Monthly Archives: October 2013
Once, in a blog interview about my paranormal Lakeland Heatwave
trilogy, I was asked if I believed that sex magic is real. My answer was
something along the lines that I believe sex is the only kind of magic, and certainly the only kind of magic we all
have access to. But the question itself got me thinking about why the
paranormal and the erotic work so well together.
Writing always exposes us, though that exposure is
sometimes more obvious than others. As I thought about the question, I realized
that the choices I’d made when I wrote the Lakeland trilogy were very much my psyche’s
way of doing the full Monte. I’ve written lots of blog posts about the magic of
sex, about what happens when we cross that final barrier and get inside the
skin of another person, about what happens when we make ourselves vulnerable.
Though it certainly wasn’t a conscious part of my decision, choosing to make
the witches of the Elemental Coven practitioners of sex magic speaks very
powerfully of my writing credo and of my own psyche and what I believe is
I started writing erotica mostly to see
if I could, and because I had always enjoyed writing sex scenes. But it was the
magic of sex that kept me writing. It was what the act of sex revealed about my
characters and how it exposed them, all of them, in one way or another to the
magic of sex that kept me writing. Somehow sex brought them closer to their
humanity while at the same time increasing the chance they would experience
their own divinity, and that of their beloved. And, with any luck, my readers
would experience the same, vicariously. There’s something exciting in knowing
that the very act of sex between two people can completely change the course of
a novel. All of these elements of sex kept me writing erotica. And all of these
elements are the reason I believe sex is magic.
There are few
parts of our human nature we struggle more fiercely to control than sexuality.
How miserably we fail in that struggle is a testament to the biological drive
and even more importantly the archetypal power of sex. And that’s a whole other
area, the place within the sex act that borders on the mystical, the magical.
That’s why paranormal tales partner so beautifully with the erotic. Once that
boundary between the magical and the sexual is breached anything can happen.
makes people uncomfortable, and anything that makes people uncomfortable is a
fabulous tool for fiction. On some level sex is all about biological urges,
experiences of a much more visceral nature than the sanitized, well defined,
well ordered way we like our world to be. But the power of sex reaches way
beyond the procreative. I know of no other act that can connect us to our
animal nature while at the same time lifting us outside ourselves to the realm
of the gods. I also know of no other act in which we become physically one with
another human being, in which we literally get inside the skin of another human
being, in which there is the possibility of literally creating new life. The
human sex act is about as close to magic as we can get, and we’re not all that
comfortable with anything we can’t explain away and dress up for polite
Sex is that one
little sliver of our life in which real magic happens. It’s the place where our
boundaries are most permeable. So it’s not surprising that we like to team up
the erotic with things that go bump in the night, things we can safely
experience on the written page, where those things are free to scare us and
titillate us and take away our human control thus allowing demons and vampires,
ghosts and witches, werewolves and succubae to dance the tango with our libidos
while we all perform our own personal versions of sex magic.
celebrate Halloween, Samhain, Day of the Dead, All Saints, or whether you just
like to enjoy the season, I wish you much sexy magic!
Elizabeth Black lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four cats. You may find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/elizabethablack and on her web site at http://elizabethablack.blogspot.com.
Censorship of erotic
fiction is rearing its ugly head again. Early in October, 2013, Kobo removed some
(but not all) erotic titles from its catalogue. The books targeted were either
self-published or published by small, indie presses.
How did this latest
firestorm start? A tech site called The Kernel discovered “daddy porn”
as if it were something new. The Kernel uncovered these books by searching for
terms like “Daddy” on the book distributor’s web sites, and it
discovered what it called a “tsunami of filth”. Titles like “Raped
By Daddy” and “Taking My Drunk Daughter” were being published
and sold by many distributors such as Kobo, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.
Cassandre Dayne has been directly affected by this latest censorship as has
many writers. She has plenty to say about it. “There
was an issue recently involving a complaint made in the UK about some highly
questionable books that were supposedly on a site. The genres include books
that we call in the industry ‘daddy porn’.” She said. “This includes
levels of incest, bestiality and others, which are strictly prohibited by the
majority of publishers. The bulk of these were supposedly written by
independent authors who self-published. This directly affected KOBO, a
relatively new distribution site and all books by self published authors, small
publishing houses and the middle man type companies like Draft 2 Digital, a
firm designed to help small pubs and self publishers distribute with one click
to several leading distributers, to do a knee jerk reaction. They yanked every
single title without regard to whether or not they were even in the erotic
So, the theory goes
if a child searched for the term “Daddy” on Kobo, that child would
find daddy porn books. When the BBC and The Kernel pointed out these keyword
search problems and the books those searches uncovered, most notably WHSmith in
the UK and Kobo took immediate action. They removed every single erotic book
from their catalogues – even books that did not violate the terms of service
agreement and were clearly meant for adults.
Erotic content isn’t
only under fire. So are book covers, according to Dayne. “Amazon did much the same thing using self published and
what they considered risque covers to yanks books without question, forethought
or in my opinion common sense. Amazon is using a keyword computer generated
random search. Really? Are we truly turning into the moral majority?”
Dayne said. “Of course all of my books provided by Draft 2 Digital as well
as the small publisher Bitten Press were removed. Trust me, I have no
questionable material. Am I furious? You bet. While these big box folks
certainly can sell what they would like, they need to understand this is a
clear form of censorship.”
