Reader Beware

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

To what extent are we authors responsible for protecting our readers from negative emotional experiences? Any fiction runs the risk that it will make readers uncomfortable. Indeed, some books do so intentionally. (Have you ever read anything by Chuck Palahniuk?)

Can we assume that readers are mature enough to walk away from books that offend or upset them? Or do we need to provide warnings when some content we write might trigger unpleasant memories, cause emotional distress or violate personal norms or expectations?

Society at the moment is so hypersensitive, politically correct and litigious that some publishers bend over backwards to avoid ruffling reader feathers. My publisher tacked the following warning onto the blurb for my 2014 erotic romance novel The Ingredients of Bliss:

Reader Advisory: This book contains female dominance and submission, anal sex, public sex, ethnic slurs, threats of violence and a scene of attempted rape.

Actually, the book also includes M/f D&S – wonder why they didn’t mention that?

Personally, I felt this warning was excessive. I wouldn’t have objected to mentioning the attempted rape (by a criminal character, also responsible for the “ethnic slurs” – the heroine is Chinese), but lumping that together with anal sex? This is clearly identified as erotic romance, folks! You get what you pay for.

I just finished reading a humorous MM erotic romance from the same publisher that has the following warnings:

Reader advisory: This book contains mention of physical abuse and a racist comment.

I saw this when I started the book, and I tried to notice these supposed red flags. The only “racist comment” involves a character who’s deliberately trying to seem like a nasty person asking an Australian citizen of Turkish ancestry where he’s “really” from. If there was any mention of physical abuse, it flew right by me.

The question of racist language in literature is particularly thorny right now, in midst of Black Lives Matter anger. I take very seriously the notion that language has power, that it shapes our perspectives and prejudices (as well as reflecting them). On the other hand, I believe we need to distinguish between the prejudices of the author and those of her characters.

I have a speculative fiction story I wrote not long after Trump was elected, envisioning deliberate attempts to foment hatred between ethnic groups. One of the main characters is a young Vietnamese woman, the other a Black man. They live in their respective ghettos, in a near-perpetual state of war. The story uses some very strong negative language, with each character hurling racist epithets at the other. This is important to the narrative. It illustrates how the two have been taught to view one another.

When I posted an excerpt from this work, I received some ferociously critical comments about the language. Without the racial slurs, however, the story wouldn’t work. It would be neither genuine nor effective.

Then there’s the recent movement to ban historical classics like Gone with the Wind, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and To Kill a Mockingbird because of their racist content. The racism in these books probably does reflect the authors’ own attitudes. One has to remember, however, that these views in turn mirror the beliefs and assumptions of their times. It makes no sense at all to castigate an author for racial prejudice when she was embedded in a society where racial inequity was an unquestioned norm.

Far better to use such books as examples that illustrate how much more aware we have become. Language perpetuates belief which in turn influences language. Banning these books in an attempt to insulate people from offensive content throws away an opportunity to observe, analyze and learn about this dynamic.

Besides, these books are not mere racist polemics. They’re powerful, engaging stories with memorable characters. They have enduring value which I believe is not negated by their admittedly racist elements.

Would I object to a reader advisory mentioning the racism in Gone with the Wind? Probably not, though I’d wonder if a brief warning is in fact too superficial. Far better, perhaps, to include a preface discussing the issue in greater depth, including its historical aspects.

Of course, most people don’t read prefaces.

Do they pay attention to reader advisories?

One reason I dislike advisories is that they prime the reader to look for certain story elements. In some cases this can interfere with suspense or surprise. In The Ingredients of Bliss, I wanted the reader to be shocked when Le Requin attacks Emily Wong. The reader advisory spoils that.

Very occasionally, though, I will include an advisory on the books I self-publish. If the book is a reprint, I want to be upfront about that. No reason to aggravate people who’ve read a previous edition. And for my most recent release, Incognito, I included a rather extensive reader advisory, because the novel is marketed as an erotic romance but severely strains some of the genre’s conventions.

Reader Advisory: This novel is an erotic romance featuring a committed relationship and culminating in a wedding. Nevertheless, the main characters participate in a wide range of taboo sexual activities, both together and separately.

I felt it necessary to include this because I’ve experienced the ire of some romance readers when they come across any behavior they consider to be “cheating”. If readers consider monogamy or fidelity to be a fundamental requirement for their romance, they should definitely steer clear of this book!

So this warning is more about marketing than anything else. I really don’t want to offend readers or make them unhappy. (And I don’t want them leaving bad reviews!)

On the other hand, I also believe that the people who read my books are adults who won’t be permanently traumatized if they encounter something that’s personally objectionable or sensitive. If something squicks or triggers them, I hope they’ll simply stop reading. Close the book. Turn off the app. They are, after all, ultimately in control.

A Pretty Good Year

1972 was a noteworthy year for many things that are still part of our lives 50 years later. Numerous puzzle pieces came together to form an interesting kaleidoscope of cultural events. Unlike today, most of them didn’t revolve around politics, half-truths, and bizarre conspiracy theories. If you were around during that time, some of these things may bring a wistful smile of remembrance. If you weren’t there to witness it, read on to see what you missed.

