Monthly Archives: May 2018
By Jean Roberta
[Note: please excuse me for missing my regular day to post, May 26. I hope this late post doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s.]
Have you written a story, a poem, a play, or some experimental hybrid that doesn’t fit any call-for-submissions or journal guidelines that you know of? Welcome to the club.
The divisions between erotica and other genres seem thinner now than ever before. Romance novels can be drenched with erotic tension and even include explicit sex scenes, although an unspoken rule in the “romances” of the past was that the wedding had to appear on the last page, and sex couldn’t take place before then. Speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, slipstream, steampunk, horror, etc.) can include sex that doesn’t have to obey the laws of the natural world we know. Suspense narratives, including murder mysteries, can include erotic tension as part of the suspense: Will the central characters solve the mystery and/or take their flirtatious partnership to the next level?
While the definitions of genres, per se, seem fairly fluid, every editor or editorial team has guidelines: lots of sex and magic, but no horror. Realistic character development and sex, but no magic. Elaborate world-building, including sexual traditions that would seem exotic to most readers, but no info-dumps. Horror required, but with minimal bloodshed. Violence okay, but no explicit sex.
And there are usually minimum and maximum word-limits which indirectly define the categories that will be considered. An erotic story of under 3,000 words can include one fairly detailed sex scene, but usually no more than one. A story of at least 10,000 words is pushing into novella territory, and therefore it needs at least two complex characters interacting in a plot which is about something besides– or apart from– sex.
It’s very easy to follow a plot-bunny down its rabbit-hole and write something that might appeal to certain readers, but which doesn’t completely fit the guidelines for a collection, website, or journal.
I still have a few orphan stories on my hard-drive which were rejected by the first editors to whom they were sent, usually for very logical reasons.
I know my weaknesses. The editor of a sci-fi anthology said she loved my story, but it didn’t include any technological revelations. (No surprise there. I’ve never had a very firm grasp of either modern technology or the nineteenth-century steam-driven type. I couldn’t explain to a visitor from another planet how I am able to transmit these words through a machine to people living far away from me. My version of the “sci” in “sci-fi” more closely resembles magic. )
Early versions of some of my stories resemble the feet of Cinderella’s stepsisters in the non-Disney version of the story in which they cut off their toes or their heels to fit into the glass slipper, then leave a trail of blood behind them. In a few cases, I’ve been able to prune a potential novel down to under 6,000, 5,000 or even 4,000 words. This usually requires leaving out something that needed to be left in: a character’s motivations or emotional responses, or the juicy details of a sex scene. Improving the story usually requires reattaching the toes or heels (or the heart, lungs, and brain, which is easier to do with stories than with human bodies), even if that means the story will no longer fit into a certain market.
Languishing in my “documents” are three different versions of an erotic lesbian story in which I experimented with viewpoint. The two central characters are so different (but complementary, I hope) that I didn’t simply want to describe one through the eyes of the other, so the story is divided into alternating sections told by the two narrators. This tends to interrupt the plot in much the way a supposedly true story is interrupted when someone offers a different version of events.
(“We met when you were still a barista at the coffee-shop.”
“No, honey, we didn’t really meet then. I first noticed you when we were in the same class at university.”
“You were so innocent. You weren’t a lesbian, and you weren’t into BDSM.”
“I didn’t have much experience, but I knew what I wanted.”
“You were so uptight because of the way you were raised.”
“Excuse me. My parents gave me everything they didn’t have, and they always encouraged me to think for myself.”)
Will any version of my story ever see the light of day? That remains to be seen. I like both the characters, and the way they resolve their differences. I think the sex is hot. I can also see why the divided viewpoint might prevent a reader (or an editor) from smoothly following the rising tension to a satisfying conclusion.
As usual for me, I probably need to expand the story into something longer, in which different sections or chapters wouldn’t look like unnecessary interruptions.
Occasionally, a story will be posted in the “Storytime” list in the Erotic Readers and Writers Association which includes great lines, great characters, great sex, and sometimes a fascinating plot, but something about the whole piece doesn’t gel. In some cases, character motivations look unclear or unconvincing to several of the readers who offer critiques, and in some cases, sex seems to be inserted into a plot without enough preparation. (The usefulness of lube in real life seems relevant here.)
Self-publishing offers a solution to the problem of where to place writing that doesn’t fit neatly into existing categories, and the Excessica site provides a marvelous combination of writer independence with technical support. However, I’m not willing to post a story for public consumption before it seems ripe enough.
I’d like to encourage all the writers reading this not to abandon your orphan pieces. Some of them probably have good bones. Leaving a first draft for awhile before coming back to it can enable you to see what it needs.
Think of it this way: there is no real failure. Some projects are thrown away, when they could have been recycled, and some just haven’t found the right home yet. Some are never finished, for various reasons. You had a reason for writing the first draft, and it might be calling you to come back to it.
Twitter can be a pain in the butt but it does have its uses. I’ve recently begun using it much more often. I find plenty of writers, agents, and publishers on Twitter. With the help of some good hashtags, I’m finally gaining some readers. There are hashtags for every day of the week. Here are the hashtags I use:
#MotivationalMonday – It’s what it says it is. I post what motivates me to write.
#1lineWed – Post one (or a few) lines from a WIP or new book.
#novelines – Post some of your best lines from a WIP or new book.
