Some Like it Hot…

WHAT I LIKE TO SEE IN EROTICA

10. Consensual sex.  Seriously, and see previous post, consent is hot.  A man (or woman) who asks permission and a woman (or man) who gasps out “yes!” is hugely sexy, because you know they know they want it, their partner knows they want it, heck, we all know they want it!

9. Respect. I’m not talking about the kind of respect you should show your mother (egads, I’m not talking about your mother at all!). I mean characters that don’t treat each other like idiots, or trash.  Sure, they can lie and cheat and be controlling and dark and dirty, but in the end, find a way to make them respectful of something.

8. The build-up, AKA the sexual tension. Listen, if there’s no tension beforehand, why do I care that they’re having sex? Lots of us have sex.  Whatever.

7. Laughter.  I like it when the characters laugh with each other, and when they make me laugh. Laughter is sexy.  Laughter should not be reserved solely for romance novels.  Of course, laughter in erotica needs to be…shall we say well placed?

6. Location, location, location! Sexy sex doesn’t have to stay in bed — it can be on the beach (it is in The Good Woman), in the office (er — ditto), and in the elevator (nope, didn’t do it). Heck, it can be on a different planet! But please don’t do it on a horse.  I’ve got a great imagination, but even I can’t imagine good sex on a horse.  No, no, really — have you ever ridden a horse?

5. Powerful women.  I love powerful women.  Not corporate boardroom powerful (but that’s okay, too), I mean just personally powerful.  Confident.  They may not be in complete control, but they’re not idiots.  It’s the Twenty-first century, for heaven’s sake!

4. A little sweet to go with the spicy.  I’m not a huge romance fan (now that’s some real fantasy stuff in there), but I do like my characters to have a moment of tenderness.  The awwww factor, used sparingly, can have great effects.

3. A little mystery.  I don’t really need every single, tiny, minute detail of his pecs (or her pecs), or even every detail of the sex.  They say the best sex is in the head (at least, they say that for women).  We can disagree on the veracity of this, but let’s leave a tiny bit in there just in case, okay?

2. Lots of good sex.

1. Did I mention lots of good sex?  Why do you think I’m reading (and writing!) erotica?

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I think smart is sexy.

cat trap!

sexy cat. sooooo sexy.

I like smart people. People that are comfortable with themselves I think is very sexy. My cat is really sexy.  (Gina Gershon)

Can Erotica be smart?

Of course it can!  In fact, lots of us prefer it smart.  We don’t really want to read about “down there, blush, blush” as if we’re simpering idiots who can’t bear to say the word VAGINA, or better yet, CUNT, even in the dirtiest situations.  Women — and men — who are in charge of our own bodies and our own lives (well, as much as any of us can be!) are frequently looking for stories with smart characters, and sometimes, just like us, those smart characters have sex.  This does not need to turn them into idiots.

But then again, sex is a strange and powerful force, isn’t it?

So, in the spirit of encouraging good erotica (and, well, the good things that can come from good erotica), here’s my list of Top Ten Erotica Peeves.  Stay tuned next week for my Top Ten Erotica Joys:

TOP TEN EROTICA PLEASE DON’TS:

10. Please don’t have non-consensual sex.  Consent is HOT.  Seriously, what’s sexier than a woman or a man who begs for it?  I LOVE consent.

9. Please don’t tell me his cock quivered.  Or fluttered.  People, I’ve only known a few cocks in my life, but not one of them quivered or fluttered.  They just don’t. They’re not butterflies.

8. Please don’t play the “no means yes” game.  This is BORING and NOT FUN. Nothing gets me frustrated faster (and not the good frustrated) than a woman who wants a (fill-in-the-blank) but pretends not to.  It’s a whole different story if she wants to but can’t for particular reasons and so must live in denial (but maybe not a very good erotica story), or she doesn’t really know herself what she wants — there can be lots of very good reasons for such confusion, and I rely on a number of them in my own storytelling.  In fact, The Good Woman is kinda built on this premise.  But if the light is green all around and she’s (or he’s) playing coy, that doesn’t build up the sexual tension — it builds up the snores.

