Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Epicurus Quote

I caught this some time ago on Jonathan Miller's excellent series, A Brief History of Disbelief (here on YouTube) but keep forgetting to share it ....
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
- Epicurus

Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker: Penis, cock, dick, member, rod ....

(the following is part of an ongoing series of columns I did for The Erotica Readers & Writers Association on the ins and outs and ins and outs and ins and outs of writing good smut)

Just to show either my dedication to this column, or my complete lack of sanity, I’m writing this on my laptop while sitting in the passenger seat of my girlfriend’s car as she drives us back from a Thanksgiving visit to my mom’s house. Ain’t technology wonderful?

One of my favorite things when teaching erotic writing is to talk about how it basically isn’t any different than any other form of writing. You still need, after all, a plot, characterization, description, a sense of place, suspension of disbelief, etc. Thinking otherwise will only put training wheels on your writing, which - believe me - readers and editors can easily pick up on. If you sit down and try to write a damned good story, that happens to be about sex or sexuality, the result will generally be much finer artistically than an attempt that’s just tossed off. The instant you approach a story as “just” anything (horror, romance, science fiction, erotica, etc.) you’ll demean yourself and the reader. The bottom line is that there really isn’t much of a difference between a great erotic story and any other genre’s great story.

With that in mind I agree with most everyone’s advice towards writing short stories (or longer works): polish your writer’s voice, give the story a sense of place and time, flesh out the characters, construct an interesting plot, create evocative descriptions (show don’t tell), etc. One way I tell people to approach erotic writing is to remember that erotica doesn’t blink. In just about every other genre, when sex steps on stage the ‘camera’ swings to burning fireplace logs, trains entering tunnels, and the like - in other words, it blinks away from the sexual scene. In erotica you don’t blink, you don’t avoid sexuality - you integrate it into the story. But the story you’re telling isn’t just the sex scene(s), it’s why the sex IS the story. Something with a bad plot, poor characterization, lousy setting, or lazy writing and a good sex scene is always much worse than a damned good story full of interesting characters, a great sense of place, sparkling writing and a lousy sex scene. The sex scene(s) can be fixed, but if the rest - the meat of the story itself - doesn’t work you’re only polishing the saddle on a dead horse.

So there really isn’t much I believe that separates good writing in any other genre from good smut writing. But like all so-called ‘rules’ of writing, there’s an exception. As you might know, a lot of people preach that it’s poor writing to use the same descriptive word too many times in the same section of writing. In other words:

“The sun blasted across the desert, scorching scrub and weed into burnt yellow, turning soft skin to lizard flesh, and metal to rust. Outside LAST CHANCE FOR GAS, the radiation of the explosion had turned once gleaming signs for COCA-COLA and DIESEL into rust-pimpled ghosts of their former selves.

“Parked outside LAST CHANCE, was a rusted pickup collapsed onto four flat tired, windshield a sparkling spider web under the hard white light of the sun’s explosion.”

Okay that wasn’t terrific, but I am sitting in the passenger seat of a old Toyota while barreling up California highway 101, for goodness sake. The point is - aside from the poor metaphor of the sun as an explosion - the word “rust” springs up a bit too much in that off-the-cuff description. It’s not ‘that’ bad a description, but having the same word pop up repeatedly (especially if it’s tied to the same image, such as ‘rusted metal’ the writing will come of as lazy, unimaginative, or simply dull. To keep this from happening, many writing teachers and guides recommend varying the descriptive vocabulary. Now you don’t need to change rust to ‘corrosion’ or ‘decay’ or ‘encrustation’ once you’ve used it once in a story, but if you need to use the same kind of description in the same paragraph or section you might want to slip in some other, perhaps equally evocative, words as well.

Onto that exception for erotica. In smut, we have a certain list of words that are required for a well-written erotic scene: the vocabulary of genitalia and sex. If you follow the ‘don’t ever repeat’ rule in a sex scene the results are often more hysterical than stimulating.

