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NaNoWriMo–Yes or No? October 27, 2012

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.
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4 comments

Last year, I did it. I won NaNoWriMo. I wrote a 40K word novel in 30 days.

I’m not saying it was a good novel. I gave it to four beta readers and none of them could get through it. Well, I assume they couldn’t. The only feedback I got was “I haven’t finished it yet” and then I don’t like to push when folks are doing me a favor, so I let it drop. The fact that it wasn’t devoured eagerly and commented on either favorably or un- is telling.

It also doesn’t exactly make me want to write that way again.

The one good thing is that it made me get forty-thousand words on paper. It took a lot of hours to do, with an end result that’s worthless to me. I can’t edit it because to me, the story is told. It’s just (apparently) not a very good story. I can live with that.

But I have three full-length novels in progress that have all stalled for one reason or another, and I’ve had very little time to write lately. I’m thinking maybe during NaNo this year of setting aside a block of time every day to write. Perhaps log so many hours on the stories I already have instead of counting the words, and give myself a victory if I can get any one of them into a readable draft form. Hell, finishing all three and having manuscripts to submit to publishers would be an amazing accomplishment, even if I don’t earn a shiny new badge for my sidebar.

It’s for sure that writing is a discipline. I have to do it all the time, every day, or I get out of practice. Even blogging is hard (in case you couldn’t tell) because the words don’t want to come out of my head. My writing seems halting and forced and stilted to me, and the words flow only in messy, lumpy, stringy, scattered bursts.

It will be good to get my head back in the game.

 

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Turn, Turn, Turn October 1, 2012

Posted by J. in FYI.
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2 comments

Ah, today we come to the question that took a few years off my life when I first read it. Buffy, there’s a reason I write using a pen name. Not everyone is privy to my unique literary stylings, and it’s with good reason. So when I saw your comment, I swallowed hard and realized I was going to have to suck it up and deal with that question in my own life eventually, and honestly, it seems as good a time as any to cross the streams.

“Have you written about how you balance church and erotica yet? Do you have Catholic guilt rear it’s ugly head ever?

There are a small group of moms at my daughter’s private Lutheran school that are all closet fuckery lovers. We private message each other with various bits of fuckery all day long. This includes the principle’s wife. That balance between how people expect us to act and how we actually act always has interested me.”

This is actually a few questions in one. No, I haven’t written about how I balance church and erotica, mostly because I’ve not let the cat completely out of the bag about writing erotica in the first place,. Some of my friends know, and some do not. If you’re an eagle-eyed reader or a shameless stalker, you may have seen that I’ve updated my About Poops page and let my proclivities slip out a bit, complete with links and disclaimers. I’m not ashamed of it by a long shot. I write, and I write well. At the end of the day, I’m a published author, and I’m damned proud of it. But erotica is a literary genre that tends to pull some folks up short. If I said I wrote grisly murder mysteries, or really bad poetry, no one would bat an eye. If I wrote about most anything else, this wouldn’t even be an issue. But write about sex? Hoo, boy.

I don’t feel guilty about writing about sex, and for the record, I have no Catholic guilt about anything, ever. I mean, I feel guilt from time to time when I’ve done something I know to be wrong. I’m a bit of a sociopath, not a complete one. I wouldn’t classify my guilt as “Catholic” because I have to admit that the Church and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on what is wrong and what is right.

And this is where we start wandering into territory of what I really don’t like to discuss on my blog. I spend half my life defending my Church for a variety of reasons and the other half condemning it for a variety of others, none of which I wish to discuss here. It’s personal and complicated.

I’ve been asked why I write erotica, or more accurately, “Don’t you ever write anything that’s not sex?” The answer is no, or at least very rarely. Sometimes my erotic stories aren’t very “sexy” but they are always erotic. I do wonder if anyone thinks to ask a mystery writer why they only write mysteries, though. It’s my genre, I say with a shrug. And for a long time–and yes, I’ve been writing erotica for a long time–I thought it was just because I had a dirty mind. But then I read something by another erotica writer that made me look at things differently. I found his opinions and ideas challenging and enlightening, and he writes some of the best erotic fiction I’ve ever read. He was answering the question, “What’s the difference between erotica and pornography?”

“The law’s never been very good at making objective standards for subjective judgments. And etymologically there isn’t, at least as far as I can tell. All the dictionaries I looked at make no distinction between pornography and erotica.

