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Writing Good Smut

“The shock of September 11 is subsiding. Each day adds distance. Distance diminishes fear. Cautiously our lives are returning to normal. But ‘normal’ will never be the same again. We have seen the enemy and the enemy is among us …. the publishers, producers, peddlers and purveyors of pornography.”

It didn’t take me long to find that quote. It came from an LDS Web site, Meridian Magazine, but I could have picked fifty others. In light of that kind of hatred, I think it’s time to have a chat about what it can mean to … well, do what we do.

We write pornography. Say it with me: por-nog-ra-phy. Not erotica – a word too many writers use to distance themselves, or even elevate themselves, from the down and dirty stuff on most adult bookstore shelves – but smut, filth … and so forth.

I’ve mentioned before how it’s dangerous to draw a line in the sand, putting fellow writers on the side of smut and others in erotica. The Supreme Court couldn’t decide where to scrawl that mark – what chance do we have?

What good are our petty semantics when too many people would love to see us out of business or thrown in jail? They don’t see any difference between what I write and what you write. We can sit and argue all we like over who’s innocent and who’s guilty until our last meals arrive, but we’ll still hang together.

I think it’s time to face some serious facts. Hyperbole aside, we face some serious risks for putting pen to paper or file to disk. I know far too many people who have been fired, stalked, threatened, had their writing used against them in divorces and child custody cases, and much worse.

People hate us. Not everyone, certainly, but even in oases like San Francisco, people who write about sex can suffer tremendous difficulties. Even the most – supposedly – tolerant companies have a hard time with an employee who writes smut. A liberal court will still look down on a defendant who’s published stories in Naughty Nurses. The religious fanatic will most certainly throw the first, second, third stone – or as many as it takes – at a filth peddler.

This is what we have to accept. Sure, things are better than they have been before and, if we’re lucky, they will slowly progress, but we all have to open our eyes to the ugly truths that can accompany a decision to write pornography.

What can we do? Well, aside from calling the ACLU, there isn’t a lot to we can directly do to protect ourselves if the law, or Bible-wielding fanatics, break down our doors – but there are a few relatively simple techniques you can employ to be safe. Take these as you will, and keep in mind that I’m not an expert in the law, but never forget that what you’re doing can be dangerous.

* Assess your risks. If you have kids, have a sensitive job, own a house, have touchy parents, or live in a conservative city or state, you should be extra careful about your identity. Even if you think you have nothing to lose, you do – your freedom. Many cities and states have very loose pornography laws, and all it would take is a cop, a sheriff, or a district attorney to decide you needed to be behind bars to put you there.

* Hide. Yes, I think we should all be proud of what we do, what we create, but use some common sense about how easily you can be identified or found: use a pseudonym and a post office box, never post your picture, and so forth. Women, especially, should be extra careful. I know far too many female writers who have been stalked or Internet-attacked because of what they do.

* Keep your yap shut. Don’t tell your bank, your boss, your accountant, your plumber, or anyone at all, what you do. When someone asks, I say I’m a writer. If I know them better, I say I write all kinds of things – including smut. If I know them very, very, very well, then maybe I’ll show them my newest book. People (it shouldn’t have to be said) are very weird. Just because you like someone doesn’t mean you should divulge that you just sold a story to Truckstop Transsexuals.

* Remember that line we drew between pornography and erotica? Well, here’s another: you might be straight, you might be bi, but in the eyes of those who despise pornography you are just as damned and perverted as a filthy sodomite. It makes me furious to meet a homophobic pornographer. Every strike against gay rights is another blow to your civil liberties and is a step closer to you being censored, out of a job, out of your house, or in jail. You can argue this all you want, but I’ve yet to see a hysterical homophobe who isn’t anti-smut. For you to be anti-gay isn’t just an idiotic prejudice, it’s giving the forces of puritanical righteousness even more ammunition for their war.

I could go on, but I think I’ve given you enough to chew on. I believe that writing about sex is something that no one should be ashamed of, but I also think that we all need to recognize and accept that there are many out there who do not share those feelings. Write what you want, say what you believe, but do it with your eyes open. Understand the risks, accept the risks and be smart about what you do – so you can keep working and growing as a writer for many years to come.

Once in awhile someone will ask me “What, if anything, is verboten in today’s permissive, literate erotica?” The answer is that pretty much anything is fair game, but there are what are called the four deadly sins: four subjects that a lot of publishers and editors won’t (or can’t) touch. These by no means are set in stone, but they definitely limit where you can send a story that uses any of them. So here, in a special series, are theses sins, and what – if anything – a writer can do with them.

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In regards to the last of erotica’s sins, a well-known publisher of “sexually explicit materials” put it elegantly and succinctly: “Just don’t fuck anyone to death.” As with the rest of the potentially problematic themes I’ve discussed here, the bottom line is context and execution: you can almost anything if you do it well – and if not well, then don’t bother doing it at all.

