Saturday, March 31, 2012
At first, I couldn't find it. I scanned the shelf and saw Best this and Best that, but not Best Erotic Romance. The self-service computer station said there were three copies on the anthology shelf of this large chain bookstore in New York City. I was with friends, and we'd stopped in on a chilly December day to grab some coffee, use the restrooms, and warm up while wandering the aisles. I figured I'd look for this anthology even though it had not been officially released yet. I had a story in this book and I was anxious to see it.
As I tilted my neck at an odd angle to read the titles, I felt disappointment. The all-knowing computer had lied to me. But then I noticed something. The anthologies were alphabetized by editor's name. It just so happened that several of the "Bests" had early-in-the-alphabet editors, so I hadn't looked much further. So I scanned down each shelf, lower and lower, till there on the bottom shelf, where I never would have looked for a B, was three copies! Edited by Kristina Wright.
I pulled it off the shelf and turned to the table of contents. There on page 179 was "Till the Storm Breaks" by Erobintica. Me! I literally bounced over to my friends and waved the book in their faces. Jumping up and down and squealing like a little kid, it's hard to describe the elation I felt. I bought a copy and posed while a friend took a picture of me with the book. When I got home I posted it on Facebook, not caring that my friends list spans well beyond my "erotica blog friends" because it was a proud moment for me.
Best Erotic Romance was not my first erotica publication. I've been published in a couple of e-book anthos as well as on my blog and other blogs (including many "flashers" that were entered in Alison Tyler's button contests a few years back). It was not my first print publication. I've had numerous poems in print journals and anthologies. I've had an essay included in a book about poem revision that I understand is used in teaching, though I've never seen it in a bookstore. It was not the first time I've been paid for writing. But it was the first time I had an erotica story accepted and published in print, in a real-life book–with a cover and pages you can fan–and it was sitting on the shelf just like so many other books I've purchased in my life. That I got paid for it was just icing. I actually had the thought "I AM a writer."
Well, duh. But as I'm sure many writers do, I go through periods of time when I question that. Assume it's just dumb luck that a certain piece gets accepted. That I'll never write something like that again. But luckily, I don't think that way all the time. I've spent enough time, face-to-face time, with many other writers, and I know I am of that breed.
Another way I know is that now, I have been…
Reviewed! My story in BER got a "C" grade. It was through Facebook that I became aware of this review. I actually am not obsessive in the least about them, actually forget to even look for them. Oh yeah, I have a story in a book that might get a review. But I don't go searching them out. Not because I'm afraid, but because for me, once a story or poem is out there in the world, there's nothing I can do about it. People are going to like it, hate it, or just feel so-so about it.
When I commented on Facebook about my "C" grade, saying something along the lines of "I've always been a C student," many friends rushed to reassure me. That was nice, but unnecessary. I found my reaction to this particular review interesting. There was the initial disappointment, but then I started to view it as a challenge. Well, duh, of course I can write something better. Not that "Till the Storm Breaks" isn't a good story. Kristina wouldn't have chosen it if it wasn't. But I hope there's always a better story to be written.
I have a great deal of respect for editors. I know what's involved. My husband is an editor. I'm co-editing a poetry anthology. I've many friends who are editors. As a result, I've never felt any anger at an editor for rejecting my work. I know there is a reason, maybe it's just not a good fit, or there's other similar pieces already accepted, or it is just not as good as it could be. I learned early on, if a poem is rejected over and over again, that means it's time to revisit it and figure out why. Sometimes, even when I figure out why, I don't want to change it yet. That's my prerogative as a writer. So I have a humongous amount of not-quite-finished work.
Also, I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and don't like to send stuff out that isn't as good as I can make it. Sometimes little things get through that only I realize were mistakes. But like with cooking, if you make a mistake and it still turns out great, you don't tell anyone! I fear I'm bragging, but I've not noticed many edits to the pieces that have been accepted. That may be because I've gone over it myself many times, often have had my editor husband read through it, as well as other friends (both published erotica authors and not). I print out and read out loud before sending. But that doesn't guarantee perfection. Hehe.
Sometimes a short edit takes me by surprise. Alessia Brio accepted the first piece of erotica I sent out for Coming Together: Al Fresco. When I got my digital copy and read my story–because of course I read my own first–I noticed there was a slight change in the ending. The edit was small, but it changed the tone of the ending. At first I was taken aback. Mainly because I'd mostly published poetry up till then, and most editors don't tend to mess with a poet's lines on their own. So this was a new experience. But I could see why the change was made. With the edit, the story ended on an upbeat note rather than a downer. I'd written the story close to 18 years previously and needless to say, was in a different place. I'm glad she made the change. It was an instructive moment for me.
My piece in Best Erotic Romance has sort of been a game-changer for me. Up until I held that book in my hand, I really was wondering if I was cut out for this. What drove me to start writing erotica has shifted. In other words, I've gone through menopause, and I'm looking at my erotic imagination in another light. I'm listening to what my editors, readers, and yeah, even reviewers are saying about my work (I've had several more acceptances since BER) so that I can find this new voice, one that reflects the life I've lived. And I look forward to many more firsts.
Erobintica is poet, writer, and blogger Robin Elizabeth Sampson. She sent off her first piece of erotica for publication as she turned 50 years old. That was published in Coming Together: Al Fresco edited by Alessia Brio. Her erotica's been included in Best Erotic Romance edited by Kristina Wright and upcoming in Suite Encounters: Hotel Sex Stories edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel and Still Naked: Erotica for Seniors edited by Joan Price. Her blog is http://erobintica.blogspot.com/. Two of her poems were finalists at the 2010 Seattle Erotic Art Festival and she's featured at Philadelphia's The Erotic Literary Salon.
Friday, March 30, 2012
Romancing the Book
I have enjoyed reading this week's posts-- seeing familiar names of editors I have worked with, editors I wanted to work with and others who have been so important to my erotica writing world. Marcy Sheiner was the first editor to publish my work in print (in Best Women's Erotica, of course) and I learned so much from her editorial process even if it hurt my ego at the time. Adam Nevill bought several stories from me for various Black Lace anthologies and he is a prince among men. I would write for him wherever he went-- and that's why I'm writing for Mischief now.
Kerri Sharp never bought anything from me during her tenure at Black Lace, but she did send me a very thoughtful, encouraging rejection in my early days of erotica writing. By the time I'd gotten up the nerve to send her something else, she was leaving Black Lace and Adam was taking over. I was struck by her wit and charm and regret that I never got to work with her.
But this isn't about my first erotica sale-- I've covered that pretty in-depth already at the Erotic Readers and Writers Association blog with my post How It All Started and my OGG peers have mentioned several of my other early editors, as well. This is about my first major sale-- my Silhouette Intimate Moments romantic suspense novel Dangerous Curves.
In the mid-nineties, I started reviewing romance novels for the now defunct Literary Times Magazine. (Think RT Book Reviews on a smaller scale.) I hadn't really read romance since I was in high school, so it was an education to see how far the genre had come. I devoured them, reviewing 4 or 5 books a week. After about a year of reviewing romance novels of every subgenre, I had the brilliant idea that I could write one. After all, I knew what was selling and which editors were buying, thanks to the acknowledgements and dedications. To this point, I'd been writing short horror fiction (all unpublished), greeting cards, essays and the like. I'd started a couple of novels but never finished anything. Reading a couple hundred romances proved to be the perfect training ground for writing one. (And something I'd recommend for any new writer-- being a book reviewer makes you read critically and analyze why a book works-- or doesn't.)
Dangerous Curves was the second full-length novel I ever wrote. My first was Faith, the first book in a trilogy of historical romances. I never sold Faith and I never wrote the other two books. Trust me, it was for the best. I was not meant to be a historical romance author. When I was still writing Dangerous Curves, I entered the Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart contest. The Golden Heart is the contest for unpublished romance authors (the Rita is for published authors). I'd already entered Dangerous Curves in a couple of regional contests and done well, so I thought I'd give the GH a shot.
Long story short, in 1998 I won the Golden Heart award for Best Romantic Suspense. The final round judges were editors who acquired in the genre. The Silhouette editor who judged my category contacted me about submitting the final manuscript to her. Here's the ironic part-- my agent had already submitted Dangerous Curves to a different editor at Silhouette (now folded into Harlequin) and that editor wanted to buy it. So right out of the gate, I had to tell an editor that my book had been acquired by someone else. It was a heady experience.
