Masculinity, Male Heroes, & Romance Writing

There’s nothing worse than reading a romance book and coming across some idea or notion in the text that makes you roll your eyes and disassociate from a character. The nature of romance and erotica is deeply tied to projecting and emotionally relating to the characters in a book. There’s just something about that fact that can make coming across certain views or elements in a story become an instant turn off. The other night I was reading an erotic romance where the female lead is a bartender and basically every few pages near the beginning she brings up the fact that she’d never date a man who’d order a cocktail or anything except beer. Call me a whiny liberal if you want, but that snuffed my interest in her or him. I’m reading the book purely for research purposes now. It was such a good and thorough turn off to me that I never realized how much stuff like that affected me. For the author it was a simple fact of the character and supposed to make the handsome protagonist a down to Earth “man’s man”. To me it was traditional propaganda at best and a sign of utter weakness in the male main character at worst.

Shocking?

Well, to me a man who is comfortable in his masculinity is more attractive than anything else. We’re supposed to accept the female MC’s view and see him from that angle. His ordering a beer puts him outside the realm of other “hipster” men, and yes the author uses that description. For the author this detail was important, and important for the main character for excellent reasons. She’s a bartender. Makes sense. In this book his earthy masculinity is represented by beer. It killed my interest and my libido because while I fully admit certain feminine traits turn me off when they’re very present in men…my notion of a “real man” orders whatever the fuck he wants. Further I don’t backdoor insult men who don’t fit that notion whether they wear nail polish (which is a major personal turn off ) or work on trucks and think of appletinis as girly drinks. I physically cringed as I read because of this one thing, which came up a few times early on.

In a book designed to tease, titillate, and entertain this one element altered my ability to enjoy it. The male lead and female lead became emblematic of what I rebel against. A lot of people have told me “Oh just shut up and read and enjoy”, but why would I if there is an element and an attitude in the work that I don’t enjoy. The male protag ordering a beer is the main thing that solidifies the female protag sleeping with him. That’s the crutch, and for a woman who sees masculinity as being about comfort, and being attracted to more traditionally masculine men as in no way needing to undermine other expressions of masculin this makes a difference. This makes me say “Wow this chick seems like a douche bag and this guy isn’t as attractive as he was.” . And as, to paraphrase a quote from Downton Abbey, as my world comes closer and the notions of “real men buy beer” slip away this will be a more common reaction. Hell plenty of women prefer hipsters who do craft beer than to the corona lovers of the world. A confident man who can order a cocktail and not give a shit about what anyone thinks tops a man who thinks cocktails are girly.

It’s a silly thing to harp on, but it seriously had an affect. It pulled me away from these characters, made me like them a bit less, and most importantly turned me off.  And maybe this is coming from me because my 60 something year old, ex-cop, private security, former bouncer father who carries a gun everywhere has never hesitated to order a cosmo. Maybe it is because I’m a progressive liberal who has friends across the gender expression spectrum. Ultimately it doesn’t matter because you bet your sweet hiney that I’m not a rare case. Because even those who keep reading and think it distasteful have pulled away a little. It isn’t about political correctness or forcing conformity. It’s about the fact that this writer made one of the most important choices in the mainstream straight romance genre, which is how you construct the male romantic protagonist. She not only included this, but centered these beliefs about masculinity at the core of his appeal. And while that’s her choice the fact is it didn’t work for me, and I suspect it turned off others because it wasn’t just the female protag saying “I like a traditional guy who drinks beer over cocktails”. It was holding up the romantic lead by that fact juxtaposed with the inferiority of men who have ordered her cocktails.The ever changing social norms and standards affect what people are attracted to and as writers when we put something like real men drink beer on the page we’re committing an idea and saying “We’re willing to turn off those people who disagree” and I’m certain the author didn’t even think about that. For her this made her male romantic lead strong. For me it made him week. It made the female lead pedantic and hypocritical…honestly a little sexist. And undermine the think I find most attractive in men (but can never seem to land in a partner myself, sorry, but love ya beau!)…confidence.

Her entire notion of masculinity and the romance leads romantic appeal had the exact opposite affect that she intended and as our society evolves it will be interesting to see because I’m not alone. I’m not a minority. And when an author makes choices like this they have to be aware…you might just dry a reader up like an old Virginia ham. You’re not going to forget that metaphor any time soon.

 

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How to Write Erotica…to Make Money.

At this point in my career I have been building an audience for my novels and blog, and I am so lucky and thankful that all of you bother to read my work. But one thing you’ll know if you’ve been a reader since the start is that I never pretend my passion isn’t also a business. I love to write. I love naughty bits. So I write about people’s naughty bits meeting and doing naughty things. It seemed rather sensible since I’ve  written erotica from the time I understood the sex act. Erotica is a genre that can be lucrative and disappointing without any rhyme or reason. You can find hundreds of articles and books on writing ebooks in the genre with conflicting and contrasting experiences. The variables of success are endless, but for 2017(wow that feels weird) we can prepare ourselves for the best approaches to consistently publish erotica and make some money from erotica. So let me help you by discussing my observations and experiences thus far.

Most people who get into writing in any genre make it a black and white issue as to whether you’re in it for business or in it for passion. Well, why not both? Money ins’t the end all be all and passion doesn’t put food on the table. In my view a healthy about of pragmatic thinking is the difference between well known authors and authors with regular sales versus unknown authors and authors with low sales. I missed the big erotica booms of 2012 and 2013, but I will say you can make sales if you’re crafty, smart, and figure out your strength.

Now first let me cover a few things you need to know before thinking about writing erotica…

Don’t Think This Is Easy Money. It Is NOT.

4cbc60bcafc44f1d0ac51c17b1096681One of the biggest complaints from people is that so many authors pop up and out after two months. People read these insane articles about authors who quit their jobs and made 20k and more in a few months off one or two books, so they assume it is easy work to make even a fraction of that. They hear the bare bones and decide to become an erotica author to make some cash because it doesn’t seem hard. Partially this is because they assume erotica isn’t “real writing”. But all writing is writing. I personally find article and essay writing (with research included) to be so much easier than erotica. I’ve done both for money and it is night and day with how easy article writing is in comparison to figuring out what is and is not a sexy description. This isn’t an easy or simple field to jump into anymore, if it ever really was. Free sites are your competition, name brand authors are your competition, and putting out consistent stories is what keeps you afloat financially.

