Monthly Archives: September 2016
I recently found myself skipping over a sex scene in a novel I was thoroughly enjoying. It’s not the first time that’s happened. This particular novel was a fast-paced paranormal story that was original and gripping. There was nothing wrong with the sex scene. Like the rest of the novel, it was well-written and pacey. It was just in the wrong place. It stopped the action in it’s tracks until the couple had their romp – which satisfied them a helluva lot more than it satisfied me. I just wanted to know what happened next. I guess you could say I just wasn’t in the mood.
Because the book was really good and action packed, enjoyable in every other way right down to the last word, I found myself thinking about misplaced sex scenes and story-interuptus. I did a mental inventory of the novels I could recall in which I’ve skipped over sex scenes, then I analyzed the reasons why I’d done it. Interestingly enough, I found that it seldom had to do with the fact that the sex scene was poorly written. Though I’ve read plenty of novels in which the writing of sex scenes was less than stellar, those weren’t the scenes I skipped. In those cases, I usually overlooked the flaws and just got on with it. I reckon writing sex well is a learned process and I can forgive awkwardly written sex in a pacey story that keeps me turning the pages. If the pacing is good, then the sex will not be there without a purpose.Sometimes even poorly written sex still contains an element essential to the story being told.
As I analyzed what I’ve read and what I’ve skipped, I found two main situations in which I skip sex scenes entirely because I know it’s a waste of my time. The first situation is when the writer interrupts the action for sex. When I began writing erotic novels, the standard rule of thumb was that there should be a sex scene every two thousand words. Seriously! So I spent a good deal of time scrambling trying to figure how a sex scene could be inserted that would move the story forward and not stall the plot. I didn’t always succeed. Thankfully more literary heads prevailed and now the tale being told determines the where and when of sex, just like it does with all other action in a story. Like any other action a writer uses in fiction, there needs to be a reason for sex. Like all other actions, sex should move the story forward, ratchet up the plot, or reveal something new about the characters.
The second situation in which I skip over sex scenes, and the one that irritates me far more, is when the writer has
substituted sex for action. I know, I know! I just said sex should be the action that moves the plot. But when it’s not, when it does nothing but fill space where action is sorely needed, then I have a problem with that. Sadly I see a lot of examples of sex being used to resolve a situation, and while I don’t necessarily believe everything has to be resolved for a story to reach a satisfactory conclusion, I also am not romantic enough to believe that a good romp in the hay will lead to
all problems solved, love everlasting and catapult us all to a HEA with hearts and flowers and fluffy bunnies. In erotica, sex can most definitely be the pay-off the reader is waiting for, but in romance isn’t a substitute for resolution.
The thing that I love about sex in fiction is that it’s one of the best movers and shapers of story and certainly one of the most powerful driving forces in epic archetypal tales. It often launches the journey from which there is no return, it introduces chaos for which there is no easy solution and it reveals the heart and soul of a character, flaws, neuroses and all. How can you not love that? That it should ever be skipped over is a sad indication of its misuse – even for this jaded writer. I want it to count. I want it to change things, and I most definitely need it to do more than make me squirm in my knickers.
I’ve been having a rough few weeks and a scorching case of
writer’s block has set in. My parents (both sets) have health problems. For
that to make any sense, you must understand that I have parents who raised me and
an older couple who adopted me of sorts a few years ago. I call them Mom and
Dad. That Mom is having severe vertigo problems due to a possible serious inner
ear infection. My mother who raised me died two years ago, and now my dad who
raised me is in the hospital with a heart problem aggravated by his COPD. I
know the parents labels gets confusing. It’s like Neal Gaiman’s Coraline – I have Mother and Other Mother. Then there
are my biological parents and cousin since I’m adopted. My birth mother died
about four years ago and I’m in regular touch with a blood relative, a cousin. I’ve
turned family into a three-ring circus.
I’m not processing all this mess very well. On top of it,
my two latest books aren’t selling. That’s a severe disappointment. I don’t know what to do about it. The weather is getting colder and
winter is coming. The cats won’t stop fighting. The books not selling well is
hitting me especially hard since I see no point in writing at the moment. Why
bother when next to no one will read my books? I’m working on a horror novel at
the moment as well as a short erotic romance story, but the words simply aren’t
I know I’m not the only one feeling this way about my writing. A fellow horror writer on Facebook just said pretty much the same thing about his own aspirations since it’s harder for him to reach his goals now than when he was younger. One commenter pointed out that maybe when he was younger he set the bar for his goals too low. I wonder if that could be my problem. I used to be happy simply being published. Now, I want to be published by bigger, better houses, get lots of great reviews, get huge sales, and eventually win awards. Not only is a lot of that out of my hands, it’s harder to achieve. I have accomplished the first of those goals for the most part but not the others. Not yet. Maybe I just need time. In the meantime, I have no desire to write at all.
