Monthly Archives: November 2015
I’m just back from four glorious days in Rome, and I’m reminded once again why I love the place so much. Poor Raymond
was stuck in a conference the whole time, but I tagged along to play, to explore Rome MY WAY! The introvert’s way, and that meant a very long walk on the Queen of Highways, the Ghost Road, better known as the Appian Way. Living in Britain we know a thing or two about Roman roads, with more than a few of our byways and motorways having been built on top of Roman roads. The Romans did roads real good! Built in 312 BC, the Apian Way connected Rome to Brindisi, in Italy’s boot heel, some 350 miles away. It was originally built for military purposes. Wasn’t everything?
I once spent a fabulous afternoon in High Gate Cemetery in London. The Appian Way reminded me of that outing, only with more warmth and more sunshine. Places of burial and the way a culture deals with its dead are reflections of the culture itself. When High Gate was built churchyards were so overly full that the stench and the spread of disease were serious problems. What to do with the dead is a major issue in urban areas, so cemeteries were built outside the cities to ease overcrowding in churchyards, but the cities grew up around them. Cemeteries are a relative modern solution.
Now, imagine if the burial solution had, instead, been to allow people to bury their dead along the main motorways and freeways. That was the Roman solution in the time of the Caesars, when burial was not allowed inside the city. The Appian Way is a living monument to the dead. The road begins at the gate of San Sebastiano in the old Aurelian walls with a series of catacombs just beyond. They were all closed the day I went, which was fine. I was there for the walk. The first ten miles of the Appian Way have been made into a national park, and those ten miles are chockablock with ancient monuments, mausoleums and ruins of villas. Not only was the Appian Way the place for burying the dead, but it was prime real estate for building your villa. Beyond the first few kilometers there’s no traffic other than the rich and entitled, who now have their own villas along the Appian Way. Those you can’t see because they’re all set well back from the cobbled road out of sight of the hoi poloi.
I stopped at the Villa and Circus of Maxentius to picnic on the sandwich I’d bought at a cafe near the Appian Way Visitor Center. After spending way too much time exploring the mausoleum and the circus, I realized there was no way I could manage any real walking if I stopped for a detailed look-see at every monument and ruin along the way, and it was the feel of the road I wanted. In a way, it was a road trip ancient Roman style. I’m a huge fan of aqueducts and after studying the map I’d picked up at the visitors center, I made an executive decision to walk all the way to the aqueduct at the seven-mile mark. Of course seven miles out meant a seven miles return to where I could catch a bus back into the city. Never mind that! I’m a pit bull when I decide to do something, and I had my mind set on aqueducts.
My choice was a good one. Both sides of the road are literally lined with monuments, broken statuary, and even the odd remains of stone coffins. Some of the more important monuments were on the map, but most were not. The Appian Way is like the Forum and the Paletine in a straight line, but without the heaving crowds and the city noise. Since most people were more interested in the catacombs and the monuments just beyond, I shared the whole Appian way with only a few other intrepid walkers and runners and the occasional cyclist — oh, and a goat herder with a large flock of goats, bells tinkling, kids bleating as they crossed the cobbled road in front of me.
An erotica writer alone with her thoughts on a long walk in the beautiful Italian sunshine would have been enough to
inspire without the bloke who had, perhaps found riding his bike along the rough vibration of the cobbles a bit too stimulating. (I kid you not! What are the chances?) I figured he either thought he was alone or his situation was too urgent for him to notice that he had an audience. I suppose it was possible he was just an exhibitionist. That was all right, since I’m a bit of a voyeur, albeit a shy one. I smiled to myself and pretended not to see. Really, rough cobbled or not, who could blame the man for taking matters into his own hands on such a beautiful day. There’s something very stimulating about a nice long walk in the sunshine. I tucked that little scene away in the back of my mind for future use, and you’re welcome to borrow it if it inspires.
I made it to the aqueduct, and not a step further. Oh I was tempted to see what was along miles eight, nine, and ten. I was tempted to go all the way, but seven miles out meant seven miles back to the
bus, and I was in serious need of espresso. Besides the walk was a stretch for me. It was the longest I’d done since my knee surgery in February. I made it back no worse for the wear, giving myself a mental high-five as I arrived just in time to catch the bus back to Rome with a Danish couple who had been leap-frogging me for the last five miles. Immediately upon my arrival at Piazza della Repubblica where our hotel was, I found a café and had a celebratory espresso. In fact, I made it a double — being too embarrassed to ask for a triple.
Later, after I had re-caffeinated, drank a gallon of water and lingered beneath the shower massage, I enjoyed wine and spaghetti carbonara in an open air café, while I watched the lights of the Eternal City blink on around the Piazza della Repubblica, with its fountain and it’s spotlights on the ruins of Diocletian’s Bath. It was one of those days that felt, larger than life, as I often find days do when my only job is simply to pick up my feet and put them down one step at a time while I watch and observe and let myself be acted upon by what I see. Those days stand out. Those days are precious because they make me feel up to the task, they make me feel like I can do anything. They open me to possibilities, and there’s nothing more precious to a writer.
writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror, and
dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and
her tuxedo cat, Lucky. Lucky needs playmates, so two kittens are in her near future. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.
This picture above is of me, doing the Happy Dance.
After two years of submitting, one of my erotic romance
novels has finally been accepted by an excellent small press. This press has
already published four of my short stories in four anthologies, so we weren’t
strangers to each other. I don’t feel comfortable naming the publisher or the
title of the book yet since the deal isn’t finalized. I need to get my
contract, sign it, and return it. I will say that I’m over the moon about this
acceptance. I sent this book to over 70 agents and all the good erotic romance
publishers. Everyone rejected it. If this particular publisher hadn’t accepted
the book, I was going to shelve it. I had nowhere else to send it, and I loathe
self-publishing. So to say I’m very thrilled is an understatement.
