Apr 102015

by Suz deMello

For a while now—since the Fifty Shades trilogy attained prominence—there’s been a steady stream of online bloggers and critics dissing the books…and for good reason. They’re poorly written and edited. Fifty Shades is basically a Harlequin Presents with sugar kink.

Let’s look at the main characters, for example. Ana Steele is a perfect Harlequin heroine: still a virgin while about to graduate college. So immature that she seems to have some sort of disorder. Even though male after male in her life is attracted to her, she’s so sweet and modest that she’s unaware of her sexiness. And she’s immediately, deeply and irrevocably attracted to the “hero.” This is also a characteristic of the typical Harlequin heroine, even though artificial conflicts are created to provide some kind of story line. Otherwise the books would be over before they’ve properly started.

The “hero.” Ah, Christian Grey. Volumes have already been written about his abusive behavior. He stalks Ana, forces her to ditch her friends, especially her male buddies. He pressures her into a kinky relationship she is too emotionally immature to handle.

Skimming only two or three Harlequins will reveal the strong similarities between Grey and the basic Harlequin alpha male: the macho guy who’s really a broken child inside, but also fantastically wealthy at an absurdly young age—has anyone else noticed how mere millionaires are no longer acceptable romance heroes? Billionaires only in this club.

When I was writing for Harlequin/Silhouette, I would go through the books and highlight what appeared to be necessary character notes of the H&H. Her virginity and innocence. His contrasting wealth and sophistication. Her blushing confusion. His Rolex, limos and private plane. I’ve employed all these tropes.

Perfect ingredients of a classic BDSM power exchange? NOT. Those of us honestly involved in safe, sane and consensual BDSM avoid an unsophisticated partner until that innocent has been educated.

Setting aside the clichéd characters, the writing is poorly edited, if it was edited at all. Here’s a discussion of one craft aspect with an analysis from one of my writing manuals, Plotting and Planning:

For many, creating paragraphs in fiction—that is, dividing parts of a scene or interaction into manageable bits—is such an obvious process that it doesn’t need discussion. (Non-fiction is completely different and beyond the scope of this treatise). In Starting From Scratch, Rita Mae Brown doesn’t discuss paragraphs in fiction at all. I also had thought it was fairly easy until I encountered Fifty Shades of Grey, which contained selections like the following:

“Very well, Mr. Grey,” she mutters, then exits. He frowns, and turns his attention back to me.

“Where were we, Ms. Steele?”

Oh, we’re back to Ms. Steele now.

“Please, don’t let me keep you from anything.”

Normally, when we write interactions between people, the actions, words, and thoughts of each person are grouped in separate paragraphs. When we switch people, we create a new paragraph. So this selection should have been written thusly:

“Very well, Mr. Grey,” she mutters, then exits.

He frowns, and turns his attention back to me. “Where were we, Ms. Steele?”

Oh, we’re back to Ms. Steele now. “Please, don’t let me keep you from anything.”

What’s the reason behind this convention? So the reader can know who’s thinking and talking, we place the identifying dialog tag along with the dialog. Often we may not need a tag at all, when only two people are interacting. The convention makes this possible. Readers know that when a paragraph ends, the next paragraph belongs to another character.

The bloggers and critics who slam Fifty Shades are mostly romance and erotica authors. And more than a little of our resentment is that old bugaboo, professional jealousy.

And who can blame us? It’s hard to feel all warm and cuddly about E.L. James’ success when she so obviously does not deserve the millions she’s raking in. The writing is so bad that she clearly did not spend the years that most of us do developing our craft. We feel she doesn’t deserve her success, at least not based on the books. All of us have an early manuscript that should never see the light of day, let alone publication. E.L. James’ has, and it’s a massive bestseller. It’s galling.

I once wrote about professional jealousy that it has at its root cause an unhealthy interest in others. I still believe that. I know nothing about E.L. James. She is completely irrelevant to me. Her success does not equal my failure—in fact, the popularity of her books could increase the popularity of mine.

And she could be the happiest person in the world or one of the most miserable. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I have been the target of resentment because of my “success.” Imagine that! A floundering midlist author the object of professional jealousy! Blew me away, too.

It happens that the time I noticed that resentment was also when my father was dying. I was stunned that anyone would be envious of me.

The lesson? The woman we resent for her success may be the most distressed and tortured human being walking this planet. We just don’t know—it’s our nature to put on a brave face while inside we’re screaming in pain. It’s also our nature to compete, but we must learn to maturely deal with the emotions that result from competition.


About the Author:

Best-selling, award-winning author Suz deMello, a.k.a Sue Swift, has written nineteen books in several genres, including nonfiction, memoir, erotica, comedy, historical, paranormal, mystery and suspense, plus a number of short stories and non-fiction articles on writing. A freelance editor, she’s held the positions of managing editor and senior editor, working for such firms Totally Bound, Liquid Silver Books and Ai Press. She also takes private clients.

Her books have been favorably reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, won a contest or two, attained the finals of the RITA and hit several bestseller lists.

A former trial attorney, her passion is world travel. She’s left the US over a dozen times, including lengthy stints working overseas. She’s now writing a vampire tale and planning her next trip.

–Find her books at http://www.suzdemello.com

–For editing services, email her at suzdemello@gmail.com

–Befriend her on Facebook, and visit her group page.

–She tweets @Suzdemello

–and posts to Pinterest

–and Goodreads.

