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Did you know that in 1885, the age of consent in the majority of the United States was 10 years old?

This was news to me.

Mind you, nine states–Arkansas, the District of Columbia (I’m from the D.C. area, and it’s a state, okay?), Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia–were more protective of their young. Their age of consent was a geriatric 12. In Delaware, a girl of 7 was old enough to “consent to her own ruin”—as the ladies fighting to raise the age of consent to 18 years of age liked to frame the issue.

Popular mythology decreed that ladies in the Victorian Age ruled over the home and never sullied their pure spirits with public matters. Yet we know that determined women played an important role in the temperance movement, the “civilization” of the West, and the campaign for woman suffrage. By 1920, they also convinced legislators to raise the age of consent to 18 years old in twenty-one states and 16 years old in twenty-six states. Georgia took the prize from Delaware with the lowest age of consent of 14. The ladies did all this in spite of having no power of the vote in the East. (Another lesser know fact: in the West granted female suffrage years before the Nineteenth Amendment gave the vote to all U.S. women in 1920. For example, Wyoming territory gave women the vote in 1869, Utah in 1870, and California in 1911.)

How then did these ladies accomplish this feat in the face of notable male resistance to an increased chance of statutory rape charges and their loss of access to the physical comforts of those agreeable second-grade girls in Delaware?

The answer may surprise you as well.

For in fact, a key weapon in this victorious battle was a novel loaded with illicit sex that was written by a most respectable lady. Helen Hamilton Gardener (nom de plume of Alice Chenoweth, 1853-1925) was a public intellectual, suffragist and staunch opponent of the sexual double standard. Gardener was married, twice, but reportedly had no children. She published learned articles, essays and lectures, but her best-selling works were two novels about “depraved” sex that she wrote to help convince the public of the wisdom of protecting girls from older male predators. Her first novel, Is This Your Son, My Lord?, was published in 1890 and sold over 25,000 copies in the first five months. The book was especially popular with reformers, who sent the novel to legislators and leading citizens in the hope that the poignant narrative would sway them to support raising the age of consent.

Imagine using a work of fiction to influence legislators today. How about sending copies of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy to Congress to help them understand how we can reform sadistic billionaires into caring husbands and fathers through our unconditional love?

Perhaps we should think outside the box in our current time of turmoil?

But back to our topic at hand. I first learned of Gardener’s novel, and the age-of-consent campaign, from Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920 by Mary E. Odem. This is Odem’s summary of the novel’s plot:

“A strong condemnation of the double standard and male vice, the novel describes in lurid detail the ruin of an innocent young woman by two outwardly respectable men. One of these men, Mr. Mansfield, a wealthy mill owner and highly regarded member of his church and community, decides that it is time for his seventeen-year-old son, Preston, to become a man by having his first sexual conquest. Looking for a suitable victim, Mr. Mansfield takes Preston to New York City, where they befriend a fifteen-year-old working-class girl named Minnie Kent, who is living with her poor widowed mother. Mr. Mansfield invites the unsuspecting girl for a buggy ride in the park but takes her instead to a rooming house. After locking the door, he coaxes her to yield to his advances. When the frightened Minnie refuses, Mr. Mansfield takes a revolver from his pocket, forces her submission, and threatens to kill her if she breathes a word to anyone. After ravishing the girl himself, Mr. Mansfield then turns her over to his son. As a result of this rape, Minnie bears an illegitimate child and is forced to become a prostitute; Preston and his father return to their comfortable bourgeois home and family. Mr. Mansfield lives a long and prosperous life, but Preston’s fate is not such a happy one. He is tortured by guilt over his cruel treatment of Minnie and eventually commits suicide because his past immorality prevents him from marrying the virtuous girl he loves.” (Odem, p. 17)

Odem manages to make the novel sound humorless, melodramatic and silly. How could such a story be taken seriously? I realized I had to read Is This Your Son, My Lord? and judge for myself the persuasive powers of this best-selling sexual fantasy (all written sex is a form of fantasy, I would argue). I was especially curious to see how Gardener handled the sex scenes for an 1890 audience. That revolver is so Freud-before-Freud. For a writer of historical erotic fiction, reading the novel was a professional duty!

Scrolling through the free Kindle download, I found myself yet again surprised. Is This Your Son, My Lord? was witty, psychologically astute and bold in its portrayal of male hypocrisy. Odem’s summary has a number of belittling inaccuracies, but she is correct that the novel clearly meant to hold middle-class men accountable for their role in non-marital sex, thus creating a single sexual standard where partners of both sexes pay a price for illicit sex.

From the preface to the second edition, I learned that the book received a lot of attention, negative and positive, when it was first published. Some men of good conscience listened. “The Nassau Literary Magazine, conducted by the senior class of Princeton College, in its review of the first edition of this book says: ‘It states plain truths, and teaches a plain lesson. It comes very close to any college boy who has kept his eyes open. When we finish we may say, not ‘Is This Your Son, My Lord,’ but, Is it I?’”

The Princeton undergraduates might well have chuckled in recognition even as they blushed in shame. A good example of the author’s wit comes from a second plot-line in the novel, the story of an aspiring young minister and habitual liar named Fred Harmon, who, immediately after pleading his good character to the father of Maude Stone, the girl he hopes to marry “… asked [a stranger] for the most fashionable gilded house in the city, quite as simply as he inquired his way to the leading church two days later. Fred had no prejudices. He went to both. He believed in sustaining all well-established institutions.”

I find this to be delightfully wry humor from a proper lady of 1890. But enough about rhetoric, what about the lurid sex? In her summary, Odem did fair justice to the rape scene as Gardener portrays it, but she neglected to mention the significant catalyst for the assault on young Minnie Kent. Indeed, the first chapter hits us right in the trousers with a variant on male sexual sin that doubtless resonated with Princeton men. What follows is my summary of the novel, with more attention to the sexual elements.

