Monthly Archives: May 2014
By K D Grace
It’s so easy for a novelist to get caught
up in the work and the PR and the marketing that goes along with the writing.
Sometimes it feels like weeks can pass before I raise my head and take a look
around. It never all gets done and I wouldn’t want it to. There are books on my
internal ‘to-be-written’ calendar that may not get written until 2050. There’s
so much more than I ever have time to put on the page, and then there’s
promoting and pimping what’s already out there. Days come and go. Seasons
change, and sometimes I hardly notice.
But every once in a while, I look up from
the laptop, raise my arms above my head and give a good stretch and there it
is, an epiphany. I had such an epiphany just before Christmas. It shouldn’t
have been a surprise because it’s something I’ve always known, something that
I’d just pushed aside because there was no time, something that was too
important NOT to make time for.
We were FINALLY taking a little bit of
holiday – going to Rome, which is one of my favourite places on the planet. I
was in between books, having just turned in my latest manuscript, and was as
caught up on PR as I was ever likely to be, so I did something bold and
decadent. I downloaded J R Ward’s Dark
Lover, and read a novel strictly and totally for my own indulgent pleasure.
I wasn’t looking for deeper meaning. I wasn’t aiming to see what’s going on in
my genre. I wasn’t trying to learn a new skill or do research. I absolutely, 100%
was looking to be entertained.
Frankly, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to
focus, since I was still on the come-down from the manuscript I’d just sent
off. Wow! Was I wrong! Starving woman … banquet … You get the picture. When I
wasn’t wandering around Rome and the environs, drinking in the scenery, the
history and the ambiance, I was reading. I read Late into the night; I read
early in the morning, I read over breakfast and in the underground. Whenever I
wasn’t playing tourist, I was reading –three novels. I was in heaven! I’m not a fast reader, and okay these weren’t
tomes by any means, but for me, it was epic! And it was a powerful reminder of
why I read for pleasure, and how much I’d lost by not reading for pleasure.
Time! That’s always my biggest complaint. The
bane of my existence is that THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH!!! Who the hell has time to
read for pleasure? That was the question I’d been asking myself for the past
few years as I worked at becoming a published novelist, as I worked at pimping
what I’d written. It’s a complaint I hear often from other writers. It’s a
complaint I hear from lots of people, actually.
Amazingly, what I discovered in that
exquisite week in Rome is that I can’t afford not to take time to
read for my
own pleasure. I seldom actually get an escape from what I do. What I do is never
done, and I love that about being a writer. BUT that means I have to force the
issue when it comes to feeding my creative self, when it comes to just resting.
There’s very seldom a moment when I’m not thinking in one way or another about
my work. Writing dominates my life in ways that are, no doubt, beyond neurotic.
Reading for pleasure is the great escape – even if it’s just a little while
before I go to sleep, or while I’m on the bus or while I’m eating my lunch.
It’s that little bit of time when I’m outside the worlds I’m creating and in
someone else’s story – strictly for the fun of it.
The Escape is always followed by the
return. I go back to my own work more relaxed and more focused because the
break I’ve had is a total break. The return is followed by the analysis. That
takes place in the shower or while I’m cooking dinner or doing laundry. The analysis is not hard work; it’s just
reflecting on what makes the novel I’m reading work for me, or not. Were the
characters endearing? Were they irritating? Did the plot move me? Can I predict
what will happen next? Beyond the kind of analysis all writers do when they
read something someone else has written is the idea that I’ve derived pleasure from
what I’ve read. I’ve engaged in someone else’s story and immersed myself in it.
That’s always a prompt for me, a little push to make me consider my own stories
and my use of craft to immerse readers in the tale I have to tell. Immersion in
my own story is, for me, a given. It’s what I’m most obsessed with. It’s what I
have to do to make the story work, to make it a total immersion experience for
my readers as well.
Yes, there’s a lot going on at a lot of
levels, and reading could very easily become an exercise in improving my own
work. No doubt it’s always that on some level, but the truth of it, plain and
simple, is that reading gives me immense pleasure, and I’m very glad that it’s
once again an integral part of my writing life
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. Visit her web
site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon
I read a Facebook
post recently in which the person talked about Post-Partum Depression that
results when you finish a project such as a story or painting. You’ve given
birth to something you’ve created, and in the aftermath you feel down – PPD. He
wrote that it’s a feeling of emptiness. You don’t know what to do. You don’t
want to watch TV. You don’t want to start something new. All you feel is bored,
restless, and even a little depressed.
Has it ever happened
I recently went
through a case of PPD when I recently finished writing “Full Moon
Fever”, my (so far) unpublished m/m werewolf erotic romance novel. At
first, I was elated. I always celebrate finishing a project and getting an
acceptance. My husband and I cracked open a bottle of champagne and made
toasts. Granted, I drink champagne all the time, but this called for a new
bottle. Delirious with glee, I spent the rest of the day getting tipsy and
watching bad movies on TV.
