Monthly Archives: August 2013
Happy Birthday to me! Well ERWA birthday at least!
As of today I’ve been writing for ERWA for a whole year. Where has the time
gone? So much has happened in a year, and yet it seems like only yesterday I
wrote my first post about inspiration and mythology. Traditionally birthdays
are a time to celebrate, let your hair down, wreak a little havoc and raise a
little hell. Oh wait a minute … That’s writing I’m talking about, not birthdays.
Writing, plot, story — there’s no place better to raise a little hell, and we
writers know it’s the perfect place to let our hair down vicariously.
In my opinion, there are few things a writer can do
to a story that will kick-start it quite as much as creating a little chaos. A
calm and happy life in the real world might be just the ticket, but in story,
there’s one word for it – BORING! A story is all about upsetting the apple
cart, breaking the eggs, turning the bull loose in the china cupboard and —
heart racing, palms sweating – seeing what happens, while we’re safely
ensconced on the other side of the keyboard/Kindle/book. Oh yes we do love that adrenaline rush — at
someone else’s expense!
One of the best tools for dropping the character
smack-dab into the middle of the chaos –
and the reader vicariously – is sex. And the more inconvenient, the more
inappropriate, the more confusing, the more SO not what the character was
expecting, the more delicious the chaos will be.
The thing about those big brains that I spoke of a
few posts back is that they like to make us think we can control all the
variables. The thing about the biological housing for those big brains is that
it doesn’t always want to be controlled. Oh and that big brain, well that means
there’s all sorts of stuff going on up there that can lead us down the
havoc-wreaking road to sex and chaos. It wants what it wants. And the ole grey
matter can be so damned stubborn at times. Oooh! I get goose bumps just
thinking about what happens when the big brain gets a hankering and the
biological soup starts overheating and sex happens.
If we look at Western history from the point of view
of religion and its effects on culture, there are few things the religious
powers that be have made more of an effort to control than sex. And in story,
in myth, there are few things that have caused more chaos than a little rough
and tumble in the wrong place at the wrong time. Troy lost war and was
destroyed over it, King Arthur’s realm fell because of it, David had
Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed because of it.
The resulting chaos that sex unleashes in a story
can be nothing more than to create self-doubt in a cock-sure character, which
is always a delight to see. Or the resulting chaos can be world-destroying, and
anything in between. Sex can cause the kind of chaos that will make the reader
laugh, or the kind of chaos that will make the reader say, ‘if only they hadn’t
done that.’ However, the one thing sex
should never do in a story is leave things the way they were before it
happened. Can it be used for bonding? Of course! But the tighter the bond, the
more chaos can be caused if that bond is tested or broken. I shiver with
delight at the thought.
And because our big brains don’t give a damn if our
sexual thoughts and fantasies are ‘socially acceptable,’ nor is it
discriminating about who we might have those thoughts and fantasies about, the
resulting internal chaos can be almost as delicious as the external – maybe
even more so. That lovely mix of guilt and desire and self-loathing and arousal
and denial and shear over-heated lust. OMG! It’s a total writer’s paradise
there for the taking.
I’m sure I’m like most writers in that I analyse
what I read for pleasure in terms of what worked and what didn’t, what I would
have done if I’d written it, and what I’ve learned from the author’s writing
skills that can be used to make my own writing better. I have to say one of the
biggies for me is how well the author uses chaos to move the story forward at a
good pace; and especially how effectively sex is used to create chaos. I’m sure I pay a lot more attention to how
sex is used in a story (or not) now that I write erotica, but it’s the
resulting chaos that fascinates me and keeps me reading in almost any kind of novel.
The world is not a static place, and especially the world of story should not
be static. Happy endings are called happy endings because they are at the end.
They follow the chaos and happen when the story is finished. There is no more
story, or at least none the reader wants to follow. It’s the chaos that pulls
us in and keeps us turning the pages, and when that chaos is directly tied to
sex, hold on to your hat!
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. You may find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/elizabethablack.
From the “Duh! Tell Us Something We Don’t Know”
department: a new study has found that Facebook may drive you nuts. According
to the ABC News article “Facebook May Be Making You Sad, Says New Study“, social media such as Facebook has a negative effect on our
“Everyday Facebook use leads to
declines in subjective well-being, both how happy you feel moment to moment and
how satisfied you feel with your life,” says Ethan Kross, an assistant
professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and a co-author of the
study, told ABC News.
Kross and the other researchers
analyzed the moods and habits of 82 young adults — active Facebook users with
mobile phones whose average age was 20 — over the course of two weeks. They
texted each participant five times a day, at random intervals, and got feedback
about their feelings, worries, loneliness, Facebook usage and real-life
interactions with other people.
They found that Facebook users were
more connected with their friends and acquaintances than those not on Facebook,
but the more frequently people used Facebook, the worse they felt immediately
afterward. Additionally, the more they used Facebook over the course of two weeks,
the less satisfied and happy they were with their lives as a whole.
The social medium I use most often is Facebook. I’m on every
day, and it’s an easy way for writers and readers to contact me. I have found
Facebook to be irritating at times, but not depressing. I don’t feel lonely or
sad from being on Facebook. Quite often, I find it boring. There are only so
many updates about what’s for dinner and baby’s first poop I can take on a
given day. However, I never get tired of cats. 🙂
That said, not everyone else has such fond feelings about
Facebook. Writers who use social networking look at it as a necessary evil. We need
to get word out about our works somehow, and that means tweeting about our
latest release, updating our Facebook timelines about our backlist of novels, avoiding
flame wars on Goodreads, begging for reviews on that vast wasteland that is
Google+, and posting images of what our characters like on Pinterest.
I interviewed some writers on Facebook to learn if they
found Facebook to be stressful.
In a word, yes.
It may not be easy for writers, who tend to be introverts,
to be social in general. Facebook does offer some anonymity and distance since
you’re on your computer or phone, but the stress is there.
Aaron Smith said: “As a writer, I consider Facebook to be a necessary semi-evil. I hated
it when I first signed up, as it seems to go against all the instincts of an
introvert like me. But I realize it’s needed for promotional purposes,
especially for authors who don’t have the support of major publishers. Over
time, I’ve come to enjoy it and interacting with old and new friends as well as
readers of my books. But it does get annoying at times, though I can’t honestly
say it’s ever made me depressed. Perhaps the most frustrating part of it is
that, due to the casual nature of Facebook, a post about something trivial like
a Simpsons line or a baseball game can sometimes get more attention than
something we, as writers, consider incredibly important, such as the release of
a new book or a good review.”
One big problem with
Facebook is envy. You see others talking about their endless Silver Stars on
AllRomanceEBooks, their latest five star review, their awards, and their great
sales, and you – who may not be doing as well – feel the green monster creeping
up your spine. The thing is, success doesn’t happen out of the blue. It takes
hard work and much rejection to get there.
