[I am posting this on behalf of Jean Roberta, who is having computer problems. You can contact her at jean2551englishlit [at] yahoo [dot] ca ~ Lisabet]
By Jean Roberta
This is the season when I sometimes wish I had written more winter-holiday romances: stories about a man and a woman finding love in picturesque snowy landscapes (on a ski trip, lost in the woods, or under the city lights surrounded by decorated Yule trees) with little or no explicit sex. Stories like this get posted, published, and reposted a lot during this season. I was invited to send any of my holiday romance stories to be reprinted. Alas, none of my stories fit.
There is “Amanda and the Elf” (under 2K), a raunchy little piece in which Amanda, an exhausted divorced mother of two children, is visited on Christmas Eve by a studly elf she hasn’t seen since she was a horny teenager. (Hint: he is really a masturbation fantasy, small enough not to be threatening, but with superhuman ability to satisfy any woman who wants him.) Although the elf is likely to show up in Amanda’s life again, their relationship doesn’t exactly have a quality of “happily ever after.”
This story first appeared in Merry XXXmas, a holiday anthology edited by Alison Tyler (Cleis Press, 2005).
Then there is my historical story of clandestine lesbian love, “A Visit from the Man in Red.” One of the women has a child by an abusive ex-husband, as well as a set of parents who expect her to find and marry a better man as soon as possible. The year in 1968, when a sweeping Omnibus Bill modernized Canadian culture by legalizing sex between men and making divorce easier to get. The two women arrange their own secret Christmas celebration, and when the ex-husband threatens to ruin it, the day is saved by a man in a red uniform: a closeted gay “brother” in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Again, this is not really a romance.
The story was first published in Naughty or Nice? – another holiday anthology from Cleis, edited by Alison Tyler (2007). Then it appeared in my single-author collection of women’s erotica, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past from Lethe Press in 2013.
Then there is “The Feast of the Epiphany,” a story with no explicit sex in which two women and two men go out for supper on “Ukrainian Christmas,” as it is called on the Canadian prairies: January 6 or 7, when Christmas is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church. The narrator, a divorced woman who is trying to find her way into the lesbian community, has a crush on the other woman, who seems strong, capable, and comfortable with her identity as a dyke. The men are also mutually attracted, but one believes that monogamy is part of heteronormative oppression, and he has had a “friendship with benefits” with the supposed dyke. The other man feels strongly about the need for commitment; he was disowned from his Orthodox Jewish family for being gay, and doesn’t want to waste his love on someone who can’t be loyal. During a lively discussion, the waiter (who is also gay, of course) jumps in as a mediator. There is a fairly happy ending for all the characters, but is this “romance?” Maybe, but it’s not highly seasonal.
This story was accepted (somewhat to my surprise) for Coming Together: Into the Light, a more-or-less erotic anthology of stories about revelations, edited by Alessia Brio, published by Phaze Publications in 2010 as part of an erotic series that raises money for worthy causes. This volume won an EPPIE (Electronically Published Internet Connection) award.
When one mushy movie after another with “Christmas” in the title shows up on my TV screen, I sometimes wonder why I haven’t written a narrative like these. They look easy to write, and I seem to be capable of throwing characters together.
However, as I was told by one of my English profs many years ago, you can’t write a convincing plot about something you don’t believe in. This was his warning to those of us who might have the hubris to think we could make lots of money writing traditional romances for Harlequin in the U.S. or Mills and Boone in the U.K.
I have written about sexual relationships between men and women, and in some cases, I’m very fond of my characters and want them to be happy together. (My “bawdy novella, The Flight of the Black Swan, is set in the1860s, and features an official marriage which serves as cover for two same-gender love affairs. This book is sexually classified as “bisexual.”)
In general, however, I don’t believe that the social, legal, and economic inequality between men and women which prevailed in Western society for centuries leads to True Love. I suppose I’m a feminist killjoy. There have always been loopholes in the patriarchy, and women have made great strides in the last fifty years, but if you think male violence against females is fading into history, you are out of the loop. Every step forward made by women seems to be met by enormous resentment from men.
To throw a hero and a heroine together, I need them both to be exceptional, and I need their circumstances to be unusual. A sprig of mistletoe isn’t enough to persuade me that two people who have serious objections to each other (the “Dearest Enemy” romance trope that I’ve written about elsewhere) can suddenly fall in love, or recognize that love was there all along. The magic of the season doesn’t seem like an adequate reason why two people would want to spend their lives together. If it wouldn’t work in March or September, it wouldn’t work better in December.
I could refer you to several recent posts in social media about the unpaid “emotional labour” largely done by women, especially during the winter holidays, when gifts must be bought, feasts cooked, houses decorated, and social events planned. In real life, all this work doesn’t usually lead to melting glances between an exhausted woman and a typically clueless man who has no idea what she wants him to do.
In my own real life, I am living happily with my spouse, the woman I have been with since 1989. (Next summer, we plan to put on some sort of celebration for the thirtieth anniversary of our first overnight date.) We love this time of year because the break from paid work gives us a chance to become couch potatoes watching mushy movies together. Maybe I should write about that.
