Thursday, December 31, 2015

Failure Condition

by Annabeth Leong

When I divorced my first husband, I ran into lots of people who wanted me to talk about what my mistakes had been. I realized eventually that the path to feeling decent about myself and my ex was to consistently refuse to think about it like that.

This is what I say about my ex-husband when asked: We weren’t compatible partners.

I would perform an elaborate ritual to express my gratitude for no-fault divorce. I think it’s one of the best legal innovations to have ever happened. After growing up watching my parents tear each other to shreds in a contested divorce, which went on for something like three years, it was an incredible gift to be able to write “irreconcilable differences” on the form and call it a day. I am so, so powerfully glad that I didn’t have to go to court and try to prove what was wrong with my ex-husband or with me so that we could be free of each other.

Let’s talk about this mistakes idea a little more, though. My sense from the many conversations I’ve had about this is that I’m supposed to pony up my mistakes for several reasons.

For one thing, it’s supposed to show that I learned something from the failure of my first marriage and am in a position to never screw up exactly that way again. I also strongly suspect that it’s supposed to reassure my listener—if they can check out their own life and see that they’re not making the same mistakes, then they know they’re safe from the trouble that’s hit my life.

(By the way, I’m constantly resisting the urge to put scare quotes around everything. I’ll spare you that visual scourge, but please keep in mind that I’m using all words like mistake, failure, and screw-up with a sense of deep skepticism in this post).

So that idea that I learned something… I definitely did. I learned so much from being married and from getting divorced, and I carry those lessons with me every day. The most important stuff that I learned, though, forced me to change my worldview significantly.

I went into that marriage with a lot of beliefs about how marriage was hard work that I was prepared to do. I believed at the time that any two people could work things out between themselves. Maybe they wouldn’t stay madly in love, but with a strong commitment, they could remain effective partners. I believed there was deep value in this exercise.

It’s that set of beliefs that drives the desire to hunt for mistakes after a failure of a marriage, I think. Noticing mistakes and learning from them protects you in the future. Accepting the mistakes you made in the past makes things your fault, which means you should have known better, which means you had or should have had control over painful events.

I don’t think things really work this way, though. I don’t think that avoiding specific actions I took with my ex-husband will inoculate me from relationship difficulties in the future. I don’t think there was any way he or I could have or should have known better in the past than to do what we did.

People want to believe in recklessness, too—that either our marriage or divorce was hasty or insufficiently considered. To which I say, welcome to my brain. No one thinks more than I do. I promise I applied all my best effort and thought to both situations.


The idea of a failed marriage contains the idea that there’s a successful marriage. The success condition is to die married. Anything that deviates from that path means that mistakes were made.

This year, a relative of mine died of cancer. He and his wife had a lot of unhappiness in the many years they were together, and they had always worked things out. My relative and his wife were often congratulated for their commitment to marriage. What I saw, though, was a pretty sad scene at the end of his life. His care was in the hands of a woman he didn’t really seem to trust, who didn’t seem to trust him. There were all sorts of fights in the family as he lay dying, often instigated by the tensions between my relative and his wife.

Seeing that brought some of these things into sharp relief for me. I’m not inclined to call that successful. I honestly wish my relative had released himself from that difficult marriage years before so he could have felt safer at the end of his life. Now, I know I’m not in his head. He might strenuously disagree with the way I’m characterizing things. What I will say is that I don’t think that situation would feel like a success to me.


The idea of a failed marriage suggests that a successful marriage was always possible. It is only mistakes that stopped that from happening.

My parents brought out the absolute worst in each other. I don’t think there is any world where that would not have been true. Each of them was much better off without the other. I can’t see their divorce as a failure. I can’t see the trouble between them as a series of mistakes.

At the same time, I appreciate that my mother doesn’t characterize the marriage as a mistake altogether (another thing that people sometimes seem to want me to do). My mother resists labeling thirteen years of her life that way, or calling the connection a mistake when it produced the children she loved.


I spent my entire first marriage working on it. I scanned myself relentlessly for mistakes and tried to fix them. I consulted others for advice. I spared myself no scrutiny. If there is something I would call a mistake, it is that. I wish I had seen my misery for what it was sooner and trusted it. In my life since that marriage, I have tried to believe in myself more, to stop operating that pitiless radar, to open myself to the idea that sometimes, when a relationship is work, it means it’s not a good one. There is an ease and a joy to things I want in my life. There is a magic I can feel in the background, even during a difficult conversation. It’s not that I never take the actions that might be called hard work, but they don’t feel so hard. I no longer feel like I’m trying to dig a ditch with a spoon.

I remember the day I decided to get a divorce. I was writing a pro and con list, trying to solve for the right answer as if my life were a math problem. And I saw it in a flash. To me, my life was a set of correct answers, colored in green, and mistakes, shaded red. But what if getting a divorce was just an action, something that couldn’t be classified so simplistically? What if red and green would always mingle to color everything I did? What if life didn’t have a right answer?