Young Preston Mansfield falls ill at military school and is brought home to the family doctor, who serves as one of the novel’s narrators.

“It did not take me long to discover the origin of his malady. He had fallen into certain unwholesome practices, — an epidemic of which appeared, from his account, to have broken out in the school, where the young fellows had been too intimately crowded together, — the effects of which were painfully apparent to a practiced eye. These facts, together with the full history of his own case, I got from the boy, by degrees, and then told his father the whole story and what the ultimate outcome might be in both his mental and physical nature, if he were sent back to the school.”

Blame my own lurid imagination, but I couldn’t decide whether Preston had contracted gonorrhea from gay orgies in closely packed bunk beds or had developed anemia from too many circle jerks, as medical experts from the period warned. The doctor settles the matter by assuring the father they can put aside the moral issue and treat him for the physical symptoms of his “languid, unnerved” condition because Preston has “hurt no one but himself.” Okay, then, code for masturbation it is.

“Moral side be hanged! Harmed nobody else! That’s the trouble—the little fool!” declares the father, who we will soon learn, is not at all averse harming others, especially young teenage girls. The novel never discusses why a visit to the local parlor house won’t accomplish the healing same effect, but apparently Father has his standards.

Determined to save his 17-year-old son from masturbation, Mr. Mansfield takes Preston from their home in “the West” to New York City in the company of the doctor-narrator. The good doctor tries to teach the father a lesson by telling him Preston picked up a girl who is now at the hotel with him. The father rushes to the hotel to encourage Preston to take advantage of this gullible hussy, only to discover the veiled young lady is his own daughter who is attending school in the city. The doctor had hoped Mansfield would realize that since he would not want his own daughter so callously used, he shouldn’t inflict this fate on another innocent girl. However, Mansfield, who is indeed president of the school board and a Sunday School teacher back home, is programmed for conquest, not empathy, and thus only becomes more insistent that his son become a real man by having intercourse with a lower-class city girl. The doctor returns home in disgust.

Cut to five years later, when the same doctor encounters Preston by chance in New York. The young man seems hardened by life; he was expelled from Harvard for too much drinking and too little studying. His father is dead—which I wouldn’t exactly call a long and prosperous life, another of Odem’s inaccuracies. The narrative then turns to Preston’s drinking buddy, Fred, the aspiring minister who blithely goes to a brothel immediately after declaring his love for the respectable Maude Stone. Clearly Gardener does not cower from calling out the moral failings of men of her own class, ministers included (in the preface, she defends against the charge of anticlerical sympathies by reminding readers that her father was a minister). Incidentally, in case you were thinking Gardener was totally anti-sex, Maude realizes with the help of her father that it is her upstanding childhood friend Harvey Ball who truly loves her. Her father purposely leaves them alone in the moonlit parlor where they kiss and coo and caress at some length. Gardener makes it clear she is not opposed to sensual intimacy in the proper circumstances.

We then pick up the Mansfield plot, a less fortunate narrative. The troubled Preston confesses to the doctor that after he left them in New York, his father, whom he now refers to as “lie,” finds his son a boarding house where young Minnie Kent lives with her widowed mother. A natural affection develops between Preston and the sweet-natured (but “n’t very bright” as he describes her) Minnie. His father takes them buggy riding, then stops on a side street outside a large circular building, saying he has business there. Mansfield takes Minnie with him claiming he doesn’t trust Preston with her because they are sweet on each other, thus accusing the boy of his own intended crime. Father comes back alone and tells Preston to go back to the boarding house, with the excuse that Minnie twisted her ankle and is being examined by a doctor. When Mansfield brings the tear-stained girl home, she faints and Mansfield carries her upstairs and quiets her with “some powders and a little champagne,” the date rape drugs of 1890.

Later Mansfield takes Minnie and Preston back to the house of assignation and, after he violates her again, locks them in the room together. To Preston’s horror, Minnie reveals the depths of his father’s bestial betrayal. Thus, the reader learns of the dramatic defloration fourth-hand, protecting us from the full visual impact of brandished revolvers and naked male members. In an era when obscene material was highly regulated, Gardener had to rely on readers’ imaginations to fill in the blanks. More importantly, Odem’s overview sounds like Preston gleefully raped Minnie, but he is actually a far more sympathetic character. This is how he went astray in his own words:

“Here is where my own devilment comes in. While I sat there with that girl in my arms, trying to comfort her, calling down the wrath of heaven on his head, the devil got the best of me. We were locked up there for hours together, and in promising to avenge her, in swearing to take her part against him, in the helplessness of our youth and ignorance, clinging to each other for mutual comfort, I added my infamy to his, and the girl was doubly damned, before we realized that sympathy could lead to crime!”

Preston gallantly offers to marry Minnie, but Gardener gives the poor girl a most powerful line: “You cannot give what you do not possess yourself. You cannot make me respectable.”

Ouch. Poor Minnie might be a little brighter than you thought, eh, Preston?

These five years later Preston is in love with a nice girl of his own class, Nellie, but is haunted by his own irreparable past. The doctor urges him to confess all to Nellie, but Preston doubts she’ll believe his father was so terrible and regrets the fiend is no longer alive to confess the sin himself. His cry of disgust seems aimed at a wider audience of men than the sympathetic physician:

“Well, a woman has to trust wholly to a man’s honor in marriage, and men think it is smart to deceive them. They have no sense of shame about it. Look at my mother! Father would have murdered her if she had done half what he did. He demanded all of her life to be true to him, and he gave her, in exchange, a miserable, beggarly, warped corner of a deceitful, underhanded, unclean nature in exchange for it. And he thought it was good enough for her. He had no sense of shame about it. What did he give her in exchange for her honor and loyalty? Dishonor. What did he give her for her truth? Lies. What did he take home to her every day of his life? A mere shred of his nature, patched up and stuffed out and dressed to look real, and he depended entirely on her not finding it out — on her strong faith in him to carry him through. He traded on her tenderest emotions and then pretended to love and respect her! Bah! That kind of love and respect wouldn’t go down with him. Why should it with her?”