Curious, I ran a
search and discovered what I suspected to be true was true after all, and my
discovery reinforced Dayne’s statements. Not all erotic books are created equal
in the eyes of censors. The following books remain available for purchase at
Kobo and WHSmith:
50 Shades of Grey
(the entire series)
The Story Of O
The Autobiography Of
Why are these works
of erotica available yet best-selling modern books outside 50 Shades of Grey have been given the scorched earth treatment? I
believe there are several reasons. One, books like 50 Shades of Grey are cash cows. It would be foolish to eliminate
them from the catalogues. However, that doesn’t make much sense since erotic
fiction (esp. erotic romance) is a top moneymaker in the book world. These
censored books make lots of money for their authors and the distributors. Two,
these books may be considered classics that are in no way allegedly sullied by
the likes of bondage and ménage stories written by more modern and independent
authors. Three, those books are published by the likes of Pocketbook and Simon
and Schuster – behemoths who can’t be bullied or ignored like indie publishers
and self-published writers. These major publishers have armies of lawyers small
press pubs and indie writers can only dream of having. It may be matter of
picking on the smaller kids who have less ability to defend themselves.
Granted, daddy porn
and similar books have some serious problems. The acts described are illegal
and should not be encouraged. The problem is that in removing these books, erotica
that does not violate any guidelines has been caught up in the frenzy. Even the
search terms have resulted in problems like books found with the search term
“breast” that were removed for being titillating also removed books
about breast cancer, something that is not titillating in the least. The same
happened when searching for the term “rape” – books about surviving
rape were yanked along with the books glorifying the act. In its zeal to clean
up the bookshelves, these distributors threw the baby out with the bathwater.
Another problem lies in the nature of the removal itself. Just because a book
is deemed offensive to some is no reason to yank it. If you do, you’re getting
into slippery slope territory. Who decides what’s offensive and what isn’t? Who
decides what books are worthy of being read and others aren’t? It’s not a good
idea to make Fahrenheit 451 a true,
modern horror story.
The Kernel also
acted as if this is an entirely new phenomenon when nothing could be further
from the truth. The last time online book sellers and indie writers were
censored was back in February, 2012. According to Selena Kitt in an article she
wrote at the time, “First, Amazon started banning books from their site.
They backed down on their anti-censorship stance and removed the Ped0phile
Guide. Then they went after books that contained incest, bestiality and rape.
After the dust settled, it was clear that, while biological incest was a no-no,
Amazon would, however, allow sex between of-age adults who were related to one
another in a non-biological manner–step-relations or adopted relations.
Suddenly the top 100 in the Erotica category on Amazon exploded with
“pseudo-incest” titles. And the covers were far more revealing than anything
the category had previously carried.” Those explicit titles like
“Daddy Licks My Pussy” become commonplace. As Kitt said, the fine
line between the erotic and porn had blurred even further.
At first, the
distributors were targeting books depicting illegal acts but that later
devolved to books depicting acts that were merely “morally
objectionable”. Pseudo-incest (relations between stepparent – stepchild,
unrelated adopted siblings, look-alikes who could be mistaken for twins, etc.),
while morally objectionable, was not illegal. Kitt pointed out Woody Allen as a
case in point. She also wondered why books about serial killers had not been
targeted. No, it was only erotic books, not books depicting gory and vividly
described torture murders.
I was one of the
writers caught up in that mess. So was Cassandre Dayne. At the time, Paypal had
complained about the daddy porn books that permeated the distributors.
Bookstrand and AllRomanceEbooks removed these books as well as numerous other
erotic books that didn’t meet that criteria. One of my publishers, New Dawning
Bookfair, saw its entire catalogue eliminated overnight. One of my short
stories, an erotic short version of Puss In Boots entitled Purr, had been eliminated at Bookstrand and AllRomance. While my
publisher dealt with the problem I took advantage of it by loudly stating my
book had been banned, but it was still available at Amazon for those who wanted
to read it. My book sales soared. Sadly, I lost money from sales I would have
made from Bookstrand and AllRomance that I will never get back. Purr is now available at Bookstrand and
AllRomance as it should have always been. Once the uproar settled down, erotic
books were once again published on all these sites and eventually the daddy
porn books found their way back into circulation on them. Today, however, you
will still find no small press or self-published erotic books on WHSmith.
also saw books reinstated, but she will never recoup the lost revenues. “The
piece entitled Enslaved, written by
my pseudo DH Black, was subsequently reinstated but it took a couple of
months.” Dayne said. “I’m a little extra sensitive to the concept of
censorship. In addition, When will this procedure stop? Who is to say that
horror books depicting extreme violence or even inspirational books won’t be
next? How do they determine the monies lost to authors who scrape by at best?
There must be some intelligence behind this process. Put your thinking cap on
big boys cause this isn’t working.”
hypocritical of distributors such as Amazon and Kobo to criticize the
publication and creation of erotic books when it has clearly benefited greatly
from their sales. Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Bookstrand,
AllRomance, and other distributors make scads of money from these books.
Amazon, for instance, makes huge revenues from
these books that are often written by self-published authors. To single
them out once or twice per year to get a great big spanking is the height of
If you’d like to
protest this latest round of censorship, go to change.org and sign this
Barnes and Noble, KOBO: Drop the clause of removing Erotica and self-published
Indie authors. Writers need to protect themselves any way they can, be it
by signing petitions, banding together to form censorship protesting networks
before books are censored (again), and writing to local and national media.
by Jean Roberta
Synchronicity (defined as “the coincidence of events that seem related, but are not obviously caused one by the other”) usually seems to be at work in my life. Lately, I’ve noticed that several bloggers have written about the factors that change writing (especially sex-writing) from a thrill into a chore or a duty.