About a day later,
the depression hit. It was as if I had come down off a great high. Crashing
describes it quite well. I missed my characters. I longed for the joy of seeing
what kind of mischief they would get into. There were plenty of things for me
to do, including writing a sequel but I felt so spent I couldn’t work on
anything, including my other works in progress.
I had to do something. Anything. This downer had
After I wallowed in
my misery for a day or two, I made a conscious decision to pull out of it. This
kind of depression isn’t like clinical depression in that I was able to pull myself out of it by
distracting myself. What worked for me may not work for you, but here’s what I
did. First of all, I got away from the computer. For several days, I took a
break from writing. I watched movies and my favorite TV shows. The kitchen got
a workout because I baked. If it’s sickeningly sweet, I’ll bake it. This is the
time I buy new plants for my container garden. If weather permits, I go for
walks on the beach. I finished “Full Moon Fever” in the dead of
winter so beach walks were out but scenic drives weren’t.
For me, the key was
getting out of my head. I needed time to recharge.
different. Responses varied to that Facebook post. Some people didn’t go
through PPD – they celebrated. Others always had new projects in the works so
they were working on something all the time. I’ve done that one myself, but not
always. Some edit or sleep more. Others get out into the fresh air.
Do you suffer from
Post-Partum Literary Depression? What do you do to alleviate it?
by Jean Roberta
My latest erotic story was written in response to a call for submissions, and it involves the kind of plot/situation that erotic editors often ask for: sex with a Bad Girl/vampire seductress/or Lone Wolf/outlaw dude. Exciting sex between a character with whom the (supposedly average) reader can identify and a mysterious, unsettling Other sounds like a marketable concept. Whether this plot is believable on any level depends on each reader’s level of skepticism.
Persuasive character development depends on convincing the reader that this character would actually do that thing. Some writers, especially those who write first-time erotica (innocent youngish character loses his/her virginity in some sense by doing some sexual thing for the first time) try to pre-empt the reader’s skepticism by putting extreme ambivalence into the character’s consciousness. (“OMG! Did I really just accept the handsome stranger’s invitation to let him take me to his chateau alone? I can’t believe I’m doing this!”) The virginal character’s attempts to hang onto a clean and cautious image of herself (and usually this character is a her) ring false after awhile. Either she will or she won’t go to the home of a strange man. While there, either she will or she won’t take off all her clothes for him and let him tie her up. If she goes “all the way” (as it used to be called) and has incredible orgasms, then clearly she is the “kind of girl” who does that kind of thing. She can no longer honestly claim to be a virgin. Of course, she could still be a good person who treats others as she would like to be treated (and who harms none), but in that case, she needs to reject a shallow definition of “goodness” as sexual ignorance.
Erotica is often about transformations and epiphanies. Doing new things involves acquiring new knowledge, especially knowledge about oneself. This is part of the reason why character-driven erotica is interesting to read. However, critics will criticize a change that looks unbelievably extreme, OR a series of sexual adventures that leave a central character absolutely unchanged on the inside.
Writing plausible erotica is harder than it looks, especially since different readers have different thresholds for the suspension of disbelief.
Crits and complaints in ERWA Storytime and elsewhere often focus on whether Character A would really be attracted to Character B, and what action, threat or proposition can or should be regarded as a deal-breaker. If Character B (the handsome stranger) says, “A pretty girl like you should be stripped naked and tied up,” and if Character A (the ingénue) then falls into his arms, some readers will complain that she is Too Stupid to Live, and others will say that in real life, she would rush out the door and resolve never to return to the bar – and for good measure, she would stop speaking to the mutual friend who introduced them.
Some readers will ask, “But why would Character A (law-abiding citizen) be attracted to Character B (rake, seductress, criminal, spy, visitor from another planet) when they are so different?” (Obviously, opposites never attract in the real world, even on the rare occasions when they cross paths.)
Sexual identity is actually a slippery thing, but some readers expect clarity: Lance is a gay-male porn star who was performing in the nude since birth. Bob is less flamboyant, but he knows he is attracted to men, and this is made clear to the reader from the outset, even if he won’t admit it aloud. Bob could possibly be seduced by Lance, but Bob wouldn’t make the first move. Bob couldn’t be married with children, and he could never enter Lance’s profession.
Some feminist critics have commented on the general acceptability of female/female sex scenes in sexually-explicit writing – but only if at least one of the characters finds Mr. Right or stays happily married, because she is not really a lesbian. (The real ones always wear labels, or strap-ons.)
During the period of suspense between sending a story to an editor and getting a response, I worry about all the possible reasons why the story might be rejected. A perceived lack of plausibility is high on the list, even if the call-for-submissions asked for vampires, werewolves, zombies, or a Romeo-and-Juliet romance between members of different supernatural species. (But would any self-respecting bloodsucker really . . . ?)
