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Showing posts with label On Writing. Show all posts
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On Transgression, Taboo Subjects, and Censorship

sculpture at Khajuraho Temple

Transgression, Rule-breaking and Paradoxes of the Human Condition


As a storyteller, I used to say my first mission was to entertain, and I have written many fun, little stories. But taboo subjects are, by far, more interesting to write.

Looking for ways to question, overturn assumptions, startle moral codes, and catch readers—and myself—off guard, I examine each work before I begin to decide how to best accomplish these things, for they have become the very point of most of my stories.

The Satanic CalveryFelicien Rops
My short fiction can be shocking, or controversial; my characters mean or ugly, but what entertains more than that which inspires fear, shock, denial, uncertainty, mystery, or gives us a glimpse at subjects we think we know (presented in a new way), or at worlds completely foreign to us?

I enjoy flipping expectations on their heads by the end of my tales, having led the reader through the dark and scary forest maze of transgression, into the safe clearing on the other side, sometimes with a new set of feelings and understanding of my subject.

Original writing is not born on the non-offensive-to-anyone-politically-correct middle ground, but always at the fringe. Taboo subjects make us think and can bring about changed minds. Or show us new worlds. Or close doors. It shows us who we, and others, really are. So why write a boring story when you can do all that?

Taboo Subjects and Themes, Creativity, and Censorship


Writing requires not only freedom but also the assumption of freedom. If a writer is afraid of the penalties of their creative choices, themes, or treatment of subjects, then their work will not be formed by their talent or creativity, but by fear.

When censorship hinders writing, it becomes the subject; the writing is stamped “censored or banned”, and that is how the world sees it forever. The censored work is believed to have earned and deserved censorship. The censor’s falsehood replaces the writer’s truth. Other’s beliefs and preferences control the writer, and the reader’s perception of the work is formed before it is read because of a label.


Now, I know writing need not only entertain. At its best, good writing is ground-breaking. Revolutionary. Writers should have no barriers to creativity, and no subject should be off-limits. Publishers must be braver; retailers and readers have a right not to buy or read things they have no interest in. Not to have their perspectives touched. But, again, how boring is that world?

That said, as a mom, I believe in controls over accessibility for minors and on clear labeling to inform, not incite judgment or condemn. That’s where it gets tricky.

The Free Expression Policy Project (a think tank on artistic and intellectual freedom) provides research and advocacy on free speech, copyright, and media democracy issues to protect the rights of writers and readers worldwide.

Links and Resources




Must-read Series for Erotica Writers and Readers

Several months ago, Emmanuelle de Maupassant invited erotica genre writers to share their secrets and thoughts about writing, writing erotica, their processes, and backgrounds in a very detailed written interview. 

130 responded, writing honestly of their experiences.

She's been sharing the results in an amazing series (which came out right about the time I felt compelled to post about "erotica today").

The series has been thought-provoking, provocative, and eye-opening.

It's a delight reading how various authors approach the writing process and the manner in which they focus their erotic lenses and why they do so. READ IT HERE (and see links at the end for more in the series).

Erotica Today

After Fifty Shades of Grey and countless copy-cats, I almost hate to say I write erotica. I like porn as much as the next person, so let me explain my hang-up. 

You see, real erotica is not usually about pleasure or sex, just as sex is not always about the body. Sex can leave you wanting or satiated, physically and emotionally. Sex involves emotions (even for men, despite what some would have you believe). 


Sex can make you sad, happy, relieved, or something else entirely. Sex can heal or wound. Traditional erotica explores more than desire, more than body parts, and more than orgasms. It digs deeper than surface emotions. Real erotica doesn’t necessarily require you to feel horny when or after you read it.

Good erotica often challenges you to think about yourself as a whole being. It asks you to explore the ways sex unites us, rips us apart, embarrasses us, or defines us. The best erotica shines a light into our most secret, dark corners. It can make you uncomfortable, or squirmy.

Erotica doesn’t condemn or judge or exploit. It often features people we recognize in ourselves. Imperfect people. People who don’t have movie-star looks or Christian Grey’s bank account.

Since I began writing erotica in 2005, I’ve written stories about many facets of sexuality, from the serious to the absurd, the sad to the joyous, and everything in between. I love a challenge and often write stories to push my own boundaries or to understand things that make me uncomfortable.

I love to shock the senses and do not shy away from difficult subjects. When I write BDSM, it’s about more than toys and playacting; it’s about what drives people to delve into it (and, shocker, it’s usually not because they were abused as children).

Horror is my favorite genre to read, so much of my erotica could be classified as erotic horror.

My goal as a writer is simply to create the best stories I can. No genre is off-limits. If I offend you with my fiction, good. If I turn you on, okay. If I make you think . . . nirvana. It’s all about the emotions to me. Sex is not my focus.

One of the best compliments I’ve ever received from a reader was, “This is the product of a sick and twisted mind.

My reply? “Thank you!
In a market saturated with porn calling itself erotica, and poorly written books still jumping on the Fifty Shades of Grey and soccer-mom porn bandwagon, there are still writers who offer something more than body parts moving in paper-thin plots. These are a few of my favorites:

Charlotte SteinShe’s edgy and unexpected. Her prose is razor sharp. Whether she makes you laugh or fidget or sigh with pleasure, you’ll be entertained.

Remittance GirlRG has a knack for writing believable people and lush, foreign settings with an other-worldly quality. Her work holds its own against mainstream writers. When I grow up, I want to be her.

