Feb 142015

by Suz deMello

For many of us who write erotica, the paranormal sub-(sub-)genre is the most enticing one of all, with its many ways to increase sexual tension. World-building allows us to create our own erotic settings, invent sexier creatures than those who exist on our planet, traipse through time to find or lose lovers…we can bend reality any way we choose. We can invent supernatural beings both virtuous and villainous; we can invest the corners of our new world with quirks, setting up the thrills and spills that make a great read.

Really, though, the paranormal encompasses so many sub-sub-genres! These include, but are not limited to: futuristic, including science fiction; steampunk; time travel; fantasy, which encompasses “creature” stories with vampires, weres, the fae, dragons, zombies and the like, as well as magic and witchcraft. All of these can be mixed into any story brew you please.

Take the basic elements of any book and consider how they could be made paranormal, i.e., beyond the normal.

Characters and conflicts

There’s a natural tension in a romance between a paranormal entity and a human, and you can exploit this to your advantage and to the betterment of your book. Vampires are a great example. How can there be a “happily ever after” in a romance between an immortal, virtually invulnerable being and someone who will, inevitably, die? Would any sensible vampire dare to open his or her heart to a fragile human?

And how can a human trust in the love of an immortal? We who age must fear the loss of an immortal’s love.

Vampires, being denizens of the night, are intrinsically mysterious. As powerful predators, vamps step easily into villainous roles, but lately we’ve been reading about heroic vampires as well; with their extraordinary senses, vampires can make extraordinary heroes. The vampire lovers in my short story Blood is Thicker… are a case in point. One’s a detective and the other a private investigator.

There’s also natural tension in a relationship between different supernatural beings. Werewolves and vampires are both dominating creatures with their own alpha males and females figuring into many an erotic romance. What happens when territories overlap? Clashes are inevitable, and the sex is awesome.

Many writers have created supernatural beings whose abilities amplify each other’s. For example, Jayne Castle (Jayne Ann Krentz) created different types of psychics in what I call her flower trilogy (Amaryllis, Orchid, and Zinnia); their differing talents need each other in order to focus and operate powerfully. Thus, they have to work together in dyads to solve the mystery and trap the villain. Often (but not always) in a heterosexual pairing, the psychics experience sexual tension, emotional intimacy and conflict via this device with, say, one psychic wondering if the other loves her or if he’s simply invested in their complementary powers.

Other writers create creatures made for sex. Succubi and incubi, supernatural demons who use humans for sex and seed—these and so many others have all become quite popular. Some writers have invented aliens which can extrude body parts and insert them into their human subjects for pleasure and pain.


Setting is an often overlooked aspect of our novels. As an editor, I have read several stories with completely unspecified or only vaguely sketched-out settings. As a reader, I like to be grounded in a story. I like to know where and when the story’s taking place. As a writer, I let the reader know where and when the story’s taking place, even if the both are completely imaginary, e.g., “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

In a paranormal story, it is fatal to overlook setting. The more richness and depth you can impart to your story’s world within the constraints of wordcount, the better—in fact, some settings are so compelling that they will earn your book a spot on many a reader’s “keeper” shelf. Fans return again and again to the Harry Potter books and to Tolkien not only because of the intriguing characters, compelling conflicts and universal themes, but because they want to spend more time at Hogwarts or exploring Middle Earth. Orson Scott Card calls fiction dependent upon a particular setting milieu fiction, and gives Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy as an example.

Of course you may create any setting that compels you, but when you do so, consider how it will facilitate or block mystery and romance.

When world-building for a paranormal erotic romance, I like to include elements that will facilitate sexy situations. In Queen’s Quest, a paranormal erotic thriller, I postulated a planet with an extremely low birthrate. Babies were rare and prized. Thus, sex was encouraged—including public sex—which enabled me to include numerous erotic scenes, while the dearth of normal births encouraged the characters to find other reproductive methods. These added to the suspense subplot (I don’t want to say more without providing a spoiler alert) as well.

