Monthly Archives: November 2016
Well, today’s it, folks! The final day of NaNoWriMo 2016, and it’s been a good one. I’ve loved every minute of it. For those of you who just stepped outside your caves for the first time in awhile, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, the object being – you guessed it – writing an entire novel in one month. I’m an enthusiastic participant every year that I can manage it. It’s a chance take risks, to write something wild and reckless. It’s the opportunity to take on something I’ve always wanted to tackle but have either lacked the time or the courage. And it’s not just a dabble, it’s a whole glorious month of taking something risqué out of the writing ideas box and trying it on not just to see how it fits, but how it feels to live with it, intensely live with it, for a whole month. And intense is probably the best word I can find to describe the experience.
Now that I’m looking back warmly at NaNoWriMo 2016 after trying my hand at science fiction for the first time, what I’m about to share with you may be bordering on TMI, but it certainly won’t come as much of a surprise to most writers. Creativity is a real turn-on. When I’m writing, when I’m in the zone and everything is really flowing, the experience is the hottest thing next to sex that I know. It’s the kind of endorphin rush I’ve had when I’m scrambling up a steep fell or when I’m discovering some exotic place for the first time. And yes, at times those most creative moments are like the best foreplay ever.
Since I started writing romance and erotic romance, my tagline has always been that Freud was right. It really IS all about sex. I believe that more and more the longer I write. Our sexuality infuses every other area of our life, and in no place is it manifest more powerfully than in our creativity. To spend the entire month of November hole up with a new novel, a novel that’s a total stranger when I pen those first words, is intimidating. But it’s also incredibly arousing in a creative sort of way. I think of it as a writer’s version of Nine ½ Weekscrammed into thirty days, with a chance to get to know a total stranger – one I’m in the process of creating — inside out. Yup! Intense.
For me, NaNoWriMo is about taking risks in a safe container. I know it will last only a month. That’s all! And then the rest of the world floods back in. I’ve always thought of November as a particularly short month. To me it always seems even shorter than February. Maybe that’s because it’s the last chance to breathe before the holiday season hits like a battering
ram and there’s no slowing until January. All I know is that if I’m doing NaNoWriMo, I love, love, LOVE November! If I’m not doing NaNoWriMo, I hate, hate HATE November. In the UK, it’s cold, it’s bleak, it’s wet and windy, and the days are short and dark. Even worse, once November blows in at gale force, I know with that sense of cold deep in my bones that summer is over, and even Indian Summer has had its last painful gasps. BUT absolutely none of that matters when November is my container, and I’m writing furiously.
Oh, and it’s gone by so quickly! Here I’m waving good-bye on the platform with a satisfied smile. I’m a better writer for allowing myself to be so completely seduced by the act of writing a novel in only a month. It might be just thirty days, but what a difference a month makes.
Oh, and yes, thank you! I did write my science fiction novel – all 95K of Piloting Fury. And yes, it was most definitely good for me.
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 three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook
page, and her Amazon Author Page.
Her new m/m erotic medical thriller Roughing
It is out! This book is a sexy cross between The X Files, The Andromeda
Strain, and Outbreak. Read her short erotic story Babes in Begging For It, published by
Cleis Press. You will also find her new novel No
Restraint at Amazon. Enjoy a good, sexy read today.
For The Love Of God, Montresor!
Literary and Media Figures and Their Favorite
Since ’tis the
season for festivities, I though it would be fun to not only write about famous
literary and media characters and their favorite drinks, but to include
recipes! During this holiday season, feel free to be like Phryne Fisher or
Ebenezer Scrooge and toss back one of their favorite cocktails. I found some of these cocktails at The Cocktail Chart of Film & Literature at Pop Chart Lab.
These first three
aren’t meant to be taken seriously, but they’re so amusing I had to include
them. I’m not encouraging you to throw cigarette ash or downers into your drinks,
but if you insist on doing that, at least be creative.
Moe Szyslak – The Simpsons
The Flaming Moe
Drops of various
non-narcotic cough syrup
Charlie Chaplin – The Adventurer
cocktails in the bar poured into one glass.
Alex – A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Alex and his cronies
downed this drink before engaging in some wholesome, clean ultraviolence where
they’d beat up strangers, rob stores, and the like. It’s nothing more than milk
barbiturates – Vellocet, Synthemese, and Drencrom
The following are
classics. I enjoy drinking Amontillado since I am a huge Poe fan. I could drink
this stuff and argue with writers as to who is better – Poe or Lovecraft? That
always ends up being a very heated discussion. When I went to the Stanley Hotel
Writers Retreat in October, 2015, I passed on drinking bourbon on the rocks
despite that being Jack Torrance’s favorite drink since I detest bourbon. That
said, I can’t let this article continue without mentioning those fine
Montresor and Fortunato – The Cask Of
Amontillado – Edgar Allan Poe
Jack Torrance – The Shining – Stephen King
Bourbon on the rocks
Harry Potter – Butterbeer – J. K. Rowling
generally thought of as non-alcoholic but there are boozy varieties of the
drink. There is even a Starbuck’s version. I’m here to give you both.
From Food52, the alcoholic version
includes ½ stick of unsalted butter, light and dark brown sugar, freshly grated
ginger, dark rum, ginger beer, and other ingredients. Go to the link for the
full recipe including ingredients and instructions on how to make it.
Here’s one of the many
versions of a grande butterbeer
for Starbuck’s. Just save this blog post page on your iPhone and show it to
the barista who will make the drink for you. Please don’t do this when it’s
very busy because you may annoy the staff with a special order.
for a Creme Frappuccino base. Don’t skimp on the fat by asking for skim or 2%
milk as whole milk is required for the right consistency.
pumps of caramel syrup.
pumps of toffee nut syrup.
with caramel drizzle.
Phryne Fisher – Miss Fisher’s Murder
Mysteries – Kerry Greenwood
I have enjoyed Benedictine
for many years, but I was sold when I discovered Phryne Fisher likes the
liqueur. My husband’s late father used to declare it on his taxes as medicine
and he got away with it. Maybe it’s because he lived in Europe. Ha! Kerry
Greenwood, who created Miss Fisher, talked about Phryne introducing herself in
the forward to her books.
from Kerry Greenwood, about Phryne Fisher for the books Cocaine Blues,
Flying Too High, and Murder On The Ballerat Train.
