Monthly Archives: January 2018
My name is Dale Cameron Lowry, and this is my first time blogging on the Erotica Readers & Writers Association blog. There are lots of old-timers who have been around ERWA since the internet began, but I am not one of them. I’m a new timer who first heard of ERWA in 2015, when I was looking for markets where I could sell my racy short stories. I signed up for the email list, got involved in conversations, offended a few people with my strong opinions about the English language, got offended a few times, and overall have had a fun time.
In December, Lisabet Sarai approached me about writing a monthly post for the ERWA blog. I guess because I’m opinionated, but I didn’t dare ask lest I give her second thoughts. Like a puppy who’d just been thrown a Frisbee, I wagged my tail and grabbed it. So here is my inaugural column.
I came to writing erotica through the back door, in the heat of the moment, almost by accident. (Isn’t that how it always happens?)
First, some background: I was raised in a prudishly religious household. Not a terribly oppressive environment, mind you, but still one in which the thought of sneaking a copy of Playboy or Playgirl into the house was beyond consideration. My idea of pornography was flipping through the men’s and women’s underwear section of the Sears catalog and later, thank the direct mailing gods, the International Male catalog, with its close-ups of Adonises in bikini briefs and banana hammocks.
My first experience reading erotic fiction was at the campus LesBiGay center (that’s what we said back then) in 1993, while perusing an issue of On Our Backs, the now-defunct lesbian, feminist, and sex-positive porno mag. I found myself reading a story about two women, a strap-on dildo, and anal sex in a shower. I remember thinking, “Huh. People without prostates can enjoy anal. Who knew?”
So, in my case, erotica was educational. (Except for the part about it being fun to have anal sex in the shower. That’s almost always better in fantasy than reality.)
Then there was the time I housesat for a family off-campus and found the parents’ secret stash of erotica from Cleis Press. Men with women, women with women, women with men, men with men, men with men with women … Many delicious flavors, and I devoured them all. But that was my guilty little secret. It was better to pretend to not have any interest in such lowly things.
See, I had a minor in creative writing at a snooty liberal arts college and considered myself a Writer with a capital W. I was into Literature. Sure, you could write about sex, but it was only literary if it was neurotic (Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint), violent (Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina), disturbing (Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov), or magical realism with a little anti-Semitism thrown in (Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry).
Now, there’s nothing wrong with being Literary. I’m a fan of Philip Roth’s and Dorothy Allison’s work. But I didn’t want to write about sex in those ways. So I didn’t write about it.
And then I listened to a Toni Morrison interview, in which she said that she only began writing later in life because, when she was younger, she didn’t have anything new to say. I became convinced I had nothing new to say, so for many years, I stopped writing at all. (Lesson: read Toni Morrison’s books, but take her writing advice with a grain of salt.)
Eight years ago I got fired from my job, so I suddenly had lots of time on my hands. I decided to dabble in writing again. And to take the Literary pressure off my shoulders, I decided to write in the trashiest genre I could think of: romance!
One day, I came to a point in a story where two of my characters were headed to the bedroom together, and this time, they didn’t close the door on me. They wanted me to know what went on in that bedroom. They talked a little during sex, joked a little during sex, and their relationship changed during sex. Most importantly, the way they viewed themselves changed.
For me, a good story is all about the character and how they change as the story unfolds. As one of my writing teachers used to say, “Put a character in a tree, throw stones at them, and see how they react.” And to not include that sex scene would have been to skip a vital part of the characters’ development.
After that, more of my characters wanted me to go into the bedroom with them. I guess they’re exhibitionists. I lost (most of) my inhibitions about writing about sex, and sometimes I found that an entire story could take place during a single sexual encounter.
How’d that happen?
Dale Cameron Lowry lives in the Upper Midwest with a partner and three cats, one of whom enjoys eating dish towels and wool socks. It’s up to you to guess whether the fabric eater is one of the cats or the partner.
When not busy mending items destroyed by the aforementioned fabric eater, Dale writes and edits queer romance, erotica and speculative fiction. You can find the most up-to-date list of Dale’s books and anthologies at www.dalecameronlowry.com/books and get Dale’s writing tips at www.dalecameronlowry.com/for-writers.
I found this article about women who did not take their husband’s surnames upon marriage interesting and I do agree with it to some extent. I took my first husband’s surname. That marriage ended in an ugly divorce. I kept my maiden name when I married my second husband, and we’re going strong over 20 years later. Take all that as you like.
I kept my maiden name because it’s my name. I am already known well by that name. I used it for my past political and feminist writing. I am aware of the irony of my maiden name coming from my father – another man – but I didn’t sign over my identity by changing my name upon marriage. That’s how I see name changing for me personally. I already have an identity and I didn’t want the hassle of changing a multitude of legal forms. I could have taken my maiden name as my middle name and my husband’s name as my married name but I rejected that, too. I did that for my first marriage. Switching back and forth before and after that marriage was a pain in the ass.
The problem is that the description of men whose wives do not take their surnames as being perceived as being “less masculine” in the article from the Independent seems to be seen as a negative thing. Far from it. How do we define what is masculine? The traditional definition seems to me to be somewhat harmful to men. Some positive attributes considered masculine include being assertive and ambitious. However, “Real” men are also strong who keep their emotions in check. Big boys don’t cry. Brute force is a positive thing. And what’s wrong with a man being seen as more feminine? A balance between stereotypes would go a long way towards showing more humanity.
Those who decried the research (the term “hostile sexism” was thrown about) thought of men whose wives did not take their surnames were “disempowered as a result of their wife’s decision.” That’s a load of crap.
