Yearly Archives: 2018
[I am posting this on behalf of Jean Roberta, who is having computer problems. You can contact her at jean2551englishlit [at] yahoo [dot] ca ~ Lisabet]
By Jean Roberta
This is the season when I sometimes wish I had written more winter-holiday romances: stories about a man and a woman finding love in picturesque snowy landscapes (on a ski trip, lost in the woods, or under the city lights surrounded by decorated Yule trees) with little or no explicit sex. Stories like this get posted, published, and reposted a lot during this season. I was invited to send any of my holiday romance stories to be reprinted. Alas, none of my stories fit.
There is “Amanda and the Elf” (under 2K), a raunchy little piece in which Amanda, an exhausted divorced mother of two children, is visited on Christmas Eve by a studly elf she hasn’t seen since she was a horny teenager. (Hint: he is really a masturbation fantasy, small enough not to be threatening, but with superhuman ability to satisfy any woman who wants him.) Although the elf is likely to show up in Amanda’s life again, their relationship doesn’t exactly have a quality of “happily ever after.”
This story first appeared in Merry XXXmas, a holiday anthology edited by Alison Tyler (Cleis Press, 2005).
Then there is my historical story of clandestine lesbian love, “A Visit from the Man in Red.” One of the women has a child by an abusive ex-husband, as well as a set of parents who expect her to find and marry a better man as soon as possible. The year in 1968, when a sweeping Omnibus Bill modernized Canadian culture by legalizing sex between men and making divorce easier to get. The two women arrange their own secret Christmas celebration, and when the ex-husband threatens to ruin it, the day is saved by a man in a red uniform: a closeted gay “brother” in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Again, this is not really a romance.
The story was first published in Naughty or Nice? – another holiday anthology from Cleis, edited by Alison Tyler (2007). Then it appeared in my single-author collection of women’s erotica, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past from Lethe Press in 2013.
Then there is “The Feast of the Epiphany,” a story with no explicit sex in which two women and two men go out for supper on “Ukrainian Christmas,” as it is called on the Canadian prairies: January 6 or 7, when Christmas is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church. The narrator, a divorced woman who is trying to find her way into the lesbian community, has a crush on the other woman, who seems strong, capable, and comfortable with her identity as a dyke. The men are also mutually attracted, but one believes that monogamy is part of heteronormative oppression, and he has had a “friendship with benefits” with the supposed dyke. The other man feels strongly about the need for commitment; he was disowned from his Orthodox Jewish family for being gay, and doesn’t want to waste his love on someone who can’t be loyal. During a lively discussion, the waiter (who is also gay, of course) jumps in as a mediator. There is a fairly happy ending for all the characters, but is this “romance?” Maybe, but it’s not highly seasonal.
This story was accepted (somewhat to my surprise) for Coming Together: Into the Light, a more-or-less erotic anthology of stories about revelations, edited by Alessia Brio, published by Phaze Publications in 2010 as part of an erotic series that raises money for worthy causes. This volume won an EPPIE (Electronically Published Internet Connection) award.
When one mushy movie after another with “Christmas” in the title shows up on my TV screen, I sometimes wonder why I haven’t written a narrative like these. They look easy to write, and I seem to be capable of throwing characters together.
However, as I was told by one of my English profs many years ago, you can’t write a convincing plot about something you don’t believe in. This was his warning to those of us who might have the hubris to think we could make lots of money writing traditional romances for Harlequin in the U.S. or Mills and Boone in the U.K.
I have written about sexual relationships between men and women, and in some cases, I’m very fond of my characters and want them to be happy together. (My “bawdy novella, The Flight of the Black Swan, is set in the1860s, and features an official marriage which serves as cover for two same-gender love affairs. This book is sexually classified as “bisexual.”)
In general, however, I don’t believe that the social, legal, and economic inequality between men and women which prevailed in Western society for centuries leads to True Love. I suppose I’m a feminist killjoy. There have always been loopholes in the patriarchy, and women have made great strides in the last fifty years, but if you think male violence against females is fading into history, you are out of the loop. Every step forward made by women seems to be met by enormous resentment from men.
To throw a hero and a heroine together, I need them both to be exceptional, and I need their circumstances to be unusual. A sprig of mistletoe isn’t enough to persuade me that two people who have serious objections to each other (the “Dearest Enemy” romance trope that I’ve written about elsewhere) can suddenly fall in love, or recognize that love was there all along. The magic of the season doesn’t seem like an adequate reason why two people would want to spend their lives together. If it wouldn’t work in March or September, it wouldn’t work better in December.
I could refer you to several recent posts in social media about the unpaid “emotional labour” largely done by women, especially during the winter holidays, when gifts must be bought, feasts cooked, houses decorated, and social events planned. In real life, all this work doesn’t usually lead to melting glances between an exhausted woman and a typically clueless man who has no idea what she wants him to do.
In my own real life, I am living happily with my spouse, the woman I have been with since 1989. (Next summer, we plan to put on some sort of celebration for the thirtieth anniversary of our first overnight date.) We love this time of year because the break from paid work gives us a chance to become couch potatoes watching mushy movies together. Maybe I should write about that.
I’ve never before set goals for writing for the year. My problem is that I’d list so many goals I’d get overwhelmed and not meet any of them. So I’m going to set a reasonable amount of reachable writing goals.
- Finish “Hell Time”, my YA sort of horror novel.
- Find a home for my paranormal werewolf romance novel “Full Moon Fever”. That one has been sitting forgotten at a publisher for months so I’m taking it back and sending it elsewhere. I could always self-publish it.
- Self-publish my erotic fairy tales collection, “Happily Ever After”.
- Aim for 6 published short stories in 2019.
- Try to get published in one of those Best Erotic Short Stories of the Year anthologies.
- Make sure I attend my writers group every week.
- Have fun while doing all this. It doesn’t have to be dreary despite all the rejections.
I’m in between visiting relatives and friends for the holidays.. Writing has come to a complete halt since Halloween. I managed to write a few short stories that ended up rejected, but I have new places to submit them. I’m busy writing blog posts like this one.
Above all, I want to wish everyone reading happy holidays and a very pleasant and productive 2019. Come up with your own reachable goals and go for them. I believe 2019 will be a good year.
Elizabeth Black 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 two cats.
Web site: http://elizabethablack.blogspot.com
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/elizabethblack
While I realize I should become a better person, lose weight, and stop jerking off so much, I’m not going to strive for something I’ll never accomplish. I’m going to try and do one thing for a change; finish a story before starting the next one.