Hollywood was on a roll, and contributed some landmark movies. We were treated to “The Godfather,” which is still regarded as one of the finest American films ever made. “The Poseidon Adventure” defined the all-star disaster movie, complete with soap opera elements and a top-ten pop song, in this case “The Morning After.” Martial arts master Bruce Lee may have been passed over for the lead in TV’s “Kung Fu,” but he made up for it on the big screen with “Fist of Fury” and “The Way of the Dragon.” “Last Tango in Paris” was a critical and commercial hit, but its controversial content nearly tanked Marlon Brando’s career, right before he refused the best actor Oscar for “The Godfather.” “Deliverance” was a career-maker for Burt Reynolds, and came on the heels of his infamous nude centerfold in Cosmopolitan magazine. And no, he didn’t play the character who was told to “Squeal like a pig!” That dubious distinction went to actor Ned Beatty, who got teased about it for the rest of his life.

It’s interesting to look at the top ten films and realize how we were spending our entertainment bucks. Besides “Godfather,” “Poseidon” and “Deliverance,” the other seven top grossers were “What’s Up, Doc?”, “Jeremiah Johnson,” “Cabaret,” “Deep Throat” (seriously!), “The Getaway,” “Lady Sings the Blues,” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask).” In case you couldn’t tell, that last one was courtesy of Woody Allen, inspired by Dr. David Rubin’s bestseller. “Deep Throat” also had the distinction of ushering in what was labeled “porno chic,” basically moving adult films from seedy bookstores to theaters on Main Street.

The pop music world provided songs that are still fodder for oldies stations, class reunions, and the occasional beer commercial. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (Roberta Flack) was initially released in 1969 but didn’t find an audience until Clint Eastwood used it in his movie “Play Misty for Me.” It took home Grammy awards for both Song and Record of the Year. “American Pie” (Don McLean) is as much a pop quiz as a pop song, a musical riddle with veiled mentions of Elvis, Bob Dylan and other music icons. The song’s refrain—“The day the music died”—is a reference to the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper.

This year also gave us Helen Reddy’s feminist anthem “I Am Woman,” Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash, “Love Train” by the O’Jays, and Bette Midler’s breakout hit “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” The inspirational “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers topped the charts, along with Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” “Without You” (Harry Nilsson), and “Nights in White Satin” (The Moody Blues). For better or worse, ’72 introduced the pop group ABBA. Their name is an acronym for members Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Anni-Frid. Did you know it was also the name of a Swedish canned fish company?

Television continued to search for new ways to attract viewers. “Sanford and Son” debuted, where veteran nightclub comic Redd Foxx played a Black version of Archie Bunker. Speaking of which, the “All in the Family” spinoff “Maude” starred Broadway actress Beatrice Arthur as an outspoken feminist. The show used dark humor to take on taboo sit-com topics like alcoholism, domestic violence, infidelity and unplanned pregnancy. “The Bob Newhart Show” gave the popular stand-up comedian a new audience, while “The Waltons” provided a down-home family contrast to the turmoil in the world. Cable network Home Box Office began broadcasting that year. For the first nine years it was available, HBO provided only about nine hours of programming a day, until Showtime came along and offered a 24-hour schedule.

In September of that year, audience members were invited to “Come on down!” for the first time with the reboot of “The Price is Right,” still the longest-running TV game show in history. “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson” permanently relocated from NYC to LA (actually Burbank), where it would remain until 2014. In keeping with the adage “crime doesn’t pay,” more than half of the weekly network primetime schedule consisted of private eye and police dramas. The venerable children’s program “Captain Kangaroo” aired its 5000th episode, and the Korean war comedy “M*A*S*H” debuted. As all good things must come to an end, the beloved sit-com “Bewitched” lost its magic after eight seasons, when it was scheduled against “All in the Family,” then the most-watched show on TV.

Do you have a drip coffee maker or Keurig in your kitchen? You can trace its origins back to 1972, when a new home appliance called Mr. Coffee hit the market. They hired baseball legend Joe DiMaggio to be the on-air pitchman, despite his preference for instant Sanka. Have you ever served Egg Beaters for breakfast? The 99-percent egg white product that was intended to reduce cholesterol first became available that year. Also introduced was the Honda Civic, a sub-compact auto which turned a company best known for motorcycles into a car brand. Sales of the fuel-efficient import soared as the price of gasoline hit then-record highs. To put that in perspective, it was $.36 a gallon in 1972. Those were the days…

Pong, the first arcade video game from Atari, let players imagine what it was like to play table tennis without actually holding a paddle. On the real tennis court, yellow tennis balls were introduced. Research showed that the bright yellow color was more visible on TV than the traditional white variety. This was also the year we first heard George Carlin’s comedy routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” I can’t say them here, either!

How many of these do you remember: “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” (from an Alka-Seltzer commercial); “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” the United Negro College Fund slogan famously mangled later by Vice President Dan Quayle as “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind”; Ms. Magazine, Gloria Steinem’s New York magazine spinoff, which she originally considered naming Sisters or Bimbo; Carnival Cruise Line, which started off with one ship and enough fuel to make it from Miami to San Juan, but not back; the unanimous passage of the Equal Rights Amendment; and the popular children’s book “Watership Down,” conceived by Richard Adams for his two daughters while on a long family car trip.

