Monthly Archives: April 2015
By K D Grace
It’s that time of year again! May is International Masturbation Month and, as one who is proud to be a frequent masturbator, and one who believes our creativity is deeply connected to our sexuality, I feel it’s only right to honor the occasion. Several years ago, I came across a fabulous article by Eric Francis over on Betty Dodson and Carlin Ross’s Sex Information Online site. Every time I revisited, I’m reminded why I liked it so much.
validate the single lifestyle don’t discuss masturbation. The surprising answer seems to be that masturbation is a subject even happily single people just aren’t comfortable discussing. But what intrigued me most was Eric’s speculation as to why that might be:
‘I would propose that masturbation is about a lot more than masturbation — and that’s the reason it’s still considered so taboo by many people, and in many places. First, I would say that masturbation holds the key to all sexuality. It’s a kind of proto-sexuality, the core of the matter of what it means to be sexual. I mean this in an existential sense. Masturbation is the most elemental form of sexuality, requiring only awareness and a body. Whatever we experience when we go there is what we bring into our sexual encounters with others — whether we recognize it or not. Many factors contribute to obscuring this simple fact.’
I read this through several times, savored it, and read it again. The ancient Egyptians believed masturbation was a creative act in its own right. In the Heliopolis creation myth, the god Amen rises from the primeval ocean, Nun, and masturbates the divine son and daughter into existence, and they populate the world. Even if I look at the Judeo/Christian myth in the first two chapters of Genesis, in which God speaks the world into existence, I am still looking at a solo act.
I love Eric’s line, ‘Masturbation is the most elemental form of sexuality, requiring only awareness and a body.
Awareness and Body. What a fabulous combination! Eric even goes on to say that whatever we take from that proto experience of masturbation, we bring into our other relationships as well. In other words, it’s formative, that solo act, that original creative force. It brings awareness and body together. Isn’t that what it’s all about? The discovery of who we are in relation to ourselves is key if we are to be able to properly enter into discovery of ‘The Other.’ Doesn’t the act of creation, metaphorical or otherwise, begin with taking an inventory of what we’ve got to work with and learning how best to work with what we have to bring forth what we hope to create?
Creation as a solo act is an experience with which every writer is familiar, an experience in which we masturbate the world into existence — our world, our characters, our plot — all an act of solitude, all an act of imagination. And I can’t possibly be the only writer who feels that experience viscerally as an act of self-exploration, an act of self discovery.
Awareness and a body. Masturbating the world into existence. It happens all the time. At the risk of offering too much information, my understanding of sex, my deepest understanding of my own sexuality, comes from awareness and my own body. That’s what I have to work with. My understanding of writing, my deepest understanding of the creative forces in me also comes from awareness of self and all that awareness can imaginatively create.
I’m astounded that in a world where solitude and the meditative tradition is a part of almost every religious discipline, we
shy away from the very concept that could have well given birth to it, awareness and Body. Can there really even BE awareness without a body? And how can we possibly understand the boundaries and the limits of either without the two rubbing up against each other. Our act of one-ness, our proto-sexuality, as Eric Francis calls it, I suggest is by its boundary-exploring nature, also our proto-creativity.
Masturbation Month honors awareness and body and the discovering of our own boundaries, that which separates us from everything else. And beautifully, amazingly, astoundingly, it is discovery and exploration of our own boundaries that eases and enhances our journey into connectedness.
Happy Masturbation Month!
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 three cats. Visit her web
site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon
Let’s play a game. You’ve written what you think is The Most Unique And
Exciting Story In The World, and you want to send it to a magazine or an
anthology submission call. You do exactly that and wait eager – and anxiously –
for over a month to get either an acceptance or a rejection. An acceptance will
be met with many congratulations and toasts with champagne – and pinches to
make sure you’re really awake.
A rejection, which deep in the back of your mind you may actually suspect
you will get because you are a writer and you may thrive on disappointment, will
leave you devastated. Or you’ll shrug it off and send your magnum opus
elsewhere. It’s a toss-up.
Rinse and repeat.
While you play the “hurry up and wait” game, you may wonder
how unique your story really is? Chances are, its theme has been seen before in
many different incarnations. Editors run into the same old stories all the
time. They often talk of common tropes that leave them guessing the plot and
ending before they even finish reading your submission. There are some tropes
many editors wish would never cross their desks. Those tropes should be buried
and the ground sown with salt.
Here are some examples of those kinds of common and tired tropes. First
up, here is a list of subjects Bartleby
Snopes Literary Magazine managing editor Nathaniel Tower is tired of seeing in
lit magazine submissions:
Death Endings – For the love of everything
that is sacred about literature, stop killing off characters in violent or
sentimental fashion in order to achieve an ending. Characters die in
approximately 12% of the submissions we receive. 99% of these deaths are
pointless and make the story worse. Character death is not a substitute for a
Opening with sex or masturbation – Nothing
turns me off faster than a story that opens with a masturbation or sex scene.
I’m all about being thrown directly into a scene, but sometimes there needs to
be some literary foreplay. If there’s an erect penis in the opening line of the
story, I probably don’t want to read it. Interestingly enough, these stories
are almost never sexy.
Sentimental cancer stories – Yes, nearly
everyone has been affected in some way by cancer. I’ve had family members die
of cancer. It’s been at least five years since anyone said anything new with a
Stories that open with light streaming
through the window – How many stories can begin with some type of light
bursting forth through a hunk of glass? Apparently there is no limit. At least
15% of stories contain some type of light coming through something in the
opening paragraph. There are often dust motes thrown in there for good measure.
Please, no more dust motes.
Stories that begin with someone coming out of
a dream or end with someone realizing it was all a dream – You’d
think that all dream stories would have been banned from the universe by
now. It seems as if many writers haven’t gotten the memo. I’ll personally kill
the next character that wakes up from a dream at the beginning of a story. And
ending with a dream? Well, that’s even worse. You might as well just call the
story “Nothing Happened At All” and leave the rest of the document blank.
Alzheimer’s stories – Like cancer stories,
only worse. These writers all pretend they understand exactly what it’s like to
have Alzheimer’s. The worst offenders are those stories told in first person
from the point of view of the Alzheimer’s patient. If I could forget one thing,
it would be Alzheimer’s stories.
Cheating significant other stories – Whether
the cheater is a man or a woman, these stories generally pack as much punch as
an empty bottle of sugar-free Hawaiian Punch. There’s almost always a scene
where someone is packing a suitcase, as if we’re supposed to feel some sort of
relief at this newfound freedom from the tormented relationship. The only
relief is when the story ends.
