by Jean Roberta
The introduction of sex in a work of fiction can feel problematic for several reasons: sex has traditionally been considered “unspeakable,” something that can’t and shouldn’t be described in detail, at least in the social mainstream, and sex is considered an exceptional activity, a form of interaction that is completely different from any other. Of course, sex is different from every other shared activity, but even the most casual hookup is usually preceded by a comment or question (“Looking for a good time, sailor?” “Are you alone?” “Do you come here often?”).
The challenge for an erotic writer is how to get from here to there. Going beyond conversation to the shedding of clothes usually means shedding certain readers as well. Erotic writers know that some readers won’t read writing about sex, even if these readers actually have sex lives, and even if they bring murder mysteries with them to the beach for “light” reading.
Besides all this, there still seems to be an amazing amount of confusion about what is sexually acceptable in the real world. I recently had a conversation with my stepson (age 36, and a veteran of several serious heterosexual relationships) when he agreed to drive me to the home of a fellow-volunteer counsellor on the local sexual assault line so I could pass on the satchel that contains a mobile phone for emergency calls.
Stepson seemed to feel he was under suspicion of various crimes just because he is male. I assured him that I trust him more than I trust most men, having known him since his ninth birthday.
My assurance apparently didn’t ease his discomfort enough. He told me that when he sees an attractive woman, he wants to have sex with her. I wasn’t sure if he was confessing a sin or defending his male nature against a particularly feminist form of prudery. I told him that wanting sex is fine. (He knows I’m an erotic writer, but this fact often seems to slip from his consciousness.) I explained that wrestling a protesting woman to the ground or putting a drug in her drink to knock her out is not fine; in fact, those activities are crimes. He implied that no sane man would do any of those things, but he still seemed troubled.
I was aware that a stepmother-stepson relationship is an awkward context for a conversation about sex that is not intended as foreplay. For all practical purposes, I am one of his parents, but we’re not actually related by blood. I still feel as if someone needs to explain the concept of consent to him as thoroughly as possible, but I doubt if I’m the best person to do that.
I wonder how many other men either feel like criminals because the sight of attractive women excites them, or who feel entitled to do whatever they have to do to overcome most women’s refusal to have immediate (unpaid) sex with strangers—or with men they know too well.
A fellow erotic writer recently suggested to me that none of us are “politically correct,” which apparently means that scenarios about men using force or deception to have sex with women shouldn’t offend any of us. It’s not as if any erotic writer was ever a young woman who needed a job, and didn’t want to be tricked into a sketchy situation involving non-consensual sex and no pay, with the risk of getting killed. And it’s not as if any erotic writer was ever a woman who wanted human status.
As I’ve said here earlier, my fantasies about true sexual freedom (without degradation, contempt, or various forms of punishment) take place in an alternative world because I’ve rarely seen it in this one. I can imagine a culture in which it would be perfectly acceptable for a person to approach another person for sex, and perfectly acceptable to accept or refuse. In the case of rejection, the seeker would just continue looking for a playmate. In the absence of sexual hypocrisy, homophobia, or a sexist double standard, the search probably wouldn’t take long.
In a fantasy novel that I read years ago (sorry I can’t remember the title or the female author), the question “May I offer you anything?” was widely understood to be a proposition, and the answer was often yes. The simple honesty of this form of etiquette appealed to me, and I wished I could visit that imaginary world.
So in the world we live in, as well as in the stories we write, how do we take two or more sympathetic characters from everyday interactions—in which everyone is fully dressed—to sexual ecstasy? A standard guidebook on sexual etiquette would help. More honesty and empathy in the culture at large would help more.
What would help the most would be a general understanding that no one is “out of character” when they are out of their clothes. Au contraire. The butcher, the baker and the cabinet-maker want sex is some form, with someone. So do the doctor, the lawyer, the accountant, your child’s kindergarten teacher, and the bag lady pushing a shopping cart.
I haven’t found a way to segue comfortably from non-sex to sex on the page without feeling as if some part of the narrative doesn’t fit with the rest. As my spouse often says, I want to live on my own planet.
As long as I am stuck on this one, I will be tempted to describe sex (when I do) in a culture that speaks what is still largely unspeakable here.
The question of excellent sex scenes came to mind when a friend forwarded an interview with writer Lidia Yuknavitch from the Lenny Letter’s August 12 issue. Yuknavitch has been lauded as one of the few authors today who writes about sex “well.” I’d read Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water back in 2014 because I was curious as to why she was getting such praise, and also because I apparently needed a reminder as to why I should never listen to such marketing hype. Predictably her portrayal of sex, which ping-ponged between the acceptably literary theme of incest trauma and Penthouse-style lesbian group encounters, was more or less par for the course. In my opinion, one can find better writing about sex by any author here at ERWA.
However, two years on I’d pretty much forgotten about that experience so I read the interview with a fresh mind and—what do you know, I really liked it! If her novel had been anything like the interview, I would have liked that, too. I especially liked this part concerning writing about sex:
Suleika Jaouad for Lenny: It seems almost impossible to write a sex scene without clichés. In what ways are you interested in changing the script about how we write about sex and sexuality?
Lidia Yuknavitch: I think the worst lie of all that we’ve inherited about our own bodies is that the stories of sexuality and sexual identity are already written. The reality is, we haven’t even finished figuring out who we are yet as a species — let alone what to do with our bodies. For me, sexuality is a whole terrain or territory that you explore your entire life, from birth to dirt. We’ve yet to even begin to liberate the full story lines of our bodies.
I don’t sit in my office and go, “I’m going to write a really cool sex scene.” I hope we leave behind forever the idea of the sex scene on page 49, which is a market invention. If you want to write an excellent sex scene, you have to liberate it from the idea of a sex scene. Like I was saying before about violence, you have to thread sexuality through every part of a character or a person’s life, rather than limiting it to a titillating few pages where something juicy happens. You have to understand that sexuality is omnipresent in your body — your entire life.
Truer words were never spoken. Makes you want to jump in bed and explore some territory with a partner of one sort or another–not excluding one’s own trusty hands– and get back to the keyboard to write down some new truths about the body-mind connection. That’s the fun part. But what does this fine sentiment mean for us erotica writers in terms of the day-to-day process of writing and publishing? Well, unfortunately, we not only have to take on the mysteries of sensuality and the challenges of wordcraft, we have to take on the contempt of the world.
In spite of the high accolades (unfortunately, I also forget where I read the praise that motivated me to read The Chronology of Water), Yuknavitch herself does not escape the contempt with which sex writing is still treated in our culture. I keep notes on books I’ve read (are you horrified?) and they’re skimpy for Water, but I did record word-for-word this passage from the introduction by Chelsea Cain (a writer of bestselling thrillers) about meeting Yuknavitch at the Portland writing, or “therapy,” group led by Fight Club’s Chuck Palahniuk:
“Chuck Palahniuk brought up the idea of inviting her. ‘She writes this literary prose,’ he told us. ‘But she’s this big-breasted blond from Texas, and she used to be a stripper and she’s done heroin.’ Needless to say, we were impressed.
I already wanted her to sit by me.
There was more. Chuck told us that some really famous edgy writer—I didn’t recognize her name, but I pretended that I did—had given a talk at a conference about the State of Sex Scenes in Literature and she’d said that all sex scenes were shit, except for the sex written by Lidia Yuknavitch. Maybe Chuck didn’t tell us that. But someone in the group did. I don’t remember. I think I was still thinking about the stripper thing. A real-life ex-stripper in our writing group! So glamorous.
