Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Friday, September 30, 2016

Skipping the Sex


I recently found myself skipping over a sex scene in a novel I was thoroughly enjoying. It’s not the first time that’s happened. This particular novel was a fast-paced paranormal story that was original and gripping. There was nothing wrong with the sex scene. Like the rest of the novel, it was well-written and pacey. It was just in the wrong place. It stopped the action in it’s tracks until the couple had their romp – which satisfied them a helluva lot more than it satisfied me. I just wanted to know what happened next. I guess you could say I just wasn’t in the mood.

Because the book was really good and action packed, enjoyable in every other way right down to the last word, I found myself thinking about misplaced sex scenes and story-interuptus. I did a mental inventory of the novels I could recall in which I’ve skipped over sex scenes, then I analyzed the reasons why I’d done it. Interestingly enough, I found that it seldom had to do with the fact that the sex scene was poorly written. Though I’ve read plenty of novels in which the writing of sex scenes was less than stellar, those weren’t the scenes I skipped. In those cases, I usually overlooked the flaws and just got on with it. I reckon writing sex well is a learned process and I can forgive awkwardly written sex in a pacey story that keeps me turning the pages. If the pacing is good, then the sex will not be there without a purpose.Sometimes even poorly written sex still contains an element essential to the story being told. 

 As I analyzed what I’ve read and what I’ve skipped, I found two main situations in which I skip sex scenes entirely because I know it’s a waste of my time. The first situation is when the writer interrupts the action for sex. When I began writing erotic novels, the standard rule of thumb was that there should be a sex scene every two thousand words. Seriously! So I spent a good deal of time scrambling trying to figure how a sex scene could be inserted that would move the story forward and not stall the plot. I didn’t always succeed. Thankfully more literary heads prevailed and now the tale being told determines the where and when of sex, just like it does with all other action in a story. Like any other action a writer uses in fiction, there needs to be a reason for sex. Like all other actions, sex should move the story forward, ratchet up the plot, or reveal something new about the characters.

The second situation in which I skip over sex scenes, and the one that irritates me far more, is when the writer has
substituted sex for action.  I know, I know! I just said sex should be the action that moves the plot. But when it’s not, when it does nothing but fill space where action is sorely needed, then I have a problem with that.  Sadly I see a lot of examples of sex being used to resolve a situation, and while I don’t necessarily believe everything has to be resolved for a story to reach a satisfactory conclusion, I also am not romantic enough to believe that a good romp in the hay will lead to
all problems solved, love everlasting and catapult us all to a HEA with hearts and flowers and fluffy bunnies. In erotica, sex can most definitely be the pay-off the reader is waiting for, but in romance isn’t a substitute for resolution. 

The thing that I love about sex in fiction is that it’s one of the best movers and shapers of story and certainly one of the most powerful driving forces in epic archetypal tales. It often launches the journey from which there is no return, it introduces chaos for which there is no easy solution and it reveals the heart and soul of a character, flaws, neuroses and all. How can you not love that? That it should ever be skipped over is a sad indication of its misuse – even for this jaded writer. I want it to count. I want it to change things, and I most definitely need it to do more than make me squirm in my knickers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Another Scorching Case Of Writer's Block


I've been having a rough few weeks and a scorching case of writer's block has set in. My parents (both sets) have health problems. For that to make any sense, you must understand that I have parents who raised me and an older couple who adopted me of sorts a few years ago. I call them Mom and Dad. That Mom is having severe vertigo problems due to a possible serious inner ear infection. My mother who raised me died two years ago, and now my dad who raised me is in the hospital with a heart problem aggravated by his COPD. I know the parents labels gets confusing. It's like Neal Gaiman's Coraline -  I have Mother and Other Mother. Then there are my biological parents and cousin since I'm adopted. My birth mother died about four years ago and I'm in regular touch with a blood relative, a cousin. I've turned family into a three-ring circus.