Note that Gardener gives the young man the empathy to understand the situation of the angels in the house. By putting her argument in his mouth, she extends hope that men do have the power to understand the effects of their actions on their mothers, sisters and wives.

Now onward to the dramatic conclusion of our tale. Preston asks the doctor to give him drugs so he can commit suicide. The doctor says he’ll think about it but actually plans to convince Preston to tell his girlfriend the truth. Alas for the wisdom of an honest confession, Preston bursts into their next meeting holding the lifeless body of his heart’s love in his arms. Nellie died jumping from their carriage in horror when he told her about his shameful past. Two hours later, Preston kills himself. “Dead by his own hand. Or stay,— was it by the hand of his father?”

Point taken, Mrs. Gardener! Exploitative sex doesn’t create life—it destroys it. Lustful men beware, the author knew what devilment respectable fathers, brothers and sons were up to out on the town with vulnerable working-class women, and she didn’t like it one bit. Far from silly, I was struck by the author’s eloquent arguments about the consequences of the double standard to family relationships. As a lady she was supposed to look the other way, but instead she spoke out about what she saw, to the extent she was able to given the constraints of the time. Rather than laugh dismissively at her efforts from the comfort of our more “liberated” age, I felt her sense of violation and frustration at this widespread social hypocrisy that still lingers one hundred years later. I’ll admit, though, that I suspected the Mansfield shenanigans were pure melodrama, crafted for the maximum odiousness of her villain. Yet Gardener directly addresses this suspicion in the preface:

“To those who think the picture of sex depravity in the Mansfield family is overdrawn, there is this to say. The case upon which this story was based is from life. The elder of the two is still living and is a respected member of society to-day and a deacon. In the story he is killed off. That is about the only bit of fiction in his case. He made the request of the ‘doctor.’ He afterwards paid a bank cashier to do what he is made to do in the story. The aforenamed cashier is also a prominent “’society’ man to-day.”

I was still thinking the revolver was overly melodramatic until I happened to read the October 2, 2017 New Yorker profile of Gloria Allred, a noted attorney for sexual assault victims including Bill Cosby’s accusers. When Allred was a young divorced mother living in Los Angeles in the 1970s, a local physician asked her out to dinner, claimed he had a few house calls to make first, took her to a hotel, pulled out a gun, and raped her. “She didn’t report the crime to the police, fearing that she wouldn’t be believed.” (Jia Tolentino “Gloria Allred’s Crusade,” New Yorker 10/2/17)

Later the same day, the Harvey Weinstein story broke in the New York Times. Unfortunately, these stories are all too real.

Indeed, as a writer who focuses on the erotic experience, I’m heartened that a lady novelist of yore had the courage to tackle such a taboo subject with her gloves off. She may not have prevented the abusive behavior of many powerful men then or now, but through the power of her storytelling, she actually helped change the age of consent to protect vulnerable girls under new, enlightened laws that respected the innocence of their youth.

Or did she?

Tune in next month for the twists and turns in our story of sexual desire and dastardly deeds in America at the turn of the last century.

The image of the “fallen woman” is reprinted from the cover of Ernest A. Bell, Fighting the Traffic in Young Girls, or the War on the White Slave Trade (1910) via Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920 by Mary E. Odem (1995).

A: To get a new Point of View

You are in a dungeon. You look around. You see implements of torture on the walls, floggers, thumbscrews, other stuff you don’t even recognise. Except the stains; you have a good idea what those stains might me.

You hear a noise behind you…

Second person POV is definitely an acquired taste. Beloved by RPGers (that’s Role-Playing Gamers, not Rocket Propelled Grenadiers—what the fuck’s wrong with you?) but hated almost universally by everyone else, you probably won’t see any traditionally published Second Person fiction outside of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. (more…)

By Ashley Lister

Lucky Number

You count
Each brisk slap
Upon your bare ass
Groaning when you get to seven

The Fibonacci poem is an experimental Western poetry form, having similarities to haiku, but based on the Fibonacci sequence.

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…

A typical Fibonacci poem is six lines in length, although it can be longer.

As I’ve said before, these short, simple forms are an excellent warm-up routine for writers because it works on so many levels. Not only is it a fun activity for the start of the writing day, it’s also a way to prompt different parts of our brains to consider the words we will use. Ordinarily, we don’t limit the lines of what we write to specific syllable counts. This approach can help us consider words in a way that differs from what we consider the norm.

Your Smile

tied and spread.
Ball-gag: secure.
And yet I still see your broad smile.

As always, I look forward to reading your poetry in the comments box below.

K D Grace

Sometimes the sexiest part of a story is the sex that doesn’t happen. Let’s face it, half the fun in novels is imagining what would happen if the villain and the heroine got together … just once, or maybe the villain and the hero, or even all three. You get the picture. It’s very difficult to read a novel, watch a television series, see a film and not do a bit of shipping or fantasize about a little slash. I figure that’s why dream sequences of the sex that doesn’t happen are so commonly used. It’s a way of giving a nod to the fans’ fantasies. I think it’s also a way of letting fans know that the writer was thinking the exact same thing.


My novel, Blindsided was just released yesterday, and it’s very much the reason I am thinking about the sex that didn’t happen. Blindsided is a steaming cauldron of the sex that didn’t happen, but gets fantasized about by both my characters and me. Oh don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of sex that does happen too, but a great deal of the plot momentum comes from the sex that doesn’t happen. That’s a part of what made the writing, and I hope the reading of it, so damn much fun.


