Monday, May 27, 2013

Writing This Novel part VII (submissions)

I’ve been in the tiny universe of erotica long enough that I understand the niches publishers inhabit, but you might not. Perhaps you wrote your story with a publisher in mind. If you didn’t, you’re going to have to do some research. Go to the publisher’s website and check out their newest offerings. Read their submission guidelines. If possible, read a couple of their books. Don’t waste their time and don’t waste yours sending the wrong book to the wrong publisher.

Just as you wouldn’t submit a book on puppy training to a publisher of cookbooks, you shouldn’t submit your erotic romance novel to a publisher of (literary) erotica. If you don’t know the difference between erotic romance and literary erotica, don’t feel bad. It’s not a simple distinction and the line between the two is blurry at best. As a generalization, erotic romance is written in the genre style of romance. It absolutely requires a happy-ever-after or happily-for-now ending, and focuses on the relationship between two (sometimes three) people. So yes, there’s graphic sex but it’s about bonding the characters emotionally. 

Literary erotica is written in the genre style of literary fiction, but it can have a happily-ever-after ending and it may focus on a relationship. Rather than emotional bonding though, sex scenes are (normally) used to define or change a character. 

Still don’t know where your book falls in the spectrum? Erotic romance sells better than literary erotica, so if you have a novel that dances on the foggy boundary (with requisite happy ending), and sales matter to you, you might want to call it erotic romance and seek out those publishers.

Before you sign with any publisher, send emails to several writers with books at that publisher. Ask them if their publishing experience was good. Ask them if they get paid royalties regularly and on time. Find someone who used to publish through them who doesn’t anymore and ask why. Check Predators and Editors. If you’ve hung around writer’s lists long enough, you’ve seen the horror stories of unpaid royalties, rights being tied up in court, unprofessional and unscrupulous business practices, and a host of other problems. Experienced writers place their books with several different publishers to mitigate exposure to their publisher’s business problems, but even a good shop can go to hell overnight, especially if it’s small press and the owner is essentially the entire company. All it takes is a car accident or sudden illness. I’m not saying be paranoid, but be aware of who you’re entering into a contract with. It’s called due diligence. Do your homework. Protect yourself.

Also check the terms of the contract thoroughly and know what each paragraph means. There are websites that will warn you about bad contract terms. Things I’ve turned down contracts for: a clause that said I could never speak ill of the publisher or its employees. First look rights (this sounds good but it isn’t for YOU). A contract that meant they had my rights forever. A contract that demanded I prove my gender. Lousy ebook royalties.  The right to use 100% of my story for “advertising” with no additional compensation in any publication or website the conglomerate owned.  And yes, I tried to negotiate those terms because everyone says you can negotiate. “Everyone” is either a writer with a lot of pull or a liar because for the most part you’ll be told to sign it or go away. Only you can decide what’s right for you and how desperate you are to be published.

Five or six years ago, a large erotic romance e-publisher bought a novel from me. (Yes, I wrote a book that could pass as erotic romance. It happens.)  Three months after the contract was signed, they sent an email that they tried to back date telling me that my novel was rejected. Yeah, you can type a date from months ago in the body of an email, but the time stamp of when it was received is all that counts, people. For some reason telling me they changed their mind was out of the question, and so was being polite or apologetic about it. I still have that SIGNED contract in my files. Did I try to enforce it? No. I didn’t see the point. I didn’t want to do business with a company that proved they had no morals. So just be aware that even a signed contract means nothing unless you have the means and desire to fight it in court if it is breached.


I had a publisher in mind when I wrote Night Creatures (still playing with the title, I may make it Night Kreatures.)  so I didn’t have to research them. I did, however, have to ask what they like to see in a submission and how they wanted it formatted, because part of being a professional writer is taking the business side seriously. If your writing doesn’t make your story stand out, don’t for a second believe that comic sans font will. Giving the publisher what they want, in the format they want it, and only what they want tells the publisher that you’re a reasonable person who won’t give them trouble over stupid things. (So if your manuscript is accepted, prove it by not being an ass over stupid things. Seriously, writer folk, don't be THAT writer.)  

After I knew what the publisher wanted, I put together my submission package, which in this case was an email. They didn’t ask for a synopsis (joy, rapture! I loathe writing a synopsis) so I sent a simple cover letter (body of the email), formatted like a business email (my full contact info, date, etc.), with all the usual cover letter info: title of the work, genre, word count (complete) in the first paragraph. A brief synopsis of the story (second paragraph). Wind up: thank you for your consideration… in the third paragraph, and a signature block. The full manuscript was an attachment.

Sent it off and waited. And waited… After a couple months I sent a polite inquiry about where I was in the submission process. Polite. Don’t even type with an attitude. It’s a discreet cough, not a temper tantrum. And I got a very nice reply back that basically said “We need a few more weeks.” Not a problem, so I waited.

And here’s where you may expect that I say “And it’s coming out in October!” Well, no. The publisher wants me to rewrite the first two chapters and resubmit. Did I collapse onto my fainting couch? Did I send it off to a different publisher? No. Rejection isn’t personal. It’s an opportunity to learn something. 

Being honest with myself, I know that the first two chapters were the weakest part of my novel. So I’m working on those chapters. I told the publisher that I would resubmit it when I fixed my work, and I will. Now, if it’s turned down after that, I could turn to another publisher, but because I understand the niche markets publishers inhabit, I already know that there are few who would touch this edgy piece. It’s dark and it’s bloody. I could self-publish. I think about those options but it’s far too early in the process to give up on this publisher just yet. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Writing This Novel part VI

I know you want to submit your story as soon as you’ve finished it. So do I.  Writers are under a lot of pressure to churn out work quickly in this publishing environment. I get that. But this is a little piece of your soul you’re sending out into the universe, and polish is the only protection it’s going to have. So please, slow down. Treat your work like a gourmet meal instead of fast food. Make sure it’s presented in the best possible way. You’re the only one who will give it such loving attention.

So. Editing.

Suggested reading before editing: Self Editing for Fiction Writers (Browne & King)

A line-by-line copy edit helps you find typos, missing words, and grammar mistakes. Below, I share the way I do it, but as always, do what works for you. However, I strongly suggest that you allow the MS to sit a few weeks after you finish your final draft before you plunge into copy edits.  

If you work in Word, you know all about the wavy red lines for spelling errors and the wavy green for grammar.  You probably also know by now that those are often wrong. There are many online sources to help you with tricky, specific grammar questions. Plus, you have writer friends, right? Turn to them. But always verify with a trusted authority on the matter.