Further hundreds of other people probably read those same articles at the exact same time , and got the same idea. The market is fucking flooded and it really is a shame because your books might get buried beneath a thousand stories. Buried beneath a thousand throbbing rods with not escape, so to speak. From my research and conversations, roughly 70% of users tapered off after a month and a half of low sales on the erotica forums. This is constant. A bunch of people come. A bunch of people don’t see that it is work, and they bury those that do, but then vanish. Writing erotica becomes a funny story for buzzfeed or slate, or coffee after dinner. When books don’t sell all those forums, facebook groups, and reddits end up full of inactive users. Amazon, smashwords, nook, and others end up flooded with generally sub-par stories. Meanwhile the authors have tossed up their hands because they didn’t make a thousand dollars in the first month. These are the writers who don’t enjoy the genre, but even those of us who love it can get bruised.

I nearly became one of those fly-by-night authors because I burnt myself out, got discouraged, and then sat on my stories for a few weeks. I expected to make $10 in the first two weeks. It took two months. The sales have no pattern other than they sell about the same rate. So how did I get back into it if I was selling so slowly and so little? I realized the stories you hear about are the exceptional ones, and that if I kept going I could make some nice pocket change for myself. The only people who really fail are the ones who got in over their head and assumed they could bulldoze through the erotica market. The people who stick with it, and built an audience of bother fellow writers and readers are the ones who have long term success. Whether they sell a few hundred books or several thousand they kept writing, kept improving their writing, and they acknowledge writing sexual material takes a ton of hard work. Even those who have failed have said to me “This shit is harder than I thought” once they realized they didn’t enjoy it after page one. You can’t do this half assed. You can’t do this for quick cash.  Writing is  one of the most difficult professions to be in because it is harder than it looks and it is hard because you can’t just write and be assured success. It ain’t easy.bd3e17b7cbb1c79da420d8791a491847

However, if you reorient your approach and intent writing in this genre becomes easier. You have  to approach this as a business and all business takes an extraordinary amount of work. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, but even someone who works in a sex shop has to take inventory, be familiar with most of the product, and be able to get people what they need when they come to the store. If you acknowledge this when you begin planning you stories, your persona, and your specialty then you will have a much easier go of it when things are rough.

You have to work at what you’re writing even if it is sex. Chuck Tingle isn’t famous on just laziness. Tingle’s works are parody built on word play, innuendo, and absurdity. Not to mention he is as famous as he is because he was shocking and caught the right attention, but even with that his writing takes work. Crafting the story, building the characters, and molding them in ways that make people turn to the next page (Especially if your book is available on Kindle Unlimited) is key.

And The Sad Truth Is You Will Most Likely Burn Out.

You will run out of words. You will run out of desire. You will want to take a break especially if you make this a full time job. I can turn out four short stories with basic editing in two weeks. If I push myself I could probably do six or eight stories, but that would require 8  hours of writing a day. Writing would not just be a career, but a job of taxing emotional and mental work. Marketing would be another eight hour job of more emotionally and mentally taxing work.  I could do it, but the notion that you can easily do it without any stress, and then be guaranteed to make money is sorta flawed. I will tell you what a writer told me when I first got started, “Most authors I know don’t make consistent money until they have upwards of 30 books and stories on amazon”.

don_t-be-a-slave-to-writer_s-blockThat’s a shit ton of writing for months or years on end. Some people really can turn out a dozen books in six months and a dozen short stories to boot. They are a lucky bunch. But you have to have a plan if you burn out. I took a break and focused on romantic stories instead alongside shorter more scene based works like Suffer Too Good and Dirty Honey. 

Why? These stories are fun for me, but I’ll get back to this in a second.

 

Don’t Have Crazy Expectations.

I don’t expect to rent my first apartment with the money I make from my sales, but I do expect my sales to supplement my income enough where I do have an extra $30+ in my account. Not because I’m aiming low, but because I’m just starting out and while I have a ton of novels started I don’t have an editor and have to take time to edit myself. Further I’m just a realist. Some weeks I get sale after sale, my blog facilitates that. Some weeks that other authors say are hot look like chicken turds on my amazon report. Overall you have to realize that you may not be the next big thing, but you may have nice money to pocket regardless. I don’t know about you, but any money is good money.

So how do you get reasonable expectations?

Figure out what your books are worth. People, especially the fly by nighters, think if they just push a bunch of .99 cent stories of $2.99 stories they have guaranteed sales. Here’s the bloody truth, most people will think you’re writing is poop unless you’re doing short stories. What do you think of a book available for .99 cents without any special considerations? It isn’t a promotional event or presented like a freebie out of a larger collection of works. It just is .99 cents because it is. Most people want their money’s worth and a lot of erotica buyers are regular buyers, so while they want a good deal they want signs of quality. Look at the best sellers in your sub-genre and list the three most common prices for short stories, novellas, and novels. If you’re a new writer I’d suggest setting those common prices for a week or two then dropping price by a few cents or a dollar. That way you’re works are technically “on sale” which usually gets attention on distribute sites. I never sell anything over 5k words for below $3 because I put my heart and joy into my pieces no matter what genre they are.

getmore_clients_become_more_you_value_yourselfYou tell the world what you are worth, and you do it realistically. Don’t be arrogant and don’t try to be Walmart by underselling everyone else because then two things will happen: Other writers will get pissed off and you will have fewer allies(writers also read btw) and you will look bad to consumers. When you price accordingly you can form realistic expectations about how much you’ll make. I have several pen names for different genres of writing and I know exactly what I want to make with every book that is under every pen name.

Do you want to know what the base income I want is? $30 for every two books. Two times seven is 14. 14 books times $30 is $420 dollars. That is an extra $420 a year that I wouldn’t otherwise have. Now, I have high hopes, but let me bring back what my author friend said about authors needing 30 books to break the bank because it matters here. Chances are you have less than 10 buys per book,  unless someone randomly picks it up and loves it enough to recommend. Unfortunately even if your book is good the saturated market may bury it. So your book is set at $4.30 with 70% royalty on Amazon which means you get $3.01 from every sale. You have to convince 10 people to buy your books every month. The biggest asset to getting those people is having reviews. Most people will not leave reviews on amazon. Some books do have 1k reviews, but I have searched through 89 pages of erotica and only found a handful. Of course, the more taboo you get the more likely you are to sell but the smaller your chance of reviews gets. It sounds easy but out of thousands of books it is hard. Some of your books won’t find an audience. Some won’t be to go on Amazon or may get taken down for being too “taboo”(because they arbitrarily decide what is, hence why people say the weekend team is a bunch of prudes). You have to have a game plan. A marketing strat. and a strength within that. I blog because I like it and because I realized all the BS about SEO and social media only works now if you have an audience previously. It’s true.