Thank you for buying this book. I have a wizard and three
cats to feed. Picture the scene. There I am, in 1988, thirty years old and
never been published, clutching a contract in a hot sweaty hand. I have been
trying for four long and frustrating years to attract a publisher and now a
divinity has offered me a two book conract about a detective in 1928. I am
reading the ads as the tram clacks down Brunswick Street. They are not
inspiring posters. I am beginning to panic. This is what I have striven for my
whole life. Am I now going to develop writer’s block? When I never have before?
Then she got onto the tram and sat near me. A lady with a
Lulu bob, feather earrings, a black cloth coat with an Astrakan collar and a
black cloche jammed down over her exquisite eyebrows. She wore delicate shoes
of sable glacé kid with a Louis heel. She moved with a fine louche grace, as
though she knew that the whole tram was staring at her and she both did not
mind and accepted their adulation as something she merited. She leaned towards
me. I smelt rice powder and Jicky. ‘Why not write about me?’ she breathed. And,
in a scent of Benedictine, she vanished. That was the Honourable Phryne Fisher.
I am delighted to be able to introduce you to her.
Ebenezer Scrooge – A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
I can’t let a
holiday article about cocktails go by without mentioning Mr. Scrooge. This
drink is served warm and it’s perfect for curling up in front of a roaring fire
and listening to Victorian Christmas carols with someone you love.
¼ cup sugar
1 bottle red wine
Juice from several oranges
1 bottle port
Prick oranges with
Let sit for 24 hours
Edgar Allan Poe – Eggnog
I must mention Poe
one more time, since he liked a classic holiday drink. Poe loved eggnog. He
even used in in his classic tale The Pit
And The Pendulum. Poe’s West Point roommate recalled he also couldn’t be
found far from a bottle of Benny Haven’s best brandy. Benny Haven was Poe’s
favorite place to go to drink. The jury is still out as to whether or not he was
an alcoholic. Stories regarding the cause of his death range from rabies to
being beaten to death after refusing to be used in vote rigging. The eggnog was
a family recipe.
cups whole milk, divided
cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cups brandy
the egg yolks and sugar in a medium boll and whisk until thick and pale. Set
aside. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. Warm 3 parts milk over
low heat. Whisk 1 cup of warm milk into the yolk mixture. Add this back to the
milk in the pan. Stir over low heat until combined and thickened. Remove from
heat and stir in the cream quickly. Place the saucepan in the ice water. Stir
until chilled then add the brandy, rum, and remaining milk. Pour eggnog into
glasses. Whip the egg whites into stiff peaks in a bowl and spoon over the
eggnog. Top with nutmeg. Merry Christmas!
Topper – Pink Lady
When I first watched
the movie Topper, I became very
interested in Pink Ladies since Marion Kerby swore by them. I have yet to try
one, but maybe this season I’ll give one a try.
1½ -2 oz. Gin
1 Egg White
1 teaspoon Grenadine
1 teaspoon Double
Fresh Strawberry for
ingredients with ice, shake vigorously. Strain into a glass. Garnish with ½
strawberry on a cocktail stick.
2 oz. Gin
¾ oz. Each of
Cointreau and Lemon juice
1 Egg White (if
[Omit the grenadine
ingredients with ice, shake vigorously. Strain into a glass. Garnish with ½
strawberry on a cocktail stick.
Carrie Bradshaw – Sex and the City – Candace
I am not a fan of Sex and the City for reasons I won’t go
into here, but I must give Carrie Bradshaw kudos for popularizing the Cosmo.
4 parts vodka
1 part Cointreau
2 parts lime juice
3 parts cranberry
Shake and serve on
John Steed and Mrs. Emma Peel – The Avengers
The reason my
favorite drink is champagne is due to it being the preferred beverage of Steed
and Mrs. Peel. It’s nearly all I drink aside of red wine, Benedictine, Campari,
and Amontillado. Those two drank it all the time, even when they were painting
Mrs. Peel’s flat. I recall they preferred Chateau Mouton Rothchild, but that’s
a bit out of my price range. I also like brut champagne. The drier the better.
FYI – Oscar Wilde
also preferred to drink iced champagne. At the time of his death, he was
drinking a combination of opium, chloral and champagne. He did say, “And
now I am dying beyond my means.”
And now for the
hard-boiled characters. You don’t get much more hard-boiled than Raymond
Chandler. Chandler was as much of a double-fisted drinker as were his
creations. An alcoholic, he suffered blackouts and threatened suicide. He lost
a job due to drink and began writing at 44. When his wife died, he dived
further into the bottle. His alcoholism haunts his stories. He favored the gin
gimlet just like his character Philip Marlowe. Still, if you want to drink like
the heavies, go for it.
Vivian Sternwood Rutledge – The Big Sleep –
2 to 3 ounces
scotch, bourbon, or brandy
½ cup crushed ice
lemon twist over
edge of glass
Philip Marlow – The Long Goodbye – Raymond
½ Rose’s lime juice
And now for the disasters
amongst us. The Great Gatsby included drinking and excessive living. It was
mainly about the downfall of the American Dream in the 1920s. Fitzgerald
favored gin because he believed people couldn’t smell it on his breath. He ad
his wife Zelda were heavy gin drinkers. Another alcoholic writer, cocktails
figured prominently in his fiction. He preferred the gin rickey, just like his
character Jay Gatsby did.
Daisy Buchanan – The Great Gatsby – F. Scott
2.5 ounces bourbon
2 sugar cubes
4 or 5 mint leaves
Serve over ice
Jay Gatsby – The Great Gatsby – F. Scott
1 shot gin
½ shot fresh
squeezed lime juice
2.5 ounces bourbon
Here’s to the rise
and fall of rugged masculinity from Hemingway and Williams. Although Hemingway
was fond of drinking, he did not do so while writing. Also, his favorite drink
was not the mojito. He was diabetic and couldn’t tolerate the sugar so it’s
unlikely he drank mojitos. He did drink absinthe and double daiquiris without
sugar. His favorite drink was the dry martini.
