Feb 272014
 
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My name is Chris – though my pseudonym is usually M.Christian – and I have a confession to make.

I’ve written – and write – a…what’s the technical term? Oh, yeah: shitload of erotica. Some 400 published stories, 12 or so collections, 7 novels. I’ve also edited around 25 anthologies. I even have the honor of being an Associate Publisher for Renaissance eBooks, whose Sizzler Editions erotica imprint has some 1,300 titles out there.

I’ve written sexually explicit gay stories, lesbian stories, trans stories, bisexual stories, BDSM stories, tales exploring just about every kind of fetish, you name it and I can all but guarantee that I’ve written about it. I like to joke that a friend of mine challenged me to write a story to a ridiculously particular specification: a queer vampire sport tale. My answer? “Casey, The Bat.” Which I actually did write…though I dropped the vampire part of it.

Don’t worry; I’m getting to the point. I can write just about anything for anyone – but here comes the confession:

I’ve never, ever written about what actually turns me – what turns Chris – on.

This kind of makes me a rather rare beast in the world of professional smut writing. In fact it’s pretty common for other erotica writers to – to be polite about it – look down their noses at the fact that I write about anything other than my own actual or desired sexual peccadilloes. Some have even been outright rude about it: claiming that I’m somehow insulting to their interests and/or orientations and shouldn’t write anything except what I am and what I like.

To be honest, in moments of self-doubt I have thought the very same thing. Am I profiting off the sexuality of other people? Am I a parasite, too cowardly to put my own kinks and passions out into the world? Am I short-changing myself as a writer by refusing to put myself out there?

For the record, I’m a hetero guy who – mostly – likes sexually dominant women. I also find my head turned pretty quickly when a large, curvy woman walks by. That said, I’ve had wonderful times with women of every size, shape, ethnicity, and interest.

So why do I find it so hard to say all that in my writing? The question has been bugging me for a while, so I put on my thinking cap. Part of the answer, I’ve come to understand, relates directly to chronic depression: it’s much less of an emotional gamble to hide behind a curtain of story than to risk getting my own intimate desires and passions stomped flat by a critical review or other negative reaction from readers. I can handle critical reviews of a story – that’s par for the course in professional writing – but it’s a good question as to whether I could handle critical reviews of my life.

But then I had an eye-opening revelation. As I said, I’ve written – and write – stories about all kinds of interests, inclinations, passions, orientations, genders, ethnicities, ages, cultures…okay, I won’t belabor it. But the point is that I’ve also been extremely blessed to have sold everything I’ve ever written. Not only that, but I’ve had beautiful compliments from people saying my work has touched them and that they never, ever, would have realized that the desires of the story’s narrator and those of the writer weren’t one and the same.

Which, in a nice little turn-around, leads me to say that my name is Chris – though my pseudonym is usually M.Christian – and I have yet another confession to make.

Yes, I don’t get sexually excited when I write. Yes, I have never written about what turns me on. Yes, I always write under a name that’s not my legal one.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel when I write. Far from it: absolutely, I have no idea what actual gay sex is like for the participants; positively, I have not an inkling of what many fetishes feel like inside the minds of those who have them; definitely, I have no clue what it’s like to have sex as a woman…

I do, however, know what sex is like. The mechanics, yeah, but more importantly I work very hard to understand the emotions of sex and sexuality through the raw examination of my own life: the heart-racing nerves, the whispering self-doubts, the pulse-pounding tremors of hope, the bittersweetness of it, the bliss, the sorrows and the warmth of it, the dreams and memories…

I’m working on a story right now, part of a new collection. It’s erotic – duh – but it’s also about hope, redemption, change, and acceptance. I have no experience with the kind of physical sex that takes place in this story but every time I close its file after a few hours of work, tears are burning my cheeks. In part, this emotional investment is about trying to recapture the transcendent joy I’ve felt reading the work of writers I admire.

When I read manuscripts as an anthology editor, or as an Associate Publisher, a common mistake I see in them is a dedication to technical accuracy favored over emotion. These stories are correct down to the smallest detail – either because they were written from life or from an exactingly fact-checked sexual imagination – but at the end, I as the reader feel…nothing.