What to do?
I haven’t had writer’s block in awhile, but I haven’t
forgotten how I’ve dealt with it in the past. The best thing for me to do is to
not fight it. Just give in to it and find something else to do that I enjoy that
will improve my bleak mood. I know this won’t work for everyone. This is only
about what has worked for me. My point is to find what works best for you. If
writing through the block works, do it. If getting away from the keyboard for
awhile works, go for it. This is what has worked for me.
I’m still going to the beach nearly every day. Walking on
the beach is my primary form of
exercise. I’ve lost 15 pounds since the beginning of summer. The
difference this year is that my husband and I intend to join the local YMCA to
use their exercise machines and the pool. I lost 15 pounds last summer and the
summer before that, but gained it all back and then some because I had no
exercise regime set for the fall and winter. So there’s something to be happy
about. I’ll likely reach my target weight (130 pounds) by next summer. Good.
I’m concentrating on my new radio show, Into The Abyss With Elizabeth Black. It’s about horror and dark
fiction, my other literary loves. My first guest will be Josh Malerman, who
wrote Bird Box, a scary-as-shit novel.
I loved it. He’s going to be on my show Thursday Oct. 6 at 4 PM EST. I still do
radio shows for Blog Talk Radio and that includes shows about erotic romance
and writing. My past guests include women from Broad Universe, Madeleine Shade
(who specializes in fairy tales), Cherry Wild and Sophia Soror (they also
specialize in fairy tales), and Melissa Keir. Doing these shows keeps me afloat
so that I don’t feel as if I’m floundering without direction.
I’m reading more. I like erotic romance and erotica
collections by Cleis Press and Xcite Books. I have quite a few books by these
publishers, and they inspire me when I write erotic fiction. I’m working on a
call for submissions for Cleis that isn’t due until December, so I have time to
come up with a story. I would love to be accepted by them again. I also enjoy
books that scare the crap out of me. I’m about to begin Snowblind by Christopher Golden, which takes place in Massachusetts
in the dead of winter. Perfect timing. I’ve also decided to reread a classic to
inspire me while working on my own horror novel, Hell Time. I’m rereading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.
Finally, I’ve been watching plenty of TV and movies. I’m
binge-watching Mr. Robot, and I’m on the season finale now. Rami Malek deserved
his Best Actor Emmy for playing the lead in this show. I’m also enjoying
American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare, although it’s not the best thing
I’ve seen. The new TV version of The Exorcist is very predictable but the first
episode held my attention. Nice Easter Egg with the brief glimpse of a
newspaper article about Chris MacNeil from the original movie. Lucifer is back! Love that show. My husband and I can’t get enough of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. It’s my favorite TV show.
I’ve been baking. I made lemon poppy seed quickbread, angel
kisses cookies, hobnobs (British oat tea cookies), maple candy (it is fall
after all) and lime spritzer cookies. The lime spritzers taste exactly like the
same cookies Pepperidge Farm used to make. They were sold only over the summer
and they’ve been discontinued a long time ago. I loved those cookies, and now I
can make them myself.
In a nutshell, I’ve been doing things I enjoy to take my
mind off my worries and the writer’s block. When I’m ready to write, I’ll write.
I’m not going to put undue pressure on myself since I know that will only make
the situation worse. Next week I attend a Writers Coffeehouse New England
meeting, and I intend to learn how I can get word out about Into The Abyss With Elizabeth Black, including
possibly getting it into syndication. This coffeehouse is chock full of
valuable information, and I go every chance I get. I’ve been to one before and
I learned a great deal there. After we return, I decorate the house with
Halloween gack. I have two Fargo snow
globes and a Halloween snow globe.
All three depict scenes from the movies. Those are my pride and joy, and I love
showing them off. I’m looking forward to Halloween and the fall season. I can
at least enjoy myself until this dreadful mood and block lift. Maybe my parents (all of them) will be better soon. Until then, I’ll
binge-watch more movies and TV and bake stuff. Once I begin writing, I know
I’ll be fine.
In the meantime, I will continue to watch this video, which I can’t watch and be unhappy at the same time. It’s Cab Calloway and the Nicolas Brothers doing Jumpin’ Jive. This is said to be the greatest dance number ever recorded, and I sure agree with that. Get those happy feet moving!
by Jean Roberta
Is erotica a genre unto itself, or does the term just refer to sex scenes that could appear in any work of fiction? Most book-length works of “erotica” can also be classified as something else, and since words that refer to sex can result in books being sold only in an on-line version of under-the-counter, all of us who write about sex have a motive to define our work as romance, or contemporary fiction, or paranormal suspense, or dark fantasy, or some other thing.