#FolkloreThursday – Since I write erotic fairy tales I take stock of this one. I post information about unusual and obscure folklore and myths. There is often a theme. Follow it.
#indiethursday – More lines from WIPs or new books
#FF – This one always garners retweets and comments. FF stands for Follow Friday. I link to about fifteen people whose tweets matter to me.
#FollowFriday – See above.
#FicFri – More lines from WIPs or new books. This stands for Fiction Friday.
#FictFri – See above.
#SlapDashSat – No themes! No rules! Only freeform writing! Pull dialogue, character descriptions, opening lines, slam poetry, secret confessions, original song lyrics, etc. from the deep recesses of your mind, from your WIP, from the ether… the sky’s the limit (Hell, go byond the damned sky)!
#badwordsat – Use naughty words. Works well for erotica.
#amediting – It’s exactly what it says it is. Tell what you’re editing.
#amwriting – One of the most useful hashtags. Talk about what you’re writing. Talk about WIPs.
#WritingLife – Talk about your writing life; your goals, dreams, writing area, anything.
#WhatToRead – Drop your book info here or recommend books to read.
#amreading – What are you reading? Talk about it.
#reading – See above.
Post memes, photos, book covers and other graphics to make your tweets stand out. Nothing is as lonely-looking than a plain-text tweet.
I also post hashtags for genres such as #horror, #erotica, #fairytales, and #romance. Limit yourself to no more than three hashtags. Lots of hashtags look annoying and they may be considered spam.
Remember to respond to people who respond to your tweets. Also visit their Twitter pages and follow them if they seem like someone you’d be interested in, or especially if they seem like a possible reader.
I’ve started using manageflitter.com to keep track of people I’m following and those following me. You may trim your follow list by using the following categories:
Not Following You
No Profile Image
I’m still getting used to this site. There is much more to manageflitter than those four categories, but I am not acquainted with it yet.
Whatever you do, don’t make your twitter feed endless links to your books. You’ll bore people to death and you won’t gain any readers. Your twitter feed will be viewed as spam. Instead, pick a few topics that interest you. In my case, that’s gardening, baking, birding (I have window bird feeders that provide endless hours of entertainment), movies, television, and music. Provide links to interesting articles. Include memes (especially funny ones) that appeal to you that you think would interest your readers. Post quotes from famous people. Within all that, you may post info about your books but don’t force them on your readers. If you have new writing news or a new book coming out, by all means post about it. But don’t post about only it.
Twitter can be useful. It can also be a huge time suck. I confine myself to 15 minutes twice per day. I tend to not post on weekends. Look at Twitter in a new way and make the most of the platform. Engage in conversation. That’s what Twitter is all about. It’s social media – be sociable. And enjoy yourself.
Today we’re going to flop them out on the table and see whose is bigger, regarding sales that is?
One of the quandaries in writing anything is, “How are my sales doing?” How badly do I suck at this? Should I go back to truck driving?
To figure out how your sales are doing is sometimes an exercise in futility due to the scarcity of tools available. Looking at the two biggest publishing houses IMHO Amazon Kindle and SmashWords, how can we tell how sales are going?
Zip, nada, nothing is the short answer. I can find no tools for determining your rank on SmashWords. The one thing I do is go to the SmashWords’ home page and click on the category that you write in, such as Erotica. If you don’t see Erotica, then you have to turn off the safe filter.
Once you’re in Erotica, you have a choice, do I want to see my position in Erotica as a broad category or dig deeper in a subsection such as Men’s Erotica. Once you’ve selected your category, click on Best Sellers, Highest Ranked, or another ranking as desired.
My display shows twenty titles per page with covers shown. Then here comes the hard part. Scan down each page and keep advancing until you find one of your stories.
As an Example, today 11-May-2018, if I sort on Erotica | Menage/Multiple Partners | Highest Rated | Any Price | Any Length, we can scan down the stories and marvel at the topics and titles. You will quickly figure out that if you are not writing a story that involves animals, family members, breeding, whips, or gangbangs, then your rating is likely to suck.
Then voila, on the second page we see a familiar name, it’s moi. No clapping required, thank you very much, and autographs will be $5 each.
The story is “A Night At the Bar,” one of my cuckold – Hotwife stories. Counting down from the top, A Night At the Bar is 17 down from the top on the 2nd page. Therefore it is the 37th highest ranked Menage/Multiple Partner story on SmashWords as of today’s date (20+17=37).
By the same token, flipping to Lesbian Erotica | Highest Rated, we find “Nina The Fallen Ballerina” eighteen slots down the first page. I would assume that Nina is the eighteenth highest ranked story in Lesbian Erotica.
Then on the third page, five down from the top, we find “Nina, The Fallen Ballerina,” once again. Amazing how does that Larry Archer do it? Wait? Listed twice, does this mean that the story is twice as good? Modesty prevents me from agreeing, but I’d have to feel that it’s a computer screw-up, but hey I’ll take anything I can get, I’m not proud.
Modesty prevents me from going further, but you should be able to see that with a little hard work, you can get a rough idea of how your story is ranked on SmashWords.
The biggest problem with this is that like Homer Simpson, my mind tends to wander after about ten pages or so, which is the top two hundred and I usually quit and open another beer.
The one good thing about this exercise is that you can quickly figure out what sells by looking at the other stories. It’s not the story about a good church-going couple, who comes home, turns out the lights, and puts on rubber gloves to have two minutes of sex before running to the shower and washing that “stuff” off!