“Bob’s cock was so hard it was tenting his jeans. He desperately wanted to touch it, but didn’t want to rush. Still, as he sat there, the world boiled down to him, what he was watching, and his penis. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore. Carefully, slowly, he lowered his zipper and carefully pulled his dick out. Unlike a lot of his friends, Bob was happy with his member. It was long, but not too long, and had a nice, fat head. Unlike the rods his friend’s rarely described, his pole didn’t bend - but was nice and straight.”

- another bit of less-than-brilliance as my girlfriend ducks in and out of traffic. But hopefully, you’ll get the idea: if you follow the ‘non-repeat’ commandment, you’ll quickly run out of words to describe what the hell’s going on in your story. With women’s anatomy it gets even worse - I’ve read a lot of amateur stories that go from cunt to pussy to quim to hole to sex ... somehow getting a down-and-dirty contemporary piece to a story that should be titled Lady Rebecca and the Highwayman.

It’s more than perfectly okay to repeat certain words in a story - especially an erotic one - if other words just won’t work, or will give the wrong impression (if there anything less sexy than using ‘hole’ or ‘shaft’?). My advice is to stick to two or three words that fit the time and style of the story, then rotate them: cock to dick, pussy to cunt, etc. Some words can also be used if you feel the story is getting a bit too thin on descriptions: penis, crotch, groin, etc. - but only if kept to a very dull roar.

One of the best ways to avoid this problem is to describe parts of the character’s anatomy rather than using a simple, general word. For example, lips, clit, glans, balls, shaft (when specific, it’s fine, but not as a general word for cock), mons, etc. Not only does this give you more flexibility, but it can be wonderfully evocative, creating a complex image rather than a fuzzy impression of the party going on in your characters’ pants.

The bottom line is what while there is a core similarity between a good erotic story and any other genre, there are a few important stylistic differences - and, as the old saying goes: viva la difference!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Pornotopia: Balls Without Chains

The following is just one of a bunch of pieces I’ve been working on for a project tentatively titled Pornotopia: The Ins and Outs and Ins and Outs of Sex and Erotica. Enjoy!


Okay, then ... gay marriage.

I'm against it. (ducks slings and arrows)

Lemme finish.

You're definitely not going to find the word 'god' in this little essay, or 'traditional',' or 'family,' or 'protect,' or 'sanctimony' or any of those other precious little terms the rabid weasels who are usually against the idea of legal gay marriage throw around. For one thing I'm a diehard atheist without even a drop of agnosticism coursing through my thoroughly evolved monkey veins.

For another I'm completely, totally, absolutely - well, 'sort of' queer. As I like to say, I'm politically gay, socially bi, sexually straight. To put it another way, I vote a pink ticket, kiss and hug every damned gender - and living in San Francisco, that's a LOT of genders - but my penis only responds to women. Or should I say 'woman' since I'm completely, totally, absolutely in love with a very special lady.

Anyway, back to politics: gay men and women must be legally recognized as having the same inalienable rights and legal benefits as straight folks. Period. End of story. When I rule this world - and, believe me, if I have my way I will - gender, race, age, and orientation will be meaningless in the eyes of the law. Want a job? A place to live? Adopt children? An education? You can have all of that and more regardless of your sexual equipment, the color of your skin, how old you are, or who you like to fuck - as long as it’s consensual, of course. We on the same page? Liberty and justice for all. Not for some - for all.

But I'm still against gay marriage.

(ducks further slings and arrows)

I'm not against gay men and women walking down the aisle because families need protecting because, frankly, if the bullshit concept of 'family' we've been force fed by cereal-box grinning conservatives can be threatened by something as silly as Bob hitching up with Steve, or Shirley shacking up with Betty then the nuclear unit should be taken out back and shot through the head like a lame old draught horse. I mean, shit, just look at any of the whack-jobs who are frothing at the mouth about two brides or two grooms: were any of them the products of Bob and Carol Average and their Standardized Marriage? Are any living in blissful coexistence with a member of the opposite sex? Want, sure, but do any of them really have Stepford children? Any of them you want to see - shudder -naked? I rest my case.

