of us, no matter where we are. Writers and
artists, our blogs and Tumblrs and books have been banished to limbo without
last rites. Not deleted, because oh no, that would be “bad” government
censorship. Just made invisible. Disappeared. It’s Turn of the
In the UK, Cameron can order Google to hide information on
breast cancer. Oh, that’s not what his censorship is supposed to do, but that’s
effectively what happens. We have seen it many times before. Cameron can also try to make it so consenting adults
can’t read perfectly legal stories — again collateral damage of poor policy. Or make it nearly impossible for rape
victims to find support anonymously
online. And be sure that girls can never find information on their own bodies
because there’s something so terrible about female genitalia that no woman must
ever be allowed to see it. Do you think you can really protect people by denying
them access to information, Mr Cameron? I don’t feel comfortable calling you a cynical, lying bastard without knowing for a fact that you are, so I’m going to assume that you’re so technologically illiterate
that you shouldn’t ever be allowed near a piece of legislation involving the
Internet, computers, surveillance, telecommunications, or any technology. Even if you are, you
should know this won’t work. Ask countries that tried to block off the entire internet
during revolutions and outright slaughter of their citizens. If they couldn’t
stop the Tweets from finding a way past electronic borders, what chance do you
think you have?
By the way, do you know which one of the examples above will find a way
to reach its audience no matter what you do? Erotica.
You, Amazon, Tumblr, Google– You’re just the latest wrinkle in a war that’s been raging
since the first time someone picked up a stick to draw a cock in the sand and
someone else kicked dirt over it.
And we’ve always won
this fight. From well-fondled copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover to bawdy tales
around the campfire with Chaucer, we endure.
We laugh at you, with your silly belief that you can kill an idea and
control people. Pandora’s Box, baby. It’s
open, and if you try to put a lid on it, we will find another way. To reach our
readers, if we must, we will sell our novels and anthologies under the genre
title Romance (Let’s see you cut off 50% of your sales, Amazon). Or Westerns. Or
Mysteries. Or Literature. Or all the genres. To hide in plain sight, we will use euphemisms
so obscure that readers will leave an Urban Dictionary tab open to figure out
what’s going on. Or we will go Shakespearean on their asses. We will change
faster than your filters can keep up. We
will be agile. We will be goddamn Kaiser Soze—poof, and we’re gone, as far as you know. But not
really. We will always be here. Because we are writers. Because words are our
fucking tools, and we know how to use them.
Here’s a petition you can sign (UK citizens, one supposes), but personally, I think respectful phone calls work much better. Also, VOTING.
Writing a series is something I put off for a while, because the idea scared me. I’ve been known to lose consistency in a short story, never mind a series of stories! But I knew I couldn’t put it off forever, and now I’m writing two!
My first dabble at series writing started with my series of short stories based around two young men on their gap year before starting University. They were going to have lots of adventures and tumble into bed (or wherever!) with various different women. So I had a challenge on my hands, remember their likes and dislikes, personality quirks, as well as what they did with who and where. And so began my insane list. It’s full of the above, and there’s a list for each of my characters and the names of what women they slept with and where. It sounds pretty clinical, and I suppose it is, but it was the only way I could be sure that Ryan, the main character, didn’t end up having sex with four Janes, two Emilys, three Roses, and so on. I’ve just finished the third book in the series and it’s working for me so far, so fingers crossed it will continue to do so!
As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I co-authored a novel with Lily Harlem, which was great fun. We very much just wrote and waited to see how it went. There was no planning, we literally just wrote and let the storyline and characters develop themselves. As a result, there are no notes or anything on that book. Which would have been okay… had we not decided it would be fab to write a series. We’d very much like to write about more characters from the same “world” as the first book, and so I’m currently in the process of reading through the first book and making lots of notes about the characters we’re featuring in book two. Again, this is to make sure there are no inconsistencies, and so on. Also, the starting point for book two will actually be in a scene in book one, if that makes sense. Told from the new characters’ perspectives, and so it’s vital that any happenings and dialogue are exactly the same. It’s proving fun, and I’m reacquainting myself with book one at the same time. Which is just as well, as we’re hoping to see it released by the end of summer. Watch this space.
So I kind of muddled along when it came to series writing to begin with, but now I know what works for me I can continue doing it. Lots of lists and copious notes – my characters will not change hair colour in book three, honest! ;0)
Lucy Felthouse is a very busy woman! She writes erotica and
erotic romance in a variety of subgenres and pairings, and has over seventy
publications to her name, with many more in the pipeline. These include Best
Bondage Erotica 2012 and 2013, and Best Women’s Erotica 2013. Another string to
her bow is editing, and she has edited and co-edited a number of anthologies.
She owns Erotica For All, and is book
editor for Cliterati. Find out more at http://www.lucyfelthouse.co.uk. Join
her on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to her
newsletter at: http://eepurl.com/gMQb9
By Lisabet Sarai
I discovered the Erotica Readers &
Writers Association in the year 2000. Google was barely a gleam in
the eyes of venture capitalists. Social networking meant going to the
local singles bar. The word “blog” had not yet been coined. I was
living in rural New England and accessing the Internet via a 36
kilobaud dial-up line.
I wasn’t looking for a critique forum.
Although I enjoyed reading erotica, I wasn’t seeking a source for
sexy stories or reviews of the same. No, I was searching in clueless
newbie fashion for ways to get the word out about my first novel, Raw
Silk, which Black Lace had published a few months earlier.
