Aug 262010

“When I hear his steps outside my door I lie down on my bed, open my legs and think of England.” – Lady Alice Hillingdon, 1912

Poor Lady Hillingdon. Methinks she and her partner just weren’t doing it right.

Too often I think this frigid mindset about sex persists today, particularly in fiction. Certainly, some people believe that sex is like venereal disease — you know it exists, may even have personal knowledge of it, but never, ever talk about it in polite company, and certainly not with humor.

In my opinion, sex is not something to be hidden under the cover of darkness and talked about in whispers. It is a natural function, one that should be experienced with joy, and celebrated in both life and fiction.

As far as quality of life goes, sex and laughter tie for the top spot on my list of must-haves for a couple of reasons. Both can give greater dimension and intimacy to a relationship, and let’s face it — both make you feel good. Or at least, they should for most of us (I believe Lady Alice got the fuzzy end of the lollipop on that one).

Why on earth wouldn’t I want this same dynamic combination in the romantic fiction I read and write?

My characters almost always laugh with and at each other and the world around them. Their relationships are forged with sarcastic one-liners, with witty banter, and even a couple of pratfalls now and then. They tend to laugh often — even in bed.

Yes, I admit it. I’ve broken the cardinal rule of writing sex scenes more than once and had my characters chuckle between the sheets. Hey…art imitates life, and I freely confess I’ve had some of my best laughs in bed.

It’s my contention that humor, done correctly and with the right timing, can be the world’s most effective, cheapest, and least messy lube. Humor can break the tension; giving readers (and characters) a much need respite from the build-up of intense emotions. It can be a catalyst for the shedding of inhibitions between characters. Most importantly, it can hammer home a sense of reality to the scene that can strengthen a reader’s connection with the characters.

In far too many of today’s movies and books, sex scenes are either all about the physical act, or just too damn serious. In real life, sex is often full of fumbles and near misses, of bumping noses, clacking teeth, and noggins smacking the headboard. It’s full of interruptions, from phone calls to kids barging in, to pets wanting attention at the most inopportune moments. Showing these all-too-human foibles periodically in sex scenes can strike a resonant chord with readers, reminding them of some of the more awkward, intimate moments of their own lives.

In other words, humor can give characters life.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But Kiernan, won’t sticking humor smack dab in the middle of a sex scene throw the reader out of the moment?”

The answer is, probably.

I’m not being contrary. When I talk about writing humor into a sex scene, I don’t mean stopping the characters mid-coitus to have one or the other jump up and smash a watermelon with a mallet. I certainly don’t mean having one partner stop drilling the other to do a stand-up routine. That would be just…wrong. Timing is the key. A little gentle humor, a quick chuckle between partners before things get hot and heavy, can go a long way.

Unless, of course, you want the sex scene to end. Coitus interruptus is tried and true method of building sexual tension, and humor is a great way to do it.

Humor after sex is particularly effective. It can show an easy camaraderie between long-time partners, or discomfort between almost-strangers, and it’s especially useful in providing post-hot-and-sweaty-coital tension relief for the reader.

What type of humor you use is an individual choice. I think most writers create characters that appeal to them physically, and the brand of humor written into a story should be no different. Writing humor that you don’t enjoy personally would probably fall flat. My humor is often of the sarcastic variety, although I’ve been known to throw in a little physical humor if I believe it fits with both the story and the characters. Basically, if it makes you laugh, go for it.

To the Alice Hillingdons of the world: lighten up. You might just loosen up enough to find out what the rest of the world already knows — that good sex can put a smile on your face.