Now for the real work – preparing the book for publication
and preparing myself for publicizing it. I know the title has to change. Any
book with the word “Threesome” in the title will be slapped with the
“Adult” label by Amazon and other distributors and relegated to the
“Erotica” category where it will die a quick and lonely death. If any
of that sort of censorship happens, my book won’t sell because the publishers
would have hidden it from searches. My current and potential readers won’t be
able to find it. So I need a new title.
I want my cover to be sexy but not tacky. I’m not sure I want
any oiled male torsos on the cover. I like the cover of “Fifty Shades of
Grey”. It’s subtle and hot. I’ll talk to the publisher, but I’ll trust the
pub’s suggestions as to what kind of cover will sell the book.
I’ve already decided who I’d like to write the forward for
my book, but I need to ask her first. I hope she accepts. She’s an excellent,
award-winning erotic fiction writer who’s a great seller. She’d be perfect. I
also have a list of writers I’d like to contact to write blurbs for my book.
I’ll send an ARC of the book if they need it, or I could send a PDF of several
short stories in the likely event they want to read my works first but want
I’ll write a press release to send out to the local
newspapers. I’ve done this before for a charity anthology, so I know how to write
it. Now to get newspapers to write about me and/or the book.
I need to set up a list of reviewers to review the book.
I’ll send it to Night Owl Romance, Manic Readers, Dawn’s Reading Nook, and The
Romance Reviews, to start. I’m not sure where else to send it at this point,
but I do have a list of review sites buried on my computer somewhere. I’m also
going to get the book set up with NetGalley. I’m a member of Broad Universe, a
networking group for women writers. Broad Universe has a very good deal set up
where I can submit my book to NetGalley for a reduced price. I’m definitely
taking advantage of that. I’ll submit the book to Publisher’s Daily anyway. You
never know. I may get a review.
I also need to set up a newsletter. I plan on sending
newsletters out monthly and at times when something unique is going on, like
the release or special sales. I need to create or pay someone to create a
newsletter header. If I can’t do it myself, I’ll ask the woman who made my
excellent covers for my two erotic fairy tales, Trouble In Thigh High Boots (erotic Puss In Boots) and Climbing Her Tower (erotic Rapunzel). I’ve
subscribed to MailChimp awhile ago, but I’m not comfortable using it yet. Then
I need to get subscribers. How do I create a “sign up for my
newsletter” link on my web site and on my Facebook timeline? I need to
figure that out. If there are easier and better newsletter programs out there,
please let me know!
I need to plan live readings. I can go to Broad Universe for
this, since that group does group readings. I need to find the local erotic
fiction audiences and give readings to them. I could go to conventions like I
do every year, but the ones I go to are for science fiction, fantasy, and
horror. Smut wouldn’t fit in, although some local SF/F cons do include erotic
works. I need to find the romance and erotica conventions. Hopefully some of
them will be nearby.
I’d like to pay for some advertising, but I’d like the
advertising to give me results. I don’t want to throw away my money. I may buy
a spot on Night Owl Reviews’ web site and magazine. The Romance Reviews has
reasonable rates for advertising. I’ve had good results there when I advertised
my two erotic fairy tales. Is GoodReads advertising a good idea? What about
Facebook sponsored ads? Any other suggestions for good places for book
I need to set up one or two blog tours. I’ve done these in
the past on my own and while they’re a lot of work, I liked the results. I have
my old list of contacts and I’ll contact those people again for my blog tours.
Any other suggestions of promotions I left out? I don’t want
to miss anything!
I’m very excited about this acceptance. It comes on the
heels of one of my publishers closing its doors. That pub was supposed to
publish my first family saga/thriller novel in 2016, and now I have to start
from scratch again to find it a new home. More agent queries and small press
submissions. Sigh. That closing really discouraged me as have the usual
rejections I’ve received during this period. I haven’t written a novel in over
two years. I’ve had a handful of short stories published in anthologies though,
in both erotic fiction and horror categories. So my work is out there. Just not
my long work. I have several unfinished erotic novels sitting on my computer
that I haven’t felt like touching in all this time. I was very discouraged with
my writing career, so I haven’t had the desire to write much. Now, my mojo is back. I have a m/m erotic
werewolf novel to finish. That one is loads of fun. A food porn erotic novel
needs me. That one has a touch of magic
in it. Then there is the m/m erotic romance set in an exotic location. It also
has a touch of food porn. The novel I sold has food porn in it. I like food
So my writing career is looking up for 2016. Here’s hoping
the publisher treats the book well (I don’t doubt it will), and my promotions
give me lots of sales. That’s what I want and need – readers to buy and read
the book. I don’t want to lose my mojo. Not now, when everything looks so good.
What a great present for the holiday season. I’m psyched!
by Jean Roberta
Alas, I missed my day to post. And I’ve almost missed my day of grace (the day after my day to post and before the next regular blogger is due to post).
Here is the situation: through my spouse (who originally came to Canada as a political refugee from Chile), I know some other people in the local Spanish-speaking community, most of whom were also political refugees from various hot spots (Central America has been exporting people for decades). Spouse and I know a family in crisis: the parents came here in the 1970s, and raised two children who now have children of their own. The husband/father passed away over 10 years ago, and the widow has been declining in several ways ever since. Several months ago, a group of us realized that she needed urgent help, but we weren’t sure what to do. Despite her insistence that she didn’t need or want help/charity/interference, we got the son on board. Luckily, he has a key to his mother’s uninhabitable house, and with another member of the group, he got her to a hospital earlier this week. When she arrived, it wasn’t clear if she would live through the night.