I’ve noticed that writers on
Facebook tend to not talk about the less successful aspects of their careers.
You will always hear about an acceptance, but you may not hear about the ten plus times that same writer submitted that particular story to other publishers and
was rejected. Tessa Wanton said: “Sometimes we get bound up in what we see
out there and especially those who are so very confident when you feel so
unconfident yourself. The problem I’ve found is that some people just
constantly go on about how successful and brilliant they are, and I have no
reason to disbelieve them. Even if I’ve found out later that what they’re
saying isn’t true, the initial feeling of inadequacy still presides.” I
saw a comment, possibly at the ABC News article, stating that people who needed
to constantly talk about how successful and brilliant they are are probably
overcompensating for an extreme lack of confidence. Tessa agreed, saying “very
true, yet even still the damage is done at that point. I would say artists in
general lack confidence in what they do, seems to go with the territory I
guess. Such a funny place social media, I do find I have to stand back at
times, it can be utterly all consuming.”
discussed her experiences with envy on Facebook, and it’s similar to other
tales I’ve been told. “I know
I’m making the huge mistake of comparing my writing career to another
writer’s. We all have our own definition
of success.” She said. “So why do I make myself miserable seeing that
someone sold their third short story this year when I haven’t even written one?
And I guess the answer is that I’m not seeing the success I want. It doesn’t
seem as if I’m making progress.”
Angelica Dawson has
avoided Twitter for reasons similar to Tessa’s. “Either I feel inadequate,
envious, or guilty and NONE of those help me.” She said. “I will keep
my twitter account as one of the easiest ways to get a hold of me, also because
I’m in a number of very busy tribes when I get back to blogging.”
Limiting time on Facebook is a popular way of dealing with
being sucked in and occasionally sad.
Some have gone as far as leaving some social media sites altogether.
Taking a break often results in better writing, better sanity, and sometimes
more money since you spend more time writing than hanging out. Ashynn Monroe
limits her time. “Face book makes me feel like that sometimes, that’s why I disappear for a while.” Gemma Parkes said. “I read comments and they are not very helpful and a bit bitchy sometimes and I let it get to me, it stops me writing and that isn’t a good thing. Writers need to write.” Tessa Wanton said: “I
nuked my Twitter account for good, and concentrated on blogging a little more
instead. And now, I feel a lot better and, I’ve had better results from
concentrating on my website too.” Noir writer Trent Zelazny has
closed down his timeline on several occasions. He points out that some people
say and do things on Facebook they would never get away with in real time:
“It’s depressing. Text is not the
same as speaking, and things can easily be misconstrued.” Zelazny said.
“Add to that the people who love to attack others while from the safety of
their home. People who would never have the brass to do it in person. An
innocent statement, observation, or general feeling about the day, with one
comment added, be it insensitive or simply misconstrued, can suddenly turn
one’s Facebook page into an unfriendly or even hostile environment.”
Publisher Warren Lapine recently temporarily left Facebook because it was
interfering with his work. “For me it comes down to the fact that I like
Facebook too much. I find myself on it when I should be working.” Lapine
said. “If I’m working on a particularly annoying or complicated book I
spend time on Facebook avoiding the work. That needs to stop. I have a contract
that calls for me to publish 400 books a year and that doesn’t when I’m online
interacting with friends. I’ve tried to tell myself that it’s networking, but
my income goes up whenever I get off Facebook and down when I spend too much
time on it.”
Not everyone is
affected by Facebook in a negative way, though. I’m one person who has never
really had a problem with Facebook. I enjoy posting in the mornings, and
lurking later in the day, but I suspect I don’t spend as much time on Facebook
as some others do. Jacques Gerard doesn’t let Facebook get to him. Neither does
Linda L. Barton. Devon Marshall “stopped giving a rodent’s behind what
people thought” when he hit his 30s. Jacques Gerard doesn’t let envy ruin
his enjoyment of Facebook. He enjoys seeing others succeed. “Mainly I
realized my life/journey is my own and should not be compared with anybody
else’s life/journey.” He said. “I’m just happy with other’s blessings
and successes as well for my own. On the other hand give comfort and prayer for
those who are experiencing a tough time or sickness. I learned very early in
life that worrying about keeping up with others only creates unhappiness for
Social media sites
like Facebook are a mixed bag. Depending on how you choose to look at Facebook,
it can be the ninth circle of Hell or a great place to network with writers,
publishers, editors, and readers alike. It may even be both on occasion. The
key seems to be knowing your own limits, and pulling away when you feel
yourself getting sucked in. Remember above all you are a writer, and writers
write. However, writers also need to make themselves available to the public in
order to be seen, and that includes engaging in social media as well as
attending book signings, book readings, conventions, and the like. Could the
key be balance? Although social media in general and Facebook in particular may
be stressful, according to that new study, it is a fairly new medium. Once you
master it, it probably won’t own you any longer.
Hosted by Ashley Lister
The radio show is on every Saturday night – 8 until 10 pm UK time (we’re currently operating to British Summer Time which is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time). The first hour is family friendly. The second hour has a more mature content and usually includes an interview with a poet.
It’s fun. I have people tweeting poems in. I have people mailing in poems (which then get read out live on air). I play poetry and music and chat with poets. I had no idea I could do anything like this.
This is the page where the radio station keeps its links: http://www.fyldecoastradio.co.uk/listen_live.html The station is called Fylde Coast Community Radio and my show is the Dead Good Poetry show.
If ERWA contributors want to listen in and see how the show develops (and gauge whether or not they’d want their writing to be associated with the project) it would be great to know they’re adding to the supportive audience. If anyone does want to record a short, original poem of their own (4 mins max), I would need it in MP3 format. I’m also looking into including Skyped poems at some point in the future.
by Jean Roberta
Anyone who follows the careers of celebrity writers knows that the great American crime-writer Elmore Leonard passed away on August 20, 2013. Amidst the eulogies, his ten writing rules have been trotted forth:
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify “said.”
5. Keep your exclamation marks under control.
6. Never use “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great details describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Much as I would have liked Mr. Leonard to live past his eighties, the current media-storm of analyses of his writing style is timely for me. I am on schedule to teach a creative writing class for credit for the first time in September. Note that non-credit classes (such as the one I taught in the 1990s to senior citizens) are much different, more like hobbies; there are no grades and no pressure. This time, I will be expected to teach some useful techniques which might actually result in publishing contracts. Therefore I have been checking out “writing rules” of various kinds.
My senior colleague, experienced mystery-writer Gail Bowen (whose novels are all set in the town where we both live) has discussed Elmore Leonard’s rules with approval in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail:
Well, yes and no. My students all had to audition for my class by submitting samples of their writing to me. I have definitely seen some “Hooptedoodle” in the form of self-conscious writing that strains to be witty or memorable. It would probably be good for all my students to have to follow Elmore Leonard’s rules while writing one assignment. Writers, like singers, can benefit from expanding their range.