In my early days of writing erotica, when the old ‘sex scene every 2K’ was the standard expectation from editors, my efforts were all about telling a story in spite of the sex that I knew most people were reading it for. My challenge was engaging readers beyond the one-handed read. The sex was most often simple, straightforward and graphically written. Perhaps that doesn’t get boring for the reader — especially if all she wants is a one-handed read — though I have my doubts. I guarantee it gets boring for the writer who wants to explore sex and relationship at a deeper level, who wants to tell a story that takes the reader beyond basic porn-sex.


The power of sex has always been that it is about so much more than just procreation or recreation. I’ve written multiple posts about sex as magic, sex as transcendence, sex as a creative force. But as I’ve begun work in earnest on the Medusa’s Consortium novels and stories, I’ve become more and more intrigued with the sex that doesn’t happen. Sometimes that’s the sexiest bit. Intercourse is not necessary for a relationship between characters to be sexual. And the lack thereof can serve to make their journeys even more intriguing.


There are things, experiences, moments that ‘take us there’ in far more powerful ways than getting just naked and fucking. Music, scent, spoken word, watching the way someone moves, listening to the way someone describes what matters to them, and so much more — these are the things that get us inside a person’s head. The convoluted path inside each person that leads to what turns us on at a more visceral level than just the physiology of sex is the journey of story. It’s the journey that makes the sex act a part of something greater than itself. Following the characters down that winding path makes for more than just a fascinating read. It offers a three dimensional experience for the reader/watcher, it offers a much deeper connection with the characters and their stories. When it’s done exceptionally well, the sex that doesn’t happen creates an empathetic experience that allows the reader/watcher to identify, to connect with, even to vicariously become the character.


The sexual nature of characters is intrinsic in who they are and in the way they view the world and the people they care about. It is so closely tied to their self-worth and their view of self that it’s impossible to tell their stories without in some way exposing that sexual taproot of identity. The more closely the story is tied to that view of self, the more that link is exposed, the more readers see the true nature of those characters. And when the true nature of a character is exposed, there may very well be a lot of powerful sex that doesn’t happen.


Let’s say you’ve been bitten by the Writing Bug and you want to be the next J. K. Rowling or Stephen King. You bought a writing program, took a couple of classes – or even majored in English or Creative Writing – and you’ve attended a writer’s conference or two. Or three. Those things can be addictive. You’ve joined a writers group. Your mom loves your stories although she wishes they were less violent or didn’t have so much smut in them. So now you are ready to take the literary world by storm. You are on a high like you’ve never experienced before.

I’m about to burst your bubble. Are you ready for the facts about your chosen career?

Rather than take the literary world by storm, you’re more likely to run into a very unpleasant drought. Here are five realities of being a writer.

  1. Book publishing is about sales, not about how great a writer you are. Getting a publisher or agent won’t guarantee you a best seller.

I read a depressing article about actress Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark on the hit HBO series Game Of Thrones. She was auditioning for a new role and it was between her and a woman she described as a much better actress. Turner got the part, not because she was a better fit for the role but because she had a much stronger social media presence. She has thousands of followers on Twitter whereas this unknown woman couldn’t match that. Turner’s fame could help bring in an audience – and that translates to sales and big box office. So although she was not the better actress – and the other woman likely would have been a much better fit – the studio went with Turner because she had pull.

You may be the most talented writer in the world, but if you don’t have a following, it will be harder for you to make your way in the writing world than it is for George R. R. Martin to not kill his characters. Agents and especially big publishers are reluctant today to take on unknown talent. They are in the business of making money and they don’t like to take risks. That’s why you see so many Harry Potter knock offs. That’s why 50 Shades of Grey became so famous. Yes, that should piss you off. The writing in 50 Shades is atrocious, but E. L. James had a built-in following when she wrote her Twilight fanfic Master of the Universe. That alone made an agent’s job easier. In order to make it big-time as a writer you already need to have made the big-time as a writer. It’s the ultimate Catch-22. An agent and big publisher will help such a writer make bigger time. That said, there is no guarantee landing an agent will result in a best seller. The average U.S. book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.

  1. You need a good editor and a good cover artist.

There is an old saying that goes, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Whoever said that has never published a book. The cover matters. The cover is the first thing a potential reader sees when looking for a new book to read. If it looks like a 3 year old pasted clip art all over your dust jacket, that will sink your book. If you are not a master of Photoshop, it is vital you pay an expert to create a kick-ass cover for your book. No, you are not an exception. Put up the cash for a good book cover artist. Look at the covers that person has designed. Choose someone who has won awards. Know your book inside-out so you know what to stress to the artist when creating your book cover. Look at book covers in your chosen genre to see what they may have in common. Common styles, common themes. You don’t want heaving bosoms or oiled male bodies on a horror novel cover. You don’t want blood and guts on a romance novel cover. Know your readers, and give them what they want. Catch your reader’s attention and make him or her grab your book. That’s what the cover does. It catches the reader’s attention and leads to a sale. Make that cover count.

One big mistake many self-published writers make is that they do not hire an editor to edit their works. They think since they aced English 101 they don’t need to spend roughly one hundred (or more) dollars for a professional editor. Take my word for it – you do. One of the biggest gripes readers have outside ugly covers is poorly edited books. If your book is full of misspellings and grammatical errors, you won’t sell another book. Pony up the cash for a good editor. Get referrals from writer friends online or talk to people in a local writers group for recommendations. A good editor will save your life and that person will come in handy for future books. Look into asking writer friends to be a beta reader for your book. Beta readers are not substitutes for good editors, but it’s a great idea to have a second or third pair of eyes look at your work. Do an exchange – you’ll beta read a book for them if they beta read yours. The key is to get outside opinions to improve your book. After a long period of time you could write entire passages in Greek and you wouldn’t notice since you’re too close to your own book. Get an editor. It’s an investment in your future.