“But from a literary and aesthetic standpoint I think there’s a world of difference and that it’s very significant. Porn is aimed at the genitals; erotica is aimed at the mind. Porn deals with concrete sex while erotica deals with the abstract of sexuality. The fact that we’ve lost sight of this distinction for the last 200 years or so is the reason why we have next to no serious sexual literature in the West to this very day (though things have gotten better over the last 20-30 years or so). It’s also one of the main reasons we live in such a puritanical and sexophobic society, because the erotic has become so tightly associated with the obscene.

“A man and a woman meeting for coffee has no pornographic content. A man and a woman meeting for coffee does have a huge erotic content, though, and a good artist can bring that out and make us see how it works. And that’s the point of literature (or one of them, anyhow): to reveal the world to us and help us see things we wouldn’t notice on our own.

“To the Greeks, Eros was a powerful force, and didn’t just rule things sexual. You had an erotic relationship with anything you were attached to deeply and viscerally–a place, a person, even an object–and even patriotism was considered an emotion rooted in eroticism.

“Eventually the Philosophers–Plato, chiefly–decided the erotic way of knowing the world was inferior to the intellectual methods they favored, and the seeds of the exaggerated mind-body dualism that would infect early Christianity were sown, based on the supposed superiority of spirit over matter (intellect over emotion). But eroticism as a way of relating to the world was rediscovered and embraced with a vengeance by the neo-Platonists of the Italian Renaissance, which is one of the reasons for all those chubby Cupids in Italian art. They represent eroticism, sexual feelings without the sex.

“Today we still live in a very anti-erotic culture. It’s very sexual, but not very erotic. The great authors we think of as treating with sex in their works–Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, Erica Jong–really just titillate rather than examine. Anais Nin maybe comes closest to capturing the real spirit of eroticism that infuses our lives, and she’s considered a pornographer. I think Pauline Reage (”Story of O“) is up there too, though not many people are comfortable with her brand of eroticism.

“So that’s my take on it. We all fuck, we all have sex, and anyone with at least some literary ability can describe a sexual act and voila! — they’re a porn author. But to discern the threads of eroticism that run through our lives, to be able to know them when you see them, to understand how sexual feelings are generalized and applied to the mundane, how we apply them in our relations with ourselves… That takes a special kind of talent and perception.”

In respect to the original question he was answering, one of the drawbacks to writing erotica is that in the same way dictionaries make no distinction between erotica and pornography, neither does anyone else. They have become synonymous in the publishing world as well. But the stories that are well-received, and the kind of stories readers are really looking for are beyond that. Yes, they’re sexy as hell and they’re meant to be. But if I’ve done my job well, they make you think. They make you care about the characters.  I wish there was a more defined line between erotica and porn, but then I suppose one finds Dorothy Sayers novels in the same section at Barnes and Noble as James Patterson, so maybe it’s a matter of just taking the well-written along with the half-assed.

I admit part of my timing of coming out of the proverbial closet also has to do with the sudden upsurge in popularity of erotica as a genre thanks to that literary abortion called 50 Shades of Grey. Did I enjoy it? Hell to the no, and if you want to know why, author Jennifer Armintrout has written the best, most comprehensive analysis of what was wrong with that novel that I’ve ever read. I can’t add anything to it that she hasn’t already said, and eloquently–also hilariously. I belly laughed at that blog more than once. Even if you’ve never read the novel, read the recap. You won’t regret it.

But I digress, as usual. Suddenly, people–women in particular–are finding that reading about sex is enjoyable. God bless the Kindle for making it possible to read something a little steamy without anyone being any the wiser. See, there’s still that stigma attached. Good girls don’t like to read about sex. Respectable women don’t enjoy coarse language and adult themes. And church ladies certainly don’t write stories containing such sinful elements as extramarital affairs, premarital shenanigans, and *gasp* masturbation.

Or do they?

I don’t think writing about things that are considered sinful by some is in and of itself, sinful. In that case, no one would be able to write about much of anything, would they? Writing–in fact all art and not just the theatrics Shakespeare described–“whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure” needs to be honest.

The human sex drive is normal and natural. It is a part of everyday life. I write stories about that aspect of humanity and create characters who are dealing with their own sexuality. And my stories resonate with people because for the most part they aren’t just what we in the world of erotic fiction call “stroke pieces.” I get inside my characters’ heads in the exact same way any writer does–or should, if they’re any kind of a decent author.

Have I written stroke pieces–purely sexual fantasies? Sure. Have I written stories designed to titillate and arouse? Oh, you betcha. But is that wrong? Should I feel guilty? I ask myself that from time to time as I struggle to keep my erotica-writing life separate from my regular life. In the end, I don’t think writing something arousing is any worse than writing a cookbook that makes the reader hungry, or a horror novel that gives the reader nightmares, or a romance novel that makes a lonely woman pine for a white knight to carry her away. It’s what the reader does with their feelings that matters.

