Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Five Things I Never Expected About Being a Novelist

The 26th of this month was my very first novel, The Initiation of Ms Holly’s, 4thbirthday. A lot has happened since then. Ten novels, four novellas and multiple short stories later, it’s not so unusual that I would find myself reflecting. In so many ways, Holly is a watershed. Life before Holly was a different animal than life after Holly, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way are often not the ones I would have expected to learn. In fact, there’s a lot I never expected about being a novelist.

Writer’s block is NOT the problem! The real problem, at least for me, has always been not having enough time
to write all the stories in my head. In fact, my best writer’s wet dream is to have a month in which all I have to do is write. Ah yes! I can picture the place in my head. Well, actually, the place is far less important to me than the schedule. I can picture the schedule in my head, though. I get up in the morning. I have coffee, breakfast and write until I need a break. Then I go for a walk or work out followed by a good wallow in a nice bathtub – that’s the days inspiration sorted. Then … Well, then I write some more. And I keep writing. Add food (That I don’t have to prepare) drink, and sleep as needed. There would be no PR or marketing to be done, no laundry, ironing, or shopping of any kind. I would write … just write. Ooooh! I’m all aflutter just thinking about it.

Writing takes up all the space. I don’t mean that writing takes up all the space I allow it, I mean that it takes up ALL of the space. Before Holly, I seem to recall that I had a life, of sorts, that I had fantasies and plans and holidays and free time like everyone else did. After Holly, all of me was consumed by the writing life. I don’t mean just writing the story. Would that that were the case! I mean nurturing the stories that I’ve already sent out into the world, seeing that they get the attention and support that they need, making sure that my brands – K D Grace and Grace Marshall are known as far and as wide as I can possibly shout out the news. That takes time and energy – especially for an introvert.
It isn’t so much that the writing life consumes all of my time as it is that it consumes all of my thoughts. If I’m folding laundry, I’m writing in my head. If I’m walking, I’m writing in my head. If I’m sleeping, I’m writing in my head. Writing has become the oxygen that surrounds everything without displacing anything, while at the same time making me wonder how I survived without it. 

I’m totally ravenous to read! I am SO greedy! I just can’t get enough time with a good book. And here’s the really amazing thing about time spent reading: the more time I spend reading, the more the time I spend writing is quality time. I learned my craft by reading, by analyzing, by trying to understand what other authors did that worked or, in some cases, didn’t work. I suppose that technically I’m never really reading for pure pleasure. I would be really amazed if any novelist ever did. But it doesn’t really matter, because it feels like pleasure to me. And how cool is it that such a pleasure can also make me a better writer.

Being a Writer is Messy. I’ve had this vision in my head about becoming a writer since I was a kid. In my mind’s eye it was always sort of a caterpillar to butterfly  transformation that I imagined happening in my life. In my mind’s eye with the publication of my first novel, I would suddenly be glamorous, poised, outgoing, sexy. In my mind’s eye, the transformation was glitzy and polished to a dazzling sheen.
But being a writer is so much messier than I’d expected. The self-doubts didn’t go away. They just invited a whole new circle of friends. I quickly discovered that thhe only thing truly more frightening than failure was a little success. Writing plays on all my fears and neuroses. Okay, sure, I then turn them around and shove them onto my characters, but I still twitch and squirm while I’m doing it, and I’m still astounded at how totally unpolished and awkward I am! And doubts. OMG! I doubt everything about myself all the time! It wasn’t supposed to be like that – at least not in my fantasies. But the truth is, after four years, I realize I’m not the woman in my fantasies and I never will be, and it’s okay. Well at least most of the time it’s okay. And on the good days, I understand that if I were to become the woman in my fantasies, I would most likely have nothing interesting left to write about.