  1. Promotions don’t guarantee sales. In fact, most of your promo work is for naught. Sell your persona, not your book.

Face it. You must engage your audience to promote your books. That sentence probably scared the piss out of you because if you are like many writers you are a social klutz. Writers are often insecure, awkward and anti-social – and that’s on a good day. You must carry on conversations with potential readers on social media like Facebook and Twitter. And by “engage your audience” I do not mean spam everyone within earshot with book promo. That is a huge way to turn off people. No one will buy your books if you dup book spam in their mail boxes. Instead, talk to them like they are right there in the room with you. Treat them like people and not potential sales. Give people something worth seeing and reading. Keep in mind that due to Facebook’s algorithm, you are really reaching about only 1 or 2% of the people on your friend’s list. Make your posts clever and worthwhile so people will talk to you.

  1. Your friends and family may not support your endeavors and when they do they may expect free books from you.

Your Catholic family may take umbrage to you writing erotic dinosaur porn. Don’t look for praise and acceptance there. Look to other writers who write erotic dinosaur porn. Even if you write something as innocuous as romance, there will be critics and those critics may be your friends and family. They may expect you to give it up and get a “real” job. They may treat your writing work as a hobby and not take you seriously. Let them. Find others in writers groups and online in places like Facebook and Twitter who support your chosen field. Do you write fantasy? Find other fantasy writers and make connections. The same applies to all other genres. If you do have support from your friends and family, more power to you and consider yourself fortunate.

On the other hand, when you do get support, some friends and relatives may expect you to give your books to them for free. Don’t do it no matter how much pressure you feel. They are not entitled to a freebie just because you share the cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving every year. A truly supportive friend or family member will buy your book from you. Now, if you want to give your book away for free, be my guest. I’m talking about those who expect a freebie from you and have a hissy fit if you refuse. Don’t feel guilty for wanting to make money from your books. Grandma likely can afford a couple of bucks for a paperback or Kindle version. Just don’t tell her about the dino porn.

  1. You probably won’t make much money.

Chances are, you won’t make millions. You may have already accepted that realistic scenario but also realize you likely won’t make enough money in quarterly royalties to buy gas for your beat up old Honda. Most publishers, especially indie publishers, do not offer an advance against royalties. For the most part, you are on your own. According to an article at Publishing Perspectives, “a survey [of over 9,000 writers in the 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey] revealed that 54% of “traditionally-published” authors (and nearly 80% of self-published authors) earn less than $1,000 a year.” Let that sink in.

Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, here is some good news.

While according to that survey most traditionally-published writers barely break even, nearly half are able to earn enough money to satisfy themselves and even live off their earnings. Self-publishing is a much harder route to take, but a 20% success rate is rather high considering the hurdles you must pass in order to publish your own books.

If your family and friends don’t support you, find people who do. Join a local writers group. Not only will you gain much needed valuable support and criticism, you will make new friends. Turn yourself into a social butterfly on Facebook, Twitter, and the like. Engage your audience. Post items designed to get a response such as asking people what they are reading at the moment or ask what books influenced them the most when they were children. Ask their opinions of current movies, TV, and music. Are you a fan of Game Of Thrones or Preacher? Let everyone know and find other fans. Just don’t bring up spoilers without warning (don’t do it at all) or you will make enemies. Talk about stuff other than your books. Nothing turns off potential readers more than a Facebook page full of nothing but book promo. Screaming “Buy My Book!” guarantees no one will touch it.

While many of your books may bomb, you may be surprised to find one or two you didn’t expected to be a hit take off. Take full advantage of that. Write another book in the same genre (or write a series) and get the new book out there as soon as possible. Then, offer the hit book for a sale price temporarily as a promotion for the new book. You’ll draw in new readers that way. Try to write one or two books per year if you can. The more works you have out there, the more you’ll be in the minds of readers and authors alike.

Create a newsletter and send it out no more than once per month. Get to the point in it and keep it brief. Readers like updates from their favorite writers.

While you will likely not be the next George R. R. Martin, there are ways to be happy as a writer. Relish the positive reviews and fan letters. Don’t respond to negative comments or reviews. That’s unprofessional. Don’t let rejections get you down. Everyone gets them. Even J. K. Rowling was rejected numerous times before her Harry Potter series found a home. Have a realistic view of the writing world and you won’t let yourself down.


During my sex goddess years (somewhere between my introverted bookworm period and my semi-respectable married lady period), I delighted many lovers with my willingness to try new things. I’m not talking about dangerous stuff here, just sex in unusual circumstances. Whipped cream, for instance (the kind that comes in pressurized spray cans). A peep show booth in the seedy part of town. A blow job delivered on the ramparts of a historic Canadian castle. Another under a blanket on a Greyhound bus. Hot wax. Olives eaten out of my pussy. I was open to almost any sexual adventure, and indeed, I had many.

Those days are long gone (though they live on, thinly disguised, in my books). I’m still experimental, however, when it comes to my erotic writing. Indeed, I am constantly tempted by new themes, new sub-genres, and new markets. For example, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing some futanari fiction (even though I’ve never read any), after enjoying Sally Bend’s fantastic reviews of the subgenre. I find the mixture of female and male sexuality to be intensely arousing, so I believe I could make it work. (If I really plan to do this, though, I should probably do at least a little research!)

What else calls to me? Would you believe monster erotica? For some reason, I have this mad urge to write a BigFoot story. I suspect that fad has long since sputtered out, but I’ve never been one to be influenced by trends.

Then there’s adult incest. Talk about ignoring current events! At this very moment, booksellers are scrambling to crack down on this theme (see, for instance, Smashwords’ recent announcement), but hey, I think it could be hot. I’ve definitely read incest erotica that got my motor running. I’ve only written one such tale however (A Breed Apart), which is in any case a bit of a cop-out because the brother and sister are paranormal creatures for whom coupling between siblings is the normal practice. I’m sure I could do better (or worse . . .)