I believe in my heart that my writing is not dirty at all, but rather that it serves an important purpose. It makes us examine an aspect of our  humanity for sure, but it has a more immediate effect as well, and when I read first hand about what my writing and talking openly about sexual issues has done, I’m more convinced than ever that I’m behaving neither sinfully nor scandalously. Here’s what a friend of mine said just this morning, in fact: “For the past couple of months, my sex life and my relationship have been getting better and better, and I really do feel I owe it to you people for making me feel sexy and inspired again. So, you know, thanks and stuff.”

She’s not the first person to say that. Within a small group of people, as we shared stories we’d written and links to other stories we’d enjoyed, more and more of us reported the same thing. Hell, you can read in the mainstream media about the 50 Shades phenomenon and how women who used to lie there and think of England have suddenly found new passion in their own marriages.

I can state unequivocally that getting back into writing erotica has been one of the two things that has saved my marriage, and I make no bones about that. Getting help with my depression was the first step, particularly since depression was the thing that made me put my pen down and stop writing for awhile. I didn’t have the mental energy to write, and our sex life was almost non-existent. Larry hung in there, and his loyalty and fidelity to me during a rough stretch of years means more to me than he will ever know. He refused to let the fire go out when it would have been a whole lot easier to do so.

I had help. I got some supplements that helped my body cope with the changes brought on my menopause and I could feel the fog lift from my brain. That was the first part. The second part was stumbling quite by accident into writing again. I hung out in the forums of a website and met a group of friends there. And as sometimes happens in forum life, there was a thread started that was full of drama. There was name-calling and hair-pulling and some first class trolling like you wouldn’t believe. Two of the guys got into a very heated argument, but realized that they were fighting about something that had nothing to with the topic at hand so they decided in a rare moment of maturity, to take it off-board and hash it out in chat. They did, and came back after dusting themselves off and shaking hands. Feeling silly, I wrote a couple of paragraphs right out of a gay bodice-ripper where the two men fight themselves bloody, then wind up looking into each other’s eyes and sexiness ensues. It was tame, for me, but the enthusiasm with which it was accepted was astounding. I was greeted with a chorus of “Do me! Do me! Write me into a story!”

So I did, and before long, we had our own thread that we called the Verbally NSFW (Not Safe for Work) thread. Other voices chimed in and added their own stories, and for me, after a few months, I was getting my chops back as far as writing goes. Two really good things came from it, besides making some really great friends. One was the people, women especially, who reported that their sex lives had improved. Some from writing and some from reading, and all from talking openly and honestly about sex. I include myself in that number. Poops got her groove back. *cue cheesy 70’s porn music*

The second was people telling me that my little stories were as good and better than what they’d read in officially published capacities and had I thought of submitting anything for publication? Over time, with their encouragement and support, I came to do just that. I’ve had two short stories published in anthologies of erotic short fiction so far, with a third one just accepted this month and in the publication process. I have self-published three books and I have a fourth one in the works. I get paid to write. Not a lot just yet, but it’s a start.

I blog and tweet under my pen name and I link to all my books from that blog. It helps me keep things separate. Secret, as it were. If you don’t want to read adult-themed stories or if frank language is off-putting to you, you don’t have to read it. It won’t hurt my feelings, honestly. In the same way if you were to write a novel about politics, I would be proud as punch of you, but I doubt I would read it because it’s not my cup of tea. Or if you wrote a story where bad things happen to animals. Jesus, I hate that.  We all have our likes and dislikes and I understand and accept that erotica doesn’t have a wide appeal because of how we as a society view sex in general. I’m okay with only being read on Kindle, though I have to admit that holding in my own hands a book that I wrote was a genuine thrill.

I probably won’t talk much more about my life as an author here because of the fact that what I write is still outside of the mainstream and first and foremost, I never wish to embarrass anyone. But the second, more pressing reason is that I realize that it’s not my own opinion that is making me hesitate to discuss and defend my writing choices but the opinions of others. I always hesitate to argue any point with anyone who has a very staunch, rigid view of anything, and nothing brings out staunch, rigid views like religion and politics, and it’s why I don’t discuss either as a rule. I know that there are those people who would not and will not listen to any explanation of how I can sing the psalm on Sunday with the love of God overflowing my heart and then sit at my computer and write a story using dirty words like cock and cunt. I can explain it and I can defend it, but I’m not keen to because I know that more often than not, I’ll wind up breaking my own prime directive of never trying to teach a pig to sing because it wastes my time and annoys the pig. Basically, I’d rather not. I can only state my case and either they’ll see my side or they won’t.