This statement also intrigued me: “A woman’s marital surname choice therefore has implications for perceptions of her husband’s instrumentality, expressivity, and the distribution of power in the relationship,” explains lead author Rachael Robnett. My marriage is not traditional. The power is evenly distributed throughout our relationship. There is no God-ordained leader in my household. I’m not submissive and when I’m upset or angry I feel free to express myself without repercussions, unlike my first marriage. That’s not related to whether or not I took my husband’s name but due to the nature of each marriage.
I also kept my maiden name upon my second marriage because I had taken his surname for my first marriage. I had done it once and didn’t see a need to do it again. I also didn’t have a traditional white wedding for my second wedding. We had a nondenominational ceremony in our backyard with me in a green lace dress. The town clerk officiated. Our sons and my son’s best friend attended. Then we went inside, had my chocolate sachertorte wedding cake I had baked and watched Hellraiser. Hey, there are newlyweds in that movie! It’s appropriate!
I am probably viewed as non-traditional in my marriage, my actions, and beliefs. According to previous studies, “women who violate the marital surname tradition are viewed differently from others. They are described in terms of instrumental traits that in a gendered society are typically assigned to men. These include having a higher status, wielding more power, being more self-focused, ambitious and assertive. These traits contrast with the expressive characteristics that are typically assigned to women, such as being more nurturing, kind and having less influence and power.” My husband freely expresses his emotions like sadness and insecurity as well as anger. Why is anger seen as a masculine emotion? I see why nurturing is seen as feminine since women traditionally have raised children, but that is not an exclusively feminine characteristic.
My point in this rambling post is that keeping my maiden name was a personal choice between my husband and I with my feelings being paramount. Maybe it reflects the dynamics of my second marriage, maybe not. I just know that traditional definitions of masculinity and femininity can be harmful to both men and women. It’s time we viewed ourselves as individual human beings with our own wants and needs and not be held hostage by stereotypes.
by Jean Roberta
Lately, there has been an avalanche on social media about sexual abuse and “bad sex” (for lack of a clearer term), which is unsatisfying for at least one participant, and is based on miscommunication, even if one person (usually the girl or woman) consents to some kind of intimate physical contact to avoid worse treatment.
All these revelations, some dating back many years, are probably inspiring every woman who has ever had sex with a man to sift through her memories. How much was “bad sex,” and how much was downright abuse? Was any of it based on enthusiastic consent, as in “Hell yes! Let’s go!”
Although I have identified as a lesbian since the early 1980s, and I’ve been faithful to one woman for many years, I haven’t forgotten my heterosexual past. And some of the sex was as delicious as a glass of fresh, cold water on a hot day.
I could swear on the holy book of your choice that in some cases, I was as horny as the guy of the moment, and my orgasms were absolutely genuine. Some of my male lovers were skilled and empathetic, at least in bed. Since I never considered myself very attractive in my youth, I thought some of the sex I got was better than I deserved. That assumption in itself suggests that something was wrong, but at the time, I didn’t blame my male companions for my low self-esteem. I assumed they had nothing to do with it.
As Donna George Storey explained recently in this blog, there is a double standard of sexual behaviour which negatively affects all women. There is an ancient vocabulary of insulting words for women who are assumed to have too much of a sexual appetite, or too much sexual experience. Being labelled a whore, a slut, a skank, etc., is the kind of sexual abuse that usually comes after the sex, even when it has been a peak experience for everyone involved.
Let me introduce you to a healthy young man I’ll call the Viking. (I wrote about him in an earlier version of this blog.) He was proud of his Scandinavian roots as well as his psychic ability. I could believe there was something magical about him because he had more endurance than any man I ever met, before or since. He could keep going all night long, with no rest periods to recover his strength. If my memories are accurate, I never tried to stop him, even when I was exhausted and I had a university class to attend the next morning. I didn’t feel intimidated; I simply found him as impressive as a powerful racehorse.
I was 21 years old and full of energy myself. I was attending university part-time toward a degree in English, and I thought I would probably take Education classes after that, so I could get a job teaching English in the public school system. I discussed my dreams for the future with the Viking, and he found them amusing.
He asked me rhetorically whether I could really imagine myself as a teacher, and whether I would teach high school students all about sex.
I was taken aback, and told him that I would follow the curriculum, though I wouldn’t shy away from sexual innuendoes in literature, such as the ones in Hamlet’s speeches to his girlfriend Ophelia. (On second thought, I realized that Hamlet is also sarcastic and contemptuous to a young woman who hasn’t harmed him in any way.) The Viking always responded to my philosophy of literary analysis with a smirk.
He claimed he could read futures in playing cards as well as in the tarot deck. When he read mine, he never saw me as a professional in any respectable field. He saw degradation and addiction, bad luck and suffering. He implied that I was doomed to a career in the sex business, which would be followed by homelessness and disease once I was no longer attractive enough to attract customers.
I would always ask whether he saw any success for me as a teacher or a writer. He would shake his head and tell me he wouldn’t lie to me. When there was bad news for me in the cards, he felt it his responsibility to warn me.
The Viking sometimes entertained me with stories of his former life in Ontario, where he sold dope and hung out with a biker gang. Once he told me about a memorable session he had with a young woman who was known for her voracious sexual appetite. Apparently she would willingly take on the whole gang, and this gained her a certain kind of admiration, although no one who knew her expected her to live long or happily. The Viking casually explained that she was a nympho, like me.
I tried explaining to him that I didn’t need sex constantly, and in fact I could live without it when I was between relationships, and not feel as if I were starving.
I had told this man that if sex were a sport, he could win a medal in the Olympics. He clearly didn’t feel the same way about me. In fact, the Viking had much more experience with illegal activities and addictive substances than I did, yet I never assumed that his past would have to determine his future.
It was probably just as well that our relationship ended abruptly in the summer I turned 22. My parents were planning to spend a year in England, and I chose to go with them.
