Monthly Archives: September 2013
by K D
|Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss|
On the 22nd of September, Grace
Marshall and I helped Victoria Blisse
celebrate the 100th Sunday of her weekly Sunday Snog posts by
posting sexy kissing scenes from a couple of our novels. The proceeds went to
Sans Frontières, and a lot of filthy writers had a lot of fun sharing sizzling
kisses on their sites. That got me seriously thinking about kissing and what an
important part of our sexuality and our culture it is.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel
like it’s a proper sex scene, or even a proper PG love scene, unless there’s
some serious lip action. Here are a few fun factoids about the lip lock that I
discovered while I was writing my post for my Sunday Snog. They are from Psychology
Today , How Stuff
Works and Random
- The science of kissing is
- Lips are 100 times more
sensitive than the tips of the fingers. They’re even more sensitive that
- The most important muscle in
kissing is the orbicularis oris, whichallows the lips to “pucker.”
- French kissing involves 34
muscles in the face, while a pucker kiss involves just two.
- A nice
romantic kiss burns 2-3 calories, while a hot sizzler can burn off five or
- The mucus
membranes inside the mouth are permeable to hormones. Through open-mouth
kissing, men introduced testosterone into a woman’s mouth, the absorption
of which increases arousal and the likelihood of rumpy pumpy.
men like it wet and sloppy while women like it long and lingering.
- While we
Western folk do lip service, some cultures do nose service, smelling for
that romantic, sexual connection. Very mammalian, if you ask me, and who
doesn’t love a good dose of pheromonal yumminess?
- Then there’s
good old fashion bonding. It’s no secret that kissing someone you like
|Jean-Léon Gérôme’s 1890 painting
of Pygmalion and Galatea
While all that’s interesting to know, what
really intrigues me about kisses is how something seemingly so fragile can
become so mind-blowingly powerful when lips, tongue, a whisp of breath, perhaps
a nip of teeth are applied in the right proportion at the right time on the
right part of the anatomy. And with the size of the human body in proportion to
the mouth, the possibilities for a delicious outcome are only as limited as the
One theory is that kissing evolved from
the act of mothers premasticating food for their infants, back in the pre-baby
food days, and then literally kissing it into their mouths. Birds still do that.
The sharing of food mouth to mouth is also a courtship ritual, and birds aren’t
the only critters who do that. Even with no food involved the tasting, touching
and sniffing of mouths of possible mates, or even as an act of submission, is
very much a part of the animal kingdom.
The sharing of food is one of the most
basic functions, the function that kept us all alive when we were too small to
care for ourselves. The mouth is that magical place where something from the
outside world is ingested and becomes a part of our inside world, giving us
energy and strength. Not only is the mouth the receptacle for food, it’s the
passage for oxygen. Pretty much all that has to pass into the body to sustain
life passes through the mouth. I find it fascinating that the kiss, one of the
most basic elements in Western mating ritual and romance, should involve such a
live-giving part of our anatomy.
But the mouth does more than just allow
for the intake of the sustenance we need. The mouth allows us voice. I doubt
there are many people who appreciate that quite as much as we writers, who love
words and the power they give us. And how can I think about the power of words
without thinking about the power of words in song and poetry? Our mouths
connect us in language, in thought, in the courtship of words that allow us to
know and understand each other before those mouths take us to that intimate
place of the kiss. And when that kiss becomes a part of our sexual experience,
it’s that mouth, that tongue, those lips that allow us to say what we like and
how we like it; that allow us to talk dirty; that allow vocalise our arousal; that
allow us to laugh or tease our way to deeper intimacy.
The fact that the mouth offers all those
wonderful, life-giving, life enhancing things, AND can kiss, makes it one of my
very favourite parts of the body
“If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.”
and Juliet Act 1 Scene 5
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.
UPDATE: While this article touches on writers and alcoholism, I don’t discuss it directly. For a more direct discussion about writers, alcoholism, depression, and suicide, please read my article “The Madness Of Art“.
Writers and drink go
together like, well, writers and drink! I have a drinking ritual I follow most
mornings. I start off with a cup of coffee at home. Then, I pour coffee in my
travel mug and head to the beach. I walk for an hour, running plots and other
things through my head, and drink my second cup of coffee. Then I return home
and drink my third cup. After that, I’m all coffeed out.
I save the alcoholic
stuff for the afternoon. Most often I drink champagne, but I won’t turn down
red wine or reisling. I sometimes drink cognac and liqueurs. I developed a
taste for Grand Marnier after reading too many British murder mysteries. My
other favorites are unusual drinks like Benedictine, Strega, Campari, absinthe,
amontillado (hat tip to Poe), Quantro, and Drambuie.
I’ve met a few
writers who didn’t like coffee, which is something you wouldn’t expect because
writers and coffee is a match made in Heaven. I quote two writers who don’t like coffee below. My son is a computer geek and he can’t stand coffee, either.
You’d never expect to meet a computer geek who loathes coffee, but I know one.
characters are well-known for their drinking habits. Jack Torrence liked his
bourbon on the rocks, much to his downfall. Maggie in Tennessee Williams’
“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” was surrounded by alcoholics. Agatha
Christie’s Hercule Poirot liked his sirop de cassis as well as hot chocolate.
He also liked tisane, an herbal or lime hot tea.
Two of my own
characters have a penchant for drink. Catherine Stone in my Night Owl Top Pick
erotic novel “Don’t Call Me Baby” prefers a TNT (Tanqueray and
tonic). That was a popular drink in the 1980s in America, during which time the
book is set. Jackson Beale in my WIP “Alex Craig Has A Threesome”
prefers expensive liquor, especially Cristal champagne. That man enjoys the
soothing about a hot or alcoholic drink. It helps releases your inhibitions so
that you write more smoothly (in some cases). A drink or two may make you more
sociable – something that doesn’t come easily to many introverted writers. The
ritual behind preparing a pot of coffee, a cup of tea, or a fancy drink can be
satifying in its own way.
Some writers are
famous for their enjoyment of alcohol. William Faulkner noted, “I usually write at night. I always keep my whiskey
within reach.” Carson McCullers preferred hot tea and sherry she
kept in a thermos. At Yaddo, the writers’ colony,
she had her own ritual. She started writing with a beer shortly after breakfast,
then moved on to her hot tea and sherry (her “sonnie boy”), and ended
in the evening with cocktails. F. Scott Fitzgerald preferred gin since
he believed no one could detect it on his breath.
Absinthe is a drink
that has been long favored by writers, including Ernest Hemingway. Absinthe is
nearly a mythical drink. It has its own cachet, but the reputation may be borne
of myth. The chemical that causes the hallucinations you get from drinking too
much absinthe (thujone) exists in very minute amounts in the drink – not enough
to make you hallucinate. Absinthe alone is a very powerful drink. You’d get
drunk and hallucinate by simply drinking the stuff because it’s so strong. The main
reason absinthe was so popular in the 1800s was because the stuff was cheap and
strong. For those unable to afford better, more expensive liquor, absinthe was
the way to go. Plus big drinkers favored it and got drunk not because of the
drink itself but because of the massive amounts of it they drank. Absinthe
drinkers drank a lot of absinthe. Calling it “The Green Fairy” only
gave it a mystical allure that hid its true nature as a fancy version of
I interviewed some
of my author friends to learn what they drank when writing and why they drank
Tanith Davenport Lewis – Cider. Because I like it. And I find it easier to
write without second-guessing myself after a drink.