I’m not perfect – far from it – but while I may lack direct experience in a lot of what I write, I do work very, very hard to put real human depth into whatever I do. I may not take the superficial risk of putting the mechanics of my sexuality into stories and books but I take a greater chance by using the full range of my emotional life in everything I create.

I freely admit that I don’t write about my own sexual interests and experiences. That may – in some people’s minds – disqualify me from being what they consider an “honest” erotica writer, but after much work and introspection I contest that while I may keep my sex life to myself, I work very hard to bring as much of my own, deeply personal, self to bear upon each story as I can.

They say that confession is good for the soul. But I humbly wish to add to that while confession is fine and dandy, trying to touch people – beyond their sex organs – is ever better…for your own soul as well as the souls of anyone reading your work.

 

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Sep 252013
 
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By Jean Roberta

During the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s, someone (I can’t remember who) claimed that for women, sex is more emotional than physical, implying that sex is an emotionless form of exercise for men. Regardless of whether you believe this, or which of your characters experience sex in what ways, actual sex is a physical activity for anyone who takes part in it.

At its best, sex is accompanied by intense physical sensations as well as a whole spectrum of emotions from ecstatic love to performance anxiety to ambivalence to relief to gratitude to pride to fear. Sex can actually express and elicit any emotion we can imagine. The one general statement anyone can make about whatever we call “sex” (and definitions vary), however, is that it is a physical activity. In effect, sex is a dance (and it doesn’t have to be horizontal. It can be done standing up, underwater or while flying through the air.)

Writing about any activity—as distinct from describing settings or characters, or outlining a character’s thoughts—carries its own set of challenges. Choreographing a sex scene is much like choreographing a swordfight or a joust in a historical novel, or a dance scene in any era. The interaction of two or more bodies requires a certain amount of strategy on the page, just as it usually does in real life.

Erotica and erotic romance are often considered so different from other genres of fiction that even we (writers of sex scenes) tend to forget that all fiction has certain elements in common. We all have to position our characters so that they move through space (their physical setting) and time (a period of hours, days, weeks or years). Likewise, a sexual encounter needs to begin with a first move (he kisses her, she reaches for his hand, they embrace, Person A deliberately presses against Person B) and progress to the next move, which will usually seem more intimate than the first move, both to the readers and the characters. From those initial moves to the end of the scene, the sexual activities you describe need to make enough sense that your readers can immerse themselves fully in the eroticism of the story.

I have sometimes flinched while rereading a first draft of a sex scene I’ve written. In the throes of writing, it’s sometimes too easy to slap down lines like this: “Their eyes locked from across the room, and they quickly pulled each other’s clothes off.” A reader is likely to wonder: how long were their arms? If the sequence of events is impossible to visualize without a loud guffaw, the reader is likely to be pulled out of the mood.

Other gaffes in unedited sex scenes can include a character who seems to have three arms (or three of anything that most folks only have two of), a sex toy that enters an orifice and never comes out (and even the horniest character is likely to want the dildo or the buttplug to be removed at some point), extreme floggings that leave no marks, bondage that defies the laws of physics and/or medical science, clothes that mysteriously vanish and then reappear on bodies, completely buttoned and zipped.

If you remember nothing else from this post, remember two things: one, that even the most elaborate orgy on Planet X must be plausible enough for the reader to imagine it, and two, that safe sex for a sex writer includes proofreading.

 

Jean Roberta writes in several genres. Approximately 100 of her erotic stories, including every orientation she can think of, have appeared in print anthologies, plus three single-author collections, including The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe Press, 2013. ). www.jean-roberta.livejournal.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheesh!

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Aug 162012
 
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While we’ve covered pacing from a plot standpoint, and broken down some of the  more technical aspects of pacing, we’ve never really defined what it s or how it should work in an erotic story.

The default answer of course, is that it’s up to the writer.  But that answer doesn’t Djent.  It won’t hold water, nor will it hunt.  The reason is because we’re writing erotica for sales, not for the sake of art.  There’s nothing wrong with writing anything for the sake of art, as long as it’s understood that only a very small minority of people buy that shit.  The res of the world reads and spends money on things they can relate to, not abstract concepts.  Want proof?  Look at the 50 Shades of Grey fad.

