Monthly Archives: July 2017
I judge a good villain by how badly I want to fuck him … or her and how serious the consequences would be if I did. I think bad boy antiheros are as popular as they are because they’re the next best thing to fucking the villain. Sort of villain lite, if you will. The consequences of sex with the bad boys aren’t as severe.
With Blindsided about to be released and Buried Pleasures not far behind, I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with my villains and thinking a lot about … well …sex with them. Sex with villains has been an ongoing theme in my novels almost from the beginning. Wouldn’t Freud have a field day with that?
Fucking a villain is only slightly less dangerous than fucking a god, though I would argue that in some cases there really isn’t much of a distinction. If sex with a baddie or a god were a doctor’s prescription, the listed possible side effects would include addiction, death, and major changes in personality, ability and worldviews. With those side effects clearly listed on the label, why would anyone even consider taking the risk? For a writer, sex with the villain offers a whole treasure trove of plot complications and chaos. Will the character who takes the risk survive, become a worthless addict if they do, or be transformed into something greater, possibly even more terrible, than themselves? What writer or reader, wouldn’t want to find out what happens when a character fucks the villain or the god?
I’ve often speculated what might have happened if Daphne wouldn’t have been so hell bent on preserving her innocence that she allowed herself to be turned into a tree. What would have happened if she had simply turned to Apollo and said, “take me, I’m yours.” Would she have died? Would she have become a worthless groupie or would she have been given a gift worth the risk? How many of us cheered when Buffy and Spike finally did the deed? But Spike didn’t stay the villain. How could he after sex with Buffy? That’s another fascinating element of getting it on with villain. Sometimes it’s the villain who is transformed, which raises a whole other world of psychological issues. Do we really want Spike defanged? Do we really want the villain tamed?
For me that’s another reason why Medusa’s story is so fascinating. When Poseidon rapes her and Athena curses her, she’s transformed with hideous power. The story of what she does with that power and the end result is pretty typical of myths from a male dominated, Bronze Age culture. If Medusa’s story were rewritten for the modern age, we might very well take a different view on who the villain is.
Fucking the villain is the ultimate in transgressive sex. It’s the ultimate wanting what we shouldn’t want and, most of the time, wouldn’t dare take if the opportunity presented itself. Warnings on the label tell us this is not a good idea. However, fantasizing about doing the dirty with the villain, imagining what it would be like to submit to a god, reading stories about what might happen when one takes in all that power at the point of le petit mort is risk free and hotter than hell.
Most of the time the fantasy doesn’t involve falling in love with the villain or becoming his colleague. The hero is always the better man, the love choice at the end of the day. Most of the time the dalliances with the villain are just an irresistible erotic encounter spurred on only by attraction. Mythology is full of such encounters. So is fiction in general. This is the other side of the coin. Who doesn’t want to be irresistible to the villain? Who doesn’t want to be the object of a god’s lust, the obsession that drives him to distraction. The conquest of the good girl, the virgin in white, the leaving of his mark on her, the sullying of her, is as repellant as it is attractive. I would suggest that this is why there are so many dream sequences in which the villain and the good girl, or boy, get it on. We want them to do it … but we don’t, because … well, the hero, and good and evil and stuff. I would also suggest that in the cases in which they really do have sex, the writers often go out of their way to redeem the villain or to at least make him not quite so villainous. After all, he’s literally been inside what’s good and light and pure. How can that not rub off? How can that not change him?
But do we want the villain redeemed? Do we want the good girl sullied? In fiction, that sexual encounter is often a way of reaching some sort of equilibrium, a way for both characters to see the world as less black and white. It’s a way to make the villain more human, more likeable to the reader. On the other hand, it’s also a way of muddying the plot, adding to the chaos with guilt and internal battles over inappropriate responses to inappropriate desires. Anyway you look at it, sex with the villain is a plot changer. It’s a story that titillates and intrigues, even as readers shout at their Kindles, “No! Don’t do it!” All the while they’re still thinking to themselves with all the bravado only a reader can muster, “Oh go on then. Let’s see what happens, cuz I’d do him if I were you.”