If and when I write my memoirs, I expect them to be rejected by the first 36 publishers on grounds that 1) the story lacks continuity, and 2) it lacks plausibility. For one thing, even if the author/narrator really lost her virginity in her teens, this can’t be stated in print without possible legal repercussions. And would she really have been attracted to the older brother of her Mormon friend? Why did the attraction not develop into a relationship? The plot trajectory needs editing.
I suspect that a certain incoherence is actually typical of real-life narratives, especially if written while the subject is still alive. A fictional version of the story is likely to be pared-down and simplified rather than expanded. Embarrassing, unlikely or seemingly irrelevant events and characters need to be weeded out to give a story the coherence which would give a comforting impression of logical cause-and-effect. I can imagine an editor’s comments on the complete, unexpurgated, five-volume version of my life-story to date: What is the theme here? Where are you going with this?
So I’m waiting to hear what an editor has to say about my story about a passionate encounter between mismatched acquaintances, one of whom needs to escape from the police as well as from a criminal gang, while the other wants to experience the “wild side” just for a night, without taking any big risks. A safe apartment, a safe job and a safe income look almost unbearably desirable to one who never had them, but the one who takes them for granted can’t see it.
What is realistic and what is not? The longer I live, the harder it seems to write fiction with the unmistakable flavour of life, especially if it is based on reality that is stranger than fiction.
By Spencer Dryden (Guest Blogger)
don’t more men write erotic romance?
very new to writing fiction. I’m also an old guy. I just turned 64. I
was 16 when Paul McCartney immortalized that age. At 16 I though 64
was much older and decrepit than it has turned out to be.
Nevertheless I am past the peak of my sexual prime and clearly headed
into the sunset.
immediate benefit of writing erotica is that I can make love to any
woman I want. In fact, she craves my sexual attention and my wife
could care less. How good is that? As my awareness of the field of
writing has expanded I have wondered why more men don’t write
erotica, or more specifically M/F vanilla erotic romance. It’s a
fair to say, since I’m saying it about myself, that I have been
subject to female allure since the first time I felt that stirring in
my pants when I saw pictures of naked women. Yes, I am pussy
whipped. I love women. I love female sexuality. I have been easily led by
the nose (actually by my cock) anywhere any woman has wanted me to
go. I have made disastrous choices because of it.
I found a woman who has been my wife and soul mate for 25 years, but
she too, can get me to do anything she wants. She’s so goddamn smart.
She knows that the secret to moving men is that we crave to have two
things stroked, our egos and our cocks. If she wants anything, all
she has to do is make me think its my idea, praise me for it and then
reward me. It’s like leading a lamb to the slaughter.
does your wife brag about you? Mine brags about me—not for the
tremendous screaming orgasm I bring her (right)— it’s the handyman
work I do around the house. When my wife is bragging about me to friends, in guy code she is saying, ‘my husband’s dick is bigger than
by now I’m sure your asking, ‘what does all this nonsense have to do
with men writing M/F erotica’. The answer is: EVERYTHING.
answer my own question about men writing M/F erotica, my thesis is:
It’s not that men don’t have sexual fantasies or that men aren’t good
writers, it’s that the standard, acceptable expression of erotica is
passed thought the lens of the female experience. So yes, guys, we
are subject to a kind of deeply rooted discrimination. INCOMING!
I say deeply rooted, I am talking about all the way back to the dawn
of mankind. It was sex that brought us out of the trees. Something
happened back when we were two feet tall that caused an explosion in
our species almost like a virus. I believe that explosion was
triggered by several changes that happened relatively quickly but
proved very successful. One of the most important changes was the shift
from seasonal estrus to monthly fertility—females became fertile and sexually
available on a year round basis. The other was the anterior migration
of the vagina—males and females could face each other during
to the change in the fertility cycle, a female signaled availability
by broadcasting pheromones. It drove all the males crazy, we wailed
and beat on each other, bringing gifts, building stuff and generally
making fools of ourselves for the chance of a little nookie. The big
alpha male swept us all away and banged everyone. The pheromones died
down and we all went back to living separate lives, eating grapes and
picking ticks off each other. That strategy is still working
successfully for the other primates we left behind.
along the way females got the idea that if they were sexually
available all year long, males would be constantly seeking their
favor, bringing them stuff, building shit and so on. Then to break
the alpha male thing, they realized that if they could face their
partner, visual cues could replace pheromones and allow them to have
more choice in the selection of mates. The great migration of the
strategy was ingenious. Guys had to keep bringing more and better
stuff in order to get laid, but we all had a chance if we could just
bring the right stuff. The phenomenon we call civilization was born.