Rose de FerRose writes lush, Gothic-flavored stories and books in a distinctive and captivating voice. 

Malin James – She describes her writing best: "Sex can be joyful, painful, wholesome or filthy - sometimes all at once. The people involved determines what kind of sex is being had, far more than the physical act alone."

10 Easy Things to Give up to Improve Your Writing

I got an email recently from a client, asking how I write so many short stories and books while sometimes working full-time, being a wife and a mom, starting a business, working with other writers, and doing a million other things (including dealing with three surgeries in two years, and not writing or working at all for a long time).

Here's my secret: Doing more didn't work (and wasn't possible most of the time). In fact, doing more almost killed me.

Doing LESS is the key to my success. By giving up the following things, my energy shifted, and I found a sense of freedom and acceptance that resulted in people, resources, and offers flowing to me with almost no effort on my part.

Words flowed like rivers and inspiration came from everywhere.

10 Things to Give up to Improve Your Writing:

1. Give up perfect first drafts.

Let go of the idea that you need to fix every mistake or worry over each sentence until it is just right before moving on. If you're stuck on anything (details about a place, a character's name, how to commit a murder), don't stop to research.

Write, and know you can go back and fix things later. Bracket items, add a comment or highlight text to remind yourself what needs attention later. Leave spelling mistakes alone. Screw punctuation.


Learning how to write, worry-free and full of mistakes, was a life changer. It gave me a creative space of non-judgment that allowed me to produce work much faster. Everything can be fixed when you edit. It's actually easier when you can see the whole picture.

2. Give up negative language.

Stop saying:

I can’t.
I won’t.
It’s impossible.
It won’t happen.


Get rid of limiting statements. They prevent you from seeing possibilities and opportunities.

3. Give up draining relationships.

Also, get rid of people who make you feel crappy or say anything from the list above to you. Stop hanging out with people where the relationship isn't balanced, or doesn't make you feel good.


Go ahead. Unfriend and unlike and block anyone who spews negativity or who never fails to make you feel like you 're not good enough. Stop wasting time on them. Breathe a sigh of relief.

4. Give up unhealthy food.

I'm an 80/20 girl. 80% of the time, I am an angel. 20% . . . not so much. Junk food depletes energy instead of filling you with it so you can perform at your best.


Try eating vibrantly colored, real food for breakfast and lunch. Or try a vegetarian diet for those meals then splurge at dinner, eat meat, and enjoy wine, beer, or even dessert.

5. Give up too little sleep and electronics.

Your body and soul need time to recharge. Get at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night so you can thrive during the day. Remove electronics from your bedroom.

6. Give up being reactive or defensive about your writing or genre.

Writing is hard enough without dealing with reviews. Elizabeth Gilbert makes a great case for never reading them here.

Some people delight in tearing others down. Stop paying attention to them. See #3 again if you need to.

If you are stuck (as I was at a neighborhood party recently, surrounded by negative Nellies and haters), just take a deep breath, find someone nice to talk with, or leave.


7. Give up trying to change how people feel about your genre or writing.

It’s an impossible task. End of story.

"Hemingway sucks. If I set out to write that way, it would have been been hollow and lifeless because it wasn't me." - Stephen King

8. Give up trying to do it all.

Pick what makes you happy, and work on that. One project at a time.

Surrender to the idea that things happen in their own time when you do something (anything) toward your writing goals daily. A watched pot never boils, but the universe is always paying attention.
9. Give up not writing for you.

You are free to express yourself any way you wish. If your intentions are cloudy, the world will respond accordingly. If you try to write a bestseller, but your heart isn't in it, readers know.

When you come from a place of love, passion for your topic, and honesty, good things happen for you and people around you. Readers feel the difference.


10. Give up believing the illusion.

Most writers never become millionaires, and that's okay. Love what you do, and it won't matter. Have fun, and use this knowledge to inspire yourself to write whatever makes you happy.


A writer's best reward is often helping other writers. We're all in this together.

If anything I said here helped you, please share this post with someone else.

Namaste, and happy writing,


Water me, Baby

S

One from the vaults . . . still true today.

Some people search their entire lives for a place to call home. Some, born by the shore, never feel quenched until the dry, arid heat of a desert causes their internal landscape to gush like a waterfall. Others, surrounded by wide-open flatlands, only feel unbound and free atop high mountains, cosseted by trees.

Raised by nomads, I always wanted nothing more than a stable home—any home that would not change. However, though I have been content in many places, none nourishes me like those by the ocean.

For many years, the sea was only a dream that whispered to me like an unknown lover. It was an image captured in film and in the lyrics of songs that moved me as love songs never did. I flew over oceans and drove past them, trapped in the family station wagon, unable to convince my father to pull over and let me walk along the shore to feel the waves lapping at my adolescent toes. I fished rivers, but did not find them wide or deep enough. I swam in lakes but, in their murky depths, I felt the grounding pull of the land surrounding me and longed for a crystalline blue, saltwater abyss.


When I had freedom to roam at will, I set my sights on California and, after traveling the coast like one whose task it was to map every crevice, I found the place my soul calls home—the short stretch of rugged coastline between Monterey and Carmel. It was there I sat, on a day forever etched in my memory, and decided to pick up my pen after many long years, and write again. Inspired by frolicking otters, windswept cypress trees, and the harsh surf pounding the rocky cliffs, I began notes on what was to become my first novel. I was home. I had a purpose. My spirit was awash in salted water. Life was good.

