Archive for February, 2011

Every Experience You Have is Potential Material

by Greg Herren

Many years ago, I picked up a single author collection of erotic writings by a very respected name in the field. I’d read some of his work over the years and been favorably impressed by it, and was very happy to be able to read more of it in one sitting. One lazy Sunday afternoon, I sat down with it on my couch and started reading the introduction.

In a matter of a few paragraphs, I was so deeply offended I stopped reading—and have never picked up the book again.

You see, this author opined that in order to write about hot sex, you had to have hot sex with hot men. Otherwise, you could never, under any circumstance, be a good writer of erotica. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. If you were not fucking hot men, you could never write about it.


I now realize that this was nothing more than another way of stating that incredibly tired truism of write what you know, which every writing instructor and every book on ‘how to write’ tries to shovel down the throats of writers. I’ve always had a problem with this; obviously, Kathleen Winsor had not been a courtesan at the court of Charles II before she wrote Forever Amber; Isaac Asimov had never been to outer space, and I doubt very seriously Agatha Christie ever solved a murder. Ergo, how could such writing advice be valid? It also does not take into consideration that some of my absolute favorite writers of gay male erotica are women.

This advice was something I hated and thought would never truly apply to my own writing. It discounted imagination and creativity; two of the most important tools of any writer.

Yet, older and wiser as I am, I’ve had to rethink my stance on this bit of writerly wisdom. The vast majority of my published work is about gay life in New Orleans; something I know very well. A lot of my erotica is built around the eroticism of wrestling; something else I know quite well. Obviously, I had unconsciously been following that advice in my own career and with my own work. Yet there are also stories I’ve written which required a bit more imagination: I am not an empath, nor do I know one, yet I wrote the story The Sound of a Soul Crying. I am not a merman, but I wrote The Sea Where It’s Shallow. I’ve never had a pool boy, but I wrote a story about fucking one. So, where does write what you know stop and imagination begin?

I believe that life experience does come in handy when you are a writer. When I write in the first person, generally what I do is simply take myself and put myself into the character’s mind. My character Scotty Bradley (Bourbon Street Blues, Jackson Square Jazz, and Mardi Gras Mambo) couldn’t be more different than I am; he’s much more in tune to other people’s feelings, he’s kinder, sweeter, and overall, just a better person than I am. However, when I created Scotty, I had a definite idea in mind of what kind of character I wanted to write about, and the best way for me to define him, to get inside of his head, was to imagine myself to be him; and the rest of it came together from there. What kind of family would I have had to have in order for me to grow up into this person? What kind of experiences? And thus, he was born.

When I write about sex, I do draw from my own experience. What did this feel like? Did I enjoy the sensation? Where was I in my head as I experienced this?

So, yes, all these years I’d been writing what I know. Yet this advice needs a caveat; one they never give you in class or in those ‘how-to” tomes. Experience is where you start; and then you let your creativity and imagination take over.  As I said, I’ve never been a merman nor have I ever fucked one, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t write about one.

Besides, coming to the realization that everything in life is fair game and possible material makes the shitty stuff easier to deal with. Just shrug and think, “ah, this would make a good story.” Someone’s an asshole? That’s a possible character in another story or in a novel. Emotional or physical pain? Again, you can funnel that into a character to make them breathe and come to life.

Write what you know is just a place to start; not a place to finish.

Follow the Guidelines, Stupid


By Greg Herren

When you are applying for a new job or interviewing for a promotion, you put your best face on. You dress in your nicest and most professional clothes, right? You don’t go in wearing a paint spattered T-shirt and ratty old jeans.  You want to give the impression of competence, professionalism, experience, and maturity. You emphasize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. You are trying to convince them you, and only you, are the best choice for the position.

So, why don’t writers do the same thing when submitting a manuscript?

In a job interview, you are trying to sell yourself. When you submit a manuscript (be it a short story, an article, a proposal, or a full length book), you are doing the same thing. It is in your best interest to at least give the impression you are a competent professional—even if you have never published anything in your life. Yet, in all the years I’ve been editing—magazines, anthologies, and now a line of fiction books—I am constantly amazed at the sad lack of professionalism some writers exhibit in submitting their work. Why on earth would you want to give the editor reviewing your work the impression that you are going to be difficult to work with?

            Editors are often maligned, and sometimes rightfully so. As a writer, I often forget what it’s like to be an editor and have been known to malign a few on occasion—usually after a few drinks. But editing is very hard work, and every time I put on my editor’s cap I groan and think, “Why the fuck did I agree to do this again?” As I start digging through the submissions pile, the temptation to take a razor blade to my wrists is always there. (Don’t get me wrong. Editing can be very rewarding. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of discovering a new writer with a lot of talent who has never published before.) And I will sit there and read every single submission, no matter how bad the grammar, how one-dimensional the characters, how implausible the story, or how trite the dialogue—on one condition. I will read every single submission from beginning to end—if they followed the guidelines.