Fredsti – Wine, both sparkling and still. I try to reward myself with sips of it
as I write as a little relaxes me enough to not beat myself up over what I’m
writing (my inner critique is a mouthy bitch), but too much relaxes me to the
point I don’t write enough. It’s a fine line…
Lisa Lane – I used
to drink often when I wrote (I have a weakness for margaritas, tequila shots,
and chocolate wine–not together, lol). I ended up getting drunk too often, so
I switched strictly to coffee (or, more specifically, mocha). I brew my own
espresso and use Ovaltine in place of cocoa. It’s very yummy.
Adriana Kraft – We
never drink while we’re writing – but champagne to celebrate a release?
Gemma Parkes – Only
water! I couldn’t drink alcohol because I get drunk too quickly and I don’t
Sharolyn Wells – I
don’t drink alcohol. My father was an abusive alcoholic when he was younger and
I saw the things he did to my mother when he was drunk. I drink either water or
Dr. Pepper. Sometimes milk, depending on what I’m eating at the time. My mother
had a rule–chocolate milk if you’re eating anything non-chocolate; white milk
if you’re eating anything chocolate. I never drink coffee. Never acquired a
taste for it.
Devon Marshall –
Strictly speaking, I’m always drinking something when I write – mostly water
and coffee though! I do drink alcohol sometimes when I write, especially if I
happen to be having a drink on that day, with beer or cider being my poison of
choice. As someone else said above, there are times when alcohol helps relax me
enough that I can write without continually nitpicking at it. Was it Hemingway
who said “Write drunk. Edit sober”? Sounds like something he’d say
Vanessa de Sade –
Don’t drink at all, especially not while I write but I do use other stimulants
whilst composing sexy scenes
Phoenix Johnson – Tea
is my trending drink right now because it relaxes and soothes to get the mind
clear of everything but what I need. I accompany it with water or big cup of
juice for endurance and energy once the tea has cleared my mind.
It’s only natural
for writers to drink something while they write, whether or not that drink is
alcoholic. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored
glasses of life.” He was right in more ways than he was probably aware.
Here are some quotes
by the famous about alcohol:
“I drink to make
other people more interesting.”
― Ernest Hemingway
“An intelligent man
is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.”
― Ernest Hemingway
“I have absolutely
no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not
been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and
reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories,
from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending
― Edgar Allan Poe
“In wine there is
wisdom, in beer there is Freedom, in water there is bacteria.”
― Benjamin Franklin
Guide to the Galaxy also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in
existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, the effect of which is like
having your brains smashed out with a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold
― Douglas Adams
“Drink because you
are happy, but never because you are miserable.”
― G.K. Chesterton
“I like to have a
Two at the very
After three I’m
under the table,
after four I’m under
― Dorothy Parker
ARE BETTER THINGS IN THE WORLD THAN ALCOHOL, ALBERT.”
yes, sir. But alcohol sort of compensates for not getting them.”
― Terry Pratchett
Now I’ll go enjoy a
bottle of champagne. Cheers! 🙂
by Jean Roberta
Let us pause for a moment in our busy lives to remember all the quirky magazines, websites, and small presses that have vanished forever during the upheavals of the publishing business. And while we’re doing that, let’s remember a few people who have either left this world or have gone on to do other things and take on other identities.
During the summer of 2013, I had to move all my books and papers from one university office to another, which meant that I had to sort through approximately twenty years’ worth of material: the useless, the outdated and the valuable (“So that’s where I put it!”). In sorting out and reclassifying, I realized that I needed a shelf dedicated to Dead Publishers, where I keep a few choice pieces of correspondence, old contracts, eye-catching letterhead and other ephemera from publishing venues that went bust from the late 1990s (when I joined the Erotic Readers Association) to the current year.
The publishing biz in our time, or the apparent general shift from paper publications to e-books and resources in cyberspace, is not the only villain that has killed off too many publishing venues. Before I wrote erotica, I was in a collective that ran a local alternative bookstore, and I tried to keep track of feminist publishing in the 1980s, when many a grassroots, kitchen-table women’s press produced a few books and then crashed. In some cases, enthusiasm and idealism helped a small press get off the ground, but a lack of business experience and a political discomfort with the process of selling anything for a high-enough price to pay the bills (not to mention conflict within the press collective) killed the thing off.
Despite many closures and upheavals, niche publishing in general seems to keep expanding. Just as feminist publishing (books by women, for women, produced and circulated by women) amazed and delighted me in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, erotic publishing has amazed and delighted me in the 2000s. Sexually-defined communities that didn’t visibly exist in the social mainstream in the recent past now have a presence in the world because they have presence in cyberspace as well as in journals, e-zines, fiction and how-to manuals. Every small press, website and journal has its own flavour, and words on a page (or even on a screen) have the potential to last forever.
Here are two relatively big, successful presses whose deaths surprised me. I keep souvenirs from them on my Dead Publishers shelf.
– Naiad Press. For many years, this was the only lesbian-centred press I knew of, founded by the late Barbara Grier, who had written anonymously in The Ladder, newsletter of the Daughters of Bilitis, a fairly closeted lesbian organization of the 1950s and ‘60s. Naiad produced numerous lesbian romances, in which the sex generally appears in soft-focus. Bella Books has been referred to as a successor to Naiad, and it produces explicit erotica.
– The Haworth Press, including its Harrington Park imprint. This was the only scholarly producer of fiction and non-fiction on gay/lesbian/bi/trans subjects until its fiction and non-fiction operations were sold off separately, in approximately 2007. Several Haworth anthologies in the pipeline were simply cancelled. Luckily for those of us with stories in Haworth books, several of them were picked up and reprinted by other publishers.
Here are some smaller publishers of erotic and/or LGBT material that I still mourn:
– Masquerade Books of New York. This press seemed very ambitious to me in the 1990s. It had imprints for (among other things) BDSM, gay-male and lesbian material. It also put out a very attractive newsletter illustrated with vintage erotic art. This was the first publisher I ever heard of that focused exclusively on sexually-explicit work. As far as I know, however, Masquerade died before 2000.
– Amatory Ink. This was an e-press run in England by Roy Larkin, who also wrote BDSM fiction as “Laurie Mann.” This press closed shop in 2006 after producing an interesting variety of novels and anthologies. The owner complained after the closure that it was hard to find good literary erotica in the slush pile.
– Black Books, run in San Francisco by Bill Brent, a gay man who also produced a magazine, Black Sheets, and community fundraising events such as the reading series Perverts Put Out (which has continued). I was privileged to take part in one of these soirees in 2001. (There was nothing like this in Saskatchewan, where I live.) The crash of Black Books in the early 2000s seemed directly related to economic factors in the publishing biz. Unfortunately, Bill Brent ended his own life in 2012, but his influence is still felt.
– Suspect Thoughts, run by two San Francisco men with an experimental approach to literature. They favoured the offbeat and the postmodern. They produced a large, meaty newsletter and a literary website that had theme issues. I suspect that economic issues also forced them to close.
