Thursday, July 2, 2009

Death & Sex (but not necessarily in that order)

by Ashley Lister

I saw this week’s topic header and recoiled in horror. No one kills characters in good erotic fiction. Where’s the HEA in a death? Who goes killing sexually active characters? It’s not, I thought indignantly, something I would ever do.

Except, I remember writing a short story called The Good Place for Mitzi Szereto’s anthology Dying For It. It was a story about a guy on death row. His girlfriend had already died in a FUBAR experiment with autoerotic asphyxiation but that didn’t stop her from being an integral part of the story as her ghost came back to haunt him.

“What’s a nice guy like you doing in a place like this?”

I could hear her voice as clearly as when she used to nibble on my lobe while we were locked in a post-coital embrace. It was that familiar Virginia drawl, deep set with a throaty chuckle of mischief. Death hadn’t killed her sensuous way of speaking, nor had it stifled the effect she had on me. As my erection grew I began to wonder if I was either insane, or mistaken, or still asleep. Unable to stop myself, I spoke her name aloud. “Katy?”

“Do you like being inside?” she breathed.

And, in that moment, I knew it was her. I didn’t know how she was talking to me. I didn’t know why she was talking to me. But I knew my own imagination could never have supplied such a perfect Katy-esque innuendo. With that one question I was beyond being skeptical that the voice was the product of my own diminishing faculties. I knew that Katy was back by my side.

“I’ve missed you, lummock,” she confided.

“I’ve missed you too,” I admitted.

Her words were a balm, soothing and massaging away the tension I had suffered since incarceration. She hadn’t said anything overtly sexual, yet already she had excited me to the point of full arousal. An appreciation of my responses told me that it would only take another couple of sentences and she would have me ejaculating like some over-excited schoolboy on his first real date.

I closed my eyes and easily pictured the way she had looked when she was speaking. The fullness of her lips was easy to recall, the sensuous pout of her mouth was invariably glossed each time she trailed the tip of her tongue across her Cupid’s bow. When she had used her tongue on my length I always remembered the thrill of pleasure that came from hearing her words and feeling them reverberate through my shaft. On this occasion, when she first spoke to me from beyond the grave, the pleasure was every bit as intense as it had been during those fondly recollected times.

“I’ve come to help with your release,” she giggled.

It was another of her double entendres and hearing that sly humor made me simultaneously excited, relieved and delighted that she was back in my life. I had missed her and I had quietly mourned her passing. But the pressing demands of death row and impending execution had urged my focus to slip away from such important things. “How can you help?” I asked. I wasn’t doubting her ability: I was simply curious to know. “My lawyers are qualified and alive,” I pointed out. “At the moment, you’re neither.”

OK, I conceded. I’ve done it once. But publishers don’t like dead characters.
And I was convinced it was the only time I’d ever done it. Until I started thinking about vampire stories.

Should vampires be classed as dead characters? It’s conceded that they’re not alive. And it’s not unreasonable to argue that, if a character isn’t alive they can be classed as dead. But vampires get to inhabit a grey area between those binary opposites with the label undead.

Consequently, if vampires are categorised as dead characters – then I suppose I’ve written about quite a few of those. However, I’m not sure if that means I’ve technically killed those characters.

With each of the characters who were vampires at the beginning of a story I can honestly hold my hand up and say, “That one was dead when I got here.” But, with those characters who became vampires through the development of a novel, I have to admit responsibility. The only thing I can say in my defence is, “Yes, I killed those characters. But they had fun on the way out.” Even the ones that were just between-meal-snacks for the vampires seemed to get something out of the process, as illustrated by this passage from the opening to The BloodLust Chronicles: Faith.

The outburst left a stunned silence in the lair.

Lilah glanced from the gypsy to her brother, wishing she could control his inevitable reaction and knowing she would be powerless to intervene.

Furiously he launched himself from his throne. He grabbed the girl from the centre of the circle and dragged her all the way to the wall of the lair. Pinning her against the crumbling masonry, clutching one breast with a huge hand and tugging her head to one side with the other, he exposed her neck and pressed his mouth over the frantic beat of her pulse.

‘Sire!’ Lilah called. ‘Our laws!’

‘Fuck the laws,’ he said, placing his teeth over the girl’s neck. The pounding of her veins trembled against his lips. He glanced down and noticed her nipples now stood more rigid than ever. The tops of her thighs glistened wetly and he knew she was as close to the point of orgasm as he was. Her breathing came in short gasps and he could hear her heartbeat pounding madly. The knowledge that they would briefly share the same surge of pleasure was disturbingly warming.

‘You can’t feast on her, darling brother,’ Lilah gasped. ‘You know you can’t.’