Only Yes Means Yes Campaign

Only Yes Means Yes Campaign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7. Please — I really don’t need the messy details.  A test reader for The Good Woman once asked me “What about all the jizz?” by which I think she meant the liquid factor of sex, and its uniquely drippy quality.  We can talk about being “wet”, “damp,” even “soaking our panties” (again, this happens quite a bit in The Good Woman) but I don’t write about “the jizz” because I don’t really want to read about it.  Erotica may be frank, but does it have to be that frank? I’ve got nothing against the jizz itself — I just don’t need the messy details in my escapist erotica.

6. Men really can control themselves.  They don’t have to hurt their partners (unless their partners want to be hurt –a gain, see #10).  Please don’t write a man who loses so much control in the heat of his passion that he essentially rapes his partner, or “accidentally” bruises the heck out of her.  Men deserve a lot more credit than that.*

5. KNOW your sex before you WRITE your sex.  For example, BDSM practices use CONSENT (dang, there’s that #10 AGAIN). And they aren’t really intended to end in a bloodbath. Whip it up all you want, but please do so responsibly. Your readers will thank you.

4. Cultural appropriation.  Are you kidding me?  Did you really just write an erotic story with a white girl and a Native American warrior?? Is his name “Moon Hawk” for cryin out loud? No, wait — he’s a sheik? A sheik?? I just cringe every time I see it. I’m not saying you can’t cross the cultural boundaries (sociologist Joann Nagel refers to this as as a kind of sex tourism), but can you cross those boundaries respectfully? Because if you can’t, then stay inside your own borders.

3. Erotica actually has a plot. In fact, the plot is what builds the tension that makes those naughty scenes so delicious.  Please don’t skimp on the plot.

2. And by the way, please don’t skimp on the naughty scenes!

1. And finally, when you’re writing erotica, have fun!  We can tell when we read it, and it’ll be much better for us if it was good for you.  Was it?

*although, in all fairness, isn’t pushing someone past the point of control part of the fun?

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“There are no good girls gone bad — just bad girls found out” Mae West

What’s a Good Girl like me doing writing a book like that?

One day I woke up and told my husband I had to work on my dissertation.  Being the wonderful man he is, he whisked the kids out of the house for an entire uninterrupted day of writing.  But I did not work on my dissertation.  I opened up a new document and wrote the first dungeon scene in The Good Woman.  Took me a little over an hour.  Then I sat back and asked the empty kitchen in amazement,

“What in the world did I just do?”

But this was followed quickly by, “Who is this woman?  How did she get there?” and my fingers hit the keyboard again and wrote more.  And then some more.  By the time the kids came home, I had written nothing for my dissertation, but a whole lot of delicious sex.  First time I ever I put that stuff into words.  I prayed my mother wouldn’t stumble on it.

It took me a week to finish the first draft of The Good Woman (admittedly, it was a week off from work while the kids were in school and I wrote obsessively every spare minute.  I don’t think I cooked a single meal that week, or did laundry, or turned on the TV.  It was glorious).  When it was done I laughed and said, “Well, that was fun!” and went back to my real life.

But that book called to me.  It was one of those stories that just wouldn’t let go.  I kept picking away at it until I thought it was ready to share, and then I shared it.  The women who read it (some I knew, some I didn’t) told me “this is the story of my life!” and “this is exactly what it’s like at my house!” (well, I don’t think they meant the whole book — although I wish for them that they did!). The men who read it said, “Damn.  So that’s how it is.”