The editor who ultimately bought my first novel was Mary Theresa Hussey (known as Matrice, if you're lucky enough to work with her). I was terrified of Mary Theresa. She was a big New York editor at the major romance publisher. Say what you will about Harlequin-- and it's all been said-- but they know how to market romance fiction and they are constantly evolving to suit the interests of their readers. I thought that selling my book to Silhouette meant I was done and could sit back and enjoy the glory. Hardly. Matrice and I talked on the phone and she told me she'd be sending me a revision letter. I stammered enthusiastically that I was willing to make whatever changes she thought necessary. I'd heard about diva romance authors and didn't want to be perceived as one of them.
The revision letter I got the following week was as long as the first chapter of Dangerous Curves. Or at least it seemed like it. I'd have to dig it up, but I believe it was three single-spaced pages. I was literally in tears after reading it. How could she possibly want to publish my book if there was this much wrong with it? There was a whole subplot she wanted me to cut, as well as toning down some of the language and taking out two sex scenes (foreshadowing my erotica writing career, perhaps). There were some things she wanted me to do that I didn't even understand-- I had to call her for clarification.
I took a few deep breaths and dug into her revisions. It was scary as hell to take my original vision for my book and make those changes. I had to unravel an entire thread (that's how I thought of it) of the story to strip out that subplot she thought didn't work. A few weeks later, I had a leaner, better book. Despite the revisions from hell (which is more or less what every Harlequin/Silhouette author called them), my first book sale came easy. Maybe too easy. I was never able to sell a second book to Matrice, or any of the subsequent editors I worked with when I was passed on to a new editor. I became more and more discouraged. I stopped being enthusiastic about what I was writing because it seemed liked everything was getting rejected. I didn't want to get too invested in a story only to have it turned down.
In retrospect, I missed opportunities to make that second sale because I had it in my head that it shouldn't be so hard once I made the first sale. But hell, I was barely 30 and had never really had a hard time getting what I wanted if I put in some effort. It's a curse of the academically gifted to be surprised when something turns out to be harder than we expect. Making that second novel sale became the elusive goal that evaded me and I couldn't understand why. I had an agent, a coveted award, a publishing contract with a New York Publisher. Making another book sale should have been easy, right? In truth, making the second book sale is even harder than making the first sale-- the bar has been set, along with the expectations, and nothing less than the best will do. In my case, I wanted to write in other subgenres and wasn't giving Silhouette what they wanted to see.
I never became a diva, but I did become my own worst enemy. I resented my agent for not telling me the "right" thing to do; I resented Mary Theresa for "abandoning" me to a new editor, then I resented that editor for not knowing what the senior editor would like. Etc. After a time, I resented my own laziness, expectations and/or lack of skill (depending on the day and how depressed I felt) that was keeping me from making another book sale. And so, in a rut from submitting endless proposals, I turned my back on Harlequin and focused on writing erotica. While I love my erotica writing community, I often wish I hadn't walked away from romance fiction so quickly. But at the time, with an award and book sale coming back-to-back within a year or so of starting to write novels, it didn't seem quick. It felt like forever. And when I didn't make another sale in eighteen months, I pretty much gave up.
I haven't sold another novel since Mary Theresa Hussey bought Dangerous Curves. Of course, I haven't pitched a novel since those couple of years after my first book sale. I've had a hundred (at least) writing sales since then, but with the exception of a few NaNoWriMo novels (mostly unfinished), I have meandered off the novel path entirely. I'd like to get back there. I would like to write (and sell) another novel. Or two. Or a dozen. This time around, I will remember what I learned from my experience with Mary Theresa Hussey-- that a revision letter is not a punishment, it's a reward for writing a book that an editor thinks is worth publishing. It's a guideline for making a better book. It's a commitment from an editor who believes in me. I didn't take full advantage of all Matrice had to offer in terms of knowledge and experience-- I won't make that mistake again.
A quick check of the Harlequin website shows that Mary Theresa Hussey is now Executive Editor. It doesn't surprise me in the least that she's still at Harlequin and has moved up the editorial ladder. I sincerely doubt she'd remember me-- a one hit wonder in the late 90s-- but I will never forget her and I'm very grateful for the time she put into making my first book the best it could be. I learned a lot from my experience of that first sale-- I just wish I'd learned sooner.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Sinking Ships and Miraculous Rescues
Then the publishing company went bust. It seemed unlikely that I would ever meet the two marvelously accepting but shadowy lesbian editors from California.
History repeated itself ten years later. In 1998, I was blessed with two months off work, but with full pay, and I decided to make the most of it. I spent eight-hour days at the brand-new computer that my sweetie and I had acquired, composing a lesbian novel full of sex scenes and local colour: I managed to link a real-life political scandal to the real-life murder trial of two young men who had tormented and killed a sex worker for sport. As far as I knew, no one else on the Canadian prairies had ever written anything like this. I sandwiched in one of my first three stories as a chapter in the novel. This was "The Princess and the Outlaw," a kind of lesbian folk tale in which the outlaw, Yora of the Forest, is a female bandit who hates the royal family and especially the heiress to the throne. But lust conquers all.
I printed off the 56,000-word manuscript of the novel, stuffed it into a manila envelope and mailed it to Masquerade Books in New York. This was the one erotic publisher I knew of. No answer.
After several months, I sent a follow-up email, and got a response from an editor whose name I honestly can’t remember. She informed me that while there was much to admire in my novel, she had rejected it a long time before.
I re-read this message several times to suck out the juice, the message at the core. An erotic editor (my third, so to speak) had found something to admire in my writing. But she had rejected my whole novel, including the story-within-the-story, without letting me know. This seemed like a coded message from the Oracle of Delphi: important but hard for a mere mortal to understand.
Then Masquerade disappeared, much like Lace Publications.
I joined the Erotic Readers Association, as it was called then, and felt the warmth of an on-line community. The public site included a community bulletin board where calls-for-submissions were posted. One of them asked for stories about lesbians and their sex toys.
This call amazed me. I was a veteran of the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s, in which women could be exiled to Siberia for suggesting that womyn-loving womyn could enjoy any device that resembled a penis. My story featured a custom-made wooden dildo, heavily shellacked and artfully designed not to look like anything known to man. My story was ironically titled “Something Natural.”
I mailed my story to California editor Alison Tyler, who reported in the ERA lists that original publisher Masquerade was unfortunately deceased, and the anthology might have to be cancelled. This proved it: I was a jinx.
To my surprise, at long last British publisher Diva Books offered to publish, and my story was accepted with almost no revisions. Alison Tyler was an angel of mercy! I was delighted when a paperback copy of Batteries Not Included was mailed to me. I was between the covers with famous sex-writers!
The photo on the front showed a babe with short dark hair, back to the viewer, sitting on her naked butt. A friend in my actual town asked half-jokingly if that was me.
I was now a published author of erotica, and I was eager to crack two great annual anthologies from Cleis Press: Best Women's and Best Lesbian Erotica.
2000 was a very good year. Editor Marcy Sheiner accepted "Cycles" (my story about a man and a woman, each with a past history of same-sex relationships, who meet in the laundry room of their apartment building) for Best Women's Erotica. When I first saw my paper manuscript marked up by her red pen, I couldn't breathe. Then I noticed that all the suggested changes eliminated unnecessary words or phrases without changing the plot, the dialogue or any description of the characters.
In the same year, series editor Tristan Taormino and consulting editor Pat Califia accepted "The Princess and the Outlaw" for Best Lesbian Erotica. Yes! The editing was gentle, although the editing process was nerve-wracking: the first acceptance letter told me that my story had survived the first round of rejections. I was asked to sign and return a contract, which would be void if my story didnt survive the next cut. It did, and eventually appeared in the book.
Other members of ERA told me how hard it was to break into either of those annual collections. I seemed to have beginner's luck.
This continued in 2001, when my first story about a Mary Sue academic Domme, Dr. Athena Chalkdust, was accepted for Best Lesbian Erotica 2001. (Later, it was accepted for Best of the Best Lesbian Erotica 2.) Eventually, I had a string of stories in BLE 2004, 05, 06, 07 and 09, but several of my annual submissions were cut from the short list.
My acceptance in England continued. Adrienne, webmistress of ERA, sent me a private email to say that editor Kerri Sharp of Black Lace Books had complained to her about the clichés and sentimentality of the lesbian erotica in her slush pile. Apparently Ms. Sharp asked Adrienne to recommend a writer of hard-edged lesbian erotica like Pat Califia or Carol Queen. Adrienne recommended me!
Feeling like an imposter, I contacted Ms. Sharp, who offered to let me bend the rules by sending her my story submissions by email instead of mailing them to London from the middle of Canada. Eventually, she accepted four of my erotic stories: "Hades and Persephone" (a lesbian retelling of the ancient Greek myth), "Meeting the Bitch" (about an all-woman triangle), "Opening Ceremony" (about the opening of a dress shop and a woman with past experience in the sex trade, like me), and the already-published "Cycles" for two anthologies in the Wicked Words series (#3 and #8). To disguise her acceptance of two of my stories for each book, she asked me to make up a different pen name for each.
