MChristian

May 102013
 
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(a hearty thanks goes out to the wonderful K.D. Grace, on whose blog this piece first appeared
Thinking Outside Your Box…
Or Writing Isn’t Always About Writing
Sure, we may all want to just cuddle in our little garrets, a purring pile of fur in our laps, leather patches on our sleeves, a pipe at the ready, and do nothing but write masterpieces all day and night – with periodic breaks for binge-drinking and soon-to-be legendary sexual escapades – but the fact of the matter is that being a writer has totally, completely, changed.I’m not just talking about the need to be a marketing genius and a publicity guru – spending, it feels too often, more time tweeting about Facebook, or Facebooking about tweeting, than actually writing – but that authors really need to be creative when it comes to not just getting the word out about their work but actually making money.

A lot of people who claim to be marketing geniuses and publicity gurus will say that talking about you and your work as loud as possible, as often as possible, is the trick … but have you heard the joke about how to make money with marketing and PR? Punchline: get people to pay you to be a marketing genius and/or a publicity guru. In short: just screaming at the top of the tweety lungs or burying everyone under Facebook posts just won’t do it.

Not that having some form of presence online isn’t essential – far from it: if people can’t find you, after all, then they can’t buy your books. But there’s a big difference between being known and making everyone run for the hills – or at least stop up their9 ears – anytime you say or do anything online.

Balance is the key: don’t just talk about your books or your writing – because, honesty, very few people care about that … even your readers – instead fine a subject that interests you and write about that as well. Give yourself some dimension, some personality, some vulnerability, something … interesting, and not that you are not just an arrogant scream-engine of me-me-me-me. Food, travel, art, history, politics … you pick it, but most of all have fun with it. Forced sincerity is just about as bad as incessant narcissism.

Okay, that’s all been said before – but one thing a lot of writers never think about is actually getting out from behind their computers – or out of their garret to tie in the opening to this. Sure, writing may far too often be a solitary thing but putting yourself out there – in the (gasp) real world – can open all kinds of doors. I’m not just talking publicity-that-can-sometimes-equal-book-sales, either: there’s money to be made in all kinds of far-too-often overlooked corners.

Not to turn this to (ahem) myself: but in addition to trying to do as many readings and appearances as I can manage … or stand … I also teach classes. One, it gets me out of the damned house and out into the (shudder) real world, but it also, hopefully, shows people that I am not just a writer. Okay, a lot of what I teach – from sex ed subjects to … well, writing – has to do with my books and stories but it also allows me to become more than a virtual person.

By teaching classes and doing readings and stuff-like-that-there I’d made a lot of great connections, met real-life-human-beings, and have seen a considerable jump in book sales. Now don’t let me mislead you that this has been easy: there are a lot of people out there who perform, teach, lecture, what-have-you already so often it means almost starting a brand new career … scary and frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe it. But, in the end, the rewards have more than made up for the headaches.

Now you don’t have to read, or teach, or whatever: the main point of this is to think outside of your little writing box. If you write historical fiction then think about conducting tours of your city and it’s fascinating secrets and back alleys; if you write SF then think about starting a science discussion group – or even joining one. Like art? How about becoming a museum docent? Write mysteries? Then organize a murder party – or just attend one.

You don’t have to make you and your work the focus of what you are doing. As in the virtual world, connections can come from all kinds of unexpected directions – which can then even lead to new opportunities … both for your writing but also as a never-before-thought-of-cash stream.

My classes and lectures and whatever have not just brought be friends, book sales, totally new publicity venues, but also ($$) cash!

It’s also a great way of balancing my inherent shyness with the need to get out there and be a person – which always helps not just sell whatever products you happen to be selling but can also be extremely good for (not to get too metaphysical or something) the soul: sure, we all might want to be left alone in our little garrets to writer, write, write but the fact is that writing can be very emotionally difficult …. to put it mildly. But thinking outside of your box you can not just reach new, potential, readers but also possibly find friends and an unexpected support system.