Yes, we said, invite her. Please.
She showed up a few weeks later, wearing a long black coat. I couldn’t see her breasts. She was quiet. She didn’t make eye contact. She did not sound like she was from Texas.
Frankly, I was a little disappointed.
Where was the big hair, the Lucite platform heels? The track marks?
Had Chuck made the whole thing up? (He does that sometimes.)
How was he describing me to people?” (The Chronology of Water, p. xii-xiv)
As you see from this excerpt, people can’t stop talking about Yuknavitch’s breasts. In fact, the cover of Water is graced with a female swimmer’s naked nipple, which some bookstores covered with a Bandaid.
Good God, we really do need a new way to think and talk about sex, don’t we?
But I must conclude this peek into the culture of Chuck Palahniuk’s writing group with a final juicy bit, in case you were feeling jealous that you aren’t a member. Far from wowing that uber-cool coterie with a striptease, poor Yuknavitch apparently ended up running to the bathroom and cried when another member told her the father incest in her story was trite. Granted it has become so in literary fiction, but if one really was raped by dad, that remark would feel insensitive to say the least.
But this isn’t a post about the shallow values and cruelty of writing groups. It’s about “excellent” sex scenes.
I’m not going to tell you how to write them. I’m going to tell you why the question itself is a problem.
First let us notice how even a writer who has managed to write the only good sex scenes in the history of human storytelling is still safely ghettoized. Naturally someone who writes like this must be carnal, trashy, living on the margins of the law and have sleazy fashion taste. Writing about sex cannot merely be a cerebral act, an act of the imagination. Sex writers must have literally experienced the dirty deeds they write about and show the track marks on their bodies for all to see. We don’t ask murder mystery writers to pull a bloody corpse from the closet, but sex writers need to arouse us in the flesh. A shy woman in a concealing coat cannot write good sex. The potential field of venerable sex writers is thus narrowed considerably and keeps in check our own vulnerability to the disruptive power of sex.
More importantly note that neither Cain nor I can remember exactly who gave Yuknavitch such high praise. Instead some vague expert has made the pronouncement, someone who needn’t answer to anyone, an entity so vague that that the words seem to come from God herself. Remember, though, it only takes one critic with the word “trite” on his lips to strip her of her crown. And yet, so many have faith that the promise of the best sex (scene) ever will be fulfilled by someone, some day in next month’s issue or next year’s novel. In the meantime, there are many examples of intelligent, creative, well-crafted stories about sexuality out there and especially here at ERWA, but for the most part the literary establishment chooses to ignore our existence, just as it ignores the rich variety of sexual experience itself.
Yuknavitch herself acknowledges these problems in her interview. “Excellent” sex scenes are not free standing, carefully circumscribed entities on page 69. Excellent sex scenes don’t follow the script or if they do, they infuse it with something more. And for me “liberation” includes not just our own efforts in writing, but opening up the writing group to everyone. Sexual pleasure and expression are not just the province of a lucky gorgeous, young, well-endowed, celebrated few—or in other words, those who can play themselves on TV.
So let’s get away from this idea of scarcity and exclusion. We need countless new stories about our bodies and erotic minds told through countless sensibilities. And we need to listen to these stories respectfully, without jumping to judgment immediately or sniggering, because exploring new territory is a tentative, sensitive endeavor. What does this mean to a writer sitting before the blank screen? Well, we each have to come to terms with this in our own way, but I hope we can all acknowledge how courageous erotica writers are to give our talents to such important work. On that note, I’ll leave you with another excerpt from Yuknavitch’s interview that I found inspiring:
SJ: What are your best words of advice for fellow misfits and aspiring writers?
LY: I’m trying to help us remember that we invent our own beauty and our own paths and our own crooked, weird ways of doing things, but that they’re not nothing and they matter, too. We’re the half of culture that doesn’t take the paths that are sitting right in front of us. Our song may be a little off-key, but it’s a kind of beauty, too. I know I’m not the person who thought that up, and I’m not the person who invented that as a truth, but I can sure stand up and help remind us not to give up, that we have a song, too.
Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman and a collection of short
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
By Bob Buckley
with a person’s emotions is a dangerous thing, but we writers do it all the
time, from the moment we seek to hook our reader with an opening paragraph that
piques their curiosity as well as, we hope, tweaks their libido. Then we string
them along, leading them down a path to a conclusion where we hope they say,
maybe they’ll just say, “Huh?”
the way to one conclusion or the other, our readers begin to wonder where our
tale is going. They can’t help it. They build up expectations: Will she sleep with him? Is he going to
leave her? Will they live happily ever after?
that last expectation – guaranteed if the story has been labeled romance –
still elicits a guess about how we’re going to get there – the HEA, that is. We
all do it as readers, after we’ve come to
care one way or the other about the characters. Sure we wonder what’s going to happen next, but we also anticipate, which is different – in effect, we try to get ahead of the story, writing our own in our head and seeing if it eventually matches up with the author’s plot. Haven’t we all, at one time or another, said at the end of a story or novel, “I knew that was going to happen,” or, “I saw that coming.”
– okay, cue up Carly Simon honking away with that nasally voice of hers.
of mysteries and thrillers craft their tales around readers’ anticipation and deliberately defy their expectations. It’s
called a plot twist. It throws you off the rails if it’s successfully executed,
if not, it might annoy the hell out of you. But for readers of these types of
stories, nothing is more satisfying than a twist, particularly the
twist-at-the-end. It’s then they realize they’ve been manipulated, deceived and
perhaps even disoriented. And they love it.
what if you’re writing a romantic, erotic story and yank the rug out from under
your reader by leading them to a place they didn’t expect to go? Well, if
you’ve achieved every writer’s goal of getting your readers to believe in your
characters and invest their emotions in them – they may end up hating you.
years ago I posted a story to ERWA about a pair of what my mother would have called “poor souls.” I wanted to explore why some people, men and women, go
through life alone and lonely, through no fault of their own.
main characters included a lonely guy who couldn’t get a woman to give him the
time of day. You know the type, a guy whose romantic history involves him being
aggressively overlooked. But like the Lonesome Loser of the song, “he
still keeps on tryin’.” He’s allowed himself to be set up in a series of
blind dates – none of which have panned out – by a good-intentioned friend. On
one of these arranged meetings, he’s introduced to a girl who has as sad a
romantic history as he does. And voila, they hit it off and have a wonderful
night together that leads to some wonderful sex.
for them, I’m telling this story, and I decided from the beginning it was not
going to end with a HEA. While he wants to continue to see her, she rejects the
notion of them in a relationship. Though she likes him, she thinks
it would be tantamount to “settling.” She fears the world will look
at them as two losers who couldn’t land anyone better and she won’t give the
world that satisfaction.
it’s a stupid reason to toss away something magical. Have you ever heard of
anyone tossing happiness away for a good
ends with her out the door and him sitting on the banks of the Charles River in
wasn’t quite prepared for the vehement reactions to the story, even though I
allowed that folks who love a HEA were going to be disappointed. Disappointed?