– Love You Divine/Alterotica of Ohio. The closing of this press in 2013 has affected me directly, since I had a collection of erotic stories, Each Has a Point, in their catalogue. The larger-than-life owner, Claudia Regenos (who also writes as “Lady Midnight”), finally had to close shop when her serious health problems threatened to destroy her mobility. The LYD group on Yahoo has enabled Claudia to keep in touch with her authors, and apparently her recent surgery has helped immensely, but running a press is not on the agenda – at least, not now.
Here are some dead websites that I miss:
– Ruthie’s Club, run by Desmona Dodds of Ohio. This was an attractive, entertaining subscription site for erotic stories, each illustrated by an artist who worked with the author. Each story appeared for only one week, after which all rights reverted to the authors, who were paid well. (Payment depended on length. A story of 4K + was worth $45 U.S.) All stories were carefully edited, but editors were open to negotiating with authors about revisions. I can only assume that the generosity and professionalism of the owner and editors cut into the profit to be made from paid subscriptions. Alas.
– The Dominant’s View, run by Kayla Kuffs, an ERWA member from the west coast of Canada. As far as I knew, this was the only BDSM site focused on self-defined Dominants as complex human beings rather than deliciously-scary, unknowable characters in erotic fantasies. I was honoured to write reviews for this site, and Kayla provided me with an endless stream of books for review. (Review material did not have to feature a Dominant’s viewpoint.) As far as I know, Kayla could not continue running the site by herself.
There is other cherished material on my Dead Publishers shelf, with a label in gothic font. However, if you’re still reading this post, I don’t want to wear out your interest. I could continue on this topic next month.
I can’t help thinking there should be an actual or virtual museum for erotic publishing venues, much like the sex museums of Amsterdam, where archaic sex toys and erotic art are on display. I hate removing the names of defunct publishers from my own list of publications.
As various cultural pioneers have pointed out, if we don’t remember our history, we are doomed to reinvent the wheel – or our favourite devices.
By Kathleen Bradean
Lately, I’ve had to rethink my relationship to the word
Artist. I never felt comfortable using it to describe myself, but now I’m using
it as a defense of my work.
A person who
practices one of the creative arts.
A person who
is skilled at a task or occupation.
practitioner of a reprehensible activity.*
I don’t see the word “But” in those definitions. “Paint what
you want, but don’t offend anyone.” “Write what you feel, but not just for
shock value.” “Create what you want, but to be a true artist, it must be
aesthetically pleasing to the general public.”
As erotica writers, we’re aware of the big taboos. Many
writers see the taboos as a brick wall at the end of a path and aren’t ever
tempted to step toward it. Some writers climb the wall and precariously balance
on the edge. Others see the wall as the beginning of the frontier and
gleefully, or contemplatively, leap into the beyond.
I’m here to tell you that you can write the taboos. You may not ever get published,
but publication isn’t the be-all, end-all goal of writing. Being published is a
step down a well-trod path but it isn’t for everyone and it has nothing to do
with the creative process. If your first thoughts in creativity are
self-censoring (“I can’t write that because it won’t get published.”), you’re
limiting yourself. Yes, yes, yes, if you make a living off your writing, you
write with an eye to be published, but in reality, very few writers make a
living from their work, so for the majority of us, why not put artistic freedom
first in your hierarchy of needs and publish-ability further down? And even if
you do write primarily with the goal of being published, would it hurt from
time to time to let yourself run wild across the page?
As many of you are aware, I write a SFF series The Devil of
Ponong under a different pen name. While it takes place on a different planet,
readers tend to identify the main character and her people as Pacific Islanders
and the other main race as being from southeast Asia or China. I’m white. Some
people have asked me, ‘How dare you appropriate another race?’ That was when I had to admit I’m an artist.
An artist dares
anything. An artist creates. That is their sole responsibility.
However, no one has to like what I create.
The accusation I dislike the most is that I’ve somehow
stolen someone’s voice by writing this story. Stolen or silenced – both are
terrible things to say. Just because I wrote a story doesn’t mean I’ve stopped
someone else from writing theirs. Is it important to hear the voices of different
cultures? Absolutely. My world gets bigger and smaller at the same time when I
read a novel by someone with a different POV. I want to read voices from other cultures. I’m
not the enemy here! I’m a potential reader.
Is it wrong to speak for someone else? Well, (tiny cough),
that’s been happening to women and minorities forever. Does it make it right?
In what sense? No one questioned Tolstoy’s right to create Anna Karenina.
Whether or not readers think he did a good job of depicting a realistic woman
is another matter. So I’d say, yes, an artist has the right to speak for the other,
just as readers have the right to say, ‘That’ isn’t like anyone I know from my
race/religion/neighborhood,’ ‘This is
racist or misogynistic,’ or ‘Yeah, this character is just like my aunt.’ And the thing is, none of us has to agree.
It’s art. It’s subjective.
*Oprah voice* You get and opinion, and your get an opinion,
and everyone gets an opinion! Yay!
Bringing this back to erotica, from the practical side, you
can always point to the taboos and let them be your guide. But from the
artistic side, why not write what you want to? Create. Be a bit mad. Follow
your imagination down rabbit holes and into dark corners. Let it creep through
the gritty side of your fantasies and peek through the curtains into a parallel
universe. What will it cost you? Or better yet, stop thinking of writing in
terms of profit and loss and start letting yourself be an artist.
Are you an artist?
What is allowed?
Anything you dare to create.
*They meant ‘as in con artist,’ but I’m sure some people would include erotica writers in that category. Reprehensible. That word makes me think of prehensile, and suddenly I’m off in tentacle pornlandia. <==This is why we can’t have nice things. But we can have naughty.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? First, I’d better explain what that means for people that may not know. Basically, it’s whether you plot something when you’re writing, or just fly by the seat of your pants/make it up as you go along. I’m interested in the answers various writers have to give on this topic, which is why I thought I’d write about it.
So, personally, I’m both. I used to be a total and utter pantser, but the longer I’ve been writing, and the longer works I’ve been writing, the more I’ve plotted. I plotted my first novella, then made my second one up as I went along. I plotted my first novel, then the one I co-authored with Lily Harlem we made up as we went along. For the most part, it depends on the project. I plotted my first novella and novel because it was a big jump for me to go from short stories to longer stuff, so I needed to make sure I had enough material for the length of the story, and I also wanted to ensure things didn’t get boring in the middle, and that the thing had a beginning, a middle and an end. Now I just use a mixture of both, depending on what feels right.
And here’s what some other writers had to say…
I’m a plotanster. I never start a novel without a working blurb and a chapter by chapter synopsis. It usually takes me several days to come up with a blurb and chapter by chapter that I feel I can work from. That few days usually involve a lot of walking in the countryside and talking out loud to myself and alarmed glances from the people I meet en route. The blurb is only a short paragraph and the chapter by chapter is only a few sentences for each chapter. I’ve worked out roughly how many chapters, averaging 2500 words, I need for an 80K or a 100K novel and write the synopsis accordingly. It’s very loosely planned and very much subject to change.
