Monday, July 30, 2012

Taking Steps

By Lisabet Sarai

God give me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage
To change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I haven't been to a Twelve Step meeting in decades, but the simple prayer above is still a tool I use regularly in dealing with my life. It captures a great deal of wisdom in just a single sentence, suggesting a strategy for overcoming frustration, worry and despair.

The crux of that technique? Maybe some people focus on the acceptance aspect, the notion that fighting against something that's inevitable and immutable simply wastes precious emotional energy without solving any problems. I definitely believe that's true. I resonate strongly with the Buddhist notion that attachment is the source of suffering.

For me, however, the most important function of the so-called Serenity Prayer is to remind me that I have the power to choose, to change aspects of my existence that don't seem to be working well. When I'm unhappy, I've learned to examine the situation in order to determine whether I in fact have any control over the ostensible causes.

Over the past six months, I've been feeling that Oh Get a Grip was floundering. We've had last minute topics, missed posts, Saturdays without guests. Even more distressing was the fact that I wasn't enjoying the process of blogging much anymore. I viewed my Sunday post as one more task I had to get done, a not-necessarily-pleasant responsibility with an inconvenient deadline. That attitude has probably been reflected in the quality of my posts, too (although I'd like to believe that isn't true).

I was aware of my negative emotions swirling around the Grip, but for quite a while I felt powerless to do much about them. I didn't want to shut the blog down – I know we have loyal readers, and anyway I personally love reading the contributions of my fellow blog members. And yet I felt as though I couldn't honestly keep doing it, week after week after week. The blog was draining me, stealing time from my writing, making me feel guilty... I felt trapped.

When I raised the issue with the other blog members, I discovered they had similar feelings – both positive and negative. Together we realized that we didn't have to accept things the way they were, that we could engineer changes to the blog schedule and content without throwing in the towel completely.

So starting this week, you'll see several changes here at Oh Get a Grip. Instead of having daily posts, we'll offer new content three times weekly, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. And each of us will post on alternate weeks. We'll still moot topics to stimulate our creativity and encourage dialogue, but each topic will span two weeks, so every Gripper will have the opportunity to weigh in. We've also modified our procedures for choosing topics, so everyone will know the subject under discussion well in advance - but that's an internal issue. Finally, we won't have regular Saturday guests anymore. However, since we'll have Tuesdays and Thursdays free, we're very open if any other authors want to come and play with us on a temporary basis. (If you'd like to be a guest blogger at the Grip, just email me at the address you'll find here:

We hope that our loyal readers feel as positively about these changes as we do. I'm excited by the prospect of having more time to think about my posts and to pen essays or fiction snippets that really sparkle. And I'm proud that we have had the courage to take the steps necessary to keep the Grip alive and growing – as opposed to just giving up.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Meet the pirate captain

by Jean Roberta


The following is an excerpt from "Chapter Two: A Spinster and a Web" in my pirate novella-in-progress, The Flight of the Black Swan.

Setting: London, 1861. The Queen has just lost her husband Albert, and the United States has begun a Civil War.

Emily, the narrator, is nursing a broken heart after her schoolgirl crush, Lucy, gave in to parental pressure and cut Emily out of her life.

Feeling trapped at home with her family, Emily goes to Hyde Park Corner to take part in a stimulating discussion. There she meets a most unlikely hero, Sir Roger Tingley-Jones, who makes an outrageous proposal of marriage. Having no better options, Emily accepts him. In Chapter Three, she sneaks off in the night to join Roger on a refurbished sailing ship, The Black Swan, and meet the Green Men, all refugees from Her Majesty's Navy. There Emily and Roger are joined in marriage.

Think of Sir Roger as a more openly queer version of Captain Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. (Forget Errol Flynn from earlier Hollywood pirate movies. Swaggering Alpha males are rarely heroes in my fictional world.)

After several adventures, Roger and Emily will end up living happily ever after with their Significant Others. Now there is a good marriage, built on a basis of friendship and understanding. :)


On a Sunday, after church and before tea, I was allowed to spend an afternoon at Speakers' Corner. This outing became the pinnacle of my week.

Joining the crowd in Hyde Park, I was forced to push past other ladies with skirts as sweeping as mine. Due to the dictates of fashion, women in public places made up in volume what we lacked in influence.

A young man with the unkempt appearance and burning eyes of a fanatic addressed the crowd. "Are we Christians?" he asked in a ringing voice. "Have we no sympathy for the wretched creatures who are still sold like cattle in America? We have banished that evil from our Empire. Will we prostitute ourselves by offering friendship to a new nation that fills its coffers from the trade in human flesh?"

Slavery, I thought. The Americans were at war over it since the owners of the great plantations had formed their own Confederacy. By the latest accounts, their army was winning.

I remembered the old plantation houses of Jamaica and the great vats where sugar was turned into rum before Emancipation. Most such signs of imperial grandeur had been overrun by the plant life of the island before I was born. Once I had gone exploring alone and walked into a ramshackle village entirely inhabited by Negroes, where the youngest had never seen anyone like me. A dark child no bigger than I had offered me a bouquet of flowers.

At the time, I wondered whether the gracious young miss had been taught to read and do sums like me. I could not imagine that she and all her friends and relations could ever have been owned like farm animals. When I came to understand the miserable status of slaves, it made me feel ill.

Efforts were made to enlighten me. When a pompous young man, brother of one of my classmates, explained to me in an insinuating tone that the control of primitive types by their betters was in their best interests, I could no more accept it than I could swallow vinegar.

In the present, a swaggering dandy brushed against me. “Pardon me, Miss,” he said in a falsely conciliatory tone. A wide-brimmed hat shaded his face, making his expression hard to interpret. “Freedom for the oppressed is such a stirring concept, don’t you think?”

As I tried to move away, I felt his hand on my purse, which he was trying to steal. “Stop, thief!” I shouted. In the ensuing commotion, he released my property and tried to find an opening in the throng. Looking back at me, he seemed startled.

“I meant no harm, miss!" he protested. “Please forgive me! Are you not --?”

“You’re mistaken, man,” I told him, and turned to leave.

He blocked my way, and I saw how tall and well-formed he was. He wore a tight waistcoat and a lace jabot under a sack coat, all slightly dirty and threadbare. The dark eyes under his hat glowed like coals. “I don’t think so,” he said softly. “I wouldn’t forget such a handsome face, even though you were a child when – well, we won’t speak of that. I would be greatly honored if you would accompany me to a place where we may converse privately.”

“I’m not the sort of woman you take me for,” I spat at him. You can't imagine what sort I am, I thought. I tried to take my leave, but the crush of bodies prevented me from striding away.

“And I’m not the sort of man you take me for,” he responded sotto voce. “Trust me, Emily, if I may address you so. We have more in common than you can imagine on such an unfortunate first impression. Please let me take you to luncheon, and I will explain it all. I am John Greenleaf, and my friend here is James Featherlight.” A plump, blond, pink-cheeked youth bowed shyly. He too wore a hat with a brim that shaded his face.

Our little group was attracting attention. “You may call us John and James,” my new acquaintance continued. “Madam, we are most excellent friends, the bosomest of companions.” He spoke rapidly, leaning as close to me as he dared. “I would sooner be hanged than to offer you any insult, if you take my meaning.”

“Miss,” said a large, red-faced fellow, “is this man annoying you?”

“Not at all,” I replied on impulse. “He is my brother's friend, and we are just going to luncheon.”

My two companions hired a carriage to take us to a poorer part of London, where the houses smelt of boiled cabbage and human waste, and urchins in rags stared at us openly. John led us to a humble shop which served tea and other items which I declined to smell, let alone to taste.

"Please excuse the surroundings, Emily," John beseeched me. "We can't afford to be seen. I'm so sorry not to have met you earlier, especially now that we have planned our departure. Your case has always moved me. Please forgive my presumption, but I feel as if we are kindred spirits. Ought I to know your brother if we cross paths?"

