This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Roman Polanski’s renowned psychological horror film “Rosemary’s Baby”. I saw it within a few years of its release; to celebrate the fifty year milestone I watched it again at a local “classic films” club.
The movie stands up to the test of time pretty well. It still evokes a stifling sense of inescapable evil, set against incongruous but brilliant humor. Mia Farrow’s terror and resolve remain palpable and convincing, even if her submissiveness to her handsome, gregarious husband seems old-fashioned.
I couldn’t help notice, however, some critical ways in which the plot depends on the time period. In one point fairly late in the film, the heroine slips from the clutches of the coven who wants her baby and rushes to find a phone booth. (The coven is listening in on her home telephone.) Sure she’s being pursued, she waits nervously for the current occupant of the booth to conclude his call, before barricading herself inside. She calls a seemingly sympathetic doctor, only to find he is with a patient. Sweating with fear, she pretends to be on the line to discourage other people who want to use the facility, until the doctor returns her call.
As I watched this scene, I found myself thinking “Why doesn’t she just use her cell phone?” But of course that’s nonsense. Those of us who watched this in 1968 could not have imagined how mobile devices would transform our daily lives. If Mia had a mobile, she might have escaped.
Technology has changed radically, and changed our habits and assumptions along with it. We can expect that this trend will continue, and very likely accelerate. However society looks today, we can be certain it will be different next year, and maybe unrecognizable in five years.
What does this mean for writers? Well—my first novel Raw Silk was originally published in 1999, almost twenty years ago. At that time, it would have been labeled as contemporary. Since my heroine Kate is a software developer, the book includes exchanges of email messages (which was part of my life even then), but there’s no Web and no cell phones. Bangkok (where the novel is set) has no public transit aside from buses and taxis. (On my latest visit, I discovered there are three subway lines in operation, with another four or five under construction.) In Raw Silk, people actually write one another physical letters, on paper, in order to communicate.
I’ve revised and republished this book three times. Each time it seemed a bit more dated. I wrestled with the question of whether I should try to bring it into the twenty first century. Finally, I decided to deliberately anchor it in a particular period, a year or two after the time it was written. I peppered the text with a historical, cultural and technology references that make it clear this is not a contemporary erotic romance.
A similar problem arose with my erotic thriller Exposure, first released in 2009. For my latest revamp (2014), I chose to update it to the present (more or less). I inserted appropriate technology where necessary to be convincing. I was helped by the fact that my main character Stella is working class with little disposable income. In any case, she’s not the type to go gaga about gadgets.
I have to wonder, though, how readers five or ten years in the future will react to the books we are writing now. (This assumes, of course, that people will still be reading in a decade.) Will our plots seem contrived? Will our conflicts be incomprehensible? For instance (let’s be optimistic), suppose that the current movement toward acceptance of varying forms of sexual orientation continues. Many gay romance stories revolve around the need for the characters to keep their relationships hidden from society. Readers who come of age in a world where same-sex attraction is viewed as normal and commonplace will not be able to appreciate the angst that propels these stories today. The tales will lose their meaning, or at very least, will seem like quaint period pieces.
Or consider another, more pessimistic scenario. In ten years, surveillance by states or by corporations may become so pervasive that privacy will cease to exist. A story about an illicit affair will seem unbelievable to someone who has grown up in a world where it is literally impossible to do anything in secret.
I became sexually active after the invention of the Pill and before AIDS. At that time, popular culture was not nearly as saturated with sexual content as it is today. I know I have a different attitude toward sex than a millennial. For me, sex has always been special, a unique and thrilling adventure. At the same time being sexually active was far less risky for me than for my mother or my daughter (if I had one).
So, could I write erotica that my hypothetical daughter could appreciate? Or are my attitudes and assumptions likely to seem strange and foreign? (When I recently posted a flasher in Storytime that referred to the sixties film icon James Dean, who embodies, for me, a certain bad boy sexual vibe, some members of the list didn’t recognize the allusion.)
We still read books from previous centuries of course (or at least I do), some of which we label as classics. I wonder what makes them “classic”. Perhaps there is some sort of universality in these works that somehow bridges the cultural gap between the author’s time and our own. Do emotions remain fundamentally the same even as society changes? Is that why we can still identify with characters like Emma Woodhouse, Sydney Carton, or Jane Eyre? One has to wonder, though, about how our experience in reading these tales compares with reactions of readers for whom they were contemporary. Perhaps we’re grasping only a small part of what the author intended.
In any case, I don’t delude myself that my own oeuvre incorporates much in the way of fundamental truths or themes that transcend time. Nevertheless, I’m in this for the long haul (nineteen years and counting), so I’d like to write stories that will be appreciated not only today but in the future as well. I wish I knew the trick to this. Right now, as in so many other things, I’m just acting on instinct.
About a week ago, I had an “aha!” moment. I’d been feeling terribly stressed due to increased demands at my job and my author commitments, plus some impending travel that will make it all the more difficult to fulfill my obligations. I was obsessing about everything, when it hit me: even though I have way too much to do, I enjoy almost all of the tasks on my long list —writing, teaching, research, making covers, reading, writing reviews, creating blog posts, entertaining friends, sending birthday cards, cooking, even exercising. When I asked myself what I’d give up, if I had to make a choice, I really didn’t have a good answer.
That realization flipped my thinking and drained some of the stress. First, I felt a surge of gratitude that my life is so full of meaningful activity and so rich in joy. Second, I understood that joy is a reliable signal as to whether you’re on the right path.
If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong.
Am I talking about sex? Yes. Writing? Yes. Keeping fit? That too.
The Calvinistic/Puritan tradition views life as bitter and hard, an exercise in self-denial, a continuous series of trials one must endure in order to reach the promise of Paradise in the hereafter. I just don’t buy that. It doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t match my personal experience.
