Back in April, I discussed the popularity of cross-dressing vaudeville stars in the early part of the twentieth century. Just as celebrities and ordinary folk have an interdependent relationship in our day, we shouldn’t be surprised to discover that cross-dressing was also something the ordinary boy or girl “tried at home” a hundred years ago.

This month’s column is thanks to a trip to Moe’s Books, the sole survivor of a trio of wonderful bookstores on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley (rest in peace, Cody’s and Shakespeare and Company). The other day I was perusing Moe’s “gender” shelves when I discovered Women in Pants: Manly Maidens, Cowgirls, and Other Renegades by Catherine Smith and Cynthia Greig. Focusing on female yearning for the freedom of male privilege during the years around the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, the book is a perfect resource for my research–and for anyone curious about genderbending in days past.

Women in the twenty-first century take our right to wear pants for granted. Pants offer more than just a fashion choice—imagine that you were always denied their physical freedom and flexibility, the warmth they provided on a cold day, the chance to wear sturdy, comfortable shoes. I still remember that I was forbidden to wear pants to school until I was in third grade in the late 1960s. At first we were only allowed to wear pants under our dresses on cold days, to be removed when we got to school. However, this concession proved a slippery slope to the eventual permission to wear pants throughout the year by fourth grade. My aunts all have stories of the moment they first appeared in public in pants in the 1950s. Although they feared condemnation from their neighbors, they received only smiles. Somehow, in spite of all of these women and girls walking our streets and schools in pants, the world continued to turn uninterrupted.

Yet, as Women in Pants attests with abundant photographic evidence, women of a hundred years ago also sought out the pleasures of a pair of trousers both for work and play. Young women in particular were known to have a bit of fun with an all-female “mock wedding,” wherein some donned their brothers’ or fathers’ suits to play the groom, father of the bride, and officiant. These parties were particularly popular at women’s schools and colleges, and the “mock” aspect continued in the irreverent tone of the proceedings. Sometimes invitations were printed up, such as that for the wedding of “Ima Freshman” to “Heesa Junior” in 1908. The vows included the bride’s promise to wash her husband’s fudge-pan (which the contemporary mind can’t help but find suggestive in a way that the girls of 1908 likely did not intend).

While mostly dismissed as good fun, one mother scolded her daughter for dressing as a man for school parties:

“I don’t care how much a male character is needed, nor how much fun it is, it is not to be done again. It is perfectly disgusting and revolting to me, and I am positively ashamed to think of all the letters that have gone to all the homes describing my own dear daughter dressed up as a man… I love thee too devotedly to be able to bear thy not being altogether womanly and lovely.” (Women in Pants, 134)

As more women attended college, concern grew over the harmful effect of study and independence on the fragile coed. Indeed, the young women seemed eager to experiment and push boundaries. Women in Pants reports that older students advised newcomers to borrow or “steal” a brother’s suit to bring to college so she might have the choice of dressing as a man for an all-female dance, mock wedding or school play. (Women in Pants, 140) Many young women took pride in pulling off the charade convincingly, of being favorably compared to brothers in their comportment, and indeed in taking on the male prerogatives of giving toasts, commanding authority, striding across a stage. Did this masculine charisma lead to more intimate pleasures? Story material for the writer of historical erotica set at Vassar, for certain!

The amusement our foremothers took in gender role-playing is touching in its implicit acknowledgment of the restriction of being female. Yet with their sartorial games and experiments, these young women laid the foundation for the greater freedom of women today. Mockery exposes hidden truths. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers knew this, too, a century ago.

By Ashley Lister

As many regular readers will know: I love poetry. I think poetry can be an effective tool for writers as it helps us get a better command over our vocabulary, and it makes us think more acutely about the way we use words. I also believe that a lot can be said in a poem that makes us reflect critically on the environment that allowed such a poem to come into creation. Consequently, this month, I thought I’d share one of my poems here and discuss the inspiration and execution.

Granny pulled on her surgical stockings
She put her false teeth in the glass
She took the Tena pad out of her panties
And said, “Grandpa, could you please fuck my ass?”

The idea for this one came about because I’d wanted to write something that presented the act of sex in an unfamiliar fashion. As writers, I believe, we’re always trying to show the world to our readers in a way that goes beyond the familiar. I could go on here to discuss Viktor Shklovsky’s notion of defamiliarization, but those who know about that, know about that. And those who don’t know about that know about Google.

Writing about old people having sex struck me as being a humorous idea because we normally equate the sex act as being the domain of the young and the beautiful. We can see this in media, such as the 1987 film Full Metal Jacket, where Gunnery Sergeant Hartmann famously tells Private Pyle, “You climb obstacles like old people fuck.” I’m not saying I subscribe to this idea of old age and poor sexual practices being relational. I firmly believe that good sex has nothing to do with youth and beauty. However, societal attitudes suggest that we treat those over a certain age as being past the need or ability for sex.

