Lisabet Sarai

The Trouble with Tropes

The other day I asked ChatGPT to help me strengthen the blurb for my newest erotic romance. It failed miserably – but that’s a different tale. What’s really interesting to me is what happened before I gave it my blurb.

Me: Can you write me an effective, punchy two sentence summary for the blurb of my romance novel?

[I then hit return, planning to enter the blurb text in the next paragraph. The LLM jumped the gun, creating perhaps the most generic blurb in existence.]


“Passion ignites when an unlikely pair of strangers cross paths, but as secrets unravel and pasts collide, their love story becomes a heart-pounding journey of desire and destiny.”

Pay attention: this is what you get when you give the model no context, other than the genre. Basically, we have a naked list of tropes:

  • Instalove
  • Opposites attract
  • Strangers to lovers
  • Secrets of the past
  • Destined lovers

How many romances do you think would fit this mini-blurb? (Could I ask ChatGPT for a list?) Thousands, I’d imagine. Perhaps tens of thousands. (Just searching Amazon for “romance novels”, I get over 70,000 results.)

Lately, books have started listing the relevant tropes in the title or subtitle. A fellow romance author recently offered me a spot for one of my books in her newsletter. “Send me the cover, a short blurb, buy links and the tropes,” she said.

Hmm. I’ve never thought about the tropes in my stories.

Well, actually I have, occasionally. When I think about tropes, it’s usually because I’m trying to subvert them.

The same thing seems to be happening in the world of erotica. Subtitles have gotten ridiculously explicit, and now blurbs are following suit. A recent ad I saw in the Excite Spice newsletter provided the following list rather than a real blurb:

This story contains:

  • Milk & Ice Play

  • Double Daddies

  • Taboo Age Gap

  • Untouched Brat

  • Rough Men

  • Too Big to Fit

  • Messy Finishes Deep Inside

  • Forced & Stretched

  • Spanking

Of course, in the case of smut, tropes might be called kinks, but the objective is the same: to let readers select stories that are similar to ones they’ve read and enjoyed previously.

So why is this a bad thing? Don’t we want our readers to be satisfied and happy? Given how busy everyone seems to be in this digital age, why not make it easy for people to find what they’re looking for? One search, a couple of clicks, and Bingo! You’ve got a story just like the one you read last week, that you liked.

And next week, you can find another instance with the same themes and plot elements. Satisfaction guaranteed?

Not my satisfaction, certainly. I don’t want my reading to be predictable. I seek originality, not sameness. I don’t want to read the same book over and over again. Sure, I have my own favorite genres and kinks, but I’m happiest when a writer surprises me.

I may be a curmudgeon, but I believe that tropes make people lazy, not to mention risk-averse. A slavish adherence to tropes (and an over-reliance on them for marketing) also impacts the overall quality of the books that are out there. It’s pretty easy to assemble a story from a list of tropes – not necessarily a good story, but one that will tick the boxes of a reader’s expectations. The story might not be very deep. It might not feel genuine. It might not even totally make sense. But hey, it’s what the reader asked for, right?

Many authors are (rightfully) concerned that the rise of LLMs like ChatGPT will make it even harder for humans to write books that sell. AI can already generate stories that a fairly non-critical reader would deem acceptable.

Tropes make that much, much easier. The more stereotyped the framework of a story, the more likely it is that AI’s predictive capabilities will match the expectations. After all, the models have been trained to find and regurgitate patterns.

Just for the heck of it, I asked ChatGPT to write me a four paragraph romance using the tropes instalove, strangers to lovers and past secrets. This is what it came up with:

In the heart of a bustling city, two souls collided on a fateful afternoon. Amelia had always been a firm believer in love at first sight, and when her eyes locked with Oliver’s from across a crowded coffee shop, she knew that she had just experienced it. He, too, was struck by a magnetic force, as if their connection was destined from the start. As strangers to one another, their hearts embarked on a journey neither of them could have predicted.

Amelia was an open book, her emotions displayed for the world to see. She wore her heart on her sleeve, but Oliver was the complete opposite. Mysterious and reserved, he had a past filled with secrets that he guarded with utmost care. Yet, as they spent more time together, their connection deepened, and Amelia’s curiosity grew. She couldn’t help but wonder about the enigmatic man she had fallen for, wanting to unlock the mysteries that shrouded him.

As days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, Amelia and Oliver’s love blossomed. Their shared experiences and whispered secrets drew them closer, but the weight of Oliver’s hidden past loomed over them. He knew he couldn’t keep his secrets forever, and the time had come to reveal the truth. With trembling hands and a heart heavy with regret, he finally opened up to Amelia about his past, laying bare the secrets that had haunted him for so long. It was a pivotal moment in their relationship, and the way Amelia responded would determine the course of their love story.

Amelia, though taken aback by Oliver’s revelations, held him close, offering forgiveness and understanding. Their love had grown stronger through their journey from strangers to lovers, and now, by confronting the secrets of the past, they had cemented their bond. As the sun set on that unforgettable day, Amelia and Oliver realized that their love had triumphed over the obstacles in its path, and they were ready to face the future together, hand in hand, as a testament to the power of instalove and the strength of love that conquers even the darkest of secrets.

Clichés, anyone?

I think tropes may make writers lazy as well. If readers do not in fact care about novelty or creativity, why should authors bother? Just write yet another secret baby story, yet another hotwife adventure, yet another tale about getting it on with my step-brother, and get it out there to satisfy the public’s appetite for sameness.

I know I probably sound bitter. I can’t change the public, or the market. Over the last few weeks, though, I’ve been browsing through my author’s copies of the annual Best New Erotica series, edited by Maxim Jakubowski. These were published during the first decade or so of the twenty-first century, the golden age of erotica—or so it seems now.

Some of the tales in these volumes are simply marvelous—luminous, arousing, clever, disturbing, uplifting. The thing that strikes me most, though, the diversity—diversity of style, mood and content. Plus the fact that the best stories could never be summarized in the few words of a trope.


What dreams may come

Image by Anke Sundermeier from Pixabay

The vast room stretches two stories up to a sky-lit ceiling. The trainers bustle about in white leather miniskirts and heeled boots, their hair pulled back into severe pony tails that shimmer down their trim backs. The slaves are shackled to walls, or more accurately, to jointed cantilever frames that extend out from the walls and support all manner of interesting and embarrassing poses.

I am one of them, a novice, recognized by the minions of the mistress for what I am, enticed here by their veiled promises. I am naked, bound and gagged, unable to move. I am simultaneously aroused and terrified.

My trainer, a stunning brunette with crimson lips, approaches me with an enema bag. “You must be empty,” she says, “so the mistress can fill you.” I nearly come from excitement and terror.

The scene shifts to an outdoor café. My own master and the mistress drink espresso at a wrought iron table. I crouch at my master’s feet underneath, listening to their conversation. “She did well,” the mistress comments. “You’ve done a good job preparing her.” The pride I feel at pleasing her and showing off my master’s skill is almost more intense than my sexual desire.

* * * *

The above is a segment from a real dream. It’s not a fictional vignette concocted by my dirty mind—at least, not my conscious dirty mind. I’ve always had vivid dreams; I recall that my brother and I told each other our dreams when we were just kids. I tend to remember more of my dreams, I believe, than the average person, even though I don’t usually write them down.