I’ll do that right after I finish the four stories I currently am working on in rotation!
I certainly know better as I can watch my sales at Amazon and see the dreaded 30-day cliff when my latest story becomes old news and starts to drift off into the sunset. Just like the little engine that could, I can do it, I can do it.
I was reading Lisabet’s latest blog posting about how she got started writing smut, and my path was a similar one except for the fact that I previously hated to write. As an engineer, it seems to be a part of our genetic makeup that writing is always a struggle for us. We are much better at making something rather than telling someone how we made it.
I guess my first masterpiece after college was a paper I wrote on how to throw a swinger’s party. Foxy and I used to give presentations on throwing house parties back when we lived in the mid-west. You’d think it wouldn’t be that complicated to take your clothes off and lie in a pile, but it’s harder than you would expect.
Not trying to pat myself on the back, because it always makes my shoulder sore, we are reasonably successful at throwing parties. I can only remember one party when we invited someone we didn’t know, and the guy got belligerent and drunk. The couple we knew had vouched for them and against our better judgment extended them an invitation.
Our New Year’s Pajama Parties are typically 50-60 couples plus a few Unicorns and stags. The party normally lasts several days or until the next normal work day. After the first night, it’s down to about ten couples who we are very close with and with that one exception, always trouble free.
With several cops, strippers, a surgeon, a paramedic, and a forensic pathologist typically in attendance, we’re prepared for most situations. We can cover you coming and going!
The only problem having a party is that we don’t get to party much as watching out for everything is a full-time job. For us, constantly circulating to check the rooms, restock the towels, and change sheets takes most of our attention.
My first erotic story, Fantasy Swingers, was the offshoot of reading a poorly written story on Literotica and telling myself, “I can do that!” While struggling with the technicalities of proper English, I find that smut will pour out of my keyboard like a kicked over can of beer.
Swingers are still an ostracized group like the LGBTQ folks used to be, and I doubt that we’ll ever be fully accepted, but that’s okay as it’s a lot of fun and never a dull moment. Back home, we had a swinger’s bowling league, Friends and Lovers, that offended the other bowlers but it was amusing and would break up the work week on Wednesday night.
You would hear catty remarks about the girl’s low cut tops or short skirts and that generally encouraged them to be even more outrageous. A lot of women in the Lifestyle are exhibitionists, and the show is always a hoot. The manager at the bowling alley always bought the girls drinks and told us how much we boosted his business.
Unlike our current president, when I look back on 2018, I think it has been a successful year, all things considered. My only advice is first take a breath before proceeding.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Roman Polanski’s renowned psychological horror film “Rosemary’s Baby”. I saw it within a few years of its release; to celebrate the fifty year milestone I watched it again at a local “classic films” club.
The movie stands up to the test of time pretty well. It still evokes a stifling sense of inescapable evil, set against incongruous but brilliant humor. Mia Farrow’s terror and resolve remain palpable and convincing, even if her submissiveness to her handsome, gregarious husband seems old-fashioned.
I couldn’t help notice, however, some critical ways in which the plot depends on the time period. In one point fairly late in the film, the heroine slips from the clutches of the coven who wants her baby and rushes to find a phone booth. (The coven is listening in on her home telephone.) Sure she’s being pursued, she waits nervously for the current occupant of the booth to conclude his call, before barricading herself inside. She calls a seemingly sympathetic doctor, only to find he is with a patient. Sweating with fear, she pretends to be on the line to discourage other people who want to use the facility, until the doctor returns her call.
As I watched this scene, I found myself thinking “Why doesn’t she just use her cell phone?” But of course that’s nonsense. Those of us who watched this in 1968 could not have imagined how mobile devices would transform our daily lives. If Mia had a mobile, she might have escaped.
Technology has changed radically, and changed our habits and assumptions along with it. We can expect that this trend will continue, and very likely accelerate. However society looks today, we can be certain it will be different next year, and maybe unrecognizable in five years.
What does this mean for writers? Well—my first novel Raw Silk was originally published in 1999, almost twenty years ago. At that time, it would have been labeled as contemporary. Since my heroine Kate is a software developer, the book includes exchanges of email messages (which was part of my life even then), but there’s no Web and no cell phones. Bangkok (where the novel is set) has no public transit aside from buses and taxis. (On my latest visit, I discovered there are three subway lines in operation, with another four or five under construction.) In Raw Silk, people actually write one another physical letters, on paper, in order to communicate.
I’ve revised and republished this book three times. Each time it seemed a bit more dated. I wrestled with the question of whether I should try to bring it into the twenty first century. Finally, I decided to deliberately anchor it in a particular period, a year or two after the time it was written. I peppered the text with a historical, cultural and technology references that make it clear this is not a contemporary erotic romance.
A similar problem arose with my erotic thriller Exposure, first released in 2009. For my latest revamp (2014), I chose to update it to the present (more or less). I inserted appropriate technology where necessary to be convincing. I was helped by the fact that my main character Stella is working class with little disposable income. In any case, she’s not the type to go gaga about gadgets.
I have to wonder, though, how readers five or ten years in the future will react to the books we are writing now. (This assumes, of course, that people will still be reading in a decade.) Will our plots seem contrived? Will our conflicts be incomprehensible? For instance (let’s be optimistic), suppose that the current movement toward acceptance of varying forms of sexual orientation continues. Many gay romance stories revolve around the need for the characters to keep their relationships hidden from society. Readers who come of age in a world where same-sex attraction is viewed as normal and commonplace will not be able to appreciate the angst that propels these stories today. The tales will lose their meaning, or at very least, will seem like quaint period pieces.
Or consider another, more pessimistic scenario. In ten years, surveillance by states or by corporations may become so pervasive that privacy will cease to exist. A story about an illicit affair will seem unbelievable to someone who has grown up in a world where it is literally impossible to do anything in secret.
I became sexually active after the invention of the Pill and before AIDS. At that time, popular culture was not nearly as saturated with sexual content as it is today. I know I have a different attitude toward sex than a millennial. For me, sex has always been special, a unique and thrilling adventure. At the same time being sexually active was far less risky for me than for my mother or my daughter (if I had one).
So, could I write erotica that my hypothetical daughter could appreciate? Or are my attitudes and assumptions likely to seem strange and foreign? (When I recently posted a flasher in Storytime that referred to the sixties film icon James Dean, who embodies, for me, a certain bad boy sexual vibe, some members of the list didn’t recognize the allusion.)
