Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker: Howdy!

(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)

While it isn't the most important thing to do before sending off a story (that's reserved for writing the story itself), drafting an effective cover letter is probably right below it.

So here is a quick sample of what to do and NOT when putting together a cover letter to go with your story. That being said, remember that I'm just one of many (many) editors out there, each with their own quirks and buttons to push. Like writing the story itself, practice and sensitivity is will teach you a lot, but this will give you a start.

So ... Don't Do What Bad Johnny Don't Does:

Dear M. (1),

Here is my story (2) for your collection (3), it's about a guy and a girl who fall in love on the Titanic (4). I haven't written anything like this before (5), but your book looked easy enough to get into (6). My friends say I'm pretty creative (7). Please fill out and send back the enclosed postcard (8). If I have not heard from you in two months (9) I will consider this story rejected and send it somewhere else (10). I am also sending this story to other people. If they want it, I'll write to let you know (11).

I noticed that your guidelines say First North American Serial rights. What's that (12)? If I don't have all rights then I do not want you to use my story (13).

I work at the DMV (14) and have three cats named Mumbles, Blotchy and Kismet (15).

Mistress Divine (16)
Gertrude@christiansciencemonitor.com (17)

(1) Don't be cute. If you don't know the editor's name, or first name, or if the name is real or a pseudonym, just say "Hello" or "Editor" or somesuch.

(2) Answer the basic questions up front: how long is the story, is it original or a reprint, what's the title?

(3) What book are you submitting to? Editors often have more than one open at any time and it can get very confusing. Also, try and know what the hell you're talking about: a 'collection' is a book of short stories by one author, an 'anthology' is a book of short stories by multiple authors. Demonstrate that you know what you're submitting to.

(4) You don't need to spell out the plot, but this raises another issue: don't submit inappropriate stories. If this submission was to a gay or lesbian book, it would result in an instant rejection and a ticked-off editor.

(5) The story might be great, but this already has you pegged as a twit. If you haven't been published before don't say anything, but if you have then DEFINITELY say so, making sure to note what kind of markets you've been in (anthology, novel, website and so forth). Don't assume the editor has heard of where you've been or who you are, either. Too often I get stories from people who list a litany of previous publications that I've never heard of. Not that I need to, but when they make them sound like I should it just makes them sound arrogant. Which is not a good thing.

(6) Gee, thanks so much. Loser.

(7) Friends, lovers, Significant Others and so forth -- who cares?

(8) Not happening. I have a stack of manuscripts next to me for a project I'm doing. The deadline for submissions is in two months. I will probably not start reading them until at least then, so your postcard is just going to sit there. Also, remember that editors want as smooth a transition from their brain to your story as possible; anything they have to respond to, fill out, or baby-sit is just going to annoy them.

(9) Get real -- sometimes editors take six months to a year to respond. This is not to say they are lazy or cruel; they're just busy or dealing with a lot of other things. Six months is the usual cut-off time, meaning that after six months you can either consider your story rejected or you can write a polite little note asking how the project is going. By the way, writing rude or demanding notes is going to get you nothing but rejected or a bad reputation -- and who wants that?

(10) When I get something like this I still read the story but to be honest it would take something of genius level quality for me to look beyond this arrogance. Besides, what this approach says more than anything is that even if the story is great, you are going to be too much of a pain to work with. Better to find a 'just as good' story from someone else than put up with this kind of an attitude.

(11) This is called simultaneous submission: sending a story to two places at once, thinking that it will cut down on the frustration of having to wait for one place to reject it before sending it along to another editor. Don't do it -- unless the Call for Submissions says it's okay, of course. Even then, though, it's not a good idea because technically you'd have to send it to two places that think it's okay, which is damned rare. The problem is that if one place wants your work, then you have to go to the other places you sent it to tell them so -- which very often results in one very pissed editor. Don't do it. We all hate having to wait for one place to reject our work, but that's just part of the game. Live with it.

(12) Many editors are more than willing to answer simple questions about their projects, but just as many others will never respond -- especially to questions that can easily be answered by reading a basic writing book (or reading columns like this one). Know as much as you can and then, only then, write to ask questions.