Somehow I happened on a page of erotica-related links on the ERWA
website (which at that point had been around for about four years,
and was known as the “Erotica Readers Association”). So I
emailed the webmistress and asked if she’d be willing to include a
link to my brand new venture, www.lisabetsarai.com.
Adrienne sent me a kind reply in which
she explained that ERWA wasn’t really about advertising. However,
they did have email lists for authors and others interested in sexy
stories, including a list for discussing craft (Writers), a list for
sharing stories and critiques (Storytime) and a list for chitchat,
often about sexual topics (Parlor). Isolated in my remote, somewhat
conservative town of 1500 people, half a world away from my British
publisher, I eagerly accepted her invitation to join all three lists.
I canceled my subscription to Parlor in
a matter of days, after being swamped with posts about returning
versus not returning your supermarket cart to the designated areas.
(What was sexy about that?) However, Storytime provide new thrills. I
read more, and more varied, erotic stories in the first month or two
on Storytime than in my whole previous existence – and found some
of them both wildly imaginative and truly arousing. Furthermore, I
was able to apply my excessive education to the useful task of
writing crits and providing comments to some of the authors –
though I read many more stories that I could critique. Participating
in Storytime turned out to be a highly intimate experience, as
writers tended to share pieces that revealed their own desires and
Storytime inspired me. I wrote and
posted my first flashers (only 100 words back then), painfully
cutting out words to get below the limit. Targeting a short story
contest announced on ERA, I wrote my first erotic short story, “Glass
House” and received both warm praise (what we authors all live for)
and useful suggestions for improvement. A few of my stories were
selected for the Gallery. I began to read and respond to the calls
for submissions on the Author Resources page. I wrote the first three
chapters of my second novel, Incognito, and sent a proposal to
Black Lace, only to have it roundly rejected (with the comment that
Miranda wasn’t the sort “kick-ass heroine” they preferred). I
might have given up writing at that point if it had not been for the
support of folks on the Writers list. Instead, I girded my loins and
started looking for a new publisher.
Over time, I became more and more
involved with ERA (which added “Writers” to become ERWA at some
point, as the management recognized how important authors were to its
well-being). I wrote reviews for the Smutter’s Lounge, plus an
occasional article for Authors Resources. In 2004 (God, has it
really been that long?), Adrienne convinced me to take on the role of
writing the monthly Erotic Lure newsletter. In 2006 I edited and
arranged the publication of Cream: The Best of The Erotica Readersand Writers Association, which
is still (in my humble opinion) one of the most satisfying and
diverse erotic anthologies around (and which incidentally includes a
great forward by Adrienne, covering the early history of ERWA). Last
year I produced a year-long series of articles (“Naughty Bits”)
covering various technology topics relevant to authors. Controlling
and bossy as I am (yes, I know that’s kind of odd for a submissive),
I also agreed to serve as ERWA blog coordinator.
back now, after thirteen years, I’m astonished at how much this place
means to me. I’ve come to know individuals here whom I’d place in the
circle of my dearest friends – even though in some cases, we’ve
never met in person. When I have had the chance for face-to-face time
with folks I first encountered at ERWA, it often feels as though
we’ve known one another forever. In the real world, there are very
few people to whom I can reveal my identity as an author of erotica.
At ERWA I’m free to be myself.
me, ERWA is a community of spirit. Someone who just learned about the
place might think that the biggest draw was the ability to speak and
write frankly about sexual matters, in an environment where such
topics are welcome rather than taboo. Sure, that’s a great feature,
but today there are many adult-oriented on-line communities. ERWA is
special because of its literary focus. The people who end up on the
Writers list, at least, are passionate about reading and writing –
and not just in the erotica genre. They care deeply about words. They
recognize that storytelling is a definitively human activity. And
many have a profound understanding of both the mystery and the craft
involved in spinning an effective tale.
tend to whine about how hard it is to succeed as an author these
days. In fact, I’ve watched many of my colleagues here move from
amateurs to professionals with dozens of books to their credit. Pick
up any recently published erotica anthology and you’ll see familiar
names from the Gallery and Writers. Search Amazon and our members
come up as editors of award-winning collections. Several members have
even gone on to establish their own independent publishing ventures.
As far as I know E.L. James has never been a member of ERWA, but
considering the difficulties involved in getting anyone to take
erotica seriously, I’d say we’re doing pretty well.
course, ERWA has been instrumental in my own career, such as it is.
I’m an old-timer now, but when I first joined, I knew nothing about
publishing or marketing. I barely knew that the genre of erotica
existed, and I’d never read an erotic romance. I had lots of arousing
fantasies, but my dialogue was wooden and my convoluted sentence
structure like something from the nineteenth century. Now I have a
back list that’s pages long – I’ve stopped counting since it’s hard
to know exactly what criteria to apply, but certainly nobody could claim I was a one-book wonder.
suspect that without ERWA, I’d never have gotten this far. Without
the support (moral and immoral) of my fellow authors, I might not
have wanted to.
you’ve been around this community for anywhere near as long as I
have, I think you know what I am talking about. If you’re new – if
you’ve been trying to get your erotic visions out of your head and
into a manuscript, if you feel ostracized because of your fascination
with things sexual, if you’ve always loved to read and write but
haven’t dared to think about publication – all I can say is welcome.
You probably belong here.
by Donna George Storey
I happened to be leafing through a rather thick folder in my filing cabinet labeled “Ideas for Writing,” when I found an article I’d clipped from the November 28, 2008 issue of Entertainment Weekly: “50 Sexiest Movies Ever” (and this predating the elevation of the number fifty to erotic heights by several years). The authors guaranteed it was a list of “the hottest films you’ll ever see.”