While we would like to think that we’re above it all, the truth is that kink sells and if your story requires plastic sheeting over everything and Wesson Oil, then you’re going to be a hit.
Amazon – Kindle
With Amazon, we have a number of tools at our disposal. I’m sure that you’ve discovered the Reports section of “kdp.amazon.com” where the daily sales are shown along with the normalized Kindle Unlimited results.
If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you’ll find your Royalties Earned report or as I like to think of it, how many lap dances can I afford this month?
Flipping to “authorcentral.amazon.com” will show your sales rank over time. The sales rank will vacillate up and down with your book sales and over time older books do not move the needle as much as newer books do. So it’s like the old saying, “Publish or Perish.” What I’ve read and it seems to be true is that you need to publish every month to keep your sales up. More is always better.
What I watch is the monthly Author Rank, which is an indication of how popular your stories are in general. The Sales Rank listing shows how each of your stories is selling and keeping the Sales Rank at 500,000 to 1,000,000 or lower should guarantee sales.
Assuming that your sales ranking for the story is between 500,000 and a million which is a decent figure for an erotic story that captures the reader’s eye. This ranking should result in sales of 5-10 copies per month at Amazon or $10 to $20 per month income and the same from SmashWords. Personally, I normally make two or three times as much from SmashWords, but let’s assume the same sales. Refer to one of my previous postings for more on sales by clicking here (an excerpt follows from the previous blog posting).
Before you start rolling your eyes, consider this. A sales ranking of 100,000 should result in the sale of 30 to 40 copies per month or $60 to $80 per month profit per published story.
When your ranking drops into the top one-hundred, you could easily be selling thousands of copies per month and be waited on hand and foot by nubile scantily clad servants who are busily stuffing grapes into every one of your orifices.
Rank To Sales Estimator from David Gaughran estimates your sales as follows:
#1 to #5 = 5,000+ books a day (sometimes a lot more)
#5 to #10 = 4,000–5,000
#10 to #20 = 3,000–4,000
#20 to #50 = 2,000–3,000
#100 = 1,000+
#200 = 500
#300 = 250
#500 = 200
#1,000 = 120
#2,000 = 100
#3,000 = 80
#5,000 = 40
#10,000 = 20
#25,000 = 10
#50,000 = 5
#100,000+ = fewer than 1 a day
From what I’ve seen, this estimate is relatively close. A 100,000 sales rank should return sales in the 30 – 40 per month bracket, but your mileage may vary.
But let’s not get carried away here, the cold, cruel truth is that assuming you are a decent writer of material other people want to read, you’ll likely have a sales ranking around a million. At least that’s what you need to shoot for initially.
SalesRankExpress is a very handy site that shows how your story is ranked and whether it is “Safe” or not. If Amazon doesn’t appreciate your story and slaps an “Adult” rating on it, you can kiss goodbye any help from Amazon. Stories with an Adult rating cannot generally be found by searching. The only way someone will find your story is a direct link from your website or some other location or promotion.
As a suggestion, if you are self-publishing, make sure that you put your name in the “Publisher” spot when you list your story. What I’ve found is that if I search on author “Larry Archer,” it brings up a ton of other material but if I search on publisher “Larry Archer,” I get all my stuff and nobody else’s.
I’ve just discovered this ranking program, and it looks to combine most of the features I’m looking for in one place. If you have less than $1,000 in sales per month, the program is free, so that means that it’ll be free for me for quite some time! My sales typically range between $150 – $250 per month so you can see that I can’t quit my day job anytime soon. The bulk of my sales are between Amazon and SmashWords with about 60% SmashWords and 40% Amazon. I think my sales are poorer at Amazon because they’ve “Adult” ranked two of my latest stories “Cheating Glory Hole Wives” and “Stripper or Nurse?“. I’ve managed to get Stripper or Nurse out of the Adult dungeon but have given up on Cheating Glory Hole Wives. There should be no reason that “Wives” should be adult but it’s often like arguing with a post or your wife.
If you want to publish on Amazon, tread lightly as once in the dungeon, it’s hard to escape. That’s all I’m going to say about that as I’ll start ranting!
BookReport allows you to select a time frame such as last week, month, 30 days, etc. and will display the best sellers and what your projected income will be over the selected time frame.
You also get your Earnings per Day which is handy if you’re doing some type of promotion and want to see how it’s working.
You get a breakdown by Marketplace (Amazon server) to tell where your stories are selling or not.
And then finally a breakdown by the individual book for the anally obsessed.
BookReport at least on first glance, tells me everything I need to know except if a book is ranked Adult or not. If you want sales, then you have to stay out of Adult or get most of your sales through other forms of marketing.
NovelRank is a super site that gives your estimated sales for the current month, the previous month, and the sales rank for the story. This is very handy for watching your sales.
Note: You can also track other author’s work so that you can compare your sales to theirs.
This is another site similar to NovelRank except it allows you to sort your stories on sales rank among other categories. This way you can easily see how your story is moving up or down in the charts.
For example, my stories have rankings that go from 240,000 to 1.6M, so most authors have nothing to fear from me.
The listing above of sales rank vs sales is helpful when you’re trying to figure out if advertising is working for you.
I’ve got about four stories about 75% done, and if I could just focus, I’d get them out the door. I’ve just bought a new MacBook Air and given up on my Windows laptop. I’ve been installing software and trying to relearn how to do things the Apple way. Yes, I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid.