We still read books from previous centuries of course (or at least I do), some of which we label as classics. I wonder what makes them “classic”. Perhaps there is some sort of universality in these works that somehow bridges the cultural gap between the author’s time and our own. Do emotions remain fundamentally the same even as society changes? Is that why we can still identify with characters like Emma Woodhouse, Sydney Carton, or Jane Eyre? One has to wonder, though, about how our experience in reading these tales compares with reactions of readers for whom they were contemporary. Perhaps we’re grasping only a small part of what the author intended.
In any case, I don’t delude myself that my own oeuvre incorporates much in the way of fundamental truths or themes that transcend time. Nevertheless, I’m in this for the long haul (nineteen years and counting), so I’d like to write stories that will be appreciated not only today but in the future as well. I wish I knew the trick to this. Right now, as in so many other things, I’m just acting on instinct.
“You’ve got the world to discover here in San Francisco, boys, every size, shape and color of woman you can imagine.”
Joe’s uncle asked the old bartender to tell you and Joe a thing or two about having a good time on the Barbary Coast, and this fellow sure has plenty to say. It’s your first night on the town after your first whole week of work. You wired half of your wages back home this morning and felt pretty fine about being able to help the family. You had been planning to spend the evening at the boardinghouse catching up with the newspaper, but Joe’s uncle insisted on treating the two of you to a few rounds.
“Chinese girls, Japanese girls, French girls, Mexican girls, girls from back east and everywhere else in between. You can find ‘em all here, boys, and you don’t even need a passport!”
Joe leans forward. He’s always up for adventure. “Where do we go to find the pretty ones?”
“All the girls on the Barbary Coast are pretty—and mighty friendly. Just look for the lines on a Saturday night and that’ll lead you right to the prettiest ones. Walk on by the little row houses in every alley of the Coast and if the girl is free, she’ll be hanging out the window dressed in something frilly—or hardly dressed at all—calling out to you. But everyone says you can’t go wrong with the Municipal Crib over on Jackson Street. It’s a whole big building full of the best girls in the city. If there are no ladies on the trolley, the conductor hollers, ‘All out for the whore house!’ and every man clears out as if it’s the end of the line. I’ve seen it many a time. The police’ll send you there, too, if you ask ‘em where to go for a good time. Half the profit goes into the pockets of the City Council is why. But that means the boys in blue won’t ever give you any trouble when you go there.”
“How much does it set you back?” Joe asks. You’re happy just to listen. This old fellow’s giving you quite an earful.
“Well, now, it depends on what you’re in the mood for. Over there at the Municipal, they’ve got four stories. The basement has the Mexican girls for twenty-five cents. They always have a shrine to the Virgin in their sitting rooms, but you don’t have to see nothing like in the back where you do your business. The Negresses are up on the fourth floor—fifty cents with a discount for two or more, which is why it pays to take a friend. It’s seventy-five cents on the second floor, and a dollar on the third. Most all of those are the French girls. Seventy-five cents will get you the French special. You have to try that at least once to see how you like it.”
“What’s that? The ‘French special’?” you ask. Your curiosity is getting the better of you.
“You are green, sonny! Why, they use their mouth on you instead of the usual way. Like I said, you have to try it once. Most fellows don’t settle for just once.” He winks.
You try to put that dirty image from your mind. Seventy-five cents is half a day’s wages. But then again, it doesn’t cost a cent to think about it, you suppose. You’ve never met a French girl. They must be real pretty. Dainty like a doll.
“Now the guys with money in their pockets, they favor the red-headed Jewesses. They say they’re the most passionate girls on earth. A fellow who knows these things says there’s a young beauty with auburn tresses to her knees who just arrived at the Municipal. The line outside her door winds down the stairs and wraps around the block. She’ll run you two dollars at least, but she won’t let you dawdle. Five minutes tops—but five minutes you won’t forget.”
Your mind is really painting pictures now as fast as the bartender can prattle. You see yourself standing in a long line, waiting for your time with that beautiful red-head. Florence Riley back home had a reddish glow in her hair in certain light, but you’ve never seen hair you’d call full red. Yet wouldn’t it be queer to know that the man in front of you and the man behind you would be sharing the same girl?
“Two dollars? That’s awfully dear,” Joe says.
“There’s pleasure for every wallet in the Barbary Coast, boys,” says the bartender, handing you both another round. “If you’re looking for something you can’t find back home, the Chinese girls will give you a ‘lookee’ for fifty cents. If you’re brave enough to prowl around the darkest corners of Chinatown, you can get the same for one dime.”
“Now you have to explain that to us country boys. You know we’re green as the grass in springtime,” you say.
“Every man is curious, don’t you know, to see if those Chinese girls are made the same as the whites. They’ll show you for a price. Look, but don’t touch. Touching will cost you more.”
“Are they made different?” Joe asks.
“Well, now, there was a professor who made a careful study and published his findings in a magazine. I forget now if he said they were the same or different. I reckon you have to see for yourself!”
“At least you won’t get the clap,” Joe says.
“Good news, boys! You don’t have to worry about the clap in San Francisco. There’s a clinic the city opened just last year. The girls have to go every week to be checked by a special doctor and they have a book the doctor stamps to show they’re healthy. No one gets sick in San Francisco these days, and the special wards for the scarlet women have plenty of free beds. It’s well nigh a miracle.”
Joe says. “So you can be sure all the girls are clean?”
“As sure as a man can be, sonny. But you still have to be careful. There are all kinds of crooks in the Barbary Coast. The Municipal is safe, that’s why I tell everyone to go there. If you wander around looking for fun on the cheap, you might be sorry. Here’s a tip for you. The honest crib girl won’t let you take off anything but your hat. Not even your boots. They put oilcloth on the bottom of the bed, so your boots don’t dirty the sheets. But an honest girl will make you keep everything else on you. And if a girl tells you to take off your clothes and hang ‘em in the closet, you turn right around and run right out of that crib. Because she’s got her pimp waiting on the other side of the wall and while you’re lost in your business, he lifts your wallet, and maybe even your boots, if they’re new. He takes all your hard-earned money and replaces it with nothing but a shiny new dime for your trolley fare home.”
Now your mind conjures a shady character lifting your wallet, taking out the money you sweated so hard for. Suddenly you realize it’s gotten mighty late. You stand and put a nickel on the bar as a tip. It was sure nice of Joe’s uncle to treat you, but you’re feeling the weariness of a long week.