When I was invited to co-edit an annual anthology, Heiresses of Russ: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction, I wondered how much sex, if any, could be allowed in an anthology that was not designated as “erotica.” Steve Berman, publisher and co-editor, told me that sex was fine as long as the stories fit the mandate of the series (speculative and lesbian in some sense, which I interpreted to mean that female characters had to have primary relationships with other girls/women). Several of the stories were chosen from erotic anthologies, and the fantasy elements fit in well with the fantasy elements in the less-explicit stories.
While choosing stories, I realized once again that there is really no such thing as a completely non-erotic story. Any situation in which sentient beings interact is potentially erotic. Human beings (not to mention shapeshifters, strange hybrids, androids, and extraterrestrials) tend to have sexual feelings, and these often form a subtext or a kind of bass line under the melody of plot.
Some calls-for-submissions that don’t appear here on the Erotic Readers and Writers site include a paragraph stating that “gratuitous” sex and/or violence is not welcome, but explicit sex scenes are okay if they fit the context, help to show character and further the plot. Well, duh.
So the question a writer must consider is not whether sexual explicitness would be accepted by an editor and a publisher, but whether it would fit a particular story – which it could, depending on how it is approached. In a way, calls for “erotica” per se are easier to respond to, because they require plots on a particular theme (e.g. men in uniform, women in college dorms) in which sex is the goal and the climax.
I have sometimes surprised myself by passing up a chance to include a sex scene in order to focus on other aspects of the relationship, or of the social context. Back in the 1980s, when I was not yet writing “erotica,” I wrote a collection of lesbian stories, including one with the working title “Love and Death in the Canadian Novel.” (My better judgment led me to rename it “Winter Break.”) I was trying to show why two women are attracted to each other, yet too divided in various ways to spend their lives together. The story includes the steamiest scene I had ever written (literally – it is set in winter, when outdoor breath becomes steam). The sex is followed by mutual accusations based on misunderstandings, which lead the pair to realize that moving in together would not be a good plan. Ironically, this is their most serious agreement.
The one-woman publisher put the steamy scene on the back cover as a teaser, although there was no more where that came from. A friend of mine who read the book asked me why I didn’t “come to the point.” Clearly, the point she wanted to come to was not exactly the one I wanted to make.
Do I plan to rewrite that old story and try to resell it? No. It was based on an actual relationship that didn’t last long, and I could hardly give it a Happy-for-Now ending (let alone a Happy-Ever-After) without changing the characters to make them more compatible. I might as well write a new story.
More recently, I wrote a story set in the imaginary world of H.P. Lovecraft, in which the central character is a young woman attending normal school in the 1920s,and enjoying sex with her fiancé, who wants to speed up the wedding date so their pleasure can be legal, respectable, and reproductive. This relationship is also doomed, but I absolutely believed what both characters told me about how much they enjoy their hard-won privacy. I was tempted to spend a page on their joy, which is destined to end because she, newly privileged with income-earning skills and the right to vote, wants a more exciting future than marriage, children and church. He, as a man of his time, thinks she is like a skittish colt who needs to have her first baby in order to “settle down.”
Ultimately, though, I wanted to go somewhere else with the story, which needed to stay within a limited word-count. So although it includes a sexual relationship, it doesn’t really qualify as “erotica.” If anything, the heroine’s first away-from-home adventure is anti-erotic for her, although she recognizes the value of expanding her horizons and calmly respecting other beings whose strangeness terrifies her until she controls her fear.
Years ago in the ERWA lists, someone posted a discussion of percentages (percentage of sexual description vs. percentage of narration and dialogue) as a way of determining whether a piece of writing qualifies as “erotica.” I’m sure some of the best-known novels we think of that way would fail the test. Yearning and sensuality can be expressed even when no one is having “sex,” as it is generally understood. And sometimes a fuck isn’t what is needed most, at least in the moment.
Am I trying to escape from the erotic writers’ ghetto altogether, so as to get more respect? I can’t absolutely deny it, since the persistent myth that erotic writing is sub-literary tends to be hard on one’s Muse. Yet the pressure of a story that wants to be written – or the voice of the character who wants to tell it – feels sexual in a broad sense.
The amount of sexual description in a story or a novel ultimately has to conform to the nature of the story. Whose story is it, and what does the narrator want the reader to know? One good way of finding answers would be to write a story with passing references to sex, then to expand the sex scenes to see if they fit the general tone of the piece. Or conversely, a sex scene could be written first, and then the backstory and the logical aftermath could be added to see if they form a coherent whole. If not, something needs to change.
The best stories, of course, don’t come only from one’s conscious mind. The writing process is more visceral than that, and characters sometimes need to take over.
What do yours tell you?
by Kathleen Bradean
When I think of Jane Austin writing the many drafts of Pride and Prejudice by hand, I get exhausted. She didn’t even have the luxury of a self-inking pen. No wonder only the rich were authors back then. Who else had the time?