I’m not fit to do anything else. Every once in a while I read a post or a news article about some writer who has
given it up for good because it’s just not working for them. I sympathise, really I do. God it gets hard sometimes. But on the days I doubt my choices the most, the cold slap in the face that brings me back to myself is that I’m not fit to do anything else but write. I’ve never wantedto do anything else but write. And it’s still the passion that gets me out of bed early in the morning and keeps me up late at night. It’s still the passion that excites me and leaves me breathless and plotting and scheming for just the right words until my brain hurts. I may not be fit for anything else, but this craft, this skill of building a story one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time, well, it suits me. It really does, even in the Post Holly Era.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Do Authors Need A Support System?

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.


Writing is essentially a solitary activity. We are alone with our thoughts. We research in solitude. The act of writing itself is done alone, even if you collaborate with another author. Writing is also a very stressful field to get into. Competition is fierce and rejections are a part of the game. Some days a writer is on top of the world, and other days that same writer is ready to toss the entire business across the room onto a wall and watch it go "splat".

There is a glut of erotica and romance out there now with everyone and her aunt self-publishing. Kindle Unlimited also figures into the problems since writers aren't paid unless the reader reads a certain percentage of a book. Because of the glut, there are piss poor books out there with the cream of the crop. The problem is finding the cream. Many writers have seen their earnings drop over the past few quarters.

Since writing is such a difficult field to get wrapped up in, would it help to have a support system so that you don't end up thinking writing is nothing more than a soul-crushing fool's errand? I think having a support system does help a great deal, and it's vitally necessary to keep a writer plunging forward.

I'm fortunate in that I have a very supportive family. My husband is my biggest cheerleader and my 25 year old son also supports me, although he is much quieter about it. He told his friends I write "naughty words" with a smile on his face. While I got my start writing erotic fiction, I also write dark fiction, horror, and fantasy. My family supports me all the way.

My parents and sister? Not so much. They really aren't interested. They never ask how my writing is going. That hurts quite a bit but I've accepted it. However, if I didn't have my husband and son's support, I don't know what I'd do. I'd probably have given up a long time ago.

I also get support from the writers group I'm in. We meet every Wednesday. Not only do I get critiques, I get friendship and moral support. That all of us have writing in common is icing on the cake. I also have friends who support me. They're online because we live far from each other, but the support is there.

I think writers need a support system. I can vent about the business whenever I like and not told all I do is whine. I can write some pretty smutty stuff without my support system going all Church Lady on me. I can also write some pretty gruesome stuff without anyone clutching pearls and dropping in a dead faint. The drive to write is so strong I pick myself up after a pitfall, with the help of others.

What about you? Do you have a support system and how well does it function for you?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Romance of Doomed Attraction

by Jean Roberta

Lately, I showed the latest erotic anthology* that includes a story of mine to several fellow-writers in the university where I teach. One of my colleagues said the title (Forbidden Fruit: Stories of Unwise Lesbian Desire) is enticing. He jokingly said he wouldn’t want to read stories of wise lesbian desire. I assume that a lot of readers would agree with him.

The longer I write erotica, the less my fiction resembles my life. This is partly due to the amazing degree to which love between members of the same gender has become socially acceptable. I’ve been legally married to my female spouse since 2010, but our relationship started in 1989. We are both over sixty. We have steady jobs, as an academic and a kind of social worker for a non-governmental agency that enables disabled people to live as independently as possible. We own a house, where we live with dogs and cats. We have grown offspring who occasionally need—and get—our financial help.

My story in Forbidden Fruit, by contrast, is about a young woman who just can’t resist the “bad girl” who was once a ragged foster child in elementary school. The narrator’s willingness to share a reckless night of passion with Ms. Wrong is tinged with guilt because the “good girl” never helped or befriended her classmate, who is now running from the law and from folks with less mercy. Any sensible advice counsellor would have arranged an intervention for the “bad girl” years before, and would have advised the narrator not to open her door for her.

The other stories in the book are about other women on opposite sides of the law or from cultures that clash like the Sharks and the Jets in West Side Story, that classic musical from the 1950s that was based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. At one time in the recent past, lesbian desire was considered unwise by definition. In our time, the stakes have to be raised: the women can’t just both be female in a world where heterosexuality predominates.