I dream recurring landscapes: the cities of my youth morphed and mingled together, full of buses and trains and subways; a mansion with endless halls and stairways that I think derives from the Winchester Mystery House; an ocean-front resort during a storm, threatened by the gigantic waves; the rural town where I lived for more than twenty years. I dream repeating themes. I’ve been given the chance to return to college once again and I’m thrilled to be able to explore all the wonderful topics I had to pass up the first time around. I’m in college again and it’s finals week, and suddenly I realize that I’ve completely skipped attending several of my classes. Evil creatures, aliens or magicians or monsters, surround my house, while I try desperately to find a place to hide. And of course I dream of both my husband and the lovers from my past, as well as new women and men who tempt and torment me.

Sometimes I dream entire stories, with plots and characters who have nothing to do with me. In my dreams these days, I know that I’m a writer. I actually understand, while I’m dreaming, that there’s a narrative playing out on the screen of my mind and I try to remember the details when I wake. Often I do. For the most part, though, I haven’t managed to get these narratives out of my head and onto the page before they fade. Often I’ll remember the premise and the protagonists, but the emotion evaporates all too quickly. Once the excitement slips away, it’s hard to motivate myself to actually write down the dream. It seems stiff and empty.

I did write a poem based on the dream above. That dream was triggered by one of my rare reunions with my master. I’ve also got a hundred word “flasher” based on a dream:

Conversation with the Marquis

I dreamed of de Sade. He smiled gently down at me. “Come to me when you are ready.”

Pretending lightness, I replied, “I never said that I was interested in such things.”

“You need not say. I can see it in your eyes.”

I knew he spoke truly. When I looked at him I saw ropes biting tender flesh, instruments of steel and leather, candles, clamps, searing pain, scalding pleasure.

Suspended in awful desire, I fled. Waking, I found a volume of his tales by my bedside, inscribed with a single word.


I don’t think much of Freud’s views on dreams, but I do believe that they can carry truth. My dreams reveal to me my passions and my fears. They show me who I really am. They also fascinate me with their emotional richness and their sensory detail. John Crowley’s wonderful book Little, Big includes a character who spends as much time as she can sleeping, because she loves to dream. I’m not that extreme, but I’ve been known to wake in the middle of the night, go to the bathroom, then lie down again and resume a dream where I had left off.

I’ve also experienced a handful of dreams that I can only call prescient. In one, I sat by the hospital bed of a gravely ill former lover, trying to comfort him and ease his pain. I learned the next day that his father had committed suicide the night of the dream. In another, I dreamed that a dear female friend whom I hadn’t heard from in months was going to have a baby. Within two days, an email from me informed me that she was in fact pregnant.

Actually, my explanation for these experiences is grounded more in psychic communication over distances than in precognition. I’ve never dreamed a future that didn’t involve someone whom I cared about deeply. I suspect that there’s some sort of emotional vibration—electromagnetic waves of some sort—that can be transmitted between people who have a strong bond.

I do dream quite a lot about sex (surprise surprise). Sometimes very strange sex, involving hermaphrodites and detachable penises and public masturbation, sometimes nothing more than a glorious flirtation which cloaks mutual desire. In the last few years, for the first time (that I remember) I’ve started to have orgasms in my sleep. At least it feels that way. Of course, sometimes it feels like I’m flying, too.

Even though my dreams have been directly responsible for relatively few of my stories so far, I feel as though they nourish my imagination. I use bits and pieces of dream imagery all the time. And I have written a number of dream sequences which borrow the tone of my real night journeys.

I’ve been thinking about this blog post for quite a while. Last week, I woke from a dream that may well have been catalyzed by my pondering the topic.

* * * *

The blond young vampire sits on his motorcycle, his face serious. The air is heavy with erotic tension. “I’ve got to go,” he tells me and my girlfriend. “If I stay, I’ll hurt you.”

I take his hand and place it on my breast. He caresses me through my clothing. Desperate lust overwhelms me. I know that he feels it too, that it takes every shred of self-discipline he can muster to hold himself back. “Maybe you could hurt us a little,” I say, trying to tempt him, unable or unwilling to let go of this intoxicating desire.

I wake, wet and trembling, before he can answer.

Through whose eyes?

Image by Irina Gromovataya from Pixabay

Of all the craft issues that bedevil new writers, point of view may well be the most mysterious. Novices frequently receive critiques that accuse them of the dreaded sin of “head hopping”, without really explaining what this is or more importantly, why it can be a problem. Blog articles about point of view natter on about “deep first person” and “third person omniscient”, confusing things further.

Even experienced authors sometimes mess up, producing slips in point of view. For example:

Horrified by her faux pas, Maria stumbled through an apology, her cheeks reddening and her lips curving into an embarrassed smile.

What’s wrong with this sentence, you might ask?

The problem here is that Maria, who is the focus character – the character whose point of view we’ve adopted – would not be able to see herself blushing or smiling in an embarrassed manner. Only an outsider, another character, could perceive these details. The point of view has momentarily slipped away from Maria. I could have said that Maria felt her cheeks getting hot, without violating point of view. But as soon as the narrative steps outside Maria’s head, the POV has shifted.

Why is this undesirable? We’ll discuss that shortly.

You’ll find many technical discussions of point of view on the Internet. These may be helpful, but in fact the whole issue can be distilled into a single question:

Through whose eyes are we looking as the story unfolds?

Characters provide the emotional energy in a story. In romance, especially, we authors want our readers to understand and to identify with the protagonists. A common way to heighten this sense of identification is to show readers the world as the character experiences it, that is, to tell the story from the character’s point of view. Strong and consistent point of view can bring the reader into the character’s world, enhancing the sense of sympathy and connection.

Clean and controlled use of POV also supports plot development. Plots often turn on various sorts of secrets. If a POV character doesn’t know about a secret, neither does your reader. When events conspire to reveal the hidden information, your reader vicariously feels the same sense of surprise or dismay as the character.

Does this mean you should have only a single POV character? Not necessarily. Decisions about POV characters should be based on the story you are trying to tell and the reactions you are trying to evoke. A common strategy in romance is to alternate the POV between the hero and heroine (or between two heroes or two heroines – the different members of the romantic unit). This makes it possible to show how each character’s feelings are developing. It also helps reveal misunderstandings or differences in expectations, upon which the plot often depends.

In contrast, a story with a single POV character focuses the reader’s attention exclusively on that individual’s inner life. Other characters act as external forces. Their behavior and their motivations can only be understood based on the main character’s observations, assumptions and judgments.

If you do decide to alternate point of view characters, you should generally avoid switching the POV too frequently. This is what we mean by “head hopping” – when POV shifts from one character to another on the same page, or (heaven forbid!) in the same paragraph.

An extreme case of head hopping can introduce serious confusion. The reader loses track of what each character is perceiving and feeling. I’ve read books with such chaotic POV management that I truly couldn’t tell what was going on.

Even if the story flow remains more or less clear, head hopping usually has a negative effect on reader engagement. As noted above, we want our reader to identify with the POV character, to feel what the character is feeling. Frequent POV swings yank the reader from one character’s perspective to another, interfering with the development of empathy and understanding. This diminishes the depth and intensity of the reader’s experience – usually not something we want.

A rule of thumb is that if you want to switch to a new POV character, you should introduce a section or chapter break to signal this. Rules are never absolute, of course. If you have a good reason to violate this heuristic, then go ahead. However, it’s important to consider your intentions and goals when you make this sort of decision.