I'm still against gay marriage.

Holster your slings and quiver your arrows because here's the reason why: I'm against marriage.

What is marriage, after all? The perpetual, eternal, timeless chaining together of two people - if they get tired of being together or not. It's a simplistic, ridiculously idealistic device designed to enforce togetherness in a species that's more known for beating each other's heads in with rocks and other blunt instruments than demonstrations of affection.

Long before we started to buy Bridal magazine and plunge headlong into diabetes from sugar icing, marriage was its own form of blunt instrument: a device used against women (mostly) and men (occasionally) to cement political and economic alliances, sell people into servitude, and in general make people's lives totally miserable. The idea of a married couple actually caring about one another, let alone finding each other desirable, is a modern development - and then only in the so-called developed nations. For many cultures, marriage still remains the only 'legal' way to have sex. No ring, no nookie. Nookie minus ring equals social taboo, corporal punishment, jail, or even death (mostly for women - again).

Being for marriage (gay, straight, or otherwise) strikes me like Jews missing the good old days - of 1944. Being for gay marriage is a celebration of being chained together, forced to live the confinement too many straight couples have been sentenced to. Certainly, gay men and lesbians have the right to have the same legal rights and benefits of straight married couples - that's a given - but do they want to share the same legacy of financial, legal, emotional and sexual imprisonment? Sure, they should have the pleasure of joining together with someone they are sure they - well, moderately certain ... they maybe ... kind of ‘like’ – but do they really want to go through the even greater pleasures of divorce, child custody and community property battles, lawyers, judges, alimony, spousal support and ... do I really have to go on?

I know your question and, yes, I have been married, but that's not the only reason for my ire. The woman of my dreams is sitting here on the couch with me as I write this and I wouldn't have it any other way - forever if possible - but that doesn't mean that we want to, or should, tie ourselves together with legal, financial, or emotional cables. We stay together because we want to, and because this continuation of desire and friendship has to be maintained day by day, a work in progress rather than an illusion of perfection that insecure participants feel has to be nailed down lest it even think of straying or fading.

But the big reason I'm not in favor of straddling my gay and lesbian friends with the torture that begins with "We are gathered together here today -" is, simply, that there has to be a better way.

Marriage isn't just an antique, a legacy of abuse and economic bondage, it also doesn't work. If it did then divorce attorneys would be mythical, just like diamond anniversaries are now. Look at the facts, check the figures: marriage as an institution is, and has always been, a failure. Rather than gleefully marching off to join the rest of those unhappy straight couples, gay men and

lesbians – as well as the rest of us ‘straight but not narrow’ types - should instead seek to create new lifestyles. Gay men and lesbians are not straight ... duh. They have their own history, their own philosophy, their own social contracts and taboos. Absolutely they have more in common with their straight friends, but the way they deal with relationships, dating, commitment, and, yes, sex are not the way most heterosexuals do.

I'm not trying to be divisive. What I am trying to say is that all of us - gay, straight, bi, and everything else - should look at those differences, as well as the reality of heterosexual pairings and study them all toward creating new relationships: life models not based not the ridiculous proclamations of the big mythical daddy in the sky but instead on how human beings, or every orientation, actually live.

This is a chance for humanity to take a big step forward. Here's a perfect opportunity to change how we relate to each other, how we form bonds of love, create and maintain relationships - and so much more. Okay, equality is the issue, and rightfully so, but being equal to a group that's suffered and inflicted no end of emotional damage on its members for centuries is nothing to strive for.