I never saw the Viking again, but his influence on my mind lingered for years. Was my sexual appetite unnatural? Did I deserve a horrible reputation? After all, I couldn’t honestly claim he had ever coerced me into sex, so did that mean I was thoroughly depraved? Did I need to spend years in therapy to become “normal?”
I’m glad to say that my life has not been the tragic, downhill slide the Viking read for me in the cards. It’s been more like an interesting hike through a terrain of peaks and valleys. I’m still not sure if my experience with him qualifies as “sexual abuse” as the term is currently understood, but I’d be willing to bet that the mind-rape was all mine.
My name is Larry Archer, and I’ve been asked to be a guest blogger at ERWA. Hopefully, I’ll write something that may be of interest to those who read and/or write erotica. On my first post, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my ideas on writing, myself and how I got here.
I’ve been writing smut since 2012 and have self-published 24 erotic novellas and novels to date. I write what is colloquially called stroke porn, but I’d like to think it has somewhat of a plot. My stories are generally pretty heavy on the sex side and generally get decent reviews.
While most of my stories stand on their own, the Foxy & Larry stories typically involve the same set of core characters and will often have a storyline that continues from story to story. Since my stories are always heavy on the sex part, don’t be surprised if someone gets laid on the first page. But I’m still working on how to do that on the title page.
I always have self-published my smut and personally believe in self-publishing as the best avenue for myself as a practical method of getting my stuff out there. I’m somewhat different from authors who go the print or anthology route. I’ll give you my reasons why and leave it up to the reader to make a decision for themselves if they are trying to make a choice on which way to go. There is no absolute right or wrong path to take, and so you can decide which way to take. I’ve done one 300 page print book to better understand that process, but that’s worthy of a blog post all its own.
A little background on Wifey and myself, we are swingers in real life and have been in the Lifestyle for some time. A lot of the things we’ve seen and done may very possibly show up in my stories, with the names changed to protect the guilty, of course. In fact, most of the reoccurring characters in my stories are based on real people that I know and are portrayed as closely as I can make them and still protect their privacy.
One of the reasons I do this is to add variety and a different perspective to my stories. I think authors often write using their personal beliefs and by using “real” people as a starting point, it adds a different slant on things. As an amateur psychologist, I find it fascinating to study other people and being in the Lifestyle brings me a lot of patients to lie on my couch.
Our lifestyle adds a different outlook on my writing as I approach stories from a different direction from other authors and hopefully, it’s of interest to my readers. While I realize that we’ve taken a different path than the average couple, I’m not here to convince you into doing the same.
My views on life and things, in general, may also seem a little skewed for a lot of people, so just remember there is always the off button if you don’t agree with me. I’ve been told that my sense of humor is a little strange, but I can’t do much about that either.
We are a committed couple, which may not seem to agree with our lifestyle but you’d be surprised at how few divorces or cheating occurs among our friends. We don’t consider sleeping around as cheating since we are always in the same house and never do things like end up at Motel 6 with Tom Bodett, because he always keeps the lights on.
Not trying to dwell on convincing you and your spouse to get in a pile with a bunch of naked people but simply that you may have to take my advice on life with a grain of salt.
My stories generally revolve around the swinger lifestyle as I have experience in it and have always found it to be a lot of fun. Most generally have a lot of sex in them from start to finish but very little drama. For the most part, our experiences have been positive, and for that reason, my stories don’t include cheating, fighting, or divorce which is common in a lot of swinger related stories from other authors. So typically my stories are all HEA, well except for parts with my wife and her whip!
I write some BDSM but generally no noncon, underage, or family stuff. Not that I have any objections to them, but I have enough trouble staying out of Amazon’s Adult Dungeon without trying to thread that needle. I’ve toyed with the idea of creating a pen name to write more hardcore smut under SmashWords and other more forgiving sites but right now just don’t have the free time to manage two different pen names.
I do not have any formal training in writing beyond Technical Report Writing in college and personally up until I started writing smut, hated to write. What I’ve found is that I really enjoy the process and typically write from the seat of my pants, or completely off the cuff. If you would happen to read one of my stories then treat my use of the English language with forgiveness.
My good friend and fellow writer, Lisabet Sarai is always trying to fix me, which I’m afraid may be a losing battle. She’s been trying to teach me how to write correctly, and it has been a struggle. Since I never had any formal training in writing, breaking my bad habits have been difficult. In many cases, I’m not convinced that the “correct” way is always the “right” way, but I’m always open to new things. Well, except for the time my wife got a new whip and a pair of real handcuffs from one of our cop friends. My butt hurt just from thinking about it and was glad to offer the services of a girlfriend, whose into that kind of thing, “Thanks, Gretchen.”
I’m told that I need conflict, resolution, someone to hate, and someone to love, but typically my stories have none of the above except maybe someone to love, but that’s touchy as, beyond our spouse, we shouldn’t be loving on anyone.
It probably seems strange to straights, but we have a fairly strict moral code even while we are coveting our neighbor’s wife. I’m allowed to screw someone, but I better not get caught giving a foot massage as that would put me in the dog house for sure.
Kissing is another no-no. We frown on kissing the opposite sex as kissing is personal and generally verboten. Certainly, you can kiss someone but don’t spend an hour examining their tonsils. A big percentage of the women are bisexual and kissing between women is encouraged and not considered cheating but a spectator sport.
My story is like a lot of other writers, I was reading smut on Literotica one day, and the thought hit me, “I can do this!” Fast forward five years and yet my new Range Rover is still sitting in the dealer’s showroom, but it’s been a fun trip.
