Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Erotic Lure Newsletter: December 2013

From Erotica Readers & Writers Association
By Lisabet Sarai

Dear Erotically-Inclined Elves,

'Tis the season! You know what I'm talking about. Mistletoe. Rum-spiked eggnog. Champagne. Office parties that generate plenty of heat, memories and remorse (not to mention opportunities for blackmail). Snowy nights cuddled in front of the fire with your honey - naked on the rug with all the toys scattered about...

It's time for joy to the world and deck the halls, and the Erotica Readers & Writers Association is here to get you in an appropriately festive mood. I've donned my crimson, fur-trimmed mini skirt and shiny black boots in preparation for the traditional holiday tour through the wintery, wanton wonders awaiting you in the ERWA December edition. Step carefully - things could get slippery!

Let's start in the Erotica Gallery, where ERWA authors have served up a Claus-sized portion of the sensual stories that are our speciality. Some are light-hearted, some less so, but all are guaranteed to warm you up in all the right places. We've got sparkling flashers and a steamy page of seasonal erotic poetry, too, including a silly but sexy contribution by yours truly. When you're burned out from shopping or cooking, stop by to sample a bit of our holiday cheer. You'll soon be glowing like Rudolph's nose.

Our visions, our stories - our gifts to you:

Of course you're all finished with your Xmas list, right? No? If you're looking for last minute inspiration, spend a few minutes wandering through our Books for Sensual Readers section. December usually marks the release of many "best of" anthologies, and this year is no exception: BEST WOMEN'S EROTICA 2014, edited by Violet Blue and featuring (for some reason) a delightful black cat on the cover; BEST GAY EROTICA 2014, edited by Larry Duplechan; BEST LESBIAN EROTICA 2014, edited by Kathleen Warnock - and so on! Other collections worth noting include COMING TOGETHER: IN THE TRENCHES, a charitable anthology of military-themed erotica edited by Lady Grey, and LUST IN LATEX, the latest from Rachel Kramer Bussell - with a cover that will have your tongue hanging out even if rubber sex doesn't float your boat. Jennifer Kacey's A VERY MENAGE CHRISTMAS may inspire some holiday shenanigans, while Jay Crownover's erotic romance RULE sounds as hot and sticky as melting candy canes. And don't miss Arsenal Pulp Press' gorgeous translation of the classic 17th century Chinese novel THE EMBROIDERED COUCH.

I'm just trying to help, you understand, by giving you some ideas - no, not that kind of idea!- ideas for presents that will be truly appreciated. You'll find many more titles in our conveniently categorized listings, all available at the click of a mouse (or the touch of a finger tip, if you're out and about). Please share the blessings this holiday by buying from our affiliates. It doesn't cost you a penny extra but by using the links on our site you'll insure that others get to enjoy ERWA's many sexy delights.

Even Santa likes to read:

When I was a kid, I'd spend hours poring over the Sears Christmas Catalog, drooling over all the fabulous toys. You too? Okay, I know some of you are too young to remember Sears and Roebuck, but believe me, that catalog fueled a lot of happy fantasies. Now that you're grown up and your fantasies have changed, check out the amazing offerings in the Sex Toy Playground. I'd love it if someone would buy me a Wink Vibrator (featured in the Sex Toy Scuttlebutt column) or a We-Vibe-4 couples vibrator (reviewed by Mr. and Mrs. Toy). Santa, I've been very good. You can ask my master...

What do you want to see under your tree?

I mustn't forget the movies! Watched "Miracle on 34th Street" just one time too many? Actually, I'm surprised no one has made a porn parody. Not yet, but maybe soon... Featured in this month's Adult Movies pages you will find "Not the Wizard of Oz" (complete with songs, dances, flying monkeys and the legendary switch from black and white to lurid color) and "Grease XXX", with a cover practically indistinguishable from the original. If you're in the mood for something darker, check out the lesbian kink in "The Vampire Mistress" (I get chills just reading about it). Our classic porn pick for the month is the original MILF Juliet Anderson, in her 1978 debut "Pretty Peaches". She was nearly forty when she started her illustrious porn career. Guess there's hope!

Camera! Lights! Lust!

Inside the Erotic Mind this month, we have an extensive discussion of individuals' experiences at swing clubs and swing parties - five full pages of fascinating confessions. You're welcome to contribute your own thoughts or stories. Just click on the Participate link.

Dare to share:

Authors, I haven't forgotten you. As usual we've got lots of opportunities in Authors Resources for you to flog your tales to possible publishers. (That's not what I meant and you know it!) Recently announced calls include space opera erotica; rock and role fantasy (Circlet Press), tales of wild darkness (Muse It Hot), best bondage erotica (Cleis), best lesbian romance (Bold Strokes); and the annual Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica (volume 13). This is just a small sampling from our extensive lists of current calls and ongoing submission guidelines.

If you've got a bit of time, click over to the ERWA blog for motivation, education and entertainment. Starting in January 2014, we'll be adding some exciting new features to the blog, but we'll have the same high quality content from our illustrious contributors.

And don't forget the Archives links - your portal to some incredible columns about writing from past ERWA editions, penned by erotica luminaries like Ashley Lister, Shanna Germain, Louisa Burton, Donna George Storey, Vincent Diamond and M. Christian.

Let's make 2014 be the year we all write best sellers:

Our sponsor for this issue of ERWA is Stiff Rain Press. Stiff Rain Press is a publisher of erotic literature written by adults, for adults, featuring adults. While some might not agree with the artistic merits of Erotica, we, like many before us, simply wish to present our art without censorship. Our authors work very hard to provide high-quality, well-written erotic literature that is both titillating and notable, and it is our sincerest pleasure to present these compelling stories that will leave our readers wanting more.

