Monday, March 31, 2008

Pitch-Perfect Characters

I recently read L if For Leather for my April review at Erotica Revealed. (The website has been updated and looks fantastic). One of the stories in the anthology is Mike Kimera's Other Bonds Then Leather. In my review, I talked about how Mike's strength has always been his characters. They are pitch-perfect. They talk, react, and think like real people.

Writers, good ones, read a lot. I'm sure that poor writers read a lot too, but I cringe whenever a writer (usually a very poor one) comments that s/he hardly ever reads. How does s/he ever expect to improve his/her craft without reading? It isn't about imitation. It's about reading a well wrought piece of work and reflect one what made it so good, and then applying that to one's own writing.

After reading Mike's story, I went back to the piece I'm working on. The first thing that struck me is that my narrator is off-pitch. The language I'm using for his thoughts doesn't match with his background. So now I'm going through each line and working to keep the same ideas but express them in words that a former street kid would use. I'm not dumbing him down. I'm just simplifying his vocabulary. That doesn't make what he thinks and feels any less complex.

It seems as if a writer can say "This is so because I say it is," but the truth is that readers will only suspend disbelief for so long before they lose patience. The craft isn't really about making them suspend disbelief as much as it is pulling them into a world and then not jarring them out of it. That's the unforgivable sin. And the quickest way to do it is pull a deus ex machina, or make your characters behave, well, out of character (unless it's part of the plot and you spend the rest of the story convincing the reader that uncharacteristic moment was actually in character, but that's such an awful lot of work).

Setting doesn't have to seem real. Speculative fiction (that's science fiction and fantasy to you non-geeks) proves that. Plot doesn't even have to be terribly real either (how many dead bodies turn up in locked rooms in English country houses during dinner parties in real life?) but you better keep up a relentless pace, because the moment a reader gets to stop and think, they're going to. But characters - they have to be pitch-perfect, always, or nobody will believe a word you write.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Thinking Aloud

Or rambling in print.

I'm working on a story with a main character of indeterminate gender. That's not what I really mean though. What I mean is that the audience for hir performance and the reader will never know what gender ze is, but that makes use of the idea that there are two genders. I don't believe in that. I think gender is a lazy classification for people who like things black and white. If it were so cut and dried (I cringe at that), why are so many babies assigned a gender at birth and then forced into Box M of box F via medical mutilation of non-conforming genitalia?

Back when society had a great interest in determining if your were a ruling class male (a human worthy of rights) or a not ruling class or not male (property), I can see why people would be anxious to determine where you fit in the strata and so you didn't get your hands onto any rights you weren't entitled to. The upper echelon had a vested interest in keeping the club exclusive. I'm not saying it's right, but I understand their thinking. It was the entire basis for their civilization.

Now that those privileges have been extended to everyone in theory, I can't understand why society clings so tenaciously to the male/ not male determination. Sure, it makes things so easy for society, but it rides roughshod over the individual. (I've come to the conclusion that what's good for society is usually fatal to the individual.)

So what is all this rambling about? I'm torn about writing a piece that reinforces the idea that Ze must be male or female. Ze is hir own person. Ze transcends bi-genderism. At least, that's the character I'd like to create. It would be wonderful if I knew I could prod readers into thinking outside the M and F boxes, but that's an awful lot to ask of a short story without getting preachy.

I don't mind being prodded to examine ideas, and I love being shaken out of lazy thinking habits, but I draw the line at lectures. Lectures berate people for their modes of thought, but should people be ridiculed simply because they'd never imagined that there were other ways of viewing the world? I don't think so. Besides, most lectures (sermons) tell people what to think and feel instead of opening up an internal or external dialog.

For me, the challenge is to show that between points M and F on the graph of gender, there isn't just empty space. There's a continuum. All I want to do is open up that line of thinking and then have enough faith in people to let them explore the idea at their own pace.

That assumes people give as much thought to gender as I do.