For me, life is something to celebrate, a continuous unfolding, a twisting and often surprising path. And when I’m wondering which branch to follow, I’ve learned to turn within first, to ask myself how the path feels. Does it feel right? Does it generate joy?
I remember when I got my first job in my second career. (I’ve had several since.) I had no prior professional experience in this field, just a couple of university courses. I got hired on the strength of my academic credentials. When I started working, though, something clicked. I really “got” the concepts. I found I had an aptitude that I would not have expected. The job tapped into my creativity and developed my interpersonal skills. It was definitely the right path at that time.
When I met my husband (at a technical conference), I tried to give him the brush-off. We lived on different coasts and I didn’t want a long-distance relationship. Besides, I was already juggling four lovers. When he persisted, however, I discovered that being with him felt inexplicably comfortable. We spent the first three weeks of our life together driving across the US, a trip that could strain even a well-established couple. We had a fantastic time—and despite the newness of our relationship, the whole process turned out to be incredibly easy and natural.
Thirty nine years later, I understand: it was so much fun because we were obviously doing it right.
Note that joy is not exactly the same as happiness. It’s not about pleasure or entertainment. Joy is something deeper, a spiritual quality, a sense of satisfaction, order and symmetry. Sometimes it’s a quiet, soothing warmth humming under your solar plexus. Sometimes it’s laughter bubbling up out of nowhere, an urge to sing or to dance. Joy can be wordless, or it can spill out in poetry or paint.
I believe we are meant to feel joy and that when we do, we can trust we’re being our best and truest selves.
The fact that something kindles your joy doesn’t mean it will be easy. Climbing a mountain, running a marathon, getting a degree, raising a child, or writing a book all take a huge amount of effort, but joy is the ultimate reward. And of course every life has its pain and its tragedies. But joy makes you more resilient.
Writing can be tough, frustrating work. We all complain when the words don’t flow or the characters don’t obey. We fight with incompetent editors, flinch at poor reviews, feel discouraged when our royalties don’t even begin to reach the level of minimum wage. In the face of all these negatives, why do we—why do I—keep writing? Out of love. Because of the joy.
Almost nothing compares to the sense of delight when I am in the groove, the words are flowing and the story is unfolding just as I’d imagined. It’s worth every bit of aggravation and every ounce of effort.
At least that’s how I feel. Your mileage may differ. But if you are truly suffering for your art, why bother? If what you’re doing doesn’t fundamentally satisfy you, give you that deep level feeling of rightness, maybe you are doing the wrong thing.
Not that I’m counseling my fellow authors to give up. Just stop and ask yourself: is it fun? And if not, what can you change so that it will be?
One of my favorite erotica stories is by Patrick Califia. (No
surprise there.) “No Mercy” (which can be found in his collection of the same title) centers Terry, who is in an abusive D/s relationship with
Heather, and on the cusp of finding her way out of it. The story begins as they
approach a piercing shop to finally get the genital piercing that Terry has
wanted for a long time. Her body could not accept the piercing from Heather,
she kept safewording as the moment was approaching, so they decide to go to a
professional piercer. The first 8 or so pages are filled with the lead-in to
the piercing. Heather thinks of the piercing as a last ditch effort to save the
relationship, and Terry thinks of it as another step away from the
relationship. The tension in the story builds until the piercing is done, and
once it is complete, Terry bursts out with a flow of words. The piercer, a
leatherdyke herself who becomes a key character in the rest of the story,
explains, “Once you poke a hole in somebody, something frequently comes out.” The
piercing, which is hot in and of itself and also incredibly satisfying, is also
holding so many other things for all the characters involved. It is this transformational
moment, this intensely loaded thing.
Sex and kink can hold so much in them, and Califia is one of
those writers that deeply embraces this reality, and uses the sex and kink in
his stories to nudge the reader to grapple with the things he cares about. He’s
pretty upfront about it too. In his essay, “A Insistent and Indelicate Muse”,
printed in M. Christian’s brilliant collection The Burning Pen: Sex Writers on Sex Writing, Califia says:
“I like to use the cover of eroticism to entice the reader
and make them emotionally and psychologically vulnerable to new ideas or
discomfiting information. I hold out the reward of dirty talking in exchange
for the reader stretching their political muscles.”
Califia is upfront about wanting the reader to stretch, to
see the things that sex is holding inside itself, to grapple with those things
in reading his stories.
When I started writing erotica, it was about reaching for my
desire, trying to envision it and make it real for myself. My early erotica is
full of my fantasies about BDSM, but more than that, about my fantasies of
being seen, witnessed, and met in the wholeness of who I am, particularly
around gender. I wrote a story about being seen and desired as trans by cis gay
men. I wrote about being witnessed and desired as a genderqueer femme by queer
trans men. I wrote about being desired as a submissive boy by a trans man, and
as a femme dyke by a butch dyke.
These stories, these fantasies, were as much about gender
and queerness as they were about spanking, or pain play, or sucking cock in a
bathroom or an alley. They were imagining a sexual universe where I was able to
be in the fullness of myself, and be desired. Because I was worried about that,
worried about whether I was desirable in my gender complexity. Worried about
whether the kind of queer kink I wanted was possible.
I am not worried about those things as much now; I bring
other needs to my writing. But they often are still rooted in that desire to be
recognized, that desire to create moments of recognition for readers, that
desire to open up space that allows us to be in the wholeness of ourselves
during kink and sex.
Erotica has been a place where I play with the ways we can
feel seen and met in our desires, honored for all of who we are, witnessed and held
in our vulnerability, as we show ourselves to our partners. That’s been a
common thread in my erotica over the last 15 years of writing, because I find
it to be one of the most gloriously hot aspects of sex and kink. I titled my
recent queer kink erotica collection Show
Yourself To Me to evoke that aspect of my work, to draw attention to the
ways it is rooted in that place of yearning and meeting, of holding and
celebrating, of showing who you are and being shown in return.
