Seven Minute Read

Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reading as Studying

by Jean Roberta

Reading other people’s writing is a good way to see how many different ways there are to approach the same subject. And even if you specialize in erotica, reading outside your genre can show you various ways to get readers engaged with your characters, to reveal character and advance a plot through dialogue, to set up suspense (“foreplay”), to use imagery sparingly or generously, to pace the action in a way that feels natural, and to write a convincing climax (!).

I sometimes read in spurts because I’ve been asked to review someone else’s work, or I’ve offered to write a review for a specific publication. Sometimes I need to read several books quickly in order to choose one as a textbook for one of the university English classes I teach. Reading with the intention of writing a review, a summary, or a critique is a good way to remember details I might miss if I were only reading for pleasure.

Here is a list of my recent summer reading: very different books I’ve read recently for different reasons (in alphabetical order of authors’ last names):

The Marrow-Thieves (YA novel set in a post-apocalyptic Canada) by Cherie Dimaline (Toronto: Cormorant Books, 2017)

So Lucky (slim book with autobiographical elements about the progress of an incurable disease, Multiple Schlerosis) by Nicola Griffiths (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018)

Does It Show? (quirky novel in a magic-realist style, second in a series about a set of working-class characters in northern England) by Paul Magrs (Massachusetts: Lethe Press, forthcoming in August 2018)

Perennial: A Garden Romance (slim book about second chances in love and flowers that return in spring) by Mary Anne Mohanraj (Lethe Press, forthcoming)

Warlight (historical novel set in WW2) by Michael Ondaatje, revered Canadian writer and academic (Alfred A. Knopf, 2018).

Forget the Sleepless Shores (collection of poetically-written stories, most with supernatural elements) by Sonya Taaffe (Lethe Press, forthcoming).

Read by Strangers (stories in an American realist style) by Philip Dean Walker (Lethe Press, forthcoming).

Even the spate of books by one publisher (Lethe, which originally specialized in LGBTQ speculative fiction) shows a wide range of styles and subject-matter.

As a reader/reviewer, I keep a set of questions in mind as I read:

1. What is the author’s aim, as far as I can figure it out?
2. Does the style seem to suit the subject-matter? (And if the style looks inappropriate, is that a sign of satirical intent?)
3. Do the characters come to life, even in a fantasy plot? (And there is a difference between fantasy elements in a narrative set in a very realistic or even gritty real-world setting, and “High Fantasy,” a story set in the Land of Faery, or Planet X, or some other completely invented realm.)
4. Am I tempted to keep turning the page? Are the mysteries and the tension eventually resolved?

Regarding the recent stack of books, I can honestly say that they all deliver what they promise.

None of these books are sagas of High Fantasy, but the stories with fantasy elements (The Marrow-Thieves, Does It Show? and most of the individual pieces in Forget the Sleepless Shores) seem no more far-fetched or implausible, in their way, than the narratives that reveal the strangeness of reality (So Lucky, Perennial, Warlight, and Read by Strangers).

The following are some of my impressions from my recent spate of reading, all of which can be applied to writing erotic fiction.

The same-sex attraction in several of these narratives (The Marrow-Thieves, So Lucky, Does It Show? several stories in Forget the Sleepless Shores and Read by Strangers) is presented in a plausible, matter-of-fact way that invites readers of all sexual orientations to care about the characters. Luckily, the current literary zeitgeist seems to have moved beyond the “coming-out” story as well as the interracial romance as something shockingly transgressive. In The Marrow-Thieves, each member of a makeshift “family” of survivors has a “coming-to” story about how they survived and found others like themselves, but these stories are not about wrestling with forbidden desires.

Characters who disguise their biological gender appear in Does It Show? and “The Creeping Influences” in Forget the Sleepless Shores. Whether such characters are cross-dressers, transfolk, or women just trying to survive in a men’s world (as in several Shakespeare comedies), they can easily come across as offensive stereotypes in current fiction.

In the human comedy of Does It Show? all the characters crave more glamour, excitement and love than they are likely to find in a small English town in the 1980s, but a supernatural realm is almost tangible beyond the illusions of “reality.” A transwoman in this context doesn’t seem more bizarre than anyone else.