Now, I live in Chicago, on the shore of a great lake, but the ocean still beckons like a friend who is just out of reach, never forgotten, and always longed for. I see her within my fondest memories and everywhere, in my writing, is water.

From Eden


The water moves, liquid around me.

I belong to it - slippery, soft, alive. I breathe it, taste it. It fills me.

I am a mermaid, a dolphin, a goddess.

The hands on my body are worshipful, though not always gentle. Some bodies inspire me to flatten my palms, and skim lightly over their surfaces, while others seem to beg for a pinch or a rougher jerk. Some taste of the sea, while others hold the perfume of flowers on their tongues.

I go with the moments as they come, drifting from one to the next.

Buffeted by flesh, I float in pleasure.



From In The Name of The Father


The house was easy to find. It was the only one at the end of the road, perched high on a cliff overlooking the sea. Even up here, the gusty wind blew sand over Michael's boots, and he could smell the ocean's salted, fresh-fish scent.

Dropping his bag, he rechecked the safety on the snub-nosed .38 he'd bought in Ixtapa before hitching his ride.

Sheer, white curtains billowed through an open window of the inviting house, waving him closer it seemed. An old rocker painted sky blue moved a ghostly to and fro on the porch. Everything else was still. The only sound was the crashing of waves far below.

As Michael started walking again, he prayed Isabella was waiting.



From Amethyst’s Feather 


When Amethyst was told her father’s plan, she wept for days. She cried so many tears the creek twining through her garden became a river of salted water that did not evaporate until she was long dead. Every bloom in her garden withered to dust, except for the lilacs; these flowers bloomed lusher than ever before.

From Amaranthine Rain 


Rain spills from the azure sky, washing away sorrow and taking away pain. Upon an ancient river, we now float coming and coming again as our bodies cling together, eternally pleasured and eternally bound.

“Evermore, Jack…mine now,” Diane says, pulling me under the waves.

My toes skim pebbles smoothed by time as the water takes me into a dark abyss where violets bloom in currents fed by rain—never ending rain.


****

We are born in a gush of fluid, and our bodies are composed of approximately 65% water. Like life, water is continually moving, lured by the tug of the moon, and changes in our world. One moment, it is mist, then ice, then rain. It sustains us.

In my erotica, people play dangerous games suspended over hotel bathtubs. They share their wives in bubble-filled whirlpools, and they cross rivers, pausing to look at their reflections in the water below in an effort to find themselves. Water often symbolizes love, safety, and home. It lifts the human spirit, supports the body and soothes the mind. Much like sex, it allows us to drift in a special place that is almost primal in its necessity to life itself.

If you live by the water, go there today. Get your feet wet. If you are landlocked, draw a bath, light some candles, and allow yourself to float, weightless in sensuous water. Close your eyes, and be reborn.

Themes and Symbolism in Erotica - 5 Tips (and Reasons Why)

I write erotic fiction, not pornography. Often, I share my work here and ask for nothing in return because it allows me to write what interests me. I choose themes that examine the human condition. Symbolism is a way to shine a comforting light into places where eroticism intersects with the familiar in our lives or where dark and scary things lurk.

If you want to sell work to quality publishers, make more money, and receive recognition as a serious writer, your erotica must contain more than sex. Here why:

  1. People like solving riddles. Drop theme clues throughout a story, and let readers put the puzzle pieces together as they read. This keeps them interested and eliminates the need for the boring, lengthy explanations, back-stories, descriptions, or dull dialogue to tell your story. Our brains like figuring out mysteries and riddles. There’s a deep satisfaction that comes when we have a light-bulb moment, and everything clicks into place as we’re reading a story. These stories make readers say, “Wow!” when they finish them. Always good. 

    Wool
     by Hugh Howey has a killer theme woven throughout and is full of symbolism and riddles. I bought copies for everyone I know. Read part one here free on Amazon.

  2. Themes make writing stronger and give stories direction and focus. If, after you’ve written a story, you can’t pick out threads of a theme, ask why. Odds are you haven’t told a strong enough story. Once, I edited a short story for a new, unpublished writer. It was a straightforward lesbian sex scene with some D/s elements (porn), but it became a literary erotica piece with a strong theme about taking chances with a new lover, sharing secret desires when you’re not sure they’ll go for it. Once the theme was there, it was easy tweaking the story slightly to incorporate more tension, fear, and jumping-off-a-cliff moments. The writer sold her story to a major anthology publisher, and the book won a prestigious award. None of that would have happened had the writer not developed a strong theme.

  3. Amaranthine Rain (a Short-Story Collection) by Zander Vyne
    Themes and symbolism color your story and add to mood and rhythm.
     Colors help with theme development because they evoke similar responses in people and can define a mood. They are easily recognized symbols. Colors inspire feelings and set the tone for your story. Colors can capture the theme of your story without explanation. Red is my favorite because I write a lot of erotic-horror stories. Purple is soothing, Gothic, and poetic. Black is edgy and mysterious.


    For examples of color used to enhance a mood and carry a story, check out my latest collection of short stories, 
    Amaranthine Rain. The title story (read it here) uses purple to bring together third person, past and present tenses, and to give a lush, exotic feeling to the whole piece. In Souvenirs, red is splashed over everything and contributes to the twisted, scary horror of the mind-bending story. In the noir tale, Tricked, I use blue. Red pops up again in La Belle Mort.