Teaching may not be for you, readings may not be for you … but I’m sure if you put your wonderfully creative mind to it I’m sure you can think of a way to not just get the word out about your work but also enrich yourself as a person. It might be painful at first, but – believe me – it’ll be more than worth it.

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Apr 042013
 
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The thought of that makes your blood run cold, doesn’t it?  Well, rest assured, there’s no reason to be scared … well, maybe not that much of a reason to be scared…

The thing is I haven’t really talked a lot about myself for a while so I thought it would be a fun little experiment to post – once a week, for seven weeks – a series of essays about little ol’ me: where I came from, my professional journey, being an editor, being a publisher … and even my hopes and dreams for the future.

Hope you like!

 

Intelligence Is Imagination With An Erection

I didn’t always want to be a writer.  Sure, I was one of those kids: the ones who are too bright, too creative, too curious – and, yes, in case you’re interested, I was bullied … a lot – but actually doing anything with that brightness, creativity, curiosity didn’t pop into mind until high school.

But, boy, did it POP.  In retrospect it’s more than a bit … odd (to be polite) how enthusiastic and disciplined I became about writing.  In hindsight a lot of it probably had to do with trying to find an escape from a less-than-perfect family dynamic – but another big motivator was that I’d always been the kid who didn’t just talk about doing things: I did them.  Perfect example: I remember, in early elementary school, discovering that the science classroom had a darkroom … so I went home and over the weekend read every book I could on photography so when I came back on Monday I developed my first roll of film and did my first few test prints.

Alas, discipline and enthusiasm are fine and good – actually they are absolutely essential in a writer – but my discipline and enthusiasm was focused on Mount Everest: selling a story to the likes of Fantasy & Science Fiction.   Early rejections didn’t stop me – in fact nothing stopped me – and I kept trying, kept writing, kept submitting: my goal was a short story a week and/or three pages of writing or three pages of just story ideas.

And, you know, it worked — sort of.  I’ve never sold a story to Fantasy & Science Fiction but all that work, all that passion, paid off … abet in a very unusual and totally unexpected way.

Eventually I made my way to the Bay Area, got married, and – on a total whim – took a class from Lisa Palac who, at the time, was editing a magazine called FutureSex.  When I discovered … well, sex, my stories got a little more (ahem) mature.  It was one of those stories I was brave enough to hand to Lisa.

What happened next is, to resort to cliché – and hyperbole – is the stuff of legends: Lisa not just liked the story but bought it.  A year later Susie Bright also liked the story and bought it for Best American Erotica 1994.

Sure, it took me ten years of trying (and, yes, you may whistle at that) but that wasn’t important.  People often ask me why I write what I write — lesbian erotica, gay erotica, bisexual erotica, kink after fetish after stroke after stroke – and the answer couldn’t be simpler.

I am a writer … and for someone who lives to tell stories, who worked so hard to hang onto that brightness, creativity, curiosity, discipline, and enthusiasm, finding a way to do what I love to do and be recognized for it, in demand for it, and even paid for it there is simply nothing better.

My name is Chris, my main pseudonym is M.Christian, and I am a pornographer … and I couldn’t be happier.

(by the way, the quote that starts this is by Victor Hugo … and is a kind of personal philosophy)

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Nov 302012
 
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It’s a huge no-duh that we live in an Information Age: from high speed Internet to 4G cell networks, we can get whatever we want wherever we want it – data-wise – at practically at the speed of light.

But sometimes I miss the old days. No, they weren’t – ever – the Good Old Days (I still remember liquid paper, SASEs, and letter-sized manila envelopes … shudder), but back then a writer had a damned long time to hear about anything to do with the biz.

If you were lucky you got a monthly mimeographed newsletter but otherwise you spent weeks, even months, before hearing about markets or trends … and if you actually wanted contact with another writer you either had to pick up the phone, sit down and have coffee, or (gasp) write a letter.