That’s the plotter bit of my process. Once the actual writing begins, I’m happy to take detours and side trips all over the place, and I often end up on a very scenic route to the end of the novel. I leave lots of room for the muse to kick me in the arse and point me in a different direction. I think the blurb and the synopsis serve as a writer’s security blanket for me. Once I have those two things in hand, no matter how far I stray from the original plan, I KNOW there’s a novel in process, and I KNOW I’ll get to the end of it, even if the route’s not the one I started off on.
I must hold my hands up to being a pantser.
I try to be a planner- I really do- I even go as far as to make nice neat chapter plans for all my novels each time I start one. Then, inevitably, the plot slowly begins to go out of the window as my characters take on lives of their own. I swear they look me square in the face and say, “Come off it Kay, we’d never do that. Let’s do this, it’s much more fun!” And off they go, dictating their own literary destiny, and recklessly flying by the seat of my pants!
I’d get cross with my imaginary protagonists, but so far this ‘not quite managing to hold onto the plot’ policy seems to be working for me.
So, what about you, folks? What works best for you?
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
“The good is the enemy of the
best.” Anonymous proverb
I’m sure most readers have encountered
the maxim above. The point? That it’s a mistake to be satisfied with
“good enough”. By exerting only the minimum effort needed
to fulfill the requirements of some task, you’re missing out on the
opportunity to produce something truly great.
Personally, I subscribe to this
philosophy―up to a point. I believe that when you commit yourself
to something, you should be willing to devote 100% of your effort to
meeting that commitment. That means not making excuses (except of
course in extreme situations like illness or family crises). It means
seriously applying yourself to the problem you’ve shouldered,
spending whatever time is realistically necessary to solving it.
In the so-called real world, I’m a
teacher (among other things). Nothing upsets me as much as a student
who’s happy just to “get by”. That sort of student is wasting
his own time as well as mine. (Please pardon my choice of pronoun. I
don’t mean to imply that this pattern is limited to males.) I don’t
know why he bothers. Sure, he may get a passing grade, but aside from
that, what will he have to show for the months he’s spent in my
class? I’d much rather put my own effort into a poor student who is
really trying to understand the material despite the difficulties
than a more talented individual who isn’t willing to work.
So I definitely think it’s important to
do one’s best―up to a point. At the same time, as an author, I’ve
seen many examples of the perils of perfectionism. I have writer friends who
have been working on the same novel for years, rereading, revising,
going through periodic crises of confidence about whether their book
is really worth publishing. It’s sad. I feel like shaking them.
“Stop already!”, I want to say. “Submit the darn thing! You
can’t publish your work unless you submit it!”
New and aspiring authors, pay
attention! You can’t publish your work unless you submit it. Which
means that at some point you have to stop polishing your prose and
say enough is enough.
The French playwright Voltaire is
credited with the reverse of the saying above: “The best is the
enemy of the good.” When it comes to writing, I think this
statement holds a good deal of truth. There’s no such thing as a
perfect story. If you’re like me, every time you re-read one of your
manuscripts you see some change that might improve it. Don’t give in
to the temptation. Decide ahead of time how many drafts you’re going
to do and stick to that decision. Otherwise, you’ll get bogged down
with one tale and never get a chance to write the others that are
clamoring for your creative attention.
One thing I’ve learned is that it’s not
worth agonizing over a single book. You have to submit it, let it go
and move on to your next. If I don’t like what an editor or publisher
has done with something I’ve written, I don’t get my knickers in a
twist. There are more stories where that came from, or at least I
hope there are. This attitude helps me deal with rejection, too.
Maybe I’ll find another home for a rejected tale. Maybe I won’t. In
any case, I need to move on.
Readers are hungry. You have to keep
them fed with a continuing stream of good material. Good, not
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not
excusing sloppiness, poor grammar, spelling errors or wildly-veering
point of view. If you’re a professional writer, you have a
responsibility to learn your craft and apply it to the best of your
ability. The fact is, though, the more you write, the more you hone
your technical skills. If you get hung up revising one work to death,
you’re missing the opportunity to keep learning.
Compared to many authors I know, I do
relatively little editing. I rarely do more than two drafts. I do
have a tendency to edit as I write, reviewing and modifying material
from my last session before settling down to attack the day’s goals,
so my first draft is probably more highly polished than some
authors’. I’m also pretty good with the nuts and
bolts―grammar,spelling, punctuation and the like―so I can focus
on higher level issues like characterization, pacing and emotional
impact even during the initial pass.
Deadlines are a huge help, by the way.
If you’re new to the writing game, let me assure you: deadlines are
your friends! Once you’ve made a commitment to submit a work by a
particular date, you can pace yourself. You can make rational
decisions about how much editing is feasible. You’re not likely to be
caught in the perfectionist trap.
So now I’ll make a possibly
embarrassing admission. I just submitted a 17K story after producing
only a single draft. Am I being lazy? I don’t think so―and in any
case, I didn’t have a choice. I’m leaving in two days for a three
week foreign trip, and I promised the story by October. Plus I have
more deadlines stacked up when I return. It will simply have to be
In any case, I’m pretty happy with it.
I’ve found that my best stories tend to be the ones that I write
quickly, the ones where inspiration carries me along. This tale is no
literary masterpiece, but it fits the call for submissions to a T.
And, after reading the blurb, the publisher has asked whether I’d be
willing to write a 60K novel based on the same characters.
I’m going to wait a while before I
commit to that deadline!
Sexual fantasy is dangerous.
Or so you’d think if you look around at the way this common human indulgence is handled in the media. My first realization of the way sexual thoughts were treated as incendiary was the uproar over Jimmy Carter’s confession in Playboy:
“I’ve looked on many women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. God knows I will do this and forgives me.”
In retrospect, I’m not sure if the hubbub was just about Carter’s mental adultery or his rather chummy understanding with God to give the lustings a pass, but even as a freshman in high school, I sure remember the buzz. This was way back in 1976, but our attitude towards sex in the mind has hardly changed. We’ve all read how internet porn is highly addictive, destroys real-life relationships and has created an upsurge in pedophilia (fears not born out by statistics), but even a happily married woman, as reported in Daniel Bergner’s What Do Women Want? can be faithless enough to fantasize about baseball star Derek Jeter while in bed with her spouse—proof indeed that all women are naturally polyamorous.
In her recent Kinkly column, “Fifty Shades of Abuse?” Rachel Kramer Bussel discusses a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health, “’Double Crap!’: Abuse and Harmed Identity in Fifty Shades of Grey” in which the authors studied the mega-bestseller for evidence of intimate partner violence and concluded that the novel “adds to a growing body of literature noting dangerous violence standards being perpetuated in popular culture.” Even friendly sexual self-help books, which nominally accept the healthy existence of sexual fantasy, abound with advice to cleanse the mind of any self-indulgent imaginings and be with your partner in the moment. It’s as if having sexual thoughts that aren’t explicitly about how much you spiritually love and honor your partner somehow taints the encounter with, well, something dirty like eroticism.
I’m willing to admit that an actual sex act could have serious consequences. Infidelity can stress or destroy a relationship. Power is often abused in human relationships whether sex is involved or not. And totally erasing your partner’s existence in bed probably indicates some intimacy problems that would best be addressed. But let’s remember that other kinds of fantasy itself can have negative consequences. The lottery, the diet industry, and pretty much every advertising campaign out there feed our fantasies about being effortlessly rich, thin and lovable while they slip their hot hands into our wallets.