  4. You’ve convinced me. How do I develop a theme? Before spending hours writing a boring story about sex (insert A into slot B and enjoy), ask yourself these questions—what’s the purpose of my story? What do I want the reader to feel when they finish reading? Lead with the theme and the plot will follow. An excellent writing teacher once told me, “Average writers lead with plot. Advanced writers lead with theme.” Great stories are born when a writer has something meaningful to say and they are willing to work to make that meaning clear.

    Decide what central problem your protagonist faces at the beginning of your story, and culminate in a choice that illustrates acceptance, change, or denial. If your problem is based on a protagonist’s weakness (or perceived weakness, like in my story 
    Red House about a gay priest who enjoys cutting), you can create a theme thread throughout your story, ending with a revelation tied to the theme. If an issue strongly motivates the protagonist throughout the story, good. If it conflicts with others too, even better. With a strong theme, symbolism becomes easy to add, like herbs and spices to a stew once it has simmered.

  5. Moral of the story—every story needs a solid theme, and symbolism is to words what paint is to an artist's canvas. Theme are stepping stones to guide your reader's imagination.




Erotica Writing Themes (in 5 Easy Steps)

I write. I read. I review books. I edit, and I love helping other writers. We're all in this thing together.

Often, when I ask erotica authors the theme of their story, they say, “Sex?” If you want to sell more work, make more money, and receive more recognition, that's a bad answer. Your story has to contain other elements. Here why:

1. Every compelling story has a theme, usually tied to common human issues and emotions. The Shining? Ignore your problems (or try to hide from them), and they’ll come back and bite you in the ass—hard. Gone with the Wind? Don’t be so focused on what you want today that you sacrifice what you need tomorrow (because, Scarlett, though tomorrow is another day, you might wake up and find what you want most doesn’t give a damn about you anymore).

2. It’s difficult to write an interesting story where sex is the whole story. We’re adults. We’ve had sex. We’ve seen it and read about it. Most of us have had issues that impact our enjoyment of sex, our comfort level surrounding fetishes, discussions about sex, or our relationships with people because of sex. Despite our familiarity with it, sexual desire still embarrasses or shames many people. It delights the hell out of others who've managed to get past all that. These things are always more intriguing than the sex bits. Even if you write straight-up porn, you can elevate it by adding thematic elements to your plot.



Few stories linger in my memory because most erotica writers today ignore everything but the sex. A favorite story, Normal by Charlotte Stein, is full of sex, but the theme is sexual fear—what if you find you enjoy edge play a little too much for comfort? Another erotica writer who gets the power of theme is Remittance Girl

3. Okay, so why don’t more erotica writers use themes? Some writers have trouble with themes because they don’t understand what they are or how they work. Some resist sending a message or conveying a moral. They confuse subjects and opinions with themes. Drug addiction and death are subjects, not themes. Sex is a subject too, not a theme. A theme contains the story’s controlling idea, emotional lesson, or moral argument (though no moral judgment must occur). A theme is not a box or a rule. No one likes those. A theme is like a thread, tying things together and giving the sex meaning.

Some writers are lazy. They want to write a story and be done with it. The idea of editing, developing, or (god forbid) changing anything, sounds like work. “It’s just a story,” they say. “My narrator is unreliable,” they insist, to cover weak writing. “If I rewrite things, it won’t be my story anymore.” To all that, I call bullshit. Professional writers know the real story (and the theme) emerges in the editing. It’s hard work but worth it when you create something of substance, not just another story about doing it.

4. Themes give us familiar images and comforting signposts along the way. Think of any Disney movie (yes, even though we’re talking about writing sex). The stories might involve evil circus-owners, or talking lions, or princesses with enemies, but they all contain elements we’ve come to recognize—abandonment, happily-ever-after endings, mommy/daddy issues, fairy tale and mythology touch-stones. We plunge right into Disney’s worlds because so much is already embedded in our memories. They tap into common themes. Use themes wisely, and you help readers fill in the blanks, so you can focus on the meat of your tale and on your character’s development. You won’t have to resort to lengthy explanations, back-stories, long descriptions, or dull dialogue to tell your story.

5. Themes tie together otherwise disparate elements. With a well-thought-out theme, you can write from multiple perspectives, in first person and/or third. You can flash forward, backward, or sideways, and your reader will follow your theme breadcrumbs and walk away feeling as if they’ve read one solid piece of writing. Themes are stepping stones to better writing. Well-done themes enchant readers and editors alike. Anita Shreve masterfully shows this skill off in her excellent novel, The Weight of Water, jumping back and forth in time, perspectives, and tense. Though considered mainstream, this work contains many erotic elements, most of which would not have worked without such a strong theme and command of writing.


Feel free to chime in, or ask questions in comments, if you'd like help figuring out how to start using themes in your writing. 



7 Ways to Sell Your Erotica (or Erotic Short Stories)

Everyone wants to know how they can sell their short erotica stories (or erotic short stories as some people call them). It’s the first thing people ask me when they find out I've sold every short story I've written, in many cases more than once.

There’s no big secret (sorry to disappoint you). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do that will set your work above 85% of other writer’s submissions to anthologies and magazines.