Please visit Stiff Rain Press for more information about our authors and their upcoming SRP releases.

I happen to know the folks who run Stiff Rain - they're the real deal.

That rounds out my tour, and the year, too! I wish you all a holiday season of love shared, joy multiplied and fantasies fulfilled. I'll see you in January, with lots more risque allusions and amorous alliteration.


Festively yours,

Visit Lisabet Sarai's Fantasy Factory   
Check out blog
Join Lisabet's List           

Write, learn, and play on ERWA. Details at:

The Beautiful Experiment

I was bored. My flight had been delayed. I’d already been traveling forever, and I’d reached that point at which I was too tired to read, too tired to concentrate on writing, too tired to sit still without being twitchy. I didn’t want to drink, I didn’t want to eat. I just wanted to be done travelling. That’s when I began The Beautiful Experiment. I was seated off one of the main concourses, which was a constant hive of activity, of people coming and going, popping in and out of shops and scurrying to make tight connections. It was the ideal place to people watch. But with a twist. I decided to watch the masses to see just how many truly beautiful people I could spot.

Okay, I know everyone has a slightly different ideal when it comes to beauty, but we all know it when we see it. We all know that look that turns heads, that look that makes us want to stare, to take in all that loveliness just a little longer. I didn’t care if the real lookers were men or women. I mean if we’re honest, we look at both, whether we admire it, want it or envy it. So I sat and I watched. … and I watched … and I watched. Since that time I’ve carried out my little experiment in pubs, in museums, on the tube, in busy parks, and the results are always the same. There just aren’t that many real stunners out there!

I was struck by that fact in the airport that day, so I decided to add another dimension to my experiment. I decided to look for people who were interesting. It didn’t necessarily have to be their looks that were interesting, it could just as easily be their behaviour, their dress, something, anything that made them worth a surreptitious stare. And wow! Being delayed in an airport suddenly became a fascinating grist mill for story ideas and intriguing speculation.

I’ve carried out this experiment lots of time now, and the results are always the same. There are very few stunners out there, and even when I spot one, even when I find myself sneaking glances at a beautiful person, my eyes, and my attention, can always be drawn away by the interesting people.

In erotica and, in particular erotic romance, the characters are usually voluptuous, sculpted beauties and broad shouldered, wash-boarded hunks. It’s fantasy after all. But how long can a story focus the reader’s attention on washboard abs or perfect tits? Descriptions give us a handle. Descriptions are like the label on a file. They might attract us to the file, but if the file is empty, it won’t hold our attention. It’s what makes the described beautiful person interesting that makes the story.

In our genre, sex is a large part of what makes our beautiful people intriguing; how they think about sex, their kinks, their quirks, their neuroses, their baggage – all of those things make the fact that our beautiful people are interesting way more important than the fact that they’re beautiful.  Add to that some seriously delicious consequences for that sex, some chaos and mayhem, a few character flaws that catch us off our guard, that draw us in and voila! A gripping story is born!

Perfection in a story, in characters, is the equivalent of a literary air brushing. No flaws = no story; no rough spots = nothing to hold our attention. Our characters’ beauty is only their handle. Their flaws and their intriguing quirks are what catapult us into the plot, what make us want to stay on for more than just a look-see and to dig a little deeper, to really know those characters and become emotionally involved with them.

Last night on the tube in London, I tried my little experiment again, just to make sure. More data is always a good idea, and good science has to be repeatable, doesn’t it? Taking into account my own preferences and prejudices, the results were the same. I can remember a half a dozen really interesting people, people I could very easily write a story about. There wasn’t a single stunner among them, which leads me to the conclusion that we’re more interesting in our flaws than in our perfections. We’re more interesting in our experiences and the way they manifest than in the static beauty of the moment. It also excites me to think that I’m surrounded by interesting people all the time. A story is never farther away than the next intriguing person. Is this an ordinary-looking person’s version of sour grapes? I don’t think so; I hope not. Truth is there’s an astonishing transformation that takes place in the company of truly interesting people. Before long, right before my eyes, those truly intriguing people become the beautiful people. There’s always a story in that.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Original Mind May Be A Troubled One

Elizabeth Black lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four cats. You may find her on Facebook and on her web site.

It came as no surprise to me that writing is one of the top 10 professions in which people are mostly likely to suffer from depression. According to a new Swedish study, "writers have a higher risk than the general population of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse. They were also about twice as likely to commit suicide."

A second recent study from Austria found a tie between creativity and mental disorders. According to this study, "creative professionals are a bit more likely than others to suffer from bipolar disorder. The healthy relatives of schizophrenics tend to enter creative fields. A genetic variant of some psychoses may be related to creative achievement. Some dimensions of schizotypy--personality traits that may make a person more vulnerable to schizophrenia--predict a person's creativity."

I've suffered from bi-polar disorder since I was a child, but I wasn't diagnosed until my mid-20s. I'm currently on medication that keeps the mood swings in check but I know the moment I go off them I'll dive into the pit of Hell and soar to uncomfortable heights again, and neither is a pleasant experience. During these highs and lows, I wrote and continue to write. I've also painted, drawn, and composed music, but mostly, I put fingers to keyboard.

The tie between art and mental illness is not something to be taken lightly. It's not merely a matter of having "the blues" and needing to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and get on with your life. Depression and other forms of mental illness can very devastating —and deadly.