I’m sure I kept the article more as a study of what mainstream America considers sexy rather than a source of ideas for future stories—not that there’s anything wrong with theft if you give the story your unique imprint. As I did the first time I read the article, I skimmed the list for movies I’d seen, comparing my reaction to the official score of the squad of journalists. For each movie, they’d also chosen a “sexiest moment,” which invited another opportunity for comparison.
I can’t say there was all that much agreement on either score, although a few movies did bring a nod of approval. In the Mood for Love, a Hong Kong film set in 1962, with Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung as cuckolded spouses who slowly develop their own achingly unconsummated passion, did indeed show that “what doesn’t happen is just thrilling as what does.” sex, lies and videotape is another personal favorite, especially those interview scenes, and The Year of Living Dangerously and A Streetcar Named Desire both had a smoldering, but doomed quality that only sharpened the erotic edge.
I had not yet seen Out of Sight with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, the number one choice of the journalists, so, as a matter of professional duty, I rented it. Most of the movie was routine thriller, but to my surprise, the climactic erotic scene—the flirtatious conversation in the hotel lounge at night—was one of the sexiest bits of celluloid I’d ever seen, porn included. And it was all talk and innuendo. Words, words, words. I guess I am cut out to be an erotic writer after all.
Many of the other movies didn’t work so well for me. Little Children, a less-restrained story of adulterous love between Kate Winslett and Patrick Wilson, gave us intercourse on the washing machine (pretty ridiculous, actually), but made sure to lay on the anti-sex message by throwing in a disgusting sex-addict husband, a pedophile predator as villain and (spoiler alert) just punishment for adultery with a freak skateboarding accident. And I never really got the excitement about the interrogation scene in Basic Instinct, where Sharon Stone flashes her pantyless crotch at a line of drooling cops who somehow decided a standard room with a table wasn’t a good idea for this particular suspect. Are men really that sex-crazed that they would let a woman get away with murder because she isn’t wearing underwear?
Possibly, but I sure hope my local detectives are a little more conscientious.
Whatever the lack of agreement, I do believe our favorite erotic scenes in film are clues to our erotic imaginations, just as favorite erotic stories offer clues to what makes our libido tick. Clearly for me, the exploration of erotic desire through words and suggestive images are more powerful than the often disappointing realization of sex on camera. But was I so different from the rest of America in finding no more than few of these “sexiest movies” (let’s add my check mark for Don’t Look Now, Body Heat, Maurice, and The English Patient) at all sexy?
Then, in that lazy way summer leads to fortuitous connections, I remembered a chapter in one of my favorite, but alas out-of-print, sex guides, Are We Having Fun Yet?: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Sex by Marcia and Lisa Douglass. In their “Pop Porn” chapter, they describe a fictional couple watching a typical Hollywood sex scene. The focus is on the impossibly gorgeous woman’s body and her reactions while the male body is shrouded by shadows and clever positioning–camera as desiring male gaze. Thus “foreplay” is essentially the display of the female’s body. Intercourse itself takes less than a minute and involves the man thrusting and giving a long final groan of release, while the woman arches her neck and closes her eyes and doesn’t do anything to suggest an orgasm happens, but seems satisfied all the same. After the show, the fictional boyfriend exclaims that the sex was hot, while his date knows she’s supposed to agree, but is annoyed by the lack of consideration for what she finds sexy.
He gets his fantasies fed along with his movie snack, she has to make do with “pop porn.”
Douglass and Douglass define pop porn as “the pervasive panorama of female flesh—the high-heeled foot, breasts spilling out of a low-cut gown, the pouting red lips, the sultry stare from under a thick mane—that is the everyday stuff of popular media.” Although many of us think we can avoid porn by staying away from the X-rating, we’re still getting eroticized visual entertainment aimed chiefly at straight men everywhere we turn. Most of us are so used to the bias, we barely notice it, but on an unconscious level, we’re getting the message that is what Sex Is.
The good news is that erotica today does offer more for female readers. Fifty Shades of Grey, whatever one’s opinion of the writing, clearly satisfied female desire on a wildly popular scale. It remains to be seen what the Hollywood version will do with this female fantasy cinematically. I’m not expecting a revolution of camera work, but will certainly read the reviews to see whom they satisfy, if nothing else. I’d be even happier if some of the work by ERWA writers was translated to the big screen. Perhaps that day will come and Entertainment Weekly will have some real gems to review?
In the meantime, I’m curious if you, dear reader, have any movies you’d recommend for subtle, simmering or even believably desperate and passionate sex scenes? Many long, hot days and nights of summer still lie before us. I myself would add The Lover, Raise the Red Lantern, and the “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve?” scene in To Have and Have Not.
Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman (recently released as an ebook) and a new collection of short
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
There is an early problem
with choosing to write a story in first person present – nobody wants to hear
Most erotica readers are women,
they just are, and hearing the word “I” over and over reminds a woman
too much of a really bad date. It can
raise the specter of a self absorbed person boasting and bragging to impress you. Unless of course that is the tone you want
which is a rare thing but not impossible.
“Slowly I raised my right hand and I placed the cigarette between
my pouting but not unmanly lips as I was thinking of Ashley’s outrageous
nipples and I shifted nervously from my left foot to my right foot and I arched
my chiseled, masculine brows as I felt the squeeze of my legendary spam spear
swell in my virile and aching loins. I groaned.”
So help me Jesus.