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.
Web site: http://elizabethablack.blogspot.com
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/elizabethblack
A Facebook friend of mine made a post where she asked for names of non-scary movies for Halloween. She wanted nothing super scary, no slashers, and no gore. I thought that was the perfect idea for this month’s ERWA post – The Halloween Edition.
I love a good horror movie, but my husband doesn’t so I try to find movies I think he’d like, especially this time of year when I find classics on TV that we both can watch. I also like paranormal romances which are perfect for the Halloween season. We both enjoyed Shaun of the Dead and Army of Darkness which are comedies. Ghost is another favorite and that one is a paranormal romance popular with romance lovers. Romance and paranormal lovers don’t have to feel left out this season just because they don’t like slasher movies and the like. There is plenty out there to enjoy.
Here is a list of Halloween movies for people who don’t like gory movies full of jump scares. There are romances here, some comedies and some black and white classics.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas – The King of Christmas wants that holiday to be like Halloween. Animated. Jack, the male lead, also likes Sally, the female lead.
- The Witches Of Eastwick – Three women stand up to Jack Nicholson. A fun film.
- The Haunting – This is the 1963 black and white movie, not the new Netflix TV series although the series is excellent. The TV series is entitled The Haunting of Hill House so that you don’t get confused. Based on the novel by Shirley Jackson. Could be scary but it’s atmospheric and psychological. Avoid the 1999 remake. It’s abysmal.
- The Sixth Sense – Tear jerker of a paranormal.
- Practical Magic – A witch movie that is about love and family.
- Shaun of the Dead – British laugh out loud zombie comedy.
- What We Do In The Shadows – New Zealand laugh out loud vampire comedy.
- Young Frankenstein – The ultimate American horror comedy. Frau Blucher! Whinny! LOL
- E. T. – Takes place at Halloween. E. T. phone home!
- Gremlins – Don’t get them wet, keep them out of the light, and don’t feed them after midnight. Has a few genuinely scary moments but overall a fantasy with comic elements.
- Topper – Constance Bennett and Cary Grant as a married, ghostly couple. Another comedy. Black and white from the 1930s.
- Arsenic and Old Lace – Another Cary Grant vehicle. Yet another comedy. Black and white from the 1940s. Based on the play by Joseph Kesselring.
- Blithe Spirit – Husband calls back dead wife’s spirit during a séance. He’s since remarried. Hilarity ensues. Yes, another comedy. Black and white from the 1940s and based on the play by Noel Coward.
- The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – A lovely paranormal romance. Black and white from the 1940s.
- The Innocents – Based on Henry James’s novel The Turn Of The Screw. Very atmospheric, moody, and psychological. Standout performance by Deborah Kerr. Black and white from the 1960s.
So now you have plenty of movies to choose from to watch in the days approaching Halloween and Halloween itself. Whether you want a horror comedy or a black and white classic, there are plenty of movies to watch around Halloween that don’t involve buckets of blood. There is even romance! So pop some popcorn, get the bags of candy ready for the trick or treaters, turn down the lights, and enjoy your movie night.
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. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.
I recently celebrated my 25thanniversary of the day I met my husband. We’ve been married for 13 years. Our relationship is a bit unusual in that we lived together for over a decade before marrying for no reason in particular. We were living our lives and were too lazy and busy to have the ceremony and sign the paperwork. When we finally tied the knot, I joked I married him for his health insurance.
Long-term relationships are different from initial romantic attraction. I’m sure readers have noticed – and wanted – that most romances are about that initial romantic attraction leading to a HEA or HFN ending. Serials are popular because readers becoming invested in characters they grew to love when those characters first met.
Limerance according to Wikipedia is “a state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person and typically includes obsessive thoughts and fantasies and a desire to form or maintain a relationship with the object of love and have one’s feelings reciprocated.” The heart-palpating rush when you hear your shiny new lover’s name and how your pupils dilate when you see that person is limerance. Limerance is that infatuation stage you find in budding romantic relationships. It’s good to remember this fevered state does not last long.
Romance readers love that feeling of infatuation they get when they read about their favorite characters. They can live vicariously through the stages of the character’s relationship, from initial attraction to conflict to honeymoon phase to a deeper and satisfying longevity. It helps to remember that the fevered intensity of a budding relationship is a temporary thing, and that when the high settles that doesn’t mean you are falling out of love. It means the love is deepening.
Over the years, my husband and I have learned from each other and we’ve changed in ways that have benefited our marriage. Jealousy isn’t an issue for us. Jealousy is a common feeling in newer relationships. I’ve been jealous in some of my past relationships, even in one case of going out to dinner several times with another man to make the man I was interested in jealous. It didn’t work. That relationship did not last.
I see and accept my husband’s flaws, and he does the same for me. There is very little he does that gets under my skin. I certainly don’t see him as a knight in shining armor which may be a feeling you have for your partner in a newer relationship. Your love interest can do no wrong and you feel that person is perfect in every way. It’s the old rose-colored glasses phenomenon.