Jake Barnes – The Sun Also Rises – Ernest
2 ounces applejack
1 ounce lemon or
dash of grenadine
suffered from severe anxiety and drank to ease the pain. He often spoke of his
love for downers saying that they enhanced and unblocked his creativity,
although his critics disagreed. Downers did him in in the end when he choked to
death on a bottle cap to his prescription barbies. Alcohol played an important
part in the lives of his characters as well, Brick Pollett being an excellent
Brick Pollett – Cat On A Hot Tin Roof – Tennessee Williams
2 tbsp bourbon
1 tbsp mild honey
2 tbsp fresh lemon
¼ cup boiling hot
Stir and serve warm
I can’t talk about
rugged masculinity without mentioning Bond. James Bond. While most people
associate Bond with a martini, shaken, not stirred, it wasn’t the only thing he
drank. He enjoyed an Americano in Casino
Royale. My husband and I are huge fans of Campari and vermouth. The
Americano is similar to a Negroni, but it uses Perrier instead of gin. We could
drink either one. To you, Mr. Bond!
James Bond – Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet red
You can’t go wrong
this holiday season with all these cocktails at your disposal to drink. Celebrate
Christmas and honor Phryne Fisher, Marion Kerby, and Scrooge with warmth and
nostalgia. Don’t forget to share with your friends. Happy Christmas to all, and
to all a good night!
by Jean Roberta
So much has been said (even here in Canada) about the election of Donald Trump as President of the U.S. that I can’t think of anything new to add on a political level.
However, let’s consider how government by the “alt.-right” (loosely defined as a broad coalition of white male supremacists, proud gun owners, climate-change-deniers, Christian fundamentalists, and fans of robber-baron capitalism, unrestrained by unions or governments) might affect writers. The first thought that occurred to me was that new laws might criminalize erotic writing, as distinct from crude boasts about “grabbing pussy.”
My second thought was that legal censorship would not be the most serious threat to writers. The English writer Virginia Woolf came closer to the truth in 1928 when she gave a series of lectures which were later published as an essay, A Room of One’s Own, about how women writers are affected by a shortage of actual space and time in which to write. This argument could be extended to everyone who is socially and economically marginalized.
Thinking about my own past, I can honestly say there has never been a time in my adult life when I didn’t write anything. However, as a single mother in the 1980s, I always felt guilty about spending my scarce “free” time on any activity that didn’t involve tending my child or earning a living. I was also trying to finish a Master’s thesis in English, and this project – which is supposed to take a year or two at the most — took me most of a decade, partly due to delays on the part of a supervisor who had other priorities, and partly due to lack of time, energy and self-confidence on my part.
The real wall that tends to keep marginalized or oppressed people out of “mainstream” culture consists of obstacles to self-expression. If you’ve been taught that your real purpose is to serve someone else’s needs (or that you have no purpose and might as well be dead), and if apparently random circumstances reinforce those messages, writing anything feels like an act of rebellion. Everyone has stories to tell, but the obstacles to telling them are likely to be internal as well as external.
As an instructor of low-cost, non-credit creative writing classes in the local university in the 1990s, I met students who wanted to express themselves in written language, but they were afraid of possible consequences. Several of them insisted that they would never write for publication because their relatives and especially their spouses would never forgive them. My students wanted to tell the truth about their lives, but they were afraid that their truth would offend everyone they knew.
My advice might have seemed contradictory on the surface. I encouraged them to write down their most shocking (to themselves) feelings, suspicions and experiences in very private journals that they never had to show anyone, including me. This was Step One. After letting this raw material cool for awhile, students could continue to Step Two: rereading the secret diary, and pulling out sections that could be reshaped to form poetry, fiction, drama, or creative non-fiction.
Turning a spontaneous rant, a rambling journal entry or a masturbation fantasy into a coherent piece of writing makes it more comprehensible to others. It’s the beginning of a conversation. And a conversation that includes enough participants can change a culture.
In the November newsletter of Circlet Press, writer and publisher Cecilia Tan defended what she does so brilliantly (IMO) that I can’t resist quoting part of her editorial:
“It was a tough night here at Circlet HQ as the election results rolled in and I probably don’t have to tell you why–but I will. This wasn’t about Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump for us. This was about the fact that the Trump campaign and the Republican platform are serious threats to our existence as marginalized people. Gay, lesbian, trans, bi, gender non-conforming, minorities in sexual identity of every kind, including survivors of sexual assault (and not to mention women and people of color in general) are all seen as less than human by the Trump camp. Literally.
So I thought it might be a good time to remind you all what Circlet Press stands for, and why even in the face of a difficult uphill battle, we’re not giving up, and why even in the face of massive global upheaval, erotic fiction still matters.
1. Writing matters. All writing is a declaration of humanity.
The act of writing is self-expression in a declarative form. Whenever we make words, even if they are tweets, at the most basic level we are saying “I am here!” Unlike vocal speech, writing is a deliberate act, one that combines cognition with communication–with intent to communicate to an imagined other who is not present. It’s a powerful act whether one is writing a personal blog, an article, a story, a letter, or even a diary entry. It might feel right now like putting down words doesn’t matter. But it does. It does because you matter, your voice matters, your personhood matters.
2. Erotica is a claiming of sexual identity.
The extension of the fact that writing matters is that writing about sex matters in particular. Not only do we write “I am here!” but “I am queer!” (or whatever flavor of non-standardized sexuality or sexual identity you declare) No matter what your sexuality is–even if it’s vanilla heterosexual–society has judged you for it and wants to tell you how you can or should do it. If you cannot be yourself in your private thoughts, you cannot be yourself anywhere. In our sexual fantasies is where some of us first discover our true selves, and then through that act of putting down words, of putting that fantasy to paper as if communicating with another sentience, we express that truth. There are those out there who literally wish death on us for being queer or sinners or ‘liberated women.’ Declaring our existence as sexual minorities and celebrating our sexuality with joy through erotica is an act of courage and an act of self-preservation, too. The more we are seen, the better we are known, the more space on the stage we take up, the more difficult it is to marginalize us. “
There you have it. The whole editorial is much longer than this, and it was intended for wide circulation. You can read it here:
by Kathleen Bradean
Apologies in advance to non-US readers for the nation-centric post. Insert your own national holiday.