Violence can be a very seductive element to add to any genre, let alone smut, mainly because it’s just about everywhere around us. Face it, we live in a severely screwed up culture: cut someone’s head off and you get an R rating, but give someone head and it’s an X. It’s kind of natural that many people want to use some degree of violence in their erotica, more than likely because they’ve seen more people killed than loved on-screen. But violence, especially over-the-top kind of stuff (i.e. run of the mill for Hollywood), usually doesn’t fly in erotic writing. Part of that is because erotica editors and publishers know that even putting a little violence in an erotic story or anthology concept can open them up to criticism from all kinds of camps: the left, the right, and even folks who’d normally be fence-sitters – and give a distributor a reason not to carry the book.

One of the biggest risks that can happen with including violence in an erotic story is when the violence affects the sex. That sounds weird; especially since I’ve often said that including other factors are essential to a well-written erotic story. The problem is that when violence enters a story and has a direct impact on the sex acts or sexuality of the character, or characters, the story can easily come off as either manipulative or pro-violence. Balancing the repercussions of a violent act on a character is tricky, especially as the primary focus of the story. However, when violence is not central to the sexuality of the characters but can affect them in other ways it becomes less easy to finger point – such as in noir, horror, etc – where the violence is background, mood, plot, or similar without a direct and obvious impact on how the character views sex. That’s not to say it isn’t something to shoot for, but it remains one of the harder tricks to pull off.

Then there’s the issue of severity and gratuitousness. As in depicting the actual sex in sex writing, a little goes a long way: relishing in every little detail of any act can easily push sex, violence, or anything else into the realm of comedy, or at least bad taste. A story that reads like nothing but an excuse to wallow in blood – or other body fluids – can many times be a big turn-off to an editor or publisher. In other words, you don’t want to beat a reader senseless.

But the biggest problem with violence is when it has a direct sexual contact. In other words, rape. Personally, this is a big button-pusher, mainly because I’ve only read one or two stories that handled it … I can’t really say well because there’s nothing good about that reprehensible act, but there have been a few stories I’ve read that treat it with respect, depth, and complexity. The keyword in that is few: for every well-executed story dealing with sexual assault there are dozens and dozens that make me furious, at the very least. I still remember the pro-rape story I had the misfortune to read several years ago. To this day, I keep it in the back of my mind as an example of how awful a story can be.

Sometimes violence can slip into a story as a component of S/M play. You know: a person assaulted by a masked intruder who is really (ta-da!) the person’s partner indulging in a bit of harsh role-play. Aside from being old hack and thoroughly predicable, stories like this can also fall into the “all pain is good pain for a masochist” cliché, unless, as with all things, it’s handled with care and/or flair.

Summing up, there is nothing you cannot write about: even this erotic “sin” or the others I’ve mentioned. However, some subjects are simply problematic in regards to sales potential: themes and activities that are loaded with emotional booby traps have to be carefully handled if the story is going to be seen as anything other than a provocative device. The affective use of these subjects has always been dependent on the writer’s ability to treat them with respect. If you have any doubts about what that might be, just imagine being on the receiving end: extrapolate your feelings as if one of your own personal traumas or sexual issues was used as a cheap story device or plot point in a story. Empathy is always a very important facility for a writer to develop – especially when dealing with sensitive or provocative issues.

In short, if you don’t like being beaten up, then don’t do it to someone else, or if you do, then try and understand how much it hurts and why. Taking a few body blows for your characters might make you a bit black and blue emotionally, but the added dimension and sensitivity it gives can change an erotic sin, something normally just exploitive, to … well, if not a virtue, then at least a story with a respectful sinner as its author.

Once in awhile someone will ask me “What, if anything, is verboten in today’s permissive, literate erotica?” The answer is that pretty much anything is fair game, but there are what are called the four deadly sins: four subjects that a lot of publishers and editors won’t (or can’t) touch. These by no means are set in stone, but they definitely limit where you can send a story that uses any of them. So here, in a special series, are theses sins, and what – if anything – a writer can do with them.

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Like bestiality – and unlike underage sexuality – incest is a tough nut: it’s not something you might accidentally insert into an erotic story. Also like bestiality, it’s something that can definitely push – if not slam – the buttons of an editor or publisher. Yet, as with all of these “sins,” the rules are not as set in stone as you’d think. Hell, I even managed to not only write and sell an incest story (“Spike” which is the lead story in Dirty Words) but it also ended up in Best Gay Erotica. The trick, and with any of these erotic button-pushers, is context. In the case of “Spike” I took a humorous, surreal take on brother/brother sexuality, depicting a pair of twin punks who share and share alike sexually, until their world is shattered (and expanded) by some rough S/M play.

As with any of the “sins”, a story that deals with incest in a thought-provoking or side-ways humorous manner might not scream at an editor or publisher I’M AN INCEST STORY but rather as humorous or though-provoking, first, and as a tale dealing with incest, second. Still, once it comes to light there’s always a chance the story might still scream a bit, but if you’re a skilled writer telling an interesting story there’s still a chance quality could win over the theme.