I’m trying to finish up the story “Crashing a Swinger’s Pajama Party.” This story grew out of a neighborhood couple who crashed one of our annual New Year’s Eve pajama parties and discovered some 50 or 60 couples trying to reenact one of Caligula’s events except we didn’t sacrifice any goats but maybe a few virgins! The initial part of this story is based on an actual event at our annual PJ party, then expanded by Lisabet Sarai’s and my perverted minds.
It was funny after this that the husband was noticeably cooler towards us, but his wife was a lot friendlier especially when hubby wasn’t around.
What will typically happen to me is I’ll see something that will spark an idea for a story. Then I must at least get enough down such that at a later date, I can pick up my original idea and run with it.
This ends up meaning my “Draft” folder is full of 50-75% finished stories that one of these days, I’m going to finish. Time is always my worst enemy. With our Lifestyle, we always have a full schedule, then there’s work, and Wifey’s poker tournaments to eat up the remaining time available.
There are always House Parties going on or other socials, and we finally had to pull back and limit ourselves to weekends and Wednesday nights as we started ending up like Zombies and not the good kind.
On Wednesday nights, our bowling league, “Friends and Lovers,” is always fun and the alley told us that we have greatly increased their business. Our players run the gauntlet from scores below 100 to some who consistently bowl over 200 so you can tell that bowling is not the most important thing that we do on Wednesdays.
But it’s a lot of fun, and each team takes turns picking the restaurant to celebrate at afterward. One of the nice things about Vegas is that there are literally hundreds of places to have a decent meal and yet get home before it gets too late.
For more from my deranged mind, visit my website and blog, LarryArcher.blog. See you next month! If it’s the 24th, then it’s another day in the barrel with Larry.
By Lisabet Sarai
How many acts of everyday violence are triggered by sexual frustration?
Or, looking at things slightly differently, how many serial killers, mass murderers and terrorists do you think have healthy, fulfilling sex lives?
There have been many studies linking male feelings of sexual rejection to violence. Sometimes the perpetrators openly complain how woman haven’t given them the attention they deserve. Alek Minassian, the man who ran down dozens of pedestrians, mostly women, in Toronto last month, raged against the women who had made him “Incel” (involuntarily celibate) and vowed to take down the “Chads and Stacys” – online term for people with active sex lives. In 2014, Elliot Rodger killed seven people, explicitly to punish women who had rejected him and men who were sexually active. In 1989, Marc Lepine murdered fourteen women and wounded ten more, claiming that feminism had ruined his life.
You might object that severe psychological problems were at the root of these crimes, that the difficulty these men apparently had in connecting with the opposite sex was the consequence of their poor psychological adjustment, rather than the other way around.
Look around you, though—listen to the way some men talk—and you will realize that a significant proportion of the normal male population is sexually unsatisfied, and angry as a result. This anger might not express itself in atrocities, but it definitely contributes to domestic violence. Men blame women for teasing them, then “not putting out”. They may feel it’s their right to rape a woman whom they perceive as open to sex, but who does not give them the satisfaction they “deserve”. Married men all too often view their wives as the enemy whom they must trick or bribe into having sex. They may justify extra-marital affairs based on the fact that their wives are “frigid”.
Male status is (still) very strongly linked to sexual success (at least in the minds of many men). Thus, not only do men who don’t have regular, enjoyable sex feel physically frustrated, they also experience a sense of inadequacy, especially in our media-saturated culture where they’re confronted every day by celebrity studs.
Please understand that I’m not blaming all this on the men. I believe that the generally poor level of sexual satisfaction experienced by all too many people, both women and men, is a product of how our society understands, presents, reacts to, and educates people about sex.
First of all, sex is still shrouded in shame. Talking and writing about it is not socially acceptable. The whole topic is understood to be fundamentally impolite, nasty, dirty, even evil. Look at Amazon’s attitude toward erotica. Sure, it sells, but you better keep it under wraps if you don’t want to get censured—or censored. Being open about sex still makes people uncomfortable.
Second, our culture often portrays sex is something you “get”—like money, or a degree, or a new car— not something you experience. “Did you get any last weekend?” is a common Monday morning greeting from one guy to another. This perspective tends to focus attention on quantity, rather than quality. Furthermore, it reinforces a view of sex as mostly physical, rather than embedding it in the context of emotional connections or relationships
Third, we’re led to believe that there’s a limited amount of sex to go around, so you’re always in competition. This attitude is prevalent in both men and women. If my husband’s having sex with his administrative assistant, he won’t have any left for me. This notion of sex as a limited resource fosters jealousy and encourages deceit. This is one explanation for why swingers seem to have happier marriages than the average straight couple.
For women, there are additional complications: the possibility of pregnancy, the realistic fear of physical abuse, and perhaps most serious of all, the fear of being labeled as a slut. As archaic as it seems in the twenty first century, sexually active and open women are still viewed in a negative light. Being a stud enhances a man’s reputation; equivalent behavior in a woman can destroy her credibility, threaten her social status, even cost her her job. (I know one erotic romance author who was fired and had to move to a new town when someone outed her.) Even when a woman genuinely craves sexual connection, it’s hard to work up the courage to say yes.
So what’s the solution? Obviously even if everyone agreed with me, we can’t remake society overnight. It’s clear from my personal experience, though, that education is key. Early experiences in the family strongly influence later sexual satisfaction.