Machinegun bonus – Here’s a quick list of
other things I’ve seen way too much of:
References to Nietzsche
Stories of thwarted creative genius
Bad things happening to trust fund kids
This is a portion of a list of stories seen too often by Strange
Horizons, an online speculative fiction
magazine. It is helpful in that it can steer you away from what
you may not suspect are common tropes. Please visit this web page often since
the list is updated and changed on occasion. Also visit the page now anyway,
since this is a very long list. The examples below are only a small part of it.
Creative person is having trouble creating.
Weird things happen, but it turns out they’re
not real, like in a dream. (There’s that dream thing again.)
Technology and/or modern life turn out to be
A place is described, with no plot or
A “surprise” twist ending occurs.
The “surprise” is often predictable, hence no longer a
A princess has been raped or molested by her
father (or stepfather), the king.
The narrator and/or male characters in the
story are bewildered about women, believing them to conform to any of the
standard stereotypes about women: that they’re mysterious, wacky, confusing,
unpredictable, changeable, temptresses, etc.
Teen’s family doesn’t understand them.
Twee little fairies with wings fly around
Christine Morgan has written horror, fantasy, erotica, and thrillers.
She has also edited numerous anthologies, including “Fossil Lake”,
“Teeming Terrors” and “Grimm Black”, “Grimm Red”,
and “Grimm White”. Her list includes some other common tropes:
Child characters that do not behave/sound
like kids! I’ve seen too many otherwise good authors present a child character
as if they’ve never even been around children in their lives.
The above can also apply to animals, or any
other different/differing perspective. In fantasy or sci fi, urban fantasy,
horror, whatever; if you’re going to give me a non-human race, then that’s what
I want to see played up, the differences, the exoticness; don’t just make ’em
humans with special effects makeup.
Any of the overdone sexism tropes: fridging,
smurfette syndrome, automatic love interest, passive prize women, etc. That
should go without saying but the fact it still so often needs to be said is
almost more annoying.
think the term came from crime dramas and thrillers, where the body was found
in a fridge or freezer or something) is what they call it when someone, usually
a female character, is killed to motivate the male character … most recent
example that pissed me off was when I watched Thor: Dark World, when the easiest way to get Thor and Loki to work
together was to kill Frigga.
Syndrome is what I’ve heard it when you’ve got your group of characters, each
of whom is characterized by some trope or type … the jock, the nerd, the
weirdo … and the girl … because that alone is enough of an identifying
love interest is when a female character is added to the cast or in the story
and the main focus is only to be which guy gets her. My own beloved Gargoyles did some of that with Angela,
when, the moment she appeared, all that mattered was who she’d end up with. It’s
related to the passive prize woman thing, where the primary purpose of having a
female character at all is so the hero has something to win or gets the girl at
the end, whether anything else in the story had led up to it or not.
Radclyffe is an American author of lesbian romance, paranormal romance,
erotica, and mystery. She has authored multiple short stories, fan fiction, and
edited numerous anthologies. Here are a few themes/character notes/plot-lines
that seem overused in submissions she has seen:
who are relationship-phobic because they were cheated on. While this may be
crushing at the time, most people do not swear off love and/or sex forever
because of an unfaithful gf/bf/spouse etc.
who are unavailable because they are mourning a dead spouse (while tragic in
real life, and I’ve used this storyline myself :), it’s getting to be
YA’s – along
those lines: dying teens as main characters
main characters (snarky, petty, narcissistic) – not the same as
arrogant, confident, alpha
International settings no one
would want to visit on a good day
Fantasy/sci-fi characters with
veiled morality tales (or social/political polemics). Write an essay or op ed
Fault in Our Stars clones
where one character dies (might be a great story, but it’s not a
with no BDSM scenes (seen the movie?)
where the villain is declared insane and justice is NOT served
So there you have
it. Now you are armed with examples of what to not submit. Expand your mind,
avoid those kinds of tropes, and create something that may truly be The Most
Unique And Exciting Story In The World.
Author’s Note: My
story Infection appears in the
Terrors. My story Black As Ebony,
White As Snow shall soon appear in Grimm
White. Both books are edited by Christine Morgan. My short erotic story Like A Breath Of Ocean Blue shall soon
appear in Best Lesbian Romance 2015,
edited by Radclyffe.
by Jean Roberta
Teaching creative writing to young adults (second-year university students) is an instructive experience for the instructor as well as the students. Lately, I’ve been reading stories and poems that overflow with passion: usually the frustration of rejected love, or a desperate need for someone who responds with indifference. For someone who has had this experience for the first time, it must feel as monumental as Hamlet’s dilemma when he asks himself, “To be or not to be? That is the question.”
Let me state here for the record that I haven’t become too old or jaded to feel moved by expressions of anguish by young writers. I remember being their age, and my life didn’t run smoothly either.
However, my current frustration with student writing is triggered by extreme expressions of emotion that seems way out of proportion to the situation, as set forth in the work itself. Readers can empathize with Hamlet because we know that he came home from university to find that his father had died under mysterious circumstances, and his uncle had suddenly married his mother. If such things happened in our own lives, we probably wouldn’t be happy.
The writer T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) wrote a famous essay setting forth his theory that emotion expressed by characters in literature should always be based on an “objective correlative,” some circumstance that makes it seem logical and appropriate to the reader. (He complained that Shakespeare didn’t really succeed at that in Hamlet.)
Poetry by beginning writers often looks like a stream of consciousness, focusing on negative feelings. This semester, I’ve noticed a lot of screaming in student poems. (“I could have screamed, “Screaming, I cried.” “I screamed at the dark sky.”) In most cases, the cause of the screaming is briefly referred to, and it doesn’t seem to me to justify such an extreme reaction.
I’ve been looking for the objective correlative, often in vain. This can be a sensitive topic to bring up with student writers that I interact with in person. I don’t really want to know all the details of their lives, and some things are none of my business. I don’t care whether the events in their work have been made up; making up stuff is what creative writing is all about. However, I don’t want to read page after page of first-person descriptions of screaming that seem to be “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I’ve read erotica that reads that way too. An attractive stranger walks into a room, and the first-person observer almost comes. I’m willing to let the writer take me into his/her imaginary world, but I need to be persuaded. If the observer woke up feeling horny, having dreamed about sex all night, her/his reaction to the attractive stranger would make sense, and I would probably accept it.