In the September 29 issue of Maclean’s, a weekly Canadian newsmagazine, lesbian columnist Emma Teitel writes about “The Power of Erotic Nostalgia.” She says:

“At the Toronto International Film Festival this month, I saw Breathe, French actress Melanie Laurent’s directorial debut about an intense, erotic friendship between two adolescent girls that ends in catastrophe. I’d feel guilty about spoiling that last bit for you, were it not for the fact that nearly every mainstream lesbian-themed movie ends the same way.”

By contrast, Teitel describes her own monogamous relationship of five years: “At 20, we fell in love and carried on a clandestine affair until we were discovered—and lived relatively happily ever after. That is, so far, at least.”

So if lesbians (and other formerly-marginalized lovers) of different generations are living in relative peace, not hunted down by the police, the mental-health establishment or the Inquisition, why are stories about dysfunctional, “forbidden” affairs still so popular?

According to Teitel, this phenomenon can’t be completely explained as an expression of homophobia and/or misogyny in the culture at large. She says:

“It’s not as though horny frat guys are responsible for the thousands of YouTube tribute videos dedicated to Natalie Portman’s twisted, erotic bond to Mila Kunis in Black Swan, or Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox’s literally demonic relationship in Jennifer’s Body.”

Teitel speculates that: “It may be that nothing beats erotic nostalgia.” Most queer adults can remember a first-time, coming-out affair as a scary, hidden, but very sexy experience. Living it is painful, at least some of the time, but remembering it can be exciting.

I suspect that for many readers, including the heterosexually married, “forbidden” attraction carries the same sexual charge. It also enables a reader to vicariously experience more danger than he/she would seek out in real life. No matter how many publishers seem to prefer erotic romance with happy endings to edgy erotica per se, the latter seems unlikely to die out completely.

A walk on the wild side has always been a popular theme in erotica. The middle-class assimilation of same-sex, different-race, or generation-gap couples, and even polyamorous households (in some hip circles) may be minimizing the real danger of formerly “forbidden love,” but not the popularity of stories about it. And of course, there is still enough conservative prejudice to ensure that any love that is not strictly white-bread might really be threatened.

So is the theme of “forbidden love” inherently offensive? I don’t think so. We all crave excitement, as well as security, and we have to find some way to balance our clashing desires. I expect to write about the dangerous attraction of opposites for as long as I have the luxury of time and space of my own. I couldn’t write if I were dodging bullets.

*Forbidden Fruit: Stories of Unwise Lesbian Desire, edited by Cheyenne Blue (Ladylit Publishing, 2014)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

How to Drive Him Crazy in Bed

By Lisabet Sarai

“Ten Foolproof Tricks to Make Your Sex Sizzle”

“Sexual Secrets of the Porn Stars”

“A Call Girl’s Guide to Giving Great Head”

“Mind-Blowing Pleasure: The Manual”

I made these headlines up, for fear of legal action, but I suspect you’ve seen similar ones, on the covers of supermarket tabloids and women’s magazines. I wouldn’t be surprised if this sort of article is responsible for selling plenty of publications, too. As I wrote in a previous post, evidence suggests many people are dissatisfied with their sex lives. They’re actively seeking ways to improve that situation – to experience more sex as well as more enjoyable sex. Articles that claim to teach surefire methods for achieving this goal are bound to be popular.

Self-help books focusing on sexual techniques are perennial best sellers. The Books for Sensual Readers page on the ERWA website has a whole section devoted to titles like The Ultimate Guide to Cunnilingus (Violet Blue, Cleis), The Anal Sex Position Guide (Tristan Taormino, Quiver) and Tickle His Pickle: Your Hands-On Guide to Penis Pleasing (Sadie Allison, Tickle Kitty Press). There are lots of sex-education videos available, too.

I’m sure that such books and films provide valuable, in-depth information to a public sometimes woefully uninformed about sexual matters. In addition, they can be a mechanism for getting couples to start talking about subjects they hadn’t dared mention in the past. Still, I worry about the implication that great sex depends primarily on specific skills – that to be “good in bed” (everyone’s fantasy), all one has to do is acquire a set of techniques that will automatically render one’s partner helpless with lust.