Creativity and madness go hand-in-hand. Hemingway committed suicide with a bullet to the head. He's not the first writer to suffer from mental illness. Virginia Woolf drowned herself. Sylvia Plath stuck her head in her oven, but only after giving the kids milk and cookies as a snack. Her colleague and friend Anne Sexton also committed suicide. Zelda Fitzgerald was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and she spent the last years of her life in an asylum. F. Scott Fitzgerald suffered from depression and alcoholism. Hunter S. Thompson shot himself. Susanna Kaysen stayed in a mental hospital and later wrote "Girl, Interrupted". Hermanne Hesse, who may have been bi-polar, attempted suicide and spent time in several mental institutions. Another possible manic-depressive and definite violent alcoholic, Malcolm Lowry, spent time in a mental institution and died a "death of misadventure" combining booze and an overdose of sleeping pills. Whether his death was suicide, accident, or murder remains unanswered. Spalding Grey long suffered from depression and he committed suicide after leaping from the Staten Island ferry. Mental illness isn't confined to writers. Actors Patty Duke, Vivien Leigh, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Jeremy Brett were diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. One of my favorite British actors committed suicide. George Sanders checked into a small in a hotel in Barcelona, wrote a short suicide note and took an overdose of barbiturates. He wrote, "Dear World, I am leaving you because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck."

There seems to be a history of suicide in the Hemingway family. Another notable Hemingway to kill herself was his granddaughter, Margaux. Despite the common belief that Hemingway committed suicide, his wife insists he accidentally set of his gun while cleaning it.

I've already mentioned Sylvia Plath's suicide. Some believed based on her note that she didn't intend to kill herself and that her actions were a cry for help. She wrote the brief note, "Please call Dr. Horder."

Hunter S. Thompson left a suicide note before putting a gun to his head. Thompson left the "Football Season Is Over" note for his wife, Anita. He shot himself four days later at home. He wrote: "No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax This won't hurt.""

O. Henry was plagued by alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver. His final words were: "Turn up the lights, I don't want to go home in the dark."

Sergei Esinen wrote his suicide note in his own blood, and he gave it to a friend the day before he hanged himself. He wrote:

"Goodbye, my friend, goodbye
My love, you are in my heart.
It was preordained we should part
And be reunited by and by.
Goodbye: no handshake to endure.
Let's have no sadness -- furrowed brow.
There's nothing new in dying now
Though living is no newer."

Virginia Woolf had had a mental breakdown years earlier, which she feared was about to recur. She committed suicide by stuffing her coat pockets with rocks so she wouldn't float, and then she drowned herself. She left the suicide note on the mantelpiece of her home, for her husband. "Dearest, I feel certain that I'm going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems to be the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier until this terrible disease came. I can't fight it any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness in my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling you life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been. V."

With talent often comes pain and sorrow. Creative people may be tapped into humanity's foibles a bit more than the average person, hence the acute sensitivity to what goes on around them. I often wonder if I'm attracted to the Dark Side because I'm a writer, or am I a writer because I'm attracted to the Dark Side? Writing is a wonderful way for me to relieve stress and solve problems. When I create a character going through similar ordeals as myself, I can detach and come up with a good solution. I wonder how many other writers have done something similar? I know writing is one way to gaze into our darker selves, although it's not necessarily a safe thing to do. As Nietzsche said, battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. I prefer to dive right in rather than play it safe and hang around the comfortable edges. And I know many other writers do the same thing. It makes them human.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Eyes on the Prize

by Jean Roberta

When I was in my last year of high school, I won a major award in a national contest for student writers, and then lost my boyfriend. This was not a coincidence. He accused me of being on the “bad trip” of focusing too much on my writing and not enough on Life, then he promptly found a new girlfriend. (Boyfriend had taken a few “bad trips” that were more chemically-induced.)

He and I had met in a special two-year Fine Arts program, and he had told me that he planned to launch a writing career after graduation. During our two-year relationship, I revised and typed his essays for our English classes; I hoped that he would love me better if I helped him get better grades. (His grammar was shaky, and he implied that this was because he was all about big ideas rather than trivial details).

Soon after our English teacher announced the contest, Boyfriend and I both mailed in our short stories. This time, he didn’t ask for my editorial help, and I didn’t offer it. Weeks later, I won $500 (worth approximately a year of university tuition) and a three-day trip to Toronto, headquarters of the financial company that had sponsored the contest. Boyfriend got nothing. He complained bitterly that the judging had been unfairly biased, and he expected me to agree with him. Even before I learned that he had replaced me, I knew our romance was over.

Why am I recounting this historical episode? Because the race is on. Several major writing contests are still open for a short time, and award-winners will be announced at annual conferences in the spring and summer of 2014. The results remain to be seen.

Let’s start with (arguably) the biggest awards for writers of romance fiction (including erotic romance): the Ritas, sponsored by Romance Writers of America and named after its first president, Rita Clay Estrada. There is an entry fee for members of the organization, and a higher fee for non-members, but the prizes are substantial, not to mention the fame involved. The categories have been controversial, especially when “romance” was defined as a genre that excluded same-gender relationships. That restriction has been lifted, but “romance” as a genre definition is still sufficiently arbitrary to trigger debate. For more contest details, go here: before the deadline: January 2, 2014.

The annual writing awards that especially interest me are the “Lammies,” given by the Lambda Literary Foundation for the best works of the year (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama) featuring lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender content. The deadline for nominations is December 1, 2013, so if you are interested, you have a week to decide. Find “awards” here:

The categories for the “Lammies” are debatable and overlapping, and I am always somewhat surprised to find work I consider erotic entered as “fiction” or “romance.” Of course, the fewer entries in a given category, the more likely it is that a particular title will win.

Then there are the “Eppies” and the “Arianas” (given by EPIC, the organization for e-published writers, for e-books and e-book covers). These annual awards have a summer deadline.

I looked in vain for information about the Rauxa Prize for erotic fiction and poetry, awarded by a Rauxa Foundation (apparently based in Englewood, Colorado) up to 2007. This prize seems to be a thing of the past.