It doesn’t surprise me that Elmore Leonard admired Ernest Hemingway, who apparently developed his famously terse style as a journalist, pounding out news articles on a manual typewriter in various war zones. (It should be noted, however, that journalists did not always write like Hemingway. Nineteenth-century newspapers often combined floridly-written news articles with fiction, and at first glance it can be hard to guess which is which.)
I have nothing against the school of Hemingway, Leonard, and their many followers. Showing action rather than describing people and scenes can be an effective way to develop character and a plot at the same time. If dialogue sounds true-to-life as well as expressive, “said” is the only verb that needs to be added.
However, there are other ways to write. Writing about sex, in particular, lends itself to description. (“They met, they fucked, they came” doesn’t work for me as a climactic passage.) Even Hemingway resorted to an extreme metaphor when “the earth moved” for his central characters. A precious, overwrought, bejewelled and archaic style can be great fun to write – and to read.
“Purple prose,” the sort of thing that Hemingway and Leonard aimed to stamp out, is now associated with the famous opening sentence of an 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton before Charles Dickens had become a household name. Note the way this passage violates Elmore Leonard’s Rule #1:
“It was a dark and stormy night, the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
This is not the sort of opening scene that appeals to a reader who wants to cut to the chase. In its way, however—like a lady of the evening in a corset and flounced petticoats–this long sentence is damn sexy. Notice what the author has accomplished, even before introducing a single human character. The reader is plunged into a sensuous experience, as though caught in a sudden downpour. The location has been identified. If even the housetops are “rattled,” the shelters that humans have built for themselves are clearly no match for the power of nature. And the struggling flames that fight against darkness suggest the brave fragility of human consciousness or life itself.
After this introduction, characters can be brought into an imaginary world that has already been set up. As a prologue or declaration of purpose, the opening sentence can be considered direct and concise, rather than too long. And every word contributes to the general effect.
I would like to give a “dark and stormy night” assignment, not as a joke (like the annual Bulwer-Lytton Award that offers prizes for the most extreme parodies of the famous sentence) but as an exercise in writing vivid description.
Writing “rules” can be useful in helping fledgling writers find the subjects, the styles, the genres and the philosophies that work best for them. Ultimately, however, good writing seems to me to be a matter of coherence and faithfulness to one`s own vision.
“Different strokes for different folks” is not only a snappy way to advocate acceptance of other people`s sexual tastes. It can describe a smorgasbord of different writing styles. Just as finding the best Significant Other can require kissing a few toads along the way, finding the best style for a particular piece is likely to involve a few failed experiments. And the journey can be more fun than reaching the destination.
by Kathleen Bradean
I think I found my writer’s voice years ago when we were in Taccoa visiting relatives. Seeing relatives is real easy in Taccoa as I’m blood kin to at least twenty percent of the population. It’s a small town; my mother had sixty-four cousins; you do the math.
Oh, she didn’t have sixty-four living cousins. There were only about twenty-eight of them. Living cousins, that is. A few got killt off in road accidents and that type of stuff. Many of the sixty-four didn’t make it to their first birthday. Then there were the diphtheria and cholera years where whole branches of the family tree got pruned off in the course of a week, sort of like when a tornado goes through town and tears away tree limbs and sends them flying through your window or shattering your home and all you can do the next day is stare numbly at the damage until your eyes get itchy from tears. Then you drag the back of your hand across you runny nose and go on living because what else are you gonna do?
I only know about all the cousins that passed because there’s a book that lists everyone in the family since we came over from England. One time I was real bored because it was my turn to be the person my sisters hated and they’d sneaked off to the creek without me. I knew where they were but the rules of that particularly nasty game were that you had to suck it up and take it so I had to make do until they forgave me for whatever sin they’d decided I’d committed. Seeing as Toccoa is surrounded by the southernmost crest of the Smoky Mountains and this was years before satellite, Grandma’s TV only got snowy pictures and ghosts followed the actors. Besides, my grandparents belonged to the cult of ‘go play outside’ so after a long sigh and an eye roll that nearly got me in big trouble, I took the book out on the back steps and balanced it on my bony knees while I flipped to the page where my mother’s name was listed, and my sisters and me with her, and that’s how I found out about all those dead cousins. I counted them, even the babies who only lived a day. Then I crawled under the house to play with the barn cat’s kittens.
My elusive writer’s voice wasn’t under the house with them.
We were driving around town– We must have been on our way to church. Grandma was wearing those white cotton gloves and I had on a dress which was a miracle in and of itself– and Grandma said “Mister L” — isn’t it funny how they called each other Mister L and Missus L instead of using their first names? Maybe because they flat out hated each other. Anyway, Grandma said, “Stop the car. I want to show the children this house.” It was a big old dark green thing with a mansard roof that had seen better centuries. We said we could see the house fine from the car, but she insisted.
Grandpa didn’t need to stop really. He always drove so slow we could have popped open the doors and stepped out like it was one of those carnival rides on a continuous belt, but he pulled off the road, which probably brought considerable relief to that blue Chevy that had been dogging Grandpa’s back bumper since we passed the county high school.
The cicadas were buzzing like mad in towering, pale green trees behind the house. Gravel got in my shoe as we walked down the drive so I hopped on one foot while I dumped it out. Grandma stepped onto the porch and knocked on the door. When no one answered, my sisters and I shuffled toward the car, not in any hurry to get back in because Grandma and Grandpa had been bickering all morning about whether we’d go to the Methodist church (his) or the Baptist (hers) and we would have been glad to miss both. So when she called us over and tolt us to look through the windows so we could see the inside of the place, we climbed up on the porch with her. I cupped my hands around my eyes and looked into the parlor. Some guy was asleep on a couch in his t-shirt and I could hear a game on a television I couldn’t see. I tugged on Grandma’s sleeve and whispered frantically to her to move away from the window. Maybe I only thought I was was whispering because the man sat up suddenly. We yelped and lit out for Grandpa’s car, but Grandma just stood there on the porch peering in like she never heard of a shotgun before. The door yanked open and the guy’s hair, which was sticking up like he’d licked a light socket, I swear reached the top of the door frame. He stared at us sleep stupefied for a good moment. My sisters and I held hands and our breaths.
Turns out he was a cousin.
One of the living, of course. We may be southern but we aren’t gothic.
Maybe you wonder how you develop your writers voice and maybe you don’t. I went looking for it but got sidetracked and haven’t bothered since. Supposedly, that’s what an MFA program does for you. But I’m convinced that focuses on the wrong thing. If the story is first person, it has to be written in the character’s voice, not the writer’s. Otherwise, the writer is intruding.
I didn’t find my writer’s voice in Toccoa, but I can make it sound as if this narrator is me. It’s channeling the way a story would be told by that narrator. It’s cadence and vocabulary. It’s judiciously ignoring grammar in favor of voice. I wouldn’t suggest writing dialectics as a rule since they are often annoying, but those three words inform the reader about the narrator in ways that the rest of the text can’t, so I did it anyway.