What will these new ways of loving and living be like? I don’t know exactly, but I often think that they’d take the form of the way people live now, maybe just cemented through law, custom, or social contract. After all, there are just about as many relationship forms as there are people on this planet – gay, straight, bi, or whatever. We don’t have a term for it, or a legal definition, but we have ‘old boyfriends I occasionally sleep with,’ ‘cyberspace play partners,’ ‘we’re together but don’t have sex,’ ‘we’re together but have sex with other people,’ ‘we only do have sex with each other, but can do S/M play with anyone,’ ‘the lesbian whose the mother of my son but we’re not emotionally or financially involved,’ and so on.

In a few decades who knows what else could evolve? ‘Claves’ of individuals living together for financial or legal benefit, individuals as corporations or even nations unto themselves, virtual mini-societies of like-minded individuals, children searching for and then ‘adopting’ the perfect parents, consensual servitude, sex-changing triads? Limited duration marriages? The mind staggers. To walk towards this varied and plastic view of relationships - where if you don’t find something to your liking you search until you do find it, or just make a new one up - with the baggage of two gold rings, eternity, and a gravy boat is ridiculous. It’s time for a change.

Once again: I’m not for gay marriage. I’m against marriage. Equality is a must, definitely, but this is the perfect moment to really make a difference in the way all of us – gay, straight, bi, whatever - relate and bond with each other and the rest of the world. Don’t play the marriage game: no one’s ever won it. Not in achieving the right to do it, but in making it ever really work.

We can do better.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The View From Here: Suicide

(the following is part of an ongoing 'column' I did for Suspect Thoughts, and, no, it's not supposed to make sense)

He’s going to be through that door any minute. I thought about the snail-whip I’d bought last SumSpring in the Underneath Market. You know, the one with the carved face of a weathered old Lunar nomad - the one that looked like my mother? But my place is small, and - well - have you ever tried to use a snail-whip in a room where your head hits the ceiling if you stand on tip-toes?

I could have used the reaction pistol a Hitchcock synthetic sold me, but I quickly threw out that idea - reactions are still really illegal and a sharp-eyed Priest would naturally have spotted the head-sized hole in the corpse, scratched his pink-dyed skull and drawn the obvious conclusion that a promotion was in his future.

The only knives in my kitchen were the degradables they give away with Tinkonese Take-away, and they were all green-spotted and way too soft to slice through a brick of jelly-water, let alone a throat.

Whip too long, gun too illegal, knife too soft ... the question of the morning remained: how to kill myself?

I finally decided on the collected works of Bart Bransom, the thief poet. It was one of my favorite books, but it also weighed a nice, hefty 60 decimars - more than enough to crush a skull. So I pulled up a friable wood chair next to the front door, climbed up and gripping the book tightly - with one finger lodged somewhere in middle of The Tale of the Gold Job - I prepared to bash my skull in as I walked through the front door.

Killing yourself is something I’d had to think about quite a lot - as everyone does, and that doesn’t include suicide. The problem with trying to kill yourself - no, wait, ‘murder’ is more like it - is you have to try and out-think yourself. The way I figured it, he’d walk home, as usual, down Fire Lane, stopping here and there to check out the changes in the shop windows or even indulge in a little purgative at one of the express blow-out booths - so I’d say twelve to twenty dulwhich minutes, maybe eleven mid-range minutes, tops.

He’d also be a little disoriented - okay, a bit more disoriented - than I usually am. Being decanted from a Noh Bureau tank will do that to you. I was counting on him being a bit fuzzy around the edges (and in the cases of some of the older tanks that’s quit literal). Come home, I thought at him as my arms quivered under the weight of the book; come him like you usually do - it won’t hurt. Well, I hope it didn’t hurt much - he might be an official copy, but he was still me. The last time this happened I was a bit more prepared, and had borrowed a spring-gun from my downstairs neighbor, the one with the bathing-in-fresh blood fetish, and had managed to ambush myself on the front stairs.