The last experimental itch I actually scratched was an impulse to write a pure stroke book. I’d been reading and enjoying Larry Archer’s lively, warm-hearted smut, and decided to try my hand at a book in the same genre – indeed, set in the same world. I expect to publish that in the next month or so. My erotic romance readers will probably be scandalized – as will the folks who enjoy my “literary” erotica.

But so be it. People probably didn’t approve of my defending my dissertation without a bra either.

I recognize that my tendency to jump all over the genre map does nothing to help my sales. My back list includes romance, suspense, steampunk, science fiction, paranormal, historical, fantasy, gay erotica, lesbian erotica, humor and of course lots of kink – M/f, F/m, F/f, M/m . . . In a world where readers crave predictability, I’m like the weather in New England.

I can’t help it, though, anymore than I could stop myself from agreeing to lick ice cream off my lover’s erection. I mean, I could force myself to choose a genre and build a brand, writing one book after another of the same basic type. But why should I? I’d be miserable. The books probably wouldn’t be much good either, especially the third or the fourth or the tenth.

In the real world, I work as a scientist/engineer. Maybe that’s why I love doing experiments. Or perhaps I’m just easily bored.

So what do you think I should write next?

Whatever it is, I’m willing to consider it.

One of the chief pleasures of writing a historical novel is discovering the details of daily life in the past so we can recreate the texture and flavor of the time. The clothing of the period is, of course, an essential focus of research to put our characters in proper attire. But because erotica writers carefully undress our characters as well, we must also learn exactly the sort of undergarments an impatient lover will encounter for full authenticity.

Most of us know about corsets, petticoats and pantalettes from historical dramas. However, mainstream movies and TV leave out one important aspect of ladies’ drawers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—they had no crotch. Indeed they were almost completely split from end to end, two free-standing leg tubes held together by little more than a waistband as you see below.

Frederick’s of Hollywood doesn’t even dare to go that far.

I first found out about this unspoken feature of female undergarments of the last two centuries when I was assembling a corset-friendly costume for a boudoir photo session a few years ago. I went to a local lace and antique clothing store called Lacis in the hope of finding a pair of old fashioned bloomers. To my delight, I found a pair in exactly my size for a reasonable price pictured in both photographs here. The open crotch was a surprise, but when I put the drawers on, the gap disappeared into a sort of short petticoat. Unless the wearer made an effort to spread the split seam, if you didn’t know, you’d never guess what did–or rather didn’t–lie within.

But of course, the women and men of the 1900s knew. I’ve read in several sources that working-class lovers rarely undressed fully when they had sex in Victorian times. Open-crotch drawers certainly support the logistics of that custom.

In An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality, Jill Fields provides further illumination about the history and sexual politics of open-crotch underpants for women. Until the nineteenth century, women didn’t wear any sort of protective clothing between their legs, although surely there was some provision for menstruation. (In the time period I’m studying, women wore diaper-like pants lined with cotton wool or rags; disposable pads were just coming on the market). Little girls and boys, who were dressed alike in feminine fashion until about the age of five, wore closed pantalettes under shorter dresses. Boys then were “breeched” and wore knee-length britches, then long trousers at puberty. When girls were old enough to put up their hair and lower their skirts—more or less at puberty—they also started wearing open-crotch drawers.

Fields acknowledges that the split crotch made it easier to answer daily necessities for a woman swathed in layers of undergarments and long, heavy skirts. Some experts claimed exposing the female genitals to the air was healthy. However, Fields also emphasizes the symbolic value of the female version of drawers. Women were not supposed to wear trousers—Joan of Arc’s cross-dressing preferences were part of her heresy. If a woman wore closed-crotch garments, she would be veering too close to the appropriation of male privilege, and no real lady would dream of such transgression. Thus, the gap at the crotch symbolized an adult women’s physical difference, her availability to men, and, ironically to our modern sensibility, her feminine modesty.

Around the late 1910s, the world began to change. Skirts shortened. More women were employed outside the home in offices and factories. Women went on “dates” outside the home, danced the tango in public halls and cabarets, and rode bicycles. Modesty in public now required closed-crotch step-ins, more like our tap pants, duly decorated with lace and wider at the leg to distinguish them from men’s drawers. From the end of World War I until the present day, open-crotch panties, once the sign of submissive and respectable femininity, became associated with naughty eroticism instead.

Fields writes: “The sexual access open drawers provided could coexist with woman’s propriety only in the context of an ideology of female passionlessness and social structures of masculine domination. When women publicly asserted their own claims to sexual pleasure, political power, and economic independence, an open crotch was no longer respectable.” (p. 42)

By the 1920s, ladies were now allowed, even required, to experience sexual pleasure in marriage to keep their husbands from straying. While I view this as a positive development, Victorian prudery did allow some women the power to control the number of marital sexual encounters due to their spiritual delicacy, as well as a desire to limit families. Now a woman “owed” her husband regular sex and an enthusiastic response. For the middle-class at least, with their greater access to birth control such as the new latex condoms and diaphragms, intercourse had fewer consequences to fertility than earlier.

Fields even describes a comic novel (1926) and film (1937) called Topper by Thorne Smith where the plot revolves around a prudish wife’s conversion to the modern underpants of a “forward woman,” which improves her sex life with her husband but deprives her of her power as the moral arbiter of the family.

Nonetheless, it would be several decades more before the average woman dared to wear slacks rather than skirts over her closed-crotch undies. At a family reunion last fall, my 96-year-old aunt described the momentous day she wore pants for the first time in her life during an evening stroll with her husband through the neighborhood–with his express permission of course. In the 1950s in the summer, small-town families still gathered on their front porches after dinner to seek relief from the heat. My aunt’s heart was pounding with anxiety as she wondered how the neighbors would react to her brazen outfit. But there were no earthquakes or riots, everyone simply nodded and wished her a good evening as they had the day before.