Once a writer has managed to fight off the inner censor for long enough to write a few sexually-explicit stories or even a novel, this work is usually posted in a public place where readers can comment on it. When the writing goes public, the writer is advised to promote herself/himself as well as the work, to write something new, to follow current trends in order to find and expand an audience. The advice (or the pressure) never ends. If zombie romances are currently fashionable, why doesn’t the writer pose in full zombie drag, including fake oozing wounds, and post their portrait on Youtube, with links on Twitter and Facebook? Why doesn’t the writer write a series of zombie romances? Doesn’t s/he want to be successful?
As a reviewer as well as a writer, I can see a difference between erotica which seems commercial (written for a specific market) and erotica which seems like amateur work in the original sense: written for the love of it. Some commercial stuff is written with great skill, and so is some amateur work. The difference in tone doesn’t necessarily have to do with sloppy grammar or unbelievable sexual gymnastics.
To give an example of commercial erotica, I have reviewed several anthologies from Cleis Press and have been proud to see my own stories in several others. There is nothing wrong with Cleis productions; au contraire. The paperbacks always have slick covers with eye-catching, tasteful photographs on them. The stories inside all seem carefully copy-edited. By now, there are dozens of these books, usually on specific themes. As a reviewer, I know I will always enjoy most of the stories in a Cleis antho, especially if they are written by contributors I recognize. These writers are professionals. When I see the name of Erotic Writer X in the umpteenth Cleis anthology in the past five years, I hope that s/he is not approaching burnout.
Some of the novels and anthologies I have reviewed have been put together by on-line groups that first gathered as amateurs, lovers of the genre and the craft. After much on-line discussion and mutual critiquing, the group decided to produce a book for the wider world to read. Sapphic Planet, an anthology of lesbian stories self-published in 2012 by a writers’ group of the same name, is a case in point. As a contributor, I couldn’t review this book myself, but I loved several of the stories by my fellow-contributors when I first saw them. Several of these writers are fairly prolific; they could be defined as both amateur and professional in different contexts.
An example of amateur work which I could and did review is the anthology Literotica (2002), a gathering of stories from the website of the same name. Both the group and the anthology have been dismissed as rank amateurs, but IMO, this is exactly why some of the stories in this book are unusual, intense, quirky and brilliant. I was taken aback by a few of the pen names in this volume and the 2009 sequel, Literotica 2 (“Dirty Old Man” “Whiff,” “KillerMuffin,” “jfinn”) and I can only hope these writers went on to write under more professional names, for lack of a clearer term.
Here in the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, probably the best-known amateur member (in the best sense) is Remittance Girl, who has openly stated that her goal is not to make a profit from her writing. Her invulnerability to market forces is exactly what gives her work a certain integrity which seems rare in any genre.
And of course, ERWA itself gave rise to an anthology, Cream, edited by Lisabet Sarai and published by Running Press in 2006.
Here are some questions I have been chewing on for some time: how is it possible for a writer to keep the enthusiasm and the recklessness of an amateur even after crossing over into the ranks of professionals? And where is the boundary between amateurs and professionals? (For instance, I have at least 100 stories in anthologies, not including two out-of-print single-author collections and one that just came out on September 1. However, my writing time still has to be stolen from the time I spend on my teaching job in a university as well as the “free time” I have to spend with family and friends. Does this mean I am a writer who teaches on the side or a teacher with a writing hobby?)
Judging from current laments, becoming a published writer often begins a long slide into conformity, numbness, distraction, and eventual writing burnout. I really don’t want to get there, and I am alarmed when fellow-writers I admire send distress signals from a place further down that road. Writing about sex, in particular, seems to require a certain continuing amateurism to retain its authenticity.
My own way of trying to recover the thrill of the sport is to withdraw temporarily from the world of published work, including the latest on-line piracy and the latest decision by a major book distributor to “disappear” any title that might be defined as “obscene” according to deliberately-vague legal standards. For a limited time, I don’t care about any of that.
For a few precious minutes in “the zone,” I care only about the characters who show up in my mind when I clear some space for them and ask them what they want. Inevitably, they want pleasure in some form. In most cases, their feelings about each other are complex and ambivalent. Their feelings are a catalyst that suggests the beginning of a plot. Will the characters (at least the one who speaks to me the loudest) get what they want? I need to find out.
The rest of the world can wait.
Writing isn’t like driving or cooking. Not for me. It seems to only get harder as the years pass. I don’t mean making up stories to tell, I mean the craft side of it.
I’m trying to tell a story.
A story is a plot, a series of events.
It should be simple enough to write it, but it isn’t. Not anymore. Maybe the problem is having too many options, or perhaps it’s an excuse not to write. But what I’m learning is that there’s no such thing as simply telling a story. I have to know how to tell it.
My first mistake, it seems, was picking the wrong main character. Events are facts, but those facts are seen from a certain viewpoint. Originally, my main character was the murderer, but how can the events be a murder mystery to the killer? They know who dun it. Not a lot of mystery there.
So I got a better main character. But I’m still working on their compelling reason to figure out who the real murderer is. I hope that will come out as I write and I can fix it in the rewrite. For now, it’s a bit nebulous and nebulous leads to weak writing, so I’m not happy with that.
