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writing advice

by Jean Roberta

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of advice on how to write, what to write, and how to promote it. Some of that advice has been contradictory, while some of it might have been brilliantly relevant to current trends, and for particular writers who are not me.

During the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s, I was warned by sister-feminists that “porn” was a male writer’s genre, and that its goal was to reduce live women to objects, or sex toys without wills of their own. There was evidence to support this theory, and “jokes” about the sexual abuse of women have not disappeared from the culture. They probably never will.

However, I discovered that sexually-explicit fiction is as diverse as fiction in general. In fact, since most human beings secretly or openly want sex in some form, it’s hard to imagine a narrative about humans in which sex is absent. In some cases, the sex shows up in a central character’s dreams and fantasies. In nineteenth-century fiction, it often shows up in Latin/legal terms. (“They were caught in flagrante delicto.”) In “literary” fiction, the sex used to appear in euphemisms (“And that night, they were not divided”) and metaphors (“The earth moved”).

Since the sex is already there, I thought, coyly lurking between the lines, why not bring it out into the light so we can see it? If the sex is meant to violate the will of one or more of the participants, an explicit description makes that clear, and readers can respond.

Writing about sex felt thrilling when I first tried it. I knew that most of my relatives, not to mention friends, coworkers and other acquaintances, would probably disapprove and consider me misguided at best, but it was still a big relief to describe things I had actually done as well as things I had only imagined. Okay, I thought, call me a slut if you want, but if you never think about such things, why do you read my stuff?

The Erotic Readers Association (as it was called in 1998, when I joined) was a great source of support. Other members consoled me when I complained on-list that my stories seemed to disappear into the Bermuda Triangle when I sent them off to editors in response to calls-for-submissions. (My first three erotic stories had been “accepted” in the 1980s by a small publisher that mailed me a letter, then immediately went bust.)

I began getting stories published in anthologies, and I thought the thrill would never wear off. It never completely did, but as Lisabet has mentioned, books are more ephemeral now than we bookworms of the Baby Boom generation ever believed in our youth. Having dozens of erotic stories in anthologies has not made me famous on any level, nor has it provided a reliable income. Thousands of books are published each year, and most of them probably won’t be remembered in another generation.

Besides all that, as M. Christian has said somewhere (probably in a blog post), there are only so many ways to describe sex. Characters, situations and plots can be different in every story, but body parts are limited, and what can be done with them fits into a few categories. I grew tired of repeating myself, and I hesitate to go far beyond my own experience in describing elaborate scenes that might be physically impossible. (And on that note, unclear sentence construction can suggest that a character has three arms, three breasts, or three balls, or that two characters can grope each other from across a room. The logistics of a sex scene have to be carefully managed.)

My age has probably played a role in my desire to write about something other than sex. I doubt if I will ever completely turn off like a burned-out lightbulb, but I no longer feel as if I will just die if I don’t get some. And if I don’t need it desperately, it’s hard to convince myself that my characters do.

In short, I have begun to stray into other genres. According to those who advise writers to discover their “brand” and stick to it, this is a problem. If I have a brand at all, it is clearly erotic fiction.

During the past two years, I’ve written several stories that are not sexually explicit, and most are still unpublished. My story for an anthology that is meant to tweak the imaginary world of a famous horror writer was tentatively accepted, but I haven’t been offered a contract, and this project seems to have no clear completion date. I wrote a queer mystery story for a Sherlock Holmes-flavoured anthology, and I haven’t had a response yet. (In fairness to the editor, he probably hasn’t had time to make decisions yet.) I sent a fantasy story to an editor who said explicitly in the call-for-submissions that the anthology was not meant to include erotica. This editor sent me a flattering rejection (“This was an enjoyable read, but it’s not quite right for this collection”), so I sent the story to a speculative-fiction magazine that rejected it.

I feel as if I have started over. If I continue to write fiction without sex scenes, I will continue to send it to editors and venues that probably don’t recognize my name. The competition might be even more intense than it is in the erotic fiction market, though this is debatable.

I am grateful that the “Writers’ Block” I thought I had when I was responsible for a child and for too much unpaid work, while scrounging for a living, seems to be permanently gone. As Virginia Woolf put it so well, a woman writer needs a room of her own, and I now have several. And while I’m on sabbatical, I’m not distracted by the day job.

What I didn’t expect, and what writing coaches never seem to acknowledge, is that the Muse changes over time. For that matter, individual identity changes over time. As long as that is the case, I’m not sure how more “successful” writers (in terms of royalties and name recognition) manage to promote their “brand” for a lifetime without burning out. That seems to be one fate that ever-changing writers don’t need to fear.
————–

It’s good to be busy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica,
erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her
husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web
site
, her Facebook page, and her Amazon
Author Page
.

—–

This post is another
article about my time at The Muse
And The Marketplace
writers conference held in Boston in the spring of 2015. The
last time, I talked about writing query letters. This time, I’d like to talk
about pitching non-fiction work to magazines and web sites.

Although it’s been a
few years, I have written for non-fiction publications, including magazines and
web sites such as On The Issues, SexIs, Good Vibrations Magazine, and Alternet.
I’ve written about feminist, sexuality, and relationship issues. I’ve always
found that non-fiction magazine and article writing paid better than fiction
writing. Most of my earnings came from my non-fiction writing, including blog
posts and other work I had written for the British sex toys company Bondara. I actually started out writing
non-fiction articles for magazines long before I wrote my first fictional
story. I’d like to get back into this someday, and the tips I heard from the
speaker at The Muse And The Marketplace who spoke about writing for magazines
will be a great help.