In a recent round table discussion on sex writing, Larissa Pham, who writes one of my favorite sex
columns, Cum Shots, said:
“With Cum Shots, people would text me (saying), ‘Oh my God,
you broke my heart again.’ This isn’t happy writing a lot of the time. Sex
is just a way to talk about other things. You poke sex and a bunch of stuff
comes out: power comes out, abuse comes out, emotions come out, trauma comes
out, race relations come out.”
For me, writing stories about sex and kink has been a way to
write about other things that I care about. You poke the sex and kink in my
stories and a bunch of other stuff comes out, including the very things that
Pham names in the quote above. Sex and kink is the arena where all that stuff
takes place, shows its face, gets grappled with and held. I use my stories to
illuminate ways I have found to create safe enough containers within sex and
kink that can hold the things that come out when you poke.
When you poke the sex you are writing, what comes out? How
do you grapple with that as a writer? How do you create stories that can hold
it? How do you decide what stuff your story can hold, and where you need to
limit that? What do you use sex to talk about?
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, her tuxedo cat, Lucky, and the new feline additions Chloe and Breena who are now Lucky’s best friends. Visit her web site, her Facebook
page, and her Amazon Author Page.
I’m happy to
announce I have a new permanent writing job! I can’t go into detail because I
signed a non-disclosure agreement, but I’m doing some travel writing. It’s fun!
I’m reading about places I want to visit now, especially the haunted hotels.
Some I’ve heard of and I was excited to write about them.
always paid better for me than fiction. My last long-term non-fiction writing
job was with the British sex toys company Bondara a few years back. I wrote
product descriptions using SEO (search engine optimization) verbiage. If it is
made of silicone and went into a fun orifice, I wrote about it using all kinds
of fun descriptions. This company specialized in high end bondage gear, and I
learned a great deal about how the products work, what they were made of, and
what was high quality vs. low quality. I wrote for the company blog. I pretty
much did whatever my boss Chris wanted me to do. When we needed to speak in
person we used Skype. I was paid by direct deposit into my bank account. I
worked from home. This was the perfect, ideal job for a writer. I worked for
Bondara for about four years. I made a decent amount of money, and when my
husband was laid out and out of work for five years, this job kept us afloat. It
was one of the most fun jobs I’d ever had, and I used to work as a gaffer
(lighting) making movies. That says something.
I like writing
non-fiction. It’s a nice break from fiction and a completely different mindset.
When I’m working for a steady paycheck, I feel much more confident and
productive. When I’m working for a steady paycheck and paid to write, I feel
much better about the endless rejections for fiction manuscripts I submit. It
also takes the edge off of selling a book only to see it crash and burn when it
comes to sales, although that still hurts like hell. While writing non-fiction,
I keep hope alive for my fiction which is much harder for me to succeed at.
I interviewed mojo
storyteller Joe Lansdale on my radio show The Women Show in mid-December. He
used to do non-fiction writing. It’s not unheard of for fiction writers to do
this, especially since it does seem lucrative IF you find the right job. I was
lucky enough to find one that paid a reasonable fee per hour for the current
travel writing or – in the case of Bondara – paid a reasonable monthly flat
fee. I have a better grip on my career now that I’m actually making money at
My husband and I
visited Kennebunkport, Maine the day after Christmas for a little get-away.
This is the ritzy town that is home to the Bush family compound. We didn’t see
that – didn’t want to – but we did stay at a haunted inn – The Kennebunk Inn,
which is in Kennebunk, Maine, next to Kennebunkport. Rumor has it that
Silas Perkins, one of The Inn’s clerks who passed away in the mid-twentieth
century, continues to inhabit his place of former employment—his presence being
made visible occasionally by flying or falling wine glasses and other objects. Like the Stanley Hotel, I
didn’t see any ghosts, but we had a lovely time. Our room had a fainting couch! That was delightful. I sprawled on it with my hand to my forehead, trying to imitate the Edward Gorey drawings from Masterpiece Mystery.
My husband and I brainstormed
the idea for a wonderful non-fiction book about traveling the haunted venues in
New England. This kind of book has been writing before many times, so we had to
find a new twist to make our book unique. We thought of turning it into a
travelogue where the reader may follow our directions and repeat our experience
on their own. Each chapter describing a haunted inn, restaurant, forest, or
whatever would be followed by a short fictional story set in each particular
location. I could write any kind of story I like. Romance. Light horror.
Mystery. Comedy. I’ve already decided what I’m writing about for the Kennebunk Inn. We decided the characters in each story would be the same two,
most likely my husband and I in fictitious form. I’d write the stories as E. A.
Black, my dark fiction and horror pen name, but publish the book with my real
name. A gimmick would be that the reader would quickly figure out both persons
are one and the same. I took lots of pictures so I could start on this book
now. It would likely take us a year to visit most of these spots, take
pictures, notes, and write a chapter and a short story. I came up with a very silly working title which we will of course not use: Maniacs and Massholes: A Haunted Tour Of New England.
Here’s the Kennebunk Inn, all dressed up for Christmas. There was an outdoor skating rink right next door. It looked like fun, but my body would splay out on the ice if I even attempted that. LOL
I’ve already visited
one haunted location here in Rockport, Massachusetts, the coastal town where I
live. Three months ago, I went hiking with my writer’s group in Dogtown, which
is an abandoned colonial settlement. I did this with the intent to write two
short horror stories set there, which I have yet to do but I have no deadline. Still working through plot bunnies and characterization. When searching for “Haunted New England”, Dogtown was listed in the first article to come up on my search. I’d heard Dogtown was haunted, but I’d never experienced anything odd although the location is very creepy. The thing is, while
hiking, I injured my right leg something fierce, and I was in physical therapy
for three months until a week ago today – Monday. It took that long for the
injury to heal. I already have lots of pictures and I vividly remember the
place, which I’ve been to before the injury. Dogtown will go in the book.