Penthouse magazine used to give annual awards for the kind of sexually-explicit fiction published in its pages. The name of the award, the “Baudelaire,” was hotly debated in the Writers list of ERWA (possibly also in Parlor) on grounds that Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), an innovative French poet, would be appalled to have his name associated with the formulaic stories for which Penthouse was known. Even still, any writing contest which provides cash prizes for writers seems better than nothing to me.

If I have neglected to mention a currently-open contest that will accept sexually-explicit writing, I hope someone will fill in the gap.

Why do writers enter contests? The shocking, immediate side-effect of winning is that other writers (especially contestants who didn’t win) are likely to sneer. (If my ex-boyfriend is still alive and if he ever mentions my name, he probably remembers our art-student romance as one of the disillusioning experiences of his youth.) Before contest results are even announced, the guidelines, the restrictions and the judges can all be accused of bias. The problem here is that literature (published writing) must be subjectively judged, based on criteria which are specific to a certain value system. I can’t imagine how writing contests could be run otherwise.

Do writing awards result in increased sales? I don’t know of any wide-ranging surveys which show a correlation (or not). Common sense tells me that an award is likely to raise interest in a particular title--and to a lesser extent, in everything else the author has written. Experience tells me that winning a writing contest is literally its own reward, since nothing further can be expected. (The award that lost me a boyfriend did not gain me a single publication.)

It has been argued that because the judging of writing contests, like the evaluation of story submissions, is necessarily subjective, winning or acceptance doesn’t prove the merits of the chosen work. We’ve all heard this.

Yet winning, like acceptance for publication (or both combined) feels downright orgasmic. It shows that at least one person (outside the writer’s circle of intimates) read, understood and chose to honour the work. May everyone here whose work is nominated for an award be prepared for the outcome, whatever it is—and may hope and determination never fade.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

*Sotto Voce* White Elephants

by Kathleen Bradean

I've sold about seventy to a hundred short stories so far. I stopped keeping track several years ago, so I have no idea what the real number is. It doesn't matter though because all that's important here is that I'm somewhere between none and zillions and have some experience with the art form. Yes, experience, both as a reader and a writer, but I still think I barely know anything.

While reading an anthology last week, a short story that took place over a span of time-- let's say a week although I don't remember-- didn't work for me. As I set the anthology aside, I decided the reason why was that short stories work best when confined to a short period of time, say over an hour or so.  Hills Like White Elephants, I thought. But that's just stupid thinking because A Good Man is Hard to Find.

It isn't just short stories that send me into long bouts of contemplation. I frequently muddle over the problem of the erotic novel. Many readers want sex in every chapter. Pages and pages of sex each chapter, with more and more partners thrown into the mix and some kink as well, and oh what the heck, lets fall on our swords with that old trope that sex equals love, shall we? The problem with erotic novels like that is that the sex scenes tend to become skimmable.  They're wank fodder and while there's nothing wrong with that, the characters in those sorts of stories tend to have as much depth as a hologram.The plot, what there is of one, is a thin excuse to string together sex scenes. To be mean about it, they simply aren't good writing. Damn it people, erotica can be well written! We deserve better quality. 

I look for something more contemplative and literary in erotica than a wankfest. Although, of course, I love to be aroused by a story. But because most published erotica tends toward a standard 'let's go on a sexcapade' escapist fantasy, I often think erotica is at its best in short form where, strangely enough, writers seem to do a better job of addressing deeper issues and building dimensional characters than in long form.

But then I think of Donna George Storey's Amorous Woman and Remittance Girl's Beautiful Losers and change my mind. And oh, I wish the incredibly talented Teresa Lamai's (ERWA veterans will correct her name for me) story set in Venice with the Russian dancer and American painter was available to readers because it was such an amazing work. It is possible to produce an erotic novel that's literary, that's art, that transcends. It's just that they're rare and don't tend to find publishers because they are sensualist fiction rather then sexual.

This isn't a terribly coherent post because this is one of those hamster on a wheel debates I have with myself. My thoughts run and run but only end up going in circles. Are short stories best confined to a short time frame? My thinking now is that confined, rather than time, is the operative word. Everything in a short story must be confined to the pertinent data. The story may occur over a long period but we only get the glimpses of things that matter, delivered in tightly written paragraphs where every word pulls its weight. The same is true maybe of erotic fiction in the novel form. No matter how long the work is, there's no room for gratuitous sex scenes.

But you know, I'm not set on that. I could be easily convinced that I'm concentrating on the wrong things, that confined writing is the opposite of what's needed, and that erotic novels work on a literary level more often than I think. Convince me. Give me examples.

Meanwhile, I'll be puttering around inside my brain muttering "Hills Like White Elephants" and wondering how much I can leave off the page, as if writers can adopt the zen philosophy of art where we could make as much use of white space between as we do with words. Which is a different topic. Maybe.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I Learned Something New...

I learned something new this month. I can do a lot more than I thought possible. And without sacrificing sleep, food and fun, too. If you saw last month's post, you'll probably already know that what I'm talking about is related to NaNoWriMo. I thought I was insane to sign up for it, and that I had only a slim chance of achieving it, but it turns out it's not the case. I'm currently a few days over the halfway mark, and I'm still on track. I'm managing my 2.5k words a day, weekdays only, and I'm also running my business, walking the dog, doing boring household chores and sleeping the same amount. Last week, I even managed to write and submit a short story, THEN did my NaNo words.