No, I’m far from being a Luddite. To borrow a bit from the great (and late) George Carlin: “I’ve been uplinked and downloaded. I’ve been inputted and outsourced. I know the upside of downsizing; I know the downside of upgrading. I’m a high-tech lowlife. A cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, bicoastal mutlitasker, and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond.”

I love living in The World Of Tomorrow. Sure, we may not have food pills or jetpacks but with the push of a … well, the click of a mouse I can see just about every movie or show I want, read any book ever written, play incredibly realistic games, or learn anything I want to know.

Here it comes, what you’ve been waiting for … but … well, as I’ve said many times before, writing can be an emotionally difficult, if not actually scarring endeavor. We forget, far too often, to care for ourselves in the manic pursuit of our writing ‘careers.’ We hover over Facebook, Twitter and blog-after-blog: our creative hopes of success – and fears of failure – rising and falling with every teeny-tiny bit of information that comes our way.

I miss … time. I miss weeks, months of not knowing what the newest trend was, who won what award, who sold what story to what magazine, who did or did not write their disciplined number of pages that day. Back then, I just sat down and wrote my stories and, when they were done, I’d send them off – and immediately begin another story so when the inevitable rejection letter came I could, at least, look at what I’d sent and say to myself Feh, I’ve done better since.

I’m not the only one. Just this week I had to talk three friends off rooftops because they looked at their sales figures, read that another writer had just sold a story when they’d just been rejected, heard that the genre they love to work in is in a downward spiral, that they’d been passed over (again) for an award, or that someone else had written ten pages that day … and all they’d managed to do was the laundry and maybe answer a few emails.

It took me quite a while but I’ve finally begun to find a balance in my life: a way to still happily be – and now we’re bowing to the really-dead Timothy Leary – turned on, tuned in … by dropping out.

Far too many writers out there say that being plugged in 24/7 to immediately what other writers are doing and saying, what their sales are like moment-by-moment, or the tiniest blips in genres, is the way to go. While I agree what we all have to keep at least one eye on what’s happening in the world of writing we also have to pay a lot more attention to how this flow of information is making us feel – and, especially, how it affects our work.

By dropping out, I mean looking at what comes across our desk and being open, honest, and – most of all – caring about how it makes us feel. You do not have to follow every Tweet, Facebook update, blog post, or whatever to be able to write and sell your work. You do not have to believe the lies writers love to tell about themselves. You do not have to subscribe to every group, forum, or site. You do not have to hover over your sales.

I’ll tell you what I tell myself – as well as my friends who are in the horrible mire of professional depression: drop out … turn it off. If the daily updates you get from some writer’s forum make you feel like crap then unsubscribe. If you don’t like the way another writer makes you feel about you and your work then stop following them. If the self-aggrandizing or cliquish behavior of a writer depresses you then stop reading their Tweets, blog posts or whatever.

You do not have to be a conduit for every hiccup and blip of information that comes your way. You Are A Writer … and, just like with flesh-and-blood people, if something diminishes you in any way, punches you in the emotional solar plexus, or keeps you from actually writing, then Turn It Off.

This is me, not you, but I don’t follow very many writing sites. WriteSex, here, is wonderful, of course … but beyond the true, real professional necessities, I only follow or read things that are fun, educational, entertaining, uplifting, and – best of all – make me feel not just good about myself and my writing, but want to make me sit down at my state-of-the-art machine and write stories.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what it’s all about … and everything else either comes a distant second or doesn’t matter at all.

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Oct 052012
 
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As I’ve mentioned before, in many ways, I’m a queer beast—in the literary world, especially, because I’m an editor and publisher (for the great Renaissance E Books) as well as a pretty prolific writer. I know the biz from both ends, as someone rejecting as well as getting rejected. Wearing my editorial sombrero, I’ve noticed a trend in the stories and novels I’ve been reading … professional annoyances, pains in the derriere, pissing-off things, and just plain rude stuff that I thought I might vent … er, ah, share with you. This also gives me a chance to explain how to deal with editors—though, as with anything in professional writing, it’s very subjective. This is stuff that I consider important, or frustrating, etc., but another editor might feel completely differently about.