Maybe the attractive stranger looks exactly like a celebrity that the observer has admired for years, or maybe like an old crush. Maybe the “stranger” really is the old crush, and he/she has matured into a more glamorous, more successful person than before. All this could make the observer’s reaction not only logical, but almost inevitable. But the reader/voyeur needs to know the details.
Screaming in orgasm is likely to be a peak experience for the screamer. It’s probably something that doesn’t happen each time the person has sex. So if this happens in a sex scene on a page that I’m reading, I need to know what is unusual about this conjunction of bodies. The stars must have been aligned in just such a way that the friction feels exquisite.
I’m sure I’ve rushed into sex scenes in my own writing, especially when pressed for time. When the deadline for a call-for-submissions was last week and I’ve been given an extension by a generous editor, the characters need to get it on, fast. However, if a story or a poem doesn’t work for readers in general, or if the piece only makes sense to those who know the writer’s personal history, it just doesn’t work. I’m grateful to my students for reminding me of that.
by Kathleen Bradean
Like Donna, I had a topic in mind this month, but after I read Garce’s entry on dialog a week ago, I was inspired to switch too.
During my morning commute, I’ve been listening to old radio programs from the late 40s and early 50s such as Suspense, The Shadow, Gunsmoke, The Falcon and Johnny Dollar. I’ve also listened to broadcasts of movie scripts such as Treasure of the Sierra Madre that were edited for radio and performed by the motion picture casts. No matter what genre it is, each of these programs are masterpieces of tight writing. Every line establishes or reinforces character and moves the plot along. With only the help of a foley artist and actors, the illusion of action is created. It’s really quite miraculous and wonderful.
On the other hand, in a novel or short story, you can’t get away with some of the crutches you can in a play, tv, or a movie.
For example, it’s considered bad writing to have an “As you know, Jim” passage where a character explains something to another character for the benefit of the reader rather than for the other character.
“As you know, Jim, you were my college roommate. After graduation, we went to work together here. We were the best of friends. Then I dated your sister and after not-fully-explained-bad-event-in-the-past-that-caused-your-sister-to-take-up-with-a-yak-herding-cult there was a big rift in our relationship but we’ve got to put that behind us right now because the fate of the entire planet hangs in the balance!”
But that sort of dialog is often in plays and movies. While I grit my teeth at it, I’m sure most people in the audience don’t realize how ridiculous it is for, say, a CSI tech to explain to another CSI tech why they’re lifting latent prints off an item found at a crime scene.
That’s not the only way prose writers are more constrained by the form they work in.
While His Girl Friday is an amazing movie, writing overlapping dialog in a short story rarely works well. (I tried to write an example. It sucked. If you don’t want to take my word for how difficult it is, watch His Girl Friday or any other Howard Hawks movie then try to recreate one of the more manic scenes on paper and see how far you get.)
Dialog in prose has the disadvantage of not being spoken. (Although I strongly suggest reading all your work, not just dialog, out loud before you submit it anywhere.) Tone and meaning have to be conveyed through the reader’s imagination rather than benefiting from the skills of an actor to bring out that meaning for the audience.
Dialog is a strange form of art. The writer isn’t trying to replicate the way real people talk, Real people take too long to get to the damn point, say um a lot, and spend far too much time talking about things that aren’t the exciting plot points of their lives. So what we’re aiming for is a completely artificial construct that serves the story but is worded in such a way that the reader could imagine a real person saying it. No. They have to be able to hear it in their imagination in that character’s voice and it has to ring true or your readers are going to roll their eyes.
If you can, try to listen to a few old radio broadcasts and pay attention to what those writers were able to do with dialog, a foley artist, and maybe and organ riff or two. It’s not the same as writing prose, but it will give you new respect for the power of dialog.
I had a conversation with someone recently that went something like this:
Woman: Oh, you’ll have to lend me one of your books to read.
Me: I thought you were buying one? (I’d previously given her a business card with a link to my website, etc)
Woman: Oh, I was. But then I thought I didn’t want to spend any money on it, in case I didn’t like it.
Me: (in a jovial tone of voice) That’s my livelihood you’re taking away.
Woman: I’m not! I just wanted to lend one, then I’d give it back.
Me: What, with sticky pages?
This then, fortunately, diverted the attention away from the conversation and made everyone giggle, and it wasn’t brought up again. But it made me think: what value is put on books? And I mean in all genres, not erotica specifically.
From what I can see, not much. Why do people balk at spending a couple of quid/dollars on an eBook (paperbacks, of course, are a different kettle of fish as they’re usually more expensive) which will hopefully give them hours of reading pleasure (and maybe other kinds of pleasure, too!), and possibly then be read again sometime in the future? Yet they’ll think nothing of spending more on a cup of coffee, which will be gone within half an hour, and not have any lasting impact on their life. The cup of coffee would have been made very cheaply, quickly and easily. Sure, it probably tastes good, but that’s it.
A book wouldn’t have been written cheaply, quickly or easily. Writing isn’t any of those things. Yes, some people can write much faster than others, but that still doesn’t make it an easy task. It’s hard work. Enjoyable, yes, but still hard work, and, most importantly, a valid job/occupation.
I wonder if this is what it comes down to: people thinking writing isn’t a proper job. Because, for the most part, we can set our own hours and have some freedom, it means it’s not real. Therefore, if it’s not a proper job, then we shouldn’t expect to be paid properly.
Naturally, people “in the know” realise this is a load of rubbish. Although I don’t write full-time, I’m gradually building up my volume of writing to boost my overall income. I don’t rely on it, because I can’t. Not by a long stretch. Therefore, it’s important that my work (and every other writer’s) is valued. Even if it’s not a full-time job, it is still a job. Just because we enjoy it, love what we do, doesn’t mean we should do it for free, or a pittance. Folk mistakenly believe that all published authors earn a fortune and therefore, what’s one freebie here or there?
Sorry, not happening. I already run quite a few giveaways on my site, in my newsletter, as part of blog hops, and so on. And they are for people actually interested in reading my work. I hope that they will read one of my books, like it, and buy another. Maybe recommend it to their friends. If they don’t like it, fair enough. Reading is subjective and, as much as I’d like to, I know I can’t please everyone. But at least there’s a chance of gaining another valuable reader. In the case of the woman above, I’m not sure I would have, regardless of whether or not she enjoyed my book. After all, if she’s not willing to spend money, take a chance on a book/writer, then she clearly doesn’t value writing.
I would love to hear your comments on this. Am I crazy? Over-sensitive? What? Should I just lend her a book?