They were furious! Even some critics who, themselves, were into darker
explorations of the human heart were appalled.
responders demanded that I explain what it was about the male protag that made
him repulsive to women. Well, how should I know? Why do nice guys, or for that
matter, nice girls end up alone?
few suggested ways I could give it a happy ending. (In fact, I could have added
two short lines at the end and instantly turn it into a HEA.)
my sometimes morbid sense of humor, it tickled me to no end that some people
were angry at me for being a prick to my characters. I had struck a nerve.
The furious backlash told me I had gotten under the readers’ skins, manipulated
them into caring for and hoping for all the best for my characters. I can’t
blame them for being furious, but I’m glad they were.
it gives a writer pause, does it not?
you write, you’re playing with nitroglycerin … be careful.
writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror,
and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son,
and her three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook
page, and her Amazon Author Page.
Her new m/m erotic medical thriller Roughing
It is out! This book is a sexy cross between The X Files and The Andromeda
Strain. Read her short erotic story Babes in Begging For It, published by
Cleis Press. Her novel No
Restraint will be released by Xcite Books at summer’s end. Pre-order it
today. Find these books at Amazon.
I took special interest in Lisabet Sarai’s essay from last
month, entitled Life
Without Sex?, since I’m in the same boat. Sex is pretty much a part of my
past, but eroticism isn’t.
I won’t say how long it’s been since I last had sex, but
it’s longer than Lisabet’s experience. I,
like Lisabet, used to be a sex goddess, especially when I was in my 20s and
30s. I was a walking bundle of quaking hormones that needed constant release,
and I enjoyed myself. It wasn’t always a pleasant experience. My choice in
lovers sometimes left quite a bit to be desired, but for the most part I did
have fun. I based my New Adult erotic romance novel Don’t
Call Me Baby on those years in college. I had been loved and I had been
used. I met men who satisfied me (and I satisfied them) as well as men who used
me for sex without caring about me or my needs. I felt a strong attraction
towards women but I didn’t understand that I was bi until years later.
The emotional pain was part of the picture as much as the
soaring ecstasy. Some of the pain has lasted to this day. I recently discovered
a memoir written by one of the men I based a character on in Don’t Call Me Baby. I had an affair with
him for two years and he did not mention me once in his book, although
everything else in the chapter where I should have been discussed was very
familiar – and he embellished and lied about quite a bit of it. I was furious. He
erased from his life what was very important to mine. I now know he used me and
didn’t care as about me as much as I cared for him (he didn’t care at all – I
was a cum receptacle to him), and it hurt. Despite that sad era in my life, I
met men who taught me how to pleasure myself and how to give pleasure. The
person who taught me how to masturbate was my female college roommate. She gave
brief verbal instruction. When I asked, “How will I know I’ve had an
orgasm?” She only said, “You’ll know.” She was right! LOL I read
articles and books that aroused as well as taught. I met people I never would
have met if it weren’t for some of these men. I reveled in my sexuality and
enjoyed the exploration. If you want to know more about what I was like at this
time, read Don’t Call Me Baby.
Now it’s my turn to confess. I’m in my mid-late 50s. Ever
since menopause, I’ve lost a great deal of interest in sex. It isn’t an itch
that is in dire need to be scratched anymore. I know that part of the waning
interest is biological, but I also understand that it needn’t be that way. Some
of it is psychological. I am under the impression (wrong one, apparently) that
women are supposed to lose interest in sex once their periods stop for good.
While my libido has waned dramatically, it isn’t gone. I’m finding I, like
Lisabet, am neither totally miserable nor crazy with unsatisfied lust. I feel
as if I’ve mellowed.
Part of the problem is that my husband who is eight years
older than me is impotent. It makes him (both of us) unhappy, but it doesn’t
stop him from expressing affection or love. We just don’t have sex anymore. I
used to miss it a great deal pre-menopause. Now, not so much. I still review
sex toys and I love doing it. I use my JimmyJane Form 2 several times per week
so I’m definitely not a monk. We talk about the problem on occasion but it
isn’t a defining part of our relationship. We express our love for each other
in many ways. Sex simply isn’t one of them.
With the urgent need for sex on the back burner, I’ve found
I spend more time striving for other goals that are important to me. My
writing, for instance, it now front and center. It always has been, but with
age and maturity come discipline. I live my sexual fantasies through my
writing. I rely on my past, my imagination, and my present when creating my
characters and the situations they find themselves in whether the story is
erotic, dark, humorous or horrific. Like Lisabet, the sex happens in my mind
and is experienced through my imagination.
My body reacts to the sexy antics of my characters. What would I like to
have done to me? I put it in my stories. What turns me on that I’ve never tried
before? I put it in my stories. How would I have preferred a particular situation
in my past have turned out? I put it in my stories. My body reacts to my own
writing, which is what erotic writing is all about anyway. While I’m not having
sex, I’m still a sexual being. No wonder I still review sex toys. I love using
them. While I’m not a raging she devil in the sack anymore, I enjoy a mellow
bout now and then, and my fiction drives me in that direction.
I look forward to my old age. I shall wear purple, like the
woman in the poem. And I will continue to use my sex toys and write erotic
fiction into my twilight years. I’m still a sexual being albeit in a different
way than 50 years ago. And I’m enjoying every moment of it.
Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark
fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.
People who know me know I write horror and dark fiction as well as erotica and erotic romance. I’m going to meet writer Jack Ketchum in mid-October at the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat. That’s the hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, where Stephen King stayed that inspired him to write The Shining. While Ketchum is a horror writer, what he had to say about digging down into dark recesses of your soul to get to the meat of your characters applies to any genre. This excerpt is from an essay he wrote for the book Horror 101: The Way Forward:
“Dig into the dark mean night of your soul.” Remember Peter Straub’s line in Ghost Story? What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Well, what its it?
What god-awful things have you fantasized doing but would never do?
What’s the worst thing you can imagine actually happening to you? To your loved ones?
What breaks your heart?
Use your damage. Write from the wound.
Go as deep as you dare. Stare into your own abyss and report back. No need to reveal everything – children have to learn how to lie a little, or else they grow up without protection, and so do we writer types. But you need ot embrace the damage as a co-conspirator, as uniquely you, as something you can use. Throw it out there into the light, to a place where it can do some good for others and maybe even for yourself.
You need to be honest. Really good fiction is always an attempt at total honesty. Be true to both the good and the
downright dangerous inside. See them as clearly as you can, use your empathy, search out your characters in your own heart and write them as though they were you. They are you, you know. Every one of them, if you do it right.When I dig down into my soul to get to the heart of my characters, I feel exposed and vulnerable. There have been a few stories I’ve written I decided against publishing because they feel too close. Too personal. Some of the stories I have published make me feel over-exposed. Although a publisher liked the story enough to publish and sell it, I don’t necessarily feel comfortable letting people read it because I feel like the reader will get a glimpse of me I’d rather keep private. My short story Longing in Coming Together: Among The Stars and my novel Don’t Call Me Baby are excellent examples of my picking at a festering wound in my soul I won’t let heal, and I allow everyone on earth to read about it.
