I read somewhere that you should always be mean to your characters. Writing romance, that applies anywhere but the end.
Working on Indoor Boh, though, it has a broader application.
I’d feel badly, but you gotta break some eggs…
The writing is still taking a backseat to the traveling, but we’re talking through plot twists and character traits more often.
If it’s going to happen organically, I’d say I’m about a week from reopening the first draft of Indoor Boh.
If sailing, being underway, is my favorite state of being, it has to be more than just a vacation.
Yesterday, James and I did a project and then I did a bit of editing on my friend Prakash’s website. It’s the beginning of the shift from carefree vacation days to the real life of work and pleasure.
What a glorious way to live!
Today, I set sail. James and I. We left Mill Creek, off Whitehall Bay, across the Severn River from Annapolis, and sailed south. Oxford, MD, provided the anchorage and now we’re at rest. It’s a chill, mean, glorious day.
A friend (hi, Robin!) asked my opinion on a keynote speech delivered at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Lionel Shriver spent her podium time excoriating identity politics and the chilling effect she perceives as its aim and effect for writers of fiction.
In an exercise that would surely encourage her to pull out her hair, I’ll start by saying that the very term “identity politics” is being critically examined by those of us who love words and attempts to shape understanding by using the very best ones. Does the term put the onus on the marginalized to police the borders of their various marginalized identities? Does “empathy politics” move the responsibility to those of us who exhibit failures of empathy in our experiences with and/or portrayals of marginalized people? Or does the shift of focus just move attention back to the white cookie monster and away from those who could use a hand getting up to the podium Shriver used so comfortably?
This divagation isn’t merely splitting hairs or trying to create trouble for folks without the time or inclination to stay current on the most trendy (subtext: change is bad and why learn a new way if it will change again later?) language.
Shriver’s main complaint seems to be that she feels disallowed from writing freely anything that comes to mind. She defends this position with examples of people reacting badly to things she’s written and things other people have written. She uses these examples to build a mountain of reasons folks should let fiction writers roam free and then she plants a flag at the top of that mountain.
The flag says: It’s okay to write badly.
I know that most writing is not very good. Many, many of the books that are published are good in some particular way and bad in most others. They satisfy readers who read for that thing they’re good at. Some books have so many strengths that they’re lauded as Great Books, but even those will have weaknesses.
To take down the flag, I say this. If you write badly, expect to be criticized.
To tear down the mountain, I’ll need to say more. There’s a whole line of argument that I’m going to leave alone, which tackles the question of how, when, and why a person shouldn’t write a marginalized character whose life is outside the writer’s experience. I’m going to stick with the question of critique.
Shriver makes an argument that classics of literature were written outside the writers’ experiences. I haven’t read all the books she cites, but the ones I know worked hard–very, very hard–to understand the heart and soul of someone different from them. They saw horror and injustice and wrote from a position of empathy. They got things wrong (witness the changing understanding of what exactly John Howard Griffin achieved in Black Like Me) and they got things right. They wrote and they were criticized. And they lived.
A Russian author was recently killed for writing against Putin and the murderers claim they did it on orders. An Austrian Jew was killed in the 1920s for writing that expelling the Jews would mean the downfall of Austria. Stalin created a style and killed writers who didn’t adhere to it.
The folks Shriver holds up didn’t just live. Their books went on to become classics, at least in enough eyes to make it into her speech. The horrible chilling effect that is her whole premise didn’t keep the other writers she discusses from writing their works, though they were criticized in reviews. I myself once got a glowing review that bumped me down a star because my book was about Native Hawaiians and I am not Hawaiian.
Guess what. That’s cool with me. If the star system gets anyone anything, it tells purchasers what to pay attention to. This reviewer thought my work was great but that a Native Hawaiian who wrote a great book about their own culture should get more attention. I agree completely.
Even in what should be fun, silly Hollywood, guess who’s getting doxxed and hounded? Leslie Jones, not Kristin Wiig.
Danger meets trans folk who try to speak up or Black Lives Matter activists or any other person who tried to put the brakes on whole hog cultural appropriation and stereotype driven depictions. Danger that Shriver doesn’t seem to acknowledge in her self-righteous desire to protect the people she considers more important, more worthy of protection. Shriver treats the feelings and sales figures of white writers as though they should be untouchable.
Her mountain is built on stories of published books being criticized in the media. That mountain dissolves when you look at the base of it, where an entire industry assists mainstream voices who tell stories from points of view we find comfortable because we’re trained from early childhood to understand them. That industry has responded to a growing desire for other stories by asking the same old voices to make them palatable to the known consumer. It’s a sad fact that writing about a Nigerian woman is more likely to be praised and published if the writer is otherwise in the usual vein, e.g. US born and raised (UK, Canada, and Australia sometimes accepted), white, conventionally educated, and able to speak to others who fit the exact same description. It’s white people talking to white people about Nigerian women and claiming to use a Nigerian voice.