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After all this…what makes selling erotica work?

Two things change the game for every writer and chime in via the comments if you have opinions on this:

  1. The authors of successful stories have the ability to, if not enjoy, appreciate the sexuality and sensuality of both their characters and what the audience likes.
  2. The author interacts with other authors and books.

 

Before I  say another word let me preface by saying a lot of people assume erotica authors have the same kinks as their characters or experiences….Stop. That’s just not the case. Plenty of “female authors” are men or gender queer people who know female names sell more. Plenty of vanilla women write the kinkiest of bdsm erotica about things they’d never try or talk about in real life except if it is about their books. 

I told you I’d get back to this eventually, didn’t I? Here is a brutal truth…you have to have a positive understanding of your writing. I spoke on this previously and have a longer post about this in the works, but here’s the shorter version: Most people don’t make money on their erotica and burn out because they don’t have any positive feeling or understanding about what the hell they’re writing. They start writing about masochism, but can’t comprehend why their character likes it. They start writing about the sensuality of demonic lovers, but find the concept laughable. They make their lead fall for a billionaire, but find the whole idea contemptuous. While you don’t have to love everything you write, you are best served by trying to grasp it. If you don’t there is a very high likelihood the sort of fun or emotional nuisance your story’s sexuality will require will be non-existent.

The second one sounds like two no brainers, right? Most authors are readers and if you read more you get better. Common sense says seek out other authors. But let me tell you  that so many people write, but then admit they never read. I’m not talking about the college students who temporarily lose a taste due to having to always read or people who take a bit of a break. These are people who will say to your face that “I’m a good writer, but I hate reading”. They want to master a craft without seeing anyone else work with it. They’re swordsmen who never watch people use a sword. They think they’re excellent writers and don’t need to read, but don’t see how they are missing a valuable resource into what readers like, potential inspiration, and what sells.

Not to mention they go onto those facebook pages, post a bunch of ads, and then think they’re going to get something from people.The only people that visit those pages are other authors selling shit, so the best you can do is also buy books. If you are an author or a blogger who doesn’t interact with other authors or bloggers then you’re not using your resources to the best of your abilities. Other authors will review, beta-read, edit, and promote other authors they’ve established a relationship with. If you never interact with people then you’ve limited you resources and your audience. Seek out writing communities, make a point to be active daily, make a point to offer to help out other writers, and don’t just ask for things in return. Give a little bit and you just might be surprised.

Being involved in communities is part of marketing and writing. Most people don’t do it meaningfully unless something is wrong. I like the website scribophile(thus far) because it requires you to interact by critiquing and reading others works. It forces me to so something I may not otherwise do outside of physical workshops. It exposes me to a wider range of individuals, or writers and books. If you seek out other people you broaden the people who may become your audience. In essence you can give yourself value and learn the value of others, which is all platform building is.

Hundreds of authors will sit there and tell you a thousand seemingly detailed, but ultimately vague notions about how they make a ton of money on selling erotic ebooks and how it is the easiest low involvement job in the world. But I’d rather be brutally honest and detailed so you get solid information and experience from someone who has done the research and is doing her damnedest to sell even when she’s terrible at marketing. Everything you heard about this being easy is wrong. Every story about an author breaking banks with their cash is an anomaly.

My word of warning is that if you think you will be able to pop up with a pen name throw together a story and then forget then you are sorely mistaken. Further don’t bother. I’m sorry to be cruel, and  I admit this is even a touch self-serving, but there are a thousand dedicated authors who legitimately should be making more than they are who are buried because some rando thought they ‘d make hundreds in a month without having to do anything but put words on a page and press “publish”. If you are really serious about making a profit then you have to put in the work. If you want to get out a story a month, set a word length goal and write when you can. Have your partner watch the kids, stop playing your favorite video game every day after work, make a meal that lasts a few days for easy leftovers, and make time to write. This isn’t some get rich quick scheme and it is frustrating to see people act like my pursuit isn’t “real writing”, to see awesome authors vanish beneath a tidal wave of one time authors because a bunch of people read Suzy B. Buttholes account of making 30k at the end of 2016.

BUT you can bring in a relatively stable auxiliary income that can be the difference in the long term. If you write with an open mind to kinks you may not share, write with an open mind to the genre at large, recognize that all writing is hard, recognize that it will be difficult, and accept that it will demand a lot of you creativity then you are ready to start making extra income. It will take months  or possibly even years, but it can happen.

Do this because you want to do it and your willing to figure out how this works.  Don’t expect everyone to just go and buy it because you post ads. Don’t expect it to be easy. Don’t expect to make more than a few bucks a month until you have a catalog. Be sincere. Be honest. Be smart. Be friendly. Make money. The trick to making your erotica sell is knowing your strengths and playing to them alongside being willing to connect with people as more than a sales person. If you keep all this in mind as you pursue this weird world of words and sex then you’ll not only do fine, but you’ll do excellent. Just give it time.

Leather Bound

“Leather Bound Babes?”
He reads the title and laughs like a mad man, utterly unable to ignore the contorted figure on the cover. She just chuckles and pulls another book from the book store’s battered gunmetal grey shelves.

In that quiet back corner of the book store they were surrounded by bodice rippers and rippling bare chested cowboys. Titles with subtly obscene and obnoxious names surrounded them, and reminded them how many innuendos included the words “come” and the phrase “Doing the”. For all the joking and the laughing, they shared a mutual love of the romance section. Their gentle jabs and riffs arose from a place of pure affection, not petty scorn for a genre. Her life had been where the book had been her one constant companion in the face of scorn, and of course she read those silly titles to feel a love once deemed impossible for her to find. His love of the genre came from sneaking in his mother’s stack of books from the library or thrift store after he blew through his own. He read page after page not caring about it being “kissy kissy stuff”, as he told her.