Some revolutions are quiet, yet significant, like the closing of the crotches on ladies’ drawers.

Reggie Jackson was asked by a reporter of my acquaintance what would have happened if a particular game-winning hit had not gone his way. It was a stupid question, asked by someone who, while he was a very decent human being, just wasn’t too bright.

Reggie’s forbearance was admirable. The hit did go his way; there was nothing else to be said.

But the reporter persisted, “but, Reggie, what if …?”

Reggie’s patience finally evaporated. “If? If don’t mean shit. If the Pilgrims had eaten a cat instead of a turkey, then we’d all have pussy for Thanksgiving!”

Reggie’s point was succinct. What’s the point of pondering what never was?

I generally adhere to Reggie’s point of view, but still, like the rest of us, I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if only history had meandered along a different course.

I was brought up in a working-class home, but I should have been a rich kid. I don’t say that in the sense of, Well, gee, I shoulda been a rich kid. I mean, I really should have been a rich kid. My father was a rich kid. Unfortunately, he was also an orphan. His mother was carried off during the 1918 influenza pandemic. His father died just a couple of years later.

His parents were wealthy. My dad’s sisters had ponies for pets.

His father and his brothers were principles in a high-end furniture manufacturing and retail business. They sold their furnishings to very discriminating, wealthy customers. After his father died, my dad became the ward of his very rich uncle, who was president of no less than three interrelated companies centered in New York City and Boston. My dad was sent off to an expensive Catholic boarding school.

But alas, his millionaire guardian was a skinflint – the kind who tossed nickels around like they were manhole covers. He used to tell of writing to his uncle for spending money because the other kids at school enjoyed sweets and going to the movies. His uncle wrote back, stating sweets were bad for his health, and watching movies in the dark was bad for his eyes.

So my dad said he needed a new suit. His uncle had him go to Brooks Brothers in Boston and order up a suit on his account. My dad got the suit, then promptly took it down to the next street corner and sold it, and that’s how he got his spending money.

Then came the Crash of ’29 and the ensuing Great Depression. My dad had inherited stocks that, while at the time had a good piece of their value knocked out of them, nevertheless recovered. The companies that issued them survived the rough times and continue today in one form or another. But his uncle persuaded him to sign them over to him during the downturn, in the belief they would rebound quickly. They didn’t rebound quick enough. His uncle died in his room at the elegant National Republican Club in midtown Manhattan, across from Bryant Park. A will was read, but creditors pounced like locusts. My parents found themselves in the midst of the Depression dead broke, except for a couple of hundred bucks.

Throughout his life, during which he worked hard as a construction laborer, my dad amused himself by tracking his lost stocks, chuckling that we’d all be rich if only he hadn’t listened to his uncle and held on to them.

Ah, what might have been.

I like to think of myself sometimes as a dissolute scion, a playboy. Sports cars and trophy chicks sunning themselves naked on my private yacht. A one-percenter, perhaps blowing scads of dough on visits to exclusive sex clubs, in pursuit of the next shocking level of debauchery. A well-heeled, licentious libertine: Let them eat cake; I’m having my cake and I’m eating her too.

Ah, but then, would money alone make my tastes any more extravagant? This is a guy who gets sweaty and uncomfortable in fancy restaurants. Not that I frequent many of those.

Nah, I’m too pedestrian, too damned catholic (yeah, with a small c). You can only spend so much money in a lifetime. I’ll be satisfied with enough to get me to the finish line.

Still, it’s fun to imagine keeping a stable of pony girls. Nah … forget I even brought that up.


by | Sep 11, 2017 | General | 5 comments

Ian Smith

ERWA Gallery Flasher Editor


I’m always intrigued by the wide variety of ideas people come up with for stories. How do they think of them?

Yes, of course there are strong similarities in many genres. Where would a billionaire erotic romance be without (a) a kinky and implausibly young billionaire, and (b) an innocent young lady with an unsuspected taste for being spanked?

And let’s face it, most romance stories are broadly similar. Boy meets girl and they overcome hassles before finding true love. Hassles might be a love rival, abduction, being involved in a war, family or cultural hostilities, misunderstandings, being separated by cruel fate, or simply not liking each other to start with. But if they met, fell in love and lived happily ever after, who’d want to read it?

I’m sure you know how the modern detective is almost required to have some personal problems, like over-fondness for drink, sex or gambling, a missing limb or a personality fault. 

The classic crime thrillers actually had rules to be followed. SS Van Dine listed twenty in 1928, and Ronald Knox published ten in 1929. These are still broadly followed, for instance in the popular British “Midsomer Murders” TV series. Even though these are contemporary, they seem to be set sometime in the past, and often revolve around a rich but dysfunctional and mad family, or a village/community/club generously stuffed with slightly potty people.

But writers still need some inspiration for a story, whether it follows genre conventions or not. They need characters, events, and a story arc. Readers enjoy following the adventures as the characters experience things and develop, and hopefully feel satisfied when the story ends. 

Some of my stories are probably inspired by others I’ve read or watched, even if I can’t actually remember them. But some ideas seem to come completely out of the blue, or grow from an idea for character, a phrase, or even by writing the story to suit an ending I’ve thought of. I’ve even had an idea from my local paper’s “police report” column, about which I will say no more until I’ve written it!  

Many writers admit to using family, friends and acquaintances as the basis for characters. Real people are a great source of the sort of mannerisms and patterns of speech which could really bring a character to life for a reader. And thinking about how to briefly describe them in writing is an interesting exercise too.

I’ve created two characters based on real people. One was a former manager, whose literary alter-ego has an, er, colourful demise. But that’s nothing to do with our unhappy working relationship…

The other character appeared briefly in my third novella. About 20 years ago, I saw a report on my local TV news show about a second-world-war Spitfire which had just been converted to a two-seater. The team involved tracked down a delightful elderly gentleman who’d actually flown that very aircraft in the later stages of the war, and invited him to take a flight. The brief interview he gave afterwards has  stuck in my mind ever since. He said it was just like it had been when he was a young man, except it didn’t smell of fear.