My second mistake is my always mistake, meaning I make this same mistake every time so you’d think I’d know better by now but apparently I don’t. And that mistake is: I start way too far back and take a long lope toward the inciting incident. I’m trying to put that inciting incident closer to the beginning, like in the first chapter.
It used to be that I could just sit down and write. I miss those days, although I suspect I’m a much better writer now. But why is it that every other craft seems to get easier with practice while writing just gets more difficult? It’s my inner critic, I know. I want to write well. I can’t figure out how to balance that painstaking and time-consuming drive with the pressure to spin out work as fast as I can.
I have no answers here. What is like for you? Is it getting harder?
LATE ADDITION that has nothing to do with my post, but have you seen this visual associative thesaurus? So cool!
Eek, I’ve only gone and signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)! I had no intention of doing it, until I saw someone post about it. Then curiosity led me to their website, and before I knew it, I’d signed up. And now I’ve signed up, of course, I’ve got to give it my best shot.
50,000 words in a month is probably not a lot for some people, and probably tons for others, but I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t write full-time, but I do run my own business working from home, so I can juggle my schedule around writing when necessary. And I think in November, it’s definitely going to be necessary. I don’t work weekends, so my 50k will have to be done on weekdays. It’s still doable at 2.5k a day. In fact, on really good days I’ve written well in excess of that. But to do it every weekday for a whole month… well, let’s just see how I get on, shall I?
I’m currently in the process of finishing up other projects and also planning for the novel I’m going to write for NaNo. I’ve been researching it for the past couple of months, so I figure NaNo will give me the push I need to get a good chunk of it written while the research is still fresh in my mind. And who knows, by the end of December, perhaps I’ll have something ready to send to a publisher. Watch this space.
And, in the meantime, if anyone needs me, I’ll be the one hiding in the corner, panicking.
Are you NaNo-ing, too? Here’s my profile – come friend me: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/creativewriter1985
Lucy Felthouse is a very busy woman! She writes erotica and
erotic romance in a variety of subgenres and pairings, and has over eighty
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
I discovered buried treasure today.
There’s a box in our storage closet
labeled “L’s Writing”. I hadn’t examined it in quite a while. I
knew it held my old journals, my poetry notebooks, various term
papers, theses and other academic artifacts. I couldn’t recall,
though, how much I’d kept of my very early schoolwork and writing.
After all, my life journey has taken me through five decades and
halfway around the world since I was in junior high school. Maybe I’d
jettisoned some of my childish output – or maybe it had
disintegrated, the paper drying out and crumbling away after half a
In particular, I was looking for a set
of science reports I remembered from eighth grade. Each week the
teacher would perform a demonstration and ask us a set of questions.
In our reports, we were supposed to diagram the experiment, then
answer the questions and draw conclusions. I liked to draw and I
liked my teacher. So instead of simple scientific figures, I created
a series of cartoons, some of them harboring private jokes. I had
great fun concocting those reports. I’m sure it took me far longer
than if I’d merely followed the instructions, but I didn’t care. I
was happy putting in the effort, expressing myself. It was homework
but it was also a kind of play.
Imagine my delight when I found a
tattered manila envelope crammed with documents going back to
elementary school – some as fragile as I’d feared, but many in
decent condition. My book reports and my compositions from French
class . My high school honors thesis about the Great Chain of Being
in Tolkein’s Middle Earth. My plays about the Beatles, about the
jealous gods of Olympus, about the 1964 presidential election. My
ghost and science fiction stories. And, just as I’d hoped, the full
set (as far as I can tell) of said science reports.
You might ask what all this has to do
with writing erotica.
I’ve been pondering the way we look at
our writing as work. Many of the posts here at the ERWA blog discuss technical aspects of the writing process. We discuss conflict and
pacing, the theory of the short story, the exterior and interior
elements of character, techniques for evoking sensory experience in
our scenes, strategies for self-editing. We wrestle with revisions.
We “kill our darlings”. We train ourselves to view everything we
write with a critical eye.
I don’t mean to minimize the importance
of self-analysis or craft. However, I sometimes worry that we’re too
analytical, too focused, too left-brained, about our writing. Or
maybe I should say “I” as opposed to “we”. I’m so concerned
with markets and word count, sentence structure and word repetition,
that I forget why I started doing this in the first place. I’ve lost
my sense of play.
Nobody taught me how to write
creatively. I’ve been doing for as long as I remember, and from the
very first, I did it for fun. I played with words, and back when I
was a kid, I played with images too, as can be seen from my eighth
grade efforts. (I was always a better wordsmith than visual artist,
though.) I was, in psychological jargon, intrinsically motivated,
writing, drawing, painting and rhyming simply because I enjoyed doing so.
And that’s what’s often missing now.
The product is what counts, from the perspective of readers and
publishers. They’re waiting for my next book. I try to ignore the
pressure, but I’m never entirely successful. The limited time I have
available for writing adds to the sense of stress. I only have this
day, these few hours – what if I can’t get the words out?
Art cannot be compelled. You have to
simply open yourself and let it flow. I know there’s a theory that
all great artists must suffer. I don’t know if I buy that, but in any
case, I’m not aspiring to greatness. No, I just want to enjoy my
writing the way I did when I was younger. I want to play.
I managed this, to some extent, with my
last novel Rajasthani Moon. I undertook this project solely
for my own amusement, as a challenge to myself: how many sub-genres
could I combine in a single book? In a sense, I was thumbing my nose
at the erotic romance establishment, which so loves to slice and
dice, categorize and label, every story. So I let my imagination run
free, and I didn’t censor myself to please my publisher. I even
included some F/F interaction, generally considered to be the
marketing kiss-of-death in traditional erotic romance. If it turned
me on, I put it in and damn the markets.