Unlike bestiality, has very, very few stretches (like aliens and myths with bestiality). It’s very hard to stumble into incest. In short, you’re related or you’re not. As far as degree of relationship, that depends on the story and the intent: direct relations are damned tough to deal with, first cousins fooling around behind the barn are quite another.

Even though incest is pretty damned apparent in a story, that doesn’t mean the theme or the subtext can’t be touched on. Sometimes the forbidden or the unexpected laying under the surface can add depth to a story: a brother being protective of his attractive sister, a mother shopping for a date for a daughter, a father trying to steer his son’s sexuality, a daughter’s sexual explorations alarming (and enticing) a mother or father’s fantasies, and so forth. Technically, some of these dip into incest, if not the act then at least the territory, but if handled well they can add an interesting facet to an otherwise pedantic story. It’s a theme that’s also been played with, successfully, for centuries. Even the myth of Pygmalion – a sculptor falling in love with his creation – can almost be considered a story of incest, as the artist was a parent, then a over.

Conversely, incest can dull a situation when the emotions of the lovers involved become turned: as an example, where a person begins to feel more of a caregiver or mentor than a partner: the thought or even fantasies around sexuality with the person being cared-for or taught start to feel inappropriate. Conversely, someone might enjoy the forbidden spice of feeling sexual towards someone they’ve only thought of as a son or daughter, mother or father figure. This is also an old plaything for storytellers, the most common being a person looking for a partner to replace the strength and nurturing left behind when they grew up and moved out – or, from the new partner’s point of view, the shock in realizing they have been selected to fulfill that role.

As with any of these “sins”, fantasy can be a factor in being able to play with these themes. Having a character imagine making love to their mom (shudder) is in many editors or publishers eyes the same thing as actually doing it – but accepting and using the theme in, say, play-acting, where the reality is separated because the participants aren’t related in any way, is more acceptable. As with under-age play, S/M and dominance and submission games can also use incest as a spice or forbidden theme – especially in infantilism games, where one person pretends to be an abusive or nurturing parental figure. Once again, play versus reality (even imagined reality) can work where normally no one would dare tread.

The bottom-line, of course, is whether or not the story uses this theme is an interesting or though-provoking way or just as a cheap shot. If you have any questions, either try and look at the story with a neutral eye, ask a friend you respect for their opinion. But I wouldn’t ask your parents –

Once in awhile someone will ask me “What, if anything, is verboten in today’s permissive, literate erotica?” The answer is that pretty much anything is fair game, but there are what are called the four deadly sins: four subjects that a lot of publishers and editors won’t (or can’t) touch. These by no means are set in stone, but they definitely limit where you can send a story that uses any of them. So here, in a special series, are theses sins, and what – if anything – a writer can do with them.

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Only in erotica can the line “Come, Fido!” be problematic. Unlike some of the other Four Deadly Sins of smut writing, bestiality is very hard to justify: with few exceptions it’s not something that can be mistaken for something else, or lie in wait for anyone innocently trying to write about sex. Unlike, for instance, discussing a first time sexual experience and have it accused of being pro-pedophilia. Bestiality is sex with anything living that’s not human: if it’s not living then it’s a machine, if it was once-living then its necrophilia.

A story that features – positively or negatively – anything to do with sex with animals is tough if not impossible to sell, though some people have accomplished it. However, there are some odd angles to the bestiality that a lot of people haven’t considered – both positive and negative.

On the negative side, I know a friend who had an erotic science fiction story soundly slammed by one editor because it featured sex with something non-human, technically bestiality – despite the fact that there is a long tradition of erotic science fiction, most recently culminating in the wonderful writing and publishing of Cecilia Tan and her Circlet Press (both very highly recommended). Erotic fantasy stories, too, sometimes get the “we don’t want bestiality” rejection, though myth and legend are packed with sexy demons, mermaids, ghosts, etc. This doesn’t even get into the more classical sexy beasts such as Leda and her famous swan or Zeus and other randy gods and demi-gods in their various animal forms.

Alas, “someone else did it” doesn’t carry any weight with an editor and publisher, especially one that might be justifiably nervous about government prosecution or distributor rejection. Erotica, once again, gets – bad joke number three – the shaft: because erotica is up-front about the nature of its writing, alarm bells go off, unlike if you were writing something scholarly or even pop-culture. Market something as erotic and the double standards start popping up all over the place.

On a positive note – as the already mentioned, Cecilia Tan has proved – sex with aliens and mythological creatures has always been popular. Anthropomorphizing an animal, adding intellect or obvious will to a creature is a very safe way of touching on, or even embracing, the allure of sex with the unusual. The furry subculture is a close example of this, though they are very clear that this is not bestiality. It’s just a way of eroticizing the exotic, mixing human sexuality with animal features. As long as the critters being embraced are not “real” animals and can give consent, then protests and issues usually fall away. Fantasy, after all, is one thing, and there’s nothing more fantastic that dating a being from Tau Ceti V or something that looks like a raccoon crossed with Miss November, 1979.