“Heading out, boys? You have yourselves a fine time tonight and tell them at the Municipal that Harvey sent you. If you can’t find what you want in San Francisco, it doesn’t exist. This is the wickedest, wildest city on earth,” says the bartender. “Now, remember 620 Jackson Street is the Municipal. The conductor will let you know. ‘All out for the whore house!’ You see if I’m not telling you true.” The man laughs. “You all come back next Saturday and tell me how it goes.”
Joe nods and you both head out into the street.
“You wanna go over and see what there is to see?” Joe asks.
Truth be told, he doesn’t sound that keen to go.
“I’m going back to hit the hay. But you can go and tell me what there is to see. Maybe you’ll get a look at that new girl with the red hair,” you say.
“Nah, I’m mighty tired, too. Maybe next week?”
You nod, thinking that was quite a tale that old man told you. Was it true that the Coast was full of girls from every country in the world, all of them clean and willing? Did the trolley conductor really yell out the stop for the whore house without a speck of shame? And did a long line of fellows really wait for hours for five minutes with a pretty red-haired girl? Maybe next week you’ll just go to see, but not touch.
One thing you know for sure–life in the big city is sure different from back home.
Historical Note: All advice about a working man’s choices for a good time in San Francisco in 1912, including the racism, comes from The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld by Herbert Asbury.
The photo of “higher-class cribs with indoor plumbing” is courtesy of Storyville, New Orleans: Being an Authentic, Illustrated Account of the Notorious Red-Light District by Al Rose (p. 170). Prostitutes in San Francisco, New Orleans and other cities rented specially constructed “cribs”—much like small partitioned rooms where prostitutes ply their trade in Amsterdam’s red light district today.
I recently tried writing something new for me, a historical story. In fact, an early medieval story, set in the twelfth century.
In all my writing, I try hard to set the scene in my readers’ minds (yes, revealing my naked ambition by aspiring to multiple readers) by “painting” in what I hope is enough detail for their imaginations to fill in everything else they need to see the scene in their mind.
I blame being exposed to Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File at an impressionable age. But it’s a style I like for being economical and usually engaging.
But how can I imagine being there, watching my characters do their twelfth century … stuff?
Research? As a leisure-time writer with no access to academic libraries, opportunities for “proper” research are a bit restricted.
Yes, of course I used google for some things, but you need to have a good idea of what your real question is before you can figure out which hits are helpful answers.
Some answers are just pretty simple, of course, assuming we remember to ask ourselves “is this right?”
Not long ago, I read a novel set in the 1920’s, in which the main character produced a Glock pistol. A fine choice of weapon for self defence, I’m sure, but an implausible one… Glock wasn’t founded until 1963.
Want to set a scene in a fast-food restaurant in London in say 1970? McDonalds won’t open their first branch there for another four years.
Sometimes it’s kind of convenient to rely on other people’s research, particularly if you’re confident it’s reliable enough, and it looks pretty good.
I found a lot of helpful information in Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England. He’s a professional academic historian as well as an historical fiction writer, so has access to the right resources, and can probably even read Latin and Middle English. He wrote this book to help readers see the past as real rather than as history, describing what you might see and experience as a visitor to the period. It gave me some insight into how people lived, what they ate and wore, and about their world. He’s since written two similar books, covering the Elizabethan and Restoration periods.
And of course Dr Mortimer isn’t the only writer whose work we can benefit from, if only for some ideas and scene-dressing.
A few examples? Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose paints a vivid picture of a 14th century Italian monastery. Edith Pargeter (aka Ellis Peters) set her well-known Brother Cadfael murder mysteries in early 12th century Shrewsbury, in western England. Sarah Woodbury’s Gareth and Gwen mysteries are set in 12th century Wales, when it was still a separate country from Norman-ruled England, and Dublin was a Viking city. Or there are the Stanton and Barling mysteries, by EM Powell, again set in the 12th century, where the two main characters were the nearest thing the English justice system had to detectives.
There are factual TV shows and series which can help us “see” the past a little more clearly as a real time and place, particularly the “re-enacting” ones. There were several excellent British TV series about agricultural life in the past – the Tudor Monastery Farm, the Victorian Farm, the Edwardian Farm and the Wartime Farm (ie 1939-1945). The “supersizers” series by Giles Coren and Sue Perkins were factual entertainment about the history of food, including the two of them trying out things from the period, like clothing and historically accurate meals. It’s worth remembering our ancestors ate a far wider range of animals, birds and fish than we do. That wasn’t because these were notably tasty, more of an “eat it or go hungry” choice. I’ve read that swan tastes pretty awful.
I’ve read plenty of books (or listened to the audiobooks) which conveyed the period nicely for me. The Sherlock Holmes stories, written between 1887 and 1927, mentioned telegrams, daily postal services, messenger services, the introduction of telephones, and using frequent train services. The unrestricted access to opium and cocaine is surprising to modern readers, but both were readily available at the time, when it’s been estimated that a quarter of doctors were addicted to opium.
Other books I’ve enjoyed which were set in the early 1950’s in Britain described a time of post-war austerity, limited private car ownership, commonplace use of trains with helpful station staff (including porters), and, in some areas, telephone calls still connected via operators who might just be listening in.
On the other hand, books actually written in earlier periods may not be that helpful, as the authors expected their readers to at least be familiar with the world the characters lived in (eg Fielding, Austen, Hardy or Dickens).
What about old TV shows and films, from the 1920’s on? These might show regular life in the US before air conditioning – wiping the back of your neck with a handkerchief in summer – everyone wearing hats and other period fashions, steam engines in widespread use on the railways, horses and steam traction engines being used on farms, manual typewriters, rotary dial telephones, telex machines, card index systems, hot metal newspaper printing…
Some modern shows and movies made a big effort to create realistic-looking settings, and I thought Versailles, The Musketeers, Taboo, and Poldark certainly gave the impression of being true to period. The 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with Matthew Macfadeyn and Keira Knightly was a notable hatchet job of the book which had some fabulous background details about life for the rural “comfortably-off” around 1800.
Although it’s primarily fantasy, there’s a lot of historical accuracy in the Game of Thrones world. Not the dragons, obviously, but the background details of life in a castle and so on.
The TV series Britannia ran rings around historical accuracy and even plausibility. But what the heck, it’s only a story.
I watched Die Hard the other night (my go-to Christmas film), made in 1988 complete with women’s “big hair” styles, clumsy-looking computer systems, CB radios, but no mobile phones. Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman (1990) had a mobile phone, which looks hilariously clunky today, like two house bricks. Even Dirty Dancing had a wealth of background detail you could study – the idea of annual month-long stays at the same stuffy resort centre, the entertainment, fashions, and manners.