When the book was done, I knew it was
no work of enduring literary significance – but it’s lively,
entertaining, and pretty hot. Most important, I had a fabulous time
I want to do that again.
I’m willing to put in the effort it
takes to write well – but not without the payoff of having fun. Not
By Donna George Storey
I haven’t written a new story in almost six months. Not that I haven’t had a few fallow periods since I first started writing fiction seriously sixteen years ago, but the break in the flow this time around has inspired me to listen to an inner voice that is usually drowned out by the word-rush of my latest story project.
Who am I writing for?
(Yes, I know, it should be “For whom am I writing?” but my inner voice is not particularly interested in proper grammar!)
“For my audience, the bigger the better”—that’s the first simple answer that comes to mind. Or “for myself,” which feels fleetingly self-empowering and bravely feminist, but doesn’t ring totally true. To be honest, although no work I’ve ever done has felt so personally expressive and revealing as fiction writing, from the beginning the driving force has been my desire for validation through publication. While an audience is implied, the images of success that come to mind are acceptance letters, contracts, books or journals to hold in my hands. Oddly no readers are in sight.
I publish, therefore I am a writer. That was my creed. Always an eager student, I immersed myself in how-to-get-published books of all kinds, scribbling notes on how to write a cover letter, how to hook an editor, sure-fire techniques of the selling writer (throw a lovable character into trouble, then deeper trouble to keep the pages turning). I’m not sure if any of this advice actually affected the stories I wrote, but it did reinforce my sense that ultimately I wrote to please an editor and, stretching endlessly beyond her, a faultlessly wise literary establishment.
Over the years, I eventually did get published—with over 160 credits to my name right now. Damn, even my cruelly judgmental inner voice has to admit that’s some form of validation. Yet, what inspired me to write before now seems a barrier. Perhaps it’s because I know too well what publication, after the first rush of pleasure and pride, means. Promoting your work is an endless, soul-draining task. Nor do the writing experts allow for resting on your laurels. Everyone knows a truly successful writer must produce a constant stream of novels to establish her brand and a deep backlist for new fans to explore. At this level, success is, of course, married to profit rather than a mere byline. But in order to make cartloads of cash in the gold rush of self-publishing, you must above all be savvy about what sells.
Trapped as I am in an attitude that has apparently given me what I wanted, when I think about writing another novel, I feel bored rather than inspired. Experience (or rather, feedback from editors over the years) tells me every chapter has to have a sex scene. The story or vocabulary can’t be too complex. My book has to fit into a well-oiled slot in the store (none of this genre-busting nonsense) and it has to be excitingly fresh, yet reassuringly the same as every other best-selling erotic novel out there. This is what “they” want from me. I ignore their desires at my peril.
But at long last, what I’d like to call the “real” writer inside me is saying enough. Enough of reading the market and second-guessing editors and thinking these skills are enough to satisfy my heart, mind and spirit. Write what fascinates you, she tells me. Write sex scenes only where they belong in the story and only at the level of explicitness that feels right, because sometimes suggestion is far sexier than a blow-by-blow. Write only for yourself at least once in your life. At the very least, the experience will teach you lessons you will never learn if you’re always looking to others for your reward.
It all sounds pretty sweet right now.
I can’t guarantee myself I’ll have the courage to do this, but after months of indifference, I’m finally getting excited about writing again.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
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
Sitting in the backyard with a little espresso. A notepad. A pencil. A pack of Biscoff cookies. Thinking.
The grass needs cutting, I’m thinking.
I had that lucid dream again, I’m thinking. It was the dream about the old house that
needs fixing but also the old house is haunted.
It isn’t my house, but it may be the inside of my head. And there was that room and the room was
filled with old shoes I’ve worn at different times in my life, even baby
shoes. Shoes. What do they mean, shoes?
The thing is I woke up inside the dream and could have had
dream sex with someone and it would have been okay that way and I didn’t. The hell’s wrong with me?
A sip of coffee. A
notebook. A pencil. Thinking.
A glance to the right, my little collection of carnivorous
plants in their pots in the sunshine, enjoying the morning. At night they grow. At night the insects come out. The fly traps are beginning to go
dormant. The tropical pitcher plants
have grown pitchers the size of beer bottles that are catching roaches
now. They sink to the bottom and ferment
in a nasty soup for the plant’s nourishment.
How does the plant know there are roaches?
I don’t know if God exists.
I don’t know what happens when we die.
But when I look at a pitcher plant and the hapless roaches drowned in
its wells, I wonder. How does it
know? How does it know there are roaches
to be eaten and that roaches are good to eat?
Plants know about the world they live in. How do they know? Is it all random selection, pure luck? They don’t have brains or nervous systems
like we do, they don’t experience the world in the same way we do, but a
dandelion knows the wind blows. They all
know the sun shines and for how long in a day.
They know when the days get shorter and winter is coming. They know there are animals that want to eat
them and they have each taken a position towards that reality. They stab them and poison them. They cut deals with them. There are fruit vines with thorns that have
packed tiny indigestible seeds in sugary fruit.
“Here,” says the plant, “don’t eat me, eat this instead. Take my berry, package my seeds in your shit
and drop them where they’ll grow far away.
This is better for both of us.”
