Archive for July, 2012

I Know It When I See It

by Greg Herren

I was on a mystery writer’s panel once at a literary festival, and the panel was asked, how do you create a character? Where do you start?

            The other panelists—all accomplished, successful, award-winning mystery authors—gave really good answers; things I’d heard before, advice I’d been given before, and I nodded as each of my fellow panelists explained their process of character creation.

And then it was my turn.

I looked out into the audience—it was an older audience, all dressed very well, and they were extremely conservative looking, if you know what I mean—and cleared my throat. “I decide what kind of sex life they have—you know, what they do in the bedroom and how they feel about sex, because that directly influences every other aspect of who they are as people. If someone is incredibly sexually repressed, that shows up not only in their interactions with other people but also in how they dress, how they view the world, and it shapes who they are more so than any other part of their personality.”

I was shocked to see people in the audience nodding, and the moderator, a mystery writer whose work I respect, said, “You’re absolutely right, but I would have never in a million years thought of that.”

Sometimes, being a pornographer comes in handy.

My first fiction publication was, actually, an erotic short story—and so was my second.

I had never once, in all of my dreams of becoming a published author, ever considered writing erotica—and in all honesty, writing that first story was incredibly difficult for me. I kept getting embarrassed as I wrote, and would have to stop. It was a constant struggle for me until I finished the damned thing. I don’t know how many times I told myself I just can’t do this and almost stopped. Yet I persevered—the story was for an erotica anthology called Men for All Seasons, and when I finally managed to finish writing it, I also submitted it to Men magazine. The anthology editor bought it—and the very next day the editor of Men emailed me and offered to buy the story. Flush with excitement at another possible sale, I responded, I’ve already sold the story elsewhere; but I have another I can rewrite and send you on Monday, if that’s okay? (It was a Friday afternoon.) He responded with an affirmative, and I spent the weekend writing my second erotica story.

Late Monday afternoon he bought the story.

And that’s how I became a pornographer.

Sometimes I write pornography and sometimes I write erotica; unlike Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who famously said about obscenity and pornography, “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it,” I actually can define pornography—and there is a significant difference between pornography and erotica, at least in the world of fiction.

To me, pornography is writing about sex itself; the characters really don’t matter, the setting doesn’t matter, and there really is no story. Two men (or two women) meet, are attracted to each other, have some blistering hot sex, and then go their merry ways. We don’t know anything more about them than we did when we first met them.

Erotica, on the other hand, is about the characters; and needs to actually tell a story. Erotic fiction, to me, has to meet the standards of fiction—there has to be a change of some sort in the main character by the end of the story; the sex itself needs to be revelatory to the character in some way. (When I teach workshops, I say “If you can change the sex scene in your story to nothing more than and then they fucked, and the story still works, then it’s erotica.”)

An example of this differential is my story “The Porn King and I,” originally published in 2002. In this story, my main character (who is nameless) goes into the Tower Video store on Decatur Street in the French Quarter and sees a poster of a lazingly hot gay porn star. He rents the video and takes it home to watch. As he is watching, there are three sex scenes unfolding: the one in the video itself, the one in his head where he is imagining himself having sex with the porn star, and his own actual masturbation. The only thing we learn about him is that he has a thing for the porn star and lives in the Quarter. He doesn’t change from beginning to end, and if you remove the sex scenes from the story, there is no story.

Conversely, my story “The Sound of a Soul Crying” is erotica because I can change the sex scene to and then they fucked and the story still works. The story is about an empath, who is awakened in the middle of the night by another man’s emotional pain. And as the story unfolds, we learn that the empath himself is lonely; his gift has rendered him unable to connect with another man. Yet he continues to feel, and sense, the other man’s pain—until they actually do have sex with each other, but in their minds. They aren’t together. The sex heals the other man, and they encounter each other in person in a French Quarter club. They’re drawn to each other, having seen the other in what they thought were dreams, and so they begin the process of getting to know each other. That story was erotica; the sex was important but incidental to the story itself.

There are exceptions, of course—I’ve read some erotica that was nothing but lush, smoking hot sex from the very first word to the last. And of course there are similarities between the two forms; the line between porn and erotica is frequently blurred, and really, that line is subjective—everyone defines it their own way.

I guess I know it when I write it.

Get The Picture

by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Note: All tumblr links are for those over 18 years of age

I don’t know what these panster folks are smoking, but I’m a plotter. I need outlines. I need a plan and for some strange reason, before I sit down to write a story, I need a contrete picture of a character in my head. So I take to Google, and then when I’m bogged down with porn and offensive stock images, I usually take to tumblr. Thank god for its search feature. Some times I’m watching a movie or a television show and I see an actor who just speaks to me. When I saw Quatum of Solace, Gemma Arterton immediately jumped out to me as the perfect Ginger. Over time, I saw other redheads who fit Ginger’s character as well. I love Kate Mara, but I think I’ve finally settled on Emma Stone. Never mind Better Off Red has been out for months.

