Jan 122012

Hi Folks,

How has your new year started off? Have you made writer resolutions for more sales, more releases, more books to be read?  Or are you swamped like I am even though it’s only the first week of the year?  LOL!

My biggest news right now is that The Playground is released through Decadent Publishing!  The 1Night Stand series is apparently very popular and when I met Kate Richards and Valerie Mann at Erotic Authors Association Con in Vegas last year, they convinced me to write something for them.

One of the biggest factors writers need to realize when they start writing a new book is the time commitment to it . Usually I cover craft on WriteSEX but I think we should talk a little on the business side of things too for this article.  In a previous Authors Promoting Authors blog post I had talked about research and looking at things from the standpoint of ROI on TIME invested in a book.  Being efficient is key when writing because as we’ve covered before, true wealth can be had by a writer but it takes a LOT of work and so few writers actually amount massive wealth. I pointed out eh importance of education on topics such as BDSM or psychology in the APA blog so that once you sit down to write a story, you don’t have to stop and research, thus breaking your train of thought.

After all, train of thought in writing gets the words on the paper.  But if you have to stop and look up the term SAM, maybe you don’t know what it is and have no sense of which websites are reliable, so more time spent on research, which affects plotting and character development in the long run.  Everything as a writer that you do should be measured in terms of return on investment.

You are a writer, an artist yes.  but the truth of the matter is, many of you have this goal and desire to be a decently paid if not well paid author and the only way to truly meet that goal is with proper planning, self discipline and keeping your ass in the chair and pounding out the words.  Oceania, our Audio Goddess, did a post last year on deadlines and writer’s block that I think will help from time to time. Continue with your education to learn what works and what doesn’t.

So, set your goals, write them down!  Put them someplace where you’ll find them a year from now.

Sascha Illyvich

Dec 232011

This year has flown by hasn’t it? And in a week or so it’ll all be over and we’ll be on our way in 2012!  What are you looking forward to as a writer of erotica in the coming year?  What sales techniques will you use or have you learned from WriteSEX that have or will help you sell more books?  And lastly, looking back, are you a stronger writer now than you were at the first of 2011?

The answer is probably a resounding YES!  That being said, we’ve had a long year despite how fast it flew by.

Publicist Deborah Riley Magnus launched The Author Success Coach

Jean Marie Stine of Sizzler Editions gained 14 new authors for our Intoxication line

M. Christian and I attended the very first Erotic Authors Association Conference in Las Vegas on behalf of Sizzler Editions as editors of quality erotica. And back at the beginning of the year, WriteSEX taught for Savvy Authors.

We’re teaching again only this time it’s for Lowcounty Romance Writers of America.  January 5th-29th, M. Christian, Oceania, Debbie Riley Magnus and I will be online teaching the business, tricks and techniques to a successful career in writing erotica.  Details can be found here.  Those are just a few of the accomplishments we’ve had overall from the WriteSEX group.

Lots going on and a lot more planned for 2012.  I would like to be the first, on behalf of all of WriteSEX to wish you a happy holiday season and blessings for the New Year!

Dec 152011

* * * Permission To Forward Granted and Appreciated! * * *

January 2012 – WriteSEX: Defining Erotica

Presented by Sascha Illyvich and WriteSEX
Dates:  January 5 – 29, 2012
Deadline:  January 3, 2012

Course Description:


Sascha Illyvich, with the help of M Christian, Oceania, Jean Marie Stine, Ralph Greco, Deborah Riley Magnus and Thomas Roche, are going to explore the daunting aspects of erotica in all its forms.  Once a week we’ll discuss every aspect of writing sexy fiction from what makes a story erotic even if there is little to no sex involved.  Writers of all genres will come away with writing tips that will benefit their careers.  We’ll cover author marketing, what defines a story as erotic, things new writers need to consider and the business angle of writing erotica.

Every week we focus on a different aspect of writing erotica.  Our other authors will do own introductions.  Some of them have a rather unique way of letting you know who they are!  I’ll be covering writing style in general for starters.  For this class, we’re going to take our lessons deeper in plot, audio and marketing so that the author comes away with a more comprehensive understanding of the erotic business, be it romance or more adult oriented.