It was my turn to apologize. "Never fear," I assured him. "My brother John went to his reward many years ago. I claimed you as his friend because you share his name."

The man leaned across the table, and spoke almost inaudibly. "I’m sorry for your loss, Emily, but my name isn't really John."

"And mine isn't James," added the other man.

"Softly," warned the man called John. "You must know that we are hunted men, dear. We served in Her Majesty’s Navy, but a moment’s indiscretion could have cost us our lives. We are fugitives, and we set sail for the Bahamas in three days."

“Did your indiscretion involve taking what didn't belong to you?" I asked.

"It does belong --" retorted "John" until he looked at his companion.

The one who called himself James reddened like a quickly ripening tomato. "Please forgive us," he begged. "We didn't mean to rob you. Well, we did, but only because we are in need. We could be hanged for unnatural vices."

"I see." I had never really been in doubt about their nature, but I hadn’t considered the danger it placed them in.

The tea arrived. It tasted safe enough to drink.

"My sister Lucy hasn't forgotten you," said “John.”

I had tried to forget her, with the same lack of success. I was instantly on the brink of tears. To control my feelings, I pressed a fist to my heart. "How is she?" I asked.

"Resigned to her fate," he answered. "Emily, I must speak frankly for your own sake. We would be proud to be your friends, and you haven't many."

"So I've noticed," I told him. "Was Lucy ordered to cut me dead?"

"I’m afraid so,” said “James.” "We're so sorry, Emily. Hottentots could learn savagery from those in Society." Silence reigned for a moment. "You have no reason to trust us," he continued gently, "except that you have no better choice."

There had never been a possibility of my being presented to the Queen, and her grief had nothing to do with me. I could see that now.

“We sail in less than a week. We have a ship, a crew and a mission,” said “John,” as though thinking aloud. “Emily, can you sew?”

“Every woman can sew,” I retorted. “I’m also a fair shot with a bow and arrow, and I can handle a foil, or, um, a sword. What are you really asking me?”

There were other customers in the shop, and “John” was aware of the cost of indiscretion. He came so close to me that for a moment, I expected him to kiss me. “You could be useful on our ship, the Black Swan, and we would see that you come to no harm. You probably wouldn’t even need our protection, dear, because we all belong to the Green Men’s Society. We come from every ship in the Navy, and we all share a certain persuasion. Do you understand?”

“Perfectly.” My heart felt full as I realized what I was being offered: a second chance at life with fellow-outcasts.

Then I remembered my mother and father. “But my parents wouldn’t! And if I sneak out of their house without a word, they’ll think I’ve been kidnapped and murdered again. This time, it would kill them.”

“James” looked down at the stained tablecloth as “John” gazed into space. “Would they accept your departure on your honeymoon?” he asked at last. “What if you were married to the son of a baronet?”

I stared, hardly able to believe what he was suggesting.

“It would have to be arranged quickly,” “John” went on, “but I know a vicar who would do the deed as a favor to me as long as he can be kept out of the public eye. Green Men are everywhere. Emily, if you can play the role of a wife as required, you could help me to make peace with my father and gain my inheritance, if all else fails. The arrangement would benefit us both.”

“I hardly know what to say,” I stammered. “’James,’ could you bear it?”

“Thank you for asking, Emily,” he responded quietly. “If you and ‘John’ can bear it, so can I.”

I reached across the table to offer “John” my hand in every sense. "You are a generous man. Shall I be known as Lady Tingley-Jones?"

"Shh!” replied my suitor. “Our names must be a sacred mystery until we are both safely on deck."

"What curious terms,” I said. “I accept them, Sir, if your offer still stands.”

Curious terms indeed. Had I not been desperate enough to run away to sea alone in a rowboat just to escape from confinement in my parents' home, I would have questioned my suitor more closely. Would he expect me to be his wife in every sense? At the very least, I would probably have to share a bedchamber with him and allow him to see me en deshabille. And "James" might be watching from the wardrobe!

"John" looked genuinely happy. "Then our business here is concluded," he answered. He glanced at the local residents who were staring at us without shame. He paid the proprietor and led the way out of the shop as "James" brought up the rear. I was sure that such a position came naturally to him.

Outdoors, I asked "John" not to escort me home. "But I must be sure of your safe return," he protested.

"Then take me to the street where I live," I pleaded, "and watch until I'm safely indoors, 'John.'” Please understand that I can't introduce you to my parents or my siblings. I shall have to tell them everything in a letter to be read after I'm gone." In the carriage that brought us back to a modestly respectable neighborhood, we made our plans.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Holy Crap! Saint James and the Artist as Anti Hero

 My son wants to be involved in film making and I’ve been trying to educate him as best I can about story craft and introducing him to the great movies.  He’s now running the film club at his school and recently introduced me to one of the most remarkable movies I’ve ever seen - ”Birdemic” by James Nyugen.

(My son would love it if you stopped by and visited his film blog and said hello.)

Nyugen made Birdemic for about $10,000 from his own pocket, shot in his spare time on weekends and evenings over a period of several months.  What to say about “Birdemic”?  Its an apocalyptic movie inspired by Alfred Hitchcocks’s “The  Birds”, in which modern Los Angeles is attacked by birds who look like they’re trying hard to be eagles in an old Atari game.  They hover in a way which is oddly hallucinogenic and poop bombs and vomit toxic yellow . . .stuff. 

Boy, is it bad.

I’ve seen bad movies, and generally they’re just formulaic and boring.  I was spell bound by Birdemic, breathless with admiration, aghast at the sheer density, variety and audacity of crap.  It was wonderful the way eating lard from a can with a spoon might be wonderful.  Imagine every rule of story craft being broken, not by brilliance but by cheerful and innocent ignorance.  This was a man who had no business making a movie, should have been kept away from them by a restraining order, nevertheless filming his little ol’ heart out, swinging for the high fences the way that Babe Ruth once would swing so hard at pitches  if he missed the ball he’d spin himself in a tangle and fall in the dust.  One has to admire it.  It is mediocrity on such a scale as to acquire a kind of grandeur.

There was a time when science fiction was exclusively the fiction of pulp magazines with lurid covers of maidens in peril wearing brass brasseries and little else.  Ray Bradbury complained that whenever he told people he was a writer people would light up with respect.  When he said he wrote science fiction that respect quickly evaporated.  This is an experience erotic fiction writers know very well, if we even try to tell people what we write.  I recently read, or attempted to read, “Fifty Shades of Grey”, arguably the most successful novel of all time.  I won’t go into its faults as Erica Jong does in her article “Fifty Shades of Arrgh!”   E L James is not a novelist, wasn’t trying to write a novel, and no illusions about herself.  She was a “Twilight” fan and was writing fan fiction that quickly picked up a huge online following.  When she moved her fiction from one web site to another a multitude of readers followed her and publishers took notice.  Since then the multitudes have only growned, and the rest of us who’ve been writing this stuff for years have only groaned as well.   I made it as far as page 100 and set it aside and picked up Lisabet’s “Bangkok Noir” which I enjoyed much more, all the more for knowing the author.  Read locally I say.  But inside I’m still cheering for E L James.  She may be the Moses who brings the rest of us into the mainstream so much better than we can.

People who aren’t writers often think the moment a writer loses his/her literary cherry is when they get that first contract.  Not so, I say.  For me that moment was long ago when I was reading a story in a magazine that was just awful and thought “I could write better stuff than this crap – and this guy’s published!   . . . hey . . .”

And I just hope somewhere out there someone is reading my stuff and thinking the very same thing.

SALIERI:   “. . . Now I go to become a ghost myself.  I will stand in the shadows when you come here to this earth in your turns.  And when you feel the dreadful bite of your failures – and hear the taunting of unachievable, uncaring God – I will whisper my name to you:  “Salieri: Patron Saint of Mediocrities!” And in the depth of your downcastness you can pray to me.  And I will forgive you.  Vi saluto. 