It sounded like a nice idea. Have a bunch of friends and family over. Eat a ton of food. Sit around the fire and tell ourselves a feel-good myth about our origins…
And then it happened.
Oysters in the stuffing.
Oops. I should have posed a trigger warning. I can envision you recoiled in horror at the very idea of oysters inside your bird. I mean, awful, right? Don’t get me wrong. I love oysters. Fresh and briny, or cooked with spinach and bread crumbs, or even Acme Oyster House’s woodfire grilled oysters topped with Parmesan cheese (note to self – get back to New Orleans ASAP), but NOT in stuffing.
Maybe you’re thinking, “That sounds kind of good,” or “I shall toss a virtual gauntlet at her for insulting great aunt Mildred’s famous oyster dressing!” or perhaps “I’ve had worse. Apples. Chestnuts. Craisins, for the love of god!” And you’d be right. And wrong. Heck, even I’m wrong for being anti-oyster stuffing. (Not really, but I’m playing my own Devil’s advocate) Because what you’re eating isn’t just stuffing. It’s never just stuffing. It’s a forkful of the past. Your past. And no matter if it’s oysters or apples or chestnuts, what you really taste is memories.
Thanksgiving isn’t just the bird, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. It’s so many side dishes and desserts. Some are regional favorites; some reflect our ethic background. Others were created by a home economist in the 1940s for the war effort or for a brand, printed in a magazine ad, and recreated faithfully every year since. (Green bean casserole, I’m looking at you.) It’s a complex amalgamation of who we were, who we are, and who we desire to be.
You may be wondering what this has to do with writing. It has a lot, actually. Since I’m the main cook, to me, Thanksgiving is a day centered on the kitchen. It’s a constant game of Tetris – trying to get the food to fit in the fridge as well as trying to bend time to my will so all these disparate dishes come together at the same time. To my sister-in-law, the day centers around the family room and making sure guests are having a good time. For the kids, the day is about finding out that yes, their cousin Perry really is a jerk who would lock the four-year old in a dark closet in the basement and leave her there until much later when someone else notices she’s missing. (true story). There are as many points of view on what happens that day as there are people sitting around the dining table, and just because I see it as an oyster-free stuffing day doesn’t mean that those who ate the oyster stuffing see it incorrectly. Sometimes, conflict comes from equally valid points of view. That doesn’t mean there has to be a hero and a villain. There just has to be oysters, and those who have the good sense to leave them out of the bird.
By Lisabet Sarai
If you don’t grab your readers’ attention in your first paragraph, you’ve lost them.
Well, that’s what the experts say, at least. Like all absolute statements, this one awakens my critical side. Certainly, I’ve read, and enjoyed, many books that began with a whimper rather than a bang. On the other hand, an effective, engaging opening can make the difference between someone buying your book or moving on to the next author.
Here are the first two paragraphs of one of the best books I’ve read in the past decade, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern:
The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
I had heard nothing about this novel. Seeking a birthday gift for my husband, my attention attracted by the dramatic black and white cover, I picked it up from a bookstore table. As I often do, I read the first page to gauge the style. I was hooked. I had to know more. Later, I bought several other copies as presents for friends and relatives. I’ve recommended it to many other people.
An author’s dream. All because of that dynamite opening.
Of course that’s not strictly true. If the rest of the book had not been as amazing as its first page, I would not be singing its praises to all and sundry. On the other hand, without that hook, I might never have read it at all.
This incident occurred in a bricks and mortar bookstore, but the same phenomenon can occur online. Amazon and Smashwords both allow you to sample the first ten to twenty percent of the books they sell. I don’t know how often people flip through my first few pages on Amazon, but Smashwords gives you these figures. Many more people have sampled my indie books than have bought them.
Maybe I need better openings. Maybe I shouldn’t be giving you advice at all. On the other hand, I do feel that I’ve learned a few things since my first novel (which has a rather awful first sentence, based on my current evaluation).
So how can you hook your readers? How can you write more effective initial paragraphs? Here are some suggestions.
Stimulate the reader’s curiosity.
Your first page can and should raise questions in the reader’s mind. What’s going on? Where are we? Who are the actors? What are their relationships?
Here’s the start of my short story The Last Amanuensis:
My hands no longer tremble when I pierce his papery skin. I’ve learned how much force to apply, how to tilt the hollow needle just enough to fill the tiny wound with color without blurring the line. I know what he can bear. I can read the change in his breathing that tells me he needs a break.
Although this one paragraph reveals a great deal, it also makes the reader wonder about the scenario. Clearly the narrator is creating a tattoo, but who is the subject? Who is speaker? He or she seems to have done this many times—why?
Provide a lightning introduction to your characters.
We all know that great characters are the key to keeping readers’ attention. One way to open a tale is let your characters immediately speak up, so readers get a sense of their quirks, personalities, and motivations.
This is how my erotic suspense novel Exposure begins:
I strip for the fun of it. Don’t let anyone tell you different. It’s not the money. I could make nearly as much working at the mill and keep my clothes on, but then I’d have to suck up to the bosses. Here at the Peacock, I’m the one in charge, and I like it that way.
Only five sentences, but already we know quite a bit about Stella. She’s opinionated and self-confident, the total opposite of a doormat. She doesn’t care must about society’s judgments. She’s probably not highly educated, given her short sentences, colloquial vocabulary and marginal grammar. And she’s a stripper—a fact relevant to both the noir suspense and erotic aspects of the story.
Dump the reader into the middle of the action.
I learned this from Kathleen Bradean. Years ago she critiqued a short story of mine on the Storytime list. I knew something about the piece was not working. It felt leaden and plodding, especially at the start. However, I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.