A severe lack of skill can sometimes spoil a sexual encounter. The converse, however, is not true, at least not in my experience. Sexual skill doesn’t automatically translate into fabulous fucking. I can be in bed with the most accomplished lover in the world (from a technical perspective) and feel next to nothing.

Your mileage may vary, of course; I know that I’m far less oriented toward physical sensation than many women. Those very differences, though, reveal the fallacy hidden at the heart of the headlines above. Sure, you can learn a bunch of neat sexual tricks, but no technique will work on everyone. Individual preferences and responses vary tremendously. That’s part of why writing erotica is so much fun.

For me, at least, great sex requires more than just clever manipulation of body parts. The intensity of a sexual experience depends on its emotional content. That includes not only love but also fear, anger, compassion, envy, guilt, playfulness, comfort, a sense of transgression, a craving for power, a need to feel powerless. The palette of desire supports unlimited hues.

I believe that passion, not skill, is what produces great sex. And that’s what characterizes great erotica as well.

You can attend workshops and take courses. You can fill your shelves with books on craft. You can deconstruct your favorite authors, trying to figure out how they accomplish their wonders. You might pore over “how-to” blogs and spend hours working on writing exercises. Such self-education may be valuable, but (in my humble opinion) it won’t teach you how to create the kind of stories that not only make your readers hard and wet, but that will haunt their dreams long after the book is closed.

That’s the sort of erotica I, at least, aspire to write. And I believe that no book, no blog, no checklist of best-selling authors’ tried-and-true tricks will allow me to drive you crazy the way I want - not unless my writing flows from the mind, the heart and the soul as well as from the genitals. I need to open myself to everything that’s inside and let it out onto the page. 

There’s another way that writing erotica is like having sex. No particular set of moves – no single story – is going to arouse everyone. A tale that pushes my buttons might leave you totally unmoved, and vice versa. As an author, you cannot allow yourself to become discouraged if your particular blend of craft and emotion doesn’t work for some readers. Find the readers you do know how to touch. They’re out there.

Meanwhile, by all means, continue to hone your skills. Study the masters. Explore the nuances of language, the rhythms of dialogue, the deft selection of details that make characters real. Just don’t expect technique alone to guarantee great sex – in your writing or in real life.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sexy Snippets for September

Written anything sexy lately? Why do I ask? Today's the nineteenth of September, your chance to share your Sexy Snippets!

The ERWA blog is not primarily intended for author promotion. However, we've decided we should give our author/members an occasional opportunity to expose themselves (so to speak) to the reading public. Hence, we have declared the 19th of every month at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog Sexy Snippet Day.

On Sexy Snippet day, any author can post a tiny excerpt (200 words or less) in a comment on the day's post. Include the title from with the snippet was extracted, your name or pseudonym, and one buy link, if you'd like.

Feel free to share this with erotic author friends. It's an open invitation!

Please follow the rules. Last month we had one author who posted a much longer excerpt. She is now banned from posting - but I don't like being the one who dishes out the punishment...

Still, if your excerpt is more than 200 words or includes more than one link, I'll remove your comment and prohibit you from participating in further Sexy Snippet days. So play nice!

After you've posted your snippet, feel free to share the post as a whole to Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you think your readers hang out.

Have fun!

~ Lisabet

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Common Appetites: Erotica, Desire, and Celebrity Culture

By Donna George Storey

As I’ve continued my musings about celebrity culture over the last several months, I’ve noticed that a number of the comments I’ve received explicitly or implicitly question the relevance of celebrity culture to erotica writers. After all, with very few exceptions (E.L. James certainly, Zane maybe) erotica writers are not celebrated millionaires. We aren’t ushered to the best tables in chic restaurants, our clothes are not critiqued by Us magazine. For this let us all be grateful.

However, I think erotica and the fascination with celebrity do have some important elements in common in that they both satisfy a psychic need for a great many people. As I mentioned in my first column on this topic, I’ve always been mystified by why so many people would write to an actor who played a doctor on television for advice on their medical problems. And even people who are not that misguided seem to believe that these complete strangers are worth our time and attention to even the slightest degree.