Instructor Bio:

Sascha started writing twelve years ago, releasing poetry and an occasional short erotica story before focusing on kinky erotic romance in various subgenres.  His books have been listed under the Road to Romance’s Recommended read list, as well nominated for the CAPA.

He is also the host of the Unnamed Romance Show on Radio Dentata and continue to write for Renaissance E-books, and Total E-bound.  Readers can find his work, plus free reads at http://www.saschaillyvich.com


He is also part of the WriteSex Panel, a blog group that’s defining erotica for writers in any genre! Find us at http://www.writesex.net


You can register for the following on-line class through January 3.  Each class is $16.  FMI: www.lowcountryrwa.com/online-workshops/


Or email Online Workshop Coordinator, Veronica Alderson, alde02@knology.net using the Subject line: LRWA ONLINE WORKSHOP.  To subscribe to LRWA Online Workshop monthly mailing list, LRWAonlinecourses@yahoogroups.com

Thank you.

Veronica Alderson,
LRWA Online Workshop Coordinator
LRWA Treasurer



Cheers, Veronica


Love defies all odds…even death

Slay Me Tonight – 2009 East Texas RWA Southern Heat 2nd Place Winner

2009 MARA Fiction From the Heartland Finalist


Dec 082011

With my next column, I’ll be continuing my series on the use of the senses in erotica. But for the time being, I want to talk about something dear to my heart — the line between erotic horror and dark erotica — or, to put a broader spin on the latter, science fiction, fantasy and horror (SF/F/H) erotica.

I consider “dark erotica” to be fiction where the “dark” element exists in service of the erotic element, and “SF/F/H erotica” to be a broader  category where the unusual or unreal element is not necessarily dark or scary — just paranormal. “Erotic horror,” on the other hand, puts the erotic element in the service of fear — in a sense, just the opposite.

Writing one or the other is a matter of personal taste, attitude, talent and strengths. In this week’s column on science fiction, fantasy and horror writing  over at The Night Bazaar, I talk about the aversion I once felt to writing action scenes. In writing fantasy and horror, I thought of myself as someone who invented complicated paranormal universes, not slam-dunk punch-in-the-face action. (I’m not sure why I thought that…it seems absurd in retrospect).

Here’s something I wrote at The Night Bazaar:

[T]he more I write, the less my strengths matter and the more my weaknesses do. That’s because writing a lot of fiction puts me face-to-face with every possible roadblock in my creative process, and every roadblock is a potential “debunking” of my strengths. It doesn’t matter how great I can write X type of scene, if Y type of scene keeps me from ever finishing my novel. As a result, all that my strengths do is allow me to get past the weaknesses, or manage them effectively. That’s great news, yeah, but if I take the time to celebrate my strengths, it only slows me down.


I think that’s important in considering what makes something dark erotica or erotic horror — as opposed to just horror with erotic elements.

Personally, I have a much easier time writing erotica than writing SF/F/H; it’s much less of a struggle to find what I want to say. All of my SF/F/H has a message; the message varies from work to work, but I have to know it before I can figure out which of my strengths apply to that particular story or novel.

With erotica, on the other hand I already know the message: sex is hot. There may be implications to that — especially in a BDSM or D/s piece — and there may be man complex subthemes to erotica. But ultimately it’s about the characters feeling pleasure, as concretely as a pulp action story would be about the characters having adventures.

That makes the composition a hell of a lot simpler, because I can skip the complex soul-searching that comes when I write about fear of the unknown, about the collapse of society, about the apocalypse, without the anchoring theme of “basically we’re going to enjoy this.” All those things tangle up my emotions when I’m writing non-erotic SF/F/H. Erotic action is a kind of storytelling solace to me, because it’s so straightforward.

So what do I have to say about explicitly and intentionally erotic science fiction, fantasy, and horror? I’m talking about works where the erotic elements have a clear intent: to turn the reader on — while, at the same time, the science fiction, fantasy or horror elements  are fully realized. This is the Holy Grail for many readers I know, who love kinky fiction but also read a lot of SF and fantasy.