If you’re a writer, you may have voices in your head. Let them speak on the page. Don’t worry about your voice, because unless you consciously steer your writing to a different one, yours will shine through.
Are writers obsessed with word counts? I can’t help but ask the question. At any one time, I’m working on several WIPs, and I have word count trackers in the sidebar of my website. They help keep me focussed, and also spur me along. I’ll input the latest numbers, then check out the graph and smile as it creeps along, growing ever closer to my goal. Often, I change the goals, for example if a short story call for submissions has a minimum word count and I end up going over it, which I often do. As long as I don’t go over the maximum, it’s all good.
But it’s easy to become obsessed. Some writers have a goal of writing a certain amount of words every day and get annoyed with themselves if they don’t achieve them. Equally, if they exceed that goal, it’s a cause for celebration. Many writers (including myself), take part in sprints, for example #1k1hr, which stands for one thousand words in one hour. It’s a good way to push on, and if you’re the competitive sort, you want to get lots of words down and try and beat the other writers you’re #1k1hr – ing with. It’s friendly, though, and a good way to get a chunk of words down.
I often find my gaze straying to the bottom of the page where my word count is displayed. I think it’s become a habit now. Because I do so many things as well as writing, I don’t set myself a minimum daily word count. I don’t even write every day. But when I do, I more often than not write down my starting word count and my ending word count so I know what I’ve done for the day. Naturally, some days are much more productive than others, and I find myself massively productive when I have deadlines looming.
Whatever I’m writing, I’m always conscious of the number of words, which often is crazy. If I’m writing for a call for submissions, then of course I have to stay within the parameters. But if I’m just writing a story and seeing what happens, whether it ends up as a short story, a novella, a novel, etc, then I don’t need to keep track of it. However, I still do! I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, to be honest. I do like to see what I’ve achieved (for example I totted up my word count for the year and it exceeded 175,000 words, and that was several weeks ago now!), so maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m governing myself.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing, then. As writers, we don’t always know what’s going to happen to our words, to our stories, when they’re complete. They may get sent off to a publisher and rejected, then sent elsewhere. Or they may be accepted, and we then have to wait quite a while before we see them published, and even longer before we’re actually paid for them. So really, it’s no surprise many of us watch our word counts so scrupulously. After all, because we may have to wait months, even years, to see our work come to fruition, we need an instant boost, an instant sense of achievement, otherwise we might wonder what we’re doing it for.
What do you think? Do you check out your word counts all the time? Or do you just write and don’t worry about all that? I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments!
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, 2013 and 2014 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
As erotic romance becomes increasingly
popular, I’ve noticed a trend among authors of erotica to denigrate
the genre. ER panders to readers who aren’t comfortable with “real”
erotica, some argue, sanitizing sex by requiring that the individuals
doing the nasty be “in love”. ER is tame and conservative,
according to others, not to mention stereotyped. True creativity
isn’t possible within the rigid constraints of the genre. ER
reinforces traditional cultural mores which favor monogamous,
committed relationships, especially those in which the woman is
subservient to the man, the social critics complain. The happy
endings required by romance just aren’t realistic, runs another
popular objection, and they make romance too predictable.
Recently a well-known erotica author
reviewed one of my novels on Goodreads. She commented that she would
have given it five stars, but she dropped her rating to four because
the book was too “romancey”. This is for a novel in which the
heroine is boffing three different men, as well as a spare woman or
There’s a kernel of truth in all of the
arguments above. I’ve read blog posts by authors of erotic romance
who loudly protest that what they write is distinct from “erotica”
(or “porn”) because they’re focusing on characters and
relationships instead of “just sex”. It may be that these
individuals have never encountered well-crafted erotica, but the
stridency of their tone suggests a level of fear or repulsion
associated with sexuality. (Or maybe they’re just afraid of the
social stigma attached to being overtly sexual.)
Some erotic romance is indeed tame and
conventional, by my standards at least, focusing as it does on
vanilla sex initiated mostly by the male. On the other hand, some
folks enjoy vanilla erotica, too. And yes, I get annoyed with
romances where marriage seems to be the ultimate goal in life, but
these days there are plenty of ER stories where matrimony is never
Predictability is a huge
challenge for a romance author. In some ways, the HEA or HFN required
makes crafting a romance more difficult than producing a tale
construed as erotica, which is free to end ambiguously or even badly
for the characters. Romance readers know, at some level, that
everything will work out. It takes consummate skill to create
narrative conflicts so compelling that readers will wonder just how a
happy ending could be possible. It’s tough, but it can be done.
Erastes’ M/M romance Standish sticks in my mind as a tour
de force in this regard. Twenty pages from the end, I couldn’t
imagine how the protagonists could ever reconcile, yet when they did,
I found the resolution completely believable.
A lot of the romance I read is boring –
poorly crafted, with amateurish language, hackneyed premises,
cardboard characters and implausible or sometimes non-existent plots.
However, there’s plenty of awful erotica out there, too. Those of us
who hang out at ERWA don’t tend to see it as much, but spend a little
while browsing the self-styled “erotica” on Amazon if you don’t
believe me. The explosion of e-publishing and self-publishing has
resulted in a flood of terrible books in pretty much every genre.
There are probably more of them labeled romance than anything else,
simply because romance is the single most popular category of books.
I write for both audiences. Based on
comments I’ve seen on the ERWA Writers list, I think some erotica
authors harbor some serious misconceptions about erotic romance.
Romance has changed – a lot. For a
great discussion of romance then versus now, check out Sheila
Claydon’s recent post at Beyond Romance
No longer are heroines wimpy and helpless, just waiting to be saved
by the big, blustery alpha male. They’re not shy or reluctant about
sex anymore, either, worried about preserving their virginity or
hankering to make a good marriage. The
more realistic HFN (happy for now) is a perfectly acceptable
alternative to happily ever after.
Today’s erotic romance celebrates
sexual pleasure every bit as enthusiastically as erotica, and
includes many of the same activities – oral sex, anal sex, group
sex, exhibitionism and voyeurism, sex toys, bondage, discipline,
whipping, spanking, piercing, branding, knife play. You’ll find
casual sex in romance too, though the participants usually end up in
a more enduring relationship as opposed to simply going their own
satisfied ways afterward. And of course, these days romance doesn’t
have to be straight. Gay ménage
is very popular, as is bisexual (M/M/F) ménage.
The market for lesbian romance appears to be smaller, but still energetic and loyal.
trying to argue that there’s no difference between erotica and erotic
romance? Of course not. However, the dividing line isn’t sharply
defined either. Several of my own novels, originally written as
erotica, are now being sold as erotic romance. Indeed the erotica
versus erotic romance dichotomy may be more a question of different
target markets than clearly different content (at least in the
I believe that the popularity of romance has benefits for erotica.