I decided to publish The Good Woman on smashwords.com rather than go through a traditional print publisher because I wanted to keep control of it — I didn’t want to tell a different story, I wanted to tell this story, and I didn’t want an editor or an agent (who, admittedly and undoubtedly, know the publishing industry better than I do) to tell me to change it up  (That sounds arrogant, doesn’t it? Look, I’m not claiming artistic perfection, just clinging with all I’ve got to something that right now is fun, something I don’t want to see become work). But before I could get The Good Woman up on smash, Goddess of Destruction was already unspooling out of my fingertips and on to my computer screen.

And don’t you know, those characters were having sex, too!  Of course, most of it was as some sort of insect…

What’s a good girl like me doing writing stories like this?  What’s a good reader like you doing, reading them?

Having fun!

available on smashwords.com and other ebook retailers

available on smashwords.com and other ebook retailers

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“When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better. ” Mae West

Cropped screenshot of Mae West from the traile...

Mae West in “I’m No Angel” (Photo credit: Wikipedia); now she was a whole lotta woman.

What, exactly, makes a woman “good”?  Is it her adherence to her commitments?  Her thoughtful care of the relationships in her life?  Her professional achievements?  In a “post-feminist” (puh-leaze) world we have learned that women can have it all, right? That we are entitled to all we can earn – including a fulfilling sexual life.

Haven’t we?

What happens when being a “good woman” gets in the way of being good to ourselves?  When we discover that all our efforts to be good have, in fact, produced a life we may not even recognize?

I think at its heart, this is what my novel The Good Woman is about, the tension between our desire and our deserving, what we build and what we wish for.

Maryanne, the main character of the novel, often finds a Talking Heads song floating through her head: “This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife.”  Haven’t we all had that moment when we lift our head and look around and suddenly realize we don’t know exactly where we are, even though we do know exactly how we got there?

I wish I had Maryanne’s courage in that moment.  She goes a long, long way to figure out what it means to be good, and what it means to be good to ourselves.

Maybe Mae West had it right.

You can find The Good Woman on smashwords.com and other ebook retailers.  I was super excited to find it had been downloaded over 600 times in its first week of publication! In celebration, I’m offering it for free until February 28, 2013 — my little Valentine’s Day gift to you!

Happy Reading!

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“Half my life is an act of revision” — John Irving

The Thinker

Hmmm…Lukacs, Lukacs, what are you doing here? (Photo credit: cszar)

Okay, as promised, here’s the post on…THE RE-WRITE (dun, dun, dun!!!)

You know, the first draft usually comes pretty easy to me.  The Good Woman was completed in one rollickin’ good week.  Goddess of Destruction is a slightly different story, though — Part 1 flew from my fingers, Part 2 fairly danced onto the computer screen, and Part 3 unwound slowly but surely.  I gotta admit, though, Part 4 is givin’ me some trouble.  I don’t know exactly what to do with Lukacs — drop me a line if you’ve got any ideas. He’s startin to dog me. This is where that whole “outline” idea comes in handy, I guess.

But once that first draft is written and the exhilaration and amazement (and the caffeine high) begin to fade, then it’s time for the real work.  John Faulkner once said that in writing, you must kill all your darlings.  He was right!  How many times have I written oh, such a beautiful phrase, such a wondrous turn of words, only to realize (or, more likely, have a test reader forcefully point out to me) that it just simply doesn’t belong.  It’s clutter.  It’s nonsensical.  It’s written background noise.  Kill it!  Kill it!  Die, darlings, die!

Even worse for me is THE COMMA.  Folks, I just love me some commas.  I put ‘em in everywhere.  If you’ve read either Goddess or Good Woman, you know this.  Heck, if you’ve gotten this far in this post you know it (I’m now nervously scanning the previous paragraphs).  And sentence fragments.  (There’s one!).  Somewhere I seem to have developed a love of stream-of-consciousness sentence frags (was it that summer I waded through James Joyce? Or is it my love of e.e. cummings?).  I have an unbelievably fabulous line editor, one of my BFFs, a sociologist-poet named Melissa who will return a manuscript to me loaded with red.  She has no mercy on my poor baby frags.

