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In Defense of Romance

by | August 21, 2013 | 19 comments

By Lisabet Sarai

As erotic romance becomes increasingly
popular, I’ve noticed a trend among authors of erotica to denigrate
the genre. ER panders to readers who aren’t comfortable with “real”
erotica, some argue, sanitizing sex by requiring that the individuals
doing the nasty be “in love”. ER is tame and conservative,
according to others, not to mention stereotyped. True creativity
isn’t possible within the rigid constraints of the genre. ER
reinforces traditional cultural mores which favor monogamous,
committed relationships, especially those in which the woman is
subservient to the man, the social critics complain. The happy
endings required by romance just aren’t realistic, runs another
popular objection, and they make romance too predictable.

Recently a well-known erotica author
reviewed one of my novels on Goodreads. She commented that she would
have given it five stars, but she dropped her rating to four because
the book was too “romancey”. This is for a novel in which the
heroine is boffing three different men, as well as a spare woman or
two…!

There’s a kernel of truth in all of the
arguments above. I’ve read blog posts by authors of erotic romance
who loudly protest that what they write is distinct from “erotica”
(or “porn”) because they’re focusing on characters and
relationships instead of “just sex”. It may be that these
individuals have never encountered well-crafted erotica, but the
stridency of their tone suggests a level of fear or repulsion
associated with sexuality. (Or maybe they’re just afraid of the
social stigma attached to being overtly sexual.)

Some erotic romance is indeed tame and
conventional, by my standards at least, focusing as it does on
vanilla sex initiated mostly by the male. On the other hand, some
folks enjoy vanilla erotica, too. And yes, I get annoyed with
romances where marriage seems to be the ultimate goal in life, but
these days there are plenty of ER stories where matrimony is never
mentioned.

Predictability is a huge
challenge for a romance author. In some ways, the HEA or HFN required
makes crafting a romance more difficult than producing a tale
construed as erotica, which is free to end ambiguously or even badly
for the characters. Romance readers know, at some level, that
everything will work out. It takes consummate skill to create
narrative conflicts so compelling that readers will wonder just how a
happy ending could be possible. It’s tough, but it can be done.
Erastes’ M/M romance Standish sticks in my mind as a tour
de force
in this regard. Twenty pages from the end, I couldn’t
imagine how the protagonists could ever reconcile, yet when they did,
I found the resolution completely believable.

A lot of the romance I read is boring –
poorly crafted, with amateurish language, hackneyed premises,
cardboard characters and implausible or sometimes non-existent plots.
However, there’s plenty of awful erotica out there, too. Those of us
who hang out at ERWA don’t tend to see it as much, but spend a little
while browsing the self-styled “erotica” on Amazon if you don’t
believe me. The explosion of e-publishing and self-publishing has
resulted in a flood of terrible books in pretty much every genre.
There are probably more of them labeled romance than anything else,
simply because romance is the single most popular category of books.

I write for both audiences. Based on
comments I’ve seen on the ERWA Writers list, I think some erotica
authors harbor some serious misconceptions about erotic romance.

Romance has changed – a lot. For a
great discussion of romance then versus now, check out Sheila
Claydon’s recent post at Beyond Romance
(http://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com/2013/07/metrosexy.html).
No longer are heroines wimpy and helpless, just waiting to be saved
by the big, blustery alpha male. They’re not shy or reluctant about
sex anymore, either, worried about preserving their virginity or
hankering to make a good marriage. The
more realistic HFN (happy for now) is a perfectly acceptable
alternative to happily ever after.

Today’s erotic romance celebrates
sexual pleasure every bit as enthusiastically as erotica, and
includes many of the same activities – oral sex, anal sex, group
sex, exhibitionism and voyeurism, sex toys, bondage, discipline,
whipping, spanking, piercing, branding, knife play. You’ll find
casual sex in romance too, though the participants usually end up in
a more enduring relationship as opposed to simply going their own
satisfied ways afterward. And of course, these days romance doesn’t
have to be straight. Gay ménage
is very popular, as is bisexual (M/M/F) ménage.
The market for lesbian romance appears to be smaller, but still energetic and loyal.

Am I
trying to argue that there’s no difference between erotica and erotic
romance? Of course not. However, the dividing line isn’t sharply
defined either. Several of my own novels, originally written as
erotica, are now being sold as erotic romance. Indeed the erotica
versus erotic romance dichotomy may be more a question of different
target markets than clearly different content (at least in the
aggregate).

Meanwhile,
I believe that the popularity of romance has benefits for erotica.
Erotic romance has helped readers become comfortable with stories
about sex and has aroused their curiosity about more extreme or novel
activities. Of course the publication of FSOG has accelerated this
trend, but the drift in readers from pure erotic romance toward
erotica has been going on for quite a while.

Erotica
sales lag romance, but they’ve still grown phenomenally since the
advent of ebooks. I think we’re seeing significant spillover. When
romance readers want a bit “more” – more extremes of emotion,
more breaking of taboos, more surprises – they turn to erotica.

Some
of you may be shaking your heads right now. You’re wondering if an
alien has slipped into the skin formerly occupied by Lisabet Sarai,
because this post seems to contradict things I’ve written previously.
It’s true that in the past I have lamented the co-opting of erotica
by erotic romance. It does bother me that publishers like Cleis, who
previously focused on exceptional literary erotica, now targets the
romance reading community with many of their titles. Black Lace
flipped years ago, from “erotica by women, for women” to erotic
romance. Eighty percent of new publishers who want erotic content
also specify that they want a relationship and at least a happy for
now resolution.

I’m
starting to become a bit more comfortable with this development,
however. Publishing is a business. The erotic romance audience is many
times larger than the audience for “pure” erotica. It makes sense
from a financial perspective to give those readers what they want.
I’d much rather have readers introduced to explicit romance via the
quality writing in a Cleis anthology than through some of the
alternatives. And Cleis does still field calls for books with no
romance elements required.