Camila came to me as singer/model Cassie right away, but then there’s Demi Lovato, and Naya Rivera who looked ridiculously sexy in that horrible episode of Glee where Will had the kids in New Directions propose to Emma for him. Yaris Sanchez inspired Camila’s hot bod.

I have an unhealthy obsession with plus-sized model Tara Lynn. She was Benny before Benny had a name. The same thing happened with Cleo. When Daughters Of The Dragon first hit the shelves I could not get this depiction of Misty Knight out of my head, but it wasn’t until I met my tumblr friend Susy that Cleo had a face. Susy said I could share her face here.

When I came up with the character of Anna-Jade, Selena Gomez, who looks fifteen on a good day, immediately came to mind. For Dalhem, in human form of course, I found Sendhil Ramamurthy from Heroes.

When I started on The Fling, Oksana had hair. For like five minutes. Then I saw some naked pictures of Amber Rose online, pierced nipples and all, and I knew Oksana had to be bald. Annie started off as Elisha Culbert of 24 fame, but Melissa Debling kept popping up naked in my tumblr feed. It was easy to picture her and a naked Amber Rose together. This is one of two pictures I found of Melissa with her clothes on.

Right now, I’m working on another erotic, BDSM romance that I’m calling Suzy & Pilar. I’ve found Korean-Jamacian model/actress Tae Heckard for Suzy and Sara Ramirez for Pilar. Tae takes a ton of instagram pictures of herself and posts them on her blog. I’ve never seen someone so photogenic in sweatpants and a hat.

So this is where I start, with pictures. Lots of pictures. It helps get the writing process moving.

You can see the rest of what I had in mind for the girls of Alpha Better Omega and their sister-queens here:

Pictures of various Annies, Oksanas and Kats can be found here:

Consider all pictures to be 18+.

Editors All Day, Every Day


Listen in on any gathering of Bold Strokes Books authors and you’ll hear them wax rhapsodic about their editors.

“That literary giant, Dr. Shelley Thrasher, is a genius!”

“That sainted Stacia Seaman taught me SO SO SO much!”

“Ruth Sternglantz breathes life into my prose!  LIFE, I tell you!”

I’ve worked with Cindy Cresap for six years.  She has edited every book I’ve ever written for BSB.

Cindy Cresap, that illiterate cow.

Heresy, yes.  Heresy most dire.  But I am the only writer at Bold Strokes Books, the only writer in the world, who finds the editing process difficult.

I admit, I might sometimes be a difficult writer to edit.  I was capable, in one of the earlier Tristaine books, of producing the following sentence:

She raised her single-shot rifle and fired twice into the morning sky.

I saw nothing wrong with this sentence.  Cindy Cresap, to her credit, refrained from sarcasm and simply inserted this:  (?)

But the point is, Cindy Cresap sometimes wants to change my work.  She wants to correct my grammar.  True, she tries to explain to me why these changes are necessary.  But when Cindy Cresap starts going on about “comma flatstops” and “modifier tintinnabulation” or what the fuck ever, her voice comes out “waah waah waah” like all the adult voices in the Peanuts TV shows.

I’m especially gratified whenever I reduce Cindy Cresap to inchoate sputtering, as when she took umbrage to a line I used in my latest novel, A Question of Ghosts:

 “A single tear trickled down Becca’s cheek.”

Oh my god! (Cindy Cresap wrote.) It’s the ‘single tear trickling down a cheek’  – second only to ‘releasing a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding’ as the biggest cliché in romance writing! Please kill it! At least remove the ‘single’ description. (Cindy Cresap added.)  A tear is the same as a single tear.

Cindy Cresap likes A Question of Ghosts, though.  She thinks it’s my best yet.

And Cindy gets it, that her approval can be as hard for me to accept as her criticism, and I’ll second-guess her all the way.  After these years and these books, she knows she’s working with an author who didn’t see print until her mid-forties, one both blessed by the freedom of writing fanfiction and mired in its conventions.

Cindy and I disagreed once on something in a story that felt important to me.  She finally had to say no, this doesn’t work in the book, and you need to drop it.   Complying with that was hard.  Authors joke about their books being the children they send out into the world, but that’s true in a sense.  Mine are surely the only progeny I plan to offer.  Cindy was telling me she knew my child better than I did, and I was sure she was wrong.

Cindy was telling me the truth about the world my child was trying to enter.