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
Reading Donna George Storey’s post about Fifty Shades last month, I had one of those “aha!” moments. Donna cited Alyssa Rosenberg’s observation that romance is one of the only areas of cultural expression that focuses on women and their lives. I suddenly understood that reading romance could be more than just an escape into impossible fantasy, easily dismissed as shallow and frivolous.
Modern romance, which has largely jettisoned the wimpy, passive heroines of its past, gives its readers (who are primarily women) the opportunity to vicariously experience female agency. The female protagonists of today’s romance tend to be feisty, competent and independent. They are firmly in charge of their own lives, and frequently are not looking for the soul mate who eventually and inevitably comes their way. It might not be too far a stretch to view them as role models.
Furthermore, in erotic romance, women bravely, sometimes brazenly, express their sexual selves. Today’s erotic romance heroines embrace their desires. Often they bed their partners long before they fall in love, and they’re just as likely to control the sexual action as the heroes. As Donna points out, even the virginal Ana is the true dominant in Fifty Shades. She defines (and redefines) the rules, which poor Christian tries to follow.
Romance is about female power—the power to make decisions about relationships, and the power to enjoy personal sexual satisfaction. No wonder it’s so popular, in a world where many women lack that sort of power.
So why doesn’t the genre get more respect? Why is it so easy and so fashionable to belittle romance—especially erotic romance? Why does Donna feel so uncomfortable writing “mushy” dialogue, blushing as if it were obscene? Sure, there’s a lot of poorly written romance out there, but that’s true of every category of fiction. Why do people feel the need to denigrate romance as “trash”, “bodice rippers”, or “mommy porn”?
Maybe because the female power is viewed as a threat.
In a male-dominated culture, it’s too dangerous to take romance seriously.
“Take romance seriously?” Some of you reading this are no doubt chuckling at the absurdity of this notion. And I suspect Remittance Girl will be sharpening her rhetorical blade, ready to assert that romance is in fact a product of male-dominated culture, an attempt to domesticate the socially-disruptive effects of lust by promulgating the myth of harmonious, monogamous, stable coupling.
Still, think about what the world would be like if women all began to act like romance heroines. Speaking out and acting on their desires. Insisting on respect and consideration from their lovers. Demanding to be taken seriously. Claiming a well-deserved, personal happy ending, without guilt or feelings of inferiority. Some men would be very threatened indeed.
“Hah. Illusions. There’s no such thing as a happy ending.”
Perhaps there’s no “ever after”. However, healthy, egalitarian, enduring, fulfilling relationships do exist, hard as that may be sometimes to be believe. And you know, based on my personal experience, it’s not just women who want that kind of relationship. Many men value independent, assertive partners. Men do not necessarily want a doormat as a companion. Or, for that matter, an innocent virgin!
The kicker is that despite the official perspective that romance is trash, readers of the genre have more economic power than any other market segment. The phenomenal success of Fifty Shades is only the latest demonstration of this fact.
This observation makes me realize that romance readers don’t really care whether the pundits view romance as unrealistic or superficial. They’re going to buy and read what they enjoy, losing themselves in stories of the women they’d like to be. It’s only authors of erotic romance, like me, who grumble about not being taken seriously by the literary establishment.
Well, you know what? I respect the romance I write. I know how difficult it is to create an original, compelling story that still adheres to the conventions of the genre. More difficult, maybe, than writing a so-called literary novel, where there are far fewer constraints.
So I’m going to stop griping and get back to writing. The only respect I really need comes from my readers.
Do you know what today is? It’s Sexy Snippets Day! Time to share the hottest mini-excerpts you can find from your published work.
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.
Please post excerpts only from published work (or work that is free for download), not works in progress. The goal, after all, is to titillate your readers and seduce them into buying your books!
Feel free to share this with erotic author friends. It’s an open invitation!
Of course I expect you to follow the rules. If your excerpt is more than 200 words or includes more than one link, I’ll remove your comment and prohibit you from participating in further Sexy Snippet days. I’ll say no more!
After 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’d planned to write my column on another topic this month, but I was overcome by the desire to write this one instead. I’ve also recently been overcome with inspiration to write a brand-new story, which is unusual because unless a story is for a specific call, I tend to let ideas steep for months or even years. This time the characters, the setting, the plot just popped into my head and insisted on immediate expression. It’s romantic when the Muse leads the dance, and fittingly this story is an erotic romance. An historical erotic romance. I don’t usually write in this genre, although I’ve veered close. Perhaps it’s high time? Historical romance was a favorite guilty pleasure as a teenager. In novels by writers like Anya Seton, the eroticism was never explicit, but my vivid imagining of what happened off the page no doubt planted the seeds of my erotica-writing future.
Every story needs obstacles, of course, and I’m discovering that the historical setting supplies a fresh abundance of them. The stakes are high if a woman even walks in public with a man. An impulsive kiss is a delightfully taboo act. Chaperones watch proper young people in love as intently as voyeurs at a peep show, so there’s plenty of drama in just finding time and place to be alone.
Still because it’s erotica, my characters find opportunities for sensual delight. That’s expected and I’m comfortable writing erotic scenes. Yet, just recently, I was both amused and bemused to discover something that truly made me blush as I wrote.
I blame my male protagonist for the example below. He told me he wanted to say the following words to try to convince the woman he loves to marry him. Go on, Donna, just write it down for me, he said.
“There’s a wall between us now, and that’s as it should be. But I want to do so many things I can’t do, simple things. Reach out and take your hand when someone’s watching. Brush my fingers through your hair when it’s down around your shoulders. Kiss your cheek, your ear, your neck, your lips. Wake up beside you. Eat breakfast together. But once we’re married, Elizabeth, the wall will disappear. When our wedding night comes and we start our life together, we can do all of those things and more. And what I want most of all is to make you happy. I promise I’ll do that in every way I know how.”
I’m pretty sure my heroine wants to hear this. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind hearing such sentiments from a future or even current husband. But as I wrote, a little voice whispered, “Oh, jeez, it’s such a female fantasy that a guy would actually say something sappy like this. They just don’t.” And I blushed. Partner-swapping, anal sex, Japanese fetish clubs—my cheeks stay cool and pale. But gooey, earnest declarations of love—oh, the obscenity!
Erotic romance is often—disdainfully–called women’s porn. I used to interpret that to mean that it arouses women, but is gentler, less explicit and safely couched in emotional connection. The way all things designated as feminine tend to be. This still might be true, but while I pondered my discomfiture, I came to appreciate there might be another reason for the comparison. Women might want a lover to get on bended knee and say s/he will dedicate his/her life to making them happy, but in real life it happens about as often as an attractive stranger of the desired sexual orientation is overcome by the urge to give a man a blowjob in a stalled elevator.