Some
members of our community believe that the ascent of erotic romance is
a dangerous development for erotica – that it is the essence of
erotica to explore the edgy, uncomfortable aspects of sexuality that
might send romance readers screaming and that romance is blunting
those edges. I know I’m going to get some flak for this column from
Remittance Girl and Donna George Storey, for instance. Look, though,
at what these authors are doing in response to the romance boom.
They’re starting their own
presses
to publish more transgressive stories. They’re
self-publishing tales that don’t end happily. And they’re finding
readers – perhaps not millions, but more, I contend, than they
would have if erotic romance were less popular.

Which
brings me to a final theory as to why erotica authors tend to diss
romance. We’re jealous. Heck, I admit that I’m jealous, and I
actually publish erotic romance, though my books are apparently too
far from the mainstream to sell zillions of copies. We resent the
fact that our worthy literary endeavors remain obscure while sloppily
written, derivative romance sells. We rail against the fact that the
number of people who want to read happy endings far exceeds those with broader preferences.

That’s
not the fault of the romance genre. And I think we need to get over it, because
bitterness and envy don’t necessarily foster creativity.

What Do Women Want?

by | August 18, 2013 | 12 comments

By Donna George Storey

Now
that’s a title sure to sell books. Especially if said book promises to
answer that question with “the latest scientific research” by
“paint[ing] an unprecedented portrait of female lust.”

I’ve
mostly overcome my old bad habit of feeling compelled, for the sake of
my professional development, to read every article about sex that
catches my eye—from Cosmo covers offering secret bedroom tricks that fulfill every man’s deepest desires to more serious journalism like Mary Roach’s Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. Yet an enthusiastic review of Daniel Bergner’s What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire
proved just too provocative, so I put my name of the hold list at my
local library. Granted I was equally wary and amused that the mystery of
female sexual desire was to be answered by a male author, but the
“science” in the title promised at least a certain amount of objective
reportage and possibly some useful up-to-date discoveries.

After
finishing the book, I think I’ll go back on the wagon as far as “read
this and you’ll understand sex” come-on’s are concerned.

Predictably,
Bergner’s book left my raging intellectual curiosity about sex sadly
unsatisfied. However, I did gain some valuable insights into issues of
importance for erotica writers: namely, the constrictions on the way
we’re allowed to write about sex in mainstream publishing and our
endless human quest to seek a simple explanation for our very complex
and powerful urge to merge (or the lack thereof in married women, which
was Bergner’s unacknowledged focus, not to say obsession, in the book).

Let’s start with the writing style of What Do Women Want?
Published writing about sex is generally divided into two comforting
categories. First we have the “scientific” approach, which is deemed
acceptable for review in the New York Times (indeed Bergner even nabbed a nonfiction spot
in that venerable publication to promote his book). This is either a
sex guide by a credentialed doctor or a journalist’s reportage of what’s
going on in the underfunded labs of sexologists. The emphasis here is
on the “facts” tastefully and maturely presented with the aim of helping
us understand our biological drives. The tone may be humorous, like
Roach’s, often pointing out the ridiculousness of sex, but there can
never be any obvious intent to arouse lust. That goal is left to erotica
and porn, where the author is at liberty to use every trick in the
book—dirty words, loving descriptions of sex acts, vivid, taboo-breaking
fantasies—to inflame the reader’s libido. The price for this freedom is
that such works can’t be taken too seriously, even if some do prove
wildly profitable.

I’d always wondered what would
happen if someone tried combining these two forms, intellectual
seriousness with vivid, evocative prose. Many erotica writers do so
quite successfully in my opinion. Bergner makes a certain kind of
attempt by juxtaposing reportage of scientific studies and the search
for a “female Viagra” (which is apparently much harder since it requires
a change in brain chemistry rather than just blood flow) with decidedly
flowery accounts of women’s experiences and fantasies. The experiment
derails because Bergner’s heavy-handed prose requires the reader to
either submit equally to the reportage and the personal fancy or to
doubt both. For me, What Do Women Want? has been falsely
advertised as the kind of “scientific” book that we’re supposed to
respect when there is a buried personal agenda at work throughout.
Perhaps the book would be less of a con if it were advertised as memoir
or creative nonfiction, but then again it would lose a good portion of
an audience that craves “objective” answers to the mystery of sex.

Although
an inquiry into what women want could result in a very long book
indeed, Bergner’s main focus is stories of women who have lost desire
for their sweet, loving partners, but feel excitement for men who treat
them like, well, Christian Grey treats Anastasia Steele. Yet, rather
than quoting the women in their own words, he freely indulges his own
writerly impulses. In the following excerpt, he’s describing the
experiences of a “real” woman named Isabel:

“Women who
dressed with urgent, ungoverned need for the desire of men could set
off, inside her, a flurry of disdain, like an instinctive aversion to a
weakness or wound. Yet whenever she walked into a restaurant where
Michael waited for her at the bar, his focus seem to pluck her from the
air, midfall, and pull her forward. His eyes held a thoroughly different
kind of constancy than Eric’s later would. Eric adored her. Michael
admired her. She was a possession, the heels of the boots she picked for
him taking her across crowded rooms toward her owner. The boots were
like the frames and pedestals he chose for the photography and sculpture
in his gallery. He had specific opinions about how she was best
displayed.”

If the book were fiction, I might be more
willing to allow myself to be carried along by the strongly flavored
sensibility of Bergner’s prose. But in many cases I felt manipulated, as
if he were imposing his voice on Isabel among others, making her into
his character, for the mere sake of showing us he can write in a Best American Short Story style.

Now
Bergner does describe some interesting results of studies—did you know
that in speed dating whichever sex sits still is pickier about partners
than the one forced to get up and rotate? But far too many studies he
mentioned dealt with women’s boredom with nice guys. Basically Berger
argues that traditional evolutionary biology got it wrong. It’s not the
men who are the promiscuous sex, sowing their seed far and wide while
women wait for a nurturing mate, but rather the women who are even
hungrier for sex with strangers, thus explaining the much touted desire
gap between married men and women. By the time he attributed Adriaan
Tuiten’s search for a drug to restore female desire to a broken heart
when his first girlfriend lost sexual interest in him, I suspected
something else was at stake for the author as well. And indeed, turning
back to the acknowledgements, Bergner rather wistfully thanks his
ex-wife for the faith she offered for many years.