Kathleen suggested that I throw away the first couple of paragraphs, starting the story smack in the middle of a scene. I followed her advice. The story gained new energy and with it, new interest. I found the change wrought by a relatively minor edit quite astonishing.
One way to get the reader involved in ongoing action is to begin with a line of dialogue. I’ve been using this technique quite a bit recently.
Suzy might as well have stuck my finger in an electric socket. I forced myself to breathe.
(From The Late Show)
“Ginger? Do I taste ginger?”
“Uh—yes, that’s right, sir…”
“Ginger in coq au vin? That’s practically sacrilege, Ms Wong.”
(From Her Secret Ingredient)
“On the desk, Miss Archer. Arms out, palms flat.”
I should have realized Greg had something up his sleeve. Normally he hates big parties. His work requires him to interact with all sorts of people, but I know he finds it stressful. To relax he prefers more—how should I put it?—intimate gatherings. So I really should have understood he had some deviant plan in mind when he told me about the Halloween masquerade.
(From Coming in Costume)
Okay, so maybe I’m overusing this device!
Use short, direct sentences and pay attention to the prosody.
Readers have limited attention spans, especially nowadays. Hence, all else being equal, you should keep the sentences in your first paragraph as short and direct as you can manage. I’d never recommend that you dumb down your English to increase the size of your market, but first sentences are almost like advertising slogans. They should be brief and catchy.
To enhance the impact, take advantage of the fact that repetition and rhyme stimulate parts of the brain not involved in the literal interpretation of words. These elements of prosody give sentences more impact and make them more memorable.
Consider the example from The Night Circus. The first sentence —the first paragraph—is a mere five words. The paragraph break provides a breath, a beat. The next sentence is longer, but the repetition carries it forward: “No announcements… no paper notices …. no mentions.” The next sentence also uses parallelism: “It is… it was…”.
Here’s the first sentence from one of my personal favorite stories, Like Riding a Bicycle:
My wife is on her knees.
Okay, I’m probably my own biggest fan, but I get a little chill when I read that, especially when it becomes clear that this is not (at the moment!) a BDSM scene. The stress patterns (three iambs) seem to me to perfectly fit the meaning.
So, following up on the recommendations above, is there anything you should avoid in your openings?
Well, there’s Elmore Leonard’s famous advice: “Never open a book with the weather.” I’ve broken that rule a few times, deliberately, when the weather was an essential aspect of the plot or the setting, but in general I tend to agree. Perhaps I can restate it more generally: do not begin with a long description of things that are tangential to the story.
Of course there are always exceptions. One opening strategy mimics the common cinematographic technique of the wide pan over the scene, focusing in on a character. For instance, you might show us a narrow country lane winding between hedgerows, the sun setting behind the purple hills, the freshening breeze starting to stir the trees. Then, as we look more closely, we notice a lone figure just coming over a knoll, trudging along, weighed down with what seems like a heavy knapsack. We cannot see his face at first, but as the walker approaches, we realize it’s actually a young woman, dressed in jeans and a ragged jacket, a tight cap crammed over her lank brown hair….
This approach works well with an omniscient point of view, when you want to keep some distance between the reader and your characters.
I have a rule of my own, born of reading a lot of romance: never begin a book with your character’s name. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read that start something like this.
“Anna Wilkins shut off her monitor, leaned back in her office chair and closed her eyes. If she had to review one more report, she’d scream.”
“The clang of an alarm woke Reggie Borden from a restless sleep. He was on his feet, pulling on his work pants, before he realized it had been a dream.”
This is a personal peeve, but I find this sort of opening (which is very common) really annoying. It’s even worse when the author feels inclined to tell us, in the very first paragraph, about the characters’ occupations, appearance, relationships, and so on.
“Anna Wilkins, CEO of Anastyle, Inc, shut off her monitor, leaned back in her office chair, ran her fingers through her blond curls, and closed her sapphire blue eyes. If she had to review one more report from Mark Reynolds, her ambitious Director of Sales, she’d scream.”
“The clang of an alarm woke veteran fire fighter Reggie Borden from a restless sleep. He was on his feet, pulling on his work pants and slipping the suspenders over his broad shoulders, before he realized it had been a dream—a dream about Linda and that terrible day two years ago.”
Rather than making the reader curious, authors who start their books like this seem to feel the need to convey as much information as they can, as early as possible.
Resist the urge to explain, especially in the first few paragraphs of a story. Make the reader wonder who these people are, what they are doing, and why. The reader doesn’t need to know, right away, your characters’ names or what they look like!
I’ve counseled brevity, yet here I am on the fifth page of the essay. Guess I should stop!
In fact, I often have trouble with endings. I’ll talk about that next month.
It’s that time again! Are you excited?
Want to get the rest of us excited?
Today’s your chance, because once again it’s Sexy Snippets Day!
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. No extra promo text, please!
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 hang out.
By Donna George Storey
Sexual assault has been a topic of much discussion these last months. I’ve already written about how rape was dealt with in what I now consider “my” time period, the 1910s (quick answer, not all that differently from the way we do today and, um, that’s not good for today). I wasn’t looking to pursue the topic further, but on November 8 I happened to pick up a book, which I found listed in a course syllabus on gender and sexuality, entitled Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture—and what we can do about it by Kate Harding.
First let me get this out of the way. “Rape culture” has been with us forever, and I’d argue it’s the attention to the issue rather than the cultural support for it that has been on the rise. Back in 2012, when Harding shopped the book proposal, her editor and agent urged her to finish the book in six months, because rape was a hot topic that would be long past the news cycle if she waited longer. Harding took several years to finish, but “fortunately” for the marketing of her book, the topic is as relevant as ever.
I read the entire book on the night of November 8 and was impressed with this observation: “… Rape myths, like all myths, are designed to serve up psychological comfort, not hard facts. As Grubb and Turner put it, ‘To believe that rape victims are innocent and not deserving of their fate is incongruous with the general belief in a just world; therefore, in order to avoid cognitive dissonance, rape myths serve to protect an individual’s belief in a just world.’ (Amy Grubb and Emily Turner, “Attribution of Blame in Rape Cases: A Review of the Impact of Rape Myth Acceptance, Gender Role Conformity and Substance Use on Victim Blaming,” Aggression and Violent Behavior 17, no. 5 (2012): 443-452 quoted in Asking For It, p. 23).