That was the moment that freed me from a paralysis and obsession I’d been living under for many years. I understood something about courage, what it means to step forward without knowing what the outcome will be. Suddenly, there was space in my life for my heart, my desires, my feelings.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dirty Water Blues

by Daddy X

Oh my, the mistakes I’ve made. Please take this confessional only as an indicator of the fullness of my life. Not who I am. These are real mistakes (whether mine or witnessed) in the most precise interpretation of the concept.

There was the time a friend and I were wading in a beaver swamp in the middle of a Pennsylvania winter, noodling in hip boots, feeling around for hibernating snapping turtles. A fancy restaurant downtown paid plenty for big ones. Living in households without much extra cash, eight dollars per kid per turtle provided a good split. If lucky, we’d find two or three a year. We must have been all of thirteen years old. He was both taller and heavier than I.

We peered into the clear water and Hank pointed to a light-colored patch in the mud. We both knew the three-foot round area indicated a spring. He said, “I’ll bet this is real deep here,” and stepped into the middle of the circle. Down he went, his high rubber boots filling immediately with water, making him even heavier than he was. In seconds, he was chest-deep, looking panicked and going fast.

Luckily there was a long branch nearby which I threw to him and little by little flopped his sinking ass back to more solid muck. We were both soaked to the skin. By the time we’d walked home, our socks and gloves had gathered ice crystals and frostbite was setting in.

Yes, that was his deliberate, stupid mistake, but a learning opportunity indeed for both of us. Tread cautiously; life is always ready to spring a surprise.

Like the time in my early twenties when I shot the hash. No, not the corned-beef variety, thank God. But almost as bad—oily hashish. The fact that I was home alone at the time compounded the situation.

Among those who inject drugs, there is a common phenomenon called the “dirty water blues”, alternatively “cotton fever”. The malady occurs when someone puts something into the bloodstream that doesn’t belong. You get the drift. Anything that could be contracted from drug-depleted cottons (used as filtering mechanisms) to introducing more serious infections, can and will make the user unwell. It feels as though every bone in one’s body is being subjected to a harsh flu. You’ll sweat, you’ll ache, shiver and writhe, but if you can eventually manage a bit of sleep, it seems to cure whatever took you down. We must learn by these mistakes or perish.

Then another, perhaps even more embarrassing mistake was again related to intoxicants:

I was at a downtown San Francisco saloon, sitting at a table with some fellow inebriates when I noticed a particularly attractive woman at the bar. So attractive, in fact, that I, in my compromised state, thought it would be best if she were sitting with us. She faced away from our table, sitting in a high-backed stool … and if my calculations were correct, all that needed doing was for some cool dude to lift her chair from behind and simply swing her around to our table. Brilliant! I would be that impressive guy! A trick like that would surely make her night.

You’ve probably guessed that my calculations were far from correct. Poor thing flew off the chair and crashed into another table. NOT ours. Not that that would have been any better. 

In the confusion I heard someone say, “Her husband’s in the men’s room. Get him—he’s a cop.”

Luckily my friends had me out of the place and sprinting down the street before I had the dubious pleasure of running into her husband. Some days later, when I worked up the gumption to go back to the place, the bartender told me that no real damage had been done.

I learned something there too.

But as I mentioned, those were serious errors in judgment. They don’t represent my life as anything other than incidental anecdotes to be shared.

One decision in my life, which many relatives had originally thought was a big mistake, was my marriage to Momma X at twenty and eighteen respectively. Our friends however, all knew our scene pretty well and had encouraged the both of us. They knew a good thing when they saw it. Turned out to be the best so-called mistake in my life. Two days ago, Momma and I celebrated our 51st anniversary.

The drug use did have its consequences, though, resulting in the contraction of Hep C, leading to both cancer and the liver transplant and chemo treatments that followed as a cure. Live and learn. Kinda Buddhist in nature. To experience all ways of being.

Such as it is.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Mistakes...I know I made you feel..." by Suz deMello

Among the funniest category of mistakes are mis-heard song lyrics.

Took this photo of Smokey at Stern Grove, SF in 2014
The title of this blog is one. It's not particularly funny, but is from a Smokey Robinson song, Ooh, Baby, Baby:

The correct lyric is "Mistakes... I know I made a few. But I'm only human."
Click the link--it's worth another listen.

I also heard, "I'm tryin'", when the lyric is "I'm cryin'".

I've often wondered about the cause and effect. Did I mis-hear lyrics before or after I started attending rock concerts? Or do stoned singers slur their words?

image by Plmnjy via Wikimedia Commons
When the Beatles' Hey, Jude came out, my brothers and I had a heated argument about what the song title was, since DJs were and are awful at telling listeners song titles and artists (which may explain the enormous popularity of streaming services. They tell you who did the song and its title). 

My eldest brother was sure it was Hey, Judith, which kinda made sense since most Beatles songs are about a woman. What didn't make sense was what I read later, that Paul McCartney wrote the song for Julian Lennon, John Lennon's first, famously neglected son. I guess Paul felt that Hey, Jules just didn't sound right, and Hey, Julian was impossibly clumsy.