(13) This story is automatically rejected. Tough luck. Things like payment, rights, and so forth are very rarely in the editor's control. Besides, this is a clear signal that, once again, the author is simply going to be way too much trouble to deal with. Better to send out that rejection form letter and move onto the next story.

(14) Who cares?

(15) Really, who cares?

(16) Another sign of a loser. It's perfectly okay to use a pseudonym but something as wacky as this is just going to mark you as a novice. Also, cover letters are a place for you, as a person, to write to the editor, another person. Put your pseudonym on your story, don't sign your cover letter with it.

(17) Email address -- this is great, but it's also very obviously a work address, which makes a lot of editors very nervous. First of all, people leave jobs all the time so way too often, these addresses have very short lives. Second, work email servers are rarely secure -- at least from the eyes of prying bosses. Do you really want your supervisor to see your rejection from a Big Tits In Bondage book? I don't think so.


Do What Johnny Does Does

Hi, Chris (1),

It was with great excitement (2) that I read your call for submissions for your new anthology, Love Beast (3). I've long been a fan not only of werewolf erotica (4) but also your books and stories as well (5)

I've been published in about twelve websites, including Sex Chat, Litsmut, and Erotically Yours, and in two anthologies, Best of Chocolate Erotica (Filthy Books) and Clickty-Clack, Erotic Train Stories (Red Ball Books) (6).

Enclosed is my 2,300 word original story, "When Hairy Met Sally" (7). I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it (which is a lot) (8). Please feel free to write me at smutpeddler@yahoo.com if you have any questions (9).

In the meantime best of luck with your projects and keep up the great work .(10)

Molly Riggs (11)


(1) Nice; she knows my real first name is Chris. A bit of research on an editor or potential market never hurt anyone.

(2) It's perfectly okay to be enthusiastic. No one likes to get a story from someone who thinks your project is dull.

(3) She knows the book and the title.

(4) She knows the genre and likes it. You'd be surprised the number of people who either pass out backhanded compliments or joke about anthologies or projects thinking it's endearing or shows a 'with it' attitude. Believe me, it's neither -- just annoying.

(5) Editing can be a lonely business, what with having to reject people all the time. Getting a nice little compliment can mean a lot. It won't change a bad story into an acceptable one, but making an editor smile is always a good thing.

(6) The bio is brief, to the point, and explains the markets. You don't need to list everything you've ever sold to, just the key points.

(7) Everything about the story is there: the title, the words, if it's original or a reprint (and, of course if it's a reprint you should also say when and where it first appeared, even if it's a website).

(8) Again, a little smile is a good thing. I know this is awfully trite but when the sentiment is heartfelt and the writer's sense of enjoyment is true, it does mean something to an editor. I want people to enjoy writing for one of my books, even if I don't take the story.

(9) Good email address (obviously not work) and an invitation to chat if needed. Good points there.

(10) Okay, maybe it's a bit thick here but this person is also clearly very nice, professional, eager and more than likely will either be easy to work with or, if need be, reject without drama.

(11) Real name -- I'd much rather work with a person than an identity. I also know that "Molly" is not playing games with who she is, and what she is, just to try and make a sale.

There's more, as said, but this at least will keep you from stepping on too many toes -- even before your story gets read. If there's a lesson in this, it's to remember that an editor is, deep down, a person trying to do the best job they can, just like you. Treat them as such and they'll return the favor.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dark Roasted M.Christian

Here we go again: another article for the always-great Dark Roasted Blend. This time it's on monster helicopters. Enjoy!

Airplanes you can understand: they're basically just big birds. Wings? Check. Tail? Right-o. Body? Absolutely. But helicopters ... well, helicopters are seriously strange beasts. It's a wonder why anyone took Mr. Sikorsky (and his predecessors) seriously, and an even bigger wonder how they got anyone remotely sane enough to sit inside one of those early prototypes and hit the START button.

Beyond the fact that helicopters came out of left field (the far, far left field) the craziness continues when you begin to think about how easy it is for something to seriously -- and traumatically -- go wrong with one. An airplane, after all, can glide if its engines fail. An airship (dirigible, zeppelin, etc) can usually descend if it loses too much lift. But a whirlybird without power has one - and only one -- option: crash.