As you get to know the person you love, you will find conflicts in personal views, taste, habits, and even how to raise children. During infatuation you see only the good things about your partner. When the not-so-good things rear up, don’t panic. You’re only finding out your love is human.
When written well, romances depict all of these stages and in the HEA ending, the couple successfully deals with conflict and grows in the process. Conflict is necessary to grow. It doesn’t have to mean fighting. It means the characters are removing those rose-colored glasses and are seeing each other as they really are, warts and all. Accepting those warts (the ones that are acceptable – I’m not talking about abusive relationships) and not trying to change the other person are both important qualities in a healthy, long term relationship.
The whirlwind of romance is a wonderful feeing that can be experienced when reading romance novels. The reader puts herself into the main character’s shoes and experiences what that character feels. It’s a safe way of experiencing the ups and downs of a relationship without actually being in one. In your own case, just remember that although the passion inevitably dies down, a deeper love will flourish in the healthiest relationships. And that’s what matters most.
My name is Dale Cameron Lowry, and this is my first time blogging on the Erotica Readers & Writers Association blog. There are lots of old-timers who have been around ERWA since the internet began, but I am not one of them. I’m a new timer who first heard of ERWA in 2015, when I was looking for markets where I could sell my racy short stories. I signed up for the email list, got involved in conversations, offended a few people with my strong opinions about the English language, got offended a few times, and overall have had a fun time.
In December, Lisabet Sarai approached me about writing a monthly post for the ERWA blog. I guess because I’m opinionated, but I didn’t dare ask lest I give her second thoughts. Like a puppy who’d just been thrown a Frisbee, I wagged my tail and grabbed it. So here is my inaugural column.
I came to writing erotica through the back door, in the heat of the moment, almost by accident. (Isn’t that how it always happens?)
First, some background: I was raised in a prudishly religious household. Not a terribly oppressive environment, mind you, but still one in which the thought of sneaking a copy of Playboy or Playgirl into the house was beyond consideration. My idea of pornography was flipping through the men’s and women’s underwear section of the Sears catalog and later, thank the direct mailing gods, the International Male catalog, with its close-ups of Adonises in bikini briefs and banana hammocks.
My first experience reading erotic fiction was at the campus LesBiGay center (that’s what we said back then) in 1993, while perusing an issue of On Our Backs, the now-defunct lesbian, feminist, and sex-positive porno mag. I found myself reading a story about two women, a strap-on dildo, and anal sex in a shower. I remember thinking, “Huh. People without prostates can enjoy anal. Who knew?”
So, in my case, erotica was educational. (Except for the part about it being fun to have anal sex in the shower. That’s almost always better in fantasy than reality.)
Then there was the time I housesat for a family off-campus and found the parents’ secret stash of erotica from Cleis Press. Men with women, women with women, women with men, men with men, men with men with women … Many delicious flavors, and I devoured them all. But that was my guilty little secret. It was better to pretend to not have any interest in such lowly things.
See, I had a minor in creative writing at a snooty liberal arts college and considered myself a Writer with a capital W. I was into Literature. Sure, you could write about sex, but it was only literary if it was neurotic (Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint), violent (Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina), disturbing (Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov), or magical realism with a little anti-Semitism thrown in (Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry).
Now, there’s nothing wrong with being Literary. I’m a fan of Philip Roth’s and Dorothy Allison’s work. But I didn’t want to write about sex in those ways. So I didn’t write about it.
And then I listened to a Toni Morrison interview, in which she said that she only began writing later in life because, when she was younger, she didn’t have anything new to say. I became convinced I had nothing new to say, so for many years, I stopped writing at all. (Lesson: read Toni Morrison’s books, but take her writing advice with a grain of salt.)
Eight years ago I got fired from my job, so I suddenly had lots of time on my hands. I decided to dabble in writing again. And to take the Literary pressure off my shoulders, I decided to write in the trashiest genre I could think of: romance!
One day, I came to a point in a story where two of my characters were headed to the bedroom together, and this time, they didn’t close the door on me. They wanted me to know what went on in that bedroom. They talked a little during sex, joked a little during sex, and their relationship changed during sex. Most importantly, the way they viewed themselves changed.
For me, a good story is all about the character and how they change as the story unfolds. As one of my writing teachers used to say, “Put a character in a tree, throw stones at them, and see how they react.” And to not include that sex scene would have been to skip a vital part of the characters’ development.
After that, more of my characters wanted me to go into the bedroom with them. I guess they’re exhibitionists. I lost (most of) my inhibitions about writing about sex, and sometimes I found that an entire story could take place during a single sexual encounter.
How’d that happen?
Dale Cameron Lowry lives in the Upper Midwest with a partner and three cats, one of whom enjoys eating dish towels and wool socks. It’s up to you to guess whether the fabric eater is one of the cats or the partner.
When not busy mending items destroyed by the aforementioned fabric eater, Dale writes and edits queer romance, erotica and speculative fiction. You can find the most up-to-date list of Dale’s books and anthologies at www.dalecameronlowry.com/books and get Dale’s writing tips at www.dalecameronlowry.com/for-writers.