“Sometimes I wonder if these male models have faces or anything else besides chests.”

She laughed. “What more do they need…well-” she whispered, “besides fourteen inch dicks?” They both chuckled and glanced around to make sure no wandering youngsters could hear them. “Apparently that’s all women want.”

“Is it true?” He teased.

“Oh god no, but it is a nice thought. Just…” she motioned towards the field of covers surrounding them from the front and flank. “very ultra common.”

“Well, it sort of suits the genre, no?” he said.

“The books aren’t bad. The covers often are, but that makes them more fun.” She picked a bright purple cover with a couple leaning against a ranch fence from the shelf. As she scimmed the pages she saw, from the corner of her eye, him watching her closely. “What’s on your mind?” As she spoke her eyes fell on the phrase ‘engorged rod’. For some reason that one always tripped her up and made her laugh. Something about it seemed so retro and so visceral and yet so not descriptive. She just found it…oddly hilarious.

“It’s cool that you’re cool with this,” he said.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“A lot of people would give me shit if they knew a big burly guy like me liked this stuff.” Sadly, she agreed that people would be so stupid.

“People are shitty, but you are perfect.” She leaned up on her tip toes and placed a soft kiss against his full and soft lips, which curled into a smile as they pulled away. She lived to see that smile.

Her boyfriend looked like a friendly neighborhood lumberjack with the beard and broadness to match. For the New Year, he’d begun working out regularly, pushing himself to the limit and then farther. The result was his natural broadness gained tone and got a bit broader, a bit harder, and he really looked like one of those men of the mountain. But he didn’t play any B.S games about what he should do as a man. He could fix a truck and then drive it to craft store, would be the first to suggest salad for dinner, and ,dare she say, he cried at the same points in movies she did. The night before they had watched Beaches. It was a mess and they ran out of kleenex. Actually, that was why they’d gone out and they decided on the way to get more books.

Like they didn’t have enough books.

“I’m not perfect,” he said as he turned to the covers. Dozens of chiseled bare chests stared back at him and his face knotted a little. She wrapped an arm around his own, a small comfort in the face of his own insecurities. He never wanted to be jacked, but she’d sense he’d been somewhat unhappy with his build. He didn’t lose a shit ton of weight,  and replace it with lean muscle Chris Evans Captain America like muscle. He gained muscle and it just layered under his chubby bits. He wasn’t as fat as he thought he was. He had a bit of tummy, a nice butt(which she grabbed often), and the sort of meatiness she found comforting. Why didn’t he see it that way? His eyes absorbed those cover images with half covetous jealousy, and she pulled him closer. Through their winter pea coats she felt his warmth surround her and she nuzzled against him.

“Do you know what I like about you?” she asked.

“My charming wit and lackluster personality?”

She shook her head, then beamed up at him with all the love in her heart.

“You’re very real. You aren’t a ken doll. You have meat, and substance, and a unique feeling. I like you in my arms, and on my body and…in my body.” She watched his cheeks beam firetruck red, a better sign of how effective her words were than anything he could say. “Truthfully very few of these guys do it for me, but you…you’re real to me, for me, and your flaws are perfect.”

He couldn’t think of anything to say, and so he kissed her again, sealing his mouth to hers. In seconds a deep meaningful kiss descended into raw meaningful passion. They were consumed by each other, breathing in a moment in time that would never be exactly repeated. A quiet couple solidifying one part of their love surrounded by books that often subverted the cozier notions of love like reading together, shopping together, or simply not being those perfect people.

“Ahem?” A voice startled them.

The couple instantly parted, both flustered and feeling a tad exposed as a store clerk rounded the corner. As she struggled to say the socially appropriate thing he cleared his throat then said “Sorry, this seemed the best section for romance.”

“Well,” the clerk chuckled, “Romance is the section not lust.”

“Judging by the look of it, ” she said glancing around them. “Not exactly.”

Wattpad and the Problem of Writer Community

If anything will make you a better content writer and a better writer in general it is interacting with other writers. Reading the works of others and having other others read your work elevates you to another level. However the biggest and most common issue a writer faces is getting feedback. Now that’s a broad way of putting it because feedback is buying your books, views, shares, comments, etc. But in this case by feedback I mean what people enjoy or dislike(in a constructive respectful matter). While there are people who write perfectly well in a vacuum even they could stand to gain from interaction. With all that being said…most writer’s communities suck and unfortunately it is in part because of selfish writers who constantly want to take and never give. Two weeks ago I started using Wattpad and the frustration I have always felt with others began to become clearer. The selfishness of fly-by-night writers who steal into writing communities demanding without ever wanting to give is underscored by communities that are swamped by so many fly-by-nighters that all work gets buried.

So how do you get involved?
Now, my opinions may change, but over all they can only change if the community standards change. Wattpad specifically needs more forums that are better organized in order to connect writers and readers more directly. They also need a search system that is at least on par with FanFiction.com, and can separate newer and older stories…BUT more importantly a can be searched on views in order to give everyone a chance to be seen. But wattpad isn’t the only problem.

The problem is us.
Writers keep acting like we can be selfish  and that if we just market we’ll find readers, reviewers, and beta readers. Marketing is important along with everything else, but you can’t hope to get  anything when you don’t give. Writing communities don’t work if writers don’t actually invest in stories they don’t write and participate in not only dissecting their own work, but other’s. You learn so much by reading and talking no matter how introverted you are. As a teenager I thought I was an excellent writer, but after years of workshops I look back fondly at my work while muttering a “Thank Hera” under my breath because I am SO MUCH BETTER. I am not unique.

Critiquing, sharing, and discussing writing exposes you to a wide range of styles, ideas, and concepts that you can dissect in terms of why it works, why it doesn’t, why you like it, and maybe why you do not. The bottom line is when you exit your vacuum you not only learn, but your brain gets going. You learn how to pull apart your own stories and you also learn what other people pick apart. In essence a group of writers or just readers like Wattpad connects  you to your audience. That is one part why community is important because your writing friends can become your buying friends. Not just because they know you, but because you’ve learned what works in your writing and what works for real people and not just for you.