I'm not sure how I'm doing it. I'm not mainlining coffee, as I don't drink it. I'm not even mainlining energy drinks. I'm just doing it... somehow. I suspect it's down to the pressure. Whereas some people crack under pressure, I get more focussed, driven, determined to succeed. I hate letting others down, and, turns out, dislike letting myself down. And so, even at this stage, I'm pretty damn sure I'm going to "win" NaNoWriMo. I'm even considering doing it every month. Imagine the novels I could churn out at that rate of writing... :)

What can you take from this? Firstly, remember that no two people are the same, and the things that work for one person won't necessarily work for another. But it's definitely worth giving pressure a try - give yourself a deadline, or scare yourself by pitching something to a publisher that you haven't written yet. It's truly amazing what you can do when you really set your mind to it. I can write 2.5k a day, EVERY weekday, dammit. Something I never thought was possible. 

At this rate, I'll have subbed the book by mid-January. Watch this space...


Lucy Felthouse is a very busy woman! She writes erotica and erotic romance in a variety of subgenres and pairings, and has over eighty publications to her name, with many more in the pipeline. These include several editions of Best Bondage Erotica, Best Women's Erotica 2013 and Best Erotic Romance 2014. Another string to her bow is editing, and she has edited and co-edited a number of anthologies, and also edits for a small publishing house. She owns Erotica For All, and is book editor for Cliterati. Find out more at Join her on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to her newsletter at:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Gold Rush


By Lisabet Sarai

In January 1848, James W. Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's Mill, in what is now El Dorado County, California. That event kicked off the now-fabled California Gold Rush and changed the country forever. Between 1848 and 1855, by which time most of the readily available gold had been exhausted, some 300,000 people arrived in California, from across the United States as well as from many other countries. In seven short years, San Francisco grew from a small settlement of 200 people to a city of over 35,000. It took only two years for the United States to decide it wanted California as a state and to pry the land away from Mexico, to whom the territory belonged at the start of the Gold Rush.

An estimated 100,000 native Americans died from disease or aggression as the avaricious newcomers pushed them out of their traditional hunting and fishing grounds. Many of the prospectors met equally dire fates at the hands of the Indians, the elements or their fellow gold-seekers.

New wealth fueled new technologies and new growth. At the same time, the Gold Rush destroyed much of value, damaging ecosystems, ruining families, tearing society apart. The boom town mentality rewarded short term greed and discouraged long term planning. It left the mountains of the Sierra Nevada littered with ghost towns. These days, a drive through the old gold country is a meditation on the nature of transience.

Publishing, especially epublishing of romance and erotica, seems to be experiencing its own gold rush. Book sales have surged by several hundred percent annually since the introduction of Amazon's Kindle in 2007. The number of publishers of ebooks has grown in proportion. Pretty much every week, I see a new digital imprint announced on the Erotica Readers & Writers Association list. Meanwhile, established print publishers, from Harlequin to Constable & Robinson, have rushed to cash in on the boom by developing their own lines of e-books.

On the plus side, this means more publishing opportunities for authors. Unfortunately, the boom has also made it possible for any individual who ever fantasized about publishing a book to do so. As a result, the slush pile has exploded by several orders of magnitude. For every work that I'd label as quality fiction, there are now hundreds, even thousands of competing titles that are, to be blunt, total crap.

It's true that it's easier to get published now than every before. Desperate for profits, some companies will accept anything that even remotely resembles a book. Plus there is always the self-publishing alternative. In fact, the burgeoning slush pile isn't the most serious problem. One of the worst aspects of the boom is the fact that it has become impossible for quality fiction to get noticed. You could write a Pulitzer-Prize-worthy novel these days and not sell more than a handful of copies.

One can understand the aspirations of would-be authors – no matter how lacking in competence they might be. After all, who made me the gatekeeper? So what if I believe that my erotica is better than 90% of what is available on Amazon today. Most writers probably feel the same way. Maybe one really should let the market decide. And indeed, with a sigh, I must admit I don't know what else we poor authors can do.

What frustrates me more than anything else, though, is the get-rich-quick attitude of the publishers – including some with long-standing reputations, who should know better. In the past few months I've reviewed ebooks from several well-known publishing companies that were close to unreadable due to editing and formatting errors. If I had purchased these books as opposed to having received free reviewer copies, I would have demanded my money back.

In one case, the book was a reprint of a classic erotic novel from before the ebook revolution. I believe that the original print book must have been scanned and subjected to optical character recognition (OCR) in order to create the electronic form. Anyone who's used OCR will know the process is rife with errors. Careful editing is required to correct the guesses made by the OCR software. As far as I can tell, the editor (if there was one) did no more than give a quick glance to this book. It was full of garbled text that seriously disrupted the reading experience. In their haste to get some income from this novel, this company apparently rushed it into “e-print” with zero quality control.

Does this company realize that, in my eyes at least, they've completely destroyed their credibility? I've actually had stories published by this company, but I'll think twice about that in the future.

If I were the author of this book, I'd sue the company for breach of contract. And then I'd make sure to spread the news far and wide via social media. As a reader, I'll certainly steer clear of any other titles in this series.

I wish I could tell you this was an isolated case. It's not. On the contrary, it's an illustration of the same sort of orientation toward short-term profits that made the Gold Rush so destructive, and I see it in many places in the publishing industry.

The Gold Rush reached its peak and then faded away in a mere seven years. It has been just about that long since the birth of the Kindle. What literary ghost towns will be left behind when the e-reading boom subsides – or changes to something unrecognizable? The rate at which technology and society change these days is dizzying. Anyone who imagines that the ebook boom is here to stay is as much a dreamer as the farmer from Pennsylvania who sold his farm and traveled half a year across mountain and desert, believing he'd make his fortune in the California hills.