The whole group, including me, has spent as much time as possible with the widow in the hospital, when we’re not at work. The events of this week have seemed like a telenovela, a Latin American soap opera. (Watching these dramas is the best way to learn Spanish, IMO.)
Is there a message in this real-life epic? I don’t know yet. Whether this play is a tragedy or a comedy will probably depend on the outcome. In any case, some of the details will probably find their way into something I write in the future.
For the meanwhile, please accept my apologies for not commenting on the writing process or the publishing biz. Sometimes life interferes.
by Kathleen Bradean
Since it’s November, the month of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I thought I’d check in to see how everyone is doing. Oh sure, you might not be an official NaNoer, but you might be working on something anyway. Or you might not. Maybe words just aren’t flowing for you right now. They sure as heck aren’t for me. But I’m still cheerful and optimistic.
I know what you’re thinking. “How can this be?”
Here’s the thing. I don’t think it’s possible to fail at NaNoWriMo. (Or whatever your current WIP schedule is). Sure, you can miss the word count goal by a wide margin. You can get so far behind that you feel hopeless and quit. You can even finish writing 50,000 words two days before the end of the month but realize you just wrote a steaming pile of gobshit. (That last one would be my NaNoWriMo experience several years ago.) But WHY are you feeling bad about that? You didn’t really fail. The only scenario listed above that’s actual failure is quitting and giving up forever, but you’re not going to do that. And you know why? Because you’re a writer and you can’t help yourself. You know you’re going to write again eventually.
So what did you accomplish even if you’re on hiatus? Well, you learned that writing a novel is hard. That’s actually a good lesson. So many people talk about writing a novel but never write the first word. If you wrote something, anything, you’re ahead of many.
You learned that the story that you tell yourself in your head is like a dream – it seems to make sense but there’s a lot of fuzzy logic in there that doesn’t work in the harsh light of day. This is a good thing. So now you know you need to take some time away from tappa-tappa-tappa typing to think about the parts of your story that aren’t working. Firm them up a bit. Flesh them out.
Maybe you learned that you need to outline. Or you learned that writing an outline sucks all the fun out for you. Whichever one of those lessons you took away from the experience, both made you realize that every writer finds a method that works for them and whatever works is the “right way.”
Do you rewrite as you go? That’s the right way.
Do you leave the rewrite until after you’ve finished the first draft? That’s the right way too.
Did you have to step away? Damn right you’re going to take some time to let that story ripen before you hit the keyboard again. You’re going to think long and hard about what your characters would do next if they were real people in this situation. You’re going to make sure you understand them before you plunge ahead. Then when you go back to writing, you’re going to have them do that. Or you’re going to decide that plot is king and you’re going to force those stupid characters to do what the plot demands even if it’s like Cinderella’s step-sisters trying to cram their feet into that glass slipper.
All of which is simply a way of saying that writing isn’t always adding to word count. If you’re thinking about your story, you’re writing. Maybe that doesn’t get you a little word count badge on November 30th, but it’s going to enrich those words when you finally do get them on the page. So be of good cheer, my dear lagging NaNoers. You can do this, in your own sweet time.
By Lisabet Sarai
Last week a writer friend of mine included a wonderful excerpt from his first book in a blog post. I’d read (and loved) this book when it first released; perusing the post felt like meeting up with an old friend.
Then the author casually mentioned, in a post comment, that the book was out of print. I felt like shaking him in frustration. Why in the world, I wanted to scream, did you let that happen? Don’t you care about keeping your work available?
There’s so much in the world of publishing that we authors can’t control: Amazon’s latest tweaks to its ranking algorithms, payment schemes, and censorship policies; publishers being bought out or going bankrupt; out-of-the-blue bestsellers that have readers (and editors) clamoring for cookie-cutter copies. One thing we can control, however, is the disposition of our accumulated body of work. In my opinion, we owe it to ourselves to keep our backlog of books and stories out there in the world, where readers can access them.
Some of you may ask, why bother? Everyone knows it’s only new releases that get any sales (as demonstrated by the thirty-day cliff phenomenon). Who’s going to want to read a book that’s a year, or five years, or ten years old? Anyway, no publisher will be interested in a dingy old reprint. If some of your back list dates from before the ebook revolution, you might not even have the manuscript in digital form.
Examined carefully, none of these arguments (excuses?) holds up to scrutiny.
First of all, though your book may be “old”, there are undoubtedly millions of potential readers who’ve never encountered it. Sure, your fans (whether you have five or fifty thousand) may have read your earlier work, but for lots of readers, your book will be a welcome discovery. If someone picks up an old book of yours and enjoys it, he or she is going to want more. You need to make sure you can give these people what they crave.
Out of the 200 or so people who completed my survey earlier this year (http://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com/2015/08/reader-survey-results-part-2.html), 30% had never read one of my books, and another 25% weren’t sure. That’s over one hundred people for whom everything on my back list will be new and exciting. I want those readers!
Even for readers who know your work well, it’s important to keep your older stuff available. What if they want to reread one of their all-time favorites?
My brother’s birthday was yesterday, so last week I went to Amazon, looking for two books I read—and loved—decades ago: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin and Little Big by John Crowley. My copies of both books date from the eighties. They’re falling apart. I was delighted to discover new editions of both titles. I sent them off to my brother, and you know, I just might replace my tattered volumes with new ones.
Make sure that readers who love your work can do that, too.
You may be interested in re-releasing your out-of-print opus, but think publishers won’t want it. Think again. These days, especially, publishers who are trying to satisfy the market’s insatiable desire for fiction are more than willing to look at your back list titles. In fact, they may recognize that they’ll have to invest less time and effort in a previously released book because it will have already been through one or more rounds of editing.
