Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Anyhoo, basically, if you've written a terrible mess of a story (which at some point in every single writer's life will definitely one hundred percent happen. Unless you're, like, the Mozart of writing. But if so, prepare to be killed by F. Murray Abraham), what you're unlikely to hear if someone is really constructively criticising are any of the following sentences:
1. You're amazing!
2. There are just a few typos to fix but otherwise brilliant!
2. I'm not sure what the other constructive criticisers were going on about, because you've written golden perfection on top of magnificent genius. Also, they are meanies.
In fact, even if you haven't written a disaster, you probably won't just hear variations on those sentences. If you do, someone's pulling your plonker.
Similarly, however, you shouldn't be hearing things like this if someone is truly constructively criticising:
1. You suck. Go die in a fire.
2. Never write again.
3. Eat a bag of cocks.
I mean, even if I'm wrong about this whole defining constructive criticism thing, that third one is definitely right out. Unless your "crit" "partner" is also one fifth of the five-way polyamorous relationship you've got going on. Then maybe they're just talking about that bag they bought, with the four holes cut in it.
But I digress, about cocks, as usual.
What I really wanted to say was- constructive criticism is and always has been the fine art of nailing the issues in your work, giving you a way of working on them, and doing both without getting personal. It can be harsh. It can be brutal. It can be as much as this:
"Pages and pages of inner monologue on one tiny detail is too much. You're dragging your narrative down, and boring the reader to death. Tighten focus, or lose your reader forever."*
But that does not make the constructive criticiser a huge awful meanie. It makes them a good person, who isn't willing to let you go out into the world half-naked, because that morning you forgot to put your trousers on. In this context, "you are awesome" is just as bad and damaging as "eat a bag of cocks". One of them just makes you feel bad and look like a fool later on, and by tiny, stabbing increments. Courtesy of much, much more important people.
Because that's what you're aiming for, right? The much, much more important people? The editors and agents and the people who will publish your work? And good constructive criticism will prepare you for that world, in more ways than one. It not only helps you not look like a fool, it also shows you what a relationship with a good editor will look like.
A good editor will not sugarcoat it. They won't cheerlead and squee and come in their pants when you've used the wrong affect/effect and your heroine's motivations are deeply unclear. They'll tell you straight, and expect you to work with them on these things, and they won't take kindly to you telling them they're stupid and a bitch and that they should go die in a fire.
Learning to differentiate between meanness and constructive criticism is a vital weapon in a writer's armory. Find it now, learn it now, and it will serve you forever.
*Yep, that was a piece of crit aimed at my work. I've had harsher, but that one stands out as the most helpful, as well as being pretty tough- the hallmark of good CC.
Monday, August 30, 2010
A Price Beyond Rubies
As writers, we know so much more about our characters than we put into the story. A lot of explanation can pull the reader out of the story (the dreaded info dump) but sometimes we gloss over things that should be explained better. After all, we know what we meant. Then our critique partner reads it and says, “Huh?”
Before that “Huh?” moment though, a lot of work goes into finding your perfect critique partner. This person has to be the Princess/Prince who feels the pea under the stack of mattresses. Not only do they have to feel it, but they need to have enough trust in your relationship to admit that they felt the pea. They have to know that you respect their pea-sensing ability, and are grateful that they told you. (After you’ve been attacked a few times by ungrateful writers for critiquing their work, you grow leery of offering suggestions to anyone, no matter how rational they appear to be, or how hard they beg for help.)
I’m lucky to have two critique partners – Nan Andrews and DL King. Lately, it’s been a one way street where they’re putting tons of time into reviewing my work and I haven’t be able to return the favor. They know that the second they have something they want to share, my time is theirs. (At least I hope you two know that!) I value their opinions, and deeply appreciate their gifts of time and insight.
To me, an ideal critique partner has the following qualities:
Mastery of the craft of writing equal to, or even better than, mine.
Different strengths than mine.
That’s what I’m really talking about here – friendship. A good critique partner is someone you like and connect with in a special way. You understand each other. A great critique is an open, honest discussion, where the aim is support and improvement. It’s hard to reach that level of communication with a stranger, which is why the relationship between critique partners should be nurtured and cherished. I’m blessed to have found my special two.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
The Voice Whispering in my Ear
By Lisabet Sarai
Okay, I've endured it long enough. It's payback time. This is the week that I'm going to make Garce blush, the way he's always doing to me!
Our topic this week is “Constructive Criticism”, and I have to say, I don't know anyone whose critiques could be more aptly called constructive. When I pass a story to Garce for comments or consult him about some question of character or plot, I really never know what I'll get back. However, it's almost always something I didn't expect. He reads what I've written and then takes off, making wild suggestions that almost always shake up my view of the tale. Garce's critiques are “constructive” in the sense that they construct new conflicts, problems, scenarios, possibilities, even worlds.
I have other crit partners, people who will let me know when they find an awkward transition or a poorly motivated action or even (heaven forfend!) a bit of unruly grammar. I appreciate their time and effort, and I always find their commentary useful. They help me polish the story as I wrote it. When I ask Garce for a critique, I'm always a little worried, because his reply may force me to massively rethink what I've written.
Here's an example, from his crit of my story “Chemisty” (which was eventually published in Coming Together With Pride).
I'm used to thinking in really weird terms. So I was looking for something weird.
Take your description of Frank. I was thinking - Frank is this jolly old, kind of sloppy ‘60s guy, right out of a Cheech and Chong gag. He sounds like what? A mythical being! Frank is a satyr! She's going to be riding him wildly, baffled at her own sluttiness and infidelity – what in the world has gotten into her beside Frank? - and she sees his lower half turn into the lower half of a goat or something.
I was thinking Rosemary's Baby. Mia Farrow crying out when she sees the devil's eyes "This is NOT a dream! This is really happening!" I thought she had walked into some curio shop on a side street and been seduced by Zeus or a lusty goat-man. Bacchus! That was why she was unable to resist him. Why is she unable to resist his advances? No convincing explanation is given. So now’s your chance to come up with one.
Here’s another: I saw the little lab in the back of the third floor and I thought "Son of a Witch! This guy has discovered that which mankind, in all civilizations in all of history has universally sought and never really found - a genuine aphrodisiac." Damn, he’s going to be rich.
Think about it. No one in any culture has ever discovered a magic substance that if you take it you become irresistibly, recklessly horny. But what if an obscure chemist really discovered it? I mean it as in “IT”. The Godzilla of pheromones?
When Garce does a crit, he uses the story as a springboard for his own imagination. Sometimes, though, he sees what the tale really needs. In the case of this one, he was right on. I had this young, beautiful, career-obsessed pharmaceutical chemist falling into instant lust with a guy decades older, a guy whose cultural roots are completely alien to her. Why? In the end, I did introduce the notion of a super-aphrodisiac (it turns out the guy's a famous chemist, too) – though I never made a commitment as to whether the attraction is really chemical or not.
One of Garce's favorite comments in his crits is “Let's muddle this a bit.” He doesn't accept anything I write a face value. He always looks deeper. He wants to complicate things. And because he knows me fairly well at this point (anyone who reads my erotic stories knows me rather personally, after all), he can get away with making connections between what I write and what I feel (as opposed to what my characters feel). For instance, he wrote the following about my story “The Antidote”.
[Lena] might be a more complex character if she were not satisfied to be in tepid resignation or compatibility with Jeff, or saw herself that way, and was rebelling against not only the restrictions being imposed on a naturally passionate nature by an authoritarian society, but also against her marriage. Her marriage was engineered by society, not by her own search for love after all. Going to the club is her moral rebellion against everything in her life. She reminds me a little of Henry Jekyll in the “Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. Jekyll wants to go on being the respected Victorian gentleman, but as Mr. Hyde he gets to party down. She is Jekyll, not by choice but to stay out of trouble, and taking her drug is her way of busting out as Miss Hyde. As presented, she’s rebelling against society, but what if she were also rebelling against her husband?
In this context when she gets bailed out by Jeff, she might think he’s going to punish her harshly or even violently, and at the least divorce her sorry ass, and maybe this is what society expects of him. But instead of a beating or worse, they break out in passion having been liberated by their sexual escapades, and discovering an excitingly dark side of each other unknown to the other before. He might even make a big show of indignation in the presence of the authorities, and then when they’re alone bring out the leather and handcuffs and a sheepish confession. They can discover things in their relationship with each other they never knew were there. After all, what obsession are you exploring here? Your own rebellion against romance genre convention.
In my opinion Lena is you. Let her be you even more.
Not what one normally expects in a critique. But I value his opinions and his insights, and once again, he put his finger on the reason that the story's original ending was weak.
I've learned a great deal from our discussions (of his work as well as of my own). Now I seem to have internalized some of his critical style. When I write, I sometimes hear his metaphorical voice (we've never actually spoken) whispering in my ear, making suggestions (often outrageous), asking questions (always difficult), forcing me to dig deeper and not be satisfied with my first inclinations.
