Saturday, April 30, 2011
Happiness. It's crazy, I tell you.
Friday, April 29, 2011
All Good Things ...
Now, for my last post as a regular!
My most memorable moment of insanity resulted in marriage. : )
The day I met my husband, Jan 1st 1996, I was hung over. I was also 17. My older sister had allowed me to drink some champagne for New Year's eve, provided it was diluted with juice, and I had the worst hang-over of my life. Give me straight vodka any day over that crap.
Anyways, he brought over a former friend of mine, who needed my advice. I hated her because she had betrayed me, but at the same time, I was a sucker and could never turn away someone in pain. And since she had been gang banged at a party where she was given a ruffie, and was knocked up from it, she was in pain.
So against my better judgement, I invited her, her boyfriend, and the friend of her boyfriend who had driven them to my house inside.
While we were talking, we went downstairs and started playing pool. I ended up kissing the friend who did the driving, and well, gropping him before we kissed. What can I say - I suck at pool and he didn't, so I needed the distraction.
That was completely out of character for me, and had I not been hung-over, I probably never would have been so daring. As it was, my head hurt just enough that I didn't give a shit what anyone thought. I just wanted to scoop out my eyes with a ice cream spoon, and then drown myself in liquid tylenol.
Some how, that crazy day, my husband saw something in me - normally quiet, and painfully shy me - that sparked his interest and he was able to hang in there when I retreated into my 'oh hell what did I do' shell. We started dating, and he helped me to see that having a wild side, in moderation, wasn't such a bad thing. Given that he was my first boyfriend after having had my trust abused in the worst possible way by my former boyfriend, it took a crap ton of patience for him to get to see that wild me again. For me to embrace those moments of insanity.
I still have them from time to time. Like that moment in the strip club ...
Well, that's my moment of insanity. : ) I will miss you all, and I do so hope to catch you around from time to time.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Hot Water and Cold Steel
My husband Pepple (named for a legendary Nigerian king of the Victorian Age, called “Pepper” by English colonial administrators) wants me to tell my best friend she is no longer welcome in my house. Pepple has been yelling the walls down for four days, demanding that I become the loyal wife he deserves. He claims that my friendship with Joan is interfering with our marriage.
He claims that Joan is a dangerous “free woman.” He wants me to stop behaving like a nymphomaniac with men and a lesbian with Joan.
I can barely remember the last time I had sex. It was with Pepple, before I had the baby.
The sound of a baby’s cry has competed with a man’s roar for the last four days. The milk in my breasts has dried up. I hope I won’t run out of formula while he is keeping me trapped in the house. Little Bird, please calm down. I’ll feed you in a minute.
“I did. She went to a dentist’s appointment.”
“That’s a lie. Call her.”
“The receptionist will just tell me the same thing again. She’s not in the office.”
Joan and I were English majors together. Now she has a job in local government, writing speeches for the Premier of Saskatchewan. She has a good income with benefits. She is not the servant of King Pepper.
Water boils furiously in a pot on the stove. “I have to make formula to feed the baby.”
Pepple looks as if steam will start pouring out of his ears. He grabs the handles of the pot with his bare hands and throws hot water on the kitchen floor. “Call her!”
I am facing him in the kitchen, near a drawer full of knives. In less time than it takes to tell, I have pulled open the drawer, grabbed a butcher knife and held it to his throat while holding him in place with my left fist in his nappy hair. My knuckles are against his scalp. He can only escape my grip by leaving much of his hair with me as a souvenir.
“Shut up.” That’s me talking: Queen Salt the evil witch. My knife speaks louder than my voice.
The silence is both shocking and soothing. After a long moment, he speaks quietly.
“Jeanie, give me the knife.”
“I won’t hurt you with it, but I can’t let you have it. You need to shut up and let me feed the baby.”
“Give me the knife.” We are wrestling for it. With shared amazement, we both watch my iron hand holding the knife as he tries to loosen my grip.
“I’ll throw it on the floor.” He sounds shaken and sober. He probably thinks I’m really a madwoman, driven to irrational violence by some post-natal hormone imbalance. I know he will never take responsibility for his own behaviour. What man in his place would?
I really don’t want to hurt him. My grip loosens just a bit, and he pulls the knife from my fingers with the strength of desperation. He throws the knife into a corner, where it spins on the linoleum.
The immediate crisis is past. Neither of us is bleeding to death, or waiting to be taken away in handcuffs.
I know I acted recklessly. When Pepple tells everyone we know what I did to him, he will be told that human mothers are not much different from wolves and bears. He will be reminded that hormones trump reason.
But never again will the pacifists in my life be able to persuade me that violence doesn’t work.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Tat Tvam Asi
I set my three ring notebook down, open to a blank page, and my pencil on top. I reach into my book bag and take out a small wooden box I bought in a dime store in Puerto Rico for a couple bucks. Its exactly the size of a tall deck of cards.
I open the box, and tip out the cards in my palm and set the box next to my notebook. I’ve never been able to shuffle cards very well. I’m not a card player. Except these cards, which are special. Real special. I’ve carried these cards all over the world for the last thirty years. If there is such a thing as a vibration, mine is in these tall lanky, mildew smelling cards.
I split the deck, two stacks, lace them together, awkwardly shuffle them into a single stack. Tap the deck on the little table. Split the deck and do it again. I look at the cards and whisper “Where am I?” at them. They’ll understand.
I’m learning a language. The language of the unconscious. The language of the Found.
After a klutzy reshuffling again, I tamp the deck against the table, nice and neat and hold them in my left hand as I lift off a third of the cards, and put that pile face down on the table. Then again. Then the last. Three stacks, right to left.
“Shekinnah.” I whisper, to remind myself of what I’m trying to do.
Keeping my thoughts still, I lift off the top card on the right stack. “Judgement”, inverted. Then the middle stack. “The Magician” upright. Then the left stack. The “Knight of Wands”. I close my eyes and withdraw into myself.
Judgement. Malkuth to Hod. Inverted, turned inward. The path from the world into the astral, into the afterlife, the world of creation and thought, turned introspectively upon itself.
The Magician. Binah to Kether, the ultimate feminine of God to the field of pure unbounded Being.
The Knight of Wands. Tiphareth in Atziluth. The image of impetuous youth in the world of pure spirit.
I am standing at the table. The Knight with the budding staff in his hand turns to me. On the table is a sword, a magic wand, a chalice of water and a coin. In my hand I’m holding a candle that burns at both ends. The young man on the horse leans in and I know him. The small youthful face with the intense eyes of the fanatic, the downy chin beard and the wire glasses. The young man at the beginning of our journey. Myself, the not quite old man at the end. “Did you find Him?” he says.
“What makes you so sure it’s a Him?”
“So you know! You did find Him! Are you perfect? Will we be perfect?”
“I found something,” I say, “I’m pretty sure its true. But its not all good news. You won’t like some of it. That’s usually how you can tell when its true.”
I hold out my hand. “It’ll cost you.” Reluctantly, he hands over his staff. I put it on my table and pick up the sword. “Tipareth in Atziluth.” I whisper to myself. “Here.” He takes the sword and his armor darkens slightly. “Tiphareth in Yetzirah.” I whisper.
“Tell me! Did you find God?”