Erotic romance has helped readers become comfortable with stories
about sex and has aroused their curiosity about more extreme or novel
activities. Of course the publication of FSOG has accelerated this
trend, but the drift in readers from pure erotic romance toward
erotica has been going on for quite a while.
sales lag romance, but they’ve still grown phenomenally since the
advent of ebooks. I think we’re seeing significant spillover. When
romance readers want a bit “more” – more extremes of emotion,
more breaking of taboos, more surprises – they turn to erotica.
of you may be shaking your heads right now. You’re wondering if an
alien has slipped into the skin formerly occupied by Lisabet Sarai,
because this post seems to contradict things I’ve written previously.
It’s true that in the past I have lamented the co-opting of erotica
by erotic romance. It does bother me that publishers like Cleis, who
previously focused on exceptional literary erotica, now targets the
romance reading community with many of their titles. Black Lace
flipped years ago, from “erotica by women, for women” to erotic
romance. Eighty percent of new publishers who want erotic content
also specify that they want a relationship and at least a happy for
starting to become a bit more comfortable with this development,
however. Publishing is a business. The erotic romance audience is many
times larger than the audience for “pure” erotica. It makes sense
from a financial perspective to give those readers what they want.
I’d much rather have readers introduced to explicit romance via the
quality writing in a Cleis anthology than through some of the
alternatives. And Cleis does still field calls for books with no
romance elements required.
members of our community believe that the ascent of erotic romance is
a dangerous development for erotica – that it is the essence of
erotica to explore the edgy, uncomfortable aspects of sexuality that
might send romance readers screaming and that romance is blunting
those edges. I know I’m going to get some flak for this column from
Remittance Girl and Donna George Storey, for instance. Look, though,
at what these authors are doing in response to the romance boom.
They’re starting their own
presses to publish more transgressive stories. They’re
self-publishing tales that don’t end happily. And they’re finding
readers – perhaps not millions, but more, I contend, than they
would have if erotic romance were less popular.
brings me to a final theory as to why erotica authors tend to diss
romance. We’re jealous. Heck, I admit that I’m jealous, and I
actually publish erotic romance, though my books are apparently too
far from the mainstream to sell zillions of copies. We resent the
fact that our worthy literary endeavors remain obscure while sloppily
written, derivative romance sells. We rail against the fact that the
number of people who want to read happy endings far exceeds those with broader preferences.
not the fault of the romance genre. And I think we need to get over it, because
bitterness and envy don’t necessarily foster creativity.
By Donna George Storey
that’s a title sure to sell books. Especially if said book promises to
answer that question with “the latest scientific research” by
“paint[ing] an unprecedented portrait of female lust.”
mostly overcome my old bad habit of feeling compelled, for the sake of
my professional development, to read every article about sex that
catches my eye—from Cosmo covers offering secret bedroom tricks that fulfill every man’s deepest desires to more serious journalism like Mary Roach’s Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. Yet an enthusiastic review of Daniel Bergner’s What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire
proved just too provocative, so I put my name of the hold list at my
local library. Granted I was equally wary and amused that the mystery of
female sexual desire was to be answered by a male author, but the
“science” in the title promised at least a certain amount of objective
reportage and possibly some useful up-to-date discoveries.
finishing the book, I think I’ll go back on the wagon as far as “read
this and you’ll understand sex” come-on’s are concerned.
Bergner’s book left my raging intellectual curiosity about sex sadly
unsatisfied. However, I did gain some valuable insights into issues of
importance for erotica writers: namely, the constrictions on the way
we’re allowed to write about sex in mainstream publishing and our
endless human quest to seek a simple explanation for our very complex
and powerful urge to merge (or the lack thereof in married women, which
was Bergner’s unacknowledged focus, not to say obsession, in the book).
Let’s start with the writing style of What Do Women Want?
Published writing about sex is generally divided into two comforting
categories. First we have the “scientific” approach, which is deemed
acceptable for review in the New York Times (indeed Bergner even nabbed a nonfiction spot
in that venerable publication to promote his book). This is either a
sex guide by a credentialed doctor or a journalist’s reportage of what’s
going on in the underfunded labs of sexologists. The emphasis here is
on the “facts” tastefully and maturely presented with the aim of helping
us understand our biological drives. The tone may be humorous, like
Roach’s, often pointing out the ridiculousness of sex, but there can
never be any obvious intent to arouse lust. That goal is left to erotica
and porn, where the author is at liberty to use every trick in the
book—dirty words, loving descriptions of sex acts, vivid, taboo-breaking
fantasies—to inflame the reader’s libido. The price for this freedom is
that such works can’t be taken too seriously, even if some do prove
I’d always wondered what would
happen if someone tried combining these two forms, intellectual
seriousness with vivid, evocative prose. Many erotica writers do so
quite successfully in my opinion. Bergner makes a certain kind of
attempt by juxtaposing reportage of scientific studies and the search
for a “female Viagra” (which is apparently much harder since it requires
a change in brain chemistry rather than just blood flow) with decidedly
flowery accounts of women’s experiences and fantasies. The experiment
derails because Bergner’s heavy-handed prose requires the reader to
either submit equally to the reportage and the personal fancy or to
doubt both. For me, What Do Women Want? has been falsely
advertised as the kind of “scientific” book that we’re supposed to
respect when there is a buried personal agenda at work throughout.
Perhaps the book would be less of a con if it were advertised as memoir
or creative nonfiction, but then again it would lose a good portion of
an audience that craves “objective” answers to the mystery of sex.
an inquiry into what women want could result in a very long book
indeed, Bergner’s main focus is stories of women who have lost desire
for their sweet, loving partners, but feel excitement for men who treat
them like, well, Christian Grey treats Anastasia Steele. Yet, rather
than quoting the women in their own words, he freely indulges his own
writerly impulses. In the following excerpt, he’s describing the
experiences of a “real” woman named Isabel:
dressed with urgent, ungoverned need for the desire of men could set
off, inside her, a flurry of disdain, like an instinctive aversion to a
weakness or wound. Yet whenever she walked into a restaurant where
Michael waited for her at the bar, his focus seem to pluck her from the
air, midfall, and pull her forward. His eyes held a thoroughly different
kind of constancy than Eric’s later would. Eric adored her. Michael
admired her. She was a possession, the heels of the boots she picked for
him taking her across crowded rooms toward her owner. The boots were
like the frames and pedestals he chose for the photography and sculpture
in his gallery. He had specific opinions about how she was best
If the book were fiction, I might be more
willing to allow myself to be carried along by the strongly flavored
sensibility of Bergner’s prose. But in many cases I felt manipulated, as
if he were imposing his voice on Isabel among others, making her into
his character, for the mere sake of showing us he can write in a Best American Short Story style.