Harding presents this useful flow chart for preserving our comforting belief in a just world:
Someone reported a rape. Proceed as follows:
1. Did she ask for it? If no, go to 2. If yes, go to 8.
2. Was it really rape? If yes, go to 3. If no, go to 8.
3. Did he mean to do it? If yes, go to 4. If no, go to 8.
4. Did she want to have sex with him? If no, go to 5. If yes, go to 8.
5. Is she lying about whether she consented? If no, go to 6. If yes, go to 8.
6. Was it really such a big effing trauma? If yes, go to 7. If no, go to 8.
7. The kind of rape you’re describing is very, very rare. Like, so rare that it’s practically nonexistent. Go back over steps 1 through 6, until you find your error and end up at 8.
8. Everything’s fine! No need to be upset! (Harding, p. 23)
Or to summarize: Ladies! Sexual contact is good if you just loosen up, and if it’s a little bad for you for some reason like you didn’t want him to do it but he did anyway, well, shy of being brutally injured or killed, get over it, for crying out loud–we’ve got important problems to deal with in this world.
Harding waits until the last chapter of the book to reveal the personal meaning of this darkly humorous flow chart. She herself was raped during the first few weeks of her freshman year of college. She was at a party in a tight dress she had borrowed and had partaken of some spiked punch (stop right there at step #1, she was definitely asking for it). An apparently romantically interested older guy asked her to dance and afterwards guided her outside. Without further ado, he pushed her down on the ground, and in spite of her saying “stop” and physically resisting him, he put his penis inside her, “finished,” then got up and left without a word. Harding was seventeen and a virgin. The story deserves a longer telling, because the aftermath is as much a violation as the initial event. But–it may seem strange now, but it won’t later–the parts that really stood out to me were these: the initial doctor she saw was gentle and kind and offered to call the police and use a rape kit. Harding didn’t know the rapist’s name and didn’t want her parents to find out what happened to her so she refused. But the doctor she saw as a follow-up for an STD test after the rape showed palpable disdain for sexually active young women. And when Harding saw the man who raped her on campus the very next day, a person she knew said, “Oh, no. That’s _____. I know him. He would never do that.” (Harding, p. 208)
Harding then doubted her own eyes until someone else told her later that same man had raped her when she was sick in bed and on codeine. He had also been accused of other rapes, but the school didn’t find grounds to discipline him. Harding decided to pursue a complaint at the college. They determined she had been raped, but based on the evidence, they couldn’t be sure it was the man she identified.
It so happens I know someone who had a very similar experience in the 1970s. But the college was bigger, and she never saw her rapist again. She did end up dropping out of the college, like Harding, but she never called that event “rape” until years later.
Like almost every woman, I’ve experienced verbal sexual assault (not just “harmless” wolf-whistle salutes but demeaning, aggressive comments), several public exposures in train stations, and a couple of male bosses who did creepy, inappropriate things. I’ve had just two encounters with the hands-on physical sort of assault. The first occurred when a man rammed into me in Avignon during the Bastille Day fireworks and groped my buttocks with rough but assured hands before he pushed his way on through the crowd. The second happened outside Grand Central Station when a weird-looking old man shuffled close, jabbed me hard in the breast with his elbow, then sprinted away. That one hurt like hell and almost knocked me over. No observing bystander offered to help or asked if I was okay. I remember feeling very ashamed that they had witnessed the assault, as if I had somehow deserved it. Both of these events happened back in the 1980s, when stuff happened to young women on the street all the time and you just dealt with it. Yes, those were bad experiences, I thought, but whew, lucky me, I was never forcibly and painfully penetrated by a callous man who got away with it.
Then, in the early sleepless morning of November 9, I remembered that I had been. It happened forty years ago. The man who got away with it was a gynecologist.
Forty years ago, my mother took me to the office of a doctor I initially thought I’d name in this article (he’s likely dead). However, I discovered his son, or a guy with the same name and a “junior” after it, still practiced gynecology in the same small suburb. One must think twice about naming perpetrators in our current climate. A man’s good name is his greatest treasure.
I was fifteen and hadn’t menstruated yet. Although both my mother and grandmother had had their first period at eighteen, it was deemed necessary I be checked out to make sure I wasn’t dangerously defective. My mother said this man was the best gynecologist in town. She was a nurse and her friend from nursing school had worked for him for years.
Before the physical exam, I was sent alone into the doctor’s office. He asked me, very brusquely, a series of questions, which included, “Have you had sexual intercourse?” Nervous to start with, I was taken aback by such an abrupt question and didn’t answer. The doctor glared at me over his bifocals. “No,” I choked out, my shame in the midst of the Sexual Revolution having more to do with never having had a boyfriend at my advanced age. I had a feeling he didn’t believe me. Perhaps he did later.
In the examination room, we were joined by a nurse. She closed the door and stood there impassively. I know now this is the law to prevent misconduct, but it felt to me at the time that she was stationed there to keep me from escaping. I undressed and lay down on the table. I heard the doctor say, “Do we have a small speculum?”
“No,” the nurse replied, “should I get one?”
The doctor seemed impatient. “I’ll just use this one.”
Suddenly a searing pain shot through me as something cold and hard was pushed deep between my legs. I cried out and my hips thrust up off the table and twisted reflexively, as if my body was trying to get away from the intrusion.
“Relax,” the best-gynecologist-in-town barked. “Keep still. I can’t examine you if you’re moving around like this.”
I tried my best to remain still through the pain, but my body was still jerking and I heard myself moaning, ah, ah, ah. It really hurt.
“Don’t make so much noise. It’s not that bad.” Then he said to the nurse, “Help me.”
She came over and took my hand, which was reassuring, but also pressed my arm and shoulder down against the table to hold me in place. “Just relax,” she repeated.
The doctor finished and walked away without another word, although afterwards in his office, he did tell my mother there was nothing physically wrong with me that he could tell at that point.