Here’s a shot of one of the Babson boulders in Dogtown. These boulders were carved in the 1930s, and they dot the landscape. They’re deep in the woods, and they are carved with inspirational words and sayings.
This is an exciting
project and I’m looking forward to the research and the writing. I don’t know
if I should try to find an agent for it first or just write it and search for the
agent after it’s finished. Probably the latter. I could also look for medium or
small dark fiction/travel publishers. There’s a small set of haunted New
England books published here, and I own a few of them. They’re a fun read, but
our book will be better. I could easily write to the publisher of those books
to pitch this one. I do like writing non-fiction. I don’t think it’s for
everyone, but it is a good way to make steady money if you can find a long-term
gig. I’ll keep everyone posted regarding my new job and this wonderful new
project. I feel very confident about 2016. Things are looking up for me.
What makes a really great sex scene?
Many authors will tell you it’s description—all the senses, touch, taste, feel, smell, sight, hearing. But it isn’t. The secret to great sex writing—are you ready? Wait for it… the secret to great sex writing is…
That’s it. Make your reader feel. That’s all you need to do.
How, you ask? Here are a few guidelines.
Your characters are alive and they are not the sum of their parts. They aren’t measurements or hair color or penis size. I’ve done sex scenes without mentioning any of the above. Don’t ask, “What would my character do in this situation?” Let them act. Let them decide. Let them speak. Let them feel. Especially let them feel.
GET TURNED ON
If you’re bored writing a sex scene, your readers will be bored. If you’re turned on, your reader will be turned on. The emotion you are feeling will be conveyed on paper. It’s a natural law of the writer universe. (This applies to any scene, not just sex ones, by the way. If it moves you to tears, it will move the reader as well).
If you’re turned on during a sex scene, really getting into it, your fingers flying over the keyboard, unless the house is on fire or we’re under nuclear attack, DON’T STOP. Never, ever stop in the middle of a sex scene. (This rule also applies well to actual sex). You will lose your momentum, and it won’t be the same when you come back to it. Your mood will have shifted, and the reader will feel it.
Human beings want. Our entire culture and economy is based on desire. We lust after the things we want. We dream about them. We fantasize about them. We want. And we want. And we want some more. Our bodies and our brains are hardwired for desire. We don’t just eat once and then we’re done. We don’t just have one orgasm and then it’s all over. We continue to crave what we want. Our emotions rule us, especially when it comes to sex. They’re naturally going to rule your sex scene, too. We don’t insert tab A into slot B because we’re following a blueprint manual. There’s a reason behind our physical responses, and that reason is always, always tied to emotion. Remember that. Use it.
Desire is what makes the sex hot. Make your readers wait for it. Foreplay begins with seduction, not with sex acts. It begins with eye contact. Flirting. Innuendo. It progresses, but slowly. Tease your readers. Tease yourself. Draw it out. Make it a long, slow burn. The best orgasms are the ones we wait a long time for. It’s no different when writing sex than it is doing it, really.
DON’T BE AFRAID
Don’t be afraid of the sex. Don’t be afraid of the fluids, the flesh, the human expression of our bodies. It is what it is. Some writers will tell you not to ever speak of bodily fluids. They’re above all that messy stuff. Thankfully, erotica and erotic romance have come a long way, baby. We can use the words cock and pussy now, and I would encourage you to do so. I wouldn’t suggest using the medical terms, however (i.e. penis and vagina) or euphemisms like “member” or “sheath.” Cock and Pussy are good. Think of them like peas and carrots. They go together. A few (and I mean a FEW) other words can work for a little variety. Prick or dick for example. Or cunt. No, don’t be afraid of the words we use during sex. It’s okay to talk dirty. “Please,” or “Now,” or “Suck me,” or “Lick me,” or “Harder. There. More.” These are words we’ve all spoken (I hope!) They naturally arouse. That’s a good thing. I’m not afraid of cum – I’m not even afraid of spelling it “wrong.” You shouldn’t be either.
THE GRAND FINALE
Once you reach the point of no return, you’ve built up to the sex, you’ve teased your readers (and your poor characters) enough, now it’s time to give them what they want. This is not the time to skimp. You can’t gloss over the orgasm. (Or orgasmS). We all (hopefully!) know what an orgasm feels like. Description doesn’t have to be technical here. There are spasms and contractions, there is throbbing and trembling, gasps, moans—the combinations are endless. You can and should include those, but don’t be afraid to move into the realm of metaphor. Sex can be like flying. It can be like falling. It can be like dying. This is the culmination of everything, the point you’ve been waiting for, working toward. Let your imagination go as wild as you would during an actual orgasm. Let yourself free.
DEFYING THE LAWS OF PHYSICS AND OTHER MISHAPS
On a practical note – your characters shouldn’t defy the laws of physics. Women cannot take twelve inches of hot man meat down their throats. An average vagina is only eight inches deep. 44DD breasts cannot defy gravity. And if you’re using any of the above descriptions in your sex scenes, you need a basic writing course, not a primer on sex scenes. Also, don’t let your character’s clothes go missing. She can’t be wearing pantyhose one second and be taking it from behind the next. The clothes have to come off and be accounted for somehow. Trust me, your readers will notice if they aren’t.
by Jean Roberta
I learned a new word recently, and that’s always a good thing for a writer.
While reading a list of available books for review that was sent to me by Dr. RS, long-term editor of The Gay & Lesbian Review (Massachusetts, formerly produced at Harvard University), I noticed this title:
Love’s Refraction: Jealousy and Compersion in Queer Women’s Polyamorous Relationships by Jillian Deri (University of Toronto Press, 2015).