And yet somehow all of these communities suffer the same problem. Some would say it is accountability that’s the problem. Well, everyone is accountable…only to themselves. Somewhere in writing programs and reading classes we never taught people to value interacting with writing and the writer. Yet this is what keeps writers in business and going because who reads more than writers and creators? If we don’t support each other who will?

So I challenge you now to find writing communities.

I challenge you  to not just read, but review and comment on other authors.
I challenge you to help that friend whose writing a novel or poem, by reading and giving honest thoughts about it.

We make the communities we want to live in. Earlier tonight,and not to get political, I was watching a program and a conservative radio host was laughing at the thought of basically any celebrity or anyone with a platform using it. It was whining. It was grandstanding. And I’ll be real conservative republicans have a very nasty habit of assuming everyone to the left of them is insincere and/or weak. Nothing I or anyone to the left of them is real, which is bullshit. But I bring this up because his point was that no one gets to make their community. In his eyes you don’t get to challenge, change, or make a statement about culture. It’s a very dangerous mindset no matter who you support or what you believe. It is dangerous because our communities support us emotionally, economically, and intellectually. Humanity is interacting. Writing for all the solitary hours we spend with a page and our thoughts…requires interacting. Communities inspire writing. Communities inspire you to dream bigger and do better. No one is an island and we all need to do better by each other, by book stores, by bloggers, and by ourselves by engaging with each other.

So I have one last challenge for you…engage more, have fun, and do better by yourself as a content lover and creator. If you do this you may discover stories, authors, and friends that will enrich your life in ways you can never imagine. Please, support each other because if you don’t who will support you?

The Real Problem with Cliches

Cliches aren’t an inherent problem. Shocker. I know. You’d never expect Rosie to say something like that, but it is true. Cliches are not an inherent problem in writing or life. The problem with cliches is twofold sincerity and whether or not they’re boring. A cliche fails when it feels insincere. Let’s put it another way your partner can say “You look great”, but you’ll usually be able to tell when they are really serious or just spouting platitudes. Why? Because there is a difference in tone. Whether your reading a book or a blog you can tell the difference between someone writing passionately and with more than a passing interest to get a concept out.

I say this because I think there are a lot of writers who like the idea of writing and the concept of telling a story, but who don’t want to dig into what they’re writing enough to make it feel authentic. You pick up a book or read someone’s story page and your met with an obvious love of the concept of a character or a relationship, but the writer hasn’t made the story worth your while. They love the idea of this handsome young lad sweeping this girl off her feet…but there is actually no relationship between them except for the writer telling you so. They never have serious conversations or bond beyond steamy scenes, and even if your’re left with a bit of enjoyment you can’t quite believe in their relationship.

Plenty of blogs and stories that I started have not been finished for that very reason. They’re concepts with no depth, and that’s how you fall into the cliche. You don’t sound sincere even if you sincerely want to tell your story. D.D Griggs and I talked about this the other day. Whether you are writing non-fiction or fiction there are cliches and themes. She writes self-help books, and 70% of them are similar or have similar themes that are cliches we can all spout to a certain degree. Writers like her put those cliches into a context and a way of living that is incredibly important, but we’re all familiar with self-help stereotypes of conferences, yogis, and hippies. Most people can tell you one common philosophy in self-help, but neither of those things are inherently bad. What makes a self-help book succeed or fail is a matter of someone liking the author’s style, but more so it is a matter of whether that author is speaking from a place of sincerity and belief. That’s what keeps those cliches from being a problem.

When cliches become a problem is when they’re boring and don’t feel genuine. A blogger talking about “the power of positivism” and working out won’t grab your interest if they are just issuing copy-pasted ideas to their audience. If they don’t let you in to who they are you don’t feel like you can trust them because all you see is surface cliches. The same thing happens in fiction. If you have a book about a werewolf romance that is just paint by numbers it may make money…but it won’t make you an audience for the next book. It won’t get you the sort of repeat readers you want because the readers can tell you aren’t in it and you’re not giving them anything interesting. By that same token, someone else can write the exact same plot (and people do this and do it well) but they make the characters more sincere and write with more passion. They try to keep the story interesting and their readers see that. In blogging and ebook writing I see a lot of people just regurgitating what they think will get them blog follows or downloads, and then I go to forums of people upset and complaining about not getting sales. Well, you aren’t giving a unique product. You give something that is pain by numbers…and so have hundreds of thousands of others, which has hurt the market in many ways all on its own. These writers just don’t see how the cliches aren’t what hurts or helps a story or blog or what have you. It is a matter of how something is written and the tone that allows readers to connect.

Cliches can be powerful tools not only when you subvert them, but when you embrace them with the intention of making them interesting and bringing somethign new to the table with all the sincerity you can muster. This not only applies to the page or screen, but to how you talk to people as well. I hope you keep that in mind when writing holiday cards this season or are getting ready for New Years.

Until next time…

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Writing Wednesday: 5 Day Romance Writing Challenge!

Let’s keep the energy from National Novel Writing Month going and have a 5 day challenge! Every day write at least 1200 words of romance that can be as clean or dirty as you like! The goal is to explore different types of relationships and what romance can be. Don’t limit yourself to Nicholas Sparks style dramas. Go anywhere you want with your works! Just try to hit the 1200 words a day!

The trick is to set aside ten minutes at a time when you have a busy schedule. Take that ten minutes and write anything to just keep the creativity flowing. Now, some people do fine with writing whenever the mood strikes them. Some stories absolutely need that style, but when you build this habit you increase your chances of producing a finished product.

In the romance genre, but in any genre as well, you have to build a positive habit in creating content and pieces in a timely manner. Don’t stress about the quality of what you’re writing. Just have a good time, and do your best. Then at the end of this challenge you can edit and do whatever you like. The point is to get your butt in gear.
GOOD LUCK!