It’s why I am pussy whipped. I keep bringing stuff and building stuff
in order to get laid. (You didn’t think I was going to get back to
that, did you?)
only place females fucked up was in selecting big hunky guys (think
Romance) as mates, which promoted sexual dimorphism—males much
larger and stronger than females. They should have selected more of
us regular guys. The slaves they bred became their physical masters.
the language thing came around, women proved much more facile with
this tool. Guys stuck to expressing themselves with clubs and spears.
Moreover since females harbored life, they had to develop much more
internal sensory awareness than men who merely needed to sense when to
eat, shit and fuck.
there was writing. At first we wouldn’t let females learn this
communication tool. When they did, they focused on internal sensory
experience. Eventually, completely frustrated by the lack of
emotional bonds with their mates, they invented Romance Novels as a
means of escape from their dreary enslaved lives. They specified that
the standard story trope must be one that focuses on internal sensory
and emotional experiences and hold the more physical, visual male
fantasy to be an invalid expression.
that’s why we don’t have more men writing erotic romance.
About Spencer Dryden
Some men are born great, others strive
for greatness; still others have greatness thrust upon them. Spencer
Dryden is none of these men. In fact, he’s so unimpressive he leaves no
footprints on newly fallen snow. He was trained in fiction writing on
the job with the many sales reports he produced for his managers,
winning the coveted ‘Keep Your Job Contest’ three years running. His
expense reports are still considered masterpieces of forgery by the
bankruptcy trustee of his former employer. He lives an unremarkable life
in a suburb of a northern city. His friends and family would drop dead
in horror if they knew of his secret life as a writer of erotica. He
hates the family cat, but still loves to pet his wife.
Some of our constant readers may remember my monthly
contributions titled: Writing This Novel.
The idea was based on a quote by Poppy Z Brite that a writer
doesn’t learn how to write novels. Instead, they learn how to write this novel
as they’re writing it. My articles followed my thoughts and struggles while
writing a novel of erotic horror titled The Night Kreatures.
I completed the novel and submitted it to a publisher. They
(rightly) didn’t care for the first two chapters and asked me to rewrite them. At
the time, I was working on the second novel for a series (under a different pen name)
and didn’t have time. I put it aside and figured I’d get back to it eventually.
Two years passed.
Several weeks ago, I submitted the third novel in that
series to the publisher and was looking for something to work on when a friend
mentioned that an agent would be interested in seeing my work. Ulp! I don’t have
anything to show an agent! I haven’t written a short story in over a year. Aha!
I thought, this is the time to grab out the trunk novel and fix it.
While reading through the completed third draft of the novel
I wrote in 2012, I was grateful it wasn’t published yet. I still love the creepy story,
but I hate where I started it (thus the problem with the first two chapters). The
sequence of events through the middle third makes no sense, although I remember
feeling it was vitally important to do things in that order as I wrote it in
*eye roll* Writers, right?
Why do we make those arbitrary decisions, and why do we get
so stubborn about them? Those decisions often turn out great for me, which is
why I’ll follow that instinct every time, but other times I mystify myself. Why
would I struggle so hard to bend a story to an idea that clearly isn’t working?
Every effort to force it showed so clearly on the page when I went back to read
it. It was painful to slog through.
Have you ever gone back to a novel and tried to fix it? Were
you able to? Or did everything you tried only make it worse? Do you have a
trunk novel you’d like to get back to? What’s stopping you?
So, as this post goes live I’m actually out of the country. In Paris, France, one of my very favourite places on earth… so far 😉
I’ve gone researchin’. For some reason, ever since my very first visit to Paris back in 2010, I found it beautiful, fascinating, interesting and inspirational. Since then, it’s spawned several stories which have been set there, all very different and all so much fun to write. And yet, I’m not done! One of those tales has been begging for a long time to be extended into a novel, but my hands were tied due to a shitty publisher, who shall remain nameless. Since then, I’m glad to say the publisher is no more (yeah, seriously, they were that bad), so I have the rights to that short story and the characters back, and I can work on the novel. I’m really looking forward to it because I love the story, the plot and the fact that my crazy little brain actually figured out this could be turned into a series. It’s been languishing for too long, and I’m hoping that another research trip to Paris will inspire me all over again and I’ll be bubbling over with ideas, new settings and enthusiasm for the project 🙂
Lucy Felthouse is a very busy woman! She writes erotica and
erotic romance in a variety of subgenres and pairings, and has over 100
publications to her name, with many more in the pipeline. These include several
editions of Best Bondage Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica 2013 and Best Erotic
Romance 2014. Another string to her bow is editing, and she has edited and
co-edited a number of anthologies, and also edits for a small publishing house.
She owns Erotica For All, is book
editor for Cliterati, and is one eighth
of The Brit Babes. Find out more
Join her on Facebook
and Twitter, and subscribe to her
newsletter at: http://eepurl.com/gMQb9
By Lisabet Sarai
A word to readers: this blog post has nothing to do with BDSM. However, it does feature some pain.