What about the question of first person versus third person narrative? Authors sometimes mix up this grammatical issue with the topic of point of view, but in fact the two considerations are mostly orthogonal. Just to clarify, a first person narrative uses the pronouns “I” and “me” (or occasionally, “we” and “us”). A third person narrative uses character names as well as pronouns “he”, “she”, “him”, “her”, “xe”, “hir” or whatever. The selection of first versus third person definitely affects the feeling of a story and possibly the level of reader identification, but you can have either single or multiple POV characters using either.

As an illustration, here is short passage from my erotic romance The Gazillionaire and the Virgin, in its original first person mode, then revised as third person. This novel is told in the first person with POV alternating between the hero and the heroine on a chapter by chapter basis.

First Person Excerpt (Rachel)

I decide to drive myself, and choose the BMW for its aura of unobtrusive luxury. One look at my red Lamborghini, I suspect, and Theo Moore would run away screaming. Cruising up to his attractive but unremarkable building at exactly six, I pull into one of the parking spots labeled “Visitors”. My pulse, I’m annoyed to notice, is elevated, and my cheeks feel hot. Do I look as flustered as I feel?

A quick check in the rear-view mirror reassures me. My understated make-up enlarges my eyes and shrinks my rather prominent nose. Gold-plated combs sweep my unruly curls away from my temples into a semi-elegant cascade. Matching gold earrings dangle from my earlobes almost to my bare shoulders. My strapless gown of teal satin hugs my bust and hips like it was made for me—which of course it was. I practice a confident but non-threatening smile. Good evening, Theo. I’m so glad you decided to come.

The minutes tick by, but there’s no sign of him. Should I climb up to his door and ring? Or wait for him to work up the courage to come out by himself? Does he realize I’ve arrived? Is he watching out his window? Or cowering in his room?

I get more annoyed by the second. I am considering honking the horn, which I know will embarrass him, when he appears on the second floor landing. I recognize him by his height and bulk. Otherwise, he’s transformed.

In the custom tailored tuxedo, he’s distinguished and elegant. The sleek black trousers cling to what are obviously powerful, muscular legs. The jacket highlights his broad shoulders and trim waist. Not fat, oh no! He moves with unexpected grace, as if the formal clothing bestowed a sort of gravitas to subdue his usual gawkiness. With his dark hair slicked back from his forehead, he looks like some international man of mystery. The spectacles just heighten the impression of intelligence and sophistication.

Third Person Revision

Rachel decided to drive herself, choosing the BMW for its aura of unobtrusive luxury. One look at her red Lamborghini, she suspected, and Theo Moore would run away screaming. Cruising up to his attractive but unremarkable building at exactly six, she pulled into one of the parking spots labeled “Visitors”. Her pulse, she was annoyed to notice, was elevated, and her cheeks felt hot. Did she look as flustered as she felt?

A quick check in the rear-view mirror reassured her. Her understated make-up enlarged her eyes and shrank her rather prominent nose. Gold-plated combs swept her unruly curls away from her temples into a semi-elegant cascade. Matching gold earrings dangled from her earlobes almost to her bare shoulders. Her strapless gown of teal satin hugged her bust and hips like it was made for her—which of course it was. She practiced a confident but non-threatening smile. Good evening, Theo. I’m so glad you decided to come.

The minutes ticked by, but there was no sign of him. Should she climb up to his door and ring? Or wait for him to work up the courage to come out by himself? Did he realize she’d arrived? Was he watching out his window? Or cowering in his room?

She got more annoyed by the second. She was considering honking the horn, which she knew would embarrass him, when he appeared on the second floor landing. She recognized him by his height and bulk. Otherwise, he was transformed.

In the custom tailored tuxedo, he looked distinguished and elegant. The sleek black trousers clung to what were obviously powerful, muscular legs. The jacket highlighted his broad shoulders and trim waist. Not fat, oh no! He moved with unexpected grace, as if the formal clothing bestowed a sort of gravitas to subdue his usual gawkiness. With his dark hair slicked back from his forehead, he looked like some international man of mystery. The spectacles just heightened the impression of intelligence and sophistication.

As you see, I can describe exactly the same scene in either first or third person. In both cases, Rachel, my heroine, is the point of view character. Everything described is through her eyes. In particular, when she’s evaluating her own appearance, she can do so only while looking in a mirror.

Note also the way she describes Theo, the hero. She has theories about his feelings and the reason for his lateness – but they’re just that, theories. When he does appear, she doesn’t have much insight into his inner state – that can be revealed only when we switch to Theo’s perspective. On the other hand, she can explain how he looks and communicate her own feelings in response – an obvious attraction.

The observant among you may have noticed that there’s another difference between the original passage and the revision – verb tense. The original is in the present tense. We are in Rachel’s head, and she is describing her observations and emotions in real time. The revision is in past tense, which is a more traditional choice.

I personally like first person present for erotic romance and erotica, because I find it imparts a sense of vividness and immediacy. It’s tricky to write, though, and some readers object to stories told this way.

I switched to past for the revision because third person present stories are rare and generally sound – well, weird. If I’d retained the first person, the excerpt would have started as follows:

Rachel decides to drive herself, choosing the BMW for its aura of unobtrusive luxury. One look at her red Lamborghini, she suspects, and Theo Moore would run away screaming. Cruising up to his attractive but unremarkable building at exactly six, she pulls into one of the parking spots labeled “Visitors”. Her pulse, she’s annoyed to notice, is elevated, and her cheeks feel hot. Does she look as flustered as she feels?

I don’t think this would be an effective way to tell a story, but I hope this demonstrates that not only is point of view independent of the first versus third person dimension, but it’s also independent of time.

Next time you’re worrying about point of view, simply take a deep breath and ask yourself: through whose eyes do I want the reader to be looking? Let the answer guide you.

How to AI-Proof Your Writing

Artificial IntelligenceImage by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I recently finished the novel Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen. It was entertaining (as usual), though hardly deep, a typical over-the-top Carl Hiaasen story with a clever, contrarian, down-on-his-luck hero, a smart, sexy and amoral heroine, an array of truly nasty and disgusting criminals (professional and amateur), and some bizarre wildlife – in this case, giant Gambian pouch rats.

I’ve probably read at least half a dozen of Hiassen’s books. They’re not exactly predictable, but they share a basic framework, a set of common elements. Each story is different in detail, but the setting (Florida, often the Keys), the characters, the style, the pace and the plot devices do not vary much from one novel to the next.

It occurred to me that wouldn’t take much to create a fake Carl Hiasssen book. With that in mind, I logged into ChatGPT and asked:

Write me the first paragraph of a novel in the style of Carl Hiaasen.

Here is what the AI came up with.

In the sticky heat of Florida’s muggy embrace, where the line between civilization and madness blurs like the horizon at sunset, the days begin with a peculiar rhythm. Palm fronds rustle their tales of scandal, while alligators lurk beneath murky waters, guardians of twisted secrets. It was within this swampy theater of absurdity that Chester “Chet” Monroe found himself, a small-time private investigator with a penchant for trouble and a nose for the scent of danger. Today, as the sun clawed its way above the horizon, Chet’s day began not with the usual banalities, but with the promise of a bizarre case that would plunge him deep into the murky abyss of Florida’s most bewildering mysteries.