Aug 192010

Other writers get it, of course: romance writers live in rosy castles and have crinoline dreams; science fiction authors are pasty-faced nerds with more love for science than humanity; horror pros keep bodies in their basement for research.
It’s natural for people to think that because you write smut … well, it’s pretty obvious that they think: thin, greasy mustaches, seedy domains, hacks, perverts – the clichés pop immediately to mind. But what’s really interesting is that this isn’t the toughest of occupational hazards for the erotica writer. After all, life is full of surprises: the romance author is a cynical young guy, the science fiction writer can’t balance his checkbook, the horror fan loves Fred Astaire movies, and the erotica writer is just doing a job.
Who cares what other people think: it’s what’s inside you that counts – and what’s inside erotica can be very unusual, sometimes almost traumatic.
The romance writer might fall in love with one of his or her characters, science fiction writers might be endlessly frustrated that they’re living in the past and not the future they love, and horror writers might look at the world through a serial killer’s eyes, but smut writers deal with very loaded stuff every time they pick up their metaphorical pens. Sex is powerful: it lives in the deepest parts of us, lurking in the brainstem right up there with climbing in the trees. It’s also very unpredictable. Sex isn’t intellectual; changing our sexual selves is like trying to change left or right-handedness. Despite what hysterical fundamentalists believe, sexual orientation isn’t something that can be cured – don’t even bother to try. In short, sex is the atomic bomb of the psyche.
When you write smut, you have to be prepared to be surprised. When anyone sits down to write fiction, they casually flip through their lives, loves, and experience to fill in the blanks. This character is white, this character is black, this character is straight, gay, tall, short, fat, thin, nasty, sweet … this character is (fill in the blank). When you write stories with a sexual focus, those choices can sometimes reveal deep sexual feelings – feelings that can emerge in unexpected ways.
One of the big decisions erotica writers have to face is a professional one: write what you like and what you know, or try to write about other orientations or practices. Stick to familiar territory and your market is very limited – but even if you stick to your own sexual neighborhood, you still can be in for some surprises. Write the same kind of story, even if it’s as broad as your orientation with no queer or S/M overtones, enough times and something is bound to emerge. Maybe it’s the location, the description of the characters, the sex act itself – something is going to pop up. A memory will emerge, a revelation of a certain sexual peculiarity will dawn on you – and you’ll find yourself staring at a blank page, shivering.
I’ve known writers who’ve found themselves unexpectedly aroused by a story that’s taken a dark, even horrifyingly sexual turn – or straight writers getting turned on by writing gay porno, and vice versa. I’ve had the experience myself, getting honestly disturbed by a story I’d been writing. While I definitely encourage writers to try new and unique approaches to writing, I also warn them about these surprises – they’re part of the game for being an erotica writer.
What to do about it? Like anything psychological, there isn’t a cure-all technique. But why should you try and cure it? It’s part of you. Maybe it’s something small, maybe something indicative of a larger issue, but it’s still part of who you are. Personally, I try to really look at what pops up, and how it makes me feel. Is it frightening, the emotions that came up during the writing of that one story, or is it a theme that I hadn’t been aware of? An editor of mine pointed out that a lot of my stories take place at dusk or dawn, between day and night. When I heard this, I was shocked and angry that I’d subconsciously used the same device over and over again, but then I realized that for me it was also a way of using a curtain between our walking-around selves and our sexual selves. Another friend of mine recently realized that most of his characters have a certain color hair and eyes. Not the end of the world, certainly, but still exposing something laying deep in the mind.
When the discoveries are more shocking, one thing I try and remember is what I call the horror hazard. Horror writers have the same visceral reaction to their work: thinking too much about how much blood a decapitation would generate, or the sound a hatchet would make cutting off a limb. It doesn’t mean they want to try it, but the images are too real … too vivid. Writers, remember, use their imaginations, and imaginations are made of jumbled experience and rearranged thoughts. It doesn’t mean that the wish is father to the action, it just means that you’ve managed to impress your own consciousness with your skill as a storyteller. You’ve surprised your own mind.
Good or bad, it is simply an unusual discovery or an indication of something deeper, something disturbing, and these things happen. Whether you decide to let it bother you, use it for self-exploration, or smile at the fact that your writing managed to arouse yourself – it is up to you. The best advice I can give is to remember two little things when it does happen: like anything to do with sex, you are not alone. We all have had our similar moments, the same fears and disturbing thoughts. The other is that you’re a writer, remember: a teller of stories, a professional liar. Your life, your dreams, your thoughts are fodder for your work, and that sometimes using the stuff that might scare you or make you uncomfortable is the best thing. In other words, when things are uncomfortable, try exploring further: write it out and see where it goes.
That’s an occupational hazard, but it can also be the greatest reward.

Aug 122010

Not that my name means much to anyone except me (and it hardly does me) I do think a quick introduction is in order. More to see my credits listed then to impress, I am a freelancer in this writing thang we do, having been published in small press, major market, anthos and on-line; penning blogs, essays, SEO webcopy (more on that in a bit), produced one-acts (so off off Broadway they have been produced in northern NJ where I live), short fiction, reviews and interviews, 800# pre-recorded scripts and my weekly column SEX FILES at a website to be named later. I also have a music show on Radiodentata and am an ASCAP licensed songwriter, having played in the US and abroad.