I have a tendency to be lazy when I write. It's relatively easy for me to pen a tale that will titillate without really saying anything. You know, a potato chip story, tasty but with no substance. Garce makes me work. When I dare to ask him for a crit, I know that he won't let me off the hook until my story does more than just turn the reader on.
And for that, I'm seriously grateful.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Why do 'I' write?
Truthfully? Because I couldn't stop if I tried. Everything I see, everything I do, everything I experience triggers a story in my head. It's kind of like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in that I'm constantly being distracted by every little thing, only I also seem to have the absolute focus of an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder too. Basically I get a story idea from what's around me then quietly obsess on that idea -- to the exclusion of all else; people I'm with, bills that need to be paid... This obsession goes on for days, weeks, even months sometimes, and I quite literally can't think of anything else -- until I write it down. THEN my brain finally settles down and allows me to pay attention to the rest of the world. Until something else comes along to 'distract' me.
This is why I don't have cable on my TV. It's used purely as life-support for my DVD player and my VCR. I haven't watched TV programs (that aren't on DVD) in over six years.
Now then, if you want to know why I write 'stories'...? It started out as pure escapism. To say that my childhood sucked is an extreme understatement. Daddy was textbook sociopath, just like the guy on the TV series, "Dexter." Only Daddy didn't succeed in killing anyone. (For some reason I kept surviving.) Anyway... The safest place was out of sight, so books were my best friends, as was the space under my bed and my flashlight. When books weren't available, I had my imagination.
No one can shut the world out better than a child.
By the time I was fourteen, I was writing the better 'imaginings' down so I could 'think on them' more. When I was seventeen and a junior in high school, I decided to enter a region-wide short story contest on a whim, and wrote out a quick little horror story about a ghost dog. After-school sessions with a sympathetic English teacher helped me wrestle my grammar under control and I mailed it in. The story won the grand prize and was published in a small magazine.
It was seeing my name in print that made me realize that 'author' was the perfect profession for me -- the 'only' profession for me.
Unfortunately, this was back in 1980, before the PC and the internet were invented, so I had to learn the craft of writing the hard way. No word-processing or internet searching for tutorials for me. I had to hit the library and magazine racks for clues on how to write a proper story, and believe me, there wasn't much to find at all, and I had to use a typewriter. (I STILL hate that machine with a passion.) Today's aspiring author has it sooo much easier. (Lucky bastards...)
As an aside, Mom eventually divorced Daddy, but that didn't happen until the year after I won that writing contest.
Anyway... I guess you could say that the real reason I write is truthfully, childhood habit -- one I absolutely refuse to give up. Good thing I decided to make a career out of it, no?
Friday, August 27, 2010
The Air That I Breathe
I'd like to say more grandious things than that, but at end of a very long week (started student teaching last week, had open house last night, my daughter started school this week, and I just got off of working my job that puts food on the table while I pay for the priveledge to teach) so my brain is pretty much gone, and I am beat.
I write because, yes, sometimes the voices of my characters demand I do so. I am a VERY auditory person, so when I dream, it is in voices. I mentioned that once before I know. So I can hear dialog, and someone narrating a scene to me.
I write because some nights, I lay awake with story ideas dancing in my head, and it's either jot them down, or know that I will suffer many more sleepless nights until they finally fade away. I lost many kickin' stories because I was too exhausted to get up and write. I just laid there, hoping to drift away.
I write because I need something in my life than is mine, that no one can take from me, expect me to give up, claim in any way for themselves, or put a price on. (My family is not guilty of this, but oh so many others are).
I write because I love loosing myself in the worlds that I create. I savor those moments.
So in short, I write because I have to. I need to. There really isn't any other choice for me.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Dr Samuel Johnson said, ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote for anything but money.’ Whilst Dr Johnson was an eminent authority on Shakespeare, a lexicographer par excellence, and a wry wit, he showed on this occasion that he had a penchant for talking out of his arse.
I write. I try and sell the things I write. Sometimes I get money. A lot of the time I get rejections, heartache and digestion problems. But I don’t just write for the money. I write because, if I didn’t write, my life would be empty.
Does that sound melodramatic? Yes. I know it does. Does that sound like I’m diminishing the fulfilment I get from family, friends and pets? Yes. I probably am.
But every social interaction I’ve had since I was twelve has been accompanied by the thought: how would this read in a novel? Every conversation, kiss and interaction has been made memorable by the thought: I could write about this. And every memory I’ve committed to paper, through fiction or essay or poetry, has been relived and re-experienced in exquisite detail.
Do I write because it makes me popular? No. Writers aren’t rock stars. Most people shit bricks when you tell them you’re a published author, probably because they’re scared that you’re going to try and sell them a copy of your latest book. Either that or the boring bastards want to tell you about the book they’d like to write. Trust me: writing doesn’t make a person popular.
Do I write because I have a burning desire to tell a story? Don’t get me started on this one. Writing classes tell us to show, not tell. And then we’re expected to tell a story. Someone is clearly fucking with my head here. Are we story-show-ers or story-tellers?
Do I write because the characters in my head want their stories putting on the page? I don’t think so. I believe this is called multiple-personality disorder and is a symptom of being insane. I’m not insane and I have a certificate to prove it.
I write for one simple reason: the alternative is unthinkable.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The Same River Twice
Holding the edges by my palms, I lift off the vinyl record I bought at a record shop in Dinky Town forty years ago when it was new. It’s “New Morning” by Bob Dylan. It’s pristine condition testifies how little I liked it as a kid. My old Beatles and Stones LPs I packed up and brought home from a big mildewed box in my Dad’s basement, the last night I saw him alive, those are all scratched and scuffed from trips to friends houses on my bike, or lying in sloppy piles next to the little stereo I had set up in the room I shared with my little brother. From the look of this Dylan record I may have played it once and gave up on it. I like it a lot now. Sometimes you have to grow up to reach the level of what the artist is trying to show you.
I pick up the cardboard jacket with the photo of Dylan who looks a little like me now, and I start to slip it in when the light of the desk lamp glimmers off something inside. White sheets of lined paper. I take them out.
Three sheets of lined notebook paper, written in my handwriting as it looked long ago and dated 13 July 1971. This must be the feeling a paleontologist would have if he were scrounging for fossils in the Gobi desert and tripped over the metal edge of a flying saucer sticking up out of the sand.
It’s a perfectly preserved record of a day in my life forty years ago. It’s a little hard to read my own writing, but it’s the story of a very nice day in 1971. A swim in the pool with the teenage girls who lived in the apartment complex. One of the girls says they were going to surprise me with a party on my birthday but I’d gone off somewhere. Flirting with a young girl named Jeannie Olson who had a tough face and magnificent legs. Grieving over my girlfriend Kim who dumped me for a close friend. Seeing my best friend Karl for the last time. Musing on the move to College Park Georgia before the end of the month. A flash bulb in the eyes, a snapshot of a quiet time. The green years.
I take the pages inside the guest room which doubles as a library and put them in the notebook of diary pages I began keeping in 1973. I have a box full of these things.
Getting ready for bed downstairs in my room where my wife is sleeping, I look around this little world I’ve made for myself feeling the breeze off the ceiling fan and remembering. The young man is inside my head, and now my own room feels alien to me. The young man was a virgin. To him sex was a mystery waiting to happen. The woman bundled over there under the blanket; I know her body as familiar as my own. We made love a couple of nights ago. Happens all the time. The young man didn’t owe a dime to anyone. This man here, money terrifies him. This man here can’t remember a time when he wasn’t worried about money.
The window is open and outside the cicadas are singing or whatever it is that they do so loudly. Everyone in the house is asleep. I take off my shirt. My pants. Drop them to the floor. Take off my underwear and socks. Stand beside the bed, nude, watching myself in the wall mirror. I’m trying to see that young man, the person in a past incarnation though in this life, who sat down somewhere in his antique world feeling happy on that particular day when the most important things in his life had not happened yet. This man in the mirror, his body seems so loose, a worn hand-me-down skin he is still trying to grow into.
Stupid. Stupid so much of it – but that young man had so much faith in the future.
The naked man in the wall mirror looking into the unanswerable, I ask myself – would I live this life over again, making the same lunatic decisions that young man was doomed to make? Most certainly.
Its easy to discard the idea of God, to think this world is all there is. But when I look into the eyes of the aging man in the mirror I still see the presence of the young man who wrote those pages. He’s changed. But not gone. There is something here science and materialism can’t explain or describe. Something yet to be learned. Its this part, this continuity, that keeps me coming back to the tormenting idea of God. It’s the closest thing to God that I’m sure of.
The young man wrote that paper, for who? Why did he write? I can’t remember why, I can’t remember that day at all. I dimly remember the people he describes and how important they were to me at the time. Is this how it is when we die? It all seemed so important at the time? Until it isn’t?