The disguise was a turn-on. In the best lesbian tradition, I felt as though I were slouching about the virtual streets of Sexville, naked under a raincoat, with a fedora pulled down over my eyes.
By then, I had enough confidence to continue writing even when an editor`s response disappointed me. Every year for several years, I pelted Marcy Sheiner with submissions for Best Women`s Erotica. She rejected most of them without telling me to stop sending her this crap.
In a few cases, I felt she completely misunderstood my intentions, possibly because I hadn`t made them clear enough. I sent her a story named "Taste," about a middle-aged librarian who has vivid memories of breast-feeding her daughter, now grown, and has a hallucinatory dream about sex with a gargoyle. Marcy told me the story needed to be revised to make it clearer that the narrator is a woman who needs to be needed. My viewpoint character was somewhat autobiographical, and I didn’t feel this was her raison d'etre. I explained this, and Marcy sensibly suggested that we probably couldn't come to an agreement about her. Years later, Cecilia Tan, founder of Circlet Press, accepted that story for an anthology of fantasy erotica.
Different strokes, as they say, for different folks. I learned that no one's taste is completely objective, and that I could survive a deal-breaking difference of opinion.
How far would I go to stay in an editor's good graces? Farther than some devoted submissives, I'm sure, especially when it seems harder than ever before to make money from published erotica. Yet there comes a time when a writer and an editor simply can't agree on a particular piece, and this is not a sign of incompetence on either side.
When to hang in there, retweaking and revisioning, and when to walk away? Now there is a topic for another post.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Kill Your darlings, Pass Me the Axe
Later on, I’m setting up shop in the Starbucks, watching the girls go by in their summer clothes. I’ve had a good day today at church. It was an anniversary with a lasagna party afterwards and I was desperately worried my lasagna wouldn’t get eaten. I’m a needy guy. I was asked by name to make lasagna because I have a reputation for making outstanding lasagna. I take pride in it. We who create things want people to like our stuff while we put on a pose of self deprecating modesty.
"Oh was it? Ah ha hah, nothing really. Something I just threw together this morning out of leftovers. And cat food. You know, a little hot sauce fixes everything."
The girls going past me in the short shorts and flip flops would never admit it, but they like to be seen by guys. There is a dynamic there, of seer and seen, maker and eater, writer and reader. Ever other day when I sit down to pay my dues at the keyboard and feel my confidence drain out of me, I tell myself I don’t give a shit, I write for myself, I don’t care if anybody reads it or if anybody buys it. Art should be pure and so on, but really folks.
Read me. My inner neediness whimpers each and every time, the same neediness that checks the buffet table at the church potluck to see if the lasagna is being appreciated.
I always say that you don’t choose the genre, the genre chooses you. If I could choose a genre for myself it would be teenage vampire thrillers, novels with brooding sexy guys with names like Wraath, and Wrage and Phuck and sell zillions and have them made into major movies that kids would line up for.
I write effing short stories.
Being a short story writer isn’t something you’d rationally choose anymore than you’d rationally choose to be gay or transsexual or making Vegan goddamn broccoli lasagna. It’s more like a neural aberration you learn to live with. We write what the story fairy gives us. Mine gives me short stories instead of novels. Erotica short stories, which is even tougher. If you’re a novelist you get six figure advances and royalties and book tours. If you’re a short storiest you get contributor copies most of the time. The only thing sorrier than being a short story writer is being a poet. Even William Effing Shakespeare got the blues too:
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Shakespeare didn’t make a dime off his sonnets by the way.
The only thing rougher than a poet is a poetry editor. And for a short story editor things aren’t much easier. The art and curse of the short story and the poem are very closely related. Like handicapped children, you have to love them for their own sake and because they’re yours and need to be loved. They won’t make you rich.
How many short story editors are there in the world? Probably not that many although short fiction is lately going through a renaissance with the advent of ebook anthologies like the Coming Together series. Asking a short story writer about his first editor is a kind of painfully defensive topic like asking him about all his adoring fans lined up out there in reader land. The fact is I’ve really only had one. That’s our own Lisabet Sarai.
I first came across Lisabet on Erotica Readers and Writers Association which is where most of us bloggers here at OGG hailed from at one time or another. It’s our creative scene. I knew Lisabet’s name long before I ever showed up there around 2005 or so. It was the first time in my life I had ever been in the presence of other writers or even a serious discussion among writers. It was the same feeling I had the first day I showed up at my newly adopted church, that feeling of having serendipitously landed feet first in exactly the right puddle. I listened more than I wrote at the time, which is what I still do. I marveled at the independence of thought. With that came a haunting sense of lost karma, that somehow in the tone and voices of the people there I had stumbled on a lost trajectory, a hint of the life that maybe I should have had if other things hadn’t intervened. And then there was Lisabet.
Lisabet was on the writers list. ERWA is a house of many rooms and many forms of conversation. There’s a room where stories are fielded for comment, a room where people stand around and bullshit, and then there’s the writer’s room where writers talk about the fine points of craft and business. Lisabet was the most glamorous girl on the dance floor and I went against my nature by walking up to her when normally I would have hung back. It makes a huge difference when you have something to talk about. I’m working on a story. Can I show it to you?
Around 1998 when I broke away from the religious life I had known for over twenty years, I went through such a wrenching spiritual struggle that I experienced being haunted by a ghost. This trauma obsessed me and I wanted to find a way to write about it. I was fan of Japanese cinema and classical ghost stories so I took a traditional Japanese ghost story and wrote an erotic version of it called “The Color of the Moon”. I rewrote it over and over and over for years, until I didn’t know how to change it any further. I asked Lisabet if she would take a look at it and fully expected her to blow me off. I was thrilled and frightened when she cheerfully agreed. This was a full length novella, not an easy thing to wade through.
In her eyes, it wasn’t that bad. It had possibilities. The sex scene, my first, was clumsily handled in every way and she worked long and hard with me to straighten out the action and the language. Cut out some unnecessary characters.
There is a phrase among editors – “Kill your darlings.” It doesn’t mean give your characters a bad time, though that’s important too, what it means is cut out all the slick phrases and flap doodle that call out to the reader “Look how good I’m writing!”
A good writer, especially in the craft of short stories, should be able to disappear, to present the tale without drawing attention to him/her self. This is even trickier when writing in first person. Editors do way more than just pick up grammatical nits or help you arrange your stories in order. A good editor will make you a better writer.
One of the things a good editor, I’m thinking of Lisabet here, does for you is hand you the ax to murder your darlings with. There is a relationship here requiring firmness of spine from the editor and a clear vision from the writer. The writer has to know what he wants to say. The editor can help him find the right way to say it. But before any of that happens the writer has to have something to say. Nobody can help you there.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Yep, my first editor was Adam Nevill, at Black Lace. And he is now my editor, at Mischief. And there's a reason for that.
It's because Adam Nevill is, and always has been, hugely supportive of my work. Not just kind about it. Not just an editor of it. A supporter of it. And I think it's safe to say that without him, I wouldn't be where I am now.
I just wouldn't.
If there's one thing that defines me, as a writer, it's fear. I'm afraid to fail. Afraid to succeed. I spent years and years and years too scared to submit, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that if I had submitted and been rejected, I might not have tried again.
So thank God for Adam Nevill, who wrote me the loveliest and yet most matter of fact email in response to my first ever (paper!) short story submission, to the Love At First Bite anthology. It was like...he just expected me to expect acceptance. As though he thought I already knew it was a given, and if it was okay with me, could he publish the story?
When in truth, I never expected anything of the kind. I thought that his response would mark the end of my silly dream to be a writer - that finally, I would get my head out of the clouds, and be normal. And instead, it marked the one occasion in my life where dreaming actually turned out okay.
It didn't slap me in the face. I didn't have to be sorry that I'd done this thing.
Adam made me not sorry. And not only did he make me not sorry, he encouraged me to sub more. He accepted my next three stories. And then he did something unimaginable, something that to this day reminds me that all of this was worthwhile and that sometimes, dreams do come true:
He asked me to write my own collection of short stories. He just flat out asked me, in that same sturdy, matter of fact sort of manner I've come to depend on, from him. If there's anything you could wish for, from an editor - wish for them to be levelheaded.
Because I am not levelheaded. I am up and down, excitable, neurotic. I can't handle stuff, and never imagine that I'm good enough to flat out ask for something. So to have an editor - a first editor - who offered things...
Well, that was something. It helped my courage. It bolstered me, for times to come - and believe me, they weren't easy. It was the only experience I could have had with a first editor, and come out fighting on the other side. Things could easily have been different - I could have been crushed, forever.