Whether
or not Bergner’s ex-wife left him because her sexual desire for her
tender mate faded, his choice of highly personal writing style and a
notable focus on one slim aspect of female sexuality demands that he be
honest with his readers about where he comes from on the issue of
marriage and the loss of desire. Yet he maintains the opacity of the
traditional journalist throughout, in spite of his revealingly biased
choices in language.

Now is the perfect time for me to
be honest. While I am all for revising the rigid story of a natural
male promiscuity and the female preference for monogamy, in my personal
experience, I have always had better sex when I know and care for my
partner and he cares for me. Thus, I did not in any way feel that the
book illuminated the mysteries of my desire. Which leads me to the
second lesson of my reading. Bergner insists we have to replace the old
story with an equally simple one—it’s not men who have insatiable
appetites, it’s women (which is actually the view of earlier Christian
philosophers, so it’s not exactly new). But what if we human beings,
male and female, all have our own ever-evolving stories about pleasure
and sexual desire? Might not we all have different reasons, genetic and
cultural, for behaving and desiring as we do, narratives that might also
change within a single person’s life course as well as varying among
different people? What if there are no rock-solid eternal truths to
comfort us about what is natural in sex (or any other human behavior)?

For
inherent in these “scientific” studies is the assumption that there is a
normal or correct sexuality. Yet I’ve never seen a real-life example
offered of this envied normal state. (Therapist Marty Klein maintains in
his book, Sexual Intelligence, that the only true normalis
that most adults have sex when they’re tired.) Bergner does not
interview a promiscuous woman who has found happiness indulging her
natural urges like the rhesus monkeys in the lab. Even one of the few
sexually frisky married women Bergner mentions is not a poster child for
happy monogamy by his definition:

“The abruptly, she
mentioned something hidden. She was a baseball fan, and when she had
trouble reaching orgasm, or wanted to make love with Paul but felt that
arousal was remote and needed beckoning, she tended to think about the
Yankee’s shortstop Derek Jeter. She smiled at the comedy of this
confession. It was only sometimes that this extra help was required, she
explained. ‘Jeter is the ultimate Yankee. Tall, all-American, everyone
loves him—he’s it. He comes home to me after winning the World Series.
He’s still in his uniform, and he throws me onto the bed and kisses me
in a frenzy all over and thrusts right into me without me being really
prepared for it. He just ravages me.’”

Yes, the secret
is out, the wife “sometimes” has to cheat in her fantasies to feel lust
for her husband! Both Bergner and the wife seem to find such fantasies
embarrassing and comic, but more to the author’s point, the fantasy is
described as “hidden” (But from whom exactly? She told him about it,
should she advertise it on a tattoo on her face?) and conforms to the
rape-by-a-stranger fantasy that several of the scientists he interviewed
claim arouses women more than any other fantasy. Bergner does not
really explore the wisdom of taking fantasies literally. He allows that
these women probably don’t actually want to be raped, but he does seem
to assume that a mere fantasy about another man is a form of infidelity
and proves his case about women “wanting” lots of sex with buff, selfish
strangers in alleyways.

Okay, I’m going to get
personal again, but at least I’m being transparent about my point of
view. I’ve never fantasized for more than two seconds about a specific
person or celebrity, nor does rape, which we’ll define as nonconsensual
sex, ever play a role in my rich and varied married-woman fantasies,
although the partner usually takes the lead because, damn it, I get
tired doing everything out there in the real world. Still my preferred
fantasy partner is a faceless drone, used and discarded for his sexual
value alone. I like it that way. Does my fantasy prove anything more
than that my imagination does not follow society’s rules for
proper female focus on the man’s personhood? And how is it that
Bergner’s list of women’s sexual fantasies, told with a sort of
breathless titillation, can be seen as news decades after Nancy Friday’s
My Secret Garden shocked the world? Alas, the book is mired in
not-very-unprecedented assumptions and judgments Bergner claims to be
challenging. In the end he does admit it is “just a beginning,” in spite
of the promotional copy’s promise to a potential reader that he or she
will get some interesting answers to the title question.

So,
yes, the book is mostly a waste of time if you are expecting to find
out what all women want. Yet even its failures remind us that there is
plenty of room for a nuanced, clear-eyed inquiry into the stories we
tell ourselves about sexuality and desire. Daniel Bergner has
unwittingly made his own contribution, though not quite as he intended.
His book does give us a coded look into the interests and passions of
one particular man, but undoubtedly a more honest What Do Women Want?: I Don’t Really Know Either would not sell nearly as many copies.

Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman (recently released as an ebook) and a new collection of short
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

The Palahniuk Effect

by | August 15, 2013 | 4 comments

I’m going to introduce you to the most viscerally powerful short story I’ve
ever read. Flat out. But – first I need you do a couple of things.


For your own safety, I mean.

From this moment on you should be sitting in an easy chair or maybe laying down
is even better. Padding. So you won’t hurt yourself.

A glass of water nearby. Maybe a small waste can and a roll of paper towels
would also be prudent. Last, if possible, a spouse or a reliable friend who doesn’t panic easily. Do not have someone read it to you aloud while driving a
car or operating heavy machinery.

We will assume you have done these things and proceed.  Attend.

The last person recorded to have fainted during a public reading of
“Guts” was on May 28, 2007 at the public library of Victoria, British
Columbia in Canada. Strictly speaking he didn’t faint as a result of the story
but as a consequence of running for the exit, fainting in mid stride and
hitting his head on the way to the floor. He was one of five who dropped during
that reading. In Milan Italy a professional actor read the translation aloud in
excellent Italian and entire rows went down as though they’d been machine
gunned. Thus far a total of 73 people have officially fainted during public
readings of “Guts” at least until people stopped counting. That’s
what stories can do for you folks.