“I got horny last month at the bingo
When I called house on a sixty-nine.
It’s been decades since I’ve taken one hard up the chuff
And you ought to be there this time.”

“I got horny last week at the library
Whilst reading an old People’s Friend.
I saw an advert for polyester trousers
And it made my arse want your nob-end.”

“I got horny tonight in the kitchen
As I tuned in to Woman’s Hour.
I could hear the rain dripping on my cat flap
And I thought let’s try a golden shower.”

So, as we can see from the verses above, I’ve decided to include lots of placeholders that put this in the category of old people. There’s mention of Tena pants (a product for those who suffer from urinary incontinence). There’s mention of bingo. I identify People’s Friend: a UK magazine with a readership who are primarily elderly, with an average reader age of 71 years and 45% of readers being in the 75+ age group. There’s also mention of Woman’s Hour, a BBC Radio 4 programme that has been broadcasting since 1946. The demographic for Woman’s Hour is not necessarily old but, because it’s been broadcasting for so long, there is an association of the audience belonging to a more mature age group. There’s mention of polyester trousers, and later we’ll see mention of brands targeted towards a mature consumer, such as Steradent, the denture cleansing tablets, and Horlicks, the sweet malted milk hot drink.

These are all thrown into the poem to help create the humorous juxtaposition between a glamorised version of the erotic act of intimacy, and the cold reality faced by today’s modern elderly consumer.

Also note the way the three verses above are working to the rule of three. “I got horny last month… / I got horny last week… / I got horny last night…” We’re building to the present moment in specifically divided increments, moving directly to now. We’ve had mention of an array of sex acts from mutually reciprocated oral sex, a suggestion of cuckoldry, anal sex and urolagnia. Again, the humour I was aiming for came from the unnatural coupling of these acts, which we associate with youth, and the trappings of being elderly.

“So I’m here and I’m hot and I’m horny,
And my teeth are in the Steradent glass.
I slipped Viagra into your Horlicks
So please do me now, up the ass.”

It’s worth mentioning something about the structure here. Each verse is a four-line stanza with an x a x a rhyme scheme (where x is an unrhymed line). I’ve not kept to a particular meter because my intention was to write this as a performance piece, allowing me to pause or force pronunciation in some areas. You will notice that the punchline for each verse comes in that final line of each stanza, and usually in the final word.

Well Grandpa, he did try to please her
As she lay there with her legs spread wide
He gave her a cuddle, and a bit of a kiss,
And then teased her piles to one side.

This verse was there to exploit the notion of humour that comes from disgust. Studies have shown that we are able to laugh at things that are disgusting, as long as the thing we’re laughing at is benign. Because sex is usually presented as the glamorous union between two relatively attractive individuals, this suggestion of a flaw as unglamorous as haemorrhoids is meant to amuse. This is not me saying that I think piles are funny. I don’t. But I’m sufficiently familiar with humour to know that bottoms are funny. Want to make a baby laugh? Blow a raspberry: the same sound that comes out of a bottom. Want to make a toddler laugh? Tell a fart joke. Whether it’s slapstick comedy, where Charlie Chaplin is getting kicked in the buttocks, or is kicking someone else in the backside, or whether it’s the scatological literary brilliance of Jonathan Swift in his poem ‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’, which contains the immortal phrase, “Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!”, we always have and always will find bottoms, and the things that come out of bottoms, amusing.

But poor Grandpa was having a problem.
Her desires had caught him off guard.
He rubbed and he tugged and he yanked and he pulled
But the old man’s old man wasn’t hard.

He imagined doing all three Beverley sisters
Trying to coax some life to his dick
He imagined doing Margaret Thatcher
But that made him feel a bit sick.

And Grandma was looking impatient
As she lay there consumed in her lust
He considered her bare flesh and liver spots
And her fanny: all grey curls and dust.

Apologies to my American readers. That final stanza includes one of those cultural anomalies that support George Bernard Shaw’s notion that ‘The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.’ In the US, fanny refers to buttocks. In the UK, fanny is a euphemism for the vagina. I used the word ‘fanny’ in this verse because it seemed playful and inoffensive. There are lots of euphemisms for vagina but, remember, I wanted to keep the content of this poem humorous and that humour comes from choosing the correct word.

I didn’t want to go with any of the usual expletives because, although the poem is written for an adult audience, there are some taboo words that can simply kill the mood of indulgent humour. Vagina is too medical and technical (and contains one syllable too many for this line). The idea of using potentially dysphemistic phrases such as ‘minge’ or ‘kebab’ or ‘flange’ might have worked, but there was the danger they would be seen as stepping away from the benign into something malign, which would impact on the humour.

It was true he still found her exciting
She’d take out both sets of false teeth to please
And whilst it sounds sick, he’d swear by his dick
Wrist jobs improve with Parkinson’s disease.