But I wasn't. And that's thanks to one of the greatest editors in the business, one of the best erotic editors the world has ever known:
His support, his guidance, his help has meant the world to me, and continues to do so now. It's meant that I got to write my first novel - Control - because when he moved to Xcite he asked me if I wanted to write for him there. It's meant that I now get to write for another fantastic imprint - Mischief - because he emailed me when he was first looking for authors to fill the line.
I don't know why he likes my writing, but I do know this: all of these things make me a very, very lucky person. He could have easily hated my work. He could have thought I was nonsense. But he didn't, and so here I am:
A published author of over 30 short stories, 20 novellas, and five novels, with a new one released last week. Without Adam I wouldn't have a career, and for that, I thank him. He is the best first editor an author could hope for.
Want to find out more about Mischief, the line Adam edits? Go here:
And if you want to find out about my new book with them, you can find an excerpt, buy links and a bit about it here:
Monday, March 26, 2012
A Virgin in Red
About two years after I joined the Erotica Readers and Writer's Association's wonderful writing community (still one of the best web based writer's groups out there) I submitted my first story for publication. Not content to go small, I headed directly for Best Women's Erotica. At the time, Marcy Sheiner was the editor, and submissions were mailed on paper.
Every writer who has seen an acceptance knows the elation of that first yes. Acceptances never get old. Every one feels like a major accomplishment. And every rejection still makes me want to crawl under my desk and hold world's smallest pity party.
But Marcy said yes. Then she mailed her edits back. The first page almost dripped with red ink. My first thought was "and this is a story she liked?" The following pages were marked up quite a bit too, but nothing like the first page. There was a huge X through my first four hundred words followed by the note: "Your story starts here."
I took a deep breath as I realized this was the most important turning point a writer ever has to face. I could throw a diva fit and tell her that my words were sacred, or I could turn off my ego. I chose the second option, and man, am I ever glad I did.
By the time I worked through Marcy's edits, my story was so much better. So much better. Nothing was lost but the crap. I felt as if I'd been through a master class in writing. Now that I've helped other writers with detailed critiques, I realize how much time Marcy gave to me, and I am so grateful. I should have paid her. She changed the way I approach stories and told them. In that one edit, she taught me how to create a story that would sell. Instead of my long rambling warm-up approach, I jump right into the middle of action. I make each word pull its weight. I understanding pacing better.
To many writers, editors are the enemy, but not for me. I work with an editor for my novels now, Kelley from Sterling Editing, and as with Marcy, each session is a personalized master class. I learn so much, and I see great leaps forward in my writing during the process. The ability to create stories may be an innate gift, but writing those stories is a craft. As with any craft, it takes practice and work and desire to improve - and a really great editor to show you what to work on.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
The Highly Acute Ms. Sharp
By Lisabet Sarai
Kristina's asked us to write about our first editor. I considered changing names, or avoiding using them altogether, but I realized upon further consideration that the identity of my first editor is a matter of public record. In 1999, when I submitted my first novel, everyone in the small erotica community knew Kerri Sharp, the dynamic editor who had made Black Lace a phenomenon in the fiction world.
I wasn't able to discover via Internet research whether Ms. Sharp served as Black Lace editor from the imprint's inception in 1993. I wouldn't be surprised. Certainly she authored the detailed, literate and slightly snarky guidelines I received (by postal mail, of course) when I sent my first inquiry. I was delighted to discover that I still have the original of that document in my files (despite having sold my house and moved halfway around the world since then!) I hope that it's acceptable for me to provide some quotes, which may tell you more about the estimable Ms. Sharp than any of my descriptions.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not the editor's primary function to correct mistakes of English. The editor is there to give advice on plot, characterisation, house style, series continuity, etc. ... In any case, if a writer is unable to use English correctly, it is unlikely that she will have mastered the more refined techniques of writing.
Here's another gem:
If in doubt, go with the more comprehensible turn of phrase. Clarity of expression is a prerequisite of most well-written fiction. This is particularly so for erotic fiction....That is not to say that you should write blandly; or that you should restrict the vocabulary you use to that of a child; or that you should avoid artifice and tricks of technique. Our readers are not stupid, but impatient. As with all other writing, you should use your craft to the utmost; but the tricks you use should be much less visible in erotic writing. Your characters are marionnettes, but your readers should not be able to see the strings.
Reviewing these guidelines now, after more than a dozen years as an erotic author, I have a new appreciation both of Ms. Sharp's wisdom and her ability to articulate it. Back when I first received this document, which is thirteen pages long and tends to focus on what Black Lace definitely did not want, I found myself intimidated to the point that I almost dismissed the whole idea of submitting to them.
Almost. I'm infinitely grateful that I got over my feelings of inadequacy to the point that I could continue with my crazy plan.
I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk, struggling mightily with the British spelling and punctuation required by the guidelines. About two weeks after I mailed the chapters plus synopsis (hardcopy, in those days), I received a postcard acknowledging my submission and warning me that due to the size of the Black Lace slush pile, I should not expect any feedback for several months. I shrugged and stored the card in my files. The possibility that Ms. Sharp would want my book seemed quite remote.
Imagine my surprise when I got an email from her three days after the arrival of the card, offering me a contract! In particular, she wanted me to give her a date by which I could send the complete manuscript.
I hadn't a clue. I made a wild guess that quickly became a legal commitment, then set about fulfilling that commitment.
I was pretty pleased when I put the manuscript into the post (actually, I believe I Fedexed it), with a week to spare. Imagine my dismay when I received a stern email from Ms. Sharp informing me that I had not lived up to my contract. I'd contracted to produce a novel of 80,000 words. The manuscript I'd sent was only 73,000. I had no idea back then that the length really mattered. I spent a frantic weekend writing a new chapter and an epilogue and rushed them over to the UK.
Kerri Sharp's edits to my text were as numerous and exhaustive as one might expect from her guidelines. Although she didn't hold back from suggesting changes to structure or plot, the bulk of her modifications focused on my American vocabulary, spelling, punctuation and style. For instance, she wanted to change all my "panties" to "knickers". Meanwhile, I couldn't even think "knickers" without bursting out laughing. Men's clothing caused problems, too. I remember many a pair of "pants" that I had to turn into "trousers".
Perhaps the most controversial change she requested was in the final scene, a competition staged to allow my heroine to choose one man from among her three eager lovers. Of course Kate selects the dominant Gregory, who carries her off to the bathroom, binds her to the plumbing, and proceeds to screw her the way she wants. That scene originally ended with a golden shower, as Gregory claimed and marked his woman in the most physical way I could imagine.
I personally thought this was intense and erotic, but my editor made me remove it (although to Black Lace's credit, the list of forbidden topics in the guidelines does not include bodily fluids). Kerri argued that even though I thought this was sexy, many readers wouldn't agree. She also commented, with impeccable logic, that a man with an erection would have serious difficulty carrying out the action as described.
I gave in. Probably that was the right choice. At the time, Kerri Sharp was an authority figure. I could easily imagine her wearing black leather and carrying a whip!
I never had the opportunity to meet Ms. Sharp. Google tells me she is now a senior editor for Simon & Schuster, where I'm certain she continues to provide her signature mix of acuity and passion. After the edits were done, while I was waiting for the book to come out, I used to fantasize about traveling to London for a big release party - hobnobbing with the other Black Lace authors (who, I was sure, must be glamorous, sexy individuals) and finally getting the chance to greet - and to thank - Kerri Sharp. At the time I didn't understand that publishing was a nuts-and-bolts business often handled on a shoestring budget. I imagined toasting Kerri with champagne - along with Portia da Costa, whose book inspired me to write for Black Lace in the first place. The dreams of a newbie!
Still, today, six novels and scores of short stories later, I'd like to raise a virtual toast to my tough, competent first editor. Some of the editors I've had since have made me appreciate her all the more. She might have been a bit prickly, but she was serious about her job, and she performed it with consummate skill.
I'll leave you with a final quote from the Black Lace guidelines.
Finally, it's worth considering the thesis that erotica is the most difficult genre to write successfully. Achieving and maintaining the reader's suspension of disbelief is more important in this genre than any other. More significantly, erotica stretches your writing skills to the utmost. You are called upon to create believable plot, character and settings, but you know that a) much of the book must consist of frequent and detailed descriptions of sex; and b) the actual events described must not be so unpleasant as to detract from the book's erotic charge. Your writing, therefore, has to be very efficient. Not a word can be wasted, and you have to make large parts of the text serve more than one function... Writing an erotic novel will certainly hone your authorial skills.
Back in 1999, I didn't realize how very true this was. Kerri Sharp helped me (and dozens of other erotic authors) do just that.