I was fortunate to have parents who were pretty comfortable with sex. I never got the message that sex was dirty or wrong. My mom explained the nuts and bolts to me when I was a pre-teen, including the basics of contraception. She didn’t tell me to stay a virgin until I married—in fact, there was never any pressure to suggest that I was expected to get married—but she warned me to be careful, that I’d have a strong emotional connection to my first lover.
As a result (at least, I see a cause and effect relationship), I think I’ve experienced more sexual satisfaction than many women. Furthermore, I’ve seen the reactions of men to my sexual openness. So many lovers have complained about how hard it was to get women to have sex with them. They’ve been surprised and delighted by my eagerness for erotic connection.
If we want to bring up sexually fulfilled adults, we have to start when they’re kids.
But what about today’s men and women, suffering from isolation and frustration, blaming each other for their unhappiness? Could we somehow create an environment where they could learn to let go of some of the negative attitudes they have, not to mention the preconceptions about the other’s desires? Is sexual rehabilitation possible? Or are these people doomed to live out their lives without the blessing of great sex?
Violence and terrorism have become so common. In a way, it’s not surprising. Just imagine you’re a young man who believes in conservative Islam. How frustrating that must be! The women around you are covered and veiled. You can’t even admire their beauty from afar. You’re so desperate you’re willing to give up your life to experience sexual satisfaction in Paradise!
Here’s a flasher on the topic, to end this post on what I hope is a lighter note.
We Were Promised Virgins
By Lisabet Sarai
“By the Prophet, you are beautiful!”
“I’m Miriam. I’ve been assigned to your case.”
“Lie down, woman. I will take you now, before the others arrive.”
“No, no, Abdul—you mustn’t rush! Let’s begin with your licking me between my legs.”
“What? How degrading! No man would lower himself to such an act.”
“If you use your mouth on me, I’ll do the same for you. I see you need relief.”
“I’ll find relief in your virgin cunt!”
“Abdul? Will you eat me out or should I leave?”
“Don’t—alright… Mmm! You’re sweet as ripe pomegranate. Oh! I never…”
“Oh! Oh, yes! Oh, Abdul, YES!”
“Are you well, Miriam?”
“Very! Excellent job! Now you…”
“Allah preserve me! What a wicked mouth! I can’t hold back…”
“No need to.”
“No virgin would use such tricks!”
“I never said I was a virgin.”
“But we were promised virgins in heaven.”
“The bomb didn’t kill you. You’re being rehabilitated.”
“This isn’t heaven?”
“You’ve been transferred to the School for Healthy Attitude Generation – S.H.A.G.”
“Very much so. Mmm. Tasty cum!”
“No, I’m a volunteer. When you recover, we’ll fuck. Meanwhile, I have to work with the pussy grabber in the next room.”
I’ve always been a good student and a “good” girl. Or at least that’s what most people think, if they think of me at all. However, there is another side to me, one you here at ERWA know well, but that would surprise many: a woman who is deeply skeptical of authority and who dares to make my private pleasure public in prose, whether that be the joys of female sexuality or my delight in analyzing American history and culture.
In spite of myself, my “good student” ways led me to soak up the messages our society sends to girls and women. Even if I don’t agree with the values of the patriarchy, I know them and feel them and, I’ll admit, even live my life by some of these rules willingly. Still, sometimes I’m confused. How can men love their mothers, wives and daughters and still support laws and customs that harm women? How can so many men be against contraceptives? Do they want a future where they must either be celibate or have twenty children? Why do women as well as men attack the credibility of victims of sexual assault and harassment and make the assailant into the “true” victim? At times I wonder: If men didn’t need us for heterosexual sex, would they simply do away with all women since they seem to be so angry at them all the time?
I’ve been considering these questions for a lifetime, but just this past week, I actually got some interesting answers, thanks to Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, by Cornell professor Kate Manne. Professor Manne’s book is not a beach read, but it’s accessible and especially relevant in these turbulent times. It clarifies so many things about being a woman in our man’s world and about my own actions as an erotica writer, as well as the nature of what men want from women and why they’re so mad when they don’t get it.
I can’t do justice to Manne’s argument in a blog post, so I’ll try my flawed best with a summary of those points that directly impact my experience of writing and promoting erotica. First, Manne discusses the popular, or “naive,” conception of the misogynist as a man who hates all women irrationally, just because they are women, like the way Hitler hated Jews. By this definition, misogynists would be rare. After all, most men love their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters or some subset thereof. And many women are misogynists, too—could they hate themselves in such a way?
Manne then presents a more satisfying functional definition of misogyny as the means by which a patriarchal society polices and patrols female behavior. Sexism holds that women are naturally subordinate, or more euphemistically complementary, to men. Misogyny attempts to put wayward females back in their designated place by “condescending, mansplaining, moralizing, blaming, punishing, silencing, lampooning, satirizing, sexualizing, belittling, caricaturizing, exploiting, erasing, and evincing pointed indifference.” (Manne, 30)
Misogyny also valorizes women who behave properly. Manne’s framing of proper behavior was particularly enlightening for me, in what she calls a bad gendered historical bargain (from the female perspective, that is):
“Women may not be simply human beings but positioned as human givers when it comes to dominant men who look to them for various kinds of moral support, admiration, attention, and so on. She is not allowed to be in the same ways as he is. She will tend to be in trouble when she does not give enough, or to the right people, in the right way, or in the right spirit. And, if she errs on this score, or asks for something of the same support or attention on her own behalf, there is a risk of misogynistic resentment, punishment, and indignation.”