We can see the way the poem is starting to shift its focus now. Up until this point, the humorous final lines have all ended with vague or explicit references to the sex act. This stanza is replete with references to old people engaging in intercourse but the humorous sting of the final line comes from our limited understanding of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

There are three main symptoms for Parkinson’s which include stiff and inflexible muscles, slow movement and involuntary shaking. However, for a general audience, the symptom of involuntary shaking is usually perceived as the dominant symptom. When we’re discussing diseases for humorous effect, we rely on an audience’s simplistic understandings of medical conditions. For example, we perceive the main symptom of Anorexia Nervosa as being extreme slenderness or weight loss, rather than it being a serious mental health condition. We talk about Alzheimer’s as though it’s only a memory problem, rather than it being a chronic neurodegenerative disease with symptoms that include confusion and difficulty with familiar tasks.

The reverse of this simplification is when we contribute a single cause to the onset of a complex condition. There is more to the causes of diabetes than eating too many sweets. Not every cancer is caused by the sufferer smoking, or having being exposed to cigarette smoke.

But he stood there and looked rather sheepish
He said, “I’m sorry. I’ve just been with another.
I thought that you knew, when I put her to bed,
I always have a quick shag with your mother.”

Once again, notice the softening of the vocabulary. The innocuous word ‘shag’ is used here which is one of the milder euphemisms to describe sexual intercourse. Bonk was considered as a potential alternative, but the harsh consonant cluster at the end of that word, and the fact that it can be construed as potentially violent, made it seem a less palatable choice. It will also be remembered that the main character in the 1997 film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, used the word ‘shag’ repeatedly. I mention this because the film was released as a 12 certificate in the UK, which allows children below the age of 12 to view the material if accompanied by an adult, supporting the notion that this epithet is comparatively mild. The same certification was also applied to the film’s 1999 sequel: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Y’see, true love is based on two things
Forgive and forget say old timers
Grandpa knew she would forgive and forget
That’s the benefit of having Alzheimer’s.

This final verse was added a long time after the construction of the previous part of the poem. I’d performed the first eleven stanzas several times and, whilst I was pleased with the way the poem was received by audiences, I felt it was lacking the impact of a final punchline. I’m not trying to be reductive with this approach: I understand that poetry is not all about making rude jokes. But the piece is meant to be comedic and one of the essential elements in something comedic is the need for a punchline.

However, it was difficult to know where to go with a punchline. The sexual content had already contained some heavy-hitting variations from standard sexual proclivities, any of which would have been appropriate for the conclusion of the poem. I could have edited the content so that one of these subject areas was left as the conclusion but my worry was that the result would have looked like a patchwork at best, or cannibalised at worst.

Which is why I ended up going with the concept of the final verse: grandpa knows he can be unfaithful because grandma, conforming to the stereotyped dictates of our understanding of Alzheimer’s, is going to immediately forget his confession of infidelity.

I should point out that I’m not trying to suggest the poem is high art. I understand that this poem is little more than a rhyming collection of crude jokes, decorated with examples of poor taste and black humour. However, with the addition of this final stanza, it has been better received by audiences. Since this revision, it has often been the case that I don’t need to deliver the final line for audiences to groan, protest, or finish the piece for me.

To summarise, the poem came about because I wanted to entertain an audience with a poem that drew parallels between the expected positive conventions of describing the sex act, juxtaposed against the negative way our society perceives the elderly as being unattractive and prone to disease. The poem’s success, for me, lies in the way it is favourably received by audiences. Its main failing is that audiences dismiss it as trivial and crude, rather than seeing that it describes an inequity of standards and perception in our current society.

I’m saving the 8thseason of Game of Thrones for binge-watching with my husband after the season and series finale. I have only run into two spoilers so far – the Starbucks cup on the table in front of Daenerys in episode 4 and the water bottle by Sam Tarly’s feet in the series finale. I promise – no Game of Thronesspoilers in this article. It’s not about Game of Thronesanyway. Not directly.

It’s about the Mary Sues and her male counterpart, the Gary Stu.

According to unfounded rumor, a bunch of incels (angry men who call themselves involuntary celibates because women won’t fuck them) claim that Arya Stark is a Mary Sue because she’s too perfect, too lacking in flaws, too strong, and too feminist for their taste. They don’t like her. Now, I haven’t found any posts from a single incel who actually said this. I found Twitter and Facebook comments from people who heard about it. It’s kinda like that line in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off– “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night.”

I wanted to correct the misconception, but those on Twitter and Facebook got it wrong. Yes, Arya is not a Mary Sue, but not because she’s who she is. She’s not a Mary Sue because she’s not a thinly-veiled version of George R. R. Martin.

According to Wikipedia, a Mary Sue (or Gary Stu) “is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character. Often, this character is recognized as an author insert or wish fulfillment. They can usually perform better at tasks than should be possible given the amount of training or experience, and usually are able through some means to upstage the main protagonist of an established fictional setting, such as by saving the hero.” Some famous examples of Mary Sues are Star Trek’sWesley Crusher (he’s really James Roddenberry whose middle name was Wesley) and Elizabeth Bennet fromPride and Prejudice. Bennet is a thinly-disguised Jane Austen.