Saturday, March 24, 2012
By Nara Malone (Guest Blogger)
I arrive in the city via computer, spit out by a server rack. It looks deserted. Dystopias always do. But I'm not alone here. I don't need my scanner to tell me there are others. You know that feeling you get, fine hairs lifting on the back of your neck, a hyper-awareness--as if your skin has thousands of invisible antennae? I have that feeling and know I'm watched. I keep an eye on shadowy corners as I move forward, reading the rules and regulations of the city, looking over the role play board for a position that suits. Then I see a small poster, almost missed among the bolder ads: Wanna play hard and dirty? I smile and click it to take a tag that labels me prey.
I could be anything here: a soldier or a corporate operative controlling this world, a club dancer using sex to gain some power, or hook up with a rebel gang. I choose the bottom card in a stacked deck.
Why would I choose the role of powerless female in a society where almost everyone has the power to grab and use me for pleasure or take out their powerlessness on me?
You know those nature shows where you see a prey animal, like a rabbit, and a coyote is chasing it? The rabbit dives in a hole and the coyote barks furiously, starts digging. Meantime the rabbit pops up from another hole. It watches the coyote still digging and yapping, enjoying the joke it played and then quietly hops away. That's me. I’m the rabbit.
The collective brain power that goes into building a role play sim is amazing. Looking at a snapshot of a world strictly as a piece of 2D art is impressive, but these sims are more than that. They’re incredible 3D art you can walk through and interact with, art you can live and die in. There are weapons-- chainsaw watches anyone? Some worlds are scripted with health meters that sap your physical strength over time. You have to find food to gain strength. You have to find medicine and a place to rest and heal when you're injured.
You learn how to survive here in the dystopian sims, much the same as you learn to land a plane with flight simulators. Here you get to imagine the world at its worst and come up with ways to deal with it. Problem solving, assertiveness, cunning, are all skills you can draw on in your real life. Researchers say what we do successfully in virtual reality can have a positive impact on our real life. What better way to build a strong psyche that to take on a role where everyone has more power and you can still beat them?
I suspect that's the lure of dystopian novels and movies. Earth’s environment is reeling under the impact of overpopulation and corporate greed--in between wars, political games, plagues, and natural disasters--we all wonder what will become of us. We need stories about people who crawl out from under the bottom of a stacked deck and not only survive but triumph. It may be hard. It may be dirty. But we need to believe it's doable.
My newest novel, Snatch Me, is the story of a young who escapes her real life problems by playing the role of prey in a post-apocalyptic virtual world. You can see shots of the dystopian world I used for the setting and learn more about the story in this trailer:
Or grab a copy and read about her adventures:
Friday, March 23, 2012
Dystopia of my Nightmares
I am deep in my own mind, lost in a swirl of words written by me. Yes, written. Typed, on this computer, when I have power. Written by hand in notebooks when I do not. Written in my head to be transcribed as soon as I can-- because they must be written down in order to be real.
I dare not tell the others, for they will consider me insane and will report my rebellion. My madness. For surely it must be madness to spend my precious hours constructing words and sentences and paragraphs in a language no one understands anymore. No one would even recognize the computer I use, it is so antiquated as to appear an ancient artifact. But it hums when I turn it on and gives me the ability to do what they will never allow-- write my stories.
The youngest here do not even know what a computer is, other than a dream vaguely recalled during a memory of mother's childhood. Everything that anyone needs to know (which is far less than one might think) is implanted at birth. I have your memories, you have mine. The children have all of ours. The ones worth knowing, the ones deemed useful and for the collective good. How to sustain life, how to create shelter, how to prepare food, how to manufacture clothing, tools, transportation, medicine. How to interact in the most peaceful of ways. How to reproduce, when necessary. (Also far less than one might think-- if one was allowed to think.) How to respect authority, the only authority that matters.
Implants give us everything we need for life. Everything else has been cast aside or banned. For the collective good, you understand. But of course you understand-- you know what I know. You know that there is no need to do these things: question, ponder, wonder, research, study, learn, educate, inform, explain, share, feel, love, desire. Those words are archaic. We know everything we need to know, are allowed to know, are supposed to know. Anything we do not know does not exist.
Books do not exist. Periodicals are extinct. No one reads anymore. No one knows how, the written languages have been forgotten. They stopped teaching cursive first, then no one needed to know how to print. Then dictation software made typing obsolete, then implants made reading redundant. All the great stories already exist, or so we have been told, and there is no reason to create new ones. The classics are implanted, the approved tales are in our collective psyche. All others have disappeared. They do not exist. No one reads anymore. No one reads.
And yet I still write. I cannot stop. If I stop, I will die just as surely as I will die if they catch me. If this is not madness, I don't know what is. And yet I still write these words. Why? For you, dear reader, wherever you are. For the few who escaped, the ones who ran, who fought, who resisted. For the ones who have been declared too fragile, too old, too undeserving, too criminal. For the curious who learned the old ways, for the academics who were not cast out or reinvented. For the other writers, because there must be others. I cannot be the only one. Please don't let me be the only one. I write my words for you. For myself. For the future, whatever future there may be once they have destroyed everything.
I write to keep the faith. My faith.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
After the Cure
How far medical science has progressed in less than two centuries. Now, in 2065, “we the people” have outgrown the awkward process of electing a government, supposedly so characteristic of an adolescent state of development. The disease of free will has almost been eradicated.
In my youth, I had a favourite T-shirt that said: “I’d rather wallow in my pathology.” I would venture outdoors with this slogan spread proudly across my breasts. Of course, they took it from me when I was committed.
I hope this message reaches you. I don’t have much time left. I learned that I am scheduled to be euthanized in thirty days. I was diagnosed with Feminine Senescence (being an old woman) years ago, and now it’s been determined that my condition is terminal. There is no point, according to the Director of the Clinic, in forcing me to suffer until I die of natural causes.
What they don’t say is that the government can’t find a use for me, since I can’t have babies who would raise the declining birthrate. No new fruit of my womb will be socialized according to the principles of Mental Health or report all signs of illness in their mother to the proper authorities. I won’t be missed by anyone who counts.
So many of those I loved have gone. Most didn’t go willingly. Some were diagnosed with Feminine Juvescence (being young, immature females), some with hyper-pigmentation of the skin. Most of those I miss were found guilty of sexual perversions, including a desire for sex without a corresponding desire for pregnancy. Those diagnosed with Masturbatory Insanity were euthanized first. Last year, the World Health Organization announced that thanks to an effective educational campaign, masturbation has been wiped out.
I fervently hope I get to see my loved ones again, somewhere beyond the physical world. I don’t really know if there is an afterlife. My willingness to consider the possibility has been written up as a sign of Senescent Heuristic Impairment.
If, against the odds, this reaches someone who has not yet been brought in for diagnosis and treatment, here is my advice and my blessing: believe your own senses, and cherish your feelings. Don’t let them tell you what to think, and what your experience really means. Cling to hope, even when all the evidence is discouraging, and your closest companions tell you (for your own good, of course) how neurotic you are.
As they said in the Dark Ages of universal madness: Where there’s life, there’s hope.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Peter and Molly
She was snuffling into the pillow
“Are you awake?” he said. “Are you all right, Sarah?”
“You hate me.” She whispered.
“No, I don’t." He fumbled for something to say. "You’re my good wife. My fresh new bride.”
“I’m a bad wife. I’m not what you wanted.”
He sat up straight, feeling angry at having to prepare himself first thing in the morning to tell her more lies. “You don’t know that.” Watching her broad back, her shaking shoulders, more than anything he felt baffled and small. He didn’t want this, any of this. His hand touched her shoulder and she squirmed away from him.
“Last night.” She whispered into the pillow. “You were treating me like an animal. You wanted me to do dirty things.”
She rolled over, sat up, facing him, smoothing out her heavy night gown. He still had no idea what she looked like underneath. She’d been crying for a while, even while he’d slept. Her fish belly white face was puffy and red eyed.
“Maybe I was too amorous, too filled with love for you.”
“Oh shut up.”
“Sarah - it’s what husbands do with their wives.”
“As soon as we were alone, you began acting all – all nasty! You had your thing out! Your thing! Your weenie thing! Sticking your hands all over under my clothes, where they don’t belong. Showing your big red weenie to me. That was disgusting!”
“Sarah.” He waved his hands in despair. “The Bible says the marriage bed is undefiled. What do you think that means? You’re still a virgin. Don’t you know what a virgin is?”
“It means husband and wives sleep together celebrating their pure love for Jesus.”
“But what about babies?”
“Of course we’ll have babies.”
“But how do you think you’re going to have a baby if you won’t let me do it?”
“Put…” he could hardly describe it for shame. “”Put my… you know. In you.”