As Jeanne Kisacky said:  “A writer is in the forest, describing the trees; an editor is in a high vantage point, simultaneously seeing the dirt, the trees, the forest, the paths and patterns manifesting in the forest, and the relation of the forest to the surrounding landscape.”

If I want to bury my nose in the bark of a redwood, I have to trust what Cindy tells me about the forest.  I will continue to argue with her forever about the placement of certain greenery, but our collaboration is sound.  I’m happy Cindy and I are in accord on A Question of Ghosts. 

I’m going to tell a story about the book now, which Cindy would say is too abrupt because the theme of my blog seems to be my relationship with my editor, but this blog is my tree and Cindy should sit the merry hell down.

Anyway, my good friend Jay came out to Seattle last summer to take the photo that Sheri Dragon has conjured into the cover for Ghosts you see hereThe picture is of the Lady of the Rock, a statue that graces the Brawley family plot in Lake View Cemetery.  Both the statue and the cemetery feature prominently in my story.  I was afraid the family wouldn’t allow the use of this image—that they might be uncomfortable with a lesbian theme, or they’d want to charge a fee I couldn’t manage.

Lynn Brawley-Birkwist’s response:  “We’re just fine with it!  Can we have two copies of the book?”

I hope you like A Question of Ghosts. It’s recommended by no less than Cindy Cresap, that most erudite and brilliant of editors.

Read! Read! Read!

By Jerry L. Wheeler

I’m writing this the day after the death of one of the pillars of my writing foundation, the incredible Ray Bradbury—influential to me not only for his wonderful stories, but also for his personal encouragement.

I had first read Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, which contained “The Veldt,” “The Exiles,” and “Marionettes, Inc.” among other brilliant science fiction. From there, it was a short hop to his other short story collections, notably The October Country and Silver Apples of the Moon, and then on to Something Wicked This Way Comes and, of course The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine until I had devoured them all.

Somewhere along the way, I wrote him a fan letter in which I confessed my ambition to become a writer, something I hadn’t even told my parents. Weeks passed—long enough that I even forgot I wrote him—but I got a reply. Handwritten, no less, on his personal stationery. I remember the paper was thick, with a blue line drawing of Bradbury surrounded by books in the upper right hand corner.

His chicken scratch handwriting was difficult to decipher, but he thanked me for writing and offered encouragement and advice on being on a writer. “Read! Read! Read!” he exhorted. “The lessons you learn from the pages of others will show up in your own.” I lived those words for years even though I can’t recall anything else he said in that letter.

I framed it, and it hung in every room I lived in for years. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a fire that swept through an apartment building I lived in—along with my extensive collection of Mad Magazines, Batman comics and the entire Beatles catalog on Capitol Records (yes, I’m old). That letter was the only item I genuinely shed tears over losing.

I took Bradbury’s advice, and many many years later, I have a writing career of my own thanks to that generous, talented man. He and the worlds he opened up to me will always occupy a special place in my heart. Along with Edgar Allan Poe, his stories gave me a love of short fiction I carry with me to this day—one that, I hope, is reflected in the anthologies I edit.

Nothing pleases me more than looking back on a collection I’ve edited and considering the variety of stories there. Take, for example, my most recent—The Dirty Diner: Gay Erotica on the Menu—released by (who else?) Bold Strokes Books. The sheer breadth of approaches these authors have taken on an admittedly unique theme is astonishing—everything from bittersweet love stories to bizarre, surrealistic takes on lust and longing. I love these authors, and nothing here will disappoint.

I find it fitting that during the recent outpouring of sympathy and expressions of loss on Facebook regarding Bradbury’s death, many of the authors in this collection commented and paid tribute to him. It appears I’m not the only one affected by his art or his passing. We are all the better for his genius and vision and all the worse for his departure. But he has finally crossed the divide and now knows the truth of what lies beyond, finding the place he has imagined all these years.

Rest in peace, Mr. Bradbury. We miss you already.

Still Fighting For Freedom


I was going to write a patriotic and historical blog about the 4th of July. After all it was entirely appropriate. I had intended to talk about my recent trip to Fort McHenry where I watched an airshow that included the Blue Angels and the raising of the Star Spangled Banner – all in honor of the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

But upon reflection, the idea of a more traditional 4th came to mind, conjuring up thoughts of barbecues, picnics, parades, and fireworks, all in celebration of our freedom as Americans.

However, it was then I came face-to-face with the realization that in fact not all Americans are free. In fact, the vast majority of LGBT Americans residing in most of the states and towns across this country continue to be denied the right to be who they are or marry the person they love – some of the most fundamental of human rights. And although eight states and DC have passed marriage equality laws (though Maryland and Washington face referendums in November), the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages, nor do the other states with no such protections.