The dark one pressed his mouth around the gypsy’s neck and drank. The fading sounds of her heartbeat intermingled with his greedy slurping as he swallowed. She beat her fists against him but she was overpowered to begin with and, as her life ebbed away, her protests weakened to an ineffectual caress before fading to nothing. As soon as she was drained the dark one allowed her to fall to the floor. He wiped his mouth dry with the back of his hand and his smile dripped tears of scarlet. Turning to his sister he said, ‘Were you telling me I couldn’t drink from this one? Were you telling me our laws forbid me feeding from gypsies?’ His cheeks were flushed from the feasting and his lips glistened with a succulent red glaze. ‘I’ve got a question for you, little sister: who’s going to stop me?’

Which is my longwinded way of saying I’m a literary murderer. I’ve killed characters. And I’ve clearly done it with such a lack of conscience that I would struggle to remember the names of all those who have been slain by my lethal imagination.

How do I feel about killing my darlings? Being honest, I have no guilt. In The Good Place, Katy needed to be dead for the story to make sense. The trickiest part was writing an erotic story where a central character’s death would be acceptable to the commissioning editor. Although the traditional taboos in erotic fiction are no animals, underage or non-consensual sex, it’s also strongly advised to keep all characters alive throughout the sex scenes.

This introspection is making me feel like I’m some dangerous sort of literary sociopath. I have no remorse in killing characters and my only concern is whether the death can be achieved to a standard that works for the story and will be acceptable for an editor.

Or maybe that’s what being a writer is all about?


  1. "No one kills characters in good erotic fiction"

    I'm sorry. I disagree.

  2. Hi RG,

    Thanks for reading. By the end of the blog, I think I'd also come to disagree with the exaggerated declaration from the opening paragraph.

    I'm looking forward to reading your post on Saturday.



  3. Hi, Ash,

    First of all, a hearty welcome to the Grip! We're so glad that you joined us.

    I remember reading and hugely enjoying "The Good Place". But I didn't know you wrote vampire stories.

    I think that in some stories, the characters have to die, for the sake of the story. Unfortunately that's a bit of a hard sell in some markets. One of my favorite stories has the dubious distinction of being my most often rejected tale, because it ends with both of the main characters dying. The fact that it's a scifi riff on Romeo and Juliet is apparently no excuse.

    I'm looking forward to what RG has to say about this on Saturday!


  4. This introspection is making me feel like I’m some dangerous sort of literary sociopath. I have no remorse in killing characters and my only concern is whether the death can be achieved to a standard that works for the story and will be acceptable for an editor.

    Or maybe that’s what being a writer is all about?

    This last part says it all, IMO. Some might imply that we should feel guilty for killing off characters, but that's nuts. They wouldn't be here if not for us, and they're lucky for every moment of daylight we give them. LOL

    And, we are bound to what our editors will accept. Fact of the writing life.

    Welcome to the Grip, Ash. Great inaugural post!

    Have a great weekend, happy 4th everyone!

  5. Thanks for the warm welcome.

    Lisabet: Sci-Fi meets Romeo & Juliet? How could an editor refuse? As Jenna observes, we are bound to what our editors will accept, but that doesn't mean we have to like it.

    Jenna: It's a shame that so many editors impose such restricitive limitations on what's acceptable within erotica. However, I personally find those limitations are part of the challenge that makes it all fun. And, as you say, it's a fact of the writing life.



  6. Welcome to the Grip, Ashley!

    A wonderful inaugural post and some interesting bits to think about.

    Remorse for killing out characters. Hmm, not me. If they need to die, they die... Mwah hah hah! There are times the story just goes that way and it's up to us to make it something the readers want to try. Recently I opened a story with a dead fellow blowing a very live one. Worked damn well for them and the publisher. LOL

    I think it's really a matter of who the characters are and how you go about it all. I mean, if you wack a lead character, there'd better be one very good reason for it, and a replacement who the readers knew about previously. Leaving a partner alone at the ending isn't romance. Some editors, I assume, will go along with it, and that's another thing. Finding the right place for the story. That's up to us too.

    Sheesh, I'm getting tired just thinking about all this. I need more coffee.

    Again, welcome to the Grip!


  7. Jude,

    I figured you could kill characters without remorse after seeing the torment you used to put them through on "Darker Pleasures."

    Thanks for the warm welcome.


  8. Oh, but that was just fun. You didn't think so? I'm shocked...okay, I'm actually laughing. I remember your work on there and I seem to remember a piece we did together that was rather...terrifying. LOL


  9. I think we were attempting to out-do each other and, curiously, I think we both succeeded.

    Good times.

  10. I love that you started out at one end of the spectrum on this and found your way to the other. I kill off characters all the time, admitted horror freak that I am. I think there are lots of acceptable reasons for killing off characters, and I've probably used most of them by this point.

    It would be nice to see more publishers willing to take tragic material. I know people say there's no market for it, but how do we know if we don't offer it? Glad I've got a publisher who literally lets me get away with murder ;)

    Welcome to OGG!

  11. Helen,

    I saw some of the answers you gave to Rick R Reed's questions on FB yesterday - so I'm aware you do a lot more than get away with murder :-)



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