“They must die,” she tells me.

“But I love them!” I protest, holding all my little frags in a tight embrace.

“Kill them,” she says it casually, as if it means nothing.

A stereotypical caricature of a pirate.

Aaarrrrr! Off with their heads! blimey frags… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And so I do.  Or most of them, at least (there’s another one!).  It usually takes me a few passes, during which I kill a few at a time.  The survivors are sometimes hidden so well I miss them, but more likely I just couldn’t bear to knock ‘em off, so they huddle, hiding in the midst of weighty paragraphs and conversational tidbits (where surely they’re allowed, right?)

Poor little baby frags.  Gone the way of the comma, killed off.  Dead darlings.

But you know what?  The writing really is better without them.  So fuck ‘em.

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Another semester bites the dust…

Einstongue

Einstein didn’t care about European dynastic history, and he did okay.

Einstongue (Photo credit: dullhunk)

Haven’t posted for a while — been down under a pile of student papers.  But I’m finally emerging and able to breathe again, so I want to take a moment today, in this post, to reflect on those papers.

I’ve been reading student papers for a long time, and I believe they basically come in three flavors: the good, the better, and the I-obviously-couldn’t-care-less-about-you-your-class-or-this-paper.  Actually, scratch that, there’s four flavors: add I-obviously-don’t-care-but-I’m-gonna-try-to-make-you-think-I-do.  I HATE that last one.  At least be honest in your casual disregard of my life’s work.

The good papers are the ones wherein students who have clearly paid at least some attention during the semester take the time to structure their thoughts (their “thesis” we say in fancy academese) and hand in some variation of the “five paragraph monster”, the dominant form of expository language we are all taught from grade school on is the way to write an essay.  Introduce your argument: provide evidence and support: provide evidence and support: provide evidence and support: sum up your argument and say good-bye.  There’s nothing wrong, per se, with these papers; after all, students are practicing what’s been preached at them.  But dang, they’re dull.  They’re so structured. There’s no risk-taking.  It’s all memory and regurgitation: you told them x, y, and z, and they’re going to tell you x, y, and z.  Done.  Give me my A, please.

The better papers are the ones that step out of that script.  Maybe it’s a bold sixth or even – gasp! – seventh paragraph.  Maybe it’s actually…get ready…an original thought.  Even if that thought is frankly way off base (I once had a student tell me that Marie Antoinette was an early example of capitalism because she was clearly anti-socialist; the idea might actually bear some consideration, but I’m not sure the student — a budding anarchist — had given much thought to what capitalism and socialism actually are) — even if the argument is off base, it’s exciting to read it, and it’s even more exciting to engage with students, even through their papers, as they try out new ideas.

One last thought on those “I don’t care” flavors — I can tell you don’t care.  I could tell all semester long, when you showed up late or left early or actually thought I wouldn’t call you out for opening up the campus newspaper during class discussion.  By the end of the semester, I know who doesn’t care and who does.  You don’t have to care to get a good grade, but you do have to care, at least a little bit, to get an A.

Gato descarado saca la lengua

Sheba doesn’t care about dynastic europe, either. Gato descarado saca la lengua (Photo credit: losmininos)

But then again, I’m actually pretty sure you’ll do just fine in life without a finer grasp of European dynastic history or the key motivations during the Hundred Years War.  So vaya con dios, students!  Just fly!

“It is a wonder that curiosity survives formal education” — Albert Einstein

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The Many Ways We Write

A couple years ago I was sweatin out my dissertation, workin day and night to get it done in time for the defense date I had set with rose-colored optimism.  I was completely submerged in Renaissance literature, Renaissance poetry, Renaissance fashion, Renaissance art, Renaissance architecture, trying desperately to prove my argument that… that, um…what was that argument, anyway?  What was that life’s work about?  I dunno, I mean, it was a couple years ago.