Here’s the quick and dirty run-down:

  1. Find a good source for “Calls for Submissions” (when a publisher asks writers to submit their work for consideration), so you don't waste time hunting for current calls. My favorite is the Erotica Readers and Writers Association lists. You can get on their list here. They’ll email you current calls for submission and guidelines. And that brings me to the next tip . . .
  2. Read and follow calls for submissions like a boss. Every editor will tell you exactly what they’re looking for in a story and how to format and submit your work. Follow the rules. This is not the time to step outside the box. Editors tell me 85% of submissions are tossed in the trash simply because the writer didn’t follow the submission guidelines.
  3. If you have a story that’s perfect for a call, submit it (follow the specs and reformat it if necessary). If you’re way off on word count, trim the story. If you can’t cut your story, but you still think it’s perfect for the call, read on to #4.
  4. If you have a story that’s almost perfect, but you have a question, write the editor and tell them your issue. Let them invite you to submit or tell you no up front. Trust me; they appreciate being asked (especially when you’re in doubt because of content or word count). Even if the answer is no, you’ll look like a professional.
  5. If you are writing a story from scratch, make a list of storylines you expect other writers to submit. For one of these ideas to be accepted, it had better be AMAZING. You have a much better shot at selling a story that’s unexpected. Throw your first list away, and make another list. This time, come up with ideas that fit the call but come at the editor’s wish-list from a different angle. Surprise them. Be unique.
  6. Have readers (not your mom or friends) critique your work. You can join a critiquing group online (the Erotica Readers and Writers Association, linked above in #1, has an excellent on-line group specializing in erotica), or join a group like the one I started on Facebook, The Slush Pile where readers, writers, and editors are happy to offer suggestions and help you fix boo-boos before you submit your work.
  7. Edit like a pro or hire an editor. Spell-check doesn’t cut it when you’re submitting professionally. Try Grammarly’s free software or pay for the pro version. Read The Chicago Manual of Style. Educate yourself on proofreading and editing, or hire a professional to handle editing and proofreading for you. It’s worth the money. Nothing turns off a story editor more than work full of mistakes.

I hope this helps you in your quest to write and sell your erotica (or erotic short stories or whatever you want to call it).

If you have a specific question, don’t hesitate to ask me. Besides reading and writing, there’s nothing I like more than helping other writers and talking about the art of writing.

NOTE: I am not affiliated in any way with the Erotica Readers and Writers Association, Grammarly, or The Chicago Manual of Style and, I receive no compensation for steering people their way.

On Prince's Loss, His Gifts to the World and to Me

Prince, 1980 Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
The day Prince passed away, I listened to his music, letting it speak for me as my daughter tried to understand my tears and sadness over his loss. You see, while I might admire their work, I seldom feel a personal connection to celebrities, recognizing (after working in the film industry and hanging around musicians and famous people for much of my life) that most of us do not know them. Not really. We know what we think we know about them based on what they choose to show us. I understand; we are strangers to them.

Prince was different. While I didn't know him, he knew me. He knew me in the 80s when I was a young girl experiencing passion and heartbreak. He knew me as a woman in the 90s when I struggled to figure out who I was, feeling things people said I shouldn't, with goals and desires others said were wrong. He knew me when I wore $5.00 Payless fake-suede boots with spiked heels and a $1.00 faux-diamond necklace strapped around one booted ankle, strutting down Sunset Blvd. into a club, feeling good about myself in a way that had nothing to do with how I looked on the outside in my cheap-ass clothes.

He knew me later as a writer when I found the courage to cut myself free from what others were doing and wrote what I felt in my heart. He inspired me and countless others, usually anonymously and without credit, and he inspired me to write a story, Amaranthine Rain.
"Carnality was to Prince what photosynthesis is to plants. And in this metaphor, as befits a man famous for playing all his own instruments, he’s also the bee, pollinating pleasure." - Wesley Morris, The New York Times
No quotes, tributes, articles, pictures or music videos could do justice to the different things he represented to so many people.

"He lived." That was the best way I could explain Prince to my daughter. "He lived, and he felt, and he inspired people to find their own way and to do it passionately without giving a fuck about what anyone else thought or did. He never said these things. He showed us, and we heard his message in every song lyric he wrote and felt it in every guitar lick he played."

I wrote Amaranthine Rain the way Prince wrote lyrics, spending days finding just the right words to express poetically my feelings about infidelity, love, and death. Passion, loss, and hatred. I wrote it for a writing contest I knew I wouldn't win because my story's eroticism wasn't "in your face" enough.

sex in the rain
Photo credit - Elena Toma
So I wrote another story. In twenty minutes. A kiss-my-ass story more in line with what I knew would be accepted. And I felt guilty about it. About betraying myself. So I sent both stories. Of course, the other story I'd written won. The obvious story. The funny, fake story. The one without an ounce of heart.

"The judging was blind," one of the judges told me later. "We had no idea you'd written both stories until we'd decided on the ranking of prizes, and we agonized over the choice to ignore a work so many of us felt was the first-prize winner. In the end, we gave Weather Girl the prize because we felt it represented what erotica readers expected of us. But we loved Amaranthine Rain. We argued and debated, and I left the judging feeling shitty that the world wasn't ready for erotica like this and wouldn't see your words. I'm so sorry."

Photo credit - Nikki Moore
I wasn't sorry. His words affirmed what I'd already figured out on my  own; my writing had worth. I had worth, no matter what others thought. Even if I was the only one who could see it between the lines. Even if my work never found an audience. Even if people thought I was weird, or different. Even if my brother-in-law was ashamed and my in-laws and mother ignored my efforts. I had to keep writing. And never, ever write something again just to conform to what others expected, desired, or validated. I have a feeling Prince would have understood that.
"Thunder drowns out what the lightning sees." - Prince (from Raspberry Beret)
So I kept writing, and over the years, short-fiction collections of my work have been published by three publishers. My writing has appeared in magazines, anthologies, collections, and in five novels. I write under this name and others. Inspired by Prince, in so many ways, I often help artists and writers without expecting anything in return.