I put his staff on my table and speak a word – “Tat tvam asi.” The young man’s eyes widen behind his wire glasses. "I am That. Thou Art That. All This is That."
I look up from the cards, open my eyes. The barrista girl is leaning over the cash register with my coffee, looking around for the dumpy fart with the beard. I put the notebook over the cards to hide my weirdness and go to get my coffee.
When I get back to my little table the one next to me is occupied now by a conservatively dressed Mennonite woman and her little daughter. Shit. I’ll have to wait.
Forty years past, riding on a bus from College Park to downtown Atlanta with my best friend and the great teacher of my life, DeEtta. There was no purpose except it was a sunny day and we were bored and she packed up her little daughter Cathy and we just rode to enjoy the day, my scholarly, buxom, de facto elder sister, and her obtuse but potentially bright de facto little brother. On the way we talked about the novel she’d borrowed to me, “The Last Temptation of Christ” by Nikos Kazanzakis. I’d expressed my views that this book had moved me deeply because Jesus was such a mystery to me. I was sure that he had come with a great message but religion had distorted it. We walked around Peachtree and ducked into a bookstore for awhile.
“Come here,” she called. She was holding out a thin yellow paperback, not much thicker than a pamphlet. It was “The Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta” by Swami Prabavananda. This was a time when the Beatles had turned America on to eastern religion, and hippie culture was rife as bed bugs with ambitious gurus. By those standards Prabhavananda was an honest man. A traditional Hindu monk with no agenda to sell. Only a very unique interpretation of the gospel of Christ.
Of all the books before or since, this little book, not much more than a hundred pages profoundly changed the course of my life more than any other single work.
It was my first encounter with the world view of mysticism and it was a revelation that shook me to my bones. It was the first time I had heard the view that the destiny of man was direct union with God. Not worship. Not Heaven. Union.
None of this was new to DeEtta, who had studied world religions on her own and had a working knowledge of Vedanta. But even she was startled by the change in me this little book made. It may be the best evidence I have for reincarnation, if there is such a thing. These exotic ideas were almost like the remembrance of things forgot. Picking up a way of looking at the world that had only been left aside for awhile, maybe by death.
I became voracious for enlightenment. I was determined to accomplish this spiritual feat in my lifetime, no matter what the cost. I attended a yoga class, which was a rare thing in 1972. I asked the teacher how I could learn about past lives and he steered me to a psychic named Paul Neary. Neary gave me two psychic readings. He consulted “The Book of the Akashic while in a trance and spoke to me of my various past lives and told me what my future would be in this life with what would later prove to be startlingly accurate. He said that I was in fact not a human being, but had originated in a different, alien biosphere, and had come to this world to evolve long ago. He said DeEtta had been my mother in a recent past life and we had been very close. When I told her these things later she laughed and shrieked “I gave birth to a space alien!” I still miss her.
Neary said that the next year, 1973, would be the year of the most profound changes in my life. My aura would come into the color of yellow and I would find my path.
A year later, almost to the day I met a young man in a coffee house near the university of Minnesota. He was inviting people to lectures about God. I gave him my phone number and forgot about it. A few weeks later a young woman named Susan was vacuuming the carpet and a piece of paper got stuck in the nozzle of the worn out vacuum cleaner and stuck. It was my phone number. Our destiny hangs on such small things as the weak suction of an old vacuum cleaner. She called me. I studied. I joined. It is the single decision I have had the most cause to regret and also to wonder over. It was my moment of insanity on which the rest of my life was built. And yet it hasn’t turned out that badly.
I look back, and ask myself, if I had it to do over again, would I have joined that religion. Absolutely not. And yet. And yet so much goodness, so much love, passionate spirituality, adventures, travels and experiences came from the nozzle of that old vacuum cleaner, I cannot imagine my life any other way. Yet I could not go that way, ever again. I wouldn’t even know how. And it would not be honoring myself to simply repeat the past. You always have to begin something new. The worst way to honor your spirit is to walk in your own footsteps.
I lift up the notebook, and look at the cards. Judgment, turned within. The Magician and the brash young man in armor. I pack up my cards and put them back in the wooden box. I could lecture the young man of forty years ago, about the impossibility of discovering something when you’re in a closed system, even spiritually. But it wouldn’t do any good. And besides I’d have missed so much that was truly sacred.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Madder Than Anne McCaffrey
Take last night, for example. Last night, I ate parma ham and salmon on digestive cracker thingies, wrote 6k of a novella I should have finished a month ago, put the movie Red on but didn't watch it, then watched Joy of Painting even though I've seen every episode and know Bob Ross' catchphrases off by heart ("let's beat the devil out of it" "happy little clouds" "you want me to be your boyfriend, don't you, Charlotte?"), and then I read George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books until 11am the next day.
In the back of said book, was a quote by Anne McCaffrey: "I read it until dawn!"
Yes, that's right. I'm madder than Anne McCaffrey. Anne McCaffrey only reads until dawn. I read until some bizarre time that shouldn't exist, like 11am the next day. And while I'm reading, I find myself falling in love with a character who's described as a "grotesque dwarf" and then (mainly because he's actually played by the handsome and wildly charismatic Peter Dinklage) I start, you know. Imagining our pseudo-medieval life together.
All of which is insane enough on its own. But in truth I've done insane-er things. I don't have moments. I have decades of insanity. Centuries. I've probably lived this life a thousand times before, and each one has gotten progressively weirder and more filled with stupid things.
Like shouting at some guy I shouldn't. The guy I shouldn't is probably going to beat me up, now, and even if he doesn't, I just shouted at his girlfriend too. Though in truth I never shout, I just open my mouth and say things I shouldn't (much like Tyrion from A Song of Ice and Fire), and the next thing you know I'm paying for my moment of insanity.
I pay for a lot of my moments of insanity. Like the time I decided to wear pigtails, or the time I announced to my whole high school class and all my high school "friends" that I fancied Data from Star Trek, or the time I told my boss what's what, or the time I told assorted relatives and friends what's what, or the time I picked this life and these things and thought yeah:
This is how I want to be, forever.
I'll tell you truthfully: moments of insanity almost never come out well. Usually they end up with me being metaphorically roasted alive - even the fun seeming ones like staying up for three days straight to read a book, because I'm almost inevitably going to end up blind - or maybe even literally roasted alive.
I mean my boss and that guy and some relative I hate all look pretty angry, by now. They're compiling reports about me as we speak, or failing that they're polishing the spit roast and piling the coals high.
But if it sounds like I don't love moments of insanity just because I'm about to be boiled alive, let me be clear: it's not true. The moments of insanity - however small and insane - are what make life grand. I swear to God, they are. They're what make my friend text me at 11am to ask me how come I'm up so early, then call me a nutter when I explain.
But in a good way. In a way that says they know I'm a nutter and love me for it. How long did I have to forage for friends and family for the ones who loved me all the more for my moments of insanity? A long, long time.
However, I found them in the end.
And then in the middle of one of my greatest moments of insanity - far greater than all of the other actually quite mundane stuff, like "read a book too long" - I was gifted with the greatest thing ever. In a flash of ridiculous wizardry (as though people ever really get published, as though I'm ever going to be one of them) I sent a short story off to Black Lace.
And instead of being roasted alive, I was published. Moments of insanity - they're really not as insane as you might like to think.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Have I Lost My Mind?