Speaking of literature, you can tell a lot about society by what people read. The top selling book that year, according to Publisher’s Weekly, was “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach. Other bestsellers included “The Odessa File” and “The Day of the Jackal” (both by Frederick Forsyth), “The Winds of War” (Herman Wouk), “The Word” (Irving Wallace), “My Name is Asher Lev” (Chaim Potok), “Wheels” (Arthur Hailey), and “Semi-Tough” (Dan Jenkins).

Of note is that a second-rate self-help book with crude illustrations and the titillating title “The Joy of Sex” spent 11 weeks atop the NYT bestsellers list. Other popular books that year included “The Terminal Man,” “Elephants Can Remember,” “The Scarlet Ruse,” “All Creatures Great and Small,” “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” “The Stepford Wives,” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

I wonder what people will remember about us in 50 years?

Things That Get My Back-Up

On the third of June I was sat in front of my PC, wrestling with edits from a recently completed chapter. The document itself was roughly 23,000 words of a developing idea: a WIP I’m currently calling Seagulls from Hell.

The seagulls in my story had just been getting frisky. They’d done something that only the naughtiest seagulls in the world would be likely to do. And I felt as though the story was progressing in exactly the right direction.


The screen died, as did every other electronic device in the house. The silence was sudden, eerie and inescapable. “Powercut,” I muttered. I smiled because I didn’t know those were still a thing. Deciding I was probably wrong I checked the fuse box to see if the safety switch had been activated.

A neighbour came to tell me his daughter had been on the phone to the electricity company and they expected to have the power back up by 9.00pm. I glanced at my PC monitor to see what the time was then, and realised the PC monitor wasn’t working because of the powercut.

It transpired I had two hours so I elected to use that time wisely. My desk had been buried under a mountain of paperwork whilst I went through the process of marking dissertations and exam scripts. I figured it was time to give the office a little TLC. I finished the desk swiftly, cleaned a couple of windows, put away some laundry that had been waiting on me and then read a paperback.
The lights came back on without any ceremony and I sighed with a little relief, switched my PC on and tried to remember where I’d been up to with my Seagulls from Hell.

An error box appeared claiming I was trying access unreadable content. I thought, if this is a criticism of my writing style, Microsoft Word have suddenly become brutal and more than a little hurtful. The error box gave me options to try and, like the well-trained Pavlovian rat that I am, I installed devices that were guaranteed to open my unreadable file and patiently tried each one.
I’m exaggerating a little when I use the word ‘patiently’. The truth is there was a lead weight in my stomach and the idea that I’d lost 23,000 words was making me sweat like a priest in a playground. None of the software downloads worked and, with rising desperation I tried one new fresh alternative after another. When I finally managed to get the corrupted document open the contents were nothing but hieroglyphics and gibberish.

It’s no exaggeration to say I was on the verge of tears.

By a strange coincidence, a pop-up box on my laptop asked me for feedback, wanting to know how likely I would be to recommend Word for Windows. My response was: “Since Word for Windows has just crashed and lost 23,000 words of a story I was writing, I think it’s highly unlikely that I’d recommend this product to someone unless I hate their f***ing guts.”

Then my wife came to the rescue. She was calm, patient and just what I needed. I had no backups of Seagulls from Hell. With it being stored on a cloud, I wasn’t even sure I had a copy of the damned file. But she went to the corrupt file and managed to go through the version history. By the time she’d finished her magical computer shenanigans, I was looking at all 23,000 words of my original story. I was still on the verge of tears, but this time they were tears of relief.

And I mention this as a cautionary tale for any writers who are reading this. To be safe, and not have to worry that you’re going to lose a huge chunk of valuable data, you’ve got two options: either regularly back up, or marry someone f***ing awesome like my wife, Tracy.

Inspiration and Obstacles

For the past few years, I’ve been privileged to teach several creative writing classes in the university where I have taught literature-and-composition since the twentieth century. I’m currently teaching an intense class in a six-week semester, and the students have to try their hands at various genres: fiction, drama, poetry, non-fiction.

I’m not sure if all the students know I write erotica. I never bring that up at the beginning of a course, partly because male students often have conceptions of sexiness that would have driven me out of the room if I were their age.

Let me offer an example. Fred, as I’ll call him, is slightly older than my other students (late thirties?). For his dialogue scene, he described two men in a truck, both employees of a construction company. The younger one is eighteen, and the older one is a supervisor in his fifties As the truck is stopped at an intersection, the younger man points out a woman crossing the street. He claims that she has her “headlights on” (her nipples are showing, and her breasts are described as large, even though she is slim). Then the observant young man also admires her “caboose.” The older man chuckles, apparently with approval.

The older man is reminded of “the ironing board game,” which he used to play with his best friend in high school. Both boys agreed that because there were a lot of girls in their school, they would have to learn to remove a girl’s bra with one hand, and with impressive speed. To develop their skills, the two boys borrowed the bras of a very indulgent mother and fastened them around her ironing board, then practiced undoing them as quickly as possible. The construction worker who remembers this game gives his friend credit for being a “ladies’ man,” presumably because he perfected his ability to remove a bra from the rigid object that represented a living girl.