Initially, I started writing about what we’ve seen and done in the Lifestyle and used Foxy and Larry as it was coming from a first-person perspective. Now some twenty plus stories later, if I’d been smart I would have picked different names for my regular main characters. This was one of my faux pas, but that’s water over the bridge.
The fictional Foxy and Larry own a strip club in Las Vegas, The Fox’s Den. Clever play on words don’t ya think? Most of my swinger stories involve the strip club as it’s a good place for everyone to take their clothes off and easier to work in than the Bridge Club.
We have several cuckold-Hotwife couples as friends in real life, and their alternate selves typically inhabit our stories or serve as a bad example of what people should not do at home. Cuckold – Hotwife couples are a study in itself and have a relationship that is surprisingly common. The common joke among swingers is that “straights” have no idea what is going on around them.
Foxy and Larry in the stories are as true to life as I can make them. Possibly a little more over the top but still true except for owning a strip club and having more money than God. They are a reasonably correct picture of a happily married couple who dabbles in the dark side.
We were lucky to fall in with a good group of people and learned the ropes from pros when we got into the Lifestyle. That’s a blog post that I keep telling myself to write and probably will one of these days.
My Thoughts on Self-Publishing
Why do I self-publish? The simple reason is cost and control. Every time you pick up a book or someone who’s written Writing for Dummies, they generally advise you to get an editor, get a cover designer, get, get, get.
It makes you wonder how they got started? Mom and Dad said, “Honey, here’s fifty thousand dollars, start writing porn stories.” I don’t think so, that’s maybe the 1% but the 99% of us, say to ourselves, “I wonder if I could write smut? But will it be okay to take my husband’s beer money to hire an editor?”
The problem with this approach is typically simple, you write a story that you may give away or at best sell for $2.99 yet you have to lay out hundreds of dollars in support help to get your story out the door. I’m an engineer by training and taught to make decisions by weighing good and bad options.
If you are a new writer, and unless you have a rich uncle you probably don’t have a bunch of money squirreled away to pay for all this help. Note that I didn’t tell you that you shouldn’t have an editor, cover designer, advertising firm, and publishing house to cover your back but that for many people and me, this is not financially viable. At some point in the game, you need to at least break even or hopefully make money.
I think most people who are reasonably intelligent can handle the job with minimal outlay until you get rich and famous. At which point, money is no object, and you can just hire everyone and retire. But until that point, you’re going to have to carry a majority of the load yourself.
The days of 4 and 5 figure monthly sales died years ago before everybody, and his brother started writing a book. I hate to burst your bubble, but 50 Shades was probably the last break out hit that made any real money, and my Frenchie could write better than that with one paw tied behind her back.
According to a recent survey, 80% of self-published authors make less than $1,000 per year or roughly $100/month. But before you hang yourself with your mouse cord, there is hope. First, go out an get a real job to keep the wolf away from the door and write in your spare time or have a generous spouse. If you’re a glass-half-full person, then you can say well what about the other 20%?
If you really want to be successful writing smut, beyond writing something other people want to read, is publishing on a regular basis. You should publish at least once a month, and before you fall down laughing, I’m telling you what I recommend and not what I do. My publishing cycle is typically every few months, and I fully realize that I don’t publish often enough but work and our social schedule eat up a lot of my keyboard pounding.
The search engines will typically throw you under the bus after about a month so don’t despair if your ratings fall off the cliff in 30 days. It’s like the old saying, “Publish or Perish.”
What I do is carry my laptop with me virtually 24 hours a day. Then when I’ve got a few minutes, I whip it out and type some. With many businesses that provide WiFi, you can get a connection most places or use the HotSpot feature on your phone. Be careful with logging into a public WiFi and disclosing personal information.
Publishing is sort of like wealth in the United States, just a handful have most of it while the rest of us have to scramble for their next meal. Sort of like your dream to play for the Harlem Globetrotters, and you’re five foot tall, while possible it will probably be a stretch.
As my Dad always tells me, “Faint heart never sold a vacuum cleaner.” Which in plain English means, be realistic with your assumptions but always try as hard as you can to achieve your goals.
Assuming that you sell your masterpiece for $2.99, typically the top price for a novel or novella, your takehome is about two bucks a copy. Out of that you have to deduct any costs you encounter such as cover design, editing, Internet porn, etc. Unless you can get your wife to strip off for the cover picture, your one fixed cost is likely to be the stock photo used. Your wordprocessing and photo editing software can be free if you use public domain software or a few hundred dollars for more professional products. One of my goals is to help you get into the game at the lowest cost.
Your first target should be to figure out if you can write or not. If writing were that easy, everyone would be Earnest Hemmingway or James Patterson. If you haven’t already joined ERWA, then do this next as you’ll have a host of other writers who can offer encouragement and advice in the craft of writing.
A lot of us started our initial publishing career at Literotica or a similar site that allows you to publish your stories for free without all of the problems of getting a cover, correct formatting, etc. You simply publish a plain text story and hope for good reviews.
I recommend this to new authors or those sticking their toe in the deep end of the pool for the first time. You get feedback and have to go through most of the process while skipping the hard parts.
As an engineer by training and not an English major, I am brutally aware of my shortcomings with the English language, and so you’ll rarely see me correct your sentence structure unless it’s so atrocious that even I recognize it. As I like to say, I always thought that when you had a dangling participle, you needed Viagra.
One of the things I hope to help people with is the mechanics of creating your masterpiece. Things like using the correct tools and getting started in a way that minimizes the grunt work required to publish. There are a number of things I’ve discovered which may be of interest to people. It’s not sexy but a job requirement.
A simple example is publishing to multiple publishers. We will typically publish to Amazon, SmashWords, Excessica, Apple iBooks, B&N, Nook, and others. The simple process of creating separate versions for each publisher can eat up a lot of time that could be better-served writing or jerking off.