I've been shunned at writer's conferences when I mentioned that I wrote erotica. I've been admonished by an instructor to "stop writing trash and write something that matters." Erotic Romance writers are personally attacked because of what they write. That's why I think an erotica writer's conference is so important. Why waste your time defending your genre and yourself when you can relax and talk about writing the dreaded synopsis or how to properly bind your love slave? Maybe you're on writer's loops with other erotica writers, but that's not the same as sitting in a room full of "your kind." It's an experience not to be missed, which is why I wanted to make this conference happen.
It's typical for me to circle a problem for a long time before I commit to action. I circled this one for years. Now that I've made the plunge, there are times I look at all the work and wonder if I lost my mind. Maybe I have.
But maybe I haven't. I'm looking forward to seeing people I've only talked to via FaceBook or emails, or know by reputation, and those friends I rarely get to see. One thing is for sure - the conversation will be lively!
While I debate my level of insanity with myself, I have to mention a few people who make it bearable. Thank goodness D.L. King, James Buchanan, Jolie du Pre, and Beth Wylde are on my advisory committee. If you're going to go nuts, surround yourself with good people.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
A Very Bad Idea
What was I thinking?
Having sex with G. was a terrible idea . He was my housemate, for heaven's sake. He had a girlfriend. Meanwhile my steady lover of three years shared the same house. Alarm bells should been ringing, but I couldn't hear them. I was temporarily insane.
I can offer a million excuses. G. was tall, blond and buff, from a rich Connecticut family and studying to be a doctor. He'd been flirting with me for weeks, ever since we danced together at one of our house parties. (He was a fabulous dancer; while I was in his arms, I was in some kind of blissful trance.) My own boyfriend, J., was away at a conference, so of course I was lonely and horny. While J. was gone, it seemed that G.'s teasing only increased in intensity.
I might also place some of the blame on J., who was responsible in the first place for the fact that I shared the ramshackle three-story row house with five men. I would have preferred an apartment for just the two of us, but he didn't feel comfortable officially "living with me". A group house was less threatening, less of a statement. Yes, it was all J.'s fault, because he wasn't ready to "make a commitment".
Despite the above facts, I can't deny that I was the one who knocked on G.'s door, after a long night of TV and double entendres. He didn't come after me. Sure, he let me into his bed - what red-blooded twenty five year old guy would have turned me away? I wanted him so badly! I couldn't sleep; my fantasies kept me awake. G. broadcast a level of sexual knowledge that I found irresistible. Curiosity aligned with lust to drive me crazy.
We had a brief encounter that mostly cured me of my infatuation and left me moody and morose. The next day G.'s girlfriend came to visit. I fled to the movies and sobbed my way through Saturday Night Fever. (I still can't listen to some of those Bee Gees songs without wanting to cry.) When J. returned, I tearfully confessed my transgression. Within a month I had moved out of the house. Within two months my relationship with J. had painfully disintegrated and I was on my own. Within six months I began the BDSM affair that has so influenced my sexuality and my writing.
I'm usually a fairly rational person. Looking back on that incident, which in some sense may have changed the direction of my life, I'm reminded of the power of desire. My obsession with my sexy roommate overwhelmed my intelligence and my morality. Giving in to the selfish, arrogant man that G. turned out to be - risking a love that had sustained and nurtured me for so long - choosing a course of action that would deeply hurt the man I cared about - clearly this was an act of lunacy. I've labeled it a bad idea, but in fact it wasn't an idea at all, as much as a compulsion.
I've written about this incident before, when our topic here at the Grip was "Regrets". I can't honestly say that I regret the way my life has turned out. Would I have been happier if J. and I had stayed together? That's in some sense a meaningless question.
The point is, lust can be dangerous to your sanity. It can lead you to do things completely alien to your normal behavior. While you're under the influence, you won't even realize that you're acting crazy.
Of course, this provides a rich source of inspiration for creating erotica. But in real life? Consider yourself warned.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Never Give Up, Never Surrender
Failure… failure… There's something about that word that doesn't sit right with me, and not simply because it's a crappy, downer concept. I think what I take issue with is the permanence implied by that word—in relation to writing, anyhow. Failure implies an end. You tried, you failed, the end.
To say you've failed at an aspect of writing doesn't compute. In this business you can only fail temporarily, or in my obnoxiously cheery view, you can stall on the road to success, a momentary (and indeed inevitable) lack of momentum. Because you can only fail at getting a book out into the world by doing one or more of the following, post-rejection:
- Shove your story in a dark shame-drawer and never submit it to another publisher.
- Never work to make it better, if the rejection implied it's not "ready" yet.
- Dismiss all alternative ways to share your work (self-publishing, blog serial, etc.)
Similarly, you can only fail at writing as a job in a finite number of ways:
- Never start anything.
- Never finish anything.
- Never submit or self-publish what you do write.
To paraphrase Prince, never is a mighty long time. Unless you just dropped dead from sorrow right after a rejection, I'm not buying that you failed. Failure is never permanent, unless you go with one of the above courses of inaction. In fact, if your reaction to a rejection or a book you can't seem to finish is, "I've failed at being a writer," I'm going to suggest you're not cut out for it. Or rather, you're not cut out for it yet. Failure is something only you can sign off on. No one can declare you a failure with any authority except yourself, because failure is contingent on quitting, and that's your choice.
So if you're a writer and you're feeling the heavy, wet, mildewy duvet of failure draped upon your naturally sensitive soul, try thinking about it this way: you haven't failed, you've just yet to succeed at selling to that dream publisher, landing a certain agent, or finishing your magnum opus. The only way for a writer to fail is to permanently choose inactivity over progress. And even if you've been choosing inactivity for the past ten years, your half-finished manuscript collecting dust, you still haven't failed. You've merely stalled. And you'll get no sympathy from me. Tell me you're struggling, and I'll make you some cocoa and massage your shoulders. But tell me you're a failure…sorry, does not compute.
Cara McKenna writes smart erotica for Ellora's Cave, and red-hot romance for Samhain and Harlequin Blaze as Meg Maguire. She stalls daily but always manages to get the car moving again, often with the aid of a jump-start from one of the wonderful friends camped out alongside her in the writing ditch.
Friday, April 22, 2011
One of my former professors has this image on the door to his office. That's just his sense of humor. I used to laugh as I walked by, seeing all of the snarky cartoons that he had posted. Today, it just makes me sad - because I am getting to where I understand how the beaver must have felt. Trapped under the weight of its decisions ... knowing there is no help, and he has to get himself out or perish.
True, this isn't a real image, but the metaphor is still there. And given that I just got another "Sorry we have decided to hire someone else" phone call this morning, the topic this week is appropriate.
I wish I was the type of person where I could role with the punches, and just shrug things off. That I could accept the job wasn't meant to be, and simply keep going. I admire those people. They seem to have all their shit in gear, and know where they are going in life. Or at least, that life is only a one shot deal and we had better enjoy it while it lasts.
Unfortunatly, I suffer depression. Failure for me means a downward spiral of unending what could I have done different, where did I go wrong, why didn't I do this instead self-analysis until I want to retch. Knowing there is a pattern, you would think I could stop events from happening.