Waaay back in the 1980s, when dot matrix printers were almost unreadably light and the paper had those holes in the sides for the printer feed, I’d use a clunky word processor program to write my stories, print them out, then literally cut and paste sentences and paragraphs on a sheet of paper as if I were composing world’s smuttiest ransom note. We had to do that because you could see so little of the page that it was easy to get lost moving paragraphs in the word processing program. Once I had what I wanted, I’d move things around in the word processor, make my other edits, print the latest version, and bring out the scissors to hone the story some more. All of that because I couldn’t bear the thought of writing a story in longhand. You see, I’d lost so much time not being allowed to write through my teens and I had to make it up. I needed the speed computers gave me. Even though I was/am a crap typist, keeping up with the speed of my thoughts was easier on computer than writing longhand.
Almost three years ago, I lost a family member and the person-shaped wound left in our lives has become a black hole. Everything gets sucked into it. Nothing escapes that void. I wanted to write after his death, but couldn’t. My creativity was gone. I tried so hard to put something down but until I was able to figure out the central conflict for the book, there was nothing to write. Normally, my imagination is hard to tamp down, but it was dead. No matter how much time I put into it, I couldn’t imagine a conflict that would work. I made up a few, but knew they wouldn’t support a book. They felt forced. Then writer Nan Andrews was visiting and I, as usual, was bemoaning my inability to write, and she said something that triggered a cascade of imagination. (This is why writers need to get together and talk. Most of us don’t live with other writers, so what we do is so foreign to our families that they can’t begin to know how to help us. Other writers do.)
Even though the ideas were suddenly flowing, I didn’t sit down and try like mad to capture the deluge. I did what I hadn’t done since before the time of computers. I picked up a notebook and a pen and began to write.
I wasn’t writing the story yet. I was telling myself the story. Or, if you prefer, I was writing a synopsis/outline. When I was done, I waited a few days to mull it over, read it again, then picked up a pen and told myself the story again. I knew the weak parts because those are the sections I couldn’t write as specific events. Those passages were more of a “Step twelve: a miracle occurs” comments that were huge red flags of plot weaknesses. The second time I wrote it down, those parts had more detail and were strong enough to support the following events. Soon, I may tell myself the story again. It can only become clearer with each step.
I’ve never been an outliner, at least not a written outline. I always sort of had one in mind as I wrote. But that was a nebulous thing, riding the currents of my imagination and libel to follow the stream of conscience anywhere it flowed. It was ethereal. This hand-written synopsis has a different feel. It’s grounded, and I’m connected to it in a different and very real way. It is an idea, but it is physical, because it flowed from my mind through my hand onto paper. At this point in my writing life, I need this anchor to keep my creativity from falling into the black hole of loss again.
I don’t know if I’ll continue to write by hand, but for now, I like the connection it gives me to the words. I know I’ll never write a whole novel by hand, but this may be my new process. Write a synopsis, write it by hand.
Do you write by hand? Do you get a different feel for the story when you do? Have you changed up your writing methods to adapt to changes in your life?
By Lisabet Sarai
Are there topics you feel should be unequivocally banned from erotica? Subjects about which you would absolutely never read—or write—in an erotic context? Do you believe there are some literary lines that should never be crossed?
Many people feel this way about rape or other forms of non-consensual sexual activity. Yet studies (here, for example) have shown repeatedly that many women (and some men) fantasize about being raped or forced into sexual activity. In general, these women understand that imagined coercion is very different from real rape. Finding the former arousing does not indicate a desire for the latter. Nevertheless many readers, and publishers, object to exploring this topic in erotica.
What about incest? Despite the difficulty authors experience in publishing fiction that features sexual activity between adult family members, the taboo topic is a turn-on for a significant subset of readers. The wildly popular step-brother romance sub-genre has provided a “safe” way for readers to experience the forbidden thrill of being attracted to a close relation. I personally consider this as a bit dishonest. I’ve had incestuous dreams about my own brother. I’d never act on them, but that doesn’t mean the dreams weren’t a turn-on.
Bestiality? If sexual activity involving animals is so horrifying, why are shifter stories so successful? Not to mention the cryptozoological “taken by bigfoot” sub-genre? Forcing oneself upon a dumb animal in the real world would be immoral, but the beasts in erotic fiction tend to be anthropomorphised. The human participants feel some sort of sexual connection with the horny dog or the sleek, predatory tiger. I’ve read some amazing erotica based on human attraction to animals. Does that mean I plan to have sex with my cat? Of course not.
Sex with children may be a hard line. Adults getting sexual with kids too young to object or to understand is definitely wrong. There are no extenuating circumstances. But how do you define “young”? Is fourteen too young? That’s how old I was when I gave away my virginity, to a guy who was twenty. I knew exactly what I was doing (well, in theory, at least). During the teen years, desire is confusing and inchoate, but overwhelming in its power. Memories of that period, when every emotion cuts to the quick, offer tremendous possibilities for meaningful and moving—as well as tremendously arousing—erotic fiction.