I was impressed. The prose is a bit more flowery than Hiassen’s usual, but this passage hits all the salient elements, except there’s no trace yet of the girl. It even has the wildlife!

Stepping out into the danger zone, I then asked:

Now write me the first paragraph of a novel in the style of Lisabet Sarai, author of Raw Silk.

The jasmine-scented breeze whispered through the latticed windows, teasing the delicate silk curtains into a seductive dance. In the opulent chambers of an ancient Rajasthani haveli, secrets and desires mingled like forbidden lovers, waiting to be unmasked. Rani Devika, the enigmatic mistress of this clandestine sanctuary, reveled in the power she held over those who sought refuge within her sensual embrace. Her eyes, dark as the midnight sky, shimmered with a forbidden knowledge, promising both ecstasy and peril to those brave enough to succumb to her allure. Tonight, as the moon cast its ethereal glow upon her domain, Rani Devika prepared to embark on a journey that would unravel the very fabric of pleasure and pain, leaving nothing but raw silk in its wake.

I don’t know if you’ll agree with me, but I think this is pretty awful. It barely makes sense. At the same time, it does include a variety of references that make it clear the AI knows something about my books: the reference to Rajasthan, the allusions to eroticism and power exchange, the repeated use of “silk”. The purple prose, on the other hand, is truly cringe-worthy. Perhaps I am flattering myself, but I don’t think anyone who’s familiar with my work would ever mistake this for something I’d written.

Carl Hiaassen is far more famous that I am. It’s likely the AI has ingested a good deal more of his oeuvre than mine. (That does make one wonder whether ChatGPT has actually been trained on the full text of our books – and if it has, did OpenAI buy them, or was the training done on pirate copies? I decided I just don’t have sufficient energy to pursue this disturbing question.) All things being equal, though, I suspect it would be much more difficult for an AI to generate convincing Lisabet Sarai fakes. The main reason for this is that, unlike Hiaasen, I think it’s far more difficult to predict what you’ll find in one of my books, given another.

I write in many different genres and a variety of styles, from raunchy to lyrical. Most of my titles are stand-alones as opposed to series. Sex is the one common element that appears in almost all of my work, but the treatment of erotic content swings wildly from story to story, from spiritual to romantic to thoroughly depraved.

Just to illustrate, I’ll share the first few sentences from some of my books.

Only when faced with the stout oaken door to Randerley Hall did Gillian Smith’s considerable resolve fail her.

In the dead of night she had fled her Aunt Martha’s London townhouse, mere hours before her diabolical guardian planned to denounce her as a deviant and a thief. She had endured the seven-hour rail journey to Tavistock crammed into a reeking third class carriage, struggling to remain awake in order to guard her meagre possessions. (The Pornographer’s Apprentice)

“Holy hell, woman! You’re insatiable.”

Lauren suckled Elliot’s unresponsive dick for another thirty seconds before giving up with a sigh. “I thought you might enjoy another round, baby. That last one went by a bit fast. I only came once.” (The Slut Strikes Back)

I’m used to getting what I want. It’s not because I’m smarter than most people, or richer. (Although I am. These are documented facts, not boasts.) No, I usually succeed because I don’t give up. I’m tenacious—or just plain stubborn, if you listen to my mother. (The Gazillionaire and the Virgin)

It would have been much faster to fly.

Alas, Cecily Harrowsmith—special agent for Her Majesty the Queen, expert in the martial arts of three continents, past mistress of princes, potentates and the occasional prime minister—was afraid of flying. She despised herself for this weakness, but not enough to board one of the Empire’s sleek, viridium-powered airships, strap herself into her seat and hope for the best. (Rajasthani Moon)

“So, Michael. Have you been a good little boy?” Neil loomed over me, one hand against the wall on either side of my head. “Do you deserve the goodies that Santa’s brought for you?” Leaning forward, he trailed a wet tongue up my neck, from my open collar to just below my earlobe. When I squirmed in response, he flattened his pelvis against the lump growing in my jeans and fastened his mouth on mine. The fake beard got in the way. He ripped it off and resumed kissing me, while his hands slipped around me to cup my ass. (A Kinky Christmas Carol)

Hours past midnight, the village slept, dappled in silver moonlight and inky shadow. Bess kept watch at her bedroom window, lost in a waking dream. The breeze freshened as dawn grew closer. Occasional gusts sent clouds scudding across the sky like sheep before an impatient shepherd. The full moon sailed high above the moors, sometimes revealed, sometimes obscured by a veil of wind-tossed mist. (By Moonlight)

If you happened upon these separate passages, would you know they were all penned by the same author?

Would ChatGPT?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m seriously concerned about the impact of generative AI on the business of writing. It takes me six to eight months, minimum, to write a novel. In that time, how many dozens of books could an AI spew out? Some of you may remember the scams that hit Amazon when they first introduced Kindle Unlimited and started paying based on pages read. Huge gobs of nonsense text assembled automatically from public sources flooded the store and depressed the income of legitimate authors.

Today’s AI can do much better at creating plausible-sounding books. And tomorrow’s? I shudder to think about the implications for the market, especially since there are plenty of unscrupulous humans who won’t hesitate to pass off AI-produced prose as their own work.

So I’m not optimistic, in general, about shielding authors and other artists from the impacts of AI. I do believe, though, that by writing diverse, unpredictable, original stories, we can reduce the chances of being specifically copied or impersonated by an AI system.

For me, as a reader as well as a writer, originality is the Holy Grail. I know that some people love to read familiar plots, traditional tropes and favorite kinks. Not me. Quality prose matters a lot, but I’ll forgive some awkward sentences or grammar errors in a book that surprises and delights me with its creativity. I strive to deliver that same sense of unexpected excitement and wonder to my readers. I really don’t want to write the same book twice.

From a marketing perspective, this is a problem. I have no “brand”. I’ll never be a best selling author, because I refuse to deliver the predictability that many readers crave.

But diversity is one way to protect your writing from AI’s “stochastic parrots” – at least for now.


Friends and Lovers

Image by Khusen Rustamov from Pixabay

I was primed to want him long before I met him. Was this a deliberate ploy on my husband’s part? Or just the consequence of my hyperactive sexual imagination?

“James is a really good friend,” K told me. He’d known James for years before I appeared on the scene, during his tumultuous period living in San Francisco. “He’s a physicist. Does research at UCSF hospital.” My ears perked up. I’ve always found intelligence to be an aphrodisiac. “Oh, and you should see his paintings and sculpture. He’s really talented.” Oh my! An artist too! Was I wet already?

We were on our way cross country and planned to stop in the City by the Bay before heading south to Los Angeles. Having spent the last few years in grad school on the East Coast, K hadn’t seen James in a while, but he assured me that we’d get a warm welcome.

“And did I tell you about his time in Japan?” K executed a neat maneuver to pass a battered, dusty pickup, then pointed the Subaru straight across the sere plains of eastern Colorado. The Rockies were blue-gray shadows hugging the horizon.

I squeezed my husband’s thigh. “No, I don’t think so. What was he doing in Japan?”

“Working in a sex show.” He gave me a quick glance, as if to gauge my reaction, before returning his gaze to the empty, monotonous highway.

A tingle swept through me. “You’re kidding, right?” At that point I hadn’t yet visited Japan, but everyone had heard bizarre stories about the Japanese sexual underground.