One of the most common places the crossover of paranormal elements and erotica can be seen in the erotic marketplace is with vampire fiction — where vampirism is in many ways a stand-in for power exchange or for a surrender to the carnal, bestial elements of one’s nature, or to the unknown or to risk and danger. A similar connection can be seen in erotic fiction about werewolves, and (far less commonly) about ghosts, without the bestial element but with a more strongly developed sense of risk.

To me, what makes something SF/F/H erotica or dark erotica, as opposed to simply science fiction, fantasy or horror with sexual elements, is that that the fantastic or paranormal element has to be deeply connected to the erotic element.

Here’s an example of fantastic or paranormal erotica. In my story The Spiritualist (which I wrote as N.T. Morley), the main character Dr. Carny Keye is obsessed with exploring “union” with the denizens of the afterlife — not to put too fine a point on it, she wants to fuck ghosts. That’s not just because it’s a turn-on, but because it represents something beyond the world of the living, and sex is the method she uses to get there. It’s not quite horror; rather, the horror elements (ghosts) are used in the service of the turn-on, but within the story, the sex is used as a way of establishing connection with the ghosts. It’s a daisy chain. Most of the story is erotic action, but the “reason” for the sex is identical to, or maybe a mirror-image of, the “reason” for the ghosts. The ultimate message may not be simply “sex is hot,” but at the very least it’s “sex is a force for positive transformation.” Whatever other messages a reader takes away from “The Spiritualist,” this positivity is what makes it dark erotica in my mind, rather than erotic horror.

But because of the element of danger or jeopardy that exists in most science fiction or fantasy, and definitely in most horror, it’s a fine line between erotica and not-erotica. Therefore, even my description of dark erotica as being something where the erotic element is integral to the fantastic element doesn’t quite hold true — because that’s true, I believe, of good erotic horror as well.

Here’s another example. This one is of a story that, to my mind, is not erotica, despite having many sensual elements that are integral to the horror.

My zombie story “The Sound of Weeping” (this one written under my own name) is about internalized homophobia. In it, the zombies represent the homosexual cravings that the main character feels. He wants to be “eaten alive,” and through some (deliberately ambiguous) force of nature, his suppressed desire overcomes the barrier between life and death — resulting in (you guessed it!) a zombie attack. There are numerous sensual elements in the story, but it’s not “erotica.” Why? Because the intention is not to turn you on. That isn’t to say it won’t, but only in service of making another point. The ultimate message is not “sex is hot,” and it’s not “sex is a positive force for transformation.” It’s “sex is dangerous,” and maybe to make it more complicated: “Denying sexual desire creates explosive and hazardous emotional brokenness.” The story is about the main character’s internalized homophobia not being conquered, but indulged until it destroys him, and others around him. The theme is explored in the context of external homophobia in the story’s sequel, “Veggie Mountain,” which I don’t believe anybody could credibly call “erotica,” even though it also deals with sexuality. It’s unquestionably horror.

You might say my view is carried to the extreme in my novel The Panama Laugh, where the action inside a San Francisco porn studio is described in almost oblique terms, because the commercial sex itself is largely irrelevant to the main action of the story, even though the porn studio (which is also the home of a Wikileaks-style social activist network) is a central element. The novel is laced with throwaway lines that allude to the freakish and titillating elements within the porn studio, but there’s no narrative reason to linger on them. Whereas “Veggie Mountain” could maybe be called “erotic horror,” I don’t think anyone in their right mind would go so far as to apply that label to The Panama Laugh, however central to the action its fictitious porn company is.

Have I really established where the line gets drawn? Not by a longshot. The way I see it, the “supergenres” of SF/F/H and erotica overlap, in much the same way that the genres of SF, fantasy, and horror overlap, or the genres of crime and horror overlap, or the genres of BDSM erotica and D/s erotica overlap. Therefore, of course the subgenres of dark erotica and erotic horror overlap. Oftentimes the elements are integral to each other, and oftentimes teasing them out from each other is incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

To my way of thinking, that’s when the works get really interesting, because they challenge our perceptions. Whether the central message is “sex is hot” or “sex is dangerous,” or something far more complicated, there are endless shades of grey in between every perception of sexuality. That’s what makes writing every flavor of erotic fiction — from sex-positive erotica to erotic horror — such a pleasure for me.