In other words, our porn gives us what we yearn for, but don’t get nearly enough of in real life. But we’re still kind of ashamed of what we want, because there are plenty of people out there who are happy to make fun of us for it. In my case, one of those people lives inside my own brain. (There seem to be a lot of people living there.) Coming of age in the midst of the Sexual Revolution, I got the message that having sex was always cool for a liberated woman. Falling in love was a far more private, scary and vulnerable thing to do. The legacy for me: baring the heart is scarier than baring mere skin.
Or maybe trying to express deep emotions is hard no matter what the genre or the sex of the author? It’s much easier to be clever and cool. I have to remember that back when I first started writing erotica, I would also occasionally blush when I wrote a scene that pushed me into new sexually explicit territory. For me, I almost feel as if I should let my characters share their intimate declarations of love off the page. It’s too private a matter for strangers to be watching on. But perhaps, with practice, emotionally explicit writing will get easier too?
I’ll let you know as the process unfolds!
Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman and a collection of short
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
For the Oh Get a Grip blog, for which I’ve been writing for years along with Lisabet Sarai and others, I tried an experiment, a writing exercise I would recommend.
This Friday I’ll be attending a play I wrote, being performed downtown and the experience of writing a play and how it differs structurally from narrative fiction is profound and its worth your time to explore. Essentially you’re telling a story in pure dialogue.
Dramatic – that is theater – dialogue is of a very specific nature in sound and voice because it written for the human voice, not the mind’s voice. In real life, people speak a certain way, in short punchy sentences very often with phrases repeated over and over. Its worth learning to tune your ear to this. I studied by standing in grocery lines and coffee shops, noting the cadence with which people naturally speak to each other and writing it down verbatimn to examine. I listened to plays and movie dialogue to get a sense of how the pros do it.
Then, for practice, below, I wrote a story roughly 90% in dialogue with only minimal narration. Try it.
“Enter the Angler”
“Pick your era,” he says. “We
have flagellation brothels, sword and sandal, Roman slave girls.
“What era did Dracula live in?”
“What, when he was alive, like Vlad the Impaler
alive, or when he was a vampire?”
“The book,” she says, “that was
“You feel like Victorian tonight? We’ve
got Victorian. And Roman slave girls.
“‘Hold high your succulent quim, he
“We’ve got this roman slave girl thing,”
he says. “I can read that to you.”
“You have such an un-liberal thing for slave
girls,” she says, “You scare me. What is it about slave girls?
“I think slave girl stories are sexy.”
“Why? Because they can’t say no to you?
Right? You just switch it on and off you go.”
“Maybe. A little.”
“You’re very passive, you know that?”
“Oh stop. Not that again.”
“No, you are. You want a woman who can’t
say no to you. That’s your passive fantasy.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Yes! It really is. That’s the very
description of a passive male. You either want women to do you, or you
want a woman who can’t say no to you.”
“Is that supposed to be getting me hot?”
“I don’t know.” She waved her
hands. “Hold the slave girl stuff for a while. Hey – did you
know there’s this story in the Bible where these two daughters commit incest
with their father?”
“That’s seriously fucked up.”
“Oh, the Bible, its amazing what’s in
there. Pass it to me. I know where it is, somewhere around Sodom
“Oh, I’ll bet.”
“No – these were the good guys. The ones
who got away.”
“God spared them and they fucked their
He reached down to the bottom shelf where the larger
books were kept. He lifted out a heavy white leather bound Bible and
tossed it to her. She caught it in her arms. “Show
She checked the concordance in the back, caressing
the pages thoughtfully with her fingertips, as he watched, suddenly admiring
her. She still had her girlish habits from her school days. He
waited wondering if she would still do it – was she – yes – there it was.
The pink tip of her tongue, touching the doorstep of her lower lip as she
concentrated, the way she did when they met in study hall half a lifetime
She flipped through the Bible with scholarly
authority, ran her finger down a column. “Here. Genesis
“Tell it sister.”
“The Bible sez – ‘Now Lot went out of Zoar and
dwelt in the hills with his two daughters for he was afraid to dwell in Zoar so
he dwelt in a cave with his two daughters. And the first born said to the
younger ‘Our father is old and there is not a man to come into us after the
manner of all the Earth. Come let us make our father drink wine and we
will lie with him so that we may preserve offspring through our father.’ “
“Whoa! They fucked him?” He
gasped, thought. “That is kind of hot.”
“Oh my god you’re gross.”
“No,” he says, “you’ve got these two horny
women living in a cave. They don’t want to fuck their father but what if
a guy came along, say, me, came along, ‘hey there you girls in the cave all
alone’. I just killed this deer. Let’s cook it up and spend the
night. Want to have some kids?’ “
“You know these girls are going to come after
you with all they got.”
“That’s sexy as hell.”
“That’s passive male behavior. You’re not
working for it.”
“I’m bringing them dinner. Why they want
to fuck their old man anyway? What’s that?”
“It’s about lineage. The old tribal
people were serious about preserving lineage. They were trying to do
their father a favor by not letting his blood line die out.”
“Yeah, but its nasty.”
“You didn’t think so a minute ago.”
“If you read Matthew these people were part of
Jesus’ blood line. Really.”
“Jesus was descended from these father-fucking
“Kind of. Yeah.”
“God is good. I guess. So does that
get the machinery humming for you? It kind of does me.”
“The machinery isn’t humming yet.”
“You’re a tough sell tonight.”
“Oh – pass the soy sauce. What is
He went to the middle book shelf, ran his hands
along the spine and drew out a thin book “Ten Questions on Joining Yin and
“To master the Eight Pluses, rise at dawn,
lengthen your spine, flex and relax your buttocks. During the joining of
yin and yang through intercourse let your spine be loose, contract your
perineal muscles and conduct the seven energies to your sexual organs below the
Tan Tien. Exert pressure downward. This is called Accumulating
Energy. Do not go in and out too rapidly or with too high frequency.
Thrust in and out gently and gliding and with control. This is called
Gentle Moistening. When finished, withdraw the Jade Stalk erect.
This is called Stabilizing the Erection. These are called the Eight
She was sitting with her mouth open. “Oh
my gawd . . . “
“That is the most unsexy thing I’ve ever
heard. I feel like doing the laundry now.”
“Its actually good advice. Just a little
clinical is all.”
“That is the most mechanical shit. It’s
all about number. The eight what? Why eight? Why not twelve
or fourteen? Its like that thing you read in the Kama Sutra that’s supposed to
make the woman bark like a dog when she comes.”