Shriver tries to come off like a “pure” writer. We’re here to take the flights of fancy, etc, etc. And she’s not wrong about the spirit in which most excellent writing is done. She is wrong about where that writing should take the writer, because she seems to think it should take them to publishers who open their arms in welcome, and to bookstores constantly refilling the shelves as their books sell, and to reviewers who use the same lack of reflection she wants from writers. Instead, that writing should take the writer to further, better researched and thoroughly fleshed out drafts that eventually become a book…if the writer has done a good enough job.
Writing from imagination only takes you so far. She talks about writing a high school killing spree involving arrows, and I bet you money she researched archery, fatal shots and wounding shots, and school security systems. When people try to disclaim responsibility for putting equal research into their characters’ cultures, probable formative life experiences, and day to day treatment in society, I hear them saying that those other cultures are not valuable and important enough to get right.
That’s simply wrong.
To build a new mountain, I say this. Writing with respect means being cognizant of what you’re keeping in and what you’re leaving out. The hardest job of the fiction writer is taming wild imaginings into something that works in a fundamentally linear fashion while hoping to spark something decidedly creative and perhaps even non-linear in a reader. The easiest things to leave out are those that you don’t care about.
The things left out can be a road map to what an author does and does not care about. A body of literature can be a road map to what a culture does and does not care about. The history of literature is the very picture of what humanity…literate, with leisure time and money for books or the ability to get to libraries…hmm. Did I derail that argument?
No. Fiction will always leave something out. It will always speak to some people and not others. What’s happening right now is that the people who are being ignored by literature are getting tired of being left out.
We are trained from infancy to understand, be comfortable in, and expect the conventions of white male centered fiction. As a sci-fi reader from way back, I vividly remember the moment when it occurred to me to question the absence of women in my favorite books. Next was to question those women who were present. Women who posed on pedestals, women who papered the walls. The glorified horse, the creator of motivation for the real, fully fledged characters. Women without any self-image at all, let alone one that includes suffering, balancing, or backlash in their body images, just to pick one aspect of being a woman in this culture.
I was not satisfied with how women were portrayed in science fiction. I started reading romance books in part to get some sense of who women were in their interior lives, to get to know women in the way I’d been trained to know men.
It hadn’t even occurred to me to wonder where the people of color were, let alone queer and trans folks, disabled and neurodivergent folks.
This leaving-out is the place where imposter syndrome is born. We’re all faking it, pushing our way into other people’s stories because the other option is to let go of our dreams and become wooden horses for others to ride.
Let’s build our own, real lives with anti-racism, anti-segregation, and anti-discrimination so deeply embedded that…wow!…we can’t write any honest portrayal of the world around us without including people different from us. And let’s do a good job of it, because guess what happens when we don’t. We hear about it, yes, but more importantly, we add to the skewing of self so many oppressed and left-out readers experience.
What I hear when I read Shriver’s words is this: the smallness of my life makes sense and reflects my values. I hear: I don’t want to work that hard on understanding my characters. I hear: I’ve been protected all my life from the pain of oppression and I don’t want to have to think about it in other people’s lived experiences.
I say: do better.
Now for attaining escape velocity!
I’m getting feedback already, some of which is exciting, some of which is absolutely thrilling.
Sally Bend reviewed Lysistrata Cove on her review blog Bending the Bookshelf, and she pinpointed some things I’m truly proud of.
First, who wouldn’t love seeing this:
Honestly, this is one of the most remarkable erotic romances I have had the luxury to enjoy in quite some time. There is a lot going on, both on an emotional and an intellectual level, but it all meshes together in a queer, kinky, seamless fashion.
Second, I was worried that this part wouldn’t translate, so this got a full fist-pump:
…what Eve is after is a really fascinating idea, and one that is sure to make readers think about creative freedoms, copyright laws, and piracy.
Lysistrata Cove is also mentioned in The Pleasure Lab podcast #22. It’s about a third of the way through and is more about my lifestyle (sailory, not sexuality) that my writing, though I get good props there too.
All right, Lysistrata Cove – go, be free! Fly into many many hands!
Fantasy is, as others have said, a realm of its own. When I saw that Rachel Kramer Bussel wanted erotic stories of female fantasies, my brain starting pinging like a geiger counter.
This idea was hot.
Written communication can exist in the littoral zone, neither shore nor sea. Does she want me to write a real person living a fantasy? Fantasizing? Or perhaps she wants the fantasy-me, a character whose very being exists only in fantasy?
In Symphony, I did my best to write all of that – the fantasy character who is also not beyond the edge of realism, experiencing what can be read as either a deep masturbatory fantasy or a fantastic reality.
I hope I’ll hear from readers on how they read the story, who they think she is, and what fantasy she’s living.