A few months ago, inspired by one of my blog posts here, Donna George Storey challenged ERWA followers to take the NWWTHYW challenge. “NWWTHYW” stands for “National Write Whatever The Hell You Want”. We declared March to be NWWTHYW month at ERWA and even established a special blog page for people to share their experiences.
I was pretty quiet during that month. I felt like a hypocrite. Because even as my fellow authors were crowing about setting their muses free and flying high on the currents of their personal visions, I was laboriously twisting and reshaping my most recent novel, trying to fit it into the pigeon hole established by my publisher. While other blog commenters basked in the glow of their creative fervor, I was agonizing about just how much I’d have to cut and rewrite in order to satisfy the submissions editor.
A bit of history is required to understand the situation. Late in 2013 I responded to a call for short erotic romance works (15-20K) on a particular theme. This theme was supposed to provide the foundation for a new imprint with this (highly successful) publisher. They planned to put lots of energy into marketing the series, as it was part of a major rebranding effort.
The publisher was quite specific about what type of story was required: light, humorous, romantic, with a bit of a chick lit flavor. BDSM and ménage were okay as long as things didn’t get too intense. The first few ideas I had didn’t get the editor’s approval, but then I hit on a winning concept and went on to write Her Secret Ingredient. This is a slightly silly story about an ambitious female chef who tries to seduce the devastatingly handsome but authoritarian Frenchman running the cooking network where she’s been hired as a special guest. Instead she snags the rumpled but attractive producer, who turns out to be a closet Dom.
After this book came out, in late 2013, the publisher asked if I would be interested in writing a novel-length sequel. After a bit of wavering, I decided to give it a try. I wrote a blurb and sent it to the editor. She loved it. So I plunged in, making steady progress. I submitted the book on Valentine’s Day, and waited for a response. I thought the book was pretty good. I’d managed to broaden and deepen the characterization, focusing on a BDSM triangle in which my heroine dominates the French chef but submits to the producer. The plot premise of a series of on-location cooking shows in France gave me lots of opportunities for local color. (Since I took a three week vacation to France in 2013, I had plenty of material!)
This publisher usually turns submissions from their established authors around in a few days to a week. In this case, though, several weeks went by without my hearing anything. Finally I inquired about the status of the book.
Well (the editor said), The Ingredients of Bliss was well-written (a sop to my pride?) but the dark, raw tone didn’t fit well with the imprint. And wasn’t the plot a bit too elaborate for a romance? (In a case of mistaken identity, the heroes are kidnapped by a Hong Kong drug cartel and the heroine must figure out how to save them.) Meanwhile, could I make this be a true ménage, with Emily be equally in love with both of the men (producer Harry and chef Etienne), rather than having her feelings portrayed as ambiguous? Or else could I tone down her relationship with Etienne and focus more strongly on the fact that she and Harry are in love? Readers won’t like her if they think she’s fickle. And while we’re talking about fickle, the fact that she’s attracted to and considering having sex with the villain (who happens to be a dead-ringer for Etienne) is just not acceptable. Oh, and the little hints about F/F attraction to the police officer who’s helping her? Our readers don’t really like F/F interactions in a heterosexual book.
Dark, raw tone? She should read some of my other stuff! Bangkok Noir, or Exposure, for instance. Okay, the book includes a bloody gun battle and an attempted rape (by the villain) with some strong language, as well as a gory but erotic nightmare, but none of this is gratuitous. It all advances the plot and helps develop the heroine’s character.
As for Emily’s “fickleness”, her uncertainty about her true feelings, I see this as the core emotional conflict in the story. While she fights for her lovers’ lives, she’s also trying to come to terms with her dual attraction and to decide which, if either, of the men she Loves. (I deliberately capitalize the word, since I mean “love” in the romance sense of soul-mate/long-term commitment.)
Sure, she’s not in love with the gangster Jean Le Requin, but the plot requires her to seduce him in order to achieve her goals. Given that he looks and even smells like one of her lovers, wouldn’t she react to him physically, even if her emotions weren’t involved?
Meanwhile, what’s with the “too much plot” issue? This is, after all, a novel. Sixty five thousand words. I can’t just fill that up with one love scene after another, no matter how creative the BDSM! I’d get bored, even if my readers wouldn’t.
My first reaction was to pull the book and submit it elsewhere. “This is National Write Whatever The Hell You Want Month”, I told myself. “Why should I compromise my artistic vision to fit the expectations of somebody else?”
I soon realized, though, that the novel would lose a lot if it were not associated with the original short story. So I bit the bullet and did a revision, trying to address at least some of the editor’s concerns. This was pretty tough. My work has a lot of inertia. I revise continually while I am working, but once I write “The End”, the book starts to fossilize. I don’t have trouble modifying a few sentences or paragraphs, but for better or worse, my stories tend resist major structural changes.