Oh, sex. It’s still so very, very taboo to discuss. So I’ve done my work in secret. Not secret in a way that secrets are bad, but secret in that it’s not meant for public consumption. If you are inclined to think that what I write is sinful, I know I can’t change your mind. But I have a close relationship with God that supersedes any church on Earth and I have never felt that I’m doing anything but sharing a gift I’ve been given. My conscience is clear on this matter.

Finally, as to how I balance who people think I am with who I actually am, all I can say is that I just am. I am me. I don’t put on one face for some people and show a different face to another. I just tend to not cross the streams. I have different bits of my life that are in different places. I mean, I don’t need my kid bringing my books into the middle school, so I don’t talk about it with them, because it’s not appropriate, though eventually we’ll have discussions about it. And rest assured, when I’m singing at Mass, I’m concentrating on God and focusing on how to best live my calling to love my neighbor, not working out a plot in my head.

I keep things balanced and separate because as it has been observed, there is a time and a season and purpose to every thing under heaven.

Gilded by Gaslight September 24, 2012

Posted by J. in Genius.
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As part of Reader’s Choice Monday, Lenny asked what I could do with the phrase “Gilded by Gaslight.” I went to college in Newport, Rhode Island and the phrase made me think of the Cliff Walk and of the Gilded Age mansions that served as summer cottages for the social elite.  I came up with this bit of short fiction. 

*****

Alice slipped out of her room, her bare feet gliding noiselessly over the highly polished wood floors.

The house was still and quiet so close to midnight. The grandfather clock in her father’s library chimed the quarter hour, its deep, sonorous ring echoing out into the great hall and disappearing into the painted fresco high over her head.

She pulled her dressing gown of fine, white cambric around her and crept down the long hall without a sound, for she knew that while the house seemed to be sleeping, a squadron of workers—both live-in and hired for the occasion—were toiling away behind closed doors preparing the house for her wedding the next day.

She paid no more attention to them than she would have the gentle horses in the stable or a hive of busy bees in the back garden. The closed doors she passed on tiptoe were packed to capacity with out-of-town relatives and close friends who would be scandalized to see the bride-to-be courting bad luck by slipping out of her room to see her fiance before the ceremony.

Alice didn’t fear bad luck. But as she lay in her bed with the eiderdown tucked up against the omnipresent Newport breeze, she struggled to breathe, her chest growing tighter with each tick of the mantle clock. She had opened the window and leaned on the sill hoping the music of the ocean and the fresh, salty sea air would calm her nerves, but the call of the waves crashing and breaking over the rocky cliffs that surrounded their summer “cottage” grated on her nerves and the smell of sea spray on the wind made her feel jumpy and unsettled.

She paused outside Richard’s door, her slender hand on the polished brass doorknob. She knew he was likely sound asleep and would be cranky at being waked at so late an hour. He was fastidious in his personal habits and a slave to schedule and she hesitated to wake him. She knew he would likely be short with her for waking him, and as dismissive of her nerves the night before their wedding as he frequently was with anything he waved off as mere “womanly concerns.”

Taking a deep breath to compose herself, she rested her forehead against the door. She knew this oppressive, caged in feeling was probably nothing more than bridal jitters, and she knew once she saw Richard’s face and heard his reassurances that they would be happy together forever, that she would be able to sleep soundly.

She knocked softly and turned the knob, opening the heavy door and letting in a sliver of amber light shine on the large mahogany bed.

Richard seemed to be tossing restlessly beneath the rumpled white sheets, his legs kicking and twisting, and she could hear his breathing coming labored and deep.

Richard?” she said softly, her face contorting with worry for him.

A face turned and looked at her, but it was not his dark head and glittering eyes staring back at hers. A young girl, clearly a housemaid by the uniform draped carelessly over the foot of the bed, sat up and turned her head to stare wide-eyed at Alice. Her blonde curls tumbled down her back and she gasped, grabbing the sheet and covering herself and she slid cowering out of Richard’s arms and off the high bed. Alice watched, horrified as the girl fumbled into her dress and ran from the room, leaving her shoes and stockings behind.

Richard said nothing but sat up with a bemused smirk on his lips, reaching for the cigarette case on his nightstand. He struck a match and lit the tip, extinguishing the flame with a stream of smoke. He lay back comfortably against the pillows, his manhood swollen and purple and she put her hand over her mouth in digust. “Can I dare hope you were coming to take her place?” He asked, raising one eyebrow rakishly at her.

How could you?” she stammered. “We’re supposed to be…”

Married. Tomorrow. Yes, I know.”