Not what the lady meant
And the mistakes go on and on. Most recently, I swear Taylor Swift sang, "got some lovely Starbucks lovers" in Blank Space, but she said, more coherently, "got a long list of ex-lovers." She also sang, "new money, suit and tie," but I thought I heard "No money, student tie."

And then, there's the most famous one: "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy," from Jimi Hendrix' Purple Haze. No, wait--it's "'scuse me while I kiss the sky."

Wow. How could I forget that? 

Must have been the reefer.

Puerto Vallarta, 2015. I'll kiss this sky anytime--just tell me how!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Mistakes As Plot Devices? Big Mistake

Sacchi Green

Nope, not going to talk about my personal mistakes. Sure, I’ve made plenty, learned from some, and repeated some even after I should have known better. I’m still making new ones, too, but I’d just as soon not wallow in that particular mudbath right now.  Instead, I’ll take refuge in discussing literary uses and misuses of mistakes.

The misuses come first to mind, but to be fair, plots driven by mistakes have ancient and honorable roots. Oedipus made a big mistake in killing his father and marrying his mother, and even though he had no way of knowing who they were at the time, and in fact had been sent away as a child to try to circumvent a prophecy of exactly what did happen, he was punished.  Romeo and Juliet made big mistakes in faking their own suicides. Mistaken identities have been essential to “comedies of errors” from Shakespeare to Gilbert and Sullivan to Wodehouse to The Princess Bride. Mystery and detective novels by their nature require mistaken theories and misleading clues—“red herrings”—before their cases are solved. In the right contexts and the right hands, mistakes are perfectly valid elements of fiction.

In the wrong hands, though, and for the wrong reasons, mistakes can be, well, big mistakes. Hack mystery writers with nothing better to offer often overdo the red herrings, although that sort of mystery may be pretty much outdated these days. Romance novels, however, are far from outdated, and I’ve heard from various sources that the mistake trope is alive and well and downright annoying in all too many cases. This applies to erotic romance as well. Those annoying book blurbs in question form that ask, “Will (insert name) and (insert another name) ever resolve their misunderstandings, reveal their secrets, and find happiness together?” seem to be everywhere, and of course everyone knows the what the answer will be.  So how does the author delay the joyous dénoument long enough to fill enough pages? All too often with misunderstandings, misperceptions, and concealments of things for mistaken reasons. With erotic romance the sex doesn’t need to be postponed, and in fact does its own part to fill the requisite pages, but there still needs to be some impediment to a final meeting of hearts and minds, and mistakes of one flavor or another still fill—and over-fill--that function. Apparently plenty of readers don’t mind that at all, but some do, and it seems as though a writer with no better ways to fill those pages might try harder to think of some.

Short fiction doesn’t need as much in the way of mistakes for padding, but as an editor I do sometimes come across that sort of thing, as though new writers have seen so much of it that they think it’s required. No! In fact, including anything they’ve seen that much of is, in my opinion, a mistake.

All this ranting, of course, is superficial, and anything I complain about can be, and often is, done very well indeed. Good writers can make tired tropes fresh and compelling. But writers who don’t recognize when these things are overused, or who don’t care enough to try to do better, are making a big mistake.

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.
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.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

You're not going to screw yourself...

by Giselle Renarde

A couple months ago, my mom bumped into a family friend she hadn't seen in a while. The friend asked, "What's Giselle up to these days?"

My mom proudly replied, "Giselle is a self-published author!"

When she told my sister and I this story, we burst out laughing.

My mom said, "What? Self-published--isn't that the good one?"

Classic Mom. My work has been published by imprints of Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins and even Oxford University Press, yet my mother goes around gleefully telling the world I'm a self-published author. "Isn't that the good one?"

Self-publishing has generally been more lucrative for me than placing my work with small presses. That's what my mom had latched onto, in conversation. My sister and I tried to explain the snobbery that still exists in the worlds of reading, writing, and publishing. If you go around saying you're a self-published author, most people hear "I suck and nobody's willing to publish my work."

I won't speculate as to whether I suck (my opinion of my writing varies with mood), but over the past 10 years my work has appeared in well over 100 print anthologies. That's in addition to ebooks placed at far too many small presses. I don't say any of this to brag, only to convey that there are people out there willing to publish my work.

Or, there used to be.

So much has changed since I first started writing. Just today, I got word another anthology my short fiction was accepted for has been scrapped by the published. That's FIVE cancelled contracts this year.

As I've probably mentioned, I never set out to be a writer. I started writing on a dare. I'd just been laid off from my job in the big bad business world and was having a bit of a quarter-life crisis. I felt like I needed to pick a career and stick with it.