But what about that other story? Well, it’s called Lipstick, and M. Bird drew me into the tension of fantasy, the balancing point where it’s necessary to evaluate which is more attractive…thought or deed. I tripped over this sentence, and never completely got my footing back. “Hannah bets she smokes, bets she tastes like whiskey, bets she closes her eyes like she’s grieving when she comes.”
That’s far from the only excellent story that got my heart talking to my cunt. I like the lead of Tabitha the Cat – Lauren Marie Flemming wrote someone I’d enjoy hanging with.
Orcas cracked me up – Regina Kammer playing with the line between types of fantasy again – and played on my ties to the Pacific Northwest. (Yes, I was married on Orcas Island.)
Dollymop made me want to hug that girl, but Malin James also stretched my caring into her imaginary sexual future…a great trick. I want her to be happy, and I would love to be one of her fucks as she figures it all out.
I enjoyed the others as well, and Rachel’s usual high standards make it a good book throughout.
Now it’s time to go read some of these aloud…
Date of Publication: July 12, 2016
What would you give – or give up – to fulfill your most cherished sex fantasy? In this Cleis Press collection, erotica editor Rachel Kramer Bussel brings us femme fatales and shy women, women on a mission and women opening up to new worlds of discovery: women who know what they want and are not afraid to beg for it! Let yourself go with these twenty-one tantalizing tales of tortuous longing and release.
Find Begging For It on social media!
Rachel Kramer Bussel regularly contributes to Refinery 29, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan, and hosts readings around the country. A prolific erotica editor, as well as a much-in-demand sex educator, her titls include Come Agaon: Sex Toy Erotica, Spanked, He’s on Top, She’s on Top, Passion and Do Not Disturb. She lives in New Jersey.
My hair’s growing out a little, getting thick and wavy. My warm winter layers have been washed and stowed in the compartment under the forepeak berth.
As my body comes out from hiding from the cold, I go through a metamorphosis. My female marked body begins to lead me toward sexy, fitted clothing that makes me look like the people I’m attracted to, while my agender core bucks against letting people think they know me by my tits and ass.
The result? This year, it seems, will be the summer of boi.
Tank tops over sports bras. Hairy legs under swimming trunks. Messy hair, sweat, and sunscreen.
Some of it is queer signaling (hello? do you see me?), but mostly I realize what I’ve done after the fact, with reflection from the people around me and the swiftly moving reflections in shop windows.
And the timing is perfect. My story, Teamwork, in Sacchi Green’s excellent book, Me and My Boi, features college sailors, prepping for the racing season. Their genders are touch-and-feel, want-and-wonder, see-and-be-seen.
Here’s hoping you find them as endearing as I do now, several years after I wrote them.
Sun baked the concrete pier and heat seeped into the boat shed, abandoned and echoing on Labor Day. Tilly shifted the wide straps of her sports bra. They cut into the muscle she’d put on for the racing season.
“Come on, Tilly, don’t just stand there.” Spin stood next to her, legs spread.
“Yeah, yeah. Hold your horses. We’re supposed to stretch between sets.”
“You weren’t stretching. You were playing with your bra.” Spin nudged Tilly with a sweaty elbow.
Tilly rolled her eyes and set up for the two-person rope pull. She leaned back against Spin’s pull, letting the rope out slowly, and watched Spin’s triceps flex at each push backward. She increased the resistance to make Spin work harder and sighed at the shifting muscles in Spin’s arms. Envy and desire, and nothing to do about either one.
When Tilly reached the end of the rope, they switched jobs. Tilly pulled against Spin’s resistance and her upper lip rose in a sneer of effort. The forward arm had the easy job. It was the push backward that fucked her up every time. Sweated ran down her temples and her shirt clung to her back. Her stroke shortened and Spin barked, “All the way back.” Tilly pushed harder and her sneer turned into grunts of effort. After ten sets each, with a different arm forward each time, Spin pulled the rope free with a flourish. She walked to the ceiling beam with as much swagger as ever, but Tilly was gratified to see that her shirt was soaked in sweat.
Tilly hooked her fingers on the pillar and stretched out her chest, watching Spin toss the line over the ceiling beam and pull into her own stretch. Arms flung wide and eyes closed, Spin leaned forward, pulling both arms back. Tilly’s mouth went dry at the sight of her bunched shoulders, lean arms, and the slight curve under the front of her shirt. When Spin twisted her hips to stretch her back and sides and belly, Tilly’s mouth was the only dry part of her body.
Here’s the list of links to all the posts in this Blog Tour, and details on how to enter the drawing for a free copy of the book.