There’s another feature of bestiality that can be explored but only until recently has been: the idea of role-playing. In this take, a person will behave like an animal, usually a dog and usually submissive. In these S/M games, the “dog” (notice that they are never cats) is led around on a leash, communicates in barks or whines, drinks and eats from a bowl, and is generally treated – much to his pleasure, or as punishment – like a pooch: one-way it’s a unique power game, read it another and it’s bestiality.

One thing worth mentioning, because some people have brought this up in regards to all of the sins, is the dream out. What I mean by that is simple: say you really, really want to, say, write about doing some member of another phylum. That’s cool, but your chances of seeing it in print, or even on a Web site, are about slim to none. SF doesn’t turn your crank so you say: “Got it! It’s a dream!” Well, I got news for you: a story that’s slipped under the door with that framing device, as a way of getting about the idea of a real bestiality story apparent, especially when it opens with “I went to bed” and ends with “Then I woke up” is a pretty damned obvious excuse to write an un-sellable bestiality.

In short, like with a lot of these erotic “sins” whether or not a story comes across as being thoughtful or just exploitive and shallow depends a lot on how much you, as the writer, has put into the concept: something done cheap and easy will read just that way, versus the outcome if you invest time, thought, and – best of all – originality. Good work really does win out, and even can wash away some of the more outré’ erotic “sins.”

Once in awhile someone will ask me “What, if anything, is verboten in today’s permissive, literate erotica?” The answer is that pretty much anything is fair game, but there are what are called the four deadly sins: four subjects that a lot of publishers and editors won’t (or can’t) touch. These by no means are set in stone, but they definitely limit where you can send a story that uses any of them. So here, in a special series, are theses sins, and what – if anything – a writer can do with them.

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Of all the four deadly sins, the one that most-often cramps the style of many erotica writers (i.e. “pornographers”) has to be the use of characters that are below the legal age of consent. The difficulties are multi-fold: every state and/or country has different definitions of both what consent is and the age that anyone can give it; very few people have actually lost their virginity when legally able to give consent (and having everyone in a story or book being 21 when they first have sex is just silly); and even the scary potential that if you use a lot of characters below 21 you can look like a damned pedophile – and even get prosecuted as one.

Innocent scenes or even background like “he lost his virginity at seventeen” can be problematic, if not terrifying. While the likelihood is extremely remote, there still remains a chance that some Bible-thumping idiot from a backwater berg where consent is 21 could buy a copy of your work and then extradite you to said backwater to prosecute you for child pornography. It really has happened and could happen again. What really sucks is that they don’t have to win their case to ruin your life: not only is suspicion as good as guilt to many people, but the legal costs alone are guaranteed to bankrupt everyone but Bill Gates.

So how do you avoid the wrath of “Bubba” of backwater creek? First of all, it really depends on how the story is written. While there’s a chance they might go after you for that simple “he lost his virginity at seventeen” line, it isn’t a big one. But if you do decide to write – and manage against all odds to sell, or at least publish – something that reads like a glorification of juvenile sexuality, your odds go up considerably. As with a lot of things, context and focus have a lot to do with it: anything sin can be written about if it’s done well and with an eye towards a finely crafted story with real emotion and dimension. James Joyce was banned, but it didn’t stick because it was art, and not Catholic Schoolgirls in Trouble.

Still, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially if there are very simple techniques a writer can use to keep the law off your ass, or just a nervous editor or publisher from getting even more nervous. One of the simplest ways to avoid being accused of profiting off underage characters is to blur the specifics of the character’s age. If I write, “he lost his virginity in high school” it could, technically, be argued that the kid had been held back for four years and so had his cherry popped at 21. No age, no underage. I’ve often been in the position where I’ve had to ask the author of a story to remove an exact age from a story to avoid just this issue. Most authors, once they understand the concern, are more than willing to make little changes like that.

Another place where age can slip in is through description. For example, if I say boy that usually implies someone younger than a man, therefore below the age of consent. But if I use the word lad the line gets fuzzy. Hell, I could say, “he was a strapping young lad of fifty summers” and get away with it. You can’t do the same with boy – though of course you could say “young man.” It’s all subjective.

Of course, you can use boy in dialogue – as it could be a sign of domination or affection: “Come here, boy, and lick my boots.” The boy in question could be sixty and graying. In one of those weird sexist twists of language, by the way, girl is not quite as loaded, as girl is frequently used to describe a woman of almost any age. Go figger.

Back to the high school thing, I don’t want people to think you have to be incredibly paranoid to write erotica – but it is something to keep in mind. The man (or even backwater versions of same) are hardly going to haul your ass off for just one line or just one story, but if someone goes go on a crusade, they sure aren’t going to arrest the cast and crew of American Pie (or anything like it). You, maybe – them definitely not.

Like all of these smut-writing sins, the person who worries the most about these things isn’t the man or the writers but the editors and publishers. Distributors are notoriously nervous around certain kinds of content, jitters that are passed right down line to the publishers and then to the editors.