Longing is about my fear of growing old and forgetting who I am. Or my husband losing his faculties and losing his memory of me. The story is about a woman whose husband suffers from dementia and he can’t remember who she is. I based the husband on my husband and on a friend who suffers from dementia. I watched this friend devolve from a vibrant and genius-level intelligent human being to a shell of his former self. I don’t like to think about it anymore, but I needed to express my profound distress at watching what had happened to him. Likewise, I am over 50 and my husband is over 60. Aging is very much in the forefront of my mind, and I am terrified of losing the sense of who I am and who he is. I know it’s a normal rite of passage for someone my age, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Don’t Call Me Baby is semi-autobiographical. I deal head-on with two affairs with married men I had when I was in college. What possessed me to do something as self-hating and stupid as that? The book was in part about my fear of losing my identity to another man’s wishes and demands. I watched some of my girlfriends turn from independent and interesting women to creatures who lived to please their boyfriends and fiancés. I didn’t want to turn into a Stepford wife. I was afraid that to fall in love meant having to turn my will completely over to a man, and I didn’t want to do that. So I chose men who were not only unavailable, but who also couldn’t complain when I chose to date multiple men at once. I couldn’t get too close to them, and they couldn’t get too close to me. I’m very much aware of how selfish this all sounds. Catherine Stone, my heroine in the book, is also very selfish as well as a bit pig-headed. She does meet a man who doesn’t interfere with her freedom, and how she learns to trust him is an important part of the book. At that time in my life, I had not yet met that man, and I wouldn’t meet him for several decades.
I’ve noticed the common thread between both stories – my fear of losing the sense of myself. Growing old, losing my sense of myself, ending up alone surrounded by my dozens of cats, and becoming homeless are four of my greatest fears. I’ve looked into them in some of my stories, especially the horror stories.
What are you afraid of? What fears drive you throughout your life? How would you answer Jack Ketchum’s questions? What god-awful things have you fantasized doing but would never do? What is the worst thing you can imagine happening to you? To your loved ones? Use the raw emotions behind the answers to bring your characters to life. Like Ketchum said, you don’t need to reveal everything in your writing. However, you need to know that side of your character to make that person human.
Escapism is a wonderful thing to enjoy, especially in erotica and erotic romance. Every woman who enjoys a good sexy story likes being swept off her feet and taken to a fantasy world. I’ve written escapist fantasies as well. These stories are driven by some of my fears but they aren’t gut-wrenching. My two erotic fairy tales Trouble In Thigh High Boots (Puss In Boots) and Climbing Her Tower (Rapunzel) as well as my short lesbian erotic romance Like A Breath Of Ocean Blue and my erotic fantasy A Dance Of Ocean Magic fall into this category. The main characters in those stories have their weaknesses and faults, but the stories have an otherworldly and magical quality to them that helps the reader escape her mundane, daily concerns. She can get lost in another fun world for a few hours.
When it comes to raw and uncomfortable emotion, I prefer the realistic approach, even if the story is fantasy or science fiction. If I wonder if the reader will disapprove of me or not like me, I know I’m on the right track. I know the reader may criticize my character’s choices, but those choices led my character down the path toward her maturation. Sometimes that maturation is found through trusting a partner in a vulnerable sex act. At few other times are we more vulnerable than when we are spread out, naked and exposed, before someone we care about. How will your partner treat you? Will you be cared for or abused? It’s all a matter of trust.
A Dance Of Ocean Magic will soon appear in the erotic anthology Forbidden Fruit, to be published by Sweetmeats Press.
What makes a really great sex scene?
Many authors will tell you it’s description—all the senses, touch, taste, feel, smell, sight, hearing. But it isn’t. The secret to great sex writing—are you ready? Wait for it… the secret to great sex writing is…
That’s it. Make your reader feel. That’s all you need to do.
How, you ask? Here are a few guidelines.
Your characters are alive and they are not the sum of their parts. They aren’t measurements or hair color or penis size. I’ve done sex scenes without mentioning any of the above. Don’t ask, “What would my character do in this situation?” Let them act. Let them decide. Let them speak. Let them feel. Especially let them feel.
GET TURNED ON
If you’re bored writing a sex scene, your readers will be bored. If you’re turned on, your reader will be turned on. The emotion you are feeling will be conveyed on paper. It’s a natural law of the writer universe. (This applies to any scene, not just sex ones, by the way. If it moves you to tears, it will move the reader as well).
If you’re turned on during a sex scene, really getting into it, your fingers flying over the keyboard, unless the house is on fire or we’re under nuclear attack, DON’T STOP. Never, ever stop in the middle of a sex scene. (This rule also applies well to actual sex). You will lose your momentum, and it won’t be the same when you come back to it. Your mood will have shifted, and the reader will feel it.
Human beings want. Our entire culture and economy is based on desire. We lust after the things we want. We dream about them. We fantasize about them. We want. And we want. And we want some more. Our bodies and our brains are hardwired for desire. We don’t just eat once and then we’re done. We don’t just have one orgasm and then it’s all over. We continue to crave what we want. Our emotions rule us, especially when it comes to sex. They’re naturally going to rule your sex scene, too. We don’t insert tab A into slot B because we’re following a blueprint manual. There’s a reason behind our physical responses, and that reason is always, always tied to emotion. Remember that. Use it.
Desire is what makes the sex hot. Make your readers wait for it. Foreplay begins with seduction, not with sex acts. It begins with eye contact. Flirting. Innuendo. It progresses, but slowly. Tease your readers. Tease yourself. Draw it out. Make it a long, slow burn. The best orgasms are the ones we wait a long time for. It’s no different when writing sex than it is doing it, really.
DON’T BE AFRAID
Don’t be afraid of the sex. Don’t be afraid of the fluids, the flesh, the human expression of our bodies. It is what it is. Some writers will tell you not to ever speak of bodily fluids. They’re above all that messy stuff. Thankfully, erotica and erotic romance have come a long way, baby. We can use the words cock and pussy now, and I would encourage you to do so. I wouldn’t suggest using the medical terms, however (i.e. penis and vagina) or euphemisms like “member” or “sheath.” Cock and Pussy are good. Think of them like peas and carrots. They go together. A few (and I mean a FEW) other words can work for a little variety. Prick or dick for example. Or cunt. No, don’t be afraid of the words we use during sex. It’s okay to talk dirty. “Please,” or “Now,” or “Suck me,” or “Lick me,” or “Harder. There. More.” These are words we’ve all spoken (I hope!) They naturally arouse. That’s a good thing. I’m not afraid of cum – I’m not even afraid of spelling it “wrong.” You shouldn’t be either.
THE GRAND FINALE
Once you reach the point of no return, you’ve built up to the sex, you’ve teased your readers (and your poor characters) enough, now it’s time to give them what they want. This is not the time to skimp. You can’t gloss over the orgasm. (Or orgasmS). We all (hopefully!) know what an orgasm feels like. Description doesn’t have to be technical here. There are spasms and contractions, there is throbbing and trembling, gasps, moans—the combinations are endless. You can and should include those, but don’t be afraid to move into the realm of metaphor. Sex can be like flying. It can be like falling. It can be like dying. This is the culmination of everything, the point you’ve been waiting for, working toward. Let your imagination go as wild as you would during an actual orgasm. Let yourself free.
DEFYING THE LAWS OF PHYSICS AND OTHER MISHAPS
On a practical note – your characters shouldn’t defy the laws of physics. Women cannot take twelve inches of hot man meat down their throats. An average vagina is only eight inches deep. 44DD breasts cannot defy gravity. And if you’re using any of the above descriptions in your sex scenes, you need a basic writing course, not a primer on sex scenes. Also, don’t let your character’s clothes go missing. She can’t be wearing pantyhose one second and be taking it from behind the next. The clothes have to come off and be accounted for somehow. Trust me, your readers will notice if they aren’t.
writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark
fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and three
cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook
page, and her Amazon Author Page.