My debut novel Raw Silk has been through three publishers. Ruby’s Rules (now retitled as Nasty Business) has had four, Incognito two, Exposure three. I’ve had publishers go bankrupt and others decide they didn’t want to publish erotica. In a few cases, I’ve reclaimed my rights because I wasn’t happy about my sales or the way the publisher was run. My goal has always been to keep all my novels available—whatever that required.
“But I write short stories”, you may respond. “Nobody wants those.”
Not true. I recently published a 5K tale (a reprint) through an indie publisher who was actively seeking short fiction. You can also self-publish your stories, either individually or as a collection. In fact, since most anthologies ask for only one-time rights, you may be able to publish a short piece in multiple places.
If you really can’t find anyone to publish your tale, you can still make it available free, using it to introduce readers to your published work. That’s better than letting it languish in the dusty recesses of your computer memory!
And what if your book was published so long ago that you don’t have the source in electronic form? As long as you have a physical copy, you can subject it to Optical Character Recognition (OCR), a process that uses image analysis to recognize typescript and turn it into digital text. OCR may produce a significant number of errors, so you will need to carefully review and revise the output. However, this process will allow you to create both ebook and print versions of a book that was previously available only in hard copy form.
Once your older work is available, you should spend time promoting it, at least occasionally. Last Sunday I posted an excerpt from a book published back in 2010. One reader told me in a comment that after reading my blog, she’d gone out and bought herself a copy. Talk about encouragement—I felt totally energized. I immediately added 3K for my current WIP!
In short, there’s no reason why you can’t keep all (or most) of your back list in print and available to readers. The only real barriers are emotional. These days it’s sometimes hard to muster the motivation to do anything related to publishing or marketing. The obstacles seem insurmountable. Don’t allow yourself to become discouraged. There are legions of readers out there, searching for great fiction. Help them find yours!
Yikes! I forgot! It’s Sexy Snippet Day! (Thanks to Ginger Segreti for jogging my memory!)
This is your chance to share the hottest mini-excerpts you can find from your published work.
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.
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!
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!
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
They say you have to have a provocative title to get eyeballs, but I couldn’t seem to come up with anything involving Fifty Shades of Grey this month and still keep my self-respect. Yet we all know there’s been a seismic shift in publishing over the past years, and few are certain where we’ll be when the rubble is cleared away.
Let’s face facts, “literature” and publishing are not what they used to be. Or at least not what I thought they were supposed to be as an undergraduate English major, dutifully paying homage to the Great Authors in my literature classes and paying somewhat more cynical, but nonetheless respectful, homage to the Possibly-Great Contemporary Authors who came down from New York to teach creative writing classes one afternoon a week.
Back in those golden days, being published meant your work was chosen by an eminent publishing house, carefully shaped by an expert editor, lovingly shepherded to market, and eventually taught to dewy-eyed undergraduates as a deathless example of the heights to which human creativity could climb.
I started publishing my more-or-less-literary work in 1997 when the vestiges of that old mirage were still quivering in the desert air, but I quickly learned that when your work is published, most (all?) authors, get a different view of the matter. Simply put, publishing is about making money, and any artistic value is secondary. Case in point: Fifty Shades of Grey.
Is anyone to “blame” for this turn from our higher nature toward the baser rewards of profit? Whether you see an impersonal historic force at work or prefer to find mustache-twirling villains, it’s always entertaining to point fingers. Onward to the first culprit.
Villain #1: The Agent
A literary agent is the traditional gatekeeper to elite publication. In the fantasy version, she or he selects talented new authors from the hopeful queries s/he receives, becomes best friends with said authors, and loyally supports their inevitable enshrinement in the literary canon.
In reality, of course, agents take a percentage of their clients’ earnings and thus, to make a living, need clients who actually earn something. A friend recently took a query-writing workshop from a relatively successful agent and came away with an interesting lesson. Agents care far less about the synopsis of your novel than your “platform,” or what you can contribute to profits through your established reputation, professional connections and marketing savvy.
Agents are said to like “comparables”—that is a comparison to commercially successful works as in “My novel is a cross between the Bible and Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Harry Potter, Twilight and Pride and Prejudice.” This, of course, encourages a highly conservative approach to choosing clients. If everything must be comparable to a previous commercial success, where is the room for something different? Hollywood since Jaws gives us the answer… nowhere.
Still one can’t help but pity literary agents, whose jobs are clearly threatened by the Internet. Publishers Weekly recently posted an announcement from HarperCollins to the effect that they are starting a “digital-first” imprint to publish “new authors of visionary and transformational fiction” (like Fifty Shades of Grey?). This imprint, HarperLegend–a poignantly hopeful name–is open to unagented manuscripts, although the publishing house affirms it still deals mainly with the agented kind. But, really, why not hire more young college graduates to mind the slush pile and cut out the middlewoman?
Agents may deserve some blame for the death of the value of art over money, but like it or not, at least they’re going down with the ship.
Villain #2: The Reader
In my research for my historical novel, I’m learning about leisure pursuits before the advent of radio, television and the Internet. By 1890 or so, public entertainments—dance halls, amusement parks, and picture shows—were rapidly gaining in popularity, but most good clean fun was still had in the home where families sang around the piano and read aloud from edifying works while the ladies did their needlework by the kerosene lamp.
Writing short fiction for commercial magazines was still profitable enough to make F. Scott Fitzgerald a handsome income in the 1920s and as late as the 1970s, I remember that novels by Philip Roth, John Updike and Saul Bellow were must-reads for anyone who claimed the slightest cultivation.
Who reads now?
