genre conventions

My First Zoom Reading

I watched a horror movie recently called “Host”, which was about a group of young people holding a séance on Zoom. The entire movie took place on a computer screen divided up into about a half dozen sections, one for each person. Of course, being horror, all of them were bumped off by the end in rather creative ways considering this was basically a Zoom meeting. I was curious about this movie ever since I read about it since how can you make a Zoom meeting scary? Plus, I’d been reading about virtual book conventions, and I wanted to try one but I was intimidated by the whole online thing.

Well, I participated in my first Zoom virtual book reading last week! It was a bit frightening since I had no idea how to use Zoom. Turned out it was easy as pie. I already had Zoom on my computer. Just click on the email link and go. It was an odd experience since I was in my living room at the time, but at least I wasn’t dressed in my jammies. LOL I have the free account so I can’t host a meeting that lasts any longer than 40 minutes, but since I didn’t host this event I was able to stay on the entire hour. I had turned my phone to “Do Not Disturb” and hit the “silent” button so it wouldn’t ring while I was in the session. I was the first to read. I’ve done live readings before, and this one was a little less nerve-wracking for me since I was in the comfort of my living room. I read from my horror comedy “Trailer Trash Zombies”, and I made sure to glance at the screen occasionally so it looked like I was making eye contact with the readers who were likely dressed in their jammies in their living rooms, LOL.

Instructions included practicing ahead of time, which I did. I timed my reading which was about seven minutes long. I then read the story out loud all the while keeping track of my speed since I tend to talk like a Gatlin gun when nervous. Don’t wear white or small patterns. The camera does not like them. Also, wear light makeup so that you don’t look like boiled perch on the air. I don’t wear makeup, but I did wear some blush and lip gloss. Other instructions included to have front lighting so your face isn’t in shadow. I did okay with that although I had no way of obtaining front lighting. I was visible.

Reading when you can’t see or hear the audience is an interesting experience. The audience and other writers were on mute while I read aloud. There was a chat function on Zoom that came in handy. I later read comments people were making, and they clearly enjoyed my story. Some asked questions, and all the writers gave informative answers.

I definitely want to do this again. Zoom is here to stay, including once Covid restrictions lift. I have a feeling Zoom or other similar programs will become part of future conventions when they are once again held live and in person. For those unable to attend in person, why not attend a Zoom presentation at a discounted price? The summer convention season is about to start. It’s time to get ready to party – and do book readings and panel discussions remotely. It feels a bit odd doing it all from home, but it works for me. That said, I miss the intimacy of conventions. Nothing beats hanging out with old friends you see at these events every year. Until Covid restrictions lift, we will be seeing more virtual readings and virtual conventions. They are here to stay, and I now welcome them.


Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and her two cats. Her LGBTQ paranormal erotic shifter romance novel “Full Moon Fever” is now available for purchase at Amazon and other book distributors. Her collection of erotic fairy tales, “Happily Ever After: Twisted Versions of Your Favorite Fairy Tales”, is also available at Amazon. Her horror comedy “Trailer Trash Zombies” appears in “Jester of Hearts”, an anthology of comedic horror. You may of course find it at … you guessed it … Amazon.

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Being An Introvert In An Extroverted Profession

I attended yet another writer’s convention about a week ago, and I am still exhausted. Conventions are hard work! I talked up other writers, discussed my books, spoke on a panel, shared little plastic glasses of sparkling wine I had brought with me, and ate saugies in the quad at night. This con was held at a university. Saugies are delicious hot dogs found in Rhode Island. They are not your average hot dog and they are a fixture at this particular convention.

I did all this while being an introvert.

Writing is an odd profession for an introvert. On the one hand, it’s a very isolating vocation. A writer spends hours, days, months alone in front of a computer (or typewriter, or notebook) clacking away while creating new worlds. You live inside your head. It’s a very comfortable space to be in if being around people normally gives you the hives.