Other famous examples of Mary Sues:

Lily Potter and Ginny Weasley

Dorothy Gale

Bella Swan

Katniss Everdeen

Beth March

I’ve seen the most egregious examples of Mary Sue’s in fan fiction. I used to read Harry Potter fan fiction for kicks since it was so awful but it was like a train wreck. I couldn’t resist it! Women and girls wrote the fan fiction I read, and I focused on the Severus Snape stories because I thought they were the most entertaining and my favorite character in the books and movies was Snape. These women and girls injected themselves into the Harry Potter canon as a new female character who is beautiful, talented, magical, kind, sweet, loveable, so perfect she made your teeth hurt – and she becomes Snape’s love interest. They married and had children in more than one version. Most often she was an older student or another professor. Some of these stories were quite well-written and they held my interest. The writers were definitely romance fans and were in love with Snape. I recall that when J. K. Rowling heard about the women who took to Snape as a love interest she was like (paraphrased) “Oh my God, why? He’s awful!” He was but he was also a very complex, interesting character.

The main reason I wrote this post was to fix the misconception the incels have created when they tried to redefine the Mary Sue and the Gary Stu. Don’t let them change the definition! Mary Sues are when authors insert themselves into a story they’ve created or insert themselves into an existing canon. While some have pulled this off quite well, others are too damned perfect for their own good. And once and for all, Arya Stark is NOT a Mary Sue!


Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and her two cats.

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There has been so much bad news in the media in the past few months that lust sometimes feels irrelevant.

Both the U.K. and the U.S. seem to be in full meltdown, and Canada’s government/corporate scandal shows that it’s not far behind. The Canadian Prime Minister (Justin Trudeau, son of a former P.M.)  and his wife might still be the most photogenic First Couple on the planet, but appearances can be deceiving. Trudeau’s harassment of two high-level middle-aged female ministers for failing to put party loyalty above respect for the law has tarnished his image as a libertarian, and will probably drive voters away from the currently-ruling Liberal Party. The collapse of a traditionally left-of-centre party could pave the way for more conservatism, less environmental protection, and a more open war on all demographics that are not rich heterosexual white men.

We are not living in a sexy time.

Social media in general seem to be shrieking, “Do something! Sign a petition, donate to a cause, go to a demonstration, write to your political representative!” What usually isn’t said directly is that spending an afternoon in bed with your sweetie—or a few playmates—is the height of irresponsibility. And this is the leftist position.

The anti-sex position of the right wing is usually clearer. Conservative spokespeople tell us that no one is really transgendered, that gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, polyamorists, fetishists, and anyone who is any flavour of BDSM all need to be locked up or reprogrammed for the good of society at large. Women of child-bearing age are being told they should only have marital sex with men, and risk pregnancy every time. Since men are not being held responsible for the babies they father, the possible consequences of unprotected sex are almost guaranteed to turn women off.

I assume that few conservative white men of any age are attracted to women of my vintage (over 65), but they would be appalled to learn that we can have sex lives without them. As Lisabet Sarai, mentioned here lately, sexual feelings in older folks are widely considered icky.

The current zeitgeist feels like a continuous cold shower, interspersed with saunas in hell. No one can live like this all time. As mammals, we need pleasure in various forms just as we need air to breathe.

Sex-writers, in particular, need to remind ourselves of what sex feels like in order to describe it authentically. If we are women, we need to imagine being wanted without being hated, and having our own desire accepted without blame.

I keep a list of calls-for-submissions, and I know that several deadlines for important anthologies and theme issues will whoosh past me before I will be able to write something suitably sexy. Conjuring up joyful, mutual sex is easier for me if I imagine it happening in the Temple of the Loving Goddess in the far-distant past or future, someplace far removed from today’s world. However, not all editors are looking for speculative fiction.

In a happier time, at least for me, I wrote “A Striking Dilemma,” a story about a three-way relationship of two young ladies and their gentleman friend in the late Victorian Age. That was definitely not a sex-friendly era either, but the jolly lovers in my story have enough privilege that they can make their arrangement appear respectable from the outside. This story is included in the second ERWA anthology, Twisted Sheets: Tales of Sizzling Menage, which has been selling well. Here is a taste:

I shook my tresses free, wondering if I looked like a madwoman in an opera.

     Lizzie unlaced my corset before I could do it myself. My small breasts popped into view, and I could see that my nipples were already hard. They looked very pink against my pale skin, but then one of them disappeared into Lizzie’s hot, wet mouth. “Oh!” I gasped. My uncontrolled response inspired her to apply a mercilessly firm tongue to my flesh. The heat of her mouth, and her persistent attention, sent moisture to my neglected cleft.

     Liz heartily sucked my nipple, then gently pulled it with her teeth before suddenly exposing it to the cool air. I looked down and saw it stretched to an amazing length, as if it were made of gutta percha.