I read an interesting post on Facebook in which the writer asked everyone for their 2018 goals. Not resolutions. Goals. He said most people broke resolutions or never even bothered to attempt to meet them. Goals? More realistic and more likely to be attempted and fulfilled. So I asked myself, what are my goals for 2018?
Here are a few:
Finish my erotic fairy tales collection and self-publish it.
Publish my two erotic fairy tale novellas in print. These two books are Trouble In Thigh High Boots (erotic Puss In Boots) and Climbing Her Tower (erotic Rapunzel). You may find the ebooks at Amazon and Smashwords.
Finish my horror novel Hell Time.
Find an agent for my thriller novel Secrets and Lies.
Find a home for my bisexual werewolf erotic romance novel Full Moon Fever.
Send out my newsletter regularly.
Submit to a minimum of 5 submission calls in 2018. Bonus points if I publish at least 5 stories.
Join the YMCA and make an effort to swim and work out this winter and spring. My husband and I are joining the Y next week.
Head to the beach every day in late spring and summer to swim, walk, and otherwise get some fresh air and exercise especially after being cooped up in at home all winter.
Save enough money each paycheck to fund a trip to Europe most likely taken in 2019 or 2020.
Sell more books!
Make an effort to attend more book events like readings and conventions but only when money permits. Those events tend to cost more than I can afford.
Bake more. I didn’t bake enough in 2017 which is a shame since I enjoy baking very much. I didn’t bake as many cookies this year as I usually do so I shall remedy that in 2018. Here are the last two recipes I made – pumpkin bread and pizzelles. Pizzelles are anise-flavored Italian waffle cookies.
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup olive oil ( can sub with canola or vegetable)
2 eggs, Beaten
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Sift together flour, salt, sugar, and baking soda.
- In a separate bowl combined pumpkin, oil, eggs, water, and spices.
- Then, combined with dry ingredients but, do not mix too thoroughly. Stir in walnuts.
- Pour into a well-buttered 9x5x3 inch loaf pan. Bake 50-60 minutes until a thin skewer poked in the very center of the loaf comes out clean. Turn out of the pan and let cool on a rack.
- Makes one loaf. Can easily double the recipe.
- If desired, you can use them in a muffin tin as well. They come out just as moist. If you use muffin tin bake for 20-25 minute.
You need a pizzelle iron to make these cookies. I’m sure you can find one on eBay or at Amazon. I have an electric one that makes four pizzelle cookies at once. It’s over 30 years old. My mother gave it to me when she saw how much I loved those cookies. An Italian neighbor made them all the time.
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon anise extract
1 tablespoon anisette liqueur or Sambucca (optional)
1/4 cups anise seed
1 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) melted butter
Beat the eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla until well combined.
Stir in the flour and baking powder, mixing until smooth.
Add the melted butter, again mixing until smooth; the batter will be thick and soft.
Heat your pizzelle iron. Grease it as directed in the manufacturer’s instructions. As the iron heats, the batter will stiffen.
Cook the pizzelle according to the instructions that came with your iron. In general, they’ll take between 45 seconds and 2 1/2 minutes to brown.
Remove the pizzelle from the iron, and cool on a rack. If desired, use a pair of scissors to trim any ragged edges.
Dust cooled pizzelle with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.
Now that 2017 is drawing to a close, I’m ready for next year. 2017 was a bit of a slow and rather uneventful year for me writing-wise. I need to be more proactive. I plan on that starting Jan. 1 with my stint at Night Owl Reviews. I’m in an author chat that day at 8 PM EST. I’ll talk about my erotic romance novel No Restraint. Here’s the link to join in:
See you there, and have a fantastic 2018!
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 three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.
Her m/m erotic medical thriller Roughing It is out! This book is a sexy cross between The X Files, The Andromeda Strain, and Outbreak. Read her short erotic story Babes in Begging For It, published by Cleis Press. You will also find her new novel No Restraint at Amazon. Enjoy a good, sexy read today.
Opening a novel or short story can be a bitch. Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty and other novels, had advised writers to avoid prologues and to refrain from opening a story talking about the weather. Marc Laidlaw, an author who also helped develop the game Half Life, once tweeted the following advice about opening paragraphs of fiction works: The first line of almost any story can be improved by making sure the second line is, “And then the murders began.”
Normally, a writer would not begin a sentence with the word “and”. Laidlaw purposefully included that word because it “gives my use of the phrase an extra florid, self-important note that puffs it up just enough to be suitable for narrative frivolity.” My husband and I had argued about the title for my erotic romance novel Don’t Call Me Baby. He thought I should call it And Don’t Call Me Baby. I didn’t want to partly because that word dangled and irritated me and for the same reason Laidlaw laid out. It ended up not mattering since the book didn’t sell and it’s now out of print, so there’s that. I’d always done much better with my erotic fairy tales, and I’m working on a short story collection of them right now. One of my best-sellers, Climbing Her Tower (erotic Rapunzel), lends itself very well to this exercise.