Sure, there’s free stuff on the internet, but what makes a reader shell out money to produce those profits the publishing houses require? Perhaps it was always so, but the main motivation seems to be “what’s in it for me?” Are we talking a self-help book that will assure instant, painless weight loss or immediate financial bounty? Did a celebrity write it? Is it already a bestseller all my friends are talking about that includes child abuse and tattoos? Did it win a literary prize and also come with the requisite child abuse and suicide? Can I make my own decision about what I want to read rather than rely on someone else’s opinion? (Nah, too much work. I rely on Amazon one-star reviews myself. If the pans are smart, I pass.)
Now the thoughtful reader has been a dying breed for quite some time. In her biography of Mary McCarthy, Carol Brightman writes of the critical response to The Group, a 1963 best-seller that frankly (for the time) explored the erotic lives of eight Vassar graduates:
“With reviews and parodies such as these, a new chapter in American literary life had begun, one in which the prominent reviewer wielded more power than the author, not because of the priestly functions of criticism but because fewer people took reading and writing seriously, and thus reviewers got the last word—especially when they were also famous authors, blocked, for the moment, from the ‘creative stuff.’ Dealing in reputations rather than texts put them in the cockpit of a world where reputation, meaning celebrity, was the common coin of the realm.” (Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World, p. 461)
Perhaps the thoughtful reader was never as abundant as we’d like to imagine, but we see that celebrity was certainly an important factor in publishing long before Rob Lowe took up his pen.
Villain #3: The First Fifty Pages
As those of you who have approached literary agents know, a fortunate query will be followed up by a request for the first fifty pages of the manuscript. If the agent believes these pages suggest a selling book, s/he will request the complete manuscript. Thus, it is very important to make sure the beginning of your book promises commercial success. The leisurely novel openings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are a thing of the past. The reader must be hooked as quickly as possible.
I recently read that it is likely that surprisingly few publishing insiders actually read the entire book. Certainly don’t expect the marketers, promoters or critics to do so. Recently I realized that this focus on the early hook explains a lot about my dissatisfaction with many of the books I read, whether fiction or nonfiction. Far too often, the promising, lively opening chapters fall flat so that by the end I feel duped and resentful of the author for betraying his promise. From now on, I’m going to pay attention to the timing of this downward dip of art and interest. I wouldn’t be surprised to find the decline beginning somewhere around page 51.
Here’s where we writers need to take responsibility. Yes, we must polish up those first fifty pages to be noticed by the professionals in the industry, but the rest of the book should be worth reading, too. Worse still are successful authors who are cajoled into reprising their bestsellers with sequels that seldom live up to the original. This is the saddest con of the publishing business.
In the end, however, I would suggest that the greatest villain is a naive, idealized view of the publishing industry, a view to which I must plead guilty in my life before my work was published. Books may seem like friends, but they were born of the bottom line.
Thus, a solitary writer cannot control the market, the publishing procedures, agents, editors or readers. We can try to write for reasons other than profit, even as we must pay some mind to marketability so that our work has the chance to reach a broader readership. Each of us can, in our own individual way, try to rebuild the fine art of storytelling as a way to connect with our readers in the spirit of trust, not profit.
By the time the tremors of new technologies in communications have subsided, publishing may end up a very different business, or it may have more or less the same fundamental characteristics in new wrapping. Yet readers will always love and appreciate a good story well told. All we have to do is write it.
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
In BDSM erotica and erotic romance, I often find
very little description of pain, of what it feels like to experience it. Even
in scenes that include descriptions of pain play, the writer often shifts focus
to action and reaction instead of sensation, or to how things look or sound
instead of how they feel. Or the
writer reduces the experience to the phrase “pleasure/pain”. I would rejoice if that particular phrase
disappeared from erotica and erotic romance altogether. It is not only poor
description that is vague at best, it is also there not to describe the pain at all but instead to say it’s ok there was pain, and that the pain didn’t really hurt. It is
my experience that a good portion of pain play does actually hurt, and for some
folks, that’s actually what they like about it.
So even when we write stories about playing with pain,
many of us rarely describe how it feels. As it turns out, pain is famously
difficult to describe. Virginia Woolf expressed the problem in terms of language running dry. In his book, Listening
to Pain, David Biro builds on that concept, saying,
overwhelming presence, pain has the elusive quality of an absence, an absence
not only of words to describe it (that is, a linguistic absence) but also of
ways to think about it (a conceptual one).”
So, how do you describe the indescribable?
Taking a cue from Biro, the first place I suggest is
not to start with finding language for the sensation, but to explore how you think about pain. My foundational
concepts of pain come from a number of sources: my own experience as a top and
a bottom, conversations with other folks who do pain play (including my own
play partners), my own experiences with chronic pain, things I’ve read about
pain, BDSM, trauma and psychobiology, and a substantial amount of kink
education. When I write pain play, this is my core framework:
1. Pain is not automatically bad, and pain does not
universally feel bad.
2. It’s ok to desire pain (both giving and receiving).
It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. Desiring pain is not
something that requires explanation in your story.
3. Wanting pain doesn’t mean that you experience pain
as pleasure. There are lots of reasons folks may desire pain and choose to
4. Pain is not one-note. There is a whole symphony in
5. Pain doesn’t easily break into a dichotomy. People
in BDSM communities often break down sensation into sting vs. thud. These are a
start, but there’s a lot more variety to pain than that. Folks who do BDSM that
also experience chronic pain outside of a kink context often talk about good
pain vs. bad pain. That kind of differentiation is a start, but there’s more to
6. People experience sensation differently. There is no
universal experience of a particular sensation, including different kinds of
7. The perception of pain is particularly related to
the rate of increase of sensation, more than other factors. (I learned this
Richard Sprott, in his lecture on the Psychobiology of SM)
8. Three factors important to how people perceive pain
include: 1) the intensity at the peak moment of pain, 2) the intensity at the
end of the scene, and 3) the emotional interpretation of the pain. (I also
learned this from Dr. Sprott.)