In the car on the way home, I told my mother that the examination had hurt a lot and the doctor had yelled at me to keep still and be quiet. Actually, I said, he was pretty mean to me and I never wanted to go back to him. She was not happy about what happened, but she said the man was an excellent doctor and a top surgeon, but he had a gruff bedside manner and might not have been the best choice for an inexperienced girl. She discussed it with her friend who worked at that office, but while they thought it was unfortunate for me, they gave him the benefit of the doubt. He was known to be moody and was probably having a bad day.
My mother did take me to another doctor a few years later and explained that I’d had an unpleasant experience at my first examination. This doctor was gentle. He used a smaller, warmed speculum and explained every step at a slow pace. But from my perspective, the horse was already out of the barn. Since I’ve been able to choose for myself, I’ve always gone to women gynecologists.
Yet for forty years I never called that first experience assault.
We live in an interesting world where calling someone a rapist or a racist is treated as an offense, one as bad as the behavior that provoked the remark. To be honest, I don’t care what you call a situation where a sexually inexperienced teenager is quickly and forcibly penetrated and told to stay still and take it. I’ve finally named it to my own satisfaction.
For the record, I know I cannot legally call it rape. Through my mother, I “asked for” what that man did to my body. He would, perhaps, call it a routine examination with an annoyingly uncooperative patient. But allow me my truth that it was something far more than a “gruff bedside manner.” The doctor caused me pain for his own convenience and scolded me because he didn’t want other people in the office to hear my sounds of distress–a cover-up, if you will. The doctor did nothing “sexual” but he most assuredly abused his power. And it’s not sexual desire but the abuse of power, I appreciate so fully now, that is at the heart of rape culture.
And wow, it took me this long to realize why I inwardly recoil at the words “just relax” when a man says that to a woman in bed on screen or in life. There’s always something new to learn about ourselves, isn’t there?
I also want to say that the women who aided the doctor have my sympathy. Female nurses have suffered greatly because of male doctors’ general arrogance and, often enough, endured ongoing sexual harassment in the service of their profession. Mothers in particular have gotten a lot of personal blame for failings that are as much a result of their own societal repression and pain. My mother died an excruciating and unnecessary death courtesy of excellent doctors and a pharmaceutical company that cared more about profits than patients. But I do wonder—what were these nurses really thinking? How much did they have to numb themselves to how women are treated in the world?
Since I wrote the first draft of this essay on November 9, I’ve learned that many women throughout America have been triggered about past sexual abuse by the presidential campaign and its result. We feel in our bodies the misogyny and dismissal of our basic rights to respect and safety. Many of us have been brought to tears, as I was. Many of us fear for the future. But at least we can name it now.
How does this all tie into erotica writing? Well, this is why it is extremely important that women and men are able and allowed to name their experiences, good and bad, “sexual” or otherwise, and give them meaning in their own lives. I hope there is a day when the law and the AMA will define certain acts in a way that does not re-victimize the victim. When many tell us that what erotica writers do is obscene or trivial, speaking and writing truthfully about the experiences those in power want silenced is always an act of courage.
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
of the signs that you’ve gotten old,
besides the guy behind you beeping his horn and yelling, “Get outta the
way, ya old bastard!” is finding yourself taking inventory of your life
and experiences, weighing good memories vs. regrets and thinking to yourself if I only knew then what I know now.
I’ve been finding myself doing that more frequently. But age also brings
with it the wisdom to realize that, like leopards, our spots don’t change. We’d
likely do things over just the way we did before. There’s no such thing as going
back to do it right. There is no
right and wrong, what happens just happens, and so reincarnation would be a
waste of time. And if you’re left with a mystery, best to leave it a mystery.
of the unsolved mysteries of my life had to do with the first girl I fell in
love with. In fact, it started with a mystery and ended with another.
was sixteen and as awkward and unsure of myself as any kid that age,
particularly when it came to girls. I’d had weight issues in my preteens that
resolved themselves dramatically when I reached my teens … the proverbial
nick of time. Still, I couldn’t imagine girls actually liking me. My hero and role model was
Paladin of “Have Gun, Will Travel.” Here was a guy who quoted Shakespeare,
Byron and the Bible as easily as he dispatched a bad guy with his quick draw,
and that made the ladies swoon. I aspired to be cool and classy. Still, girls
weren’t throwing themselves at my feet.
met her at sea – sort of – during an excursion on what used to be called the
Nantasket boat, which traveled from Boston Harbor to Hull, the site of
Nantasket Beach and a lovely little amusement park called Paragon.
bunch of friends picked one summer day to make the trip. She
was a friend of a friend and I noticed her right away, me pining from a distance.
She was so pretty. Skinny – not just-got-liberated-from-Dachau skinny, but I
could have fed her a half dozen double cheeseburgers and it wouldn’t have hurt.
I suppose you could say she was willowy, enhanced by long, dark chestnut hair
that reached the small of her back. She had big brown eyes and a slight Irish
overbite, the sort of flaw that amplifies beauty.
my friends and I enjoyed the day on the rides and at the beach. And while my
eyes tracked her, there was no indication that she had taken any particular
notice of me.
took the sunset boat back to Boston. I was seated on one of the benches that accommodated
the passengers, when I felt the pressure of another body molding to mine. It
was her. She had sat next to me and was quite obviously making physical
contact. Scientists will tell you under certain circumstances the brain
releases chemicals quite suddenly that render us euphoric. Well, I can tell you
at that moment it was as if someone had tapped me with a magic wand. I didn’t
question it at the time. My arm, seemingly of its own accord curved around her
shoulders and I pulled her closer to me.
remained that way for the rest of the
cruise. She began to rise as the boat was being moored, but ever so gently I pulled her back
into my embrace and she did not resist.
didn’t even know her name. Of course, I thought: What is happening? But I was too taken over by the sheer magic of it
all that a rejoinder instantly followed: I
don’t care; I’m going with it.
was evening now. The gang gathered at a neighborhood beach where I and this
magical girl continued to hold hands and snuggle. Nothing more, but it was all
new and wonderful to me. Others had noticed and a friend suggested we do a
double date – dinner and a movie.