This time, to be honest, I wasn’t nearly as prepared as I should have been - thus my mad scramble to find something fatal. I’d been way too into my new micro-dome. It was a treat to myself for finally finishing the last draft of my new book, A Fall From A Moderate Height, and I was way too involved in giving the little half-life critters religion, guilt, paranoia, and half a dozen other ugly, unnecessary things to make their lives (and thus my viewing of their little world) interesting - so interesting that I completely missed the notice of my impending imitation.

I was a little cocky, I admit it. I mean, I hadn’t lost a duplication for over twenty nuyears - since ... well, since the last me lost and I took over. While I thought the Noh Bureau was a bit over zealous in the execution of their duty, I sort of agreed with the idea of facing yourself in a life or death struggle every five dolamars. There was something savagely poetic about having to look at your life and decide that it was worth killing to defend, and if it wasn’t then all you had to do was wait till the next you showed up to give it a better shot - suicide by not living a meaningful, happy existence. It also satiated natural human bloodlust, turning it away from some innocent stranger and instead directing it inwards, towards self-examination ... and self-execution.

Yeah, it can be rough to have relationships change overnight when your loved one looses to a copy, or when an artist’s work-in-progress is interrupted by a less-inspired duplicate - but by and large the system worked rather well. Of course, I think that after winning every battle since the third Mumbar SumSpring.

And I wasn’t about to loose this one. Standing there, legs quaking from the weight of Bart Bransom’s rhymes, I rehearsed my motions, running them through my mind, trying to cover every contingency: door opens, down comes the book, door opens, book comes down, door opens, book comes down - crushed skull and five more nuyears of comfort at the end.

It had been a good time, a rich, full time - many loves, many successes, a few failures. Standing there on my chair, the heavy book in my hands, I flashed a few of them through my mind - a mental background to my plans for self-murder: the Coronation of the Black King, getting my fingers lengthened, the Festival of Lust, writing ... lots and lots of writing. Salari, Miss Postilla from down the hall, Valencia, Domache - and all the other good friends and lovers. Yes, it had been a good nuyear.

Maybe that was it - I was so lost in memories, in rewinding the past, that I forgot why, exactly I was there. Whatever the reason, I didn’t think - and then it was too late.

Even as he came at me, from the kitchen door I had completely forgotten about, a knife in his hand he’d managed to find somewhere, I refused to admit that maybe it was time to be replaced, that my mind was so clogged with experience I could no longer think straight.

Just dumb luck - that’s what it was. At least, I admitted to myself as his knife arced towards my heart, I’d finished my book. But as his knife met my chest, sinking deep within, I couldn’t suppress a flash of anger that he’d be the one to get the good reviews.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker: First Impressions

(the following is part of an ongoing series of columns I did for The Erotica Readers & Writers Association on the ins and outs and ins and outs and ins and outs of writing good smut)

There's been some debate going on about how aspiring writers should conduct themselves. As someone on the receiving end of 'clumsy virgin syndrome' as well having been a novice myself oh-so-many moons ago, I think I'm qualified to wax a bit on this and so, without further ado, here's a quickie guide for those who want to make some good first impressions.

Right off the bat it's important for a newbie writer to understand some basic rules about editors. I've said it again, but it bears repeating: editors have absolutely no legal responsibility to respond quickly, fairly, or compassionately. It sucks, but that's the way it is. They do not have to answer your emails, they do not have to give criticism or praise, they do not have to even let you know if your story's been rejected. This is why when you come across a good, kind, generous, supportive, editor (like myself - ahem) you should treat that person as the gift from above that they are. The only thing - again 'legally' - an editor has to do is contact you if your story's going to be published (and even that's a bit hazy) and pay you if you have money coming.

If you understand these harsh-but-true rules it makes dealing with the world of professional writing that much easier. Unless you have a real good relationship with an editor, simply don't expect anything beyond the least amount of contact. In defense of editors, I do have to say that editing is a very tough gig: YOU try going through hundreds of manuscripts, copyediting, sending out contracts and rejection notices, dealing with distribution and publicity headaches, and then have time for any kind of a social life. I try to do the best job I can but even I have been known to be slow answering emails or answering questions. Editors also have one of the worst jobs on the planet -- being someone who has to break hearts and shatter dreams all the damned time. It is not easy having to send out rejection slips but it's part of the job.