I asked RS if I could have it for review. He said I could, but he suggested that a shorter review might be better than a longer one, even though another member of his posse of reviewers had advised him to devote a theme issue to polyamory. He suggested to me that any book with the word “compersion” in the title is probably too abstract and obscure for readers of a scholarly queer magazine.
He sent me the book anyway, and I soon learned that “compersion” means the opposite of jealousy: a feeling of shared joy that results when one’s lover acquires a new playmate or friend-with-benefits. The fact that “compersion” is less-well known than “jealousy” is a clear sign that in Western society, only monogamous couples are considered normal, and that jealousy (even when it inspires murder) is assumed to be the normal reaction to any violation of the monogamous bond.
Even for those who have been “out” as gay men, lesbians, bisexuals or transpeople for many years, the dominant model of sexual/romantic commitment has enormous gravitational pull. RS’s comments about the large, fascinating concept of polyamory showed what looks to me like a queer (inconsistent) streak of conservatism. Although we have been exchanging emails for years about books which may or may not have relevance for an educated LGBT audience, we haven’t had any direct philosophical debates about our personal moral codes for engaging in sexual/romantic relationships.
RS did tell me that he considers polyamory to be a largely imaginary condition, i.e. many more people think about it than put it into practise. This seemed to be his main quibble about running a theme issue: is there an actual polyamorous community? If so, where are these people? (When I mentioned the above book to a friend and colleague who grew up on the West Coast of Canada, he suggested that all the women who were interviewed for the book probably live on Commercial Drive in Vancouver.)
When I mentioned RS’s quibble to the local director of the campus LGBT center, s/he (born female, now identifying as male) laughed and said he could put me in touch with quite a few folks who identify as polyamorous, if I want to interview them for a theme issue of The Gay & Lesbian Review. Egad – I already have enough writing to do, even during my summer break from teaching, but what an intriguing research project. The journalist/researcher side of me wants to meet as many polyamorists as possible, and hear more about how compersion actually feels, since I’m fairly sure I haven’t felt it myself.
If there is a thriving community of practising polyamorists in the small city/large town where I live (population about 200,000, government seat of a Canadian prairie province and home of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), there is probably a bigger tribe of them under RS’s nose in Massachusetts. Their reasons for keeping a low profile seem painfully obvious to me. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that divorce, the sex trade, and homosexuality couldn’t be mentioned on television.
One of the reasons suggested itself when my spouse (the woman with whom I’ve lived for 26 years) asked why I was reading that book, and why the topic interests me. Her anxiety was clear: was I suddenly planning to hook up with women, or men, or both? If so, was I simply going through a kind of post-menopausal frenzy, or was I planning to embrace a new lifestyle? If I was standing on the edge of a cliff, contemplating a leap onto a dozen mattresses already occupied by welcoming bodies, was I planning to discard her as an outworn First Wife?
I assured her that my interest is scholarly, more or less: as an erotic writer, I have already described polyamorous relationships that are intended to last for a lifetime, but I need more information about how such complex connections actually work, and why/when they don’t.
Lest my spouse sound more suspicious or insecure than I am, reading this book has reminded me of painful experiences in my dating past, when “I’d like to see other people” generally meant “We’re done, so get lost.” Women, in particular, are raised in most cultures to be polite and avoid scenes, which might be good training for humans in general, except when it prevents honest communication. The women I dated before the beginning of my current relationship in 1989 often tried to leave me behind by dropping hints and pulling away rather than by rejecting me directly. Their ambiguous behavior included “friends” who suddenly seemed to occupy so much of their time that they hardly had any left for me – but when I asked, they would assure me that we were still an item, and they certainly weren’t breaking up with me. I would rather march through a field of stinging nettles than go back into that swamp of doubt, dread, humiliation, and resentment.
Re the possibility of my spouse jumping off a cliff onto the mattresses below, I’m sure she could find welcoming bodies down there. In her sixties, she is still attractive, engaging, and a long-term community organizer who seems known to half the town. Years ago, when she made an unusual visit to the local queer bar by herself, she was apparently enticed by a male/female couple who regularly trolled the bar for individuals (usually female) to join them for threesomes. Apparently they assured Spouse that they would treat her well and that she had nothing to fear, but (according to her account the next day), she was turned off by their unvarnished lust, and said no. When I heard this story, my feelings were more mixed. Of course they found her appealing, which validated my taste. I knew who they were, and they had never approached me that way – was I less of a babe? What if she had said yes, and what if the couple had wanted to see her regularly, without me? Hookups that turn out to be peak experiences are not guaranteed to stay casual. I was relieved by her ironclad refusal to even consider it.
Reading a book seems safe enough. And I’m committed to the belief that knowledge, even when it’s painful, is usually better than ignorance, even when it’s comforting. For the foreseeable future, I’m willing to continue down a path of asking questions and seeking answers. Comments welcome.
Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica,
erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her
husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web
site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon
I read “50
Shades of Grey” when the book first came out since the feminist e-zine ON
THE ISSUES had wanted me to review it. I felt the same way lots of people felt
about it. I thought it was poorly written. It started out as
“Twilight” fan fiction so it wasn’t even an original idea. It was not
a realistic depiction of BDSM, and I had read better erotic books with BDSM as
a major theme. Although some disagreed with me, I thought the relationship
between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele was abusive and stalkerish. This is
a very polarizing series of books. You either hate them or you love them. There
seems to be little middle ground.
Now that the movie
has become a huge box office hit, “50 Shades of Grey” is back in the
news again – with a vengeance. The books and movie are a cultural phenomenon
that has brought erotic fiction and talk about sex into the forefront. Make no
mistake – women have been reading erotic fiction for aeons, but they read
furtively. The Kindle helped bring about increases in sales of erotic fiction
in part because of the privacy the device gives the reader. Woman no longer worried about getting the hairy eyeball from strangers (or friends or family) who saw a
strapping, shirtless man on the front cover of the book. “50 Shades of
Grey” expanded on this. Sexologist Dr. Patti Britton wrote on her blog
that the book series “normalized the
discussion about sex and especially about the holy grail of BDSM: Bondage and
Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sado Masochism. It allowed kinksters to
come out of the closet and claim their orientation.”