And I never thanked him. Never reached out even if I knew I probably wouldn't hear back from such a famously reclusive and private star. I never gave him credit for helping me to become me, for showing me that as flawed as I am, as different as I am, I have value just as I am. To me. To anyone who reads something I write and feels something, anything.

He inspired me, but nothing reflects Prince's influence more than Amaranthine Rain, a short story (and later the title of a collection of my stories) that would never have existed if not for his influence.
AMARANTHINE - Resembling the amaranth flower. Purple in color. Unfading, undying.
So Amaranthine Rain was really called Purple Rain, in Prince's honor. Like he so often did, I never spoke of it. And, to my knowledge, no one ever made the connection, though the story and title are filled with references to the color purple, rain, and Prince-like themes.

Prince at Coachella 2008
I'm certain he hears us now, thanking him as our hearts are awash in purple grief that feels like oceans of violets in bloom within our spirits as we relive his genius through his music and our memories of him.

READ Amaranthine Rain



The Edge - Zander Vyne Has Jumped Off

I started this blog in 2008 with a post about the state of erotica, and my concerns over where things were headed with publishers and editors jumping on the porno bandwagon. Though most of my fears were realized in the last couple of years, a few editors remain who consistently put out strong collections of short, erotic fiction. Lovers of literary erotica (and just fine writing) should follow Mitzi Szereto, Remittance Girl, Maxim Jakubowski, and Cole Riley as they are still fighting the good fight and putting out quality work. Rose Caraway is also a powerhouse the likes of which I have never seen. She's one to watch as is Cleis Press, one of the few publishers left who still puts out unique, daring erotic fiction.

As for me, I'm turning my attention to other things. Many of you may not know that I also run a successful editing business and publish novels under another name. Though my passion no longer fits what the “erotica” genre has become, when I see a call for submissions that gets under my skin and sparks a story idea; when I see a call by one of the people mentioned above, I will send in a story . . . my kind of story. There's also a deal in the works that would allow me to co-edit an anthology collection of erotic horror. So, though I may not be around as much, Zander Vyne has too much in her to slink off into the shadows never to be heard from again.

Next up, you can read “Red House” in Darker Edge of Desire, edited by Mitzi Szereto (pre-order from any of the fine retailers listed on this linked page). Also coming soon, in Love, Lust, and Zombies, is Under a Perfect Sun, a story that was chosen as the final piece in the collection, and called “Ambitious, literary, sci-fi” by the publisher and advance reviewers. I'm proud of both of these stories, and hope you love them too.

If someday, dear reader, you read something I wrote and you shiver, you'll know I am still with you in that place where you keep the dark, scary things that cannot stand the light of day, holding your hand.

A Huge "Thank You" to Readers who Helped Shape IMMORAL: Tales of a Vampire Hunter


IMMORAL: Tales of a Vampire Hunter by Zander VyneI'm wrapping up my first self-published book this weekend, handling the business end of things. It's been a long journey that all started here, with a short story called VACANCY, that I posted on my blog. As I tend to do, I finished the story with an ending that, while complete, still left something to reader's imaginations. And, boy did they imagine. I received so many emails from people wanting to know what happened to my vampire hunter, Oliver Ripley, that I decided to continue his story.

I could have just written IMMORAL: Tales of a Vampire Hunter using my usual process, but I thought it would be fun to bring readers into the crafting of the story. I vowed to sit down, write a chapter each week (right here in Blogger's post composition mode) and post it without editing. I never knew from one part to the next where the story would go. Writing this way felt dangerous, scary, and exhilarating. It freed me from the constraints of my process, opened up new paths in my imagination and, sometimes, it put me into corners I thought I'd never be able to escape. I'd say something in one part, and realize I was stuck with it because of my promise not to edit. When my characters ended up on a plane to Paris, I realized there would be French that I do not speak. When I came up with a major plot point, I had to find a way to explain it, and tie up all the loose ends without going back and changing anything that would help make sense of it all.

There were times when I wanted to bang my head on my desk. Times I thought I'd never be able to make this work. But I did and, in the process, I learned to believe in myself as a writer capable of writing complete novels, not just short stories. I also fell in love with my readers, who cared about Oliver Ripley as much as I did. I listened to them, and used many of their ideas to complete IMMORAL.

I've taken down all of the old Oliver Ripley posts, and edited and made additions and changes to the new book (finally!), but I thought it would be fun to share just a few comments readers made along the way. As I get ready to launch IMMORAL into the world, I want to offer special thanks to everyone who helped shape the story with their feedback. I really couldn't have done it without you (especially the commenters below). If any of you would like a free copy of the completed book, please contact me.