But what’s so scary about merely thinking about sex?
The assumption seems to be that fantasies represent something we actually want to do and would in the blink of an eye if given the opportunity. Once we imagine, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, being intimately massaged by eight nubile members of the opposite sex all dressed in matching loincloths, we’ll jump up and start recruiting a merry band for the weekend’s pleasure. Maybe you’ve heard the story that all of the feed stores in Iowa sold out of rope after Fifty Shades hit the bestseller list–clear evidence of monkey read, monkey do.
Let’s just say I won’t believe it until I see the inventory statements.
It is perhaps worth pointing out that not all fantasies are treated so literally. If we experience an urge to eat a whole pan of brownies, but don’t, the guilt stops there.
In pondering the reasons why sexual fantasy is regarded as so dangerous to our souls, I remembered an observation in Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, volume 1 concerning the evolution of confession in Catholic Europe. (As an ex-Catholic, this passage made an impression— the book is dense, but I do recommend the book for anyone interested in the topic of sex, language and power). By the 17th century, priests were urged to use indirect language when questioning the penitents about sex, even as the scope of the confession increased.
“According to the new pastoral, sex must not be named imprudently, but its aspects, its correlations, and its effects must be pursued down to their slenderest ramifications: a shadow in a daydream, an image too slowly dispelled, a badly exorcised complicity between the body’s mechanics and the mind’s complacency: everything had to be told. A twofold evolution tended to make the flesh into the root of all evil, shifting the most important moment of transgression from the act itself to the stirrings—so difficult to perceive and formulate—of desire.” (History of Sexuality: 1, 19-20).
All the major religions have figured out this trick—make a natural human experience sinful, and the believers will always be sinning and on their knees in need of forgiveness. And no doubt, the confessions of their more articulate congregation members provided a forbidden pleasure of its own to celibate priests. But where does that leave erotica writers, who create sexual fantasy for shameless public consumption? Are we hazardous to the mental and moral health of decent citizens everywhere?
My answer? Nah.
In fact, I’d argue that fantasy offers a healthy outlet of expression for desires and dilemmas that are otherwise repressed from ordinary discourse. Too many ostensibly responsible, educated people read fantasy like a road map when it’s usually more like a fable, a fiction that offers us a coded story of our deepest desires. And here I’m talking especially about the weird stuff that embarrasses us, the dark and “dangerous” fantasies. I’d also argue that the erotic appeal in Fifty Shades and Derek Jeter fantasies is the power more than the sex. While sexual attraction doubtless informs many of our interactions throughout the day, as human beings, power informs all of them. In the highly indirect language of fantasy, the pleasure in being ravaged by a powerful man is less about rape than the desired object’s own power of attraction in trumping his worldly might. Imagine—a pretty, naive college student can captivate one of the richest men in the world and make him focus all of his billionaire attention on the humblest details of her life. Fantasy of every kind delights in overturning certainties, violating taboos, weaving images of absurd abundance, relieving us of all obligations and restrictions. As much as we might wish, rarely does it come “true.” For most of us, the pleasure lies in watching the transgressions unfold in our heads.
I find it interesting that as the legal and social restrictions placed on sex acts are loosened, the attempts to control sexual thought seem to be increasing. Fifty Shades of Grey, whatever its flaws, opened up the world of erotica to millions of readers. In response we have an apparently serious scientific study that tells us a fantastical novel promotes delusions about the romance of BDSM that could harm female identity. Surely there are more effective ways to improve female self-esteem on a societal level. Studies showing the benefits of equal pay? More status for female-dominated professions? The benefits of treatment for both partners in actual cases of abuse?
And last but not least, don’t we all have enough trouble switching from the stresses of daily life to passion in bed with our partners without having to worry that a fleeting hankering for a sweaty baseball star is the equivalent of a full-fledged affair? Attention sex journalists and self-help gurus: leave my imagination alone!
On the other hand, if sexual fantasies are so powerful, well, my fellow ERWA writers, that means we can and are changing the world with our stories. That’s a power play we can all enjoy.
“The Day Your Humble Servant hit the Big Time”
The old lady’s voice is buzzing in my ear giving me information I should be writing down.
The little cell phone beeps. Low battery.
It’s getting late and I’m pulled over to the side of the Raceway Gas station on the exit ramp for Gordon Highway near where I work and my heart is pounding.
Its Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 3:45 in the afternoon, rain is running down the window of the driver’s seat which I’m staring out of as the traffic whizzes by and something is seriously happening.
“Yeah . . . okay . . .” I nod my head vigorously, even though the voice on the other end of the cell phone can’t see me. “No kidding . . . shit – I mean – sorry! I mean wow. . . yeah. “
I’m hearing something impossible this afternoon, something I absolutely never thought I’d hear in a million years.
“”Thursday. 7:30 . . . Is that. . . wait, no . . . Is that across from that little coffee shop? Yeah . . . I think I know. That’s on the hall to the auditorium, right? Okay. . . I was scared I was going to do the auditorium. I’m not . . . No, no wait, yeah but I . . . yeah but . . . okay, but . . . well I like hearing you say that but. . . I can’t fill an auditorium, lady, I don’t think so. . . uh huh . . . Thanks, but I really doubt that. . . . uh uh . . .”
“yeah . . . Well, that’s true. . . No, I’m really excited. Anything I need to bring with me? Yeah? Okay, I can do that, definitely . . . whoa . . . Sure. . . I’ll be ready. Seven thirty. Okey-dokey.”
“Looking forward to it. Okay, bye bye.”
Excited, yeah. Scared green is more like it. This will be a debacle. But still.
I get to read my shit. Out loud.
The phone dies just as she hangs up. In the old days I would have considered that very spiritual to have the phone last just until she says goodbye. The will of God or something. The finger of fate. Now I think of it as just batteries, held up maybe by interaction with air waves, or maybe Jungian synchronicity. Not so much god or angels or the Trumpet of Destiny calling my name.
I’m going to give a book reading at the Columbia Fucking County Library. The Jabez Auditorium. Thursday. Seven thirty and don’t be late.
This stuff just doesn’t happen to me. No way is this stuff supposed to happen to me ever. This is not life as I know it. I sit looking out the window for a long time, not thinking. Just breathing and watching the rain run down. I want to tell somebody – but wait a minute. They probably have me mixed up with somebody else, somebody good. We’re all gonna get burned, I just know it. I need to keep this under wraps until it happens.
Me. A book reading.
How did the Columbia County Arts Board even find out I write stuff?
What if nobody shows up? I think the librarians will show up anyway. I think they have to or something. It must be them. It must be them, they’re always seeing me check out writing craft books and short story collections. I know who it is! Jesus – I know! It’s that librarian, the one with the tits and the British accent and the tight sweaters. I started showing off to her one afternoon when she was talking about local writers with me. Her tits got to me, I couldn’t stop myself. I told her about meeting Dacre Stoker. I gave her my pen name and I’ll bet she looked it up. That’s what happened. She looked up my damn pen name. How many writers can there be in my little town? They were scrounging the very bottom of the barrel for just anybody to fill a slot and sonuvabitch – that’s right where they found me.
Jesus H Christ on a tricycle.