     “Aha,” she muttered, as if to herself. I could feel my face grow warm. She liked to make me blush, and my awareness of her goal always guaranteed that she would get her wish. She tugged on my remaining underthings, and I obligingly pulled them off. I stepped out of my petticoat, and left it in a heap on the carpet.

“My girl,” she said approvingly, smiling at the sight I presented. “You’ll still look like a nymph to tempt the ancient gods when all the professional beauties of our time have become fat old women. How many times do I have to show you how beautiful you are?”

     I considered her question. “As many times as it takes,” I answered.

     Lizzie took my response as a dare. I let out a muffled squeak when she lifted me up. She held me firmly, despite my wriggling, and carried me into her boudoir, where she laid me on the counterpane that covered her bed. She had never carried me so far before. I realized that her passion for sports – badminton, archery, riding, and shooting – had given her Amazonian strength and endurance.

     There was a quiet knock at the door. Before Lizzie could attend to it, I heard a key turning in the lock. She strode purposefully into the hallway to greet him. “Henry!” She didn’t sound at all pleased, even though she had impulsively given him his key as a birthday gift two years before.

     I thought briefly of hiding under Lizzie’s bed, but then I realised how childish that would seem. I decided that a mature woman would accept the role of fellow-hostess. I wrapped myself in my clothes, as though in a blanket, and walked in bare feet to the hallway, where I stood beside her. I could guess how ridiculous I looked. Henry had seen me and Lizzie in various states of dress and undress, but never had he seen either of us completely naked.

     “Henry,” I said. “What a pleasant surprise.”

Our young man looked as mischievous as usual. He doffed his hat, laid it on the parlour table, and approached us at once.

     “I beg your pardon, ladies,” he said, almost laughing aloud. “I do hope I’ve interrupted something.” His brown eyes shone with merriment. “Ruth, please don’t feel embarrassed. I know that you and our Elizabeth have an intimacy that men may only wonder at. The games of love are entirely natural.”


Henry is right, of course, and apparently our readers agree with him. I recently got a surprisingly large quarterly royalty payment for my stories that are selling on the on-line platform Excessica, including my collection of five stories about a Dominant English prof, Dr. Athena Chalkdust, my story about the conception of King Arthur, (Under the Sign of the Dragon) and my stories in the two anthologies from ERWA (Erotic Readers and Writers Association).

Maybe there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. ~ Mae West

When I was in junior high school (more than half a century ago!), I wrote a book report on Mae West’s more-than-slightly-scandalous biography, Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It. My choice of reading raised some eyebrows, but I was fortunate to have an open-minded teacher who gave me an A rather than grief.

Little did he know he was nurturing a future author of smut!

I was fifteen when I gave away my virginity – twenty five when I received my first spanking – twenty seven when I participated in my first ménage – in my thirties when I attended my first swinger’s party. I didn’t publish my first erotica until my forties. Sometimes it takes a while to fully develop the erotic imagination. Or perhaps I was just too busy acting out my fantasies to sit down and capture them in words…

And now? In my dreams, I’m still the nubile, desirable tart I was in grad school, but in the real world I’m just another little old lady. I’ve got wrinkles, carefully dyed gray hair, arthritic hips and knees. I can’t complain, though. I can still cook up a steamy story when I get the urge.

Our culture views sex as the purview of the young. I think this reflects a fixation on the physical aspects of sex. If you’re not a hot babe or a ripped hunk, according to popular wisdom, you can’t turn anyone on. Of course this is complete nonsense. In fact, I find myself increasingly attracted to more mature individuals: the woman on the subway with the ethnic blouse and thick gray plait hanging down her back; the grizzled guy in bifocals, sitting in Starbucks with his suit jacket on the back of the chair and his business shirt sleeves rolled up to bare his tanned arms; the white-haired couple by the seawall, holding hands and laughing together. Oh, I see the smooth, ripe flesh of the young, too – firm, unfettered breasts under her tank top, tight jeans clinging to his magnificent gluts – but I know that if I were alone with these beautiful kids, I’d have nothing to say.

I recently encountered this encouraging article about the issues older people encounter trying to express their sexuality. There are of course physical constraints to senior sex, but the biggest obstacle seems to be the notion that old people automatically become asexual, or even worse, that old people having sex is somehow icky.

It’s difficult to resist societal stereotypes, but I simply refuse to buy this. I bet my sex life is better than most millennials (who apparently are less likely to have sex than any generation for the past four decades). Anyway, if my lover and I are satisfied, who cares what anyone else thinks?

I’m not willing to give up my sexual self. Writing helps me keep that part of me alive. I’ve penned a few tales where the characters are senior citizens, most notably Gray Christmas. In that book, the protagonist’s adult daughter has a difficult time accepting her mom’s lusty affair. I think there’s an audience for stories like this that convey the reality that sex changes as you age – but that you can still enjoy what has to be one of the greatest joys on earth.

