Friday, July 29, 2016

The Frogs of Small Pond

by Jean Roberta

Meet the Frog family, originally from Small Pond. The oldest daughter, Felicia Frog-Toad, writes romance novellas, all set in her home town, and recipe books of local cuisine. Her watercolour paintings of local landmarks have been reproduced as postcards that are popular with tourists. Felicia is married to the Mayor, Samuel Taylor Toad. Everyone she knows considers her a great success.

Felicia's younger brother, Frank Frog, better-known as Freaky, wrote his first novel (a horror story based on a nightmare about a bird of prey) when he was in high school. His parents took him to a youth psychiatrist who encouraged him to stop writing and take up football as a healthy way to get rid of stress. Frank moved to a bigger city to go to university. Since then, he has written fifteen horror novels, ten of which were turned into blockbuster movies. He has fans in Small Pond, but his parents and some of his siblings still worry about him.

A younger sister, Flow Frog, also moved away right after graduating from high school. She writes erotic novels, for which she has won several awards. Other erotic writers admire her, and she gets respectful reviews. Luckily, she has a day job and a supportive partner. No one else in the Frog family ever mentions her, except to wonder why she continues to embarrass them.

Another sister, Frances Frog, is better-known by her by-line, Fact-Checker. She is an international journalist who has been imprisoned in several countries around the world. So far, her political connections have enabled her to get out. She has written five books about the decline of democracy, the global economy, and damage to the natural world. Her book about disappearing species, Are We Next? was on the non-fiction bestseller list for weeks. Her parents and several of her siblings wish she would find a nice guy, get married, and settle down.

The youngest Frog brother, Philip Frog, writes novels that capture the current zeitgeist. His latest mystery, about an apparent lone-wolf psychopath who shoots random strangers in a shopping mall, and is found to be the pawn of an international conspiracy, sold a zillion copies and is being turned into a movie. He lives in a mansion with his socialite wife, niece of the current head of government. Few of Philip's relatives have read his books, but most of them are proud of him. His parents think his wholesome upbringing in Small Pond helped build his character, which led to his success.

Each of these Frogs could be considered successful in a different way, but most of them are no longer on speaking terms with the rest.

As everyone else here has said, success is relative and subjective. And in some cases, you need to seek out a milieu in which your version of success won't get you locked up.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Success and Who You Are

by Annabeth Leong

One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever read was about how a character has to want something, and that something ought to be more interesting than “to stay alive.” (This advice was from Holly Lisle). In romance and erotica, I’d argue that an addendum is needed: the something the character wants ought to be more interesting than “to fall in love” or “to get laid” as well. Basically, the way I read this is that a character ought to want something beyond the basic laws of the genre, because that’s what makes them actually have character.

I thought about this very explicitly for my book The Fugitive’s Sexy Brother (which I’m not linking to because I’ve requested rights back, and it now needs to be re-released). In that book, my heroine wants to make enough money with bounty hunting to pay her rent. My hero wants to prove to his brother that being good with computers is a legitimate way to be strong. My villain wants to keep his sexy car (a Lotus Elite 2008, California Edition) from being repossessed.

As I considered our topic, I realized that all of those wants are ways of defining what success means to each of these people. For the heroine, it’s paying rent through a chosen profession (one which is, like ours, prone to unpredictable income). For the hero, it’s recognition from his brother. For the villain, it’s driving that car around.

So when designing these characters and pushing myself to go beyond basic survival or finding love, I would up focusing on success.

Success, I think, is that feeling that we’re okay the way we are, that we’ve done the right thing with ourselves, and that other people can see it, too. There’s obviously overlap in what makes people feel we’ve arrived (money often helps!), but the stuff that really gets inside us is personal.

It’s that one ostentatious purchase, that one stubborn person coming around, or being able to write that one particular check. It’s character-defining.

(I’m keeping this short this time—now that I’m home again, I have a lot of family stuff going on. I hope all of you are well! I enjoyed reading your posts on the topic, and I hope to come back to commenting soon! <3)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mostly Successful

by Daddy X

A piece of art can cost lots of money. Or, if one has a good enough eye, a lovely and evocative object can be found for free in the woods. For visual examples of that idea, just go into the archives for my post “ShelfLife.”

Aesthetics aren’t quantifiable by a measure of money. Artistic success depends on an intrinsic assessment not preceded by a dollar sign. A rock or piece of wood may resemble something within our existential scope or evoke an abstract archetype, producing an effect on our psyche difficult to price.

Success is determined by the results we want or need to achieve. I’d think that all here aspire to success, not only in our ability to arrange words, but also to receive positive feedback in the form of dollars, enough to at least finance the effort. Setting realistic goals helps solidify our objectives.

I may be in a unique place among us, considering my finances have about hit their last plateau. Momma and I are finally comfortable after many years of simply not so. This little house is now ours after thirty years of monthly payments. It finally feels like we’re coasting, not clawing. For the most part, I have made a living turning hobbies into businesses, first with restaurants, an extension of my love of good food and cooking, then in the antiques trade, in which I still dabble. Now of course, there’s my … ahem… my gardening hobby, which keeps us in the manner to which we’re accustomed. :>)

On the big picture, Momma X and I have come a long way in the traditional sense, especially since neither of us went to college. She abandoned a scholarship to get into a marriage and out of a bad living situation.