I'm not processing all this mess very well. On top of it, my two latest books aren't selling. That's a severe disappointment. I don't know what to do about it. The weather is getting colder and winter is coming. The cats won't stop fighting. The books not selling well is hitting me especially hard since I see no point in writing at the moment. Why bother when next to no one will read my books? I'm working on a horror novel at the moment as well as a short erotic romance story, but the words simply aren’t flowing.

I know I'm not the only one feeling this way about my writing. A fellow horror writer on Facebook just said pretty much the same thing about his own aspirations since it's harder for him to reach his goals now than when he was younger. One commenter pointed out that maybe when he was younger he set the bar for his goals too low. I wonder if that could be my problem. I used to be happy simply being published. Now, I want to be published by bigger, better houses, get lots of great reviews, get huge sales, and eventually win awards. Not only is a lot of that out of my hands, it's harder to achieve. I have accomplished the first of those goals for the most part but not the others. Not yet. Maybe I just need time. In the meantime, I have no desire to write at all.

What to do?

I haven't had writer's block in awhile, but I haven't forgotten how I've dealt with it in the past. The best thing for me to do is to not fight it. Just give in to it and find something else to do that I enjoy that will improve my bleak mood. I know this won't work for everyone. This is only about what has worked for me. My point is to find what works best for you. If writing through the block works, do it. If getting away from the keyboard for awhile works, go for it. This is what has worked for me.

I'm still going to the beach nearly every day. Walking on the beach is my primary form of  exercise. I've lost 15 pounds since the beginning of summer. The difference this year is that my husband and I intend to join the local YMCA to use their exercise machines and the pool. I lost 15 pounds last summer and the summer before that, but gained it all back and then some because I had no exercise regime set for the fall and winter. So there's something to be happy about. I'll likely reach my target weight (130 pounds) by next summer. Good.

I'm concentrating on my new radio show, Into The Abyss With Elizabeth Black. It's about horror and dark fiction, my other literary loves. My first guest will be Josh Malerman, who wrote Bird Box, a scary-as-shit novel. I loved it. He's going to be on my show Thursday Oct. 6 at 4 PM EST. I still do radio shows for Blog Talk Radio and that includes shows about erotic romance and writing. My past guests include women from Broad Universe, Madeleine Shade (who specializes in fairy tales), Cherry Wild and Sophia Soror (they also specialize in fairy tales), and Melissa Keir. Doing these shows keeps me afloat so that I don’t feel as if I'm floundering without direction.

I'm reading more. I like erotic romance and erotica collections by Cleis Press and Xcite Books. I have quite a few books by these publishers, and they inspire me when I write erotic fiction. I'm working on a call for submissions for Cleis that isn't due until December, so I have time to come up with a story. I would love to be accepted by them again. I also enjoy books that scare the crap out of me. I'm about to begin Snowblind by Christopher Golden, which takes place in Massachusetts in the dead of winter. Perfect timing. I've also decided to reread a classic to inspire me while working on my own horror novel, Hell Time. I'm rereading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.

Finally, I've been watching plenty of TV and movies. I'm binge-watching Mr. Robot, and I'm on the season finale now. Rami Malek deserved his Best Actor Emmy for playing the lead in this show. I'm also enjoying American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare, although it's not the best thing I've seen. The new TV version of The Exorcist is very predictable but the first episode held my attention. Nice Easter Egg with the brief glimpse of a newspaper article about Chris MacNeil from the original movie. Lucifer is back! Love that show. My husband and I can't get enough of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. It's my favorite TV show.

I've been baking. I made lemon poppy seed quickbread, angel kisses cookies, hobnobs (British oat tea cookies), maple candy (it is fall after all) and lime spritzer cookies. The lime spritzers taste exactly like the same cookies Pepperidge Farm used to make. They were sold only over the summer and they've been discontinued a long time ago. I loved those cookies, and now I can make them myself.

