Monday, September 22, 2014

Pushing the Envelope--or Not

Sacchi Green

However much I might like to think that I push the envelope of erotica writing, in reality I disappoint myself by writing to fit specific markets most of the time, and by writing only as the deadlines for those markets are getting so close that I almost miss them. Sometimes I do miss them, but the upside is that if another suitable market comes along, I’m nearly ready for it.

I write short stories, which are a different kettle of metaphors from novels. I have to sell my work to editors rather than agents and/or book publishers, and in these days when magazines with no boundary beyond genre (such as science fiction, fantasy, mystery, erotica, etc.) are in very short supply, my markets are nearly always themed anthologies. Right up front there are requirements to be met. I’m not very prolific, so I generally only tackle themes that interest me, and usually only if I think I can incorporate some elements that have already been simmering in the cauldron of my mind, but I can’t persuade myself that anything I write breaks through any barriers or makes much of a difference to anyone. The best that can be said is that I never write down to a market.

Every now and then there’ll be characters and a setting and situation that obsess me so intensely that I’ll start a story without a market in mind. I’ll even do considerable research on background details and plan out its structure, but then I get distracted by some call for submissions or an invitation from an editor, and seldom really finish the story I started until some themed anthology comes along that I think it can be made to fit. Or, increasingly, I find myself wanting to save the stories that mean the most to me for the anthologies I edit myself, assuming I can get a publisher to accept a theme of my choice that will fit them. This isn’t by any means easy, since the anthologies I edit have to suit the publisher’s idea of a marketable theme.

I do like to think that I push the edges of themes. I even get to thinking that I’m getting away with something new. But then I’ll read a story that’s unforgettable, even brilliant, going places I never dared or even thought to go, and I’ll realized how much more a really good writer can get away with. Some of those stories I’m lucky enough to publish in the anthologies I edit. And some that impress me just as much I have to reject because they just don’t fit into the shape I think the book as a whole needs to take. You might say that they don’t fit into the market well enough. I feel guilty, but the book has to come first—and often later I see that those same stories have found a much better home.

I’ve been able to sell most of my rather sparse writing—fortunately I don’t have to make a living a it--and lately I’ve been getting a bit too cocky, writing a few stories more because they appeal to me than because they fit the market I have in mind. But I’ve stopped getting away with it. I had three rejections this year from one editor who had always welcomed my work before, and I mostly understand why. They didn’t fit her market. One is the troll fairy tale I mentioned here recently, but I have a home for that in my own next anthology. One—well, I don’t know why it didn’t fit, but it was something I really wanted to write, and I’ll work on it and figure out something to do with it eventually. And the third was a sequel to a story I’d written for one of my own anthologies, one that I might not have been able to sell to anyone else in the first place. The characters still fascinate me, and I even have fantasies of writing a novel about them, but it’s entirely possible that they don’t appeal to anyone else in the world. And that being cocky doesn’t pay.

In my senior year in college—ah, those golden days of youth when happiness was a high mark on a term paper or exam and enough odd jobs around campus and babysitting gigs to let me afford to go away for a fun weekend--I got cocky. Well, I expect I got cocky before that, but it was a very long time ago and those years tend to blur together a bit. What I particularly remember is deciding to steer all my term papers for one semester (luckily I had already waded through my science and math requirements) toward a single theme, earth-goddess traditions, and thus quadruple-dipping into the same well of research.

It began with a course on Ancient Mythology, where it was legitimate enough. English was no problem. The course was short-story writing, and we had free rein, so, inspired by Mary Renault’s treatments of the Theseus/Minotaur legends, I wrote a quasi-realistic version of what a proto-Ishtar may have been up to. History of Religion worked; in the early days of Christianity the church struggled against a contemporary upsurge of sects worshipping the Egyptian goddess Isis. The one that almost stumped me was History of China, taught by a prominent expert in the field. All my extended research seemed to show that there were no archaeological or anthropological traces of an earth-goddess tradition in ancient China, and at least one historian said as much. So I wrote a paper about why there were no traces of such a tradition, and speculated that the tradition had, in fact, existed, and been erased. My skimpy evidence was mostly a matter of drawing parallels between a few rituals that had been connected with goddess-worship in the Middle East, and had also been recorded in China, but apparently without such connection. I must have had a few more arguments to put forward, but I don’t remember what they were.

I got away with it. More or less. The professor’s comment was, “Not at all convincing, but entertaining. A-“

Many years later my son put me totally in the shade when it came to pushing the envelope on term papers in college. For a course on Shakespeare, he wrote a version of Hamlet with the entire cast made up of Warner Brothers cartoon characters. I don’t remember them all now, but Porky Pig was Porklet, Prince of Denmark, Elmer Fudd was the ghost of Porklet’s father, Daffy Duck in a blonde wig was Ophelia, and Bugs Bunny, of course, picked up all the marbles at the end as Fortinbras. Every word and image was spot-on for both the cartoon references and the Shakespearean base. Yes, he got away with it. A+.