On the other hand, writers these days must self-promote if they want to make a real go of things. Most writers I’ve spoken to are introverts, yet they are required to read excerpts in public in front of people. Crowds! Panic may easily set in. Then they are expected to sell books at tables at conventions, all the while talking up the people who stop by in the hope that they will buy your books. Talking up strangers! Panic may easily set in. They socialize at parties even if they suffer from crippling social anxiety. Your mouth turns to dust while you stand there trying to figure out what would make a good start to a conversation, hoping you don’t sound like a blithering idiot; especially when you’re either talking to someone you haven’t seen in months or someone you know only through Facebook.

It’s not easy.

I like having an ice breaker, and lugging around a bottle of bubbly asking people if they’d like some is a great way to open a conversation. Last year, my husband and I brought homemade limoncello and we used it to talk people up. When folks heard “homemade limoncello” their eyes went wide and they said, “Oooh, I’d love some!”. Then I asked them how their latest book was coming along. That’s an easy question since writers like to talk about their work. Most people like to talk about themselves. I’m a good listener, too, which helps me when I suddenly clam up and I have nothing to say especially about myself.

The on and off nature of socializing when you’re a writer can be very off-putting and exhausting. Being an introvert, I needed time to decompress. I did that by returning to my room and taking a nap or surfing the web. I had a glass of wine. Relaxed a bit. Once I felt replenished, I returned to the con to socialize some more. It wasn’t that hard once I got my lips working to form a few coherent words.

Little voices ran through my head, saying things like, “I don’t feel like talking to anyone. I want to hole up in my room and never come out.” Those voices were wrong. I did feel like chatting up people. If I stayed in my room for a long period of time I’d get bored. My husband was with me and that helped. He’s more gregarious than me. We approached people we knew together and when they smiled and their faces lit up that was enough to bring me out of my shell. Sometimes they were in a crowd of people I didn’t know so introductions were made. Sparkling wine was passed around. We made new friends.

Although I always feel alarm before attending a convention, book reading, or publishing event, once I get there and chat up a few people, I calm down. I actually have fun! That’s the key above all for me – it is fun to be around people. In small doses. But I have a great time and it’s good to touch base. Then I can return home, inspired by my convention experience, and write refreshed.

Then I wait for anxiety to set in for the next public event. Rinse and repeat. But in the end it always turns out well.


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

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My Time At Necon

I returned from Necon this past Sunday. Necon is the Northeastern Writers Conference which is for horror writers but what I learned applies to any writer. The conference was held in a conference center in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

I was on one panel: Heroes Like Me: The Importance of Representation in Genre. There is more of a problem with representations of women in horror fiction and films than in romance or erotica. I’m happy to see that strong female characters who aren’t doormats or shrinking violets are much more popular in romance and erotic fiction now than they have been in the past. Women in these stories know what they want and they go after it. Sometimes, especially in the billionaire genre of romance, the heroine is inexperienced and rather naïve, but I’ve noticed she comes into her own as the story progresses. The hero often learns quite a bit from her. Hero and heroine are on equal footing in many of the stories.

Other panels included Guest of Honor interviews, Collections, and Editing. I was especially interested in the editing panel since I enjoy writing for anthologies. Some of the panelists were editing anthologies I had submitted to. I managed to snag some fine guests for my podcast Into The Abyss With Elizabeth Black. I took July off and I’ll start up shows again in August.

The best part about Necon was the same thing I liked about the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat – socializing. Everyone was friendly and on equal turf. The casual atmosphere was very relaxing. I didn’t have to pay $50 or more to talk to an author and have him or her sign a book. There was a pre-Necon party I attended at one guest’s house. I saw old friends and made new ones. The BBQ ribs and chicken were delicious and I even had stuffed clams. You can’t live in New England and not eat stuffed clams. There were gatherings in the outdoor courtyard every evening with saugies, which are hot dogs well known in Rhode Island. They’re longer than most hog dogs and they have casings. They were delicious on the grill. I mingled and chatted which isn’t easy for me since I tend to be on the shy side. I talked to other writers about what they were working on. I did not ask the editors of the anthology I submitted to when submitters would hear back. That would have been in bad form. I know the rejections and acceptances will come soon enough. The networking opportunities were very good.