In a nutshell, I've been doing things I enjoy to take my mind off my worries and the writer's block. When I'm ready to write, I'll write. I'm not going to put undue pressure on myself since I know that will only make the situation worse. Next week I attend a Writers Coffeehouse New England meeting, and I intend to learn how I can get word out about Into The Abyss With Elizabeth Black, including possibly getting it into syndication. This coffeehouse is chock full of valuable information, and I go every chance I get. I've been to one before and I learned a great deal there. After we return, I decorate the house with Halloween gack. I have two Fargo snow globes and a Halloween snow globe. All three depict scenes from the movies. Those are my pride and joy, and I love showing them off. I'm looking forward to Halloween and the fall season. I can at least enjoy myself until this dreadful mood and block lift. Maybe my parents (all of them) will be better soon. Until then, I'll binge-watch more movies and TV and bake stuff. Once I begin writing, I know I'll be fine.

In the meantime, I will continue to watch this video, which I can't watch and be unhappy at the same time. It's Cab Calloway and the Nicolas Brothers doing Jumpin' Jive. This is said to be the greatest dance number ever recorded, and I sure agree with that. Get those happy feet moving!



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How Much Sex?

by Jean Roberta

Is erotica a genre unto itself, or does the term just refer to sex scenes that could appear in any work of fiction? Most book-length works of “erotica” can also be classified as something else, and since words that refer to sex can result in books being sold only in an on-line version of under-the-counter, all of us who write about sex have a motive to define our work as romance, or contemporary fiction, or paranormal suspense, or dark fantasy, or some other thing.

When I was invited to co-edit an annual anthology, Heiresses of Russ: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction, I wondered how much sex, if any, could be allowed in an anthology that was not designated as “erotica.” Steve Berman, publisher and co-editor, told me that sex was fine as long as the stories fit the mandate of the series (speculative and lesbian in some sense, which I interpreted to mean that female characters had to have primary relationships with other girls/women). Several of the stories were chosen from erotic anthologies, and the fantasy elements fit in well with the fantasy elements in the less-explicit stories.

While choosing stories, I realized once again that there is really no such thing as a completely non-erotic story. Any situation in which sentient beings interact is potentially erotic. Human beings (not to mention shapeshifters, strange hybrids, androids, and extraterrestrials) tend to have sexual feelings, and these often form a subtext or a kind of bass line under the melody of plot.

Some calls-for-submissions that don’t appear here on the Erotic Readers and Writers site include a paragraph stating that “gratuitous” sex and/or violence is not welcome, but explicit sex scenes are okay if they fit the context, help to show character and further the plot. Well, duh.

So the question a writer must consider is not whether sexual explicitness would be accepted by an editor and a publisher, but whether it would fit a particular story – which it could, depending on how it is approached. In a way, calls for “erotica” per se are easier to respond to, because they require plots on a particular theme (e.g. men in uniform, women in college dorms) in which sex is the goal and the climax.

I have sometimes surprised myself by passing up a chance to include a sex scene in order to focus on other aspects of the relationship, or of the social context. Back in the 1980s, when I was not yet writing “erotica,” I wrote a collection of lesbian stories, including one with the working title “Love and Death in the Canadian Novel.” (My better judgment led me to rename it “Winter Break.”) I was trying to show why two women are attracted to each other, yet too divided in various ways to spend their lives together. The story includes the steamiest scene I had ever written (literally – it is set in winter, when outdoor breath becomes steam). The sex is followed by mutual accusations based on misunderstandings, which lead the pair to realize that moving in together would not be a good plan. Ironically, this is their most serious agreement.

The one-woman publisher put the steamy scene on the back cover as a teaser, although there was no more where that came from. A friend of mine who read the book asked me why I didn’t “come to the point.” Clearly, the point she wanted to come to was not exactly the one I wanted to make.