My last few ERWA
posts have been quite serious, so I wanted to keep things light this month.
Writers often talk about their muses, including writers whose works have
inspired them. I’ve long been inspired by Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, Joe
Lansdale, Edgar Allan Poe, Dorothy Parker, and Oscar Wilde. Writers also talk
about the support they get from their family and friends. Some have a mentor or
two. I’m fortunate enough to have a great deal of support from my husband and
my writer friends, especially on Facebook. I know that plenty of writers are
shunned by their parents, siblings, and spouses who especially don’t take
erotic fiction seriously. They want to support the writers in their midst, but
they wish they wrote “real” books. I can’t count the number of times
I’ve been looked down upon because I erotic fiction and romance. The genres get
a lot of grief they don’t deserve, especially when it comes to romance. Romance
is the most successful genre out there. It deserves more respect.
I consider pets to
be an unusual muse. Our pets are part of our families, and they give us
unconditional love. We feed them and give then a safe place to live and they
repay us by doting on us, curling into our laps, and displaying cute behavior
that turns us into puddles of delighted goo. Cats and writers seem to go
together like, well, cats and writers. Probably the most famous literary cat
lover is Ernest Hemingway, whose polydactyl cats are the stuff of legend. Edgar
Allan Poe had trained the family cat to sleep on his wife Virginia’s chest to
keep her warm since she suffered from tuberculosis. Mark Twain said “Some
people scorn a cat and think it not an essential; but the Clemens tribe are not
Joyce Carol Oates
described the soothing calm she feels from her cat. “I
write so much because my cat sits on my lap. She purrs so I don’t want to get
up. She’s so much more calming than my husband.” Science fiction writer
Philip K. Dick wrote the following of his cat, Willis: “Willis, my tomcat, strides silently
over the pages of that book, being important as he is, with his long golden
twitching tail. Make them understand, he says to me, that animals are really
that important right now. He says this, and then eats up all the food we had
been warming for our baby. Some cats are far too pushy. The next thing he’ll
want to do is write SF novels. I hope he does. None of them will sell.”
Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, and William S. Burroughs were owned by cats. T. S. Elliot loved cats so much he wrote
poems about them that were turned into an award-winning, long-running
long been a cat lover, and their antics have inspired me so much I’ve included
some of my own in my fiction. Below is a picture of (from top to bottom)
Beowulf, Domino, and Scully. Domino is the matriarch. She was the first kitten
born to Oreo, whom I will talk about below. Yes, I have a cat named Scully. I
used to have a cat named Mulder but she died several years ago from kidney
failure. I like to tell people she was abducted by aliens.
My cats have
appeared in many of my stories. It’s my way of keeping them with me at all
times and making them immortal. Beowulf appeared in my short story The Party Crasher, which was published
by Scarlet Magazine in the U. K. It was one of my first published stories. One
of Beowulf’s nicknames was Mr. Fuzzyboy. Sadly, he died suddenly in January,
2015. I still miss him. This is Beowulf, showing off.
Here is the scene in
The Party Crasher when Beowulf made
his appearance. It’s Olivia’s birthday, and a man she’d been seeing (Fred) who
does not awaken her passions invited a medium to her surprise birthday party.
Madame Persephone quickly homes in on Jeremy, a friend of Olivia’s Olivia lusts
after. The resulting séance becomes quite comical.
The Party Crasher – Excerpt
Madame Persephone laced her thick
fingers together and looked around the room. She pointed to three guests,
including Fred, and asked them to take a seat at the table. She then asked
Olivia to take the seat next to her. That left one seat open.
She sniffed the air again. She
held out her hands, and her fingers danced on the air. She turned slowly, and
faced the kitchen.
“You, young man,” She
pointed to Jeremy. “I need you here. I have a strong feeling about you,
that you are especially sensitive.”
So Jeremy is “especially
sensitive” and Olivia is as thick as a rock. That made her feel just
wonderful. She doubted anything would happen during this silly séance, but she
couldn’t tell Fred to make the woman leave. Besides, the silliness could be
fun. At least the argument over Sir Paul’s divorce had finally subsided. Olivia
was afraid she was going to have to break it up, it got so heated.
“Sir –” Madame
Persephone pointed to Jeremy. “Please sit next to Olivia.” Fred
looked put out that he was not seated next to Olivia. He was between two of her
coworkers who were unable to stifle their giggling.
Madame Persephone lit the white
candles. She picked up the white sage incense, lit it, blew it out, and waved
the smoke around the table. She muttered some kind of prayer under her breath.
“We are ready,” she
said. “Someone please turn out the lights.”
One of the guests obliged. Olivia
let her eyes adjust to the dim light. Candlelight flickered on the table,
walls, and ceiling. Someone snickered in the quiet.
“All of us must be silent. I
will try to contact the spirits I sense lurking in this house. Everyone around
the table, please hold hands. Don’t break contact during the séance. That’s
very dangerous. You may trap a spirit here who doesn’t want to be here. I can’t
stress that enough.” Madame Persephone said. “Is everyone
Olivia saw heads nod around the
table. A ripple flowed up her spine. She was a little excited about this
silliness after all. While she didn’t believe for a second that Madame
Persephone would contact any spirits, deep down she had hoped she would.
“I call to you, oh restless
spirits that may occupy this house. Speak to us,” Madame Persephone said.
She trembled, and lowered her head to her chest. She moaned. It was quite a
good show. The woman knew her stuff.
Madame Persephone’s eyes bugged open. “Oh, now, Mr. Fuzzyboy, you behave
yourself.” She looked at Olivia. “My apologies. That was my spirit
guide, Mr. Fuzzyboy, making an ass of himself. He likes to show up at my
séances just to get noisy. He demands a lot of attention, and wants to talk
through me. He probably wants a treat.” Olivia realized that Mr. Fuzzyboy
sounded a lot like Fred, who was just as demanding and wanted treats for his
performances as well.
Madame Persephone closed her
eyes, and continued speaking. “Mr. Fuzzyboy, now is not the time. We can
play later.” She giggled. “Yes, I’ll get your catnip toy when I get
She rocked back and forth in her
chair, and hummed in a low voice. Glenda, one of Olivia’s coworkers, giggled.
Olivia heard someone kick Glenda under the table.
Madame Persephone bolted upright
in her chair, and stared at Olivia.
“My dear, there is someone
here who wants to speak to you.”
Olivia stared back. “Me?
“It’s a man – definitely a
man, but he won’t tell me his name. He’s asking… what, sir?” She jerked in
her seat as if offended. “I most certainly will not ask her that, sir, not in mixed company.”
What on earth could this be about, Olivia wondered.
“How rude! Seriously, sir,
do you take me for a fool?”
“What does he want to ask
me?” Olivia asked.
“I can’t repeat what he
said. It’s… crude.”
“This sounds like fun,”
Jeremy said. Olivia pinched his hand.
“Say it anyway. I’m
curious.” Olivia insisted.
Madame Persephone squirmed in her
seat. “He wants to know if he can stick his finger in your bellybutton and
Olivia could do nothing but sit
there with her mouth hanging open. A flush rose from her chest and warmed her
face. She thanked God that in the candlelight, no one could see her blushing.
“You are ticklish in your
belly button, Olivia.”
“Shut up, Fred.” Olivia
said. To Madame Persephone, she said: “Please tell him I said ‘no.'”