Settings need not be exotic and magic need not be arcane, invented from whole cloth. You can use what you already know. I drew upon my teenage interests in Tarot reading and Wicca to write Gypsy Witch, an erotic short story set in my hometown of Sacramento, California during the dog days of late summer. A character used witchcraft to bring to life the stone statues of knights set at the doorway of the downtown Masonic Temple, bringing magic to an otherwise mundane setting. The romantic conflict ended in a ménage—a different kind of magic.


Theme is also overlooked, and unfortunately so; it’s intrinsic to our stories, as much so as words themselves. Many paranormals feature the clash of good against evil, often employing mythical and/or religious figures such as goddesses and gods, angels, devils, demons and the like. They will inevitably dabble in moral questions that the author may or may not have intended to raise—but it’s no wonder they make their way into our books; these questions are older than Faust, older even than the Bible.

Coming of age stories are also common, and (if the characters are old enough to consent freely) can be particularly enthralling in an erotic context. In erotica, we often read the induction of a virgin into the pleasures of sex. One of my erotic short stories, First and Last, was about an arranged marriage on a lunar colony. Similarly, another popular theme is the BDSM newbie learning about the joy of kink.

The message? Erotica isn’t only about sex, and paranormal content is an exciting and infinitely fertile way to engage the reader. Write a good story and weave in explicit sex and you’ll have a really good story. Put it on another planet and you’ll have a great story.


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


Jul 072011

For those expecting our lovely Audio Goddess Oceania, she’s off this week and for one more round while she handles some personal business.  There are nine of us and from time to time it’s bound to happen that things come up.

So first, I’m going to mention my recent sale to Total E-bound in hopes that A: it peaks your interest and B: It helps me drag out a blurb.  That’s right, there is a lesson here and a new one at that, though only a short one.

You see, when you tell your readers you sold a book to a publisher, they undoubtedly want to know what the book is about.  Is it a new genre for you?  Or a different sub genre like paranormal romance when you normally write contemporary romance stories?  Or are you continuing a story line from a previous series?  Either way, once you tell the first reader, they’ll get excited but if you repeat the same thing to over 100 readers at 98 different times it gets pretty tiring.

So you go for the quickest explanation possible.  Case in point:  My puma story tentatively titled Burning for Derrick has a very Burn Notice like feel but the sequel will feature Max, Derrick’s brother who IS a cross between Max Myers of ACC Cigars and Michael Westen from Burn Notice.  People understand that even though most of my friends don’t know Max.  Once I say Burn Notice, they’ll get a reference point and I’ll only need to mention how I’m working in Max’s love interest.

But this isn’t the story I sold.  It’s in second draft mode.  But it gets the wheels thinking on how to craft that blurb for the story so I can tell the publisher this will sell because of the blurb.  That is the goal, after all.

The traits of the story in question are thus:

It’s a menage. Both males used to be lovers but morals divided them, yet they unknowingly share the same female lover.

It’s paranormal:  Both males are wolves, the heroine is a witch.

It’s GLBT – both males are into each other and the woman, equally.

I used the big themes of the story there for sales purposes.  This lets me play with the big concept.  Get it?  Now I can try to pull out the plot.

The wolf packs in Albuquerque NM are dying from an incurable sickness and only Iolite has the resources to research the illness.  Being of human origin with wolf blood gives her an advantage but her two lovers are the ones who can really help as they are full blooded wolf shifters.  If they could just settle their differences long enough…perhaps the three of them could come up with a solution to what is killing off both their packs.

Does that grab you?  It’s a rough start and ignores the romantic conflict.  But as I said, this is a short lesson.

As promised, a recap of recent Oceania posts as audio is an important medium.  Look at the success of “Go the Fuck to Sleep” for proof.

Writing Is____

Forgive Me Father, I must have Sinned

Audio Books – Break On Through to the Other Side

Those are popular posts for a reason.  Until next time…when we return with Deborah Riley Magnus’s post…

Jul 222010

Remember Mulder? Remember Scully? If you were too busy reading Proust, playing with blocks, studying Calculus, leading cheers, making touchdowns at Homecoming games or getting your face dunked in the toilet by bullies to watch the first four seasons of The X-Files, you missed the Happy Days of the paranormal detective genre; way to go, Genius. You also missed an onscreen example of the most fundamental misstep a series author can make — omission of the money shot.