In “The Creeping Influences,” a female character doing a man’s job seems downright mundane compared to the discovery of two well-preserved bodies in an Irish bog, both apparently murdered in different centuries.

Several of the authors of these books are widely known to be lesbians or gay men. In other cases, I simply don’t know anything about the authors’ love-lives. In all cases, though, same-sex attraction is simply presented as a fact. The worm in the apple is not internalized homophobia or the wrath of God, but miscommunication, or persecution in some form. This approach could be applied to more explicitly erotic plots.

Imagery (the description of anything which can be seen, heard, smelled, touched, tasted, touched or felt) is sensual by definition, and therefore erotic. Imagery is the heart and soul of both horror fiction and sex-stories. The two collections of single-author stories (Forget the Sleepless Shores and Read by Strangers) include both spine-tingling creepiness and realistic sex scenes.

Perennial, the one book defined as a “romance,” has no explicit sex, but this could have been added without detracting from the sweetness of a story about two lonely strangers getting to know each other, and supporting each other through hard times.

In Warlight, the eventual revelation of hidden truths on a personal and collective level is both jaw-dropping and characteristic of a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story. (The narrator is a fourteen-year-old boy when we first meet him.) There are no explicit sex scenes in the novel, but erotic attraction is shown to be a major motivator of human behaviour which might otherwise be hard to explain.

In short, reading and writing go together like – well, you can think of an appropriately raunchy set of pleasures. It’s probably no coincidence that when I haven’t been reading, I’ve written several stories this summer, and I have plans for several more.

Signs of Hope

I just returned home to Asia, after a two week sojourn in the United States. Needless to say, I have many concerns about what’s going on in my native country these days. Missile strikes and the mother of all bombs do not leave me feeling sanguine.

One aspect of my trip made me smile, however. In my wanderings through New England and New York, I visited a number of independent bookstores. I found them to be thriving, despite the influence of the eight hundred pound e-commerce gorilla we authors love to hate.

In Exeter, New Hampshire, we spent a happy half hour browsing at the Water Street Bookstore ( Housed in a hundred year old building overlooking the tumultuous water of an old mill canal, this shop highlights the work of local authors. Though it was quite early on a Saturday morning, we were far from the only customers. I dawdled in the fiction section, while my DH perused the history table. I particularly liked the handwritten review quotes and blurb snippets posted on brightly colored paper beneath many of the volumes, which made it possible to get a feeling for a book without even picking it up from the shelves. Of course, there’s a deep pleasure to be found in handling a physical bookadmiring the cover, flipping through the pages, breathing in the scent of fresh ink.

[photo by Stephanie Kiper]

Though we really didn’t have room in our luggage, I couldn’t resist purchasing a copy of Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests, which has been on my to-read list for a long time. It was the least I could do. After all, the shop not only boosted our spirits but also gave us a welcome respite from the cold April wind.

A few days later, we dropped in to The Bookstore of Gloucester, one of two indie bookshops on the picturesque main street of that historic fishing city, to join locals and tourists browsing there. This store specializes in books on maritime topics. I was very tempted by a volume about the great Boston molasses flood of 1919 but this time I managed to keep my wallet in my pocket.

Our voyage concluded in New York City. For us, no trip to the Big Apple is complete without at least a brief stop at the Strand. Three floors—reportedly, eighteen miles!—of books await you at this marvelous landmark.

I wandered dreamily among the stacked tables, noting titles and authors I’d never heard of, as well as many old favorites. I found it comforting, even uplifting, to happen on brand new editions of The Moonstone, Rebecca, and She. Thousands of new books may be published daily, but they don’t necessarily erase previously existing titles. They just add to the world’s literary richness.

On a sunny Friday afternoon, the Strand was packed. It was actually a bit difficult to make my way through the crowds to the cashier. Yes, even though our suitcases were stuffed full, locked, strapped and waiting to be collected at the hotel, we still purchased a couple of titles—new offerings from Alice Hoffman and Jonathan Lethem. Considering how much we paid to get to the U.S. in the first place, we figured we should take advantage of the opportunity!

I know many brick and mortar bookstores are struggling these days. Still, it’s clear that some are thriving, nurtured by their communities, welcoming those of us who love the written word. In these dark times, they are oases of light. Maybe I’m naive, but bookstores still give me reason to hope for humanity.