Also if you’re curious about works I’ve written check out my erotic novels:
Suffer too Good

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Dirty Honey

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On Ethics: Response to “Sex in YA[…]”

**Warning: Discussions of assault, abuse, and rape mentions**

Tonight I read this fascinating article. and I found myself really revisiting an old conundrum that has plagued me before. Ok, let me just say I obviously am not for abuse, but I am for having rational ethical discussions of how simply saying legality is enough when addressing creative fiction or non-fiction. Let’s broaden that actually: Legality and morality are not absolutes strong enough to address the reality of fantasy and fiction being things anyone can make for any reason, from any prospective, and to any purpose. We simply cannot control what others are aroused by, but we can mitigate the sexualizing and fetishizing elements of what we create in order to avoid the promotion of harmful norms, mores, and values. This does not only apply to age in writing about sex(not just erotica), but in writing that can promote harmful views of vulnerable groups, minorities, and practices. The difficulty we face in all these things as writers is the differences between people, being misunderstood, evaluating our personal positions on our creative social obligations(if any), and simply writing what we feel we must. While I obviously have my personal beliefs, as do you…we all have to question what we consider absolutely true otherwise we can end up establishing beliefs, mores, and norms that prevent open discussion and can ultimately hurt those we try to protect. Without further ado…

Sex is very complicated and our relationship to sex, society, and medical science is all very complicated. For instance: if there was a book you read at 15 with very steamy scenes involving the also 15 year old protagonists that arouses you for the rest of your life are you a pedophile? If you fantasize about your first sexual encounter at age 16 are you a pedophile? If you turn 18 and don’t have sex with your still underage partner are you still a pedophile? If you’re 26, don’t have sex with a person you are in love with, don’t ever plan on it, but still have feelings for them are you a pedophile? If you’re a writer and you describe a character as a teenager with incredibly sexually attractive looks to your main teenage character are you engaging with pedophillic practices?
A lot of arguments logically follow through to “yes”.
As a sociologist, I can’t help but acknowledge that so much of this is culturally informed and that setting any moral absolutes on this subject and related ones outside of legal law may be pointless. Law is easy and we can base it on real world harms that are tangible to people and society. Harms we can measure. Harms require us to seek understanding, do research, and then say the goal is to do as little harm as possible while preventing as much harm as possible. That doesn’t require moral  absolutism. That can be applied on a case by case basis. Figuring out what harms is easier than the changing norms between societies. That can motivate law and more easily be digested as a writer picks up his or her pen. Still when it comes to pure fiction the harms become difficult to process broadly. Chances are, no living existing creature is being harmed, and more so…we have to decide what harm even is. Is harm showing teenagers ever have sex? How are we measuring harm, does the intention of the artist matter, and that intention isn’t to arouse but someone is aroused how do we address that and should we even try? The law can refer to medicine, the supposed necessity of actions that would otherwise be considered harmful, etc. with ethics at the core of it, but not necessarily what you and I may deem tasteful. However what you and I deem tasteful is tied to valid points of free will, consent, psychological readiness, and appropriateness. Fact is Age and sexuality are not so much regulated by logic as by emotion and morality after a certain point. For good reason in many cases, but I often wonder whether this is a subject we can ever make piece with as people let alone as writers.

It isn’t just about writing young people engaging with older people, and I think that’s a mistake people often make when talking about this. Writers have characters who are both the same age who have sex. Where it isn’t smut, erotica, or designed to titillate on a sexual level but on an emotional one, to demonstrate to love and wonder of discovery. Where everything is in flowy flowery metaphor. It is about writing and about our beliefs about young people and our beliefs about sexuality. Some of it is about power. Some of it is related to how expressions of adulthood and/or sexuality have moral and social implications…

One can make a very strong class and race argument that the stigma associated with teenage pregnancy, for instance, developed in response to those with power who had the assets to postpone adulthood without reputation harms (Girl vanishes for a year…comes back “thinner”and no one is the wiser. Other girl can’t go anywhere and everyone knows). So aspects of “adulthood” and “sexuality” become tied together and the ability to postpone them or put a happy “high school sweetheart” bow on it becomes tied to the powerful and thus to positive behaviors. So to ignore young people’s sexuality, to hide the fact that many (but not all) teens may engage in sexual behaviors becomes tied to our perceptions of what is “good” or “bad”. Then  you think about a hundred plus years ago and…by definition many people were, under modern standards, marrying children who grew into productive members of society more or less. People didn’t live long. People didn’t and still don’t in many places have the luxury of choice. So many westerners turn their noses up at those cultures when we were there not even a hundred years ago. The lack of freedom a specific time and place gave to individuals, to young people, deeply affects how we value freedom and the very concept of love not to mention sexuality. Those are all things we have to acknowledge when talking about sexuality, age, and fiction because writers can write stories in any era with people of any age. We have to acknowledge them because they inform how we validate individual stories and how/what we decide to write. If I write a story in 1500 about a 16 year old girl marrying a 22 year old does that have moral implications? Does it have moral implications only if I don’t spend a large portion of time writing about it being wrong? Does it make me a bad person for acknowledging this once common practice? Some may argue yes, but to me regardless if I write sex or not the story isn’t based on ideas of abuse, but on the emotional implications of a once common emotionally harmful practice. Teenage is a recent invention, a luxury, but back then young people were adults as soon as they were married off or on their own. In a world like that, a place like that, how harms are concieved of become very different things…and the harms this caused to many who became productive members of society we can say were present, but manifest in a different way perhaps to a different degree due to the day to day struggles of the period. If I’m writing all of that must I write at length about the 22 year old as a monster and the 16 year old a victim when for them, this was normal (though very upsetting) practice and normal life because it is mortifying to me in 2016?

Then if you think about brain development alone…most brains finish developing only around the age 25, so is anyone under 25 fully capable of consent? Recently a lot of people have been struggling with this in relation to Monica Lewinsky again, but she wasn’t the first person to have consensual, non-coercive, sex with their superior or someone powerful. If there is ever a age or experience inequality is sex fair? I’ve been hearing arguments that lean no. Something about that seems like it suggests adults aren’t capable of consent, but then again should anyone below 25 be considered an adult if brain development can take that long? Can we be adults if our reasoning may be affected by incomplete development? Is any opposition to that idea just self-serving and not based on logic? I don’t know. I do know children can’t consent. They’re young. They don’t know about the world. They don’t fully grasp sex, and  while children can experience sexual pleasure like all humans they can’t truly ever consent. Consent requires a level of understanding that a child cannot have not just  in mental knowledge but in emotional knowledge. But when you talk about young people over the age of 14, people with knowledge, sexual drives, and urges how do we thread the needle when depicting their lives?

At the end of the day all we can do is try not to glorify harmful practices.