Anyway, pacing is key to a story and is the element that dictates how fast the story moves along.  In erotica, move things too quickly and details get left out, readers can’t get involved.  Move too slowly, the readers get bored.  Finding that balance is critical when putting out a 5,000 word story, or a 100k novel.

The pace of a story, how fast it occurs must make sense and move at a speed comfortable for the average reader.  Veritably, your ability to craft a story that keeps readers focused and draws them into your world is helped along with things like description, diction, tone, setting, character and so forth.  Using these things in tandem with keeping pace in the story will enhance the reader’s experience, making them hungry for more.

In Stalker, (A story agent Marisa Corvisiero has) I started off with light, quick pacing to get the reader engaged, because the novel itself would be brutal, sexually heavy and filled with what I hope is a tumultuous ride for my readers that draws them deeper into the Land of Faery.

Chapter One opens thusly:

“Goddamn, I hate these fucking cum shot posers!”  Millie tapped a spiked heel against the concrete.  Loud music thumped not too far from where she and a half a dozen others stood waiting for admittance to the club.

She raised her chin, “Move it you fucking asshole! They’re playing Combichrist!”

Wind whipped her skirt around. 

Dirt and industrial scents such as oil and metal along with the heavy mixture of clove cigarettes and cheap alcohol filled the air around her. 

Some stared oddly at her and wondered if she were a real Faery or if she were just trying to fit into the gothic scene.  Her ears were typical Fae, pointed and triangular, a dead giveaway to her fae heritage. 

Millie didn’t give a shit about the gawkers.  She went without glamour because it tended to waste energy needed for other things.  Usually her jobs didn’t require her to blend in. 

Tonight however, Millie was on a mission to relax. 

Guys wore tight black pants, studded leather adorned with buckles or even rings. Black dress shirts, tank tops or no shirts were standard Goth uniform.  Some of the men in the line wore dresses.  Some had wild hair or shaved heads, but all stood in line to get into Dallas’s hottest Goth club on a Thursday. 

The fairer sex went for the Goth witch or Dominatrix look. 

Sadly, many of them wore too much makeup. 

Millie looked towards a bouncer who knew her by name and shot him an annoyed glare.  She mouthed something inappropriate to him.

He shrugged nonchalantly and went back to checking IDs. 

She huffed, crossed her arms beneath ample cleavage while tapping a black spiked heel against the pavement and tried to be patient.

 “Shut up, bitch!  The song just started.  And you know the DJ plays an extended set of his stuff,” a large hand clapped onto her barely covered ass. 

Sucking in a deep breath, Millie started to turn around with her fist cocked.  She spun around on a pointed heel, started to throw a punch into the very large body of Virus.

The lupine’s scene carried on the humid breeze and knocked her off balance.

Virus was six foot five, three hundred and fifty pounds of pure wolf. He was also built like a brick shithouse.  He grinned, baring fangs, and smoothed a hand over dyed black hair before readjusting his ponytail.  A shirt hung loosely off massive shoulders.  He folded well defined arms over his chest.  Green eyes sparkled and emphasized a clean shaven face. 

“Hi,” he beamed and winked at Millie.

Millie dropped her hand and wrapped her arms around the wolf. Laying her head against his chest, she whispered, “You’re a shit.” His body radiated warmth compared to hers, go figure.  Winter in this realm was colder than she often realized. She hadn’t had the brains to put on heavy clothes and the tight corset that pushed full breasts up close to her chin left her arms uncovered.

Her skirt barely covered her ass, which Virus promptly fondled, earning him a dirty look.

An eyebrow rose.  “Stockings, and I assume a garter?  Millie what are you doing out tonight?  Your father would be furious if he found you in the mortal realm dressed like this.”

She slapped his shoulder.  “Oh, like you ever cared what my father thought.  Besides, he’s dead.” Millie let out a heavy sigh and leaned into his warmth.  Virus was a friend of the family and had saved Millie from one stupid Fae court incident after another.  Grateful for his presence, she ran a hand over his slicked back hair, irritated that he’d changed its color again.  “And why did you dye your hair again?  Wolves don’t need to do that, did they?”

You do care,” he winked and nudged her hips with his. 