Before I get to the bits and piece of a submission, a bit of philosophy: despite how much writers hate it, an editor has no professional obligation to be nice, respond in a certain amount of time, give comments on a rejection, or answer any questions. The only time that changes is when a story has been accepted, and even then, there are no hard and fast rules. The worst that can usually happen is an editor getting a bad name, or getting a protest lodged against them with the National Writers Union. Getting ignored by or frustrated with an editor is just part of the game. The sooner a lot of writers realize that, the sooner they’ll make some real professional progress. Conversely, it’s very frustrating for an editor who tries their best to be polite, professional, and sympathetic to end up on the receiving end of some neurotic writer’s wrath: in short, roll with the bad and applaud the good—kind of a good life philosophy, too, ain’t it?

In that regard, it’s never a good idea to ask a lot of an editor. Simple questions (“What’s your deadline?” “Who’s your publisher?” “What’s your pay rate?” and so forth) are fine, but asking an editor to write, or a call just to let you know the manuscript came through okay are not: facing a huge stack of unread manuscripts to read, accept or reject, the last thing an editor wants to do is deal with more paperwork. Besides, an editor often doesn’t open an envelope (or read an attachment) until they’re ready to read—sometimes months after they’ve received it.

Politeness counts a huge deal. Often I’ll be extra polite or conscientious to a writer if they’ve been understanding and nice to me. I’ll always respond (or try to), but a demanding email or a cover letter dripping with arrogance is definitely a lower priority compared with someone who starts out: “I know you’re really busy—” or “Absolutely no rush, but I’d be grateful if—” and so forth. Like writers, a lot of editors just a little want kindness and respect: treat them that way and you’ll get a much better reaction. Start off with the assumption that they are being intentionally rude (as opposed to busy, dealing with a family emergency or who knows what) and you’ll usually get a rude response right back—as well as being burned into the editor’s mind as a “demanding jerk”—which can damage how they might read your work in the future.

Even though you may not get a polite response, always take the high road and start out that way. Yeah, it’s not fair to be polite to someone who’s rude, but getting into a hissing and spitting match won’t win you any battles. Besides, we editors talk to one another: being rude to a friend of mine will eventually get around to me, and vice versa. Which is also a way of dealing with someone who has treated you unfairly: tell your writing buddies—warn them if a certain editor is tough, or bad, to work with. Knowing ahead of time that an editor is slow, always rude, easy to annoy and so forth can save a lot of hassle, frustration and self-doubt if you or anyone else decides to work with them in the future.

If you happen to get rejected—and it will happen—in a particularly rude way then don’t fall into the trap of acting out, being spiteful. Like I said, editors talk to each other, so if you write a nasty letter back, or post a catty review of the editor’s books on some site or other, all that’s going to happen is you’re going to get not just that one editor’s door slammed in your face but possibly many others. I don’t like the way some editors treat authors but that doesn’t mean I condone attacks on them or their other books. Unfortunately, being a writer means having to do a lot of cheek-turning; if you can’t handle that, then find another line of work.

Now then, for some little things—cover letters, for instance: I like cover letters because they give me a clue as to the personality of the person I might be working with. Ideally, a cover letter should be professional, short, and give an editor the impression that the writer is going to be easy to work with. A bio is essential, but only share what’s important to your writing life. The fact that you work for the DMV, have five cats, and build model ships in your spare time is interesting—but not to me or any other editor. By the way, if you’ve never written before, or never for the genre or market you’re submitting to, don’t say it. After all, would you feel good about your doctor saying, “You know, I’ve never done something like this—but I think it came out well”?

Something I’ve mentioned before but absolutely have to say again: pick a snail-mail address and an email address that you can live with for a very long time. I am very, very tired of trying to reach a certain writer only to have their addresses bounce (both surface mail as well as email). Remember, if an editor can’t find you, they can’t accept you—no editor is going to spend valuable time trying to hunt you down. You get one, maybe two, rarely three shots—after that you just end up in the “rejected but can’t contact” pile. Also, if you submit anything via email be sure your attachment has all your contact info on it— no editor is going to dig through dozens (if not hundreds) of emails trying to match yours with a certain story.