Nevertheless, writing in the
first person present is the most commonly chosen form for popular erotic short
fiction and there are good reasons for it.
The first person present potentially at least, conveys authority and
authenticity. It conveys immediate
character and personality and can, potentially at least, convey the most intimate
experience of that most intimate of human acts.
Like the ghost of Christmas Present it invites the reader to get to know
First person present, done
well has the quality of afterglow pillow talk.
Of late night confessions over a kitchen table. The pot of tea gone cold, the radio
whispering as your mother reaches her fingers across the toast and jelly to
touch your hand. “There’s something
you’re old enough now to know. Your
father, well he’s not your father. Not
your real father. Well. There.”
So your challenge will
always be how to win your reader over to what your character is offering. So much of writing is about seducing your
reader and a person knows when they’re being seduced. How will you seduce?
One of the early creative decisions
you’ll have to make is if the first person narrator is also the Deciding
Character or telling the story of the deciding character from memory, something
called “Apostolic Fiction”. (RE: Jesus
never told his autobiography, it was told by his followers about him after the
event.) Examples of apostolic fiction
could be “Shane” or “The Great Gatsby” in which Nick narrates the past story of
his friend Jay Gatsby. The Deciding
Character is Jay Gatsby, but the story is told by someone else. In apostolic fiction an unreliable narrator
can twist and bend the story to protect himself or to glorify his hero or to
lie outright. It can also be a way of
telling a story from another viewpoint, say a white settler telling the story
of an Indian he knew personally.
One of the greatest war
novels in modern literature is “The Boat” (“Das Boot”) authored by Lothar
Gunther-Buckheim, a German journalist who was assigned by Josef Goebbels to go
on two U Boat patrols to provide material for propaganda articles. After the fall of Nazi Germany Buckheim wrote
the novel Das Boot in first person present, which seems to be a common standard
in German fiction. Although the Deciding
Character is “The Old Man”, the U Boat’s Captain, the story is told by the
journalist assigned to the crew to write about the U Boat experience. Apostalic fiction. As a device it gives a sense of intimacy and
immediacy while at the same time allowing a view from all over the boat without
being limited only to where the Captain is at any moment. The narrator can move freely with a journalist’s
sharp eye for detail and still paint realistic scenes of great tension, such as
the sounds of a British merchant ship sinking followed by a depth charge attack
by a destroyer:
“Damned slow running
time. I’d already given up.” The
Commander’s voice is back to its usual dark growl. The breaking and cracking, roaring and
tearing show no sign of coming to an end.
“Now there’s a couple of
boats you can write off for good.”
Then a shattering blow
knocks me off my feet. In the nick of
time I catch hold of a pipe to break my fall.
There’s a crash of breaking glass.
I pull myself upright,
automatically stagger forward a couple of steps, jostle against someone,
collide with a hard corner and collapse into the hatch frame.
This is it! The reckoning! Mustn’t let yourself go!
The hatch frame almost
bucks me out. An enormous detonation
tries to shatter my eardrums. Then blow
after blow, as if the sea were a mass of huge powder kegs being set off in
The narrator’s authority comes
from the war experience Buckheim’s had of actually being in a U Boat
during a depth charge attack. That
authenticity is how he overcomes the problem of listening to that “I” over and
over and earning the attention of the reader with his knowledge of the
experience he’s writing about. The word “I”
is used only twice, only when it can’t be avoided or replaced. Everything else is about the scene and the
emotional experience around him.
In the opening paragraphs of
your story you can choose to establish your narrator’s authority with the
reader either by appealing to the insider’s knowledge your character has of the
experience he’s describing, or appeal to the heart by presenting a character
with a certain self deprecating honesty.
Again, think of it as a date. You
might warm up to a date who is capable of laughing at himself and seems to
speak openly and honestly regarding his hopes and faults. This is especially important if you are
presenting a narrator who is dislikeable.
The reader doesn’t have to like your narrator. But they should be curious about them. They should want to care about what is about
to happen to them.
Think carefully of that last
sentence. It’s the soul of short
fiction. The secret of horror fiction,
erotic or romantic fiction, any fiction that attempts to create a visceral experience is that we must care about the Deciding Character. We don’t have to like them. Truly.
But we have to care about them.
From my own poor stuff, I
can offer two stories told in first person present by dislikeable
narrators. Here is the voice of Nixie, a
vampire girl originally from Bavaria, who as the story opens is on her way to retrieve
her mortal lover who has abandoned and fled from her. She is tracking him by scent in this opening
paragraph from “The Lady and the Unicorn”
Blood has a
range of taste, as scent has a range of aromas. Blood has a high level
taste and an under taste. It is a blending of elements like music.
This is also the way of scent. The under aroma tells you there is a trail
and betrays to you the direction. If the scent becomes fresher you are
following the creature that produced it, so you must use the under scent to
know which direction is older and which is newer. It is as though the air
were filled with singing voices and you are picking out from the choir the
sound of a single voice. The high scent will tell you the individual, the
condition of the individual, if it is injured or sick, horny or filled with
fear. It will tell you how to catch him, where he is likely to run
to. To acquire the high scent the animal, or myself, must pause to
commune with the air and pay attention. Close the eyes. Hold the nose
still and just so. Let the night air speak. It is the same with the
deep taste of blood, except that scent is on the move, and if you are
tasting the blood—well. It is no longer on the move.
This is attempting authority
with the reader through the character’s knowledge. Nixie sounds like she knows what she’s
talking about. She doesn’t brag. She hardly refers to herself at all. She never tries to convince you how dangerous
she is, but by the end of the paragraph she doesn’t have to.