“Mediocrities everywhere – now and to come – I absolve you all.  Amen!”  
          “Amadeus” by Peter Shaffer

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Unconventional

by Kathleen Bradean

When I meet eager young writers, one of the comments that frequently pops up is, "I don't want to write about these unrealistic people. I want to write about normal."

This is usually followed by a wince on my part.

Yes, the stereotypes can seem rather lazy. Just add hair color (raven, auburn) and eye color (sapphire, emerald) and viola! Instant characterization. That's what those writers want to rebel against, and I'm all for it, except that no one wants to read about the most mundane person on the planet doing laundry. Unless you can write such an ubermundane person that your work becomes a literary sensation (such banality! trite is the new black!) your characters are going to have to do something, anything, that makes them worth reading about. People might not want square-jawed heroes who do everything right (snore) but we don't want to see the version of us that runs out of a burning building in a screaming panic. We want to see the version of us that would dash into the flames. It sure beats getting smoke inhalation injuries in real life.

The way around that is to create characters that are unconventional yet fascinating. I'm a huge fan of the new Sherlock series on TV. It's enough to put an armchair psychologist into raptures of delight and frantic speculation on fan lists. Why does Sherlock, who is asexual, provoke such a strong sexual reaction from other characters and fans? In one show, John Watson calls him Spock. The similarities are there in our reactions to Sherlock, certainly. But there's so much more to obsess on. There's the extremely fucked up, and yet utterly believable, relationship between Sherlock and his brother Mycroft. But what fascinates me the most isn't watching the unbelievably delicious Benedict Cumberbatch get away with being horrid to everyone. (that's more of a guilty pleasure) It's Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson. A very ordinary looking man (sorry Martin, but that's your stock in trade, isn't it?) but not so ordinary after all. He's a doctor, so he's no idiot no matter how poorly he compares to Sherlock. And he's incredibly brave, doing what needs to be done with little fear of death or harm and with a sense of calm that's a bit chilling if you take time to notice him. Average guy? Not on your life. He may be the stand-in for the audience in the show, but if he's us, we're far cooler than we ever imagined we were. This Watson is the version of us who would run into the burning building, save the kittens, put out the fire, and leave before anyone got our name. And of course there's the mysterious bond between Watson and Sherlock. We get why Sherlock needs Watson even if Sherlock can't puzzle that one out, but why on earth does Watson continue to put up with Sherlock once he's on his feet again? The show plays all its gay cards on the table, so of course that can't be it. (unless it is and they're oh so crafty hiding it in plain sight). You know I'll keep watching to find out.

No writer can make me laugh like Christopher Moore. In his book A Dirty Job, he goes to great lengths (sometimes a bit too far, but who cares when you're laughing so hard?) to point out that his main character Charlie Asher is a beta male. The guy knows he's a beta. He accepts that he's a beta. He's so beta that his blood type is B+. And I'm pretty sure he wants, and expects, to lead a very ordinary life and will be quite content that he has that much. But the course of true comedy never runs smooth, so his Charlie Asher is, in  a case of mistaken identity where someone seems to thinks he's an alpha in disguise, dragged screaming and kicking into a fight against the forces of darkness and left to fend for himself. He feels his ineptitude every inch of the way. The reader has far more faith in him than he does, and even we wonder how he's going to get out of it alive.

So sure, forget the central casting alpha guy. Forget the femme fatale (except you know that she's my playground). Forget characters so Mary Sue that they make you puke, or worse, makes your reader toss the book across the room. Create someone fascinating, wonderful, average but not average, horrible, even 'American Psycho-level crap your pants scary.' Just don't make them dull. 



Sunday, July 22, 2012

Oh, My Anti-Hero!

By Lisabet Sarai

Stereotypes are seductive – and to some extent, they sell. A fair fraction of the readers of erotica and erotic romance want heroes who are six feet plus in height, ruggedly handsome, well-muscled, well-hung, brave, strong, rough yet tender, and indefatigably virile. And honestly, I can't blame them. There's nothing wrong with a bit of wish fulfillment.

I've written heroes with a capital H myself, especially in my earlier books. I mean, a nice bod and a pretty face are not to be sneezed at. But they're not enough. Call me perverse (many people have), but I find intelligence to be the most essential aspect of a sexy hero. Furthermore, I'm willing to accept less than stellar physical qualities if my hero is a clever, imaginative, horny genius who's smart enough to understand what will truly turn the heroine on.

I admit it. I've got a thing for nerds. When “The Man from UNCLE” was popular, I had the hots for skinny, intense Ilya Kuryakin, not the dashing alpha guy Napoleon Solo. I was hopelessly in love with Mr. Spock. (After all, think about making love while in the throes of a Vulcan mind-meld.) Near the top of my sexy, romantic movie list is "Earth Girls are Easy", featuring gangly, geeky Jeff Goldblum as a brilliant alien. A more recent example of a sexy nerd is Clive Owen's short, unshaven, and amazingly ingenious character in the bank robbery thriller "Inside Man".

It's fairly easy to understand why I feel this way. Growing up, I was the egghead, the bookworm, the too-smart girl whom everyone made fun of. The only guys who could deal with me were the ones who were at least as smart as I was. They weren't on the football squad; they weren't voted Best Looking or Most Popular. But they had that something that could start my motors. It was intoxicating, yes, arousing, to have a conversation with some of these guys, especially when I got out of high school and into college. We understood each other, and I began to discover that despite their definite nerdish qualities, they were enthusiastic and innovative when it came to sex.

Actually, research has shown that in defiance of their public image as socially challenged losers, nerds are more successful than the general population in finding mates, staying with them, and producing children. Of course, that is not necessarily going to endear them to readers who are seeking the ultimate sexual fantasy, but it's something to consider!

Anyway, some of my heroes – actually, my favorites – definitely don't fit the classic hero mold. The character of Rick Martell in Ruby's Rules is perhaps the most anti-heroic protagonist I've ever created. Physically, he's short, wiry, a bit rumpled, with a droopy, unkempt mustache. He's manipulative, sneaky, dishonest, arrogant, and more than a little sexist. At the same time, he's a brilliant engineer and a wily strategist who matches every one of Ruby's maneuvers as they compete for a critical business deal.

You almost hate Rick, when you see the way he takes advantage of the women around him. And yet, like Ruby, Margaret and Luna, I can't help finding him peculiarly attractive. He's simultaneously insightful, able to discern and use the desires of others for his own purposes, and blind when it comes to understanding his own emotions. He's brash and egotistical, not recognizing his own vulnerability, underestimating his opponents. Ultimately, though, he learns a lesson or two under Ruby's lash.

Want to meet him? Here's a quick snippet, after Rick's first attempt to get the upper hand in his dealings with Ruby.


I remember to grin and give poor Margaret a wink as I exit from Ruby’s office, but to be honest, I’m a bit shaken. I’m both amazed and annoyed. Annoyed that Ruby rejected my carefully prepared pitch. Amazed that she was able to. That she could be so icily professional, so scrupulously correct, after last night’s scene in the taxi. Clearly I underestimated her.

Women find it hard to resist me. It’s just a fact, something that’s been true since I was in my teens and my old amah ambushed me in the garden and gave me my first lessons in the fleshly arts. By now, I almost take it for granted.

I’m sure that it’s something primitive, biological. I know that I can’t take the credit. I’m smart, but no genius; rich, but no Bill Gates. As for my looks – well, let’s just say that at best I look innocuous, at worst, disreputable.

Yet I can walk into a crowded room, and every woman there will sense my presence. It’s mutual, too. I can hear the intake of their breath, feel the heat of the blood rising in them. Catch hints of their delicate musk as I sniff the air like the predator I am.