“What? What are you saying, Adam?”
“Listen, Sarah. Tonight, Elder Mid Wife Goody Harris is coming here. She wants to see if we consummated our marriage. That’s what it means. It’s not a marriage unless I put my thing in you. That’s what she’s going to check you for. It’s not a legal marriage unless you let me put my thing in you. They’ll send you away. Don’t you know that?”
He looked at her face and realized with shock, she really didn’t. “Sarah, beautiful darling, where do you think babies come from?”
“From their home in heaven with Jesus.”
“Yes, but how do they get inside your belly? Did anybody explain it to you?”
“My mother told me, she said the Holy Spirit will come to me, just like it did to the Mother of Our Lord. And then the Holy Spirit will get me with child.”
Adam looked in her eyes and she stared back defiantly. “Nobody’s ever told you how to make a baby.”
“You hate me! You think I’m stupid.” She wailed and hid her face in a handful of the blankets.
“I don’t,” he said. “I just didn’t know you didn’t know.” He took the blanket away from her face. “I’m going to have to explain something to you. Listen.”
She looked at him suspiciously and crossed her arms over her breasts. “Don’t you touch me with your weenie.”
“Listen. The man has the seed. The woman has the womb, like the field.” He made a hollow fist with his left hand. He inserted his right thumb into his hollow fist and thrust it in and out. “You see how it works? The man plants the seed. That’s how it’s done.”
She turned red and looked away. “Lord Jesus, protect me from sin. Lord Jesus protect me from sin.”
“So how do you think the seed gets inside the woman’s belly?”
“The Lord puts it there.”
“No!” he caught himself just in time. Patience. Patience was the thing. “A man loves a woman. He feels so close to her and loves her so much he wants to be even closer. As close as he can possibly be. Like me, I want to feel close to you and to love you. When the man feels very close to the woman and he’s bursting to be even more close to her - he does this.” He got off the bed and stood in front of her. Watching her face carefully, he removed his pajama top and dropped it on the floor. He untied the drawstring of his pajama pants. He drew his pants down exposing himself to her. She turned away at the sight. He held out his hand to her and she looked at his flaccid penis, her lip trembling.
Look at her face, he thought, look what we’ve all done to her. It’s so hard for her. She wants to do right, to please me or to please Jesus or please somebody. She wants that so bad. She turned her head a little and was cautiously looking down at him.
Feeling the cool air, and her eyes staring at his penis, he felt it begin to stir. He looked down. It really is an ugly thing, he thought, the first time you see it. A big bag of skin. That strange long thing hanging down, sometimes sticking up by itself, all on the outside as if God had put it there at the very end of His act of creation as a joke. “Have you ever seen a naked man before?”
She shook her head. But her eyes were wide now, staring hostilely at his cock. "Put your weenie away."
“It’s a penis. Say penis.”
“peh . . peh . . . ”
“Peh. . . no.”
“My penis is how I plant the seed in your field. You have a different thing, and my penis fits inside it.” He made the fist and the thumb for her. "Why do you think it fits inside?" Thrust, thrust, thrust.
"Stop doing that!”
“Doesn’t it make sense? Touch it. Just touch it.” He stepped close, almost putting it in her face. For the longest time, she sat huddled in misery. Finally, hesitantly, swallowing, she reached out and ran her finger tips along it. He felt a rushing tingle and began to stiffen.
She jumped back as if she’d been burned. “What’s it doing? Do you make it do that?”
He took her hand and gently wrapped her fingers around his cock. “No, you made it do that. It likes you. It belongs to you.” He said, suddenly feeling very strange at the thought. “This is your pet penis. Give him a name.”
“I don’t know. Peter?”
“Peter the penis.”
She smiled a little for the first time. “What do you want to call me? What I have?”
“Molly! You have a vagina. Your vagina is Molly. Peter and Molly.” He swallowed hard. “Sarah. Please. I want to see you.”
She didn’t move. The smile vanished. She let go of Peter. He wanted to speak, to protest, shout, order, demand. He waited, standing in the middle of the room, nude with poor Peter standing at half mast like a curious animal. Her eyes moved to look at him and he waited.
To his amazement, she got off the bed. With her back turned away from him, she slipped the night gown off over her head and dropped it on the floor. Her body was bare from the waist up. Soft and pliant, full in the thighs and ass. She drew down her panties, and kicked them away. She stood looking at the bed, her arms hanging straight at her sides. Her fists clenched. Cautiously, he came up behind her, and caressed her back softly with his fingertips. He massaged her shoulders and she allowed him. Gently he slipped his hands down, down under her arms which she lifted for him and he reached around. He took her soft baby bird breasts in his warm palms and lifted them, feeling the nipples rise. She was shivering. “You’re tempting me.”
“Tempting you to what?” he said, softly.
She raised her arms a little more, elbows hovering, and leaned back against him. He held her gently from behind, his hard shaft pressing the small of her back, now running his hands over her, lifting and dropping her breasts, pinching her nipples. Slowly, he inched his right hand down her belly, then below and twined his fingertips in her wiry nether hair.
“Lay down on the bed.” He croaked. "Do it now."
At first, nothing. And then, trembling, she moved away from him and turned around. Facing him. Naked. Her eyes looked frankly into his, one foot shyly crossed over the other and she gave him time. Time to run his eyes over her, appraise her, judge her, approve of her, love her, imagine the future with her. Her fecund belly, her bell shaped breasts, wide wall eyed nipples that looked shyly down, her thick topped thighs. Her eyes, waiting.
Turning her back to him, she lifted a knee, mounted the bed, then the other leg, rolled, and lay down in front of him on her back, her eyes never leaving his face. He got on the bed, placed himself, kneeled between her knees and touched her sex beneath.
“This is what we’re going to do.” He said.
“Don’t hurt me.” She whispered.
“Peter belongs in there.” He said. “Can you feel it? That feeling like Molly wants something inside her?”
“Let me do something for you first. Trust me.”
He inched back on the bed, dipped his head down and touched his lips to her sex hair, kissing her inner thigh. Her body tensed and began to move away from him, until he put his hands on her hips and held her in place. He peeked at Molly. There above her wet cleft, a swelling ridge. A smooth little pink nub. A miracle.
They didn’t cut her. I have four wives, and I’ve never seen a clitoris before now. She still has a clitoris. Thank you Jesus, thank you.
He felt her electric tension, a baffled mix of gathering lust and fear. His other wives would never let him go as far as she had already. What he was doing, even now, would have had them screaming in rage and threatening to turn him over to the Chastity Police. They had been damaged in every way. She had not. They had had their clitorises cut away, almost at birth. The memory had been burned into their very nerves. Unlike this one here, they understood sex and despised it with holy hate. They resented him for his hound dog desires, the marital duty of having to tolerate his climbing on top of them, grunting over them in the dark and finally splashing their wombs with his foul spunk in order to have children. This sheltered girl was still intact in every way. She had possibilities. She knew nothing of sex. Maybe she could learn to want it, maybe – impossible! – but maybe even seek him out for it, to come to his bed willingly, nude, wet inside and eager for him. This girl alone of his wives could learn to love him without fear. The other wives would expose her if they knew her secret. Maybe even have her cut, out of sheer malicious spite.
He put his tongue to the tiny nub, tasted it and played with it. She tensed and lifted her knees, he pressed them down to hold her tight over the edge of whatever was happening inside her.
“Adam. . . I didn't wash . . . “
He licked her nub and she jumped, but stayed as she was, as he ran the flat of his tongue along the swelling shaft above her cleft, himself feeling terrified of what he was doing, and the terror fascinated him, kept him moving compulsively to the next illicit moment and the next, unable to let go of the seaweed taste, the slick feel, the sheer danger. He played her with his tongue, feeling the tiny noodle tip of her clit and kissing it with the curled tip of his wet tongue. She rolled her hips undulating against his face. Her breathing became ragged and then urgent. “Stop! No! Adam - stop!” She went limp. He continued.
With a sudden strangling sound she thrashed her hips once, banging hard into his nose. She sprang half off the bed, shoving him off her lap wheezing,laughing wildly. The bed squealed as she collapsed back, curled up on her side into a ball, put her hands between her legs and held herself there. Her lips were tightly puckered in surprise.
"Are you all right?"
She stared blankly and nodded her chin. "... Yuh ... huh-huh...”
"But are you all right? I didn't hurt you?"
Her thighs squeezed hard against her hands and her belly shivered. She groaned and bit the pillowcase hard, gasping. After a moment she said “Did you know that would happen?"
"Are you happy?"
She shook her head. "My body feels silly."
"Is it good?"
"I don’t know."
"I think it’s the way I feel when I give my seed to a wife."