Ten years ago, I couldn't see this far into the future. I never imagined I would self-publish my work. The erotica world seemed dominated by websites, magazines, smallish presses and largish presses. I wrote short stories to answer calls for submissions. I'd never read an ebook, but I started writing them for small publishers. I'm not saying everything I wrote just magically got published. Trust me--I saw my share of rejection letters. My book Ondine was probably rejected by 6 different publishers. But it needed to be. I got great advice from some very caring editors and improved the book incrementally.

I'd only been writing a few years when author acquaintances started opening their own publishing houses catering to niche markets. I liked the idea of getting in on the ground floor (worked well for me with eXcessica), and I also wanted to support fellow authors who were beginning their own ventures. So I submitted a few works here, a few works there.

Pretty soon, I had ebooks (short stories/novels/novellas) placed with... oh, easily 20 different publishers.

That wasn't my first mistake, but it was probably my biggest.

I've never been an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket type, but Homer Simpson's got a good point when he says, "What would you have me do? One basket for each egg?"

There comes a point where the baskets themselves become too much to carry. In writing terms, how do you keep sending new work to 20 different publishers? If you slack, you're not going to satisfy fans at that publishing house. Putting out new stuff gets eyes on your backlist. Without those eyes, sales stagnate.

There was a point where I had a bunch of royalty cheques coming in for less than $10 each. And then less than $2 each. If I'd consolidated all those efforts with one publisher I really trusted, I think I'd have fared much better.

The trouble is, with the exception of a small handful of publishers, I wasn't working with people I had a lot of faith in. That's dangerous. Some publishers seemed to take their jobs less seriously than I took mine. That's extremely dangerous. That's when you get into publishers who don't bother to send you royalty reports. Or payments. Because they don't feel like it or whatever.

One thing I've learned over the years is that you don't need to be good at business to run a business. Just because you've decided to become a publisher doesn't mean you're going to behave professionally. I've witnessed more than one publisher treat authors like shit behind the scenes. I had a reader email me one time to say they were having trouble downloading a book and when they wrote to the publisher, the response was basically, "Are you some kind of idiot? You're too stupid to figure out how to download a book?"

You think I'm exaggerating. I wish!

The real kicker? This particular reader was also a well-respected book reviewer. Save me, Jebus.

When I first started out, I found publishers on the Erotica Readers and Writers Association website and then looked them up on Piers Anthony's site to find out all the dirt. Of course, I couldn't research the startups. They were too new. No data available.

I strongly encourage authors to do their research. Find out who you're getting into bed with. If you trust no one, get into bed with alone. Like Alison Tyler says: "You're not going to screw yourself." (that's not an exact quote, btw)

Wow, I sound really down on publishers. I'm not. I've found great success and incredible support with some. But not all. Most of the publishers I've worked with haven't been jerks. They've done their best, just like I've done mine, but the money wasn't there. Sales were crappy, so we parted ways. That's business.

I'm not sure what the takeaway is, here. Do your homework? Don't get into bed with acquaintances? Don't spread yourself too thin? I don't know. I still make too many mistakes to be giving anyone advice.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Frost and Forest" A mistaken story

His left shoe sank in the freezing mud.  Without thinking it through, he pulled up smart and the leather came loose from his bare foot.  He pressed down to keep it from coming off and his shoe sank deeper and wouldn't let his foot back in. He pulled again.  His foot lifted free of the shoe and he tumbled back, windmilling his arms wildly.  He came up hard against the trunk of a tree in the dark.  Gray stars squirmed in front of his eyes.  The side of his head felt warm and wet.  His left foot was bare in the freezing snow blown wind and the shoe was gone.  It was the loss of the shoe that sank the whole business in.  The finality of it.  

He shoved his limp hands past the shoulder band of his rifle cartridge bag, and worked his fingers into the armpits of his thin wool coat of gray butternut.  The big Enfield rifle had been abandoned back there on the battlefield.  If he was found this way by the Confederate cavalry, they'd be red hot to shoot him sure for a deserter.  The Yanks.  Hell.  They'd just shoot him.

This far north, this wasn't his country, these weren't his people.  Winter wasn't like this in Georgia, except maybe in the mountains at times, and he wasn't mountain folks.

He peered into the blowing dark.  I'm not getting out of this one, he thought.  Not without a fire or something.  Not without a shoe.  I won't see my people again.  I won't see morning.  If this don't just lay over all.

His left foot had turned to wood.  He still had the use of the right, but it was freezing too.  His feet had gotten wet when they'd gone through the ice crossing that creek. 

He tottered to his feet.  Keep moving.  One foot in front of the other.  That's all.  You can do that.  Don't go down on your knees.  One more foot ahead of the other, now the left.

As he put his weight on the left foot it had lost all feeling to the cold.  It was impossible to balance.   There was no getting it. He held his bare fingers out into the wind as if for mercy, arms out to make sure he didn't twist an ankle he could no longer feel.

Next foot.  One in front of the other.

You got this, old coon dog, you got this.  Right foot.  Left foot.  Right foot left.  Right foot left.  Right foot left.