Climbing Her Tower by Elizabeth Black
The warmth of the sun glowed on Rapunzel’s face as she stood before her window, awaiting Mother’s instructions. And then the murders began.
I also write horror. This exercise doesn’t work as well with that genre because it’s dark and bleak to begin with. However, when coupled with romance novels, the fun begins. Here are some examples of best-selling romance novels with that particular sentence added to them.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. And then the murders began.
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught up by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. And then the murders began.
True Believer by Nicholas Sparks
Jeremy Marsh sat with the rest of the live studio audience, feeling unusually conspicuous. And then the murders began.
Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 1) by J. R. Ward
Darius looked around the club, taking in the teeming, half-naked bodies on the dance floor. And then the murders began.
50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James
I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. And then the murders began.
Bared To You (Crossfire Book 1) by Sylvia Day
“We should head to a bar and celebrate”. And then the murders began.
Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard
The poet stood next to the bridge and watched as the young woman approached. And then the murders began.
You may see the point behind this exercise by now. Many writers, in particular fledging ones, have difficulties with exposition and telling instead of showing when beginning their stories. They ramble about the weather or describing backgrounds or pontificating about a character’s history or inner thoughts without providing a hook for the reader. Without a hook, your reader won’t continue reading. She will get bored and toss your book aside like so much garbage. You need to grab the reader in the first paragraph – nay, in the first sentence. That’s why agents and publishers often ask for the first chapter or first five pages of your manuscript when you submit to them. They want to see your hook. If you don’t have one or if it is weak, that is one reason you likely won’t get that joyous letter offering representation or a publishing contract. You need action and vibrancy to pique someone’s attention.
Sometimes, a writer’s story doesn’t really begin until the third or fourth page. If that’s the case with your story, delete the first few pages and begin your story where the action begins. Not only must you engage the reader from the onset, you must keep that reader engaged throughout every chapter of your book. Books are like fractals. There should be a hook at the beginning and end of each chapter as well as at the beginning of the book. The beginning hook holds the reader’s attention and the end-of-chapter hook encourages that eager reader to continue reading into the next chapter. Clayton Purdom described Laidlaw’s exercise in his article for A. V. Club when he wrote “the sudden introduction of murder provides a contrast with tone-setting exposition or an unexpected development to its more direct action.”
“And then the murders began” is a funny and effective way to get the point across. Watch your reader jump out of her seat with excitement over your works. Don’t let her sigh and become bored with exposition. That way, you’ll both attract and hold readers.
by Jean Roberta
Writing fiction set in the past (even a past era of the writer’s own lifetime) is a challenge because, as someone once said, the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
When writing a story set in the 1920s, I introduced my teenage female narrator to a handsome boy in her class in high school. His parents were friends of her parents, and now that her father is dead, his father is providing a salary for her mother, who works as his secretary. The boy likes the girl, and she is delighted to discover sexual pleasure with him when they are alone together. She is terrified of getting pregnant too soon, but he assures her that they are planning to marry anyway, so if they “start a family,” they only have to arrange an earlier wedding.
Realistically, my heroine knows she isn’t likely to get a better offer. She is also practical enough to know that she – a very intelligent person who is not male and not white – can’t leave home alone to seek her fortune and expect to be better off than she is in the relative safety of the community where she grew up.
In the real world, my young storyteller would probably settle, as so many women did in her time. Yet she really doesn’t want to marry her boyfriend. His chivalry often slides into condescension, even though she gets better grades in school than he does. Sex is a revelation to her, but does the ecstasy of his touch really mean that he is her soul-mate? She hasn’t had enough experience to know.
She has heard mutterings about sexually-experienced women: hoochie-coochie dancers who drink illegal booze in joints that cater to dangerous men. She doesn’t know how or where to apply for a job like that, but she knows how all her nearest and dearest would react if she did.
I don’t really know what better future I could provide for my character than marriage to her boyfriend, followed by childraising and membership in his church, one of the things they disagree about. The spell of historical fiction should not be broken by the intrusion of twenty-first century options and values.
Still, I want more for her. She wants more for herself, and she knows on a gut level that there must be a companion for her somewhere in the world who is more than “a good provider” with conventional beliefs.
I’ve always had trouble writing happy-ever-after endings, and I sometimes think this is because men and women still don’t really have equal status, even in Canada where we’ve had it in theory since the 1980s, according to a marvelous federal policy called the Charter of Equality Rights. However, the problem isn’t just a gender clash. Many a lesbian relationship has ended with hard feelings on both sides, and communities of gay men are also full of gothic stories about deception, heartbreak and violence – so I’ve heard.
In traditional romance plots, the lovers persevere despite threats to the relationship from other people and from each other. They have faith that in the long run, being together will be much better for both of them than being apart, and so it turns out. Most people claim to admire long-term relationships, but only if no one is being exploited, abused, or diminished in any way. That’s a big if.