What “50 Shades
of Grey” also did was bring the average straight woman out of the closet. Women
aren’t hiding their love for the series and movie as if they are ashamed of it.
It’s wonderful women feel comfortable enough thanks to “50 Shades of
Grey” to be so open about the sexual needs and wants. It has also
introduced an entirely new population to BDSM, despite critics accurate assertions
that the books and movie are not accurate depictions of the lifestyle. When the
first book initially exploded into public consciousness, sex toys sales skyrocketed
by 400%. According to an article in Cosmopolitan, ben wa balls (sex balls) in
particular became popular because Christian Grey gave a pair to Anastasia
Steele. Check out this description from the book: “He
holds out his hand, and in his palm are two shiny silver balls linked with a
thick black thread … Inside me! I gasp, and all the muscles deep in my belly
clench. My inner goddess is doing the dance of the seven veils … Oh my … It’s a
curious feeling. Once they’re inside me, I can’t really feel them—but then
again I know they’re there … Oh my … I may have to keep these. They make me
needy, needy for sex.” Both men and woman wanted to re-enact the sexy
scenes the women read in the book.
online have talked about the effect “50 Shades of Grey” has had on
their sex lives. They’re enjoying sex toys more often. Some have found new and
creative uses for household items such as chip bag clips in place of nipple
clamps. They’ve discovered the joy of bondage tape, including humorous
astonishment at the fact that the tape sticks only to itself, not to skin and
hair. That stuff isn’t electrical tape, which sticks to everything. Keep in mind most of these women are very vanilla, and
this book series and movie are their first exposure to BDSM. Two subscribers to
the kink website Fetlife hand-crafted a paddle and flogger. Other fans
described their favorite scenes in the books.
have even felt compelled to re-enact scenes from the book. One man on Fetlife
who is new to the BDSM lifestyle with his wife talked about how his wife has
introduced a wide variety of sex toys to their play since reading the book,
including dildos, vibrators, hot wax, and ben wa balls. He and his wife planned
to see the movie, and he wanted to prepare a sexy surprise for her once they
returned home. He asked for advice on how to proceed. One person recommended
acting out a scene where Christian tied Ana to the headboard and blindfolded
her. He put headphones on her ears so she couldn’t hear – opening her to expand
her horizons through using her other senses.
Fetlife subscriber described enjoying being spanked. Like Ana, she enjoyed the
sting but leaving marks was not okay. One thread discussed songs that reminded
fans of the book, including Lucinda Williams’ “Sweet Side”, “Dark
Side” by Kelly Clarkson, “Love Is A Battlefield” by Pat Benatar,
and “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails. The books and movie have introduced
the general public to BDSM, and Fetlife offers tips on exploring the lifestyle
to anyone who’s interested.
are writing “50 Shades of Grey” fan fiction, which is ironic since
the first book started out as “Twilight” fan fiction. Storylines
range from pure sex to loving relationship to even marriage between Anastasia
and Christian, complete with a baby. Here’s an excerpt from one of the stories
I know she loves
it when I tell her how much I lover her and need her, it gets her all riled up
and she will do anything “You’re so ready Ana. I love it when you’re so
ready for me.” I slide two fingers into her as my thumb strikes her
clitoris and I can see her building. “Not yet Ana. Not yet.” She
moans and I can’t help but let out a little giggle “be patient. Not long
now.” I move my fingers in a rotating motion to build her up even more and
she arches her back to push her breast in to my hand and lets out a cry
“oh. Please Christian. I. Need. You!”
are openly discussing what they want from their partners when it comes to sex.
This book series and movie have fired up imaginations, resulting in an uptick
in purchases of sex toys and erotic fiction as well as the creation of fan fiction.
Despite criticism, “50 Shades of Grey” must be recognized for the
positive effect it has had on women’s expression of their sexual likes and
Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica,
erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her
husband, son, and four cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.
It seems to me that often enough in erotic romances, the sex
is not only unrealistic, it is something that is not humanly possible. Now that
anyone can upload erotic fiction to the internet and call themselves authors,
readers must separate the wheat from the chaff. And get a load of that chaff! There
is sex with Bigfoot who has a foot-long (or more) schlong. Alien sex. Perfectly
built doms who tie their subs up in such a way they should be laid out on a
stretcher and sent to a hospital. Anal sex that defies the laws of nature. Lack
of lube. Lack of foreplay. The list goes on.
Did you know that there are awards giving out for poorly
written sex? Here is an excerpt from the 2012 winner of the Bad Sex Awards,
Nancy Huston’s “Infrared”.
No sooner have we settled onto the bed
and begun to remove each other’s clothes with the clumsy gestures of impatience
than I realise Kamal also knows about passivity — yes, he also knows how to
remain still, fully awake and attentive, and give himself up to me as a cello gives
itself up to a bow. Arching his back, he surrenders his face, shoulders, back
and buttocks, waiting for me to play them, and I do — I play them, play with
them. Most men are afraid to let go like this — whereas with a little finesse
the wonders of passivity can be tasted in even the most violent throes of
In a delirium of restrained desire, I
weigh, stroke and lick Kamal’s balls, then take his penis in my hands, between
my breasts, into my mouth. He sits up, reaches for me and I allow him to
explore me in turn. He runs his tongue and lips over my breasts, the back of my
neck, my toes, my stomach, the countless treasures between my legs, oh the
sheer ecstasy of lips and tongues on genitals, either simultaneously or in
alternation, never will I tire of that silvery fluidity, my sex swimming in joy
like a fish in water, my self freed of both self and other, the quivering
sensation, the carnal pink palpitation that detaches you from all colour and
all flesh, making you see only stars, constellations, milky ways, propelling
you bodiless and soulless into undulating space where the undulating skies make
your non-body undulate …
And orgasm — the way a man’s face is
transformed by orgasm — oh it’s not true they all look alike, you have to be
either miserable and broke or furiously blasé and sarcastic to say they all
look alike — to me, every climax is unique.