The sergeant major drilled them on the parade grounds in the sun and the hot sea breeze of Savannah, and didn't the ladies look on as though they were already heroes.  What did he know then about killing?  Or being hungry?  You don't know what hungry is, son, until you can dry your tears with the slack of your belly.

Right foot - left -

The left foot twisted and slipped under him dropping his face hard in the frozen mud.  His front tooth hit something hard and sent electric zings through his neck.  He lay still, breathing, letting things settle.  The snow went on falling.  A great peace moved over him.  This is easy.  Its easier than walking.  Go to sleep.  Let the Lord come for you in your dreams.

There had been a mountain lion once.

The mountain lion had been attacking his uncle's sheep.  He was just a boy.  His uncle had borrowed a rifle, a big flint lock contraption from a neighbor with powder and balls.  It was the first gun he had ever seen and the weapon was beautiful and mysterious, a long elegant machine. He and his Uncle had sat in the moonlight without speaking when on the second night the lion came for the sheep.  Without taking his pipe from his lips, the man had pulled back the hammer lined up the shot and struck the lion in the shoulder.  The animal twisted and screamed.  But it got back up.  It took a long time to load one of those rifles.  Even as it was dying the animal damn near got them.

Like that, he thought. Like that. Four paws, facing the enemy. Get up you old bastard.

He tottered to his feet, staggered, but caught himself.  He couldn't feel the left foot at all and that was a mercy.  It was frozen meat.

Up ahead, just past the profile of the trees, a light.  The light was square shaped and orange.  A lamp through oiled paper.  Someone's house.  A Yankee house maybe.  Would they take him in anyway?  He limped, dragging his foot, hands inside his coat, hunching down against the wind.  One foot shuffling forward, fighting the urge to run.  The house seemed closer, but never close enough.  Soon the window.  Soon the corner.  Turning the corner.  There the shape of a door.

His hair blew into his eyes and there was ice on his beard that rattled against his lips like glass prayer beads.  Yet the door was just over there. Right there.  And then it seemed as though the porch steps floated up dreamily and hit him in the face.

He opened his eyes and there was light, and there was heat, but no understanding.  For an instant he thought there should be the battle flag of crossed bars, he would find that and run towards that, run with a rebel yell through explosions and the death hum of bullets, show the boys he was still all there, hadn't deserted nothing, knew how to stick in a fight proper.  He'd just got turned around was all.  Any man can get turned around.  But the room was silent and the water immersing his nude body was so, so very hot and wanted.  And there was no battle flag.  No open ground or the sound of shots.  There was no fixing it.  It was a room with a bathtub.  There was movement and he turned his head.  An old woman with long silver hair over her shoulders and the face of a dried apple was at the foot of the tub pouring in steaming water from a kettle.  She saw his open eyes, looked with interest and continued to pour water.  She brought the kettle back to the fire.  He closed his eyes, drifted away, and then the dull and steady pain in his left ankle brought him back.  He couldn't move his toes.  He turned his head and looked down.  The skin didn't look right.  It was going bad, that ankle.  Then all at once the shivering came.  His body jerked, his teeth chattered and clacked.

The woman moved a chair up and sat beside the tub.

He opened his mouth to ask questions but instead rattled "T-t-t-thank you."

"Poor boy," she said.

"You got any shoes, please ma'am?"

"Shh," she said.

He lay in the tub with his body shaking and the water rippling.  Soon it all stopped.  He breathed deeply and waited.

"Here," said the old woman, and dipped hot water in a pan.  She poured it over his head.  Twice.  Three times.  "Here," she said and put her arms out, lifting him from the water.  He stood in the warm little room, feeling the pain below and the return of life above.  He felt hungry again and knew that he would live.

"Come," she said, taking a thick towel from the back of the chair, drying him gently with it, his hair, his face, his shoulders.  "Come here."  She draped his left arm over her shoulder, stood him against her and brought him to her bed.  She gentled him down, stood beside the bed a moment and just looked.

He imagined his ugly nakedness, how he looked right now, a man less than himself.  The ribs standing out, scrawny as a bird, all bones and skin.  "I'm sorry," he said.  "Don't look on me.  It will trouble you so.  Please, ma'am."

"Poor boy," she said, lifted a knee and lay down beside him.  She stretched her body to its full length, rolled him against her.  She nestled his damp head against her breast and gently held him there.  He listened to the rhythm of her heartbeat which seemed to fill the room like a soft drum tap.

"So many mistakes," he whispered into the fabric of her blouse.  "I done them all."

"Shhh," she said.

"It's indeed so."

"Yes, yes," she said.

"Shouldn't a been born.  First mistake."

"Poor boy," she said.

"Do you suppose its so?"

"Shh," she said.  "No."

The steady tap of her heart seemed more urgent. 

"And soldiering.  Man said I had to.  For his son.  Cause I owed this man money."

She said nothing.  Her hands, feather light, stroked his hair.

"I ain't cut out.  Some just ain't."

"I suppose that's so."