Damn I wish I’d written it.

Stop reading this, I’m talking to you there, go to the link I’m going to give
you and read “Guts”. It only takes a few minutes, its not a long
story at all. In fact here’s how it begins.

“Inhale.
Take in as much air as you can.
This story should last about as long as you can hold your breath, and then just
a little bit longer. So listen as fast as you can.”
            From “Guts” Chuck Palahniuk

Here is the link to “Guts” a short story by my literary hero Chuck
Palahniuk. You can read it for free. Off you go, now. Come back after you pull
yourself together.

http://chuckpalahniuk.net/features/shorts/guts

From this moment on the blog will be divided into two camps. The readers with
“Guts’, and the “Guts” virgins.

The readers are those who obediently went to the link and followed through and
survived more or less intact. The virgins are those who did not take it
seriously and didn’t check it out at all or those who did and found
themselves unable to finish it. I fall into both camps. The first time I read
it I couldn’t finish it. I thought I was tough. I was not. I went back and
finished it the second time, both times cringing in my seat, chewing my thumb
and laughing my ass off insanely at the funny parts.

Now you Guts virgins – go back and read it. Please.  Go on. Get outta here. You’re
missing a thing of hideous beauty. Come back when you know something. You will
note that I have not told you anything about the story premise or what it’s
about. Nor will I. But I would like to talk about the “Palahniuk Effect”,
how the great man does what he does so well.

The genre Palahniuk writes in and maybe some of us also write in without
knowing it had a name, is “transgressive fiction”, written in a Minimalist style. This is a kissing cousin of
pulp fiction which walks a fine line on what is forbidden in commercial fiction
and often cheerfully vaults over it. This would include stories that are
potentially offensive either on a moral level such as “Lolita”, which on its
surface after all is a sexual affair between a man and a twelve year old girl he nightly rapes, or
a publishable level such as “Guts” (The first time it was submitted to Playboy
magazine it was refused as “too disturbing”. When the editor attended a reading
at Union Square Library in New York during which a man was carted off in an
ambulance, he reconsidered his position. It appeared in Playboy in 2004). Transgressive
Fiction can also include gay erotica, BDSM stories, flagellation and so on. It
concerns characters who feel confined by the moral conventions of society and
in the course of the story break out by doing luridly illicit or in the case of
“Guts”, incredibly dumb things.

“Guts” is told from the first person POV in a very specific way.
Palahniuk has several essays on writing which have lately gotten attention in the ERWA writers forum.. He has a lot to say about the crafting of
“Guts”. Any story opens with a particular problem for the writer,
which is the early establishing of authority with the reader. This is connected
with the “suspension of disbelief ”. The reader has to trust where you’re
leading them, no matter how weird or revolting it is, and be willing to give your characters
the benefit of the doubt. This is especially true in the case of the first
person point of view, with all of its intimacy offered to the reader right up
front in the voice of the narrator. Palahniuk explains that this can be done by
either heart or head.

To establish authority by heart means to speak of yourself in a way that speaks
straight to the reader, without putting on airs. You might do this by revealing
early on something that doesn’t make you look all that good. Something which is
more of the honest fool then the hero. You have to establish this as quickly as
possible, in the first few sentences.

For instance this is how Mark Twain starts off Huckleberry Finn:


“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr.
Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”

The reader likes Huckberry’s voice. He sounds like a straight forward kid.

Or this, from the opening of Phillip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint”:


“She was so deeply embedded in my consciousness that for the first year of
school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in
disguise”.

He sounds like a dubious character, but someone worth knowing. You wonder what
the deal is with his mother too.

By showing your warts early on you are
being vulnerable, holding out your hand to a certain trust and intimacy with
the reader. You don’t have to be a good person or even a very nice person. Just
somebody worth knowing.

The other way is “establishing authority” with the head. This is in fact the
way Palahniuk starts out “Guts”. Now that I think of it, this is also the way
in which I have introduced this blog entry. This is usually done by listing a
series of details, either technical or emotional details that show the reader
your narrator has been where he/she describes and knows what they’re talking
about from experience and knowledge.  
This is generally easier to do than the heart method, especially if you
are using a dislikeable narrator. 
Palahniuk admits most of his stories begin with the head method, in part
because he almost always uses first person present narration and most of his
first person narrators are dislikeable people. 
For example, this is the opening paragraph of his novel “Snuff” in which
a former porn star eventually commits suicide by way of exhaustive marathon
sex:

“ . . . One dude stood all afternoon at the buffet wearing
just his boxers, licking the orange dust off barbecued  potato chips. 
Next to him, a dude was scooping into the onion dip and licking the dip
off the chip.  The same soggy chip, scoop
after scoop.  Dudes have a million ways
of peeing on what they claim as their own.”

          “Snuff”  Chuck Palahniuk

There are two things in that paragraph that are standard for
Palahniuk.  The story is begun with the
head method in what will eventually be a dislikeable but intriguing narrator
(the maybe-maybe not son of the aforesaid porn star who is there in line with the other dudes to meet her for the first time) and he “buries the I”.  You don’t see the word “I” appear in the paragraph
at all.  One of his rules which is
certainly true is that when writing in first person present, which is a
standard for erotica and other forms of transgressive fiction, don’t let the
narrator babble on endlessly about him/her self and their precious feelings.  The reader will feel like she’s on a bad
date.  Like any narrator he should direct
attention towards the story and minimally to himself only when it regards his
action in the story.  You will also find
this is true of “Guts” which is first person present but you hear very little
reference from the narrator to himself until the final scene of the story.

Now as Lynne Connally pointed out in the writer’s forum you have to take this advice a little critically.  Romance readers want the feelings and thoughts gushed out as copiously and as purplely as possible.   More literary style erotic fiction tends to be the emotionally distant style Palahniuk is advising.  Take it for what it’s worth.