There is no indication in the written scene that bras should only be removed with the consent of their owners, or that even casual sexual encounters require a minimum of civility on both sides. As I pointed out in class, there needs to be some negotiation before underwear comes off.

The student who wrote this piece said he hoped that no one else in a largely-female class would be offended. The temperature in the classroom  seemed to drop by at least ten degrees when we began discussing the dialogue between the older man and the younger man, and the older man’s fond memory of his own youth.

I’m not sure if the writer of this piece is aware that universities tend to be hotbeds of sexual abuse and sexual misunderstanding because they still attract students between the traditional post-secondary student ages of 18 and 22. Despite the general aging of the student population due to the increasing expense of a university education, many students are relatively young and single. Dating relationships are the norm for those who seek human companionship as a break from studying—and, in too many cases these days, working to stay out of debt. Female students have told me about the double danger of going to the campus bar with fellow-students, and working as servers in various watering-holes, where their youth and attractiveness (which got them hired in the first place) make them magnets for predatory male customers. And in general, women now outnumber men in post-secondary institutions.

Entry-level creative writing classes in this university have traditionally been run as workshops, so my students know that their works-in-progress will be critiqued by their peers. So far, the critiquing in this class has been reasonably polite and constructive. When the piece about the two men in the truck and the ironing-board game was up for discussion, I noticed that the rest of the class seemed to be speechless. I had a one-to-one conversation with the student who wrote it, and he indicated that he hoped his piece was funny. I explained as tactfully as I could that I thought it would need to be considerably revised before it could tickle the funny bones of anyone who knows that bras are generally worn by living people.

I couldn’t help wondering if members of the generation currently in high school really believe that an ability to take off a girl’s bra quickly is a primary requirement for a “ladies’ man.” As a woman who dated men in my own far-off youth, I remember taking off my own bra, as often as not, when the time seemed right. Once things had progressed to a certain point, my date had only to ask for access to my breasts, and I usually preferred to slip off my bra as efficiently as possible than to put up with his efforts to find the hooks or worm his fingers underneath a snug band of stretchy material or an underwire.

Of all the qualities I looked for in a date, an ability to take off my bra with panache was not even on my list. And the tendency of high school boys to snap or undo the bras of their classmates in public places encouraged me to sidle down the hallways like a crab, keeping my back to the wall. I was not amused or aroused, and I never met another girl who claimed to enjoy this “joke.”

I suspect that my older male student now believes that I have no sense of humour, and that too many of his classmates are like me in that sense. Sigh. At least my own education has paid off.

Does Size Matter? The Final Showdown (According to One Man)

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Does size matter? It’s a question which has stumped philosophers, philanderers, and horn-balls for centuries. Historically, there’s been very little middle ground involved in the debate. People tend to break down into one of two camps. Those who say it doesn’t matter at all, and those who stridently shout that it matters a whole bunch, while pointedly shaking their heads at those in the first camp.

Even the very question itself is brimming with anxiety (at least, for men) because along with the question comes the implication that we’re afraid we won’t measure up. Personally, I have never known a man who hasn’t broken out a ruler at some point in his life. But while this may be one man’s opinion (and it totally is), one thing I’ve learned after years of listening to both camps, is that the real answer to this age old question lies somewhere in the middle.

Does size really matter? Answer: It depends on the person.

It may seem odd to consider this, but one of the greatest determining factor which often gets overlooked when it comes to the measure of a man, is the measure of a woman. Because just as every man’s endowment is as unique as his fingerprints, so too is a woman’s.

Some women (and it should go without saying that I am speaking of straight women here, but there is always someone who thinks lesbians are nothing but cold fish who never had their ashes hauled properly) would absolutely love to have a man with a shlong like a Pringles can. Others would run a mile rather than go near him because it would hurt too much.

Unfortunately for many of us, this debate has long been one-sided because our culture is obsessed with size. It influences everything from the cars we drive to the drinks we order, to how we feel when we look in the mirror. It is an obsession which is especially entrenched in porn, which does absolutely nothing to resolve the matter.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against porn. Porn is fantasy, pure and simple, and one of the most prominent fantasies is the idea that all a well-endowed man needs to do is drop his pants to make every woman within drooling distance say, “Oh, I must touch it.”

But it is the prevalence of this fantasy, and our own inability to distinguish it from reality, which drives so many men to send unsolicited dick pics, getting them into far more trouble than they are capable of dealing with.

We rarely, if ever, discuss penis size when it comes to body image, but the fact remains that having an unhealthy image of ourselves is detrimental to our way of life. There is no cream, device or (God help me) One Weird Trick pop-up ad which can permanently adjust the human anatomy. Whether we like it or not, our body is our body, and there is only so much we can do with it.

So if there is one lesson we can take away from all of this, it is that we need to be focusing less on size and more on skill, because just as there is only a small percentage of women who are capable of climaxing from vaginal sex alone (25%), I’d imagine that there is an equally small number of women who would be happy if you did absolutely nothing but lie there like a fleshy bump on a log.