In fiction, as in life, I worry about exaggerating the fault-lines that exist in every relationship, but I also worry about limiting a character’s potential by keeping her in a trap. There were several notable differences between my parents besides gender, but if they hadn’t stayed together for the first seven years of their marriage, I would never have been conceived. To honour my own roots, I should probably value sacrifice and compromise, even in a fictional world.
One of the appealing qualities of a short story, as distinct from a novel, is that not all questions have to be answered. The plot can end on a hopeful note, with an implication that the central character(s) will boldly go to an unknown destination. So I keep writing in order to discover new plots. Maybe some day I’ll have a clearer sense of when a happy ending requires an escape, and when it requires a commitment.
By Lisabet Sarai
Reading Donna George Storey’s post about Fifty Shades last month, I had one of those “aha!” moments. Donna cited Alyssa Rosenberg’s observation that romance is one of the only areas of cultural expression that focuses on women and their lives. I suddenly understood that reading romance could be more than just an escape into impossible fantasy, easily dismissed as shallow and frivolous.
Modern romance, which has largely jettisoned the wimpy, passive heroines of its past, gives its readers (who are primarily women) the opportunity to vicariously experience female agency. The female protagonists of today’s romance tend to be feisty, competent and independent. They are firmly in charge of their own lives, and frequently are not looking for the soul mate who eventually and inevitably comes their way. It might not be too far a stretch to view them as role models.
Furthermore, in erotic romance, women bravely, sometimes brazenly, express their sexual selves. Today’s erotic romance heroines embrace their desires. Often they bed their partners long before they fall in love, and they’re just as likely to control the sexual action as the heroes. As Donna points out, even the virginal Ana is the true dominant in Fifty Shades. She defines (and redefines) the rules, which poor Christian tries to follow.
Romance is about female power—the power to make decisions about relationships, and the power to enjoy personal sexual satisfaction. No wonder it’s so popular, in a world where many women lack that sort of power.
So why doesn’t the genre get more respect? Why is it so easy and so fashionable to belittle romance—especially erotic romance? Why does Donna feel so uncomfortable writing “mushy” dialogue, blushing as if it were obscene? Sure, there’s a lot of poorly written romance out there, but that’s true of every category of fiction. Why do people feel the need to denigrate romance as “trash”, “bodice rippers”, or “mommy porn”?
Maybe because the female power is viewed as a threat.
In a male-dominated culture, it’s too dangerous to take romance seriously.
“Take romance seriously?” Some of you reading this are no doubt chuckling at the absurdity of this notion. And I suspect Remittance Girl will be sharpening her rhetorical blade, ready to assert that romance is in fact a product of male-dominated culture, an attempt to domesticate the socially-disruptive effects of lust by promulgating the myth of harmonious, monogamous, stable coupling.
Still, think about what the world would be like if women all began to act like romance heroines. Speaking out and acting on their desires. Insisting on respect and consideration from their lovers. Demanding to be taken seriously. Claiming a well-deserved, personal happy ending, without guilt or feelings of inferiority. Some men would be very threatened indeed.
“Hah. Illusions. There’s no such thing as a happy ending.”
Perhaps there’s no “ever after”. However, healthy, egalitarian, enduring, fulfilling relationships do exist, hard as that may be sometimes to be believe. And you know, based on my personal experience, it’s not just women who want that kind of relationship. Many men value independent, assertive partners. Men do not necessarily want a doormat as a companion. Or, for that matter, an innocent virgin!
The kicker is that despite the official perspective that romance is trash, readers of the genre have more economic power than any other market segment. The phenomenal success of Fifty Shades is only the latest demonstration of this fact.
This observation makes me realize that romance readers don’t really care whether the pundits view romance as unrealistic or superficial. They’re going to buy and read what they enjoy, losing themselves in stories of the women they’d like to be. It’s only authors of erotic romance, like me, who grumble about not being taken seriously by the literary establishment.
Well, you know what? I respect the romance I write. I know how difficult it is to create an original, compelling story that still adheres to the conventions of the genre. More difficult, maybe, than writing a so-called literary novel, where there are far fewer constraints.
So I’m going to stop griping and get back to writing. The only respect I really need comes from my readers.
|Minotaur crouching over sleeping woman; Picasso, 1933|
I’m going to begin this essay by asking you for the benefit of the doubt. I’m going to ask you to assume
I’m not an insane or immoral person. I’m asking this of you because I’m about
to wade into the uncomfortable, murky waters of consent, intentionality and
biological imperative when it comes to sex – both fictionally and factually.
Attempts to unpack these issues, to examine philosophical, historical,
institutional, artistic and socially constructed understandings of human
sexuality reveal uncomfortable realities. They don’t always accord with the way
we want things to be or live up to our ideals. But I’d like to argue that approaches that seek to present the issue as uncomplicated for the sake of clarity, are not realistic or productive ones.