I returned from Necon this past Sunday. Necon is the Northeastern Writers Conference which is for horror writers but what I learned applies to any writer. The conference was held in a conference center in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
I was on one panel: Heroes Like Me: The Importance of Representation in Genre. There is more of a problem with representations of women in horror fiction and films than in romance or erotica. I’m happy to see that strong female characters who aren’t doormats or shrinking violets are much more popular in romance and erotic fiction now than they have been in the past. Women in these stories know what they want and they go after it. Sometimes, especially in the billionaire genre of romance, the heroine is inexperienced and rather naïve, but I’ve noticed she comes into her own as the story progresses. The hero often learns quite a bit from her. Hero and heroine are on equal footing in many of the stories.
Other panels included Guest of Honor interviews, Collections, and Editing. I was especially interested in the editing panel since I enjoy writing for anthologies. Some of the panelists were editing anthologies I had submitted to. I managed to snag some fine guests for my podcast Into The Abyss With Elizabeth Black. I took July off and I’ll start up shows again in August.
The best part about Necon was the same thing I liked about the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat – socializing. Everyone was friendly and on equal turf. The casual atmosphere was very relaxing. I didn’t have to pay $50 or more to talk to an author and have him or her sign a book. There was a pre-Necon party I attended at one guest’s house. I saw old friends and made new ones. The BBQ ribs and chicken were delicious and I even had stuffed clams. You can’t live in New England and not eat stuffed clams. There were gatherings in the outdoor courtyard every evening with saugies, which are hot dogs well known in Rhode Island. They’re longer than most hog dogs and they have casings. They were delicious on the grill. I mingled and chatted which isn’t easy for me since I tend to be on the shy side. I talked to other writers about what they were working on. I did not ask the editors of the anthology I submitted to when submitters would hear back. That would have been in bad form. I know the rejections and acceptances will come soon enough. The networking opportunities were very good.
I liked Necon and I will attend again next year, money permitting. I do highly recommend writers attend conferences and conventions when they can. Some good ones are Viable Paradise, Clarion, Readercon, Arisia, and the RWA convention. Some of these cons include agents and publishers. The opportunity to pitch yourself is more than welcome.
by Jean Roberta
This past month, I’ve been thinking about similar book titles, among other things.
My erotic novel, Prairie Gothic (set on the Canadian prairies, where I live) was first written in 1998, when I had more enthusiasm for the game than knowledge of how to write a book-length narrative. During my year away from the classroom, I decided that I had to do something with the file, which had been gathering virtual dust in my Documents since 2006, when the only “publisher” (of the ebook) went bust. After rereading the novel, as though for the first time, I decided to rewrite and expand it rather than delete it.
I sent a proposal and the first three chapters of the revised, 2017 version to a publisher who has always treated me well (Steve Berman of Lethe Press), and he accepted the novel for publication.
I didn’t consider changing the title, partly because no one advised me to do that. The “Gothicism” of local culture, IMO, is based on contradictions: Canadian politeness and co-operation on the surface, with an underlying history of violence toward the local indigenous population, and hostility to non-English immigrants. As in other parts of North America, rural culture has been characterized by a certain Protestant prudery combined with a roaring sex business on the “wrong side” of town and a secretive queer community. I tried to show all of this in my novel.
The new version of Prairie Gothic won’t be available for awhile. Meanwhile, the amazingly prolific and versatile Mitzi Szereto has launched a series of novels with “gothic” in the titles. The first one, Florida Gothic, is scary, gruesome, and hard to put down. The local culture includes old Cuban refugees from Castro’s 1959 revolution, a variety of bugs, a variety of drugs (mostly illegal, and very lucrative for the sellers), retirees from other states, poor people with no access to health care, humid heat, and prowling alligators. And a zombie who might have been blessed or cursed by a Haitian trickster god, Papa Legba.