The next is the establishment of pattern and motif.
“Guts” is in some ways a long detailed list. It is a story in three
acts, giving the details of three scenes or events of increasing . . . effect .
“Guts” is also based on true stories. Palahniuk swears it. So it must
be true.  I guess.  Palahniuk explains in the back story
commentary that he acquired these stories over time while researching his novel
“Choke”. He could have assembled them in any pattern, but arranged them in an
ascending order. The motif of the story is actually based on the theme of
holding the breath which begins the story. Holding the breath is a metaphor for
things that exist between family members that are too awful or ridiculous to
talk about, and waiting in suspense for those things to be revealed. This is
the recurring pattern that keeps resounding after each event is described.
Let’s talk about that description.

He has established trust, if not sympathy, between the narrator and the reader.
The events unfold. The sensory description, which is also a critical element to
erotica writing, is based on the minimal depiction of a single ultra-realistic
detail. The kind of detail only the narrator would know. That carefully chosen
detail is a note that brings the side elements into the light. Palahniuk
advises “When a normal person has a headache, they take aspirin. When a writer
has a headache, he takes notes.” You try to find a way of conveying the
experience of a headache, not just the bland statement that a headache exists.
You don’t say the beer was delicious. You describe the beer as malty and bitter
and cold. The reader decides if that’s delicious or not, not you. If you are
describing a desperate man crossing an unlit railroad yard in the dead of
night, a man who is compulsively afraid of the dark – and I have written that
story – you don’t say “It was dark.” Hell. We know that. Instead you describe
the man dropping to the ground in a fit. Digging his fingernails in the dirt,
until they hurt. Biting the dirt with his teeth and weeping shamefully.
Describe how it feels to suffocate with brainless panic and then seeing just in
front of his eyes the moonlight glinting off a single piece of broken bottle
glass.

Moonlight.

Glass.

Specifically from a bottle.

One piece.

That makes it feel dark, and feel is what you want. Palahniuk says the line
that seemed to send most of the fainters spiraling to the floor is the one with
the words “corn and peanuts”. That’s a very specific detail known only to the
narrator until he reveals it in a way that brings the scene home and viscerally nails it.

Now, if the image of corn and peanuts isn’t turning you green at this moment,
and maybe for the rest of your life, it’s because you’re a Guts-Virgin.

Come over here, little virgin.

Come over here. Gonna tighten’ up your wig for you.

Come sit close to me, baby. No. More close. Touching close.

Trust me.

Now. What we’re gonna do. It’s all up to you. Won’t make you do nuthin’ you
don’t want. Good?

Let’s see that little mouse you got, sweetie.

Oh. Oh isn’t that beautiful. Your mama gave you the sweetest beautiful mouse.
Look what you’ve been hiding from me all this time.

How is that mouse . . . There. Isn’t that nice? You like that?

Put your finger there on the left button. Just keep it there like that ‘till I
say.

That’s the way. Feel nice? You like that? You bet you like it. Bet your mouse
like that. Bet your mama like that.

See that down there? No, lower down. See that?

Well, that’s my URL. Ever seen one of those before? Yeah? You’re not so
innocent like you look.

What you’re gonna do for me is put your little pointer there, baby, right there
and give my URL a nice little squeeze. That’s how it’s done. Move it right down
there. Do it just for me. Then I’ll know you love me good, sugar.

You’re going good. Oh that’s sweet how you do that. Oh that’s so good. I can
watch you move your mouse all night long. You’re going so good at this already
and you think you like it now, sweetie, you gonna love it later.

Don’t stop here. Down there’s where all the action is. Put your little pointer
right down there. Oh, that’s the way. Hold it there.

http://chuckpalahniuk.net/features/shorts/guts

Now.

Click.

C. Sanchez-Garcia

I Often Write About Love. You Just Don’t Recognize It.

by | August 12, 2013 | 13 comments

I was really stuck for a topic this month. I tweeted the question ‘what is hard about writing’ and got back an overwhelming number of really good answers and many of them were familiar: finding time, finding inspiration, the grind of editing, having a story stall out on you, uncooperative characters, not believing in yourself as a writer or trusting your voice … you know them all. I could and probably should have written on one of those, but instead, I thought I’d write about the one thing no one expects me to write about.

Love.

People don’t think I write about love. They think I write about sex. I write erotic fiction, not erotic romance, so people assume I don’t think love is important or worth writing about. They often assume I’m a cynic about it. But the truth is, there’s love in almost all my stories. It’s not explicit, and it’s not always sane, or permanent, or perhaps it’s not a kind of love you recognize, but I believe it’s love all the same.

The media has perpetuated a very idealised, standardised model of love.  The lovers look into each other’s eyes and they know – they KNOW – this is love, this is real, this is forever. Cue the violins. And post-modernity hasn’t done a fucking thing to advance it. It’s just commoditized it. We may be all for same-sex marriage now, but we want their love to look just like that love too. Eternal, monogamous, spiritual, the foundation of a family unit. Heck, even Sookie Stackhouse can’t fall in love with the next vamp until she’s fallen out of love with the last one. And the most meaningful, best sex is the sex you have with the person you love. 

We want to believe that love is universal, but I’m here to challenge you on that. I think the thing we call love is a cultural construction. I’m not going to go all biological on your ass and talk about love as an evolutionary strategy. Mostly because the jury is a long way out on that one. Nor am I going to say that we are imagining the feeling we identify as love, although I don’t think it matters whether we are imagining it or not. It has massive real-world consequences all the same.

I’m saying that there is most certainly a phenomenon that humans experience that destabilizes us as hermetically sealed individuals. We allow another in so deep that it breaks the seal on our individuality. They bleed into us, and if it’s reciprocated, we bleed into them. We stop being ‘alone’ in the the big sense of the world.

It is the culture we are born into that uses models and language to help us order that experience in our brains. Although love occurs in all cultures, how we identify it – the rules we expect it to obey – bear the marks of how our societies seek to order themselves.

Let me give you an example. I know this 24-year-old Vietnamese woman named Tuyet. She was born down in the Mekong Delta in a tiny little village. Grew up dirt poor. Her mother died of cervical cancer because the family had no money to treat it. She came to the city bone thin – not starving, because no one starves here, but rake thin from a poor diet –  looking for a job to support herself and send money home to her family.