“No, not at all. For three months James and his partner performed live in some club in Tokyo. Fucking on stage six nights a week.”

I sat silent, staring into the distance and pondering this thrilling and disturbing concept. I considered myself a free spirit, a bit of a sexual outlaw, but public sex, for money? What sort of person would engage in such behavior?

“Why?” I asked finally, expecting some wild tale of extortion or human slavery.

“He was curious to see what it would be like,” K responded with a chuckle.

I was quiet for a long time after that, contemplating with excitement and trepidation the prospect of meeting this “friend”. I had no idea what he looked like, but I was already half in lust.

James turned out to be lean and loose-limbed, a good half a head taller than K, with unruly hair, a soft voice and an easy laugh. As K had promised, he offered us the spare room in his Mission District flat. We shared take-out Chinese, red wine from a gallon jug and lots of pot. We talked about art, science, philosophy, politics. Well, K and James talked, mostly, catching up after years apart, reestablishing the bonds of their friendship. I listened, uncharacteristically mute, watching James’ long, expressive fingers trace patterns in the air as he explained some nuance of electromagnetic theory, wondering how those fingers would feel feathering across my nipples.

K asked about James’ partner – ex-partner as it turned out – but the one subject we didn’t discuss was sex. Still, the entire evening buzzed with erotic tension. When James looked at me, I felt the heat simmering in his lanky body. What had K told him about me?

I honestly don’t recall how we ended up in bed together. All I remember is how easy it was, how light and relaxed – how friendly. I didn’t worry about jealousy; that seemed a non-issue as I mounted K and James slid his cock (long and thin like his fingers) into my rear hole. My first double penetration – only the second or third time I’d ever experienced anal sex, actually. I can hardly believe, looking back, how little resistance James found. At the time, I was too turned on to even think about the question. I was neither surprised nor shocked. It was obviously the natural thing to be doing. We all agreed about that.

Sandwiched between a man I loved and my new lover, I felt not only acute pleasure but a delicious sense of connection. I was cherished and desired, giving and receiving. The brazenness of our actions thrilled me. The three-way intimacy kindled a new kind of joy.

I remember the details of the next day more clearly now than I do that incandescent night. The three of us went to see a matinee of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. We strolled down the San Francisco sidewalk, arm in arm in arm, with me in the middle once again. I wore a flouncy white cotton dress I’d bought in Tijuana, with nothing underneath. I felt like a dirty angel, high on residual arousal, perversely proud we’d been brave enough to push friendship to its next obvious level.

Even after K and I moved back East, we remained close with James. We attended his wedding. Later, after their son was born, we visited him and Priscilla in their redwood-encircled cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains. We never had sex together again, but our mutual erotic history gave the relationship a special poignancy. I knew James remembered, as I did.

Four decades later, we’ve mostly lost touch. James’ struggles with addiction and psychiatric problems have weakened the connection. I regret that deeply. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate more fully how remarkable that episode really was – despite the fact that it felt inevitable at the time.

Enumerating a list of my long-time friends, I’m a bit embarrassed to realize how many of them were once my lovers. One might point to this as evidence of my unbridled promiscuity during my twenties and thirties. I interpret this fact differently, though. I’ve always been sexually attracted to people I like and admire, both women and men. Although I’ve had close friendships that were completely platonic, without the smallest shred of desire on my part, that’s not the norm for me. The intellectual and emotional buzz from meeting someone special transmutes into sexual desire.

In most cases, I’ve refrained from acting on my lusts, especially in recent years. Instead, they spill over into my dreams. Even people I haven’t met in person – people I’ve come to know and love remotely, in the guise of Lisabet Sarai – have found their way into my night visions. That’s one reason why I am reluctant to get closer to some of you in the real world. Friends are always welcome. At this stage in my life, though, I probably don’t need more lovers.

Perfectionism versus Practicality

Like most writers, I’m a voracious reader. I’ve also edited a dozen or so anthologies by other authors. Hence I’m pretty sensitive to problems in other people’s prose: grammar errors, misspellings, typos, missing or inappropriate words, and so on. Even when I’m deeply engrossed in some fabulous story, I can’t completely ignore this kind of issue. It’s frustrating to encounter these slips. I’ll admit that they affect my evaluation of the writer. Indeed, more than once I’ve given up on books because of their persistent errors.

It’s a lot easier to see nits in someone else’s story, though. We tend to be a bit blind to typos and such in our own work, partly because we’re not just reading the text. We know what we intended to say, and all too often that’s what we see on the page.

Back before self-publishing, our publishers supplied dedicated editors to help us find and fix this sort of issue. That was part of deal – the publishing company supplied editing, a professionally designed cover, maybe even some marketing, in return for a significant chunk of the profits. Of course, these editors varied in their level of skill – I remember arguing with one woman who insisted that passive voice was ungrammatical – but it was still extremely helpful to have another set of eyes scrutinizing your prose. (On the other hand, now that I am reclaiming the rights to many of my traditionally published tales, I’m noticing nits that the editors missed.)

When you move to publishing your work directly, though, you’re on your own. Obviously you can pay for a professional editor, but given that I am unwilling to go into the red with my writing business, that’s not something I can afford. So I read, and re-read, edit and re-edit. When I can, I run my works in progress through the Storytime critique group, where we have a number of very sharp-eyed members. I think my books are fairly clean. (In terms of errors, not the sexual content!)

But I can’t claim they’re perfect.

Ignorance is bliss. As long as I don’t know about the errors, I can pretend they don’t exist. The other day, though, as I was preparing an excerpt for a blog post, I noticed two ugly typos in the same paragraph. I fixed the problems in the post, of course. Now I’m wondering what I should do about the book itself.

Since the title is self-published and only available as an ebook, it’s not a huge amount of work to upload new manuscripts to Smashwords and Amazon. There will of course be a lag before the new version is available. And anyone who bought the book before the correction may notice the error. Still, I tell myself that this is what I should do, that I owe it to my readers.

Suppose, though, that after I do this, I happen across another nit. Should I upload yet another version? When do I stop? Is it feasible for me to aspire to a perfect manuscript (from an editing perspective)?

Do other readers notice these bugs?

I’m in a quandary here, balanced between perfectionism and practicality. I have more than sixty self-published titles currently available. I also have a very demanding day job. I can’t spend hours every day editing and uploading.

But I hate the idea that readers are reacting the way I do when I hit errors – shaking their heads and thinking that I really don’t care.

Shades of Desire

Image by Aurélien Dumont from Pixabay

Over the past half decade or so, society has officially acknowledged that neither gender nor sexual attraction is black and white. Male and female might be convenient boxes for sorting people, but many – possibly even most – people don’t fit comfortably in one or the other. Way back in the nineteen forties, Alfred Kinsey recognized a continuum in individuals’ sexual response, ranging from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual, but in recent years we’ve come to understand that even this insight is an over-simplification. Sexuality can be viewed along multiple dimensions. Orientation, attraction and action do not necessarily align. Gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, queer, non-binary, asexual, demisexual – the previously convenient LGBT acronym keeps acquiring new initials!

People do like labels. I’d argue, however, that no set of categories is sufficient to capture the many shades and nuances of desire. Sexual arousal and sexual satisfaction are based upon, but go way beyond, physical and biological factors. Personality, history, circumstances and especially emotion all contribute to determine what an individual experiences as erotic.