Nov 262011

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.


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 twenty-one when they first have sex is just silly); and there’s the scary potential that if you use a lot of characters below twenty-one 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 burg where consent is twenty-one 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 anyone but Bill Gates.

So how do you avoid the wrath of Bubba from 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 sinful 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 since there are very simple techniques a writer can use to keep the law off his or her ass, or just keep 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 had his cherry popped at twenty-one. 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 figure.

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 erotica-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, and these jitters 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. It’s just something to keep in mind.

The answer to this confusion between the careful and the outrageous applies to most questions regarding markets for erotica:

  • Read the publication
  • Check out the guidelines
  • Ask questions, and…
  • Don’t 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 it’s 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 losing your virginity.

Nov 172011

I don’t know how to say this without just coming out and saying it…you don’t need a website anymore.

What I mean specifically is, if your client is spending tons of cash on a site builder, enlisting the opinion (and paying for that opinion) of a site designer and he is including you in on the budget for some SEO copy, that’s all well and good, but really all any of us need these days is a WordPress, Typad or Drupal site or something comparable. And if your client goes this way-a much cheaper way of creating a web presence-it will only benefit you in the end.

So I guess what I am saying is, if your opinion matters in the process of a client’s budget or concerns know that he will be better served by going the easier, cheaper way.

Why is this better for you, the master SEO scribe?

Basically the client is the master of his or her domain with W.P., Typad, etc.He can change or allow you access to change content and update at will, he will not be at the mercy of the site’s developer and therefore neither will you. This is especially helpful if you are blogging for somebody (or a few somebody’s) on a regular basis, as you can just pop on a site, do what you need to and pop off, leaving you to your weekly missives, articles, options that you been hired to write.

In making SEO easier, it is sometimes not just how you write what you write and the tools of the trade I can impress upon you but also the logistics of taking the easy way over the hard if you can.

Press the press my fellow droogs, press the press.

Nov 102011

Who gets to talk?

Readers get attached to characters they care about and have built relationships with, just as in reality.  Kill off a favorite character from your reader base and you’d better believe you’re going to hear about it!  Alter that character’s world somehow and again, you’ll get feedback.  But what if the hero and heroine both have something to lose?  Then what do you do?

Cover for Sascha Illyvich's 1NightStand story by Decadent Publishing

Refer back to length of the story.  Who has the greatest loss, and the greatest gain?  Write from THAT one character’s POV and ONLY change scenes if word length allows for it and only if that character’s journey makes us feel something universal.

I recently read a story where head hopping occurred so much because the writer thought to write scenes like we see in TV.  Take Burn Notice for example:  We have Michael Westin, (The hero) Fiona (Heroine) and all the side characters, most notably Sam, the drunk former CIA op who we get to see frequently.  POV switches don’t really occur much because the story is narrated by Michael Westin, but when we do get those changes, Westin is still narrating. That works because people need to see a lot of visuals and TV/movies allow for those shifts to occur. The average attention span is not that long.

But FICTION writing doesn’t.  You’ll end up with unsmooth transitions, annoying head hopping issues that make the reader THROW YOUR BOOK THE FUCK AWAY!


ou do two things.  You show the reader what YOU want them to see; otherwise they’ll see something else.  And you make the story smooth.  By sticking to word limit/reason for changes, you’ll eliminate guesswork in your plotting.

Some writers can get away wit

h multiple POV changes.  Sherrylin Kenyon for example can, she has a built in audience that somehow doesn’t care about the change from the H/H to Ash or Stryker.  So does Laurel K. Hamilton, but because she writes in First Person POV, she doesn’t have that ability.  But if she wrote in third person, she could afford to change because she’s ESTABLISHED.  Chances are that you’re not them. (And if you are, thanks for reading my article!)

Christine Feehan does an excellent job of keeping the POV between her hero and heroine.  So does Richelle Mead. And Rebecca York.  Those authors are authors who don’t write what I do, but I learn from them because they’re where I hope to be someday.

To reinforce the key points, I’ll leave with my two rules for simplification.

  1. Tell the story from the character’s POV that has the MOST to lose
  2. Use word length 20k = 1 character.  40k, 2 characters.  60k-100k+=3 and ONLY three.