I just watched the documentary “India’s Daughter.” It
chronicles the events of the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder of a woman
identified in the film as “Jyoti”. Some Indian feminist have
criticized the film because it allows a number of the rapists, their defense
lawyers and a few others to air, what to most Westerners and many Indians, too,
are deeply misogynistic views on where women belong in society and the part
they play in their own victimization. These statements are not directly and
immediately rebutted in the film – it allows the audience to be appalled at
them. The strategy works well in the context of a Western liberal audience that
is probably unaware of the extreme schisms of social attitudes surrounding
women. But for an Indian audience, where these views are not uncommon or unknown,
it fails. The Indian Government has banned
the airing of the documentary, ostensibly because it offers a platform for
views it wishes to eradicate. However, this decision might also have been influenced by a recent incident in which a
mob of thousands pulled an accused rapist out of a prison in Dimapur, and
beat him to death. The event is more complex than it appears. The accused was a
Bangladeshi, so there are both issues of religious and immigration tension that
have played significant roles.
I’d like to examine the myth that humans are at the mercy of
their animal instincts, driven by their biological imperatives; how old and
widespread this fallacy is and how deeply it has embedded itself into many cultures;
and what part it plays in both our fictions and our social norms.
It’s all Aristotle’s Fault.
Not really, but at least in Western culture, Aristotle’s
Nicomachean Ethics has served, through the centuries as a font of great wisdom
on the matter of the human condition. In Part Seven of the Ethics,
Aristotle submits that, once in the thrall of sexual arousal, humans are no
longer capable of exercising reason, restraint or judgement. Historicity and
language is a bit of a problem. We don’t know what stage of arousal Aristotle
is referring to. Perhaps he was referring to the moment of orgasm, in which
case he’d be spot on. The problem is that our historical unease with the
specifics of the human sexual response led to very broad generalizations about
states of sexual arousal. This myth that a human in any given state of sexual
arousal is incapable of exercising choice, or control, or good judgment, has
been responsible for a millennial get out of jail free card when it comes to
Sorry, Different Department.
By the time we did get around to studying human sexual
response in the mid-20th Century, courtesy of Kinsey and Masters
and Johnson, the sciences had specialized. People who were interested in
philosophy, ethics, sociology or psychology had all been given their own
departments – nay – buildings on another campus. Let me tell you, interdisciplinary studies of human
sexuality are a rare, belittled, and underfunded species.
However, we know humans can and routinely do exercise
enormous control over their ‘animal’ instincts. We seem to be able to restrain
ourselves from peeing in our nests, we often find ways to negotiate our
territorial instincts, and unsurprisingly, we manage to restrain ourselves from
spending all our time mating – even though some of us spend an inordinate
amount of time thinking about it. There are men and women of diverse religious
orders who manage to live a life of complete sexual celibacy. Even
hormone-addled 16-year-olds don’t generally rampage through the countryside
raping every orifice they encounter. To look at it more quantitatively and at
more extreme levels of sexual arousal, practicing the ‘withdrawal method’ (27
pregnancies in 100) is still vastly more effective than using no birth control
method at all (85 pregnancies in 100). So, even at the abyssal precipice of
orgasm, it’s clear that we can and do have the capacity to exercise some
choice, some judgment.
Once We Were Dumb Mammals
Meanwhile, in the realm of society, we consistently ignore
that fact. Historically and to the present day, we create narratives about
humans helplessly carried away by the urgency of erotic bliss. Our literature,
drama and films are full of it. But, more darkly, so are our laws, our judicial
systems, our security structures.
We may acknowledge rape as a crime in theory, but even in the most
‘enlightened’ egalitarian social systems, it is astonishing how often
responsibility is shifted from the person who refused to exert control over
themselves and onto something or someone else. It was the clothes the victim
was wearing, the fact that she was out alone, the fact that she wasn’t
accompanied by a relative, the fact that she (or he) came up to the rapist’s
apartment, alcohol, drugs, peer pressure, prison, porn, the prevalence of a
‘rape culture’. The list of reasons why an individual is not wholly, personally
accountable for their actions goes on and on. Whether you find yourself in a
culture that denies women autonomy, or one that offers them an equal legal
myth of the uncontrollable urge always rears its head.
We can control ourselves and we enjoy the lie that we can’t.
It’s not really that surprising: biological drives are compelling, and it takes
effort to refuse their call. It makes sense that humans would have fantasies
about respite from that control. In his book “Speaking the Unspeakable:
The Poetics of Obscenity,” Peter Michelson explains the liberating appeal
of pornography. It is, he says, a space where we can luxuriate in relinquishing
the very real control we have over our animal instincts. There is romanticism,
authenticity and empowerment in our fantasies of giving in to our animal
natures. I don’t wholly agree with Michelson on the specific mechanisms of
this, because I think our ‘animal natures’ are themselves a fantasy
construction. Nonetheless, he
presents an excellent argument: there is erotic pleasure in the prospect of relinquishing
control only because that control is, in fact, so real and so often exercised.
Meanwhile, romance often features motifs of being swept
away, overcome, overwhelmed, desiring beyond the boundaries of social
acceptability. The pursuer can’t help but want the object of his or her desire.
It obsesses them; it drives
them to extraordinary and unruly lengths within the context of the storyworld.
And the pursued, it usually turns out, cannot refuse the pleasure of being that
object of desire and, if all is well, return the feeling.