I write science fiction so many of my proper nouns are marked as spelling errors in the Word document. Adding them to the dictionary gets rid of so many red wavy lines and Word will flag it if I have a spelling variation (AKA a typo), which happens a lot with odd names. I have yet to figure out how to get Scrivner to accept my world-specific vocabulary.

Despite the weaknesses of Word’s grammar and spell check, it can show you interesting statistics such as percent of passive sentences and reading level. I won’t say that I dumb down my manuscripts, but if the reading level is over eighth grade, I know to look for simpler vocabulary replacements as I edit. I usually run at about 2-4% passive sentences. Despite what you’ve heard, passive sentences aren’t evil, bad things. They have a place in your writing. No editor wants to see 60% passive sentences in your MS, but you don’t have to completely eradicate them either. Another interesting statistic is average words per sentence. If it’s over twenty-five, you may be guilty of too many complex or run-on sentences. If it’s under eight, your writing may have the delivery of machine gun fire. Mix it up to create a pleasant reading cadence.  

After spelling and grammar, I consult my ‘errors I make all the time so you’d think I’d know better by now’ list. I often type prefect instead of perfect. I switch the words from and form. I’m addicted to the word just. Spellcheck won’t catch those errors. Do you have crutch words or phrases? Are you aware of word substitutions you make often? Use the search function in your word processor to search for your recurring mistakes.

After I’ve finished those corrections, I print the MS for the first time. You might be able to see errors on a computer screen but I see many more on paper. I take a green pen and circle every error. If the problem is an entire sentence, sometimes I write the correction on the paper but other times I’ll simply circle it and deal with it later. POV errors, continuity, and plot holes are also circled but with a short note about the problem. This is detailed work so I don’t do too many pages at one sitting.

Next I sit down with the MS and make my corrections in the computer. This is another time when the search feature comes in handy. You can type in a three or four word string and it will find them for you so you don’t have to scroll through the whole MS.

At this point, I print the corrected MS for what I consider to be the hardest editing task. I read my entire MS aloud.

What I think I wrote makes sense. What I actually wrote is missing words or other errors I didn’t catch on my first editing run. What I actually wrote is repetitive either in theme or in word choice. What I actually wrote has weird rhythm. Or it’s a tongue twister. Or what the heck was that supposed to mean? All those errors are easily glossed over when I read mentally, but they’re glaringly obvious when I read aloud.

Reading a sex scene aloud can be embarrassing even though I wrote it. R has, on occasion, poked his head into my office and said, “Bragging about your cock again, dear?” Instant mortification.   

While reading an entire novel aloud, I often get lulled into a mental space where I will start reciting what I intended to write rather than what’s actually on the page. This happens even when it’s been weeks since I looked at the MS. That’s one reason why I limit my reading aloud to about twenty to thirty minutes a day. Another reason is that reading aloud is hard on the throat.  

After I’ve corrected any problems I caught that time around, I may send the MS to beta readers or I may submit it without reader input. That’s your choice.  Sometimes beta readers are more harm than help. Sometimes they try to impose their vision on your story. Sometimes they simply don’t get it. Sometimes everything you do is wonderful and lovely and… no. This is not helpful. You need critique, not ego strokes. Some beta readers have brilliant insights and totally call you on your weaknesses. Love that class of beta readers. Cherish them. They are amazing, wonderful, precious humans.

That’s my method for editing both short stories and novels. Do you have any tricks for catching errors? Beta readers – yea or nay?

Next time: submission. Finally.         

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Guest Blog at Unapologetic Fiction

Sommer Marsden was kind enough to invite me to her blog Unapologetic Fiction to answer 20 questions.

And yes, I really did dismember a doll.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Writing This Novel - "As you know, Jim"

I watched the premier episode of Da Vinci's Demons last night. The historical inaccuracies drove me a bit bonkers, but if I approach it as alternate history/ steampunk renaissance, I suppose I can forgive that. What I can't forgive were the multitude of "As you know, Jim" speeches. Whether its television or a novel, writers should do everything they can to avoid them.

So, what's an "An you know, Jim," speech? If you've watched any of the CSI shows, you've heard these. It's when a character says something along the lines of "As you know, Jim, I'm going to take this piece of crime scene evidence and try to find latent prints on it. I will do this by..."  But Jim isn't a child from another planet. He's another CSI tech and he knows damn well how evidence is processed because it's his job. So why is it being explained to him as if he knows nothing about it?  Well, the other character isn't explaining it to Jim. He's explaining it to the viewer/reader who presumably doesn't know. It's an acknowledgement of the fourth wall. On CSI, Jim usually responds with "Yes, and then you'll match any latent prints you find against our suspects, thus hopefully linking one to the scene of the crime" while in real life, Jim would say, "No shit, Sherlock."

"As you know, Jim" come up a lot in science fiction and fantasy because there's a whole world with different rules that the reader needs to know. A common way around this is to drop an outsider into the world so they can ask "What's that animal?" or "Why are those dudes in red livery shooting arrows at us?" without seeming like an idiot. Even in Harry Potter, he's raised in a muggle household, so everything about the wizarding world must be explained to him. He has a muggle's reaction to the things he sees and frames them in a muggle POV. (at least in the first few books) Later, as Hogwarts becomes his world (and the reader is just as familiar with it) the explanations drop away except when something extraordinary happens. (such as the tri-wizarding tournament). Hermione, in almost every situation, serves as Harry's interpreter. She understands his muggle POV since she comes from the same place, but because she's made a huge effort to understand everything about the world around her, she knows what's happening and why. Someone raised in the wizarding world wouldn't think of such things as extraordinary so they wouldn't know that Harry was unfamiliar with it, nor would they know how to explain it.

But what do you do if your characters are all from that world? How are you going to explain things without resorting to awkward "As you know, Jim," speeches? Not everyone in a world knows everything, so as "As you don't know, Jim" explanation is fine if the information isn't common knowledge. If it is common knowledge, the best way to inform the reader is to show the character lifting prints from crime scene evidence and comparing them to the suspects' prints. Show the second sun, the twin moons, the dragons, or the elves. Show someone breaking a taboo and how the other characters react. Show the magic of technology and what it does. You don't have to explain how it works (unless that's part of the plot) since most readers are willing to suspend disbelief and trust that it does work if you show that it does.

One of the strengths of books over television shows is that you can take your time to explore things. Television shows are about action, not thought. And as you know, Jim, you can take advantage of that.


Saturday, April 06, 2013

Turn it Off!

I've started working on a new novel.

I love this part, where the story is still full of promise and energy. I love how my imagination runs wild with the first draft.