I've been in this business since the end of the twentieth century. I've seen the eclipse of print and the rise of the ebook. I've done what I could to adapt, but I know tomorrow will be different from today. I plan to be here long after the get-rich-quick types have given up. Because ultimately for me, it's the stories that matter, not the money. That's why I hate to see the stories polluted by the greed of those who publish them.

[This post appeared a few months ago at the Oh Get a Grip blog. I apologize for double posting, but it's the end of term, I have four sets of exams to grade, plus thesis proposals and project reports... so it was either this, or skip my spot this month. And I definitely didn't want to do that! I promise fresh content next month!]

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Myth of Immortal Prose

by Donna George Storey

Write what you want to write instead of what you think you’re supposed to write.

That’s what I’m hoping to do, as I discussed in my last column here at ERWA, but I know there’s no quick and easy way to make the big switch. It takes time to discard old habits, to trust inner voices, to take risks. As part of this process, I’ve been thinking back to the messages I’ve gotten over the years about “good” writing from teachers, how-to books, famous writers, literary critics. Or in other words, the specifics of my supposed-to’s.

Back when I first started writing seriously, about sixteen years ago now, I was talking with a friend who had signed up for a pricey writing workshop with the former editor of a national magazine that published fiction. She mentioned that this teacher’s highest praise for a student’s story was “this is writing that will last.” And indeed, he urged all of his students to aim to write “something that will last.”

At the time, I took this as simple wisdom from an expert. After all, wasn’t that the dream of every writer—to be so amazingly talented that we attain immortality like Shakespeare? That guy lived four hundred years ago and everyone still knows his name! Of course, as I became more familiar with what the writer’s life really involves in our commercial age, I realized that “lasting” means your book is reprinted many times or that it’s taught in high school or college classrooms year after year. Unfortunately, authors who achieve either of these goals are rare, and in the latter case, most are already dead. Gradually my goals became more modest. I was satisfied—in the best way--if someone told me that my story lingered for a day or so after s/he read it. Perhaps I would never be immortal, but whenever a reader confessed that s/he read a particular story of mine many times for erotic inspiration, I knew I’d made a true connection, the highest praise an erotica writer can hope to hear.

Yet I still believed that there were “important new voices” up there in Literary Land, penning gorgeous and unforgettable literary prose that would earn them a throne next to The Bard for all eternity. I didn’t really question this (I’m now somewhat embarrassed to admit) until very recently when I happened to read a book by Leslie Fiedler, a renegade English professor who both entertained and scandalized academia in the latter half of the twentieth century by embracing popular literature as worthy of analysis. (He is also credited with coining the term “postmodernism” among other things). I originally sought out his book What Was Literature? for an essay on Rhett Butler as a symbolic Black Stranger in Gone With the Wind, but I ended up reading the whole book with great enjoyment. 

I was hooked at Fiedler’s opening redefinition of the classic distinction between literary (high) and popular (low) fiction. He wrote that literary fiction could in fact be seen as “minority” literature, read by few and penned by tormented, introverted male artistes to stimulate the intellect, whereas popular literature was “majority” literature, mainly scribbled by female hacks to drug us with cheap sensationalism. More amusing was his description of popular fiction as “optional,” whereas, for most readers, literary fiction was “compulsory,” as in school assignments that needed professional explication to be understood fully.

But what really struck a chord with me was Fiedler’s insistence that “writing that lasts” is not about the quality of the prose. It is what he calls the mythopoeic power of the story, with characters that live on in our minds long after the beautiful metaphors (if any) are forgotten. This got me thinking about which stories have indeed lasted over time, stories our culture returns to again and again in modern riffs and movie remakes. My Anglo-centric list would include the Bible, some of Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth), Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, A Christmas Carol, Huckleberry Finn, Dracula, The Great Gatsby, and Gone with the Wind. Harry Potter, Twilight, and Fifty Shades of Grey certainly define contemporary popular tastes, but I’d need to reconsider their lasting impact in about 30 years. By this measure, all the towering literary figures of my youth—Hemingway, Faulkner, Bellow, Updike, Roth—are still reasonably famous as names, but rarely read except in class or by a small minority of literati with historical inclinations.

I know my particular list is open to argument—maybe you’d delete Macbeth and Huck Finn and add King Lear and To Kill a Mockingbird--but the specific examples are less important than the redefinition of “writing that lasts.” Because I now see it’s not about the world’s admiration for a writer’s brilliant prose, fresh metaphors, and carefully structured chapter breaks—although many of these works are beautifully written and a pleasure to read because of it. The immortality belongs to the story for its power to connect deeply with readers across cultures and time.

As a writer myself, I was also very interested to learn that Harriet Beecher Stowe was inspired to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin when she had a vision during a church service of an aged black slave being beaten to death by a cruel master. The image rose up in her mind, demanding a novel to be written around it. I also remembered that Charles Dickens was planning to write a political pamphlet about poverty and injustice in the fall of 1843. However, inspired by the rousing response to a speech he gave to a workingman’s club in Manchester, he walked the dark streets of the city, possessed by images of a redeemed miser. In a few short weeks of feverish work, he wrote one of the most retold stories ever, A Christmas Carol.

So what does this mean for a writer who seeks to create works that linger if not last forever? For me it means taking one more step away from writing as ego gratification, as proof of my worthiness or cleverness--because really, let’s face it, no one cares if I can turn a phrase or not. It also means taking one step closer to stories that move me, that draw me in to their magic, that beg to be told through me.

Which stories beg to be told through you?

Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman (recently released as an ebook) and a new collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at or

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Journey From Oushikuso

(graphic image by C. Sanchez-Garcia)

My novella "The Color of the Moon" began about sixteen years ago on a yellow legal pad on the banks of the Panama Canal, when I was still getting over a personal experience of obsession and haunting. I knew I wanted to find a way to put that experience into words, and I wanted to try my hand at writing fiction. Something exotic.