9. Context is important for how you experience pain. Do
you know the sensation, or is it new to you? Are you in public or private? What
is the psychological context of the scene (is the pain punishment, reward, for
pleasure, about service, something to endure, something to revel in)? Are you
nervous or scared or excited or already turned on? Do you have a way to process
the pain, or are you restricted in some way (movement, sound, being gagged)? Do
you have access to all of your senses (or are you blindfolded or experiencing
another kind of sensory deprivation)? Is the skin being played with sensitized
in some way (from hormone cycles, previous play, constriction, touch)?
So that’s my foundation for thinking about pain. Let
me offer you another. In her ethnography of an East Coast pansexual BDSM
community, Playing on the Edge, Staci Newmahr discusses four
different ways that people in that community framed and understood pain:
where pain is instantly and unconsciously transformed into pleasure. In other
words, pain does not really hurt, it is converted to pleasure. Newmahr found
this most common in folks who engage in mild to moderate pain play.
where pain is not transformed, and does hurt; bottoms suffer as a sacrifice for
the benefit of or to fulfill the desire of the top. The bottom takes pain as
punishment or as a gift to the top. Newmahr found this way of thinking most
common in women who identified as submissives.
where pain is unpleasant and is endured in the promise of a later reward. The
pain is not the goal, it is a path to the goal, a challenge to the self, a
means to a different end (an endorphin high, the emotional satisfaction from
enduring it, a sexual reward from the top for taking it). Newmahr found this
framework most common in men.
where pain hurts and the hurt feels good. It isn’t converted to pleasure. The
hurting is a good, valued and desired thing in and of itself. Newmahr found
folks who used this framework to be marginalized within the BDSM community she
Consider: What are the foundations of how you write
pain? Where do they come from? Getting clear about your own thinking about pain
is a great first step to expanding how you write pain play in BDSM erotica. One
thing you can try is to read each of the bullets in my own framework and
Newmahr’s research aloud, and see how they sound, how they feel in your mouth,
what thoughts they spark. That may help you know more about your own
Now let’s approach the other piece of this: finding
language for sensation. One of the best ways to describe the indescribable is
to get really specific. I’m going to
share some starting questions about the sensations you are describing, along
with examples from my recent collection, Show Yourself To Me, to
illustrate how these details might play out in your descriptions of pain play.
- Is the sensation more concentrated (like a single tail whip, a punch, a cane, or a pinch,
where the sensation focuses on a small surface area of the skin) or more dispersed (like a large paddle, a slap
or a flogger with many tails, where the sensation is spread out over a larger surface
In this excerpt from “Please”,
the bottom is experiencing concentrated pain in combination with sex and they
wrap into each other:
started teasing my nipples with his fingertips. They were so hard and cold that
even that light silky touch hurt. Then he was twisting them, and the pain was
electric and sharp. It felt so good, mixing up with the relentless fucking that
led to this long glorious spasm. He started pinching them harder, and I
couldn’t help it. I had to slam my hips back to meet him.
- Does the sensation stay more on the surface of the skin (often described as sting, and
associated with things like canes, biting, whips, wax play and slapping) or reach deeper beneath the skin (often
described as thud, and associated with things like heavy floggers, batons,
saps, and punching)?
In this excerpt from “The
Tender Sweet Young Thing”, a bottom in a group scene is having difficulty
tolerating claws and teeth. One of the tops in the scene shifts it to a
different kind of sensation:
Jericho said, “All
that surface sensation is just too much, isn’t it? You need something deeper to
show you how tender you are. I can do that.”
How did Jericho
know that? It was scary how right they were. Deeper was exactly what he needed.
He nodded helplessly.
their boy a condom and some lube. They picked up Dax’s scissors, getting a nod
from hir, and cut off Téo’s briefs before he even registered what was happening.
By then, Jericho had almost finished unstrapping Téo’s cock. They gestured to
Rusty and moved around Téo, unbuttoning his dress to bare his chest. Téo loved,
and hated, being beaten there. It was about the only kind of touch that felt
right in that area, and it was so damn intense because, really, when you’re
binding so many hours a day, your skin gets fucking sensitive.
Jericho had taken out their braided cat. Téo
adored this toy, and was aching to get beaten with it again. Last time, it’d
felt like light was bursting out the top of his head.
It was better than he remembered, probably
because he needed deep sensation so much. He closed his eyes and let it drive
into him. Sublime intensity concentrated where he needed to let go. Jericho was
fucking magic. When Rusty slid into his front hole, it felt so easy and solid.
Rusty was holding him steady with his cock, anchoring him here in this room so
he didn’t float too far.
- How does the sensation move through the body? Does it radiate out from the place of the
blow (like with a slap or a paddle)? Does it reach underneath the skin and
bounce back out (like with a cane stroke)? Does it feel like it drives right
through you (like with a punch or a heavy flogger)? Does it come on strong and
then numb out and then jolt you at the end (like with clips and clamps)? Does
it sear from the start and then build an ache behind it (like with biting)?
For some, thudding
sensations can have all the movement of a deliciously rough hard fuck. The bottom
in “It’s My Job” has that experience with a lead-filled sap:
He pulls out his
leather sap and begins to pound it into my thighs like a sledgehammer, ramming
lead into me. It pounds me hard, and my dick begins to throb. He’s hitting that
spot where it starts to translate to sex. I am not a masochist, and there are
very few intense sensations that feel like anything but pain. But this is pure
sex. My lips part, and I start groaning. It is all I can do not to bend over
and beg him to fuck me now. I take each blow into my cock, feeling it swell
until it seems like it’s going to burst.
- How would you describe the pacing and rhythm of the sensation? Sporadic? Relentless?