Some people might claim “I’m attracted to women” or “I’m aroused by men”, implying a sort of universality, but in many cases a more accurate statement would be “I’m attracted to that woman” or “that man”. Why? Appearance, behavior, voice, smile, scent, pheromones, conversation, values… any or all of these might be responsible for sexual desire. Furthermore, attraction to a specific individual can easily violate one’s conventional or acknowledged gender preference. For instance, a man who previously had only female partners might find himself drawn to a particular male.

I think we’re gradually become more accustomed to this notion, and the bookshelves reflect this. While stories featuring gay and lesbian relationships have enjoyed large followings for more than a decade, unexpected, non-traditional pairings (or multi-way connections) are now more common in erotica and erotic romance. One under-represented variation, though, is bisexual men. Aside from my own work (more below), I can’t think of any tale I’ve read recently that featured a hero who’s attracted to both men and women.

MM erotic romance frequently exploits the straight-to-gay trope, where a guy discovers or finally acknowledges his secret homosexual desires, but in most cases this results in the guy “switching teams” rather than embracing bisexuality. Indeed, I’ve found that fans of MM romance react really negatively if a predominantly gay character shows any interest in women. (I had a book rejected by a gay romance website once because of a half-page phone sex scene between a gay character and his female submissive.)

I don’t know how common bisexual men are in the real world. None of my male friends has ever admitted to having bisexual interests. I have a feeling that bisexual men may be even more closeted than gay men. Despite our supposedly broadening view of sex and gender identity, there’s a lingering association between male homosexuality and impaired masculinity. Men who are attracted to both genders may worry that their female partners may view them as less desirable or “manly” because they have sex with other men. They may even view themselves in that negative light.

The rarity of this erotic preference in literature may to some extent reflect this belief.

I’m not sure how, but somehow I managed to avoid being influenced by this and many other societal strictures about sex. I’ve been attracted to both genders since I was a teen; I’ve never really questioned whether this indicated there was something wrong with me. The multidimensional, fluid nature of desire seems obvious and intuitive to me. I’m more than ready to accept that eroticism is far more complex that the animal instinct some would like to claim it is.

When I began writing erotica, I felt it was natural to incorporate the full spectrum of desire including male bisexuality, even when this was beyond my personal experience. My very first novel, Raw Silk, includes a MMFF scene involving my heroine Kate, her exuberantly sexual Thai lover Somtow, a female domestic, and a male performer from a red light district bar. In my second novel, Incognito, the deceptively conventional hero Mark disguises the heroine as a young man and takes her to a gay men’s club in London, where she participates in his steamy encounter with one of the club’s members. Personally, I find this one of the most arousing chapters in the book.

At the time I wrote these novels, I knew nothing about market preferences or prejudices. I was using fiction to explore my personal fantasies. As my writing has matured, I’ve moved away from blatant sexual fantasy (at least in some cases!), aiming for more realistic characters and situations. Nevertheless, male bisexuality remains a favorite theme. In my recent holiday story Once Upon a Blizzard, a woman in her early forties reconnects with a flame from high school, only to discover that he shares his New England farmhouse with his male lover. In Monsoon Fever, a historical romance set in post-WWI Assam, Priscilla’s and Jonathan’s troubled marriage is healed by their mutual desire for a charismatic Indian lawyer. One of my most controversial stories may be Vows, Book 3 in my Asian Adventures series, about a mischievous but insightful wife who encourages her husband’s attraction to a beautiful Buddhist monk. That story (like much of my work, especially the stories of power exchange) turns on a recognition of the spiritual aspects of sex.

But that’s a topic for another blog post!

My bisexual tales often include a female protagonist as well as the two men. One common feature is that the woman is not threatened by the MM connection, but on the contrary finds it arousing. Though I’ve never had the good fortune to observe a couple of men having sex, I’m sure that I, at least, would react this way.

If you’re curious about my bisexual stories, I urge you to check out the links at the end, each of which will take you to a book blurb, excerpt and buy links for the corresponding title. Meanwhile, I’ve only mentioned a few of my books that feature bisexual men. For a full listing, go to and select the “LGBTQ” from the search list.

One of the people on my readers’ email list contacted me recently to tell me how much he appreciated my take on male bisexuality. He’s bisexual himself, married to a woman who sounds both tolerant and experimental. We’ve become regular correspondents. Early on, he mentioned that he really identified with my characters, including their frequent combination of excitement and anxiety. They’re drawn to other men, but afraid to act on that attraction. When they surrender to their desire, though, they have a deep conviction of rightness. That, he said, was exactly how he felt.

I’m thrilled to hear that, at least in one reader’s view, I got it right.

Raw Silk
Once Upon a Blizzard
Monsoon Fever

A Necessary Evil

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Research is an integral part of writing, even in fiction. When you’re an author, you’ve got to get it right. Some readers take insane glee in pointing out gaffes and discrepancies. Have your ancient Roman characters drinking tea, your Elizabethans using the word “clitoris”, your Dom swinging a cane made of bamboo (I’ve been pointedly informed that bamboo is too brittle for a cane and that rattan is the preferred material), and you may find yourself ridiculed throughout the blogosphere. Even a more forgiving reader can be distracted from your story by some detail that just doesn’t fit. Every author’s goal is to build a fictional world in which readers can happily lose themselves. To the extent that this world is inconsistent or unbelievable, the author will fail.

If you write only about characters who share your class, ethnicity and culture, or if you set your stories in a non-specific contemporary locale, you may not need to do much research. However, this can get pretty boring (for both readers and the author).

Thinking about my own work, I find that there are four situations that dictate the need for research.

Geographic or location-oriented research: When I’m setting a story in a specific location (as I usually do), I often research landmarks, place names, or spatial relationships. I don’t need to give my readers a map, but I may need one myself in order to write convincingly.

Cultural research: If my characters are something other than white, western, and well-educated, I need to check on things like vocabulary, slang and tone. I also need to understand the characters’ assumptions, the way they look at the world and how that is different from my own perspective.

Sexual research: There are many sexual practices that I haven’t personally tried (though you might not think that from some of my stories!). In erotica, it is especially important to research the details of the fetish or sexual subculture you are describing. I’ve read many BDSM stories that struck me as ridiculous rather than arousing because the practices described were inaccurate and reflected a lack of research on the part of the author.

Historical research: Writing in a period other than the present probably requires the most intensive research activity. Every aspect of life depends on the historical period, from costumes, food, transportation and economics to language and world view.

Some authors adore doing research. I gather that for some authors, research actually distracts them from the writing process. They get pulled deeper and deeper into the worlds they are exploring, searching for the next level of detail, putting off writing as they gather knowledge that they might not ever use.

Personally I view research as something of a necessary evil. I’ll spend the time I need to answer my questions, but I am always eager to get back to the story itself. I have observed that too much research carries risks—the author feels compelled to use all the nifty information she has uncovered, and ultimately, this distracts from the story. Normally, I’ll let the story itself drive my research activity. Before I begin, I’ll spend some time reading about the period, the people or the practices on which I’m focusing, but then I’ll stop, only returning to my search when I have a question.