So listen to this dirty old lady – don’t give up on nookie just because you’re a bit creaky or sagging. After all, when Mae West died, at the ripe age of eighty seven, she was shacked up with a hunky former Mr. California thirty years younger than she was.

I only hope I can do her legacy justice.

Love isn’t an emotion or an instinct – it’s an art. ~ Mae West


In February, I posted a photo of my writer’s “room of my own” immediately after it was painted a serene sky blue. I promised an “after” photo in March, but, as always with home improvement projects, it took us much longer to get everything back in place and photo-ready.

Now I am back at work in my sunroom, with the addition of a cozy IKEA rug and the subtraction of a lot of clutter. I’ve also purchased some decorative boxes to hold the letters I decided to keep, a nice upgrade from the shoe box where they lived, mostly forgotten, for decades.

In February, I was expecting the love letters written to me would be of the most use for writing inspiration.

I was wrong.

Sure, it was amusing to read letters from three different young men who told me that I’d taught them the meaning of “real” and “mature” love, knowing the jejune course of the relationships’ end. The letters even brought back a few warm memories—my first attempt at erotic writing for an audience of one, for example, and the encouraging reception of my efforts. I thank him for that. I kept my draft of my sexy letter tucked in with his reply—I’ve gotten a lot better at erotica, but I can see the raw talent and fearlessness in my nineteen-year-old self.

The real treasure, however, is the extensive collection of letters sent to me by a dear female friend I met at college. I appreciate now why I kept all of them, more by far than from any other correspondent. My friend does not consider herself a Writer, but her letters are brilliant examples of storytelling. Honest, intimate, with an impeccable sense of comic timing, they bring me right back to those days of youthful emotional intensity. My friend always knew when to inject irony and humor, even as we both floundered around looking for love, for a man who appreciated us as much as we appreciated each other.

More amazing is the realization that both of us would set aside hours of our day, at least once a week, to pour out our hearts to each other when we were separated by summer vacations and, after graduation when I lived in Japan, an ocean. Does texting or even old-fashioned email encourage such care in composition? Do these modern forms of communication encourage the same self-reflection involved in sitting down to craft a letter intended for a most sympathetic audience?

As I may have mentioned, my historical novel will include letters between “friends” who will, through that form of connection, become more (since my novel will be clearly labeled a romance, I don’t expect I’m giving anything away by this admission).

So, in fact, my female friend’s letters are proving to be a richer source of inspiration than the official “love” letters.

Tidying up can indeed reward you with unexpected pleasures.

I can’t speak for other writers, but for me an unsolicited comment from a reader is worth more than getting published, or even getting a check in the mail. For a total stranger to tell you she read your story and that it affected her … wow, you can’t put a price on that.

Like a lot of folks around here, my first time exposing my scribblings to the public came courtesy of ERWA and the Story Gallery. And while email addresses of authors are tacked on the stories that appear in the gallery now, some time ago readers were encouraged to share their thoughts with authors about stories. And, if you think seeing your words in print is a thrill, wait until you get your first fan mail from someone you don’t know saying, “Hey, I really liked your story.” Then it’s Release the endorphins!

I can’t remember ever getting a negative response to a story, but I remember one that was somewhat unsettling.

I don’t have any particular system for choosing names for my characters, particularly last names. Most are relatively common surnames, so no one is likely to confuse a character in one of my stories with an actual individual, even when I pick a name from someone out of my past – except for this one time. Oy!

I was pondering a name for a female character who was a psychologist and settled on the name of a kid with whom I shared a few classes at high school.

The story was chosen to appear in ERWA’s story gallery, and shortly afterward I received an email from a young woman who was urgently curious to know how I had come up with the surname of the character of the psychologist. She explained that it was her family name and only 35 people on the entire planet had it.

It was a classic Uh-oh! moment.

I replied explaining I was trying to settle on a name that fit a female psychologist and that I remembered the name of  the kid from high school. I described him and told her his first name.

“That’s my Dad!” came the reply.

Like I said, Oy!

I braced for her to demand I change the name or take down the story. You can’t tell, after all, how someone might react to having their family name in an erotic story. I explained that her dad and I weren’t friends, but only shared a couple of classes, so only knew each other casually.

She replied, “That’s amazing.” Then she shared that she was in college studying psychology, and wasn’t that also a coincidence.

We kind of chatted back and forth for a bit, as she told me what had become of her dad. I offered that he would likely not remember me at all.

Anyway, that’s how we left it. Except, feeling a bit more relaxed about the situation, I asked her how she liked the story. She said erotica wasn’t really her thing and that it was one of her dorm mates who had read the story on ERWA and brought it to her attention. I didn’t think to ask her what her dorm mate thought of the story. Afterward, I couldn’t help feeling like I had dodged a bullet of sorts.

The story was never published anywhere else but in the Story Gallery, but if I’d ever submitted it elsewhere I would have likely changed the name.