While I’m fuming, let me toss off a few more pet peeves:

When sending reprints, do not just photocopy or scan the book or magazine the story first appeared in (you try reading a bad photocopy); Be sure to remember to put on the manuscript its number of words (which can be a deal-killer if the editor suddenly realizes the story’s way too long); Do not submit a story to two books or magazines simultaneously — there’s nothing worse that getting a book put together and then find out that a writer sold the story or book you just bought to someone else; Don’t start haggling over things likes rights or fees until you’ve been accepted (besides, the editor rarely decides that kind of stuff); If you don’t have a permanent email address then get one—and while I’m on the subject of email, please check your mail at least once a day: it can be very frustrating to try and reach someone only to have them spend weeks getting back to you.

Anyway, thanks for this space and time to let me, in my editorial chapeau, to share some thoughts and frustrations – in order to make up for my usual venom I promise in my next Streetwalker installment to reverse it all and talk about how to work with editors and publishers from a writer’s perspective.

In the meantime: Get a good email account and stick with it!

Sheesh!

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Aug 232012
 
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Oh, dear, I’ve done it again.

You’d think would have learned my lesson – what with the fallout over the whole Me2plagiarism” thing – but I guess not.

Just in case you may have missed it, I have a new book out, called Finger’s Breadth. As the book is a “sexy gay science fiction thriller” about queer men losing bits of their digits – though, of course, there’s a lot more to the novel than that.

Anyhow, I thought it would be fun to create another bout ofcrazy publicity by claiming that I would be lopping off one of my own fingersto get the word out about it.

Naturally, this has caused a bit of a fuss – which got me to thinking, and this thinking got me here: to a brand new Streetwalker about publicity … and pushing the envelope.

The world of writing has completely, totally, changed – and what’s worse it seems to keep changing, day-by-day if not hour-by-hour. It seems like just this morning that publishing a book was the hard part of the writing life, with publicity being a necessary but secondary evil. But not any more: ebooks and the fall of the empire of publishing have flipped the apple cart over: it’s now publishing is easy and publicity is the hard part … the very hard part.

What’s made it even worse is that everyone has a solution: you should be on Facebook, you should be on Twitter, you should be on Goodreads, you should be on Red Room, you should be on Google+, you should be doing blog tours, you should be … well, you get the point. The problem with a lot of these so-called solutions is that they are far too often like financial advice … and the old joke about financial advice is still true: the only successful people are the ones telling you how to be successful.

That’s not to say that you should put your fingers in your ears and hum real loudly: while you shouldn’t try everything in regards to marketing doing absolutely nothing is a lot worse.

But, anyway, back to me. One thing that’s popped up a lot lately has been people telling me that I’ve crossed a tasteful line in my little publicity stunts – that somehow what I’ve been doing does a disservice to me and my work.

Yeah, that smarts. But hearing that I also have a rather evil little grin on my face: for what I’ve done is nothing compared to what other writers have done.

Courtesy of Tony Perrottet of The New York Times (“How Writers Build the Brand“), comes more than a few tales of authors who have done whatever they could – and frequently more than that – to get the word out about their product. Case in point are these gems: ” In 1887, Guy de Maupassant sent up a hot-air balloon over the Seine with the name of his latest short story, ‘Le Horla,’ painted on its side. In 1884, Maurice Barrès hired men to wear sandwich boards promoting his literary review, Les Taches d’Encre. In 1932, Colette created her own line of cosmetics sold through a Paris store.”

Ever hear of a fellow by the name of Hemingway? Well, Ernest was no stranger to GETTING THE WORD OUT. A master of branding, he worked long and hard not just to get noticed but become the character that everyone thought he was – to the point where we have to wonder where the fictional Ernest began and the real Hemingway ended.