There are many
different types of articles. There are personal essays, investigative pieces,
op-eds. Choose what you want to write. I’m focusing on personal essays and
investigative pieces since I had written both.

One key to writing
for magazines is to make your article personal. Keep in mind that editors
receive pitches for the same topics, especially if they are newsworthy and
current, and you need to make your pitch unique. An example is to tie in an
anecdote to the non-fiction topic you are writing about. Base it on your
personal experience with the topic at hand. This will personalize your article
and give it warmth so that it doesn’t come across as cold, detached, or rote.
When I wrote about the blow
job and Altoids mints
myth for nuts4chic magazine, which was a British pop
culture ezine, I based part of my article on personal experience. I had done
the Altoids bit with my husband with comical results.

So you’ve chosen
your topic and how you can personalize it. What do you do next? Do your
research. That’s what Google is for. Interview people who are experts in the
field or find articles they’ve written. I had visited Snopes, the urban legend
site, to learn more about the Altoids blow job myth. Snopes didn’t have much
and I didn’t agree with quite a bit of what the site said, per my own
experience. Still, the information was useful.

Now, to pitch your
story. First, research magazines to determine which ones would be a good fit. The
Muse speaker recommended Slate for never-before-published writers. I was
already a staff writer for nuts4chic so my article had a home, but I’ve written
pieces that required a cold pitch. I visited Alternet, Slate, and Salon.
Alternet was the best fit for my article about why men fake orgasms.
When you pitch, don’t be vague by stating, for example, “I want to write
an article about why men fake orgasms”. 
What’s interesting to you about the topic? For me, it was unusual that
it happened at all. Most people think of women faking orgasms for a multitude
of reasons. I found sexuality forums where men freely discussed with me their
reasons for faking the Big O. Those interviews personalized the topic and made
it much more specific. Also, specify research and such that supports your
points. I referred to The ABC News Primetime Live Poll: The American Sex Survey.

It helps if you’ve
written pieces similar to the one you are pitching. You may want to include up
to two examples of your writing on the topic in your pitch, whether published
or unpublished. Or do what I do and give links to previously published articles
so that the editor may read at his or her leisure. Proving links prevents your
pitch letter from being too busy and long.

Be prepared for
rejections. The Muse speaker submitted ten times to New York Magazine before
one of his pitches was accepted. I submitted often to Alternet and saw plenty
of my pitches rejected, but some were also accepted.

Find ideas. Read a
lot on your given topic. Hot current topics in the news always make for great
articles ideas, but remember to make yours unique. You may have a hard time
seeing your pitch accepted since everyone and her sister is writing about the
same topic. Take it from a fresh angle – one that hasn’t been tried before.
Write an unpopular opinion on a given topic. The Muse speaker loved to write
about people he disagreed with.

Don’t sell yourself
short. Look that websites and magazines that pay, preferably those that pay
well. I often received upwards of $200 and more for a 1,000 word article.  The problem with “for the love”
sites is that you get what you pay for. Granted, some writers may be excellent
but you’ll also run into substandard, poorly researched crap. You have a better
chance of being in good company with a reputable magazine or website that pays
well. There is a vetting process in paying markets that you may not find in
non-paying markets. There’s always exceptions to the rule, but remember those
are exceptions.

It’s fun to branch
out from fiction into non-fiction. You can gain an entirely new audience who
will not only follow your non-fiction pieces but they may also buy your books.  Jump into the deep end of writing non-fiction.
The water feels great.

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica,
erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her
husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web
site
, her Facebook page, and her Amazon
Author Page
.

I’m currently searching for an agent for my erotic romance
novel Alex Craig Has A Threesome, and
I have battled with the dreaded query letter. I thought I had done my research,
but after attending the Boston writer’s conference The Muse And The
Marketplace, I discovered I had not written the damned thing correctly. I had
written my introduction, named the book, gave the blurb, the word count, genre,
and then my publishing history and a little information about my prior movie
and TV work.

Turns out I left out an important item – why I am the best
person to write this book. The Muse taught me the proper way to write a query
letter, and thanks to the conference I did get my first request for a partial.
Sadly, that resulted in another rejection, but at least she requested a
partial.

I’m not giving up.

According to book
developer and principle of The Scribe’s Window Cherise Fisher
, who gave the
talk “The Perfect Pitch” at The Muse And The Marketplace, a pitch is
“the transfer of enthusiasm from one person to the next. It’s like a
virus. You infect with your pitch.” Books are meant to entertain, educate,
and inspire/provoke. A pitch is the foundation for your proposal. It’s your
contact with an agent or editor. It’s also about being as clear and concise as
possible to the person you’re pitching to.

Multi-published, Rita Award winning author Shelley
Adina wrote in her article Writing A
Pitch Perfect Query Letter
that there are four parts to a successful
query letter:

The intro

The story (i.e., the back-cover blurb

Your credentials

Call to action

My mistake was leaving out my backstory – why a have a passion
for this particular story. I left out my call to action. I needed to
personalize my pitch. The perfect book is the book only you can write. This
includes your life experiences and your perspective, Reveal what is behind you
for writing this book. Why are you so driven to do it? What’s the story, and
why is it yours to tell?

This article will discuss those four parts of a successful
query letter so that when you write yours, it will be more likely to attract
the attention of an agent if you are searching for one. Your goal, of course,
is representation. Not everyone is on the look-out for an agent, but this
article about writing queries should be helpful to anyone.