I liked Necon and I will attend again next year, money permitting. I do highly recommend writers attend conferences and conventions when they can. Some good ones are Viable Paradise, Clarion, Readercon, Arisia, and the RWA convention. Some of these cons include agents and publishers. The opportunity to pitch yourself is more than welcome.

Writer's Retreats – It's Good To Be Busy

It’s good to be busy.

I just returned from a retreat and a networking evening.
Both events took place on the Massachusetts coast. I’ve decided that I prefer
retreats to conventions now. Less unpleasant commitment and much cheaper, if
you work the retreats the right way. The retreat in Hampton, New Hampshre two
weekends ago was free because it was for members of Broad Universe. That’s a
networking group for women who write speculative fiction (and other forms of
fiction). I worked on Full Moon Fever,
my bisexual male werewolves erotic romance novella I’m turning into a novel. I
also worked on Neighbors, a lesbian
short story reprint for a new submission call about sexy neighbors. I’m also
going to submit a new story for that one. I learned of the submission call from
the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. I get lots of use from this group.

The interesting thing about Full Moon Fever is that it employs “The Other” (or
“The Double”), which is an archetype of twins who are really mirror
opposites of each other but aren’t related at all. They are two people who look
very much alike but they compliment each other. Two men in Full Moon Fever are
dead ringers for each other, but they are very much different. One man, when asked
if he’d like to get it on with his look-alike, says “I’ve always wanted to
have sex in the third person.” Two women, who are lovers, are also
look-alikes who are very different. One is quiet while the other is chatty. One
is pensive while the other is boisterous. I have a thing about “The
Other”. There is another set of opposites in a WIP family saga thriller
I’m working on.  These two women are
mirror images of each other. One is dark – dark hair, dark eyes – while the
other is light – blond hair, eyes so pale blue the irises disappear into her
whites. She looks blind but she sees all. I want to explore this archetype much
more. It’s a fascinating one. Are they related or not? Why is the blonde so
interested in the brunette? What’s her secret? Those are some questions driving
the book.

The Broad Universe retreat was the first retreat where I
actually did any writing. LOL My first retreat was the Stanley Hotel Writers
Retreat last October in Estes Park, Colorado. This one is for horror writers. My
husband and I had such a good time last year we’re returning this year. The
Stanley Hotel is where Stephen King stayed, and the hotel in its then rundown
condition spooked him so much it inspired him to write The Shining. I didn’t get a stitch of work done. I went to talks,
meals, hangouts, and even had some marijuana cookies and cream cake balls since
pot is legal in Colorado. I learned I can’t write worth spit when I’m stoned.
All I do is stare into space, drool and giggle. Someone recommended I eat half
a cake ball (or a quarter) the next time and see how I feel. It would be
interesting to write when stoned. I write when tipsy which is fun. Maybe my
writing will end up looking like James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. LOL

Here are pictures of North Beach in Hampton, NH which was in
front of the beach house where I did my writing. I walked on the beach each morning. Talk about inspiring!

The networking event is called the Writers Coffee House New England and
this month’s meeting was held an hour away from my home at a bookstore. The
meeting room was packed! I met old friends and made plenty of new ones. This
was a networking meet-and-greet discussion event. Although the majority of
writers wrote horror (including myself and this is New England we’re talking
about – home of the witch trials, Shirley Jackson and H. P. Lovecraft), the
advice applied to any writer. I picked up more tips about how to promote my
upcoming releases. I also learned that if I find a publisher for my family saga
thriller, I should write to the agent at the top of my list and pitch my book
before I sign the contract. Say I need an agent to look over and negotiate the
contract for me. Apparently, it’s easier to find an agent for a book that has
already been accepted. That’s news to me. I need to investigate the best
cozy/mystery/thriller publishers and send the book out, but first I need to
divide it in two. It’s a mega novel and far too large to sell as one book. One
agent who rejected me told me that. He was right. But that’s a fixable problem.
My husband came with me. We ended the evening at dinner at a restaurant with about
15 of the attendees. Then, we headed to a hotel where I had booked a jacuzzi room
for under $100 per night. We spent our time soaking and drinking – he Campari,
me Fra Angelico. Now that’s a weekend get-away!