But, thankfully, Mr. Sikorsky didn't give up and today we are lucky to have the results of his work: incredibly flexible, wonderfully useful, spectacularly nimble aircraft. But although many breeds of helicopter have become quite safe, there is still a lingering kind of madness regarding whirlybirds: the drive to see how insanely huge we can make them.

Unlike airplanes, the size-wars with helicopters began after World War II. While, like a lot of aircraft technology, helicopters were jump-started into being useful and moderately reliable machines, the early 40s aircraft were lucky enough to get into the air -- let alone get into the air without killing the pilot.

But this clumsy infancy didn't last very long. The 1950s saw an explosion of radical -- and in some cases terrifying -- helicopter designs in both the United States as well as the Soviet Union. One of the grander designs is one that is pretty familiar as it's been used by both the US military as well as civilian companies in need of some heavy lifting. Looking something like a twin-rotored banana, the earliest Boeing Chinook popped up in the late 50s but because of its heavy lifting skills, stayed around for a very long time. Modern, updated versions are still used all over the world. The Chinook, in fact, is kind of the poster-child for big helicopters. Got something heavy that needs to go from impossible point A to impossible point B? More than likely the machine connecting the dots is a Chinook. While numbers are rarely impressive, the size of the numbers the modern Chinook can lift are still ones to give pause: 28,000 pounds of cargo, which is about 14 tons of whatever needs to be moved from pretty much any point A to pretty much any point B.

Another Goliath is the stylishly named (well, for the Soviets) MI-6. Again created in the 50s, the MI-6 was a true monster. While not as oddly stylish as the Chinook, this powerhouse could lift 26,000 pounds of cargo (12 tons) -- which was a lot of pretty much whatever you can think of. Almost all of these types of machines were very popular with the Soviets, spawning a whole range of monster helicopters, some of whose descendants are still in use today.

While the Chinook certainly appears odd, and the MI-6 is damned huge, other big helicopters begin to look like the designers were not trying for size as much as just plain weirdness. Take a gander at the also-colorfully-named Soviet MI-10. Although its guts were from the old, reliable MI-6, this misshapen cousin sported four monster legs, giving it the impression of a bug-phobics nightmare dragonfly. Whenever I look at the MI-10 I always wonder if the pilot ever forgot what he was flying and stepped out -- falling dozens of feet to the tarmac.

Not that the US hadn't had its own share of big, and damned ugly, helicopters. Perhaps because it was created by Hughes, the same Hughes of crazy-in-Las-Vegas and the Spruce Goose, the XH-17 Sky Crane was terrifyingly huge: the rotors alone were 135 feet across (the largest in the world). You can barely imagine the pants-wetting that might have gone on when the Sky Crane was fired up and those insane rotors began to swing around and around and around. Luckily, for the sanity of the people watching and the safety of the pilot crazy enough to fly it, the Sky Crane wasn't much of a hit and has since crashed down into aeronautical footnotes.

There are other huge whirlybirds, of course: the Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe, the AĆ©rospatiale Super Frelon, the Agusta A.101, and so on and so forth, but as we're running out of space, we have to jump to the biggest helicopter to date, and one of the very strangest.

Aside from the bug-geared machines like the Sky Crane and the MI-10, most big helicopters usually look like smaller ones simply writ large. Rotors? Check. Tail rotor for stability? Right-o. Fuselage? Absolutely. But the -- yet again -- poetically named Mil V-12 (from those lyrical Russians) looks nothing like anything before or since.

Sure it has rotors -- it wouldn't be a helicopter without them -- but with the V-12 they are placed on the side of its massive fuselage. Weird, right? But this is BIG weirdness as the V-12 is commonly considered to be the largest helicopter in the world. How big? Think of it this way: see that 747 over there -- that monstrous fixed wing machine? Well, the V-12 is as wide as one of those 747s. But unlike a 747, the V-12 can take off straight up, and haul close to 55,000 pounds at the same time -- or 88,000 if it takes off a bit less like a helicopter and more like a plane.