date happened, I even remember the calendar date, September 21. It was the day
of the Autumn equinox and it was one of the more magical nights of my life. We
kissed – it was my very first romantic
did this amazing, pretty girl see in me? I sure wasn’t Paladin. It was all pure
evaporates. After that night I made numerous efforts to follow it up with a
second single date. It never
happened. She would make excuses, but never told me she didn’t want to continue
what began on that sunset boat ride. I suppose she didn’t want to hurt my feelings, but at the time I’d have preferred an honest, quick stab to the heart. After several weeks I sadly accepted the
fact that she wasn’t going to be my girlfriend.
felt I was owed an explanation, but I never pressed for one. I couldn’t have
put her on the spot like that, but a reason would have been helpful. Was it something
I said or did? Did she get wind of the fact that I was a year younger than she,
and that made some sort of difference to her?
friends could offer no reasons, or perhaps they just declined. As time went on
we became very good friends and I
never stopped caring for her as a friend. Still, she never, ever revealed why
she snuggled up to me on that boat, or just let our brief romance wither like it had.
But, I think there’s a certain romantic cachet to heartbreak with swirls of
mystery about it. (It still F’ing hurts).
hindsight I can pick out a few details, a few clues. I recall another guy who
was persistently interested in her. Perhaps she clung to me to dissuade him
from further pursuit.
as I came to know her better I realized she was not satisfied with her life,
brought up in a blue-collar Irish home. Perhaps she thought I, a product of
the old triple-decker neighborhood, was by circumstance benighted by my
environment. If she only gave me a chance; I wanted to flee and be rid of it
I give myself credit for not demanding an explanation, or
acting out against her rejection, as I’ve known knuckleheads much older than a 16-year-old
kid to do. Nope, I just let it go, mystery unsolved. I handled it like Paladin
would have. I was classy.
I last saw her, she was a single mother. Who was the dad? Another mystery with
no explanation given, nor asked. She had cut her beautiful dark hair short by
then and her face had the patina that comes with care and grief and just having
still cherish her memory, and the mystery … but especially the magic she
brought into my life. Yes, the hurt was definitely worth it.
Money, bucks, dough, dollars, legal tender, the green stuff: I’ve got some news for ya, folks. Being a writer, you are just not going to be seeing a lot of it.
I know that’s tough to hear, but that’s the reality. The number of folks who make even just a living wage at writing is too damned small. Hell, I can’t do it. In fact, no one I know can do it, and I know quite a lot of writers. The few that come close are usually pretty high on the profile scale: novels, screenplays, those kinds of really big things—and then a lot of those big things.
Not that writing for a living is impossible, but I find way too many folks start out writing thinking that being Stephen King and million dollar advances are right around the corner. The spiel I usually give about writing and money is that it’s possible to make money, fun money, but it just isn’t enough to live on.
It’s true in erotica as in other genres—even though, yes, sex sells. But what shocks beginning erotica writers even more than the lack of funds coming their way is this: to writers, especially erotica writers, money isn’t all that important.
Now, wait a minute; I don’t mean that writers shouldn’t get paid, or that payment shouldn’t be fair. What I mean is that money, for a beginning writer, shouldn’t be a major motivation for either writing or deciding where to submit a story for consideration.
For instance, just like everywhere else in life, money does not equal quality. Lack of it, not being paid a lot, does not mean a publication is not worthy of your work. Similarly, a high-paying market doesn’t mean a quality book, magazine, or site.
When building a body of work, while money is nice—very nice— it’s most often not what other writers, publishers, and editors will notice when they look at your cover letters. Saying that you have stories in Big Boobs Monthly, Leathermania V, or Transsexual Hookers in Trouble might mean lots of green backs, but it doesn’t spell high quality. Though if you say your work has appeared on a quality and respected site, it might not mean dinner out and a show but it does mean: wow! Respected sites and magazines may not pay, but their editors know a good story when they read one, so to have passed their scrutiny can be worth more than a nice big check.
Sure, I think everyone should get paid—especially if the editor or publisher is taking a lot of money home and not sharing with the contributors involved—but sometimes money is not the only way a writer can be paid. Not to sing the same song too many times, but making connections can often lead to much bigger deals, markets, and opportunities down the road, and only looking at an editor or publisher by what they pay may mean missing much more valuable opportunities later on.
But that doesn’t mean that a writer should throw their work away. Very often I come across writers who desperately want to see their work in print—or on a site—and so will post or send off their work to the first opportunity without first trying it somewhere nicer. Nicer, of course, doesn’t mean big bucks but rather better status or acting as a way to find better gigs. I really recommend writers start out high: try for a book, or a print magazine, or a really superb site before settling for something with not a lot of visibility just to get your story in print, so to speak. It might mean facing rejection (in fact it usually does) but it’s better to try for something big then settle for something small, in life as well as in writing.
If I could sum this up in a simple statement, I guess I’d say that it’s important to remember that your work always has value, even though value doesn’t always equal money.
My fetish is not for your bottom
Although I think yours is a hot ‘un
But it’s not your cheeks making my interest pique
It’s your skin beneath skimpy white cotton
The gwawdodyn is a Welsh form of poetry.
With four lines, an internal rhyme on the third line, and a relatively fixed
metre, it’s a form that is easy to understand and fairly simple to master. Diagrammatically,
the structure looks something like this:
This diagram shows the suggested syllable
count (9/9/10/9) and the end rhymes (a) and internal rhymes (b). My personal
habit with this form seems to be go over the syllable count – but I’m fairly
happy with the content so I’m not going to change these too much.
Whenever my love gets a hankering
To have her backside get a spankering
I punish all her fails when she’s spelling towns in Wales
And she gratefully gives me a thankering
I’ll be honest and admit I’ve seen a few
different versions of this form. I think I like this one because it reminds me
of the limerick which means I can be more playful with the content.
To make your pleasure become first class
I shall stick my left thumb up your ass
The sensation is great but don’t reciprocate
Cos your nails are as sharp as cut glass
As always, I look forward to seeing your poetry
in the comments boxes below.