What Spoils It: Carelessness in Doing BDSM

I read a lot of BDSM erotica and erotic romance. While what
I write is fairly specific, I enjoy reading a wider diversity, all different
sorts of pairings and groups. I enjoy the sort that is all about building a
fantasy for the reader, from the billionaire natural alpha dom, to the corral
where you park your submissive at the club. I also enjoy the sort that is
intended to feel real, to reflect the realities of kink life. I’m not one of
those folks who do BDSM and need fiction to be realistic; I’m perfectly fine
sinking into a fantasy story about a magical mind-reading dominant, whether it
comes with a critique of kink life (e.g. Cecilia Tan’s Telepaths Don’t Need Safewords) or
is purely there to fulfill a fantasy (e.g. Cherise Sinclair’s Club Shadowlands)

What I’ve found is that there’s a particular thing that’s
pretty much guaranteed to spoil my investment in and enjoyment of a BDSM story:
carelessness in the context of a scene or D/s dynamic.

To be clear, I adore mean, cruel and even cold dominants.
I’m not talking about sadism here, or needing to go easy on bottoms in a way
that treats them as fragile. I’m not even just talking about tops. Bottoms can
definitely be careless too.

I’m not talking about stories where folks have casual play,
or play that’s not centered on emotions or caring for each other romantically.
I’m not even talking about psychological edge play scenes that center on a top seeming careless. I’m fine with that
sort of play as long as I know, as a reader, that the top is actually seeing to
the well-being of the bottom, and that the bottom knows somewhere in the back
of their mind that they can trust the top to be careful with them.

What do I mean when I talk about carelessness?

I mean carelessness in terms of leaving a bottom tied up and
unattended. I mean carelessness in terms of casual selfishness where the
character is solely focused on their own needs to the point of ignoring the basic
well-being of the folks they are doing BDSM with. I mean carelessness in terms
of launching into heavy humiliation play with a novice with no negotiation. I
mean carelessness in terms of deliberate ignoring of basic bodily needs. I mean
carelessness in terms of deliberately fucking with someone’s head when mindfuck
was not on the table. I mean carelessness in terms of a dominant giving a
submissive away to someone without ensuring that the submissive is ok in that
person’s care.

For the most part, what it often boils down to is a
character treating another character like they are not a real person, but an
object, not as part of an agreed upon D/s dynamic or humiliation scene, but in
actuality. Treating them as if they are a tool to get off with, not a human
being with, y’know, needs and vulnerabilities, who is worthy of a basic modicum
of respect and care.

Is it realistic to have characters do this? Absolutely. This
behavior abounds in kink life, just as carelessness does in many other kinds of

Do I want it in my erotica or erotic romance? Absolutely

Please do write about miscommunication, misunderstandings,
secrets, scenes that go wrong, common novice mistakes, times when people need
to safeword, accidents that happen in play, times when folks are not aware of
their feelings or not up for talking about stuff they should, and all the other
ways that people are human and have opposing needs and fuck up and things fall
apart and need to be repaired, especially if you are writing realistic stories
about BDSM. I’d love to see more of that in the kinky fiction I read. I don’t
need or even want characters to be perfect.

Carelessness is in a different zone for me.


I don’t trust the character any more as a practitioner of
BDSM. I wouldn’t recommend them as a player to a stranger, must less to someone
I care about.

I am not rooting for the couple anymore. I want the other
character to dump that asshole, not make excuses for them or sink deeper into
connection with them or ignore the problem or want to be treated that way.

I don’t want to witness them playing or falling for each
other. It’s not hot. I wouldn’t watch that scene in a public dungeon; I
definitely don’t want to read it.

I don’t want stories that support, elide, apologize for or
excuse carelessness in kink. Especially not in a main character I’m supposed to
be identifying with or desiring or rooting for. Especially not in a story that supposedly
has a HFN or a HEA ending.

Want me to love your BDSM erotica and erotic romance and
invest in your characters and story?

Show the reader moments where characters are careful with each other.