I fucked off at business school, overcut in every class within a month. Seems the pool halls of South Street in downtown Philadelphia had more draw for this student than accounting classes. I wanted to be a salesman at the time, and Pierce Business School was just a bus ride from home. For better or worse, South Street was just a few blocks past Pierce. Often, I kept going. Right past the school. Funny. I did become a salesman with the antiques.

South Street at the time wasn’t the yupped-up scene it is now. It was then a gray and desolate dump, all African-American bars and Jewish rag merchants.  Most days I was the only white person hanging out. Certainly the only student from Pierce. No other student would consider going to South Street for a beer after school. Those people were serious about their accounting.

What I'm getting at is that some hobbies make money, some don’t. My record in that regard is pretty good as far as success goes. Just not so much in the writing thing. The consolation is that some people think what I write is okay. So I guess I’ll have to go with the artistically based assessment that I’m like that stick in the woods, perhaps aesthetically valid, but not really worth much money.

So be it. I’m a successful guy. (Mostly)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Suck-sess! Suck-sess! Suck-sess! by Suz deMello

What is success? Does it suck? Why do we want it? What do we really want?

Success is generally defined as achievement of a goal, but we refer to someone as successful or as a success if that person has achieved a succession <vbg> of grandiose goals.

Martha Reeves had a lot
of hits, which made her successful
but not particularly happy.
Once I heard a band calling itself Martha and the Vendettas, and a refrain to one of their songs was the title of this piece. Ironically, the band name was a snarky take-off on Martha and the Vandellas; and Martha Reeves has some very big anger issues surrounding her success, which initially didn't come with a lot of money.

That the earliest Motown stars were badly ripped off isn't a secret. Reportedly, it doesn't take much to set Martha off:

Given that she was "banished" by Motown when she asked Berry Gordy for an accounting of her royalties, I'd be upset also. However, these days she's doing well. She served on the Detroit City Council and still gives concerts. She has a son, several grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Though she was used and cheated when a young woman, she's a success.

I recently read a great book called Stumbling to Happiness by Daniel Gilbert--I discussed it about a month ago, when we all blogged about what we're reading. One of his contentions is that everything we want is simply a means to one end: to be happy. To achieve not success but happiness. We say was want peace, for example, but we want peace because we believe peace will make us happy. 

Same with hot fudge sundaes.
They make me happy.
And feel successful.
Or something.

Same with success.

So defining success is an individual endeavor, for happiness is a very individual thing. Or is it?

None of us suffers from terminal uniqueness, and it's very likely, claims Gilbert, that what makes many individuals happy will also make a each one of us happy, also.

An article I often look at is at:

As you can see by the link, it's about increasing levels of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone our bodies produce. It's not really about having better sex, though that can be a side-effect, and I'm sure having "sex" in the title brought more readers--thus making the writer feel like a success.

And the article brings us to a young man who, by many standards, is a smashing success: Mark Zuckerberg, for apparently Facebooking is a great way to increase oxytocin levels in the body.

I Facebook a lot. I'm happy. I'm a success. Yippee!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Public Like a Frog

Sacchi Green

Emily Dickinson, 1830 – 1886

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Does anyone, with the possible exception of Donald Trump, really feel successful for long? Some people certainly deserve to feel successful, at least from the viewpoint of those of us who aren’t, but there do seem to be many who can’t enjoy their own success, or, for some, even believe in it. There’s a potential downside to success.

I’m not approaching this topic in a sour-grapes sort of way. At least I hope I’m not. I’ve realized for some time that as far as my writing goes I’m a small frog in a bog so small that I occasionally get to feel middle-sized. I chose the bog to live in, the niche-within-a-niche that is lesbian erotica, and left behind the somewhat larger pond of science fiction and fantasy where I was a mere tadpole but beginning to make a few ripples. At least I took the plunge, so late in life that it didn’t feel like I had time to do novel-length work so I focused on short fiction, another case of a niche that almost never leads to much in the way of success. The closest I’ve come to success is as an editor of that niche-within-a-niche, and that doesn’t really feel like personal success, since so much depends on the writers who trust me with their work. That may all be in the past, anyway; anthologies are fading fast as readers go for single stories self-published on Amazon for $.99 rather than books with twenty stories for $9.99.

I didn’t mean to say so much about myself, but at least it fits in with what I really mean to write about. Would I be incapable of feeling successful if I did have something worth calling success? I don’t think so, but it’s definitely true that many people suffer from “imposter syndrome,” never able to accept and enjoy their success, always thinking that they must be deceiving people, or succeeding by accident, and afraid they’ll eventually be found out. Maybe they’ve internalized certain cultural memes of “don’t be stuck up,” “don’t think you’re better than anybody else,” “who do you think you are?” so deeply that they’d be ashamed of feeling successful.