So I had the idea of celebrating this 4th of July by saying thank you to your state LGBT equality organization. Thank them for the tireless (and thankless) work they do on our behalf every day to secure our most basic freedoms. Most of these organizations operate on shoestring budgets with less than 3-4 staff to cover the entire state. They receive nasty comments from right-wing fanatics and are more often than not criticized by their own communities for failing to achieve the impossible, usually with little help from these communities.

So today, when you celebrate Independence Day and how our founding fathers and mothers fought for our freedom, send your state LGBT organization an email thanking them for fighting for our freedom. It takes so little of your time and makes such a big difference to them. Better yet, how about making a donation – $4 in honor of the 4th, or $17.76 in honor of the 236th celebration – to help support the work they do? I know they’d appreciate the thanks or the donation.

If you don’t know who your state LGBT organization is, visit and click on the map of the state you live in.

Let’s never forget those who fought and died for our freedoms in the past, as well as those who continue to fight for us today. I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th.

The Amazon Trail

Dyke Caves

My anger had nowhere to go. It was huge.  The headline that enraged me? “50 chief executives in finance saw their pay rise by an average of 20.4 percent.” Huh?

I scurried back into my dyke cave and plunged my brain into fiction.

I really dislike the term man cave. It creeps me out with images of unpleasant smells, hairy limbs and terrible hygiene. Then my sweetheart referred to “my” end of the couch as my dyke cave. Ick, was my fleeting reaction. I looked around.

Behind the couch was my special Verilux floor lamp. In front were two hassocks, the kind with storage, filled with books, maps, pens, paper cutters, scissors, rulers, book covers, newspapers, magazines, a heating pad, pet toys and brushes,  a good supply of index cards, an iPad, calculator, ear buds and ear plugs, magnifying glass, jackknife,  and more—all jumbled together.

The dog was on a pillow between us. A cat was curled up on one of the hassocks.  Mail and library books were on “my” side of the coffee table. Two favorite throws lined the back of the couch. I’m surprised there was room for my sweetheart, though it would be awful lonesome with her further than the reach of my arm. Yeah, I guess my setup could be called a cave without walls.

I need a cave. Maybe we all do. The Huffington Post went on to report, “Bonuses didn’t fall nearly as much as anyone expected. And compensation at a number of major banks even approached record levels.”

Wait a minute. Did the bonus money trickle down? Did all the workers get a 20% raise or only those who were already earning half a million or more?   If there are enough funds to pay such a huge raise to the highest wage earners, why are they laying off so many employees while adding more work to those who are left?

Some of us are hoping to have enough money from Social Security to survive old age and there are plans for deep cuts. That bonus money? Maybe it’s going to the wrong people? Others are scraping by—or not—on disability payments, which also face deep cuts. Doesn’t someone who makes multiple millions in salary and then gets millions more for, maybe, increasing his (seldom her) company’s income feel kinda uncomfortable as they pump people into poverty?

Or maybe they didn’t notice all the job cuts in the financial sector—their own employees—and how they are now living high off the hog because they laid off or froze wage increases for loyal, productive, long-term employees whose paychecks wouldn’t cover the furniture in one room of a penthouse.

When I read the local paper in my tiny, cluttered dyke cave, I’m frightened by the increasing disparity between the superrich and the working stiffs. I wonder, what can I do? What can anyone do?

Occupy Wall Street has definitely had an impact. The Republican National Convention will be here in the Tampa Bay Area this August and the media turns to the local Occupy folks for information about the protests. Of course, the city of Tampa has declared certain natural protest areas to be completely out of bounds. The Republicans are claiming whole parks as their territory.  The papers are running front page stories about the strip clubs and other adult entertainment venues spiffing up for the upright, uptight conventioneers.

I simply can’t understand. Conservatives vote over and over to take away everything they can from the poor and the middle class. They vote to take less and less from the obscenely rich. They run on archaic moral platforms yet are not expected to disappoint the owners of local dens of iniquity.

Inequity, iniquity. Cave men; man caves.

I used to live in a city which greeted visitors with an enormous statue of a cave man right off the freeway. Every year there was a parade and the Cave Man Club float featured a rough-hewn cage. The “cave men” would go into the crowd with their “clubs” and, to wild cheering, grab women to drag into the cage. Huh?

I sense a direct relationship between that sort of behavior and the callousness of the modern man cave dwellers. I am so angry that the governor of Wisconsin is still in office. I am so angry that Karl Rove expects to buy the presidency with billions of dollars that are so needed elsewhere. I am so angry that the Supreme Court made that possible when it decided that corporations are people.

With the return of cave man mentality, perhaps it’s best to live simply and enjoy what we have. That may be the only insulation possible against greedy, uncaring, destructive powerfreaks. That, and our dyke caves.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2012

June 2012

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