What he wanted, I think, was for me, the current incarnation of him, to someday find those papers, forgotten and unexpected like a message in a bottle. A time capsule. He wanted the sound of his voice and his honest mind to be heard after he had long faded from the scene. The young man who wrote those pages also wrote short stories and showed them to people. I don’t remember it, but on the pages of the old high school yearbook, which was new when he wrote those words, are friends he loved in that life wishing him well and telling him to keep on writing, just as there are such people for me now. Those hand written pages are the stomp of his foot on the stairs, the shout of his “barbaric yawp". I think he wrote for the same reason as I do today, as a consolation against mortality. Like the ghost of Hamlet’s father demanding – “Remember me.”
We, the writers. The professional dreamers, we send out stories like prayers into the world. They go out, they sink, and are mostly unanswered. Each one carries the mad hatter banner of “Remember me.”
We’re right to do so.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
I laugh, when writers talk about being tortured and bleeding into their spiral notebooks and wrenching their souls in order to get the words out. I giggle, when they talk about communing with their characters like mad fake psychics, cracking empty chicken eggs and piping incense into their purple rooms as though it aids breathing. I get annoyed, when they imply no-one understands and other writers don't care as much as they do, because they're so special.
And yet, when I think about why I write, my answer is probably just as mad as theirs. I write, because I love my characters. I probably love them more than I love many actual real people. They drive me wild with love on a consistent and unhealthy basis, and they deserve to be written about because of that love.
However, I do think I differ from a few of the more bonkers writers on some pretty crucial points: this does not torture me. I don't weep daily over it. I don't think I'm special or different or better than anyone, because of it. I don't think I communicate with my characters on the astral plane. I know they are not real.
I just love them. They fill my life with light and joy, not excrutiating bleeding darkness. They give me pleasure when there's none around me to be had; they burn brightly when things become dim. They've provided me with carthasis, when I thought none was possible. I've felt at my lowest ebb, and cried until I was exhausted, and they give me vitality and life and power again.
Of course, other things in my life help me out of dark moments, or give me as much - if not more - joy. But when that happens - when a friend is kind, or my husband hugs me - I hug them back. I thank them, over and over. They know I love them.
This is probably the first time I've ever spoken aloud, to people not extremely close to me, about how my characters and my writing often does that exact same thing. So I'm saying it now: thank you, writing, for making my life in so many ways. Thank you, my gaggle of crazy characters, for always being there for me, day and night, and never letting me down. Not once.
So yeah. I write, because writing is love.
Monday, August 23, 2010
My mother’s people are from the southern end of the Smoky Mountain range, where TV and radio reception was spotty in the days before satellites. Her mother was from a family with thirteen children who survived to adulthood, her father from a family with eleven. Sixty-four of her cousins were listed in the family birth records, although less than half lived past their first year. So as you can imagine, when family got together, it was an event. Dogs yapping at our heels as second cousins swarmed over the sparse lawn in a chaotic game of tag; exploring the barns that were falling apart in slow motion under rampant morning glory vines; coaxing wild kittens out from under the house; wading in the tiny pool at the end of the creek that crossed my grandfather’s land; searching for my parent’s initials carved into a tree. Near sundown, my grandfather tapped and turned watermelons on the vine until he found a few that suited. Then, by the back porch, he’d cut them into huge chunks and hand them around. We settled on the steps to eat watermelon still warm from the waning sun and spit seeds into the dirt. That’s when the stories began.
The stories were usually long, drawn out tales about sly hounds and even craftier raccoons we’d heard many times before. Half the pleasure was knowing where the stories were going but not how you’d get there, since every uncle had a different version. As fireflies twinkled across the lawn, some cousins went to chase them. I sat with the adults, transfixed by our storytellers. Many times, I fell asleep under the moon, in some aunt’s lap, my face and hands sticky with watermelon juice.
My father was a first generation American. When his family gathered, it was a much smaller affair. We fit around my grandmother’s dining table. They told stories about each other, but only about their time in America. Later, when my cousins and sisters slipped under the table to sleep, the stories shifted. That’s how I found out that my great-grandfather met my great-grandmother when she danced on a table in a tavern. That’s how I learned that he fled to America after killing an army officer in a bungled burglary of the army depot, and how, several years later, he sent enough money to his wife to follow him to America, but not enough to bring their son. “We can always have more children,” he told her. She refused to travel until he sent enough for my grandfather. They never had another child. Sometimes, I wish I’d been able to see their expressions as that story was told – my grandfather, knowing that his father was willing to abandon him, and my great-grandfather the murderer sitting across the table from him. Other times, I’m glad I didn’t.
After the family dirty laundry was aired – and believe me, that wasn’t nearly half of it – the stories shifted. The lighting in the dining room filtered through my grandmother’s lace tablecloth to a dim golden glow under the table. A clock ticked loudly in the farmhouse parlor. Sometimes, it got so quiet that I could hear the chickens clucking from the three Quonset huts where they lay eggs. Most of my cousins were deeply asleep by then, but those of us who were still awake stared into each other’s eyes and held our breaths, because once the family stories were over, it was time for the old people to talk about the frovoliki – the vampires. All of those stories took place back in the village they left behind. Vampires, it seemed, weren’t part of their new world, thank goodness. Then, finally, the stories were so old that they couldn’t be told in English. That’s the time I drifted off.
Why do I tell stories? It’s simple, really. It’s my inheritance – richer than money, more enduring than things.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
The Truth about Author Lisabet Sarai
By Lisabet Sarai
It's three AM, that bleak, endless stretch of time between midnight and dawn. I hunch over my keyboard, my head pounding, writing and rewriting a single sentence, struggling to capture the elusive truth that I feel so clearly but somehow cannot express.
I've been here all night.
The desk lamp creates an ellipse of brightness in the otherwise dark apartment. My glass sits forlorn and empty on the desk next to my laptop, among the sticky rings from previous drinks. My cigarette has tumbled out of the tuna fish can that I use for an ashtray and charred the cheap composite surface. The room smells of scotch, smoke and frustration.
I should get some sleep. I've got work in the morning. But the story won't let me go. It has me in its jaws. It worries me back and forth, threatening to tear me apart. I've got to get it out and onto the page, to set it free, before it destroys me.
The scenario above, the tortured author driven to write, hounded by his own stories, has a romantic quality. Alas—or maybe I should say, thank heavens—that's not me. I'm not one of those authors brimming over with stories that won't let her rest. My characters do not in general scream and rant in my head, imploring me to write their tales, pursuing me until I'm dangerously close to the edge of sanity. I don't write in order to search for or reveal any kind of upper-cased Truth.
When all is said and done, I write to amuse myself.
When I can't write, I do miss it. I do love the creative effort involved in weaving webs of words into a final product that may excite, intrigue or challenge my readers. However, I don't delude myself that I have much to say that is of enduring importance. The one serious message that I have to impart (and I've done so again and again, in what are arguably my best stories) relates to my view of dominance and submission as a sort of communion. Other themes that I like to explore include the flexibility of sexual orientation and the healing, enlightening, maturing possibilities in sexual relationships. Overall, though, I'm just creating characters, letting them interact (sometimes in extremely lewd ways), and telling their stories in order to entertain and arouse.
There are secondary reasons for my writing, of course. There's nothing like the satisfaction that comes from receiving an enthusiastic acceptance—no matter how many times you experience it. (And rejections still hurt, regardless of the fact that my rejection to acceptance ratio is really low.)
Monthly royalty statements make me feel that some people, at least, really do enjoy what I write. I'll never support myself with my writing; I'd never try as I'm sure that if I did, whatever creativity I possess would immediately vanish. However, I'd be lying if I pretended that the slow upward trend in my writing income doesn't delight me.
I also really appreciate the friends that I've made, among writers and readers, since I began my authorial “career”. The erotica romance genre, in particular, seems to provide opportunities for me to communicate with readers. I love blogging and reading the subsequent comments. I had a release last Monday, and on Tuesday I received an email from a reader, asking me if I had a sequel planned because she was dying to know what happened to the characters. Yes, that had me smiling all day.
Finally, for me, writing erotica offers a way for me to experience new sexual adventures. I definitely arouse myself when I write—if I'm not turned on by my sex scenes, I know that they're no good. I can relive past experiences, cloaked as fiction, or imagine outrageous scenarios I never got to try.
My erotic thriller Exposure begins: “I strip for the fun of it. Don't let anybody tell you different.”
Just substitute “write” for “strip”. That's the truth about Lisabet Sarai.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
No Point in a Refill...
...I think my cup's got a hole in the bottom. Asking me to blog about pet peeves is akin to asking me to write an epic novel on grumbling, which I could easily do.
I'd write about all those times I've griped and whined...yes, I've been known to whine on occasion. I'm easily irritated. I tend to blame it on my encroaching age but in truth, I think it's just me. Anyone approaching my property, for example, might as well take his or her chances sneaking up on the Monster House, and I'm sure my hollering can be heard a good quarter mile away on a clear day. Because something irritates me or ends up on my list of pet peeves, however, doesn't make it treacherous, though at times, I think I'd like to believe it does. Again, I'm sure it's just me stuck in my "the cup's half-empty" mode.