Because of course, Angelina Jolie could not matter in any significant way to the majority of us beyond a few hours’ entertainment. And yet, judging by measure of the attention and resources devoted to reporting on her life, she clearly does matter.


Well, first I would argue that it is not Angelina or Dolly Parton any real person who matters, it is what she represents to us: a beautiful, glamorous (or powerful, invincible in the case of most male celebrities) being as the object of adoring attention. The celebrity is an idealized self, worshipped simply for existing in such desirable perfection. For that matter, Marcus Welby is the kind, caring, infallible doctor we all wish we had to care for us--and probably don't.

In my study of celebrity, several authors made the point that in the past people became famous because of something they did to affect history on a grand scale—Julius Caesar, Queen Elizabeth I, Napoleon, Madame Curie. But today the majority of celebrities are famous because they’re good at performing, especially pretending to be someone else on the screen. Not to dismiss the immense difficulty of being a good actor, but what this means is that we are admiring a fantasy, a fiction.

Again a part of me has long been bemused by the seductive falsehood of fame—that a fan can be in any way intimate with a “person” who is made up by PR. But I’ve finally come around to see that we want and need this idealized figure with its soul-satisfying life trajectory of an individual’s struggle to achieve notice then mass acclaim and love followed by a stint in drug rehab then a comeback or two. Celebrity culture thrives because so many people crave the fantasy of intimacy with this chosen creature, of knowing them through images and words. Knowing them—and even more speaking to or getting an autograph from them—gives us a moment in the spotlight by association.

Erotica may be hidden away in nightstand drawers, but it also relies for its power on a fictional intimacy created on the page. Compelling erotica makes us feel we know the characters, that we are with them in their most ecstatic moments. The arousal they feel is mirrored in our own bodies, their pleasure sizzles straight to our own erogenous zones. The encounter is of necessity idealized or at least streamlined in some way—there’s no quicker way to lose the magic than a blow-by-blow description. The story, too, follows a satisfying arc from attraction to consummation. I know there are exceptions, but most erotica does offer at least a spotlight on a secret sexual realm.

Again there are exceptions but most erotica offers us idealized sex, with satisfaction mutually achieved. Sex with no awkwardness, mess or disappointment. Sex as we wish it could be, technically and emotionally.

And while writers here might not need to worry about being mobbed for autographs at restaurants, I’m sure many of us have received a few fan emails from admirers who seek a connection with the creator of a fantasy that touched them. A connection of words and ideas only—although now and then a reader tries to push the boundary further to a personal level (always rebuffed politely and cheerfully in my own case). One might argue that these readers are merely grasping at phantoms, but beneath the “lies” I believe there is something real: a mutual desire in both creator and audience to transcend of the repression and limitations of ordinary life, to be seen as magical and beautiful and loved.

To borrow an insight from a friend of Michael David Gross (author of Starstruck: When a Fan Gets Close to Fame), this reaching out to celebrity represents an internal need, yearning to be seen and appreciated and known for the special person we hope we are.

Next month I’ll conclude my discussion of celebrity with some thoughts on combatting toxic assumptions about success.

Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman and a collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at or

Monday, September 15, 2014

Who Writes You?

I’m standing in front of the shredder in the place where I work. I’m staring at the whirling blades the way a man might stare at a lawn mower after realizing some of his toes have disappeared.

Yesterday I had been going for a walk around a two mile track across the street from where I work. I had taken off my shoes and walked around the track barefoot carrying my shoes in my hands, enjoying the sand between my toes. I was thinking of the archaeological site of a Mayan ruin I had visited a long time ago. A poem came to me, the way a headache might come to me and I wrote most of it in my head as I walked. When I got back to the car, I didn’t even take time to put my shoes on before grabbing a some scraps of typing paper and scribbling it all out with a pencil. I looked it over. I liked it. I liked it very much.