The Intro – This
is where you introduce yourself to the agent and any ties you may have. If
you’ve met the agent at a conference, listened to a lecture, or attended a
workshop, this is the time to mention it. 
Familiarize yourself with the agent. If the agent has a blog, read it.
Read any articles or interviews the agent is involved in. If you’re a fan of
the books and authors the agent represents, tell them.

Make sure you write your query in your natural voice since
you want to be approachable. Adina was right when she said, “Your voice is
your brand, so your business letter should reflect it.”

Also make sure you’ve spelled the agent’s name and the
agency’s name correctly. You don’t want to get off to a bad start with a
misspelling.  Your intro should show
you’ve done your homework, you’re familiar with the agent, and your letter
isn’t boilerplate.

The Story
Condense your novel into a concise and attention-getting paragraph or two. No
more than that. This takes some work. Focus on the characters, what drives
them, any archetypes you’re using, the conflict, and what gets the ball rolling
for the characters in the first place. Do not skimp on your condensed story.
This is the meat of your query letter. Your story has to grab the agent’s
attention immediately. Don’t waste words and use words wisely.

Your Credentials
– This is where you talk about why you are the best person to write your story.
You also list any previously published works or awards you’ve received. If
you’ve written a book that showcases the beauty of New England and the Atlantic
Ocean and you’ve lived on the Massachusetts coast for twenty years, mention
that. Is your heroine an art lover and you majored in Fine Arts? Is your hero a
stage lighting technician and you’ve worked as a union gaffer for several
years? All three of these examples are true for me regarding two of my
unpublished novels, my thriller Secrets
and Lies
(which may have found a publisher) and my erotic romance work in
progress Full Moon Fever.

Now, what if you’re a mom teaching part-time at an
elementary school, but your book is about a sleazy but sexy successful con
artist in love with his mark? Let’s assume you’ve done your homework for this
book and you are a romance fan. Mention that you consume romance novels the way
normal people eat meals, for instance. It’s definitely worth a mention if you’ve
done research on famous con artists and their techniques. Has your manuscript
won any contests? That’s a must-mention. Are you a member of RWA or Broad
Universe? Definitely mention both.

A Call To Action
– Your closing should be inviting and it should offer a call to action. Why do
you think your novel is a good fit for this agent and publisher? What is the
goal of your book? To entertain? To teach? What is the goal of your main
characters? Close your query with ease.

If you want to see examples of successful query letters,
check out Writer’s
Digest’s Successful Queries page
. Not only does the page include scads of
very good queries, there are explanations from agents following each query as
to why it was a good one. I’ve learned a great deal from reading those
examples. Hopefully, this learning experience will someday (maybe soon) result
in representation.

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.

—–

Several years ago, I
made the huge mistake of applying for a writing job from an online site that
required a few “sample articles” as examples of my work. I was to
post them on the web site’s forum, and get as many views as I could. I wasn’t
about to write anything new, so I posted my old stand-by article about the time
I tested the Altoids
mints blow job
on my husband. That post alone got more views than anything
else that was posted, and lots of people posted. I posted at least one other
previously published article, which also got an amazing number of views – more
than anyone else. I was confident that I had jumped through all the hoops and
was on my way to paid employment.

I didn’t get the
job.

I didn’t realize
until later that the web site was farming for free content. I did all the
legwork proving the time and product as well as promoting my posts, and the site
didn’t have to do a damned thing. I learned my lesson. I have never again sent
sample articles to any writing job application that required them. That said, I
understand reputable companies need to see examples of my writing to determine
if I’m a good fit. I realize that. Instead of creating new content, I send
links to existing articles so the company may see what I have already
published. Sometimes I get a response, but I usually don’t hear back from those
companies. Now, I don’t bother to send anything to companies asking for sample
articles unless I can provide links. Burned once, shame on you. Burned twice,
shame on me.

Why are writers so
often asked to work for free? Or for “exposure”? Promising a vague
form of exposure is another way of getting free content. There are some things
I do as a means of promotion for which I am not paid. Writing on this blog is
one of them. I gain an audience writing here, and it keeps my name out there in
between books. I’ve written stories for charity anthologies because I like
contributing to a good cause. However, I will not simply give someone a free
story or article just because. No more content farming scams. No more free
writing for web sites that make scads of money from advertising and
subscriptions.

Designer Dan
Cassaro
ran into a similar “opportunity” when he was invited by
Showtime – a company clearly needing to rub dimes together to pay for paper
clips – to join a design “contest” he felt was really only a way of
fishing for free content. The contest involved promoting the Floyd
Mayweather-Marcos Maidana boxing match. Those who submitted designs for
Showtime’s use could – to quote the message Cassaro had received from Showtime
– “be eligible for a chance to win a trip to Las Vegas and have your
artwork displayed in the MGM Grand during fight week!” He let Showtime and
everyone else within earshot know exactly what he thought about it, dripping
with sarcasm:

“It is with great sadness that I must
decline your enticing offer to work for you for free. I know that boxing
matches in Las Vegas as extremely low-budget affairs, especially ones with
nobodies like Floyd “Money” Mayweather. I heard he only pulled in 80
Million for this last fight! I also understand that a “mom and pop”
cable channel like Showtime must rely on handouts just to keep the lights on
these days. Thanks a lot, Obama! My only hope is that you can scrape up a few
dollars from this grassroots event at the MGM Grand to put yourself back in the
black. If that happens, you might consider using some of that money to
compensate people to do the thing they are professionally trained to do.”