Looking at my current path in life, I came up with one thing I could bellyache about in each of my more prominent roles—as a reader, as an editor, and as an author. And of course, I'm going to share them with you.
Wouldn't be bellyaching if I didn't.
As a Reader, nothing peeves me off like excessive description, which to me means—anything more than a few words for a character or a single sentence for a setting. I skip over all of it most times... I don't care what he or she looks like or where he or she is—unless either has to do with the action or meaning of the scene or the story.
Here's an example of what I consider good use of description during a scene: He pushed to his feet and stepped to the coffeemaker to refill his cup. "You won't go through with it." He turned and set his unfinished coffee on the kitchen table. "I know you."
What does that tell you about the scene, the characters? Scene: They're in the kitchen, drinking coffee, having a discussion. Characters: One has a goal, and the other is determined to undermine that goal or at the very least exude a show of power or discontentment with the decision by not even finishing his coffee and setting it down as an act of finality, a way of showing he is through with the discussion. Period.
Now, I didn't have to tell you all that for you to already get it. That's the point. Less is more. If this scene were littered with narrative from one character eying the other, telling me exactly what he looked like, what he wore, or his every move down to the finger placement on the cup in his grasp... I would've missed the meaning of the scene because I might have skipped over the last two-thirds of it with no other thought than ... OMG, not again. (Of course, there are those exceptions. If this were strictly erotica, something as minute as his finger placement on anything **cough** may be worthy of noting in detail—great detail).
As an Editor, I'm bothered by writers who turn in unpolished manuscripts, who then pitch fits when asked to revise/resubmit or come uncorked when edits take longer than anticipated.
Publishers list guidelines because they're bored and just make up these lists for something to do with their spare time, right? Wrong. Some publishers go the extra step to list grammar and style guides they wish used also. Why? Maybe they're testing you; maybe they just want to run their business as efficiently as possible. Either way, if you, as a writer, aren't capable of following direction, why should an editor want to deal with you? We deal with enough crap on a daily basis—passive sentences, divas, plot holes, divas, repeated words, divas, dangling modifiers, divas, run-on sentences, divas...
Lastly, as an Author, my biggest pet peeve besides my ever-growing list of unfinished WIPS is my unfathomable ability to piss off my editors with my peristent inability to follow their direction. I'm not a diva. I'm not a diva. I'm not a diva...I'm not!
Check out Bryl R. Tyne's My Way Column at The Pagan and The Pen!
Bryl R. Tyne is a wrangler by nature and a writer by choice, published with Noble Romance Publishing, Ravenous Romance, Dreamspinner Press, STARbooks Press, Untreed Reads Publishing, Changeling Press, and coming soon to Amber Quill Press/Amber Allure with the Gay Western: Tough Guy.
You can find more about Bryl at: bryltyne.com
Friday, August 20, 2010
My Top Ten Pet Peeves
9. People who don't do their job. When someone is relying on you for something, you might want to provide it.
8. Publishers who treat their authors, artists, editors, and other staff like a nuisance. (We have already covered that treating them like dirt goes beyond a pet peeve in blackout stage). But publishing is a business, like any other, and well employees (be they authors, editors, artists, staff, etc) deserve to be treated well, and valued, not made to feel like a nuisance.
7. Divas. Yep, major frickin' pet peeve. Really, I have no problem if you want to ride the drama llama, but when it parks itself in my front room and starts eating my carpet, we have a problem. I don't mind being here for people, but seriously. Come on! I don't need to know every little thing about your life, and everything you view as going wrong.
6. Stupid people. Yeah, I know, the world is full of them. But come on! There are levels of lack of common sense, and stupid people just piss me off. Ignorance is no excuse, and its never too late to learn.
5. People who don't understand that "I don't know" is a valid answer. Don't blow sunshine up my ass, or attempt to bullshit me. I don't know works for me. I can understand and accept that no one knows everything. What I can't understand or accept is when people can't simple acknowledge the fact that they don't know something.
4. People who are more interested in fixing the blame than in fixing the problem. In most cases, who's to blame isn't as important as fixing whatever the problem is.
3. Being thorough doesn't mean being nit-pickity. Please, when you are asked to be thorough on cover art forms, that means don't just put "this is a heterosexual romance with a buff man and a curvy woman". Give the artist more than that. But, please, by the same token don't tell the artist that the couple met at a costume dance in a ballroom in an spaceship theme where the woman was wearing a green velvet 1816 dress and the man is wearing buff colored knee breeches in the style of 1649, a patch work peacock jacket and brown knee high boots with a diamond buckle favored by the king of that time. Oh, the woman is wearing a triple strand of pearls with a emerald the size of a fist on the third strand and THAT is the image you want on the cover. Seriously, we aren't going to set up a photo shoot to get the image just so. We do try out best to accommodate, but come on!
2. Don't be a hypocrite. If you expect someone to hold to a deadline, then you need to meet your own dates. IE if you say something will be returned, paid, etc by a certain date - um, make it happen!
1. People who wait until the last minute to do stuff. If you half ass things, then at best, they are half assed. Not something to be proud of. Now that said, some people have a talent for working under pressure and can truly pull off things well if they wait until the last minute. But if you are not one of them - then don't do it! Certainly don't wait until the last minute to do something that requires input or action on my part. I am not going to rush because you are a dumb-ass and can't manage time better.
I admit, I feel better. : ) That doesn't mean that I have covered all of my pet peeves, but maybe, just maybe, people will read this list and stop doing the top 10! At least in regards to me.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Is this Kathleen’s topic? Thanks Kathleen. You can help me field the hate mail I’m about to generate.
I’m not the most easy-going of people. Everything pisses me off. I’m an angry driver. I’m an angry pedestrian. I’m angry walking briskly around the shops. I’m even angry when I’m sitting down watching the world go by too fast or too slow to suit my current mood. Everything pisses me off. Which is why it’s difficult for me, this week, to pick one particular pet peeve.
In the literary world, I’m subject to the same nuisances that torment my fellow grippers. Submissions in the wrong format. What sort of dimwit doesn’t read the instructions? I know I’ve committed this sin on several occasions, but I’m not talking about my own shortcomings. I have many of those and they piss me off too. I can take onboard Kathleen’s peeve about Sandy-esque characters. I sympathise with Charlotte’s outrage at publishers who can’t treat their authors with basic human decency. And I can smile wryly at the way Garce dealt with this topic yesterday.
My personal pet peeve, or at least – the one I’m going to discuss here, relates to poetry. More importantly, it relates to microphone hogs.
In an ideal world, the wonderful thing about an open mike session is that it gives everyone a chance to read their poetry. But we don’t live in an ideal world. And not everyone gets that chance.
Some people miss their chance because they’re scared. I can sympathise with this.
The microphone is a daunting instrument. It’s shaped like a cock (admittedly, a huge metallic cock, with a chain-mail glans and a five-foot metal stand for a shaft, and an electrical cable for a vas deferens) but there’s still that vaguely cock-like appearance. Who, in their right mind, would want to stand before a group of peers with a five-foot cock in their face?
But it’s not just the microphone. Poetry can be intensely personal. If I put my private thoughts on paper, and shape them so they say exactly what I wanted to say, do I really want to hold them up for ridicule and examination in front of a group of peers? Especially whilst I’m standing in front of a five foot metal cock?
And what if my thoughts are wrong? And no one agrees with me? Or if they piss people off? (We’ve already noted that I’m an angry person. What if there are other angry people sitting in the audience? I can’t be the only one sitting there and fuming on def-con one, can I?)
And what if I screw up? What if I mangle the words, say them in the wrong order? Can I face the humiliation of people laughing at my incompetence? How can I claim to be a poet if I can’t even pronounce words properly? Will I ever recover from the shame?
Doubts like this hit a lot of poets on open mike nights. Some of the poets are incredibly brave and take the microphone despite their enormous fears. You have to admire courage like that. It’s exhilarating.
Others, and this is the really sad part, leave at the end of the night, promising to vanquish the Jabberwocky at the next event. Watching them leave, I desperately hope that they will come back with their vorpal swords raised in readiness. Not all of them do.
And then there are the poets that piss me off. The poets who hog the microphone.
“I need to tell you a little story before I read this poem so you understand what it’s about.”
Really? You need to tell me a little story so I can understand what it’s about? Why? Is that because I’m too stupid to understand your poem? Or is it because you didn’t write the f***ing thing properly in the first place?
And, when you say a little story, I could point out that I’ve grown a beard since you started at the mike. That’s not my idea of a little story. It’s like listening to a stammerer recite War and Peace. In Aramaic. With a five-foot cock in their face. Maybe not quite that interesting.