Do I plan to rewrite that old story and try to resell it? No. It was based on an actual relationship that didn’t last long, and I could hardly give it a Happy-for-Now ending (let alone a Happy-Ever-After) without changing the characters to make them more compatible. I might as well write a new story.

More recently, I wrote a story set in the imaginary world of H.P. Lovecraft, in which the central character is a young woman attending normal school in the 1920s,and enjoying sex with her fiancé, who wants to speed up the wedding date so their pleasure can be legal, respectable, and reproductive. This relationship is also doomed, but I absolutely believed what both characters told me about how much they enjoy their hard-won privacy. I was tempted to spend a page on their joy, which is destined to end because she, newly privileged with income-earning skills and the right to vote, wants a more exciting future than marriage, children and church. He, as a man of his time, thinks she is like a skittish colt who needs to have her first baby in order to “settle down.”

Ultimately, though, I wanted to go somewhere else with the story, which needed to stay within a limited word-count. So although it includes a sexual relationship, it doesn’t really qualify as “erotica.” If anything, the heroine’s first away-from-home adventure is anti-erotic for her, although she recognizes the value of expanding her horizons and calmly respecting other beings whose strangeness terrifies her until she controls her fear.

Years ago in the ERWA lists, someone posted a discussion of percentages (percentage of sexual description vs. percentage of narration and dialogue) as a way of determining whether a piece of writing qualifies as “erotica.” I’m sure some of the best-known novels we think of that way would fail the test. Yearning and sensuality can be expressed even when no one is having “sex,” as it is generally understood. And sometimes a fuck isn’t what is needed most, at least in the moment.

Am I trying to escape from the erotic writers’ ghetto altogether, so as to get more respect? I can’t absolutely deny it, since the persistent myth that erotic writing is sub-literary tends to be hard on one’s Muse. Yet the pressure of a story that wants to be written – or the voice of the character who wants to tell it – feels sexual in a broad sense.

The amount of sexual description in a story or a novel ultimately has to conform to the nature of the story. Whose story is it, and what does the narrator want the reader to know? One good way of finding answers would be to write a story with passing references to sex, then to expand the sex scenes to see if they fit the general tone of the piece. Or conversely, a sex scene could be written first, and then the backstory and the logical aftermath could be added to see if they form a coherent whole. If not, something needs to change.

The best stories, of course, don’t come only from one’s conscious mind. The writing process is more visceral than that, and characters sometimes need to take over.

What do yours tell you?


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Manual Labor

by Kathleen Bradean

When I think of Jane Austin writing the many drafts of Pride and Prejudice by hand, I get exhausted. She didn't even have the luxury of a self-inking pen.  No wonder only the rich were authors back then. Who else had the time?

Waaay back in the 1980s, when dot matrix printers were almost unreadably light and the paper had those holes in the sides for the printer feed, I'd use a clunky word processor program to write my stories, print them out, then literally cut and paste sentences and paragraphs on a sheet of paper as if I were composing world's smuttiest ransom note.  We had to do that because you could see so little of the page that it was easy to get lost moving paragraphs in the word processing program. Once I had what I wanted, I'd move things around in the word processor, make my other edits, print the latest version, and bring out the scissors to hone the story some more. All of that because I couldn't bear the thought of writing a story in longhand. You see, I'd lost so much time not being allowed to write through my teens and I had to make it up. I needed the speed computers gave me. Even though I was/am a crap typist, keeping up with the speed of my thoughts was easier on computer than writing longhand.

Almost three years ago, I lost a family member and the person-shaped wound left in our lives has become a black hole. Everything gets sucked into it. Nothing escapes that void. I wanted to write after his death, but couldn't. My creativity was gone. I tried so hard to put something down but until I was able to figure out the central conflict for the book, there was nothing to write. Normally, my imagination is hard to tamp down, but it was dead. No matter how much time I put into it, I couldn't imagine a conflict that would work. I made up a few, but knew they wouldn't support a book. They felt forced. Then writer Nan Andrews was visiting and I, as usual, was bemoaning my inability to write, and she said something that triggered a cascade of imagination. (This is why writers need to get together and talk. Most of us don't live with other writers, so what we do is so foreign to our families that they can't begin to know how to help us. Other writers do.)