Then there’s the matter, for writers, of stress over whether success can be repeated. Can you make the next book as good as the one(s) that succeeded? Yeah, I know, we should all have such problems. But it’s real source of anxiety associated with success. And there’s another related problem with success that I hadn’t thought of until I recently saw a link to an article about Jack Kerouac: The article is subtitled, “His ambition, his hunger, what was lost when they were sated – it’s all there in a single frame.” (The photo in question is of Kerouac crouching next to a radio, listening to a recording of himself.) The main point the article tries to make is that Kerouac fought so hard for so long to get On the Road published, certain in spite of rejection after rejection that his book would eventually be recognized as a great and revolutionary work, that once the battle was won he lost the energy that had driven him. I don’t agree with the writer of the article that Kerouac could never write anything as good after that—I think Dharma Bums comes close, and Big Sur has its virtues—but the point that success can sometimes destroy creativity is a valid one.

Still—when I was a kid I wanted to be a successful writer, in part as an “I’ll show them!” statement from a geeky girl when being a geeky girl was even more of a heavy burden to bear than it is today, and in part as a hope to make my name immortal. That was then. I got over it. I had to get over it. Still, I do, in a way, envy Kerouac his success.

I envy many writers, but more because of their skill when I know they’re better than I could ever be, than because of their success. Some of the ones I most admire and envy aren’t very successful at all, by most measures. I’m not jealous; jealousy implies resentment or even malice, while envy just means you wish you had what they have.

Okay, I admit it. Talking about the downside of success must be sour grapes after all, at least to some extent. I’d like to have “an admiring bog” like Emily Dickinson’s frog. But I wouldn’t want to change my life for hers, even for posthumous “success.”

Friday, July 22, 2016

Success At Many Levels

Success is, to me, a many-tiered beastie. We might as well opt for the standard kind of definitions and call those tiers “macro”, “meso”, and “micro”.

Mostly, my focus here will be around publishing, because that’s what we’re all about, right? But as with any creative endeavour, or really any kind of employment, it’s truly impossible at some level not to have the worker bleed somewhat into the work. So I’ll step across to non-publishing factors of success, as I see them, too.


I guess in our society, the most overt measure of macro-success would be chart-topping books, legions of fans, houses by the sea, yachts in space and all that kind of thing. Or simply the ability to live an above-average existence funded entirely by one’s royalties. A less overt, but still tangible, equivalent might be oceans of praise in the form of reviews. 
It’s also not impossible to have both of those examples at once, though of course we’ve all seen evidence that society has a self-regulating effect. In Australia we call it the “tall poppy syndrome” (and perhaps that’s more of a global term). Essentially, the gaining of mass popularity does tend to bring the trolls out from under their bridges and onto their keyboards. Sometimes they grunt out milder, passive-aggressive stuff about “liking this before it was popular”, which at the minimum implies they no longer do now it is. Inevitably, there will be more than enough folk who “must have read a different book to everyone else” or “can’t understand why anyone would even finish this”. Even that is a mark of macro-success; that you’ve done so well people need to question how it happened.

I honestly can’t venture an opinion on macro-success from personal experience. My greatest successes in publishing have come via cover art, and while my work might have been one factor in lifting a book to the New York Times bestseller list, let’s not kid ourselves that it’s any more than a potential contributor. 

As an author, I was once part of an anthology which reached #34 on the Amazon charts, and gained USA Today bestseller status, but while it gave me a buzz (and my healthiest-ever month of royalties by a factor of at least 10x), I knew the success belonged to the big names in the bundle, and they graciously carried me along in their luggage.


Again from a sales point of view, this would probably be measured as earning something around a living wage. Perhaps earning enough to pay the regular bills and cover mild emergencies, but not enough that you can buy a third car and pay cash for it. Receiving enough reviews, at a high enough rating, to score a Bookbub thingummy (’cause I clearly know what I’m talking about with this stuff!) Overhearing someone you don’t know say “oh, I’ve heard of her” or reading on social media that “someone told me he’s an asshole”. That the thousand people who read you really love your work, but it hasn’t transpired that another hundred-thousand people have discovered you.

But aside from those measurable and monetary moments, meso-success also exists in elements such as improving your completion rate. Most writers have anything from a half-dozen to several dozen stories on the hop at any one time. Personally, I think I have around thirty in various states of completion, which I think I’ve mentioned here before. One of the easiest parts of writing is getting the spark for a story and tossing words at it to see what sticks. Crafting that monkey into a complete and marketable beastie is a whole lot harder, and often it’s because of the fresh sparks of ideas coming along which won’t play nice with that three-quarters-written thing you swore you’d finish before leaping into something else.
So meso-success could be a behavioural thayng, too. Developing your own discipline to the point where you finish at least half of the stories you start. That’s a step I’m in the middle of right now. And as a side-note to that, disciplining yourself to write longer stories. Again, I’m doing that at the moment.

My old story, “Playing House” (written as Abi Aiken), was previously published at around 34,500 words. I’ve been ploughing through that baby for a few weeks now, and so far it’s gone past 59,000 words. Given that I’ve also removed sections and words from the original story, I’ve probably written another 30,000 words or so on this story. That means the new parts alone on “Playing House” are currently the second-longest story I’ve ever written! Behind the original version. And since I still have around 4,000 words I’ve not yet touched, who knows? As Adam said to Eve, “you better stand back… I don’t know how big this thing gets”.


Sales-wise, I guess the micro-successes are the days where you sell a couple more books than you expected to, or than your patterns would indicate. Tiny steps which can be celebrated as such.