The pace is light, allowing for a comfortable introduction into Faolan’s world of heavy BDSM.  I used it again when I described Faery.  To set the tone, I again used pacing in my description of the world of the Unseelie Kingdom:

The landscape changed rapidly before Faolan’s eyes. He noticed the severe difference in scenery.  A cold wind blew hard past them.  Barren bluish snow and ice covered the land.  Just a mile or so away, Faolan spotted tall structures. Polls stood tall on the horizon with swinging wires between them.   “Where are we?”

“Welcome to the Unseelie Kingdom, my Prince.  Technically it starts here but behind us,” she stretched her arm out, “the lands blend together for a period before we get to the Seelie Kingdom.” Millie set her hand on his shoulder and steadied herself. 

A shiver would have set in if he were a normal being.  Barren land spread out before them except for the polls and an odd silent hum. “I thought this was supposed to be a land of beauty and darkness.  Aren’t you fae all about that?  And why are you not cold?”

A deep blue hue covered the dark sky and made the bright lights of the city seem even brighter. 

“You don’t know much about the two kingdoms do you?”  She narrowed her eyes at him and then returned to looking out towards the empty ice and city. 

He shook his head.  “I’m afraid I know very little about your history.  I have never needed it.  Most fae I have ever met were either toys or ones who needed to be put down.”

Her gruff voice sounded even harsher in the wind.  “You make it sound like we’re broken and should be treated like dogs.” 

The direct tone in his voice sounded harsh but the statement was just that.  Practical reality was a bitch, he knew.  Faolan tightened his grip on her hand.  Her fingers shook.  “I am not the one who set the rules.”

She glared hard at him.  “Try to remember that you are the odd one here.  Even if I took you at your word, that doesn’t mean anyone else will.”  Millie pulled him forward.  “Come on.”

She stepped cautiously into the snow.

Again, short, clipped sentences and dialogue help convey the urgency while steering emotional investment where I the author want to take the reader.

Next time I have the blog we’ll talk about slow pacing and how to remedy that with action and dialogue.

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May 102012
 
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In regards to the last of erotica’s sins, a well-known publisher of sexually explicit materials put it elegantly and succinctly: “Just don’t fuck anyone to death.” As with the rest of the potentially problematic themes I’ve discussed here, the bottom line is context and execution: you can almost anything if you do it well—and if not well, then don’t bother doing it at all.

Violence can be a very seductive element to add to any genre, let alone erotica, mainly because it’s just about everywhere around us. Face it, we live in a severely screwed up culture: cut someone’s head off and you get an R rating, but give someone head and it’s an X. It’s kind of natural that many people want to use some degree of violence in their erotica, more than likely because they’ve seen more people killed than loved on-screen. But violence, especially over-the-top kind of stuff (i.e. run of the mill for Hollywood), usually doesn’t fly in erotic writing. Part of that is because erotica editors and publishers know that even putting a little violence in an erotic story or anthology concept can open them up to criticism from all kinds of camps: the left, the right, and even folks who’d normally be fence-sitters—and give a distributor a reason not to carry the book.
One of the biggest risks that can happen with including violence in an erotic story is when the violence affects the sex. That sounds weird; especially since I’ve often said that including other factors are essential to a well-written erotic story. The problem is that when violence enters a story and has a direct impact on the sex acts or sexuality of the character, or characters, the story can easily come off as either manipulative or pro-violence. Balancing the repercussions of a violent act on a character is tricky, especially as the primary focus of the story. However, when violence is not central to the sexuality of the characters but can affect them in other ways it becomes less easy to finger point—such as in noir, horror, etc—where the violence is background, mood, plot, or similar without a direct and obvious impact on how the character views sex. That’s not to say it isn’t something to shoot for, but it remains one of the harder tricks to pull off.

Then there’s the issue of severity and gratuitousness. As in depicting the actual sex in sex writing, a little goes a long way: relishing in every little detail of any act can easily push sex, violence, or anything else into the realm of comedy, or at least bad taste. A story that reads like nothing but an excuse to wallow in blood—or other body fluids—can many times be a big turn-off to an editor or publisher. In other words, you don’t want to beat a reader senseless.