IMMORAL: Tales of a Vampire Hunter, Book One
READER COMMENTS

Wow! I love this! Your writing is just wonderful on this - great  imagery, lovely rhythm, and a sense of looming disaster!Yummy! on Oliver Ripley - Part Two ~ Remittance Girl

Well, fiddle. *laughs* I'm frustrated that Jonathan showed up. Looking forward to the next piece.  on Oliver Ripley, Vampire Killer - Part Three ~ Elspeth

grrrrrrr...you are mean, mean...MEAN! Write more...soon...please? on Oliver Ripley, Vampire Killer - Part Three jen

Look. I need a happy ending. Just saying. on Oliver Ripley, Vampire Killer - Part Four  ~ Elspeth

Oh, I am liking this new direction! I saw you added "erotic romance" as a label, and I really hope that means Oliver and Miranda are going to end up together. I am DYING to know (SPOILER) and figure we're in for a wild ride ahead (with everybody being happy in the end, though...ok?) on Oliver Ripley, Vampire Killer - Part Four ~ Jen

Zander, while initially intrigued by Oliver, I must admit an exponentially increased interest as his story continues to unfold.Not only do you lure with Oliver's mysteries and varying dimensions, you also tantalize with new discoveries (not only of Oliver, but of his creator as well!).Oliver's newfound affinity in the BDSM environment is compelling. One looks forward to delving into his further adventures, and revelations of other personalities as well. on Oliver Ripley, Vampire Killer - Part Three ~ beaucoup de noms

You left me breathless again. Each chapter is like another loop around me of a long, hard, chain... a cold chain that leaves me hotter and hotter. The blood has left my brain, and I no longer can think about how good your writing is. on Oliver Ripley, Vampire Killer - Part Three ~ oatmeal girl

I have been meaning to sit down and read this series and last night I stayed up and read the whole lot to the point of my eyelids closing via lack of sleep, but I could NOT stop reading. What a brilliant story and I love the fact you started this with just one line and have let it evolve. I often write this way and part of the fun is discovering where it takes you as you write. I look forward to more. Enthralling. on Oliver Ripley - Part Ten vanimp

You Won't Find Zander Vyne Blog Hopping (I Promise)

I turned down opportunities for blog hops today. I was comfortable with my refusal when I said no. But now there’s a pesky little voice in my head saying I should do whatever it takes to sell books, and the plethora of posts on social media about everyone else's blog hopping is troubling me.

See, when I was a kid, I thought writing would be the perfect job for an introvert like me. I pictured long hours writing in a peaceful office, or maybe curled up in a hammock by myself. But the world of writing has changed. Writers do book tours, and manage their own social media campaigns. They actively seek out other authors to gang up to mass-market together.

To be a writer today, do I really have to blog hop? I don't want to participate in one. I don't even want to attend one, or click on a link that might suck me into some merry-go-round author hop around the internet. No offense, fellow writers. I like you. I like your books. But I don’t want to follow you around the ‘net or beg people to buy your books (or mine) every five seconds on every social media outlet the way many of you seem to do. God help me if I start feeling like I have to post those "What YOU can do to help your author friends" memes.

Do I have to become someone I am not (i.e. extroverted and pushy)? I'm more of a behind the scenes person. I like doing blog posts for other writers, and would do them again if asked by someone I know. I'm really good one on one. I like people in small doses, and they usually like me. I hope people read my books because they like the stories I tell, not because they've been beaten into submission because of my constant sales efforts. I hope they find me on Facebook or Twitter or comment here on my blog because they, like me, like talking about their favorite books.

So I'm making a deal with myself (and you); I'll just be me, and you be you and if you'd like to read my stuff that'd be nifty. If you like it enough to tell a friend about it, cool. But, I won't push you and you won't push me. You’re welcome to come into my safe, quiet little world and relax. I'll make you some tea. We can read together. It will be nice. I promise.

Paris is For Lovers (and Vampire Hunters)


I'm wrapping up final edits for IMMORAL: Tales of a Vampire Hunter, and spent the morning pinning pictures of the settings on Pinterest. Each photo I found seemed more haunting than the last, and I found myself longing to go there again, remembering all the things I love about the city I've visited more than any other.

This love affair has prompted me to set many stories in the City of Light, I realized. After a bit of rummaging around my collection of writing ideas and unfinished work, I came across this unfinished story. Sometimes, it's very clear why I never completed a particular piece, why I abandoned those words in favor of others. But, sometimes, I come across things I don't even remember writing, things that seem like they should have gone somewhere other than cold storage.
Like this one.

I Love Paris

What was I doing?

This was insane, heading down an alley in Paris with a man I didn't know like he was a trusted lover, his hand riding my ass like he owned it, like he wasn’t just some French fuck I’d picked up in a bar two minutes ago.

My week had been weird all around; I’d been traveling with my best friend, Lila, and my boyfriend, Scott, who bailed on me after a fight in Barcelona that started over the best train to take to London and ended with them confessing to a drunken fuck the night before. They are probably back in Portland now, two days early, fucking each other just like before we left, even though they denied it. Lying mother-fuckers.

I’d ended up at Harry's Bar because Scott had wanted to see it; the idea that F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemmingway had frequented the place in the '20s and '30s apparently had given wannabe writer Scott a hard-on.

Tonight, the last night of my trip, I’d gone to spite him, feeling powerfully and happily alone. The bar was all right I guess, more knock-off French than “Casablanca”, but it was dark and the drinks were reasonable in a city where most tourist places were a total rip-off. After several glasses of house red and a few chanteuse songs I was sad and drunk as I wove a somewhat wobbly path toward the door.

Getting laid had been the last thing on my mind.

Read more

Love, Lust and Zombies...oh my!

Zander Vyne Fiction - Under a Perfect Sun - Love, Lust and Zombies
People ask me all the time how I get story ideas, and I say, "From everywhere." Case in point - I visited the BioDome in Arizona last year. While everyone else enjoyed the tour, I was thinking, "Man this would be the place to be if zombies attack." So I wrote a story about it, which I am happy to announce will be in the upcoming Mitzi Szereto anthology, Love, Lust and Zombies.