Contextualise a poem. That’s fine. Tell me: “This poem was written in response to the current political crisis in Madagascar.” Don’t tell me that you’ve been following events on Sky24 News and have a pen-friend over there, and believe that this side is right and the other side is wrong.
Certainly don’t start giving me a potted history of events that led up to the current situation.
Seriously, if I gave a f**k about politics I’d already know about this. In the real world, I don’t give a f**k about my own country’s politics. And I’m too xenophobic to care about other countries. Just read your poem and f**k off. Ideally, read an abridged version. Even better, do that limerick about the bloke from Nantucket. It always makes me laugh and it’s as close to foreign politics as I want to get.
I’m already on a quest to end my life prematurely with tobacco, caffeine, alcohol and a sedentary lifestyle rich in carbs and sugars. Listening to the ramblings of the self-obsessed only serves to make my life seem like it’s lasting longer. This is a major fail on your part.
Am I coming across as splenetic here? I hope so, because this really does annoy me.
The open mike is there for poets. Time issues are one of the many important considerations in any poetry event. If the microphone is hogged by some twunt with an agenda, then there’s a risk that a genuine poet might not have a chance to read their work to their peers. And that would be an enormous tragedy.
Also, there’s the risk that regular enthusiasts could grow weary of the hogs.
As a book reviewer, I know that I’ve sometimes got to sift through some real turds to find the diamonds of literature. It’s maddening. It’s wearisome. And, this may come as a surprise to some of you: it can occasionally piss me off.
What if these microphone hogs are pissing off the enthusiasts and the real talent? These are intelligent poets and poetry enthusiasts. They’re not going to waste their valuable time sitting through the ramblings of the self-obsessed. Even with the comedy value of a five-foot cock lingering in front of their lips.
The poetry group I work with is filled with talented, considerate individuals. I’ve been moved to tears of joy and sadness within the same hour by some of the regulars at our poetry group. This is a testament to their brilliance. But I’ve also been moved to tears of boredom by some of the hogs who’ve crashed the group and commandeered the microphone.
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not trying to censor anyone. If a poet needs to say something, and it takes a while to get those words out, I’m prepared to listen patiently to every syllable. But there’s a huge difference between poetry and the ramblings of a twunt who adores the sound of their own voice.
To address this, we’re now introducing a three minute rule. Each poet gets three minutes at the mike. Longer time will be allowed for the good poems. Obviously. We’re not philistines
But minutes may also be deducted if the subject matter relates to religion or politics. And, if you don’t like the rules, you should write a poem about it in protest. Ideally, a short one that needs no introduction. And try not to pick a subject that pisses me off.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The BP Gulf Oil Spill Considered as a Menopausal Woman Melting into a Giant Pool of Water
During the months of March and April, acquaintances and family members expressed concern over the warning signs of increasing structural instability in Ms. Gail Wooding. On the evening of 15 April, while frying potatoes for her family’s dinner, Ms. Wooding was observed by her daughter to go through an entire roll of paper towels while exclaiming over the intense heat of the kitchen. Marie initiated operations to move her homework to a suitable location after filing unanswered complaints and misgivings to local management. These operations were interrupted in progress by an explosion event in the vicinity of the stove. This concussive release of methane was observed to come from Ms. Wooding as she fanned herself furiously with a dish towel.
“Mom! You are so fucking gross!” observed Marie. Moments later her mother
violently dissipated in an act of spontaneous resummation. The subsequent
collapse of Ms. Wooding into roughly one hundred and five barrels of human
liquid compound caused the daughter to expeditiously move her educational
activities to higher land.
Immediately after the meltdown event, paramedics on the scene moved a live web camera feed previously attached to the ceiling above Ms Wooding’s bed to the kitchen area to monitor the ongoing spill on a twenty four hour basis. All attempts to put a cap on what remains of Ms Wooding, and re-coop losses from web site pay per view subscriptions have so far met with failure.
Peeves, the family dog, was observed to voluntarily take the initiative in the skimming operations, lapping up some of what remained of Ms. Wooding, while pending the approval of local emergency authorities to evaluate the scene. The earnest skimming efforts of Peeves may have contributed in some part to the lessened impact of the flood on the local household habitat known to support a variety of wildlife, including cockroaches, silverfish and an endangered species of pygmy land crabs.
“It was wicked!” exclaimed Wooding’s son Ed. “I mean like – dude!” Ed has held the office of family son and male heir exclusively for the past decade, starting with his conception into office in early May of 2001 by Mr. Wooding and Ms. Wooding. Several attempts to provide a suitable placement for the office of second son ended in failure, possibly due to the onset of hormonal changes and an eventual fall off of reproductive interest in Mr. Wooding by Mrs. Wooding.
“My friends, you won’t believe what they’re up to now,” declared talk show host Rush Humbug on Tuesday’s radio broadcast. “This is mind boggling, it shows how desperate the Obama socialists are getting, folks, this so called menopausal myth. It’s all being blamed on hormonal warming. Hormonal warming is a liberal lie. There is no such thing as hormonal warming. There is no evidence of hormonal warming, and there is no reputable scientist you can name that believes in hormonal warming. I’ll say it again, my friends, there is no such thing as female menopause, never has been, never will be. This is just another example of the far left liberal environmental whackos, and the Obama White House agenda conspiring with feminazis and the state run liberal media, trying yet again to convince you to buy their crackpot theories. People – its getting crazy out there, the absence of critical thinking on this. If Obama really cared about this situation he’d appoint the dog as The Menopausal Czar. Does he? No!”
“You could have busted my nuts, when I heard this!” stated Sheila Wyman, Ms. Wooding’s secret lesbian lover with whom she had been carrying on a torrid five year affair, unknown to Mr. Wooding. “Some nights she was on fire. What bakes my noodle is that all this time I thought it was me getting her hot.”
Mr. Cabot Paddington, who has been secretly running both Ms. Wooding and Ms. Wyman as covert CIA death squad assassins declined to comment on the spontaneous resummation of Ms. Wooding, only to say it was not work related.
“I drilled some relief wells into that honey’s big ass every chance I got, when her man warn’t around.” said blues icon Hound Dog Redman in a Rolling Stone interview. “I was her back door man. But the bitch, she was trouble. She couldn’t get enough of that devil stick, and that’s what done ‘er in. I’m tellin’ ya. This whole thing, it’s just ate up.”
Life insurance underwriters, Skrewiz, Widdow and Children released an official statement that they will seriously consider all sustainable claims related to this incident. So far no payments have been given out. The firm of Skrewiz, Widdow and Children is disputing the claim that Ms. Walling’s demise is connected with her sudden conversion into water, ruling it as an event of
“There is no actual evidence that Ms. Wooding is in fact deceased. No body has been produced.” Said the firm in a press release.
As barrels of Ms. Wooding flooded into the street and damaged lawn grass habitats in the adjoining houses, converting them into reeking wetlands, neighboring residents assaulted Mr. Wooding with their complaints and several have threatened class action lawsuits. Mr. Wooding rebutted the findings of civil engineers that vast plumes possibly as far ranging as 22 miles of Ms. Wooding may be hidden under the foundations of the house. “My wife Gail is entirely on the surface of the kitchen,” stated Mr. Wooding. “There are no hidden plumes or reservoirs of her anywhere. I would be the first to inform you if there were.” Mr. Wooding believes the rapid use of dispersants as well as the efforts of Peeves the Dog have reduced the buoyancy of Ms. Wooding and prevented his wife’s further spread.
“We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives,” Said an emotionally exhausted Mr. Wooding. “But there’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my wife back.”
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
The Science Of Pet Peeves
Flies in summer
Accidental burning of food
Sudden holes in clothing that came out of fookin' nowhere
A distinct lack of naked pictures of the dudes I fancy
But then, maybe pet peeves are more about the level of irritation you feel over them, rather than how big or small they are. So I thought about my middle ground, my medium, low level hum of botheration, and came up with this:
Films that release in America, then take one hundred years to come out over here.
By God that's irritating! Far more irritating than flies in summer, but not as rage-inducing as random arseholes. And by that I do not, of course, mean sudden bumholes appearing in front of your face, to do some kind of bumhole dance. You may have thought I meant that, being an erotic romance writer, but I did not.
I just said it because it sounded like I meant that, and then I did a big silly laugh.
But I digress. Where was I? Oh yeah. Stupid film companies that release their stupid films stupidly late everywhere else. So that by the time it crawls its way over here, no-one's talking about it anymore, I've stopped caring and don't want to see it thirty times, and on top of all this, I'm cross in the perfect amount of pet peeved way.
And then I realise that this is primarily a blog where people talk about writing, so I've attempted to apply this impeccable, wholly scientific logic to writing:
Publishers treating their authors like dirt? So much rage it makes me black out, briefly.
Getting stuck at an awkward bit in a story, and not knowing where to take it next? Too small. Passes by quick, usually.
But the relentlessly empty inbox, that taunts me day and night? Ah...just right.