Why do I bring up a TV show to discuss paranormal series fiction? I mention it first and foremost because the spunky spooky investigators exerting such influence on the romance and fantasy genres, and therefore on erotica, must shake their juju sticks at X-Files protagonists Spooky Mulder and Starbuck Scully.

The X-Files debuted the same year as that other early’90s paranormal-detective icon, Anita Blake, but an army of paranormal investigators preceded both properties — Scooby Doo, Kolchak The Night Stalker, and let’s not forget Carnacki the Ghost Finder and Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin. A more immediate antecedent was Tanya Huff’s Toronto-based paranormal detective series that predated The X-Files by a couple of years.

But a weekly television show exerts cultural influence that novels quite simply cannot, so in terms of short-term zeitgeist The X-Files gets the nod that even Lovecraft cannot.

It doesn’t matter that the show was never the broader cultural phenomenon that most fans remember it being. The second season had a Nielsen rating that made it the seventy-first most popular show on television. Season 3? Fiftieth. The show wouldn’t peak until Season 5, when it was eleventh.

But does that matter? No, because big screaming nerds with samurai swords on their walls and ball-and-stick caffeine molecule Tramp Stamps are not the fickle lot that television executives or your Grandma Mabel are. The influence of The X-Files on “my generation,” whatever that means, was at the time incalculable, and far more incalculable now.

Call it a “cult phenomenon.” Call it “influential.” Call it “ahead of its time.” Call it late to the alien-vampire sex orgy in the Roswell Holiday Inn; the important fact is that the Mulder-Scully tease — that is to say, the promise of a bang — became the lengthy lap dance around which the mythology of The X-Files was wrapped. These two fantastically sexy FBI agents (it’s fantasy, right?) captured the fantasies of pervy nerds.

We didn’t tune in to find out whether this week the misunderstood video store clerk would turn out to be the Loch Ness Monster or the DMV employee was secretly a Were-Bigfoot. We tuned in to find out if the obviously bubbling cauldron of Mulder and Scully’s craving for each other would overcome the fact that it wasn’t even real cream cheese it was lite cream cheese.

Sure, we gave a fuck about aliens; yeah, yeah, right, vampires, whatever, but what kept us coming back from week to week was the chemistry between the leads and the faint hint that they just might “do it” — even though we knew they wouldn’t, except maybe in a tentacle-rape leathersex five-way with Krycek and Assistant Director Skinner in the copious fanfic that littered the dialup-era Internet and probably bumped AOL’s 1994-5 fiscal year revenues by at least 10%. (By the way, what’s more, the repeated allusions to Mulder’s not-ready-for-prime-time sexual interests — girlie mags, porn videos, autoerotic asphyxiation — established what most of us knew already: us alien-hunters? We’re deviated preverts. Deal with it).

But if the erotic chemistry between the leads, as I submit, kept me and my friends — who were, to a geek, pervy as shit — watching The X-Files, how much more important must the chemistry between your lead characters be today — not just to the paranormal investigator subgenre of the romance-fantasy-horror-detective-erotica axis, but to everything that requires sexual tension to be maintained throughout a wider story? If you are writing erotic romance, paranormal erotica, or just plain sexy paranormal fiction, how much more important is it to create intense chemistry between your characters today, when readers can, with the push of a button, seek out any level of sexual explicitness in their fiction — making a dissatisfying tease an even bigger piss-off?

That’s what we in the biz call a rhetorical question; it’s damned important, obviously, or I wouldn’t mention it. I’ll tell you why I bring this up, and why the romantic missteps and erotic disasters of The X-Files should matter to the paranormal series author: There was no money shot, if you’ll forgive the rather vivid metaphor. That is to say, as fans, We never got paid.

By this, I do not mean “Mulder and Scully never slept together.” That is not the problem in and of itself, and besides, I have this vague sense that they did, though I’m not sure I gave a crap by that point; was there a baby or something? Fuck if I remember.