Thus women owe men of equal or superior social status their good will, what Manne calls “hers to give” or feminine-coded goods and services: attention, affection, admiration, sympathy, sex, and children; also mixed goods such as safe haven, nurture, security, soothing and comfort.
Masculine-coded perks and privileges are “his for the taking”: power, prestige, public recognition, rank, reputation, honor, “face,” respect, money and other forms of wealth, hierarchical status, upward mobility, and the status conferred by having a high-ranking woman’s loyalty, love, devotion. (Manne, 130)
If a woman tries to take what is “his,” she is “bad” and misogyny punishes her by calling her out as selfish, negligent, irresponsible, ungrateful, and unfair to men. (Manne, 87)
Manne compares our reaction to this “unnatural” dynamic of female self-regard to a situation where a waitress refuses to take our order, then asks us to serve her. Who wouldn’t be outraged by this betrayal of expectations? Where’s the service with a smile? (Manne, 50)
As I mentioned earlier, women, too, police the behavior of other women. Consider the female commentators who blame #MeToo victims for wearing the wrong clothes, not being strong or savvy enough to fend off a boss’s advances, and worst of all, destroying a good man’s career because she’s a whiny drama queen who wants attention and lots of money.
I also found Manne’s explanation quite reasonable concerning why some conservatives so vehemently oppose the ACA’s coverage of female contraception but not coverage of Viagra: “…We can now make sense of contraception coverage becoming a common point of contention, too. She is asking to be provided with an antidote to human giving—and in a way that often highlights her human capacities being deployed in self-development or geared toward financial success, that is, his province. The latter also threatens to turn her into a usurper.”
Whether this resentment of women who put their own pleasures first must lead all Americans to have families of twenty children is another matter, of course. But at least the outrage makes more sense.
As I was reading Down Girl, I also had some insights into the relationship between misogyny and my erotica writing.
As long as I can remember, I knew I existed to please others. I was supposed to be a good daughter and student and be as attractive a female as I could manage, given my natural limitations. The stares and catcalls of men on the street that began when I was 13 were a reminder of what movies, TV and magazines preached: I existed to please male eyes and egos. I learned to be careful when flirting because if I gave my attention to one boy, then another, the first would take it personally and punish me. While my actual relationships were not nearly as reductive as the messages bombarding me from the media, I knew that, rightly or wrongly, my chief purpose was to be a loyal girlfriend and wife, an enthusiastic sex partner, and a devoted mother. Public achievements were icing, as long as they didn’t interfere too much. As an empty-nester, I’m doing community service and baking cookies for the holidays to please the palates of my friends. Yes, I have my secret life as a rebel, a scholar, and a feisty truth-teller, but for the most part, I’ve chosen the safe route for a woman in a patriarchal world.
Writing erotica under my own name, of course, is the exception to my conformity. I have felt that I am a “bad” girl—the closest I’d ever come to hanging out in the smoking area in high school–for speaking frankly and positively about the female sexual experience. It has been mostly thrilling, although I have been occasionally attacked and shamed.
Manne’s book made me reconsider just how “bad” I am.
For indeed, am I not still a “good” girl in terms fulfilling my patriarchal purpose of pleasing men? I’d guess most of my readers are women, but I’ve gotten fan mail from a good number of men over the years. Many men read erotica because they are genuinely interested in women’s sexual experiences, and that’s a good thing. Still, as I’ve gathered from our cultural messages, sexuality seems like the only thing about women your “average guy” would be genuinely interested in reading about–with the goal of satisfying his own sexual desires. The type of erotica I generally write affirms the desirability of the heterosexual erotic experience (with some lesbian detours, but men like that, too). My work offers support and solace and might even serve as a surrogate partner. If I wrote instead on female friendship and quilting, I’d probably have zero male readers, no matter how eloquent my prose.
On the other hand, a “bad” female erotica writer would make male readers uncomfortable. Some writers I admire greatly do. While I sometimes challenge traditional sexual values, I tend to do it gently, with humor, and accompanied by a fundamental pleasure in male company. What’s there for a man to hate?
I’m not saying any of this is wrong. I just find it interesting how my way of being in the world has been informed by these time-worn values.
Manne also made me more aware of my internalization of the danger of trying to claim any position of privilege traditionally seen to belong to men.
When I published my novel, Amorous Woman, I found it hard to “toot my own horn” to promote the book. It felt dangerous, selfish, and stuck-up to claim for myself public importance as a Published Novelist. Who did I think I was?
I managed to overcome my reluctance by framing my book as my “child.” I had given birth to her and owed my newborn baby a good start in life. Thus I transformed myself from a selfish, egotistical artist into a self-sacrificing mother. That kept me going through many a cold call or excruciating snub from a “serious” bookstore that didn’t have the time of day for novels like mine. My little girl needed me to be strong!
To be honest, I sincerely do not see my work as a means to show the world how great I am. I see it as a way to connect with others, assure them they are not alone in their feelings and desires. I also felt a duty to present a view of Japan that engages with but also transcends stereotypes as a way of paying back the warmth, humanity, and hospitality of my Japanese friends.