I should mention that I have an unusually acute sense of smell. Maybe that’s the source of it all, some trick of the wiring in my lower brain that gives me this delicious advantage.

Some people might think it’s unethical, that I should try and use this quirk of my personal chemistry to enrich myself. But each of us plays the hand we’re dealt. Why should I handicap myself by renouncing my greatest gift?

Ruby wants me. I know she does. Which makes her chilly reception during our interview all the more incredible. I’ve never met a woman with such self-control.

Now that our interview is over, the nervous tension that I kept at bay in her presence washes through my body. I literally am shaking. Margaret eyes me curiously.

“Are you unwell, Mr. Martell?” she asks. I get the feeling that a part of her wishes that I would expire immediately.

“Not at all, Margaret,” I reply. “Never been better. Ms. Chen and I had a most stimulating meeting.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” she says frostily, and returns her gaze to the document she’s editing. She pretends to ignore me. I can feel her heat, I can smell her arousal, even from across the room.

I watch her for a few moments, admiring the graceful curve of her neck, the creamy skin of her bare forearms. I smile, recalling the way her nipples rose so smartly at my slightest touch. Margaret, at least, is not immune to my charms. But I decide to spare her any further attentions, for now.

“Thank you, Margaret. I’m sure we’ll meet again soon.”

She does not reply. Her lips are pressed together in grim determination, but her flushed cheek tell the true story.


Yes, Rick isn't exactly the most admirable guy on the planet. But I'll tell you a secret: I love him. If I met him in the flesh, I'd never be able to resist his anti-heroic charms.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Selling My Heart

by Kristina Wright

The stories I find the hardest to write, to finish, to edit are the ones that are the most personal. The ideas that tap-tap-tap at the back of my brain until I put down some words on paper and then step back and read what I've written... only to delete them or close the file and bury it in some "Works in Progress" folder on my hard drive.

I should say, it's never fiction that causes me this angst. Even fiction that might possibly be based on some true life event doesn't make me falter, fingers poised over the keys, wondering, "Should I write this?" For better or worse, I am a fiction writer at heart and though I may wail and moan about how a particular story or book is driving me mad, at the end of the day it's still fiction and I have some emotional distance.

No, it's the nonfiction I write that are my problem children. These nonfiction blog posts and essays are far more intimate glimpses into who I am than any piece of fiction I write. And so, I find it hard to finish these bits of literary DNA, harder still to share them with the world. It's like taking a scalpel and slicing open my chest and peeling away the flesh to show you vein, muscle, organ and bone. And though I can stitch myself back up when you are done poking and prodding and making sense of my parts, the scar remains as a reminder that I was open. Exposed. Vulnerable. Forever changed.

I have written some things here at Oh Get a Grip! that I never imagined I would share. For awhile, I adopted a persona of fearless writer-- nothing was too personal to share. That's laughable, of course, because even on my best day I am not half as fearless as some writers I know. I may put the words out there, but there's always something I'm holding back. Always some emotional truth I keep close. I may give you a glimpse of an ultrasound, but I hide the scalpel.

One of the most personal-- and therefore hardest-- piece to write was my post about my mother's death: July 25, 2007. I probably spent longer writing that blog post than any fictional story I've written since. That piece is a problem child for me, still, because I know what I intended for it to be and what I had to cut to make myself comfortable posting it. I have reread it a few times-- the words that I edited out lost forever-- and I know it's honest and true and that I have sold my heart as Fitzgerald would advise. And yet, and yet...

I long to take my problem children out of the darkness and line them up in a row-- these stories that I keep buried because they rest too close to main arteries-- and then I long to put the scalpel in the reader's hand and say, "Have at it. Here I am. See it all." And maybe that's why, as I near the fifth anniversary of my mother's death, I find myself more and more drawn to the idea of writing a memoir. Not a journal that I can tuck away in my underwear drawer or a blog post that only scratches the surface of the truth, but a memoir for the world to read (should the world want to, of course). Do I dare? Is it worth it? The fact that I ask the questions tells me I should and it is.

My life has been filled with stories that are problem children. They are still here, tucked inside my heart, waiting for the slice of the scalpel that will reveal them.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Spark of a Story

by Jean Roberta

(NOTE: This post was scheduled to go live at 1:00 AM, but for some reason, it reverted to a draft while I was trying to post the image of a dragon. Gah.)


I've always admired speculative fiction that describes real sex in a completely imaginary world. The sexy potential of traditional fairy-tales (set in a vaguely medieval world of sword and sorcery) is no longer a secret. There are other staples that have not yet become stale cliches: steampunk sex-machines in an era that Queen Victoria wouldn't recognize, and sacred rites in earthy religions that never actually existed on earth. (But who knows?)

I grew up as a child of the desert, trying to catch lizards and turn them into pets. Dragons have always appealed to me as fantasy lizards and traditional guardians of hidden treasure. So when Circlet Press posted a call-for-submissions for erotic stories with dragons in them, I concocted an ambitious fantasy about a desert religion based on fear of the dragon-god's wrath. Male priests worship Him and try to beget the prophesied Messiah on their female servants in the hope of pleasing Him enough to prevent further fiery destruction. Much like fundamentalist Christians, however, those who think they are perfect in their faith have it wrong.

As it turns out, the dragon-deity is not wrathful because his followers aren't obedient enough. On the contrary. He (or She) is a shapeshifter who is angry because fear and oppression don't feed his/her need for the fire of life, and the prophesy (isn't there always a prophesy?) is misunderstood as a demand for polarized roles in a hierarchy when it actually predicts balance, integration, versatility and androgyny.

Alas. No one saw all this in my story except me. The problem, IMO, is that I tried to pack a novel into a story of under 5K. After I finish my current WIP (which also started life as a story and is now a novella of 30K, with 2 chapters left to write), I will need to expand and revise the story, which I named "Dancing Sparks and Jumping Flames."

Here is the opening scene:


“Little one.” Father Stalk ran a calloused hand over the smooth black hair that flowed over Rain’s shoulders. She shivered, ever so slightly, despite the warmth from the red embers in the firepit that provided the only light in the priest’s hut.

Rain remembered a saying: In the desert, dragon-weed can be a feast. Stalk, untitled in the privacy of Rain’s mind, hadn’t mounted her for a week. He had patted, stroked, pinched and lightly scratched her as she went about her duties. She knew he was waiting for her desire to rise as steadily as the water in a raincatcher.

To Stalk, she was a girl. To herself, Rain was a woman who knew things, including her master’s methods. They worked on her anyway.

Yesterday, as soon as she had finished feeding Bolt, the sacred lizard, Stalk had told her to remain on her hands and knees. He had raised her shift, exposing her bare bottom. As she waited, trying to remain calm, he inserted a greased finger into her back opening and burrowed slowly into her, moving his finger in circles as though drilling into the ground.

A mixture of shame and pleasure rushed through her like lightning. She felt the effects of a stronger agent than goat-fat on Stalk’s intrusive finger. His swollen knuckles were markers that let her know how impossibly deep was his ownership of her.

Stalk withdrew before Rain could reach release. This, too, she understood. Her desire was to be a steady current in all the entrance-points to her body. She was a vessel, and like a jug of lamp-oil, she was meant to be struck into flame at any time.
Rain rocked her hips and moaned quietly, hoping this response was acceptable. She could feel Stalk’s amusement and the heat of his eyes on the two cheeks of her bottom. “Patience, girl,” he told her, his low voice flowing over her like rumbling thunder. This time, he sounded pleased.

Now she lay beneath him, naked in the dull-red warmth of a waning fire. “Little one, are you ready? You must answer.” His hard member pressed against her thigh.

As though watching herself from a distance, Rain felt the familiar glow in her center that made her wet and receptive to a man who seemed as old as the stars. “Yes, Father. I have never wanted you more.”