My body hurt just reading some of that, especially the bit
about arching his back and surrendering his face, shoulders, back and buttocks.
I pictured a man having a seizure. “Violent throes of love-making” should
not lead to unintentional pain, right? Then there were the horrid similes and
all the undulations.
Why don’t these people ever suffer from injuries from their
passionate rolls in the hay? The most common injuries from sex play are most
likely vaginal tearing or breaking, back injury, penis breakage, yeast
infections, urinary tract infections, and foreign objects stuck where they
don’t belong. Richard Gere isn’t an internet meme for nothing, you know. Why
don’t lovers ever get carpet burn? Why don’t BDSM aficionados ever get chafed
wrists or ankles or sore joints from having their arms and legs pulled to the
limits the human body can tolerate? No, lovers are “transfixed” or
“propelled into undulating space”. No one ever needs Vix Vapo Rub
after an afternoon of hot, steaming fucking.
I speak from experience when I mention penis breakage. When
my husband and I were younger and much more stupid, we got into a hot bout of
sex play and… I broke his dick. I’ve never heard of this happening, but it’s
apparently much more common than you’d think. It was even covered on the
American TV medical drama Grey’s Anatomy.
Dr. Mark Sloan got into some heated passion with intern Lexie Grey resulting in
painful and embarrassing injury. The staff didn’t know the identity of the
“lucky” lady who did it so there was much guesswork going on.
When it happened to my husband, he heard a very loud snap, and then the pain began.
Thankfully, it didn’t require surgery. There was nothing to do but let it heal
itself. All was fine and good until it happened again a few years later. He
told a friend of his at his old job about it. That guy always gave me the
biggest smile whenever I saw him. I think he was jealous we were so into it,
although all of us could have done without the pain.
On a lighter note, I recall reading an excerpt from an
erotic romantic comedy that described a woman’s queef. It was meant to be
funny, but I just cringed. A queef is a pussy fart, in case you haven’t looked
at the Urban Dictionary lately.
Such sexual accidents, while realistic, don’t make for much
romance although in some cases a little realism would go a long way to make the
sex more believable. How about pink skin from the leather cuffs or an
average-sized penis? Why are so many alpha males built like an Angus bull? Yes, I know it’s about escapism, but still… What do
Happy Birthday to me! Well ERWA birthday at least!
As of today I’ve been writing for ERWA for a whole year. Where has the time
gone? So much has happened in a year, and yet it seems like only yesterday I
wrote my first post about inspiration and mythology. Traditionally birthdays
are a time to celebrate, let your hair down, wreak a little havoc and raise a
little hell. Oh wait a minute … That’s writing I’m talking about, not birthdays.
Writing, plot, story — there’s no place better to raise a little hell, and we
writers know it’s the perfect place to let our hair down vicariously.
In my opinion, there are few things a writer can do
to a story that will kick-start it quite as much as creating a little chaos. A
calm and happy life in the real world might be just the ticket, but in story,
there’s one word for it – BORING! A story is all about upsetting the apple
cart, breaking the eggs, turning the bull loose in the china cupboard and —
heart racing, palms sweating – seeing what happens, while we’re safely
ensconced on the other side of the keyboard/Kindle/book. Oh yes we do love that adrenaline rush — at
someone else’s expense!
One of the best tools for dropping the character
smack-dab into the middle of the chaos –
and the reader vicariously – is sex. And the more inconvenient, the more
inappropriate, the more confusing, the more SO not what the character was
expecting, the more delicious the chaos will be.
The thing about those big brains that I spoke of a
few posts back is that they like to make us think we can control all the
variables. The thing about the biological housing for those big brains is that
it doesn’t always want to be controlled. Oh and that big brain, well that means
there’s all sorts of stuff going on up there that can lead us down the
havoc-wreaking road to sex and chaos. It wants what it wants. And the ole grey
matter can be so damned stubborn at times. Oooh! I get goose bumps just
thinking about what happens when the big brain gets a hankering and the
biological soup starts overheating and sex happens.
If we look at Western history from the point of view
of religion and its effects on culture, there are few things the religious
powers that be have made more of an effort to control than sex. And in story,
in myth, there are few things that have caused more chaos than a little rough
and tumble in the wrong place at the wrong time. Troy lost war and was
destroyed over it, King Arthur’s realm fell because of it, David had
Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed because of it.
The resulting chaos that sex unleashes in a story
can be nothing more than to create self-doubt in a cock-sure character, which
is always a delight to see. Or the resulting chaos can be world-destroying, and
anything in between. Sex can cause the kind of chaos that will make the reader
laugh, or the kind of chaos that will make the reader say, ‘if only they hadn’t
done that.’ However, the one thing sex
should never do in a story is leave things the way they were before it
happened. Can it be used for bonding? Of course! But the tighter the bond, the
more chaos can be caused if that bond is tested or broken. I shiver with
delight at the thought.
And because our big brains don’t give a damn if our
sexual thoughts and fantasies are ‘socially acceptable,’ nor is it
discriminating about who we might have those thoughts and fantasies about, the
resulting internal chaos can be almost as delicious as the external – maybe
even more so. That lovely mix of guilt and desire and self-loathing and arousal
and denial and shear over-heated lust. OMG! It’s a total writer’s paradise
there for the taking.