Even though the ideas were suddenly flowing, I didn't sit down and try like mad to capture the deluge. I did what I hadn't done since before the time of computers. I picked up a notebook and a pen and began to write.

I wasn't writing the story yet. I was telling myself the story. Or, if you prefer, I was writing a synopsis/outline. When I was done, I waited a few days to mull it over, read it again, then picked up a pen and told myself the story again. I knew the weak parts because those are the sections I couldn't write as specific events. Those passages were more of a "Step twelve: a miracle occurs" comments that were huge red flags of plot weaknesses. The second time I wrote it down, those parts had more detail and were strong enough to support the following events. Soon, I may tell myself the story again. It can only become clearer with each step.

I've never been an outliner, at least not a written outline. I always sort of had one in mind as I wrote. But that was a nebulous thing, riding the currents of my imagination and libel to follow the stream of conscience anywhere it flowed. It was ethereal. This hand-written synopsis has a different feel. It's grounded, and I'm connected to it in a different and very real way. It is an idea, but it is physical, because it flowed from my mind through my hand onto paper. At this point in my writing life, I need this anchor to keep my creativity from falling into the black hole of loss again.

I don't know if I'll continue to write by hand, but for now, I like the connection it gives me to the words. I know I'll never write a whole novel by hand, but this may be my  new process. Write a synopsis, write it by hand.

Do you write by hand? Do you get a different feel for the story when you do? Have you changed up your writing methods to adapt to changes in your life?


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Red Lines, Rules and Limits



By Lisabet Sarai

Are there topics you feel should be unequivocally banned from erotica? Subjects about which you would absolutely never read—or write—in an erotic context? Do you believe there are some literary lines that should never be crossed?

Many people feel this way about rape or other forms of non-consensual sexual activity. Yet studies (here, for example) have shown repeatedly that many women (and some men) fantasize about being raped or forced into sexual activity. In general, these women understand that imagined coercion is very different from real rape. Finding the former arousing does not indicate a desire for the latter. Nevertheless many readers, and publishers, object to exploring this topic in erotica.

What about incest? Despite the difficulty authors experience in publishing fiction that features sexual activity between adult family members, the taboo topic is a turn-on for a significant subset of readers. The wildly popular step-brother romance sub-genre has provided a “safe” way for readers to experience the forbidden thrill of being attracted to a close relation. I personally consider this as a bit dishonest. I’ve had incestuous dreams about my own brother. I’d never act on them, but that doesn’t mean the dreams weren’t a turn-on.

Bestiality? If sexual activity involving animals is so horrifying, why are shifter stories so successful? Not to mention the cryptozoological “taken by bigfoot” sub-genre? Forcing oneself upon a dumb animal in the real world would be immoral, but the beasts in erotic fiction tend to be anthropomorphised. The human participants feel some sort of sexual connection with the horny dog or the sleek, predatory tiger. I’ve read some amazing erotica based on human attraction to animals. Does that mean I plan to have sex with my cat? Of course not.

Sex with children may be a hard line. Adults getting sexual with kids too young to object or to understand is definitely wrong. There are no extenuating circumstances. But how do you define “young”? Is fourteen too young? That’s how old I was when I gave away my virginity, to a guy who was twenty. I knew exactly what I was doing (well, in theory, at least). During the teen years, desire is confusing and inchoate, but overwhelming in its power. Memories of that period, when every emotion cuts to the quick, offer tremendous possibilities for meaningful and moving—as well as tremendously arousing—erotic fiction.

My clearest personal line involves erotic fiction that portrays inflicting serious violence, physical harm or death as arousing. I avoid such stories when I can. I’ve read enough erotica, though, to know that not everyone agrees with this boundary. Are the people who write such stuff fundamentally evil? Am I qualified to judge?