Why are writers (and
artists in general) so often expected to work for free – or for
“exposure”, as the request is often sugar-coated? Would you expect
your dentist to give you a root canal for free? Do you pay the housecleaner?
The car mechanic? Do your plumber and electrician walk away without monetary
compensation once they do the job you’ve begged them to do because they are
professionals and you are not trained to do the work they do? So why expect a
writer to write for free?

Science fiction
writer Harlan Ellison had plenty to say about those who expect writers to
provide free content. A
DVD company asked him if he’d let them use a very long and very interesting
on-camera interview about the making of “Babylon Five”. He said,
sure, pay me. The woman who called was flabbergasted, as if she expected him to
just fork over his hard work for free – even though she received a
paycheck. Here’s a portion of what he had to say about it.

“Does
your boss get a paycheck? Do you pay the Telecity guy? Do you pay the
cameraman? Do you pay the cutters? Do you pay the Teamsters when they schlep
your stuff on the trucks? Then how—don’t you pay—would you go to a gas station
and ask me to give you free gas? Would you go to the doctor and have him take
out your spleen for nothing? How
dare you call me and want me to work for nothing!”

If you want to read his entire rant – and it’s
worth reading – check out “Harlan
Ellison On Getting Paid” at Print Magazine
. There is also a link at
that page to a video of his rant. It’s from the film “Dreams With Sharp
Teeth”.

Ellison is not alone. This “we won’t pay
you” schtick is something lots of writers and other artists hear. Last
year, hula hoop performer Revolva
was contacted by Harpo, Oprah Winfrey’s company, to perform at Oprah’s “Live
The Life You Want” event
stop in San Jose, California. Revolva was
thrilled –  until she realized Harpo had
no intention of compensating her for hours, effort, or travel. In fact, Harpo
intended to not pay any of the creative workers it contacted, despite the fact
that tickets
to this event cost anywhere from $99 to $999
just to get in the door. The
events producers claimed they didn’t have the budget to pay performers. Yes,
that’s right. A billionaire’s tour didn’t have the budget to pay
performers. If Revolva and the other artists wanted To Live The Life They Want,
they could have it – without being paid for it. She chose to not perform. She,
like Ellison, had plenty to say about being not only asked but expected
to work for free:

“Back
to that spiritual lesson you had in store for me, Oprah. Maybe it’s because my
car broke down, and I’m struggling. Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing this for
12 years, and after all the requests for free or discount work, the one by a
billionaire’s tour was the straw that broke my back. But I thought it through,
and achieving “the life you want” is not always easy. The risks we have to
take, to transform this culture into something more nurturing, involve looking
at the way things are and saying, ‘Hey, wait. That’s not cool!'”

It’s ironic that
this tour of Oprah’s was about realizing your self-worth. Apparently, you’re
worth a great deal – as long as you don’t expect to be compensated in cold hard
cash.

Stories like these
strike a nerve with artists, including writers. They grate my teeth. All of us
get these messages, and they really harsh our cool. It’s almost as if those
doing the asking think artists create the works they create only out of
“love” or an internal drive and have no interest or understanding of
how money works. Granted, some writers do write for the love of it, but not all of them.

As Tom Cruise
said in “Jerry Maguire”, Show
Me The Money!

The corollary to
being expected to work for free is being expected to work for peanuts. We’ve
all seen the calls for submissions on places like Craigslist where a potential
employer requires an assload of work – but will only pay $20.00 for said job. I
just counted three such jobs, including one that called for you to be available on weekends. Nope, nope, nope. The
other way of parting writers from their money are Get Rich Quick schemes – something
like “7 Easy Steps To Getting Paid As A Writer”. Write a book telling
people how to make money writing a book and watch the cash pour in. I’ve seen
these ads on Facebook, and the comments are always some form of “f—
off!”

There is an old
adage in creative work like writing – aim high and work your way down. Aim
first for the pro rates. Aim for the big publishers. Aim for the best agents.
Don’t start at the bottom and work your way up because you don’t think you have
enough experience or talent. Don’t downgrade yourself. Don’t settle and demean
yourself by doing a shitload of work for a paycheck that barely covers a Big
Mac, fries, and a Coke.

The sad thing is there
are plenty of writers and other artists who will eagerly take up these offers.
They tend to be newbies who are so green they don’t know any better. They may
not feel they have a right to ask for money. Or they fall for the
“exposure” line. They see stars when Oprah or Showtime contacts them,
and they happily give over free content only to inevitably get little to
nothing out of it, or at the very least not be compensated in a way that the
very wealthy company can easily afford. As long as these people exist, the free
content farms will continue to thrive. Don’t ask to be paid what you’re worth.
Demand it. You have that right.

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
.

—–

I read a Facebook
post recently in which the person talked about Post-Partum Depression that
results when you finish a project such as a story or painting. You’ve given
birth to something you’ve created, and in the aftermath you feel down – PPD. He
wrote that it’s a feeling of emptiness. You don’t know what to do. You don’t
want to watch TV. You don’t want to start something new. All you feel is bored,
restless, and even a little depressed.

Has it ever happened
to you?

I recently went
through a case of PPD when I recently finished writing “Full Moon
Fever”, my (so far) unpublished m/m werewolf erotic romance novel. At
first, I was elated. I always celebrate finishing a project and getting an
acceptance. My husband and I cracked open a bottle of champagne and made
toasts. Granted, I drink champagne all the time, but this called for a new
bottle. Delirious with glee, I spent the rest of the day getting tipsy and
watching bad movies on TV.