I’m not a poet. But I liked this poem enough to want to be a poet, to take the notion seriously like child discovering crayons for the first time. I could do this. I had read once about how poets like T S Eliot kept works in progress handy in their pockets or desk drawers to work on them when stuff came floating by in the air that was worth snatching down and noodling over. I brought the poem to my desk. The desk became cluttered over the progress of the day. In a fit of indignation over my natural sloppiness I gathered up the papers.

And so now I’m staring at the shredder, realizing.

Hemingway once had a briefcase of short stories he’d written during his Paris days. His first and favorite wife had determined to bring it to him in a taxi cab. That turned out badly. He might have named his next novel “A Farewell to Briefcases”. A young Garrison Keillor left his fateful briefcase of manuscripts in a men’s bathroom when he was considering the idea of starting a variety radio show. He forgot the briefcase in the toilet but he stuck with the radio show.

At least you can’t stick a briefcase in a shredder.

Stephen King was luckier, he threw the rough draft of his first novel “Carrie” in the trash because he thought it was crap and that he was crap as a novice writer and should give up. But it was his wife who fished it out and talked him into giving it another shot, so maybe that doesn’t count. And don’t we all wish we had a wife like that.

But I still had this poem to rebuild.

In the afternoon I put my notebook in my pocket. Took off my shoes. And walked the track again in exactly the same way. I met the poem again along the way, gave it a hug and rebuilt it. As I was sure I would.

It wasn’t the poem I needed - it was the walk around the track. That very track. After all, you have to know where to look.

I write from the unconscious. The unconscious writes for me. We are a team when we’re working well and when we’re working well it shows.

I think what writers live for is being in “The Zone”. The Zone is that place where the machinery is humming, where the world recedes and you’re down in the story with the characters and on a good day the characters speak and you shut up and take dictation. Its the best place to be. Its the place to aspire to be. It’s the place I love.

There are as many schools of writing, as there are schools of painting. I come what might be the Zen school of writing, those who write best when they write from the unconscious. One of my literary heroes, Ray Bradbury, wrote distinctly from this school and had habits and rituals distinctive to that way of writing. This particular style of writing is well suited for erotica, because it emphasizes writing primitively from the senses alone. It is much like the act of love itself.

There are books that teach the craft of cultivating that relationship with the deeper depths and writing from them. Among these craft books you’d find Bradbury’s own book of aphorisms “Zen and the Art of Writing”, also Robert Olen Butler’s boot camp craft book “From Where You Dream”. The book that Ray Bradbury personally trained from, the book that inspired him to develop his unique style has been out of print for way too long but is still available on the Internet or Amazon if you look hard - “Becoming a Writer” by Dorothea Brande.

In the end you have to find where you write from. They say write from you know. That’s great, what if you don’t know much? I say write where you’re from. If you’re a cerebral person you might write from there. But don’t think about about writing erotica that way. Erotica is as primal as the turbulent Jungian waters of the unconscious and is best written from there.

Here’s how.

Although I’ve been doing this for awhile, I still consider myself an apprentice writer. This is a good place to keep yourself, because you are best served by what the Buddhist’s call a “Beginner’s Mind”. I’m always hungry to learn how other writers, especially the ones I admire do things. Ray Bradbury learned his apprenticeship by studying Dorothea Brande’s book as a young writer and following it seriously. He sometimes mentions her book in interviews. One of the things he adapted from her craft lessons is the habit of writing by appointment. Brande states that you should assign yourself a place to write and a specific time to write and promise yourself mentally that at this time and this place you will show up and write and do no other thing. If you’re with friends, you’ll excuse yourself. This time is for your muse and yourself. If you stick faithfully to this the day will come and days will follow when your unconscious will be waiting for you like a writing partner with something special to surprise you with.

Another thing Bradbury learned from Brande was what is sometimes called “free writing”. I still do this as a warm up. It’s very simple. You’re trying to experience and become practiced at being in The Zone. A pencil, a notebook. A timer. You decide that you will write for, say, ten minutes without stopping. It doesn’t have to be about anything, it can be pure babble, but you have to hunker down and write and not stop for so much as a sip of coffee. Ten minutes of constant word loading. Let the intuition speak. You’re not trying to be profound although something profound may emerge. You’re trying to let the unconscious speak and teach yourself to listen.