So I just have to face the fact that I’m bad at being the bad girl. I’ve learned my good girl lessons too well: Stay safe in a man’s world by being the pleaser, the giver, the titillating, but reassuring entertainer.
Yet I won’t fall prey to another common misogynistic reflex—that anything a woman does is automatically devalued. Manne agrees that men still want women around because the comforts they give are “truly valuable: they are genuinely good and the lack thereof bad. Consider that, as well as affection, adoration, indulgence, and so on, such feminine-coded goods and services include simple respect, love, acceptance, nurturing, safety, security, and safe haven. There is kindness and compassion, moral attention, care, concern and soothing.” (Manne, 110)
I also happen to know many men who give these wonderful human qualities to me and other women–it’s just that it seems they’re allowed some time off now and then with no harm done. Still I’m proud to value those qualities and offer them freely to my family, my friends, my colleagues and my readers. Thanks to Manne, though, I’ll definitely examine my feelings of safety and danger and “good” and “bad” as I continue on my writer’s journey.
One of the indoor activities I do with my son is to print off the ‘disaster movie bingo’ card I have on my hard drive, and then watch one of the many daft movies floating around on Amazon or Netflix. Widely-ignored scientist? Check! Scientist separated from wife? Check! Heroine survives hurricane with hairdo intact? Check!
There are twenty-five items on our card, and I think that the highest marks are tied between 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and San Andreas.
We play this game as a chance to be creative. It’s fun to chat about what we’d change with the plot or characters to make the film more unpredictable. It helps us to think laterally. However, just as viewers expect certain elements of a disaster movie to be in place, readers have expectations of romance and erotic romance.
World and character creation is tough in any genre. But in romance or erotic romance, with so many story expectations, it can be really tricky to take a common partnership dynamic, a frequent sexual dynamic and a familiar setting, and make something completely new out of it.
I don’t believe for a second that anyone who’s writing for the joy of it writes a story where their main characters sound just like all the other characters they’ve read about and loved. There are inspirations, yes. But people write to bring their own characters to life.
Nevertheless, there are a group of recognised personalities who crop up all over the world of romance and erotic romance who will seem instantly familiar. I’ve summarised four such prototypes in the colossally exaggerated summaries below.
# # # #
The nearly hard-hearted hero
His heart has been hermetically sealed and locked in a vault. He’s too tough for affection or conversation. You have to go at his immaculately-mortared walls with a JCB before he so much as cracks a smile.
- But there’s always one way in, right? There’s always a tiny door through which the heroine/reader sees his very well-hidden soft side:
- He may only speak to the rest of the world twice a year, but he makes a 100mph round trip three times a week to water his grandmother’s spider plants.
- He’s in the ‘Big Brother’ programme and spends every other weekend giving his tiny pal lessons in how to ignore women and field-strip rifles.
- He only roars at the heroine and knocks her to the ground to save her from accidentally stuffing her head into a woodchipper.
- He has a pet bunny/ancient dog to whom he is unwholesomely devoted. He can also be trusted to leap over the fence and give his neighbour’s baby goat mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or rear baby squirrels by hand.
The Helen of Troy tomboy
Benjamin put down the chainsaw and whisked the little towel from her handy belt to wipe the sweat from her face. She shouldn’t have worn her size-six leggings, though they protected her legs from the flying splinters as she single-handedly took down the copse of dead trees at the far end of the football field. Sweat glued her blue tank to her body, drawing unwanted attention from every jock in the school, and that of a few nerds, all of whom silently admired her lack of self-consciousness. Lumberjacking brought her peace. Benjamin got back to work, ignoring the random taunts from the entire cheerleading squad, who’d gathered at the treeline in full make-up just to emphasise how unlike them she was. They didn’t intimidate her in the slightest; having grown up with sixteen brothers, all in the military, she knew how to handle herself.
Nuff said, I think.
Poor wee self-sacrificial sausage
This is the guy with such a tortured past that he thinks he’s good for nobody, despite the entire cast of the book trying to tell him otherwise on a page-by-page basis. Really, he just won’t be told. He’s on his way to hell, and he won’t take anyone with him. He spends hours alone in his garage, using mufflers to block out any attempts of other characters to so much as compliment him on the nifty paint job on his vintage Mustang.
When the heroine finally engages him in conversation, he gets out of telling her how he really feels by diving between a toddler and an oncoming SUV. Alternatively, he’ll protect her from his scumbag personality by taking her to a ball game, leaving her in her seat while he ‘gets snacks’, and then voices her personal flaws over the PA system. That’ll put her off him for life, thus preventing any hurt feelings in the long term. Because there is no short term for the sacrificial sausage.
The reclusive artiste, Mr Clam
He’s the most amazing thing that the public have never heard of. He’s a reclusive painter who came out of art college with plaudits coming out of his backside, but who gave it all up to care for his brother. Having abandoned his dreams he’s abandoned life, and has long since sent his muse packing with aggressive warnings not to show her face around him ever again, in case he’s tempted to follow his ill-fated dream. Being such a sensitive soul, he’s also got a fantastic palate, and could, if he put his mind to it, get some help to look after his brother while he entered and won the next series of Masterchef.
He’d love someone to love, but they have to genuinely understand his inexplicable paintings, and understand his need to cut himself off from the universe on account of the meltdown he’d encounter if anyone tried to coax him back to the limelight.
He probably wears a smoking jacket and/or a beret.