“You scream for Jesus when you come. You could
bark like a dog.”
“You don’t even vocalize. I wish you would
sometimes, just let it out and yell like Tarzan.”
“I can yell like Tarzan.”
“Hey – want to hear the first horny thing I ever
read, ever? Pass me that Desmond Morris book.”
“The little green paperback with the naked
He hands it to her. She flips through
it. “When I was in junior high?” she says, “Someone passed
this around. It was the first time I ever read what happens when people
fuck. ‘In this particular instance we know that the female of the species
has developed a particular susceptibility to the sexual stimulation of the
clitoris. When we remember that this organ is the female homologue of the
male penis this does seem to point to the fact that in origin at any rate, the
female orgasm is a borrowed male pattern.’ “
“That’s not true!” he says.
“Its the other way around. All embryos start female. They
become male in the womb. Fetuses start with a clitoris and testosterone
turns it into a dick. He’s got it backasswards.”
” ‘ This also explains why the male has the
largest penis of any primate.’ “
“Now I like him.”
” ‘Copulation starts with the insertion of the
male’s penis into the females vagina. The male then begins a series of
rhythmic pelvic thrusts.’ Really. You can’t beat that.”
“Like Hemingway. Like Updike and
” ‘The copulatory phase is typically much
briefer than the pre copulatory phase.’ Yeah, especially with you. ‘The
male reaches the con. . . conson . . . con-sum-ma-tory act of sperm ejaculation
in most cases unless deliberate delaying tactics are employed.’ “
“Consummatory. Wow. I wanna
consummate your ass.”
“Wait for the copulatory phase to begin
“Soon. After the precopulatory phase is
“How will I know that?”
“Sometime after the commencement phase of nipple
erection as a variation of sexual signaling. I’ll make sure you
“If you say so.”
“Actually I really like this,” she says
“It still gets me. I wanked off with it when I was a kid.”
“So it’s about muscle memory. I really
like slave girls.”
“There’s something creepy about you.
“Okay, now that we agree.” He pulls
a paperback with a girl on the cover in a torn Roman tunic, climbs onto the
bed, leans back and rests his head in the valley between her breasts, snuggling
side to side close. He feels her chin touching the top of his head as her
hand strokes his hair. “Page 57,” he says, “‘You are
my property girl, know you that, he said, smiling cruelly.’ How do you
smile cruelly? Is it like this?”
“Please don’t do that again.”
“The weeping girls face flushed crimson as his eyes
bored into her- “
“Ouch,” she says.
” – bored into her – “
“Like with a power drill? From Home
“Shut up. Bored into her. His eyes bored
into her with a Black and Decker drill and a 35mm auger bit –
“Baby you’re so big – “
“So his eyeballs, they do this boring and he
says ‘turn around and lean against the table. If you move or cry out I’ll flog
“Flog me. Copulate me.”
“Yes,” he says. “Slap slap,
spanky spanky. Now – ‘ slowly she turned, blushing with a hint of hidden
desires and the possibility of secret delights. Grasping her tunic,
Lucretius wrenched it away in a single swipe of his powerful masculine hand and
exposed his throbbing member. Roughly he parted her knees and with a groan he
“No!” she says
“Stop. Stop, just stop, now you’ve blown it.”
“I didn’t write it, what have I blown?”
“Entered? Really? With his
member? Member of what? Club Med? Does your member ever
“No, but I –“
“Do I make you throb? Do I make your member
“Christ. Why does he – “
“She. It’s a she wrote this.”
“Why the fuck does she or he or it always have
to say ‘enter’? How do you enter someone?”
“You just enter them. Maybe groaning
“I mean, even Lot’s daughters, they let their
dad ‘come in to’ them at least, ‘like all manner of the Earth’, whatever that
is. That’s nice. Poetic. They didn’t make him enter
“Like entering a hotel lobby?”
“Enter me! Enter me, baby, enter me
“Hold still while I insert myself.”
“Yes! Insert yourself! Enter
me! Insert me! Now! Now!”
“Shall I insert your bags upstairs after I
“I hope you’re not expecting a tip after you
enter me, I don’t carry cash.”
“What if,” he said, “what if a guy
could enter you and then, like, move in?”
“Live there right inside your pussy.”
“Just enter me and set up housekeeping in
“Like being born but in reverse. I enter
you, warm up my dinner, maybe room service down in there, snug at home inside
your pussy. After I enter you, that is.”
“Take your shoes off after you’ve moved into my
pussy and close the door when you poop. Don’t leave your hairs in the
“Turn on the TV, looking for HBO after I’ve
entered your pussy and unpacked, catch up on Game of Thrones and take a nice
hot shower inside your pussy. Or the adult channels.”
“So you’ve entered my pussy and unpacked your
stuff and you’re eating Chinese food in your underwear living inside my pussy,
all tucked away and watching porn? And whacking off? In my pussy?
Shouldn’t you eating my pussy instead of Chinese food? Passive!”
“No, wait, let me check the air conditioning,
its humid here inside your pussy. Maybe I should call the desk.”
“Hey!” she says, seriously. “Isn’t
there a fish?”
“A fish? In your pussy?
“No. Is it there?” She points
up at the bookcase. “There was this fish you showed me. Black,
really ugly black fish with glass pointy teeth.”
His eyes glazed over for a moment thinking.
“With this thing on his head,” she says,
“Looks like his dick is hanging off his forehead.”
He goes back to the bookcase, runs his finger over
the spines. “Here,” and pulls out a large flat science textbook
of marine life. “And actually it’s the lady angler fish that looks
like she has a big prick growing out of her forehead. A long one that
“That’s very handy having a dick where you can
reach it. I could go for that.”
“As long as she doesn’t try to give herself a
blow job. Ow.”
He passes her the book, open to the page on the
anger fish and she looks.
“ , , , When ceratioid males are ready for
reproductive activity, with their extraordinary olfactory sense they follow a
dedicated pheromone to a female, who will often aid their search further by
flashing her bioluminescent lure. Once the male finds the female, he bites into
her belly and drools a chemical that dissolves skin effectively fusing his jaws
in the area of her ovaries within. Their skin joins together as do their blood
vessels, which allows the male to take all the nutrients he needs from his host/mate’s
blood while exchanging a perpetual ejaculation of sperm to her ovaries whenever
she ready for spawning. The two fish essentially become one body until death. .
She looks at him hard. “I just think
that’s so fucking hot. Just think – he fucks her forever.