My clearest personal line involves erotic fiction that portrays inflicting serious violence, physical harm or death as arousing. I avoid such stories when I can. I’ve read enough erotica, though, to know that not everyone agrees with this boundary. Are the people who write such stuff fundamentally evil? Am I qualified to judge?
These are not easy questions to answer. If you think they are, I believe that you’re fooling yourself.
The core issue relates to another kind of line: the line between imagination and reality. Is someone who finds a taboo topic arousing in fiction likely to perform such actions in real life? I’d argue that most readers of erotica distinguish very clearly between the fantasies evoked by erotic fiction, no matter how extreme, and the life they live outside of books.
Of course there are individuals who do enact this sort of forbidden scenario in the real world. There are men who kidnap women and hold them prisoners in their basements for years, who secretly abuse grade school kids, who screw their prepubescent daughters. These people have always existed. Does our writing about the sort of crimes they perpetrate encourage these people to commit these crimes?
Does an author who writes about a serial killer encourage murderers in the real world?
How much of the horror that people express about various taboo topics is rational, and how much is based on their personal discomfort? I will leave that question open for you to ponder.
Publishers and online venues like ERWA don’t want to make readers uncomfortable. They’re also worried about getting in trouble with the law. Hence, they establish various rules about what content is and is not acceptable. These rules tend to be idiosyncratic, depending on both the personal beliefs of the owners or operators and their perception of their market. For instance, I had a publisher reject one of my stories once because they had a policy prohibiting the portrayal of priests and nuns in erotica. In the romance world, very few publishers will accept any work that includes bodily fluids (“golden showers” or “scat”) even though there’s no legal reason for them to reject such stories (and it’s possible to write about these topics with both grace and heat). These publishers are convinced their readership will find such content “gross”.
Rules can change. Last year, the ownership of ERWA changed hands. Now, the ERWA staff members are debating whether to remove the prohibition of incest erotica on the public website. Perhaps you will consider me an incorrigible reprobate, but I am in favor. I believe we should have as few rules as possible.
In my view, erotica should not only turn readers on, but should also expand their perspectives. Sex is inextricably intertwined with so many other emotions—love, guilt, ambition, shame, anger, and compassion, to name just a few. Erotica derives its singular power from this psychological complexity. It’s not a safe genre, or at least it shouldn’t be. Sometimes the most arousing stories are the most disturbing.
Does that mean nothing is sacred, nothing forbidden? That’s something each of us has to answer for ourselves. There are few, if any red lines that I can discern. Defining what is and is not acceptable in erotica is a dangerously slippery slope.
Red lines in erotica remind me a bit of limits in BDSM. Limits are personal—the activities I totally reject might be the ones that most turn you on. Furthermore, limits can change over time. Tomorrow I might consider doing something that terrifies or squicks me today. Finally, the most erotic BDSM encounters often result from pushing limits—moving beyond the edge of what’s comfortable and familiar into new experiences and new insights.
Greetings to all erotic authors!
Today’s the 19th of the month, and you know what that means, right? It’s Sexy Snippet Day! I hope you’ve got a really sizzling snippet to share with us today.
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.
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. One snippet per author,
please. 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
The question of excellent sex scenes came to mind when a friend forwarded an interview with writer Lidia Yuknavitch from the Lenny Letter’s August 12 issue. Yuknavitch has been lauded as one of the few authors today who writes about sex “well.” I’d read Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water back in 2014 because I was curious as to why she was getting such praise, and also because I apparently needed a reminder as to why I should never listen to such marketing hype. Predictably her portrayal of sex, which ping-ponged between the acceptably literary theme of incest trauma and Penthouse-style lesbian group encounters, was more or less par for the course. In my opinion, one can find better writing about sex by any author here at ERWA.
However, two years on I’d pretty much forgotten about that experience so I read the interview with a fresh mind and—what do you know, I really liked it! If her novel had been anything like the interview, I would have liked that, too. I especially liked this part concerning writing about sex:
Suleika Jaouad for Lenny: It seems almost impossible to write a sex scene without clichés. In what ways are you interested in changing the script about how we write about sex and sexuality?
Lidia Yuknavitch: I think the worst lie of all that we’ve inherited about our own bodies is that the stories of sexuality and sexual identity are already written. The reality is, we haven’t even finished figuring out who we are yet as a species — let alone what to do with our bodies. For me, sexuality is a whole terrain or territory that you explore your entire life, from birth to dirt. We’ve yet to even begin to liberate the full story lines of our bodies.