But the biggest problem with violence is when it has a direct sexual contact. In other words, rape. Personally, this is a big button-pusher, mainly because I’ve only read one or two stories that handled it … I can’t really say well because there’s nothing good about that reprehensible act, but there have been a few stories I’ve read that treat it with respect, depth, and complexity. The keyword in that is few: for every well-executed story dealing with sexual assault there are dozens and dozens that make me furious, at the very least. I still remember the pro-rape story I had the misfortune to read several years ago. To this day, I keep it in the back of my mind as an example of how awful a story can be.

Sometimes violence can slip into a story as a component of S/M play. You know: a person assaulted by a masked intruder who is really (ta-da!) the person’s partner indulging in a bit of harsh role-play. Aside from being old hat and thoroughly predicable, stories like this can also fall into the “all pain is good pain for a masochist” cliché, unless, as with all things, it’s handled with care and/or flair.

Summing up, there is nothing you cannot write about: even this erotic “sin” or the others I’ve mentioned. However, some subjects are simply problematic in regards to sales potential: themes and activities that are loaded with emotional booby traps have to be carefully handled if the story is going to be seen as anything other than a provocative device. The affective use of these subjects has always been dependant on the writer’s ability to treat them with respect. If you have any doubts about what that might be, just imagine being on the receiving end: extrapolate your feelings as if one of your own personal traumas or sexual issues was used as a cheap story device or plot point in a story. Empathy is always a very important facility for a writer to develop—especially when dealing with sensitive or provocative issues.

In short, if you don’t like being beaten up, then don’t do it to someone else, or if you do, then try and understand how much it hurts and why. Taking a few body blows for your characters might make you a bit black and blue emotionally, but the added dimension and sensitivity it gives can change an erotic sin, something normally just exploitive, to … well, if not a virtue, then at least a story with a respectful sinner as its author.

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Mar 242012
 
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Like bestiality—and unlike underage sexuality—incest is a tough nut: it’s not something you might accidentally insert into an erotic story. Also like bestiality, it’s something that can definitely push—if not slam—the buttons of an editor or publisher. Yet, as with all of these “sins,” the rules are not as set in stone as you’d think. Hell, I even managed to not only write and sell an incest story (“Spike,” which is the lead story in Dirty Words) but it also ended up in Best Gay Erotica. The trick, and with any of these erotic button-pushers, is context. In the case of “Spike” I took a humorous, surreal take on brother/brother sexuality, depicting a pair of twin punks who share and share alike sexually, until their world is shattered (and expanded) by some rough S/M play.

As with any of the “sins,” a story that deals with incest in a thought- provoking or sideways humorous manner might not scream at an editor or publisher I’M AN INCEST STORY. Instead, it will come across as humorous or thought-provoking first, and as a tale dealing with incest second. Still, once it comes to light, there’s always a chance the story might still scream a bit, but if you’re a skilled writer telling an interesting story, there’s still a chance quality could win over the theme.

Unlike bestiality, incest has very, very few stretches (like aliens and myths with bestiality). It’s very hard to stumble into incest. In short, you’re related or you’re not. As far as degree of relationship, that depends on the story and the intent: immediate family relations are damned tough to deal with, but first cousins fooling around behind the barn are quite another.

Even though incest is pretty damned apparent in a story, that doesn’t mean the theme or the subtext can’t be touched on. Sometimes the forbidden or the unexpected lying under the surface can add depth to a story: a brother being protective of his attractive sister, a mother shopping for a date for a daughter, a father trying to steer his son’s sexuality, a daughter’s sexual explorations alarming (and enticing) a mother or father’s fantasies, and so forth. Technically, some of these dip into incest, if not the act then at least the territory, but if handled well they can add an interesting facet to an otherwise mundane story. It’s a theme that’s also been played with, successfully, for centuries. Even the myth of Pygmalion—a sculptor falling in love with his creation—can almost be considered a story of incest, as the artist was a parent, then a lover.

Conversely, incest can dull a situation when the emotions of the lovers involved become turned: as an example, where a person begins to feel more of a caregiver or mentor than a partner: the thought or even fantasies around sexuality with the person being cared-for or taught start to feel inappropriate. Conversely, someone might enjoy the forbidden spice of feeling sexual towards someone they’ve only thought of as a son or daughter, mother or father figure. This is also an old plaything for storytellers, the most common being a person looking for a partner to replace the strength and nurturing left behind when they grew up and moved out—or, from the new partner’s point of view, the shock in realizing they have been selected to fulfill that role.