Just as there are editors and publishers who are too cautious, there are others that don’t care one whit, or even take pride in pushing as many envelopes as possible. You name the sin and they’ll do it. While this is great, and deserves a hearty round of applause, it can also mean that if you write something really out there – even if it’s something you think a market would like – and it gets rejected, you’re stuck with a story that no one will ever look at. Just something to keep in mind.

The answer to this confusion between the careful and the outrageous is when most questions regarding markets for erotica: read the publication, check out the guidelines, and/or ask questions. The one thing you shouldn’t do is argue. I always remember this one person who sent me a story for a book I was editing, with an arrogant little note saying it was okay that the characters in his story were nine, because his story was set in Ancient Greece and the age of consent back then was eight. One, that was rude; two, I wasn’t going to take anything with characters THAT young; and three, I didn’t make the rules, the publisher did: I couldn’t have taken the story even if I thought he was the next James Joyce. I didn’t even read the story; I just rejected it.

In short, while its not realistic – if not stupid – to insist that characters be legally old enough to have sex, it is a factor a writer should keep in mind. Write what you want to write, but the instant you make that decision to try and share what you write with the rest of the world be aware that you’re probably going to have to compromise or work within certain limitations.
It might not be pretty, but it’s part of life – just like the loosing your virginity.

The inclination is obvious; especially considering how much pressure writers can be put under to ‘get themselves out there.’ But even though the title of this column is “Literary Streetwalker,” I want to take a few hundred words to talk about when, in my opinion, it’s not a good idea of sell your creative backside.

One of the coldest, fastest rules of being an erotica author is that it’s a sexist genre: women have a slightly easier time of it than do guys — unless you’re penning gay stuff, of course. Straight men still remain the primary buyers of smut, and they usually don’t like to ‘enjoy’ (i.e. become aroused) by something a man wrote. Homophobic? Certainly. But them’s the breaks until our society grows up. Women also don’t seem to trust anything written by a man, being suspicious that a man can’t write about sex. Wrong? Absolutely. But again that’s simply the way the world works — for the moment, at least.

In this world of female empowerment, some women authors have made the mistake — and again, this is my opinion — of selling themselves rather than their work. The temptation, like I said, is clear: turning yourself into a desirable product makes it easy to sell just about anything you do, whether it’s a book or your own underwear. Becoming a sex personality means that you carry your catalog with you; you don’t have to trouble yourself with showing people what makes you a writer worthy of reading.

There are other benefits as well, celebrity having a special allure. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of people saying you’re sexy or clapping when you walk on stage. Writing, as I’ve said many times before, is a spectacularly harsh mistress. What with the low pay, generally poor treatment, and little artistic recognition, it’s no wonder that so many women are seduced by the quick and easy fame – or at least recognition – of becoming a product or personality, rather than a writer.

Now I should qualify what I mean by “selling.” I’m all for writers marketing themselves and their work. Half the game, at least, of being a writer is managing to tell enough people that you’re good without appearing arrogant (not an easy task). But it’s what you say about yourself and what you toss out there that is the line between publicity and literary prostitution – aside from having panties that bring in a nice price on eBay. Telling the world that you’re a great writer is one thing, telling people that you’re writing about the time you did the football team is quite another.

There are two good reasons for not crossing that line between publicity and soliciting. The first is more professional: if you create yourself as a sexual superstar you’re severely limiting what you can do as a writer. Receiving attention for your sex life might get you attention, but very often when you walk away from that spotlight you find yourself in the dark: your audience is used to you as a sex object, not as a writer — and won’t respond when you’re not writing about being a pro-dom, sex activist, or porn star. Flexibility, after all, is key to being a writer because it gives you a plethora of genres and venues in which to expand and play. Your smut didn’t sell? Try horror. Horror didn’t work? Try romance — and so forth. Unless, that is, you turn yourself into nothing but a sex object — then that’s all you can be.

The other reason to avoid selling yourself is one, simple, biological factor: wrinkles. A twenty-something sexpot is alluring and provocative. A fifty year old one is just creepy – or, as Joe Gillis says in Sunset Blvd: “There’s nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you’re trying to be twenty-five.” One thing I love about being a writer is that writers have a long, long time to perfect our craft. Dancers get a few years, pro athletes get even less — but writers can work until they drool on their keyboards … unless they transform themselves into an object with a very short sexual lifespan.

Again, my opinion — if you want to turn yourself into a sexual superstar don’t let me stop you. It’s your right as a free person. But in all honesty I’d recommend that you try and resist the temptation to market yourself and not your work. Besides being a potential dead end career-wise (what happens when sagging and liver spots begin?), there’s one other difficulty in writing about your own sex life and putting it out there for hundreds, maybe thousands and — who knows? — millions of people to read: fans.

Not to put down the handsome and well groomed reading world, way too many of my female writer friends tell me that having die-hard fans of their sexual personas, rather than their stories, is more a curse than a blessing — and really, really creepy. I’d say unwelcome advances are another reason to write stories about all kinds of things, and not about how wonderful it was jerk off the entire swim team.