It’s a very common story in developing countries. She found a day job, but she became a part-time sex worker because the money was much better than anything she could earn with her lack of education or qualifications. In the course of her work, she met a 68-year-old American named Burt. Divorced, overweight, balding, bit of an alcoholic, not a prince by any means. And they marry.  He gets all the sex he’s ever dreamed of and she gets the kind of financial security she’s never even dreamed of. She says she loves him. He says he loves her.

To Western eyes, there are nasty words for this sort of a relationship. In the West, loving someone for giving you sex is not love. In the West, loving someone for giving you economic security isn’t love. But to people in developing countries, you DO love someone who is willing to take care of you, and keep you safe, and pay your medical bills, and has the wherewithal to feed your family.

I’ve lived in foreign cultures long enough not to judge. They are giving each other what they need. They have allowed themselves to be vulnerable and dependent on each other for things that each of them find very important. If they call it love, then… it’s love.

One of my co-workers is Indian. He’s from New Delhi. His marriage was arranged. He met his wife once before they got married. Both their families each believed that they were two kind, decent people and they would make a good match. Both he and his wife believed that their families had their best interests at heart. They’ve been married seven years now, and have a little boy. The wife, Medha told me that she fell in love with him about 6 months into the marriage, after she was already pregnant with their child.

These are models of love we don’t understand because our understanding of love is culturally proscribed. 

I have fallen in love a number of times, and out of love fewer. There are people I loved who I continue to love, even though I’m not with them anymore. Even though I was only with them a short time. And I have never ever loved two people in the same way. There isn’t one kind of love. There is a love for every love you fall into. There are people I fell in love with fast, and out of it fast. But in the moment, it was love. Our belief that only long-lived emotion is love is also culturally proscribed.

It’s incredibly ironic that we all agree that love hurts, but we taught to yearn for a love that doesn’t hurt. In Western concepts of romantic love, it only hurts in the short term, but in the long term, it turns into a kind of endless warm jello bath.

Another interesting Western belief is that love needs to be reciprocated. If it isn’t, it’s not love. It’s pathological obsession. It’s sick and unhealthy. We also believe that love needs to be physically consummated. If it isn’t, at some point, then it’s tragic and pathetic. But that’s only because it falls outside our cultural construction of how we’ve defined romantic love.

I’m not saying that because you adhere to your cultural understanding of love you’re wrong. I just want you to consider that it is a construction. It’s not the TRUTH, it’s a truth. It’s the truth of love in your culture. You can chose to insist upon it, but you can also reject it, and decide on another definition. A personal one.

I guess that’s the point of my post. I want to encourage you to consider that the definition of what love is isn’t static or etched in stone. And perhaps write about alternate versions of it.

Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker: Self Or Not?

by | August 11, 2013 | 4 comments

Before I begin, a bit of disclosure: While the following has
been written in an attempt to be professionally and personally non-biased I am
an Associate Publisher for Renaissance E Books. 

Now, with that out of the way…

So, should you stay with the traditional model of working
with a publisher or go the self-publishing route?

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been thinking – a lot — about
this.  The arguments for stepping
out on your own are certainly alluring, to put it mildly: being able to keep
every dime you make – instead of being paid a royalty – and having total and
complete control of your work being the big two.  

But after putting on my thinking cap – ponder, ponder, ponder — I’ve come to a few conclusions that are
going to keep me and my work with publishers for quite some time.

As always, take what I’m going to say there with a hefty
dose of sodium chloride: what works for
me … well, works for me and maybe not you.

Being on both sides
of the publishing fence – as a writer, editor, and now publisher (even as a
Associate Publisher) — has given me a pretty unique view of the world of not
just writing books, working to get them out into the world, but also a pretty good
glimpse at the clockwork mechanisms than run the whole shebang.  

For example, there’s been a long tradition of writers if not
actively hating then loudly grumbling about their publishers.  You name it and writers will bitch
about it: the covers, the publicity (or lack of), royalties … ad
infinitum.  Okay, I have to admit
more than a few grouches have been mine but with (and I really hate to say
this) age has come a change in my perspective.  No, I don’t think publishers should be
given carte blanch to do with as they
please and, absolutely, I think that writers should always have the freedom to
speak up if things are not to their liking, but that also doesn’t mean that
publisher’s are hand-wringing villains cackling at taking advantage of poor,
unfortunate authors.

It took finding a good publisher to change my mind … that
and seeing the business from the other side.  While there are a lot of things that separate a good
publisher from a poor one the most important one is that a good – and maybe
even great – publisher understands the business.  

Case in point: authors love to bitch about their covers –
but a publisher that takes the time to look at what is selling, what isn’t
selling, what distributors will and won’t accept, and creates a cover
accordingly is actually doing the author a service.  Yes, the cover may not be an accurate scene from the book,
but it – if it works — should tease and tantalize enough to get people to buy
it.  By the way, since this is
supposed to be about publisher versus self-publishing keep in mind that you
would not know what sells and what doesn’t – by the way, the amazon best
sellers list is not a good indication – and so will be operating pretty much in
the dark.  

Authors often work from ego – and there is nothing wrong
with that – but far too often what they want, and what will actually sell, are
polar opposites.  They want to see
their work like books they admire … but they also may be completely ignorant
of the fact that while those books look nice they simply don’t leap off the
shelves. 

Being in the trenches of publishing, looking at the numbers
myself, is very sobering.  Just
take social networking.  For people
in self-publishing it’s the end-all, be-all — you can’t succeed, they say,
without it.  But while exposure is
important, many of your FaceBook friends will not buy your book.  The people who will buy your book are
looking for erotica they will enjoy – and if your cover, your marketing, your whatever,
doesn’t speak their language then they simply won’t cough up the bucks.  It’s a sobering though that many
bestselling erotica books are written by authors who don’t play the social
networking game … at all.