Early in the history of the fandom (that’s dweebspeak for “people who like something”), X-Philes split into two opposing groups: the No Ro’s and the ‘Shippers. The former wanted Mulder and Scully to keep staring at each other blankly, and the latter wanted them to mash their lips together blankly.

All right, all right, to be fair, that’s not what the ‘Shippers wanted. They wanted Mulder and Scully to get together as a couple, the same way I wanted the Professor and Ginger to get together when I was five. The No Ro’s felt that such a tryst would ruin the chemistry. Certainly the series itself came down hard in favor of the No Ro’s for most of the show’s run, to the point where I (and many others) got sick of waiting. I think some deeply-embedded human mating instinct tells us that if you haven’t gotten together with someone in the first six years you’ve been dissecting alien bodies with them, maybe the chemistry isn’t as strong as you think. We can’t all be June Carter Cash.

The Mulder-Scully tease went on too long. Like all lap-dance victims, until about Season 6 I was sure I was going to get that stripper’s phone number — sure of it! The problem was that for the chemistry to be maintained, the two leads couldn’t get together — or so the conventional wisdom said.

So what does that mean for a writer of modern series fiction, particularly erotica and paranormal romance? Even in the most mainstream, non-erotic subgenres, sexuality and romance are critical parts of the formula. Should you listen to the No Ro’s? If your leads have sex, will they end up like Maddie and David — ruining the series?

If I were one of your characters, I would come alive and slap you for even considering it. Real characters fuck. Unless your characters are asexual, celibate or otherwise sexually unengaged — or unless the plot simply doesn’t call for romance or eroticism (in which case this site is probably not the best writing guide) sex should be a part of your characters’ lives whether you’re writing erotica or not.

A certain amount of will-they-or-won’t-they is built into the narrative formula; any story with an erotic or romantic component can benefit from it; it’s called suspense.

But your characters should be your friends, or at least your acquaintances. If I was your friend, and you kept cockblocking me the way The X-Files kept cockblocking Mulder and Scully, I’d stop being your friend. If you were an acquaintance and you kept cockblocking me, I’d probably call the cops, or at least close my blinds.

When people have sex, their lives don’t end. The conventional wisdom is sex-negative bullshit. In real life, the adventure — maddening, infuriating, gorgeous and terrifying — begins when you get together.

Whether your characters are dodging alien tractor beams or trying to entice their pagan werewolf pastor into a threesome with their half-ghoul landlady, you owe them the courtesy of trying to write about real relationships. You get one, two, maybe three books to lap-dance your reader. Then you gotta go home with them…or they’ll drive one block over to the ho stroll and go home with Torchwood.

Jul 012010

By Joey W. Hill

When Sascha asked if I’d do a blog on genre blending, it gave me a grin. Ten years ago, the term was “cross-genre”, and it was a publishing dead zone. I didn’t know that then. Everything I’ve written pretty much falls in the category of “genre blending”, since erotic romance began initially as a meeting of erotica with romance, and then took on additional components from there – contemporary, paranormal, historical, etc. However, a decade ago, when I was starting my writing career, I didn’t consciously say: “Hey, I’m going to blend genres in my writing, because I deeply crave rejection from mainstream publishing.” (lol)

I started with one thing – a desire to write the story that was in my head. I wrote the story my muse wanted me to tell. Starting out as a writer is a lot like getting married when you’re young – you have optimism and you’re not entirely set in your ways. You’re not looking at the mortgage – you’re focused on your dreams. I loved romance, but I wanted much stronger sex in it. So the result was an erotic romance with light bondage, set in a mall over the course of one day (Make Her Dreams Come True). I had no idea I’d blended genres until I took it out into the world to be slapped around relentlessly by cross-genre rejection (good thing I had a masochistic streak).

