Saturday, December 26, 2015

Define "mistake"...

If I didn’t already have two of them, I’d insist that “mistake” is my middle name. There are many reasons I’ve been churning away at this writing caper for as long as some luminaries, and much longer than other luminaries, yet have not made any kind of wide impact.
Looking purely from a perspective of potential royalties, I believe I made a mistake back in late 2011. I was (and still am) on an online forum with a bunch of authors, many of whom had just taken the plunge into writing smut. Several of those folks hit it rather large, rather quickly, and a number of them were writing step-incest and material which was at least bordering on pure gonzo. I looked at the titles, and the cover art, and gave it some serious consideration. “I, too, need money for stuff,” thought I. I even had a bunch of snappy porn-like titles (titles only, no story), like “Have A Niece Day” and “Gang Bang, You’re Dad”.
And then I made the decision not to write such material. Not for any artistic reasons, nor pride, nor snobbishness. But more on that in a moment.
Another mistake I made was to un-publish all my stories back in 2013. I only had three books out at the time (not counting stories in anthologies). The un-publishing of the Willsin coincided roughly with the emergence of Abi Aiken. (I mentioned a month ago I’d been writing under a female pen name… and that was it: Abi Aiken).
It was a mistake to un-publish the titles because doing so left me with basically nothing out there to show Willsin Rowe was an author. I did it almost two years after having been laid off from my day job, so I ended up having to work on other things, since I was in a quandary about what direction I should move with writing.
More recently, I made another mistake, and it’s one which many authors make. I invested myself heavily into a story. Emotionally, physically, mentally. It took up a whole lot of my time every day, and when I hit publish on it, I was suddenly directionless for a short while. And as much as I promised myself I wouldn’t let this story be a huge part of me, that I wouldn’t expect anything particular from it… I succumbed. It became my third child. Big mistake, because as an author you leave yourself open to feeling all its highs and lows.
Wait…
Mistakes?
Did I say that?
All right, so I chose not to jump on the erotica cash cow of 2011-2012. I hasten to add, my main reason for this choice was the belief it requires a skill set which I don’t possess. I’d read some of the books out there, by my friends and colleagues and by total strangers, and I just didn’t feel it. So my “mistake” was really a blessing. Had I tried that writing, I would have failed miserably, and that would have left a stain which would take years to remove.
The un-publishing thayng… well, I look back at the two longer stories I withdrew, and quite simply the quality was that of a fledgling author. There’s potential in them, but the final product was jerky and canine. It was almost as though I’d used voice dictation and barked the words out. (I also had an anthology of flash fiction and short stories, some of which I’ve shown here in the past few months… that work, I feel, was far stronger). Removing those works from sale, as I said, meant I had to refocus myself. My new direction was cover art. I’d been making it for a few years by then, but that was the point at which it truly took off for me. As I’ve mentioned in many places, if someone has heard of Willsin Rowe at all, it’s almost certainly as a cover artist.
The other matter, of investing myself so heavily into a story… well, that stems nicely from the previous “mistake”. This new story which I ploughed my heart into is actually a re-work of one of the older ones. Had I not withdrawn The Three-Day Hump from sale, I might never have revised it into The Last Three Days. That new incarnation is the one I feel every bump and shimmy from, and while that’s arguably a mistake when felt from within, surely that can only mean a stronger story for the reader. At least, that’s the theory!
And so we come to the after-school special part of the program… where I pound you over the head with my super-subtle message, ecky-thoomp style. Essentially, I believe many mistakes are transient. They appear as errors only while we make them. With the benefit of hindsight, we recognise them as what they truly are, whether that be a lesson, an experience, or a lucky break.

14 comments:

  1. The blog sounds like a bit of a soul search, I feel like that about mistakes and like the arrival of it being transient into possibly a good thing. I've read your 'last three days' and it left breathless

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    1. I think I wrote this blog in too condensed a form for it to be a true soul-search, but it does certainly have elements of that. I suppose it's more about how certain decisions, or lack of decision, can make you slap your own forehead at first, but in the end you realize it was the right decision (or indecision) all along.
      Thank you for reading The Last Three Days, too! I'm glad it had an effect on you.

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  2. Hopefully, we compensate for our mistakes by making adjustments down the line. That could be one definition of "learning by our mistakes."

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    1. For sure. And if we want to start getting meta about it, we could argue "there are no mistakes" (which sounds disturbingly like a line from Kung Fu Panda).

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  3. "With the benefit of hindsight, we recognise them as what they truly are, whether that be a lesson, an experience, or a lucky break." This is a great take-away from your so-called mistakes, Willsin.