Except that I can't rein it in. Not only am I awake late at night thinking of scenes I won't write until months from now, I'm thinking about other novels! It's sort of like watching a syndicated show on a cable station that splices in extra commercial time.  Did that make sense to you? Maybe not. I've been taking medication for this ear ache for four days now and it's making me loopy. Come to think of it, that might be the reason why my thoughts jump between a damp prison cell in an old fortress and a surreal carnival/party in an abandoned mansion. One moment it's the slow drip of water and unseen things rustling in the dark, the next it's harlequins and fire eaters on unicycles in a house with tilted floors and walls. One character wraps her arms around her knees and contemplates revenge versus justice. Another brushes Sophie's hair from her neck and kisses her. His lips linger. As he lifts his head, a drop of blood wells on her skin.

Yeah, see, this is how it goes. I'm trying to write the first novel and the second one is doing its best to seduce me away. Stop nibbling on Sophie, George! Stop. Do not let her tie you to the chair and... Just cut it... damn, that's hot. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Writing This Novel, part V

Now that you’ve let your first draft sit for a while it’s time to turn it into a second draft. Some writers produce such a clean first draft that the second draft goes quickly then all they have to do is copy edit and submit. I am not one of those writers. I wish I were, but it isn’t meant to be. Night Creatures took five drafts, but I had some unique problems that I’ll discuss later. The first draft is the time to throw everything onto the page. The second draft is when you cut excess or add depth and bring the story arc into its final shape. If you see copy edit level problems, of course fix them, but don’t get bogged down in that yet. 

In each scene, if your characters have moved to a different location, have you described where they are early on to anchor your reader? Good! But are you giving me too much detail? Not good. Your imagination might have constructed an amazing coffee house with the quirkiest baristas on the planet and fascinating regulars, but confession time – as a reader, I scan over this kind of stuff if it goes on too long. Give the reader a quick impression, not a blueprint. It’s an amazing trick of the human mind that with only a few details our imaginations can fill in the rest of the scene. Make your words count. Load them with atmosphere. Blonde wood and steel evoke not just décor but also a soundtrack and vibe, and it's different than what you'd imagine if I'd called the place dark and cozy.

Have you used at least three senses to make a scene come alive? Think about the coffee shop. Since your characters are probably talking you already have hearing, but add little touches such as an ambulance going by outside or the clatter of dishes as a table is cleared or that weird swooshy sound the milk steamer makes. If you’ve described the setting, you’ve already evoked seeing. Give it dimension by letting your characters react to what they see. Maybe they feel self-conscious when the teenagers two tables over whisper and giggle, or your characters are self-conscious teenagers who whisper and giggle. Since it’s a coffee shop it probably smells like coffee, but what else? If it's raining outside, coats are probably giving off that damp wool smell. If you're out on a patio, you could smell traffic fumes or the herbal scent of a planter or even the doggy smell of the Golden Lab at the feet of the woman two tables away.    

Read through your draft to make sure your characters are consistent. Yes, they change over the course of the story, but there has to be a progression. In the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck is comfortable with slavery at the beginning of the story. His entire world tells him is right and he doesn’t question it. By the end of the story, he’s decided that even if it means he’ll go to hell, he’s not okay with slavery and he believes, strongly, that Jim is a man, a full human being, the same as him. That is a huge change. But from the opening lines to the end of the story, Huck Finn is a consistent character. Every action he takes and bit of dialog is absolutely believable as something Huck Finn would say or do.

Everyone comes from somewhere. They don’t spring to life as full grown adults when your story begins. (Well, yes, they do, since you created them, but to make them seem real, you have to pretend they existed before you started recording their story) They have a past that made them who they are and that’s probably important info to share with your reader. However, beware the dreaded info dump! Cramming all the backstory into the first chapter is a sure way to bore your reader. Insert clues to your character’s past along the path of the story and reveal those things only at the point where they matter. Occasionally this will call for a longer passage, but if you can keep it to a line or two you’re better off, because long passages can drag your story to a standstill and it’s harder to overcome inertia than it is to maintain forward momentum. (Law of physics as applied to storytelling)

Foreplay. I don’t mean with your characters (although that’s fun stuff to read) I mean your readers. Don’t just toss them into a sex scene. Seduce them first. Use your sensory writing to evoke a mood then mercilessly push buttons to get them hot and bothered. Tease them. Manipulate them. Make them feel the warmth of a lover’s breath just under their ear so they’ll shiver. Make them want a lingering touch next. Take your time. Do a thorough job of it. It will leave them with the impression of a great sex scene even if you never describe a sexual act.
While you were writing your first draft, your subconscious was lurking in the background. Occasionally, while you were distracted, it slipped ideas into your work. Sneaky. By the time you finished your first draft, you may have become aware of those ideas. Many works in erotica are voyages of personal discovery. The protagonist chooses to find what they want and seizes control of their sexuality and life. That’s an empowering message. I’ve also read stories that are about forgiveness, loss, faith, love, and despair. You name an aspect of the human condition and it can be addressed in erotica. Think about your work from the high-level view. A literary viewpoint. Do you detect an idea or theme? Think about ways to enhance it in the second draft (if it interests you).

Reflecting on your work will give you a lot to tackle in your second draft, and expanding on the ideas your subconscious seeded in the first draft will add depth to your story.

I knew before I finished the first draft of Night Creatures that I had to move a key scene. Talk about painful. If only it were as simple as cut and paste. But no, of course not. Events happen in sequence. One flows into another. By changing the timeline, I had to go through each scene and ask ‘do they know this yet?’ If not, I had to eliminate the reference. In the first draft, things can be wrong. Typically in the second draft, errors are fixed, but in my second draft, I was creating potential errors all over the place.

As if I hadn’t made things hard enough, I also decided to delete two characters from the story. A cast of thousands may be impressive on a big movie screen but too many characters are confusing as hell on the page. Although I already had a limited cast, by eliminating the additional characters I tightened the focus on the main two. A reader once commented that my stories sometimes make her feel like she'd been shoved into a wardrobe with two people and the air is running out. I take that claustrophobia as a compliment.

Deleting characters can cause huge plot problems. Let me restate that. Deleting characters should cause huge plot problems. Everyone on the page should be there for a specific purpose, like cogs in a machine. If you can remove one and nothing changes, they shouldn't have been there in the first palce. (I'm talking about main and secondary characters here, not the extras in the background)  When I removed the two from mine, a key part of the plot suddenly didn't happen, so I had to transfer their actions to one of the remaining characters. Different characters have different motivations even if they do the same thing. (For example: I eat sashimi because I like it. R will only eat it when it’s served to him and it would be rude to refuse it.)  That meant, yes, exploring the motivations of the character and making sure they made sense. That was a lot of work, and typically the kind of stuff you do as you're writing the first draft. Maybe instead of calling this one my second I should have called it First Draft version B.