Yes, when you self publish you have complete and total
control – but that also means you have no access to a publisher’s experience:
you will have to do everything from scratch, from learning how to get your book
on amazon, iTunes, etc. to dealing with cover art specs and ebook
formatting.  Sure, when you
self-publish you keep every dime – but you could very well spend it and more in
time doing what a publisher does.

And marketing … I totally agree that publishers should do
more of it, but publishers have never been good at that, even before the ebook
revolution.  But even a little
publicity from a publisher can work wonders: many authors are discovered not
via advertising or marketing but because their book was put out by a publisher whose
catalog had a best seller in it.

If you self-publish then you are a single voice yelling as
loud as you can – and these days there are a lot of single voices yelling as
loud as they can – and against this din a lot of readers, and reviewers, are
turning a bit deaf.  It may be hard
to hear but being with a publisher still carries a lot of weight when it comes
to getting noticed.  

Sure, if you’re a huge author then going the
self-publishing route may make a lot of sense, but think of it this way: huge
or not, with a publisher your mailing list, fans, and miscellaneous contacts will
not be the only way people will hear about you and your book – and the cost of
getting more would probably be the same as the bucks a publisher would take.  

In the end, though, the decision is yours.  If I could leave you with anything,
though, is that while there are many publishers out there worthy of scorn there
actually are many that not only know what they are doing – though experience
and observation – and who can do a lot for you.  Often their advice may be hard to take, but if you trust
them they can be a great help – and perhaps the difference between writing a
book that doesn’t sell … and one that does.

Writing Exercise – the Ottava Rima

by | August 6, 2013 | 17 comments

 By Ashley Lister 

 We vow tonight will be an early night

We both have work to do tomorrow morn

But now, before I kill the bedroom light

I plead for you to tend to my hard horn.

The mood is set. The time seems very right.

We’re both fired up from watching hardcore porn

I do those things you tell me you adore

And then I stop ‘cos you’ve started to snore.

The Ottava Rima describes eight lines of poetry set out in the
form: a b a b a b c c. These eight lines can represent a single poem or a
collection of these stanzas can make up a longer work.

Originally, when it was brought to us from the Italian language,
the Ottava Rima had 11 syllables per line. Because this form was then appropriated
by English speakers in the 16th century, when iambic pentameter was
all the rage, those 11 syllables were reduced to ten. In the following you’ll
note that I’ve used some lines with ten and some with 11 syllables.

We did it whilst you cooked a sweet ‘n’ sour

We did it on the table in the kitchen

We did it whilst I read King’s The Dark Tower

We did it whilst you sewed and did some stitchin’

We did it in the bathroom in the shower

We did it even though your crotch was itchin’

On that morning we earned a world renown

To kill time whilst our ISP was down

The Ottava Rima is a lot of fun. It’s been used for a
variety of disparate purposes including religious verse, comedy, troubadour
songs and dramatic narratives. It’s been used by a host of impressive names
including Fairfax, Byron and Burgess. As always, the challenge this month is to
use this form to present something erotic.

I look forward to seeing your responses in the comments box
below.

Erotic Lure Newsletter: August 2013

by | August 1, 2013

From Erotica Readers & Writers Association
By Lisabet Sarai
_______

Dear Connoisseurs of Concupiscence,

Is it really August already? July simply flew by, leaving me sweaty and breathless. I have to admit that perusing the new edition of the Erotica Readers & Writers Association website did nothing whatsoever to cool me down. If you don’t mind getting a bit sticky (in a good cause), follow me for a whirlwind tour of the site’s highlights.

In the Erotica Gallery, the weather and the mood combine to turn up the temperature, and our authors have responded by stripping down. We’ve got stories, flashers and poems on the theme of undressing. Overall, this month’s fiction offerings cover the whole emotional gamut: lyrical, nostalgic, raw, sweet, ironic and delightfully silly. Step inside the consciousness of a true sadist. Marvel at the ultimate sexual weapon. Explore the allure and the consequences of infidelity. Try out a new fantasy or a toy. The consummate art of our authors leaves me wet, yearning, and a bit jealous.

Experience the word made flesh:
https://erotica-readers.com/story-gallery

For more literary thrills, wander through our Books for Sensual Readers section. This month’s featured titles include EXTRAORDINARY DEVIATIONS, a collection of transgendered erotica by Raven Kaldera; HIGH OCTANE HEROES, Delilah Devlin’s anthology of erotic romance about the ultimate alpha sex objects; Sindra van Yssel’s twin-focused menage SECRETARY FOR TWO; and Stephanie Evanovich’s hilarious and sexy romance BIG GIRL PANTIES. In the gay erotica section, check out Richard Labonte’s anthology of exhibitionist-themed tales, SHOW-OFFS. My pick for F/F fiction this month is HUNGRY GHOST by Allison Moon, a tale of a college freshman fighting against her inner beast and a pack of true monsters. Dig deeper into our categorized listings for more fabulous books, including vintage and classic erotica and sexy sex education.

Of course we wouldn’t tempt you with all these great books without giving you the means to satisfy your desires. Just click on our convenient links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iBooks to buy. You’ll get what you want, while supporting the best free adult site on the ‘Net.

Books are better than Viagra:
https://www.erotica-readers.com/books/

If you’re one of us crazy folks who write erotica as well as read it, stop by the Authors Resources section to review dozens of publishing opportunities for all styles and genres of sexlit. Recently posted calls include new publishers Brickstone Publishing (erotic shorts), Ai Press (erotic romance) and Harlequine Digital First (various); marriage-themed gay erotica for a book to be edited by Neil Plakcy; Smut in the City and Smut by the Sea, from House of Erotica; and the charity anthology Coming Together for Equality. We’re not just talking about books, either. ERWA’s list includes websites that pay, magazines, audio erotica, even scholarly articles for the academic journal Porn Studies.