Pollen. There are plants that
offer you these bribes – exchanging sex for food. The oldest and most universal bargain there
is, man, beast and vegetable. Feed me
and you can fuck me. I give you
food. You give me a place to put my dick. Everybody has what they want. Nobody has to die.
These random elements.
Sex and death are God’s great tough love creations to drive
diversity and make sure life survives against asteroids and mega-volcanoes and
every other goddamnedist thing the
universe does to our planet. I believe
in science, I believe in natural selection.
But there is this other mystery I can’t get around.
How do they know?
I think the plants, especially the hungry ones, have taught
me about God. I don’t believe in God the
way I once did – but there’s something huge underneath all this that
knows. Plants know. How do they
know? Is it all by accident? A flytrap’s trap leaves don’t snap closed in
the way people think; they don’t move together the way a bear trap does. The leaves of the plant are actually warped
and suspended in an open concave shape.
The plant shoots water hydro dynamically into the leaves to
counter-warp the shape into a convex form which instantly closes the space
between them. It doesn’t use movement –
it uses geometry. Geometry! Geometry is much faster than movement.
But a flytrap has a technical problem – how can it tell the
difference between a raindrop and an animal?
Well, it knows animals move around. Raindrops don’t. Somehow it knows that. So it invented a
motion detector. How?
A Venus Flytrap can count to three. One, two, three. Snap.
A fly trap has three tiny spines standing up inside its trap
leaves. When an animal touches one
spine, the plant feels it, the plant watches, but it waits. When something touches two spines, it
knows. When an animal touches three
spines – one, two, three then snap – water fills the leaves, the leaves change
their shape. Geometry! Then they
squeeze. They squeeze until they’re
airtight. You can’t open them until the
To be in the center of the universe you have to be where the
random elements are mixing.
Sex and death. I
don’t know if God is a god of love or not, when you look at nature it doesn’t
really look like it. It looks as though
God is more about turnover. Life
survives because of the mixing of random elements into an infinite variety of
new forms and no matter what happens to the world some of those forms are set
up ahead of the game to survive the new world they’re in. That means everybody and everything has to fuck, mix their genes and have orgasms
and feel wonderful. If there is a god
out there the only thing you can be really sure of is God wants you to get
And then you have to die.
Everybody has to die. You have to
clear your ass out of the way so the next generation with the new random mix of
genes can come marching through, get laid and die.
What if . . . .?
. . . what if – there
is only one fly trap?
What if there has only ever been one fly trap in the history
of the world, divided and spread out over generations? But its all the same one fly trap, making
these decisions as it goes along? Maybe
a plant doesn’t experience time the same way we do. Maybe . . .
. . . what if –
. . . what if a venus
flytrap is one vast colonial organism spread out laterally over
space-time? It looks like a lot of
little plants, but it really isn’t? What
if Time is one block, one dimension. Not
an arrow. What if – for a plant – time
exists like a loaf of bread? You can
slice into it, experience different moments, but all those same moments exist
at the same time? For a plant? There is only one fly trap, exisiting
multidimensionally in all moments simultaneously? Could humans exist like that? Like brain cells scattered across the ages?
The Dalai Lama is what’s known in Tibetan Buddhism as a
“tulku”. A tulku is an individual soul,
usually a great teacher, who, after death, chooses to return to incarnation in
order to continue his work teaching others.
They just reincarnate over and over, their previous students search them
out and raise them and continue.
Theoretically the current Fourteenth Dalai Lama is the same guy as the
first Dalai Lama. The same guy has
returned fourteen times so far and picked up right where he left off before he
died. That’s a tulku. Death doesn’t even represent a career
What if a fly trap, or any plant, what if they’re all one
tulku spread out over infinite time?
What if . . .
. . . .what if – human beings, all of us, are one Tulku
spread out over time, like flytraps?
What if we are all one soul, the same soul, co-existing incarnationally,
over 6 billion life times but all here simultaneously? Because we experience time as individuals,
instead of being spread out, experience it as an arrow instead of a loaf of
bread? Maybe nobody else in nature does
What if you reading this are really me, but in a different
incarnation? Maybe incarnated as a woman?
But what if . . . .
. . . . but what if
someone found this out? What would sex
be like for that person?
What if that person woke up, as though waking up inside of a
lucid dream, and realized that every person he met was actually himself/herself in a
different incarnation, spread out, traveling side by side with him? What would that be like?
I pick up my notepad and pencil, wash down a cookie with a long swig of cold
coffee. And begin.
“Excuse me, sir,” she
said. “Listen, if I should start
screaming? Just wake me up.”
|Justine by de Sade, the first two editions were in 1st person,
the final version in 3rd.
I took a quick poll last night on my twitter stream to find out which point of view was the preferred one for both readers and writers of erotica. As you might imagine, no one behaved themselves and I didn’t get a definitive answer.
Now, you’re asking yourself why this question might not pertain to other genres equally. Of course, POV is always significant to the reader’s experience of the narrative. But there are both historical and cognitive reasons why it is of greater interest to erotica writers than it would be, say, to murder mystery writers.
Before the 20th Century, much erotic writing was written in first person and often presented to the reader as a candid confessional. The choice of this voice is significant because it was, in literary terms, the equivalent of the money shot. First person was felt to convey veracity and solicit reader empathy.