    I can't write the step-incest stuff either. Well, I could at some level, but I wouldn't enjoy it and that would show.

    Of course, everyone thinks the stuff I do write is scandalous enough!

    The Last Three Days is on my TBR list.

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    1. I suppose anybody who can write, could arguably write anything. But it's the quality of what we turn out that matters in the end. If we don't feel it, it will certainly show on the page.

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  4. I think I could only write step-incest stories if the appeal was the story itself rather than the "naughty" aspect. Well, that applies to much of what I write, although transgression of ay flavor is a perfectly good motivation in some contexts. But I don't see any particular reason for step-incest to be taboo for its own sake, except as it negatively affects family relationships in a wider sense. Damn, I sound like a dry stick, don't I! I do realize that without taboos we writers would be out of ammunition, and sex itself would lose some of its appeal. And I also realize the step-incest thing is a major branch of the ever-popular power differential trope, which is unlikely to lose its charm. Im unlucky, actually, that I don't feel its charm enough to write it well, although I do know people deeply into that well enough to write about it not-so-well.

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    1. I do realize that without taboos we writers would be out of ammunition

      This, actually, is something that a lot of my colleagues seem to believe that I, personally, would dispute. While challenging questionable taboos is one of the many roles taken on by the arts, I feel strongly that any such agenda in the arts must be secondary to the artistic mission—otherwise what you have is propaganda, not art. And while a work of art can do many things on many levels, I think it is only the artistic aspect (such as the crafting of an erotic effect) that is essential to its identity as a work of art; the arts do not and should not hinge on each work having to make a social statement. Also, I am definitely not a fan of the idea of breaking taboos just for the sake of breaking taboos, rebelling just for the sake of rebelling, etc. Not that I think you're advocating that, Sacchi; but I sometimes do see proclamations from our colleagues that seem to imply this sort of shock-value ideology, and frankly I think it's pretty adolescent. Challenging taboos that, for example, embody racist or heteronormative or sexist social attitudes is constructive because those things are repressive, not because they're taboos per se. I mean, you might call it a "taboo" to spray Silly String all over the room during a funeral service; but anyone who thinks that's a good idea because it's "breaking a taboo" or "pushing the boundaries" is not, in my opinion, to be commended.

      I do understand the element of transgressiveness that for many writers and readers drives erotic excitement (though I must note that for some of us it totally doesn't). But I don't think transgression as an erotic device should be confused with trangression as a social statement (again, not that I think you're doing so, Sacchi), though of course they're not mutually exclusive.

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    2. I agree, Jeremy. Very few of my stories, especially the more recent ones, depend on defying taboos for their heat. When they do, it's mostly because of a character's personal, emotional resistance to breaking the rules (for instance, in The Last Stone, where a nun has to deal with her attraction to a hooker).

      Using taboos like step-incest to ratchet up the sexual charge of a story feels a bit like a crutch to me, in fact.

      That being said, I think step-incest, lactation, Daddy/little girl and other smut niches appeal to specific readers because those particular scenarios push their individual buttons. I suspect that someone who thinks step-incest is the hottest thing out there wouldn't necessarily have the same reaction to a story that featured the breaking of a different taboo.

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    4. Yeah, and conversely, the typical enthusiast for lactation erotica would, I'm guessing, find such literature just as much of a turn-on even if lactation erotica were the most mainstream subgenre—in which case the fact that it happens to be a "taboo" would not be the point for those readers. "Taboo" becomes more of a marketing tag or categorization convenience: fans of any fetish that's presumed legal to write about but nonetheless shunned by most publishers know to look for the companies that advertise themselves as open to such "taboos."

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    5. Yeah, putting in my two cents here, I get no thrill from something being "taboo." In fact, I find it an impediment. I am into some pretty non-mainstream things (hello lactation erotica!), but shame about them is not a bonus for me. I actually do best when I manage to forget which of my kinks aren't mainstream.

      I also really appreciate the distinction people are making between art and propaganda.

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  5. Willsin, I really appreciate the perspective you've got on mistakes here. It sounds like there were legitimate reasons for each of the three decisions you made, and to me that means they're not mistakes (even if the outcome is ultimately not good). I especially react to the idea that it's a mistake for a writer to invest themselves in their work. If that's a mistake, what are we all doing here? I'm glad you've got the perspective to back away from that!

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    1. Oh, yeah... we need to invest ourselves wholeheartedly, but the consequence of feeling every bump of our baby's journey sometimes feels a high price to pay, as I'm sure you know! But I quickly realized that to call it a mistake was a blinkered kind of thinking (or perhaps a thinkered kind of blinking...)

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