I don’t sit in my office and go, “I’m going to write a really cool sex scene.” I hope we leave behind forever the idea of the sex scene on page 49, which is a market invention. If you want to write an excellent sex scene, you have to liberate it from the idea of a sex scene. Like I was saying before about violence, you have to thread sexuality through every part of a character or a person’s life, rather than limiting it to a titillating few pages where something juicy happens. You have to understand that sexuality is omnipresent in your body — your entire life.
Truer words were never spoken. Makes you want to jump in bed and explore some territory with a partner of one sort or another–not excluding one’s own trusty hands– and get back to the keyboard to write down some new truths about the body-mind connection. That’s the fun part. But what does this fine sentiment mean for us erotica writers in terms of the day-to-day process of writing and publishing? Well, unfortunately, we not only have to take on the mysteries of sensuality and the challenges of wordcraft, we have to take on the contempt of the world.
In spite of the high accolades (unfortunately, I also forget where I read the praise that motivated me to read The Chronology of Water), Yuknavitch herself does not escape the contempt with which sex writing is still treated in our culture. I keep notes on books I’ve read (are you horrified?) and they’re skimpy for Water, but I did record word-for-word this passage from the introduction by Chelsea Cain (a writer of bestselling thrillers) about meeting Yuknavitch at the Portland writing, or “therapy,” group led by Fight Club’s Chuck Palahniuk:
“Chuck Palahniuk brought up the idea of inviting her. ‘She writes this literary prose,’ he told us. ‘But she’s this big-breasted blond from Texas, and she used to be a stripper and she’s done heroin.’ Needless to say, we were impressed.
I already wanted her to sit by me.
There was more. Chuck told us that some really famous edgy writer—I didn’t recognize her name, but I pretended that I did—had given a talk at a conference about the State of Sex Scenes in Literature and she’d said that all sex scenes were shit, except for the sex written by Lidia Yuknavitch. Maybe Chuck didn’t tell us that. But someone in the group did. I don’t remember. I think I was still thinking about the stripper thing. A real-life ex-stripper in our writing group! So glamorous.
Yes, we said, invite her. Please.
She showed up a few weeks later, wearing a long black coat. I couldn’t see her breasts. She was quiet. She didn’t make eye contact. She did not sound like she was from Texas.
Frankly, I was a little disappointed.
Where was the big hair, the Lucite platform heels? The track marks?
Had Chuck made the whole thing up? (He does that sometimes.)
How was he describing me to people?” (The Chronology of Water, p. xii-xiv)
As you see from this excerpt, people can’t stop talking about Yuknavitch’s breasts. In fact, the cover of Water is graced with a female swimmer’s naked nipple, which some bookstores covered with a Bandaid.
Good God, we really do need a new way to think and talk about sex, don’t we?
But I must conclude this peek into the culture of Chuck Palahniuk’s writing group with a final juicy bit, in case you were feeling jealous that you aren’t a member. Far from wowing that uber-cool coterie with a striptease, poor Yuknavitch apparently ended up running to the bathroom and cried when another member told her the father incest in her story was trite. Granted it has become so in literary fiction, but if one really was raped by dad, that remark would feel insensitive to say the least.
But this isn’t a post about the shallow values and cruelty of writing groups. It’s about “excellent” sex scenes.
I’m not going to tell you how to write them. I’m going to tell you why the question itself is a problem.
First let us notice how even a writer who has managed to write the only good sex scenes in the history of human storytelling is still safely ghettoized. Naturally someone who writes like this must be carnal, trashy, living on the margins of the law and have sleazy fashion taste. Writing about sex cannot merely be a cerebral act, an act of the imagination. Sex writers must have literally experienced the dirty deeds they write about and show the track marks on their bodies for all to see. We don’t ask murder mystery writers to pull a bloody corpse from the closet, but sex writers need to arouse us in the flesh. A shy woman in a concealing coat cannot write good sex. The potential field of venerable sex writers is thus narrowed considerably and keeps in check our own vulnerability to the disruptive power of sex.
More importantly note that neither Cain nor I can remember exactly who gave Yuknavitch such high praise. Instead some vague expert has made the pronouncement, someone who needn’t answer to anyone, an entity so vague that that the words seem to come from God herself. Remember, though, it only takes one critic with the word “trite” on his lips to strip her of her crown. And yet, so many have faith that the promise of the best sex (scene) ever will be fulfilled by someone, some day in next month’s issue or next year’s novel. In the meantime, there are many examples of intelligent, creative, well-crafted stories about sexuality out there and especially here at ERWA, but for the most part the literary establishment chooses to ignore our existence, just as it ignores the rich variety of sexual experience itself.
Yuknavitch herself acknowledges these problems in her interview. “Excellent” sex scenes are not free standing, carefully circumscribed entities on page 69. Excellent sex scenes don’t follow the script or if they do, they infuse it with something more. And for me “liberation” includes not just our own efforts in writing, but opening up the writing group to everyone. Sexual pleasure and expression are not just the province of a lucky gorgeous, young, well-endowed, celebrated few—or in other words, those who can play themselves on TV.