Next month I attend the When Words Count retreat in the
mountains of Vermont. I won my stay at this one so it costs only for food. I’ve
never been to Vermont. This will be my first time. Maybe I’ll run into Bernie
Sanders. LOL I plan to finish Full Moon
and hand it in to Xcite Books after Xcite publishes my new erotic
romance novel No Restraint. That one
is a corporate and food porn erotica with elements of billionaire erotica. I
plan to write, takes walks on the mountain trails, and relax with some wine
when I’m not writing. We write all day and eat dinner together and chit chat
about our work at night. I’m going to enjoy this.

Finally, in June, my husband and I are attending No-Con. It
was originally Anthocon, a horror convention, but the organizers aren’t able to
do it this year. Two of them moved on. There were four total. They were
nicknamed The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Sadly, Anthocon is no more. Despite
the lack of convention this year, the regulars wanted to get together anyway,
so No-Con was born. It’s just a gathering where everyone can get together and
hang out. We got a great rate on the hotel, which I have to reserve soon. I get
to see everyone I hung out with last year. No pressure of manning tables,
readings or selling books. Just hang out in the bar, eat, and drink and
schmooze. I can get used to this!

I definitely like these retreats and get-togethers. I want
to make a habit of them. If you can get away to retreats, I highly recommend
them. The networking opportunities are phenomenal and I find them to be less
stressful than conventions. Plus, they’re just fun. Fun is always a good thing.


By Lisabet Sarai

I used to be such a good girl. I don’t know what happened.

In the old days, I followed all the rules. I got straight As. I adhered to the high school dress code. I was an expert at figuring out what people wanted and giving it to them. In every area of my life, I aimed to please.

How did I get so contrary?

I guess I got bored. Bored with the same old plots and characters, the same tropes, conventions and clichés. Overwhelmed by ennui when I looked at the best seller lists. The longer I spent in the world of publishing, the more frustrated – even disgusted – I became by the tyranny of genre and the overwhelming influence of whatever is Currently Hot.

Over the past decade and a half (has it really been that long?), I have become progressively less interested in pleasing the masses. Instead, I seem to have cultivated my own personal imp of the perverse.

In the first vampire story I wrote for publication, my hero is a blond, blue-eyed, Midwestern frat boy who doesn’t have Goth bone in his undead body. Unlike Lestat, Edward Cullen or the many recent incarnations of Dracula, he’s not in the least ancient or world-weary – he became a vampire just five years before the tale begins.

My soon-to-be-released paranormal romance The Eyes of Bast turns the traditional “shifter” paradigm on its head. The male protagonist was actually born a cat. A sorceress gave him human form in order to have a vehicle for satisfying her lusts. And if the heroine succeeds in freeing him from the witch’s curse, will he revert to his original feline nature? This is not a typical concern in a shape-shifter tale.

In reaction to the hundreds (thousands?) of gorgeous, athletic, thirty-something Doms crowding the BDSM genre, I have stories that feature a middle aged, overweight master and slave (“Never Too Late”, in my new D&S Duos Book 2) and a dominant who’s half paralyzed from a stroke. I’ve even started writing a tale where the Dom is a quadriplegic, though so far I haven’t had the guts to push that one very far.

Of course, dominant billionaires and submissive virgins are all the rage at the moment. Right now I’m working on a novel entitled The Gazillionaire and the Virgin in which the heroine’s the one who’s richer than Croesus, and the hero is a brilliant nerd with deep theoretical knowledge about sex but no actual experience. Probably it won’t sell any better than my historical novella Challenge to Him, about a filthy rich Gilded Age industrialist and a labor activist.

I can’t blame anyone but myself. I’m just too contrary to write what sells.