From the yellow pad to key board I wrote a fairly straight forward story set around the end of the Heian Period in Japan, of a young Buddhist monk and itinerary musician - a "biwa-hoshi" - who meets a noble woman of the Imperial family. He gives her a private performance in a tea house, chanting the Heikyo-ku saga and playing on a biwa, a traditional Japanese lute, followed by naughty conversation and seduction by the noble woman only to find out later she is a ghost. The End.

"The Color of the Moon" is what I think of as a “riff”. A riff is when you take a well known and traditional thing and spin it in a new direction. That might be Anne Rice taking "Sleeping Beauty" and turning it into a series of erotic BDSM novels, or Neil Gaiman taking "Snow White" and turning it into a vampire story. "Color of the Moon" is a riff on the most famous of all Japanese ghost stories "Mimi Nashi Hoichi" or "Hoichi the Earless". This ancient ghost story is one of hundreds of "Kwaidan", a tradition going back thousands of years. Known collectively as "kwaidanshu", generations of Japanese kids learned the crusty old spook stories on “dark and stormy” nights at their grandmother’s knee and passed them on to new generations in different forms. In recent years kwaidanshu have spread to American cinema in such movies as “The Ring” and “The Grudge”. The Ring is an American remake of  the Japanese film “Ring-Gu”, which is a modern Japanese retelling of “The Tale of Oyu”, an ancient story of a young woman who is cruelly drowned in a well and returns as an angry ghost. Like a Japanese equivalent of Shakespeare, kwaidanshu were preserved in elaborate Kabuki and Noh plays such as "Woman of the Snow" (a vampire story!), "Hoichi the Earless" of course, and the infamous "Tale of the Peony Lantern" which involves a sex scene with a decaying dead body.  Yeah. 

Having written my brave little story, I wanted to check it against the historical facts, through a book called "Kwaidan" written by Lafcadio Hearn over a hundred years ago. Hearn was a writer living in Japan , and along with treatises on mosquitoes, took an interest in collecting local folk stories. In 1998 Amazon was still in it s infancy and I ordered a copy, noting it had been reviewed by a lady in Miyazaki Japan who spoke good English, named Mire Uno. In those more innocent times email addresses were included with reviewer’s comments and I was able to contact her easily. I told her about my project and that I would be interested in getting her take on it. This was before I had ever heard of the idea of "first readers". It turned out that kwaidanshu were a hobby of hers. She collected traditional ghost stories and even had a web page in English devoted to them. Perfect! We made a deal. I edited the English on her web page and in return she agreed to look at my stuff.

Mire was a sharp critic but polite, Japanese folks are nothing if not polite. But she let me know, it would not do, it would not do. It was ignorant, unmitigated oushikuso! Gai-jin san, it will not do. It will not do.

When does my little tea house tryst happen? Around a hundred years after the fall of the Minomoto dynasty, I figure about 1185 AD.

A tea house? Tea houses had not been invented in 1185. Partly because tea had not been invented.

The Japanese were just learning about tea from China, and it was regarded as an aphrodisiac (as what has not?) and reserved for males only of the highest rank. The Emperor or local feudal lords might indulge in a cup to put some wood in their ink brush before visiting their consorts, but not a woman, much less of mid level rank such as Lady Dainagon. And with a impoverished Biwa-Hoshi? Not in your dreams, gai-jin san. For a woman of even so-so rank, a peripheral member of the Imperial family in a backwater place, to be left alone in the company of someone regarded as below common would be scandalous. . (Aie-ya! Oushikuso!) Impossible. It would like Princess Diana inviting a homeless man to spend the night in her room. It will not do. So how would they meet if this thing were done right?

Oh boy. . .

The woman would be ensconced behind a mizu screen, a partition made of reeds or silk. The Biwa-Hoshi would never be permitted to see her face and she would never see his. Ever. It would be an insult. There would also be an armed samurai hidden in the woodwork behind a screen or wall panel watching everything and his job is to deal harshly with insults. If the Biwa-Hoshi got even a little bit randy or suggestive, he was fully authorized to jump out, draw his blade and knock the guy's fool head off without warning. Okay, and by the way, did I mention she can't speak to the Biwa-Hoshi directly? That's how far apart on the food chain they are. Another person, a personal attendant would sit next to the mizu screen and play the part of a human telephone. Lady Dainagon would speak to the attendant, even if the Biwa-Hoshi is just a few feet away, and the Biwa-Hoshi would whisper his response to the attendant who would convey his words to the mystery woman behind the screen. Now - your job? With these historical obstacles - I, who had never written a sex scene before in my life, have to get these two people making the "Wind and The Rain" hot and heavy.

Here is the final version of the scene in the tea house, as published by Whisky Creek Press in 2007. They are alone, and Shoji has been summoned for the second night to play. The mystery woman is hidden behind a screen. He has never seen her, and she has found a way to get rid of the attendant for this night. As he entered the room , he has heard her voice for the first time singing a nursery song about an orphan girl, accompanying herself skillfully on a koto. The voice behind the screen addresses him, and he responds.:

* * * *
“August person,” he began timidly, “I am Shoji, the biwa hoshi of last night.”

“Who is your biwa?”

“My biwa is ‘Shoja’, the ‘Sound of the Temple Bell’.”

“My koto is ‘Tsuke-Kage’, and ‘Moon’s Shadow’ is delighted to meet ‘Sound of the Temple Bell’. As I am delighted to meet you.”

Shoji relaxed a little. “I enjoy your music more than my own,” he said. “I think you are the better musician.”

“That’s kind of you,” she said. “But I know you’re only being generous to me. Play something. Play from one of your stories.”