So let’s get away from this idea of scarcity and exclusion. We need countless new stories about our bodies and erotic minds told through countless sensibilities. And we need to listen to these stories respectfully, without jumping to judgment immediately or sniggering, because exploring new territory is a tentative, sensitive endeavor. What does this mean to a writer sitting before the blank screen? Well, we each have to come to terms with this in our own way, but I hope we can all acknowledge how courageous erotica writers are to give our talents to such important work. On that note, I’ll leave you with another excerpt from Yuknavitch’s interview that I found inspiring:
SJ: What are your best words of advice for fellow misfits and aspiring writers?
LY: I’m trying to help us remember that we invent our own beauty and our own paths and our own crooked, weird ways of doing things, but that they’re not nothing and they matter, too. We’re the half of culture that doesn’t take the paths that are sitting right in front of us. Our song may be a little off-key, but it’s a kind of beauty, too. I know I’m not the person who thought that up, and I’m not the person who invented that as a truth, but I can sure stand up and help remind us not to give up, that we have a song, too.
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
I have a friend who has a preternatural talent for clever
turns of phrase and pithy remarks. Spend any amount of time in his company and
bon mots go off like cluster bombs. I’m constantly telling him, “I’m going
to steal that one.” And he just brushes it off – yeah, sure, feel free.
I have stolen a
few of his best and included them in fictional dialogue of my own, but not
before Googling the phrase, just in case he picked it up from someone else.
think we all pick up on clever remarks, and those of us who write are likely to
recycle them in the mouths of our characters. But a quick Google check might
reveal a phrase’s origin, or more importantly, whether it as fresh and original
as you thought. You don’t want to use it after it has become a meme or cliché. What’s
clever today has a briefer shelf life due to social media.
It might also keep you ought of trouble; what if it’s a
quote from a copyrighted work? There’s fair use, and then there’s being fair
and giving credit.
I think, though, stealing
lines is fairly common among writers. It may even be the sincerest form of
flattery, or homage. I think it’s the same as, for instance, using a locale
that figures prominently in the work of an author you admire. Or even borrowing
a minor character who inhabits that locale. Of course, you might want to do the
courtesy of giving the other author a heads up. The few times other writers
have asked me if they could borrow a
character my response was always, “Wow, sure.” It was fascinating reading
my own characters as interpreted by someone else. Truly, it can open your eyes
to another facet of a character you thought you knew inside-out … I mean, you
Outright plagiarism has surfaced in the news recently.
Taking someone’s unique creation and passing it off as one’s own is the
ultimate mortal sin among artists. The majority of such claims seem to arise
out of the music industry. The latest, Led Zeppelin’s exoneration of charges it
plagiarized it’s iconic “Stairway to Heaven.”
You have to wonder, though, with only so many notes at
one’s disposal, and with all the music already created by our species over
thousands of years, how anyone comes up with a distinct melody. Haven’t you
ever begun humming a tune and seamlessly segue into another tune with a similar
melody? And yet, we recognize each as a distinct song.
It’s a bit more difficult, I think, to plagiarize a known
written work, or a speech, for that matter. Changing a few words just doesn’t
do the trick. If the current political season has taught us anything, it’s just
plain stupid to try that.
Unless it’s a blatant rip-off, like lifting Michelle
Obama’s words wholesale, I tend to cut the accused offender a bit of slack
because of something that happened to me.
While writing a story that came to be called “What
Was Lost” – featured within “Cream” an amazing anthology of
stories written by members of the Erotica Readers and Writers Association and
edited by Lisabet Sarai – I took a break to watch a war drama, “The Lost
Well, the movie ended in the wee hours, so I hit the
sack. The next day I finished my story in time to post it to the ERWA critique
Among the responses I got was from a friend and an extraordinary
writer of erotica, Helena Settimana: “I bet you watched ‘Lost Battalion’ last
Huh? How’d she know that? Then she quoted a line I used
in the story. Think of what happened next as an epiphany delivered with a kick
in the ass. I had had the line in my head and it fit perfectly into the mouth
of my main character. The fact that I had, quite without intention, stolen a
line from the movie frankly scared me.
Nothing of the sort has happened since, but it does give
one pause, and perhaps a bit of empathy for the random artist who used a string
of notes, or a series of words in a particular order that turned out to be part
of someone’s else’s work.
They used to say, put a keyboard in front of a chimpanzee
and give him enough time, he’ll eventually bang out “War and Peace.”
I doubt either the chimp or its observers would live that long. But the human
brain insists on putting things in order as it recycles information it receives
Maybe whenever you come up with a great line, you should
try saying, “Gee, I wish I’d written that.” You know, just to reboot
your brain’s quality control.