Reading this book, I noticed how differently gothic drama plays out in different environments, as well as in different genres. Mitzi Szereto’s series will examine it in different states; the next novel is titled New Mexico Gothic. Apparently no book in the series will be named after a region (e.g. the prairies, the mountains, the coasts, etc.).
Mitzi’s series is categorized as horror fiction, and the sex in it doesn’t seem intended to be especially arousing. My novel is categorized as erotica, and the hypocrisy in it is not intended to distract a reader from the sex.
Readers probably won’t be confused by the word “gothic” in titles if they read the blurbs carefully. I just hope no reviewer claims to have been misled.
On a similar note, a fantasy story of mine (set in a desert where a local priesthood tries to appease a dragon-god who supposedly punishes humans for their sins by causing wildfires) has been accepted for a fire-themed anthology, tentatively titled “On Fire.” Meanwhile, writer/editor Rachel Kramer Bussel has been promoting an anthology she edited, On Fire: Erotic Romance Stories (Cleis Press).
I’m sure the editors of both books chose the same prepositional phrase as a title by coincidence, and because it sounds catchy. I suspect the two anthologies have very little in common. I hope the title of one of them can be changed enough to prevent misunderstandings.
I remember when two writers I admire (both fairly brilliant in the genre of m/m erotic romance) both named their novels Personal Demons, and the two books were released at approximately the same time. I’ve only read one, but from what I know of the other author’s work, that novel is probably a whole other saga, not part of a paranormal series.
These coincidences lead me to consider deliberate imitations, borrowing, theft, and misappropriation. Fan-fiction still seems to be a popular genre, and many recent books have been set in the fictional worlds of earlier writers: Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, George Martin. No one seems offended by this, unless I’m missing something.
On the other hand, cultural appropriation is an ongoing source of conflict. Here is a definition that seems fairly standard: “cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their own.” This practice seems especially problematic when a member of a dominant culture (e.g. a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) “adopts” aspects of an oppressed culture: e.g, J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, writing about the “history of magic” in North America before the mass arrival of white Christians.
This subject-matter necessarily involves writing about spiritual practices among indigenous peoples (and there were/are many cultures, not just one). Even though Rowling is known as a writer of fantasy, the people she wrote about have actually existed for centuries, and many have responded to her work by tweeting: 1) We’re still here in the real world, like our ancestors, and 2) Our “magic” was/is as real as the “magic” of pre-Christian Europeans (vilified as “witchcraft” by church and secular rulers), and you got it wrong.
I feel some sympathy for those on all sides.
K. Tempest Bradford describes herself on Twitter as a “Science Fiction and Fantasy writer, media critic, and professional harsher of squee.” She has written a much more reasonable essay on cultural appropriation than I could hope to do. You can find it here:
K. Tempest Bradford
In my rambling through Twitter, I also ran across the link to an older interview in Slate magazine with the cosmopolitan writer Zadie Smith, daughter of Jamaican and English parents, raised in London but currently living in the U.S.
In her article, Smith touches on “cultural appropriation,” and the false assumption that peaceful coexistence requires cultural homogeneity. She claims:
“My husband is from Northern Ireland, which is a completely racially homogeneous place, and was for hundreds of years, and they still managed to find the difference between which way you faced an altar, and then kill each other for at least 600 of those years.”
She has a point. Peace and solidarity usually appear somewhere else, or in imaginary societies.
Smith claims that cultural borrowing and mixing appear to be a subversive plot to some, while she simply regards these processes as a fact of life. She doesn’t seem especially concerned about cultural appropriation, and has no interest in trying to police it.
I offer all this material as food for thought. Do you believe there should be no limits on any artist’s imagination? Or does basic respect for other human beings require more self-control than some artists seem to have? Are certain words, titles or trends simply part of the general zeitgeist? Comments welcome.
An erotic story–indeed any story–is liveliest when spiced with plenty of conflict, mystery and the subversion of everyday expectations. While I’ve made it a special project to portray hot sex between longtime lovers, I have to admit that an illicit affair brings built-in tension to an encounter, making the writer’s task much easier.