Me and My Boi Blog Tour Links
June 12—Sacchi Green— www.sacchi-green.blogspot.com
June 13—Annabeth Leong– http://annabethleong.blogspot.com/2016/06/me-and-my-boi-not-just-hair.html
June 14—Anna Watson— www.sacchi-green.blogspot.com
June 15—Sinclair Sexsmith– www.sugarbutch.net
June 16—Jove Belle– https://jovebelle.com/
June 17—Tamsin Flowers– www.tamsinflowers.com
June 18—Victoria Villasenor— https://breywillows.com
June 19—J, Caladine— www.sacchi-green.blogspot.com
June 20—Victoria Janssen– http://victoriajanssen.com
June 21—Dena Hankins– http://denahankins.net/my-summer-of-boi/
June 22—D. Orchid— www.sacchi-green.blogspot.com
June 23—Pavini Moray– https://emancipatingsexuality.com/
June 24—Melissa Mayhew—www.sacchi-green.blogspot.com
June 25—Jen Cross— www.sacchi-green.blogspot.com
June 26—Kyle Jones– www.butchtastic.net
June 27—Gigi Frost–www.facebook.com/gigifrost
June 28—Aimee Hermann— www.sacchi-green.blogspot.com
June 29—Sommer Marsden— http://sommermarsden.blogspot.com
June 30—Axa Lee— www.sacchi-green.blogspot.com
July 1— Kathleen Bradean— www.sacchi-green.blogspot.com
Anyone who comments on any of the posts will be entered in a drawing for one free copy of the anthology. You can comment on more than one post and be entered more than once. The winner will be announced and notified by July 5, if not sooner.
The last few months have been a flurry of travel and writing. After spending the summer sailing north, James and I spent the fall sailing south. The winter, to date, has been more southing, without the snow and depressing low temps we’d feared.
On the writing front, I have rewritten and sculpted Lysistrata Cove, the first draft of which I completed in 11 days while at anchor in Somes Harbor, Maine.
Today, I turned in my manuscript. It’s now on my editor’s desk and not mine (on pain of torture and death if I pick it up and work on it while she has possession of it).
The book is good. It’s an adventure romance with characters who are like my real-life friends in one or more of these ways: queer, trans, kinky, poly, passionate, activist, sailor, pirate…Yep, excellent friend-group!
I’m excited to say that I already have a cover. With Blue Water Dreams, every step in the process added a bit of weight to the reality that I was going to be a published author. This time, every step just makes me that much more excited to hold the final version in my hands.
Rachel Kramer Bussel puts together punchy stories every single time she edits an anthology. This one, as usual, weighed in firmly on the “hot” side, with only a few stories that left me cold, had me skimming the ends, or turned me off. Even some that had irritating aspects—like the heavy doses of womanly perfection, narrowly defined—were enjoyable in the main.
Common themes include obedience (far more D/s than strictly sensation play), public exhibition, name calling, and using kink as a mechanism for sexual pleasure. Fetish items and toys abound in pleasingly realistic use.
Whenever I read kinky erotica, I’m looking for stories that explore not just what we do, but why we do it, how we feel about it, and why we pant to do it again as soon as possible. Plenty of these stories go the distance. Among the stories I enjoyed:
“Slow Burn” by Morgan Sierra is lovely story about adoration and fear, the desire to please and the body’s limits. The lead is so sympathetic that I really want him to have his love returned.
My favorite aspect of “The Rabbit Trap” by Nik Havert was the nice turnaround where the sub does the scene planning. We s-types can get complacent, figuring the top is supposed to create the scene. This shows a really funny turn-about that surprises and pleases the top, without usurping the role they both want him to play.
Speaking of who plans the scene, “A Thousand Miles Apart” by Tilly Hunter is a great story from the top’s perspective, with everything planned out…almost perfectly…and real affection from both sides.
One of my favorite experiences reading erotica is grokking the heat of something that doesn’t turn me on at all. “Magic Words” by Emily Bingham lets me feel Daddy/girl play from the point of view of someone it works for, deep and real enough that I really think I get it…even if I’m not about to go looking for it myself.
“Baby Steps” by Justine Elyot got me too. I’m not a parent, but I’ve been through enough life changes during my nearly twenty-year relationship that I recognize this moment. The stakes are high, and I love how this shows the very real way we bring ourselves into the sex we have. This one is a favorite more for the story than the kink and/or sex, though.
“On Location” by D. L. King is fun and flirty, with an absolutely fabulous glimpse into the lives of lovers who don’t share a home. I very much enjoy erotica depicting warm, non-traditional relationships. And the set-up is hot!
“Recipe for Punishment” by Jacqueline Brocker is a-fucking-dorable. The punishment is brutal and glorious, a quick and effective mid-scene check-in is heartwarming, the achievement is his to own, and the love fills them both.
In “Admitting It Is the First Step” by Rachel Kramer Bussel, Bussel focuses on the mental and emotional aspect of power play by having no graphic sex and little pain play. This is another one where it’s not my kink, but I enjoyed rolling with the emotional peaks created when trust lets the character fly.