"I . . . I  didn't mean to."

"Mean? How?" she said.  He heard the hang sound of her "how".  Southern gal.  Could be.

"To run, I mean."


"Them big guns," he said.  "Sherman's big napoleons, they opened up on the line, it was all.  The line fell.  Went down like corn. Just arms and legs flying.  Heads too.  I was just done up and then them big guns finally.  It was a mistake.  It got my goat is all.  I was done up and run like a rabbit.  Oh god.  Oh god."

"Poor boy," she said and stroked his hair.

"I'm sorry."

"Shhh," she said.

"And. . .and. . . and . . . "

"Shhh, she said.

"I kilt a man, trying to surrender to me once.  I did it."

"I suppose that's so."

". . . And you ever feel like, maybe, it's all just a mistake?"

"What all?"

"All of it?  A man's life?"

"Your life?  No."

"You gotta admit."

"Things're not that way."

"What other way is there?" he said.

"Poor boy.  Here."

She did something with her hands and the wooden buttons of her plain linen blouse parted.  She lifted it away.  Her bare breast, he could see, had once been large and maternal.  It still had its roundness, but now lay deflated and sad against her chest.  The nipple was brown, rough as a twig and yet the tip still rounded like a peach bud.


"Shhh," she said.  "Take this."  She lifted the breast, shifted, leaned into him and placed the nipple between his lips.  Like a forgotten memory, his lips moved, pulled it to him, sucked.  A soft creamy bead of warmth spread to his tongue and he pulled harder, closing his eyes, hearing the steady, lovely beat of her heart.  He swallowed.  There was more.  He swallowed again and a great swelling calm came over him.

"Poor boy," she said.

There was more again.  He swallowed and the hard world seemed so very far away as his lips moved in rhythm to her heart and his hand reached to her and moved to hold her steady and close.

The room seemed a little larger.  The woman seemed a little larger.  It was all right. It was fine.  And what would happen next, that was fine too.

She settled her head on the pillow next to his, pressed him gently into her breast.  Wrapped her body around his.

The room became larger.  She became larger.  Her arm lay over him, stroking him as he drew from her breast, lips moving only, thoughts quiet. 

"Poor boy," she whispered.

He became smaller.  Soon she had to hold him in place.  Soon he was very small.  She held him to her breast and cupped all of him in her hands, closing her eyes, breathing steadily, moving her knees a little to get comfortable for the night.

The morning sun lit the thick oiled paper of the window, cheering the room.  The water in the tub had long gone cold.  In the corner of the room was a steaming pile of tattered gray butternut cloth and a unit insignia.  And one shoe.

The young woman rose from the bed, fresh and well fed, full and curved and lovely as a young animal.  Her hair, black and flowing curled over her face.  She shook it away without her hands, because in her full hands she held something alive.  The man was gone.  She left the bed, stood and stretched gently, with her hands cupped closed.  She whispered something, listened to her hands and smiled.  She went to the door, nudged the iron latch with her elbow  and eased the door open with her toes.

She lifted her hands into the cool air and opened her fingers.

A small butternut gray sparrow chirped, scolded and rolled itself into the chill air.  It spread its wings and took to the air as if it had always known how and was lost to the forest and frost.

 Copyright 2015  C Sanchez-Garcia

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

There Are No Mistakes

My "career" as a writer of dirty stories has been one mistake after another.

It all starts with my first release, Autumn Fire. When I wrote that novel, which is an M/M erotic romance, I was thinking, "How hard could it be?" I'm an experienced writer (though to that point rarely published), having worked on my writing in different genres for more than a decade. I figured if I could write a grand sci-fi epic, I could write a short novel about two dudes who fall in love and fuck often.

Wow, was I ever mistaken.

I had done some research, read a number of M/M titles, and even had a chat with an agent who represents the genre -- so, really, I should have had a great head-start.  I wrote the novel and while I acknowledge it is heavy with passive voice (which is something I have finally managed to excise from my writing), the story holds together. Two guys fall in love and fuck.

But what I missed in my research was the difference between erotica and erotic romance. What I had written was erotica disguised as erotic romance, marketed to erotic romance readers. The main character is far too promiscuous for romance readers and some of the sex acts described appeal more to gay men rather than straight women (who tend to be the majority of readers of M/M erotic romance).

Despite these flaws, my publisher liked the book and it was released a couple years ago. So, after making those mistakes, what did I do? I did it all over again, of course. Silent Hearts came out a year later -- it focussed a bit more on the romance than Autumn Fire, but the main protagonist was still too promiscuous and the sex acts still weren't that appealing to female readers.

Silent Hearts was also published by my publisher.

Autumn Fire and Silent Hearts continue to sell well and have decent ratings, but I never really did grab on to the M/M readership.

After all that, I finally learned my lesson. I'm naturally more of an erotica writer than an erotic romance writer. I launched into a number of short stories to flesh out my erotica voice and have really developed that aspect of my writing. I find romance still enters my stories, though. They are not "romance stories," but rather "erotica stories with a bit of romance."  I've finally found my niche in the marketplace.