When I see a call for submissions that seems worth my consideration, my first thought is “how can I twist this into something different?” This isn’t always the route to getting my work accepted. For example, one editor just couldn’t see the Hindu goddess Parvati as a succubus, despite her consuming the sexual energy of the aspiring ascetic hero. I thought it was a great, original take on the theme, but hey, that’s just me.

One trope that’s been bugging me lately is the Natural Submissive. I’m sure you’ve encountered her. Despite never having had any prior experience with D/s, she surrenders immediately and completely to the charismatic Dominant. Without training, she kneels with perfect grace and wears her bonds without complaint. Oh, and she’s got incredible pain tolerance, too, just what the nasty Dom likes. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read recently where the dominant canes the sub in the very first scene, despite the fact that caning is quite an extreme form of discipline.

Now, I’m somewhat guilty of this cliché myself, especially in my earlier work. “You were born for this,” my slightly cheesy dominant Gregory tells Kate in my first novel, Raw Silk. It’s thrilling to believe that your Master can see through your everyday facade to the kinkiness at your core. To be known – accepted – valued because of one’s dirty desires – that’s intoxicating.

My subs are always conflicted, though, unlike the classic Natural Submissive. They’re shocked by their own behavior. Furthermore, they’re not ready all at once for the worst the Dom can throw at them (and of course the Dom knows this).

So now I’m toying with the notion of writing a story where submission most emphatically does not come naturally. I’m thinking about a female character who really does want to be a competent slave, but who keeps making mistakes – due not to lack of motivation but lack of aptitude and training. Maybe she has joint problems, so she can’t stand being on her knees or suspended from the ceiling. Or perhaps she’s just a natural klutz. Her poor Dom is actually embarrassed to take her to his favorite kink club. He loves her, though, and appreciates her sincerity, so he can’t bear to send her away.

Yeah, I know. Sounds like another best seller, right?

Ah well. At this point, I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I’ve reached official curmudgeon age, hence I have license to gripe with impunity about “the industry”. And as long as I’m writing – and enjoying the process – I’ll continue to seek originality over marketability. That’s just the way I am.

Resisting Homogenization

By Lisabet Sarai

At the moment I’m in the throes of
editing stories for my upcoming charity anthology Coming
Together: In Vein
Despite my hatred of all things Microsoft,
I’ve decided that using Word’s Track Changes functionality (as all my
publishers do) is the most efficient way to communicate my suggested
modifications to my authors. Anyway, last week I was working on a
submission from a well-known and respected writer and found myself
breaking up her sentences: deleting conjunctions, inserting periods,
and adding initial caps. My intuition (which I rely on at least as
much as more analytical processes when I’m editing) told me her
sentences were too long. Paragraph after paragraph, she would string
three or four or even five independent clauses together with various

Her sentences weren’t exactly what I’d
label “run-on”. Normally there was a close logical relationship
among the clauses. However, they were certainly much longer than what
I’d write, especially lately. (My earlier work tends to be a good
deal more prolix.) Before long the pages of her story were a mess of
red and blue, cross-outs and insertions.

I worked at this for a while, then went
back to read over the edited text. When I did so, I realized my
changes had done some violence to the rhythm of the author’s prose.
Much as the long sentences bothered me, they were part of her
personal style. If she followed my suggestions and hacked the long
sentences into pieces, that might make the story “better” in some
formal, grammatical sense, or at least more readable. However, it
would be less distinctive – more like my own work, and probably
more like the other stories in the collection.

I went back and used “undo” to
reverse most of the edits. In my opinion, variety as one of the most
critical attributes of a successful anthology.

The experience started me thinking
about all the other pressures toward homogenization we authors face.
Genre conventions, for instance. Readers select a book in a
particular genre with strong expectations about its plot, characters,
and even its style. A murder mystery that ended without revealing the
identity of the killer would generate a lot of reader complaints.
Indeed, one could question whether the genre label even applied.