Performance is a real thing. Just because a man may happen to have a large package, it does not in any way, shape, or form guarantee that he will be good in bed. Even those who have a natural talent for something, still need lessons to become great at it, and true masters never stop learning. Sex is like any physical activity you do for the first time. You will not be phenomenal at it, and any man who says he was, is either lying, or left the woman to do the lion’s share of the work.

The debate around size, for all its shouting and blushing, fears and body dysmorphia, teaches us to think more about “the box,” rather than outside of it. It tells us to apply our fingers, our tongues, and the myriad toys available on the market. Because the truth is, if you are attentive, if you care about her pleasure, and if you are willing to be taught, then odds are good that most women will be perfectly happy with whatever size you are. And if what you have is enough for her, then brother, it should be more than enough for you too.

My Secret Life

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

When I published my first novel, I didn’t realize how profoundly it would change my existence. After all, I’d submitted to Black Lace on a whim, intrigued by the fact that someone might be interested in reading stories inspired by my forbidden fantasies and my real-world sexual adventures. Since my book took place in the mysterious and exotic orient, I devised a pen name to match, with a hint of foreign glamor.

I even concocted a fake biography for “Lisabet Sarai”. The only child of a Lebanese belly dancer and a French army officer stationed in the Middle East, Lisabet split her childhood between the souks of Marrakesh and the cafés of Montmatre. As a precocious teenager, she danced for princes and sultans, one of whom financed her higher education. As much in demand for her exquisite erotic poetry as for her sensuous danse de ventre, Lisabet has traveled all over the world, capturing her impressions in her daring stories. Her dozens of lovers remember her with nostalgia and affection, years after their brief but incandescent liaisons.

Little did I realize that Lisabet would take on a life of her own.

There are some grains of truth in my tall tale. I did perform as a belly dancer in my youth. I’ve visited every continent except Australia, and now live in Asia. And I did go through what I like to call my “sex goddess” period, in the golden age after the invention of the Pill and before AIDS, when I seemed to be overflowing with sexual exuberance which I shared pretty broadly. I like to believe that if my former lovers think of me, they do so fondly.

However, my public reality is far more prosaic than Lisabet’s. I’m in my late sixties. I’ve been happily married for nearly forty years. I work in teaching and tech, occupations which do demand a certain sort of creativity, but which call on a different set of skills than my erotic writing. Most people who know me have never heard of Lisabet (though I occasionally fantasize that some of my friends or family might actually be Lisabet’s readers, without my knowing).

Although I’m genuinely proud of my body of work, stretching over more than two decades, I can’t brag. I can’t even tell most people. Both my parents were avid readers—it’s no accident I’m a book worm—but they went to their graves not knowing about my alter-ego. They wouldn’t have disowned me or condemned me or anything like that, but I know my preferred subject matter would have made them uncomfortable. Once I went so far as to inscribe a print copy of Raw Silk (second edition) for my father, intending it as a birthday gift. At the last minute, I returned the book to my hidden stash of author’s copies, recognizing that my dad’s peace of mind was more important than my own desire for recognition.

Meanwhile, the need to keep my alternative existence a secret has become far more critical since I took up residence in a fairly conservative foreign country with strict anti-pornography laws. I love my adopted home and enjoy living here. If I were exposed as the notorious Lisabet Sarai, I could be kicked out, even put in jail. So I take precautions. I use a different computer for my Lisabet work and communications than for other tasks. I encrypt all my files. I don’t use the same social networks for my two identities. I never do anything related to Lisabet on my phone. I bite my tongue when someone starts talking about self-publishing.

I have friends here who are literary, creative types. I am so tempted to tell them about my carefully hidden career. I really have to watch myself. After more than twenty years of writing and publishing smut, I want to shout from the rooftops, give away copies to friends and family, do signings and readings like other authors. I don’t dare.

So my existence as Lisabet Sarai is pretty much limited to the cybersphere. I email. I blog. I participate in the Erotica Readers & Writers Association lists. Very rarely I get the chance to meet some of my erotica colleagues in person. When I do, it’s a tremendous high.

I love connecting with fellow erotic authors. To be honest, I feel closer to many of my on-line friends in the erotica community than I do to my meat space acquaintances. I suppose that’s because with them, I can be honest. I don’t have to hide behind a veil of respectability. I can be myself—experimental, iconoclastic, taboo, still chronicling the thrilling variations of desire even though I’m a senior citizen.

The thing is, Lisabet Sarai really is me, a hugely important part of me that I have to keep a secret from most of the world. It’s difficult, even a bit painful, to conceal my true nature. I’m grateful that with you, at least, I don’t have to hide.

I’ll Wait for the Book

Scriptwriters have long used novels and short stories as the basis for their work, for both movies and TV shows. I suppose good ideas are hard to come by in Hollywood, so why not poach someone else’s blood, sweat and tears, right? And who among us hasn’t daydreamed about our book being turned into a blockbuster film or Netflix series? In their defense, there are only a dozen or so original plots in the world anyway, and they’ve all been used.