I get to read my stuff – MY stuff! – in front of people! A couple of people at least.
Thank you god . . . thank you for every blessing.
Thursday night arrives and I shuffle in a side door and it’s raining again. There’s nobody milling around in the hallway. When Charlaine Harris was here, the hallway was packed to the walls and out to the sidewalk. Now I know for sure nobody’s going to show up for me, especially if it’s raining. I won’t be able to get a big enough crowd for a card game much less a book reading. As I come down the marble hallway, with my print outs in a plastic Kroger’s grocery bag – I’m such a class act – the British librarian with the dazzling chest and her signature tight sweater is there by the door to the auditorium watching for me.
” ‘ello!” she chirps up and smiles.
I remember from my street preaching days in Milwaukee, when I would stand on a plastic milk crate on a corner and get up a crowd. It’s not that hard. You look for that one face. That’s how you do it. You have to know your first sentence, and look for The Face. One friendly face and you sort of preach to that person. If Jugs here is in the crowd I’ll read to her until I get up to speed. That’s how I’ll do it.
Garce, you’re so full of shit. There’s nobody here. You’re going to speak from a podium like some pompous doofus to one person? Really, real world, maybe there’ll be one more library worker, some hapless high school kid who can’t get out of it, and if I’m lucky there could be two, maybe three people tops sitting all in the back row of Jabez Auditorium, so that I have to ask them to sit up front or something, who came across my stuff somewhere, god knows how. We’ll all circle our chairs together for coffee and cookies and have a few laughs and go home.
Goddamn I’m nervous! Was it like this for Charlaine Harris? Is it like this for Ashley Lister when he reads his poetry in front of people?
She jiggles buoyantly alongside as she leads me to a glass door down the hall from the auditorium. The Promised Land.
She opens the door and holds it for me. “After you.”
I go into the bright room and freeze in the doorway so suddenly her chest, which precedes her by a good six inches, crashes into my back.
The room is full. That’s not possible.
She turns towards me and I whisper to her “Who else is speaking tonight?”
I shake my head, I can’t believe I heard her right. I should have brought a camera. Nobody is going to believe what I’m seeing without a picture. They need to see this. This is my time. This is my moment in the sun. Lisabet! I wish Lisabet could see me! There’s 20 rows of ten plush chairs. That makes 200 people sitting. And people standing against the wall. Where the hell did they get all these people?
I’m overcome and I can’t speak. My eyes water and I’m trying not to choke up. I look down at my pants to make sure this isn’t one of those goofy dreams where you show up to give a lecture and discover you’re naked.
Wait a minute.
Oh no. Oh hell no.
I know what’s going on now. This is very bad. Bad enough to make my life pass in front of my eyes. And I stepped right into it.
These people, there’re not here to be nice to me. This is going to be some nutty fundo Christian group, some happy horseshit Baptist Bible Camp thing come here to lynch the pornographer, get the guy who writes naughty stories and hang the cringing little bastard high as a lesson to American youth.
I look at Double Dees for help but she looks truly happy for me and she’s blocking the doorway. As far as she’s concerned she shares my joy.
I take a step towards the podium and the plastic grocery bag tips over and dumps my stuff all over the floor.
A young woman with an odd pale complexion jumps up and helps me gather my papers together in a pathetic wad, as if I’d dropped a baby on its head and there’re whispers and snickers. I bring my pile up to the podium which has this little desk light and a thin microphone. Who knew I’d need a microphone? Who knew there would be a crowd? Some of the printouts have gotten rainwater off the bag and the ink is running on my fingertips.
While people cough and wait, I wade frantically through the mess and gather up the kick off scene from Father Delmar’s diary that starts “The Dying Light”. I should have stapled the shit. Why didn’t I staple this shit . . . ?
“Good evening.” A soft feedback whine. “Thank you for coming here tonight. My name is C. Sanchez-Garcia. I’m a writer. More or less.”
Applause. Oh my god. Oh my god. They like me. They’re not here to lynch me.
I say some polite words, a couple of self deprecating jokes. The crowd is getting a little restless. Then I notice – there aren’t any men here. These are all women. Now I know I’m dreaming. It’s a lucid dream.
If it’s a lucid dream I can screw with every woman in this room.
I know how to find out. I put my stuff down and raise my arms up and lift up on my toes. If it’s a lucid dream I can will myself to rise to the ceiling. Nothing happens. People are looking at me funny. I’m not naked and I can’t fly. Probably not a dream.. C’mon Garce, pull your shit together.
“How many of you here have read my stuff?”
Almost everybody’s hands go up.
Standing against the wall are some young ladies in prim looking green clothes. They’re the only women wearing skirts. Their skin has an odd pallor I can’t seem to place. Foreign students. One has a sort of Aunt Jemima checkered head scarf and the others have baseball caps. They raise their hands.
“Yes?” I point at one because I want to hear if she has an accent. I think they’re going to be from the Middle East.
“We read your book, the ‘Mortal Engines’ when we were at Girl Scout camp. The leader thought it was a car repair. We didn’t tell her it was a dirty book.’
Now that is rude. To hear it said right out loud like that. That’s what we’re going to talk about tonight. I won’t embarrass this girl with the funny accent, but I’m going to steer this thing towards some elevated conversation about the difference between cheap pornography and erotic literature. There is a difference. I write respectable literature by golly. They need to know that.
“I’m going to read a scene none of you will have read yet, it’s from a vampire novel in progress. This scene is from a chapter called “The Dying Light”. Ahem “I like writing with a fountain pen best. A fountain pen like this one suits me. . .’ I go on with that for a while. Then a couple of poems.
The rest of my stuff is a mess. The pages are out of order. I’ll do a question and answer now and wrap this up and shoot an email to Lisabet to celebrate my triumph. I want to get back to that dirty book question somehow. “We’ll take some questions now. Who wants to go first? First question?”
The librarian raises her arm and I gaze as her breasts shift and elevate heavenward. Now I know why romance writers like to use that stupid word “gaze”. Brother, I am gazing. “Yes?”
“Where do you get your ideas from?”
Ah ha ha, modest me chuckles. “I get them from different things. Some of the stories I don’t even remember where the ideas came from. You start out with a scene sometimes and build up.”
A young woman, maybe a college girl raises her arm. “No – she means where do you get your ideas for fuck scenes from?”
She’s being crude to shock me, or maybe show me that she’s on my side. I can’t tell which. She talks like I think. “What do you mean?”
“They get me off. They sound like the way people really fuck. Is that from your real life?”
Now, O Friends of The Inner Sanctum, my pathetic real world sex life wouldn’t fill up a tea cup, much less a novel. I open my mouth to confess this with thrilling and noble frankness but what comes out is “Oh yes. All of its real.”
I get this feeling.
It’s this feeling you get when you’re walking across a grassy lawn barefoot and your toes come down hard on something in the grass which is warm and gooey and pungent and very, very natural and it squishes right between your toes.
A moan goes over the room. Dozens of female hands shoot up into the air waving furiously. I pick one at random. “What about vampires? You fucked a vampire?”
“Yes,” I say to her. “I sure did. All night. It was fantastic.”
I’m hoping this sarcasm will make people laugh, but instead a Goth girl dressed in black I hadn’t noticed before jumps up and throws her head back defiantly. “I’m a vampire.”