He plunged into her with the vigor of a much younger man, supporting himself with his hands on the floor on either side of the goatskin she lay on. He clearly wanted to spare her from the burden of his full weight, and his eyes on hers were gentle.
Rain moved with him, responding eagerly to his rhythmic thrusts. She felt her excitement rising unbearably to a breaking-point.

“Dear one,” he groaned in her ear. His voice held a depth of awe and gratitude. “Receive my fire!” As he pumped his seed into her, his eyes closed in ecstasy. Rain saw bursts of color in the air as she reached her own body-shaking climax.

Some part of her awareness, like a cynical observer, reminded her how well fear, disgust and loneliness can disguise themselves as surrender.

Long before she had been given to Stalk as his servant and foil, she knew the prophesy: the friction of opposites (male and female, age and youth, knowledge and innocence, authority and submission) would produce fire strong enough to appease Him, the source of all fire. From the seed and the egg would come the Savior who could extinguish His rage.

Stalk pressed his mouth to Rain’s as though wanting to comfort her for all she had given him, or as though begging her to care for him – at least a little, as much as she could – just for himself.

Rain’s mind ran freely with the night wind outdoors, under a white moon that cast shadows of the mountains across the desert. Beyond the mountains lived Draco Fireheart or Spiritsmoke in Excelsis, the many-named Beast who was the father of all lizards.
Of course, Rain had no right to seek Him out in reality. Only in the privacy of her mind could she imagine going to meet Him, to ask for answers.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rough Draft (A Story of a Difficult Story)

Dear Wildhack:

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I thought your other Forum readers would want to know that even for a virile double hung young man like myself, family birthdays can still be fun.

Yesterday was my eighteenth birthday and I didn’t know where to start. I was planning an exciting evening on the town with my girlfriend, when I ran into trouble with my mom. She had been snooping on my laptop to see what web sites I’d been visiting and when she found out, I was grounded for a week.

I didn’t try to explain to her what I was really looking for - but I will confess it to all of you.

My step Aunt Linda moved in with us a week and a half ago. She’s getting a condo and she’s waiting for the owners to move out. I call her Aunt Leeny and we’re the best of friends. I get to talk to her a lot about girls and feelings and stuff. We’re real close. She’s about thirty or so. She’s taller than me, with big, perfect breasts like glorious water wings, smooth white skin like ice cream on a hot day, with freckles that dive all the way into her cleavage, kind eyes, a cruel mouth, and this red Irish hair that flows past her shoulders almost to her perfect round ass. She likes to walk around the house in cut off short-shorts and T shirt and you can tell, especially when the air conditioning is on high, that she isn’t wearing a bra. When the radio is on, she likes to dance in front of me and when those big glorious girls start to sway under there it makes it hard to breathe.

When my step dad married my mom, he used to get drunk sometimes. One night he told me Leeny had a tit job because she was once a famous porn star until she got out of the business. She had a show business name, they never use their real names ‘cause of family and all, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was. So I started searching around for her, and trying to make a guess at it but I never found anybody I was really sure looked like her though I might have come close a couple times.

Well, like I said, yesterday was my birthday and my plans got shot down by my mom. In the afternoon she went to get groceries and I sat down at the table in the kitchen all alone in the house with my step Aunt Leeny. While I was sitting there she came in and sat down too, and you could see she was naked under her t-shirt. Her big lovely honeybears rested on the table top beside her coffee cup and her nipples tented the front of her t shirt.

“Hey.” She said.


“I’m up here.”

I guess I was staring at them.

I looked up at her face and she was smiling. The way she smiled at me made me hard enough to blow my fizzing pop stand right there and I had to reach down and loosen my jeans a little to make room for my swelling cream horn.

“So big boy,” She said in this low voice. “What do you want for your birthday?” What the hell, I thought. I’m already in trouble from trying to find her picture; I might as well just say it.

“I want to fuck you,” I blurted out.

Her smile fell away. “What?”

“I feel like… my birthday… I kind of want to, you know, maybe we could sort of do it or something. Do a little, like, you know, take a nap or something with you.”

“Johnny!” She seemed shocked, but she didn’t sound exactly mad, not like when my mom gets mad. “What’s gotten into you, honey?”

“I want to just sort of do it with you, maybe in the shower or something. You want to do it? Maybe with some soap? For my birthday?”

“Are you insane?”

“I’m sorry. I thought, like, maybe you might want to, maybe, you know like, doggy style or something in the shower. Like that movie on Cinemax last night.”

“Is that what you were thinking?”

I nodded my head miserably. She stood up suddenly and I thought maybe she was going to go for it after all, but she just folded her arms under her big party pillows and looked mad. “You’re a minor.”

“Not anymore I’m not!” Now at least she wasn't saying no.

“You’re a relative.”

“You’re my step aunt, you’re not my real aunt or anything.”

“I’ll do you a big favor, birthday boy. I’ll forget you ever mentioned it and I won’t tell your mom. So happy birthday.”

I nodded again. She turned around and walked away slow with her wide hips swinging and I felt so crushed I couldn’t even try to pound my pud into a Kleenex.

But a few minutes later I was standing with the refrigerator open looking for something to drown my sorrows in and suddenly I heard her voice in my ear behind me.

“So birthday boy,” she whispered huskily and my fully loaded scream machine in my jeans jumped to attention, locked and loaded and safety set to off. “I think you have a dirty mind and you need to take a shower to clean up those dirty thoughts. What do you think?”

(….aw this is such horseshit. I don’t know how to write this Forum crap. Maybe a different style…)

“Sacred bleu monsieur Loveshaft!” Leeny the little French maid cried, throwing up her hands in a fit of feminine consternation. I think Little John must be getting the better of you, no?”

“Not so little as you shall behold soon enough, you insufferable wanton,” Sir James Loveshaft ejaculated excitedly, as he set down the bottle of sherry and turned to confront his persecutor there in the Royal buttery. “Dash it all, Leeny, you shall not speak to your betters in that impudent and shameless manner. I dare say there is someone here who shall now have a sound birching, and perhaps a good and proper rogering as well until she learns her place, eh what?”

So saying Sir James hiked up her black lace skirt and placed his hands amidst the forbidden steaming jungle of her love treasures. “Mon dieu!” she cried. “Sir Loveshaft, my lord and master, I think you are behaving most improperly with an innocent and virgin maid who meant you no harm in all the world. It is most wrong of you to abuse my chastity, though I am most powerless to resist you.”

“Come along, come along,” Sir James exclaimed, coarsely dismissing her protests. “It’s no good you know. Ah! Ah! Your cries for mercy only thrill me all the more, and I say it is the birch cane and the gamahuche for you. I am that gentleman as shall teach you your place in this world before I have done with you, naughty French minx!”

Her bosom heaved with shameless passion and her cheeks flamed crimson in her lascivious anticipation. “Mon dieu! What do you mean my place in the world sir? Do you mean my place in the natural order of Rousseau’s Noble Savage, tormented by the cruelty of an impersonal and mechanistic civilization imposing its unnatural values on the proletarian working class from which my only relief must be the utter submission of my delightful unsullied quim to the rapacious bourgeoisie?"

“No, you tedious little bitch,” Lord Loveshaft replied rigidly. “I mean your place tied to my bed with your little bung hole in the wind. Now stuff it, or by Saint George it shall be all the harder with you.”

So saying thus, he shouldered the hapless girl like a bag of potatoes over his back and ascended the stairs to his bedroom, all the while declaring to her his beastly intentions. Upon entrance of its sumptuous provisions, his cruel manhood craving release, he took up a great winged chair and threw the weeping girl unceremoniously across his knees.

“Oh stop your tears, you randy little nemmer.” And with a deft movement, Lord Loveshaft seized her delicate underthings and flung them across the room, exposing to his gross enjoyment the sight of her bare buttocks.