Sure, helicopters are strange beasts but what makes them even stranger is when they become nightmarish giants. Flying overhead, they go from head-scratching marvel to staggering wonders. Who'd be crazy enough to build them, let alone get behind the controls and fly them?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dark Roasted Science Fiction: The Body Snatchers By Jack Finney

As previously mentioned here's another of several brand new reviews of classic science fiction novels that are either up on the always-great Dark Roasted Blend:

The Body Snatchers (1955)
By Jack Finney

I am not writing this review. Sure, I might look like, sound like, act like, your regular reviewer but I am, in fact, a flawless reproduction .....

There's a very special kind of story out there and, ironically, it is unique and rare: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is one, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Edgar Allan Poe is another -- and then there's Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers.

What makes these stories special? They are the beginning, a unique and fresh approach: Stevenson created the archetypal story of man's dual nature, Poe created the first detective story, and Finney created ... well, he created pod people.

It's hard in some ways to read Finney's book today. Not that it's not a good or even great book, because it's that and much more. Finney's restrained style is there, his wry sense of humor is there, his enviously lean prose is there, but if you'd never read The Body Snatchers and picked up a copy only today, you'd fail to see its incredible uniqueness against the now-ubiquitous theme. That's a shame because the world owes a lot to Finney's (deceptively) simple little book. For the first time, we saw the horror of a world growm cool and impersonal, distant and nightmarishly "the same."

So powerful is Finney's creation -- as well as the great 1956 film version directed by Don Siegel, starring Kevin McCarthy -- that even the tiniest glimpse of someone acting cold and remote, removed and distant, conjures up the entire idea of the book ... and, naturally, alien seed pods.

Alas, what a lot of people don't know about the book, as it was excised from every adaption of it, is that the aliens in the novel DO have emotions -- it's just that theirs are faked. That twist adds a whole new level of power to the novel: the impostors aren't just unemotional, they actually put a "face" on over their inhumanity -- which is a much more biting commentary than just the simple idea of a cold and drone-like inhumanity. Another horror of the book that's never been adapted is the idea that the pod-people can't reproduce. Once all of humanity has been replaced -- and the aliens have left for space again -- the earth will be left as nothing but a depopulated wasteland.

Again, the book really has to be savored, relished -- re-read again and again to appreciate Finney's sly genius. Just look at the characters. It would be easy to make Dr. Miles Bennell and Becky stand out, and so make the impostors more of a statement about conformity. Instead, they are anything but outraegous, which only adds to the chilling creeps when you realize that they, too, have been less than honest with their emotions, that they are too close -- far too close -- to the impostors in their emotional range, the depth of their feelings. Their fight almost feels like it's a battle against the end of the world, sure, but also to preserve the tiny, almost invisible contrast between the cold indifference of the invaders and the slightly-less-cold indifference of the real humans.

In the end, The Body Snatchers is a truly great book. The trick, though, is to read it for its uniqueness -- and not let all its subsequent impostors and imitators take away from its unique and special shine.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Call for Submissions: Best S/M Erotica 3

Call for Submissions

Best S/M Erotica 3:
Still More Extreme Stories of Still More Extreme Sex

A book of straight, lesbian and gay S/M stories to be published by Logical-Lust (www.logical-lust.com ).

For this edition of the series writers are encouraged to experiment with the basic idea of what S/M erotica play is -- and could be -- as well as how our modern world has changed the possibilities and potentials of S/M. Examples could be stories that challenge established ideas of dominance and submission, that play with its practice with new technology, that challenge gender roles, or that push limits of play space versus the real world. While this is not a science fiction anthology stories that project the impact of current technology and social changes would be acceptable.

Stories should be focused on the dominance and submission side of S/M play, though stories that also include sadism and masochism will be considered if they fit the anthology criteria. While I respect the wide variety of S/M experiences, keep in mind that nonconsensual sex (i.e. rape) stories are not what this project is about.

If you have questions about whether or not your story may work for this anthology, please contact me with your questions or concerns.

Both previously published as well as original works will be considered.