Just try forgetting to delete a reference to SmashWords in your document and see what happens when Amazon catches it.
Well, I’ve killed enough electrons for now and will return control of your laptop back to you. See you next month on the 24th. Let me know your thoughts.
Larry Archer – LarryArcher.com
Want to discover an author’s most cherished fantasies?
Edit a collection of his or her erotic stories.
At this point, I’ve edited books featuring the erotica of seven different authors: C. Sanchez-Garcia, Amanda Earl, Bob Buckley, Teresa Wymore, Remittance Girl, M. Christian, and Daddy X. And I can tell you (if you were to ask), quite specifically, what turns each of them on. There are few activities as intimate as working with an author to sharpen the emotional focus and heighten the erotic intensity of his or her tales.
Of course, in editing a multi-author erotic anthology (which I’ve also done a few times) you’re also exposed to the contributors’ erotic visions. However, a single story might not tell you much about what personally pushes an author’s buttons. The best erotic authors, indeed, learn to mask their own kinks and preferences to some extent, in order to avoid being too repetitive. For instance, I like to push myself to create stories that do not include any BDSM content, both to prove I can and so my readers don’t get bored.
Still, I have a reputation for writing a lot of D/s, because that’s one of areas of sexuality that I find most arousing myself. A reader was recently astonished by my Asian Adventures series, which (so far) does not include any sort of power exchange. “For all the scary BDSM all over your author pages,” she wrote, “I had no idea you had such sweet lipstick in you!”
When you’re confronted with 50-60K of an author’s work, the patterns become obvious. Of course I’m not going to embarrass my former collaborators by telling you what they like, from an erotic perspective. You’ll have to buy their books, if you are curious. Even so, you might not appreciate the common themes or activities as much as I did, serving as their editor. This is because an editor reads each story many times, in many versions. Furthermore, as an editor I got to see the author’s reactions to my suggested modifications, which tells me a lot about what is and is not important to him or her.
I’ve spent a lot of time in my authors’ heads. I’ve waded through their imaginary sexual worlds, tweaking a clause here, clarifying a construction there, all the while watching their characters deal with love and lust. Sometimes I feel as though an author and I have actually been lovers. That’s not true of any of the individuals above, but it could be without too much of a stretch. I have to confess I have had erotic dreams about some of them. My unconscious reacts to the intimacy of the editor-author relationship, even if I consciously distance myself.
It’s funny, because my authors’ fantasies don’t always align with my own. Nevertheless, the close interactions involved in editing give me enough insight that I can vicariously appreciate the erotic charge in their stories, despite the fact that the themes or stimuli don’t push my personal buttons.
I wonder whether all editors experience this sense of intimate connection with their authors. Perhaps my experience has been closer and more intense because I too write erotic fiction. Or maybe it’s because I’m editing stories about sex. Perhaps editors of non-sexual genres remain more distanced from their clients.
Somehow I doubt it, though. We authors expose ourselves through our fiction, regardless of genre. We reveal what makes us tick. And editors need to get up close and personal with those revelations in order to do a good job.
This text exchange is the opening paragraph for Rebecca Traister’s “On the Post-Weinstein Reckoning” and is identified as “A partial text exchange between a Manhattan executive and his female protegee.” Following on this illustration of the sort of treatment women face in the workplace, the article makes many thought-provoking points about the opening of the “anger window”:
“In the shock of the house lights having been suddenly brought up — of being forced to stare at the ugly scaffolding on which so much of our professional lives has been built — we’ve had scant chance to parse what exactly is inflaming us and who. It’s our tormentors, obviously, but sometimes also our friends, our mentors, ourselves.”
Traister is always an insightful social critic, and the article is well worth reading. Yet I was surprised that what really stayed with me over the past few months was the text exchange.
Such lingering, mildly-to-very creepy slices of life often turn into a story or an essay. It’s my way of working out my own discomfort, transforming it into something I control. I could perhaps write my own text exchange as erotica, a story that I’d find genuinely seductive rather than just pathetic and unethical. In my story, I’d coax the guy to ask more interesting questions, because, let’s face it, his overtures are not particularly imaginative. The quantity of one’s orgasms mean a lot less than the quality. And I don’t have to “make” myself come. The sexy threesome of me, myself and I are always on the same page as far as orgasms are concerned, no coercion required. Although I get that the question is code for inquiring if the woman experiences sexual desire outside of the presence of a man who “makes” her reach orgasm. As for question #2 why limit erotic fantasy to actual sexual encounters with real people, past or future? Yawn.
Most importantly, in my story, the exploration of erotic desire would be consensual and the power dynamic more equitable.
In Traister’s example, the woman’s distraught reply makes it clear that the man has acted inappropriately. In that context, “I appreciate your trust in me!” is a conman’s trick. I’ve read enough books on the anatomy of a con to see that he is preemptively and falsely creating a relationship of “trust” with those words in the hope she will feel compelled to answer in kind. As a woman who has been there, I can guess what she was thinking beneath her text brush-off: “Aw, why did he have to go there? Now I have to do the emotional clean-up when I face him again and reset the limits while I massage his ego without too much self-compromise. God I need coffee.”
The male mentor likely had a whiskey or two before he made his overtures around midnight on April 7. Perhaps the wife was away or sleeping upstairs and he was hoping for some return mentoring with his own self-pleasuring project. He was clearly not in a frame of mind to admit to himself how damaging those texts would be to the delicate balance of a professional relationship between a man and a woman. Rather than creating trust, he destroyed it. Forever.
Did he ever understand what he had lost and for what gain?