On the writers side, there's a lot that can be done to help the editor out . Why should you help an editor? Because in many cases, you make a friend rather than someone who dreads getting one of your submissions.

The first step is: exercise patience. When you send something out, one of the first things you should do is start working on something else. This tactic makes it easier for you to deal with the sometimes VERY long wait between submission and hearing the good (rare) or bad (often) news about your story.

Step two is: practice compassion. Editors have lives (at least some of the time). Things happen to derail even the most professional and compassionate editor. The fact that you haven't heard back from someone for a few months does not mean they are sitting on the beach drinking Mai Tais without a care about your story. The same goes for questions you might ask an editor. If you were an editor, you, too, might get testy and annoyed having to answer the same question over and over again. That doesn't mean an editor has the right to be rude, but if an answer does come and it's a bit short or abrupt, it's understandable. Don't take it personally.

Make the editor's job as easy as possible, is step three. I cannot emphasize this enough. Read and obey the guidelines. If the book (or magazines or website) says 'NO' that means 'NO.' Exceptions do happen, but never count on them. If they say no email submissions, do not send one. If they say no horror, no S/M, no straight sex, no gay sex, no whatever then that means what it says. Though some rules are fairly flexible (word length by a few hundred words and so forth), always observe the Calls for Submission as Absolute Law.

When you do send stories in, always put your name, address and email on the manuscript - that goes for paper as well as email submissions. A story without any of this is rejected - period. And for heaven's sake, if you submit something by email, sign the damned email -- it's simple courtesy and allows the editor to easily respond to your submission without having to look at your submission to figure out who the heck you are. Please do not ask for anyone to write or send a postcard (even if it's provided) to acknowledge receipt of the manuscript. Most editors won't comply or, like me, they don't even open the envelopes or start to read stories for months after the call for submission is sent out. On the manuscript itself, you don't need a social security number or even a phone number, but you do need information on how to contact you by mail and/or email. Put it on your cover letter, put it on your manuscript, put it on your Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE), tattoo it on your butt - just make sure it's there for the editor to find.

Step four would have to be arguing, or bargaining, with an editor. Unless you get a personal note asking for a rewrite, or suggesting some changes, a rejection note is just that. Sometimes an editor will be flexible if you want to send along something else for consideration but, once again, that's the exception and not the rule. From my own experience as an editor, rejections are the last thing I send out - so even if you have something perfect waiting in the wings, it's useless once the book's already been put together. If it's a paper rejection, simply take your bumps and get on with life. If it's email, it's nice to send a little note, if anything because that way the editor knows the message actually got to you. All you need to say is something like "Thanks for letting me know. Best of luck with the project!" is fine. I do have to say that understanding on the part of a writer can score MAJOR points with an editor. I've personally invited folks I've rejected from one project to submit to another because I appreciated their courtesy and professionalism. As always, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar - not to compare editors like myself to flies, you understand.

Lastly, try and learn as much as possible about the business so you don't make silly, dumb mistakes like arguing with the editor about rights, payment, scheduling, covers, and so forth. There are lots of places to learn about the biz - including right here on ERA. Nothing sours an editor towards a new writer faster than having to give him or her the basic run-down on what can or cannot be done. Keep in mind there are a lot of writers out there, and all an editor needs is any excuse to consider you or your stuff as 'too much trouble to deal with' before he or she is out looking for someone else -- just as good -- to take for their project.

So there you go, the quick and simple ground rules for the newbie writer. If I had to sum all of this up in a simple sentiment, it would have to be that it's important for beginning writers to understand that submitting should be a smooth and seamless process for both the editor, as well as the writer. The editor gets a trouble-free story to read, and you - because you know the score - don't have to worry about making silly mistakes.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008