About a day later,
the depression hit. It was as if I had come down off a great high. Crashing
describes it quite well. I missed my characters. I longed for the joy of seeing
what kind of mischief they would get into. There were plenty of things for me
to do, including writing a sequel but I felt so spent I couldn’t work on
anything, including my other works in progress.

I had to do something. Anything. This downer had
to go.

After I wallowed in
my misery for a day or two, I made a conscious decision to pull out of it. This
kind of depression isn’t like clinical depression in that I was able to pull myself out of it by
distracting myself. What worked for me may not work for you, but here’s what I
did. First of all, I got away from the computer. For several days, I took a
break from writing. I watched movies and my favorite TV shows. The kitchen got
a workout because I baked. If it’s sickeningly sweet, I’ll bake it. This is the
time I buy new plants for my container garden. If weather permits, I go for
walks on the beach. I finished “Full Moon Fever” in the dead of
winter so beach walks were out but scenic drives weren’t.

For me, the key was
getting out of my head. I needed time to recharge.

Everyone is
different. Responses varied to that Facebook post. Some people didn’t go
through PPD – they celebrated. Others always had new projects in the works so
they were working on something all the time. I’ve done that one myself, but not
always. Some edit or sleep more. Others get out into the fresh air.

Do you suffer from
Post-Partum Literary Depression? What do you do to alleviate it?

by Donna George Storey

Write what you want to write instead of what you think you’re supposed to write.

That’s what I’m hoping to do, as I discussed in my last column here at ERWA, but I know there’s no quick and easy way to make the big switch. It takes time to discard old habits, to trust inner voices, to take risks. As part of this process, I’ve been thinking back to the messages I’ve gotten over the years about “good” writing from teachers, how-to books, famous writers, literary critics. Or in other words, the specifics of my supposed-to’s.

Back when I first started writing seriously, about sixteen years ago now, I was talking with a friend who had signed up for a pricey writing workshop with the former editor of a national magazine that published fiction. She mentioned that this teacher’s highest praise for a student’s story was “this is writing that will last.” And indeed, he urged all of his students to aim to write “something that will last.”

At the time, I took this as simple wisdom from an expert. After all, wasn’t that the dream of every writer—to be so amazingly talented that we attain immortality like Shakespeare? That guy lived four hundred years ago and everyone still knows his name! Of course, as I became more familiar with what the writer’s life really involves in our commercial age, I realized that “lasting” means your book is reprinted many times or that it’s taught in high school or college classrooms year after year. Unfortunately, authors who achieve either of these goals are rare, and in the latter case, most are already dead. Gradually my goals became more modest. I was satisfied—in the best way–if someone told me that my story lingered for a day or so after s/he read it. Perhaps I would never be immortal, but whenever a reader confessed that s/he read a particular story of mine many times for erotic inspiration, I knew I’d made a true connection, the highest praise an erotica writer can hope to hear.

Yet I still believed that there were “important new voices” up there in Literary Land, penning gorgeous and unforgettable literary prose that would earn them a throne next to The Bard for all eternity. I didn’t really question this (I’m now somewhat embarrassed to admit) until very recently when I happened to read a book by Leslie Fiedler, a renegade English professor who both entertained and scandalized academia in the latter half of the twentieth century by embracing popular literature as worthy of analysis. (He is also credited with coining the term “postmodernism” among other things). I originally sought out his book What Was Literature? for an essay on Rhett Butler as a symbolic Black Stranger in Gone With the Wind, but I ended up reading the whole book with great enjoyment. 

I was hooked at Fiedler’s opening redefinition of the classic distinction between literary (high) and popular (low) fiction. He wrote that literary fiction could in fact be seen as “minority” literature, read by few and penned by tormented, introverted male artistes to stimulate the intellect, whereas popular literature was “majority” literature, mainly scribbled by female hacks to drug us with cheap sensationalism. More amusing was his description of popular fiction as “optional,” whereas, for most readers, literary fiction was “compulsory,” as in school assignments that needed professional explication to be understood fully.

But what really struck a chord with me was Fiedler’s insistence that “writing that lasts” is not about the quality of the prose. It is what he calls the mythopoeic power of the story, with characters that live on in our minds long after the beautiful metaphors (if any) are forgotten. This got me thinking about which stories have indeed lasted over time, stories our culture returns to again and again in modern riffs and movie remakes. My Anglo-centric list would include the Bible, some of Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth), Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, A Christmas Carol, Huckleberry Finn, Dracula, The Great Gatsby, and Gone with the Wind. Harry Potter, Twilight, and Fifty Shades of Grey certainly define contemporary popular tastes, but I’d need to reconsider their lasting impact in about 30 years. By this measure, all the towering literary figures of my youth—Hemingway, Faulkner, Bellow, Updike, Roth—are still reasonably famous as names, but rarely read except in class or by a small minority of literati with historical inclinations.

I know my particular list is open to argument—maybe you’d delete Macbeth and Huck Finn and add King Lear and To Kill a Mockingbird–but the specific examples are less important than the redefinition of “writing that lasts.” Because I now see it’s not about the world’s admiration for a writer’s brilliant prose, fresh metaphors, and carefully structured chapter breaks—although many of these works are beautifully written and a pleasure to read because of it. The immortality belongs to the story for its power to connect deeply with readers across cultures and time.