Writing-wise, to me, micro-success exists in those moments where you craft a sentence, or a paragraph, which sets your mind abuzz. It can also come from that moment where you finish a thought or a theme you initiated three chapters earlier, and sometimes without having realized you’d even picked out that particular thread. When you go off-reservation without knowing where you’re headed and then stumble on something you never realized you were looking for.

And when you pull enough of those micro-successes together, they make your story essentially into a geodesic dome. The bigger it gets, the stronger it becomes.

Outside of writing, successes are defined in other ways, naturally. For me, as a husband and father who works from home at his writing and cover art, my micro-successes come in ways which would seem boring to 20-year-old Willsin. The days where I got the laundry washed, hung out, brought in, folded and put away before my wife gets home… that’s a micro-success. It’s one less thing she has to stress about, and her resultant happiness gives me a buzz in the belly. Having dinner organized and sometimes even prepared when she walks in… success! An afternoon that runs smoothly with my sons after picking them up from school. Yeah, baby.

Meso-success in non-writing terms, for me, might be things such as the family holiday we’re taking to the USA in September/October. With our special man and his unreliable bodily functions, this trip has been really hard to talk ourselves into. It’s now been 20 years since we’ve travelled overseas, and for most of that time we’ve been parents and house-owners. The fact we can not only afford the holiday, but can put on a brave face and say “we’ll do it in the face of the issues” is huge to us. Meso-success.

Macro-success? Well, my personal macro-success would be the stability of my family despite issues thrown at us. Having a special-needs kid can sometimes break a marriage, but it’s just made ours stronger. 22 years and counting, plus 6 years of living in sin beforehand! Staying in this one house now for over 14 years is a massive record-breaker for us. Our previous record was 3 years. This is the only house Mister Almost-13 has lived in, and it’s the only house Mister Special would remember.

And then there’s the wonderful Venn diagram… where all three types of success blend. Within writing, the micro-success of stringing together bunches of mind-buzzing sentences into paragraphs leads to momentum. Momentum leads to the meso-success of finishing more and more, and longer and longer, works. And while neither of those automatically leads to macro-success, the only sure thing is an unfinished work can’t possibly succeed.

And that same thing is true in life. If we don’t finish what we start, success is highly unlikely.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

How To Overcome Professional Jealousy Without Really Trying

by Giselle Renarde

Last year I had a friendly disagreement with a fellow author about the meaning of success. No, I take that back--it wasn't friendly.

I was finally starting to make ends meet month after month, which is huge for someone who's been living out of a savings account for *mumble-mumble* years. I was also coming off a bout of depression, and my heart felt all gushy with gratitude for this ability to live life on my own terms--conduct my business on my own terms.

To me, that spelled success.

The aforementioned author tore a strip off me. She told me I had no right to be satisfied with my wretchedly low "making ends meet" income. Why didn't I aspire to be a big earner? I was just a lazy so-and-so.

If you're satisfied, you're stagnating.

Well, first off, don't tell someone with chronic depression they shouldn't be satisfied with what they have. It's kinda... ummm... counterproductive?

Also, I just plain disagree.

But I disagree as a self-professed lazy so-and-so.

I know authors who feel like failures if they don't earn $100k in a year. That's fine for them, although you won't find me beating myself up about it. I have zero aspirations to become a self-publishing millionaire. If that happens, by some unlikely stroke of luck, it's because I unknowingly captured some zeitgeist I didn't realize existed.

If I get rich, it won't be because of my business acumen and winning personality. Or even the quality of my writing. It'll be pure luck.

Does that mean my rich writer friends are just getting lucky? (heh--phrasing)

Nope. They're working their asses off. They're spending money like it's going out of style, baby. *raises Ray-Ban sunglasses. winks. takes a sip of Crystal Pepsi*

They are masters of Facebook advertising. They get BookBubs. They spend more on marketing than I pay in rent. That's not an overstatement. Easily double or triple what I pay in rent every month.

And they reap the rewards. Their books sell.  They make money.

All in all, I'm glad I had that little falling out with a colleague. From that day forward, I was better able to articulate why I felt professional jealousies (when I felt professional jealousies), and once that happened, they dissipated. Well, that's not true. But I had the tools to easily resolve them.

I used to hear other authors bragging about their successful book launches and think, "Dag nabbit, that woulda coulda shoulda been me!" I was full of ze, how you say, sour grapes, no? Why was everyone else reaping rewards and not me?

Then I started looking at things logically. When I heard about someone's successful book, instead of dwelling on that initial visceral sour grapes sensation, I delved into the makings of their success. I ended up with a kind of jealousy-repelling checklist.

Now I ask myself:

Does this book belong to a hot, in-demand genre?


Would I be willing to write in that genre?

Pretty much always, the answer is NO.

I have a friend whose book took off recently. It was a footsketbaseball romance. Footsketbaseball--that's a sport, right? Okay, anyway, it was a SPORTS romance.

And I said to her: "Eww sports!" And she said to me: "Eww I know! Sports are the worst! Took me three days to write the playing-field-surface-rink scene."

But she did her research. She knew sports romance was an up-and-coming subgenre. She put in the hours and wrote a book she wasn't interested in because she knew it would be a big earner. Her work paid off.

I don't begrudge authors writing to market. I totally get it. This is a JOB. But there are certain things I have zero desire to write about even for big money and you can't make me, nyah-nyah!