“Mon dieu! Mon dieu!” she implored, as he paddled her bare bum with his broad and callused palm. Ignoring her cries, with his other hand he found and explored her lovely young quim and found it as wet as April. Reaching under the bed he produced a thin cane of birch.

“Right, then!” And Sir James set to with the rod on the hapless maid’s barefaced love mounds which soon glowed as feverishly as a pair of tropical moons low over the Punjab. Her piteous cries excited his gross desires beyond all reason, and he chose to frig her quim with one hand while lashing her ass fiercely with the other. The poor inexperienced girl stimulated excessively by the heavenly sensations of voluptuousness produced by this conjunction of lascivious manipulations, spent copiously with unbridled cries of ecstasy.

Sir James carried her over to the bed and threw her roughly upon it after removing the rest of her clothes, exposing her firm and bounteous breasts undefended as a pair of young does to his lecherous intentions. “And now for a bit of the old gamahuche!” he exclaimed as he applied his long and active tongue to her lovenest, searching for and exploring her candy corn until she spent yet again and again, falling limp with exhaustion and excessive satiation.

He unbuttoned his trousers and his rampant and virile member sprang forth to do its master’s bidding.

“Time to think of England young lady!” he cried as he impaled her upon his throbbing eggplant


(This is the pits. If I don’t learn how to write romance shit that sells I’ll just starve.)


She bit her lip, poutingly, but not unfetchingly, as her earthly lover pressed her into the ancient and enchanted bedstead of Merlin, being careful not to crush her large delicate wings, as he covered the sensitive blue skin of her throat with blazing hot kisses. She wanted to be possessed by him and him alone. She longed for him to take her, own her, possess her completely and demandingly but with great respect for her as a sensitive and intelligent individual, and make her completely his forever.

The oaken door burst open and shattered. A fist seemed to somehow squeeze her heart. “Jean Michelle Armand!”

“Mon Dieu! Empress Leeny,” he snarled, curling his lip in disdain at seeing her in the arms of John Loveshaft, the notorious vampire hunter. “Well, mon cheri, it appears I have found two old friends at once. What is one to do when he encounters such fortune? But is this the gratitude you show your dark lord, Empress Leeny of the Gamahuche Clan of the Blue Fairies? I can hardly believe my eyes. You are in league with the hunters of my brethren, or so it would seem.”

Sir John lifted himself off of his royal faerie lover and gazed upon the vampire lord, with deep brown eyes clouded with a sheen of bloodlust. He tossed back his silken auburn tresses in defiance.

“It is your own doing, Jean Michelle,” said he. “Your meddling with the Lupus pack failed and so you jumped to the fairy clan only as a last resort hoping to mingle your bloodline with the Gamahuche clan in order to produce the ultimate vampire possessing all the powers of werewolf, Draculs, fairies and Brownie Scouts in one ultimate breed. But you had not counted on your human slave Aubrey, confessing everything in Saint Vies church because she thought I was Father Emil, not knowing that Father Emil had secretly been turned by the lupus wizard Claude-Antoine in hopes of gaining eternal life but had been betrayed by Claude-Antoine’s jealous lover, Jacques and was killed in the cemetery when lured there by Danielle the zombie resurrector.”


“What about what?”

“Jacques, he turned Father Emil?”

“No, that was Claude Antoine.”

“And Jacques did what?”

“Killed Father Emil.”

“Wait, now he turned Father Emil…“. Jean Michelle was counting on his fingers.

“Claude Antoine did.”

“Wait—wait. Father Emil?”

“Dead, I promise you.”

“Jacques did it, that little guy, with the awful clothes? That Jacques?”

“Worked for Marie Claudette Saint Claire de Leveaux, exiled werewolf pack queen of the Lupus.”


“Those little guys, you never know. They surprise you.”

“Oh shut up you morons, both of you,” said Empress Leeny, her blue skin glowing petulantly. “I’m horny as hell. Somebody needs to fuck me. Right now, and I don’t care who, or I’m leaving.”

But Sir John leaped across the room and seized the enchanted Crossbow of the Valkyries. “Nobody’s fucking you but me, Empress Leeny of the Gamahuche.”

A cry caught in her throat, and she knew in that instant she could not allow him to kill her ancient lover.

(Aw man. I’d rather throw myself under a truck than go back to cleaning tables at Hooters again. Start over.)


Dear Boy’s Life Magazine:

I can’t believe I’m writing to you, but I just thought that my fellow Eagle scouts would be excited to know that time spent learning about personal hygiene from your relatives can be fun in unexpected ways.

Last week my step Aunt Linda came to live with us. It was my eighteenth birthday and Aunt Leeny asked me what I really wanted. I should say that she has flowing red hair and big perfect …..”

Monday, July 16, 2012


by Kathleen Bradean

It's hard to pick which story has given me the most trouble. I have many unfinished short stories on my hard drive. Sometimes a concept seems really good, but executing it is a whole other issue - and do I ever have an execution horror story.

This is the tale of a novel that gave me fits and frustrations galore before I finally soldiered through. I've mentioned this novel before on the Grip before, but here's the history:

Last year, I decided to take the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge. 50,000 words in a month. Some writers can whip out that word count in a month easily, but I'm a slow writer. Some days - some weeks - one sentence is huge progress on a story for me.

I talked to veterans of NaNoWriMo, and many told me that they prepared well in advance. You're not allowed to write the first word until November 1, but that doesn't mean you can't think about what you're going to write. I'm not an outliner, at least not a formal one, but I always go into a story knowing where it will start and where it will end. It's the stuff between that's a murky soup of intentions, themes, and snippets of scenes. But Nobilis Reed told me about the snowflake method for outlining and I decided that I'd make my NaNoWriMo experience as much about trying new methods and challenging my comfort zones as it was about cranking out the word count. So I made a detailed outline.

(Lesson learned on outlines: I still loathe them. I'll never do one again (to that level). But the beginning steps of the snowflake method taught me a few useful things, so I suggest taking a stab at those even if you're a dedicated pantser.)

One November 1, I started writing. The good thing about the snowflake method is that every night when I got home from work, I knew exactly where I was in the story and where it had to go next. So much of my writing time is spent staring at the blinking cursor in Word trying to figure out what happens next, or pacing in the back yard, pulling on my bottom lip, mulling over what "true" reaction my character would have to what just happened. Since I'd already done that before I started typing, I could go directly to producing word count. And it worked. I finished my 50,000 word count with half a week to spare.

But the story was wrong. It was simply unreadable. I suppose a very forgiving reader might have put up with it, but from my viewpoint, it wasn't the story I intended to tell. That happens a lot, believe me. Stories take off in unexpected directions. But there's a difference between telling an unexpected story and a piece of crap.

So in December, I rewrote it. Not editing. No, this was writing the whole thing from scratch. Rewriting a 70,000 word novel is not something a writer undertakes lightly. You want to salvage something from your work. I chucked out everything and started fresh.

Two months later, I finished. It still didn't work. Can you imagine the frustration? I was sick to my stomach for a couple weeks. "Oh, it's not that bad," I told myself. Then I'd read it and realize it was. There was no fixing it.

This is why I'll never be an outliner. Yes, the outline made it possible to finish that story in the allotted time, but it also didn't allow me to recognize when things weren't working and tweak the story as I was writing it to fix the plot problems. There was no flexibility. Some writers can write to an outline. More power to them. But I'm not one of them.

So here I had a 70,000 word novel that I'd written twice already and it still didn't work. Meanwhile, I saw calls for submissions that I wanted to write for and, oh, I had a real life, and we were heading into my hell months at work.

But I believed in my main character. I just knew she was The One. She had a fascinating story around her, and it was up to me to find it. For months, I tried to convince myself to move on, but every story thought I had circled back to her. On the other hand, I didn't want to commit novel writing time to something that would never work. I had never rewritten an entire novel once, much less twice.