Between changing the sequence of events and eliminating characters, the second draft left me with a lot of work to do. (Thus the five drafts.) I wouldn’t have made those changes if I hadn’t strongly felt they were necessary. Unfortunately, I can’t explain to you why I felt they had to be made or how you might sense that your story arc needs that kind of revision. (I hope for your sake that it never does. This is why I often say "This is what I do, but I don't recommend it to anyone.") Readers might feel that the way a story was told was the only way it could have unfolded, but writers know that there were many possibilities. More than one path can lead to the same destination. Part of choosing the path is talent, part of it is craftsmanship, all of it is the mysterious (wonderful) process of creativity.         

What are the areas you concentrate on in a second draft? Do you have bad habits you try to catch?

Next time: editing

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Saints and Sinners 2013

It's that time of year again.

With Saints and Sinners two months away, the emails are trickling in. Writers I haven't talked to since last year are asking if I have a room. (Yes). A roommate (D.L. King puts up with me every year. maybe because we're shower compatible.  I shower at night, she does in the morning.) Dinner plans... well, Jeff Mann asked first, so I expect a lovely meal with him and John, but D.L. and I are free other nights. We have our drinking tour down cold by now - bloody marys at French Market, pomegranate martinis for D.L. and scotch for me at the carousel bar at the Monteleone. Feel free to tag along if you're there. We also have our musts for meals -  Deanie's on Iberville for anything on the menu, Gumbo Kitchen for gumbo, chargrilled oysters at Acme Oyster House (D.L. says I make my O face when I eat them) and of course lunch at Clover Grill because while I don't live in New Orleans, every time I eat there I know at least half the customers.

That's my favorite part of Saints and Sinners. Every time I turn a corner in the French Quarter I see someone I know. It feels very old home week. Besides, where else am I going to get this much writer's gossip? Sure, writers are a bunch of depressive introverts, but give us three days in close quarters and we're regular social butterflies. Some of us even make eye contact.  Then we take a year to recover from the effort.

If you're waffling on attending, the master classes every year are amazing and so are the panels. I'm always so energized, brimming with ideas, and ready to write after the weekend. Some writers I idolized have become good friends after we met at S&S. There's the whole networking thing (but crank it down a couple notches. I really hate it when someone shoves a partial in my hands, and I'm not even a publisher! So please... just socialize. You can do the business thing after you get home.)

Which leads us to the most amazing part of S&S - the wonderful feeling of being among your own kind. Who you are is a given, not something you have to explain. Or apologize for. You don't know relief until you experience it.   

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Dialog

Writing is a solitary pastime.

Picture this: the words are flowing- pouring really- out of your imagination and you're frantically trying to keep up. Or imagine that you're the only one who knows this story but it will only reveal itself in little glimpses even to you so you have to grab onto wisps of it and somehow turn it into something solid. You have to coax it out one painful word at a time. Sometimes even that one word won't come. And all the while real life is distracting you or coming between you and the keyboard.

Writing is a solitary pursuit because it demands so much focus.

That's probably why writers dream of retreats in secluded places. If real life could only be held at bay so we could focus. Yet every writer I talk to dreams of these retreats as a group event, which seems like we don't know what we want. Fellowship or seclusion? I think what we seek in this writer's nirvana is understanding more than anything. We want to be around people who get it when your mind is so deep in layers of your story that you don't talk or notice that they're there and won't be offended, or people who will respect that do not disturb sign on your cabin door. But we also want to gather around a table when we're not writing so we can talk about writing with someone who gets it.

Living with a non-writer is difficult at times, even when they're supportive. They truly don't understand the drive to write. It's not as if you can explain it to them.

Writer's retreats do exist, but I know few people who have been to one. We feel guilty enough about stealing our writing time. Imagine the guilt of taking a weekend or a whole week just for yourself! just to write? Oh, the madness! Women are especially conditioned to believe that's too selfish. It isn't, but the force of guilt is strong within us.

Since we don't ever dare go on retreats, we do the next best thing - we meet online. What did we ever do before the internet?  I live in a city of seven million people and I can't find a little writer's group to meet in person, but I have a community spread across the world that I can reach out to. Isolation is a choice now. That's one strength of the internet over meeting in person. You can mull over an idea for months before you reply to someone, and the conversation will still "be" there, waiting for you.

The writer's discussion that currently intrigues me has been going on for several years in fits and starts. Bits and pieces of this dialog jump around between Twitter, FaceBook, and blog entries on many sites, so it's not easy to keep track of where the conversation is or even what it is. I've mentioned parts of it in this blog, and you can find more of it on Remittance Girl's blog. (Don't know about her? Although I loathe the idea of muses and will mock writers who go on seriously about them, she's the closest thing I'll ever have to one. She's more like an intellectual slap of the gauntlet across the chops than a demigoddess in diaphanous clothing.)  What we're talking about at this rather leisurely pace is literary erotica and the language of sensuality.

I'm not sure if we're even after answers in this languid, meandering discussion. I don't think there's such a thing as resolution. The questions might be all we ever have, and they might be enough. At least they're being asked. One point in the future though I'd like to meet the people who have contributed to this dialog. Maybe somewhere off in the woods, a cabin with a big communal room and a table big enough to hold the weight of the conversation. Although we'll probably talk about anything but the art and craft of writing. I've learned that from hanging around with writers at cons. Writers gossip. We talk about the business, publishers, and agents. We talk about Doctor Who and trashy TV. Because writers write. Our best words and thoughts are mulled over, crafted, and revised in our own time, not blurted out over dinner. But the retreat idea is still wonderful. After all, who else but a writer would stay up half the night debating modern portrayals of Irene Adler with me and not think it weird that we're so passionate about a fictional person? Oh, that's right. Readers would totally get that too.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Ephemeral Blaznous OR The Most Erotic Thing

My tenure at Oh Get a Grip blog is coming to an end, so I thought I'd reprint one my my contributions here. The question for the week was "What is the most erotic thing?" You'd think that would be easy to answer, but it wasn't for me.