Anyway, I was deeply submerged in all of it, until one Saturday I wrote a scene from The Good Woman, largely by accident.  Or perhaps as a last minute survival mechanism.  Writing that scene reminded me of how much I love writing — something that’s very easy to forget when one is writing a dissertation about…well, whatever it was about.

Later that summer, as my defense date loomed large in the nearing future, I broke away and found myself writing poetry.  Bad poetry.  I’ve always written bad poetry, actually.  There were times when I thought the whole dissertation should be written as bad poetry.  It would be an ironic ode to my point about Renaissance something or other.  But sadly, dissertation committees rarely appreciate hipster irony in their budding intellectuals, so I kept the verse to myself and stuck to producing as dry and dusty a dissertation tome as I could.

Until today!  Below is a brief sample of some of the bad poetry that kept me getting up in the morning (usually after going to bed only slightly earlier in the morning), along with gallons of iced coffee and my new best friends Marlborough and Newport (I’ve since dumped them by the side of the road, although they call me  up once in a while and try to get back with me).

I guess if I learned anything from this intense writing period of my life — on the one hand, chasing an historical “truth” and carefully crafting an argument that I’m not sure was ever anything more than intellectual masturbation, and on the other hand indulging in writing erotica and luxuriating in my own bad poetry — it’s that writing can both feed itself and starve itself, and that writers must be willing to jump into different skins if we want to remain “writers”.  Words were a flurry for me in that half-year, burying me and snuggling up to me all night long, sometimes nourishing and sometimes asphyxiating.  Bad poetry might have saved me more than once, and it’s owed a public light, if only to express my gratitude for the lifeline it offered.

Happy Reading!

History

History, thou art a whore.

Your coquettish promises

fail the more.

Your promising moan and hints of delight

play me false,

true and eager lover

in the dusty, secret night.

Love sonnet to my Dissertation in July

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

I can’t, you keep yanking me away

You hide the sun behind your endless words

Until I forget its warmth and burrow instead

In your empty promises of Generalization.

A multitude of commas

I have too many commas

Semi-colons to spare

Run-on sentences abound,

Active voice is rare.

Lost in a forest of grand theory,

Seeking respite from the hounds of validity,

I am swimming in bibliography,

Endless typing without end.

I ignore my husband and family

Spell-check, my only friend.

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Whatcha readin?

Anne Rice

my long lost friend Anne Rice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Title page of first edition of Anna K...

Big book = me smart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.” ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

I just finished Anna Karenina by Tolstoy — I’d never read it before and I wanted to read it before I see the film (this weekend!).  I’m exhausted.  But I feel very smart.  Then again, “Everything intelligent is so boring” (that’s from the novel — see how smart I’ve gotten? oh, wait — )

You ever notice how a really good book brings you racing to the end, already knowing that you’ll hate the ending if only because it will bring the book to a close?  With me, when it’s something really great I simply can not put it down.  I will ignore family and friends and housework and paid work until that last page.  I will walk across campus reading it, blind to the stares of students and colleagues.  I’ll bring it to the gym and spend my entire hour on the stationary bike, ignoring the free weights and neglecting my biceps, my book propped up on the handlebars. When it’s finally over, I will continue to carry the story around with me a little longer.  I don’t even like to talk about it, unwilling to let the taste of it out of my mouth.  I just want to hoard it and savor it and lick my lips at its deliciousness.

I think the next cause of neglecting my children will be Anne Rice’s The Wolf Gift. I haven’t spent any time with Anne in over a decade…I ate everything she had, and then I left her flat, moved on, found someone else to feed me.  But I’ve found her again, and I’m ready and eager to renew our love affair.  My academic semester ends in another week, and I’m planning on adding research to my list of neglected responsibilities while I eat her up.

C.S. Lewis once said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”   Change that tea to coffee and throw some cookies in, and I’m in full happy agreement.

Happy Reading!