I’m sure I’m like most writers in that I analyse
what I read for pleasure in terms of what worked and what didn’t, what I would
have done if I’d written it, and what I’ve learned from the author’s writing
skills that can be used to make my own writing better. I have to say one of the
biggies for me is how well the author uses chaos to move the story forward at a
good pace; and especially how effectively sex is used to create chaos. I’m sure I pay a lot more attention to how
sex is used in a story (or not) now that I write erotica, but it’s the
resulting chaos that fascinates me and keeps me reading in almost any kind of novel.
The world is not a static place, and especially the world of story should not
be static. Happy endings are called happy endings because they are at the end.
They follow the chaos and happen when the story is finished. There is no more
story, or at least none the reader wants to follow. It’s the chaos that pulls
us in and keeps us turning the pages, and when that chaos is directly tied to
sex, hold on to your hat!
I was really stuck for a topic this month. I tweeted the question ‘what is hard about writing’ and got back an overwhelming number of really good answers and many of them were familiar: finding time, finding inspiration, the grind of editing, having a story stall out on you, uncooperative characters, not believing in yourself as a writer or trusting your voice … you know them all. I could and probably should have written on one of those, but instead, I thought I’d write about the one thing no one expects me to write about.
People don’t think I write about love. They think I write about sex. I write erotic fiction, not erotic romance, so people assume I don’t think love is important or worth writing about. They often assume I’m a cynic about it. But the truth is, there’s love in almost all my stories. It’s not explicit, and it’s not always sane, or permanent, or perhaps it’s not a kind of love you recognize, but I believe it’s love all the same.
The media has perpetuated a very idealised, standardised model of love. The lovers look into each other’s eyes and they know – they KNOW – this is love, this is real, this is forever. Cue the violins. And post-modernity hasn’t done a fucking thing to advance it. It’s just commoditized it. We may be all for same-sex marriage now, but we want their love to look just like that love too. Eternal, monogamous, spiritual, the foundation of a family unit. Heck, even Sookie Stackhouse can’t fall in love with the next vamp until she’s fallen out of love with the last one. And the most meaningful, best sex is the sex you have with the person you love.
We want to believe that love is universal, but I’m here to challenge you on that. I think the thing we call love is a cultural construction. I’m not going to go all biological on your ass and talk about love as an evolutionary strategy. Mostly because the jury is a long way out on that one. Nor am I going to say that we are imagining the feeling we identify as love, although I don’t think it matters whether we are imagining it or not. It has massive real-world consequences all the same.
I’m saying that there is most certainly a phenomenon that humans experience that destabilizes us as hermetically sealed individuals. We allow another in so deep that it breaks the seal on our individuality. They bleed into us, and if it’s reciprocated, we bleed into them. We stop being ‘alone’ in the the big sense of the world.
It is the culture we are born into that uses models and language to help us order that experience in our brains. Although love occurs in all cultures, how we identify it – the rules we expect it to obey – bear the marks of how our societies seek to order themselves.
Let me give you an example. I know this 24-year-old Vietnamese woman named Tuyet. She was born down in the Mekong Delta in a tiny little village. Grew up dirt poor. Her mother died of cervical cancer because the family had no money to treat it. She came to the city bone thin – not starving, because no one starves here, but rake thin from a poor diet – looking for a job to support herself and send money home to her family.
It’s a very common story in developing countries. She found a day job, but she became a part-time sex worker because the money was much better than anything she could earn with her lack of education or qualifications. In the course of her work, she met a 68-year-old American named Burt. Divorced, overweight, balding, bit of an alcoholic, not a prince by any means. And they marry. He gets all the sex he’s ever dreamed of and she gets the kind of financial security she’s never even dreamed of. She says she loves him. He says he loves her.
To Western eyes, there are nasty words for this sort of a relationship. In the West, loving someone for giving you sex is not love. In the West, loving someone for giving you economic security isn’t love. But to people in developing countries, you DO love someone who is willing to take care of you, and keep you safe, and pay your medical bills, and has the wherewithal to feed your family.
I’ve lived in foreign cultures long enough not to judge. They are giving each other what they need. They have allowed themselves to be vulnerable and dependent on each other for things that each of them find very important. If they call it love, then… it’s love.
One of my co-workers is Indian. He’s from New Delhi. His marriage was arranged. He met his wife once before they got married. Both their families each believed that they were two kind, decent people and they would make a good match. Both he and his wife believed that their families had their best interests at heart. They’ve been married seven years now, and have a little boy. The wife, Medha told me that she fell in love with him about 6 months into the marriage, after she was already pregnant with their child.
These are models of love we don’t understand because our understanding of love is culturally proscribed.
I have fallen in love a number of times, and out of love fewer. There are people I loved who I continue to love, even though I’m not with them anymore. Even though I was only with them a short time. And I have never ever loved two people in the same way. There isn’t one kind of love. There is a love for every love you fall into. There are people I fell in love with fast, and out of it fast. But in the moment, it was love. Our belief that only long-lived emotion is love is also culturally proscribed.
It’s incredibly ironic that we all agree that love hurts, but we taught to yearn for a love that doesn’t hurt. In Western concepts of romantic love, it only hurts in the short term, but in the long term, it turns into a kind of endless warm jello bath.
Another interesting Western belief is that love needs to be reciprocated. If it isn’t, it’s not love. It’s pathological obsession. It’s sick and unhealthy. We also believe that love needs to be physically consummated. If it isn’t, at some point, then it’s tragic and pathetic. But that’s only because it falls outside our cultural construction of how we’ve defined romantic love.
I’m not saying that because you adhere to your cultural understanding of love you’re wrong. I just want you to consider that it is a construction. It’s not the TRUTH, it’s a truth. It’s the truth of love in your culture. You can chose to insist upon it, but you can also reject it, and decide on another definition. A personal one.
I guess that’s the point of my post. I want to encourage you to consider that the definition of what love is isn’t static or etched in stone. And perhaps write about alternate versions of it.