 Ephemeral Blaznous

Recent studies have determined that your brain doesn’t distinguish between actually doing something and reading about it. So my sex scene can make your brain think you actually had a sexual experience?  I don't think so. It might get you in the mood. It might set off body responses tied to arousal. But how much of that is the brain and how much is the body? Do the mechanisms of arousal (such as increased blood flow to the genitals) start a feedback loop of sexual expectation and more arousal? And is there causality between expectation and experience when you read? If you expect to be scared by a horror novel, is it more likely to scare you? Similarly if you expect to be turned on by erotica, are you more likely to get aroused?
I think quite a bit about what’s erotic and I have no clue how to begin to discuss it. Not one. Some things turn me on and I spend a lot of time analyzing why but I never figure it out. Part of that is because there's a gap between what's happening in my brain and my ability to describe it. It’s as if we don’t even have the language to describe the erotic.When we try to talk about the erotic we often fall back on the symptoms (physical) because the causality (mental) is outside shared experience or whatever it is that gives us the ability to slap a word on an idea and pass it around like an appetizer tray at a party. Sex we can talk about forever because it’s fairly simple. It can be examined as a purely physical act. The erotic is far more mysterious.
There are infinite colors outside the visible spectrum and I guarantee you not one is named. Things can exist without having a word attached, but that makes it awfully hard to discuss them. So for the sake of argument, think of the concept of an unimaginable color and call it Ephemeral Blaznous. Why Blaznous? Because it couldn’t be called Ephemeral Blue. There may be millions of shades of blue but blue is a specific idea. Blue is something we can talk about and the letters B-L-U-E in that arrangement can contain the concept of it in text and evoke the image of it.The erotic isn't as easy as blue. As an idea, it's a slippery sucker that dodges just as you try to pin a definition on it. It changes over time. It hovers outside the spectrum. It's blaznous.

I could tell you about things that turn me on, but only a general description of what I saw or read and I can't tell you why. The actual trigger, if there’s only one and it isn’t a cumulative thing, is a big old mystery. This is why I'm a bit in awe of the "porn" writers who can reach out and evoke a physical response to their words in just a few paragraphs. There's a real art to that. But it doesn't quite fit my idea of the erotic.

What's most erotic thing? I don’t know it. Often, stories or movies almost reach the state of pure eroticism for me, but then they devolve [I'm a bit sorry I used this word, as there's nothing wrong with the physical, but I can't change it now] into the physical because it’s easier that way or because the artist felt a need to resort to the shared vocabulary of sex or maybe they reach that state of Ephemeral Blaznous where everything gets hazy and fragments into uncertainty, and while they can reach for it, they can never drag it into the visible spectrum.  Much like my thoughts on this topic.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Writing This Novel IV

The end is near! 

The last two chapters took longer to write than the rest of my novel. Usually, writing the ending is easier than the beginning because as you near the final chapters the story should be converging on the event horizon, collapsing on itself like a black hole, and the ending should be inevitable. Right? It will seem that way to the reader. It isn’t that simple for the writer.

What if you didn’t end up telling the story you meant to tell? That isn’t always a bad thing, but that means there are choices to make. You can follow through with the ending that seems to flow naturally from what you’ve written or you can force the story back on track in the final chapters. I’m not a big fan of forcing for the sake of plot, but if you feel strongly about it, do it. (because later you're going to rewrite the novel in such a way that the forced ending seems to flow naturally, but more about that next month.)

For Night Creatures, I chickened out and wrote a weaker, albeit happier, ending. My beta reader wasn’t impressed. He felt cheated that everything pointed to a darker conclusion. I should have known better. Considering the extremes of the rest of the story, the end was no place to play it safe. I promised to fix that in the next draft.

If you’re a complete pantser, you might not have any idea how your story should end. But as a storyteller, I’m sure you have an instinct for the natural conclusion. Quest completed? Goal achieved? Character transformation complete? Congratulations, you’ve reached the end of this tale. Don’t linger too long after the big climax but do give the reader a sense of closure.

Please, don’t wrap up all your loose ends in the final two paragraphs. Those should have been woven into the story as you were nearing the ending. Twist endings take a deft hand so be cautious with them. Have you ever seen the play/movie Murder By Death? At the climax, the protagonist yells at the assembled detectives, “You've tricked and fooled your readers for years. You've tortured us all with surprise endings that made no sense. You've introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before. You've withheld clues and information that made it impossible for us to guess who did it.” Don’t be that writer. (On second thought, since he was accusing parodies of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, maybe you should. Even the Doctor carries an Agatha Christie book with him in the TARDIS.)  

So… Now you have a completed first draft. Congratulations! That’s a huge accomplishment. Be proud of yourself. What’s next, you might be wondering. Send it off to a publisher?

Don’t. Don’t even think about that yet.

I used to think that if I were any good at writing my first draft would be perfect. *rueful chuckle* Then I read a quote that changed my mind. I wish I knew who to attribute it to. “Even F. Scott Fitzgerald wasn’t F. Scott Fitzgerald in the first draft.” Wait! What? Stories didn’t just flow from his fingers perfect and wonderful? He didn’t type The End at the bottom of his first draft then drop the manuscript on his publisher’s desk?  Holy smokes! So the work of writing isn’t simply the physical act of typing the words? Who knew? 

Apparently everyone knew except me. Ernest Hemingway stated, “The first draft of anything is shit.”  That might be a bit harsh, but I’m not about to argue that succinct comment with him. (I’m aware that he couldn’t win a debate with a flower at this point, but I meant hypothetical him. You knew that.)

You’re going to have to write a second draft. Even if you didn’t force the ending. Even if you never made a typo. Even if you ruthlessly polished every word before you finished your first draft, you’re going to have to do a second one. I can hear you groaning from here. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. And I sympathize. I truly do. I’ve always hated reading my work once I finished writing it. Telling the story is fun. (Let me dream here that the first draft wasn’t a pain in the butt.) Fixing the first draft is the same work without the creative fun. This is the craftsmanship level of writing. This is where you put in your time.  

So – onward to the second draft, right?

Sorry. No. I have some advice that I hope you’re ready to hear. This is one of the biggest secrets of writing. It’s probably the most important trick up a writer’s sleeve. Are you ready for the big reveal?


Boo. That’s no fun. I know. It sucks. It’s a virtue, fer chrissakes, and I’m not exactly a virtuous person. I hate it and part of me wants to rebel against it, but I’ve learned how important it is.

My novel needs all the breathing room I can give it. Yours does too. A couple months is ideal, but at least give it a few weeks. The longer the work, the longer the break. Don’t open the file and don’t touch anything for a while. Time will make you more objective and you’re going to need that distance.

Do you have problems bringing your story to a close? Do you know before you start how it will end? Has the ending ever changed while you were writing your novel? Share your tricks for wrapping it up.

Next month, we’ll talk about the second draft.

(This series originally appeared on ERWA blog, where there's discussion about the post, but I will answer any comments here too.)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Writing This Novel - Beta Readers

If you aren't familiar with the term, beta readers are people who read your novel or short story before you submit it to a publisher.

Beta readers don't have to be writers. Don't look to them for copy editing (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.) although they'll often point out the problems that jumped out at them. I only ask my beta readers about story-level issues. Most of your beta readers are going to come from your circle of writer friends, so build your community.  

Beta readers were important to me as I wrote my first few novels but with each novel I use them less. It isn't that I don't want the feedback. My writer friends are busy working on their own novels, editing anthologies, or have real life issues that make it hard to find time to read.