Yet, once again, I sit here feeling like an epic failure. Now don't get me wrong, I don't like pity-partys. I detest all that "oh whoe is me" crap some people pull. Instead, I am a analytical failure. I tear apart every little word I said, every little thing I did, my clothing choice, the letters of reference I provided, etc. I kick myself in the ass for not going one way in college instead of another. I write lists. I will go through a packet of post-it-notes. And by the end of it, I will have listed out every possible scenerio and have a path for the next time.
It's just that time in the middle, while I pick it all apart, that tears me up. Failure is not a good feeling, and I am just enough of a perfectionist, that I feel failure is not an option. Yet, it is!
There are two things in this life that I have a passion for: writing and teaching.
Writing has been a no go for about a year now. With student teaching, and getting everything in gear to graduate, then trying to find a job, and all that, I haven't had much creative feelings happening.
Teaching is also a no-go right now, thanks to that lovely phone call. I am subbing, and it looks like that is what I will be doing again next year too, since school districts are starting to narrow down candidates already, given there are just so many teachers looking for a job right now. In the mean time, I am going to work my ass off to get certified in other areas this summer. The more I can teach, the greater my options. I just need to get my foot in the door ...
So I am sitting here, just an hour after that last phone call, and I am reminding myself of what I do have. A family that loves me. Friends that care. I am very fortunate. I know that.
But damn, it hurts.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
The Big Cold Sea
These questions aren't subject to reason, and the answers I give myself vary from day to day. If a feeling of success is a momentary warm glow, a feeling of failure is a deep, cold sea in which one can easily drown, surrounded by rusting metal and broken glass.
In my Baby Boom American childhood, successful women were good housekeepers, discreetly sexy wives and mothers of well-behaved children. Successful men had well-paid careers or, if they were like my academic father, they compensated for small salaries by having big ideas. When Second Wave feminism arose in my late teens, I decided to seek the kind of success that comes from individual accomplishment rather than from an attachment to someone else. Consciously, I wanted to be an honorary man. Secretly, I wanted an androgynous life of accomplishments and relationships.
My family moved to Canada, where I acquired a boyfriend who told me he felt called to become a writer and express big ideas. The essays he wrote in our shared high school classes were full of awkward sentences and grammatical mistakes, so I edited and typed them for him before he handed them in. I wanted to be the rock he relied on.
When I won a major award in a national student writing contest, Boyfriend told me that my writing was an ego trip. He said he hoped I would be happy with myself, because I would never have a Significant Other. A literary career would apparently be poor consolation for the lonely life of a failed woman.
I went to university, and discovered an emerging body of feminist theory that defined women in general as an oppressed class. I realized that most of my personal failures, as I thought of them, could be seen as tiny symptoms of a vast historical injustice. Yet political analysis could not tell me who I could have been in a social system with no "isms."
Some feminist literature of the time sang the praises of “sisterhood.” I joined the campus women's centre, which lacked an organizational structure, and was ignored by the core group during meetings, which lacked an agenda. I was told that rules and structures were patriarchal. Apparently I had a bad smell, so I stopped going to meetings or calling myself a feminist.
I was befriended by a gorgeous, overachieving female classmate who had no use for the women’s movement. For many years, she demonstrated a kind of sisterly loyalty to me that I never felt from my actual sisters or my “sisters” in any metaphorical sense.
But one good friendship didn’t seem to make up for my failures in every other sphere. My writing was a great source of comfort after every personal rejection, yet writing in a social vacuum was never enough. I wanted to get something published, and my desire for recognition and dialogue with interested readers made me vulnerable to more rejection. Most of my writing submissions to unknown editors seemed to disappear into the sea of lost things.
I married a man who said I could write "on my own time," but his alcoholic rages took up much of our time together, and he suspected me of compulsive cheating whenever we were not in the same room. I escaped with a baby and moved in with my parents, where we stayed for two years. A few of my friends claimed to admire me for resisting abuse, but my divorce hardly seemed like a medal for courage under fire.
That wasn't the last of my failures.
My parents offered to support me until I could qualify to teach high-school English. I succeeded in my education classes, but failed my practicum at a high school where the real teachers made it clear that I was not one of them. My degree in English was actually described as a barrier between me and my teenage students. The students pushed their luck, as could be expected, and I was judged a failure at maintaining discipline in the classroom.
In my early thirties, I supported myself and my daughter as a call girl. I succeeded at acquiring a cult following of regulars, and I discovered the power of having nowhere further to fall. No one could shame me by calling me a whore when it was a statement of fact. But there was no comfortable future in it.
In my “private” life, I had wonderful sex with women. However, most of my bar-based lesbian relationships could be described as boozy misunderstandings. I learned that power dykes push their way into the boys' club of dangerous, well-paid blue-collar work. No one could imagine me earning a living with power tools, including me.
Failure at everything was the filthy water I lived in. I considered giving custody of my child to my parents, then killing myself in a way that would look like an accident, leaving her a fortune in insurance benefits. I spent a sleepless night trying to perfect this plan. I was stopped by the likelihood of failure.
Eventually, I acquired a Revenge of the Nerd teaching job at the local university, where academic knowledge is not considered a disadvantage. Much of my writing has been published. I don't feel any closer to fame than I ever was, but this is probably a good thing. Famous lives don't necessarily end well.
I am now legally married to the woman I have lived with for over twenty years. We have investments and real estate. Her two grown sons call us both "mom," and we are also their landladies.
So it seems I'm not a complete failure, either as a woman (spouse/mother/friend) or a man (teacher/writer/social activist). On bad days, I feel like such a failure that the movie of my sorry-ass life fills the screen of my imagination. This epic has some title like "Down to the Depths" or "Outcast: Why Jean Roberta's Blood Relatives Don’t Want Their Family Name to Be Used Here."
However, I have all the trappings of a comfortable middle-class life. I’m still breathing; the big cold sea hasn’t closed over my head yet. That may be as much success as any mortal can reasonably expect.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
I push open the door and the stale odors hit me like a sensual riot. I wonder if this is how a creature with a great sense of smell would see the world, a dog, a wolf, a vampire girl. It sweeps over you, stepping from the hot southern air off Broad St. into the attic coolness of the old Treasure Chest antique shop, mostly a junk shop where things discarded but unbroken come to languish and die. As I breathe in the aggressive aromas, an old idea haunts me. It’s a distinctly Japanese idea. Japanese have this notion that all objects, even inanimate objects, have a soul, an emotional awareness. I feel this way instinctively. I suspect it may be an odd form of synesthesia, an accidental neural bleed over of senses, in my case of emotions. I often have a hard time connecting to people, but wherever I go I feel connected to everything around me. When I hear a man cursing out his car, I feel painful not for the man, but for the car. Like a mistreated horse, as though the pride of strength of the car is hurt. I think to myself, that car will not love him well. That car will not serve him.
To the left, is a shelf of old cameras and photo gear going back to my era. There was a time I would have been thrilled to own any of those cameras.. Now I can buy a digital camera in the mall for less than a hundred bucks that can out shoot any of them. But there’s beauty in old things. They have soul, and character. Even in women, girls have never fascinated or aroused me the way older women do. Girls look hard and green to me. Women have a way of looking full and ripe and juicy. Only women are women. It’s how I’m wired. If any inanimate things in the world have soul, it’s the things surrounding me here, things with history, who were precious to somebody once, things with memories embedded in their atoms. The rows of glass eyed cameras are crying out to me to take them home, load them with film. Take them on a picnic. Adjust their shutters, compose the shot, wind the film. Let them see the world outside fresh again.