–Her current blog is TheVelvetLair.com

Nov 152012

A FemDomme Erotic Romance

A friend of mine is struggling to find the motivation to write her next novel, amidst the trials of being in her early 20s.  We’ve been discussing writing careers and the fact that I’ve known she had been in this industry a good five years and it made me think back on what if I had to do it all over again.

What if at 21 (legally) I had to start my writing career all over again, in the changing face of publishing, what would I do?

With the fake promise of success in self publishing, I’d avoid that route altogether.  Starting out, I know nothing of the business and trying to reinvent the wheel to cheat people out of what seems like it should be my cut sounds ridiculous.

Obviously, I’d write.  Richard Castle’s screensaver is NOT off the mark as it taunts him (and me) to write.

I’d continue to read, first and foremost.  More e-books, more print books, not so much to see trends but to gain a sense of style that sells.  Hopefully i have at 21 years of age enough brains to realize this is a business and printing artsy shit writing won’t make me money though it might help the struggling (read, dying) artist in me.  I would read a wider spectrum of romance and erotica than I currently do now so I had a huge pool of words to draw from, phrases that catch my eye, words that whisper temptation and guarantee marketing potential.  Hell, I’d probably read outside my genre even.

I’d watch more movies.  I’d watch a TON of movies to stuff my mind full of imagery and realize that a book, like a movie only shows the good, important parts if it’s done well.  I’d watch a LOT more adult films too, to jog the erotic writer’s imagination.

I’d write more.

The jury is still out for me, on whether I’d join an organization like RWA or not but having taught to numerous chapters I’d have to say I’d lean towards finding the money to join the national chapter AND a local club because the support there would be great but the education they give to writers is unparallelled.

I’d continue to educate myself on topics of interest.  BDSM was a fix for my personal issues, who knew it would turn out to be a hot selling genre.

Whenever I got the chance, I’d submit something.  I’d wait impatiently for feedback and hope and pray, but I’d write the next big thing in my mind while I’m waiting (I do this now thankfully) because what sells books is still the first well written story, followed by another one. Oh and the caveat to that is I’d LISTEN to the feedback and not treat my manuscript like a baby, but like a product.

I’d make a LOT of friends in the publishing industry and make DAMN SURE I made a good impression on them.  I’d control my self destructive urges (if I had them) and come off as someone who is dedicated to the passion of writing, but I wouldn’t appear too eager.  I lost a job once that way, I wouldn’t want to lose an opportunity with an agent or publisher the same way.

I’d write more and submit more.  I’d set up a flexible schedule that allowed for me to stop and eat, do daily chores and have a life.  As of now, I tend to not have much of a life and if I didn’t smoke cigars I’d never leave the house.  Yup, it’s ALL because of the publishing business.

I’d probably date a little but remain single.  This is important for some of us because the stress of being a writer means there are probably not a lot of dollars coming in at first, and that stress on a long term relationship can take a toll.  I was lucky.  Really, really lucky.

While I’m writing more, I’d start developing an audience for my voice.  With my determination I’d have the drive to write, but just because you write a great erotic masterpiece doesn’t mean it will sell if no one is aware of it.  I’d also develop the audience for me.

I’d definitely help those I can but I’d focus mostly on my career at such an early stage in the game, because that commitment and dedication are paramount to a successful career when you’re older and have been in publishing long enough to actually know who the first e-publishers were.

We’re near the end of this so I’ll break it into two parts, the other part appearing on Authors Promoting Authors, then back here when it’s my turn.

Jun 222012

As you know, I edit for Sizzler Editions, primarily for our Intoxication line.  While our audience is heavily into BDSM, I’m grooming authors and building an erotic romance line, kinky or otherwise.  You can see our guidelines here.  Anyway, I was talking with one of our authors about her next BDSM book and the discussion of plot came into play.  While she asked questions about how a particular scene should go and what details should be included, I spouted off the answers from memory (and recent events) as though it were nothing and I play with partners all day every day.

I wish.

She seemed surprised I felt at how I rattled off the information and could back it up with personal experiences, and then I remembered something.  She’s a new writer but that’s not really an issue.  Her experiences in the Lifestyle are non existent and research can only help a little if this is a new genre for you.

In fact, she had questions I didn’t’ even expect because when writing the same material these things seem like normalcy to me.  I know how each character is going to react to a singletailing session, or how they get turned on and what cranks their motor when my Dom hits that sweet spot on the ass.  It requires only enough thought to form and create the character.  For my author, it takes research, interviews and her doing the legwork (which in turn makes her a better author.)

I’m not sure but I’d take a stab and suggest that for people who write from their knowledge base and experiences, and can translate those experiences into marketable writing, the legwork is already done.  If you’re a crime solving detective in your daily life, and you want to be the next N. T. Morley, you simply take your daily life and apply it to your story, thus potentially working demons out, without having to break a sweat.

I’m mentioning this not as a deterrent, but one of the questions I get asked a lot is how do you write what you love and make it sell?  Well, the answer is going to be found mostly in Deborah Riley Magnus‘s posts on Author Success, but pulling from your hard earned experience and finding a way to relate those stories to a wider audience is a great place to start.  With BDSM being so huge (thanks to that trite known as 50 Shades of Grey) it only makes sense that our authors would stick around in this genre.

Erotica is a large field and there is room for everyone dedicated to the pursuit of understanding the business thereof.