To me the most useful question in regards to that is: How do we negate harm that can be done to young people as an aggregate?  The best argument I subscribe to is that how an author depicts certain subjects, their intent, and the perspective therein have an obligation to avoid normalizing harmful attitudes, practices, and behaviors. You can write the development of a relationship that ends in two 17 year olds having intercourse. You can write it with the purpose of showing them as a loving couple without sexualizing it. When you sexualize it, when you fetishize their youth, then you are engaging in harmful unethical practices. But then again someone can reasonably argue the point that we have to define what “normalizes”, which could be anything from “ever writing the concept of young people having sexual interactions” to “the only normalizing thing would be something akin to a NAMBLA pamphlet” depending on who you speak to. I believe it is wholly unnecessary to get into the nitty gritty of young people having sexual interactions for the sake of arousal. I believe normalizing harms is as I said, turning youth and being young and those who are young into objects of fetish.

For me, I loved steamy YA as a young teen and I see nothing inherently wrong with it. I think it helped me come to grips with being a highly sexual person in a world where I by virtue of my gender and my appearance were supposed to be essentially sex-less. Now erotica in YA doesn’t work. It just does not. But depicting sexual discovery, sexual characters, differing views on sexuality is not making erotica. Does that mean sex should be everywhere? No. The question to me is always “What is the purpose of this in this story?” To me, fetishizing youth and characteristics associated with youth of younger characters in their sexual encounters is a huge no, no.

I wrote an erotica story where the main character has a flash back to being a teenager, being home alone, and masturbating all weekend. You don’t “see” it so to speak, but she recalls it with a desire to feel that excited about sexual things again. I wrote it not to sexualize a teenager, and I edited it to cut back on the sexualizing elements there in order  to focus on the purpose: to convey how thrilling sexual discovery fueled her first desires, but became something embarrassing and alienating over the last several years…because the story is about her exploring, discovering, and reconnecting with individual moments of embodiment via sexual bdsm encounters.

There is a way to communicate sexual experiences with tact, love, and without sexualizing people of almost any age. There is a right way and wrong way to write sexuality, and with young people you have to understand that the story can’t be erotica. It can be full of sexual experiences, but it can’t be erotica. It has to be a story about young people being people, and yes people, real live teenagers, engage in sexual actions. Yes, sometimes a story heads into or towards that direction. That isn’t erotica. That can’t be it for the story and that can’t be carried out to be “sexy”. Truthfully young adults of all ages have so much to think about with sex it simply is impossible for it to be erotica. It just isn’t realistic or really right. Regardless it does really becomes a grey area because of the one thing: “It is still fiction”. On one hand it bothers me to think that we writers have to tip toe around sexuality, and how experiences felt or feel to characters because of something our society is struggling with for both sound and unsound reasons. On the other hand I don’t want people peddling gross stuff that fetishizes kids. I don’t want a piece of writing that glorifies the youthfulness of a teenage or younger character as sexually appealing with a tone of seriousness and genuine belief for the sake of sexualizing the character. To an extent I can even take a character that is a disgusting monster giving his perspective so long as it is overtly reflecting his or her sick twisted mind. I just don’t want gross lusting over children played straight to be portrayed as serious and normal without any context. Luckily YA doesn’t go there.

The question is what can we even do and why do we want to try to do something about this? Can we really regulate the world of fantasy because of our chosen morality across the board? Can we really arbitrarily decide we know the reason and motivation without question in all situations with X or Y element? More importantly how far do we go with this?

We should always question motives and reasons, but we can’t assume them. We can’t assume every dominant wants to assault people, we can’t assume all rape fantasies mean the author and reader believe rape is good or justified. I know of a woman writer who doesn’t write erotica at all, but is sex positive and has described to me how she has these fantasies of being a child who is molested and seduced. What can I tell her? I don’t know. These fantasies are disturbing, completely unrelated to her feelings outside of her head, and ultimately the reality disgusts her on a level she’s conveyed whenever we have discussed the matter. She doesn’t take abuse lightly. She doesn’t take abuses of power lightly. She doesn’t take consent lightly. This is a woman I’ve marched with at rallies, whose escorted women to clinics, whose beliefs go into highlighting the erasure of male abuse victims. And these are just fantasies that came to her. She’s never the predator. She is the prey, the victim, and that is the sexual interest. Is she an inherently bad person for conceiving of those thoughts as sexually exciting…even if she is essentially the “willing” victim in those fantasies? Fuck. I’d say no, but you could make several convincing arguments for yes if you really tried. Is this a form of “thought crime”? If we say that thinking of any situation makes you as guilty as doing it or at the least as gross as participating, and normalizing the harm…what do we do about those scenarios? Is the problem only a problem if she shares these fantasies with others? She’s not mentally ill. She’s not “broken” or some sort of monster. She simply has these fantasies of complete and utter powerlessness, and I honestly feel bad for her because she seems troubled by them. The problem of harms is when you decide to include fictional characters as being harmed, or say “the category of young people is being harmed by this fiction whether it be produced or imagined” you overlook the complexities of human sexual thought and action. You make a blanket statement instead of getting to the source of what makes the harm so harmful

The realms of fantasy and sexuality are incredibly complicated when they’re theoretical thoughts…but then they’re still just thoughts…what happens when they appear in art?

A few years ago a man who sells different Japanese Manga was arrested in Canada for having”child pornography” based on how the characters were drawn. The styles weren’t realistic, the characters were said be the age of majority in the stories, and ultimately they were works of fiction. He was shocked as were others because essentially the arrest wasn’t made to protect anyone and was based on “The characters look young”. Ultimately, the court and prosecutors contended that the characters were “drawn to depict children as sexual”. Let’s be honest that very well may have been the case, but we can’t say that with any absolutes? Complicating things is…can we assume everyone read them for that purpose, that they were drawn with that intention, or??  Now shit gets complicated. Some anime and manga artist draw their characters to look young not intentionally, but that is there style. The only difference between how they draw one age group after a certain point and another may be height, or muscles, or breast size. If that is the case for a certain artist do we end up inadvertently implying that the body is what differentiates what is and is not appropriate, and suggest that, for example, anyone involved with a flat chested woman or an androgynous man is secretly attracted to or enjoys sexualizing children? And by that same token are we not saying certain body traits make someone more or less equivalent to a child regardless of age That isn’t overthinking. That is the unfortunate implication. Even then if characters are said to be of legal age or just turned that age, but we still take issue with it how can we justify saying the legal ages of sexual majority are based on fairness and not doing harm, or that they even really matter? I know a 27 year old who has been mistaken for a 12 or 13 year old on a nearly regular basis because of her size and voice. If someone is attracted to her…how do we interpret that?