I became a film buff when I was a kid and if the movie was based on a book, I’d usually read it afterward. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that in most cases, the two had little resemblance to each other! These changes were often minor, usually because the book was long or contained mature content, but it made me curious as to how often that happened, and what the results were.

“Double Indemnity” was a bestselling novel by James M. Cain, a cynical tale of greed fueled by lust. Naturally, that called for a movie version to cash in on its popularity. The screenwriters apparently thought Cain hadn’t done his job correctly, because they re-arranged pieces of the plot. The result was a classic film noir that still holds up today. Even Cain grudgingly admitted that Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler did an okay job with their adaptation.

Speaking of Chandler, his breakthrough murder mystery “The Big Sleep” had Hollywood blockbuster stamped all over it. It was the second on-screen pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and Bogart forged the template for every cynical private eye that followed. It’s an entertaining film because of the chemistry between the two stars but unfortunately, you’re left scratching your head at the end and asking “So who did it? And why?” At one point, the writers even consulted Chandler for an answer, but he said he didn’t know. His lack of interest could be because he wasn’t asked to adapt his own novel, and probably didn’t care.

A lot of Ernest Hemingway’s stories made it to the screen, with mixed results. He claimed not to have liked most of them, with two exceptions. The first ten minutes of “The Killers” pretty much copied his short story word for word. When the plot veered into uncovering the motive for the murder, Hemingway stopped watching. He also enjoyed “For Whom the Bell Tolls” because it starred Gary Cooper, whom Hemingway had envisioned when he wrote the book.

He had reservations about another adaptation, “To Have and Have Not.” Hemingway felt that it was the worst book he ever wrote and bet filmmaker Howard Hawks that he couldn’t make a decent movie out of it. He was proved wrong. Of course, the writers only kept the title, changed the names of the characters and basically made it into a carbon copy of “Casablanca,” but who cared? It also helped that it was the first on-screen teaming of Bogart and Bacall (in her film debut), and the heat between the two radiated from the screen. They were married shortly after the film was completed.

There have been some noteworthy exceptions. The first few James Bond films stayed true to Ian Fleming’s novels, especially “From Russia with Love.” “The Hound of the Baskervilles” with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes is very close to Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventure. “The Godfather” is another example, because Mario Puzo co-wrote the screenplay. “The Maltese Falcon” is faithful to Dashiell Hammett’s book due to screenwriter John Huston lifting scenes and dialogue directly from it.

Bringing James Jones’ World War II epic “From Here to Eternity” to the screen was no easy task. It’s a massive book and Jones didn’t pull any punches in his unflattering portrayal of the United States Army. The book was controversial because of raw language, sex, violence, racial slurs, the primary love interest is a prostitute, and one of the soldiers is gay-for-pay. Somehow, they managed to clean it up and get it past the censors in 1953, and it won a ton of awards.

Several of Donald E. Westlake’s crime capers were turned into entertaining movies, particularly “The Hot Rock,” “The Organization” and “The Split.” When he sold the rights to any of his stories featuring a career criminal named Parker, however, he refused to let the producers use the name Parker unless they bought the entire series, which no one was willing to do. His Parker story “The Hunter” has been filmed twice, as “Point Blank” (with Lee Marvin playing Walker), and “Payback” (with Mel Gibson as Porter). Most of Westlake’s film adaptations retained the personality and nuances of his characters.

Elmore Leonard didn’t fare too well in the true-to-the-source department. While I enjoyed “Get Shorty,” I looked for comparisons to the book but couldn’t find very many. I noticed the same thing with some of Mickey Spillane’s filmed adventures. “Kiss Me Deadly” is a terrific movie, but many of the book’s characters appeared in name only. Nelson DeMille’s “The General’s Daughter” was hard to put down once I began reading it, but I didn’t have that problem with the film version. Robert B. Parker did better with his Spenser series because he took an active role in the development.

Perhaps the low point in book-to-screen adaptations was “The Green Berets” (1967), with John Wayne. Robin Moore’s novel was a factual, non-political story about the elite military unit fighting in Viet Nam. What emerged onscreen was a piece of propaganda designed to sell the public on Wayne’s firm belief that the war was actually good for America. Maybe he thought he was still making those WWII movies where he single-handedly defeated the Axis of Evil.

Pass the popcorn!

A Cup of Tea and A Slice of Cake

by Ashley Lister

“I’d rather have a cup of tea and a slice of cake than do all of that sweaty stuff.”

It was a comment that really pissed me off. And you can tell that I’m really pissed off because I don’t usually end sentences with prepositions.

I don’t mind constructive criticism. For example, being told that characters in a novel I’ve created are unlikeable is often justified: sometimes I write about people who are unlikeable. When someone told me they didn’t like an abrupt ending to one of my stories, I fully agreed. A longer ending would have been more satisfying. Admittedly, it would have involved padding and made the pacing drag, but it would have kept the characters alive for a little longer and that would have been a good thing.

But this comment, the comment about someone preferring a cup of tea and a slice of cake to ‘all of that sweaty stuff’ was fired at me as a direct challenge.
It happened because a colleague had been looking at Amazon and they’d seen my back catalogue (that’s not a euphemism). The colleague had mentioned it to someone else who cast a disdainful eye over the titles and then fixed me with their comment: “I’d rather have a cup of tea and a slice of cake than do all of that sweaty stuff.”