“That’s what I thought you’d
say.” Madame Persephone was silent for a few seconds. “Sir, if she
won’t let you stick your finger in her belly button, I seriously doubt she
would let you do that.”
I don’t want to know, thought Olivia. Her heart jumped in her chest. She glanced
at Jeremy, who fought off laughter by biting his lower lip. Olivia felt
Who the heck is that woman talking to?
Below is a picture of Lucky, our tuxedo cat. He’s about 12 years
old now and still acts like a kitten. He’s the most personable cat I’ve ever
met. He made a brief appearance in my short story The Wandering Cat.
Below is an excerpt
from my short erotic story The Wandering
Cat, which was originally published by eXcessica. It’s out of print now.
Oreo the cat is based on my late cat also named Oreo, who had a penchant for
clawing her way out of the house. She loved to wander around Rockport,
Massachusetts, where I live. She looked like Sylvester from the Loony Tunes cartoons.
The picture is of Oreo with her tongue sticking out, as it often did. I swear
that cat’s tongue was too big for her head. As you can see, Beowulf made an
appearance in this story, too. He got around. So did Lucky, who is also in the
The Wandering Cat – Excerpt
“Oreo! It’s chow time!”
Cat refilled the cat food bowl and the water
bowl. Beowulf and Lucky ran to see their new chow, but Oreo was nowhere to be
seen. That was unlike her.
Worried, Cat turned the house upside down.
She looked behind the bed, in the closets, and under the couch. No cat. There
was only one other place where Oreo could be, and that was sitting on her
The large Gothic window was open. No cat sat
on the plush window bench. Cat took a closer look at the window, and saw that
the screen had been clawed. There was a hole in the screen big enough for a cat
to climb through.
Great. Oreo got out again.
Cat put on her sandals and walked outside.
She saw cat paw prints in the damp earth, and followed them through her back
yard. They ended at the fence marking Lance Hendry’s back yard.
Her heart raced. Would Oreo give her an
excuse to say something to Lance other than “Hello, how’s the
weather?” She fantasized about his scrumptious body every night. What
would his arms feel like as they wrapped around her? She wished she could
summon up the courage to say more to him than a few quick words.
Oreo gave her that chance.
She walked into his back yard. Peter
Gabriel’s music played from somewhere inside, making Cat’s heart beat all the
faster. Not only was Lance home, he was another Peter Gabriel fan.
She knocked on the back door. Her fingers
sounded muffled against the hard wood. How could he hear her over the music?
After a minute of knocking on the door, she backed up.
A Gothic window was open on the second floor.
She hoped he was up there. She felt like the rebuttal to Rapunzel. The damsel
stood below the enchanted window, and wished her man would appear in it.
“Lance? Are you there?”
A head with rumpled hair and a broad set of
shoulders leaned out of the window. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. Cat took a good
look at his muscular chest and the black hair that covered it. She didn’t know
when she would get a gorgeous sight like that again.
“Hi. What’s up?”
“Have you seen my cat? Oreo? The little
black and white one?”
“The one that always gets out? No,
haven’t seen her.”
“Oh. Thanks.” She was too shy to
ask him any more questions. Muscle up
some courage, girl! Ask him how he’s doing. Something. Anything! Talk to him!
“Would you like some help looking for
“I’d love it!” Cat was so excited
over getting to spend some time with Lance that her knees knocked. What would
she say to him? For once in her life, she was speechless. Would she be able to
make enough small talk to keep him interested in her?
“Stay put. I’ll be down in a
He came outside wearing a button-down
short-sleeved shirt, shorts, and sandals. His shock of black hair looked as if
he hadn’t combed it in several days. That was the new fashion for young men
these days. Cat was ten years Lance’s senior, but she didn’t care. Maybe today
she’s win on two counts – they’d find her cat, and she’d gain a lover.
“What’s your name again?”
“It’s Cat. Short for Catherine.”
“Cat is looking for her cat?”
She laughed. “Yes, she sure is.”
“How long has Oreo been missing?”
“I don’t know. She didn’t come when I
refilled the food bowl, and she clawed through the screen window again. I’m
scared. I hope she’s okay.”
“I’m sure she is. She gets out often
enough. Have you looked around outside yet?”
“I’m just starting now. Want to come
with me?” Please say yes! Please say
“I’d love to. I’ve wanted to get to know
you better anyway.”
Cat’s stomach did The Happy Dance. She felt
light-headed and giddy. Lance wants to
get to know me better! All thanks to Oreo.
Below is an excerpt
from my upcoming family saga/thriller novel Secrets
and Lies, which will be published by Eldritch Press in 2016. Kate Stanwood
is my main character. Her cat Koala is based on a Snowshoe cat that owned me,
also named Koala. Snowshoes are a mix between Siamese and domestic shorthairs.
They have white paws called “boots”, hence the name. Koala was so smart he was
scary. My husband Bill (at the time we were dating) used to live next door to
me. Sometimes Koala would sometimes get himself locked out of the house at night.
So, he’d go over to Bill’s house. Bill often stayed up late. Koala would meow
loudly until Bill came outside, and the cat would then run to my front door and
meow to be let in. Bill would let him
in, and all would be well in the world. Koala used to do the exact same thing
to me that he is doing to Kate at stupid o’clock in the morning. The picture is
of Koala on the left and Oreo on the right. They were inseparable.
Secrets and Lies – Excerpt
Kate snapped awake. She always snapped awake
at the slightest sound. She was lying on her back. Koala stared at her from his
perch on the headboard, which was designed like a bookcase. She glared at him. He stared back and mewed.
not getting up just to top off your food bowl, she thought. Koala meowed at her again. He
looked at her with that “Get up and feed me now”
expression on his cherubic little Snowshoe face. He stood and stretched. He
looked at all the books stacked in a pile next to him. The stack teetered precariously over Kate’s
head. She knew what was coming.
She slowly reached for the water bottle
behind her on the bookcase. Koala froze, one paw touching the spine of a thick
hardback that was already threatening to tip over onto her face. She held the
bottle between forefinger and thumb in full view of the cat. He knew what was
coming, too. As if that would stop the little furball.
knock that book over on my head, cat, and you’re Vietnamese food in a few
hours. Koala tapped the book. Kate shook the bottle.
The cat’s eyes widened. He jumped off of the headboard and landed between Kate
and Ian, who slept through it all. He always slept through the nighttime
follies. The bed could fall through the floor and he’d sleep through it.
Koala used Ian’s shoulders as a springboard
and vaulted off of the bed. Ian said “Oof!” and rolled onto his back.
The snoring started almost immediately. Kate sighed and pushed him onto his
side. His snoring rivaled the foghorn at the end of the Cove.
She glanced at the clock: 4:51 a.m. She was
wide awake. She hated it when she woke up too early, which had always been a
bad habit of hers. Thank God she didn’t have to go to work, even though it was
a Tuesday. She could sleep through late morning once she became tired again.
She rolled out of bed and walked into the
upstairs kitchen. Koala followed her, mewing at her ankles, until she picked up
his food bowl, shook it, and placed it back onto the floor. That cat hated
eating anything that he knew had another cat’s spit on it, so she shook the
bowl until fresher contents reached the surface. Satisfied, he ate with gusto.
What a pain in the butt, but she’d never give him up for anything.