Maybe Ze will make at least one reader pause for a second over those M and F boxes the next time she/he/ze fills out a form and wonder why it matters to anyone what gender she/he/hir is. I hope so.

(For the record, I haven't checked a gender box in years. No one seems to notice.)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Egads, Another Cat Post

I've finally figured out why writers have cats. They supply blog entry stories.

I think the cats are trying to apologize for playing tag across the bed, and my body, at 3AM today, and the following hissing-spitting-scratching-growling-under-the-bed-for-twenty-minutes cat fight that followed, because when they started up again this evening I went over to them, glowered, and told them to knock it off. And they did. Not only that, but an hour later, I found Loki's treasured "pelt" on my pillow. (It's a 6X10 inch abandoned knitting project from one of the nieces. Considering the amount of cat spit on it, I don't blame her for abandoning it - any more than you can blame me for using tongs to move it off my pillow.) After that, Skitters dropped a small stuffed animal at my feet and did that weird meowing that always follows one of her kills. I praised her for her mighty hunting skills, admired the toy, and promised to cherish it. She went away but came back a little later and mewled some more. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe she isn't looking for praise. Maybe that's her way of saying, "Cook it up already, bitch. I'm waiting." And maybe Loki's seen the Godfather and thinks he's leaving the equivalent of a horse head in my bed. "Tell us to knock it off, will she? I'll show her who she should fear." Hmmm. Skitters just walked to the couch, looked over her shoulder to make sure I was watching, and clawed the crap out of the upholstery. I think maybe I should ask her how she'd like her stuffed toy cooked.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

At Least It Ended Well

The SO is out of town again. Despite missing his company, the other thing I hate about him being gone is that something always happens. The past two times, it's been the garage door opener breaking. Okay, I can park on the street for a week, but hauling in groceries when it's pouring down rain isn't as much fun as it sounds. Not to mention the fact that people love to wipe sticky crap on my car that doesn't come off with soap and water. I bet they're the same people who steal my Sunday newspaper every other week. Or at least I hope they are. I'd hate to think there are two different sets of boorish jerks running around my neighborhood.

This time, it's the stove that's not working. Or perhaps it was working too well. My office is right off the kitchen, so I can hear anything that happens in there like the cats opening the cabinet and knocking glasses to the floor. I don't think I can blame the cats for this one though. Two of the electric igniters on the stovetop started clicking. I checked the knobs. Everything was in an off position, but they were firing away. I turned on the gas. They kept sparking. I turned off the gas. They kept going. I pulled all my pots and pans out from underneath the stovetop, crawled into the cabinet, and pulled the plug. They shut off. But now I can't cook unless I crawl back under there and plug it in again. Grrrr.

Did I mention that all this happened while I was doing a load of laundry? Not such a big deal to normal folks, but the drainage pipe for the clothes washer started overflowing when it drains, so I have to sit there and open, close, open, close, the lid about twenty times while it drains to let the pipe keep up with the flow of water or it floods the laundry room. So there I am, dragging out ten thousand pots and pans from under the stovetop when I hear the washer start to drain. Cursing mightily, I got up and raced to the laundry room in time to see the great flood of aught 8 pouring into the bathroom. I took the load of clean towels from the dryer and threw them down on the floor to mop it up. Can you say re-do on that load?

I've had better days.

On the other hand, since I finished the rough draft of Personal Demons, I decided to treat myself to a short story. I owe two to a couple editors, but this was the one I promised first, so I started working with my idea. Things always seem cool in your head, but when it hits the paper (computer) is when you find out if it will really work or not. The MC is Ze, a person of indeterminate gender. Ze dresses like a cross between Marlena Dietrich in her tuxedo and Joel Grey in Cabaret, and does a rope bondage show. Sure, there's going to be sex, but like the audience in the story, I want the reader to obsess on sussing out Ze's gender. Hopefully I can pull that off. I'm having fun playing around with it.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Marcy Sheiner was kind enough to feature my story Grit on her blog.