But let’s not overreact. It was all in good fun, right? Why couldn’t the woman play along and give him the answer he was hoping for, which I imagine as more or less along these lines:
April 7, 2013 11:45 PM
1) I masturbate every day, especially after I have a meeting with you
I’m such a bad, horny girl, I think I need a spanking 😉
2) I always fantasize about you, so it’s future experiences I hope 🙂
btw, I’d love to see a picture of your hard dick ♥♥♥
Or could it be possible—we are very imaginative people here at ERWA–that the mentor’s questions came from a genuine interest in deepening his knowledge of the female erotic experience in an educational way? I myself am always curious about what’s really going on in people’s heads with regard to sexuality: the transcendence, the vulnerability, the connective humanity that I believe is at the heart of eroticism, female, male and every other color of the rainbow.
Today I’m going give this guy the benefit of the doubt. Unlike his protegee, who did exactly what she needed to do by refusing to engage, I’m going to answer him in the spirit of sharing my erotic experience honestly for the sake of male education.
So, Nameless Manhattan Executive Mentor, you’ve got some texts about a woman’s sexual fantasies coming back at you. And you’re welcome for my trust in you.
What do I think about when I masturbate, you ask? I know you want a steamy, explicit story to help you get off, and there are about 200 of mine floating around out there, so check those out for some ideas. What I’d really like to tell you is why I don’t think about past or future experiences. I never think about real people. My fantasy world is detached from the realities of sex in our society. That reality reminds me every day that it is dangerous, even deadly, for my reputation if not my life itself, for a woman to have sexual thoughts and desires, much less any presumption those should be respected as part of my humanity.
Here’s a story that I hope will convey this feeling. About twenty years ago, my sisters and I were driving to a spa for a sibling weekend getaway. My older sister had brought along several issues of Libido magazine, one of my earliest encounters with female-authored erotica (Anais Nin was the first, of course). I read the stories and we all discussed what we liked and joked about some of the scenes—one story I recall was an Orientalist fantasy about a man pretending to “sell” his blindfolded girlfriend to an Arab who turns out to be the boyfriend himself. Nice twist: transgressive but ultimately safe (and an old erotica trick, I’d learn). When we reached our hotel, I said, “Oh, I’d better not leave these magazines in the car. If someone saw them and decided to rape us, the police would think we were asking for it and the guy would totally get away with it.” Our lighthearted mood broken by that dose of common sense, my sisters agreed we had to hide the magazines.
Decades later, I still feel the truth of that message. Any shred of a sign of sexual desire, including wearing a form-fitting sweater, means a woman is broadcasting consent to the world and deserves whatever she gets.
Accordingly, my fantasy world must be carefully walled off from the real world where my sexuality is either protected by the ownership of one man (father then husband) or free pickings for any predator.
Inside the walls, well, that’s a different story.
The scenes I imagine are transgressive and explicit and mostly, though not always heterosexual. However, the partners are always nameless and faceless. They don’t have bodies either. They exist as job descriptions, voices, intentions, desire. In my Land of Sex, the strength of that desire erases past and future. There is only delicious Now.
And yes, these partners “make” me do those “naughty” things, things no “nice” girl is allowed to do. Basically it boils down to admitting I like sex and want everyone to know it. As we often read in erotica, they know me better than I know myself. They know exactly what to do to bring me to ecstasy every time.
These apparently “submissive” fantasies might seem like strong evidence I am yet another feminist secretly delighting in male dominance, but in thinking about this for quite some time, I believe it’s the opposite. The man knows me because he is me (pardon the grammatical incorrectness, it just feels right). As a dutiful daughter of my culture, I identify my proactive desire as male. My female self is desired but exploited in the usual idioms—except in this case by me. I control the scene completely. In my fantasy world, I am assured, as one never really is in the company of most actual men, that my pleasure and release are the highest priority in the universe.
It’s pretty awesome to be me in my fantasy world. In real life I have to worry about my executive mentors using me to get off and that doesn’t feel so good. I realize that with all my talk of keeping my sexuality “safe,” I do publish erotica under my own name. Yet the same fantasy rules apply to my writing—I control the scene and the woman always has her needs satisfied.
I probably have more male readers than I would if I wrote about tender, lifelong female friendships and quilting. Another message I’ve absorbed from our culture is that men really only pay attention to and care about women when they want to have sex with them or the women are their daughters. As in “if she were my daughter, I’d really show that sexual harasser what’s what, but she’s not so, eh, what can I do?”
May I make another confession? Maybe this is just a girl thing, but when it comes to sexual partners, I can’t help myself from caring about the mind inside the body. I’d like to think—and this is a fantasy of a different kind but no less heartfelt—that most men of any maturity actually do care about their partner as a person and that they care about her pleasure as more than just a proof of technical expertise. I hope men also want their partners to appreciate them for their unique humanity and not just their wallets. I’d like to think that women and men can work together to explore the things we have in common as desiring subjects without objectifying and demonizing each other. I wish we could all be more honest about the toll that our society takes on everyone’s sexuality, female, male, and every other flavor on the ice cream menu, too.
That’s a lot of fantasies. But you asked.
Jeesh, it’s after way midnight. Thanks for listening and I hope this helped. Oh, and I was joking about that dick pic. Please don’t send it. Ever. I appreciate your honoring this request.
See you at work, Boss!
One thing about getting older, you come to care less and less what people think of you. When you’re young, at least when I was young, I remember fretting a lot about not being current with my peers. For instance, my interest in sports, while not nil, was only mild and passing. Meanwhile, my companions could spout statistics and exhibit a vast knowledge of athletes.
Imagine a young male attempting to keep up with the conversation at middle school lunch.
By the time I was in college music and rock bands occupied many conversations. Again, it seemed the entire world of my peers was vastly invested in musical knowledge: singers, bands, genres and sub-genres.