An old man, maybe discarded himself comes up from somewhere leaning on a hand carved African walking stick. “Hey,” I say. “Mostly looking.”
“Feel free. H’ep you find somethin’?”
I’m embarrassed to ask him for what I really want. What I’m looking for is so weird. “Listen, do you sell goose quills?”
“Goose feather pens.” I waggle my fingers with a stupid pen-like gesture, I don’t know why. “You know like Thomas Jefferson, or Shakespeare or something. Feather pens? Like people used to write?”
“Feather pens? Hell, you say.”
I was online looking at these images of fragmented papyrus pages from the original Nag Hammadi codex scrolls of the Bible. I saw the real ones once, in the New York Public Library when they were on display. The actual pages are tiny, about the size of a pocket notebook. The letters in Greek are beautiful, perfect, delicately shaded and precise as a printing press. And they were written a thousand years ago with feathers. I want to learn how to do that.
“You mean like – “ and he waggles his fingers in a pen like gesture too. I think I’ve infected him with my weirdness. “An old cut up feather?”
“Yeah. Kind of.”
“Mnn Mnnn.” He looks disappointed.
“How about this, do you have an old Arkansas stone?”
He looks thoughtful. “Naw, might try a bait shop.”
“Tried ‘em. They’ve got these little high tech looking things, but nobody sells stones for sharpening your own pen knife. I figure maybe I can learn how to make quill pens if I have a really sharp knife.”
“Let me see.” He hefts up his stick and goes off to look. I find myself almost hoping he doesn’t find one. I’d save money if I just bought an X Acto knife. I start wandering around, breathing, opening my senses, just feeling the buzz of the ghosts. Beyond the cameras, a cardboard box of vacuum tubes in original packaging. I remember Dad swapping those old tubes whenever the TV was on the fritz. I played with them, pretending they were rocket ships. Boxes of old phonograph records, mostly schlocky stuff you wonder why they’d wasted the wax on. And on the wall beyond, a place that makes me strangely afraid. The old books.
I move gently among their sloppy lonesome rows, not wanting to disturb them with false hope, stepping softly like wandering through a haunted house. Ray Bradbury is right, they do smell like spices, like dry leaves you crush in your hands in the autumn. They are the ranks of the fallen.
Cardboard boxes, bone boxes of ideas, the ossuaries of books that came and went without ever being noticed by any but their authors. They say the vast majority of published books are commercial flops. The money is made mostly by an elite few, over and over. The business trick is being able to gamble on the right ones often enough to cut your losses on all the flops. Digital books will change that over time.
Whenever I walk into my little guest room at home where all my rat shack fiber board book cases, are sagging under their load of books I feel a great thrill at my own ignorance. The Bible says King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. That's a lot of pussy. That's how I feel when I switch on the light in the guest room and see them all coming to attention, aroused at my prescence. I want to know every one of these better. Even so, most of these books and I know each other intimately and physically. We’ve traveled to hotel rooms together. They’ve all been to my bed room at one time or another. The best of them have stayed on the table by my bed for many days, resting beside me in the dark, whispering in my ear as I dream. I will never let them go. I never go out into the world without one of them for company. They are my lovers, vast and interesting and full of soul.
But these old books in the junk shop, who never had their moment in the sun, fill me with a dread of mortality. The saddest books are usually the most beautiful and often the wisest ones. The genuine antiques, bound in tooled leather, with proud names like Shakespeare and Emerson, were not made to be read only looked at. They remind me of certain sad women who are physical perfection, born to be kept and looked at, but always lonely. I pick up a few and open them each gently, as if fearful I might offend them with my pity. I open them because somebody should and put my nose to them and smell their perfume, also because somebody should. The cleanness of the un-penciled pages, the perfect roundness of the spine, untouched. Uncaressed. The leaves never spread open wide by hands, eager to be enjoyed. Never penetrated. Pretty show books shelved in glass cases in somebody’s parlor room to impress guests, but themselves never explored and cherished, carried in a pocket or book bag. Intuitively, I always feel like everything wants to be what it is, to do what it was made to do. A car wants to be driven. A toy plane wants to fly. A pen wants to write. A book wants to be read. I feel immensely sad for them. They are harder for me to resist even than the old cameras, this depressing harem of elderly virgins.
Every one of them was some writer’s darling once. Each was written by someone who thought they were smart, visionary and learned. Every author was proud of his creation. And then the creation failed.
I crack open a leather pocket book with yellowed pages. A flake of brown drops off the spine; torn slightly as she's opened, the old virgin weeps as I move into her at last, easeing myself carefully into her fragile deepness. The title page “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman. I know this book, I have this book at home, a cheap second hand paperback. And my cheap little book - oh – it is no virgin. The day I bought it, we couldn’t wait to be alone together.
I caress her spine to calm her. I whisper to her, I know you. I won’t hurt you; I’ll be so gentle and respectful. Lie still and let me look at you. Open yourself wide to me and let me have you. I open it at random to “Song of Myself” and find:
With music strong I come, with my cornets and my drums,
I play not marches for accepted victors only, I play marches for
conquer'd and slain persons.
Have you heard that it was good to gain the day?
I also say it is good to fall, battles are lost in the same spirit
in which they are won.
I beat and pound for the dead,
I blow through my embouchures my loudest and gayest for them.
Vivas to those who have fail'd!
And to those whose war-vessels sank in the sea!
And to those themselves who sank in the sea!
And to all generals that lost engagements, and all overcome heroes!
And the numberless unknown heroes equal to the greatest heroes known!
And to Uncle Walt I might have added, to all authors whose darlings were never bought and read and sank out of print unknown.
Oh you’re lovely, little book. I would take you home to my bed, to touch and turn your clean pages late at night alone we two, conversing by lamplight while the house sleeps. I turn her over, looking for a price. How much –
“Found one!” yells the old guy, coming over with a little worn stick of rock.
I can almost hear the little book cry out as I put it back on the shelf and turn away. “How much?” The guy hands me the whetstone and I roll it over in my hands.
“Give it away to you, two bucks even.”
I glance back at the books, thinking. “Naw. I’m good.”
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Giant Muffin Cake
Or slightly bigger blips, like: HOMG I didn't send that email one time!1!1! I must be killed, preferably by something a little more serious than large bearded men with stones. This time, I deserve to be eaten by lizards. And so on and so forth until the whole mess of my life escalates into some non-stop fantasy about the many and varied ways I could be punished for my long list of ridiculous failures.
But the thing is...I didn't realise how quiet it would seem, to really fail at something. To suspect you've failed at something much larger, like life, which really should have a fallout the size of Mt. Everest. Technically speaking, if I've failed at something as monumental as life itself, I should be stoned by lizards so big they might as well be dinosaurs, before being eaten by a giant vagina that mysteriously opens up in the centre of the world.