Story length: 2,500 to 7,500
Deadline for Submissions: July 31, 2009
Rights: First North American Anthology Rights
Payment: $25, paid on publication

Submissions should be emailed as an attachment to
zobop@aol.com (rtf format only, contact info must be on all attachments)

M.Christian is an acknowledged master of erotica with more than 300 stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and many, many other anthologies, magazines, and Web sites. He is the editor of 20 anthologies including the Best S/M Erotica series, The Burning Pen, Guilty Pleasures, and many others. He is the author of the collections Dirty Words, Speaking Parts, The Bachelor Machine, and Filthy; and the novels Running Dry, The Very Bloody Marys, Me2, Brushes, and Painted Doll. His site is www.mchristian.com.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dark Roasted M.Christian

Here we go again: another article for the always-great Dark Roasted Blend. This time it's on scientific experiments that might - just might - destroy the world. Enjoy!

We like scientists. We really do. After all, without them – and the scientific method – we’d still think lightning was Zeus hurling thunderbolts, the sun was an enormous campfire, and the earth itself was balancing on huge turtles. Without science we’d be ignorant troglodytes – too stupid to even know that we’d evolved from even simpler life forms.

Yep, we love science – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t scare us. After all, when you’re dedicated to cracking the secrets of the universe it’s kind of expected that sometimes, not often, you might crack open something a tiny bit … shall we say … dangerous?

The poster child for the fear that science and engineering can give us – beyond Shelley’s fictitious Frankenstien, of course -- was born on July 16, 1945, in New Mexico. Not one to miss something so obvious, its daddy, the one and only J. Robert Oppenheimer (‘Oppy’ to his pals) thought “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” from the Bhagavad Gita – but Kenneth Bainbridge, the Test Director, said it even better: "Now we are all sons of bitches."

Sure, the Trinity Atomic Bomb Test -- the event that began the so-called atomic age, leading to our now-constant terror that one day the missiles may start to fly and the bombs begin to fall -- was the first, but since then there have been all kinds of new, if not as flashy, scientific investigations that could be ten times more destructive. In other words, we could be one beaker drop from the destruction of the earth.

Naturally this is an exaggeration, but it’s still fun – in a shudder-inducing kind of way – to think about all these wildly hypothetical doomsdays. Putting aside the already overly publicized fears over the Large Hadron Collider creating a mini black hole that immediately falls to the core of the earth – eventually consuming the entire globe – some researchers have expressed concern that some day we may create, or unleash, a subatomic nightmare. The hunt for the so-called God particle (also called a Higgs boson), for instance, has made some folks nervous: one wrong move, one missing plus or minus sign, and we could do something as esoteric and disastrous as discovering that we exist in a metastable vacuum – a discovery made when one of our particle accelerators creates a cascade that basically would … um, no one is quite sure but it’s safe to say it would be very, very strange and very, very destructive. Confusing? Yep. But that’s the wild, weird world of particle physics. It's sometimes scary. Very, very scary.

A new threat to everyone on the planet is the idea of developing nanotechnology. If you've been napping for the last decade or so, nanotech is basically machines the size of large molecules: machines that can create (pretty much) anything on a atomic level. The question – and the concern – is what might happen if a batch of these microscopic devices gets loose. The common description of this Armageddon is "grey goo." The little machines would dissemble the entire world, and everything and everyone on it, until all that would be left is a spinning ball of, you guessed it, goo.

Another concern for some folks is that, for the first time, we’ve begun to seriously tinker with genetics. We’ve always fooled with animals (just look at a Chihuahua) but now we can REALLY fool with one. It doesn’t take a scientist to imagine – and worry about – what happens when we tinker with something like ebola or, perhaps even worse, create something that affects the reproduction of food staples like corn or wheat. Spreading from one farm to another, carried perhaps on the wind, this rogue genetic tweak could kill billions via starvation.

And then there’s us. What happens if the tweak – carried by a virus or bacteria – screws not with our food but where we’re the most sensitive: reproduction? Unable to procreate we’d be extinct as few as a hundred years.

While it’s become a staple of bad science fiction, some scientists see it as a natural progression: whether we like it or not, one day we will create a form of artificial intelligence that will surpass and replace us. Even putting aside the idea that our creations might be hostile, the fact that they could be better than us at everything means that it would simply be a matter of time before they go out into the universe – and leave us poor throwbacks behind.

There are frightening possibilities but keep this in mind: if something does happen and it looks like it’s going to be the End Of The World As We Know It, there is going to be one, and only one, place to turn to for help: the world of observation, hypothesis, prediction and experiment.