Where dominants take an extra moment to ensure they still
have consent. Where submissives consider a dominants needs. Where tops check in
after a scene. Where bottoms share information a top might need in order to
fully consent to something. Where a dominant pays attention to body language
and tone of voice and not just the words a submissive uses. Where a submissive
notices that a dominant seems off and checks in. Where a top thinks about what
a bottom might need from play. Where a bottom thinks about the shit a top had
to deal with today and treads carefully around sensitive subjects. Where
characters negotiate in a way that shows they are invested in each other’s

It’s those moments that make me fall for your characters,
root for them as a couple or triad or group or whatever they are together, want
to follow them to the end of the story. Those are the moments that make me sigh
and smile and swoon.

Comfort Reads

I came across
“comfort reading” while surfing the web. I have done this on numerous
occasions, but I didn’t know there was a term for it. According to Sarah
Wendell at Kirkus Reviews, comfort
are “a specific type of re-reading.
Comfort reads are those books that are the reading equivalent of your favorite
pajamas, the most fuzzy blanket, the familiar recipe, warm beverages, and
everything that makes your body feel cared for and, well, comforted. Books that
inspire that same feeling of being cared for are what I call comfort reads, and
each reader’s comfort read list is a little different.”

I not
only comfort read, I comfort watch movies such as “Under The Tuscan
Sun”, “Sirens”, and “Half Light”. I used to comfort
game but I’m not into gaming anymore. When I did, I most often played the
original “The Sims”, games in the Myst universe, and Tomb Raider 2.
The key was the repetition. I found solace in the familiar.

comfort read when I’ve had an especially trying time with life. Within the last
two weeks, my computer broke down and the shower wall caved in. I kid you not.
It has not been a fun time around here. The shower wall is temporarily fixed but it needs to be permanently replaced. I had to completely wipe my hard drive
clean and start over again from scratch. The computer is fine now but I went without
quite a bit for a little over a week. So, the time I normally spent online I
spent reading and watching movies. There are several books I comfort read over
and over again when I just want to sit back and force myself to relax. I
usually read dark fiction but there are a few erotic books and romances that I
enjoy. They include the following books:

Heights” by Phyllis Whitney

by Heather Graham

Thorn Birds” by Colleen

Phantom Of The Opera” by Gaston Leroux (mostly the various stage versions)

When I
comfort read, I usually read short stories because I have the attention span of
a gnat when I’m tense. I enjoy reading collections of erotic short stories by Cleis Press and
Xcite Books. I’ll read the same books over and over again.

addition to erotic works and romance, I read darker fiction. In fact, I
probably read more dark fiction than anything else. As mentioned earlier, I
prefer short stories when I comfort read. My favorite books to comfort read are
ghost legends like those found in  “The
Screaming Skulls And Other Ghosts” by Elliott O’Donnell and “Ghosts”
by Hans Holzer. Yes, many of these stories are frightening, but I feel a
cathartic release of tension when I read those kinds of stories. Many are
revenge stories such as “Pearlin
Jean of Allanbank
“, which is about a man being haunted by a woman who
loved him who died when she was run over by the carriage he occupied. He drove
on, ignoring her. She haunted him, making him miserable until the day he died. Such stories are
soothing to me because in a sense they follow the Happily Ever After ending in
romances. Revenge stories are satisfying because the wronged party is most
often vindicated in the end. I’ve been burned my fair share of times, so I find
these stories very gratifying. I love revenge stories.

are plenty of romances in ghost stories. “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” is
one. “Blithe Spirit” is another. When it comes to movies, of course,
there is “Ghost”. That pottery scene is a classic.

husband sometimes comfort reads “John Carter Of Mars” by Edgar Rice
Burroughs. A close friend of mine rereads “The Door Into Summer” and
“Glory Road” by Robert Heinlein. They’ve been favorites of his since
his youth. My husband has enjoyed Burroughs since his youth. That may also be a
key to the popularity of comfort reading. Quite often readers have enjoyed
these stories since they were children. I first read the O’Donnell and Holzer
books when I was 12 years old. I discovered “Thunder Heights” at
about the same time. “The Thorn Birds”, “Phantom”, and
“Blithe Spirit” came later.