Forever! Without ever stopping. That’s all he does ever. And
not just one – more than one. A whole Fire Station battalion of
“God is good,” he says.
“Come here,” she says, holding out her
arms. He lays down beside her, his hand slipping inside her nightgown,
finding her breast. “Angle me,” she says.
There was a time, not so long ago, when only critics wrote book reviews. The advent of online and ebook sales and the rating and commenting capacity of sites like Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, etc., as well as the book-focused social media sites like Goodreads have fundamentally changed the way we not only buy books, but the way we choose them.
There are positive and negative aspects to this. One of the most useful being that, since few critics lowered themselves to write reviews of non-literary texts, only the most notable of genre writers could ever hope to have their books reviewed. Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan or Sarah Waters are very likely to get a review somewhere worthy. Even first novels within the literary genre are often graced with critical attention. But only the star quarterbacks of the detective fiction, sci-fi, horror or thriller genres could expect any attention. P.D. James, John Le Carre, Iain M. Banks, William Peter Blatty, Stephen King et al sell so many books that any newspaper or magazine with a book review section who ignored them courted the ire of its readers.
Most critics did not review ‘The Exorcist’ until after the film was made. Pity – because ‘The Exorcist’ wasn’t just a good horror novel; it was an excellently crafted piece of prose, as complex, nuanced, layered and description rich as many literary works. Similarly, it took the social recognition of William Gibson’s influence on the emerging information society to force critics to evaluate his works in any depth. And, when they grudgingly complied – for Pattern Recognition, published in 2003 – what they found was not only a novel of insightful cultural critique, but a rich creator of enigmatic characters. Indeed, the first line of his novel ‘Neuromancer’ is widely agreed to be one of the best opening lines in a novel: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
When online platforms allowed book readers to rate and review the books they’d read, it seemed like a wonderful day for readers of genre fiction, and it could have been. Years of the expectation of a critique forced writers in the literary genre to be mindful to use language well. Literary novels will often sag horribly in plot, feature characters who are mind-numbingly boring and offer readers little in the way of escapism, but they are expected to be, at the very least, artfully written. Sadly, those same literary critics have often been, in my view, woefully lenient on shabbily constructed stories.
Conversely, some genre fiction may feature compelling characters, exciting plots and far less attention may be given to the style of the prose. Sometimes, in fact, the writing is very quotidian.
So, it seemed that the stampede of new and willing critics, in the guise of reader reviews and ratings, might offer us all a wonderful way to not only choose our next genre read, but encourage genre writers to a higher standard of prose writing.
Sadly, this has not been the case. Most reader-critics have never grown past the level of an elementary school ‘book report’. Some can’t even manage that. It’s not really all that surprising: it takes skill to write a good book review and practice to do it well. Most people have never learned how to organize and communicate their response to a reading in a way that might be helpful to others. We are all of us, without a little discipline, narcissistic beasts who believe that our opinion, our feelings, our impressions are the only ones that matter. But a good review (not a positive review) is generous – not to the writer, but to prospective readers.
For those of you who would like to evolve past the ‘book report’ phase of book reviewing, I’d like to offer a few things to help you construct a review that will offer a prospective reader a more informed way to purchase, or not purchase, a novel you’ve read. This is not a complete how-to-review guide, and it doesn’t address basics like setting, character, plot, voice, pace, etc. I’m offering a few approaches you might not yet have considered.
1. Who is speaking? Orient the Readers of Your Reviews
The first, most honest and often most helpful thing to do in a review is let readers know what your personal starting position is. If you’ve never read anything in this genre before, say so! There is nothing wrong with admitting this. You’ve come into the novel with far fewer expectations. That can be a very useful point of view. You can offer people a fresh way to look at the novel outside the known assumptions made about a novel in a certain genre.
If you are extensively read within the genre, then point that out. You have a sense of the genre-specific context that other readers may not have. You possess a level of authority that allows you to compare the book you are reviewing to similar ones in the genre, other books by the same author. You can offer the reader a context for how they approach the novel. You can offer insight into the ways in which a novel conforms or breaks with the conventions of the genre.
2. Skip the Synopsis
A book review is not like the book report you had to write in fifth grade, where you have to give a synopsis of the story to prove to your teacher that you actually did read it over the holidays. The writer and her/his publisher have already constructed and provided, via the marketing material, a synopsis they feel will adequately intrigue the reader without spoiling his or her experience of discovery. Additionally, the book probably already has a Wikipedia page with a summary of the plot – link to that if you must – or be a good net citizen and create or edit the Wiki page. Finally, there is always going to be someone who is still stuck in fifth grade and has already written one.
One thing that has rendered Goodreads almost useless to me is the unending number of story summaries masquerading as reviews. I don’t even read the end of the review (which might be informative) because I just don’t want to read yet another damn précis.
3. There’s No Such Thing as a Completely Objective Review, but that Doesn’t Mean You Shouldn’t Aim to Produce One
Fiction is written to both excite the mind and the emotions. The concrete facts of a book (i.e. this is the author’s sixth novel in the series and continues the story of ***; the narrative is presented as a series of diary entries; it is set in Paris at the end of the war; the plot is tightly woven and the ending is unexpected; the narrator is a loud-mouthed and unreliable adolescent who, although endearing, manages to completely undermine my suspension of disbelief; please don’t let the genre fool you, this should be in the Young Adult section; etc.) will resonate with everyone.
How the book made you feel is probably most important to you, but that information is probably the least reliably universal. If you focus only on how the book made you feel, don’t fool yourself that you’re writing a review; you’re performing emotional masturbation in a public place.
It is perfectly fine to say you were left devastated by the ending, or that it kept you up all night, or that your heart soared when the heroine triumphed, or that the violence in the novel ruined all your memories of your nice holiday in the Caribbean, but that should not be the bulk of your review. Otherwise, you are just indulging in hyper-subjective exhibitionism, and I will conclude that you are using Goodreads as a way to suppress your deep-seated desire to take pictures of yourself naked with a dildo and post them on the net, but you don’t have the balls to do it.
4. Read Preceding Reviews
‘Me too’ reviews are uninformative. If you have nothing new to bring to the discussion, just leave a star rating. If you really want to communicate something valuable to other readers instead of using the platform as a way to stroke your own ego, you will read the other reviews first and take note of what they have covered and what they have overlooked. A helpful review provides new insights.