These are not easy questions to answer. If you think they are, I believe that you’re fooling yourself.

The core issue relates to another kind of line: the line between imagination and reality. Is someone who finds a taboo topic arousing in fiction likely to perform such actions in real life? I’d argue that most readers of erotica distinguish very clearly between the fantasies evoked by erotic fiction, no matter how extreme, and the life they live outside of books.

Of course there are individuals who do enact this sort of forbidden scenario in the real world. There are men who kidnap women and hold them prisoners in their basements for years, who secretly abuse grade school kids, who screw their prepubescent daughters. These people have always existed. Does our writing about the sort of crimes they perpetrate encourage these people to commit these crimes?

Does an author who writes about a serial killer encourage murderers in the real world?

How much of the horror that people express about various taboo topics is rational, and how much is based on their personal discomfort? I will leave that question open for you to ponder.

Publishers and online venues like ERWA don’t want to make readers uncomfortable. They’re also worried about getting in trouble with the law. Hence, they establish various rules about what content is and is not acceptable. These rules tend to be idiosyncratic, depending on both the personal beliefs of the owners or operators and their perception of their market. For instance, I had a publisher reject one of my stories once because they had a policy prohibiting the portrayal of priests and nuns in erotica. In the romance world, very few publishers will accept any work that includes bodily fluids (“golden showers” or “scat”) even though there’s no legal reason for them to reject such stories (and it’s possible to write about these topics with both grace and heat). These publishers are convinced their readership will find such content “gross”.

Rules can change. Last year, the ownership of ERWA changed hands. Now, the ERWA staff members are debating whether to remove the prohibition of incest erotica on the public website. Perhaps you will consider me an incorrigible reprobate, but I am in favor. I believe we should have as few rules as possible.

In my view, erotica should not only turn readers on, but should also expand their perspectives. Sex is inextricably intertwined with so many other emotionslove, guilt, ambition, shame, anger, and compassion, to name just a few. Erotica derives its singular power from this psychological complexity. It’s not a safe genre, or at least it shouldn’t be. Sometimes the most arousing stories are the most disturbing.

Does that mean nothing is sacred, nothing forbidden? That’s something each of us has to answer for ourselves. There are few, if any red lines that I can discern. Defining what is and is not acceptable in erotica is a dangerously slippery slope.

Red lines in erotica remind me a bit of limits in BDSM. Limits are personalthe activities I totally reject might be the ones that most turn you on. Furthermore, limits can change over time. Tomorrow I might consider doing something that terrifies or squicks me today. Finally, the most erotic BDSM encounters often result from pushing limitsmoving beyond the edge of what’s comfortable and familiar into new experiences and new insights.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Sexy Snippets for September



Greetings to all erotic authors!

Today's the 19th of the month, and you know what that means, right?  It's Sexy Snippet Day! I hope you've got a really sizzling snippet to share with us today.

The ERWA blog is not primarily intended for author promotion. However, we've decided we should give our author/members an occasional opportunity to expose themselves (so to speak) to the reading public. Hence, we have declared the 19th of every month at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog Sexy Snippet Day.

On Sexy Snippet day, any author can post a tiny excerpt (200 words or less) in a comment on the day's post. Include the title from with the snippet was extracted, your name or pseudonym, and one buy link.

Please post excerpts only from published work (or work that is free for download), not works in progress. The goal, after all, is to titillate your readers and seduce them into buying your books!

Feel free to share this with erotic author friends. It's an open invitation!

Of course I expect you to follow the rules. One snippet per author, please. If your excerpt is more than 200 words or includes more than one link, I'll remove your comment and prohibit you from participating in further Sexy Snippet days. I'll say no more!

After you've posted your snippet, feel free to share the post as a whole to Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you think your readers hang out.

Enjoy!

~ Lisabet