Okay, so let's pretend I saw a book doing well in my home genre. Say some heartfelt trans lesbian literary erotica tops the charts (HA!). Am I jealous yet?

Well, no. I might have a twinge of jealousy since this is a genre I've been writing in from personal experience for more than 8 years, but then I have to think to myself:

Is this author spending a shitload of money on advertising?


Am I willing to spend a shitload of money on advertising?

Nah, I'm too cheap.

Okay, say they're not spending a dime.

Is this author spending a shitload of TIME advertising the book?

Yes! Blog hops and marketing doodads and podcasting thingamaboppers... I'm just making up words now.

Am I willing to spend a shitload of time advertising my books?

Honestly? I'm way too lazy.

And the be-all and end-all question:

Would the benefits of achieving sales success with a similar title outweigh the cost in time, energy and money?

That's always up to each individual author to answer. I can't answer it for you and you can't answer it for me. And when we try to measure success for each other--that's when we get into trouble.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Red Brick: A Kind of Successful Story

There is the moon.
There is my finger.
There is my finger pointing at the moon.
There is no difference between the moon and my finger.  The moon shimmers under the tears of my bliss.

I stand.  I place my awareness on the breath without even thinking to do so anymore.  It just goes, in this endless fugue of the eternal now.  I experience the world the way that bugs, birds, animals, Bodhisattvas and babies experience it.  I step right.  I step left.  The gravel under my feet.  A sharp stone pricking my heel.  And so it goes.  I am walking - now.  Now - I am breathing.  My mind is silent.  The breeze skims my naked skin.  My phallus rises to meet it.  And so I have my answer as what to do with the demon that is standing at my bedroom door inside the monastic quarters where I live.

At the edge of the garden I see a few shadows watching reverently, who have made a pilgrimage to this place in Nova Scotia to be in my presence.  By the time I reach the glass door that connects the garden to my little  room I am fully erect and I hear the gentle knocking there again, reminding me that the demon is waiting to pay homage to me also and that my last remaining vanities will this night be deliberately cast on the fire.  I disgrace myself without remorse.  I will be hated and discussed among the disillusioned with contempt. No doubt some of them will think it’s a test of some kind of their faith, an act of “crazy wisdom” as if there could be such a thing.  But I will be free of myself.  And I must be free and I must pass this freedom on to my followers.  There are so many ways to be crucified.  Though fearful, it’s very liberating to know clearly one’s fate.

I step through the open glass doors and pass the well turned down bed which one of my disciples tidied,likely  visualizing her body there with me while I was leading meditation in the sanctuary.  They do this from devotion without knowing what a damaging thing to the spirit it is to not let a man clean his own messes.

I pass the bed, still erect below, my cock bobs its head birdlike as I walk to the door of my bedroom.  I can feel the demon on the other side.

The gentle knock again.  The demon is patient.

“Wait,” I say.

“Yes, master,” says the demon

I began this journey as an epileptic, not an ascetic.  I have an affliction known as pre-frontal lobe epilepsy, probably the same epilepsy Dostoevsky and Saint Teresa had.  Of all the neural diseases you can have, it is the most desirable.  I find myself missing it sometimes.  When the fit used to come to me, I would lose myself and, so I’m told, either go into a catatonic, ecstatic trance, or fall on the ground writhing.  On my own side of my skull, I felt myself swept into a state of being so primal, so transcendent, I can’t describe it anymore than I can describe the color blue, except as a state of perfect, agonizingly sweet happiness.  Unbearable, crushing joy, the orgasm of being soul fucked by a god.  It is a transcendent connection to all beings, to the cosmos, of such intensity the mind and nerves simply cannot withstand the lightning bolt of it, roasting your senses alive.  You want to exist that way forever and you are terrified that you will.  And then the ringing in the head begins as though angels are singing to you.  And then thankful oblivion until you wake up covered in your own piss with a stick, or a comb or a wallet in your mouth put there by some vigilant stranger to presumably keep you from choking on your tongue.

I began taking up meditation and yoga at an early age, not to cure myself, but in hopes of taming and provoking these fits at my convenience.  Although I had many spiritual experiences, the fits became more frequent and even more intense.  I feared I would go mad.  I certainly never feared I would become anybody’s idea of a saint.  Though I should have.

As the fits became more crippling I felt myself losing parts of my memory and identity.  The neurologist told me that eventually my situation would become fatal.  Mortality is only a concept until you find yourself looking down the gun barrel of the thing that will probably kill you.
I had lead a fairly comfortable life until that afternoon in the doctors office, discussing my “options”.  From that moment, like Siddhartha Gautama leaving the palace and discovering his first corpse, I began to perceive the world of hurt all around me.  There was a fly in the doctors office, dragging its right wing at a bad angle.  That fly will die, I thought. Does the fly know this?  What can he do except carry on being a fly?  And then I began to see, as though for the first time, the people in the hospital, each with their damaged wings, chained to the earth until something ended their suffering.  This world of hurt existed parallel to mine, and now I stepped over the line into it.  It was my world too now.  Me and the fly.