I don’t know what I
would do if I didn’t have my cats to keep me company and inspire me while I
write. They’re so important to me they’ve become a part of my fiction. Do you
have pets that inspire you to write? Do you cater to your dogs, or are you
owned by cats? Do you have unusual animals around you, like Flannery O’Connor
and her peacocks? I believe animals make some of the best muses, and they don’t
ask for anything in return but attention, food, and a place to sleep (often on
you). They are the ultimate givers of unconditional love. I wouldn’t part with
my cats for anything in the world, and I’ve immortalized them in my fiction.
By K D Grace
There are moments in my life that stand out like shiny new coins. These moments are clearer, crisper. They’re full-blown, high definition, three D, and thoroughly enhanced. Amazingly enough these vivid moments usually involve the simplest acts, and yet somehow, in their simplicity, they encompass the fullness of being in this body on this planet at this time. And for those brief few moments, I feel like I actually truly GET IT. The sun breaks through the clouds and the mysteries of the universe are revealed. Then, everything goes back to normal, I go back to my routine and life moves forward to the next shining moment.
I’ve always referred to these times as Eucharist Moments not because I’m religious, but because the original meaning of Eucharist in Greek is thankfulness, gratitude. Because those moments are so complete when I’m in them, what I feel is thankfulness, gratitude that I’m me, and that I am even MORE me than I realize.
I remember one such moment when my husband, Raymond, and I were in Philadelphia. We had driven all night to get there. It was summer, hot, humid and thick. We were there for a series of meetings, the details of which escape me now. But the Eucharist Moment is as brilliant as if it had happened only yesterday.
We’d been out in the heat most of the day playing tourist. We didn’t have a lot of time, and we wanted to see the Liberty Bell and all of the other historical sights. By the middle of the afternoon, we were parched and positively wilted. We were too tired to go out for a late lunch so we stopped in at a small local shop and bought a box of Ritz crackers, a small jar of peanut butter and some Lipton teabags. Back in our hotel, Raymond ran down the hall for ice, and I made tea in the complimentary coffee maker, tea which we then poured over the ice into the small hotel room glasses. I don’t remember where we got it, but we had a plastic picnic knife. We ate peanut butter spread thickly on Ritz crackers and wash it all down with freshly brewed iced tea while we discuss the adventures of the day.
I’ve had a lot of great meals in my life in a lot of nice restaurants and in a lot of amazing places, but I’ve never had one better than that one. The shades were drawn and the room was cool and quiet after the noisy heat of the street. The tea had that lovely crisp, bronze bite that only freshly brewed tea has, and the aroma of it filled the whole room. We sat with our bare feet kicked up on the coffee table, passing the plastic knife back and forth, spreading peanut buttery goodness on crunchy, crumbly crackers. We ate until our t-shirts were covered with crumbs. We ate until we were both replete and drowsy and happily, quietly amazed that we were actually in Philadelphia, seeing all the things we’d only ever read about in history books. Afterwards we napped sprawled across the king-sized bed, and when we woke the sun had gone down. It was the simplest of experiences, and yet it still, all these years on, shines in my memory.
The best writing is full of Eucharist Moments. Anyone who has ever read a story or a novel that is too full of the grocery lists which makes up every day life knows how boring that is, and how quickly they lose interest. Good writing, good stories and novels that stay with us long after we’ve finished them, the stories we just can’t put down, are a stringing together of those Eucharist Moments, those moments of clarity, those moments of sloppy poignant full-frontal, in-your-face humanity.
Not surprisingly those moments are as fabulous to read about as they are to write about. Eucharist Moments in a story are the next best thing to being there. They draw us into the plot in the same way they draw us into life. They are the points where the story reaches out to us, touches us and becomes a living, breathing thing. They may last only the length of a few words, and they’re seldom longer than a single page, which is just as well because the intense purity, the clarity with which those moments shine would be too much to bear for 250 pages.
The best writers, at least in my opinion, know how to string those Eucharist Moments together, leading the reader from one to the next, to the next, through to the end. Those moments are the lighthouses along the darkened,
rocky shore that is the plot of a story. They move us forward to discover what secret the writer has hidden at the end of the journey. And if it’s well done, the end of the journey is never the end because it will have been written in such a way to create in the reader her own Eucharist Moment. The power of these moments is that each time we have one, we’re changed. What writer doesn’t want to tell a story that changes her reader? What writer doesn’t want to be changed by the story she writes?
This is just as true of erotica as it is of any genre. Stringing together sex scenes is not creating a story. The story is the path between the Eucharist Moments, and sex scenes can often be the Eucharist Moments. They can be the moments of pure, unabashed joy. They can be the moments of clarity, of revelation, when the writer is able to give us a peek into the soul of a character. Sex lends itself to Eucharist Moments because of the vulnerability it demands, because of the exposure it forces. That’s apart of the reason I enjoy writing erotica. Though sex is not the story, sex affords wonderful opportunities for Eucharist Moments, places where the light shines through and the reader understands, yearns, empathizes, and experiences the character from the inside out. Then the journey of the story truly becomes intimate.
Happy belated Thanksgiving, and I wish you all many Eucharist Moments.
Tuesday morning. 8:00. I just finished a vicious kettle bell workout – first day back after a bad cold. I won’t even tell you what I look like as I walk into the shower room, suffice to say it’s not a pretty sight. I don’t see much in my state of exhaustion. I fumble through my locker for my shower things and fresh clothes then stumble to the stall, where I strip off my thoroughly sweaty workout togs adjust the water and lean against the wall, wondering how I’m going to lift my arms to wash my hair.
I linger there because I can, because I work at home and home’s not going anywhere. All around me the changing room is a beehive of activity and my sense of smell is overwhelmed by myriad scents of deodorant, shower gel and various other olfactory efforts to disguise the scent of humans. Most of my fellow gym-goers have stopped in for an early workout before they head into the office.
Once I’m sure I’m not going to pass out or need a stretcher, and I’m clean and lotioned with my own human-cover-up scent, I join the ranks of the frantic in the changing room. I never show my body. I’m fit and stronger than most, but my body shows the wear and tear of being my vessel, of serving me well through the abuse of the youth I thought would be endless as well as letting me experience some truly marvelous adventures and some amazing loving. At some point I’ve come to accept that I’ll never look like I’m twenty again, and even if I did, the way I looked when I was twenty was never the svelt, toned, gym bunny look that I fantasized about, that I suppose if I’m honest, I still fantasize about.
Mind you, the gym I go to is unpretentious and has a great mix of all ages and of people who are fit and people who are brave enough to thrust themselves into an environment where they can become fit. Most, like me, will know the joy of what becoming fit does to all other avenues of life. I’ve not come to that knowledge late in life, I’ve always needed, wanted to be strong and healthy, BUT fitness and health rarely translate to the washboard abed, bulging biceped males we see posed on the covers of erotic novels nor the high, firm breasted, rounded bottomed women who frolic on the pages in between those covers.
Even now, as I watch woman unselfconsciously flitting around the changing room with pert tits and exquisite arses naked or in sexy underwear as they blow-dry their lush long manes and make themselves up to perfection, my stubborn brain is green with envy. This morning there seems to be a larger than normal bevy of pert breasts and tight bottoms and flowing locks as I slink to my locker and dress as quickly as I can so no one will notice that my tits are not that perky and my arse, well, do to a genetic trait in my family, I don’t actually HAVE an arse. I’ve spent my entire life tugging up my trousers and sitting on bone and gristle. But I digress. As I shove into my clothes and run a quick comb through wet hair, not lingering for a good coiffing nor to put on the make-up I seldom wear, I can’t help feel that I should apologise for being neither coiffed nor pert. The nasty voice in the back of my head, says ‘at your age, who cares?’ And I protest that I look pretty damned good for my age … well not bad at least. In truth, no one in the changing room notices anyone else, and no one judges in the frantic effort to get to work on time. My only judge is me, and sadly, I’m a bit harsh at times.