Well, we are what we are, and I’ll get a little mileage out of my third rejected story by sharing a bit of it here. Nothing earthshaking or groundbreaking, just characters that interest me whether there’s a market for them or not.

____________
Coming Home
Sacchi Green

  “Keep your skanky hands off me!” The words stabbed through drifting aromas of coffee and pancakes and bacon. “Touch me again and you won’t be able to fuck your own sorry dick!"
I’d know that voice, that attitude, anywhere. My favorite truck stop where Vermont slopes into New Hampshire wasn’t high on my list of places to look, but how much, really, had I ever know about Carla? Apart from the way she sounded in hip-swishing, femme-top command of any situation—or with her hips so entirely out of control she couldn’t shape gasps into words.  We hadn’t had much time for the getting-to-know-you parts.
I couldn’t see into the dining area past the family with fidgety kids ahead of me. Getting by without trampling them didn’t seem likely, but I was giving it a try anyway when a skinny whirlwind shot from around the cashier’s counter and whacked me from behind.
“Ree Daniels, move your butt!” The manager forged her way through the milling kids like an icebreaker. I was more than twice Lyddie Brown’s bulk and a foot taller, but I followed in her wake anyway.
It was Carla, all right, her pot of scalding coffee poised right above the hastily withdrawn hand—and the crotch—of a middle-aged truck driver I’d seen around before. On the skuzzy side, usually on the make, but Carla could’ve handled his kind in seconds with a sly quip back when she’d been working arcade games on the county fair circuit where we’d met.
Now her face and body were tense, brittle, close to panic. She looked as near to being spooked as any horse I’ve ever handled. What the hell had got into her? And what was she doing here?
It was my turn to shove Lyddie aside, with a look meant to convince her I knew what I was doing. “Hey Carla,” I said gently, moving in close, “let me help you out with that.” My hand curled around her fingers on the coffeepot’s handle, while my body edged hers away from the customer. “Let’s put it down over here, okay?”
The wildness in her dark eyes mellowed into recognition, and something deeper that reignited a spark of hope. That last morning she’d cleared out without any clue as to how to find her, and for nearly two years I’d figured all she’d seen in me was a hot enough two-night stand to pass the time with. If she’d thought that was all I’d seen in her, she’d been dead wrong. Okay, I lied about the getting-to-know-you bit. Two days and nights was enough for me to discover the vulnerability behind the bravado, the steel determination that overcame fear—and how much more I wanted to know.
“Sure,” she said now, “anything you say, big girl.”  Her voice shook, but the old low, intimate tone was still there.
Remembered lust surged back in a rush.  Carla had always radiated sparks of bad-girl eroticism. Even with her waves of black hair confined in a knot and her waitress uniform just skimming her curves, she shot off pheromones that could pierce a Humvee. I’d have felt some sympathy for the trucker if he hadn’t started to bluster.
Lyddie rolled her eyes, jerked her head toward the office, and went into damage control mode.  
I got Carla to the coffee station and deposited the hot pot. In spite of the interested observers at every table, my hand settled into the sweet spot where waist curves to hip as I steered her into the office and kicked the door shut.
She was shivering when I put my arms around her. I’d never imagined Carla so shaken. Physically wary, sure—my big draft horses had scared her before she’d discovered the delights of naked bare-back riding at midnight—but nothing like this melt-down. “Oh, honey, what’s the trouble?” I used my best soothing-skittish-fillies tone. “It’ll be all right.” I stroked her black hair, glossy as the coat of one of my Percherons. It came loose from its prim knot, falling into the wild mane I remembered whipping back and forth over my sweaty torso as she rode me.
“No it won’t,” she muttered against my chest. When her head lifted I saw that the glitter of tears in her eyes came as much from rage as from despair. It was oddly reassuring.
“There goes another job! That bastard! But I can handle his kind without lifting a finger. Usually.” Carla searched her breast pockets. I enjoyed the prospect for a beat or two before taking pity and grabbing the box of Kleenex from Lyddie’s desk.
“So what went wrong?” I dabbed at her damp eyes. No make-up beyond a subdued shade of lipstick, but she still exuded that Jezebel-of-your-dreams air that had grabbed me the first time I’d seen her.
“Me. I went wrong. ‘Sorry, I’m not on the menu’ didn’t do the trick, but I could’ve just smiled and moved away. When he put his hand on my butt, though, I felt…I wanted…dammit, Ree, I needed to be touched so bad it hurt, but not by his sleazy
 hands!”
I’d known how to recognize a mare in heat long before I earned my veterinary degree, and my experience of women had tuned me to the similarities. Women aren’t as easily ruled by their hormones as mares, though; for Carla to go off the deep end, there must be as much turmoil in her head as in her body. Dangerous territory.
____________

So, as Porklet Prince of Denmark might have said, “Th…th…that’s all, folks!”