It’s probably wise to resist overdoing your scene-setting. While you might be tempted to include things in the narrative like books or albums popular at the time, unless these are subjects discussed by the characters, it might come across as “telling”. Perfect incidental visual details in a TV show or film, though.
We may be fortunate in Britain with our long history, as we have some great places to visit which can help our imaginations. Neolithic constructions, iron-age hill forts, Roman forts and buildings, assorted castles and historic houses, and some decent museums…
The Weald and Downland Museum has more than forty historic buildings representing a thousand years of history. Blists Hill Victorian Town, operated by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, recreates a Victorian town for visitors, complete with a cast of re-enactors. The Beamish Open-Air Museum lets you glimpse industrial life in the northeast of England during the 19th and 20th centuries. I know the US has something similar at Colonial Williamsburg.
A lot of historic buildings and sites in Britain run events where visitors can meet re-enactors and get a brief glimpse of a version of the past, such as a medieval camp, or a Victorian mill or kitchen.
And then there are jousting displays and re-enacted battles and skirmishes, typically Viking or English Civil War. There are groups of enthiasts who do Roman, Napoleonic, Victorian and WW1 or WW2 military displays.
How about the large-scale annual Battle of Hastings rematch? Somehow, the bloody Normans always win, but maybe one year…
One thing we can’t get from these museums are some of the grim realities of even our recent past, which can be invaluable for the historical fiction writer. Dreadful poverty. The feudal system. Insanitary living conditions. A monotonous and limited diet. Frequent poor years for farming, with not infrequent famines. Thousands of people affected by ergotism. Half of children dying before the age of twenty-one. Huge numbers dying and suffering from disease, with no health or dental care, aggravated by malnutrition. Lives ruled by superstition and religion. The acceptance that the rich and noble were more important simply by right of birth. An almost matter-of-fact indifference to cruelty and suffering. Crusades, literal witch-hunts, wars, revolts and uprisings. The high death toll on long sea-journeys from disease, including an expected 50% from scurvy.
Or how about a disaster story set during one of the many fires which destroyed or severely damaged largely-wooden medieval European cities and towns? London had three great fires (1135, 1212 and 1666) and twelve major ones (two in Roman times, then in 675, 798, 892, 1087, 1130, 1132, 1220, 1227, 1299 and 1633). Lots of other towns and cities had similar incidents: google “list of town and city fires” and feel relief for modern building codes and well-equipped professional firefighters.
The past has all sorts of “detail” things which can help or hinder a writer, too. These are often overlooked for convenience in fiction.
Between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, various European countries and the Massachusetts Bay Colony in America had “sumptuary laws”, restricting people’s choice of clothing. And fashions changed in the past almost as rapidly as today.
Religion and religious practices
In England, until the fifteenth century reformation, fast days (or meat-free days) occupied almost half the year – including every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and all of Lent. Vegetables, or if you were lucky, fish. The selection of vegetables available was surprisingly limited, too. And don’t forget that people then were generally incredibly devout and very superstitious compared to us.
As an example, for 200 years after the Norman Conquest of England, the general population spoke English, the ruling classes spoke Anglo-Norman and French, and very few of either group spoke the other’s language. Church services were conducted in Latin, of course. Legal cases could only be conducted in English from 1362, and the court switched to English by the end of the fourteenth century. By English I mean Middle English – check out Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” in the original text for a written form in the modern alphabet. And language use changed as fast in the past as it does today. There were also a wealth of local accents and dialects in all languages, some even more strikingly different from the norm than we have now.
Actually, language raises another question – dialogue. How closely do we follow what we think the speech styles would be in that period? It might sound perfect to someone from that time, but seems at best flowery and roundabout to us. How “realistic” does it need to be in order to convey a sense of the period? At the time, it was everyday language, after all.
Inevitably, there are a few books available to help those keen to write historical fiction.
Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders caught my attention when I perused Amazon, if only for the title. Historical Fiction Writing – A Practical Guide and Tool-Kit by Myfanwy Cook and Bernard Knight looks like a useful book, based on popular workshops Myfanwy has run. She’s a successful writer herself.
As with all other aspects of writing, there are no hard rules, only conventions. Even spelling’s just a convention, after all.
Readers who enjoy lots of historical fiction may well have expectations, so it’s probably worth becoming familiar with the genre or sub-genre you’re writing in.
Unless you’re writing an alternative history or steampunk, if you include significant factual details, do check them as best you can.
Other than that, well, have fun developing your ideas and writing your stories.
Oh, and do keep an eye open for intriguing historical discoveries. Spotting a mention of medieval underpants in a story might not actually be something to snigger about…
Oh, by the way, the comments I had back on my story from some of my collaborative critiquing group certainly left me feeling I’d got the “feel” right, which was rather nice to know. I’ve got some revisions to do, then I’ll see if I can get the story published.
by Ashley Lister
One of my favourite writing exercises comes from Jose Silva and Philip Miele, reiterated in Julia Casterton’s Creative Writing, a practical guide.
Close your eyes and sit quietly.
Bring into your inner field of vision – a lemon.
Examine it closely.
It is porous, with a little green dot in the middle of each pore.
Feel the knobbly cool surface.
Imagine a knife.
You are slicing the lemon in half.
You raise one half to your mouth and sink your teeth into it.
What has happened?
Casterton bets that anyone reading the description, and investing in the content, will find their salivary glands pumping at the stimulus of the description. Personally, I think she’s right because, even though I’ve shared this exercise with dozens of classrooms, it continues to make me drool in response to that fictional acidic rush of citrus juice.
And this is what we should be aiming to do with each aspect of description in our fiction. Description should be an immersion for the reader into the physicality of the storyworld. If a character is wielding a whip, we want our readers to flinch from each snap that it makes. If a character is enjoying a sensual massage, we want our readers to shiver with the tactile frisson of skin touching skin.
Description is where the magic happens in writing and it’s a skill that can best be developed through practice. As writers, we’re involved in a contract with the reader where we’re supposed to facilitate their suspension of disbelief. This is greatly helped when we present them with a world that seems so real they can experience it through their physical senses. And we achieve this by using exactly the right words with specificity, detail and sound symbolism.
Specificity: don’t tell your reader there are yellow flowers at the side of the road. Describe them as daffodils or dandelions or buttercups. It’s not a fast red car: it’s a scarlet Ferrari. It’s not a jaunty nineties pop song: it’s Britney singing, ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time.’ Notice how, in each of these examples, it’s easier to see or hear the more specific description.