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Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. — E.L. Doctorow

Alice Walker

Alice Walker is secretly chiding me for not outlining

I know writers are supposed to outline, outline, outline.  All the writers I admire — Stephen King, Alice Walker, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood — I hear tell they outline.  They’re outliners. Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but they do seem to have a very good sense of who their characters are, and where they are going, and why, before they write the story itself.  What a brilliant idea, really — make a roadmap for the journey before you start the car.

Except I can’t do it that way.  Well, I do it that way sometimes, especially for the more academic stuff I write (my other life, aka “the day job”).  But with the fiction I just can’t.  Instead, I walk the dog in the woods or meander down the bread aisle spinning stories in my head.  By the time I get to the computer, the stories have changed.  They breathe, they move, they hide.  Sometimes I think they laugh at me.  But I just can’t seem to pin them down ahead of time.  When I do, the words come out all stiff — like academic writing. And frankly, the story starts to bore me.  And if it bores me (its mother), there’s no way I can expect you, Dear Reader, to hang in there.  It works best for all of us, I think, when I just turn the computer on and let my fingers fly.

For example, I didn’t even know I was writing a novel until I was halfway through The Good Woman.  There were moments in writing The Good Woman when a character would say something and in my head I would wonder, “why did s/he say that?” but within five minutes my fingers had answered the question for me, and I said, “oh, that’s why s/he said that!”  It was a great big adventure — I never knew what was going to happen next.  Who knew, for example, that Julian would be into T’ai Chi?  I didn’t!

But editing!  Ah, editing is a different matter.  And don’t even get me started on the re-writing.  And re-writing, and re-writing.   I’ll go on ad nauseum about all that in another post –let’s keep this one on the bright side!

Maybe I’ll be a better outliner someday.  I mean after all, if Stephen King and Alice Walker are outliners, who am I to buck the system?  But not today.  Today I just want to watch my fingers fly and marvel at what the people in that other world are doing and saying, and wonder why, and wait for them to tell me.

Happy Writing!

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I LOVE stories!

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”     — Maya Angelou

I spend enough time pretending to have “answers” — I’m a professional professor.  And a mother.  Ask any of the two hundred or so students who have to endure my lectures on campus every year, or the two children who have to endure the same at home every day.  Answers rise to my lips and escape my mouth far too often, and I tell you, it’s a kind of madness.  To study and study, and think and write and talk, and believe that you have arrived at some sort of conclusion worth sharing, is a terrible arrogance.

But to tell stories!  To tell stories is to build something.  A connection, a link, a relationship forged from wonder and fear and anger, or perhaps love and lust and disappointment.  These things are real.  The heady cocktail of satisfaction and yearning when you’ve devoured the very last sentence of that story that kept you up at night, and kept you from concentrating on your “real” life during the day — that’s real.

I always wanted to be a storyteller.  When I was little and all my friends wanted to be ballerinas or actresses, I wanted to be a novelist.  But then somewhere along the way, somehow, I learned that I couldn’t.  That it was too hard, or required more time than I could give it, or I wouldn’t make a decent living writing stories.  Actually, all these things are probably true, but I’ve decided I no longer care.

Cuz sooner or later, you really do have to follow your bliss, right?

I wont’ quit my day-job (I actually really like my day-job — I teach history at a small college in Oregon, and history, after all is just chock full of stories).  But from here on out, I will stop believing the folks who say, “you can’t.”

Because I can.  I am!  In January my first novel The Good Woman will be available on smashwords.com, under Alex Jones (that’s me!  The writer!).  My second novel Goddess of Destruction is a work-in-progress on Smashwords right now. I think Goddess is going to be a four-part novella series, so stay tuned!

I love stories.  I love reading em, and I love writing em.  If you love stories, too, smashwords is a great place to find them.  You’ll see me there, reviewing what I’ve read (I’ll do that here, too) and publishing what I’ve written.  I’ll look for you.

Happy Reading!

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