Bradbury also experimented with playing with words and the unconscious. His first published short story was a kind of ghost story about two kids called “The Lake”. Where did he get the idea for this story? He sat down at his typewriter, put in a clean piece of paper and typed the words “The Lake” at the top and began free writing about whatever the two words suggested to him. He didn’t stop. He let the image carry him. The unconscious doesn’t deal in language. It deals in images, like dreams. If you can find yourself a powerful image to deal with, one that speaks to you, you begin. The novella I’m working on “The Tortoise and the Eagle” began with a simple image. I was watching a German movie called “The White Ribbon” and there was a scene of a young boy doing a high wire act on the railing of a wooden bridge over some dangerous water. Later when someone demanded what in the hell he was thinking of he said “I wanted to give God a chance to kill me.” Now, that’s an image to conjure with.

Like courting a girl (do kids still do that?) to court the unconscious you have to first pay attention. One of the most basic ways to pay attention is keep a notebook by your bed and write down your dreams. Try to do this consistently. Your unconscious has its own vocabulary, its own language of images that will be unique to you. If it sees you trying, if it sees you paying attention, it definitely will speak to you over time. It will speak to you in images and images are always more compelling than cerebral ideas. Mary Shelley invented her novel “Frankenstein” over an image she received in a nightmare. We get images like this all the time. The difference is you have to be ready. Like a little kid on the field with the big kids, if somebody throws you ball you have to be ready to run with it when it finally happens. You have to prove your attitude.

The last thing I recommend, although I could go on, is to set a goal for yourself. In one of the rooms where he wrote, Hemingway wrote on the wall with a pencil how many words he wrote each day so “you don’t kid yourself.” I use a calender. If you do this, you’ll be amazed at how little writing you actually do compared to how much you think you do.

When I get writer’s block it doesn’t intimidate me. I know the cause is a weak imagination, caused by too little exercise, caused by not keeping my end of the deal. The unconscious has gone under ground and must be romanced back by paying attention.

1) Make a appointment for each day, a time and a place - and be there.
2) Free write for 10 minutes to warm up.
3) Make a goal, how many words you will bench press for that day - and do it. It doesn’t matter if the words are any good. The point is to show up and write them, practice your instrument. Musicians practice. Painters practice. Writers should practice too. If you keep your end of the deal the good words will come.

You have dozens, maybe hundreds of excellent compelling stories inside your head. Your problem is not that you don’t have any good stories in you. Your problem is that your hundreds of good stories are buried under thousands of bad ones. The only way to get under the pile of bad stories is to pay your dues. You have to shovel shit with a keyboard until you tunnel your way down to the gold. You have to have faith in the beginning. There is no other way.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Killing the Messenger

Last month, the BBC reported that Bettina Bunte who writes under the pen name Cass E. Ritter, was dismissed from her administrative position at a child care centre run by Kent Country Council. She was fired from her position after a number of parents (it's not clear how many and I'd personally love to know) complained that she had written an erotic novel. According to Ms Bunte: "She claims the council told her they could 'not be seen to promote this sort of thing' and that her book damaged the reputation of the children’s centre." (Staffing Industry). This is after Bunte asked for and received permission from her employers to speak to the media about her recently released novel.

Bunte is the first in a long line of people, mostly women, who have lost their jobs when it was found out they wrote erotic novels. But it doesn't happen exclusively to women, or to erotic writers. Recently Patrick McLaw, an African American middle school language teacher was put on administrative leave and forced to undergo 'emergency medical evaluation' after it was discovered he'd written two novels, set 900 years in the future, which involved a massacre at a school. When pressed on the issue, authorities reported that it was not just the novels that concerned them, but his state of mental health. (Atlantic Monthly). There was recently an incident of a UK male who was forced to step down from his position when it was discovered he wrote erotic stories. (DailyDot). Ironically, I have it second hand that the discovery was made when after the school organization contemplated raising funds by having an erotica reading night, his wife let it slip that he actually wrote some.  Judy Buranich (Judy Mays), Carol Ann Eastman (Deena Bright), Ayden K. Morgen, Deidre Dare...