Detail: in the example at the top of this page, we are shown the little green dot in the middle of each pore. I had never noticed this feature until I read the description and now I see it on every lemon I encounter. If you’re describing buttercups, tell your reader about the silky sheen on the inside of each petal; talk about the way the petals sit awkwardly together; or mention the icing-sugar dusting of pollen that coats the stamen in the centre of the flower.
Sound Symbolism: I was once engaged in a discussion with a publisher about which word was most appropriate to describe a type of glass: the snifter or brandy balloon. Snifter is the US name for this type of glass whilst balloon is the UK name. Being a UK writer, balloon was my go-to phrase when I described this in a story. However, the publisher suggested I reconsider the word and use snifter. Their argument made sense. The fiction was going to be published in the US and, as per my point above regarding specificity, it made sense to use the word readers would most easily recognise.
But I wanted to argue for holding onto balloon. The vowels in snifter, a short i and a concluding uh, don’t reflect the full rounded shape of the glass I was describing. Balloon, with that full final vowel sound and the association of roundness we have when we hear the word ‘balloon’ seemed more appropriate to my ear.
Description is a vital tool in our writing arsenal that can make readers feel as though we’ve spoken to them on a very personal level. With the careful use of specificity, detail and sound symbolism, we can ensure that the description we provide helps our readers to immerse themselves fully in our fiction.
It’s that time of year. Time for self-reflection. 2018 could have been a better year but that doesn’t matter since I have 2019 to look forward to. Some people are finishing off their NaNoWriMo books. Only three days left to get it together. I didn’t participate this year. I went to fewer public events mainly since I don’t have anything new out. Must rectify that.
Here is a list of 10 things I want to do to make 2019 a great year.
- Submit more short stories.
- Learn Italian.
- Finish my novel “Hell Time”.
- Go to more conventions especially since so many of them are only a short drive away.
- Write more thrillers and mysteries. I’m just getting started in those genres. They’re challenging but fun.
- Walk outside for exercise over winter. I now have the winter wear to do it.
- Find a home for my paranormal erotic romance with werewolves “Full Moon Fever”. And by home, I mean a reputable publisher that will market my book properly. I’ve considered self-publishing but I really don’t want to do that with this book.
- Publish “Happily Ever After: A Collection of Erotic Fairy Tales this winter or spring at the latest.
- Bake more sweets like cookies, brownies, and cakes. I already have crab soup in mind as well as turkey noodle soup.
- Make 2019 a much better year than 2018. 2018 sucked.
My list is writing-related. Even learning a new language, exercise, and baking. I do those things to broaden my scope and they clear my head so I may write well. I usually meet my yearly goals with maybe one hiccup.
2019 is going to be a good year.
So what about you? What are your resolutions or do you not have anything in mind?
Elizabeth Black 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 two cats.
Web site: http://elizabethablack.blogspot.com
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/elizabethblack
Warning Non-PC Message Follows
One of the first things you realize about Las Vegas, a.k.a. Sin City, is vanity and show. Nowhere else in the world, except maybe on Rodeo Drive will you find as many boob jobs and fancy cars prowling the streets.
Being in the Lifestyle, it’s common to see women who’ve had some work done, as the saying goes but here everywhere you go they are in your face. We moved to Vegas from the mid-west, where things move at a much slower pace, and the women and cars are much plainer except maybe my wife, but she’s an exception. I had to throw that in, or she’d be pissed.
Our plastic surgeon friend Doctor Jim and his demo wife are a typical example. I doubt if there is an original part on her body except for maybe her heels, and nicely rounded they are. For a fortyish MILF Hotwife, she has the best body money can buy, and she even gets an employee discount.
He keeps telling me that a couple of 500cc implants would fill Wifey out nicely but I’m terrified that something will go wrong. Plus, I’m more of a leg guy than a boob guy and like her just the way she is. This is laughable in several ways, two of our closest girlfriends (a.k.a. Unicorns) have ginormous hooters, one real and one not. But, I love them for their minds!
Here you go to the grocery store, and it’s all you can do to not get an eye poked out. One of our neighbors is a dancer at a local gentleman’s club. She’s a little Asian who is so top heavy I don’t understand why she doesn’t fall over when she stands up. She told me that a big rack is worth at least $50K a year and I can believe her. We men are so easy to manipulate, show me your tits and I’ll follow you anywhere!
She’s one of the few dancers I’ve ever known with a decent brain and doesn’t just stuff her money up her nose or give it to a drug-addicted boyfriend, who is jobless and plays in a band. She owns five houses and drives a new Denali. Plus, she just gave her boyfriend a new Infinity. She’s 28 and at the tail end of her career. She figures that she will last maybe another five years, so she’s already planning for retirement.
In Vegas, strippers/dancers have to pay to work, and it costs every girl typically one-hundred dollars a night to work. What other profession makes you pay to come to work? It just shows how much money passes through the typical club. You hear stories all the time of bouncers who drag an indebt customer to the ATM so he can get money to pay off the dancers and not suffer a broken leg.
There was a big lawsuit, a couple of years ago, about a guy from Kansas who was beaten up so bad that he’s now partially paralyzed and won a settlement for several million dollars from the club. So let that be a lesson to you, make sure you have enough money to pay for that lap dance beforehand.
Now that we’re in Sin City, we seldom go to a strip club as they are not the same. Back home, clubs were much friendlier, with less high pressure. We knew a lot of the dancers, and they would often come to our house parties. One girl, Linda, looked exactly like my wife, close enough to be twins, and they always told people that they were sisters (incestuous sisters at that)!
Another thing you’ll notice is that everyone drives a Mercedes, Beemer, or other fancy set of wheels. A business associate of mine drives a new blue Mercedes GLC, and I know for a fact that she’s spending a big chunk of her paycheck for her ride. I like to have a nice car, but I don’t need to spend the majority of my pay for one. Wifey has a red Lexus ES350, but I have simpler tastes and have downgraded from my usual Suburban to a Honda CRV EX-L.
Foxy is extremely outgoing and as my Mom says, “Would talk to a fence post.” We hadn’t been in town long before she met two women on the Strip, who are prime examples of Vegas excesses. One girl drives an SL class Mercedes convertible and the other a beautiful baby blue Bentley. They are both a product of too much money and too much free time but I love them both, and so far they’ve kept my wife somewhat out of trouble.