Bergner does describe some interesting results of studies—did you know
that in speed dating whichever sex sits still is pickier about partners
than the one forced to get up and rotate? But far too many studies he
mentioned dealt with women’s boredom with nice guys. Basically Berger
argues that traditional evolutionary biology got it wrong. It’s not the
men who are the promiscuous sex, sowing their seed far and wide while
women wait for a nurturing mate, but rather the women who are even
hungrier for sex with strangers, thus explaining the much touted desire
gap between married men and women. By the time he attributed Adriaan
Tuiten’s search for a drug to restore female desire to a broken heart
when his first girlfriend lost sexual interest in him, I suspected
something else was at stake for the author as well. And indeed, turning
back to the acknowledgements, Bergner rather wistfully thanks his
ex-wife for the faith she offered for many years.
or not Bergner’s ex-wife left him because her sexual desire for her
tender mate faded, his choice of highly personal writing style and a
notable focus on one slim aspect of female sexuality demands that he be
honest with his readers about where he comes from on the issue of
marriage and the loss of desire. Yet he maintains the opacity of the
traditional journalist throughout, in spite of his revealingly biased
choices in language.
Now is the perfect time for me to
be honest. While I am all for revising the rigid story of a natural
male promiscuity and the female preference for monogamy, in my personal
experience, I have always had better sex when I know and care for my
partner and he cares for me. Thus, I did not in any way feel that the
book illuminated the mysteries of my desire. Which leads me to the
second lesson of my reading. Bergner insists we have to replace the old
story with an equally simple one—it’s not men who have insatiable
appetites, it’s women (which is actually the view of earlier Christian
philosophers, so it’s not exactly new). But what if we human beings,
male and female, all have our own ever-evolving stories about pleasure
and sexual desire? Might not we all have different reasons, genetic and
cultural, for behaving and desiring as we do, narratives that might also
change within a single person’s life course as well as varying among
different people? What if there are no rock-solid eternal truths to
comfort us about what is natural in sex (or any other human behavior)?
inherent in these “scientific” studies is the assumption that there is a
normal or correct sexuality. Yet I’ve never seen a real-life example
offered of this envied normal state. (Therapist Marty Klein maintains in
his book, Sexual Intelligence, that the only true normalis
that most adults have sex when they’re tired.) Bergner does not
interview a promiscuous woman who has found happiness indulging her
natural urges like the rhesus monkeys in the lab. Even one of the few
sexually frisky married women Bergner mentions is not a poster child for
happy monogamy by his definition:
“The abruptly, she
mentioned something hidden. She was a baseball fan, and when she had
trouble reaching orgasm, or wanted to make love with Paul but felt that
arousal was remote and needed beckoning, she tended to think about the
Yankee’s shortstop Derek Jeter. She smiled at the comedy of this
confession. It was only sometimes that this extra help was required, she
explained. ‘Jeter is the ultimate Yankee. Tall, all-American, everyone
loves him—he’s it. He comes home to me after winning the World Series.
He’s still in his uniform, and he throws me onto the bed and kisses me
in a frenzy all over and thrusts right into me without me being really
prepared for it. He just ravages me.’”
Yes, the secret
is out, the wife “sometimes” has to cheat in her fantasies to feel lust
for her husband! Both Bergner and the wife seem to find such fantasies
embarrassing and comic, but more to the author’s point, the fantasy is
described as “hidden” (But from whom exactly? She told him about it,
should she advertise it on a tattoo on her face?) and conforms to the
rape-by-a-stranger fantasy that several of the scientists he interviewed
claim arouses women more than any other fantasy. Bergner does not
really explore the wisdom of taking fantasies literally. He allows that
these women probably don’t actually want to be raped, but he does seem
to assume that a mere fantasy about another man is a form of infidelity
and proves his case about women “wanting” lots of sex with buff, selfish
strangers in alleyways.
Okay, I’m going to get
personal again, but at least I’m being transparent about my point of
view. I’ve never fantasized for more than two seconds about a specific
person or celebrity, nor does rape, which we’ll define as nonconsensual
sex, ever play a role in my rich and varied married-woman fantasies,
although the partner usually takes the lead because, damn it, I get
tired doing everything out there in the real world. Still my preferred
fantasy partner is a faceless drone, used and discarded for his sexual
value alone. I like it that way. Does my fantasy prove anything more
than that my imagination does not follow society’s rules for
proper female focus on the man’s personhood? And how is it that
Bergner’s list of women’s sexual fantasies, told with a sort of
breathless titillation, can be seen as news decades after Nancy Friday’s
My Secret Garden shocked the world? Alas, the book is mired in
not-very-unprecedented assumptions and judgments Bergner claims to be
challenging. In the end he does admit it is “just a beginning,” in spite
of the promotional copy’s promise to a potential reader that he or she
will get some interesting answers to the title question.
yes, the book is mostly a waste of time if you are expecting to find
out what all women want. Yet even its failures remind us that there is
plenty of room for a nuanced, clear-eyed inquiry into the stories we
tell ourselves about sexuality and desire. Daniel Bergner has
unwittingly made his own contribution, though not quite as he intended.
His book does give us a coded look into the interests and passions of
one particular man, but undoubtedly a more honest What Do Women Want?: I Don’t Really Know Either would not sell nearly as many copies.
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
I’m going to introduce you to the most viscerally powerful short story I’ve
ever read. Flat out. But – first I need you do a couple of things.
For your own safety, I mean.
From this moment on you should be sitting in an easy chair or maybe laying down
is even better. Padding. So you won’t hurt yourself.
A glass of water nearby. Maybe a small waste can and a roll of paper towels
would also be prudent. Last, if possible, a spouse or a reliable friend who doesn’t panic easily. Do not have someone read it to you aloud while driving a
car or operating heavy machinery.
We will assume you have done these things and proceed. Attend.
The last person recorded to have fainted during a public reading of
“Guts” was on May 28, 2007 at the public library of Victoria, British
Columbia in Canada. Strictly speaking he didn’t faint as a result of the story
but as a consequence of running for the exit, fainting in mid stride and
hitting his head on the way to the floor. He was one of five who dropped during
that reading. In Milan Italy a professional actor read the translation aloud in
excellent Italian and entire rows went down as though they’d been machine
gunned. Thus far a total of 73 people have officially fainted during public
readings of “Guts” at least until people stopped counting. That’s
what stories can do for you folks.
Damn I wish I’d written it.
Stop reading this, I’m talking to you there, go to the link I’m going to give
you and read “Guts”. It only takes a few minutes, its not a long
story at all. In fact here’s how it begins.
Take in as much air as you can.
This story should last about as long as you can hold your breath, and then just
a little bit longer. So listen as fast as you can.”
From “Guts” Chuck Palahniuk
Here is the link to “Guts” a short story by my literary hero Chuck
Palahniuk. You can read it for free. Off you go, now. Come back after you pull
From this moment on the blog will be divided into two camps. The readers with
“Guts’, and the “Guts” virgins.