As for me. I liked individual songs, even bands. I didn’t care that I didn’t know individual band members names and biographies. That isn’t to say I didn’t pick up such knowledge. Just by being immersed in whatever is current at the time everyone absorbs knowledge, whether you want to or not.
Life went on and as I entered adulthood it became apparent that a knowledge of this or that often was used to impart a level of sophistication. Think of folks who love to talk about wine. All they know about wine they may have just read about, but everyone within their conversation plays along.
I like wine, but I’m no connoisseur. If it tastes good, it’s okay with me, even if I haven’t a clue what to drink it with.
And as for art, I know what I like, but would be at great pains to explain why. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy art history documentaries, so they can explain to me why I like a work of art.
Some years ago I was touring the National Gallery in Washington with my wife. She likes modern art. We’d emerged from the traditional collections, leaving me mildly euphoric, before entering the modern art building. Someone’s postcards were framed – postcards. Not kidding. Someone deemed them works of art.
Of course, there were Warhol’s works, multiple Marilyns and Campbell soup cans.
Many works comprised a blank canvas with a teeny, tiny bit of paint.
I’ll not pooh-pooh anyone else’s opinion or appreciation of what they call art, but, jeeze, I just don’t get it.
Then we entered a gallery with a paint-dabbled cloth hanging from the ceiling.
“A drop cloth,” I said. “This place must be closed.”
The remark drew sharp side-eye from the few people standing there. A pair of museum guards, huge guys, chuckled. Their big overhanging bellies oscillating with their laughter.
The Bride was mortified. “It’s a Pollack!”
After she had put some distance between us I turned to the guards.
“Hey, you guys see this stuff every day. What do you guys think of it?”
One replied in a sonorous gargle of a baritone that could have befit a Delta blues legend.
“Maaaan, one time we had one oh dese hung upside down for three months fo’ anyone noticed.”
He grinned. I smiled.
Yeah, some things I just don’t get.
We all love stories. It’s in our genes. Humans have been spinning tales for thousands of years. From the sagas our ancestors told as they huddled around their campfires to the ebooks flying off today’s virtual shelves, stories satisfy some deep psychological need.
Sometimes we want a familiar story, even though we’ve heard it a million times before. We anticipate and then enjoy the expected conclusion, which reassures us that all is right in the world. Often, though, we follow a story because we want to know what comes next. Suspense and uncertainty produce a particular kind of excitement., a tension that is pleasurably released when the uncertainty is resolved. Suspense is what keeps readers turning pages long after their normal bedtimes. They don’t want to stop reading until they see how it all turns out.
In genre fiction such as romance or mystery, readers know the final shape the story will assume. The lovers will overcome the obstacles that confront them in order to be together. The guilty parties will be identified, the mechanisms of the crime will be explained and usually the perpetrators will be brought to justice. Part of the reason readers enjoy these genres is that they provide the same satisfying reassurance as a well-known fairy tale or myth. A book that labels itself as romance or mystery then fails to provide the expected pattern of resolution will likely arouse readers’ ire.
This does not mean that stories in these genres should be predictable. As the story progresses, a skillful writer will make the reader question how the expected ending could possibly come about. You’ll lose your reader’s attention if he or she stops wondering what happens next.
Unfortunately, I find that a significant percentage of the romance I read is far too predictable, at least for my tastes. By the time I’ve finished the first chapter or two, I know the general path the story will take. I can’t presume to speak for other readers, but this definitely diminishes my own enjoyment.
As an author of erotic romance, I struggle to add suspense to my own stories. It’s not always a conscious process, but when I sat down to write this post, I tried to analyze the strategies that I use, or have seen others use, to avoid predictability. I identified four techniques that can be helpful in this regard.
1. Withhold critical facts
Even if you’re a pantster rather than a plotter, you’ll generally know more about your characters and their background than you tell your readers. Often there are things in a character’s history that are critical to the plot. By holding back and not disclosing these facts right away, you can heighten the level of uncertainty and make the final resolution more surprising.
I found an example in my ménage story Wild About That Thing. Ruby Jones, the heroine, owns a struggling blues club that represents her life’s dream. As the story opens, she has received a letter from the lawyers for the new owner of her rented building, indicating that her lease will not be renewed and that she must vacate the premises. Her anxiety over her impending eviction colors her reactions to the two men who become her lovers.
Quite late in the tale, I reveal the fact that one of her lovers, Remy, is in fact the building owner. This serves two purposes in the narrative, emotional and practical. First, it adds a sudden obstacle to the relationship (since Ruby is rightfully upset that he had not told her sooner) and also allows the second man in the triangle, Zeke, to come to Remy’s defense. Second, it provides a plausible solution to the problem of Ruby’s eviction.
Keeping important details secret from your readers can be an effective way to add unpredictability, but it does carry the risk of appearing contrived. The new information, when it is finally exposed, must be believable. It must not seem to “come from left field”. If you can, you should drop hints earlier in the story. When the revelation finally occurs, you want your readers to nod their heads, saying “Yes, of course, I should have known!”
2. Keep alternatives alive
Fiction, especially romantic fiction, frequently revolves around a character’s choices. Your heroine may be choosing between two potential relationships, or between a relationship and a life path that will make that relationship impossible. To avoid predictability, you need to paint the competing alternatives as equally attractive and plausible. You should also maintain the ambiguity concerning the character’s ultimate decision for as long as possible.
To implement this strategy, you can use trade-offs. No one choice is perfect. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Highlight those contrasts for your reader. Meanwhile, watch out for stereotypes. The handsome, arrogant, wealthy playboy; the smoldering, tortured bad boy biker; the sensitive, nurturing guy next door… You know what I mean. Stereotypes are a sure way to kill suspense – unless you set them up and then turn them on their heads. This is actually another technique for avoiding predictability. If, for example, the playboy is later revealed to be a submissive who wants to serve as the heroine’s 24/7 slave, you’ll definitely surprise (and possibly delight) your readers.