And so … a bit of a cautionary tale. What were the chances?

by Ashley Lister

Whenever we’re asked the question ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ a lot of us puzzle over our response. To most of the writers I know ideas aren’t the problem: finding the time to commit those ideas to paper is the real problem.

However, I’m aware that some people do search for inspiration and I’m hoping the following list of 13 questions might prove to be a useful resource to inspire ideas.

I found this list maybe a decade ago on the internet, and have chopped it and changed it to suit purposes in classes over the years. I no know where the list came from but I’m grateful to the original author for them sharing it online.

a) Do you believe honesty is the best policy?
b) List 5 people you know. Then describe each of them in 5 words.
c) If you could have anyone locked in a room so that you could torment them for a day, whom would you choose, and how would you torment them?
d) Would you be willing to have horrible nightmares every night for a year if you would be rewarded with extraordinary wealth?
e) Would you enjoy spending a month of solitude in a beautiful natural setting? Food and shelter would be provided but you would not see another person.
f) If you could have one superpower, which would you choose?
g) Which of the four seasons do you most anticipate?
h) Would you be willing to become extremely ugly physically if it meant you would live for 1,000 years at any physical age you chose?
i) Who would you most like to be stuck in an elevator with? Least like?
j) You can select one person from history and ask them a question to which they must give a truthful reply. Whom would you select, and what question would you ask?
k) If you could bring one character to life from your favourite book, who would it be?
l) Would you be willing to commit perjury in court for a close friend? What if your lie would save his life?
m) What dead person would you least want to be haunted by?

With the above list, don’t simply answer yes, no, or insert the name of your least favourite politician where appropriate. Give each one a little thought and see if the answer doesn’t provide the kernel of an idea.

I’m reading Anne Lamott’s “bird by bird” which is a book written for writers. She talks about everything in this book. Jealousy. The voices in your head that are always telling you your writing is shit. Perfectionism. The craft of writing. Writer’s block.

She also talks about writer’s groups, ranging from a few writer friends meeting occasionally to critique each other’s work and gossip to expensive writer’s conferences where you can count on people, including those you have long admired, taking a blowtorch to your work.

I’ve been in two writer’s groups so far. One when I was much younger and greener. I was the only horror writer in a group of romance writers. It was an eclectic mix but I learned a great deal, plus I felt accepted and valued. Today, I’m in one where I’m the erotica, romance and horror writer in a group of memoir, literary, and non-fiction writers.  Another eclectic mix. This group meets once per week on Wednesday mornings, and I love getting together with the other women on a regular basis. It’s a woman-only group. The men’s group meets immediately after this one.

I may write what the others don’t but I don’t feel at all an outsider. That’s what I love best about the group – the friendship. We are honest (not brutal) in our critiques and I get lots of useful feedback, especially when my confidence is low or I’m stuck at a spot in the story where I see no easy way out. Sometimes I paint myself into a corner. These women help to get me out of that corner.

Lamott described her writer’s group which sounds very much like mine. She wrote: “We – the other students and I – can be like a doctor to whom you take your work for a general checkup. We can give you a place to show up and give you a little benevolent pressure, which we hope will help you finish stories and sections. We can give you some respect, because we know what it takes.” Everyone helps each other and is fair-minded in criticism. An important thing to me is that no one is attacked or feels attacked.

My writer’s group recently helped me out of a very sticky situation with a novel I’m currently struggling over. I had no idea who one of the important, pivotal characters was because I created him from the seat of my pants and his nature was still developing. I also had no idea where the book was going and because of that I was stuck. The group leader introduced us to an exercise which has come in very handy for me – writing in reverse from the end to the beginning. I knew in general how the book was supposed to end so I created note cards describing that ending and then I moved backwards, briefly describing each scene. While doing this, I discovered the identity of that vexing character. Suffice to say he is really a she and now that I know who she is she is much easier to write. I’m also able to further develop a few minor characters I’d rather see more of. They’re interesting people and important to the plot. I’ve almost written backwards to where I am currently in the book. I have a long way to go but I feel much better about this book now than I did months ago when I all but gave up on it.

Writer’s groups may be available in your area. Call the local library or college to find one near you. Contact your local chapter of Romance Writers of America. It may know of groups near you. If you have friends who live near you who write, set up one of your own. I think it’s best to stick to smaller groups. That way, everyone is heard and things stay informal. My group ranges from four to ten people depending who shows up on a given week. Time of year, weather, and personal issues come into play regarding attendance. I look forward to my writer’s group each week for several reasons. It’s nice to hang out with other writers. It’s fun to be exposed to genres I don’t write and to give and receive feedback. I look forward to plot developments from others in the group. Updated manuscripts are a joy to hear read because I watched that piece grow from an “OMG what is this shit?” opinion by the writer to “this story is working out well”. Publication news is always greeted with great cheer. I get feedback I otherwise would not have received, thereby helping me my work in a new light from different perspectives. The women often bring treats to the group like croissants and muffins. We make coffee. We have birthday parties and holiday parties. If you can find a writer’s group like this I highly recommend joining. There is great value in the friendships and work inherent in such a group.


Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and her two cats.

Web site:



Amazon Author Page:


With apologies to Stephen King, I would like to outline the basic process I use to create a story suitable for publishing on Amazon or SmashWords. I don’t want to teach you how to write as there are far more qualified authors to do that. I am a lowly engineer and fully appreciate my lack of talents with the English word. But I think what I can help you with is the mechanics of compiling your story and make it ready for publication in the most efficient and time-saving method.

First, my bona fides as it were. I have been writing smut, basically stroke stories for almost seven years now. I’ve published over twenty-five stories, most over 30,000 words and several close to 100,000 words.

I’ve focused the majority of my publishing efforts to Amazon and SmashWords along with several other websites but I write primarily for the two major publishes of Indie writers.

When you publish at SmashWords, and the story is accepted into their Premium Status, SmashWords will automatically send your story to Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and others. So publishing at SmashWords will get you into Apple without any additional work. So it’s like repeating the publishing process multiple times.

For me, a great deal of my sales comes from Apple iBooks, and I’ve done nothing besides send the story to SmashWords. Now certainly, when you write erotica, certain topics will get you excluded from Apple and others. This topic is a blog post all on its own, and I’ll tackle that later.

My thought is to create a special section on my blog,, and place all of these posts in one place for easy reference.

First, let’s talk about what makes up a story that will be accepted into SmashWords Premium Status for wide distribution. If you follow the steps I’ve outlined below, your story will be accepted at both Amazon and SmashWords with a minimum of rework.

This is the system I’m currently using, and while I’m working on version 2.0, it does work pretty well for me. If you have your own method and it’s working okay then don’t change a thing.

The parts of my story are as follows:

  • Cover Image, 300 dpi, 1600×2400 pixels
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Table of Contents (TOC)
  • Body (the actual story itself)
  • Back Matter (advertising, other stories, etc)
  • About the Author

Now a little bit about storing files.

  • Draft – Folder for stories I’m working on
  • Cover – Cover images
  • Front Matter – Amazon (Title and Copyright for Amazon)
  • Front Matter – SmashWords (Title and Copyright for SW)
  • Table of Contents
  • Body (actual story by itself)
  • Back Matter – Amazon (Ads, etc. for Amazon)
  • Back Matter – SmashWords (Ads, etc. for SmashWords)
  • Full – Amazon (Final full copy for Amazon)
  • Full – SmashWords (Final full copy for SmashWords)

Once I’ve written the story and moved it from Draft to Body, I assemble the finished product as follows.

  1. Let’s assume I’ve written a story called MyStory and storied it in Body after proofreading it. I recommend that you write in Word 2003 DOC format and not DOCX as some publishers do not accept DOCX.
  2. Open MyStory in the Body folder. Let’s assume this is for Amazon.
  3. Immediately do a Save As “MyStory – Full – Amazon.doc” in the Full – Amazon folder.
  4. Open the front matter file “MyStory – Front – Amazon.doc” from the Front Matter – Amazon folder. This will be the title page and copyright page customized for Amazon.
  5. Copy the front matter by selecting it, copying, and paste it to the top of the “MyStory – Full – Amazon.doc” file. If you’re happy save it, just in case. Now the full copy has the front matter plus the body in the Full folder.
  6. Close the front matter file and open the Table of Contents file. Select it all, copy and paste in between the front matter and the body of the story. Now save that.
  7. Open the back matter file, select it all, copy, and paste to the end of the full copy.
  8. At this point, we have a full copy of the MyStory for Amazon. The title page, copyright page, TOC, body, and back matter.
  9. Next check the points where you joined the various sections to be sure there are no extra page breaks or extra space.
  10. Go through the body and back matter and set bookmarks at each chapter and point in the back matter which you need to reference in the TOC. I recommend that you create a standardized set of bookmarks to make it easier to reuse the back matter on other stories.
  11. Once the bookmarks are in place, go to the Table of Contents and create links for each chapter and spot in the back matter.

At this point, we have assembled a complete book yet the individual parts are available for ongoing modifications. For example, in the back matter, you may list all of your other stories.

Then when you add a story, you normally have to go back and re-edit all of your finished stories to add the new material. By keeping the body and the back matter separate, all you have to do is copy and paste.

By the same token, to publish to a different publisher such as SmashWords, you simply create front matter and back matter for SmashWords. Then take the body that you used for Amazon and tack on the front and back for SmashWords.

When you publish a new story, update the back matter file and then rebuild old stories by assembling the new pieces and upload the new copy.

Hopefully, this makes some sense to you and will help to standardize your stories to look consistent and more professional.

I’m going to expand upon this in more detail on my blog and answer any questions that arise. I’ll get into what I use for setting and layout in a later issue.

Thank’s for reading and check out my blog:

See you next month!

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