Then there’s the tale of Grimod de la Reynière (1758-1837), who turned the established idea of “wine and dine to success” by staging a dinner in celebration of his Reflections on Pleasure – though the guests were locked in until the next morning and, while they ate, Grimod lavished the assembled with anything less that praise. Outrage ensued – to put it mildly – but his book became a bestseller.

One of my personal favorites, though, is Georges Simenon – and not just because he lived in a rather exotic arrangement with his wife and claimed to have made love to over 10,000 women – but because he’d planned a stunt to write a novel in 72 hours while in a hanging glass cage in the Moulin Rouge – with the audience encouraged to choose the book’s characters, title, and more. While Georges sadly didn’t carry out his plan that hasn’t stopped other writers from trying their hands on the similar: Harlan Ellison, for instance, used to write in the front window of the now-defunct Change of Hobbit Bookstore in Los Angeles.

So should you lock yourself in a glass cage? Lock in a party of critics? Hire a hot air balloon? Stick flyers on windshields? Claim that another writer has stolen your identity?

Well, it’s up to you, but keep in mind what another author has said – also known for his publicity: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Oscar Wilde may not have lived in the age of the Internet but he, like Hemingway, Grimod, Poe, Simenon, Maupassant, and so many writers before or since, understood that it’s important to stand out from the crowd.

Certainly it’s risky, absolutely it can backfire, but at the same time there is a very long tradition in authors having a total and complete blast in getting the word out there about their work.

Before I wrap this up, I want to say one final thing about near-outrageousness and publicity. While I can’t speak for Hemingway, Grimod, and all the rest, I can speak for myself: money would be nice, fame would be pleasant, but why I’ve taken these risks and accepted the occasional backfires is because I’ve had a blast writing these books and so I’ll do whatever it takes to get them out into the world — and read.

To quote Groucho Marx: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

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Jun 282012
 
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Back in the ‘good old days’ of smut – when pornographers had to haul their steaming piles of sexually explicit materials up four and five flights of stairs – a certain writer with a gleam of sexy potential in his mesmerizing green eyes … okay, I mean me … wrote a column for the fantastic Adrienne at Erotica Readers & Writers called “Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker.”

Now one of the things I did was part of being a Streetwalker that really took off was a little series I did called “The Four Deadly Sins:” a playful examination of the things that smut writers could do but that could – to put it mildly – make their work a tough sell.  The very same “sins” I’ve been posting here on WriteSex.

Fast forward a … decade?!  Sigh.  Anyway, I had to put aside my Streetwalker days for other things but that little verboten list has always been by my side, especially since I’m now an Associate Publisher for the wonderful Renaissance Books (which includes Sizzler Editions, our erotica line).  By the way [COMMERCIAL WARNING] my old columns are now in a dead-tree and ebook collection called How To Write And Sell Erotica [COMMERCIAL ENDS]

The reason why those “sins” stay with me is because one of my Associate Publisher things is to consider books for publication – and still, today, erotica writers don’t seem to understand that while, sure, you can pretty much write whatever you want there are still some things that will more-than-likely keep your work from seeing the light of day.  Just for the record, the four are underage (self-explanatory), beastiality (same), incest (ditto) and excessive violence (torture porn or nonconsensual sex).  But I’m here to talk about a new one that’s popped up … or ‘pooped out’ to blow the joke.

But before I (ewwww) get into the details, lemmie explain how things work – both back in the ‘good old days’ as well as the digitally enlightened world of 2012.  Just as back then, publishers may be the people you will be dealing with to get your erotic masterpiece out in the world but they are ruled by distributors.  Now a lot of that has changed from then to now – most of the classic ‘distributors’ have vanished (thank god) – but the spirit stays the same: while a lot of publishers may be able to sell their books on their own sites the big money comes from having their titles on sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and so forth.