As a writer myself, I was also very interested to learn that Harriet Beecher Stowe was inspired to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin when she had a vision during a church service of an aged black slave being beaten to death by a cruel master. The image rose up in her mind, demanding a novel to be written around it. I also remembered that Charles Dickens was planning to write a political pamphlet about poverty and injustice in the fall of 1843. However, inspired by the rousing response to a speech he gave to a workingman’s club in Manchester, he walked the dark streets of the city, possessed by images of a redeemed miser. In a few short weeks of feverish work, he wrote one of the most retold stories ever, A Christmas Carol.

So what does this mean for a writer who seeks to create works that linger if not last forever? For me it means taking one more step away from writing as ego gratification, as proof of my worthiness or cleverness–because really, let’s face it, no one cares if I can turn a phrase or not. It also means taking one step closer to stories that move me, that draw me in to their magic, that beg to be told through me.

Which stories beg to be told through you?

Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman (recently released as an ebook) and a new collection of short
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

By Donna George Storey

I haven’t written a new story in almost six months. Not that I haven’t had a few fallow periods since I first started writing fiction seriously sixteen years ago, but the break in the flow this time around has inspired me to listen to an inner voice that is usually drowned out by the word-rush of my latest story project.

Who am I writing for?

(Yes, I know, it should be “For whom am I writing?” but my inner voice is not particularly interested in proper grammar!)

“For my audience, the bigger the better”—that’s the first simple answer that comes to mind. Or “for myself,” which feels fleetingly self-empowering and bravely feminist, but doesn’t ring totally true. To be honest, although no work I’ve ever done has felt so personally expressive and revealing as fiction writing, from the beginning the driving force has been my desire for validation through publication. While an audience is implied, the images of success that come to mind are acceptance letters, contracts, books or journals to hold in my hands. Oddly no readers are in sight.

I publish, therefore I am a writer. That was my creed. Always an eager student, I immersed myself in how-to-get-published books of all kinds, scribbling notes on how to write a cover letter, how to hook an editor, sure-fire techniques of the selling writer (throw a lovable character into trouble, then deeper trouble to keep the pages turning). I’m not sure if any of this advice actually affected the stories I wrote, but it did reinforce my sense that ultimately I wrote to please an editor and, stretching endlessly beyond her, a faultlessly wise literary establishment.

Over the years, I eventually did get published—with over 160 credits to my name right now. Damn, even my cruelly judgmental inner voice has to admit that’s some form of validation. Yet, what inspired me to write before now seems a barrier. Perhaps it’s because I know too well what publication, after the first rush of pleasure and pride, means. Promoting your work is an endless, soul-draining task. Nor do the writing experts allow for resting on your laurels. Everyone knows a truly successful writer must produce a constant stream of novels to establish her brand and a deep backlist for new fans to explore. At this level, success is, of course, married to profit rather than a mere byline. But in order to make cartloads of cash in the gold rush of self-publishing, you must above all be savvy about what sells.

Trapped as I am in an attitude that has apparently given me what I wanted, when I think about writing another novel, I feel bored rather than inspired. Experience (or rather, feedback from editors over the years) tells me every chapter has to have a sex scene. The story or vocabulary can’t be too complex. My book has to fit into a well-oiled slot in the store (none of this genre-busting nonsense) and it has to be excitingly fresh, yet reassuringly the same as every other best-selling erotic novel out there. This is what “they” want from me. I ignore their desires at my peril.

But at long last, what I’d like to call the “real” writer inside me is saying enough. Enough of reading the market and second-guessing editors and thinking these skills are enough to satisfy my heart, mind and spirit. Write what fascinates you, she tells me. Write sex scenes only where they belong in the story and only at the level of explicitness that feels right, because sometimes suggestion is far sexier than a blow-by-blow. Write only for yourself at least once in your life. At the very least, the experience will teach you lessons you will never learn if you’re always looking to others for your reward.

It all sounds pretty sweet right now.

I can’t guarantee myself I’ll have the courage to do this, but after months of indifference, I’m finally getting excited about writing again.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman (recently released as an ebook) and a new collection of short
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

“I’m beautiful, I’m literary, please don’t hurt me.”

It was William Faulkner who said it. The venerable Samuel Johnson said something very similar. It really refers to lines or phrases, but can sometimes involve whole scenes.  Received wisdom is that, if you come across a line or a phrase that makes you puff up your chest at your own literary or poetic brilliance, many accomplished writers and editors believe it probably needs to die.

First, I want to own up to the fact that I have not always followed this piece of writerly advice and I still don’t. But I think I’ve come to understand the rationale behind it a little better, and I have killed my fair share of darlings more recently, and shifted others.

I’m concerned with the ‘literariness’ of my writing.  I care a great deal about the poetics of my work. I spend time frantically trying to avoid the many cliches to which it is so easy to resort when writing erotica. When I write sex scenes, I obsess about approaching them from at least a slightly fresher angle than most of the erotica I’ve read. I don’t believe my reader needs to be given a blow-by-blow description of intercourse, and I have a deep faith that language itself can evoke eroticism, and that you can brew metaphors that become new sites of eroticism for your reader.

But pride comes before the fall. I’m going to sound utterly arrogant when I say that I have forged erotic imagery that felt like it shone on the page, that made me think, ‘wow, you’re a fucking good writer’. The problem is that a lot of readers thought so too.

How can that be bad?