Why is
comfort reading so popular? I think it’s because you are guaranteed the ending
you wish since you’re already familiar with the story. You get satisfaction
that things will turn out the way you want them to. In romances, the Happily
Ever After ending is of paramount importance. Even in books that are new to
you, you are all but guaranteed the heroine and hero will overcome all
obstacles and end up together. The road leading to their togetherness may be
fraught with pain and hurdles, but there is satisfaction in knowing that they
will overcome. Real life isn’t like that. You don’t always catch the brass
ring. You don’t always end up with your true love. You don’t always get your vengeance
against someone who wronged you. But when it comes to romance, those fantasies
are guaranteed. Hence the satisfaction in reading new romances as well as
rediscovering old, familiar ones.

named a few of my favorite books to read over and over again. What are your
comfort reads?

Reading Like a Writer

by K D Grace

There are few things I enjoy as much as a
good read. I don’t read like I used to. I now read like a writer. I realized
this after reading a short story that completely enthralled me for the course
of several thousand words. When I came back to the real world, I found myself
not only analyzing what made the story so amazing, but analyzing how I as a
writer read it differently than I would if I didn’t write.

I always think back over the story after
the fact and try to figure out what made it work for me or not. That process
within itself can’t keep from changing the story making it a story of multiple
plots and constructs the writer never intended, but my mind can’t keep from
creating. If in my analysis there are lots of changes I would make, things I
would have done differently as the author, at some point it becomes my story, the one I’m writing in my head,
and no longer the story the author intended.

For me, the big clue to how I esteem the
story is the point at which I begin to analyze. If I’m analyzing the story as I
read it, then it’s clearly not going to get five stars on the K D story
critique scale. The sooner I begin my analysis while I’m reading, the fewer stars
the story rates from me, until at some point it becomes an exercise in editing
and recreating it as my own story rather than reading for pleasure. When that
happens, the whole process becomes a different experience than the one the
writer intended.

If, however, I get totally lost in the
story, then my whole internal landscape changes. The writer in me is temporarily
replaced by the ravenous reader who simply loves a good story. When I am pulled
in, rough and tumble, to the world the author created, the story becomes multi-dimensional
and experienced twice, sometimes thrice over, sometimes even more. When I’m in
the queue at the supermarket, or in bed waiting to fall asleep, when I’m
waiting for the bus, I can have the secret pleasure of reliving that story over
and over.

Being pulled in is the first part of
experiencing a great story. The second part, the analysis part, happens after
the fact. When the story moves me, excites me, changes me, then my analysis of
it is a different process. Because I don’t feel I can improve on it, analysis
then becomes taking the story into myself from a write’s point of view. In
other words, what is it that makes this story so fantastic, and how can I
incorporate some of that fantastic-ness into my own writing?

A perfect story, a story that pulls me in
and devours me whole is a lingering experience. I’m a firm believer that a good
story should somehow change the reader. But a good story should change a writer
even more so. A good story should be like discovering a view from a mountaintop
that we didn’t know was there before, a view that changes everything, the
waterfall we didn’t see, the storm we never expected, the castle that dominates
the landscape. A really great story has the potential to make me a better
writer, a better weaver of story, a better seer of nuance, a better wielder of
my craft.

But a good story should change more than
just my views of my writing world. It should touch and stimulate in ways I
would not have expected. It should open up the landscapes in my unconscious and
my imagination. In some ways, a good story acts as a Muse, and that is the
pinnacle of what a writer can glean from a story. I won’t say that doesn’t
happen with badly written stories as well, after all the Muse chooses her own
time and place. But with a good story, somehow the appearance of the Muse seems
more numinous, more dressed for the occasion.

For me, the most powerful element of any
story is the key relationship and how it expresses itself. That expression is
often sexual, and a well-written sex scene carries with it the weight of human
emotion. It carries with it the drive to reach that magical point where two
become one, where we are as close to being in the skin of ‘the other’ as it is
possible to be. The power of sex and relationship in story can hardly be
overstated. Even in mediocre stories, the power of love and relationship can
still pull me outside of the editor-me and into the roil of the archetypal
story of human need. To me, that means we erotica writers wield one of the most
powerful tools in the writing craft; sex in story. Use it poorly and it just
sounds stupid and crass. But use it well and it’ll be the moment in the story
that the reader remembers while in the queue at the grocery store, while
drifting off to sleep, while waiting for the bus. And it’ll be remembered with
that ache of commonality of all humanity, the driving force within us all.
Keeping that in mind, I don’t think it’s any wonder that so many writers fear
writing sex. 

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


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