The relationship isn't all about my needs. My writer friends know that I will drop everything to read their work if they need a beta reader. It's community, not a fan club.

I had four beta readers for Night Creatures. Only one was someone I've used before. The other three, well... Two never got back to me so I have no idea if they read it. Telling me you read it but didn't like it is fine. Telling me you got busy is also fine. You're doing me a huge favor. I understand if things don't work out and I really understand that real life has to take precedence. Silence, however, isn't nice. One reader did get back to me, but obviously wanted to rewrite it from erotic horror to erotic romance.I was somewhat relieved when the suggestions to "alpha male"ize my character stopped. Perhaps the part about him not being a nice guy underneath it all (and that being the point) finally sank in. Fourth reader said the ending wasn't dark enough. It wasn't. I lost my nerve and tried to soften it a bit but he said he felt cheated by the tepid ending. That was great input and it gave me the courage to go for the ending I originally intended. (And oh, how I'm laughing at myself for bitching about how Thomas Hardy's books always make me want to slit my wrists because his stories are so bleak, and here I am doing the same thing.)

So, beta readers. They can be helpful, or not. You won't know until you hear what they have to say. Be grateful for their time, but don't feel that you have to take their advice.           

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Writing this Novel - Characters

As I only post monthly to the ERWA blog, my series on Writing This Novel left out a few interesting topics. Luckily, I can address them here as they occur to me.

I've mentioned many times that I'm not much of an outliner, but some things I know before I wade into a novel, and one of those things is my characters. Or, at least, I've learned that it's better to start that way. And me being me, I learned it the hard away.

I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel writing month) that I actually outlined. Except for one character. I couldn't get a fix on him. So as I wrote the novel, he behaved in a scene as the plot required. I figured he'd reveal himself to me over the course of the story, but he was a slippery sucker. Hard to pin down. What I ended up with was a two-dimensional character with no consistency. I also finished NaNoWriMo with a 60,000 word novel and it was total crap because of him. Oh wait. it's unfair to blame the character. it was total crap because I didn't know who he was. (and for other reasons, but that was the huge glaring mistake) But I didn't realize that. So I rewrote the entire novel and once again ended up with crap. At that point, finally, I figured it out. After a long think about him, I sketched out his character and rewrote the damn thing a third time. Much better. (the novel will be published under a different pen name in a couple months)

You'd think I'd know these characters pretty well since they're in a series now, but as I've learned my lesson about characters, when I wrote the second in the series, I created a one page tear sheet for each of the important characters.

It goes something like this:

Name of character
What does character want?
How can they get it?
What stands in the way?
Where is the character physically/emotionally/economically/etc at the beginning?
Does the character get what they want?

You don't have to write it down, but you do need to know who your characters are before you start writing - unless you want to rewrite your novel three times. (HINT: You don't) Knowing who they are will help you write them acting in a way that's consistent with who they are. All actions should flow from their 'natural' behavior, not because it fits the plot. You know what I mean. You've tossed a book across the room with the disgusted cry, 'Oh come on George would never do that!'

While you're writing, if you're stuck and have the time for a little exercise, try creating a new tear sheet for your characters that sums up where they are now. They should have changed over the course of the chapters. Maybe their goals changed or their circumstances or even their feelings. That could help you figure out what their next move is, confirm that you're on the right path, or make you realize that somewhere a few chapters back you headed down the rabbit hole.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

It's Lovely. it's Horrible.

My short story It's Lovely, It's Horrible. is in the ERWA Treasure Chest. I'm flattered they picked it for inclusion with the year's best.

This story is the basis for my novel Night Creatures. If you're following my series Writing This Novel, both on the ERWA blog and here in this blog, that title might sound familiar.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Writing This Novel part III