God! I battle those internal voices all the time. You’d think I’d get past them at some point. But I don’t . You’d think that writing characters who are less pert and less wash-boardy would be my way of shaking my fist at heaven, of cursing the fact that at my age, the age I still don’t openly admit publicly, I don’t look twenty-five anymore. But nooooo! I constantly toy in my imagination with characters who may not exactly look like they live in a gym, but on the other hand, seeing them naked would be close enough to chocolate for the eyes to make my mouth water. All good characters need a life beyond looking hot, otherwise they’re boring, and the only thing worse than a character with flabby abs and a flat arse is a character whose biceps or tits are the most interesting thing about them. I confess, I write what I wish were so. I write what I’m convinced readers wish was so. I write who we wish we could be, and who we wish would be so attracted to us that they’d lose sleep obsessing about shagging us senseless. I write characters who look like youth has decided to linger awhile longer with them than it does with most of us. Of course I’m happy to throw in some good genetics for nicely rounded bottoms and a proper amount of pertness. I write nice bodies, AND do my best to make them interesting too. I WANT IT ALL!
I live vicariously through the characters I write. Through them my tits are perfect and my arse is magnificent.
Through them, I am the obsession of the wounded hero who is both intelligent and a fine specimen of manliness. Are all these a sign of my neurotic shallowness? Or are they, perhaps a sign that I’m old enough to recognise what I’ve lost, what I’ve left behind. I’m old enough to understand the price everyone pays for living in a body long enough to experience enough life with all of its joys and sorrows and bashings about to look a little worse for the wear. I’m old enough to know that what I don’t reveal in the changing room at the gym says enough about the wounded character that I am, says enough about my numerous and openly admitted neuroses to remind me again that the sweetest things aren’t pert nor washboarded, nor nicely rounded. The sweetest things are all the experiences in between the best my body was when I was twenty and the best my body is now. Am I making excuses? Perhaps. Would I still like to be pert and properly rounded? Hell yes! Is my reality and the fantasies I create as a writer any less textured and rich because of the lack? The truth it, that it’s probably richer for my flat butt and semi-pert tits. But perhaps I only say that as a way of compensating for my envy of youth and beauty.
On the other hand the place inside me that lives to fantasise, to create, the place inside me that lives for story isn’t subject to the passing of years. And what comes out of that part of me is, more often than not, a way of dealing with my darkness, my self-doubts, my occasional tango with self-loathing, a way of reconstructing them into something that feels better against the raw places, the places that are afraid and uncertain; a way of being less cowardly in the knowing that I, like everyone, must deal with my own mortality as best I can. And sometimes the best way is writing stories with heroes who have nice abs and even nicer pecs and heroines who are round and tight in all the right places. Strange that I never actually see those characters, those fine specimens of physicality, in my mind’s eye, though I know that some writers do, but I feel them from the inside out, that way I know that they’re, in some ways, a testament to my irrational need to be forever young and yet at the same time to cling to the experience that seldom happens in youth, but is always required to make us more than a collection of body parts that are pert today and sagging tomorrow.
by Donna George Storey
I’ve been meaning the write a column about our culture’s obsession with celebrity for some time, as I believe this inescapable aspect of American life affects even humble erotica writers. However, the subject always seemed too huge and I was never sure where to begin. I finally realized that I can extend the discussion of fantasy and celebrity over several installments, which leaves me the leisure to begin with an explanation my own relationship with celebrity culture.
On the face of it, I’ve always been more bemused than enthralled with celebrity worship. I first remember seeing its dangers at around age 9 or 10, when I heard that TV viewers used to write to Robert Young, the actor who played Marcus Welby, M.D. on television, asking for medical advice. How could people be so stupid as to confuse an actor with a real doctor? Yet not long after Ronald Reagan was elected president, followed by Arnold Schwarzenegger winning the California governorship in a recall election. Again I wondered how so many people seemed to believe an actor’s heroic triumphs on the screen could translate into real-life competence where there was no script, no studio pressuring for a happy ending.
I’ve never made it a priority to know which celebrities are trending or who’s the hottest new leading man or lady—in fact I’m rather proud of my ignorance. As a democrat and an iconoclast, I don’t really see why someone deserves special treatment just because they starred in a movie or TV show. Celebrities usually seem to attain their place through good looks or “lucky” parentage. (My loss of innocence as to the value of literary celebrity was a slower process, but certain recent blockbusters proved the final blow to my belief in the publishing industry as a meritocracy.)
Yet, as much as I might want to ignore celebrity culture, it isn’t ignoring me, in particular in my writing life. I first experienced this personally when I put together a book proposal about my mother’s death from the diabetes drug, Rezulin. In retrospect, the effort was as good a way to deal with grief as any, but I learned that it would be quite the uphill battle to get such a memoir published even if the safety of pharmaceutical drugs is an issue critical to everyone. Nobodies do manage to find publishers, and sometimes their books sell, but bookstore research showed that celebrities had cornered the market on personal tragedy memoirs–Brooke Shields is the voice for postpartum depression, pundit Morton Kondracke had enough recognition to publish a book on his wife’s Parkinson’s disease. Granted I surely could have worked harder to get my story published as a book, but I followed the advice of the standard agent’s nonfiction rejection and wrote an article instead.
But the secretly corrosive effect of celebrity culture really hit home when I published my first (and thus far only) novel, Amorous Woman. I’d always wondered if I had it in me to write a novel, and with a little help from my friends and numerous cases of Snapple, I managed to finish a book I felt told my truth about my experiences in Japan. Many people were very appreciative and supportive, but plenty more hit me with “Is it on the bestseller list? When will it be a movie?”—all reminders that I was not a “real” writer because it only counts if your writing makes you rich and famous.
This was more an annoyance than a dark crisis, but I do remember feeling miffed that all the effort and life-research I put into writing the book didn’t seem to count if it didn’t become a national sensation like, gee, about .001% of books published. I distinctly remember thinking how ridiculous it would be if you had to be a celebrity to matter at all. No food, no water, no basic human dignity allowed to anyone who didn’t at least have a small part in an HBO drama. In a sense, that’s what we do to writers when we assume only the rich and famous are worthy of consideration.
Maybe there are some writers who are so well-grounded that they are immune to our society’s definition of success: riches, fame, invitations to the best parties, and most important of all, having an agent who returns phone calls. I’m more than halfway to being that writer, but I still find that the assumptions of a celebrity-worshipping culture distort my sense of what to write, in particular, the value of writing to the market. I’ll talk more about this in next month’s installment, but for now I invite you to think about the ways you embrace (me: a guilty purchase of a magazine with an article on darling little Prince George) or resist (me: reading academic deconstructions of fame in the mass media age, which actually do help bring sanity).
As spinners of fantasy ourselves, the fantasy of celebrity is a relevant issue to our work and our imaginations. I look forward to discussing it with ERWA blog readers in the months to come.
Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman and a collection of short
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com