Whoa. I glance over at the librarian but she is looking at me with something like feral heat in her eyes. She runs her tongue over her lips. I can make out the big nubs of her nipples poking against her sweater.
“Well,” I stammer, “I mean figuratively. Not literally. The vampire is a poetic metaphor for relationships that -“
“Fuck metaphors! I’m a vampire goddammit!”
Another woman jumps up. “Me too!”
“Listen, there isn’t any – “
A third woman jumps up. “My name is Natalie – and I’m a sex addict.” Everybody claps supportively. “And I’m a vampire. I pick up strangers and take them home. I fuck them and then suck out all their male psychic energy from their chakras when they cum. That’s how I steal the yang life force energy from stupid men.”
I look over at the librarian again, the one I was reading my Father Delmar stuff to over the heads of the crowd. She’s got her sweater off. What’s she doing with her blouse? Can she do that here?
“Wait!” I yell, shaking my head like a baby rattle. “How can you be a sex addict vampire?” There could be a story here someplace. I should be writing this down. I start fumbling in my shirt pocket for a pen.
The librarian’s blouse is gone and the bra is on its way. She steps up to the sex addict vampire girl who sucks people’s life energy out of their chakras – and shoves her down on to her chair. Her righteous Working Class breasts are out and they’re bigger than the British Empire. She straddles the poor girl who stares up at her stiff brown nipples in fascination and terror.
“You little ghost whispering tart -” yells the librarian “I’m a lesbian vampire sex addict!” She shoves the girls face between her breasts and for an instant every human being in that room including me wishes we were that girl. Then she fastens on the girl’s neck and the poor thing sags in her chair.
I start getting my papers but I’m shaking and a pile of them fall on the floor. I kick them away from me. Screw this, I’m getting the hell out of here.
The four foreign looking women standing against the wall – all of them like some weird chorus line – tear off their blouses and their underwear. They’re nude. Their skin is a strange bluish color I hadn’t noticed before. They tear off their baseball caps and big phallic antennae pop out. “We’re lesbian vampire sex addicts from the planet Venus! And you are all our human sex slaves!”
“Get them!” screams the librarian, spitting drops of blood into the air. The crowd mobs the four women, tearing the bunting from the wall and tying their arms behind their backs. “Bring me an encyclopedia!”
Girls dash out and come back with a couple of encyclopedias, and a big coffee table book of Ansel Adams photos. The topless librarian swats a Venusian Girl Scout on the ass with the Ansel Adams book and the girl whimpers and begs for more. The girls line up and begin spanking the Venusians asses with the heavy books. Their erect antennae waggle with pleasure as they scream their defiance for all earthlings.
I throw my stuff on the floor and run like a rabbit.
Outside the rain has stopped and distant sirens are approaching. There is a girl under the street lamp in a denim jacket waiting for me on the sidewalk. She’s short with a bright mane of silver hair glistening with rain and her hard blue eyes for the moment are smiling. “There you are,” she says with that thick German accent I know so well. “So then (‘zo zen’) how was it?”
“We need to go. We need to go now.”
“These Girls Scouts I met, they were there, jah?”
“They were from Venus.”
“Did they have cookies? Those nice little chocolate ones with the coconut?”
“There’s a Kroger’s down the road. I’ll get you any cookies you want. Or a Mounds bar. But we have to go now,”
She laces her arm in mine. “Let’s go, stud.”
Composition classes have been lauding the short sentence for
about 80 years. I’m not going to tell you the short, sweet and tight is bad; it
isn’t. I love it, often employing a consciously clipped style myself. It’s
effective for the gritty, brutal narrative and it affords a great deal of space
for the reader to root around it.
It’s been Hemingway vs Faulkner in the world series of
wordsmithery forever but, if you do
a little investigation, you’ll find that Hemingway wrote some very long
sentences and Faulkner wrote some very pithy short ones. That’s probably why, even
after all this time, they’re still considered paragons of literary style.
Because, although they are each known for their radically different sentence
constructions, they both knew when to switch gears and break out of their own
stylistic niche to good effect.
Just the facts, ma’am and no purple prose. The popularity of
the short, sweet sentence arose with the emergence of the journalistic style,
evolving the way it did, partly due to technological limitations and partly for
clarity. When news stories were first transmitted by telegraph, there was a lot
of drop-out on the lines. The shorter the sentence, the less likely it would be
cut off. Hence the inverted pyramid format. And, hard as it is to believe now,
literacy was still relatively low at the dawn of the 20th Century. The press
was part of a democratization of information – particularly in the US – and
that effort included writing in plain, simple language.
Now it’s simply a matter of acclimatization to style. In
genres that place an emphasis on hard and gritty, you see the preference for
short sentences and unadorned language. Thrillers, horror, hard crime fiction
and any other genre that relies heavily on action tend to preference the short
and sweet. Unless the writer is very skilled, too many sub-clauses can gum up
the tension and slow down the pace. But allow me offer you an alternative.
Here, from the master of the short sentence, is a long one, pure action, with
all the tension and fluidity you could ever hope for:
George was coming down in the telemark position, kneeling,
one leg forward and bent, the other trailing, his sticks hanging like some
insect’s thin legs, kicking up puffs of snow, and finally the whole kneeling,
trailing figure coming around in a beautiful right curve, crouching, the legs
shot forward and back, the body leaning out against the swing, the sticks
accenting the curve like points of light, all in a wild cloud of snow.
Yup, that was Hemingway with a 75 word sentence. Did the sub-clauses slow it down?
There is a place for short, staccato sentences in erotic
fiction, but when I encounter erotic writing devoid of any long sentences, I
find it effective but not affective. My intellect engages, but my emotions and
my senses don’t. Lots of erotica leaves me not very high and literally bone
dry. Writing style is often the prime culprit.
Long sentences with a kernel or root clause and subsequent
sub-clauses that elaborate on the main one are a way to pull the reader into
the moment affectively. They offer substance, direction, rhythm and texture,
engaging the emotions, the senses and the reader’s ear. It complicates ‘the
facts’ with the meat of human experience; it offers shades of meaning to what
is happening in the story.
For those of you went to school after they stopped teaching
grammar, the kernel or root clause is the main subject, very and object of the
Tracy adores cunnilingus.
Now we’ll add on a sub-clause:
Tracy adores cunnilingus, since it’s the only way she can
Now a one more:
Tracy adores cunnilingus, since it’s the only way she can
orgasm, regardless of her lover’s technique in other areas.
We’ve put significantly more substance in the sentence, and
you’ll notice, there’s also a direction.
We start out with the root clause ‘Tracy adores cunnilingus’ and then we
are elaborating by adding modifiers after that statement. But we could easily, perhaps
more elegantly, shift things around and add a little more:
Regardless of her lover’s technique in other areas, Tracy
adores cunnilingus, whining for it like a persistent cat in heat, tugging on his hair to drag his face down to her cunt, since it’s the only way she can orgasm.
The problem with long sentences is that there are a lot of
words in them to misuse. Run-on sentences are often painful because they’re
poorly constructed. The reader loses her grasp on the kernel clause, even on
the subject itself, and can’t remember what all this modification was actually
modifying. But, as you can see above, we haven’t lost the plot. This is still about Tracy’s love of a good licking.