I spent some time mulling over the problem. My main character was so strong that she overshadowed everyone else on the page. The other characters drifted to fit the reaction she needed, but it made them inconsistent and lacking in definition as "real" people. Also, while the main character was fascinating, and would be no matter what she was up to, the plot sucked.

 What to do? A sane person would have walked away from the mess and gone on to something more satisfying.

I suppose I'm not entirely sane.

I tossed out everything and sat down to version three. While bits of original plot remain, they're more thematic than events. I changed the starting point of the story. I changed the end. I discovered things as I wrote. While pacing in the back yard, I asked myself "what would a smart person do right now if this were happening to her?" Not what would she do to fit the plot. What a real person would do. The answer came with a jolt of clarity that not only illuminated that scene, it showed me the path through the murky middle of the novel to the end. As a writer, I live for creative moments like that.

That novel is on submission to a publisher right now.


After four months of not writing anything except Oh Get a Grip posts, this sentence floated into my mind earlier this week:

The morning QuiTai woke completely sane, she knew Petrof was dead.

I'm 12,000 words into the next novel in this series. I think, maybe, I've finally got this problem child in hand.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Book That Almost Wasn't

By Lisabet Sarai

Last Monday saw the release of my seventh novel, Quarantine. I've been so busy setting up promotions (while simultaneously preparing for an overseas business trip!) that I haven't really had time to be grateful. And yet, it's a minor miracle that this book has actually been published.

I came very close to abandoning the project halfway through. I guess I can thank my stubbornness (plus Garce's inspired muddling) for the fact that my gay scifi romance is finally available.

Many authors live and write in a constant state of self-doubt. Not me - at least, not usually. I know I'm competent, if not the most creative writer on the planet. I have enough publication credits that a rejection doesn't set me back too much. I've never had a best-seller (even within the narrow confines of the erotica genre) but given the amount of time I devote to my writing (far less than many of my colleagues), I can't really complain about my royalties. When I sit down to produce a story, I'm generally confident I can complete it by the deadline, barring emergencies or acts of God.

With Quarantine, though, my usual self-confidence simply evaporated. The first half dozen chapters went really well – the scenes that comprised the initial seed of inspiration. Then I started to feel I was way out of my depth.

I love reading science fiction. I know the key to a great scifi book is a plausible, richly textured alternative world, along with a “big idea” that drives the story conflict. In contrast, my fictional world felt thin, unconvincing, far too much like the present to snag a reader's interest. Indeed, the original concepts for the story came from the past – the Nazi concentration camps, the WW II internment of Japanese-Americans, the AIDS crisis – and it seemed I hadn't done enough to extrapolate beyond those events and their consequences. Once my heroes escaped from quarantine, I didn't know what should happen next.

I managed to squeeze out a few more chapters. I found myself switching to other projects, avoiding the novel where I was so badly stuck. The longer I went without working on Quarantine, the deeper my sense of inadequacy grew and the more resistance I felt to picking it up again.

Months went by and I hadn't added a single word. Finally, I asked Garce for a crit of what I had so far. I was nervous but grateful that he agreed to help. Few authors are as good at formulating and expressing big ideas as C. Sanchez-Garcia.

We began a dialogue around the story and the characters. Garce came up with lots of questions (many of which I'd never even considered) as well as some wild plot proposals (a few of which I ended up adopting). Garce's critiques helped make my vague feeling that the book was weak a lot more specific.

Our exchange went on for a couple of weeks. But I still didn't resume writing. Nevertheless, I went back to thinking about the book, working on a scene list, roughing out a time line. Finally, about eight months after I put Quarantine aside, I was able to pick it up again.

I'd love to be able to say that everything went smoothly after that point. In fact, I continued to slog along, feeling as though I was wading through knee-deep mud just to finish each chapter. My self-doubts resurfaced. I pushed them away and kept at it, determined that the effort I'd put in so far (and the time that Garce had invested) wouldn't be wasted.

The more I wrote, the more the end of the story seemed to recede. I'd originally expected the book to be about 40K words. It ended up almost 70K.

I finally finished and submitted the book near the end of 2011. I wasn't surprised it was accepted – to be brutally honest, my personal standards are considerably higher than those of many publishers. I was grateful, though, that I could put the unpleasant effort that went into producing the book behind me.

So now the book is out. The readers and reviewers will decide whether the struggle was worthwhile. Ultimately, I'm moderately pleased with the book, though I know it's better romance than it is science fiction. It certainly won't win a Hugo – but perhaps it will succeed in making readers care about Dylan and Rafe and their uncertain future.

Why was this book so hard to write? Looking back, I think I approached it too seriously. It's true that the novel deals with difficult issues and has plenty of dark moments. However, I've found that I write best when I treat the process as play rather than work – exactly the opposite of the way I wrote Quarantine.

I'm trying to apply that lesson as I move on to new projects and new challenges.

(You can buy Quarantine at Total-E-Bound.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Humor in the Bedroom?

by Ellen Tevault

Since agreeing to write this guest blog entry, I have struggled with several things. Does humor belong in the bedroom? We’ve all had bedroom mishaps, but are they erotic? Will the reader think so? Or will the humor kill the romantic or erotic moment for the reader? Another thing I’ve struggled with is that I haven’t written much in a long time. Editing has been my main focus for the last couple of years. Even as an editor, I’ve gotten away from erotica and erotic romance. Also I’ve been trying to find a REAL job, so I’ve tried to limit my names attachment to erotica in case a potential employer searches the internet for me.

I know it is crazy. If I wrote mysteries, employers wouldn’t think I am a murderer, but for some reason writing erotica gets me listed in the freak-don’t-want-to-hire file. In other words, the gate keeper deems me inappropriate.  I’ve never had an erotica editor look at my automotive repair articles and decide I’m not someone they want to work with on a project. I find that funny. Sex is a natural part of our lives, but writing about it makes me unemployable instead of showing that I can write and edit about a variety of topics, including the most difficult one of all – Sex

I’ve had romance writers ask me about how to write sex scenes. One time a writer in my writing group tried her hand at an erotic scene. It was a mere paragraph long, but she couldn’t read it to the group. When she finally read it, I couldn’t understand what the big deal was. I’ve read scenes like that in a Danielle Steele novel and wondered why the novel was deemed erotic in a book review. In other words so tame that I was waiting for the action to begin. As an editor, I would have said, “Show, don’t tell.” I know, that phrase haunts us writers.

Eventually that same writer did write an erotic romance and sold it to Loose Id, but she refused to share the news with the rest of our writing group because she was ashamed of the erotica content. Can you believe it? She didn’t want to lose the respect of the other writers in our group for “writing such stuff.” The writers she was worried about have always been supportive of my writing, whether it was erotica, technical articles about auto repair, or my venture into children’s literature. It doesn’t make sense to me. Sex and erotica are a funny business, but that takes me back to do the readers want humor in their smut reading? Let’s face it, sex is serious business. So it depends on the sales.

When my friend, Gavin Atlas tried to help me with this entry, he said, “Heat is difficult for me to maintain if I'm also wanting the reader to laugh.” I’m sure a lot of writers feel this way. How do you make it hot and funny? Can it be both?

One of the first qualities women choose as important in a partner is sense of humor, but does it belong in the bedroom? I’m not sure. It can help you connect to your partner, but it can also be a distraction. I say it depends on the couple.

Once upon a time, I wrote If a Dildo Could Talk. Oceania recorded it on one of her websites, which is no longer available. I tried submitting that story to several places, before it made its way to Oceania’s inbox.
The story is about a lesbian who hides her sex toys because her mom is coming to visit, so the dildo decides to get even for being stuffed in a sock drawer by telling the reader about sexual conquests. I purposely set out to write a humor piece when I decided to write it, but that was why it was so hard to find a home for the story.