Though my dad and I disagree on a number of things, there is one maxim he often repeats that I think is generally good advice. "There are no mistakes. You made the best decision at the time with the information you had."

Writing Autumn Fire and Silent Hearts were not mistakes. In hindsight, some of my approach was a "mistake," but I'd much rather look at it as a learning experience. If I didn't embark on those projects, I would never have learned all I now know about the industry. As well, writing smut has hugely increased my skill level for writing in general.

While continuing on with my smut, I have recently returned to my first love of science fiction and have completed the first draft of what I hope will be an epic series. Even in my first draft, my novel is magnitudes better than anything I wrote before exploring smut. I have learned so much these past few years about publishing, writing, and editing that I would never had learned if I hadn't made these "mistakes."

There are no mistakes, there are only learning opportunities.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Go-Go Boys of Club 21: The Complete Series. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Perils of Precision

By Lisabet Sarai

As I’ve discussed in other blog posts, I almost always set my stories in some specific, real location. Frequently my settings strongly influence the plot and the characters. Even when they don’t, I like to be precise. I can more easily imagine the action as it unfolds when I know where it’s occurring. (Indeed, I sometimes confuse my mental images with actual memories.) I believe that anchoring my tales in space (and time) makes them more concrete, more involving and ultimately more believable.

However, this tendency to be specific introduces some risks not experienced by authors who stay vague about their settings. I need to include convincing detailsand there’s always the chance I’ll get something wrong.

If I’m lucky, a beta reader or editor will pick up on my mistake. My paranormal cat shifter romance The Eyes of Bast is set Manhattan. When my husband read the manuscript, he pointed out that my heroine was taking the wrong subway line going uptown to her apartment west of Central Park. I found this annoying, since I’d actually researched this bit of informationobviously I’d interpreted the subway map incorrectly. (DH lived in New York City for more than a decade. I tend to believe him.)

Alas, DH doesn’t like BDSM stories, so often I don’t get the benefit of his sharp eyes!

Most though not all of the places I write about are places I have at least visited. On the other hand, there may be a significant time lag before I use the location in a story. I wrote Raw Silk, which was set in Bangkok, more than a decade after I’d lived there. In my recent revision of that novel (coming out in a new, expanded version in February 2016!), I fixed a number of geographic and cultural errors I didn’t notice in the first three editions. (I also provided some cues to anchor the book in an earlier time. Someone reading it now, thinking it was contemporary, would be baffled as to why none of the characters have mobile phones!)

One of the worst mistakes I’ve made (that I know about!) occurred in my second novel, Incognito, which unfolds in a historic district of Boston called Beacon Hill. I lived in Beacon Hill for a year and a half, but that was nearly five years before I wrote the book. There’s a steamy exhibitionist scene that takes place in a late night subway car. I was quite specific about the stations where the heroine gets on and off the train. Caught up in the action, though (at least, that’s my excuse), I completely forgot that a transfer is required between those two stops! Anyone familiar with the “T”, as they call it in Boston, would realize this immediately. (I was able to fix this in a recent re-edit, too.)

You may ask why any of this matters. It may be that most readers won’t notice this sort of error. However, those who do are likely to form a very negative impression of the author, as sloppy and ignorant. People tend to feel proprietary about places they know.

These days if one individual takes offense at your book, the rest of the world can find out pretty quickly. I haven’t even read FSOG, for instance, but I know from reviews and blog posts that it’s full of geographic errors (not all that surprising since it’s set in the U.S. state of Washington while the author is British).

So I do careful research when I canbut I’m not a research slut like some authors I know. I’m likely to check the Internet or the library when I’m not sure about something, but I don’t spend days immersed in my sources. Problems are most likely to arise in situations where I really believe I know some detail that’s actually wrong (or out of date).

Of course, geographically related mistakes aren’t the only sort that can occur in writing. Erotica authors, in particular, need to worry about errors in describing sexual practices. It’s a bit dangerous to write about BDSM without some serious research. I’ve read some scenes that made me want to throw the book at the wall (metaphorically) due to inaccuraciesespecially, the unrealistic extremes Doms were inflicting on their subs. When it comes to sex, though, I think readers are more willing to accept distortions of realityfirst because they’re looking for fantasy anyway, and second, because many of them have no experience at all with the activities described.

There’s one particularly egregious error in Raw Silk that I couldn’t figure out how to fix. My heroine Kate is “forced” by her master to perform nude in a live show in a Bangkok sex bar. She’s disguised as Asian, wearing a black wig to cover her auburn curls and make-up that hides the freckles associated with her Irish background. Everyone agrees she looks Thai. When she sheds her G-string, though, her masquerade should have been obviousshe has, after all, bright red pubic hair!