Fortunately, at that time a whole collective-unconscious craft thing was happening, where a lot of aspiring authors had the bug to write cross-genre work. The universe aligned us with the burgeoning field of e-publishing, which was keenly interested in this overlooked niche and reader demand. Now, ten years down the road, blended genre stories and e-publishing are both notable parts of the book world. In fact, much of that cross-genre work has become genres in their own right: paranormal romance, urban fantasy, erotic romance, etc. So now here’s this blog, discussing how best to blend eroticism with your romance genre—whether paranormal, contemporary or otherwise—as a positive, marketable thing. There goes that grin again…

So here we go. I tend to get wordy and ramble when I think about craft process, but I’ve managed to keep it under 2500 words, a miracle for me (grin). You’re welcome to ask questions about anything I missed, however, or give a different viewpoint in the comments – the wonderful thing about this business is there are a million ways to do it well, many of them yet to be discovered. This is just my approach.

Integration of erotica with romance – erotic romance

Any story, cross-genre or otherwise, has to pull us into it, make us feel that this could happen to us, answering some yearning in our hearts for that ultimate connection. That’s one of the big reasons people read love stories, and just because they want a sexual kick from them, doesn’t mean that can be overlooked. For so many years, all women were given was “erotica”, much of it dark, depressing, adulterous or flat out disturbing. Bringing together erotica with romance means that all the elements of a great romance have to be represented – great character development, pacing, intriguing setting, full sensory involvement, etc.

Make it character-driven – I write character-driven stories, which I think is very critical for an erotic romance of any type. No matter whether it’s contemporary, vampires, mermaids, historical, etc. the erotic love story between the main characters—how it starts, grows, matures, stumbles, etc—is my central story.

Plot cannot exist without the erotic and vice-versa – Making it character-driven does not mean everything else is window dressing. This is VERY important. Let me give you a concrete example of when that no-no happens. I’m sure we’ve all read an erotic romance with one of these two scenarios:

1. Every scene with the main characters is absorbing, hot, emotional…and each time the scene changes to the “plot”, it’s like someone slammed that door, and you actively think, “Oh crap, how long do I have to put up with this boring part before I get back to them again?”

2. The plot is worthy of a suspense master, but then someone flips a switch and suddenly you’re on the set of a bad porn movie. The main characters come to a screeching halt and say, “Hey, it’s three and a half pages into Chapter Three. We’re supposed to fuck like rabbits now. Let’s get that out of the way and then we’ll get back to the real story.”

Yep, excuse my language, but it’s that blatant. In both examples, the story is not well blended. You’re baking a cake without stirring all the ingredients together into a smooth, tasty batter that tempts you to eat it all even before you stick it in the oven. It looks like a gooey autopsy. It’s extremely clear which part of the story interested the author the least. That’s my own personal sanity check when I’m writing. I love the erotic romance/deep character-driven scenes, so if I find myself getting bored or rushing plot points, I know I’m not integrating enough of that into whatever portion of the story I’m writing. The erotic romance must be integrated with the rest of the story line so that one doesn’t really exist without the other.

Plot provides ample opportunity for sexual interaction AND emotional growth in the relationship.
You’re not blending the erotica with the romance if you’re overlooking that. How often do you read the book where the heroine ends up in a sex club, goes through a lot of physical gymnastics with the hero that yes, help her deal with her sexual inhibitions, but other than that there’s really no emotional growth? Still, somehow they end up in a happily-ever-after with the 2.5 kids, golden retriever, picket fence house and a love that never ends? Many of our romance readers are women who’ve experienced committed relationships, and all of us know that they need more than sex to end up as happily-ever-after. As Sascha said so well in his June 24 blog on creating plot: “in erotica, sex is the plot…in erotic romance, sex forwards the plot.” Erotic romance uses erotic interaction to further the relationship.

Integration of erotic romance with other genres
Not because I have this huge desire to pimp my own work, but I can more comfortably dissect it without offending anyone, so let me use some of my storylines as examples of integration of plot/relationship with eroticism in various genres. It will also confirm if I’m qualified to be writing this blog (laughter):

Contemporary erotic romance – For a lot of erotic romance writers, starting in the arena of contemporary is probably your easiest blend, because you can use a BDSM club setting, or the set up of a heroine’s cherished fantasy on the Internet, etc. It gets you comfortable before you move onto trickier blends. Hence, my original Nature of Desire series has a lot of heroes/heroines already Dominant or submissive-oriented, and start inside BDSM clubs. However, it doesn’t have to be clichéd. My muse gave me twists that intrigued me – an alpha cop who is a sexual submissive, or two Doms who fall for each other, etc. Now, if you’ve got it set inside a BDSM club, or are doing the heroine’s cherished fantasy thing, you still mostly have your feet in the erotica room. If you want to blend it, take it into the field of contemporary romance, you’re going to have to get it out of the club or the fantasy and test the relationship (sexually and emotionally) in the real world. That increases the emotional component and even better, brings your characters into your readers’ contemporary world, so they can empathize with the characters.