One editor enjoyed the humor, but didn’t find it erotic even though it was sexually explicit. Eventually Jamie Joy Gatto decided it didn’t fit her website, but emailed it to Oceania for hers.

Since the other editors commented that it wasn’t erotic, I struggled with whether humor negates the sexual content as erotica. I don’t see how. I think it just depends on the reader. To write this blog entry, I looked at several of the top erotic romance sites and a few of them has humor listed as one of their genres, but some didn’t. I guess there really isn’t an answer to the question. It depends on the writer, publisher, and reader whether the two genres can hit it off and live happily ever after together or just have an occasional fling.


Find Ellen's blog here.

And her story in Back Door Lover here.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Sex of Humor

by Kristina Wright

I don't write a lot of comedy into my erotica. I don't know why-- I'm a pretty happy-go-lucky chick-- but for whatever reason, I'm drawn to other emotions when it comes to penning sex scenes. Real life sex can be funny and lighthearted, but I tend to write more about obsession, jealousy and darker things.

I'll have to leave the laugh-out-loud humor to authors like Jeremy Edwards and Allison Wonderland (both of whom do it so, so well), but I combed through my archives and found an old, old story that was comic and erotic and just plain fun to write.

"A Girl's Best Friend" was one of my first pieces of erotica, written back in 2001 and originally appearing in Good Vibrations Magazine. It was later picked up for print publication by Anne Semans for her legendary Many Joys of Sex Toys (2004). In rereading it, I find myself mostly liking the voice I wrote it in and wanting to revisit this character. Maybe one day.

Here's an excerpt of one of my rare attempts at combining sex and humor:

A Girl's Best Friend (excerpt)

            Finding a decent apartment in Manhattan is like trying to find an outfit to match a pair of shoes you bought on sale.  In other words, next to impossible. 
            I was fresh out of college at UT-Austin and had my sights set on the publishing world in New York City.  My friend Kim, who graduated the semester before me, clued me in about an apartment in her building.  It was tiny and old, but in a pretty decent neighborhood with a long, but manageable, walk to my cubicle on 42nd Street.  I choked back my shock at the cost of rent and plopped down first, last and security out of the nest egg I’d been saving from four years waiting tables.  My parents had offered to help with the rent for the first year or two, but I was determined to do it on my own for as long as I could.  And so, on a hot day in July I moved my books, my clothes and my cat into the cramped third floor apartment henceforth known as Home Sweet Home.
            Living in a big city was nothing like I’d imagined it.  The noise was louder, the bugs were bigger and the people were ruder and freakier.  I loved it.  I was free to be me, or at least the me I’d always imagined.  I was far from small-town life in my hometown of Vicksburg, Texas.  I was also far from my college friends who teased that I would be the only girl in all of New York City who had two names and was still a virgin.
            First things first, Rebecca-Jane is not really two names because it’s hyphenated.  My parents were very forward thinking for Vicksburg.  Secondly, I was a virgin only in the most technical sense.  I’d become well acquainted with my mama’s silver-handled hairbrush at the tender age of... well, let’s just say I finally understood why Barbie was smiling all the time.  And I had my share of groping, drooling, hormone-driven boyfriends.  I had just never felt an overwhelming urge to let some guy between my legs.  When the time was right, I knew the right guy would come along.
            I was hardly home at all my first week in the city.  I’d landed a job at a publishing house, sifting through manuscripts and answering correspondence for not much more money than I’d made waiting tables.  A far cry from my dreams of buying the next Stephen King, but still very exciting for a girl from Vicksburg whose most exciting moment to date was being nominated homecoming princess.  When Kim invited me out to go clubbing on Friday night I begged off because I wanted to stay in and watch a week’s worth of soaps.  I know what you’re thinking, but dang, it was only my first week in the city.  A girl needs a chance to catch her breath!
            I went all out for my first meal in my new place, preparing a feast for one.  It was only a cheap steak and baked potato broiled in on my tiny oven, but it was the best meal I’d ever had because I was in my own apartment.  I was heady with freedom as I sat cross-legged on the sofa with my dinner propped on a pillow.  The sofa had been left by the former tenant.  It was a ratty old thing, worn in several spots and faded in others.  But I covered it with one of the quilts Mama made me bring and it looked, well, if not new at least homey.
            I finished my dinner, put Wednesday’s episode of All My Children on pause, and carried my plate to the little alcove that was my kitchen.  I considered it quite a coup that I actually had a dishwasher.  It was a cumbersome thing that had to be wheeled over to the sink, hoses and cords poking out every which way, but it beat the hell out of washing dishes myself. 
            I opened the dishwasher door and slid out the rack and nearly choked on my tongue.  Apparently, the ratty old sofa wasn’t the only thing the former tenant had bequeathed to me.  I was speechless for a moment, then said the first thing that came to my mind.
            What can I say, a week in the city had already taken its toll on my vocabulary.  Pastor Goodwin would be appalled.
            Staring up at me, or at least that’s the way it appeared, was the largest, thickest, ugliest looking dick I’d ever seen.  I suppose you think that’s not saying much, given that I’d only seen two for real (Jason Ritchie’s in eleventh grade and Eric Linsey’s sophomore year of college— Jason’s was bigger, but Eric’s was more aesthetically appealing).  But I’d spent a summer working at a photo lab off-campus in addition to my waitressing job, and let me tell you, it’s shocking what kinds of pictures people will take.  Big dicks, short dicks, long, skinny, pale and dark, I saw an awful lot of dicks that summer and they all imprinted themselves on my brain for future reference.  And this, this thing staring up at me from the cutlery tray on the bottom rack of my dishwasher was a Texas-sized dick— the biggest, thickest dick I’d ever seen.
            Okay, I know it’s called a dildo, I’m not a complete country bumpkin, but at the moment I saw it, all I could think was “dick.”  It was long and thick, a fleshy-pink color complete with veins and a heavily-ridged little helmet.  It was wedged into one of the squares of the cutlery tray and it stared up at me with its one well-defined eye.  I must have stood there ten minutes, staring down at the monster in my dishwasher.
            “What am I going to do?” I whispered to Miss Marple, my orange and white kitty who was making circles around my legs.  “I can’t leave it in there.”
            Miss Marple let out a plaintive wail of agreement before stalking off to the bathroom.  She knew that’s where the biggest, scariest creatures hung out.  After seeing the contents of my dishwasher, I wasn’t so sure. 
            I took my fork and prodded the thing.  It looked like it was made of jelly, little air bubbles puckered beneath it’s pink surface.  It didn’t feel like jelly, though.  It barely quivered when I poked it, the tines of the fork hardly made a dent in its rubbery surface.  I decided I was too tired to deal with the dildo in my kitchen.  I pushed the rack back into the dishwasher and closed the door.  I washed my plate in the sink, throwing the occasional furtive glances toward the dishwasher as if I expected its rubbery inhabitant to burst out and attack me.  When I was finished, I walked quickly past the dishwasher and shut off the light.  Maybe my new tenant would mysteriously vanish by morning.
            My dreams that night were of previous boyfriends who had pressured me to have sex.  Strangely enough, they all looked like large, pink dildos.  Where was Freud when I needed him most?
            I left the apartment early Saturday to meet Kim for brunch and a day of shopping the second-hand stores.  I felt a twinge of guilt for leaving poor little Miss Marple alone with that enormous dildo, but I figured she was safe so long as it was in the dishwasher.  When Kim asked me how I enjoyed my first dinner in my new apartment, I blushed and changed the subject.
            By the time Kim tossed me out of her apartment, it was 2 a.m. and I was wired on espresso.  I was relieved to see the apartment, and Miss Marple, was as I’d left it.  What had I expected?  Invasion of the Sex Toy Snatcher?  Night of the Living Dildo?  Well, let’s just say after a restless night’s sleep and four hits of espresso, anything seemed possible.  There are a million stories in the naked city, and one of them was living in my dishwasher.