Monday, August 16, 2010
There Are Worse Things I Could Do
My apologies to Rizzo. The worst thing she could have done is pull a Sandy and change her identity for a man too cowardly to admit he liked her. (If the names don't strike a bell, I'm talking about the musical Grease.) It drives me nuts when women are told through books and movies that they have to do that to get their man. Screw him. Move on to someone with balls. (Or better yet, someone without balls. In lesbian stories, this obliteration of self doesn't seem to happen. Quite the opposite.) Clichés in general are bad enough, and seem to get worse in erotica, but everyone should know that by now, so I decided that wasn't the best way to tackle this topic.
Then I thought about writers behaving badly (to other writers, readers, and publishers), but that’s not terribly interesting except in a ‘car wreck at the side of the freeway’ way, where you get a little thrill out of the quick peek you get and then drive on, grateful that you’re not entangled in the glorious ego splatter that everyone is gawking at.
Slipping into a state of complete pettiness, I was tempted to snark about how unfair it is that I don’t write boring novels that literary critics will fawn over. But that falls under my second peeve, doesn’t it? While it might be all the rage for erotica characters to have flashing emerald eyes (one might even call it a cliché), the green-eyed monster isn’t flattering on anyone.
As long as I’m talking about things I do that I don’t like, here are a few others:
Occasionally, I indulge in genre snobbery. That’s bashing another genre for it’s perceived – and sometimes real – shortfalls. Theodore Sturgeon said that 90% of everything is crap, which means it’s possible to read a couple books in a genre and only see the crap. That’s not exactly a fair basis to judge something on, especially when it’s compared to the 10% of excellent stuff in a different genre. Yet yesterday, I witnessed an astonishing piece of dismissive sniffery of another genre (not romance, go figure) on an erotica writer's list. You’d think erotica writers, including me, would be more forgiving of the 90% rule, and I do try, but yeah, it happens.
Every time another writer posts announces a sale or a book release, I get depressed for a moment. When I say congrats, I mean it, because I am happy for them. It’s me that I’m disgruntled at. My output has never been high, and I should just learn to live with that.
I have crutches. Not actual crutches that help me to walk, but writer’s crutches. I wish I’d learn new, better ways to describe things. Oh – and I keep making the same damn typos. Form instead of from, prefect instead of perfect. Plus, I have this terrible habit of cruising around Face Book and Twitter when I should be writing or reading.
Of all those things, there isn’t one I’d call a pet peeve though. It’s not as if I’d slap a collar on one of my faults and take it for a nice walk. They’re more like feral peeves. But I forgive myself for those slips, because I figure that there are worse things I could do. Like start sentences with conjunctions, or use incomplete ones.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
By Lisabet Sarai
This week, Michelle has asked us to talk about our pet peeves. Now, I'm a pretty easy-going person. “Live and let live” is my motto (along with “Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n Roll”). It wasn't that easy for me to come up with anything at all that consistently annoys me.
Then I began grading my students' quizzes and it hit me. What really burns me? People who don't follow instructions.
On this particular quiz, I asked an easy question: which problem were you assigned for your term project? The class had been broken up into five groups, and I was trying to evaluate whether they were in fact working on their projects. Then, just to make sure the students understood, I told them, while they were taking the quiz, “The answer to this question should be one of the following five alternatives”. Then I listed the alternatives – one or two words each.
At least half a dozen papers had answers that had nothing to do with the question. Grr! Where were those kids when I practically gave them the answer?
On my blog Beyond Romance, I host guests twice a week. I have a standard set of instructions that I send my guests when I remind them about their posts a week or so beforehand. The basics are:
Send as RTF or text, not as a Word .doc file.
Keep the length between 500 and 2000 words.
Include your links and a short bio.
Include a small cover image (200x300 or similar)
Write about some topic that will interest readers rather than just providing a blurb and excerpt.
Sometimes I wonder why I bother. About half the time people send me .doc files. I've gotten posts as short as 300 words and as long as 3000. At least once a month I get a post that's nothing but promo. I have nothing against promo, you understand, but blog readers don't seem to find that sort of post very interesting.
Like I said, I'm pretty laid back. I don't get into a huff about these people, but I will admit to feeling a twinge of annoyance. And I won't ask them back.
I've had similar problems when I've edited anthologies. I will say that the situation seems to be improving but when I edited Sacred Exchange, I might as well have not published any submission instructions at all. I asked for double-spaced, 12 point type. For that collection, we allowed paper submissions as well as electronic (this was back in 2002 or so). RTF or text only for electronic submissions. Standard list of information to be provided about the author.
You would not believe some of the submissions I received, including electronic submissions full of garbage characters, .doc files, complete lack of author contact information, stories typed on paper bags...okay, I'm exaggerating, but not much. I didn't get upset. No, I was relaxed even then. But I did toss some submissions without even reading them. Hell, I literally couldn't read them!
In addition to teaching, I also develop software. I've written a number of software user manuals. It's a difficult task, providing instructions to someone whose background and knowledge you can only imagine. I put a great deal of thought into the organization of topics, the logical connections between sections, the vocabulary I choose, even the grammatical structures I employ. Simplicity and clarity are the primary goals in this sort of writing endeavor.
It doesn't matter how much effort goes into a manual, though. I've still fielded questions from clueless users who somehow can't seem to follow the instructions that are right there, on page 37, in plain English, black and white with color diagrams...
Sigh. I know that Kathleen at least will be familiar with the acronym “RTFM”. Read the Effing Manual, people. Read my instructions, class. Read my email, authors. I don't write these things just to amuse myself, you know. I could be writing erotica, which is much more fun.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Janine Ashbless: An Appreciation of Macho Sluts by Pat Califia
This book was the door to a new world. And, given that most of the stories are set in an American landscape of leather bars and gay clubs peopled by aggressive knife-wielding lesbians, it was a world so alien to me it might as well have been in another galaxy. I didn’t even know what Crisco was, for crying out loud – though the characters used it in large quantities and I gathered from the context that it was slippery. Heh.
I had a lot to learn.
Macho Sluts is a collection of eight short stories/novellas, all of them lesbian/gay and all but one at the deep end of the BDSM scene. There’s a Victorian love-triangle, a vampire tale, a M/M psychodrama, a story about a woman picked up and put through hell by 3 male cops, a slave-initiation by seven tops, and a science-fiction story set in a dystopian matriarchal future(!). Whipping, fisting, slaves, enemas, incest ... Even now, re-reading, I am struck by how edgy and controversial some of them are. Of course, back then I had no genre standard to compare them to: I just knew they were brilliantly written. And that the author was fiercely intelligent - even though there isn’t the faintest flavour of that “literary erotica” that so bores and frustrates me. And that the book challenged me to reconsider all my sexual-political-feminist assumptions, and yet had a pure integrity all of its own.
And that the foreword alone was such an extraordinary rallying cry for sexuality, and not just LGBT and BDSM sexuality but for everyone who wants to read a dirty book or look at porn, that it had changed me forever. If you are a writer of erotica, you should read that foreword.
Oh yeah, and I should mention that it’s hot as hell! But it’s not the hotness that really inspired me ... after all, even a rubbishy letter in a skin mag can be hot, in an ephemeral manner. It’s that the stories were beautifully crafted and full of insight about their characters, and that even though the tales were all about sex, they were not the rubbish that we assumed then that smut must be.
So when I started writing, this book was my model. I didn’t worry myself about what was allowed and what wasn’t, in erotica. I didn’t write “what there was a market for” or even “what women wanted.” I just assumed that if the stories were good enough, that would be all that mattered. That I could write about anything that turned me on (dragon-sex included) and that the stories would speak for themselves. My naivety makes me laugh now – and yet it worked.
That friend back then had no idea how much I did need Macho Sluts – or the effect it would have on the rest of my career and life.
Friday, August 13, 2010
the Good, the Bad, and the What the F*** Were They Thinking!
My evolution to writing erotica came about a bit differently. It wasn't the novels that hooked me. It was the short stories. Some of which were kick-ass good, others were truly awful, and some, those special few, all I could do was sit and stare at the scream wondering what the f*** the author was thinking.
Like Ash, there were many times I thought to myself, goodness I can do better than that. Although, I never had a dog that could do better. A cat, maybe. If the birds got loose and danced on the keyboard, possibly. But nope, no talented dogs. So it was all up to me!
Then there were the authors that were so d*mn good I almost didn't try. You know the ones ... You read their stories, and they just flow so well, and you get so wrapped up in them, you're hot and aroused and don't want to take any time to do anything about it, because the story is just so good!
But the ones that truly got me going were the ones where after reading the story I had one of those moments were I could actually feel brain cells dying. Not because the writing was so bad (although the ones that started out: my name's ____________ and I have _______ sized breasts. I have a tiny waist and long legs, and my boobs just bounce when I go running - sucked!), but because I couldn't grasp how they made the mistakes they did.
For example: the location of the clit, the location of the G-spot, the prostate and women, which way legs bend, how far a human being can twist their head (we are NOT owls for crying out loud!), the location of the anus in relation to the balls/ho-ha, and oh so many other things ...