The readers are those who obediently went to the link and followed through and
survived more or less intact. The virgins are those who did not take it
seriously and didn’t check it out at all or those who did and found
themselves unable to finish it. I fall into both camps. The first time I read
it I couldn’t finish it. I thought I was tough. I was not. I went back and
finished it the second time, both times cringing in my seat, chewing my thumb
and laughing my ass off insanely at the funny parts.
Now you Guts virgins – go back and read it. Please. Go on. Get outta here. You’re
missing a thing of hideous beauty. Come back when you know something. You will
note that I have not told you anything about the story premise or what it’s
about. Nor will I. But I would like to talk about the “Palahniuk Effect”,
how the great man does what he does so well.
The genre Palahniuk writes in and maybe some of us also write in without
knowing it had a name, is “transgressive fiction”, written in a Minimalist style. This is a kissing cousin of
pulp fiction which walks a fine line on what is forbidden in commercial fiction
and often cheerfully vaults over it. This would include stories that are
potentially offensive either on a moral level such as “Lolita”, which on its
surface after all is a sexual affair between a man and a twelve year old girl he nightly rapes, or
a publishable level such as “Guts” (The first time it was submitted to Playboy
magazine it was refused as “too disturbing”. When the editor attended a reading
at Union Square Library in New York during which a man was carted off in an
ambulance, he reconsidered his position. It appeared in Playboy in 2004). Transgressive
Fiction can also include gay erotica, BDSM stories, flagellation and so on. It
concerns characters who feel confined by the moral conventions of society and
in the course of the story break out by doing luridly illicit or in the case of
“Guts”, incredibly dumb things.
“Guts” is told from the first person POV in a very specific way.
Palahniuk has several essays on writing which have lately gotten attention in the ERWA writers forum.. He has a lot to say about the crafting of
“Guts”. Any story opens with a particular problem for the writer,
which is the early establishing of authority with the reader. This is connected
with the “suspension of disbelief ”. The reader has to trust where you’re
leading them, no matter how weird or revolting it is, and be willing to give your characters
the benefit of the doubt. This is especially true in the case of the first
person point of view, with all of its intimacy offered to the reader right up
front in the voice of the narrator. Palahniuk explains that this can be done by
either heart or head.
To establish authority by heart means to speak of yourself in a way that speaks
straight to the reader, without putting on airs. You might do this by revealing
early on something that doesn’t make you look all that good. Something which is
more of the honest fool then the hero. You have to establish this as quickly as
possible, in the first few sentences.
For instance this is how Mark Twain starts off Huckleberry Finn:
“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr.
Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”
The reader likes Huckberry’s voice. He sounds like a straight forward kid.
Or this, from the opening of Phillip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint”:
“She was so deeply embedded in my consciousness that for the first year of
school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in
He sounds like a dubious character, but someone worth knowing. You wonder what
the deal is with his mother too.
By showing your warts early on you are
being vulnerable, holding out your hand to a certain trust and intimacy with
the reader. You don’t have to be a good person or even a very nice person. Just
somebody worth knowing.
The other way is “establishing authority” with the head. This is in fact the
way Palahniuk starts out “Guts”. Now that I think of it, this is also the way
in which I have introduced this blog entry. This is usually done by listing a
series of details, either technical or emotional details that show the reader
your narrator has been where he/she describes and knows what they’re talking
about from experience and knowledge.
This is generally easier to do than the heart method, especially if you
are using a dislikeable narrator.
Palahniuk admits most of his stories begin with the head method, in part
because he almost always uses first person present narration and most of his
first person narrators are dislikeable people.
For example, this is the opening paragraph of his novel “Snuff” in which
a former porn star eventually commits suicide by way of exhaustive marathon
“ . . . One dude stood all afternoon at the buffet wearing
just his boxers, licking the orange dust off barbecued potato chips.
Next to him, a dude was scooping into the onion dip and licking the dip
off the chip. The same soggy chip, scoop
after scoop. Dudes have a million ways
of peeing on what they claim as their own.”
“Snuff” Chuck Palahniuk
There are two things in that paragraph that are standard for
Palahniuk. The story is begun with the
head method in what will eventually be a dislikeable but intriguing narrator
(the maybe-maybe not son of the aforesaid porn star who is there in line with the other dudes to meet her for the first time) and he “buries the I”. You don’t see the word “I” appear in the paragraph
at all. One of his rules which is
certainly true is that when writing in first person present, which is a
standard for erotica and other forms of transgressive fiction, don’t let the
narrator babble on endlessly about him/her self and their precious feelings. The reader will feel like she’s on a bad
date. Like any narrator he should direct
attention towards the story and minimally to himself only when it regards his
action in the story. You will also find
this is true of “Guts” which is first person present but you hear very little
reference from the narrator to himself until the final scene of the story.
Now as Lynne Connally pointed out in the writer’s forum you have to take this advice a little critically. Romance readers want the feelings and thoughts gushed out as copiously and as purplely as possible. More literary style erotic fiction tends to be the emotionally distant style Palahniuk is advising. Take it for what it’s worth.
The next is the establishment of pattern and motif.
“Guts” is in some ways a long detailed list. It is a story in three
acts, giving the details of three scenes or events of increasing . . . effect .
“Guts” is also based on true stories. Palahniuk swears it. So it must
be true. I guess. Palahniuk explains in the back story
commentary that he acquired these stories over time while researching his novel
“Choke”. He could have assembled them in any pattern, but arranged them in an
ascending order. The motif of the story is actually based on the theme of
holding the breath which begins the story. Holding the breath is a metaphor for
things that exist between family members that are too awful or ridiculous to
talk about, and waiting in suspense for those things to be revealed. This is
the recurring pattern that keeps resounding after each event is described.
Let’s talk about that description.
He has established trust, if not sympathy, between the narrator and the reader.
The events unfold. The sensory description, which is also a critical element to
erotica writing, is based on the minimal depiction of a single ultra-realistic
detail. The kind of detail only the narrator would know. That carefully chosen
detail is a note that brings the side elements into the light. Palahniuk
advises “When a normal person has a headache, they take aspirin. When a writer
has a headache, he takes notes.” You try to find a way of conveying the
experience of a headache, not just the bland statement that a headache exists.
You don’t say the beer was delicious. You describe the beer as malty and bitter
and cold. The reader decides if that’s delicious or not, not you. If you are
describing a desperate man crossing an unlit railroad yard in the dead of
night, a man who is compulsively afraid of the dark – and I have written that
story – you don’t say “It was dark.” Hell. We know that. Instead you describe
the man dropping to the ground in a fit. Digging his fingernails in the dirt,
until they hurt. Biting the dirt with his teeth and weeping shamefully.
Describe how it feels to suffocate with brainless panic and then seeing just in
front of his eyes the moonlight glinting off a single piece of broken bottle
Specifically from a bottle.