In other words, we’d have to turn to science. They would have gotten us into it, and only they will be able to get us out.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Just Saw Ratatouille Again -

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."
- Anton Ego

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Dark Roasted Science Fiction: A Double Dose of Robert Silverberg

As previously mentioned here's another of several brand new reviews of classic science fiction novels that are either up on the always-great Dark Roasted Blend:

The World Inside (1971)
Robert Silverberg

Welcome to the year 2381. Things are perfect: very, very perfect. Everyone is happy, everyone is satisfied within the towering blocks of the Urban Monads -- monster monoliths of humanity towering hundreds of floors, and thousands of feet, above the surface of the planet.

If there is one rule, one overriding philosophy of the people living in the monads -- beyond their pathological satisfaction with the state of the world and their lives -- it’s “be fruitful and multiply.”

Each monad is made up of 25 cities, each existing within their own sections of 40 floors. Urban Monad 116, the setting of Robert Silverberg’s The World Inside, has a population of 800,000 happy, happy people, with the world population at 75 billion people … and climbing.

There have been many books about the horrors of overpopulation, most notably, Harry Harrison Make Room, Make Room, which you might know better as Soylent Green when it made it onto the big screen. But The World Inside is unique and powerful: a nightmare dipped in a super-sweet glaze, a hell made of smiles and sex. The residents of Urban Monad 116 -- the musician, the bureaucrat, the rebel, and all the other characters that rotate onto the novel’s stage -- don’t know they are living in a nightmare of bodies, bodies, and more bodies. For them, births -- and huge families -- are not just the norm but the ultimate desire of every citizen. To encourage this population explosion, the male residents roam their tower, falling into every available woman’s bed, each carnal encounter a possibility for -- joy, joy -- even more life.

The World Inside is, itself, a seduction. Because the reader follows each character, we first see their world as they see it: a bountiful celebration of humanity, a sensual monolithic rave. But then the glaze, the smiles, and the sex begin to wear thin for both the reader as well as the people of Urban Monad 116 we are following, and the book begins to show the horrifying isolation, the hollow monolith that is their building as well as their life.

As with everything Robert Silverberg has written, The World Inside is a literary treat: vivid and kaleidoscopic, richly textured but also smoothly told. It’s far too easy to read a book like The World Inside and forget the awe-inspiring literary skill and storytelling mastery that’s going on right before your eyes. The World Inside is a book that shouldn’t just be read but re-read and re-read and re-read: once for the pure enjoyment of this unique and powerful story, again to enjoy Silverberg’s magnificent talent as a writer, and yet again to enjoy the story's careful weaving of plot and story and theme.

The World Inside is a perfect example of a master storyteller’s craft: a timeless book and an eternal warning of substituting quantity for quality.

Born With The Dead (1971)
Robert Silverberg

Simple is hard: very, very hard. Not that complexity is, therefore, easy, but writing a story that's elegant yet lean, graceful yet subtly complex, lyrical yet spare -- that demonstrates the skill of a true master. A true master like Robert Silverberg. It's no wonder his Born With The Dead won the Nebula: the story is the absolute essence of a simple, powerful story told with true mastery of the storyteller's art.

The plot is pretty easy to explain. In the future (well, the 1990s ...according to the story) the recently dead can be reanimated, "rekindled" to use the term in the novella. The problem is that while they aren't dead, they aren't quite alive either: distant and removed, the resurrected live among themselves in Cold Towns, forming a whole population, an entire world, apart from the rest of still-alive humanity.

Having recently lost Sybille, his wife, Jorge is having a hard time adjusting to seeing her rekindled into an aloof and distant version of herself. A very hard time. In fact he begins to stalk her as she slips into the life of the reanimated dead. This is where Silverberg again shines: the world he creates, if just for the length of a novella, is rich and sensory, full of sparkling details woven with musically brilliant prose. Silverberg also manages, in the space of a few spare pages, to investigate and ponder the role of death in human society, as well as in various flavors of culture.

The ending of Born With The Dead comes almost too soon, but when it does come it arrives like a thunderclap. And like a thunderclap, when you think back on its arrival, you realize you saw it coming for a long time - a short journey of Jorge and Sybille makes for a perfectly executed story, a tight little package of character, theme, style. Born With The Dead is considered one of Silverberg's best works, and it's definitely worth to seek out.