Here is another very
dislikeable narrator, Mack Daddy, a professional sex gladiator in “The Peanut
Butter Shot” published in “Mammoth Book of Erotica VOL 11”:
They used to wrap tape
around your hands to keep you from busting your knuckles up against the bones
of somebody’s face. Me, it’s the opposite. I have to wear special gloves when
I’m not in the ring. These gloves, they go for about $12,300, something like
that, dermatologically custom made. The insurance pays for them, so like I give
a shit, but that’s what they go for. I’ve got real warm soft hands. Women tell
me they’re softer than a baby’s hands. My champion hands are insured by
management for about $567,000. My tongue’s insured too, definitely, so I can’t
drink anything hot or cold or eat spicy, which sucks but it’s the job. My tongue and hands are my weapons.
The old prize fighters
would bust your nose or your ribs. A
punch to the kidney that would make you piss blood for a couple days. We sex fighters, we bust your will to
live. We take away your will to be
free. People look naked to us. We see inside your mind. You just think you know what you want,
bitch. I know what you really want,
because that’s how I get you. That’s how
I take you down. I look at you bitch – I
know what you want way better than you do.
I know it even before you know it.
That’s because I see you. I see
you like God sees you.
His voice is the opposite of
Nixie. Aggressive, violent, expressing
himself in short punchy sentences like jabs to the face; bragging like a young
athlete full of himself.
As a general thing
establishing your character by knowledge is easier than by heart. But heart is better if you can manage
The other thing that is
quickly brought out in their voices is their Governing Characteristic. Listening to Nixie or Mack Daddy you get a
sense of what drives them and of what makes them peculiar. Writing in first person, give your narrator a
distinctive voice, not by speech dialects (“Aw shuckin’ lil’ lady yawl sure do got some kinda helluva
bodacious tits on ya’, yessiree.”) but by attitude. If you want them to sound like they come from
somewhere, or as in Nixie’s case if they speak English as a foreign language,
don’t do it so much in goofy spelling but in syntax and sound, establishing
personality by the words you choose and how you arrange them. Listen to the well-spelled parlor room
formality and 19th century syntax in the narrator’s voice in Charles
Portis’ “True Grit”:
““People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could
leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did
not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I
was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name Tom Chaney shot
my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his
horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in
his trouser band.”
amazing opening paragraph. You have the Deciding Character. You have the
inciting event. You have the time and
the place, the desire and the problem. There
is great personality in that voice. If
you read only that paragraph, you’d have a sense of a brave, righteous girl with
a problem to solve and the ferocious tenacity to do it and you’d be about
right. This is also a perfect example of
establishing authority by heart, listening to the quirky and engaging sound of
the woman’s voice as she recalls the events of her childhood invites you to
care about her story.
What about a
character who is insane? You can
introduce the character’s Governing Characteristic by an obsession he
repeatedly returns to, a kind of chorus that sounds several times. In Brett Easton Ellis’ novel “American
Psycho”, Patrick Bateman is a yuppie Wall Street investment broker during the
Reagan era, and incidentally a vicious homicidal maniac who is obsessed with his
social status at all times. He shows his
Governing Characteristic to us by the way he obsessively lists what every
person he meets is wearing or carrying and often even how much money it costs:
for April and Price walks briskly down the street towards Evelyn’s brownstone
whistling “If I Were a Rich Man” and swinging his Tumi leather attaché
case. A figure with slicked back hair
and horn rimmed Peeples glasses approaches
in the distance, wearing a beige double-breasted wool-gabardine Cerruti 1881
suit and carrying the same Tumi leather attaché case from D. F., Sanders that
Price has, and Timothy wonders aloud, “Is it Victor Powell? It can’t be.”
this over and over with each person he meets until it almost drives you crazy
and then you begin to understand – he’s crazy.
So that exhausts
my thoughts for what they’re worth on first person present. Until next time, do well.
|photo by sp333d1|
You will often hear writers say that they write for themselves, and surely this is true for most writers. We are our first readers and often our harshest critics. Nonetheless, I think there is a definite progression to the development of ‘a model reader’ amongst writers in general and quite a specific progression among writers of erotica.
This post is by necessity going to be personal and anecdotal. A model reader is the person you imagine reading the work while you’re conceiving of the story, writing it, polishing it or getting it out there. Getting a firm sense of who that is will give you a better, more realistic sense of how many readers you can attract and some guidance as to how to classify yourself within a genre.
However, there is one very interesting difference between other genres and erotica. A great many erotica writers write their first stories, not as forays into the art/skill of writing, but as masturbatory entertainment. They write something that they cannot find written elsewhere (in the tone or to the standard they require for their arousal) that turns them on. Many others write their first stories as a tool of seduction – to arouse a specific lover – an intimate, handcrafted, experientially endowed gift. I am sure there are probably writers in other genres who make forays into erotica just to test their skill at writing explicit sex, but I’d guess this is probably not where the majority of erotica writers start.
My first piece of erotica (a happily doomed novel) embodied some of my most deeply held erotic fantasies. It wasn’t very well written, and the plot was a complete mess, but if I have to be entirely honest, I was writing for my own arousal. I had no reader in mind. I wasn’t seeking an erotic conversation with anyone.
As I developed as a writer, and especially after I joined ERWA’s ‘storytime’ list, the understanding that this act of writing was a form of communication – an attempt to transfer information from me to a reader through the text – became more apparent. There is nothing like having a story critiqued to give you a solid understanding that your writing is ‘received’ and, sometimes, not in the way you intended.