The obvious exception would be if you have a reason for a secondary story such as the one used in Back in Black by Lori Foster where she had the main conflict going on and for what I felt was literally a second story all it’s own, but was tied together neatly by the author.  That will be a different post though, when we break into deeper POV and more on storytelling craft.

That should simplify things in your stories.  Happy writing!

Sascha Illyvich


Listen to The UnNamed Romance Show Mondays at 1 PM PST and Thursdays at 3 PM PST on www.radiodentata.com – hear from Sascha as he shares his work along with interviewing the hottest authors in today’s romance

Oct 272011

discipline keeps the course when all else seems impossible.

Have you seen the movie Limitless with that sexy Bradley Cooper? in the opening scene you see him walking across the street he is unkempt, (unkempt such a lovely word), and then we hear him say “You see that guy? That was me not so long ago. What kind of guy without a drug or alcohol problem looks this way? Only a writer.”

In the opening Eddie, played by Bradley Cooper, joins friends for a drink he attempts to tell them about his book but as he puts it not even his friends can believe he has a book deal.  So he decides that today is the day he is going to conquer his demons and own that book but he has writers block….

It seems that I am always talking about road blocks to the story.  Unlike M Christian, Thomas Roche, Sascha Illyvich, Jean Marie Stine, Deborah Riley Magnus and the other very great names that contribute here that offer great advice on how to succeed – I am here to tell you that YES it takes talent, YES it takes a bit of luck! YES it takes all these great writers have to tell you and more to succeed. But many do succeed and you can too if you just stay in the room and write.

So today I sit in front of my computer  like I do every day  creating websites, creating stories.. getting carried away by the moment that leads to the next burst of creativity. But somehow this Thursday is different, after a long hiatus, I am back… but I don’t feel like I belong. What do I have to offer other than the recurring theme of perseverance? What can I say that is will impart knowledge. How do I fit in with this site’s company of such articulate, informative, talented writers….

I know many of you must face that feeling of not being good enough, not having anything to say worth writing. Your stories feel insignificant and the plots stale and yet there is still an ember that burns inside that keeps you from working at the mall or some fast food restaurant.

Eddie in Limitless knew that he needed a the bones of  good work ethic to put this ideas on paper but he couldn’t keep his ass in the chair.

Because it was a movie he took drugs that helped him do all the things he wanted to do with a clear head and no self doubt. But that is real. In the real world drugs and alcohol dim our lights and handicap us.

In my world, when I feel this way I look at the quote by Robert Huges that I keep close by…  “The Greater the artist, the greater the doubt. perfect confidence is given to the less talented as a consolation prize.”

it reminds me that I will have doubts but that I can work through them…

As writers, artists we will always have doubts. It has been a constant struggle through the centuries. Even Monet who was known to visit the Louve in his painters smock  would fix his painting with brushes he had hidden in that smock.

So today if the words are not coming, don’t give up. Just keep your ass in the chair and type.

With love

Oct 192011

Publicity is using the media to create relevant exposure for your book

Take a serious look at your book, especially your “hooks” those unique elements that not only make your book stand apart, but identify additional readers for your book beyond genre followers. What in your book or connected to your “hook” might lend itself to publicity or a charity? Connecting with a charity does several wonderful things. It shows you’re a caring author, it supports something you care about, and it connects with your story.

Don’t just randomly choose a charity. If your book has nothing to do with cancer research and none of the characters are cancer survivors, it’s not really productive to connect your book with that charity. If the charity is near and dear to your heart, by all means support it, but don’t connect it to your book, it will look and feel random.

If, on the other hand your story or non-fiction subject does directly connect with a charity, move ahead. Create fundraising events. Donate a portion of your book profits to the charity and make sure they know. Be sure to have the charity logo displayed with an announcement that a portion of your profits support Cancer Research, or The Kidney Foundation, or the ASPCA or whichever charity works.

It’s a kind of giving back that is good for the author’s soul and good for the book buyer’s soul. And, as long as you are doing well, the charity will notify it’s supporters that you are doing this. It just may result in more sales.