I’ve not thought of a story where I can really explore how I feel about his comments. Well, not yet.

If you’ve seen the film “Shakespeare In Love”, you may recall a brief scene where Shakespeare walks through London and overhears snatches of conversation, all of which are well-known from his plays. A nice idea for an amusing short scene. I don’t believe for a second that the Bard “invented” all the words which appeared for the first known time in his writing, but he had an awesome knack for putting them together in ways which still work four hundred years later.

But that’s not a bad idea, keeping your ears open and making notes before you forget.

My wife was once given directions to a conference being hosted in a museum. The phrase “turn right at the elephant” certainly stuck in her mind. And I’ve used it in one of my own flash-fiction stories, too.

I’ve used another example in a draft novella I’m working on, inspired by a real-life conversation where someone said something which all-too-easily be taken to mean that her sister’s late husband had been put down by a vet. 

I noted a brief conversation a couple of years which I’d love to use, but it’s a challenging to find a suitable context. But I will. I walked past some burlesque dancers chatting during a break between performances and overheard one of them say, “He wanted her to ride in on a pony, bareback and only wearing a tangerine thong. I mean, you just can’t do it.”

Is it me?

What’s the problem with tangerine?

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 three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page. 

Her new m/m erotic medical thriller Roughing It is out! This book is a sexy cross between The X Files, The Andromeda Strain, and Outbreak. Read her short erotic story Babes in Begging For It, published by Cleis Press. You will also find her new novel No Restraint at Amazon. Enjoy a good, sexy read today.


Yet another publisher suddenly announced it’s going under. DarkFuse, a horror imprint, sent a generic form letter to everyone who either had outstanding submissions or contracts with them. DarkFuse always struck me as being a market to get into, but from what I’m hearing from those affected by the Chapter 7 filing, DF isn’t handling the whole mess in a professional manner. I had submitted a short story to DF and I did not hear anything until SEVEN MONTHS LATER when DF announced it was in hiatus. Suffice to say I was pissed. Granted, I knew DF could take up to 8 months to respond to submissions, but to finally get word and to know the press didn’t even open my file left me quite miffed. I could have sent the story out to other markets during that long period of time and may even have found a home for it. Now I have to start the entire process all over again – seven months late.

Remember when Samhain closed? Samhain was best known for publishing romances but it had delved into horror. This one was another market to aim for, and even it wasn’t immune to the changing publishing landscape. Everyone knows of the disaster that was Ellora’s Cave. EC did not do right by its authors. There are signs that a pub is going under. Here are a few:

  1. Does not respond to emails in a timely fashion or at all.
  2. Sudden non-communication.
  3. Publisher email bouncing or phone calls not going through.
  4. Dragging out the publication date for weeks or months on end.
  5. Press threatens writers who protest poor treatment.
  6. Royalties not being paid on time or at all.
  7. Web site is not updated.

If you run into any of these issues, beware. The pub may be in trouble. I don’t know what to do if you request your rights back when you get wind the pub is actually closing and it refuses to release them or you hear crickets. Some writers have hired lawyers to fix the problem but most writers I know do not have money coming out of their ears. After all, they are writers. Most don’t earn a living wage. Eventually the rights have reverted back but it may take awhile.

Here are some tips I’ve learned from watching one small press after another close:

*Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Submit to several publishers so you have works in more than one. This is to protect yourself. You don’t want to see all your works dissolve once your only publisher goes belly up.

*Have as many as a dozen short stories out there in circulation as submissions to numerous publishers.

I was told this trick from a writer who has had many short stories published. Submit to as many markets as you can. Look up Duotrope, Ralan’s, and of course the ERWA submissions page for submission calls. Go to your favorite publishers and see if there are any themed or non-themed anthologies calls. If you like the theme, write something and submit it. Don’t write one or two stories and hope for the best. Submit as many as a dozen stories. You’ll hear back more often and you may see more acceptances. The more irons you have in the fire, the more likely you are to see some good results.

*Think of yourself as blessed if your book was under consideration by a publisher yet it wasn’t published before the press closed.

My first indie press closed before it published my book. Twilight Fantasies was one of several publishers that closed one right after the other in 2007. At first I was angry that the press had been stringing me along insisting my book was coming out in a month or two and then later not responding to my emails at all. When the pub folded, I was told it was a good thing my book was never published because if it had been, to resell it would have been quite difficult since it would have been considered a reprint even if it had been available for purchase for only a month or two. Or less. Once the pub closed my rights reverted back to me and I sent the book off to Dark Eden Press only to see that press fold. I then send it to a third press whose name I can’t recall anymore – and it (you guess it) promptly folded. Talk about a string of rotten luck! So I was able to show my rights had reverted back to me via an email TF sent me and finally Fanny Press later published the book. That book is my paranormal erotic romance An Unexpected Guest and you may buy it at Amazon. This was my first novel and the experience gave me a sour taste in my mouth that I never really recovered from.

*Get your rights back and send the work out again. Find it a new home.

Don’t be dismayed that your book isn’t going to see the light of day with a publisher that went belly-up. That doesn’t mean no one else will want it. Research other viable markets and resubmit. If you wish to do some further editing by all means do so but get that book back out there as quickly as possible lest you lose your nerve. I research several markets and I send my works to each one in order until one accepts my work. You can’t give up or get depressed about it. If you do, you’ll never see your books published.

The best bet when dealing with questionable publisher is to be wary and be informed. Research Ellora’s Cave, Twilight Fantasies, Dark Eden Press, Samhain and DarkFuse to see what all the closings had in common and what writers did to protect themselves. That way, you hopefully won’t be caught up in disaster should one of your pubs deep six itself.

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