But the experience also taught me that, on a list as diverse as ERWA’s, there are times when it is not a case of having written a bad story, but that it has ended up in the wrong person’s lap. I am speaking here of stories that contain good grammar, fleshed out characters and a reasonably adequate narrative structure. One of these areas of disjunction was immediately apparent even at an organizational level. Non-consent lies at the heart of some of the most erotic themes for me as a writer. ERWA forbids the posting of non-consensual material. [“Storytime Guidelines” Erotica Readers & Writers Association Website. (Accessed June 21, 2013) ] So, at a most simple level, there were lots of stories I simply couldn’t post. But, at a broader level, when I posted stories on my blog, there were readers who for reasons of ethics or life-experience found my work did not speak to them at all.
Eroticism is one of those areas where lust and disgust nestle in very close proximity. [Stoller, Robert J. Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred. New York: Pantheon Books, 1975] For some readers, the mention of a golden shower will ruin their experience of the whole story – so strong is their gut-level disgust of the act. For others, it’s not something that arouses them, but they can feel neutral about it and still enjoy the other parts of the story. For some, you’re ringing their dinner bell at such a basic level, that you don’t even have to describe its eroticism to have them in your pocket.
When I got these radically positive or negative reactions to the things I wrote, I did start slowly to form a picture of my model reader. They were someone who thought critically enough to defer immediate disgust reactions if the eroticism of an act could be made apparent to them in the story.
Time to fess up. I am never going to go out and buy an anthology on watersports. It doesn’t, as a rule, ring my bell. However, the two instances in which I read erotica that contained it and was aroused, were so different and yet, in some ways, so similar, they deserve examination. The two works in question were “My Wet Pet” by Julius (sadly nowhere to be found on the net now) [ Julius. “My Wet Pet” Erwa Storytime Listserve. Date Unknown] and the novel “Darker Than Love” by Kristina Lloyd. [ Lloyd, Kristina. Darker Than Love. London: Black Lace Books (1998)] Neither of these writers assumed a reader with a kink for watersports. They both eloquently focused on the sensory experience rather than just shoving the kink at the reader and both leave the semiotic implications of urine as part of a sex act open for the reader to interpret in their own way. Admittedly, in both these instances, it is the female doing the peeing and the power dynamics in both texts are strangely reversed. That might be why it works for me, but I doubt it. I simply have never read a heterosexual BDSM description of a golden shower where the male was the urinator that didn’t textually assume it would automatically arouse me as a reader. None of them came close to describing the sensation, the power dynamic, the emotional paradox of the experience. I’m sure there must be some out there, but I’ve never encountered one. When I do, I’ll let you know.
In the last decade of writing, I’ve also come to understand that many readers are looking for very sex-positive, very uninhibited erotica where the characters suffer not a moment of ambivalence in regard to the sex. On a personal basis, I find it very boring to write sex without paradox. I like my fictional sex with drama and I like the drama to be in the sex itself or at least its consequences or emotional ramifications. I write for readers who feel similarly. And that cuts down the number readers I can expect to ever have significantly.
When I conceive of the story, at stages during the writing and, most especially, during the polishing, there are about five people I have in mind as model readers. I don’t write for them, but I realize that I do write to them, in the intentional manner of a correspondent, if not in that precise form.
These are the readers I want to arouse. In that sense, these readers are lovers. It is not my aim to bring them to orgasm through the act of storytelling, but I absolutely want them hard or wet and mentally aroused as hell at times, during the reading of a story. I want the paradoxes I pose in my stories to be intellectually erotic teases for them. I want them to yearn for it all to come out right even if, knowing me as a writer, they know it probably won’t end in a happily ever after. I want the story to leave them feeling a bitter-sweet yearning in the same way a real lover kisses you at a corner to take their leave. It’s a good kiss, a kiss that speaks of possibilities, but it’s a complicated pleasure mixed with the pain of parting.
Most of all, if I had to describe my model reader in a single paragraph, I’d say that she or he is someone who can truly enjoy a story without having to absolutely identify with the characters. They are people who are excited by otherness. They enjoy a level of realism that many erotica readers aren’t looking for.
Of course, I get many more readers than this. And I can see by their comments often that I have not satisfied them. For instance, many women who read romance love my male characters but despise my female characters. They cannot identify with her adequately enough to step into her place in the story and instead feel a subtext of sexual competitiveness. Similarly, they get very upset when, at the end, the story doesn’t end happily. This doesn’t bother me. They made read some of what I write – they may even enjoy some of it a great deal, but they aren’t my model reader.
The truth is I’m never going to sell a lot of books. And for many erotica writers, especially with the success of books like ‘Fifty Shades’ and ‘Bared to You’, there is a pressure to sell books and make money. We live in a period where this is the predominant measure of success.
But, for those of you who are struggling to accommodate the marketplace, I’d like to offer this thought. A very few of us are ever going to make a living doing this. There is a valid and, to my mind, essential success in identifying who your model reader is and making them a happy and satisfied reader. No matter how small that readership may be, once they’ve found you and you have found them, there are life-long conversations had and an untold number of delicious seductions in your future.
While pondering this topic, I realized that other writers would have completely differing opinions in who they felt they were addressing when they wrote. I asked two colleagues, Kathleen Bradean and Raziel Moore for their takes on the issue:
Kathleen Bradean says:
When I’m imagining a story, there’s a group of people I envision reading and enjoying it. Most of them are erotica writers who think erotica can be literary and that erotica can be used to explore uncomfortable truths about humans. That may sound highbrow but it’s more like the flesh under a scab you’ve picked off—sometimes nearly whole, sometimes tender and sickly, and sometimes weeping blood. That rawness makes many readers uncomfortable. I envision the reader who won’t look away. I want the ones who lean in.