Those were the stories that drove me to seek out the good on the internet, to start a website to showcase the good, and to ultimately try my hand at writing my own stories.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Celebrating the Bad
I’ve always been of the opinion that there are two types of writer who inspire others: the good and the bad. As has been mentioned this week on the Grip, there are the successful and talented authors, such as Portia da Costa, Erica Jong and Stephanie Copeland and many, many others. These writers inspire us because we read their work and think, “I wonder if I could write something as good as that?”
I can’t say anything about this calibre of writer that hasn’t already been said this week on the Grip. The good are inspirational. Thank you good writers.
But they’re not the only kind of inspirational.
Personally, I want to celebrate the bad writers. I want to celebrate those authors who inspire us because we read their work and think, “That was f***ing awful! I can write better than that. My dog’s written better than that when it stood on the PC keyboard trying to reach a biscuit I’d left near the monitor.”
Erotica is one of the hardest genres to write. To be effective a writer needs to build up an anticipation of sexual arousal whilst developing the narrative’s character and plot. The writer needs to use a vocabulary that does not send the reader rushing to the dictionary every other sentence, yet needs to offer all the familiar challenges that come with reading engaging fiction. The writer has to maintain a delicate balance of tension, credibility, fantasy and so many other things...
I mention this because I appreciate it’s easy to go wrong with one or more of these strands. But sometimes an author can take things in such a bad direction it becomes laughably bad.
As a reviewer I’ve been exposed to some of the best erotic fiction that’s ever reached the shelves. I can appreciate the art form when it’s stylishly executed. Without wishing to embarrass any of my fellow Grippers, I could cite stories from all of them (and the majority of our guest bloggers) that show how well written erotica can work.
But we praise the good often enough on here. Let’s take a moment to say thank you to the adverbially challenged wannabes who bring our genre into disrepute. To start with, let’s celebrate those writers who think the word ‘tits’ is an erotic and evocative descriptor.
He looked at her tits. She had nice tits. He put his hand on her tits. “You have nice tits, baby,” he said. “Yeah,” she agreed. “I have nice tits. Why don’t you put your hand on my tits some more.”
OK. I’ve not seen it done to that extent in any published fiction. But I’ve seen stuff that’s been equally clumsy.
I’ve also seen writing that’s been produced by men who think women are a different species from human: an alien stereotype.
“That was great sex,” she told him. “And now I want to go shopping.”
“Of course you do,” he agreed. She was a woman. She loved shopping.
“Yes. I’m a woman and I love shopping. I think I’ll buy shoes.”
There is an art to writing erotica.
More importantly, appreciating well-written erotica will always be a subjective experience. What I find arousing could leave you cold. Similarly: what you think is hot, could be the stuff I think unpublishable.
So I want to toast those abysmal writers who make us pour out good words in response to their bad ones. If appreciation is subjective, I could be inspiring a disgruntled reader right now. Someone could be reading this blog, picking up a pen, and thinking: “I know I can do better than that!”
And I don’t doubt that they’re right.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Making the Scene at ERWA
Here in the Barnes and Noble at Augusta Mall, I usually pick the same little table near the back of the Starbucks. They’re lined up pretty deep at the coffee bar because it’s 100 goddamn degrees outside and everybody is ordering their woo-woo coffee drinks on ice. So I have to wait. I set up shop on my favorite little table and go over to the story anthologies section to scan the shelves while my laptop warms up. They have this book I’ve been snacking on, “Alison’s Wonderland” edited by (natch) Allison Wonderland. I wonder if that’s her real name.
I scan through the contents page of Allison’s Wonderland to see who’s on the bill. I don’t know anybody. It’s not my Scene. The Allison’s Wonderland book represents a certain kind of erotica, sort of the equivalent of Top Forty radio. It’s commercial erotica, sexy, descriptive, slickly produced but not too challenging. But it does have a really cool cover. When I scan through it I recall a discouraging observation in Han Li Thorn’s “Conflicting Desires: Notes on The Craft of Writing Erotic Stories” where he lets us in on the fact bookstore chains order erotic books based entirely on cover appeal with no interest in literary content or the authors sales record. Shucks. So that’s one end of the erotica rainbow, but what I’ve discovered is there is this other end. The literary end. It represents a Scene, different from the slick commercial Penthouse, Alison Wonderland “He Fucked Her Ass Good” Scene, or the Ellora’s Cave and Whisky Creek erotic romance Scene. These different groups represent different places to inhabit on the spectrum of naughty reading, just as back in the Rock Era (now they have a historic name for it) of the ‘60s, rock had different Scenes in different parts of the country. There was the British Invasion scene. The East Coast Scene. The Chicago Blues scene. The Southern Rock Scene and the San Francisco Scene. What I observe as I get to know this genre a little better is that erotic writing very definitely falls into distinct schools or “Scenes”. People in these Scenes know each other.
Now by habit when I pick up a book of erotic stories the first place I go is the contents page, not to scan the titles but the authors. I want to see if there’s anyone there I know. I want to check out - The Scene. Lisabet is the one I see the most often, she’s been at this for many, many years and she knows the job. After her I often see Kathleen Bradeen’s name go by, then Jean Roberta and D L King who seems to write vampire stories and lesbian stories, and occasionally Remittance Girl, though she doesn’t often submit her stuff to publishers for philosophical reasons. I love to see their names. Like the guy in Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, I want to accost somebody and shout “I know these people!” I feel like we’re part of a literary Scene, like the expatriates in Paris in the 1920s. That’s worth explaining.
These days my kid and I have been re-discovering Jefferson Airplane and I’ve begun to understand more about what a Scene is. When I was a high schooler in 1970 I took a girl to see the Grateful Dead at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. That was probably one of the last shows they did with their revered keyboard player Pig Pen before he kicked the bucket from alcohol poisoning. I didn’t know anything about the Dead, up till then I’d thought they were a biker gang, but I liked the girl and she liked the Dead, which is how these things work. At the time I didn’t think they were that great. They seemed stiff and uncomfortable. Kind of lost. The Grateful Dead weren’t at their best in a small Shakespearean playhouse where the audience of strangers sat quietly lamb-like in plush seats being fans. The Dead and the Airplane were elements of a much larger Scene, and to really hear what they were capable of, you had to see them in their natural habitat in San Francisco at the Family Dog or Winterland. Guitar cases scattered on the stage. Beer bottles parked on top of stacked amplifiers, smoldering cigarettes tucked inside tuning pegs, high as a hard boiled weasel on god-knows-what, surrounded on all sides by a circled crowd of familiar people who had known them as friends for years– people who were not particularly their fans, people who were not especially there to see them. These people dancing and boogying along – they were part of the Scene. If the Airplane was playing at the Family Dog tonight, well, that was just a plus. But the band didn’t matter, they were just the entertainment. Being there, being part of the Scene was what mattered. It was a life style. On YouTube when you see the Airplane and the Dead and even Santana, all together on the same stage at the Family Dog, that’s a very different experience than seeing the Dead at the dignified little Guthrie. Because when you’re on the Scene, you’re among family.
On the anthology shelf next to Alison’s Wonderland, is the Mammoth Book of New Erotica VOL 7. I’m in VOL 8 with “An Early Winter Train”, but Barnes and Noble never has it on the shelf. I cruise through the contents of 7 and they’re there – my people. My Scene. My band buddies. My blog mates. Rose B Thorny, Mike Kimera, Maxim Jakubowski; they’re all there. They were all my guests here at OGG, the literary equivalent of a jam session. Ashley Lister is there. Lisabet is there. M. Christian. Robert Buckley. All veterans of the ERWA (Erotica Readers and Writers Association) Scene, the erotica equivalent of ‘60s San Francisco. Next to it is Best of the Best of Women’s erotica VOL 2. ERWA veteran Kathleen Bradeen is in there. Its Winterland. It’s the Fillmore. It’s a Night at The Family Dog and Jack Casady/Ashley is shaking the dance floor with his thundering Guild Starfire bass. Grace Slick/Lisabet is yelling at the top of her Helluva Voice and burning the place down. Its Jorma Kaukonen/Bradeen and Carlos Santana/Charlotte-Michelle dueling Fender Stratocasters like a knife fight, and Jerry Garcia/Sanchez-Garcia watching and strumming the rhythm, waiting his turn to jump in while three Mexicans go ape-shit, sweat flying off their arms, slapping their conga drums as if they’re fighting off bees.
When I see these names in erotica anthologies I feel like I’m part of this ongoing Scene, not a big part but a substantial part. I’m there. In the Jam. On the Stage. These writers in the Mammoth and Coming Together books, they know me, some of them know my stuff. My sound. I’m so proud of that. I come from a background of no formal education, never having been around writers or academics in my life. A long strange life on the road. Knowing these writers and being known by them is a thrill and an inspiration for me. Ever and always. Love live The Scene.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
However, there's one other work of erotica that inspired me, but in a slightly different way. It's by an author that no-one's ever heard of, and it's a book that nobody seems to care for or remember. It's possibly the strangest book that Black Lace ever published:
Dreamers In Time, by Sarah Copeland.