Is the problem that these works exist or is the problem that monsters exist?

Is the problem that a piece for one reason or another might appeal to those monsters, or is it that we feel these pieces push uncomfortable situations for most of us?

Is the problem people thinking about teens having sex even if it isn’t fetishy or gross?

I would argue the difference is in the depiction, in the writing and art. I would argue that plenty of people in this world look younger than they are and even act that way or dress that way. I myself like Japanese lolita and ganguro fashion which is basically what happens when victorian dolls meet Lisa Frank. However, differences in how characters are depicted, obvious descrepensies in their supposedly being of sound and legal mind to consent versus their language, and other story by story contexts are what make all the difference in the world. I still don’t think you can legally penalize it with ease, but I do think you can see the intentions of who something is for, why it was written, and its purpose if you look closely. You can’t lump a story about a petite girl who looks younger than she is and has sex into the same category as a story about a petite girl who looks, acts, and thinks like a little kid across the board who has sex. You can explore the dd/lg lifestyle, with the former, but if the latter is literally all but calling the girl a child or a teenager that will be obvious. Once again context is everything.

If I have a teenage character who is insanely sexual, would realistically describe sex with relish, do I just skip over it and sacrifice what that scene reveals about them, their sexuality, and their relation to their body? I don’t think I know. Regardless of the book, too much sex can be a bad thing either way, and the goal wouldn’t be to sex up this teen in a pornographic way so it wouldn’t read like erotica in the slightest. The purpose of the scene would be to show this teenager’s fictional life, their active sexual life informs that life and “this is what that means to the story”. So a scene like that wouldn’t even include the sex so much as it would include the emotions, the mental state, the character’s feelings in the moment over any sexual acts. In fact I know I could write the scene without describing more than a kiss directly, but to some people even having the obvious implications would make me part of a large social problem.

With porn they used to say I’ll know it when I see it, but that can only go so far when talking about art. Full disclosure us westerners also have a nasty habit of deciding what is sexual for other societies so we really can’t be trusted. Just last week I read an article arguing that traditional dress in some South African groups that have women bare breasted are somehow exploitative based on the western author’s discomfort and own social, culture, and moral education in a completely foreign land. Essentially the argument was “We think its sexual. You cover up”, which I find racist, ethnocentric, imperialist, and incredibly unethical. This is the world we live in and all of these things come down to us as writers of fiction or non-fiction, as artists, as people who try to engage the variety of human experience in a fair, enjoyable, and purposeful way.

What are our ethical and moral obligations here? I believe that they are to do no harm. I believe they are to motivate thought. I believe we mustn’t treat the vulnerable as sexual objects just because we can. But ethically how do we go after those who may not always live up to my or your standards? How do we do that when we aren’t actually protecting real young people? How do we do that when we can’t and should not have “thought crimes” like in a dystopian novel?

I’m constantly wondering what to do about this because I am still close enough to teenage where I remember exactly how I thought, where I was sexual from a young age even without sexual experience, and I struggle with that greatly because I turned 18 and I did the things I couldn’t have before. My mind didn’t magically change. I just was legally able to do these things with people I was attracted to, and so I did with abandon. At the same time for someone else that difference between 17 and 18 is a vast chasm. At the same time I knew people who had kids at 13. Then again I knew people who didn’t even really know about anything beyond the mechanics of sex until their mid twenties or early thirties who feel the better for it. I know people who are 100% aesxual who support being open and frank about sexuality and those who never want it discussed around them. I know people who want their kids to read everything…and those who want their kids to read what is appropriate to their age group and then one day read everything.

There is an obvious line in western culture of what is not ok. I agree with and believe with that line whole heartedly. It is based on psychology, sociology, and the traumatic experiences far too many face. Kids and young people must be protected from predatory beasts in any and every way possible. But when we talk about young people, when we talk about the reality of young people being willing sexual participants with partners they choose, when we talk about writing in the minds of characters, when we talk about writing for the story, when we talk about avoiding turning our works into flashy inauthentic gross poop….we walk a fine invisible line. We must do no harm. We must be aware of how our writing reads so our intentions are not misunderstood. We must be aware of the difference between sex and sexualizing individuals no matter the age. As writers we must write honestly to tell the tales we want to convey in the way that best suits those stories. With care, gentle crafting, and understanding a writer can engage with human sexuality without ever crossing that line. It isn’t censorship to write smart, to understand how your writing will be seen, and to understand what makes you cross that line or not. You can write from the perspective and beliefs of a horrible person without glorifying that horror seriously in a persuasive way. So I will say to you once again…

At the end of the day all we can do is try not to glorify harmful practices.

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I don’t believe I said anything insulting or radical here. I don’t believe I said anything gravely inappropriate. I tried to be very even handed in regards to censorship, morality, and ethics of this very sensitive situation. The truth is there are no easy answers. I wish there were, but we live in a world where terrible things happen, where consent isn’t always valued(and that goes both ways). I’m an adult and I still have to explain that adults can consent to bdsm. I still have to explain that saying any sexual practice that is consensual, but doesn’t fit someone’s views is just reestablishing gender norms…is like saying because men have more power in society straight sex can never be fully consensual. I still have to explain to people that saying “no” means “no”. I still have to explain to people that assuming one gender is inherently the victim is why a lot of male abuse victims end up in jail, being harassed/stalked, and ultimately suffering in silence. So with all that in mind how do we even get to the issue of actually protecting those who need it…and acknowledging that there are complexities in fiction. Sex is very complicated, but it is also part of most people’s lives. To pretend no teen has sex is ignorance, but to glorify the sexuality of children, of teens, of those without sound mind to consent is to glorify the abuse of the vulnerable. Do not mistake that for conveying the sexuality of all people, of all characters. But do not confuse that last part for ok’ing fetishizing those vulnerable people. We truly walk the invisible line as writers…but if you cross it intentionally you risk your career, your life, and your reputation. All we can do is protect each other, and those who most need protection due to lack of lived experience, mental or emotional maturity, knowledge, and power.