Well, it can. Because the moment you’ve forced a reader to look away from the story and think, ‘fuck, what a brilliant writer I’m reading, how poetic, how eloquent!’ is the moment you just kicked them out of the story. You’ve just interfered with your reader’s engagement with the fictional world in order to show off.   It’s literary narcissism and it means you’re more concerned with literary bukkake than telling a good story.

Let me give you a brilliant example of a darling that sorely required execution. It’s from Rowan Sommerville’s “The Shape of Her.”

“He grasped the side of her hips, pushed her away and pulled her to him with a slap. Again and again with more force and velocity. Tine pressed her face deeper into the cushion grunting into the foam at each thrust.

The wet friction of her, tight around him, the sight of her open, stretched around him, the cleft of her body, it tore a climax out of him with a final lunge. Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her.”

After being awarded the Bad Sex Award for this passage, Sommerville defended himself by saying it was a literary allusion, an homage to Vladimir Nabokov, who had been an avid amateur butterfly collector.

At this point, I hope you’re saying ‘who gives a fuck about your literary allusions?’ because you have every right to. Readers deserve better than literary in-jokes and canonical masturbation. The last line is both literary and fucking awful.  If you were anywhere near being aroused by the passage, that line killed your mind erection stone dead, unless you happen to be one of the very few entomology fetishists out there.

Admittedly, I’ve never written anything quite so eloquent or out of place as that. But I once described an orgasm thusly:

“I can feel my orgasm long before it arrives, a plane in the distance and my body the control tower. The landing lights in my belly light up to guide it in. Gary’s cock has grown huge inside me and there’s a pleasant dull pain each time he thrusts upwards.”

Oh, good god, what possessed me? Landing lights? Control tower? What was I thinking? And yet, at the time, I thought it was a wonderful metaphor. It just felt so ‘right’.

Another problematic darling is the encapsulating and eminently quotable line. Rather than kill it, consider shifting it to either the beginning of the story, chapter or scene, or the end of one of those. It probably is a great line but if you impress your reader so deeply with your pithy, perfectly worded brilliance, same deal. You impress the reader with your linguistic abilities, but you interrupt their relationship with the story.

And this is not about you or how brilliant you are; it’s about the story. So, when it comes to your edits, read through your piece and find those lines, phrases or passages which make you want to give yourself a manly, Hemmingway-style pat on the back. Ask yourself who is truly served by that line or phrase. Is it serving the story or  your own writerly ego?

Elizabeth Black lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four cats. She has written erotic fiction for numerous publishers and she is self-published.

—–

I normally stuff my
feelings. Old habit. I don’t like feeling strong emotions because I’m afraid of
losing control, which makes writing all the harder for me. Good writers
regularly open a vein and empty it all over their computer screens. As
Hemingway wrote, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a
typewriter and bleed.”

I’m a very private
person, so opening up so much of myself in my writing takes a lot out of me. I
do write my escapist fantasies like “Trouble In Thigh High Boots”
(erotic Puss In Boots), “Climbing Her Tower” (erotic Rapunzel), and
my work-in-progress “Alex Craig Has A Threesome”. They’re like
setting me loose in a candy store. I get the gimmes and I want it all! However,
I have exposed a little too much of myself in some of my other stories. Two
include my contemporary 1980s novel “Don’t Call Me Baby” and especially
my short dark romance story “Alicia”. Those two are partially based
on personal experience. As I worked on both stories, I felt over-exposed and a
bit embarrassed and even ashamed. However, all of those feelings reflected how
much I opened up in writing both stories, and they made the stories all the
better.

“The best people possess a feeling for
beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the
capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they
are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.” – Ernest Hemingway

How often do you
open up as a writer? You can always afford to open up more. Get inside your
character’s heads, and expose their weaknesses for all they’re worth. In doing
so, you expose yourself. The problem with sitting down at your typewriter and
bleeding is that it makes you vulnerable. How vulnerable are you willing to
make yourself for your art? Sometimes writers use their fiction as a cathartic
way of coping with their own problems or coming to terms with trauma. It isn’t
an accident that writing in a journal is a form of therapy often prescribed by
therapists.

Full disclosure here
– my short dark romance “Alicia” is based on my rape. Twenty years
ago I was raped by my then-husband, and the experience was obviously very
traumatic. He choked me so hard I coughed up blood, and my voice was hoarse for
several days. It took me many years to come to terms with that ordeal, and
writing “Alicia” is one big way I was able to deal with it. The
imagery I used in the story reflected how I coped with it. The entire ordeal
was like being trapped in a horrific dream and I couldn’t wake up. So, in both
telling a good story and dealing with my own abuse, I dove head-first into my
past and tore open some very old scabs. Here is the opening of the story, to
give you an idea of the visceral nature of what happened to me – and to Alicia.

This excerpt from
“Alicia” shows how using vivid description and strong emotions pull
the reader into a story. Just so you know, “Eric” is the pen name of
a dear friend of mine whom I care about deeply. “Carol” is my middle
name. “Alicia” is one of my favorite women’s names. Those three names
have significant meaning for me. I’ve found that choosing character names close
to your heart helps you to get inside their skins – and get inside your own so
you can’t hide from yourself. It’s an interesting exercise – if you are basing
characters on people you know, use their real names. Once the story is
finished, go through the document and change the names to something different
to establish some distance.