So that’s me, for good or bad.

The main gist, point, fol-de-rol and fiddle dee dee of what I will present here we be the ins and outs of SEO (that’s search engine optimization) in the sex writing field, where it fits in and how and why to do it. Since I write everything from P.R. for clients, to product descriptions, interviews and even short gonzo pieces, and almost all of it needs to have some sort of SEO compliance, I might be in a position to give some tips, advice or at least answer questions about this voodoo that we do.

The thing I have come to see (and I’m sure you have also) is how all bets are off these days. The table lists constantly. One day one type of doing something is the only way, and by the end of the week the rules change. As seems to happen more and more, the Net allows for so much freedom while at the same time opening doors to ways of thinking and working that are seen as innovative on a Monday but grow obsolete by Friday. What I will be on about here is ways of writing more dictated by trends and market-place rules then your own little style and way of writing that makes you you. And while in all my writing I endeavor to find my own voice, I do find I am implementing so many new paradigms as the days go on that sometimes make my head spin.

To this end I am ever learning. I don’t take everything to heart, some ideas or trends are simply too silly or don’t apply with what I do, but writing copy with a specific eye on SEO is different then penning the great American novel in your enviable style. And though I don’t start my fingers flying with the express purpose of stuffing keywords into every line nor am I even compelled to do so with every scribble, this way of thinking has crept into the work I do when I am hired to do the work this way.

Again, I really do hope I have something to offer here. I do not have a rarified view of what I do, of art in general. I think that anything you do with a passion is artful. If you have a desire to lift, topple and shift garbage from a garbage can, and this is a job you take pride and view as artful, then it is just as important as another guy or gal penning that great American novel. And maybe that’s what I’ll leave you with today. Nothing specific in the way of SEO writing or its ilk, but more an idea that whatever you do do, if you do do it well and want to do do it well, that you are approaching that thing you do ‘artfully’ and beyond paying attention to a certain number of keywords in your copy or fitting in the website name in a blog or article, maybe the most important aspect of anything you do is to always endeavor to do it with care, passion and some sort of artfulness.

 Then again, I’m new here, what the hell do I know? 

Aug 052010

Plot Broken Down Part I

First things first! I’d like to welcome Ralph Greco Jr. and Debbie Riley Magnus to the team. The former I met last year at Cybernet Expo and was impressed with him as he grew into the writer he is now. He’ll be handling some basic Search Engine Optimization for writers while also covering the interview medium. And Deb is my publicist with whose help I’ve created this blog. She’s a marketing genius and an author. She’ll cover marketing for authors. Ralph will fill Dr. Peeler’s slot and Deb’s first post will follow Oceania’s next month.

Last time I had the blog we covered novel writing plot basics and how erotica/romance authors fit sex into their plot. To recap:

In EROTICA sex is the plot. The ONE event (depending on the story length) is that the characters have to end up in bed. This can be conflict driven.



Having said this, we now need to know how to plot quickly and effectively. The faster we can plot a story that sells, the faster we can write that story with less hassle. Before I continue, I will mention that like my mentor, this is the method that works for ME. You “may” have variations but at the end we’re talking about who gets quality books which readers want to read out faster and how to sell to publishers.

The first question I want to ask you is: When you’re creating your plot, where is your conflict going to happen? Will it be character based as in typical contemporary romances such as those found at eHarlequin. Their BLAZE line (which I am currently targeting) is aimed at relationship conflicts. Sure there’s the outer world to deal with and even in their grittier Nocturne Line where paranormal elements abound, the focus is on the actual character development.

If you’re writing Urban Fantasy, then our focus changes slightly to outside the character conflicts. Look at writers like Jeri Smith-Ready and Yasmine Galenorn, who write series books about worlds, not just characters. There is character development as each story progresses but the focus is on how that development will aid in the war against the BIG BAD ENEMY.

Then we need to ask if we’re blending erotic with any genres. If we are, then we have to account for that in our plot arc and character development arc.

The other elements we must deal with are story length and POV. We’ve covered POV. Who has the most to lose is who should have the POV control. Story length we’ll cover in our next post.

Sascha Illyvich