In this first round of edits, I removed the part where the villain fingers Emily to orgasm at the Grand Prix races, destroying her fancy lingerie in the process (though I was really fond of that scene). I took out a passage where she’s guiltily contemplating the pleasures of screwing him. I added more declarations of love between Emily and Harry. I streamlined the plot a bit and tried to make the details more coherent.
The modifications were not substantial enough to satisfy the editor.
I tried again, completely removing any hint of attraction between Emily and Jean. I softened the attempted rape scene quite a lot, removing both the most extreme epithets and much of the physical violence. Without being asked, I excised the terrifying erotic dream, which had an extremely dark tone.
Better. Can you try one more time, please? And while you’re at it, could you edit the blurb? It’s a bit long and elaborate and gives the plot away. Can you take out some of the details, to help build suspense? Oh, and it would be good to focus more on Harry and less on Etienne. Don’t want to give potential readers false impressions.
I sent in a third revision. As far as the blurb was concerned, I made some minor changes, but I told the editor that I disagreed with many of her comments. The suspense in this book (I wrote) does not revolve around the kidnap plot but rather around Emily’s ambivalence regarding her two lovers and the roles of dominant and submissive.
Finally, the book was accepted. I suspect that the editor may have been tired of all the negotiation. Or who knows, maybe they really do like it.
Other authors I’ve talked to have told me this is a normal process that they’ve been through many times. However, being asked to do multiple rounds of substantive edits like this was a new experience for me, an experience that I found quite unpleasant. At several points I was tempted to throw down my toys and walk away in a huff.
I kept at it for several reasons. First, this publisher has always treated me very well (and I don’t want to imply that they were anything less than professional and courteous during this process, either). Part of me (the part that always tried to get straight A’s) felt guilty and embarrassed that I hadn’t met their expectations. Second, I knew it would be hard to sell this book elsewhere. I could find a publisher – that wouldn’t be a problem – but despite my relative lack of success, I had targeted this specific imprint and the book would be something of an orphan otherwise.
Still, I feel a bit sheepish after championing NWWTHYW and blogging about “writing commando”. After all is said and done, I guess I’m just another pussy-whipped author, meekly adapting my work to fit the market. (Okay, maybe not “meekly”!) Was this a matter of principle? Should I have stood my ground? Did I betray my Art?
When I get to this point, I have to laugh at myself. I don’t view my words as sacred. I write to entertain myself and my readers, and to explore certain ideas and scenarios I find intriguing. And of course, to make a bit of money, if I can. Yes, these edits skewed the book away from my original vision, but so what? The revised book probably will be more popular than the original would have been. I don’t doubt that it’s closer to what this publisher’s readers want.
After all, this is just one book. I can always go dark, deep and raw in the next.
It’s the 19th of May. Do you know what that means? It’s time to post your Sexy Snippets!
The ERWA blog is not primarily intended for author promotion.
However, we’ve decided we should give our author/members an occasional
opportunity to expose themselves (so to speak) to the reading public.
Hence, we have declared the 19th of every month at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog Sexy Snippet Day.
On Sexy Snippet day, any author can post a tiny excerpt (200 words or less) in a comment
on the day’s post. Include the title from with the snippet was
extracted, your name or pseudonym, and one buy link, if you’d like.
follow the rules. If you post more than 200 words or more than one
link, I’ll remove your comment and ban you from participating in further
Sexy Snippet days. So play nice!
you’ve posted your snippet, feel free to share the post as a whole to
Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you think your readers hang out.
by Donna George Storey
I haven’t seen the Showtime! series Masters of Sex yet and probably should as part of my ongoing research on sex and culture, but I did recently plough through the book that inspired the series, Masters of Sex: William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America to Love by Thomas Maier (Basic Books, 2009). I don’t intend to give a full book review, but let’s put it this way: there’s still plenty of room for an intelligent, nuanced study of the lives and work of Masters and Johnson in the future. Yet in spite of its sensational-journalistic sensibility, Maier’s book did make me ponder yet again the deeply-rooted obstacles erotica writers still face decades after Masters and Johnson compiled their ground-breaking data.
William Masters began his career as a gynecologist specializing in fertility problems. Although he and his colleagues used all of their intellectual and surgical powers to help infertile couples conceive, they were forbidden to study the natural process by which human life was created. Clinical experimentation on human sexuality was not only scandalous, it was illegal in some states. The book quotes one doctor as, more benignly but with due disgust, asserting that a clinical study of sex as Masters and Johnson undertook in their laboratory would take the “mystery” out of it. Another gynecologist said that when his patients complained of unsatisfying sex lives, he had no help to offer but a warm hug, insisting that the hug did wonders. (To which I reply either “a hug” is a euphemism for much more, or this particular doctor was way gone in his god fantasy.)