“Shall I play for you ‘The Battle of Dan No Ura’ ?”


He was surprised at how emphatic she was.

“Rather we should play that one for you.” she said.

“I have this opportunity to thank you for your gift last night. I have not carried it with me, but I treasure it very much.”

“Thank you. I may have a better gift for you tonight.”

“A better gift is not possible.”

“Play ‘Kenreimon’in’,” she said “The story of the Emperor’s mother.”

He settled the biwa on his lap again. Glancing down he saw the words he had begun to paint on the bachi, the waka he had composed in the sand. He struck a chord on the biwa. He drew a slow rising arpeggio.

“This is the empress
Whom we compared to the moon
In earlier days
But no radiance brightens
The lonely mountain dwelling.”

As he continued in the ancient traditional, he saw her stir behind the screen. A few reeds were drawn down and he knew she was watching him.

“Did I ever think to find myself dwelling
Deep in the mountains
Gazing at the moon on high
Far from the royal palace?
Wave flowers! In full bloom
On the surface of the pond
Blossoms have scattered
From the cherry trees
Along the water’s edge
That is you cuckoo – raising your voice
Seeking the fragrance for the flowering orange
Remembering someone you lost long ago?”

He saw her eyes watching him from behind the screen, welling with tears. He began the poem he had composed.

“In heaven flies one
Crane, leaving fences behind
Remembering its loved kind.
Parting wind pierces the bone.”

There was a crash and breaking wood. The mizu screen was thrown down. “That is not how the song goes!” she shrieked.

He froze, staring at her. Though he knew it was only a dream, he still felt fear. He saw her for the first time. She jumped to her feet, tall and fierce, clutching the towering black koto upright to her chest. She wore an indigo kimono, with a field of golden butterflies, bound by a sash. Two ivory pins held her hair behind her head.. Her strong beautiful face was aristocratic, arrogant, but bright with passion. It was the woman he had seen in the bucket water and her large eyes had pinked with tears.

Don’t stop!” she screamed. “Why do you stop! I didn’t tell you to stop!”

He continued.

“So it is when fate
Steals our hopes, the former life
Lost but not forgotten
Comes to haunt us in our dreams
Though we never can return.”

She collapsed, still hugging the koto to her breast. She shook her head wildly. “No more. Please, no more.”
* * * *

So that was the pleasant tea house scene when Mire and I got done with it.

Along my journey from oushikuso, with Mire Uno as my scholarly guide, I began to really develop an appreciation for detail and the power of implied authenticity. Here's another scene, near the end of the novella. Ichinori, an elder priest and exorcist has decided for reasons of personal glory to engage in a spiritual duel to the death with Lady Dainagon. Because of his contempt for women, ghosts or otherwise and court women especially, he completely underestimates what he’s up against. She traps him with birds and savagely brings him down:

* * * * *
He became numb to their deaths, their broken hollow bones, the smeared meat and gore that covered him from top to bottom. He only wanted it to stop. He tried to speak a mantra and a crow bit his lip, biting off a small piece of it. He hammered his fist on the hateful bird, and was shocked at the pleasure of seeing it die. Blood ran down his mouth and over his teeth. He crawled on his belly, wondering only when the steel would fall on his neck, ending this and leaving him in painless oblivion.

He felt dirt under his fingernails. The road. As he heaved himself forward a strong beak bit his crotch as if it would hold him there for the demon to come and kill him. He kicked out at it, screaming madly and tumbled forward into the free ground. He rolled onto his face, and his mouth was filled the taste of blood and sand. He smelled his clothes in the dim light, the stink of offal, feathers and blood. He vomited.

There were sounds approaching from behind, but he was too exhausted and revolted with himself to look.
"Demon." he whispered to the dirt. "You have caused me to kill. Even if I die now, I will find you."

He was aware of a pair of wooden komageta sandals standing in the road beside his face. Small feminine feet in white tabi socks. He smelled the scent of clove oil and saw the glint of the dying lamp shining off the polished tip of the wakizashi that dangled next to his nose.

"Damn you." he hissed. “My spirit will find you in hell!"

The demon whore was breathing heavily above him, with either exertion or passion. The komageta sandals scuffed angrily in the dirt and the wakizashi blade rose. He waited calmly, and prepared his spirit to receive death. Instead he heard it snick back into the saya in her sash. Her knees bent with a rustle of silk. The night breeze carried teasing strands of sweet scented hair into his face. Close to his ear he heard the demon's soft, excited voice.


* * * *

Ursula K. LeGuin said something about scene description which I have never allowed myself to forget. To make a background vivid it’s better to bring out one unique detail, like a drop of water on a leaf. If a man is in a railroad yard in the dead of night with a full moon over head, don’t just say it's dark. We know that already. The way you make it dark, is by describing the moonlight glinting off a single piece of broken glass in the dirt. That makes it feel dark.

I write first for my own aesthetic pleasure. There are little historically correct touches here that still give me pleasure to read sixteen years later. The oil lamp dying in the background, yet bright enough to gleam off the highly polished blade of Lady Dainagon's wakizashi. The scent of clove oil on the menacing blade tip next to Ichinori's nose. The wooden geta sandals in the road. The description of tabi socks. The rustle of fine silk. I just can't get enough of that stuff. Details like this make this scene breathe for me even after all these years. I just hope it breathes for the reader too.

Thank you Mire Uno, wherever you are. Thank you thank you.

 Or as a Kindle book at Amazon:

 If you're curious about Lady Dainogon before the events of The Color of the Moon, this week at the Oh Get a Grip blog, where the theme is "Fairy Tales", I've composed a Japanese fairy tale in which she appears with ladies of the court , back in better days:

And thank you for reading my stuff.

C. Sanchez-Garcia