As with any of these “sins,” fantasy can be a factor in being able to play with these themes. Having a character imagine making love to their mom (shudder) is in many editors or publishers eyes the same thing as actually doing it—but accepting and using the theme in, say, play-acting, where the reality is separated because the participants aren’t related in any way, is more acceptable. As with under-age play, S/M and dominance and submission games can also use incest as a spice or forbidden theme—especially in infantilism games, where one person pretends to be an abusive or nurturing parental figure. Once again, play versus reality (even imagined reality) can work where normally no one would dare tread.

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

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Jan 262012
 
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Only in erotica can the line “Come, Fido!” be problematic. Unlike some of the other Four Deadly Sins of erotica writing, bestiality is very hard to justify: with few exceptions, it’s not something that can be mistaken for something else, or lie in wait for anyone innocently trying to write about sex. This is unlike, for instance, discussing a first time sexual experience and have it accused of being pro- pedophilia. Bestiality is sex with anything living that’s not human: if it’s not living, then it’s a machine, and if it was once living, then it’s necrophilia.

A story that features—positively or negatively—anything to do with sex with animals is tough if not impossible to sell, though some people have accomplished it. However, there are some odd angles to the bestiality that a lot of people haven’t considered—both positive and negative.

On the negative side, I know a friend who had an erotic science fiction story soundly slammed by one editor because it featured sex with something non-human, technically bestiality—despite the fact that there is a long tradition of erotic science fiction, most recently culminating in the wonderful writing and publishing of Cecilia Tan and her Circlet Press (both very highly recommended). Erotic fantasy stories, too, sometimes get the “we don’t want bestiality” rejection, though myth and legend are packed with sexy demons, mermaids, ghosts, etc. This doesn’t even get into the more classical sexy beasts such as Leda and her famous swan, or Zeus and other randy gods and demi-gods in their various animal forms.

Alas, “someone else did it” doesn’t carry any weight with an editor and publisher, especially one that might be justifiably nervous about government prosecution or distributor rejection. Erotica, once again, gets—bad joke number three—the shaft: because erotica is up-front about the nature of its writing, alarm bells go off, unlike writing labeled scholarly or even pop-culture. Market something as erotic and the double standards start popping up all over the place.

On a positive note—as the already mentioned Cecilia Tan has proved—sex with aliens and mythological creatures has always been popular. Anthropomorphizing an animal and adding intellect or obvious will to a creature is a very safe way of touching on, or even embracing, the allure of sex with the unusual. The furry subculture is a close example of this, though they are very clear that this is not bestiality. It’s just a way of eroticizing the exotic, mixing human sexuality with animal features. As long as the critters being embraced are not real animals and can give consent, then protests and issues usually fall away. Fantasy, after all, is one thing, and there’s nothing more fantastic that dating a being from Tau Ceti V or something that looks like a raccoon crossed with Miss November, 1979.

There’s another feature of bestiality that can be explored but only until recently has been: the idea of role-playing. In this take on it, a person will behave like an animal, usually a dog, and usually submissive. In these S/M games, the “dog” (notice that they are never cats) is led around on a leash, communicates in barks or whines, drinks and eats from a bowl, and is generally treated—much to his pleasure, or as punishment—like a pooch: read it one way and it’s a unique power game, but read it another and it’s bestiality.

One thing worth mentioning, because some people have brought this up in regards to all of the sins, is the dream out. What I mean by that is simple: say you really, really want to write about doing some member of another phylum. That’s cool, but your chances of seeing it in print, or even on a Web site, are about slim to none. Science fiction doesn’t turn your crank so you say: “Got it! It’s a dream!” Well, I have news for you: a story that’s slipped under the door with that framing device, as a way of getting about the idea of a real bestiality story apparent, especially when it opens with “I went to bed” and ends with “then I woke up” is a pretty damned obvious excuse to write an un-sellable bestiality story.