What is reality?  Better yet, what is the only reality that matters?  Every mystic knows, it’s the reality inside your head.  The only reality that matters.  The series of brain surgeries began retuning that reality for me as parts of my brain were unplugged and carved away.  Parts of me were taken away with it, so far nothing I miss.

But the last surgery.

Oh, the last surgery.  If everyone could have that last surgery, it might save the world.

The left frontal lobe had small changes made to it.  The kind of changes a monk or a nun might meditate all the days of their lives to achieve and never reach.  But me -

I was wheeled in a sinner.  I was wheeled out a saint.  They said I could perform miracles. I don’t remember that.  But a hospital is a good place for miracles.

There is the moon.  There is my finger pointing at the moon.  The moon and I are one.  The breeze and I are one.  All existence and I are one.  The eternal now and I are one in solid residence.  The love I feel for all people and living things in this great wide world of hurt makes me burst into fits of weeping.  I walk above this world of hurt as Jesus walked on the waves.

I had a dream last night.  I don’t remember much of it, but I remember the most important part.  I was in a lush garden, filled with living things, including dangerous animals.  But the animals were Walt Disney animals that talked. Yes, there were snakes too and they spoke to me.  "Aren’t you ashamed?" "Aren’t you a fraud?" Always count on a snake to ask the hard questions. 

And there was a wall. 

It was a stone wall made without mortar, only flat stones arranged in intersecting rows.  The wall rose to the sky so that there was no clue of the other side.  Among the plain stones, in the center of the wall was a single stone of reddish tan, beautiful and smooth, like a river stone.  It protruded from the wall as though offering itself to my hand.  I felt a touch and looked down and there was a large snake with wet human eyes watching me.  “Here may you find the tyrant,” said the snake.

In the morning I stepped into the hall in my white robes and a follower placed a garland of flowers around my neck.  I didn’t recognize him so he must have been visiting from one of the several meditation centers erected in my name around the states and in Europe where my every word and speech is studied like scripture.  As I walked down the hall, a small whispering entourage formed behind me, walking softly as though afraid of touching the ground, the gentle touch and tug of fingers on my robe, reaching out to me as though hoping for some healing miracle.

In the meditation sanctuary the sleepy crowd jumped to their feet, stepped aside and parted for me.  Flowers landed in my path as I approached the dais, and every face dived and became a back as each person bowed in reverence to me.  The dais was covered in plush cushions and garlands and Iseated myself grimly upon it as the room whispered and settled.  But I had nothing to say.  I had said all I was sure was true. 

I dared not look upon them, and then I did.  Their hope.  Their sin.  The self loathing in the eyes of the men and the lean women, longing for a blessing to vindicate them.  Always in the front row, the women.  The young women. The innocent hopeful eyes on me, all with the same message.  Command me.  Pluck me.  Touch me.  I will do anything.

And there among them, for the first time, looking at me with burning intensity, I see her.  My smooth red stone.  If you pull it, the whole edifice comes crashing down.  I began my homily, speaking only to her and felt my cock swell and rise under my robes which I had to adjust. 

Yes, I thought.  Maybe its the right thing.

And so I open the door of my midnight room and there she is, my beautiful demon holding a lacquer tray with a cup of herb tea.  She is wearing a blue loosely woven shift with nothing underneath.  The peaks of her nipples and the inviting shadow of her nether hair show.  Her breasts shift bulkily beneath the blue cloth like forbidden fruit.  We understand each other.

“Come in,” I say, glancing left and right behind her.  She brings the tea and stands with dignity by the bed, undisturbed by my tumescent nudity. 

I glance through the glass doors and see the moon.  There are two people in the garden who can see us clearly and everything that we do. I will leave the curtains open.  Let their hopes break.  Let them tell all the world what goes on.  I lace my hands on her and draw close, smelling her scented hair.

I am Samson and I will pull this temple down. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Personal Success

I didn't get into erotic writing for the money. If I did, I'm pretty sure I'd judge myself as unsuccessful.

I wrote my first erotic novella as an exercise in writing. Prior to that, I'd been writing science fiction and was neck-deep in my Masters and needed a creative break -- so I took to writing about sex. While that first novella was published by a small house, I wasn't entirely satisfied with it, so I wrote another. It was better, but still not perfect, so I wrote a handful of short stories.

With each writing project, I could see my skill level increasing. My primary goal at that time was to get better at what I was doing -- so in that way, I was successful.

I participate in some erotica forums and in one of them, the authors write often about how they're achieving four digit sales ($1,000+) per month.  Here I was with twelve titles out and making maybe $15 per month. So my next challenge was to increase my sales numbers.

I read all the posts where people claimed to be making more than a thousand a month. They were writing short stories of about 5K to 10K words, pumping out roughly one story per day. Yes, one story per day. It was clearly marketed as a money-maker -- hot keywords were used in titles and subtitles, the metadata keywords were stuffed with hot phrases, and everything was priced at $2.99. Also, at the time, Kindle Unlimited was still paying authors about $1.35 per book read (this was before the half a cent per page change they implemented), and this was a big factor in the high income levels. Since the change in how KU works, there have been fewer people claiming to make four-digits, but it still happens.

I decided to give it a try. I didn't hope to achieve the four-digit income that others claimed to have, but I wanted to achieve higher sales. (You'll notice I keep saying they "claim" to have reaced those figures. I think there's a fair bit of ego involved in these posts and so I find some of the claims dubious -- but I do believe some of them do actually achieve those numbers.)