Be honest about this, no fake or half efforts. Charitable organizations all over the world are desperate for financial help. It’s a chance for the author to be a hero.

All of this takes place in the world of the media. Press releases and press contacts are a huge part of your publicity, and the charity will benefit from this press as well. Remember the Media Room in your Author Platform website? This is the kind of information that goes in there. If a newspaper does a story about your charity fundraising event, you post that story. If you are interviewed and/or a podcast is created, you post it in your Media Room. News doesn’t just happen, you have to make it happen.

Next time we’ll cover Author Success Tool #6, Your Image.

Feel free to contact me at writerchef@sbcglobal.net with any questions or to share your success stories! If you’d like to know more, let me know and I’ll put you on the mailing list for online workshops and information about my book, Finding Author Success: Discovering and Uncovering the Marketing Power Within Your Manuscript available November 5 in print and ebook.

Oct 132011

First things first: As I talk about describing sound in fiction, my erotic crime-noir story “Hell on Wheels” is about to be broadcast as an audio program on the BBC. It should be live on the website after it’s on the radio, so if you’re interested, check my personal blog thomasroche.com and my new blog about hardboiled, crime, noir and detective fiction, boiledhard.com, for an updated link once the program is available on the BBC.

Also, my alter ego NTMorley.com has a new blog live at ntmorley.com, with a visual bibliography and plenty of links to my work at Renaissance Ebooks. And in celebration of Halloween, I’ve just published The Spiritualist, a tale of bondage and ravishment by ghosts that has never been published in its full form, available for Kindle, as well as the obscurely-published bondage-ravishment novella A Night Without A Moon and my steampunk story Hysterical Friction, which is under my Thomas S. Roche “pseudonym.”

Also, did I mention I have a new horror novel out? The Panama Laugh is the first ultraviolent crime-noir pulp fiction zombie apocalypse about terrorism, hollow government, privatization of the public sector and LOLZ. I believe it’s also the first zombie apocalypse set partially in a BDSM porn studio…and if it’s not the first one to feature blimp combat, it oughta be. Find out more about The Panama Laugh here, or discover the viral nightmare at PanamaLaugh.com, Zombileaks.com and Z-Listed.com.

Sound and Voice in Fiction and Erotica

This post is part of my series on how to use descriptions that appeal to the five (or six) senses in erotic fiction. Today, I’m talking sound. Describing sound with words is always a challenge for me, but it can be one of the great pleasures of writing about music, which is one of my first loves. So I take the use of sound very seriously when it comes to erotica.

I’ve written several hundred music reviews over the years — but almost all of them more than 10 years ago. I’m a little rusty on the description of sounds…especially since, when it comes to erotica, I’ve always had a hell of a time incorporating “hearing words.” In fact, I struggle with this on an almost daily basis, because I like writing erotica from a very sensual perspective, and sounds always throw me for a loop.

Once upon a time, I wrote — at the insistence of my then-employer — an article about vaginal farts. I was quite sure that this was not a big enough topic to warrant an article, and in any event at the time I had no real interest in writing such an article. While I certainly acknowledge that such expulsions might cause unnecessary embarrassment for someone experiencing them, the whole topic seemed to me to warrant a mention in an article about embarrassing sexual situations or something — not an article of its own. But I was a beginning writer, so I wrote it. The best title I could come up with, given my utter lack of enthusiasm for the topic, was “The Sound of Love.”

Vaginal farts are not the sound of love.

So what is the sound of love — at least in erotic fiction? The sounds of sex are not really well-defined in most peoples’ minds. During real-life sex there are all sorts of sounds, from squeaking beds to slapping fuzzies to squishy sounds that are a little weird to think about. I remember being handed an urban legend as a kid that on one of the classic ’70s KISS albums, you can hear kind of a rhythmic squoosh that was supposedly “the lead singer” having sex with a woman. I thought such a claim was bullshit then, well before I’d ever had sex. (I’ve never been able to find a reference to it, so I can only assume that some dumb fourth-grader made it up.)