One of the reasons I champion
fictional, eroticized portrayals of reluctance and even rape is because to deny
that these ideations have semiotic power is dangerous. But also, to attempt to
force limits (i.e. to have rape fantasies is a betrayal of feminist ideology)
on what metaphors, what metonyms, what ‘signifieds’ might be is also futile. I
think fiction is a safe space in which to negotiate the uncomfortable fantasies
and nostalgias humans possess for the lawless, reasonless, unempathic animals
we used to be. I’m not convinced of the veracity of that earlier state of
natural ‘innocence’, but it haunts us and calls to us nonetheless. Fantasy and
fiction are the only safe places we should give it power or credence. To
situate this myth of the uncontrollable urge in fantasy and fiction is to put
it exactly in the place it belongs – beyond the pale of the everyday world and
civil society, and to underscore that it is the ONLY place it belongs.
One of the stark messages of “India’s Daughter” is
that it is social attitudes, the tolerance of real world inequities, the historical
absence of women’s voices, their lack of power and the perpetuation of utterly
baseless justifications that create an environment in which crimes like this
are possible. The shocking testimonies of rape-apologists in the documentary
are offensive as hell, but they serve to remind us that these attitudes don’t
survive and are not perpetuated through fictional works, but through entirely
real-world levels of tolerance that predate ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and even
by Jean Roberta
We erotic writers have not yet been completely accepted into the literary or social mainstream. From time to time, someone in this blog points out that we Don’t Get No Respect, or at least not enough. This claim is hard to refute.
The good news is that the solid wall between Literature (which sometimes wins prestigious awards) and Porn (which was largely illegal in the recent past) seems to have been crumbling for years.
The genre called erotica can now be mixed with any other genre, not only romance. Much has been said here about the uneasy relationship between erotica (fiction that focuses on sex as a means of transformation, or the focal point of a plot) and romance (fiction about the development of a relationship, usually heterosexual, usually with a happy ending). There have been laments about the ways in which Romance, as the elephant of the publishing biz, has steamrolled over literary erotica so that brilliantly well-written, poetic, hot-yet-philosophical works on sex per se are now harder to find than ever before. There is clearly some truth in this claim.
However, if explicit sex scenes are the hallmark of erotica, these can be included in works of fantasy (e.g. rewritten fairy tales or ancient myths), science fiction and its various subgenres (e.g. steampunk), historical fiction, murder mysteries or detective stories, social satire, and every other genre one can think of. Sex is so central to human life that sex scenes don’t have to be forced into a supposedly non-sexual plot. They can now be included in a kind of organic way, so that they serve the plot and the development of the characters.
Circlet Press was founded in 1992 to publish fiction that combines explicit sex (often queer in some sense) with fantasy elements, and this combination has since been taken up by other publishers. It’s even possible to find novels that combine more than two genres.
To give an example, I recently had to replace a fantasy novel in my “Sympathy for the Devil” English course (four fantasy novels by women, all with male protagonists). Unfortunately, a novel by Tanith Lee about an immortal kind of devil was suddenly unavailable. I replaced it with Death by Silver by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold (Lethe Press, 2013), a double-authored steampunk murder mystery with double (human) protagonists who must clear away a London fog of interpersonal misunderstanding while eliminating suspects in a complicated murder investigation.
I introduced this novel to the class by inviting my colleague, the local expert in the history of detective fiction, to discuss the genre. I suspect that his colourful, student-friendly, 75-minute talk was the condensed version.
If I knew any local experts in m/m romance as a genre (with its contested origins in Kirk/Spock fanfiction or slash, based on the original Star Trek as a television space opera), I would have invited her/him/them to speak. I would have given the same invitation to an expert in steampunk if I knew of any in my town. (I can easily imagine the English Department of the university where I teach acquiring a specialist to teach steampunk classes in the future, possibly as an offshoot of speculative fiction or Victorian studies.)
Death by Silver actually features a primary relationship which is sexual from the beginning, but IMO, the novel doesn’t qualify as erotica because the sex is dealt with in a traditionally British way, behind closed doors (usually in one line of coy dialogue or a short paragraph at the end of a chapter). None of my students seem shocked, and several have told me they enjoyed reading, despite the complexity of the plot. (This, rather than the frequent hints of “unmentionable” sex, seems to be the only thing that slowed them down.)
It is easy to imagine a sexually-explicit version of a similar novel, and m/m erotic romance is definitely a thing.
Cross-genre fiction seems to me to be the way out of the impasse created by the economic and cultural dominance of mainstream romance novels. (Not to mention the cultural dominance of Romantic Comedy as a popular film genre, i.e. “date movies.”)
Not only can descriptions of sex be smuggled into literary genres that are generally more respected than erotica, the importance of sex can be shown in work that can find its way out of a literary ghetto.
Rewriting “classic” novels to include explicit sex scenes is only one way to cross-breed genres. Those of us who started out as erotic writers, and who aren’t willing to ditch the sex for the sake of respectability, might not achieve critical respect any time soon, but we can have fun spreading our wings.