Monday, March 02, 2009

That's It ... I'm Moving to Paris

"If you live in France, for instance, and you have written one good book, or painted one good picture, or directed one outstanding film fifty years ago and nothing else since, you are still recognized and honored accordingly. People take their hats off to you and call you "maitre". They do not forget. In Hollywood --in Hollywood, you're as good as your last picture. If you didn't have one in production within the last three months, you're forgotten, no matter what you have achieved ere this."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker: The Best of the Best of the Best

(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)

Here's a quote that's very near and dear to my heart:
"From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs, but all I have done before the age of seventy is not worth bothering with. At seventy five I'll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist. At a hundred and ten everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokosai, but today I sign my self 'The Old Man Mad About Drawing.'"
That was from Katsushika Hokusai, a Japanese painter of the Ukiyo-e school (1760-1849). Don't worry about not knowing him, because you do. He created the famous Great Wave Off Kanagawa, published in his "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji" -- a print of which you've probably
seen a thousand times.

Hokusai says it all: the work is what's really important, that he will always continue to grow and progress as an artist, and that who he is will always remain less than what he creates.

Writing is like art. We struggle to put our thoughts and intimate fantasies down just-so, then we send them out into an often harsh and uncaring world, hoping that someone out there will pat us on the head, give us a few coins, and tell us we did a good job.

What with this emotionally chaotic environment a little success can push just about anyone into feeling overly superior. Being kicked and punched by the trials and tribulations of the writing life making just about anyone desperate to feel good about themselves -- even if it means losing perspective, looking down on other writers. Arrogance becomes an emotional survival tool, a way of convincing themselves they deserve to be patted on the noggin a few more times than anyone else, paid more coins, and told they are beyond brilliant, extremely special.

It's very easy to spot someone afflicted with this. Since their superiority constantly needs to be buttressed, they measure and wage the accomplishments and merits of other writers putting to decide if they are better (and so should be humbled) or worse (and so should be the source of worship or admiration). In writers, this can come off as someone who thinks they deserve better ... everything than anyone else: pay, attention, consideration, etc. In editors, this appears as rudeness, terseness, or an unwillingness to treat contributors as anything but a resource to be exploited.

Now my house has more than a few windows, and I have more than enough stones, so I say all this with a bowed head: I am not exactly without this sin. But I do think that trying to treat those around you as equals should be the goal of every human on this planet, let alone folks with literary aspirations. Sometimes we might fail, but even trying as best we can -- or at least owning the emotion when it gets to be too much -- is better than embracing an illusion of superiority.

What this has to do with erotica writing has a lot to do with marketing. As in my last column ("Pedaling Your Ass") where I vented a bit on the practice of selling yourself rather than your work, arrogance can be a serious roadblock for a writer. It is an illusion -- and a pervasive
one -- that good work will always win out. This is true to a certain extent, but there are a lot of factors that can step in the way of reading a great story and actually buying it. Part of that is the relationship that exists between writers and publishers or editors. A writer who honestly believes they are God's gift to mankind might be able to convince a few people, but after a point their stories will be more received with a wince than a smile: no matter how good a writer they are their demands are just not worth it.

For editors and publishers, arrogance shows when more and more authors simply don't want to deal with them. After a point they might find themselves with a shallower and shallower pool of talent from which to pick their stories -- and as more authors get burned by their attitude and the word spreads they might also find themselves being spoken ill of to more influential folks, like publishers.

Not to take away from the spiritual goodness of being kind to others, acting superior is also simply a bad career move. This is a very tiny community, with a lot of people moving around. Playing God might be fun for a few years but all it takes is stepping on a few too many toes -- especially toes that belong on the feet of someone who might suddenly be able to help you in a big way some day – making arrogance a foolish role to play.

I am not a Christian (despite my pseudonym) but they have a great way of saying it, one that should be tacked in front of everyone's forehead: "Do onto others as you would have then do unto you." It might not be as elegant and passionate as my Hokusai quote, but it's still a maxim we should all strive to live by -- professionally as well as personally.