So if you ever consider moving to Sin City, put enough money aside for a boob job and a nice set of wheels.
Changes at SmashWords
The other thing in the news is that SmashWords has redone their site and hopefully it doesn’t screw up author’s sales too badly. Now what you see is about a 100-pixel wide cover image along with the story title and author’s name. The description is gone and allows the prospective reader to see more stories at a glance as they scroll horizontally.
I browsed the section on Men’s Erotica – Best Sellers and found five or six of my stories, so at least for me, I’m currently happy. SmashWords has published over 500,000 stories, which is amazing in itself after being in business for ten years.
They’ve changed their search and ranking algorithms and only time will tell how that works out. There’s a nice blog posting by Mark Coker on what they did. You can now make better choices on what you see or don’t see on their site, which hopefully will make readers happy and less offended by our smut.
Up until the last couple of months, about two-thirds of my meager author’s income came from SmashWords and their down market. But recently Amazon is running three or four times my SmashWords bucks. The only explanation I have is my latest two stories were released narrow and in Kindle Unlimited. So far it doesn’t seem to have hurt my SmashWords sells as my SW volume is up about 20% over average, but I need to finish up some stories that I can publish wide to keep my dogs in Blue Buffalo.
My last new novel, House Party, an 85,000-word novel of pretty much nonstop F’ing and S’ing was published narrow at Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Previously, I’d poo-pooed distributing solely through Kindle and Kindle Unlimited, but have been amazed at my sales. While I don’t know how sales would have gone through SmashWords, they’ve been great at Amazon. House Party was released the first week of October, and for the next four to six weeks, my author’s rating has averaged below 1,000 and all the way down to a little over 100. The first couple of weeks, my author’s rating was in the 100-300 bracket. House Party hit a high best sellers rank of 30 in Erotica – Mystery & Erotica – Thrillers, and is the first story I’ve ever written that the best sellers rank was below a 100 and the story stayed in double digits for a long time.
While I haven’t ranted about it, I am amazed at the number of four-letter words in the titles of stories at SmashWords. I write strictly stoke material but would never use “fuck” or “cunt” in a story title. My stories are as dirty as the next pervert, but I do have my limits. Mark Coker of SmashWords is to be commended on his allowing the most juvenile of story titles to be published without complaint.
Several months ago, SmashWords implemented a voluntary categorizing of story content. When you publish a story (and previous ones), you have a checklist of about 10 categories that you answer a Yes/No question to things like “Does the story include screwing your Mother?”
At first, there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth at the conspiracy theories about what Mark was really up to. I could see their point to try and maximize distribution while not offending those publishers with sensitive tastes.
So far, it doesn’t seem to have changed anything, but then my smut doesn’t usually involve large groups and Vaseline. Well, maybe the Vaseline and possibly the groups but you know what I mean.
The thing I love about SmashWords is they don’t nickel and dime you about story content or the cover image. I hate it when Amazon throws one of my stories into the dungeon, and I have to spend the next couple of weeks on my knees begging for forgiveness. Which usually means that I miss half of my maximum sales month.
Your first 30-days days at Amazon are typically when you sell the most copies because, after a month, you can watch the stories rating drop as Amazon starts to favor newer released stories. Plus, you are never told why you got dinged beyond vague hints as to what was offensive. While I write stroke porn primarily, I still try and meet Amazon’s restrictions. Then, when I get put on the cross down in the dungeon, it really pisses me off.
If you haven’t tried it, Amazon’s new beta report for sales and Kindle Unlimited pages read is pretty cool. It looks like they’ve been watching “Book Report” and have tried to emulate their reporting. There are two main pages, one for sales and one for pages read. I’ve posted a shot of each to give you a flavor of what they look like.
This is the sales page at: https://kdpreports.amazon.com/reports/sales
This screenshot is of the Kindle Unlimited pages read: https://kdpreports.amazon.com/reports/kenpc
This is the beta version of the new sales reporting tool and looks pretty sold so far. The report breaks down sales in a number of ways for all of you anal bean counters out there. The new report presents most of the things Book Report offers. The nice thing about Book Report as it gives you dollar sales figures for today, this month, last month, last 30-days etc. so it’s easy to see how your smut is going over with your adoring audience and when you’ll be able to afford your next lap dance.
Book Report is free and you can grab a copy here: https://www.getbookreport.com/ I think they start charging you for it after your sales hit $1,000 bucks a month, so for me, it’s a freebie.
I’m writing this month’s post on the Wednesday before Turkey Day and am sitting in the parking lot of a casino waiting for Foxy to emerge with her free bottle of liquor. When you have a casino player’s card, one of the regular inducements is free gifts to reward you for stuffing money in a slot machine or throwing it on the craps/poker table.
Wifey plays Texas Hold-Em primarily and does reasonably well at it, but I make it a point to never try and figure out what it costs me to keep her entertained. I am a firm believer in what you don’t know won’t hurt you.
If you run out of something to do, check out my blog at LarryArcher.blog for my latest theories on world domination and lesser topics. As most of the author’s on ERWA, I’m a writer of erotic literature, and my typical fare is primarily what’s called stroke porn for those of you with more base urges. Remember to think of me when you take yourself in hand!
See you next month on the 24th.
Authors have been using pseudonyms for almost as long as publishing has existed, for various reasons. Victorian George Eliot reportedly chose a male pseudonym because no one would have taken her literary creations seriously if they knew she was a woman. J.K. Rowling wrote her crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling as Robert Galbraith, to avoid contamination from her Harry Potter fame. Male authors of romance sometimes choose a female-sounding pen name to deal with the widely-held notion that men can’t write romantic fiction. Likewise, women writing thrillers may opt for a masculine or gender-neutral pen name. Many authors who write in multiple genres use different pen names for each, with the goal of building separate brands and reducing reader confusion.
Of course, for those of us who write sexually explicit material, a pseudonym may be more than just a convenience or a tool for maximizing sales. There’s a good reason why so many erotic works are attributed to the prolific Anonymous. In some countries, creating and selling erotic content is literally a crime. Even in nations that supposedly guarantee free speech, society often treats erotic authors or artists as psychologically deviant or dangerous to youth. We walk a fine line almost everywhere. Staying on the safe side of the law, avoiding being stigmatized or black listed, almost always requires that we publish under a false name. Furthermore, it’s essential that we keep our true identities secret from all but the narrowest group of trusted individuals where disclosure cannot be avoided, such as our publishers or accountants. Even our families may not be aware of our hidden lives as purveyors of the prurient.