Fine. If you prefer anodyne beverages and pastries to physical intimacy, then you’re perfectly free to make those choices. This is what free will means. Also, if you’re psyche is so severely fucking damaged that you refer to physical intimacy as ‘all of that sweaty stuff’ then, may I suggest, you have that slice of cake and cup of tea at a psychiatrist’s office whilst he discusses your innumerable problems and (hopefully) prescribes euthanasia?

The reason why it annoyed me was because there was so much unnecessary judgement in the comment. It was almost as though, because I’d written extensively on the subject, this person thought I was challenging their opinion on sex and sexuality.

The truth is, I’m a relatively private person. I’ve written several erotic titles and, if you enjoy reading erotica, I think you’ll like my work. However, for those who don’t enjoy erotica, I’m fairly sure they won’t enjoy my back catalogue and I won’t try to force my work on those individuals.

But, whilst I’m not going to push my work on people who don’t want to read it, I don’t have to listen to asinine quips from people who describe sex as ‘all of that sweaty stuff’. And, if someone genuinely prefers tea and cake to physical intimacy, I don’t think their opinion on erotica is worthy of note.

Seven Minute Read

Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

Long before sex, there was reading – one of my first joys.

My parents began teaching me the rudiments when I was four and a half. I still recall the blaze of pride when at five and a half I made it all the way through “Dick and Jane” on my own. I had a library card at six, and after that, there was no stopping me. My parents tried, with limited success, to instill a sense of balance. An obedient little girl, I’d go outside to play when they insisted, but I’d be back as soon as I could manage, sprawled on my bed and lost in ancient Egypt or revolutionary France or some colony on Mars.

Through the trials of my life, books have offered constant companionship and intimate comfort. As I age, I console myself with the notion that even if my body fails me, I’ll always be able to read.

Lately, though, I see alarming indications that reading may be going the way of the dodo and the dinosaur. So-called “new media” – predominantly visual – appear to be replacing written text as the preferred way to communicate information. Instead of user manuals or product specifications, companies offer video tutorials and testimonials. College textbooks have a lower text to graphics ratio than ever before. Mobile phone and tablet “apps” use icons for control, eliminating the need for reading or typing. Point-of-Sale systems use pictures or bar codes, not product names, to identify merchandise.

Even the New York Times appears to be following the trend. I receive a daily email with the day’s top headlines and links to the corresponding articles. Over the past few years, I’ve notice more and more of the links lead to videos or slide shows as opposed to text articles. And if you do follow a link to an actual story, you’re assaulted with video ads left and right.

In the so-called real world, I work as a professor. I used to assign reading to my undergraduate students from text books or original sources. I’ve completely abandoned that. I have learned from experience that my students either will not do the reading, or will not understand it. They do not even read my assignments. Instead, they ask me questions whose answers are clearly explained in the (very carefully crafted) instructions.

When I send students an informative article about some technical topic, they want to know if I have a link to a YouTube tutorial.

Yes, I know. I sound like a perfect curmudgeon. All my examples are anecdotal. However, research confirms my observations. According to the American Psychological Association, in 2016 twelfth-graders report spending an average of six hours per day on online activities, reading two fewer books each year in 2016 compared with 1976. Approximately one-third did not read even one book (including e-books) for pleasure in the year prior to the 2016 survey, nearly triple the number reported in the 1970s.

An American Academy of Arts and Sciences survey found that the average time American adults spent reading for personal interest declined at every education level from 2003 to 2018. The largest absolute decline occurred among those with advanced degrees, with the average falling from 39 minutes per day in 2003 to 28 minutes in 2018. The largest proportional decline occurred among Americans with less than a high school education, where the average time spent reading fell by more than half, from 18 minutes per day to eight.

Eight minutes per day reading for personal interest? Can you detect my tone of disbelief?

Meanwhile, have you noticed the recent trend to subtitle online articles and blog posts with estimates of the time they’ll take to read? “Twelve minute read.” “Seven minute read”. “Three minute read.” Does anyone other than me find this disturbing?

First of all, I object to the notion that reading is somehow interfering with other, more important activities. Heaven forbid that you spend too much time reading! This will only take you a couple of minutes, is the implication. Then you can get back to your Facebook feed or your streaming TV series or your Candy Crush.

Second, these annotations suggest that one pass through an article will be enough to assimilate its content. There’s no recognition of the fact that sometimes, you need (or want) to re-read, to re-think and re-evaluate.

Finally, seven minutes for whom? Each of us reads at a different pace. Some of us need more time to understand, others less. Who is responsible for coming up with these measurements, anyway?

I have to admit, I don’t spend as much time as I used to reading for pleasure. Still, I’m always in the middle of at least three books, and I typically devote at least half an hour before I go to sleep to one of them.

Written language is an incredibly efficient method for conveying information. Although there’s a theory that one picture may be worth a thousand words, I don’t believe visual or aural media alone can match the depth and complexity offered by written communication. This is at least partly due to the fact that unlike video or audio, reading does not have to be sequential. You can always go back and reread if you miss something, want to confirm something, or simply want to enjoy an especially well-crafted paragraph a second time.