However, I didn't want to taint this main Cameron D. James pen name -- so I started a new one. This new name (which will remain unnamed in this post) writes short stories in the 5-10K range and does all the same things as those high-selling authors. The only aspect I can't match is the output -- I can't do daily. For a while, I did weekly. Sales didn't skyrocket, but they did pick up quite a bit for the new pen name.

The BIGGEST change as a result of this experiment wasn't the higher sales and it wasn't the establishment of a new pen name. It was learning how to approach writing as a bit more of a job than an art. Yes, there's still an art aspect to it and I have to love what I'm writing, or else it's clear I'm just writing for money. But now I've got the ability to sit down and plan out dozens of story ideas and then start writing them.

Writing a story used to take months, from inspiration to writing to editing to publishing. Now, if I have a good solid stretch of creative energy, I can have all that done in less than a week.

In the time since I started this second pen name, I started a third pen name that had the same approach as the second one (short stories, highly targeted, intended for high sales) but went in a different direction (very taboo and fetish oriented).

And with this change in how I write, I've been able to return to my old love of science fiction. I've written a first draft of my sci-fi novel (which will be eventually released under a different name) and have plans for some semi-paranormal-semi-historical thrillers that I hope to write in the coming years.

(With all this other stuff going on, this is why I haven't published anything under the name Cameron D. James for a while. I'm still picking away at a project, but it's a novella and I can only devote a few days to it every two weeks or so.)

For me, this is success. I'm able to take something I love doing -- writing -- and am able to go crazy with it. No longer am I tied up in one small project that takes months, to the exclusion of every other project. I make some money -- it's not a lot, but it's way more than I used to make on writing, and it is a nice bonus every month. And with self-publishing, there's no longer the endless cycle of submitting to publishers over and over. I can put together the book exactly as I want it and then put it up for sale.

In my writing group, I've been dubbed the group's Nora Roberts. (Roberts is a highly-prolific romance and mystery writer who publishes pretty much non-stop. When I used to work in a bookstore, we had several shelves full of just her stuff.) The rest of my writing group takes writing much more like an art, working on one project slowly until it's perfect. That kind of approach is great for them as it works for them. That never really worked for me, though -- I would always get frustrated that it was taking so long. With my personal change in work habits, I still have the same professionalism and desire for perfection that I always had, but I realize that I can work at a much faster pace -- and this will make me happier, more productive, and more successful. For me, success isn't about money, success is about doing what you want, how you want.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Seduced by My Best Friend’s Dad (co-written with Sandra Claire). He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit

Monday, July 18, 2016

Defining Success

By Lisabet Sarai

A couple of weeks ago, I received my royalty report from Excessica for the first quarter of 2016. I opened it right away, very eager to see the sales numbers for my latest novel, The Gazillionaire and the Virgin (which by the way is currently half off at Smashwords).

The book came out at the very end of January. I invested a huge amount of energy and some significant money in promoting the new release. Among other activities, I organized a fifteen stop blog tour, with unique posts for each day and a $50 first prize. I sent out media kits to at least fifty author colleagues who sometimes post promo material for me. I booked (and paid for) features in two newsletters that highlight free or cheap books (after asking Excessica to do special price deals for a couple of weeks). Almost every day, I sent out one or two come-on quotes from the book via Twitter. I also contacted lots of sites to solicit reviews.

Reactions to the book were really enthusiastic. The book currently has a five star rating on Amazon. Readers wrote things like:

This book is one of the top five hottest books I have read. These were two of my most favorite lovers.”


I was completely drawn into this relationship, and the relationship IS the story.”


"Do I recommend this one? Oh hell yeah. Realistic D/s with hot as hell kinky sex? Yes, please!"

Obviously I was delighted by this reception. Maybe I’d figured out at last how to write a romance that could please the masses! Perhaps, after sixteen years, I’d finally written something that I could honestly label a best seller.

The royalty report poured some cold water on my hopes. In Q1 of 2016 (only two months, given the book’s release date), people bought 103 copies of the novel. Many of those copies were discounted or free.

I’d be lying if I claimed I wasn’t disappointed.

I’m sure the book will continue to sella few copies per month, considering the thirty-day cliff. So, given the current topic, I have to ask myself: Is this book a success? Am I?

It’s all relative. This is more copies than I’ve sold of any book since my first (which actually earned out its advance). I guess that should make me happy. It’s more copies than some of my author friends sell in a year, I know. Am I looking a gift horse in the mouth?

But I deserved to sell more, my bitter side whines. People who write the same book again and again sell thousands of copiesof each volume! And readers liked my book, that’s clear. All I need is more readers...

I don’t want to make myself miserable, though. I have to let it go. I value my peace of mind more than the money or the fame I’d imagined this book might bring me.

And it occurs to me, that the real definition of success just might be continuing to tell my stories, even if I’m not a best seller.

Or is that just plain stupidity and a waste of my scarce time?