But that’s when I’m thinking about the story. When I write, the reader fades away. In a short story, there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver around, so each sentence has to be technically sound as well as develop character, evoke setting, move the plot forward, stimulate the senses, and arouse or disturb, worry… My focus is on the craft of writing so I get that right. What good is an idea if you don’t communicate it the best way you can? As if that isn’t enough to demand, hopefully my work has some aesthetic appeal. I am not a baroque wordsmith, nor a spell caster of ethereal mental imagery. My style is more like a Shaker chair. And while not fancy or embellished, it still requires craftsmanship. I can’t possibly focus on all that if I’m distracted by mental images of the reader enjoying each passage. I can see why a writer would though. I can see other writers using their words to seduce, or like love letters. That’s a rather charming idea. But it isn’t me.
Raziel Moore says:
Back when I started writing smut in earnest – I really can’t call it erotica at this point – I had one main motivation and one main audience. The motivation was to write stuff I found personally gratifying, mostly as wank fodder, partly to see if I could write anything at all. The target audience was me alone. Mostly. I wrote as self exploration. To name, and understand, and own the angels and monsters in my head.
If it had been _only_ me, though, I’d never have posted it to usenet forums, or eventually to free erotica sites like ASSTR. I wrote for myself, but also to show “them” what I could do. And I got feedback, in dribs and drabs, and eventually, fans.
Knowing that there were readers out there who react to my stories changed how I wrote. I didn’t think about it consciously for a long time, but it was there – this extra pause sometimes considering the possible reaction of someone besides myself. it grew on me slowly, unawares. Until I actually became correspondence-friendly with a couple readers.
When I know how someone _specifically_ reacts to my words, and I have a relationship with that person – even casually, or subject-specifically, my consideration of them as my reader is pretty unavoidable. I can anticipate, when I think about it, their eyes on the story. It doesn’t necessarily shift things hugely or overtly, but it is a partially known shape or shapes that I am pouring my words into, and there’s a desire to fill that shape the best I can.
Nowadays, I have several good writer/reader friends, and things have shifted again. These presences take a much more active role in my writing. They are almost internal checks and balances for certain aspects of style, or characterization, or craft. These people I write to, in addition to myself, are people I want to _get_ my stuff (As well as get wet or hard at the right spots). For the most part, it drives me to write _better_, but I’d be untruthful if I said my knowledge of what they liked – the buttons I’ve learned or gleaned – didn’t influence some of the details of what I wrote. I write for these readers as well as myself now, and I think I’m better for it. And, as I move forward and write more, perhaps there will be more eyes over my shoulder, more shapes to fill with words.
Although not specifically referenced here, these works informed this essay in essential ways:
Umberto Eco (1996) “The Author and His Interpreters,” The Modern World: Porto Ludovica Website. http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_author.html (accessed 21 June, 2013)
Lucie Guillemette and Josiane Cossette (2006), “Textual Cooperation”, in Louis Hébert (dir.), Signo [online], Rimouski (Quebec), http://www.signosemio.com/eco/textual-cooperation.asp (accessed 21 June, 2013)
Roland Barthes. The Pleasure of the Text. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1975)
it isn’t the most important thing to do before sending off a story
(that’s reserved for writing the story itself), drafting an effective
cover letter/email is probably right below it.
So here is a quick
sample of what to do and NOT when putting together a cover letter to go
with your story. That being said, remember that I’m just one of many
(many) editors out there, each with their own quirks and buttons to
push. Like writing the story itself, practice and sensitivity is will
teach you a lot, but this will give you a start.
So … Don’t Do What Bad Johnny Don’t Does:
Dear M. (1),
is my story (2) for your collection (3), it’s about a guy and a girl
who fall in love on the Titanic (4). I haven’t written anything like
this before (5), but your book looked easy enough to get into (6). My
friends say I’m pretty creative (7). Please fill out and send back the
enclosed postcard (8). If I have not heard from you in two months (9) I
will consider this story rejected and send it somewhere else (10). I
am also sending this story to other people. If they want it, I’ll write
to let you know (11).
I noticed that your guidelines say First
North American Serial rights. What’s that (12)? If I don’t have all
rights then I do not want you to use my story (13).
I work at the DMV (14) and have three cats named Mumbles, Blotchy and Kismet (15).
Mistress Divine (16)
Don’t be cute. If you don’t know the editor’s name, or first name, or
if the name is real or a pseudonym, just say “Hello” or “Editor” or
(2) Answer the basic questions up front: how long is the story, is it original or a reprint, what’s the title?
What book are you submitting to? Editors often have more than one open
at any time and it can get very confusing. Also, try and know what the
hell you’re talking about: a ‘collection’ is a book of short stories by
one author, an ‘anthology’ is a book of short stories by multiple
authors. Demonstrate that you know what you’re submitting to.
You don’t need to spell out the plot, but this raises another issue:
don’t submit inappropriate stories. If this submission was to a gay or
lesbian book, it would result in an instant rejection and a ticked-off
(5) The story might be great, but this already has you
pegged as a twit. If you haven’t been published before don’t say
anything, but if you have then DEFINITELY say so, making sure to note
what kind of markets you’ve been in (anthology, novel, website and so
forth). Don’t assume the editor has heard of where you’ve been or who
you are, either. Too often I get stories from people who list a litany
of previous publications that I’ve never heard of. Not that I need to,
but when they make them sound like I should it just makes them sound
arrogant. Which is not a good thing.