However you write is the right way to do it. Forget The Rules. If you plot out everything ahead of time, good for you. If you sit down and write with no idea where the story is going, that’s great too. I’m telling you this because what follows is my weird method and I’d hate for you to think it’s The Right Way or The Only Way to go about it.
I’m about thirty thousand words into The Night Creature. It will probably be around sixty thousand words when complete, so that’s theoretically half way through. Now I’m in what writer Jim Grimsley so accurately described as ‘the murk in the middle of the novel.’ If you’re into the journey through the woods metaphor, this is the moment when you lose sight of the forest for the trees. The ending seems unreachable. Maybe by now the story bores you. You fell out of love with it once you got to know it better. Hey, it happens. I’m wondering myself if I’m on the right track, if I’ll be able to tell the story I set out to and if it’s worth telling even if I can. Yep, I’m stuck in the murk.
Several options here. 1) procrastinate 2) blunder around until I discover the right path to the end, or 3) give up.
Many writers have procrastination honed to a fine art. Deadline looming? Wash the dishes and vacuum the spider webs off the ceiling. Have a cookie. Then decide you need tea with that. Or scotch. Then go to FaceBook and look at cat memes.  Stuck and floundering? Throw yourself into research. The internet makes it so easy. You don’t have to head to the library with focused questions and a limited amount of time and patience. Oh no. You can look up the price of a Hermes scarf in British pounds, watch a YouTube video of the 600 year anniversary light show for the astronomical clock in Prague, and scour maps of Lake Geneva for the exact location of the villa where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. These are actual examples of research I did for my novel. Google Maps with street view is a fantastic tool. I found out there are no cafés on the same street as the Hermes store in Paris. I also know there are five Hermes boutiques in Paris, but I showed some restraint and only looked at one. I know what houses look like in the old city section of Prague. I know which trains I’d take from Paris to Prague, or from Lake Geneva to Milan. Most of this I don’t need to know and will not use and I knew that at the time I looked it up but I did it anyway. Eventually, I had to get quite stern with myself and stop playing around with the wealth of information out there. As Mary Poppins says, “Enough is as good as a feast.”  
Writing articles about writing a novel is a great procrastination technique, by the way. But now people are tracking my progress, so I feel a little pressure to stop screwing around and get it done.
Too much procrastinating is a bad habit, but it can be useful. It gives me time to step back from the story for a while and mull over the story arc and insights into who the characters have become as the story unfolds. The order of events tightens into focus. It’s a chance to play around with ideas before I commit them to words, or so I tell myself. The problem is that I’m stuck and until I can move forward, fooling around with research seems as useful as staring at that damned blinking cursor. What comes next? I have no idea! Leave me alone, you nagging black line of doom!
Yeah, yelling the cursor isn’t productive. 
One trick to avoid being stuck: When you finish a writing session, get one or two sentences of the next scene down before you stop. That way you’re primed to move on when you open the file the next time. Or stop just short of the natural end of the scene. If you have an easy writing prompt to start with, you’re more likely to type the next sentence.
But what do you do if that doesn’t work? This is where the ‘this works for me but I don’t recommend it’ part comes in. The blundering about method. I go over what I’ve already written and tighten it up. You’re not supposed to start editing until the first draft is complete. The reason for that ‘rule’ is that some writers futz around with their first chapters forever and never move on. The reason I break the rule is that rules are really only guidelines, and guidelines are code for ‘this works for many people.’ That’s no guarantee it will work for you and I’ve found it doesn’t for me. That being said, the first novel you write, your major goal should be to finish it. Millions of people begin novels. Few finish them. Finish yours. Revel in the accomplishment. Slog through to the end no matter what. Then go back and edit. (says the woman who admits she doesn’t do it that way)
 I try to write a linear, meaning that I don’t tend to write scenes out of order. Every sentence in your story should have forward momentum toward the end. Jumping ahead or behind disturbs the forward flow of the narrative. (That can be fixed in the editing process) But just because that’s what I prefer to do doesn’t mean it’s what I really do. A few days ago I wrote a wonderfully evocative scene but realized later that it occurred too early in the emotional arc of the story. Normally, I’d just delete it and write it again later.
You’re probably screaming right now. I know, I know. You’re supposed to save all your precious snippets and tuck them away for later. This is where my view of writing may differ dramatically from yours. I don’t think of anything I’ve written as a rare gem to be set in a tiara to make it sparkle. I’m not saying that you do, or that’s it’s wrong to feel that way. It simply isn’t my approach to my writing. While I write literary erotica, pretty prose isn’t my aim. So it’s rare that I feel anything I’ve written is too precious to delete. I care very much about the emotions evoked in my scenes though, so often the only thing I ‘save’ is an impression of the emotional impact.
However, this time I really liked the way the scene turned out. Plus it took me a long time to write. So I cut and pasted it to the end of my MS (manuscript). It’s lurking out there, waiting for me. Once I reach the right place in the story to incorporate it, I may have to entirely rewrite it to make it fit into the flow of the story. Or cut it if it never fits. I’m sort of brutal that way.
I knew that scene didn’t come next, but what did? Cut to me pacing in the backyard and thinking quite a bit about the story. For days.
Truly stuck at this point, this is when I daydream about being one of those writers who creates an outline before they begin writing. How lovely it would be to see that my next scene is ____. It’s written in stone. It’s meant to be. Yeah. No. The problem with outlines is that I discover the story while I’m writing it. An outline I wrote in advance would be worthless after the first major deviation from it, so why bother? Or worse, I’d try to force the story back to the outline and just… *full body shudder* Not going to happen.
Rather than give up on the novel now that I’m mired down in indecision, this is time to dig into my bag of writer’s tricks to get moving again. The first thing I did was make myself stay away from FaceBook and all other temptations. Then I deliberately wrote a scene I knew was wrong. I used a POV (point of view) character who had no business narrating any part of the story. I explored how she saw the major characters, what changes she noticed in them, and let her ramble on about things that mattered only to her. When I’m not sure what to do next, doing the most wrong thing helps me focus on the right thing. Sure, I wrote a thousand words that I deleted the next time I sat down to write, but I was writing, which beats glaring at the blinking cursor.
When even that trick failed, I broke another one of my rules. I wrote part of the closing scene of the story. I’ll probably have to rewrite it entirely, but it reminded me where I was headed, what was at stake for the characters, and all the events that must happen before they get to that moment. That got me moving forward again, but I also realized something that was wrong way at the beginning of the novel. When you have an option, write new stuff and move forward. Even though it’s killing me to leave the error, I’m working toward the end. I can fix the errors in the editing process. I keep telling myself that. I will avoid temptation!
Is it ever the right decision to give up? I hate to say yes, but the answer is yes. I know some writers who start off strong and know the ending but simply can’t write the middle of the novel. Part of it may be a loss of faith. Sometimes it’s something outside the book such as fear of failure, fear of success, or one of the other evil mind games we play on ourselves.
What if you can’t write more because the story reached a point where it bores you? News flash – if it bores he writer it will bore the reader, so save us all the grief and figure out how to make it interesting. Do you just want to get to the exciting stuff? Then deal with the dull stuff in a sentence or two and get on to the fun part.
But what if that doesn’t work? If you have a bad habit of quitting at this point, force yourself to slog through it. Forcing yourself to finish might not help you produce a publishable novel but you’ll have broken your streak of unfinished work. Then move on to another novel and force yourself to finish it. However, if it isn’t a habit and you just can’t write any more on this story and more urgent ones are hammering at your brain trying to get out, then your best option might be to set this one aside for a while, maybe forever. Give up. Making yourself miserable isn’t worth it. Do you have a contract for the novel? No? Then let it go. Yes? Oh man. You’re in a spot, aren’t you? Put on your professional writer hat (or panties) and try anything, everything, to get it done.
Whatever you do, no matter how uninspired you feel, force yourself to write. That’s my best advice to escape the murk in the middle.
Let me know if you have tricks that help you write when you’re not feeling it. I’m always interested in what other writers do.

Next time, I expect to have finished my novel. I’ll tell you how I brought it on home.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Writing This Novel part IVa

Tomorrow, January 24, the current installment of my Writing This Novel series goes live on the ERWA blog.  I started keeping a side journal as I wrote Night Creatures, but now in real time I've finished the fourth (final) draft while part III of the series is only up to the middle of the first draft.

I say final draft even though I keep going in and futzing around with words and phrases here and there - to the extreme annoyance of my beta reader. That's how I know it's a final. When I'm clarifying themes, I'm done. When I'm changing one word in a sentence from cage to prison and back to cage again, it's time to start working on my submission packet. Pretty much, if I'm at the point where I absolutely hate my novel and can almost recite the entire stupid thing from memory, it's time to send it to a publisher.

Even though I have six or seven months of blog entries for this series, there are things I don't have room to talk about, so I thought I'd expand on part IV here. In part IV, I will talk about (did talk about. I love straddling time lines. 'Wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff' indeed!) the difference between my first and second drafts. The first draft is 'throw it all down and deal with the problems later.' Second draft is 'it's later, bitch.'

My first draft had two big problems. One was the timeline. When you read a book, it seems as if the story unfolds in a fated manner, as if that's the way it's meant to be and it couldn't be different, but as a writer, you know nothing is set in stone. But how do you know if a scene needs to be moved? I'm not sure I can tell you. It's instinctual storytelling.