Possibly we’re so used to regarding sex as a sacred mystery or a lawless instinct in need of severe legal and cultural restriction that this willed medical ignorance does not at first seem as horrifying as it truly is. What if the medical profession decided cancer was clearly a mark of god’s retribution and thus we should not destroy the “mystery” of the affliction by attempting to understand and treat it? A warm hug would surely provide the cancer patient with adequate intervention?
Very fortunately, William Masters had the courage to begin to study this taboo but fundamental aspect of human existence. Virginia Johnson’s initial key contribution was recruiting women to be subjects for the higher good of replacing myth with fact. Many eagerly participated for just that reason (I believe them—and thank you, sisters!) Johnson and Masters were, for a time, media stars. Their books were best sellers and did indeed overturn a lot of myths about sexuality, female and male both.
Still I’m sad to say that while sex guides and manuals are readily available in the present day, scientific studies of sexuality are still seriously underfunded. You can get grants for any kind of weird diet study in the name of the “obesity epidemic,” but to my knowledge, there’ve been no major breakthroughs in our understanding of human sexual response since the publication of Masters and Johnson’s work. (Please correct me if I’m wrong—even the discovery of the G spot is still controversial and not supported by the few later studies.)
So here’s my question—why don’t people WANT to know about sex? Why aren’t we insisting that our doctors and scientists delve deeper into this important aspect of our lives? Now I’m the first to admit that science has its own severe limitations, but isn’t it sad that we’re still held hostage to an ancient fear of sexuality? How ironic indeed that the Biblical word for sex is to “know” another person, when religion is so often used to perpetuate sexual ignorance.
In mulling this over, I came up with a few ideas—all based on fear. Fear of finding out we don’t measure up sexually. Fear of female sexual response if women were more educated about their potential. A continuing fear of the chaos that would ensue if science confirmed that the sexual urge and its satisfaction are just plain good for you.
In her comment on my April column here at ERWA, Remittance Girl introduced a concise and elegant explanation for all of this fear and willed ignorance and how it affects the response to erotica, which I will now define as writing that seeks to delve deeper into the truth of sexual experience, a study that can be taken on by any sincere amateur who will nonetheless learn much about her own sexuality in the process. RG paraphrases Slavoj Zizek thusly: “You can either have explicit sex, or you can have depth of meaning in narrative, but you can’t have both. That is forbidden.”
Is this refusal to give sex deeper meaning (beyond procreation) why scientific studies of sex are still severely circumscribed as well? Can you imagine the NIH enlisting subjects to participate in laboratory sex for the sake of a greater good?
In fact, I do believe there is a link between the work of Johnson and Masters and the efforts of erotica writers to explore the complexities of the erotic experience, to give it a broader and deeper meaning, to take it seriously in the pursuit of greater knowledge, as any scientific study implicitly does. What we do as erotica writers has meaning, it is important, and it carries on the legacy of all doctors, philosophers and writers in centuries past who chose sexual knowledge and self-knowledge over fear and ignorance. So there, I was a little depressed about all this when I started writing, but I see now there is truly hope and it’s in our vivid imaginations and the fingers tapping our keyboards.
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
|Bernini’s Saint Teresa of Avila|
Anyone who has been dropping in to my fiction blog for the past six months has probably had a rough time of it. I’m not apologetic; my blog was always meant to be a place of experimentation and that has only intensified since I began my doctoral studies.
What has been intriguing me, maddeningly, in the last little while is the subject of ‘Feminine Jouissance’ and how to represent it in contemporary erotic fiction. The French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, identified three types of what he called jouissance. Originating from the French verb ‘jouir’ (to enjoy) but also translated as the slang for having an orgasm, Lacan began by interpreting the word in the vernacular sense: sexual enjoyment. His definition evolved over time, becoming more complex and nuanced until it came to mean a type pleasure that causes pain. One of the best, easiest ways to get one’s head around this is to think of what you feel like, both in body and in mind, about 10 seconds before you reach orgasm. At that point it is not an entirely pleasurable feeling. Inherent in it is both the anticipation of great pleasure, the frustration, discomfort, and sometimes even the agony of not having quite reached it yet and, finally, the sometimes wistful sadness of the knowledge that it is over so fleetingly even before it has arrived.