She looked troubled, still holding her hands between her legs. She was looking up at the ceiling fan and thinking. "Isn’t there a Holy Spirit? My mother said there's a Holy Spirit and the man just watches. She wouldn’t just say that. Or lie to me."
This poor girl, he thought. This poor, excellent girl.
She looked at him, slack faced and confused.
He gently removed her hands from between her legs. He patted her thighs apart. She folded her arms across her chest and he could see her pale pasty skin was flushed a glowing pink from neck to belly and her face was almost red. She squeezed her arms so that her nipples seemed to pop out and the sight made him feel carnal and huge.
"I feel so much." she said. "I feel everything."
He eased himself down between her legs, belly to belly, his cock nested in her wet thatch of wiry hair. "It's that time.” he said. He kissed her lips. With his hand he stroked her soft hair and she looked lost. “All right? Its time for Molly to meet Peter now.” He nudged the tip of his cock against her.
She came to herself and looked down. “What are you doing?”
“Shh. Hold still.” Reaching down with his hand, he rubbed his cock against her wet cleft, feeling for the spot.
“Oh no. . . oh no.. . . stop. Adam. Don’t hurt Molly. Be careful.”
Her last words – be careful – were her assent to him, her surrender. He proceeded to press into the spot, felt her interior resistance. His body wanted to thrust in ruthlessly, he held himself back.
He gentled his way in, whispering love words in her ear, chanting, stroking her neck and her breasts in a methodical way that he seemed instinctively to know how to do without knowing how he knew. She became deeply relaxed, limp, breathing quietly. Her eyes closed.
He caressed her and continued, rocking gently, setting up an easy rhythm. She opened her eyes. “This feels all wrong. Are you sure this is what we do . . . .”
“Molly.” Swinging his hips forward, he pushed through with a hard thrust.
She ground her teeth hard.
“Almost over.” He whispered. “Relax. Relax your legs. Almost done.” She was panicking. “It’s okay. Just let me do this.” Her eyes were welling with tears. She was trying to wriggle out from under him as he felt his orgasm gathering. Her struggles excited him and he battered her groin harder, faster, dropping his weight down on her. “Molly!”
She got her hands under him and heaved him off. He tumbled down off the bed to the floor. His stiff cock, glistening and blood speckled, waved in the air alien, and unsatisfied. “Why did you do that?” He shouted.
“It hurts!” She was crying again. “You lied to me!"
He hadn’t come. Seeing her this way, enough was enough. “Your mother lied! Everybody lied to you all your dammed life! I wasn’t trying to hurt you. I was making love to you. Love!”
“You can’t put it there! It doesn’t go there.”
“I’m sorry!” he waved his arms. “I’ve had it with you. I need to leave for work.” He went into the bathroom and washed himself at the sink.
When he came out to look for his suit, she was sitting at the edge of the bed, naked, with the blanket over her knees, looking down. He came up to her hesitantly. There were no more plans. "Well, Sarah." He stood over her, putting on a jolly voice for her. "You’re a woman now. You’re a real wife."
“Do you know," she said, looking at the floor, "I have to give all my life to you. But you only give a fourth of your life to me. That’s all I've got.” She looked up at him sadly. "I wanted a honeymoon."
"Maybe someday." He didn’t know what else to say. He found his clothes and quickly dressed. As he tied his shoes she was still sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the floor.
She looked up at him as he went to the door. "Husband?"
He turned. The sight of her made him hate himself.
"I feel dirty." She said, “Love should be about higher things. Not like animals."
"What you did? That was a sin. That was a big sin. What I did, that was a big sin too. I know because I can feel the Devil inside me now. Tempting my flesh, making me want it more. You’re not supposed to want things like that, dirty things. I'm going to fast and pray for forgiveness, and I'm going to confess to Sister Goody Harris when she comes here tonight."
A wave of mortal panic washed over him. "No!"
She looked at him with hostility. "Why not?"
"Why? Why? Because they'll kill us, that's why."
Her face fell apart. She grabbed the blanket and threw it over her nakedness and began rocking back and forth. "Oh no. . . I knew it. . Oh my Lord Jesus. . ."
"Its sodomy, Sarah, that’s what we did. Got that? If you tell Goody I was licking and kissing Miss Molly, they can stone us to death for that."
She stuffed the blanket in her mouth and cried. "What did you do to me? I didn’t want you to do anything to me. Adam, what did you do? What will we do now?"
"Do? We won’t do anything, all right? You shut your mouth, that’s what you do. We consummated the marriage. That's all Goody wants to know."
"No more." she said softly. "You made me sin. I didn’t want it; it's your fault. Adam? After we have our baby, we have to stop. No more Molly. No more Peter. Don’t touch me anymore after that. No."
He stood in the doorway hating her. Hating everything about his life.
"Do you love me now?" She said.
"Molly." he sighed. "I don’t even know who you are."
He closed the door behind him as he left.
"Sarah." She wiped her nose with her fist. Rising up from the bed, tightening her jaw, standing, defiantly nude, attuned to the ringing silence of the room.
"My name is Sarah."
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
My Passion For Pain
And I'll admit, I've been eating them up like nothing else. Hunger Games, Divergence, Delirium, Matched, Wither, The Forest of Hands and Teeth...I can't get enough of them. Which is understandable. They're filling a void in me for a certain type of book that adult fiction just hasn't been doing, and I love them.
What's less understandable is why I love dystopian fiction in the first place. What draws me to these terrible future worlds - both in books, and in film? What is it I love so much about them? I'm not entirely sure, though I think I can narrow it down to three main reasons:
1. In these books, the worst has already happened, in one way. I don't have to hold my breath, waiting for a terrible apocalypse to come. I don't have to wonder if awful is just around the corner. It's already arrived, and if I can face it, I'll be okay.
2. The stakes are immediatly raised. Everything and anything can be a crime, or an issue of some type, or a thing you've been denied - as Lisabet's outline neatly showed (fantastic idea and story, BTW, Lisabet!). And when this is already the foundation of the story, the drama is heightened. The tension is greater. And the rewards are far sweeter.
3. The boundaries are higher. I've spoken before about how much I love boundaries of some type around sex, and how hard that it is to achieve in modern settings. But in dystopian settings, the boundaries can be so high they practically touch Mars. You can have worlds where sex doesn't exist, worlds where sex with the wrong person gets you killed, worlds where sex makes you ill. Which is why I one day hope to write some of my own dystopian tales, complete with forbidden bonking.
As for any other, deeper reasons as to why I love dystopias...I don't know. I think that's as deep as I go.
P.S. If you're interested, my first novel from new imprint Mischief is out on Thursday. It's called Power Play, and it's about a woman who loves being dominated by her kinky boss...until she becomes the boss herself, and discovers the kinds of things her equally kinky assisstant is into...
You can find it here:
Monday, March 19, 2012
What a World
I sense we're tackling this subject as the movie version of the Hunger Games is being released soon.
I bought the first book of the Hunger Games and read the first chapter. Then I set it aside. I probably will go back to it since everyone else in the house loved it.
Lately, dystopian futures have been big. I can see why. The future looks grim. We're wiping out honey bees with pesticides meant to increase crop production when bees are the primary fertilizer of those crops. We've vastly overpopulated the earth. There's a raft of trash floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean bigger than Rhode Island. The United States is in the grip of an ideological war that could make us a third world country in a generation through the destruction of our education system. And between our prison population and people forced to food stamps to avoid starvation, what's there to look forward to?
Dystopias present a world of extreme deprivation (in the Western World view of things, because Darfur is real and it's terrible beyond imagination but no one ever writes anything that bleak because no one wants to have to look at that reality, despite the fact that it is well within the abilities of the world community to change everything there. But that's a different rant.) But dystopias aren't unrelentingly bad or no one could stand to read them. Is the Hunger Games that much different from Stephen King's The Running Man? Or Logan's Run? Or The Handmaid's Tale? I don't know because I haven't seen the story through to the finish, but I suspect that the main character eventually incites the masses to turn on the ruling class through personal sacrifice. The triumph of the individual over the system is a common theme in US stories. I wonder if in societies that value community over the individual if it's always the cooperation of the many that results in positive change. And that's what dystopias are about, strangely enough. They're about hope.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
By Lisabet Sarai
The year is 2045. The sexually-transmitted Plague that killed a third of the U.S. population and left half the survivors sterile has been under control for more than seven years, but the country is still suffering. American technology, already on the decline before the disaster, has fallen further behind the competition from India, Brazil, and other powerhouse economies. People huddle in the deteriorating cities on both coasts; the center of the country belongs to bandits and the survivalist communities who saw the crash coming. The birthrate continues to drop, despite government propaganda and the availability of fertility boosting drugs. Scarred by memories of horrible death and devastating riots, and still afraid of residual contagion, people prefer the simulated sexual experience provided by EyePorn to the real thing.