Naughty sex is all the spicier if your story is set in the early 1900s, when “respectable” people assumed that “respectable” sex occurred only between a husband and his lawful wife, in their bedroom, in the dark, and preferably with as little enjoyment as possible on either side. With polite society watching and judging every move, women in particular could be “ruined” by even the appearance of impropriety. In Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, socialite Lily Bart’s chances at a good marriage are fatally compromised when she is observed visiting a male friend at his rooms during a two-hour stop-over in New York on her way to a house party. Naturally, disgrace and suicide soon follow.
Gentlemen were allowed more leeway with their indiscretions if they chose extramarital lovers from the lower classes and didn’t flaunt their affairs in the better part of town. The parlor house or brothel was always an option, but by the early 1900’s, the anti-vice crusaders had achieved significant success in dampening the traditionally lively urban sex trade. Besides by the early 1900s, young men and women of every class were taking advantage of vaudeville theaters, motion pictures, amusement parks, and dance halls to fraternize more freely than their parents, whose courtships were confined to the front porch or parlor. For the upper-class, the fancy “lobster palaces” in New York’s midtown, or Jack’s and The Poodle Dog in San Francisco, now welcomed respectable ladies for dinner when accompanied by gentlemen. In The Way We Never Were, Stephanie Coontz quotes a study that showed men born between 1900 and 1909 were increasingly likely to have their first sexual encounter with a girlfriend than a prostitute—for this group, sex with prostitutes declined by 50% over earlier generations.
Seduction of the more modern-minded woman needed a proper setting, and for the wealthy men of New York and San Francisco, the restauranteurs of these glamorous metropolises provided a solution: the private dining room with accommodations for after-dinner indulgence. If you’ve ever seen Doctor Zhivago, you may recall that Komarovsky meets red-velvet-clad Lara in such a private room with both a table and a velvet daybed, one of many in a fancy establishment for the soon-to-be-imperiled Russian aristocracy. Funny Girl also makes use of this setting for the “You are Woman, I Am Man” number: “Isn’t this the height of nonchalance, furnishing a bed in restaurants. Well, a bit of dinner never hurt, but guess who is gonna be dessert?” (Apparently, both scenes stuck with me, because I’m gearing up to write my own version—sans Omar Sharif!)
In the New York of the early 1900s, gentlemen with money to spend and a hankering for a double life would woo a pretty chorus girl from a Broadway play and bring her to one of the famed lobster palaces such as Bustanoby’s, Rector’s, or Cafe de l’Opera (the drawing above is from the latter in Julian Street’s “Lobster Palace Society” Everybody’s Magazine, May 1910). If the man wanted to flaunt his conquest in the later hours when decent wives were already tucked in bed, the couple would stop in the public dining room for a “bird and bottle supper” of cold champagne and hot bird, a double entrendre as chorus girls were referred to as good-looking chicken or delicious squab (Lewis Erenberg, Steppin’ Out: New York Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture, 1890-1930). After dinner, if the chemistry was right, the actress and her suitor might then retire to a private rooms upstairs.
On the other hand, an established extramarital couple would more likely head straight for the private dining room. At Jack’s in San Francisco “men would have lunch with secretary upstairs and dinner with wife downstairs.” The fancier Poodle Dog’s top three floors held sumptuous suites where “wealthy patrons could easily indulge themselves secretly in whatever whims caught their fancy.” These secret pleasure palaces were reached by a side entrance with a private elevator. (Frances de Talavera Berger and John Parke Custis, Sumptuous Dining in Gaslight San Francisco, 1875 to 1915).
The American Menu, a fascinating blog for historical fiction writers, describes a turn-of-the-last-century “love hotel” called The Palette Hotel on West 52nd Street in New York City.