Paranormal erotic romance – My Vampire Queen series was motivated by my interest in the vampire-servant relationship. To my way of thinking, it practically begged to be explored as a hardcore Dominant/submissive sexual relationship. In my series, vampires form their closest relationships with their servants, even as they consider them their property to use sexually and are expected to share them with other vampires as part of political maneuverings in the vampire world. So there are the emotional, sexual and paranormal conflicts, all rolled into one.

My Daughters of Arianne series was billed as a sensual, borderline erotic paranormal romance series. In the first book, Mermaid’s Kiss, Jonah, a powerful angel, is severely wounded but is hiding not only from his enemies, the Dark Ones, but also his own kind. To heal, he therefore can’t use a magic that would attract a lot of notice. So, with the help of the mermaid who rescues him, he uses earth-based sex magic (which he calls Joining Magic), that must be applied at regular intervals during the healing process. It draws the two of them together intimately, makes more sense in the storyline, and is tied up in the magical plot line as they journey to heal his heart as well as his body.

That all sounds good, and though I loved this book, I was never entirely comfortable with the initial introduction of this erotic element. It felt somewhat contrived, not as well-integrated, enough that I had the irascible seawitch Mina make a joke about it to my heroine: “He had to use Joining Magic. It was the only thing that would work,” she mimicked. “Oh, that’s rich. If I had an anemone for every time I’d heard that one…”

In the subsequent books of the series, I wasn’t so uptight about it and didn’t try so hard. As such, the eroticism evolved in the paranormal setting far more naturally, to my way of thinking. In Witch’s Beauty, to balance the light and dark inside of her, the seawitch Mina discovers a mix of pain and pleasure eases that struggle. The angel David can help her out with that, because the angels of the Dark Legion are pretty virile and often use sex to ground themselves after battle.

Contemporary/paranormal/erotic romance – In If Wishes Were Horses, my hero runs an erotic paraphernalia shop, teaches Tantric classes, and is a Wiccan priest who regularly uses the Sacred Rite (sex magic) to channel the Great Lord. He is therefore uniquely set up to initiate our heroine, the new town sheriff, into an exploration of her own sensuality as they try to get to the bottom of a killing. However, that killing also has a magical/sexual component that further adds to the erotic quotient of the story.

That’s more than enough examples to give you the gist, but I wanted to show you a variety of possibilities.

Pacing - Final note for your blending is to watch your pacing. It’s like inching a tight lid off a box, where you have to take it up a little at a time on each side, until it all comes off at the same time. As a concluding example – in my book, Beloved Vampire – the hero is a vampire who’s grieved for 300 years. He rescues a sick human woman from a tomb by making her his full servant. He already has the sexual dominance, and she’s a natural submissive, so there’s going to be that issue gnawing at them, but she’s been tortured for five years by another vampire, and he’s spent 300 years mourning the Bedouin girl he handfasted. So the trust/relaxing of shields is going to happen proportionately at the same rate as the sexual interaction increases, and the vampire plot thickens, etc.

So recap of the mechanics – keep the character/relationship central to the story, make sure the plot and the erotic romance can’t exist without each other, test the relationship in real world settings (even if it’s a paranormal world), and watch your pacing for the emotional growth/development of your characters as you integrate erotica, romance and other genre elements.

Most importantly however—and this goes back to the original point—If you want to write a blended genre story, make sure your muse has given you one. It can’t be forced – it’s not like a game of chance where you draw two slips of paper out of a hat. “Today, I’ll write an…erotic romance, that’s also a….western! I’ll mash those two things together and see what happens.” The integration has to start in your head and heart—in your creative muse—first.