The timeline issue was easily fixed, sort of. Just send the characters to Prague first instead of later on. Cut and paste, right? Uh, no. Now the trip is at the beginning of their adventure and they don't know each other as well. Subtle things such as the way they touch or even the rhythm of their conversations had to be adjusted. Bigger questions such as 'do they know this yet?' had to be addressed. Everything is cumulative in a story. It flows forward. If you move something after the first draft, you have to make sure you've re-established that continuity, flow, and forward momentum.

The other major change I brought to the second draft was the elimination of two secondary characters. Many first novels have far too many characters. As I said (will say) in part IV, you aren't Cecil B DeMille. Cut your cast. So I did. I cut my cast. But I already had a very limited cast of characters to begin with. Why did I trim two more? They were distracting and I didn't trust their motivations, in that their motivations seemed to serve plot rather than come organically from them as characters. I don't like two-dimensional characters and I don't write plot driven stories, so they had to go. Again, I can't tell you how I sensed they were a problem or why I decided to cut them rather than flesh them out. Sometimes I wish there were formulas or proofs for this sort of thing.

Anyway, part III is up tomorrow over at ERWA and I'll post it here a few days later. Part III is about the dealing with the middle of the novel, which is where most writers give up. It's a bit of a downer, but hey, due to the dual time lines we have going on here, you can read about me struggling through the murk in the middle while already knowing that I made it through! It's a bit like jumping forward to read the last page of the book. Cheating? Yes, but I won't tell anyone you did it.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Next Big Thing

D.L. King tagged me in the Next Big Thing blog tour

1. What is the working title of your book?  The Night Creature

2. Where did the idea come from for the book? Discussions with other erotica writers about the definition of erotica and the nature of desire.

3. What genre does your book fall under? Literary erotica. Erotic horror.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Sophie - Rachel McAdams or Lara Pulver. George - Ewan McGreggor or Benedict Cumberbatch or David Tennant. I'm crap at this because I'm so far inside my character's heads that it's hard to imagine them as anything but thoughts and emotions.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? I'm so tempted to say: Blood splatter, but sexy. And NO VAMPIRES. (I hate writing vampires) Ugh. You'd think I'd be better at this. I can do this for other writer's books, but not mine. Hmmm. How about... Nope. See, everything I try ends up sounding stupid. "Boy chases girl. Boy bites girl. Shit gets reals when she bites back." (But again, NOT VAMPIRES) Fuck. I'm going to pour myself a glass of Glenmorangie and probably smoke a cig and forget this ever happened. I suggest you do the same.   

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I can't imagine what an agent would do for me. I'm talking to a publisher.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? Eleven weeks. Much longer than it should have.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Story of the Eye, Blue of Noon

9. Who or What inspired you to write this book? Remittance Girl. She explores ideas behind erotica as a distinct literary genre and gives me so much to think about. 

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest? Most people read erotica to get off. I'm not sure if I've ever helped a reader do that. But there are readers who want to explore desire and the other. I hope I've created something for them.

BTW - I want to license Fabio Selvatici's work for the cover. Perfect.

Since she tagged me, you can see D.L. King's post here:

Oh, she's talking about the anthology she edited, Under Her Thumb. I'm pretty sure I have a story in it. Cool cover.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Best Sex Scene Ever Written?

I'm not obsessive about checking the stats on this blog. Last I did was seven or eight months ago, because I have a steady readership that doesn't fluctuate too much. Or so I thought, but in the meantime I'd posted a critique of the book about the the best sex scenes ever written (except that it wasn't about that!).

So I checked my stats this week.

Have you ever read The Little Prince?
Picture the drawing of the elephant.
Now picture the drawing of the snake that swallowed the elephant.

That post about the best sex scenes book is the elephant in the graph of my readership, a spike of about 500% over my other posts. Obviously, many people want to know where to find the best written sex scenes, and you'd probably think that I, being an erotica writer and long time reviewer of erotica at Erotica Revealed, could point you to the good stuff.

I want to help, but I'm not sure if I can. What do you mean when you ask for the best? If you're looking for something that will get you off, are we ever in for a long conversation.

Does it take a certain scenario to get your libido humming? Horny nymphet? Alpha male? Cowboys? Like it romantic? Want to dabble in rape fantasy? Are you into BDSM? Which part? The B? B&D? D? D/s or S&M? Female dominant or male dom? How do you feel about leather? Rubber? Balloons? Furries? Mucus? Tickling? (As an aside, many of the pink salons in Japan offer menus so shy types don't have to state their preferences. Want blow jobs from twins dressed as sexy nurses? Just circle it on the menu. Brothels in Pompeii had pictures on the wall you could point to. How brilliant was that?)

I can almost hear you grumping, "I just want sex, ferchrissakes! Regular old sex!"

Okay. But regular for who? I assume you mean vanilla, as in not BDSM and not kink or fetish, but do you mean vanilla for a lesbian, a gay man, a hetero male of female, transpeople, or a threeway? (And be sure to define if that threeway is FMF MFF MFM MMF FFF MMM FMT FFT MMT FTF MTM TFT TTT TMT....)

What works for me probably won't get you off (almost guaranteed), so while I can appreciate your triggers, I can't possibly point to one story and say "This is the definitive 'sex during a high wire act while in full clown makeup and wearing fetish ballerina shoes' story that will get you off in no time flat!" Sorry.

But if you're looking for erotica with literary merit, there I can help you. There are the classics, such as Anais Nin's work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Story of the Eye, Fanny Hill, and The Story of O.If you want to read contemporary writers, I suggest anything by Remittance Girl, M. Christian, Alison Tyler, Sommer Marsden, Fionna Zedde, Nikki Magennis, Donna George Storey, Peggy Munson, Mike Kimera, Xan West...

Hmmm. Erotica is a small but tight (go ahead and roll your eyes or smirk if you must) community. A list is only going to bruise egos. There must be a better way to point you in the direction of quality erotica.

How about this? Publishers. Oh, wait, readers don't care who publishes a book. Only writers do. So if I were to tell you to look for offerings from Cleis Press, Circlet Press, Torquere, Coming Together, etc your eyes will probably glaze over.

Would you be willing to search for editors such as D.L. King, Kristina Wright, Simon Sheppard, Alison Tyler, Kathleen Warnock, Rachel Kramer Bussel, M. Christian, Maxim Jakubowski, or Todd Gregory? They have great taste in the stories they choose for their anthologies, which is why they're often trusted with acclaimed annual anthologies such as Best Lesbian Erotica, Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Best Women's Erotica, etc. and/or themed anthologies. You'll find good or even great literary erotica in those offerings, which will lead you to well-written sex scenes.

However, as with sexual preferences, literary merit is definitely in the eye of the beholder, so I can't tell you the best 100 Sex Scenes Ever Written. You get to judge that yourself. But at least with my recommendations there will actually be sex in the sex scenes. You're welcome.