If you've spent any time at my blog, you've probably heard me mention it before. It influenced me in a big way, though I didn't realise until recently just how big the influence was. Because of course recently-very recently-I've had one thing accepted and another thing published that feature both sex and sci-fi very prominently.
And apparently, I love sex when mixed with sci-fi. The mad, grimacy-faced hand clutching sex in Terminator? I love that. Saffron accosting Mal in Firefly? LOVE. Hell, I'll even take Sharon Stone coming on to Arnold Schwarznegger in Total Recall.
That's how much I like a sex sci-fi combo.
And very few books do it better, for me, than Dreamers In Time by Sarah Copeland. I don't even know who she is! She's probably secretly some mega famous author, who writes tortured books about people dying, or summat. Her who wrote The Lovely Bones, maybe. But either way I love Dreamers In Time, both for its sci-fi concept which I adore no matter how cheesy people find it-its set in a future world where people have forgotten what sex is-and for its gorgeous, gleeful sex scenes.
Dreamers In Time is the reason I wrote Past Pleasures. Because I love, love sci-fi concepts that put insane obstacles in front of people, or remove all obstacles in some big dumb sex pollen-y way. I love the idea of a future world where everything is wildly different, and especially with regards to sex. Only in my future world it's not that sex doesn't exist, exactly...more that women don't.
And then a woman appears. And two mega hot dudes obviously don't know what to do with her weird woman's body and oh.
Oh, I had fun writing it. Thank you, for wiring me in such a way that I have fun with sexy sci-fi, Dreamers In Time. Thank you for being awesome. I hope one day I can find where Sarah Copeland went- I've thanked Portia, and I've thanked Emma Holly.
I'd like to thank you, too.
P.S. If you'd like to see my version of sexy sci-fi with your own peepers, it's out now from Total-E-Bound:
ETA: Oh, and I totally forgot! You can win a copy on my blog! Just comment here, to get your name in the hat: http://themightycharlottestein.blogspot.com/2010/08/new-release-past-pleasures.html
Monday, August 9, 2010
What Falls Away
Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying opened up a world for me. Not so much the sex, but the other things that she talked about. Being raised in a conservative home, we never talked about our bodies. Maybe Fear of Flying came into my hands at the right time. I was ready to move into a different point of view on myself and there it was, a book that openly talked about everything, as if normal people didn’t desperately cling to secrets that everyone knew about anyway. Burdens came off my soul.
Soon after that I decided to read all the classics of literature. I was eighteen. I read fast. I figured I’d be done by the time I was twenty-one. (Cue rueful laughter) What I learned from “great” literary fiction was that sex was joyless and only lead to misery and long, quiet suffocation in an upper middle class white neighborhood. Since there was no way I could afford the Hamptons, and wouldn’t have lived with those spiritual zombies anyway, I was free from that fate. Whew! Then I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being. While it’s also about the crushing weight of moral responsibility people force themselves to endure, the sex, at least, was joyful. It was also slightly kinky. I was born kink, but I never suspected others were the same way. Another secret unlocked, another burden lifted.
While classic literary fiction can teach a writer a lot about exquisitely depicting prolonged longing, it always cheats on the delivery. I guess that’s supposed to be the point, but really, doesn’t anyone ever get to be happy? Tom Robbins’ Sometimes Even Cowgirls Get the Blues set me on the right path. Genre fiction allowed people to enjoy sex. How could I have forgotten what Fear of Flying did for me? That’s when I set out to find books that celebrated sexuality, and how I ended up Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy. Now there was an eye opener. Not just people enjoying sex, but every page was drenched in it.
You’d have to go back to that time to understand the huge impact of the Sleeping Beauty books. Suddenly, erotica could be published by a major publisher and be shelved beside other literary fiction instead of hidden in the back shelves of the store - if they were ever stocked at all. Women, who supposedly had no interest in sex, were reading it at the beach and squirming a bit against the sand. It was discussed on air by the morning hosts of my radio station. Sure, Story of O and Anis Nin’s collections were around, but nothing brought erotica into the mainstream like Sleeping Beauty. With that new openness, the final restraints were off me, but I've noticed the trend of literary writers such as Paulo Coelho embracing a more positive view of sex and sexuality. What falls away with time, success, and powerful voices, is useless shame, secrecy and fear. That's what I find inspiring.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
By Lisabet Sarai
Charlotte's topic for this week, “Inspirational Erotica”, took me aback for a moment. I mean, is that like “Inspirational Romance” (aka “Christian Romance”)? Are we talking about finding God in the process of finding one's soul mate? That actually sounded a bit like an extension of last week's topic.
However, it soon became clear that our dear Ms. Stein was talking about literary inspiration—what authors or books inspired us to write erotica or erotic romance. That's a particularly easy topic for me since it was an encounter with a single novel and novelist that set me on the erotica publishing path.
I've always loved to write. I had written private sexual fantasies as gifts for several lovers. However, I never really thought about trying to publish my nasty little tales until I read Portia da Costa's Black Lace title, Gemini Heat. That book was re-released this year in a “15th Anniversary Edition”, labeled as “erotic romance”, but back then Black Lace called what they published “erotica for women, written by women”.
Gemini Heat follows the sexual adventures of identical twin sisters Deanna and Delia as they are led along ever more perverted paths by mysterious dominant Jackson de Guile. The story begins with a bang (so to speak) at an erotic art exhibition, attended by Deanna who is pretending to be Delia. Jake (as he calls himself) comes up behind her as she is contemplating (and reacting to) an explicit painting, and soon has her wet and ready to agree to pretty much anything. Although she's an assertive, modern woman, she finds herself unable to disobey the salacious suggestions of the mysterious stranger. When Delia meets Jake, she has a similar reaction. The two sisters alternate in increasingly intense encounters, breaking taboo after taboo. It's never clear whether Jake realizes there are two women named “Dee”, though he's sufficiently devious, not to mention sexually expert, that he must suspect something.
Portia da Costa's book was one of the sexiest things I'd ever read. It was intelligent, imaginative and wonderfully varied—just what I enjoy. Although the D/s subtext persists throughout the story, the novel is a delicious smorgasbord of sexual delights. It includes group sex, lesbian sex, public sex, anal sex, bondage, flogging...pretty much anything that I could imagine (back then, at least!) But it was the focus on the emotions of the twins that ultimately made the book effective. Ms. da Costa really excels at bringing her readers into the minds of her characters. Having experienced a D/s initiation myself, I strongly identified with Deanna and Delia.
After I'd finished reading Gemini Heat (and my pulse rate had settled back to normal), I started thinking. I'll bet I could write a book like that. An American, I'd never heard of the British Black Lace imprint before. In those days, they included a questionnaire at the back of each book, asking readers what kind of settings, themes and activities they'd like to see in their erotic reading. Just perusing the survey gave me ideas.
So I began working on my first novel, Raw Silk, with Gemini Heat as a model and Black Lace as my target publisher. I plumbed my own fantasies and experiences with D/s in creating Kate O'Neill, Gregory Marshall and Somtow Rajchitraprasong. When I had three chapters and a synopsis, I submitted a proposal to Black Lace. (In those days, that meant printing out the manuscript and sending it airmail from the U.S. to the U.K.) Then I put the book aside while I waited for a response.
Three to four weeks later I received a postcard from Black Lace, basically a form letter confirming receipt of my manuscript. The card warned that due to the number of submissions to the imprint, I should not expect to hear anything for at least two to three months. I shrugged, filed the card, and moved on to other things. I'd sent the proposal as something of a lark anyway.
Exactly two days after I got the postal acknowledgment, I received an email from the editor of the Black Lace imprint, offering me a contract and wanting to know when the book would be finished. Despite my confidence that I could write something like Gemini Heat, I was overwhelmed. When would I be able to submit the full novel? I had no idea. I'd never written a novel before.
Just look at what Portia da Costa got me into! Twelve years, six novels and dozens of short stories later, I'm still astonished at how a chance encounter with a book steered my life in such a different direction.
I still love her writing, by the way. If you've never read any of her work, I recommend Gemini Heat first, and then the more recent Entertaining Mr. Stone. One of the thrills of becoming a published author has been getting to know Portia, at least electronically. We share a variety of interests including a deep love of felines. We send each other Christmas cards every year, and I've vowed that someday, I'm going to meet her in person (and hopefully, on the same trip, my esteemed colleague and co-Gripper Ashley Lister).
Until then, all I can say is: thanks! It's difficult for me to imagine how different my life might have been if I hadn't picked up that dog-eared copy of her book from the book swap shelf at our Istanbul hotel. I'm sure that the world could have survived very well had Lisabet Sarai never been “born”. But I'd sure miss her.