Narrative theorists, novel critics, and reading specialists have already singled out a small set of narrative techniques–such as the use of first person narration and the interior representation of characters’ consciousness and emotional states–as devices supporting character identification, contributing to empathetic experiences, opening readers’ minds to others, changing attitudes, and even predisposing readers to altruism” Suzanne Keen writes, leading to narrative empathy. (1)
Certainly confessional memoires like ‘My Secret Life,” by Walter, strove to create the effect of a confidence being shared between ‘men of the world’ about the forbidden landscape of sexual experience.
The firmness of her flesh impressed me, whether I put my finger between the cheeks of her arse or between her thighs I could with difficulty get it away; she could have cracked a nut between either. (2)
This approach survives to this day, with the same strategy to convey genuineness and confidentiality to the reader in letters to the Penthouse Forum.
She started out by telling me that she loved me, then asked, “Honey, what would you say if I told you that I wanted to have sex with some other guy?”
I was thrilled with the thought, but needing to act like I was maybe too macho for that, I asked, ‘Where did you ever get an idea like that?'” (3)
But before you start to think that first person erotica just results in downmarket pseudo porn, it’s worth remembering that Henry Miller wrote “The Tropic of Cancer” in first person:
At any rate, I had not yet come to the end of my rope. I was only flirting with disaster. … I understood then why it is that Paris attracts the tortured, the hallucinated, the great maniacs of love. (4)
Interestingly, de Sade’s two first versions of Justine were written in first person, but for the final publication, La Nouvelle Justine, he changed it all into third person. (5) Considering how long it is, this must have been quite task. It should tell you something about how important he felt the POV was to the way he wanted the story read.
In an interesting meta-strategy, although the stories in Anais Nin’s “Delta of Venus” are in third person, the collection starts off with an intensely first person narrative prologue in which she talks of how the stories came about and how she wrote them, which cleverly assures the reader of the author’s personal erotic investment in the work, while presenting the stories as her own intensely narrative sexual fantasies set at a distance to allow the reader into her lascivious world.
She was a very, very clever writer. She gains the confidence of the reader in the same way that first person narratives do, but her use of the third person POV in the actual stories works an interesting magic. First person erotic narratives work very well when the reader finds it easy to empathize with the narrator. Walter, de Sade and, I would hazard a guess, Miller, all assumed their readers would be men. Men like them.
Nin not only set out to write beyond her lived and (perhaps) autobiographical experience, but take the reader into erotic fantasy and position both she – the writer – and you – the reader – as voyeur. Third person narratives allow the reader enough distance so as not to be put off by the gap between fiction, the fictional characters, the erotic fantasy and the reader’s sense of self. Moreover, the third person narration makes it possible to present male protagonists without jarring the reader with the reality that the writer is female.
“Now the Baron, like many men, always awakened with a peculiarly sensitive condition of the penis. In fact, he was in a most vulnerable state.” (6)
Some erotic writers find themselves compelled to tell a story and it presents itself with a voice in which to be told and they remain faithful always to allow the story, in essence, to ‘tell itself.’
However, after I’d been writing a while and I began to get stalled on stories that didn’t seem to slither off my fingertips with the fluidity I had hoped for, I began to take more notice of POV. I realized that sometimes a story wasn’t working because it wasn’t being told by the right character. This is what really prompted me to think deeply about POV.
I realized that sometimes my stories didn’t have the level of conflict I wanted because I had started out writing the story in the POV of the character who was least conflicted. This gave me a more reliable narrator, but a less exciting story.
When I began to venture into writing male protagonists, I stuck to third person for the same reason Nin did. I wanted to acknowledge my unmaleness as a writer, and underscore the fictionality of the story. But more recently, in stories where I felt I really could truly empathize at a deep level with the male protagonist, I have attempted first person.
It is often said that ‘literary’ works are usually written in third person and, if you take a look at the literary canon, a large portion of them are, but by no means all of them.
I think one of the reasons for the perpetuation of this myth is a legitimate one. Literary fiction attempts to ask the reader to, in a way, be conscious of the writing while reading. It asks the reader to split themselves in two – immersing in the narrative but also always remaining a little distant in order to afford the reader the opportunity to read critically at the same time.
You might think this has no relevance in erotic fiction, but I would argue that there are times when it can be very effective. Say, for instance, you are writing a story involving a paraphilia or fetish that the vast majority of your prospective readers might not share. You want to tempt them to glimpse in at the eroticism of it, but you don’t want to assume their compliance, from a literary perspective. Third person affords readers the space and distance to intellectually acknowledge the eroticism of something they might not want to do in real life but might be aroused by in fiction. So, if you want to write a watersports story that is not aimed at readers who you know will get off on it instantly, third person is a great way to afford them wiggle room and allow them to indulge in the erotic descriptions of it without feeling like they’re living it personally.
On the other hand, I have at times wanted to intentionally disorient the reader, to prompt that fine line between disgust and lust, and a first person narrative can be much more immediate and immersive for this, forcing them into the world and the scene for narrative effect. In a way, intentionally violating their comfort zone.
Most people who have been writing a long time make POV decisions very consciously. They’re well aware of the pros and cons of each voice. If you haven’t tried to go against the grain of your instincts yet, give it a try. Even if, after a few attempts, you decide to return to your favourite POV, at least you will have had the experience of wielding the power that the decision of POV can offer you.
1. Keen, Suzanne. “A Theory of Narrative Empathy.” Narrative. 14.3 (2006): 207-236. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/narrative/v014/14.3keen.html>.