This strategy can apply to alternative explanations or scenarios, as well as decision alternatives. In my erotic suspense novel Exposure, Stella realizes that any of several people might be responsible for the mayor’s murder and the threats she receives: the mayor’s widow; his opponent in the upcoming election; the sinister mob boss; even the cop who’s Stella’s high school friend and current lover. I try to provide evidence supporting each of these hypotheses. I want to keep the reader guessing.
3. Allow your characters to change
A story is a journey taken by your characters. Events occur and the characters change in response. You can use these changes to make your story less predictable. As the tale unfolds and your characters develop, they will behave and react in ways your reader may not expect. In fact, their surprising behavior will reveal the nature of their inner changes.
The movie “Long Kiss Goodgnight” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116908/) provides a great example. Geena Davis stars as a suburban wife and mother who gradually recovers from amnesia to realize that she’s a former spy. Over the course of the film, polite, conventional, squeaky-clean Samantha morphs into wise-ass, slutty, violent Charly, the top secret agent now running for her life. The shift is gradual. Since you never know (until you see it) how far Charly has reverted to her old self, you never know exactly what she’s likely to do.
Most romance character shifts are less extreme. Just remember that static characters are easy to predict. Also, some change trajectories have become clichés. The uptight, authoritarian female executive who gradually realizes that she craves submission; the woman wounded by past relationships who must learn to trust a new love; the emancipated, free-wheeling chick looking for no-strings sex who discovers instead a deep need for commitment; these patterns have been been employed so often that they’ll kill any suspense – unless of course, you use misdirection, shattering the cliché to send the character off on a new and surprising path of development
4. Take advantage of strong emotion
Characters don’t just change over the course of the story, but moment to moment as well. Even the most stable individuals are not 100% consistent in how they behave, especially under the influence of strong emotion. Anger, grief, guilt, terror and shame can all induce people to behave in atypical ways that would be hard to predict based on their normal personalities. Since such emotions often occur at critical points in your plot, you can use them to introduce the unexpected into your tales.
For example, Kate O’Neil, the heroine of my novel Raw Silk, is a self-confident, independent professional woman. Her first full-blown experience as a submissive stuns and scares her. She actually skips out of work, jumps on a plane, and escapes to the safest place she can think of (in this case, Singapore). This is highly unusual for someone as responsible and career-oriented Kate. Even I was surprised when she did it! The episode contributes to the plot by providing her with an opportunity to reflect on her reactions – as well as a chance for readers to catch their breath.
I’ve been using erotic romance for my examples so far, but non-romantic erotica also has its predictable patterns. Ultimately, readers expect the characters to have some sort of sexual interaction—and more likely sooner rather than later! Readers are in it for the climax, sure, but the experience will be more pleasurable if there are some twists and turns along the way. That’s why I personally find a lot of “stroke fiction” uninteresting and unsatisfying. If there’s no suspense at all, just fucking, the story falls flat. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)
Authors of genre fiction walk a tightrope. On the one hand, we must give our readers the pattern of resolution they expect – a happy ending, in the case of romance, an orgasm (or more than one!) in erotica.
On the other, we want to keep our readers turning the pages, wondering what is going to happen next. We must be faithful to the conventions of our genre while still ringing enough changes to be fresh and exciting. It’s a tall order. I hope that the suggestions I’ve made in this post get you thinking about how you can maintain this balance in your own work.
by Ashley Lister
A few years ago I was at Eroticon and ended up chatting with the wonderful Janine Ashbless. We were discussing the usual questions that are thrown at writers (“Where do you get your ideas from?” and “Do you do all those things that are mentioned in your books?”) when Janine said, “I don’t care where someone gets their ideas from. What interests me is how they manage to sit down and produce large numbers of words on a daily basis.”
And it’s a valid point. It’s especially pertinent in the age of distractions in which we currently live. Aside from all the demands of family, friends and the workplace, there are also time-vampires such as emails, FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram and all those other social media apps, as well as the distraction of excellent blogs (such as this one). In truth, sitting down at a computer and simply writing has become something of an endangered practice.
There are various proffered solutions to this problem.
1. Turn off your internet connection.
I don’t subscribe to this one. The idea of turning off my connection to family, friends and colleagues is a non-starter. However, if you’re suffering from a terminal case of the diversions, it might be one worth considering.
2. Set targets and deadlines.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this one. Targets are a helpful guide as to what’s to be done. Deadlines can give a definite endpoint. But missing targets can be detrimental to a writer’s confidence. And, the danger with setting deadlines is that we will often make sure the work to be done takes up exactly the length of time allocated. I do use both of these, but I try to use them judiciously. My targets are what we in the teaching profession call SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound). This time-bound aspect helps to ensure my deadlines aren’t too lenient or too restrictive.
3. Timed writing sessions.
This is possibly my preferred approach to writing and overcoming the problem of distractions. One of my favourite books on writing is Margaret Geraghty’s The Five-Minute Writer which supplies exercises that can each be done in five minutes. Timed writing sessions can last from as little as five minutes, or they can last as long as you think your focus can be stretched. Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique from the 1980s advocated 25 minute blocks. Personally, I use a timer on my phone to set aside twenty-minutes where distractions and interruptions are forbidden. I don’t know if it’s the most effective way of avoiding diversions. But I do know it works for me.
If your new year resolution is to write more productively, hopefully one of the above will be of assistance. And, if you’re using some other method to help you progress with your writing, I’d love to see you mention it in the comments below.