Geographic research is fairly straightforward, given the resources on the Internet. I also have two shelves full of travel guidebooks which I use extensively. I’m fortunate in that I’ve traveled quite a lot. Frequently I’ll set a story in a city or country that I’ve visited. Even so, I will often need to check on details. My short story “Prey” (in my paranormal collection Fourth World) is set in Prague, but I wrote it nearly ten years after I visited that wondrous city. I spent quite a lot of time poring over maps and trying to reconcile them with my recollections. At the Margins of Madness takes place in Worcester, Massachusetts and its environs. I lived in central Massachusetts for more than twenty years, but after a decade in Asia, I found that I need to jog my memory. Of course, if a tale is set somewhere that I’ve never visited, like Guatemala (Serpent’s Kiss) or Assam, India (Monsoon Fever), I have to rely entirely on external information, supplemented by analogy with places I have been.

Cultural research is particularly tough for me. Not foreign cultures—if I’ve visited a place, I usually have at least a rudimentary sense of the people and how they communicate. But in capturing the subtleties of other western subcultures, I have problems. The American South, for instance, has a particular flavor of discourse. Likewise the American West. I’ve tried to write criminals and mafia and stuttered badly. One difficulty is the fact that you can’t search directly for the kind of cultural markers that make a character seem genuine. The best way to pick them up is to actually meet an individual from that culture. The second best method is to read other people’s work featuring characters from the same subculture.

Sexual research is always fun, and not too much of problem. The ‘Net overflows with didactic material on various fetishes as well as content that can serve as exemplars. My story “Body Electric”, in Bound and Breathless, features electric play, which I’ve never personally experienced. I had no trouble finding information on electric toys and the effects that they produce. Even my BDSM critic (the one who chided me over the bamboo cane) did not find fault with the result!

Historical research, of course, can go on forever. About a third of my novel Incognito takes place in Victorian Boston. The physical environment was fairly easy; I had lived in Beacon Hill, which actually hasn’t changed much since that period. However, I spent considerable time, effort and money researching costumes (Victorian clothing was extremely complex, with lots of special vocabulary), transportation, and the differences between social classes. I also read up on Victorian erotica, which was the subject of my heroine Miranda’s dissertation, using Steven Marcus’ encyclopedic though annoying tome The Other Victorians.

Even a historical short story requires an inordinate amount of work. A Midsummer Night’s Gender Bending, set in Shakespeare’s London, took me nearly twice as long to write as a normal story, because I was working so hard to be true to the period. After all that effort, my editor still picked up a variety of words that were too modern for Elizabethan times. (I was extremely impressed.)

It’s tough to get the facts right. Unfortunately, even if you do, that may not be enough. To accomplish the objective of creating a compelling, believable fictional world, an author needs more than a raft of detail. It’s critical to have what I can only call a “feel” for that world—an intuitive sense of how it works and how its denizens think, feel and behave.

It’s never possible to answer every research question. Sometimes I have to rely on imagination. But this only works if I can understand the people and places I am trying to portray, at a gut level. How do you acquire this sort of intuition? You won’t find it on Google. For me, building a rich, nuanced picture of the world where I’m setting my story requires more personal experience. Reading original sources, including fiction, from a period can help. Visiting a museum or the actual site is a possibility. Ultimately, though, I find the process a bit mysterious.

Sometimes no amount of research will help. A number of years ago I visited the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. During the twelfth century, the city of Angkor had more than a million inhabitants. It was the largest settlement in the world. I was fascinated by the civilization that had built such impressive monuments, only to disintegrate back into a village culture, and I had an idea for a time-slip erotic romance set partially during that period.

I set about reading everything I could find about Cambodia and Angkor. I spent lots of money on books. I went to museums. I scoured the Web. Somehow, the intuitive sense of those people eluded me. I just couldn’t picture them, understand who they were and how they thought. I could look up all the historical details in the many books I bought, but my imagination remained bone dry. I’ve shelved the project for the moment, hoping that at some point I’ll have some experience that triggers the sort of comprehension and empathy that I need to be able to proceed.

Research the facts. That’s the starting point, sure. But developing a sense of your world, to the point where you can trust your guesses—that’s far more difficult. Ultimately, it’s a kind of magic. Like creating stories in the first place.

(Note: for details on all the books mentioned in this post, please visit my website:

Manufactured Reality

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Whatever happened to direct experience?

Increasingly in our society, it seems people choose to watch rather than participate. When everything is happening on your screen, why bother to look elsewhere? Why incur the expense and effort of traveling, for instance, when you can explore the world via video, online maps, even virtual tours? These days, experts curate information about every topic and disseminate it via the Internet in convenient, bite-sized chunks, supposedly to save you time, effort and trouble. But if you can see all the top sights and cover all the highlights online, why bother to do anything else? Life is short and you have lots more TikTok and YouTube clips to watch.

E-Sports is a prime example of this trend. Instead of actually playing games themselves, e-sports enthusiasts watch other people – celebrity gamers – compete. Computer games are already a step away from the physical realities of life. Players deliberately lose themselves in the virtual universe of their games. E-sports is virtualization squared, a manufactured reality almost completely disconnected from “real life” – except for the fact that e-sports is a lucrative, rapidly growing industry that is making some people quite wealthy.

I mention this because the trend toward the virtual and away from what I’d consider real is not spontaneous or inevitable. It did not arise organically when the Internet became ubiquitous and everyone started to carry it in their pockets. Businesses have encouraged and facilitated the shift from direct to mediated experience, for one simple reason: it’s much easier to sell products when you have a captive customer, glued to his or her screen.

As you can probably guess from my tone, this social phenomenon concerns me, for a variety of reasons. First of all, it contributes to polarization and conflict. Too many people live their lives in an echo chamber that reinforces their prejudices and encourages them to take simplistic views of complex issues. If you don’t actually know any LGBTQ people, for instance, it’s easier to be convinced that they’re all pedophiles working to corrupt innocent kids. If you don’t have personal experience with members of the police, the premise that every policeman is a brutal racist, one breath away from murdering innocent Black and Brown people, can seem chillingly plausible.

The real world is far more complicated and nuanced that the scenarios playing out on your screen. You’ll only discover this, however, if you look away from the realities manufactured by the companies who profit from your watching.

This is not pure conspiracy theory. There’s plenty of research documenting both the polarizing effect of social media and the deliberate efforts of corporate content providers to foster divisive stereotypes in order to improve their bottom lines.

My other concern is more subjective. Based on personal observation, I’d say that the increasing reliance on and consumption of predigested, precisely targeted digital content has negatively impacted people’s happiness and satisfaction.

Consider travel as an example. I’ve done a lot of traveling in my life, though I still have a long bucket list of places I haven’t been. Although the “must-see” attractions like Machu Pichu, Sainte-Chapelle and Angkor Wat are justifiably renowned, my most cherished memories tend not to center on these sites. The stone-paved streets of Cusco at dawn; the little sidewalk café around the corner from Nôtre-Dame where I had the most delicious croissant I’ve ever tasted; the stories about the Khmer Rouge years shared by our Cambodian guide; experiences like these are what makes traveling so life-transforming. You cannot fully appreciate a foreign locale unless you go there in the flesh, soak up the atmosphere, talk to the people, eat the food, even experience the inevitable discomforts. No virtual exploration can capture this richness.

Or we might consider sex. (You knew I’d get to that eventually, right?) In my seventh decade, I look back upon a life in which sex and love have been central. Sex has been responsible for incredible joy, amazing fun and important insights – not to mention the inspiration for my career as a writer.