            Editors don’t set up submission guidelines just for the hell of it. They set up guidelines because it makes their job easier. As I mentioned before, editing is hard work and very time-consuming. I can’t speak for other editors, of course, but I know that I try to be as efficient with my time as I can—and so I set up guidelines to make my job as simple as possible. So, it really irritates me when someone feels that they don’t need to follow my guidelines. I don’t think it means they’re a bad person, or a bad writer, but it tells me they are amateurs. And I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to work with amateurs. At the very least, it tells me the writer did not bother to read my guidelines; at worst, s/he felt the guidelines did not apply to him/her.

So, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to explain my guidelines.

I do not accept electronic submissions for anything because early in my career as an editor, I did and got a virus that ate my hard drive. I was without a computer for two weeks, and then had to reconstruct all the work that hadn’t been backed up.

I want the manuscripts in Times or Courier font because my eyes are failing, and those particular fonts are easiest for me to read—and likewise, anything smaller than a 12 point font is too hard on my eyes. I spend most of my days—seven days a week, 52 weeks a year—either reading manuscripts or working on my computer for at least eight hours a day, sometimes more. So, I won’t read something that isn’t in a font style and size that is easy on my eyes.

I don’t want the submissions to be bound in any way other than, at most, a paper clip. This is because I want to be able to look at the pages side by side at times; if it’s bound in a folder or stapled, I have to take it apart…and sometimes, no matter how careful you are in removing the staple, the page will jam a copy machine…which is an enormous pain in the ass at Kinko’s.

And since I don’t like the submissions to be bound, it is imperative that the author’s name and the name of the story be in the upper left hand corner of every page, and the pages be numbered—in case they get separated. My cat loves to knock stuff off my desk—and there is nothing more frustrating (and time consuming) then putting pages back in order that aren’t numbered.

So, whenever you are submitting work, read the guidelines, and follow them. It’ll show the editor you are a professional—and every little leg up will help get you one step closer to making the sale. Remember, editors have guidelines for a reason, and you should respect those reasons—even if you think they are stupid. Bite the bullet and just do it.

You’ll make the editor very happy…and don’t you want the editor in a happy frame of mind when they are reviewing your work?

But Is It Still a Story?

by Greg Herren

The notion that erotic writing (henceforth referred to as ‘porn’ so I can cut back on my keystrokes) is a lower form of literature—if not the lowest—is probably one of the most insulting of the condescending notions born in university writing departments and perpetuated by the martini-swilling snobs who frequent literary parties in Manhattan. I have, over the course of my six years as an unashamed pornographer, been told, with the utmost seriousness by other writers—whose publishing credits might run to a short story sold to a small quarterly literary journal with a circulation of about seventy five Gay Lit professors nationwide—that writing porn has forever tainted me in the eyes of ‘serious’ writers and critics; that any future real writing I might do would never be taken seriously. (Note to the last person to say this to me: I’m still waiting to hear about your multi-million dollar deal for that Pulitzer Prize winning novel you were writing five years ago.)

I suppose what leads serious writers to say things like this is fragility of self-confidence; I must put your work down and consider myself to be superior to you because I truly don’t believe my own work is any good. It used to bother me a little; now I just shrug and think, “get therapy. Quickly.” This notion that I should be somehow ashamed that I’ve written, edited and published porn is ludicrous to me—and says a lot more about those who think that than I would really care to know.

In truth, I consider porn to be the most powerful form of writing being published today.

A pretty bold statement, don’t you think? But it’s true. Porn is the only form of writing that can provoke a physiological response in its reader. Well done porn will not only get its male reader erect, but should get him so horny he needs to do something about it—jack off.  That’s the goal of every porn story, and what should be in your mind when you sit down and start writing: everyone who reads this story is going to get so turned on their cock will drip and their balls will ache.

            And it’s not as easy as those crème de la crème snobs think it is.

When I wrote my first porn story, I have to admit, it turned me on and it also embarrassed me. I’d been writing my entire life—and had never once written a graphic sex scene. Usually, in short stories or novels-in-progress, if I ever got to a point where characters were going to fuck, the violins swelled; the waves began crashing against the beach; and the lacy curtain came down. Cut, fade to black. But now, I was writing a story that specifically had to include a graphic sex scene. I had to think about choreography; who was going to fuck whom; where and how; what were the smells and tastes; what was going through the heads of the characters while they were fucking. So, I sat at the keyboard and called up in my memory my favorite sexual experiences. The anthology I was submitting the story to was sports-themed; so I decided to make it about wrestling.