“The shock of September 11 is subsiding. Each day adds distance. Distance diminishes fear. Cautiously our lives are returning to normal. But “normal” will never be the same again. We have seen the enemy and the enemy is among us …. the publishers, producers, peddlers and purveyors of pornography.”

It didn’t take me long to find that quote, just a few minutes of searching. It came from an LDS Web site, Meridian Magazine, but I could have picked fifty others. Maybe it’s because of the election, or because of a few horror stories that have recently come my way, but I think it’s time to have a chat about what it can mean to … well, do what we do.

We write pornography. Say it with me: por-nog-ra-phy. Not ‘erotica’ — a word too many writers use to distance themselves, or even elevate themselves, from the down and dirty stuff on most adult bookstore shelves — but smut, filth … and so forth.

I’ve mentioned before how it’s dangerous to draw a line in the sand, putting fellow writers on the side of ‘smut’ and others in ‘erotica.’ The Supreme Court couldn’t decide where to scrawl that mark — what chance do we have?

What good are our petty semantics when too many people would love to see us out of business, thrown in jail, or much, much worse? They don’t see a bit of difference between what I write and what you write. We can sit and argue all we like over who’s innocent and who’s guilty until our last meals arrive, but we’ll still hang together.

I think it’s time to face some serious facts about what we do. ‘Swinging from a rope’ hyperbole aside, we face some serious risks for putting pen to paper or file to disk. I know far too many people who have been fired, stalked, threatened, had their writing used against them in divorces and child custody cases, and much worse.

People hate us. Not everyone, certainly, but even in oases like San Francisco people who write about sex can suffer tremendous difficulties. Even the most — supposedly — tolerant companies have a hard time with an employee who writes smut. A liberal court will still look down on a defendant who’s published stories in Naughty Nurses. The religious fanatic will most certainly throw the first, second, third stone — or as many as it takes — at a filth peddler.

This is what we have to accept. Sure, things are better than they have been before and, if we’re lucky, they will slowly progress despite the fundamentalism of the current government, but we all have to open our eyes to the ugly truths that can accompany a decision to write pornography.

What can we do? Well, aside from joining the ACLU (www.aclu.org) there isn’t a lot to we can directly do to protect ourselves if the law, or Bible-wielding fanatics, break down our doors, but there are a few relatively simple techniques we can employ to be safe. Take these as you will, and keep in mind that I’m not an expert in the law, but most importantly, try to accept that what you are doing is dangerous.

Assess your risks. If you have kids, if you have a sensitive job, if you own a house, if you have touchy parents, if you live in a conservative city or state, you should be extra careful about your identity and what you are writing. Even if you think you have nothing to lose, you do — your freedom. Many cities and states have very loose pornography laws, and all it would take is a cop, a sheriff, or a district attorney to decide you needed to be behind bars to put you there.

Hide. Yes, I think we should all be proud of what we do, what we create, but use some common sense about how easily you can be identified or found. If you have anything to lose, use a pseudonym, a post office box, never post your picture, and so forth. Women, especially, should be extra careful. I know far too many female writers who have been stalked or Internet-attacked because of what they do.

Keep your yap shut. Don’t tell your bank, your boss, your accountant, your plumber, or anyone at all, what you do — unless you know them very well. When someone asks, I say I’m a writer. If I know them better, I say I write all kinds of things — including smut. If I know them very, very, very well then maybe I’ll show them my newest book. People, it shouldn’t have to be said, are very weird. Just because you like someone doesn’t mean you should divulge that you just sold a story to Truckstop Transsexuals.

Remember that line we drew between ‘pornography’ and ‘erotica’? Well, here’s another. You might be straight, you might be bi, but in the eyes of those who despise pornography you are just as damned and perverted as a filthy sodomite. It makes me furious to meet a homophobic pornographer. Every strike against gay rights is another blow to your civil liberties and is a step closer to you being censored, out of a job, out of your house, or in jail. You can argue this all you want, but I’ve yet to see a hysterical homophobe who isn’t anti-smut. For you to be anti-gay isn’t just an idiotic prejudice, it’s giving the forces of puritanical righteousness even more ammunition for their war — on all of us.

I could go on, but I think I’ve given you enough to chew on. I believe that writing about sex is something that no one should be ashamed of, but I also think that we all need to recognize and accept that there are many out there who do not share those feelings. Write what you want, say what you believe, but do it with your eyes open. Understand the risks, accept the risks and be smart about what you do — so you can keep working and growing as a writer for many years to come.

(as part of my new gig writing for the ERWA’s blog here’s one of my classic Confessions columns. Enjoy!)

Here’s a quote that’s very near and dear to my heart:

From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs, but all I have done before the age of seventy is not worth bothering with. At seventy five I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist. At a hundred and ten everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokosai, but today I sign my self ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.’

That was from Katsushika Hokusai, a Japanese painter of the Ukiyo-e school (1760-1849). Don’t worry about not knowing him, because you do. He created the famous Great Wave Off Kanagawa, published in his “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” — a print of which you’ve probably
seen a thousand times.