Or something like that. Something big, and impossible, like a world vagina. But no world vagina seems to be coming. For the last year, I've been deathly certain that I've failed at life - probably because I'm thirty-one and that's the age for these sorts of things - but all I feel is this odd kind of emptiness. I keep waiting for a lizard with stones in his hands to carry me off, for the mortal sin of enduring terrible agony at the hands of my boss then not wanting to be a teacher anymore, but no lizard comes.
I mean, for God's sake, man. I'm exhausted over here. When am I gonna be stoned? Just get on with it already! But nothing happens. Not even when I start in on the next life failure I'm certain is around the corner, just waiting for me: failure as a writer. Rejection, poor sales, bad reviews, a feeling of being shunned forever by God knows who...all of these contribute to my feeling of being a failure as a writer in an almost neverending spiral of doom and gloom.
And yet still I'm not freaking out. I'm just adrift on a sea of nothingness, waiting for my real life to begin. The life I thought I'd have back when I was still young and impressionable and knew nothing of lizard people or vagina worlds or the like.
Which just makes me wonder if I've moved past anger and denial and am now slap bang in the middle of acceptance. Here lies my life. Died aged twenty-nine. Still waiting for the rest of me to catch up, worse luck.
Or maybe it's just that I've become more practical, now. I realise that the tiniest thing - a thing you may not even think about, at the time of its thingness - is true happiness. That the real joy of life is in being safe and warm, and having someone to love you. That it comes from just that one moment when something went right for you for once - hell, some people out there never have anything go right for them at all.
For all the millions of times I've despaired over being treated badly or endured something horrible at work or been mired in the middle of some sort of writing failure, there are a billion people out there who don't even know what those things are. There are a million writers who never, ever even get to see one single solitary story published. There are a billion people who can't have a bowl of Angel Delight when they want one. Who can't cheer themselves up by watching The Office. Who don't have a husband who loves them - instead they have a husband who hates them or a husband that doesn't exist or the husband they want to have is the wrong gender or colour or religion or level of attractiveness.
But I have all of these things - the Angel Delight and The Office and the husband. So even if my career goes wrong and I never make it as a writer, I'll be okay. I'm sure I will. I spend most of my life thinking: I only ever hope for the tiniest little crumb of anything and never even get that most of the time, but the thing of it is:
I already have this gigantic muffin cake composed of a million crumbs, right here.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Farewell, My Lovely
Which only goes to prove that some failures are easier to live with than others. I wish that I could capture my adopted home of Los Angeles as well as Raymond Chandler did back in the 1940s. I don't write crime novels. Another regret. I sure love to read them, but with all the forensic evidence now, it's hard to believe in a private detective. The only way it would work in our current society would be for the mystery to be outside the normal scope of the police.
This may be why the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries (True Blood to you TV viewers) work. Technically, those stories are cozy mysteries, where Sookie is a latter day Miss Marple, an amateur sleuth who sees something odd and tries to figure out what's going on. Since the events happen in the secretive world of the paranormals, the police are often unaware that something happened, and unless it impacted a human, they probably wouldn't try to solve it. Most of the time, there's peril to Sookie or her loved ones, so she has a compelling reason to solve the case and end the peril. But I don't see that sort of thing working in Los Angeles. It takes a village, a small one where people know everyone's business, to make a cozy mystery work. I'd have no idea if my neighbors here in LA did something unusual, because I have no idea what's usual for them.
I suppose that I could write a police procedural mystery, but let's face it, murder is usually a homemade, amateur production. (Thank goodness) People are most often killed by people they know. (eep!) The murderer isn't a pro at it. They're quickly caught. And there's nothing terribly mysterious about the horrible affair. No vast conspiracies. No deeper story. Just a trail of admissible evidence gathered by the people who have the ability to bring the murdered to trial. And while I do enjoy a police procedural from time to time, the closer a writer gets to the reality of police work, the less thrilling the story is going to be.
These are all excuses, of course. Greg Herren writes two wonderful mystery series set in New Orleans in the present day, and they work. New Orleans is no small village. His main characters are private investigators. And the police are involved in the investigations. So it is possible (for him) to write about the city he loves and weave its personality into the story so deftly that the city is almost a character in its own right. Just like Raymond Chandler. Is it possible for me though? My true failure is not even trying. I think I'll try sipping champagne, tripping around Prague in dangerous six-inch stilettos, and murdering the Hungarian language first though.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
By Lisabet Sarai
There is no failure. Only feedback.~Robert Allen
Stop me if I've told this story before.
When I was a kid, maybe seven or eight, I took swimming lessons at the YMCA. One day, for some reason, my mother entered me in a race. The first person to complete six laps of the pool would win.
I've never been very athletic. Except for dancing and sex, I'm not a very physical person. Being an obedient child, however, I went along with the plan. The lifeguard blew the whistle and I gamely plunged into the pool along with everyone else.
It soon became clear that I was a much slower swimmer than my opponents. I had barely completed three laps when the race was over. Nevertheless, for some reason, I continued, back and forth, back and forth, until I'd finished the race.
I finally pulled myself out of the pool. Several people applauded. I'd come in last in the race, but I definitely hadn't failed.
When I started thinking about Charlotte's topic, I realized that by my own definition, at least, I've never failed. I've suffered from unrequited love. (Haven't we all?) I've had relationships fall apart, sometimes because of my own actions. I've tried to create things (a book trailer is the most recent item that comes to mind) and found that I just didn't have the skills or the talent to realize my goals. I've applied for jobs that I didn't get. I've submitted research proposals and had them rejected. Of course, I've submitted stories that suffered the same fate.
None of these experiences feel like failure to me. I'm really not sure why this is true. Some people, in the same situations, would moan and sigh and berate themselves for not being sexy enough, loving enough, smart enough, talented enough or lucky enough to succeed. For some reason I seem to be able to shrug this sort of experience off without being too bothered. I do look for reasons, but mostly to try and learn how I might improve my chances of success next time.
Of course, I've had a lot of success compared to the average person. I was valedictorian of my high school class. I got accepted by top universities and was singled out by professors for special learning opportunities. Most of my jobs have been challenging, rewarding and have provided enough money to pay my bills. I published my first novel on the very first try. I've been married to the same great guy for nearly thirty years and still enjoy his company.
So maybe one possibility is that I expect success. In fact, I do. In most cases, when I submit a story for publication, I'm about 75% confident that I'll sell it. When someone rejects my work, I'm disappointed, but I figure that the odds are good I'll get an acceptance next time.
Could it be that I'm just not very ambitious? Certainly, I'm pretty sure that I'm never going to be hugely famous or make a fortune (from my writing or anything else). I have no illusions that I'll ever write the Great American Novel. (Even the great American porn novel!) I recognize that I have limits and I don't agonize over the fact.
Really, it's kind of embarrassing. It seems like I should be afraid of failure, right? Is there something wrong with me?
I don't want to worry. It uses too much emotional energy. I'll just keep on doing my laps, back and forth - doing the best I can to handle what's put in front of me. That's the only way I know how to live.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Rich and Famous (Not!)
By Lucy Felthouse (Guest Blogger)
Hi everyone, and thanks for having me on OGAG once more. This time the theme is publishing myths and misconceptions. As I'm far from being an all-knowing expert type, I can only talk about my own experiences and hopeful you find them useful and/or entertaining. Probably the latter, to tell the truth ;)
I have to tell you, I'm a realist. Although as a child I'd sit at a table surrounded by paper and pens proclaiming "I'm going to be a famous author," I realise that this will not happen. To be a truly household name, you have to have books on the shelves in bookstores and supermarkets. And unless said stores embrace erotica, it's not going to happen. Plus I haven't actually written a book yet!