The Guardians of American Greatness blame the crisis on homosexuals. The Plague first appeared in the gay community, and gay men were the first to die. When existing institutions collapsed, the Guardians stepped in to provide order. They rounded up every man whose profile revealed the homogene, imprisoning the captives in remote quarantine camps patrolled by robot wardens and surrounded by moats of toxic waste. At a time when the mobs were screaming for gay blood, the Guardians called the quarantine solution humane. Now people barely remember the existence of the incarcerated gays, though homosexual activity is still a capital crime.
Twenty four year old Dylan Moore has spent nearly a third of his life in desolate Malheur Camp, in the barren reaches of eastern Oregon. He's determined to escape or die in the attempt. A genius with electronics, Dylan manages to subvert the prison security systems and catch the attention of one of the two human guards in the facility, Rafe Cowell. Rafe is an ex-gang member, forced to work at Malheur as an alternative to a jail sentence. Although he's H-negative, Rafe finds Dylan disturbingly attractive and ultimately agrees to help him flee.
When Dylan's clever plans fall apart, the two men both end up as fugitives. They make their way to the partially ruined city of Sanfran, hoping to emigrate to Brazil or Thailand or some other gay-friendly country. However, they become entangled with the underground Queer Resistance as well as the ambitious city mayor, darling of the Guardians, who has his own private agenda.
This is the world of Quarantine, my M/M erotic romance novel due out in July. It's not so different from our own, and that's very deliberate. It's only a small step from the virulent anti-gay rhetoric one encounters in the U.S. media to a future that includes places like Malheur Camp. That may seem far-fetched, a gross violation of the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, but we've seen those guarantees savaged before in a crisis or emergency. Remember the American citizens of Japanese descent confined to internment camps during World War II? My scenario is not nearly as unthinkable as one would like to believe.
There are other aspects of my dystopia that are far too plausible for comfort. In Rafe's and Dylan's world, many citizens are not literate. Pictures and symbols have begun to replace text on public signs. Huge video screens loom over the city buildings, displaying non-stop images of peace and plenty. The Guardians deliberately cultivate nostalgia for the nineteen fifties, supposedly America's golden age of prosperity and power. Pictures of beloved "Uncle Ike" hang in every public place.
Surveillance devices are everywhere. A microchip buried under the skin of every individual encodes his or her identity and genetic profile. Robotic soldiers prowl the sidewalks, transmitting data back to Guardian headquarters. The only obstacle to complete control of the population is the unreliability of American-made technology.
It took me more than a year to finish Quarantine. I lost confidence about half way through and stopped writing, convinced that my vision of the future was simply too ordinary and obvious to be compelling. There are no starships in this book, no nanotechnology, no cyber-implants that can enhance your intelligence. The most sophisticated invention I describe is the EyePorn pod, a virtual sex device that interfaces with the limbic system and injects genetically tailored hormones into the user's bloodstream. Not too original - I wouldn't be surprised to see something like this available within five years.
I want to thank Garce for helping me get through that bad spell. His "muddling" was invaluable. It also helped to remind myself that I was writing erotic romance first - that the scifi aspect was perhaps less important than the relationship between the protagonists. In any case, Quarantine definitely falls into the "soft" category of science fiction. I'm mostly concerned with societal attitudes - and how they can be manipulated - in particular, attitudes about sexuality. A friend recently compared Quarantine to The Handmaid's Tale, and I think that's apt. Like Margaret Atwood's heroine, Dylan and Rafe are victims of a hypocritical system that demonizes their natural urges.
Here's an unedited excerpt from the book. Dylan and Rafe have made it to SanFran, and have been told to seek out the head of QR in the Castro exclusion zone - the former center of gay culture, now supposedly contaminated with Plague prions.
As they approached the corner of Market and Dolores, a wall of gray steel slats, nearly two stories high, rose in front of them. Red-lettered signs plastered the hoarding: "Contaminated Area. Extreme danger. Do not enter." plus scowling skull and crossbones icons for those citizens who couldn't read. The official notices were augmented by coarser, more casual notices: "Die fags!" and "Kill the queers". Dylan was used to such sentiments, but Rafe's body stiffened as they approached the barrier.
The fence ran left along the west side of Dolores as far as they could see. Meanwhile, it stretched for blocks along Market. It appeared at first to be impenetrable, but at Castro there was a closed gate, wide enough for a bulldozer. Dylan was surprised to find that the entry was bolted but not locked and there no guards. He scanned the power poles and neighbouring buildings. He didn't see any cameras, though that meant little.
Market Street was momentarily empty of both people and vehicles. "This is our chance," he told his companion in a loud whisper. "Now!" He slipped the bolt and cracked open the door.
"Wait—maybe we shouldn't—the Plague..." Rafe hung back as Dylan stepped partway inside.
"Come on!" Dylan hooked Rafe's upper arm and yanked him into the shadows on the other side of the door. Rafe stumbled on a heap of debris. Dylan steadied him. Nervous sweat beaded the black man's brow.
Sympathy tightened Dylan's chest. Poor Rafe. Despite his gang background, he wasn't used to being hunted. Plus he still believed the Guardians' propaganda. Dylan pulled off his mask, stuffing it into his back pocket, then moved to do the same with Rafe's.
"No!" The ex-guard backed away. "I'll keep it on."
"Don't be silly," Dylan laughed, snatching the mask away and planting a kiss on Rafe's mouth. He felt his lover relax a bit. "I'm sure we're being watched in here. We need to show who we are, so they know they can trust us." He pushed the hood back, exposing Rafe's scowling face.
"But the Plague..."
"Artemis said it was safe, that the disease has died out. Don't you believe her?"
"Um—I'm not sure..."
"Well, I do. She's one smart lady. I think the Plague is the least of our worries." He held out his hand to his hesitant partner. "It'll be okay, Rafe. As long as we're together, we're okay."
Rafe grunted in reply, but he allowed Dylan to lead him deeper into the exclusion zone.
The devastation was more extensive than anything they'd seen so far. The streets were pocked with grenade craters and lined with heaps of charred rubble that had once been buildings. In some places it was difficult to walk. They trudged uphill, dodging piles of debris, scanning for any signs of life. It was eerily silent. The babble from the vidscreens didn't seem to penetrate here.
Dylan checked the map, then turned left onto a narrower street. Half-demolished wooden structures leaned at crazy angles around them. "This should be Church," he told Rafe as they took a right. "And that should be Wilde Baths."
He pointed to a three story, stucco building across the road. The roof had caved in on the left, but the right side of the edifice appeared to be intact. Splintered boards shuttered the windows. Weeds sprouted on the sills. Despite its dodgy appearance, however, Wilde Baths had a very solid-looking front door.
Dylan knocked, three long, two short, one long, the way Artemis had instructed. Sixty seconds went by. No one answered. The buzz of a helicopter sounded overhead. His heart slammed against his ribs. Could Artemis have betrayed them?
As though sensing his unease, Rafe put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Dylan took a deep breath and knocked again.
Hinges creaked and the door opened an inch or two. "Yeah?" The unseen man sounded annoyed, even angry.
"We're friends of Oscar," Dylan answered with the pass phrase. "Artemis sent us. We need to talk to Hammer."
The gap widened another few inches. A slender man with a trim goatee glared at them. "Hammer's not here now."
"Can we come in? Wait for him?" Rafe interjected. The engine noise grew louder. "It's not safe for us out here."
The man's eyes flicked over them, weighing the risks. Finally he nodded. "Okay." Stepping back, he let them enter, then bolted the door behind them. "Here." He handed each of them a folded, dingy-looking towel and a key, then pointed down a dimly lit corridor. "Locker room's at the end of the hall. Baths are in the basement, massage on the second floor. I'll come find you when he gets back." Dylan didn't expect the grin that twitched at the man's thin mouth. "Have fun."
"Wait a minute..." Rafe tried to return the towel.
Dylan grabbed his hand and pulled him down the hall. "Thanks," he called back. "We really appreciate it."
Rafe struggled to extricate his hand from Dylan's grip. "Stop," he hissed. "No way I'm getting naked in front of a bunch of queers."
"Oh really? Do you want to go back outside, then? Well, go ahead." Dylan was suddenly furious. How could he love such a damned homophobe? "Maybe that copter wasn't looking for us after all. Anyway, you're not queer. You don't have to worry. You can explain it all. How you were tricked into helping some Plague-infected perv escape quarantine. It wasn't your fault, was it? Sneaky little fag must have drugged you or something. You're straight as Uncle Ike, right?"
Quarantine is scheduled for release some time in July. Don't worry - I'll let you know when as soon as I hear!