Sex used to be a marvelous mystery. Desire was an inexplicable but irresistible force. Today, sex has become just another product marketed on the Internet. The amount of porn available online has exploded, and more people are consuming it. The convenience of our personal, private screens obviously facilitates this. It requires nearly zero effort to locate amateur porn videos covering every possible kink.

Yet even though society is drowning in sexual entertainment, study after study has shown that across a wide age range and around the world, people report less frequent and less enjoyable sex.

I have nothing against porn; my partner and I used to watch it occasionally to give some extra spice to our live play. But honestly, can anyone claim that porn is as satisfying as the real thing?

Alas, I fear the situation will only get worse. One of the authors in my erotica critique group has been posting chapters from a story about sex and augmented reality (AR). The technology she describes, which can dynamically replace the image of a porn performer with another person of one’s choosing, is both plausible and feasible. It’s a minor extension of the capabilities for generating so called “deep fakes” that are already causing consternation (and making money). I’d be surprised if there were not companies already working on commercial sex AR. Very soon you’ll be able to watch your wife being spanked by a stern Dom, right on your phone.

But wouldn’t it be more enjoyable and satisfying to spank her yourself?

Interacting with our world is how we learn and grow. I may be mistaken, but I seriously doubt any virtual world or Metaverse will ever come close to capturing the sensual or conceptual complexity that surrounds you – if you’ll only put aside your screen and step into a reality not created by corporations who want your cash.

I’m generally an optimist, but I worry about the generation growing up now, rich in information but impoverished in direct experience. I’m concerned they’ll end up having less empathy and more prejudice, less joy and more frustration, than their parents or grandparents. I hope that I’m wrong.

Lost Wonder

Image by 25621 from Pixabay

Do you remember when erotica was more than just something to get you off? When writing erotica involved more than selecting a few of the latest hot tropes and “hammering on the kink”?

I do. When I first started publishing in the genre, we wanted to create original and surprising tales, mapping out unknown regions in the vast territory of desire. We used our stories to explore the many facets of sex and arousal, starting, almost always, with our own.

Of course people have always written about sex, often driven by personal kinks and quirks, but from the mid-nineties through the first decade of the twenty first century, it became more practical, and socially acceptable, to do so. Serious publishers began to produce erotic titles. This included the wildly popular Black Lace imprint (“Erotica for women by women”) and Blue Moon Books which was the direct descendant of Barney Rosset’s censor-defying Grove Press. Cleis Press, Circlet Press, and other independent houses produced best-selling, award-winning themed anthologies. Alessia Brio’s altruistic Coming Together imprint brought out more than a dozen erotica collections that raised hundreds of dollars for charitable causes. Maxim Jakubowski edited thirteen annual volumes of The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, selecting erotic short stories that had been published during the previous year. He had plenty of options from which to choose.

There were online publishing options, too, webzines like Clean Sheets, Ruthie’s Place, and of course the Erotica Readers and Writers Association. Back in those days, we had fresh content in our Gallery every month. If you’d like a taste of the quality and diversity ERWA members produced, check out the 2006 volume Cream, a collection of more than forty tales curated from Storytime submissions.

It’s easy and often naive to look back on the past and see a golden age. In the case of erotica, though, I think the products of that period speak for themselves. Laura Antoniou’s The Marketplace. K.D. Grace’s The Initiation of Ms Holly. Telepaths Don’t Need Safewords, by Cecilia Tan. Neptune and Surf by Marilyn Jaye Lewis. So many stories, all of them different, going far beyond the mechanics of sex to investigate the meaning and the consequences of desire.

Less well-known but equally representative of the time is Portia da Costa’s Gemini Heat, the sizzling Black Lace title that got me started in the erotica business. I’d never read anything like that novel, which is both feverishly hot and fantastically well-written. It includes a glorious variety of arousing scenarios: exhibitionism, voyeurism, masturbation, power exchange, ménage, anonymous sex, lesbian sex, even twins. Devouring that book, I never knew what to expect – but I knew it would turn me on. Once I’d cooled down, I began to think about all the personal fantasies I’d include, if I were to write my own erotic novel. Inexperienced though I was, I like to believe that with Raw Silk I succeeded in my joint quest for diversity and heat.

Though it was as graphic as anything published now, the erotica of the nineties and the aughts had an exuberance that bordered on innocence. We could write about whatever turned us on. There were no rules, tropes or fixed sub-genres. Calls for anthologies might articulate themes, but contributors were urged to interpret these as broadly as we wished.

We were high on the thrill of sharing our personal erotic visions with the world. Whether we were reading a wickedly sexy story by another author or producing one of our own, there was a sense of wonder in the process – mingled, usually, with arousal.

Alas, I think that wonder has been lost. The market has changed dramatically. Much of what is now sold as erotica is so stereotyped and genre-constrained that one can predict the events of the story without reading a single sentence. There’s no suspense, no uncertainty. Indeed, many of the erotic books on offer broadcast their kinks in the title. Some results from a random Amazon search on the keyword “erotica”:

  • Busty Stepmoms Swapped Stepsons And Ride Them : MOM AND SON SECRET Sex Adult Hot Threesome Menage Erotica Dirty Explicit Sex Story
  • Explicit Erotica Sex Stories: The Collection Of Naughty Virgin, Cheating Wife, Hottest Forbidden, College Brats, Taboo Family, Dark Romance, And Many More!
  • EXPLICIT M/M SEXY STORIES: Naughty & Filthy First Time Straight to Gay Erotic Short Story Collection (MMM, Taboo Daddy Dom, Dark Romance, Bisexual, BBC)

Granted, these are extreme examples. Here are some titles from recent editions of the Excite Spice newsletter:

  • Disciplined While on House Arrest
  • Shared with My Husband’s Boss
  • The Neighborhood Hucow Hotwife

Even Cleis has added subtitles to their classic anthologies.

Yet this sort of erotica often sells well, despite the predictability. Part of the reason is Amazon’s algorithms. The more explicit you are about the content you’re publishing, the more likely it is that your book with come up near the top of a reader’s search.

Another reason for the shift is the drop in attention span encouraged by today’s world of social media and digital content. People don’t have the time or patience for browsing. Overloaded with information from a dozen different input streams, readers may prefer things to be simple: give me a hot wife story, a spanking story, a tight-virgin-big-cock story, a pseudo-incest story. Name your kink and the Internet will deliver. Exploring the richness of sexuality is a forgotten luxury.

I also believe that people’s attitudes toward sex have changed. When I started writing erotic content, I was continually amazed, almost awed, by the power of sex to transform experience. I was on a continuing journey of sexual discovery; when I began to publish my work, my characters took similar journeys, without knowing where those quests would end.

Do readers feel that way now? I doubt it. I’ve read statistics indicating that people are having sex less frequently now than twenty years ago, and that they are enjoying it less. The amount of graphic content available keeps growing, but the level of individual satisfaction seems to be diminishing.

That makes me very sad.

Everyone knows that the older you get, the more affectionately you look back on earlier times. Perhaps authors and readers three or four decades younger than I am do not see things the way I do. To be honest, I miss the lusty thrill of erotica’s “golden age” – and I’m still trying to capture it in the books I write.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


Babysitting the Baumgartners - The Movie
From Adam & Eve - Based on the Book by New York Times Bestselling Authors Selena Kitt



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