RIP, Richard Matheson

Zander Vyne fictionWriters from Anne Rice to Stephen King have said Richard Matheson inspired them to become writers, and he inspired me too. I discovered him when I was a kid, watching reruns of The Twlight Zone and hunting down a collection of his short stories after I realized the episodes I liked the best were all written by the same guy. Reading him, I learned to find strength in brevity, beauty in the ordinary and power in plain words. His work often featured ordinary people, facing extraordinary situations and scared me more than any horror I'd ever read (because Mr. Matheson made you see that the worst kind of horror is the one that lives down the street from you, the one your mother smiles at when you pass and who gives out full-sized candy bars at Halloween). Some of my favorites, and it's hard to pick just a few, include Button, Button a short story about choices, greed and tempation; The Nightstalker TV series, the speeches Rod Sterling gave at the beginning and end of The Twilight Zone, the movie Duel, and the Trilogy of Terror in the 70's (if you saw it, you remember it).  I hope he continues to inspire new generations of writers. We've lost a great man, but his work will ensure that his legacy never dies.



Mr. Matheson's short story The Likeness of Julie inspired my short story Souvenirs. Souvenirs will be included in the upcoming release of my new short story collection, but I'm sure the publisher won't mind sharing it with you in honor of Mr. Matheson. Thanks for the inspiration and RIP.

Readers, please note that this story is not for the faint of heart, or those who do not understand the difference between fiction and reality, and/or writers and their characters. This work is considered dark, literary erotica. If you are not a fan of horror, Richard Matheson, and dark erotica, please do not read this story. If you do read it, please take the time to comment.






Red House to Appear in Darker Edge of Desire

Zander Vyne Fiction - Red House - Darker Edge of DesireSometimes, inspiration comes from something as simple as a picture. But, then again, inspiration is rarely ever a simple thing, is it? 

In this case, my brain had been picking away at a story idea for years. I only had a nugget in mind (which I can't tell you without spoiling the story), and I couldn't quite sort out how to turn the nugget into something more. When I saw Mitzi Szereto's Call for Submissions for her upcoming Darker Edge of Desire anthology I knew my nugget had a chance of becoming a story, and that she was one of the few editors who'd welcome my twisted, dark story where nothing is quite as it seems. But, it wasn't until I saw this picture of Christian Bale that everything started to fall into place. I could finally see the character that had haunted my brain, demanding me to tell his story. The only problem was that his story and the one in my head were connected by only tenuous threads of an idea. So, I started writing. I listened to the man in this picture and, when a flashback scene demanded an accurate setting, I researched. My research led me to articles and pictures about a "love in" at a park in Los Angeles on Easter Sunday back in the '60's and that's when all the pieces came together and my story (his story) became clear.

The resulting story, Red House, was accepted for publication. Validation is always a lovely thing, but even better is when the character who's been whispering in your ear for years finally says, "Thank you," and sinks back into the darkness, content.

I'm Doing It

I'm Nanowrimo's bitch this November. Writers have been telling me for years what a life changing experience writing a novel in thirty days was for them. This year, I'm taking the plunge and joining them.

Gearing up, I've read a lot of pep talks, advice, and dire warnings. I've decided to listen to one thing: write what you'd love to read. I love to read many things, in several genres, but one thing I haven't read much of is a story told from the perspective of a middle-aged, not-perfect woman. Women's fiction today is populated by women with amazing jobs, perfect bodies and every name brand accessory money can buy. Or, they are fat, and want to be thin; losers who want to win (at anything); manless in search of a man. But, where are the stories about fairly normal people, who are pretty happy with their lives, but still have dreams? Where are the stories about normal people, living in normal towns, who just wonder sometimes if they took a wrong turn? Where are the books about women who don't need to change their outer selves to find inner satisfaction?

That's the book I am going to write in November. My main character will have a chance to take that turn she missed and live the life she might have had. She won't do it through time travel or some strange loophole allowing her to wake from a coma and step into someone else's life. Though I am known for erotica, no one's going to be getting it on in this one. Well, not in the same way they might if erotic was my focus. Though I write horror, the scariest thing in this one will be a case of self tanner gone awry.  I guess my nanowrimo book would be considered "chick lit" in today's market, or possibly romance, if romancing yourself counts. Mostly, I aim to tell a good story about a character I can cheer for.

Follow me on nanowrimo's website if you'd like to read along, and hold my hand during this experiment in writing something completely different.

What Book is That?

Reading the great reviews for La Belle Mort has been such a pleasure (I'll tell you more about that in a minute). Here's another one posted today -

From the wonderful blog, What Book is That...Probably the biggest standout for me was "La Belle Mort" by Zander Vyne, where a noblewoman sentenced to hang for theft meets a mysterious stranger who teaches her to have faith in the most unorthodox of ways and then ends on the biggest cliffhanger.  It's like Choose Your Own Adventure taken to the extreme.

For a long time, I belonged to a writer's group. Every now and then, I'd post a story only to have someone rip it to shreds - telling me all the reasons it would never sell, was offensive, or just plain wrong. Today, as I sip a glass of wine (red, of course!), and read more reviews by readers who really love what I created, I'm glad I persisted. I'm proud I stuck to my convictions and didn't give up on stories like this one. I can also share with you that I've sold every story someone in that writer's group ever told me wasn't good enough. I guess I really should say thank you to them too! Maybe having something to fight for gave my words more bite.

I am grateful for readers who like it dark, just the way I do, and for editors like Mitzi Szereto who had the vision to give a home to the wonderful, eclectic and literary stories in Red Velvet And Absinthe. Thank you.