I’ve often gone to Amazon all fired up to write a review only to find that other reviewers have gotten their first and made all the points I wanted to make. That’s when I use the little star button to give the book a rating and move on. It is also very helpful to comment on previous reviews. Yes, people ARE entitled to THEIR opinion of a book, but they are not entitled to an UNCONTESTED opinion. If you read a review that you feel is unbalanced, say so!
If you find that none of the reviews deal with your particular insights into the book, then go ahead and write! You really are offering fellow readers something valuable.
5. Pick Four Things
There have been whole books written on books. Literature can be so open-texted and nuanced that readers can read the same book and yet have virtually read a different one. A review doesn’t have to cover everything and, in fact, the best reviews limit themselves to a few strong critiques. Pick the four or five things that you feel are most important about the book and focus on them. There’s nothing wrong with headings and point form! You’re not expected to write a novel on the novel. Be as brief or in-depth as you like, but always explain why you have come to the conclusions you’re offering.
6. Contextualize But Don’t Re-Shelve
Novels always contain a certain amount of commentary on reality. Whether it is the libertarian ethos lurking beneath a survivalist thriller, or the possible underlying conservativism of a dominatrix who decides to marry her accountant, good novels offer us ways of looking at our own world and the best ones do it by offering rather than preaching a viewpoint. It is very helpful to other readers to construct a review that links some topic or aspect of the novel to our everyday lives or real environment. Thinking about books this way often give you an insight into what the writer ‘wants you to think’ and a contextualized review invites other readers to consider that aspect of the reading they might have missed.
Indeed, a really exciting way into reviewing a novel, now that you have enjoyed it, is to ask the same question of the text that you have, at the onset of your review, asked yourself. Who is speaking? Do you suspect the writer and the narrator overlap? Is the writer attempting to explore the world from a standpoint other than her own by narrating the story via someone very different to herself? If the story is in third person, past tense and no obvious narrator is present, consider how adjectives and adverbs, descriptive passages are used to put a spin on the story. How immediate does the storytelling feel? Does it feel like the story is being told in a distanced retrospect? This can affect how real the story feels to you – how immanent the characters and events.
However, fiction is fiction. It is fine for you to point out that something in the novel might be untenable in real life, but if you go on and on about it, what you are now complaining about is that the novel is not a non-fiction handbook. And that’s not helpful when you found it in the Romance genre. A case in point is the critiques of Fifty Shades of Grey which repeatedly point out how abusive the relationship is, and how little it resembles a healthy BDSM relationship. Had E.L. James written a guidebook on how to conduct a healthy BDSM relationship, critics would have every right to nail her to the wall, but that’s not what she set out to do. The book is a fiction of one relationship. It’s fine to point out that it portrays a very unhealthy fictional BDSM relationship, but it’s unfair and unhelpful to criticize it for failing to be the self-help handbook it never intended to be. It would have been just as valid and probably more informative to simply point out that the novel portrays an unhealthy form of D/s and should not be read as a lifestyle guide.
7. Consumer Choice Confirmation
No one ever had his or her life ruined by a bad book. No one ever went broke reading one. No one ever died from a poorly written novel (with the exception of the writer, perhaps). Moreover, it is unforgivably arrogant to tell someone not to ‘bother’ reading something simply because you didn’t like it. You may have gotten nothing from a book, but you can’t assume another reader will feel the same. You are not responsible for other people’s reading choices. Make your critique – make it scathing if you feel it merits it – but telling another reader not to buy it is rude and bossy.
Meanwhile, one of the most disturbing trends revealed in the consumer review sphere is also the reason why online bookstores like Amazon and iTunes provide space for reviews and why Goodreads exists. Behavioural scientists have noticed something interesting: consumers exhibit a desire to have their ‘good purchase judgments’ confirmed. They do this by encouraging others to make the same purchase. Platforms like Amazon know this and they harness it as a way to encourage purchases. It’s important to recognize that almost all of us have a desire to have ‘our good taste’ confirmed, and that this often unconscious desire is being manipulated to someone else’s profit.
As a good reviewer, your job in neither to encourage nor discourage people from buying a book, but simply giving them more information for their consideration. I’ve watched reviewers unconsciously turn themselves into book agents. They love a book or an author, and they take on the job of making sure everyone they know buys it. At the point you do this, you cease to be offering a review. You’ve become a member of the sales team, pitching the product.
We all want to encourage other people to read a book we’ve enjoyed, but the best way to do this is by offering a review that gives people both factual and emotional reasons why you found it so compelling. The moment you step over that line, you become an unreliable reviewer and an untrustworthy informant because it is not longer the book you are praising, but your own wise choice in purchasing it.
8. Find One Good Thing; Find One Bad Thing
No matter how much you hated or loved the book, pointing out one aspect that contradicts your overall impression is the single most effective way to make your review credible. It also happens to be a very good intellectual exercise.
For example, I gave Sylvia Day’s ‘Bared To You’ a predominantly poor review. In truth, I found it aggravating for a whole host of reasons, but the prose, although purple in places, is constructed with far more skill than ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ or most of the subsequent copycat novels. Conversely, my review of ‘Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran’ by Marion Grace Wooley is almost wholly positive and I was so taken with the novel that I was reluctant to say anything negative about it at all. Nonetheless, made myself do it. The pacing in the second half does drag a little.
Do, Do, Do Review!
In the age of e-books and an avalanche of self-published and small imprint published novels, there is a lot of crap out there. But there are also gems we are all likely to miss unless someone takes the time and has the generosity of spirit to review them.
Many of you are extensive readers and, as a fellow reader, I value your informed opinion. Well-constructed reviews don’t spoil a novel for me. They often tempt me to read genres I wouldn’t normally read and loosen up my expectations and assumptions. This affords me a more adventurous reading experience. Some reviews have called my attention to underlying themes and aspects of a novel I might have missed and contributed greatly to my reading experience. I’ve even chosen to buy a novel based on a well-written negative review because I realized the reviewer was put off by exactly the things I found most delicious in a novel. In fact, it was this very negative review of ‘Those Rosy Hours At Mazandaran’ that prompted me to read it:
“…If you enjoy stories about psychopaths who discover each other’s love for toying with their human prey before brutally murdering them, then this book is the perfect one for you.” (excerpt from ‘Psychopath Filled “Prequel” to the Phantom of the Opera’, one star review by The Reading Wench, Amazon.com, Feb 25, 2015)
I read that and thought, “Whoa, that sounds perfect to me!”
No one is obligated to review every book they read; none of us have the time. But when you find yourself brimming with opinions about a book, when it has offered you insight, or a disappointing experience you feel you can put your finger on, please take the time to write a review. Readers everywhere are depending on it.