2. Walter. My Secret Life. 1. Amsterdam: Privately Published, 1888. Web. <http://www.horntip.com/html/books_&_MSS/1880s/1888_my_secret_life/vol_01/index.htm>.
3. T.P. “A Fucking Good Time.” Penthouse Forum Online. GMCI Internet Operations Inc., 28 Apr 2013. Web. 13 Oct 2013. <http://penthouseforum.com/2013/04/a-fuckin-good-time/>.
4. Miller, Henry. The Tropic of Cancer. New York: Grove Press, 1961. Print.
5. “Justine (Sade).” Wikipedia. N.p., 18 Jul 2013. Web. 13 Oct 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justine_(Sade)>.
6. Nin, Anais. Delta of Venus. OCR. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977. Web. <http://optimisinglife.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/nin-anais-delta-of-venus.pdf>
For new writers, the temptation is obvious: after all, if you don’t know something, shouldn’t you seek out a way to learn about it? The question of how to educate yourself as a writer is a necessary and important one, of course, but an often-invisible second question follows: how do you sift through the piles of would-be writing coaches, teachers and other purveyors of advice to find the ones who will lead you toward genuinely better writing? The problem isn’t that there are over-eager teachers galore, but that far too many of them are preaching from ignorance—or just dully quoting what others have already said.
This is particularly true of erotic romance. Now, I have to admit I’ve been more than a bit spoiled by other genres, where you can write about whatever you want without much of a chance—beyond clumsy writing—of getting rejected for not toeing the line, so approaching erotic romance has been a bit more of a challenge. Romance authors, after all, have been told time and time again that there is a very precise, almost exacting, Way of Doing Things … and if you don’t, then bye-bye book deal.
But times have changed, and while a few stubborn publishers still want erotic romantic fiction that follows established formulas, the quantum leap of digital publishing has totally shaken up by-the-numbers approaches to romance writing. Without going too much into it (maybe in another column…), because ebooks are so much easier to produce, publishers can take wonderful risks on new authors and concepts, meaning that they don’t have to wring their hands in fright that the new title they greenlit will go bust and possibly take the whole company with it.
Because of this freedom, erotic romance can be so much more than it ever was: experimental, innovative, unique, challenging, etc. These are no longer the Words of Death when it comes to putting together a book.
One of the great, underlying tasks of teaching—one I love, but with some reverence and an occasional pang of dread—is challenging the boring, formulaic, way that so many talk about writing (which is also to say that a huge part of the reason I love to teach is that it’s a weird form of revenge against all the bad writing teachers I’ve had over the years). There are, however, far too many writing teachers who relentlessly parrot that erotic romance has to follow a strict formula to be successful. They spell out this formula in stomach-cramping detail: what has to happen to each and every character, in each and every chapter, in each and every book.
This is not to say that new authors should put their hands over their ears any time someone offers up advice on romance writing; there is, after all, a huge difference between a teacher who inspires from experience and one who is just a conduit between you and a textbook. A publisher, for instance, who looks at their catalogue and can see what is selling for the moment—they’re worth listening to. On the other hand, one who sets down unbending rules on what Not To Do and What To Do, regardless of the changing interests of readers or the innovations of writers, is only mumbling at you through the sand in which their head is lodged. Case in point: I once had a erotic romance novel rejected by a major publisher not because of the writing, the plot, the characters, or the setting but because it was about a painter and, according to this publisher, “books about painters don’t sell.” Needless to say, I didn’t let this feedback stop me from sending the book to a different publisher—where it sold quite well.
The A-to-B-to-C form of teaching writing is likened to cutting up a frog: certainly an efficient way of finding out (ewwwww) the contents of an amphibian … but totally useless as a way of creating your own. A good test of a writing instructor, by the way, is how you feel at the end of the class or how-to book: if you’re shaking like a leaf that you might have made—or will make—some kind of horrible erotic-romance-writing mistake, then the lesson was a bad one … but if you leave feeling elated, inspired, confident and ready to build your story into something powerful then, you guessed it, the class was good.
Folks have come to me with questions like “Can I start my story with an email?” “Can I start with the weather?” “Can my setting be in a foreign country?” “Can I write about an artist?” I think you can guess what my answer always is: just write! One, you can always change it later and, two (most importantly) write what you want to read: don’t suffocate your creativity with formulas, set-in-stone rules, mandatory character arcs and Hero’s Journeys, or any standardized thing that isn’t relevant to what’s really happening in your story. Instead, think of writing—especially erotic romance—as creation. Sure, you’re going to make some mistakes, but everyone does. That’s what learning is all about. Taking class after class after class doesn’t write books: you do! Taking class after class after class doesn’t even make you a better writer: you do!
Sure, you should seek out some teachers—especially when you are ready to step into the completely terrifying world of publishing—but don’t think that there is a guru out there who has all the answers, who is the Sacred Keeper of the Great Romance Writing Secret. If they were, wouldn’t they be sitting on their yacht sipping immaculately prepared daiquiris?
The best advice, the best lesson that anyone can give a writer, is the simplest: write. Create stories and books and on and on and on until it begins to flow and the words aren’t words anymore but just notes in a composition, until plot and character and setting and dialogue aren’t separate things but part of a greater, beautiful, whole. Once you can hold what you wrote in your hand—or on the screen—and say to yourself that what you have created is good, then you can study the lessons of how to put it out into the world.
But, until then, do everything you can to keep yourself inspired, enthusiastic, creative, thrilled, and excited about writing—by staying away from the tired idea of formulas … and keep that frog intact.