Lacan identified three types of jouissance: phallic jouissance, the only kind experienced by most men (the state of pursuing a desire which, once arrived at is never quite the absolute bliss one dreamed it would be, which can also be experienced by women); the jouissance of the other (a form of yearning, exiting, and bitter envy in which one believes that the other person’s pleasure is somehow more perfect than one’s own) and feminine jouissance (which Lacan said could only be experienced by females and mystical men). Interestingly enough, both Bataille and Lacan chose the image of Bernini’s Saint Teresa, being pierced through the heart by an angel, to illustrate what they conceived of as a type of bliss most often described as ecstatic experience. I’m simplifying the explanation of these types of jouissance and especially how they pertain to gender because when Lacan spoke of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ he is not referring to biological gender identifiers and, in my opinion, never did a very good job of explaining exactly what he meant. This is exacerbated by the fact that he kept insisting that it couldn’t be described in language. Perhaps because he himself was very much an unmystical man? Admittedly, as you read on, you’re going to notice that this IS very difficult to write about, but I think it can be written around. I think it is possible to call the inner knowledge of most readers into the service of a mutual understanding of what we are talking about.
This idea of feminine jouissance intrigues me greatly because I think it drives the deepest erotic desires of many more people than we think. And , again, I want to underscore that although ‘jouissance’ always contains an aspect of pain, I’m not not referring to traditional definitions of masochism (where the masochist enjoys the sensation of physical pain). My gut says that this jouissance is present in some erotic romance writing and a lot of D/s erotica – if there is any internalized thought or dialogue present in the text – and refers to what is often described in purple prose as a ‘sweet pain’ or ‘delicious agony’ or ‘surrender.’
Not always overtly sexual, it is always erotic. The stimulus might originate in the brain, but it has physical reverberations. The pain/pleasure involved cannot be situated only in the body or only in the mind; it must take place in both. One of the reasons why I think the statue of Saint Teresa was used as an illustration of female jouissance is because it so literally and radically exemplifies the ‘sacrifice’ of penetration.
At this point I don’t want to even contemplate how much politically correct shit I’m pulling down on my head, but before you start to throw bricks at me, let me explain.
In the first place, sacrifice, as it pertains to women, always does come with a lot of sexist historical baggage. However, the baseline concept of sacrifice has to do with relinquishing something (a fatted calf, the village virgin, Christ, one’s bodily integrity, one’s individuation) for a specific purpose. You’re giving something in anticipation of getting something more important back. So what I mean by the ‘sacrifice of penetration’ is not that something is given up altruistically, but that it is a sort of metaphysical trade.
Secondly, I am speaking about penetration in either the physical or metaphorical sense. To be penetrated physically is a breach of the boundaries of the body. But I want to underscore that metaphorical penetration is just as radical an infringement of the integrity of the self. I disagree with Lacan that only ‘mystical’ men experience feminine jouissance and I’m not implying that he was leaving out gay or bi or trans men who enjoy being penetrated or submissively kinky men who like it also, because he didn’t. But I have witnessed both dominant and sadist males experience ‘feminine jouissance.’ It occurs when they allow the erotic entanglement to transgress their own boundaries – whether physical or ethical or emotional. The ways in which we are penetrated metaphorically in the midst of eroticism are many but I think, it always entails the pain, the pleasure and the exhilaration of a radical change of state, an undoing of the zipper of the hermetically sealed self. To find yourself in a state of genuine instability is to find yourself penetrated, and in the clutches of feminine jouissance.
What makes writing about this type of jouissance in a contemporary setting so difficult is that it flies in the face of a lot of our post-modern understandings of what it means to be an erotic person. We exist in a culture that celebrates the auto-creation and social inviolability of personhood. The modern sexual woman, we are told, makes no sacrifice. She comes to the erotic moment fully individuated, knowing all her needs and ready to ensure they are met. So, although she is gets fucked in any number of orifices, she cannot be ‘penetrated.’ This phallic jouissance; she may experience disappointment, but never the destabilization or breach of her identity. So it is easier to set narratives that involve feminine jouissance in the past. Apparently we can female sacrifice if it’s set in earlier times. Those poor women, they didn’t know better. And, as readers, we can enjoy the nostalgia of their jouissance, their sacrifice, vicariously.
I hesitate to bring this up at all, but one of the reasons I think Fifty Shades of Grey was so popular was because, sexually at least, Anastasia Steel is almost the model of a Regency Romance virgin. And, as badly written and politically incorrect as it is, a lot of readers enjoyed the vicarious spectacle of her ‘penetration’ and her ‘sacrifice.’ For me, the problem with it is that was just such a cliched, hamfisted example of it.
Similarly, the idea of the ‘penetrated male’ as some lesser form of the gender has been around for thousands of years and, in the mainstream, continues to this day. It’s probably why so many male protagonists in both male and female-penned erotic fiction seem so rigid and cardboardish and – haha – impenetrable.
I’d like to make a plea for a reinstatement of feminine jouissance, of sacrifice, of metaphysical penetration in contemporary erotic writing. But please, let us not resort to the same old spectacles of sacrifice. Let us consider that this giving over, this destabilization, this surrender is not gendered. It is deeply human. It defies the material transaction and celebrates the metaphysical one. I believe there are new ones for us to explore.