I was terribly embarrassed when my own Master pointed this out to me, many years ago, though nobody else has ever mentioned it. (Like many masters, mine is a stickler for detail.) In my recent round of edits, I decided not to mess with the problem. Any mention of the issue would distract from the intensity of the scene. And aside from having Kate be shaved (which wouldn’t fit the time period, her personality, or my personal preferences), I couldn’t think of a good solution anyway.

Fiction isn’t required to be realistic of course. Readers know this. At the same time, concrete details can increase reader involvement. Mistakes in those details, on the other hand, can yank the reader out of the narrative and generate negative emotions.

Just one more thing we authors need to worry about!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Tears from the Sky

by Jean Roberta

Bodies, human and animal, exude body fluids. Do sweat glands “cry” when the temperature goes up? Do women’s pussies really “cry” or "weep" when they’re hungry? (They’ve been described this way, but that seems like a stretch to me.) Do clouds “cry” rain?

Here is the opening paragraph in a story, “Tears of the Gods” by Sarah L. Byrne, that I chose from a pile of excellent stories to include in Heiresses of Russ: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction:*

“Legend has it that the blue rain was the tears of the gods, though just why gods would weep in blue no one could quite explain. Modern science said the odd meteorological phenomenon was simply a matter of copper sulphate, spores from the blue copper-feeding algae in the deep vents forced into the atmosphere by volcanic activity. Gita knew differently.”

Of course she did. And of course, since this story is closer to sci-fi than to fantasy, there is both a scientific and a metaphorical explanation for rain as tears. Gita has accepted an assignment to a desert outpost on an out-of-the-way planet where she is exposed to rain that blisters her skin, even though this was not a “career-boosting move.” Gita is grieving for her former research partner, who was also her life-partner.

Everyone who studies literature learns to avoid the “pathetic fallacy:” using weather to represent the emotions of major characters. Most writers do this anyway, because it’s just so tempting. (I think it’s unfair to single out the famous nineteenth-century sentence by Edward Bulwer-Lytton that starts: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Victorian writers who wrote like this had a lot of company, and still do.)

This week, snow finally fell on my town in Saskatchewan so that it looks picturesque for the holidays. Before that, the weather had been so unseasonably warm (apparently due to a worldwide natural phenomenon called “El Nino”) that many were predicting a “brown Christmas” of bare ground.

Drifting snow, consisting of beautifully individual snowflakes dancing on the breeze, is not usually associated with tears. Au contraire. The first snowfall is usually seen as a blessing or a sparkling blanket to cover the litter, dog poop and decaying vegetation that lingers on the ground in winter.

Just as the snow seemed like a magical surprise, I got an unexpected letter in the mail from the local law firm that handled my late parents’ will. As one of the heirs, I am entitled to an equal share of the next “disbursement:” more money from a large pot that has been subject to mysterious (to me) accounting practises. (One of the factors that makes this complicated is that there are four heirs, three in Canada where inheritance is not taxed, and an executor in the U.S., where inheritance is taxed by the federal government, and possibly by the relevant state government, as a smaller version of Uncle Sam.)

My parents passed away within six months of each other in 2009. As far as I remember, I didn’t cry over either death. Both my parents had been in failing health in a nursing home for a few years before the end. In 2010, I received a fairly large amount from their estate, and I was grateful.

When each parent left this world, I had a sense of relief that was at least as complicated as the process of sorting out the money they no longer needed. Yes! I thought. They are no longer in pain, and that’s a good thing. I honestly hoped they had gone on to a better place, and I still hope they are around in some form, and at peace. Their ashes rest in an outdoor vault in a cemetery. I rarely go to visit them there because I don’t think they are more likely to hover over their physical remains than to hang about in their former house, or in other places they loved when they were alive (e.g. the local Unitarian Centre, the large park in the middle of town).

To be honest, I was also relieved when each of them passed away because this meant they could no longer confide in everyone they knew that I was “mentally ill,” and that they hoped I would find a second husband to take care of me.

I can forgive them for everything they did that hurt me, on grounds that they—like other parents—were probably raising children as well as they knew how. They got it right more often than they got it wrong. However, I can’t forget certain frustrating disagreements over the nature of reality, when I would report something that had really happened to me, and one of my parents would respond, “Honey, I’m sure that’s not true.”

One of my father’s staunch beliefs, which my mother “went along with” (as wives accepted so much in her generation) was that all stories of supernatural events were bogus, the products of mental illness or deliberate fraud. If my parents are now disembodied spirits who could contact me if they chose to, would they choose to?

I can’t help thinking of the unexpected promise of money as a Christmas present from the Beyond. I’m tempted to tell a photo of my parents, “Really, you didn’t have to. You’ve already been incredibly generous.”

The letter made my eyes sting, but I couldn’t cry. It’s a mysterious process, crying. Maybe the questions of who owes what to whom else need to be sorted out further before my tears can flow as naturally as rain or snow. Time will tell.
*Heiresses of Russ was co-edited by Jean Roberta and Steve Berman, published by Lethe Press (December 2015). All the stories in it were first published in 2014.