Eric stepped out of
the shower and a foul stench—mingled with the crisp peppermint of his
shampoo—smacked him in the face and left a coppery taste in the back of his
throat. His stomach heaved. Confused, he looked around the room to figure out
where the smell came from, but he couldn’t pinpoint it. Dread clung to him,
dark and sticky, ruining his relaxed mood. The light bulbs over the sink
hummed, casting harsh yellow light about the room. He shaded his eyes against
the glare, trying to see.
 Why were those
lights so bright? Something was terribly wrong in his peaceful world, and not
knowing what it was frightened him.
 His wife Alicia
brushed her teeth as if nothing was unusual, while the stink of rot lurked
beneath the cool mint of his shampoo. Why didn’t she notice the smell?
 He leaned towards
her to place his hand on her shoulder, and she turned her face towards his for
a kiss on the cheek. Ugly, purple bruises darkened her eyes. He pulled away,
repulsed and alarmed, not quite sure what he was seeing. One side of her face
had swelled to a dark mask, not unlike a pumpkin that had been left outside in
the damp earth to rot. An angry red welt encircled her throat like a bloody
ribbon wrapped around her neck. Frightened, he reached out one hand but he
couldn’t bring himself to touch her swollen face. Touching her would make the
vision real and it couldn’t be real.
 Alicia spat in the
sink. Two of her teeth bounced against the porcelain. Blood tainted the paste.
 “The girls are
running late again.” Alicia’s bloodied mouth leaked crimson and white
toothpaste. Why did she act as if nothing strange was going on? He gaped at
her, not understanding what was happening. The safety of his home evaporated as
she spoke with her raw, torn mouth. “Make them wolf down their cereal, and
toss them out of the house before they miss the bus.”
 “Alicia, who
did this to you?” Eric asked. She did not answer him. She brushed her
teeth, running the brush over her ragged gums where the teeth had been knocked
out. His stomach heaved again, and he swallowed hard to keep from vomiting. He
wanted to knock out the teeth of whoever had assaulted her, but she acted as if
nothing was wrong. Why?
 The phone rang. Who
would be calling him at this hour? It wasn’t even 7:30 yet. He asked Alicia
again who had done this to her, but she didn’t answer him. She dried her torn
mouth, and then she smeared foundation over her face. To his horror, the
foundation did not cover her bruises. It only made them look uglier and even
more purple.
 Eric walked to the
phone and answered it.
 “Hello?”
 The phone continued
to ring. Eric’s steam-hazy mind knew that that wasn’t supposed to happen.
 “Hello?”
 Eric woke up in bed
to the ringing of the telephone on the dresser next to him. His wife, Carol,
stirred at his side.

When I first wrote
that excerpt and a later excerpt that takes place in a hospital, I wanted to
delete, delete, delete! Too much revealed. In many ways, that’s a good thing.
It had shown I got to Alicia’s soul, and my own. If you want to feel like a
freshly torn scab when you write, make yourself vulnerable. You will likely
feel exhausted and a bit worried you’ve said too much once you finish, but the
end result is worth it.

Here are my blurb
and buy links for “Alicia” if you’re interested in reading the rest
of the story.

Buy Links:

http://tinyurl.com/alicia-amazon

http://mochamemoirspress.com/alicia/

Blurb:

When the love of his
life, Alicia, calls him in the middle of the night to report she had been
raped, Eric drops everything to come to her rescue. She takes him on an eerie
ride through turbulent hours he can’t quite comprehend. Alicia may need his
help, but her situation is not what it seems.

 ABOUT ELIZABETH BLACK

Elizabeth Black
writes erotica, erotic romance, speculative fiction, fantasy, and dark fiction.
She also enjoys writing erotic retellings of classic fairy tales. Born and bred
in Baltimore, she grew up under the influence of Edgar Allan Poe. Her erotic
fiction has been published by Xcite Books (U. K.), Circlet Press, Ravenous
Romance, Scarlet Magazine (U. K.), and other publishers. Her dark fiction has
appeared in “Kizuna: Fiction For Japan”, “Stupefying
Stories”, “Midnight Movie Creature Feature 2”, “Zippered
Flesh 2: More Tales Of Body Enhancements Gone Bad”, and “Mirages:
Tales From Authors Of The Macabre”. An accomplished essayist, she was the
sex columnist for the pop culture e-zine nuts4chic (also U. K.) until it folded
in 2008. Her articles about sex, erotica, and relationships have appeared in
Good Vibrations Magazine, Alternet, CarnalNation, the Ms. Magazine Blog, Sexis
Magazine, On The Issues, Sexy Mama Magazine, and Circlet blog. She also writes
sex toys reviews for several sex toys companies.

In addition to
writing, she has also worked as a gaffer (lighting), scenic artist, and make-up
artist (including prosthetics) for movies, television, stage, and concerts. She
worked as a gaffer for “Die Hard With A Vengeance” and “12
Monkeys”. She did make-up, including prosthetics, for “Homicide: Life
On The Street”. She is especially proud of the gunshot wound to the head
she had created with makeup for that particular episode. She also worked as a
prosthetic makeup artist specializing in cyanotic blue, bruises, and buckets of
blood for a test of Maryland’s fire departments at the Baltimore/Washington
International Airport plane crash simulation test. Yes, her jobs are fun.
 😉

She lives in
Lovecraft country on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four
cats. The ocean calls her every day, and she always listens. She has yet to run
into Cthulhu.

Visit her web
site at http://elizabethablack.blogspot.com/

Her Facebook
page is https://www.facebook.com/elizabethablack

Follow her at
Twitter: http://twitter.com/ElizabethABlack

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