The Authors page also links to our extensive archives of how-to articles, to a handy list of external author resources, to Cindy Meyer’s excellent market news blog, and to ERWA’s own blog, http://erotica-readers.blogspot.com, a fabulous source of information and inspiration. During the past month, the ERWA blog contributors have offered posts on craft (writing in the first person, writing a series, the quatern poetic form), marketing (cover letter dos and don’ts), finding a writer’s community and discovering your target reader, as well as varied commentary on sex, gender and society.

Submit! It’s the latest rage:
https://www.erotica-readers.com/erotica-authors-resources/

Speaking of trends, FSOG [Fifty Shades of Grey] mania has caught up with the porn world. Headlining our Adult Movies section this month is “Bound by Desire – Act 1: A Leap of Faith”, in which two more or less innocent young women hook up with a duo of handsome, rich older men who just happen to be lifestyle dominants. Sound familiar? In any case, I’m sure a good time is had by all. Also worthy of note is “Bridesmaids”, a new feature starring Jesse Jane and Kayden Kross. Come see what happens when the gals of the wedding party let their hair (and their panties) down. “Triple Mania” falls in to the “no plot, all action” category, with six sizzling girl-on-girl threesomes. Our classic flick this month is “Bad Penny”, the 1978 debut of award-winning adult actress Samantha Fox. Poor Penny must exchange sexual favors for the information she needs to help her claim her rich uncle’s bequest. Luscious, and funny too!

These are just a few highlights. We’ve got lots more great movies for you, and you can get’em any way you please: on DVD, on demand, even on your phone. Explore our new affiliate GameLink, a one-stop source for movies and sex toys.

See your fantasies come to life:
https://www.erotica-readers.com/adult-movies/

You’ll find some new playmates in the Sex Toy Playground this month. Sex educator Laura Anne Stuart has a great article about the rebirth of the Hitachi magic wand. Apparently the Japanese company who brought the world this masturbatory legend finally got tired of being associated with sex and porn. (How small-minded of them.) But fear not – as Ms. Stuart explains, nobody’s going to take away your magic wand! Lovely Charlotte from UK toy store Bondara also makes her debut this month, talking about five different categories of dildos and what makes them wonderful. It’s always best to get your advice from the experts.

Give your hand a break:
https://www.erotica-readers.com/sex-toy-playground/

Inside the Erotic Mind this month, our topic is high heels. Why are those stilettos so alluring? And are they worth the pain and the damage they can inflict on a gal’s body? Opinions on the topic are diverse and explicit. Add your own – just click on Participate.

Stimulate the most sensitive erogenous zone of all:
https://www.erotica-readers.com/inside-the-erotic-mind/

Well, that rounds out my August tour. (I promised you a quickie, and I always keep my promises.) I’ve got to go take a shower. Writing the Lure always tends to get me hot and bothered. However, the gentlemen awaiting me in the bath have promised to remedy that situation.

See you September!

Stickily,
Lisabet
_______

Visit Lisabet Sarai’s Fantasy Factory   
Check out blog
Join Lisabet’s List           

Write, learn, and play on ERWA. Details at:
erotica-readers.com/erwa-email-discussion-list

Sex and the Big Brain

by | July 30, 2013 | 3 comments

By K D Grace

I had a sex blogger ask me once how I could possibly write
about things I hadn’t experienced. My answer at the time, though accurate, was
a bit flippant I suppose. I said that it’s fiction. It’s no more difficult for
me to write about sex that I’ve not experienced than it is for Thomas Harris to
write about serial killers when he certainly isn’t one.

I think I can write about sex I’ve never experienced, would
never even want to experience in the real world because I have a big brain. Oh,
not my brain in particular. All humans have ‘em, and we use them in sex even
when we’re not having sex. The thing about having a big brain is that it adds a
new dimension to a biological act. In the hormonal, pheromonal soup that drives
us to fuck, we get the added pleasure of making it up as we go along. In our
heads — anyway we like it. And this, we can do completely and totally without
the help of anyone else.

Which leads me to wonder how much of fiction writing – any
genre of fiction writing – is really our big brain masturbating – first for our
own pleasure, and if we get lucky and our work gets published, then we get to
be exhibitionists and do it for an audience. Is that yet another layer of our
sexuality? There’ve been countless of books and essays written on the
connection between sexuality and creativity, and I’ve experienced it myself.
When it’s right, when I’m in the zone, the rush, the high, the incredible buzz
of getting characters and plot to move together in just the right tango of conflict
and passion and drive, the experience from a writer’s point of view is
extremely sexual, and yet somehow better than sex. It’s sex on steroids, it’s
free-falling, it’s roller coaster riding, it’s fast cars, mountain tops and
touching the tiger all rolled into one. And it all happens in some nebulous
part of our brains that only a neurosurgeon might be able to pin-point for us.
And who cares? Who cares as long as it gets us there!

Those moments don’t happen often, but it doesn’t matter.
They happen often enough to push us forward, to keep us going and writing and
longing and digging deep for the next wild brain-gasm. I just came off of one
of those experiences while racing to finish the draft of The Exhibition. It was a late-night write, a dark, dangerous sex
scene in which the characters staged a coup and completely took control of the
action. I came away staggering, looking down at my hands, wondering how the
hell I wrote that. I was too hyped to sleep, too creeped out to think about who
might be waiting for me in my dreams after what I’d just written. And yet … And
yet I felt stretched, expanded, like for a second I’d seen sex at the core
where the dark and light meet and swallow each other up. And what’s left is a
wild, crazy pull to translate what just happened into some kind of written
account that will convey that feeling, that sense of being beyond myself, yet
deeper into the dark recess of myself than I felt really comfortable going. And
as any writer would, longing to drag my reader right in there with me, into the
dark, into the fire.

It was a long time before I could sleep. It was a long time
before I felt quite like myself again. And that’s what got me thinking about my
big brain, which at times, seems so much bigger than just the space in my head.
And I guess maybe I do have to experience something in order to write about it.
But the big brain creates that experience in the privacy of my own head. That
being the case, how could I not keep going back for more? How could I not want
desperately to write what my big brain allows me to experience? How could I not
want to bring it out and flaunt it for the reader’s full participation?

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