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Trouble with Normal

by Jean Roberta

“Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage
Suddenly it's repression, moratorium on rights
What did they think the politics of panic would invite?
Person in the street shrugs -- "Security comes first" --
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”

- Bruce Cockburn, 1983

I think the most accurate political label for me would be Romantic Leftist. The best aspect of the spotty Christian teaching I was exposed to in childhood was the combined concept of universal worth, universal rights, and universal kinship, which implies universal empathy and responsibility. I loved the idea that every human being has value, and that since we all need love, we should all give love.

Belief in a God-Father, gazing fondly down on each of us from the sky, shouldn't be necessary to create a more loving world. We wouldn't need Him (in all His contradictory guises) if we had each other.

Although I believe that a radical leftist commitment to universal everything is logical (evidence shows that a greater commitment to the general welfare of a population decreases violence of all kinds), its appeal to me is basically emotional.

“Liberty and justice for all” was part of the Pledge of Allegiance I learned to say each morning in the U.S. school system. I felt I could really feel patriotic toward a government that guaranteed those things.

Then I grew up in stages, and each stage brought a new level of disillusionment. I’m sometimes amazed that I still have good memories of a happy childhood in a region that was dominated by the Mormon Church, with its thoroughly male-centred, racist, pro-capitalist world-view. I was clearly in a bubble until I began to see the world as it really was.

When I reached puberty, I began dating, and I also hung out with kids who weren’t all white. Being part of a mixed-race crowd actually made me feel safer than if I had been surrounded by blond, blue-eyed kids from a TV sit-com. My Mohawk-looking grandfather was still alive and sometimes came to visit us, all the way from New York City. Plus my mother could turn surprisingly dark in the sun, like a snapshot developing color over time. I had reason to worry about being rejected by a really white crowd if they discovered that I wasn’t 100% pure.

Several of my white classmates warned me that if I kept on hanging out with “Mexicans” (mostly U.S.-born), my reputation would be mud.

A famous Chinese woman novelist gave a talk at the state college where my father taught, and she stayed in our guest bedroom for several days. My friends (including the “Mexicans”) wondered out loud why my parents would let a Chinese person stay in their house. Yet no one I knew was officially racist. Their expressions of disgust that “people of color” were allowed to live were usually prefaced with, “I’m not racist, but . . .”

Whenever a boy asked me out, I would tell him I wanted to be treated like an equal. Then he would crack a joke about the stupidity of girls, especially the ones who get themselves raped, pregnant, beaten or killed. I would ask why a boy who hated everything female would choose to spend time with a girl. That was my date’s cue to comfort me in baby-talk: “Aww, honey, don’t be like that.”

Adults told me that love isn’t rational, and that boys who picked on girls had secret crushes on the objects of their ridicule. I was told that boys have trouble expressing their feelings, and that was why I couldn’t expect them to treat me as politely as I was supposed to treat them. I was also told that a “real gentleman” would go far beyond treating me like a fellow-being. A gentleman was expected to open doors for me (literal and metaphorical), carry my shopping bags, pay for the stuff in them, and shower me with unbelievable compliments.

My experience with boys, and then with men, could be described as extreme. I would get extreme lines (“You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.” “I’ll love you forever.”), followed by casual contempt or scary rage. (“You never told me you’re into that Women’s Lib crap!” “If you want to go out to work, you should pay for everything!” “You never told me you’re the kind of slut who’s had sex with other guys!”)

Yet when “male chauvinist” (after an extreme French nationalist in Napolean’s time, Claude Chauvin) and then “sexist” became popular terms, every guy I met assured me that he didn’t fit that label. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a male chauvinist, but why do some girls always . . ? My desire for an education that could lead to an interesting career was dismissed as a symptom of my hormonal nature, or a perverse effect of corruption by my educated parents.

After divorce, I moved on to dating women, and by the time my daughter was 11, I was planning to move in with Mirtha, now my spouse. My daughter opposed the plan, so I arranged for the two of us, mother and child, to go to counselling. I asked the counsellor if she could counsel a lesbian mother. She said she could counsel anyone. Then she said she had no experience with lesbians, and asked leading questions intended to trigger an epiphany in me: I was supposed to realize that I was hurting the daughter I loved, and that she would be so much happier with a stepfather. I explained to the counsellor that: 1) I had never met a man who had any clear interest in helping me to raise my daughter, including her father, and 2) I had asked my daughter several times why she was upset, and she had told me that she didn’t want me to date anyone: male, female, trans, or extraterrestrial. Nonetheless, the counsellor made it clear that our sessions together would only be successful if I broke up with my girlfriend and resolved to stay out of the lesbian community for the rest of my life. So much for unbiased counselling.

Everyone I’ve ever met has defined themselves as “normal.” In some cases, they think Hitler’s government should have finished the job of removing all Jews from the face of the earth, but presumably that’s not an expression of hysterical bigotry if the people who express it are “normal.” Some folks think the undeserving poor should be cut off from government “handouts” so they will die of hunger and disease, which would be a logical expression of Darwin’s theory of evolution: the unfit die out, and rightly so. Why interfere with nature? (But when a social Darwinist is badly injured or diagnosed with a serious disease, he/she wants all the interference they can get.)

I’ve learned not to ask new acquaintances whether they love peace, justice and human equality. “Of course!” would be the answer. “Doesn’t everyone?” No. Never.

The visionaries who imagine a world in which human worth, as such, is really valued have always been considered insane, as abnormal as a person can be.