So although it is, of course, possible to become rich and famous through writing, us peddlers of smut are unfortunately going to have to be content with comfortable. And famous within our community (which I think is awesome and pretty close knit, especially when you take into consideration the wide variety of ages, backgrounds and time zones). But to be honest, I don't mind. I enjoy what I do, and surely that's the point?
I remember way back when I had my first story accepted for print and I mentioned it to a couple of friends. They were excited for me, which was lovely, but then the questions began.
They asked things like would I be paid loads? Did I get an advance? They couldn't quite get their heads around the one-off payment scheme usually adopted for anthologies. Regardless, I was just happy that someone wanted to buy my work. And I still get equally excited to this day.
So although I'm not a rich and famous author, I still love it. Writing and publishing erotica is full of surprises. For example, almost a year ago I put out my short eBook anthology, The Great Outdoors. It was done purely as an experiment to see how it all worked, and the way I learn best is by doing.
Now, though, my little eBook with the terrible cover has become the little eBook that could, by popping regularly into the Kindle Erotica Chart in the UK, and selling consistently on Barnes & Noble and the Sony Reader Store.
I never expected it, but it did dispel one of the misconceptions that I believed in myself. Despite the phrase "never judge a book by its cover," I always believed that The Great Outdoors would never sell much because of its horrendous cover. But it does, so I've taken heart from that and produced a second volume which has a much nicer cover. If The Great Outdoors Vol 2 does even half as well, I'll be happy.
I still won't be rich and famous. But I'll be happy. And that to me, is the whole point.
Lucy is a graduate of the University of Derby, where she studied Creative Writing. During her first year, she was dared to write an erotic story - so she did. It went down a storm and she's never looked back. Lucy has had stories published by Cleis Press, Noble Romance, Ravenous Romance and Xcite Books. She is also the editor of Uniform Behaviour - Steamy Stories About Men and Women in Uniform. Find out more at http://www.lucyfelthouse.co.uk. Alternatively, find her on Twitter and Facebook.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The Devil On My Shoulder
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
That's the great thing about the internet. It's made publishing open and all the information is out there for you to grasp, if you really want to. Even though I suspect most people don't, because the truth about publishing is that it's depressingly unglamorous, weird, ass-bitey, tiring and sometimes soul destroying.
However, there are some disavow-ations of publishing myths and misconceptions that I found out pretty sharpish, once I got into it:
1. It's actually much easier to get into than you think. No, really. Before I had my first thing published, I had been deathly certain that the only way I'd ever get published is if I somehow magically transformed into a ten foot tall blonde with boobs the size of Kansas, and then also magically ran into the boss of Hodder and Stoughton who for some unknown only-in-erotica land reason let me blow him in exchange for a book deal.
In fact, I think I felt it was even harder than this. That I'd have to climb Mt Doom with rocks on my back and feet made out of cement, to even get close to a publishing contract. And even then the contract would turn out to be a four inch square of toilet paper in the fabulous new "Books On The Toilet" concept that Random House just came up with.
But no. No. You work on writing for sixteen years, you practice and practice and you do your research, and apparently it's actually possible. I worked and worked, I honed my writing, I read loads of Black Lace books and knew what they were looking for and then I drafted a query letter based on internet advice, adhered to their sub guidelines, and sent it off.
And then I was published.
And yes, I know that this actually sounds like a lot of work. But if you really love writing, it actually isn't. Or at least, it's not half as soul destroying as climbing Mt Doom to blow the boss of Macmillan with cement on your feet.
2. The after bit is the hard part. Writing and subbing and even getting rejected is easy. Selling three copies of something and receiving terrible reviews from general readers is hard. It is the full stop on the end of the sentence "I have failed".
While you're sending things out there and getting rejections you can still be a success. Even if you do it for years, you can still, one day, be a success. But once your stuff is out there and no-one wants to read it or no-one cares or everyone cares but they hate it, that's it. You're toast.
Or at least, I thought so until some of my books started selling like gangbusters. And then I realised yet another publishing myth and misconception had fallen: you are NEVER toast. You pick yourself up, and you keep going. THAT is the only truth of publishing.
3. It's okay to be yourself. I'll be honest: I was terrified to be myself, at first. I toned down the rambling mancandy talk I'd gone into on my Myspace blog, for my actual writer's blog. I curbed what I said on places like Twitter. I didn't let myself go in forums - and all because I truly believed that in order to get ahead in publishing, you had to be as quiet and nice and normal as so many other romance writers seemed.
But it's not true. You don't have to be quiet and nice and normal. I've long since discovered that actually, people seem to respond more when I'm weird and crazy and completely myself. No-one seems to mind if I ramble about Mancandy. No-one cares if I rant about Masterchef on Twitter. I got three "likes" recently for mad as hell reviews I put up on Goodreads - the biggest response I've ever gotten to anything I've put on there.
So the lesson is: I don't know. Just keep going. Be yourself. And when the head of Random House demands you put on concrete shoes then do things to him, always remember: he has no more power than you have in your own hands, right now.
Monday, April 11, 2011
It's a Job
I have the great fortune to know Michael Thomas Ford - one of the few truly professional writers I've met. I don't mean only professional in his attitude, but professional in that he makes his entire living from writing. He produces several novels a year in many genres including humor, young adult, romance, and I suppose that Jane Bites Back and Jane Goes Batty may be classified as horror, although there's romance and a lot of humor in them. What I've learned from Mike is that the life of a professional writer is hard work. It means sitting down to write every day, even if he's not feeling it. It means not writing on spec, but only writing what he's already sold via queries and then delivering quality work on time. No diva tantrums, no excuses, just dependable work.
I'm not sure that I'd want that job. Don't get me wrong, I love to write and would love to have more time for it. The pesky day job eats up a lot of my writing time. When I do write, while it may be to a call for submissions, my story is on spec. It may sell to that anthology, or it may not. I never query publishers before I write a novel. While I've been lucky enough to sell a few novels, there's no guarantee that what I spent the last six months working on will ever be published. That's not a good use of my time from a professional viewpoint, but it's satisfying for an amateur (in the original meaning of the word, meaning one who does something for the love of it).
Being published isn't every writer's aim, and it doesn't have to be. But for those who want to be published, I can offer a few tidbits I've picked up. The business side of writing is just that - a business. If you're going to enter that world, you can't be unprofessional. That means that you are responsible for fixing your own grammar and spelling. Period. End of discussion. Every time I hear someone say 'that's the editor's job,' I know that person has no future in writing, because they aren't willing to work at the basics. And it is work. I always knew that it would be, because to discourage me from writing, my parents always made sure to emphasize how very difficult it is. Maybe they did me a favor. At the time it felt like dreamkilling, but at least I'm not sitting around waiting for a muse to bestow art on me. I'm too busy working for it.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
By Lisabet Sarai
What would I wear? That was what was on my mind as the publication date for my first novel grew closer, 'way back in 1999.