Hokusai says it all: the work is what’s really important, that he will always continue to grow and progress as an artist, and that who he is will always remain less than what he creates.

Writing is like art. We struggle to put our thoughts and intimate fantasies down just-so, then we send them out into an often harsh and uncaring world, hoping that someone out there will pat us on the head, give us a few coins, and tell us we did a good job.

What with this emotionally chaotic environment a little success can push just about anyone into feeling overly superior. Being kicked and punched by the trials and tribulations of the writing life making just about anyone desperate to feel good about themselves — even if it means
losing perspective, looking down on other writers. Arrogance becomes an emotional survival tool, a way of convincing themselves they deserve to be patted on the noggin a few more times than anyone else, paid more coins, and told they are beyond brilliant, extremely special.

It’s very easy to spot someone afflicted with this. Since their superiority constantly needs to be buttressed, they measure and wage the accomplishments and merits of other writers putting to decide if they are better (and so should be humbled) or worse (and so should be the source of worship or admiration). In writers, this can come off as someone who thinks they deserve better … everything than anyone else: pay, attention, consideration, etc. In editors, this appears as rudeness, terseness, or an unwillingness to treat contributors as anything but a resource to be exploited.

Now my house has more than a few windows, and I have more than enough stones, so I say all this with a bowed head: I am not exactly without this sin. But I do think that trying to treat those around you as equals should be the goal of every human on this planet, let alone folks with literary aspirations. Sometimes we might fail, but even trying as best we can — or at least owning the emotion when it gets to be too much — is better than embracing an illusion of superiority.

What this has to do with erotica writing has a lot to do with marketing. As in my last column (“Pedaling Your Ass”) where I vented a bit on the practice of selling yourself rather than your work, arrogance can be a serious roadblock for a writer. It is an illusion — and a pervasive
one — that good work will always win out. This is true to a certain extent, but there are a lot of factors that can step in the way of reading a great story and actually buying it. Part of that is the relationship that exists between writers and publishers or editors. A writer who honestly believes they are God’s gift to mankind might be able to convince a few people, but after a point their stories will be more received with a wince than a smile: no matter how good a writer they are their demands are just not worth it.

For editors and publishers, arrogance shows when more and more authors simply don’t want to deal with them. After a point they might find themselves with a shallower and shallower pool of talent from which to pick their stories — and as more authors get burned by their attitude and the word spreads they might also find themselves being spoken ill of to more influential folks, like publishers.

Not to take away from the spiritual goodness of being kind to others, acting superior is also simply a bad career move. This is a very tiny community, with a lot of people moving around. Playing God might be fun for a few years but all it takes is stepping on a few too many toes — especially toes that belong on the feet of someone who might suddenly be able to help you in a big way some day – making arrogance a foolish role to play.

I am not a Christian (despite my pseudonym) but they have a great way of saying it, one that should be tacked in front of everyone’s forehead: “Do onto others as you would have then do unto you.” It might not be as elegant and passionate as my Hokusai quote, but it’s still a maxim we should all strive to live by — professionally as well as personally.

(as part of my new gig writing for the ERWA’s blog here’s one of my classic Confessions columns. Enjoy!)

I’m astounded sometimes by writers who will only write one thing and one thing only: straight erotica, mysteries, science fiction, horror – you name it: their flute has only one note. They might play that one note very, very well but often they neglect the rest of the scale. Not to go on about myself, but my own moderate accomplishments as a writer are the direct result of my accepting a challenge or two. I never thought I could write erotica – until I did. I never thought I could write gay erotica, until I did – and so forth. Who knows what you might be great at? You won’t know until you try.

A writer is nothing but pure potential, but only if that potential is utilized. If you only like writing straight erotica, try gay or lesbian. The same goes if you’re queer – try writing something, anything, that you’d never in a million years think of doing. Maybe the story will suck, and that certainly does happen, but maybe it’ll be a wonderful story or teach you something about your craft.

Challenge yourself. If you don’t like a certain genre, like Romance, then write what your version of a romance story would be like. You don’t like Westerns? Well, write one anyway – the Western you’d like to read. Of course like a lot of these imagination games you don’t have to sit down and actually write a Western novel. Instead just take some time to visualize it: the characters, setting, some plot points, a scene or two. How would you open it? Maybe a tumbleweed blowing down a dusty street, perhaps a brass and black iron locomotive plowing through High Sierra snow? Or what about the classic Man With No Name staring down a posse of rabid outlaws? Who knows, you might be the best Western – or mystery, science fiction, gay, lesbian, straight etc. – writer there ever was, or maybe you’ll just learn something about people, about writing. Either way, you’re flexing, increasing the range of your work.

This flexibility isn’t just good in abstract. Cruise around Erotica Reader’s and Writer’s here and look at the books being published, the calls for submissions, and so forth. If you only like to write stories that one are particular style, flavor, or orientation, you’ll notice you have a very, very limited number of places that would look at your work. But if you can write anything, then everywhere is a potential market. Write one thing and that’s exactly how many places will want to look at what you do. Write everything and you could sell anywhere.