The conventions for erotic romance are
equally if not more stringent, as I’ve discovered over the past six
years writing in the genre. The main characters must be appealing
individuals who are at least somewhat attractive physically. The
narrative must focus on their relationship; the protagonists should
not have emotional or sexual attachments to other parties. The story
must hinge on some barrier, internal or external, to the characters’
mutual love, and ultimately that barrier must be removed, so that the
story ends happily.

I’ve got nothing against love, but I
don’t read many romance books, because honestly, I find too little
diversity for my taste. (There are, of course, exceptions.)

Unfortunately, I feel that erotica has
also become more homogenized over the past half decade. Genre
conventions aren’t so strict for erotica, but there are other forces
reducing originality and variety in the genre. One problem is the
fact that relatively few publishers command most of the market.
Several of the more adventurous and controversial erotica publishing
companies (e.g. Freaky Fountain, Republica) have folded. To the
extent that new companies have arisen, they seem to be trying to
imitate the few imprints that have remained solvent. I suppose this
is a rational business decision, but it reduces the diversity of the
erotica gene pool.

Naturally a particular publisher will
produce books with commonalities of style and content. Thus, a
limited set of publishers tends to push the genre in the direction of

Now, you may be jumping up and down
right now, because it seems as though a new epublisher opens its
virtual doors every week. So how can I say that the number of erotica
publishers is limited? If you check the fine print, you’ll discover
that about ninety percent of these new companies publish exclusively
or primarily erotic romance, with all the attendant literary strings.

Furthermore, rather ironically, this
flood of new publishers seems to reduce rather than enhance
diversity. Many are founded by refugees from other publishing houses.
They bring with them the preferences, assumptions and house styles of
their former companies, and tend to be rather heavy-handed in
enforcing these styles, sometimes with limited understanding. I’ve
had editors strike out every single use of “that” to introduce a
subordinate clause; replace every single one of my semi-colons with
an em-dash; insist on the total elimination of passive voice; require
that I rewrite a first-person story in third-person. Sometimes I
resist these changes, but many authors will not, especially the
thousands of brand new writers who are joining the authorial ranks
every month to feed the public’s massive hunger for romance.

Market forces are perhaps the most
powerful homogenizing agent. When a particular book succeeds, for
whatever reason, publishers (naturally, I suppose) look for other,
similar works. I remember the first couple of spanking anthologies,
which were wildly popular. How many spanking collections have hit the
shelves since then? I don’t even bother to pick them up anymore,
unless I’m working on a review. Give me something different!

But instead we see a flood of vampire
books, or a slew of BDSM romances featuring naïve heroines and
sadistic, damaged heroes. I encounter volume after volume of gay
erotic romance, featuring well-hung young hunks who seem to live in a
world where there are no heterosexuals and there’s always lube close
at hand. The same well-thumbed plots and characters appear again and
again. I started posting a shape-shifter romance serial on my web
site last year. After a couple of chapters, as an experiment, I asked
my readers to tell me what should happen next. Reader after reader
outlined essentially the same plot – the same story they’ve read in
a hundred other books about were-wolves, were-tigers, were-bears,

Do I sound like I’m whining? If you
think you detect a note of frustration, you’re correct. I don’t want
to read the same thing over and over. And I don’t want to write it,
either. These days, though, sameness sells.

I know my work has some distinctive
stylistic properties, but I consciously try to produce something new
every time I sit down in front of my keyboard. I’ve written a lot of
BDSM, yes – because that’s what interests and arouses me – but
I’ve also written gay and lesbian stories, menage and polyamory,
science fiction, paranormal, historical, steampunk, fairy tales, even
a bit of horror. I’ve never written a sequel or tried a series, at
least partly because I don’t want to revisit the same
characters, setting or theme. I want to try something different.

Originality lies close to the top in my
hierarchy of literary values. Nothing thrills me like a story with an
uncommon premise or an unusual point of view. My favorite authors are
the ones who surprise me, with their fertile and outrageous
imaginations. And I dream that there are at least a few readers out
there who pick up my books because they’re looking for
something new and different.

I’ll continue to resist the pressures
toward homogeneity to the extent that I can.

It’s certainly a good thing I don’t
dream about being rich and famous.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


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