Grit was the first story I sold. At the time, I didn't think voyeurism was sort of out there as a kink, but then again, the first story I published (The ERWA website asked for it. A huge moment in this writer's life) was an extreme kink story with a lesbian protagonist, and I thought it was kind of sweet, so that tells you how naively kinky I was going into the world of erotica. (afterthought on this comment: I assumed that people who read erotica would be open minded about sexuality. Uh. No. Apparently, many hetrosexuals who have no problem reading or writing any level of kink with straight characters get violently angry about anything GLBT, even though there was no "on screen" sex in my story. One reader haughtility reminded me that decent people read erotica, and I shouldn't subject them to such things. Um. Okay. So don't read my work. I'd hate to think I was doing something irreparable to your mind, like opening it.)

I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating - I owe a great deal of my writing success to Marcy. Not because she bought my story, but because of the way she edited it. That was the best writing class I ever took. Yes, it hurt my little ego to see the pages dripping with red ink (And she liked this story? was my first comment), but I decided to learn from what she'd done instead of having a diva moment. And man, did I ever learn. Marcy changed the way I told stories. She taught me to sharpen my focus and get into it instead of taking a long running start at it (A problem I still struggle with, but at least I'm aware that it's a problem.) She made me tighten up repetitive lines. She edited out passages of narrative interference and stay on the action.

Now that I've sold many more stories, I'm aware of how unusual it is for an editor to put that kind of time and effort into a story. That was a real gift from her, one that I appreciate every time I write a story and see my bad habits creeping in. So thanks again, Marcy, and thank you for featuring my story.

Monday, March 10, 2008

So Close I Can Taste It

I could have used that extra hour this weekend.

In reality, I probably needed another 24 hours. Because, you see, I'm close to the end of my first draft on Personal Demons. I'm 3 scenes away from it. 3. My word count is in the mid 70,000s. I'm clicking along right on track. I simply ran out of time. UGH!

The worst part is that I know the last 800 words I wrote last night have to go. That's sort of how it's been going every time I sit down to write. I delete my last 800-1000 words and go from there. If I didn't have to do that, I'd be done by now. Double Ugh! On the good side, I realized that the final scenes I've been envisioning for months now will work just the way I wanted them to.

Now all I need is the time to write it out.

I think I'll be doing the Yay I'm Done dance by next weekend.

Then, of course, I have to do the re-write.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

At Some Point, You Have To Suspect You're Odd

This news item had me wondering. At what point do you stop qualifying for standard deviations from the norm and simpy become a bell curve unto yourself? Porch swings in your hotel room? Dead body on dry ice in a container? Empty saki containers with light sockets shoved into the necks? Sadly, dead bodies aren't all that unique. It was almost more remarkable that he hadn't chopped her to pieces. I might even spot him the saki lamps. That isn't all that far of chianti straw bottles with drippy candles. Porch swings though? That's some sick fucker.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Fans Demand Kisses

As The World Turns is getting an earful from its fans about the lack of on-screen lovin' for its gay couple. Read about it here. In support of the fans, the writers of Torquere Press are staging a Kiss-In tomorrow (Saturday, March 8) on Torquere's live journal. Come read snippets of kissing scenes.

Monday, March 03, 2008

March reviews at Erotica Revealed

Is it spring yet?

Don’t you feel like shaking off winter’s grip like a hug from your perfume-doused great aunt? We’re looking ahead to better days too, and promise that something warm is just around the corner. Erotica Revealed has a few suggestions for you to embrace:

Art of Melinoe by D.L.King

Best Gay Erotica 08, Edited by Richard Labonté, selected and introduced by Emanuel Xavier

Best Lesbian Erotica 08, Edited by Tristan Taormino, selected and introduced by Ali Liebegott

One Breath at a Time by Gwen Masters

Sex & Candy, Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

Or browse our reviews from previous months.

If you're a writer or publisher and would like us to review your book, contact D. L. King through Erotica Revealed