Of all the things to write, I feel one of the all-time toughest has got to be fetish erotica. Gay or lesbian—or straight, if you’re gay or lesbian or bisexual—is comparatively a piece of cake: just insert body part of preference and go with it. For gay erotica, it’s a male body, and for lesbians, it’s a female body. For straights, it’s the opposite. You don’t have to create the ideal man or woman; in fact, it’s better to describe characters that are a bit more … real. Perfection is dull, and can be bad storytelling, but a body with its share of wrinkles, blemishes, or sags can add dimension and depth.
The same goes with motivation, the inner world of your character. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: the trick to writing beyond your own gender or orientation is in projecting your own mental landscape into the mind of your character. You may not know how gay sex, lesbian sex, or straight sex feels, but you do know what love, affection, hope, disappointment, or even just human skin feels like. Remember that, bring it to your character and your story, and you’ll be able to draw a reader in.
But fetishes are tougher. To be momentarily pedantic, Webster’s says that fetishes are: “an object or body part whose real or fantasized presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification.” That’s pretty accurate—or good enough for us here—but the bottom line is that fetishes are a sexual interest that may or may not directly relate to sex. Some pretty common ones are certain hair colors, body types, smells, tastes, clothing, and so forth.
We all have them to some degree. To open the field to discussion, I like breasts. But even knowing I have that fetish doesn’t mean I can really explain why I like big ones. It’s really weird. I mean, I can write about all kinds of things, but when I try and figure out what exactly the allure of large hooters is for me, I draw a blank. The same thing (even more so) used to happen when I tried to write about other people’s fetishes.
But I have managed to learn a couple of tricks about it, in the course of my writing as well as boobie pondering (hey, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon). I’ve come up with two ways of approaching a fetish, at least from a literary standpoint. The first to remember that fetishes are like sex under a microscope, that part of their power is in focusing on one particular behavior or body part. Let’s use legs as an example. For the die-hard leg fetishist, their sexuality is wrapped around the perfect set of limbs. For a leg man, or woman, the appeal is in that slow, careful depiction of those legs. The sex that happens after that introduction may be hot, but you can’t get away with just saying he or she had a great set of gams.
Details! There has to be details—but not just any kind of detail. For people into a certain body type or style, the words themselves are important. I remember writing a leg fetish story and having it come back from the editor with a list of keywords to insert into the story, the terms his readers would respond to and demanded in their stories. Here’s where research comes in: a long, slow description is one thing, but to make your fetish story work, you have to get your own list of button-pushing terminology.
The second approach is to understand that very often fetishes are removed from the normal sexual response cycle. For many people, the prep for a fetish is almost as important, if not as important, as the act itself. For latex fans—just to use an extreme example—the talcum powder and shaving before even crawling into their rubber can be just as exciting as the black stretchy stuff itself. For a fetish story, leaping into the sex isn’t as important as the prep to get to it. Another example that springs to mind is a friend of mine who was an infantilist—and before you leap to your own Webster’s, that means someone who likes to dress up as someone much younger. For him, the enjoyment was only partially in the costume and role-playing. A larger part of his dress-up and tea parties was in masturbating afterward: in other words, the fetish act wasn’t sex; it was building a more realistic fetish fantasy for self-pleasure afterwards. Not that all of your literary experiments need to be that elaborate, but it does show that for a serious fetishist, the span of what can be considered sex can be pretty wide.
The reason to try your hand at fetish erotica I leave to you—except to say what I’ve said before: that writing only what you know can lead to boredom for you and your readers. Try new things, experiment, and take risks. In the case of fetishes, it can only add to your own sensitivity and imagination—both in terms of writing and storytelling, but maybe even in the bedroom.
And who could argue with that?
by Ashley Lister
Have you been naughty?
Do you need a good spanking?
Which paddle should I select?
I have been naughty.
I deserve your punishment.
Please use the studded paddle.
We’re all familiar with the haiku: the poetic
form, imported from Japanese culture, and interpreted by western poets as a three-line
stanza with a syllable count of 5-7-5.
Less familiar, but similar in many ways to
the haiku, is the katuata. In its Japanese
form the poem was made up of 19 onji, which we’ve translated as syllables. Most
authorities give the Katuata a three-line form structure of 5-7-7.
One of the popular applications of this form
is the mondo: a poem traditionally written by two poets and presented in the
form of a question and answer. The first stanza is the question, the second is the response.
As a tool for helping with collaboration, this
is clearly an apposite way to begin a writing partnership. However,
as a fun way of getting two characters talking, or simply challenging the
artistic imagination, writing the brief exchange of a mondo at the start of a
writing session is an effective way to kick-start creativity.
Your plans for tonight?
House of Cards
or Breaking Bad?
Or Pretty Little Liars?
Let’s be more daring.
Forget this Netflix and chill
We’ll make our own blockbuster
As always, I look forward to seeing your
poems in the comments box below.