So, most of the time, when a publisher says they can’t take your work because of the content what they mean is that they could but if they do they risk the (ahem) ‘displeasure’ of these new-distributors.  Now one or two getting kicked out is annoying but a lot of publishers are scared – and rightfully so – that if they have too many titles killed because of content their entire company could conceivably be blackballed … and that’s really bad news.

So, even though we authors and publishers may not like it, the sins are there for a fairly good reason.  But, like any rule, there are usually ways around some of them.  One that immediately comes to mind is the “consensual nonconsensual” trick where the submissive might resist at first but then realizes their true nature.  Other sins, though, are tougher to skirt.  Incest and underage are good examples, though with age-play and roleplay you can kinda, sorta, use them without a problem.  Beastiality is a queer duck (to use a bad joke) but the rule is usually that if it’s a fantasy animal or creature you can use it but if it’s a regular-critter you can’t.

Which gets me to the new sin.  As you probably could tell, this has to do with … now we might get a bit technical here … poo-poo or pee-pee.  The only reason I bring this up is that I’ve been more than a few manuscripts and short story submissions to anthologies that have a touch of a incontinence problem.  Not one to disparage anyone’s sexuality, but there are very few publishers out there that will risk taking anything that sexualizes such stuff.  I’ve personally had to request writers take it out of their submissions.  Again, not because I – or ‘we’ when I’m working as a Publisher – have a problem with it but just because the places where the book will be sold do.

By the way, if you think that entering the world of self-publishing is a way to skirt all these sins think again: a lot of places look a lot more carefully at books that are not submitted by publishers – as many authors have sadly discovered.

As I’ve said before, an author can do whatever they want – that, after all, is the beauty of being a writer: the sky is not even close to the limit of the human imagination.  But, that being said, you also have to realize that even today, with the ebook revolution, if you want to get your work beyond your own website, you have to understand how things work.

It’s not pretty but – like poo-poo – it’s a part of every writer’s life.

 

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May 262012
 
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Here’s a special invitation to erotica writers & artists looking for a bit of free exposure.

Frequently Felt is my playful little blog — “A lobcock of erotic trivialities, oddities, and miscellanea transcribed with jaundiced talent for naught but a boxing Jesuit indulgence by a disreputable posse mobilitatis” – where I’ve been posting this, that, and everything betwixt and between having to do with sex and erotica.  For friends I’m opening Frequently Felt to very short stories and artwork on a first-come-first-posted basis.  Here are the specifics:

  • Literary pieces no longer than 1000 words.
  • No underage characters, excessive violence, incest, homophobia, or bestiality
  • Please include some form of contact information at the end (email, Web site, etc.) to be published with your piece
  • I reserve the right to refuse to publish anything – it’s my blog, after all

Submit your work to mchristianzobop@gmail.com.  I do my best to post things every other day or so but things sometimes happen to disrupt that schedule…

I’m also interested in interviews, reviews, editorial pieces, artwork, blog posts and other fun things.  If you want to help out with that, just write me and we’ll chat about it.

M. Christian

www.mchristian.com

www.meinekleinefabrik.blogspot.com

www.frequentlyfelt.blogspot.com

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May 102012
 
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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 erotica, 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 hat 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 dependant 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.

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Mar 242012
 
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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 sideways humorous manner might not scream at an editor or publisher I’M AN INCEST STORY. Instead, it will come across as humorous or thought-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, incest 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: immediate family relations are damned tough to deal with, but 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 lying 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 mundane 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 lover.

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 is using this theme in an interesting or thought-provoking way, or just as a cheap shot. If you have any questions, either try and look at the story with a neutral eye, or ask a friend you respect for their opinion. But I wouldn’t ask your parents.

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Jan 262012
 
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Only in erotica can the line “Come, Fido!” be problematic. Unlike some of the other Four Deadly Sins of erotica 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. This is 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, and if it was once living, then it’s 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 writing labeled 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 and 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 on it, 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: read it one way and it’s a unique power game, but 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 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. Science fiction doesn’t turn your crank so you say: “Got it! It’s a dream!” Well, I have 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 story.

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.”

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