The sound of love — or, more accurately, the sound of sex — seems pretty obvious to me; it’s a lover’s voice. But describing a lover’s voice gets monotonous pretty damn fast. Especially in a BDSM or D/s context — where verbal orders and commands can intermingle with physical activity and with moans, groans, and sussurations — I’m often left with too few sensually pleasing words to describe someone’s voice, whether they’re uttering words or just yowling sounds to let the reader know that yes, in fact, the top’s hand did just successfully connect with the bottom’s bum, and ow! it hurts. (Without saying “Ow! It hurts!” which no one ever really says, or they get gagged.)

To my way of thinking, when you’re evoking the empire of the senses, sensual sound-words need to get used with abandon — and smoothly so. Prose that would be considered purple in other genres is standard in erotica, because the whole point is to conjure a kind of sesnsuality.

But when it comes to voices, there are far too few evocative words to use in an erotic context. “Said” just doesn’t work, and volume-related words like “whisper” and “shout” are for specific application. If a top starts whispering into a bottom’s ear, ther’es no reason to keep saying “whisper” for the rest of the scene…so you’re left with “said,” which implies a full-volume kinda speech, or leaving the words out entirely. There are many writers who will hand you their opinion about leaving out the “said” words. (Writers can be snooty as hell and will tell you they know what they’re doing — we don’t. Ever. EVER. Especially when we tell you we know what we’re doing. Rules are bullshit; in fiction writing, all that matter are observations.) Other writers will go on and on about “said bookisms” — “said” replacements that are unnecessarily descriptive or evocative, used to amp up the purple prose and overheated stylistic elements. Said bookisms are most commonly used in juvenile fiction to make the writing more vivid for easily-distracted tykes — and also to avoid using “said.” The technique also migrates into other genre fiction, often to the dismay of writing workshop participants. Most writing teachers despise “said bookisms,” and I don’t blame them, but I also don’t feel wedded to their prejudice. I need a level of purple prose. I’m writing erotica. It’s supposed to be overheated!

In erotica, I think those “said” words are important, and it’s better to have a bothersome “said bookism” than nothing at all. The reason is that I’ve had far too many alpha readers tell me “I lost track of who was speaking.” The same thing happens in every genre, but the modulation of voice — in volume and style — is less critical when your characters are throwing punches or bisecting zombies with chainsaws than when they’re spanking the hell out of each other and tweaking nipples. Then, whether someone whispers, whimpers, purrs, moans or growls is absolutely critical to WTF you as a writer are trying to communicate.

But the English language just doesn’t have the words to describe how a lover’s voice will vary from line to line in a dynamic situation like a spanking, swatting, consensual subdual, Friday-night baby-oil wrestling match or forced-femme strip poker match. In the real world, a lover’s voice should ideally communicate some combination of menace, craving, affection, anger, pleasure, threat, chiding, gentle prodding and a million other things. But in fiction, voice simply can’t be described with all those variations…not easily, at least (which is probably why they pay me the big bucks).

In most other genres, a good policy is to keep it simple, because going on and on about the sound of a character’s voice and the modulation of their words is seen as “telegraphing,” or dictating what the reader is supposed to feel. But a certain amount of telegraphing is almost required in erotica, because the direct involvement of all five senses is right there in the game plan. And it’s with sound that everything falls apart for me.

Voices are tough, whether we’re talking moans or dialogue. A submissive or bottom character can be described as “whimpering,” “moaning,” “whining,” or even “bleating” or “chirping,” those latter words being ones probably no self-respecting erotic writer would use (except me)….but all of these have limited utility. When it comes to a dominant partner, the choices are limited. Female Dommes can “purr,” maybe “hiss,” maybe “bark” or “growl” or “snarl,” and male tops can do a few of those things too, with a few said bookisms on top of those that belong in a detective novel. But overall, the problem becomes one of repetition, and it has to be solved individually for each story, scene or novel.

When it comes right down to it, I’m pretty happy with the English language. But the sound of the human voice is one place where it often feels like I’m left wishing I had another language to draw on.

Of course, if you’re an audio artist or audio book publisher, you avoid some of the problem by introducing actual sound into it. But I remain, at heart, a wordsmith, and sound is one of those areas where I wish I had more words.

How do you deal with the challenges of describing voice in your work? I’m always looking for new ideas, and I’m curious if other writers have this problem. Sound off in the comments!