With a lot of these erotic “sins,” whether or not a story comes across as being thoughtful or just exploitive and shallow depends a lot on how much you, as the writer, has put into the concept: something done cheap and easy will read just that way, versus the outcome if you invest time, thought, and—best of all—originality. Good work really does win out, and even can wash away some of the more outré’ erotic “sins.”

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Nov 262011
 
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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.

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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.

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Sep 292011
 
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“The assassin readied himself, beginning first by picking up his trusty revolver and carefully threading a silencer onto the barrel.”

That reads right enough, doesn’t it? You look at it and it sings true. But it’s not. Not because the assassin is a product of my imagination but because, except for one very rare instance, silencers cannot be fitted onto revolvers. So every time you see Mannix or Barnaby Jones facing off against some crook with a little tube on the end of their revolver, keep in mind that it has no bearing on reality.

What does this have to go with smut writing? Well, sometimes erotica writers—both old hands and new blood—make the same kind of mistakes: not so much a revolver with a silencer, but definitely the anatomical or psychological equivalent.

People ask me sometimes what kind of research I do to write erotica. The broad answer is that I seriously don’t do that much true research, but I do observe and try and understand human behavior— no matter the interest or orientation—and add that to what I write. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some (ahem) fieldwork involved.

I’m very lucky to have started writing erotica here in San Francisco. If America has a sexual organ, it’s here. Good example: do you know what the most-attended parade is in the US? Answer: The Rose Parade in Pasadena. No surprise there, right? Well, here’s one: do you know the second most-attended parade? It’s the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Trans-gendered Day Parade. There are 500,000 people—some gay and some not, all cheering for love and sex. It’s more than mind-blowing; it’s truly inspiring. It also shows how sexy this burg is. I should also mention the Folsom Street Fair: 400,000 leather- and latex-clad men, women, and genderqueers thronging through seven blocks of the city.

Sex is not just in the atmosphere here; it’s also a tradition. The Institute for the Study of Human Sexuality is here, and SFSI is here. SFSI stands for San Francisco Sex Information, a completely self- funded sex information and referral system. It works like this: after 52 hours of training (doctors get only something like 15), volunteers are qualified to go on the switchboard and answer questions from all over the country on any aspect of human sexuality without judgment, bias, or giggles. If you call (415) 989-7374 one of these volunteers will answer whatever you ask, or put you in contact with another group who will. It’s a wonderful service and an invaluable resource. You can also check them out at www.sfsi.org.

It’s easy to make the assumption that you’re well informed, but the fact is we are being bombarded by prejudice and simply inaccurate information all the time. The media is getting better at depicting sexuality, but they still have a long way to go. Way too often I’ll read a book, watch a movie, or flip channels, and groan at some cliché being perpetuated: all gay men are effeminate, all lesbians are butch, S/M is destructive, polyamorous people are sex-addicted, older people don’t have sex, couples always orgasm together—the list goes on and on. Many of these things are done out of laziness—but others are repetition of what the creators honestly believe are true.

It’s a very hard to unlearn something you’ve always taken as truth, and even harder to recognize what’s in your personal worldview that needs to be reexamined. My advice is to assume, especially in regards to sexuality, that everything you know should be looked at again. If you’re right, then the worst you can do is perhaps add a bit more to your knowledge, or get a different perspective. But if you crack open a book, or blip to a Web site, and find yourself going “I didn’t know that,” then feel good rather than bad: by doing that, and adding it to your erotic fiction, you’ll help perpetuate accuracy rather than bullcrap.

One more thing you could do is help people. We don’t like sex in this country. Sure, we sell beer and cars with it, but we don’t like it. We’re scared of it. Living in this world with anything that’s not beer and car commercial sexuality can be a very frightening and lonely experience. Too many people feel that they are alone, or what they like to do sexually is wrong, sinful, or sick. Now I’m not talking about violent or abusive sexual feelings, but rather an interest in something that harms no one and that other people have discovered to be harmless or even beneficial. If you treat what you’re writing about with respect, care, and understanding, you could reach out to someone, somewhere and help them understand and maybe even get through their bad feelings about their sexuality—bad feelings, by the way, that more than likely have been dished out by the lazy and ignorant for way too long.

In other words, especially in regards to erotica, you should be part of the solution and not the problem.

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