“A vice report in 1890 claimed that ‘only the misguided of the upper-ten (percent)’ frequented the hotel, succinctly describing its rich clientele as ‘women who in their homes, in churches and in society hold positions of honor and respect, and men whose loyalty to wife and family is believed to be absolute.’ In fact, getting into the hotel without being seen was important at a time when outward appearances greatly mattered. Following the typical pattern, a man and a veiled woman would emerge from the hansom cab as soon as it rolled up to the hotel. After running up the stoop, and quickly pushing the door bell (then a new electrical device), someone ‘almost immediately’ opened the door.”
With all of the talk of wealthy men and their mistresses, I was heartened at the suggestion that wealthy wives also explored the path of equality with regard to extramarital affairs. It would certainly make sense that fine ladies would shun the pre-coital public dining room display for a thoroughly discreet rendezvous. I was a bit surprised to learn that the same blog post assures us that hotels specializing in romantic encounters still exist. Keeping up a forty-year tradition, the Liberty Inn in the fashionable meatpacking district rents rooms by the hour for couples at a reasonable price. The photo gallery reminded me very much of the love hotels that are very common in Japan—fanciful and not a little tacky. Although who really is paying attention to the decor in such circumstances?
Although my novel only hints at erotic adventures in Paris, I can’t resist mentioning another example, mainly because of the title of the article: “Paris for Perverts: The Clitoris of Paris.”
“At Lapérouse, a romantic restaurant that still operates on Le Quai des Grands-Augustins, the tuxedoed maitre d’ took me upstairs to visit the original cozy chambres particuliers, private rooms where gentlemen could discreetly ply courtesans with champagne, delicacies, and expensive presents. The antique mirrors are still clouded with etched marks, when the ladies would test their diamond gifts by scratching them along the glass to make sure they weren’t being duped.”
Presumably, the “ladies” were determining whether their suitors had given them cut-glass or true diamonds (Remember “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant, another tale of ruination? I vowed I would always ask the cost of the necklace first should the same fate befall me.)
However, we can’t really blame the gentlemen for trying to cut corners. The American Menu points out that The Palette charged more for champagne than lobster palaces and first-class hotels. Secrecy came at a price for the illicit lovers of the past.
But for erotica writers, it’s all gravy.
Erotic writing isn’t any different than any other form of writing: you still need a plot, characterization, description, a sense of place, suspension of disbelief, and so forth. Thinking otherwise will only put training wheels on your writing, which – believe me – readers and editors can easily pick up on. If you sit down and try to write a damned good story, that happens to be about sex or sexuality, the result will generally be much finer artistically than an attempt that’s just tossed off. The instant you approach a story as just anything, you’ll demean yourself and the reader. The bottom line is that there really isn’t much of a difference between a great erotic story and any other genre’s great story.
One difference between erotica and other genres is that erotica doesn’t blink: in just about every other genre, when sex steps on stage the POV swings to fireplaces, trains entering tunnels, and the like. In other words, it blinks away from the sexual scene. In erotica you don’t blink, you don’t avoid sexuality; you integrate it into the story. But the story you’re telling isn’t just the sex scene(s), it’s why the sex IS the story. Something with a bad plot, poor characterization, lousy setting, or lazy writing and a good sex scene is always much worse than a damned good story full of interesting characters, a great sense of place, sparkling writing and a lousy sex scene. The sex scene(s) can be fixed, but if the rest – the meat of the story itself – doesn’t work, you’re only polishing the saddle on a dead horse.
Aside the lack of blinking, the other difference erotica and other genres is repetition: a lot of people preach that it’s poor writing to use the same descriptive word too many times in the same section of writing. In other words:
The sun blasted across the desert, scorching scrub and weed into burnt yellow, turning soft skin to lizard flesh, and metal to rust. Outside LAST CHANCE FOR GAS, the radiation of the explosion had turned once gleaming signs for COCA-COLA and DIESEL into rust-pimpled ghosts of their former selves.
Parked outside LAST CHANCE, there was a rusted pickup collapsed onto four flat tires, the windshield a sparkling spider web under the hard white light of the sun’s explosion.