I worry that society will suffer due to the decline in reading. There’s not much I can do about this social and intellectual trend, however – except to encourage the kids in my life to love books as much as I do.


Plots and Plotting…

The plot’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the arousal of the king…” (or something to that effect)


I’d like to, every so often, get up on my soapbox and just go off on some random musings about the craft of writing in general and, more specifically, the craft of writing porn. While I admit an enormous amount of smutty writing out there is gawdawful, I also firmly believe that there is a lot of quality porn to be enjoyed, as well. In my humble opinion as a non-professional purveyor and connoisseur of porn of all kinds, one of the differences between the dreck and the good stuff can be found in the consideration the smut-monger puts into the craft itself.

One of the elements of that craft is plot.

It’s a cruel truth that the enormous majority of bad porn out there boils any notion of “plot” down to some version of “insert tab A into slot B, repeat as necessary.” The classic example is the sort of stories found in Penthouse Forum and the like, and which is even more easily found these days on the internet.

I wouldn’t dream of inducing any urge to doze off by dissecting any of the dozens of dictionary meanings of the word, “plot.” For purposes of this discussion, however, this is how I’d like to think of the word.

“Plot” is one of those quirky words that can mean its own opposite. The old English term originally creating a plan or map outlining boundaries of land and then came to refer to the tract of land itself, as well. “I can plot that plot for you” is the same as saying, “I can map that land for you.”

That quirky distinction can also be broadened and kept in mind when crafting a story, as well. From one perspective, the plot is the end result. The goal. The bottom line. The ultimate success or failure of the cunning master plan, either of the storyteller or the story. From the other perspective, the plot is the plan to get to the execution of the end result.

Or, if you want to get all Julia Cameron/Natalie Goldberg about it, plot is the map to get the reader through the writer’s world. The plot ends where the writer chooses to end it. If the writher chooses to continue allowing a tour of his or her world, the plot continues. If not, “The End” and on to the next story.

In any case, it’s a true journey, and not just a random bumper-car ride in an enclosed area.

In my humble opinion, one of the many, many, many things that makes a connoisseur and purveyor of porn such as myself a real snob is the fact that I can get pornographic stories anywhere. Literally, anywhere. And they all have the same “plot,” or rather, “sort of plot,” that comes down to something as simple as, “Insert tab A into Slot B, repeat as necessary,” or some variation thereof.

“Although I love your magazine, I never thought those stories you publish were real until this one time…”


So, if we all want our smut to be a cut above the rest, (and if we are all HERE at THIS website, that’s EXACTLY what we want), let’s consider a few elements of plot.

E.M. Forster said, “The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died, and then the queen died of grief is a plot.” Put another way, “The king had a lover and the queen had a lover is an erotic story. The king had a lover and the queen had a lover and they happened to be the same person is an erotic plot.” Which sounds like a more interesting way to get aroused?

Okay, J.T., you may be saying. That sounds easy enough. How can you come up with a decent plot for an erotic story?

Good question. Let’s back up a bit. How can one come up with a decent plot for a story in general? Anyone who’s ever spent any time studying the craft of writing can think of several reference books off the top of his or her head that might offer plot ideas. There are even more websites that make the same sorts of offers.

One famous text called, The Thirty-six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti documents thirty-six, count ‘em, thirty-six distinctive dramatic or plot situations, in astonishing detail with copious references. A brief (very brief) summary of one such situation.

TWENTY-THIRD SITUATION: Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones

(The Hero; the Beloved Victim; the Necessity for the Sacrifice).

The entry goes on to list several examples of literature including Aeschylus, Sophocles, and on and on and on.

Mind-numbing, is it not? Not to be recommended.

Of course, part of the point is that there are certain plots that are more or less universal; that can be found in most, if not in virtually all forms of storytelling, erotic or not.

Getting back to what Mr. Forster said, whether one says there are ten master plots or twenty or thirty-six (!) they all seem to break down to one central idea.

Something Different Happens.

The queen didn’t just die. Everybody dies. The queen died of grief. Something Different Happened.

A randy young kid goes out with his buds like he does every night, getting into the same kind of trouble every night, and then Something Different Happens and he meets the girl of his dreams who just happens to be from the wrong side of the tracks.

A privileged young man gets to judge a beauty contest, but Something Different Happens and the contestants are goddesses and the winner promises him the wife of the King of Sparta as his prize.

A passionate young bride’s wedded bliss with her husband is cut short because of his war injury. She expects to live the rest of her life like any other soldier’s wife and buck up under her frustration but Something Different Happens and she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the gamekeeper.

To me, just one more humble purveyor and connoisseur of erotica, the difference between the same old stroke tale and a story worth reading comes down to the sense that something different is happening. Something out of the sexual ordinary.

At this point, the Devil’s Advocate in my head is jumping up and screaming, “But what about Character? You haven’t discussed character!”

Indeed I haven’t, which I plan to address soon. For the time being, I want to just throw out there a few thoughts.

For anyone writing or reading an erotic story, what is something different that would make you want to continue doing so?

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


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