Alice’s eyes filled with tears and her voice seemed small in the large room. “I thought you loved me.”

Richard inhaled deeply making the tip of the cigarette glow red in the dimly lit room. “That’s the problem with letting girls read,” he said, breathing out another thin stream of smoke. “You fill your heads with romantic drivel and waste your time on childish fantasy. Surely your mother sat you down and explained how marriage works.”

Alice said nothing but felt a hot tear run down her cheek. Her mother had explained in very terse, very hushed tones what was expected of her as a wife. She alluded to men and their animal needs and how they would need, on occasion, to debase themselves with lower class women, but that a gentleman would never allow that to interfere with his duties as a husband and impressed upon Alice that a lady would never allow his extra-marital necessities to interfere with her duties as a wife.

She never believed it of Richard. Whether she was in his arms, stealing kisses beneath a rose-covered arbor on one of their late afternoon walks, or on his arm, his eyes full of pride as he displayed his future wife, she felt certain of his love for her. She was as sure as the sunrise over Narragansett Bay that he only had eyes for her.

To see him with another woman—scarcely a woman, even—on the eve of their wedding was bad enough, but that he would show no remorse, no shame; that he wouldn’t even attempt to hide his animal lusts from her was more than she could process. The fist that had been squeezing her heart all evening tightened so that she thought she would cry out from the pain.

Her mind reeled and she felt faint, and turning unsteadily on her heels, she bolted from the room, running down the hall towards the grand staircase. She heard him behind her, and looked over her shoulder to see him pulling on a dressing gown and following her. “Don’t be a damned fool!” he called after her in a harsh whisper. “This changes nothing.”

A strangled cry escaped her lips, a primal sound of pain and shattered dreams. As her feet hit the parquet of the great hall, she pivoted and turned to the mirrored ballroom, running through the great doors into the room readied for their wedding ceremony. The gilded plaster shone in the gaslight and the heady smell of orange blossoms and gardenia assaulted her in a wall of cloying fragrance. The sight of everything white and gold and shining, so full of promise and joy swam before her eyes, her tears making the images smear and run together.

Richard was behind her, breathing hard. “Alice,” he said sternly. “That girl meant nothing to me. She is nothing. You will be my wife and mistress of a house every bit as grand as this one…”

His hand was on her arm and she pulled it away, tearing the fine fabric of her gown in her disgust. “Don’t touch me.”

Richard grabbed her again, his fingers digging into her upper arm. “You will be my wife and I will touch you whenever I want.” His voice softened slightly, but his hand remained firm. “I am fond of you and will do my best to make sure you have everything you want, and you will do the same.”

Alice turned her dark eyes to his. She felt her lip tremble as she spoke. “All I ever wanted was your love.”

She jerked her arm away and ran for the French doors, throwing them open and running out across finely manicured lawns. The grass was soft and cool beneath her feet and she heard the roar of the breakers in the distance grow louder as she ran. She ran toward the ocean, toward the high cliffs and salty, stinging spray.

Alice! Stop!” Richard shouted after her as she ran out onto the exposed rock and felt her way across the cold, slippery surface. Her foot slipped and she felt the salt water sting and burn as her flesh was laid open by a jagged piece of sea stone. The pain felt real and she clung to it like a lifeline. She picked her way down over the face of the rock, following a well-worn, steep path across the cliff face worn irregular by the incessant pounding of the tides. Her thin gown was wet with spray and she shivered as it clung to her body.

Richard’s voice was growing louder, and higher in pitch as nervousness began to creep into it. “Alice! What are you doing? Please stop and come back up here. We can talk about this–”

A wave crashed against the rocks and forced her back against the cliff face, slapping her with an icy hand. She inhaled sharply from the shock and felt the iron fist in her chest release and slip away with the tides.

She was free, here by the sea. The crashing and rushing of the waves, the cold cleansing baptism of the Atlantic meeting the shore, the fathomless depths called to her and promised her a life outside of her gilded cage. No marital duties to be performed. No loveless eyes ignoring her over breakfast every morning only to rake over the housemaids and scullery girls in appraisal. No need for being concerned over manners and deportment and remaining calm and unflappable in all circumstances.

The ocean was wild and untamed. Free.

Calmly, she stepped to the edge of the rock and leaned towards the dark water, smiling as a wall of water broke of the rock. She gave herself over to its cold embrace, falling with it, letting it pull her into its bed.

The last thing she heard was a crunch and saw a blinding flash of golden light as her head dashed against a sharp rock.

As Richard watched her white clad body carried out with the tide, her dark hair in a bloody fan around her head, she felt nothing but the warm peace of deep sleep.