That wasn’t terrific, but the point is – aside from the poor metaphor of the sun as an explosion – the word rust springs up a bit too much. It’s not that bad a description, but having the same word pop up repeatedly comes off as lazy, unimaginative, or simply dull. To keep this from happening, many writing teachers and guides recommend varying the descriptive vocabulary. Now you don’t need to change rust to corrosion or decay or encrustation once you’ve used it once in a story, but if you need to use the same kind of description in the same paragraph or section, you might want to slip in some other, perhaps equally evocative, words as well.
But let’s go onto that exception for erotica. In smut, we have a certain list of words that are required for a well-written erotic scene: the vocabulary of genitalia and sex. If you follow the Don’t Ever Repeat rule in a sex scene, the results are often more hysterical than stimulating.
Bob’s cock was so hard it was tenting his jeans. He desperately wanted to touch it, but didn’t want to rush. Still, as he sat there, the world boiled down to him, what he was watching, and his penis. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore. Carefully, slowly, he lowered his zipper and carefully pulled his dick out. Unlike a lot of his friends, Bob was happy with his member. It was long, but not too long, and had a nice, fat head. Unlike the rods his friends rarely described, his pole didn’t bend – but was nice and straight.
It’s another bit of less-than-brilliance, but, hopefully, you’ll get the idea: if you follow the non-repeat commandment, you’ll quickly run out of words to describe what the hell’s going on in your story. With women’s anatomy it gets even worse: I’ve read a lot of amateur stories that go from cunt to pussy to quim to hole to sex … somehow turning a down-and-dirty contemporary piece to a story that should be called Lady Rebecca and the Highwayman.
It’s more than perfectly okay to repeat certain words in a story – especially an erotic one – if other words just won’t work, or will give the wrong impression (is there anything less sexy than using hole or shaft?). My advice is to stick to two or three words that fit the time and style of the story, then rotate them: cock to dick, pussy to cunt, etc. Some words can also be used if you feel the story is getting a bit too thin on descriptions – penis, crotch, groin, etc. – but only if kept to a very dull roar.
One of the best ways to avoid this problem is to describe parts of the character’s anatomy rather than using a simple, general word. For example, lips, clit, glans, balls, shaft, mons, etc. Not only does this give you more flexibility, but it can also be wonderfully evocative, creating a complex image rather than a fuzzy impression of the party going on in your characters’ pants.
The bottom line is what while there is a core similarity between a good erotic story and any other genre, there are a few important stylistic differences – and, as the old saying goes: viva la difference!
by Ashley Lister
It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since I mentioned the Hávamál on this blog. The Hávamál is a Viking poem, but it is often called a book of wisdom. Written somewhere around AD 700-900, the Hávamál is one of the more well-known Eddaic poems and, amongst other things, it contains nuggets of universal wisdom that still apply today, more than a millennia after these words were first written.
Here is an example from the Hávamál:
A man needs warmth,
the warmth of fire
and of the shining sun.
A healthy man
is a happy man
who’s neither ill nor injured.
A typical Hávamál stanza usually contains six lines or two units of three lines each. The first two lines in each unit are tied together by alliteration, and the third is also decorated with alliteration. For those who’ve forgotten: alliteration is the repetition of similar sounds, usually the sounds of initial consonants, as illustrated below:
Better a humble
house than none.
A man is master at home.
A pair of goats
and a patched roof
are better than begging.
It’s also possible to look at the stresses used in the Hávamál but, for the purposes of this exercise, I’d prefer to see writers focusing on words of wisdom and the use of alliteration.
And that’s this month’s exercise from me: produce a six line poem in the style of the Hávamál, sharing words of erotic wisdom in the comments box below. Remember to keep a tie of alliteration between lines one and two (and four and five), and to ensure that there is some alliteration across lines three and six. This is my attempt:
flavoured with sweat
can easily excite.
And it aint just
an appetite for
savoury tastes that it satisfies.
Have fun with this and I look forward to reading your words of wisdom.