That makes it feel dark, and feel is what you want. Palahniuk says the line
that seemed to send most of the fainters spiraling to the floor is the one with
the words “corn and peanuts”. That’s a very specific detail known only to the
narrator until he reveals it in a way that brings the scene home and viscerally nails it.
Now, if the image of corn and peanuts isn’t turning you green at this moment,
and maybe for the rest of your life, it’s because you’re a Guts-Virgin.
Come over here, little virgin.
Come over here. Gonna tighten’ up your wig for you.
Come sit close to me, baby. No. More close. Touching close.
Now. What we’re gonna do. It’s all up to you. Won’t make you do nuthin’ you
don’t want. Good?
Let’s see that little mouse you got, sweetie.
Oh. Oh isn’t that beautiful. Your mama gave you the sweetest beautiful mouse.
Look what you’ve been hiding from me all this time.
How is that mouse . . . There. Isn’t that nice? You like that?
Put your finger there on the left button. Just keep it there like that ‘till I
That’s the way. Feel nice? You like that? You bet you like it. Bet your mouse
like that. Bet your mama like that.
See that down there? No, lower down. See that?
Well, that’s my URL. Ever seen one of those before? Yeah? You’re not so
innocent like you look.
What you’re gonna do for me is put your little pointer there, baby, right there
and give my URL a nice little squeeze. That’s how it’s done. Move it right down
there. Do it just for me. Then I’ll know you love me good, sugar.
You’re going good. Oh that’s sweet how you do that. Oh that’s so good. I can
watch you move your mouse all night long. You’re going so good at this already
and you think you like it now, sweetie, you gonna love it later.
Don’t stop here. Down there’s where all the action is. Put your little pointer
right down there. Oh, that’s the way. Hold it there.
I was really stuck for a topic this month. I tweeted the question ‘what is hard about writing’ and got back an overwhelming number of really good answers and many of them were familiar: finding time, finding inspiration, the grind of editing, having a story stall out on you, uncooperative characters, not believing in yourself as a writer or trusting your voice … you know them all. I could and probably should have written on one of those, but instead, I thought I’d write about the one thing no one expects me to write about.
People don’t think I write about love. They think I write about sex. I write erotic fiction, not erotic romance, so people assume I don’t think love is important or worth writing about. They often assume I’m a cynic about it. But the truth is, there’s love in almost all my stories. It’s not explicit, and it’s not always sane, or permanent, or perhaps it’s not a kind of love you recognize, but I believe it’s love all the same.
The media has perpetuated a very idealised, standardised model of love. The lovers look into each other’s eyes and they know – they KNOW – this is love, this is real, this is forever. Cue the violins. And post-modernity hasn’t done a fucking thing to advance it. It’s just commoditized it. We may be all for same-sex marriage now, but we want their love to look just like that love too. Eternal, monogamous, spiritual, the foundation of a family unit. Heck, even Sookie Stackhouse can’t fall in love with the next vamp until she’s fallen out of love with the last one. And the most meaningful, best sex is the sex you have with the person you love.
We want to believe that love is universal, but I’m here to challenge you on that. I think the thing we call love is a cultural construction. I’m not going to go all biological on your ass and talk about love as an evolutionary strategy. Mostly because the jury is a long way out on that one. Nor am I going to say that we are imagining the feeling we identify as love, although I don’t think it matters whether we are imagining it or not. It has massive real-world consequences all the same.
I’m saying that there is most certainly a phenomenon that humans experience that destabilizes us as hermetically sealed individuals. We allow another in so deep that it breaks the seal on our individuality. They bleed into us, and if it’s reciprocated, we bleed into them. We stop being ‘alone’ in the the big sense of the world.
It is the culture we are born into that uses models and language to help us order that experience in our brains. Although love occurs in all cultures, how we identify it – the rules we expect it to obey – bear the marks of how our societies seek to order themselves.
Let me give you an example. I know this 24-year-old Vietnamese woman named Tuyet. She was born down in the Mekong Delta in a tiny little village. Grew up dirt poor. Her mother died of cervical cancer because the family had no money to treat it. She came to the city bone thin – not starving, because no one starves here, but rake thin from a poor diet – looking for a job to support herself and send money home to her family.
It’s a very common story in developing countries. She found a day job, but she became a part-time sex worker because the money was much better than anything she could earn with her lack of education or qualifications. In the course of her work, she met a 68-year-old American named Burt. Divorced, overweight, balding, bit of an alcoholic, not a prince by any means. And they marry. He gets all the sex he’s ever dreamed of and she gets the kind of financial security she’s never even dreamed of. She says she loves him. He says he loves her.
To Western eyes, there are nasty words for this sort of a relationship. In the West, loving someone for giving you sex is not love. In the West, loving someone for giving you economic security isn’t love. But to people in developing countries, you DO love someone who is willing to take care of you, and keep you safe, and pay your medical bills, and has the wherewithal to feed your family.
I’ve lived in foreign cultures long enough not to judge. They are giving each other what they need. They have allowed themselves to be vulnerable and dependent on each other for things that each of them find very important. If they call it love, then… it’s love.
One of my co-workers is Indian. He’s from New Delhi. His marriage was arranged. He met his wife once before they got married. Both their families each believed that they were two kind, decent people and they would make a good match. Both he and his wife believed that their families had their best interests at heart. They’ve been married seven years now, and have a little boy. The wife, Medha told me that she fell in love with him about 6 months into the marriage, after she was already pregnant with their child.
These are models of love we don’t understand because our understanding of love is culturally proscribed.
I have fallen in love a number of times, and out of love fewer. There are people I loved who I continue to love, even though I’m not with them anymore. Even though I was only with them a short time. And I have never ever loved two people in the same way. There isn’t one kind of love. There is a love for every love you fall into. There are people I fell in love with fast, and out of it fast. But in the moment, it was love. Our belief that only long-lived emotion is love is also culturally proscribed.
It’s incredibly ironic that we all agree that love hurts, but we taught to yearn for a love that doesn’t hurt. In Western concepts of romantic love, it only hurts in the short term, but in the long term, it turns into a kind of endless warm jello bath.
Another interesting Western belief is that love needs to be reciprocated. If it isn’t, it’s not love. It’s pathological obsession. It’s sick and unhealthy. We also believe that love needs to be physically consummated. If it isn’t, at some point, then it’s tragic and pathetic. But that’s only because it falls outside our cultural construction of how we’ve defined romantic love.
I’m not saying that because you adhere to your cultural understanding of love you’re wrong. I just want you to consider that it is a construction. It’s not the TRUTH, it’s a truth. It’s the truth of love in your culture. You can chose to insist upon it, but you can also reject it, and decide on another definition. A personal one.
I guess that’s the point of my post. I want to encourage you to consider that the definition of what love is isn’t static or etched in stone. And perhaps write about alternate versions of it.