   

12 comments:

  1. I've just begun to write to specific calls. One of the problems with a rebellious nature is that I never liked being *told* what to do. Typically I just write to what my characters demand and let the chips fall where they may as far as pubbing goes. Of course, I'm lucky to not be writing for a living and can write pretty much do what I want. (and legal) Maybe that's why I have so little on the market, but more on Wednesday.

    Your characters in the clip have already made me curious. And your son did come up with a novel Shakespeare idea. Cool. Shows good writerly genes. :>)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Daddy X, I'm hoping my son gets to do the writing he should do at least by the age when I finally got around to beginning.He's 48 now, with a good wife and an 8 year old daughter, and a job in computer systems that takes up a great deal of time. I think he has more talent than I ever did; he won both first and second prizes in his high school's first poetry competition because, they said, no one else came close to him.

      Delete
  2. I write short stories, which are a different kettle of metaphors from novels.

    Wonderful (and quotable)!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jeremy, that's a relief! When I wrote it I thought. "How lame is that?" and then felt guilty for even thinking an ablest term like "lame."

      Delete
  3. Great post Sacchi - I've found recently that I'm writing shorter stories than I used to - maybe I've found a way to say what I want with fewer words. Love to see Daffy Duck as Ophelia!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. JP:
      My mantra is "short is the new long".
      I think we'd all have a better command of Shakespeare if it was done in the Warner Bros cartoons

      Delete
  4. Fun anecdotes about the Goddess papers and your son's cartoon-infested Shakespeare project, but I sense dissatisfaction under the humor. Who says you have to "break new ground" with every story? And in any case, that is in the eye of the beholder.

    You always manage to create unusual characters in awkward and arousing relationships. That's a gift. I loved your tale in Forbidden Fruit, for instance.

    As for getting "cocky" - I think you're just getting closer to the "fuck them all" stage where writers find their true sweet spot.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Lisabet, there's a "fuck them all" stage that comes with age and experience. too, as I expect you know, even at your more tender age than mine. I think it's not a concern for the opinion of editors or even readers that gets to me when I'm n a certain mood, but the disconnect between what I thought I'd do (eventually) when I was very young, and what it's probably too late to do. On the other hand, even with a late start, I've done a fair bit, so there's that. I'm just in one of those heightened awareness-of-mortality periods which would, after all, have come a lot sooner if my mother hadn't hadn't made it (more or less) to 92, and my father weren't still hang in in--with increasing help from me--at 94.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I definitely am at that stage myself. (I don't think we're that different in age - maybe a year or two at most.)

      Delete
  6. JP and Spencer, the more I write and edit short fiction, the more impatient I get with longer works, especially novels, that indulge in s many unnecessary words!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Your son doing Hamlet with Warner Brothers toons was inspired. Glad the professor agreed and gave him a good grade.

    The most original production I've ever seen of MacBeth was by a Canadian actor who did a one-man show called, "MacHomer". He "did" ALL of the voices for all of the characters from the Simpsons, and they were the characters in MacBeth. Homer was the laird, Marge was Lady MacBeth, etc. The guy had a projector that showed the images as he was "doing" the voices, one after another, quickly. One second he was Moe, the next second he was Maggie sucking on a pacifier, then Homer, then Lisa, etc. He did the entire play in about 45 minutes, then did a 15-minute "riff" on "great rock stars" by singing like many guys, doing all of their mannerisms, like strutting across the stage as Mick Jagger, or sliding across on his knees like Angus from AC-DC, etc.

    If you've ever wondered how the class clown could make a living without going to college, then you need to see this show. Now I know. And I can't imagine how many hours he has to spend each day in front of the mirror, perfecting the voices and the mannerisms.

    I agree with Lisabet: once you get to the "fuck them all" stage, that's a "sweet spot" for authors because your muse isn't being strangled by your fear of not selling any copies, or being rejected by every publisher. You're just writing because you have to tell that story. Doesn't pay the bills, I sure as hell know that. But it does bring a perverse satisfaction that you're telling stories that no one else on earth possibly could tell.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I agree with Lisabet about the dissatisfaction under the humor. I think it's hard to keep developing as an artist once you've found a clear niche, but it sounds as if you're trying to do that. Getting rejections can mean you're stretching out and trying something new, which can mean a breath of fresh air to your writing. Good luck with that--and I hope you find time for some of those stories from the heart as well.

    ReplyDelete