Well written long sentences should enhance the reader’s
depth of understanding of the subject, not lose it. The addition of sub-clauses, either
free modifiers or bound ones, should deepen the in-the-moment ‘thereness’ of
the reader instead of jerking him out of the narrative in a tizzy of
No matter what composition teachers tell you, language is
not like mathematics. In mathematics, elegance is based on simplicity and
compactness, but language is an additive beast. The more details you get, the
more you know. I’m not saying that
the mot juste is not important. But
when language gets too clean, too pithy, too simple, it can lose its humanity.
It can also lose its rhythm.
This is particularly true when it comes to writing sex
scenes with a view to arousing the reader. Literary fiction writers will often
stick to a description of the mechanics in a sex scene. It’s about as sexy as
jumping jacks or watching dogs fuck. The whole thing is rendered like a series of
short, sharp stabs. All showing and no telling. If they’re scared of being
accused of purple prose at any time, they’re terrified of being accused of it
during a sex scene.
But erotica writers know better. When you write a good sex
scene, you fuck the reader. And good erotic fiction writers are, at least
mentally, accomplished lovers. They vary the pace by varying the length of
their sentences. They vary the sensory experience by glancing the subject in
some sentences and going in for the hard and deep plunder in others. They’re
not under the illusion that a ripped body and a 8″ cock used artlessly is going
to ever compete with the delicious rollercoaster ride of a well-executed
mindfuck. A hot quickie is pleasant, but a good erotic literary mindfuck is a
memorable thing. It requires that you make ingress into the reader’s affective
mind, not just their imagination of the narrative physical event.
The chief problem with long sentences is that people feel
they need to use prepositions and pronouns. If they don’t bind all those
sub-clauses together, it won’t be logical. So, you get this:
pressed his open mouth over her left breast, then stroked the tip of his
searing tongue around her nipple in a circular fashion before sucking the
entire area into his mouth, afterwards leaving the indentation of his teeth
behind on her skin.
Admit it, you felt the need to take a deep breath,
right? It’s cludgy. When possible it’s better to set your modifiers free (bound modifiers attach to the sentence using joining words or prepositions, free modifiers don’t use them).
You need to trust that your reader is smart and with you.
They understand that the progression of words is the progression of events, and
they know enough about anatomy and how tit sucking works not to need half that
crap. You’ve already established who is doing what to whom, so you can be a little less concerned with locating everything in time and space.
Pressing an open mouth to her breast, he circled her nipple with a
searing tongue and, sucking hard, marked her skin with his teeth.
You can’t get rid of every pronoun or every preposition, but
you really don’t need most of them.
Although a good deal shorter, it’s still 25 words long . Not exactly short. I admit to having written much longer
sentences and I could easily slow down the pace and be languid in my
description of this, using more adjectives, an adverb or two if needed. It
depends on how I want the reader to experience this particular piece of intimacy.
Sentence length should be about depth of knowledge, direction, pace and rhythm.
Just as there is a place for the short, hot, meaningless fuck, there’s a place
for the long, slow, pulsating, eviscerating annihilation of the flesh and mind. And your ability to execute either of these
depends on your ability to be flexible in the way you construct your sentences.
If you’re up for it, there is rather deeper examination of the topic of sentences and especially of modifying sub-clauses written by Frances Christensen. “A Generative Rhetoric of the Sentence” linked here. It’s a pdf file.
Funny that these columns are called Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker because … well, I have a
confession to make.
I’m very much on the fence about the whole thing, and am
still dealing with doubts about whether or not I’ve made the right decision but
– in the end – I think it will end up being a good thing.
I know, I know: I’ve been a rather vocal – if not strident –
opponent of that particular corner of the social media universe, but a very
good friend of mine pointed out that, to call down The Bard, I “doth
protest too much.”
It hasn’t been easy: I tell ya, nothing like having a nearly
(gasp) twenty year writing career resulting in only 433 ‘friends’ and 68’likes’ on my author page to really make the dreaded depression demon really
But I’m sticking with it – not because I think that I have
to, or that Facebook is the end-all, be-all solution to all my publicity needs –
but because it was something I really, honestly, didn’t want to do.
Obviously, explanations are in order. See, I’m a firm believer in pushing
yourself in all kinds of ways: as a person and, particularly, as a writer. Sure, you have to like what you are
doing – both in how you live your life as well as the words you put down on
‘paper’ – but growth comes not from comfort but from adversity, from
I didn’t set out to be an pornographer, but then an
opportunity presented itself and (surprise!) I was actually pretty good at
it. I didn’t plan on being a ‘gay’
writer – because, no duh – I’m not, but (surprise!) I not just did it but came
to really enjoy it. I didn’t think
I could be a teacher, but (surprise!) I’ve found that I really get a kick out
I may have hated Facebook – hell, I still hate Facebook –
but I had to at least try it.
Maybe it will work out, maybe it won’t, but at least I’ll have stretched
For creative people of any ilk, that’s extremely important. For one thing, it can keep your
creativity rip-and-roaring, key to avoiding deathly boredom and staleness. Professionally, it’s essential: writing
just what you want, what you’re comfortable with, can really limit where you
can sell your work. That you love
to write, say, erotic romances is fine and dandy but if you do then there will
only so many places to show off, or publish, your work.
You want examples?
Fine: I’m now on Facebook – we’ve already discussed that uncomfortable
fact – but since I’ve written quite a few queer novels I’ve decided that my next
one is going to be (you ready for this?) straight – and not just straight but
with a ‘happy’ ending. My short
story work, too, has a tendency to be, let’s be honest here, bittersweet at
best – so my next collection is going to be much more uplifting. I’ve never written a play, so I’m
planning on writing one sometime this year. I’ve never written for comics – well, I wrote one – so I’m going to work on more. Will these projects be tough? Sure they will: but who knows what I may
discover about myself and what I’m capable of?
Who knows, maybe even Facebook and I will become fast and
good friends and will walk down the social media aisle together, skipping
merrily and holding hands.
And if not … well, I tried. There is nothing wrong with giving
something a shot but then
deciding it’s not for you. Rejection,
both internal as well as external, is part of a writer’s life. There’s
nothing wrong with it. Trial and error is how we learn, how we
Writers far too often think that the ‘names’, the
celebrities, the legends sat down and created wonders of the written word,
masterpieces of story, with no trials and tribulations. But – as I’ve said before – writers are
liars and very few will admit that they might have been an overnight success
… after failing for decades.
For example, take a look at the subtitle of this little
piece: “Oh, how beautiful.”
It comes from a wonderful quote by one of my favorite authors, Rudyard
Kipling. The whole thing reads: “Gardens are not made by singing
‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.”
In other words, to bloom you have to work; you have to be
brave and try new things, to push yourself, to challenge yourself personally
and professionally – and, equally, you have to accept that periodically things
just won’t work out.
Back to Mr. Kipling.
Sitting on my desk is a reproduction of a letter he received after a
submission to the San Francisco Examiner:
a reminder not just to keep trying, to never give up, but that you have to be
willing to face, and surpass, internal doubt, outside criticism.
The letter reads: “I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you don’t
know how to use the English language.”