# # # #
Okay, I warned you about the colossal exaggeration! But I’m sure you’ve come across more than a handful of characters who fit these moulds.
In light-hearted discussion with other editors about these main character (MC) prototypes, a theory emerged about a general tendency towards layering traits. What am I on about, you may well ask.
Okay, let’s take the reclusive Mr Clam as our working example. A writer has decided they want their character to have heavy responsibilities, to be on the shy side, and to have almost savant levels of creativity.
It’s a tripartite starting block for the character, and that’s fine. But what can then happen is that the writer come up with a number of ways in which each of those character features are displayed in practice, and puts nearly all of them into use. For example:
- Never has any time off and can’t get respite care
- Doesn’t have hobbies outside his areas of genius
- Has been battling depression for a number of years.
- Works exclusively from home
- Brother is very hard work and they struggle to get on
- Finds it difficult to start or sustain conversations
- Avoids social media
- Gets all shopping home-delivered
- Turns down seminars and courses
- Timid about critiquing other artists’ work because he’s suffering imposter syndrome after so many years ‘off the scene’
- Is excellent chef
- Brilliant artist
- Harassed by mother into arranging flowers for church as a child
- Used to enjoy doing the costumes for drama groups as a teen
- Writes wonderful poetry.
It’s only when you get significant layering of traits under each element that makes up the MC that a painfully familiar character emerges. It’s not about lack of imagination (the contrary, in fact), but about raising the probability that the writer’s using traits which are often seen before because so many of them are being used.
So, how can this tendency towards trait-layering be taken down a notch once it’s been recognised?
Seek out the double-edged swords
In its simplest terms, this means focusing on one particular trait that a character has, and seeing how it works for and against him. Using Mr Clam again:
His work as an artist makes good use of his ability to focus intensely, but he’s terrible at multi-tasking, which means he invariably fails to preheat the oven. He may love home cooking, and have a fantastic palate, but his successes are somewhat hit and miss.
If he struggles with his relationship with his brother, then he’ll need an outlet. He will drive out to get his own shopping but only at one particular store, where the owner is so grumpy that there’s no danger of small talk. He also wants some contact with like-minded souls, so he does do social media, but only Twitter and Reddit. He also still helps the drama group with their sets, but takes items home to work on, rather than doing the painting in situ.
Evolve quirks and contradictions
Perhaps his hand-eye coordination is exemplary, but he has no sense of direction. So, he’s an excellent driver with good reflexes, but cannot for the life of him read a map (a source of endless embarrassment).
He’s shy until someone gets him on a topic which is a bugbear, at which point he has to be silenced with duct tape.
He’s intolerant over issues where he’d be expected to have compassion. Perhaps his brother’s condition and demanding behaviour have caused Mr Clam to emotionally associate immobility with impatience, because that’s what he puts up with all the time.
His dark and angsty painting is phenomenal, but his dark and angsty poetry puts people to sleep.
So, there are a couple of techniques to steer a character off the road oft-taken. I hope they’re helpful tips. To sign off, here are some extremely useful resources for digging into all peculiar corners of the character’s life and psyche:
by Ashley Lister
Over the past couple of months we’ve looked at first and second person point of view. Whilst both of these are useful ways to convey a sense of story, neither of them are as popular as third person point of view.
The parlour was quiet enough so Victoria could hear the tick of the Grandfather from the hall outside. Stark spring sunlight filtered through the net curtains to illuminate the elegant furnishings. The family’s finest bone china was laid out on a lily-white tablecloth. The afternoon tea was completed with freshly baked French fancies. Sitting comfortably in one of the parlour’s high-backed chairs, Victoria placed one lace-gloved hand over the other, adjusted her voluminous skirts, and stared down at Algernon as he knelt before her.
If first person point of view is like a diary entry, and second person is like a recipe, I like to think of third person point of view being where the story is narrated from the perspective of someone sitting on the shoulder of the main character. Notice, in the example above, we’re told how Victoria can hear the tick of the Grandfather: but we don’t have Victoria telling us she can hear it. This distancing of narrative voice removes us slightly as readers, so we’re not as fully invested in the character. However, we are able to get a full picture of the world from the main character’s perspective: a much fuller perspective than we would have had from the somewhat limited perspective of a first person narration. (NB This fiction comes from my short story ‘Victoria’s Hand’).
She knew what was coming.
She had anticipated this day for months.
Before he started to speak, she knew what he was going to say.
It was the first time they had ever been together without a chaperone. Unless he had come to the house with this specific purpose her parents would not have allowed her to spend any time alone with a suitor. The idea of her being alone with a man was simply too scandalous for civilised society to contemplate.
“Victoria, my dearest,” he began.
There was a tremor of doubt in his voice. Victoria liked that. It suggested he wasn’t entirely certain that she would say yes. His bushy moustache bristled with obvious apprehension. His Adam’s apple quivered nervously above his small, tied cravat. His large dark eyes stared up at her with blatant admiration. He looked as though his entire future happiness rested on her response to this single question.
She was dizzied by the rush of rising power.
Third person is one of the most popular points of view and, in the contemporary marketplace, it’s the go-to position for writers when they’re trying relate events. Obviously, this will feel more natural for some writers than others. However, as with all the tools at our disposal as writers, it’s well worth trying this point of view to see how it works for your narrative voice.
As always, I look forward to seeing your work in the comments box below.