Methodical? Jarring? Pounding? Percussive/rhythmic? Deliberate? Surprising? Building
up in intensity? Dancing around? Moving close to the edge and then stepping
back, only to move toward the edge again?
Consider how rhythm
shapes the same bottom’s sensory experience in this later excerpt from my story
“It’s My Job”, describing a rather different kind of beating with a cat o’ nine
It slams into my
back, and I am utterly still: no breath, no movement. He begins to lay into me.
The rhythm is hypnotic; fire dances along my skin as the cat drives into me.
The cowhide is thin and braided, and the knotted tips feel like they are
slicing me open. Waves of reddish-orange pain wash over my vision. My feet are
planted. I will not move. I am helpless against the pain, lightning so strong
it almost knocks me over. I am so small in the face of it. Nothing I can do
will stop it. I stand still and take it, and it transforms me. I am taking it
- Does the sensation have a temperature or texture to it? Things like canes, wax, belts, and
slapping can often feel like heat. Things that stimulate the nerves (like
whartenberg wheels), slower sensations, and cooler materials (acrylic paddles,
batons) sometimes feel cool. A slow rhythmic flogging with deerskin can feel
smooth, where things that drag on the skin (like some kinds of pinching or
braided leather) can feel rough. Some kinds of pain feel like they are slicing
into skin (belts) or piercing it (singletails).
partial to describing sharp stinging pain, and I often use language evoking the
heat that comes with that sort of play. Here is an excerpt from my story “How
He Likes It” describing how it feels for this bottom to get hurt with a belt.
I took him in,
tasting like liquid metal in my throat, trembling with the intensity of his
belt, and let the pain pour out of my eyes, stream out of my mouth, let my cunt
drip with it as my ass clenched around it. I begged him for more even as I
screamed, my hands fisting the blanket, safely held down by my Sir, feeling him
smile proudly at me.
My thighs were on
fire, and the flames took me over until I could feel my cunt burning with it,
my chest hot, and I was begging to come for him, could I please show him how
much I appreciated his cruelty, please, Sir.
He laughed and
refused me, continuing to lay pain onto me as I writhed, moaning, sobbing with
it, blazing. I begged him not to stop, to please keep hurting me, claiming me
with his belt. Saying that I needed it, needed his marks on me. He was
ruthless, and I shuddered with it, a conflagration of need taking me over. I
was in that place where I felt like I could take all the pain in the world, eat
it all, and spit the flames of it right back, a burning circle between us, for
as long as he wanted, perhaps longer.
Once you have a sense of these things for what you
are planning to describe, you can start building your vocabulary for this
particular kind of play, and for pain in general.
It can help to gather information about the
sensations you are going to describe. Try them yourself. Reflect on your
experiences and memories of that sort of play. Talk to people who have
experience with them. Watch people do that sort of play. Look at posts on
Fetlife. Read about SM, fiction and non-fiction, especially books by people who
do SM. (I’ve found essays
by folks who do BDSM and experience chronic pain to be particularly useful
Years ago, I began a vocabulary list for myself, of words
that captured what different kinds of pain felt like (searing, invasive,
bursting, jagged, grinding, pounding), and words I could use to describe
delivering pain (thrusting, ramming, ripping, lavishing, placing, menacing,
blasting). I highly suggest you start your own lists. They can help
tremendously when you are stuck describing SM. If you are looking for a place
to start, try the McGill Pain
Questionaire; it’s got some gorgeously specific language for describing
David Biro suggests that pain “can only be described
through metaphor.” Metaphor is one of my best tools for describing SM. There’s
a way that it gets you places you can’t really go otherwise. When I decided to
do an erotic retelling of the fairy tale of Tam Lin and Janet, one of the main
reasons was the opportunity to push myself with metaphor. In the fairy tale,
Janet has to hold on to Tam Lin as he transforms from a lizard to a bear to a
mountain lion to a brand to a burning hot coal. I got so excited deciding what
sort of play was the best to match with each transformation, how to build the
arc of a scene that was so pre-determined by the fairy tale.
Here is an excerpt from the lizard portion of
was so mesmerized by Tam’s cock that they were surprised by the first touch,
their head yanked backward by the hair, face tilted up to meet Tam’s eyes. Jan
took a slow shaky breath. This was real. The sensation was cold and quick. It
went so fast that it was hard to hold on to. What was that? It darted over
Jan’s skin, their eyes steady on Tam’s, no idea what was happening to their
chest. Jan gasped when the sensation moved through their nipple, like a tongue
flickering. They reached for the sensation, trying to catch it as it moved,
lizard-like, along their nipples, gone before they could grasp it. Frightening
and exciting all at once, it made Jan throb, breath in their throat, just
trying to hold on to Tam. It didn’t matter what it was. It was Jan’s job to
stay with it, stay connected.
And here is an excerpt from the burning hot
coal portion of the story:
began to punch Jan in the pecs. Slowly. In the same spot, repeatedly. A
steadily increasing pounding, building heat in Jan’s chest from within, like a
red-hot coal, slowly building, rough and demanding. Jan could feel it growing
in their chest and was helpless to stop it, just held Tam’s determined eyes as
tears started falling. Tam kept ramming hir fists into Jan, smiling so sweetly
at the tears, wanting them to come. This was exactly what Tam needed, they
realized, and they let go and sobbed. Tam just kept driving the tears out of
them, telling them to just keep crying, their tears were gorgeous and hot and
making Tam so hard. That if they kept crying like that, Tam was not going to be
able to resist fucking them. Jan gripped Tam’s waist and bawled, tears washing
over them both.
Whatever kind of description you choose, I urge you
to get as specific as possible when describing pain. Your BDSM erotica will
only be better for it.