In other words: try! If you don’t try, you won’t know if you’re any good. Some writers only do what they know and like because they don’t want to face rejection, or feel they’d have to restart their ‘careers’ if they change the one thing they do well. I don’t believe any of that. If you can’t handle rejection then writing is not the life for you. Getting punched in the genitals by a rejection slip is part of the business, something we all have to deal with. As far as a writer’s ‘career’ goes, no one knows what shape that’ll take, what’ll happen in the future. Planning a job path in writing is like trying to roll snake eyes twelve times in a row – the intent might be there but the results are completely chaotic. In the same way a simple little story can turn out to be the best thing you’re ever written, an unexpected experiment can end up being a total artistic change.

Playing with new themes, genres, and styles is fun. Experiment on the page, in your mind, and who knows what’ll pop up? Next time you go to the movies, try and imagine what the trailer to your movie would be like, or write (in your mind or even on the page) a sequel to this summer’s blockbuster. Go to the bookstore and pick up something at random, read the back cover, and then spend a fun couple of hours imagining how you’d write it. What style would you use? What kind of characters? What settings? Even sit down and write some of it: a page, or even just a paragraph or two. It might suck, but that’s the risk you always take trying something new – but it also could open a door to something wonderful.

Yep, I’m a tad nervous about offering my services as a writer of customized erotica, but I’m also incredibly excited about it. Who knows what’ll happen, what kind of story ideas might come my way, and stories I may write? After all, I’ll never know unless I try, unless I flex my wings.

(as part of my new gig writing for the ERWA’s blog here’s one of my classic Confessions columns. Enjoy!)

This month’s Streetwalker comes from a suggestion by the wonderful Adrienne here at ERA. When I asked her for some possible topics to cover she gave me: “How about plot ideas, how to keep works fresh and unique and advice on where to look for plot/character inspiration?” If anyone else has any ideas for columns, by the way, please feel free to zap them to me and I’ll consider them.

Now I’ve sort of touched on keeping an eye out for story ideas before, but it bears exploring a bit more. Keeping your work fresh is more than a little important for any writer, especially for smut authors.

For me, stories are everywhere – and to be honest I don’t think I’m special. It’s all a matter of keeping your eyes open, but most importantly PLAYING with the world around you.

It should be obvious that in order to write about the world you need to know something about it, but what a lot of people don’t seem to realize is that sitting in a coffee shop, scribbling away in a notebook while you ponder the imponderables of human nature isn’t likely to yield anything usable. Getting your hands dirty, though, will.

By that I mean really exploring yourself as well as other people. Look at who you are, why you do what you do – both emotionally as well as sexually. The same goes for the people around you. Spend some time really thinking about them, their motivations, their pleasures, or what experiences they may have had.

Dig deep — ponder their reactions as well as your own. Sharpen your perceptions. Why do they say what they say? What do people admire? Why? What do they despise? Why? That last question should almost always be in your mind – directed outward as well as inward: why? This depth of understanding, or just powerful examination, is a great tool for developing both stories as well as characters.

Along with studying the world, pay attention to good work no matter where you find it. A lot of writing teachers tell students to get intimate with the classics – which I agree with, but also think it’s equally important to recognize great writing even when it’s on the back of a cereal box. Read a lot, see a lot of movies, watch a lot of TV – and pay attention when something good, or great, comes along. Don’t dismiss anything until you’ve tried it, at least for a little while. Examples? Romance novels, comic books, documentaries, sitcoms, cartoon shows, old radio shows, pulps, westerns, and so forth. There’s gold all around you, if you dig around enough

Not for the fun – playing. Look at that guy sitting over there, the one by the window: Heavy, messy hair, chewing with his mouth open – easy to peg him as lonely, creepy, or even seriously perverse. Easy is a shortcut, easy is dull, easy is lazy. Instead try seeing him as something completely different than your initial assessment. Maybe his mind is lovely and musical. Perhaps his touch is gentle and loving. Who knows, maybe he’s a sex magnet – with more boyfriends/girlfriends than he knows what to do with.

Say you’ve stumbled on a particularly good book, show, series, or whatever. Great, bravo, applause – now write something like it. Who cares that the show will never, ever look at your story, or that the medium is long dead (like radio drama). Do it anyway. Have fun – PLAY! Get into the habit of automatically either writing your own version or fixing what you see as a flaw in the original. If you’re reading a book, stop halfway through and finish it in your mind – and then when you do finally turn that last page was your version better? If not then what did the author do that you didn’t?

I love coming attractions, the trailers for movies. Watching them, I always make up my own movie based on what I’ve seen. Sometimes it’s better – at least I think so – sometimes not, then I look at what the director did better than I did when the flick finally comes out.

Playing and watching, studying, that’s the ticket. If you keep your mind sharp, notice details, and examine yourself and the world around you as well as challenging and playing with story ideas, then writing a story for a very specific Call for Submission or for some other strange project will be easy and your story will be original and fresh.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica

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