It's usually women, it's usually erotica and the excuse for firing them often involves the protection of children.

Let me offer you a contrast:  Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, who has written some of detective fictions most celebrated novels under the pen name P.D. James. Her first novel, "Cover Her Face" was written in 1962. She has worked in the criminal section of the British Home Office, and served as a magistrate for years. No one ever thought she should be fired for setting her novels in environments she knew, or suggesting that she couldn't do her job right because she wrote about mentally unstable characters with murderous intent, or painted word pictures of gory murder scenes. She now has a seat in the House of Lords. Of course, there is one huge difference: she doesn't write about sex.
She claims the council told her they could “not be seen to promote this sort of thing” and that her book damaged the reputation of the children’s centre. - See more at: claims the council told her they could “not be seen to promote this sort of thing” and that her book damaged the reputation of the children’s centre.
She claims the council told her they could “not be seen to promote this sort of thing” and that her book damaged the reputation of the children’s centre. - See more at:
She claims the council told her they could “not be seen to promote this sort of thing” and that her book damaged the reputation of the children’s centre. - See more at:

It's not a wildly irresponsible to surmise that a number of the parents who demanded Cass E. Ritter's removal and at least some members of the Kent County Council who fired her have read Fifty Shades of Grey. I do have to wonder if they'd be quite so anxious about the effect this administrator might have on their kids, if Ritter had been E.L. James. Sorry to seem jaded, but I notice that people are much less worried their children's minds will be poisoned by millionaires. Similarly, why is it that the consumers of erotic or pornographic works aren't considered destabilizing but their creators are?

But more haunting still is the unwritten, unexpressed accusation that lurks beneath a lot of these firings. What risk do people really believe these women pose. Words like inappropriate and reputation are bandied about, but strip the rhetoric away, and what it comes down to is that these women are losing their jobs because of a vague unspoken fear that they would, in some way, sexualize children.

It is not the content of the written work that is suspect. It is the mind of the person who writes it.

No one actually accuses anyone of anything. Because this allows the accusers to infer risk, rather than having to prove wrongdoing.  In Western democracies, the accused have a right to hear the precise charges leveled against them, defend themselves against them, demand that those charges be proved.

But if we stick to vague, undefined mutterings about inappropriateness, any amount of injustice can be done. How many gay men and lesbians through the years have lost their jobs based on the baseless but oft-perpetuated fallacy that being homosexual immediately implied you were also a pedophile?

Looking back on the great censorship cases of the 20th Century, I am reminded why, for all its draconian influence, state censorship is preferable to economic persecution.

In the case of Lady Chatterley's Lover, the 1958 trial on charges of public obscenity didn't see D.H. Lawrence, the writer, in the dock, but Penguin, the publisher. The charge wasn't that the writer was dangerous or unfit for society, but that the book was obscene and should not be published. When the state censors in a modern democracy, the writer, the publisher and the reading public have some legal recourse.

Similarly, in the US, it was Grove Publishers who were charged and defended obscenity charges over Lady Chatterley's Lover, The Tropic of Cancer, and Naked Lunch. They notably won each case. But it is important to note that IT WAS THE TEXTS that were considered dangerous and drew down legal censorship, NOT THE AUTHORS. Moreover, even had it been the authors, a formal charge allows for the accusers to have to prove wrongdoing, prove risk, etc.

I suspect, at least in the West, that the supremacy of the marketplace, and fast-eroding protections for employees will mean that the persecution of writers will increase as it becomes clear that there are no mechanisms to stop it, save expensive civil trials that most erotica writers could never afford to conduct.

There are worthy efforts to highlight and ridicule the banning of certain books from schools and libraries, and I'm delighted to see this. But there is no movement to protect women who are economically punished for writing about sex.  We're not in a good place, as women, as creatives, as workers or as eroticists. And if you think that writing under a pen name will keep you safe, think again. It only takes one bitter intimate to ruin your career.