I'd somehow hit the karma jackpot. My first attempt at a novel had been accepted by the illustrious Black Lace imprint - the people who published my idol and inspiration Portia da Costa! I'd been corresponding with Kerri Sharp, the editor, a seriously no-nonsense sort of person. I imagined the numerous staff of Black Lace, all toiling away on the season's titles, including mine. And I wondered whether the publisher might throw some sort of sexy, glamorous release party for all the authors.
Black Lace's address at that time was “Thames Wharf”. I thought that sounded incredibly exotic and British. I could picture the place, a converted warehouse with a glassed-in ceiling and recessed lighting. I could imagine my fellow erotica authors, all decked out in leather or velvet, short skirts or long ones with provocative slits showing plenty of thigh, wearing boots or maybe even masks. I pictured myself among my peers, sipping champagne from crystal goblets and chatting about sex and writing. I fantasized about meeting Portia in person (I saw her as an elegant, curvy brunette) and telling her how she was responsible for my success.
I had no idea how I'd afford the trip to London. On the other hand, my book had been accepted, despite the incredibly tiny odds. Who could predict what the universe might hand me next? Maybe I could finance the trip out of my advance.
Did I really expect the party? Probably not. It was just fun to think about. I had no idea, though, how wildly unrealistic my fantasy was. Looking back now, I'm pretty sure that Kerri Sharp was more or the less the whole Black Lace staff all on her own. Like most publishers, Black Lace was undoubtedly scraping by, the margins on books getting smaller and smaller each year. Money to organize a party for the authors? I'm sure the notion would have evoked incredulous laughter.
A few years later, I visited the Blue Moon Books offices in lower Manhattan. I was a bit shocked by how small and grungy they seemed. I had imagined that publishers – New York publishers – had spacious office suites, luxurious conference rooms, sophisticated, erudite, well-paid editors who decided the fate of poor authors like me. Instead, Blue Moon was crammed into half the tenth floor of a hundred year old building with water stains on the ceiling and a tiny elevator that creaked like it was going to expire on the way up. My editor was disheveled and a bit shy, almost embarrassed by the fact that he published explicit sexual fiction.
Sigh. Welcome to the real world.
Since then, I've learned that erotica authors are not necessarily all that glamorous, either. I've gotten to know Portia fairly well in the cyber-sphere. She's a lovely middle aged lady with silver-blond hair who lives in a small town with her cats, pouring her fantasies out onto the page. I've been fortunate enough to actually meet some of my colleagues from the Erotica Readers and Writers Association and the Erotic Authors Association. With one or two exceptions, there's nothing about these people that would indicate they write fiction hot enough to scorch the page. They don't wear dog collars or stiletto heels. They have bad hair days and wear glasses, just like me.
I will admit, though, that it's always a high to meet another member of the inner circle. The excitement is palpable. It doesn't matter what we look like. Deep down, each of us knows we're in the presence of a fellow outlaw, and that's intoxicating.
By the time you read this, though, I hope to have fulfilled an authorly fantasy. As luck would have it, the huge Romantic Times conference is happening in LA during the time I'm going to be visiting my sister. I can't go to the conference – don't have the time or the money – but one of my publishers is hosting a dinner for all their authors who happen to be in town, and I'm planning to attend. I can't wait to meet the writers whom I've gotten to know over the past four years of writing erotic romance. And it sounds like it's going to be quite an event.
In fact, it's not all that different from my original fantasy. It's just that it's taken a dozen years to come true.
And yes, I'm agonizing over what I'm going to wear.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Age Old Argument: Porn Versus Erotica
Romance can range from sweet or forbidden love all the way to the other end of the spectrum, hot steamy sex, menages, same sex trysts even wild orgy scenes. So what, if any, is the dividing line of pornography and erotic writing?
Pornography is defined as depicting an erotic behavior, including pictures and writing, intending to cause sexual excitement and arousal. The acts concluding viewing or reading pornography results in a quick emotional reaction to the material.
So erotica romance novels are included in this definition? The definition of erotica is a literary work having an erotic theme or quality and depicts of things erotic.
OK, so both definitions have the word erotic. So what is erotic? Erotic is a devoted style of writing intended to arouse sexual love and desire.
Hmm...OK, so erotica writing includes graphic sex scenes, innuendos and words but the viewer (or reader in this case, isn't subjected to viewing an actual sex scene. The only scene they “see” is the one their imagination develops in their mind. They don't actually “view” a man's male sex organ penetrating into a woman's vagina. They use their mind to transfix and create a personal image. But the one word I haven't used yet in describing erotic writing is the “L” word. Yes, love. Most, if not all erotic romance, erotica, have the proverbial happily ever after, or at least the happy for now, ending. The characters have a connection. Whether it's love, an understanding or even a brief emotional link.
In a pornographic video, there is no visible connection. There is no love. There isn't even a storyline. All the viewers are subjected to sex, sex and more sex. No underlying emotional unification. Many erotic authors agree and have shared their opinions, thoughts and views.
Romance author Jean Joachim says, “porn involves action, erotica involves action and feeling, heart, which is missing from porn. Perhaps why women have not taken to porn so much but prefer erotica, where love is always in the air, including a HEA or HFN ending that includes sexual satisfaction.”
Erotic romance author and NNP publishing house owner Gina Kincade says “Doubt I will wow anyone but porn is sex for the purpose of sex. Erotica is a story, a plot an charachters woven into a fanatical world of sensual, mind blowing sex, usually with a loving theme and a happily eDoubt I will wow anyone but in my opinion porn is sex for the purpose of sex.
Erotica is a story, a plot and characters, woven into a fanatical world of stimulating, sensual, mind blowing sex, usually with a loving theme of overcoming some obstacle in life
and a happily ever after ending that the reader can relate to or insert themselves into the picture, created by the authors words, in their mind as they read. It is more for the purpose of titillating the mind rather then the body, although one often follows the other when the story is well written.”
Fellow erotic author Elizabeth Black adds “Erotic writing has the soul and spirit always present in hot sex and steaming words. Porn seems so cold and empty by comparison.”
And another erotic author of M/M novels, Lee Brazil compares pornography to erotica in these words, “Well, that's like the difference between Michaelangelo's David and Playgirl.. “
Erotic romance author Cassandre Dayne recently blogged about the same topic but had this to say, “Porn is nothing more than a reminder of our primal needs, the hunger that fills us with a desperate longing so that we will do anything to have what we crave. Erotic is a passion that fills our souls until we are completely in tune with our partner and their touch, their scent, the very essence of the reason we connected. It's at that moment we are lost in the utter bliss of ecstasy and total trust so that we can share everything.”
Erotic M/M author Sammy Jo Hunt adds, “Erotica is something that at the heart of it, still has 'romance' as the main ingredient. Its just a steamier, more explicit level for romance novels to naturally gravitate toward...or perhaps evolve to...is a better word.”
All the authors have different words but they all have the same end result- Erotic writing/novels are not pornography. We create the vision and scene, it's up to the viewer (reader) to evolve the actual picture in their head.
Follow Dawne on her facebook fan page, her blog and her newest blog promoting and bringing together upcoming romance authors and publishers. She has five erotic romance published, one sex/relationship advice book, oversees and contributes to eight blogs weekly and coordinates five facebook pages and is the lead administrator of a private facebook erotic author's group.