(6) Gee, thanks so much. Loser.
(7) Friends, lovers, Significant Others and so forth — who cares?
Not happening. I have a stack of manuscripts next to me for a project
I’m doing. The deadline for submissions is in two months. I will
probably not start reading them until at least then, so your postcard is
just going to sit there. Also, remember that editors want as smooth a
transition from their brain to your story as possible; anything they
have to respond to, fill out, or baby-sit is just going to annoy them.
Get real — sometimes editors take six months to a year to respond.
This is not to say they are lazy or cruel; they’re just busy or dealing
with a lot of other things. Six months is the usual cut-off time,
meaning that after six months you can either consider your story
rejected or you can write a polite little note asking how the project is
going. By the way, writing rude or demanding notes is going to get you
nothing but rejected or a bad reputation — and who wants that?
When I get something like this I still read the story but to be honest
it would take something of genius level quality for me to look beyond
this arrogance. Besides, what this approach says more than anything is
that even if the story is great, you are going to be too much of a pain
to work with. Better to find a ‘just as good’ story from someone else
than put up with this kind of an attitude.
(11) This is called
simultaneous submission: sending a story to two places at once, thinking
that it will cut down on the frustration of having to wait for one
place to reject it before sending it along to another editor. Don’t do
it — unless the Call for Submissions says it’s okay, of course. Even
then, though, it’s not a good idea because technically you’d have to
send it to two places that think it’s okay, which is damned rare. The
problem is that if one place wants your work, then you have to go to the
other places you sent it to tell them so — which very often results in
one very pissed editor. Don’t do it. We all hate having to wait for
one place to reject our work, but that’s just part of the game. Live
(12) Many editors are more than willing to answer simple
questions about their projects, but just as many others will never
respond — especially to questions that can easily be answered by
reading a basic writing book (or reading columns like this one). Know
as much as you can and then, only then, write to ask questions.
This story is automatically rejected. Tough luck. Things like
payment, rights, and so forth are very rarely in the editor’s control.
Besides, this is a clear signal that, once again, the author is simply
going to be way too much trouble to deal with. Better to send out that
rejection form letter and move onto the next story.
(14) Who cares?
(15) Really, who cares?
Another sign of a loser. It’s perfectly okay to use a pseudonym but
something as wacky as this is just going to mark you as a novice. Also,
cover letters are a place for you, as a person, to write to the editor,
another person. Put your pseudonym on your story, don’t sign your
cover letter with it.
(17) Email address — this is great, but
it’s also very obviously a work address, which makes a lot of editors
very nervous. First of all, people leave jobs all the time so way too
often, these addresses have very short lives. Second, work email
servers are rarely secure — at least from the eyes of prying bosses.
Do you really want your supervisor to see your rejection from a Big Tits
In Bondage book? I don’t think so.
Do What Johnny Does Does:
Hi, Chris (1),
was with great excitement (2) that I read your call for submissions for
your new anthology, Love Beast (3). I’ve long been a fan not only of
werewolf erotica (4) but also your books and stories as well (5)
been published in about twelve websites, including Sex Chat, Litsmut,
and Erotically Yours, and in two anthologies, Best of Chocolate Erotica
(Filthy Books) and Clickty-Clack, Erotic Train Stories (Red Ball Books)
Enclosed is my 2,300 word original story, “When Hairy Met
Sally” (7). I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it
(which is a lot) (8). Please feel free to write me at
firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions (9).
In the meantime best of luck with your projects and keep up the great work .(10)
Molly Riggs (11)
(1) Nice; she knows my real first name is Chris. A bit of research on an editor or potential market never hurt anyone.
(2) It’s perfectly okay to be enthusiastic. No one likes to get a story from someone who thinks your project is dull.
(3) She knows the book and the title.
She knows the genre and likes it. You’d be surprised the number of
people who either pass out backhanded compliments or joke about
anthologies or projects thinking it’s endearing or shows a ‘with it’
attitude. Believe me, it’s neither — just annoying.
can be a lonely business, what with having to reject people all the
time. Getting a nice little compliment can mean a lot. It won’t change
a bad story into an acceptable one, but making an editor smile is
always a good thing.
(6) The bio is brief, to the point, and
explains the markets. You don’t need to list everything you’ve ever
sold to, just the key points.
(7) Everything about the story is
there: the title, the words, if it’s original or a reprint (and, of
course if it’s a reprint you should also say when and where it first
appeared, even if it’s a website).
(8) Again, a little smile is a
good thing. I know this is awfully trite but when the sentiment is
heartfelt and the writer’s sense of enjoyment is true, it does mean
something to an editor. I want people to enjoy writing for one of my
books, even if I don’t take the story.
(9) Good email address (obviously not work) and an invitation to chat if needed. Good points there.
Okay, maybe it’s a bit thick here but this person is also clearly very
nice, professional, eager and more than likely will either be easy to
work with or, if need be, reject without drama.
(11) Real name —
I’d much rather work with a person than an identity. I also know that
“Molly” is not playing games with who she is, and what she is, just to
try and make a sale.
There’s more, as said, but this at least
will keep you from stepping on too many toes — even before your story
gets read. If there’s a lesson in this, it’s to remember that an editor
is, deep down, a person trying to do the best job they can, just like
you. Treat them as such and they’ll return the favor.