The Erotica Readers and Writers Association has been around since 1996. It pre-dates my foray into the erotica genre by ten years, and is coming up on its twentieth anniversary. Adrienne Benedicks has run it from the beginning, and I remember finding my very first publisher (Stardust, now defunct) on their Author Resources page. Adrienne is now retiring – and moving to greener pastures and a warmer climate! She felt it was time to pass the baton, and I was honored that she thought of me.
In recent years, as Amazon (and other retailers) have pushed back against erotica authors, I have seriously considered giving up on the genre altogether. But in the end, I simply can’t walk away from something I’ve invested nearly ten years of my own time and energy into. Besides, I love erotica as a genre. And I love erotica authors. I have never met a more fun-loving, open-minded, good-hearted crowd of people. Erotica authors are the first line in the defenders of the freedom of expression. They go places others are often afraid to venture, and tackle topics that far too many shy away from.
I have some great ideas about how to develop the Erotica Readers and Writers Association into an even stronger community and resource for both readers and authors that I’m sure I will be implementing in the future, but truthfully, what’s in place right now is a gold mine that, I’m afraid, too many people don’t know about!
For instance, did you know that the Erotic Readers and Writers Association has a lively discussion list? In fact, they have several! The Parlor is a place where everyone can discuss whatever’s on their mind, Storytime is where authors can offer their work for critique, and the Writers’ List is a place where authors can network and talk about all things writing related. I’ve been a part of those discussion lists for the past year, and it’s been a great experience to connect with new erotica authors and erotica lovers.
For readers, there’s a huge library of erotic fiction available for free in the Treasure Chest! There’s straight erotic fiction, queer fiction, kinky erotica, the softer side, quickies, flashers, and even poetry. It’s not just erotic books, either. There are a wide array of articles in the archives, plus adult movies, sex toys, even suggestions for erotic music to set the mood. It’s an erotica lovers dream!
For those who are already a part of the ERWA, I want to assure you that I have no intention of dismantling the site or bringing a bunch of new changes in too quickly. The site has grown and changed organically over the past twenty years, and I imagine it will continue to do so over the next twenty years.
Self-publishing and the rise of ebooks have given erotica a newfound freedom of expression that was unheard of twenty years ago. If I look into my crystal ball to see what the next twenty-years holds for erotica, I have to admit, it’s a bit cloudy. But I do know one thing – as a genre, erotica isn’t going anywhere. As long as there are humans, the expression human sexuality in all its forms will be explored by the most daring and adventurous of writers, and read by the most curious and open-minded readers. That much I do know.
My hope is that erotica’s future is so bright, we’ll all have to wear shades.
But wherever the future of erotica as a genre may lead, I intend to be a part of that for a long time to come.
Here’s a bit of fun I wrote a looooong time ago … hope you like!
The Editor sends the story back, No one comes like this. It’s obvious she’s faking it and I realize he’s right: she was faking it.
The Director leans in, hot lights burning my legs: Just can’t get the lighting right, your cock still looks too small. I frown, thinking of all the wankers from San Francisco to Boston feeling good that the stud in their whack-off vid is smaller than they are for once.
She never calls me back. Six months later, I run into her on the street. I read that story you wrote for Warped Perverts, she says, scanning for a quick escape route. It scared me.
The Photographer tells me to smile, damn it, smile as I lift my leg into yet another impossible position. I miss the gallery opening because of a cramp so bad I can’t get out of bed.
Losing my virginity gets published in a book called Cherry Bombed about horrible, embarrassing, first times. I am supposed to get paid $15 and two copies. The check bounces and the book never appears.
I can’t sleep for three nights running, the plot of Truck Stop Tranps bogged down in a morass of motivation, character development, and a flawed narrative. I almost miss the deadline, and waste five bucks on Fed Ex changes getting it to the editor in time. When the magazine comes out, I see that he completely butchered the ending, losing the wonderful sense of pathos I had so carefully worked into it. Then I lose four more nights of sleep, shocked wide awake that I actually cared.
Where do you get your ideas? she asks in a breathy voice tinged with a boiling horniness as she strokes my cock. I can barely get hard, most of my brain being diverted by my thoughts of she stroked him like a fireman cleaning his pole: diligently, professionally — as if trying to work a gleam out of it…
My spell-checker has grown unwieldy from the words I have stuffed in its tight, resistant, pulsing, memory: cocksucker, cunt, mons, asshole, pubes, motherfucker, testicles, dildo, lube, S/M, she-male, latex, jerk-off, cunnilingus, felatio, flagellation, flogger, Saran Wrap, cunt-licker, assfucker, and on and on and on, etc., etc. I run it through a letter to my landlord and broken mail slot becomes she-male slut. Now he looks at me funny and the damned thing never gets fixed.
The party is full-swing and banging away: in the sling, guy fists guy – foaming Crisco plopping to the floor. In one corner two dykes are taking turns kicking each other in the butt. Over there a latex dom is turning her slave’s ass into maximus tar-tar. Next to me a grinning piercer expertly punctures some guy’s dick, then feeds steel rings through the holes — and all I can think is poor plot development, crappy characterization, no motivation…
She’s a fan. I’ve read everything you’ve ever written, she says. Jerked off to all of them. Talked other playmates into even reenacting some. Raves about me all the time. Box Lunch, Sailors At Sea, Yeeha!, The Bang Gang, TV Repairman … her favorites each and every one. I take my pants off and she’s disappointed. We fuck and she’s disappointed. We each come and she’s disappointed. I tell her: don’t get any rewrites in life, sweetie.
The book, magazine, movie comes out. I burst with enthusiasm: I did this, I did this! I become annoying, showing it everyone. Then someone also bursts, and shows it to my mother…
Am asked to write about the most degrading, insulting, humiliating, sex act you can imagine and the first thing that comes to mind and out of my mouth is How much?