And when I was finished writing it, I was happy with it.

It told a story.

One of the biggest mistakes rookies make when writing porn is they forget it’s a porn story. I’m not certain if this happens because they are so focused on getting a hot sex scene down on paper, or if it comes from that self-same mentality that ‘porn is not a valid form of fiction’—but that is the surest road to not getting published. You have to believe in what you are writing, and you have to take it seriously. If you don’t, it comes through loud and clear on the page. Sure, there is a formula to porn—two men are attracted to each other, they fuck, and either stay together or go their own way. But the formula is merely a skeleton, and it’s up to the porn writer to put some flesh on those bones. But just because there’s a formula to it doesn’t mean you can’t make art out of it.

In my story “The Sound of a Soul Crying,” the main character is an empath. He has a power he doesn’t understand, but he feels other people’s pain—and his power is so strong that he can sometimes even visit the people in their dreams. In this story, the person is another gay man who is suffering; and he feels an overpowering attraction to him. They do have sex at a point in the story; but neither is sure that it’s real—and the story comes to an end with the two men actually meeting in a bar.

My goal in writing the story was to tell that story, as well as to write a really hot, lusty sex scene that would get the reader hard. I believe that the more connected the reader feels to the characters, the more involved he is in their story and their lives, the hotter the sex will seem to them. Just like in life, it is possible to have a hot one night stand with a guy you will never see again—but the hottest sex is generally with someone whose body you know; whose personality makes you comfortable to be around; and whose buttons you know how to push. Sure, you can write a story where the characters have names and descriptions, have some hot sex, and then go their separate ways; but while that story might give the reader physical satisfaction, it will not give emotional.

When I teach workshops on writing porn, I say, “Take the sex out of your story, and read it again. Just delete the scene out; and type in ‘Then they fucked’ and read the story again. Ask yourself, is it still a story?”

            If the answer is no, your story still needs work.

Why the Pen Name?



Regular readers of the many great books published by BSB are unfamiliar with the name Lesley Gowan. To tell you the truth, I am too, and I’m Lesley Gowan! But Leslie is a pen name, brand new for the publication of  The Collectors, which is out February 14. Let me explain a little about how this came about and why I’ve chosen to use a pen name for this novel.

Under my real name I have published a mystery novel with BSB (and an earlier mystery with another publisher) and plan to write more in that and who knows what other genres. I’m no less proud of , but it doesn’t take reading much past the first few pages of the novel to see it is clearly, most decidedly, most wickedly, erotica. No holds barred erotica. I like to think it’s also a very good story with some well-drawn characters, but let’s face it. When you write a book about one woman sexually dominating another, the talk isn’t concentrated on story arc, point of view, pace or any other writerly things. It’s about sex. Unconventional sex. For whatever reason, when I sat down to write an erotic novel, this is the story that came out, and when all is said and done, I think it may be some of the best writing I’ve done.

But. If I were making my living solely by my writing, or if I worked in any kind of job where my name never appeared on the internet, I wouldn’t have any qualms publishing The Collectors under my real name. In fact, I’m going to miss being directly associated with it. But, unfortunately, my career is such that current and potential clients often look me up online to either contact me or find out a little about me. I’m totally comfortable with them knowing I’m a writer of lesbian mysteries. But I don’t completely trust that they won’t blanch to find out I’ve also written a BDSM novel. Times are tough and a girl’s gotta eat. Lesley Gowan won’t miss any meals by people knowing what kind of book she’s written.

Earlier in my writing career I wrote some erotic short stories under the name Claire Martin, a couple of which were published in the Erotic Interludes series by BSB. I haven’t a clue why I didn’t use that name again. Frankly, it just slipped my mind. So now I have another identity to add to my own and the closet is getting a little crowded.

For those of you who may blanch yourselves at the idea of a BDSM novel, I encourage you to pick up The Collectors despite your doubts. I’ve been fortunate enough to become friends with a number of very respected writers who have done me the favor of reading my manuscript before it went to press. They all have commented that even though the sex might not be the kind they practice, it was “inflaming,” to use one poet’s word. And the story is engaging. There’s actually stuff going on between the sex scenes! Even my partner, who was not thrilled that this book was going out in the world, loves the story and knows it has an audience. I hope you’ll be among the readership and that you’ll let me know what you think. I’ll be setting up a Facebook page for Lesley, as well as placing her email address in the biography section of the book. Let her (me!) know what you think.

And for those of you who think you’ve guessed my identity, please leave your guesses in the Comments section. I’ll contact the winners privately.

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