Unfortunately, technology has made the preservation of anonymity almost impossible, and the situation is getting worse all the time. Back in 2012 I wrote a series of columns for ERWA called “Naughty Bits: The Erotogeek’s Guide for Technologically-Challenged Authors”. (You can download the entire series as a free ebook here.) One of those columns discussed some of the measures you can take to protect your identity and your privacy. Everything I said in that article is still true. However, even if you adhere to all my suggestions, you are still at significant risk.
Since 2012, computers have gotten even better at learning patterns and making connections between seemingly disparate items buried in huge amounts of data. You may see this discussed in the media under the general headings of “Big Data Analytics”, “Deep Learning” or “AI” – Artificial Intelligence. In fact, there’s not much real intelligence behind these processes, just extremely effective algorithms for sifting through massive amounts of information to discover previously hidden structure. These algorithms were already being explored in 2012, but there have been two important changes since then:
- Computers have become faster and cheaper than ever, and these high powered computational capabilities are available to anyone via commercial cloud services.
- The explosion of mobile applications and digital services has made nearly everyone’s data footprint a lot larger than it was in 2012.
Almost all these computational methods have the property that they become increasingly powerful and accurate as the size of their input data sets grows. Privacy through obscurity is a thing of the past.
As a consequence of these developments, even digital activity that you undertake anonymously (for instance, without logging in) can be easily linked to a well-known identity. This is a significant issue for responsible research. For instance, sensitive medical records used to investigate lifestyle correlates of health problems may be stripped of all personal identification (“anonymized”) to meet privacy restrictions. However, it has been demonstrated repeatedly that by combining multiple anonymized data sets, individual identities can be recovered.
Researchers may view this as a problem. Businesses see it as an enormous opportunity. Personalized, targeting marketing is demonstrably more effective than broadly designed, generic efforts. The more a business knows about you, the more they can influence you — not just what you buy, but how you think about them, how you talk about them, what you share with your friends. Meanwhile the data sets available to business becomes broader, richer and more informative every day,
Do you want a demonstration? Go to Google image search, https://images.google.com. You might not have realized that you don’t need to use keywords for image searching. If you click on the camera icon, you can search using a picture as the search key.
Click on the camera, then put the following into the URL box:
Then click on “Search by Image”. The results are labeled as “domestic short-haired cat” and many similar photos show up on the results page, as well as articles about cats.
You may think this is a bit crude (most of the cats don’t have double paws, like mine did!), but it’s only going to improve over time. How long do you think it will be before it’s possible to find every personal selfie you’ve ever posted? (My estimate: two years from now.)
If you use Facebook, here’s something else to try. Login to Facebook. Then in another browser tab, go to a hotel booking site such as Booking.com. Don’t log in (if you have an account), but search for hotels in San Francisco, and click on a few results to look at the details.
I’m willing to bet that within the next twenty four hours, Facebook will be showing you travel ads about San Francisco.
Now, maybe you don’t care. Maybe you want to see ads that reflect your current interests, even if that means that the different sites or apps you use are exchanging information without your explicit permission. If you’re an erotica author who uses a private pseudonym, though, I’d guess that you don’t want Google or Facebook connecting the dots between your author persona and your real world identity, revealing to your boss or your students or your church congregation that you’re actually Lulu Pinkcheeks, award-winning author of spanking erotica.
So what can you do about this? How can you reduce the risks?
I’m assuming you’re already following my recommendations from the earlier article. If not, start there. Below you’ll find additional precautions you should take, now that it’s nearly 2019.
Maintain separate login credentials for every site or digital service you use. Do not ever use a social media account (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to log in to a third party site.
Never maintain two accounts on the same social media platform, one for your real world identity and one for your author identity. In the real world, I use Facebook and LinkedIn. I don’t have an account on either as Lisabet. On the other hand, as an author I use Pinterest and Twitter.
Use a completely different computer for your writing-related work than you do for your other work. This may seem extreme, but today’s browsers and applications save large amounts of contextual information which can be used to link your two identities. Using separate computers also reduces the risk of errors, e.g sending an email from your author identity to someone in your real-world contact list.
You might be thinking, “I don’t have the money for multiple computers.” In fact, what I do is to use different virtual machines A virtual machine acts like a totally separate computer (and can have a different operating system than your native computer), but shares the hardware with its host machine. An additional advantage of virtual machines is the ability to have them reset back to a known state every time you shut them down. This can also help protect against malware.
By the way, the recommendation above also applies to your mobile devices. Don’t mix real world and author accounts, data or business on one device. In fact, mobile devices are significantly more vulnerable to data leaks and data theft than desktop devices, because the mobile network protocols are less secure and because app stores do not investigate or stringently police violations of privacy by the apps they host. (I can provide references to support this claim if you don’t believe it.)
Consider encrypting your author-related files. “Encryption” is a process that protects your data from being understood by malicious third parties, by translating it into a form that cannot be read by anyone without the encryption key. It’s comparable to keeping your information in a secret code. You can set up your computer so that it encrypts the full contents of a disk whenever the machine shuts down. This protects you if your computer is lost or stolen.
Consider using an anonymizing service. One problem that will remain, even if you use different computing devices as recommended above, is that your public IP address—the unique number that identifies you on the Internet—will very likely remain the same regardless of which computer or virtual machine you use, since this comes from your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Thus it is possible to connect activity from the two different machines. Furthermore, your IP address will often tell an Internet application where you are located, since different countries are allocated different blocks of addresses.Anonymizing browsers, such as TOR, solve this problem by relaying your communications through different servers, to hide your actual IP address and location.
By now your head is probably aching. “I don’t want to worry about this,” you’re thinking. “It sounds so inconvenient!” You’re completely right.
In fact, increased convenience is one of the ways we’re seduced into giving away our personal data. It’s far more convenient to use your Facebook login than to create (and manage) a new account for each new website or service you use. It’s more convenient to wave your phone in front of reader and deduct money from your digital wallet than to carry cash or a credit card, even though you’re at much greater risk of being hacked. You might find it more comfortable to keep your mobile GPS location service enabled all the time, so you can quickly do online navigation, even though that means that your detailed movements are being tracked and saved.
Trying to maintain your anonymity is inconvenient. It takes thought and work. However, for me, living in a foreign country with stringent anti-pornography laws, the alternative is too dangerous to risk.
By the way, you may think I’m paranoid, but as it happens I’m a computer professional in real life. I can provide solid documentation for all the claims I’ve made in this article. Just get in touch.