I’m not typically known for my erotic fiction, but I have dabbled in it and I was thrilled to be invited to read at Bed Post. It should be a fabulous night and I encourage anyone who likes sex to come out and make merry with all manner of performances on June 26th at the Social Capital.
I am currently writing a book that is a mix of both fiction and non-fiction. In the book both Ben and I discuss gender and sexuality and offer our opinions on defining men and women and our own sexuality.
This scares me. Everywhere you look there are writers getting in deep shit for writing something contentious, for writing their true feelings or even for tweeting the ‘wrong thing’. It’s a big bad world out there full of millions of people ready to leap on you for the smallest ‘misstep’.
This clearly isn’t new. Before the legions of internet trolls and angry groups of activists there were people with pitchforks and torches and before that there were beheadings and scallopings and all manner of painful torment for people who just wanted to express themselves.
I certainly wouldn’t go so far to compare myself with great philosophers who have been murdered for speaking up, but I do know some of my opinions and feelings will be contentious and that worries me.
I’m not one to stay quiet, I never have been. It’s caused me no shortage of stress of course and on many occasions I’ve been verbally assaulted for my views. But I just can’t shut up. I feel the need to say how I feel, say it loud and write it in books and try to get them published so everyone can read them. It’s kind of a little self destructive I guess. I mean I could pick something nice and safe to write about, couldn’t I? But no. I have to be interested in the things people get riled up about. I choose to write about sex, gender, abuse, psychopathy, drugs, death. I choose to write about topics that scare me or make me uncomfortable.
When I’ve really piped up and shared my feelings and thoughts I’ve been called many horrible names and had people go off on me, cease listening and just overwhelm me with their anger. I’ve even been called a murderer because of some of my views. But still I go back for more.
I don’t want to be afraid to speak but I am sometimes. I’m only human, I care about what other people think of me and I don’t want to offend. But I also want to be true to myself, I want to be honest in my writing and I don’t want to shut up just because the trolls might come banging on my door.
So what’s a girl to do?
Write. Just keep saying what I want to say. Because what other choice do I have? I clearly want to venture onto contentious ground and if I didn’t I wouldn’t be me.
So here are my rules for self expression for those who want to speak up and are afraid to do so:
1) It’s alright to express yourself no matter what.
2) It’s alright to change your mind. The things you have said in the past might not apply in the future.
3) Feelings are subjective and oftentimes neither right or wrong.
4) Try not to fret over people who refuse to listen or understand your perspective and feelings.
5) Philosophy and practicality are two different things. It’s alright to discuss things from a top down view.
6) Just say it.
7) If you’ve changed your mind don’t be afraid to admit it.
8) Write, write, write!
How do you get past the barriers of being afraid to speak?
I’d like to introduce Megan O’Russell, a Young Adult author and my very first guest contributor Happy Musings! Megan has written a wonderful piece on publishing YA with a very adult publishing company.
YA in an Adult World
I write Young Adult fiction. My first book The Tethering is set to release this May, and I am so excited! I have great editors at Entranced Publishing and wonderful people to back me up in the cold cruel world of books. But I feel like the black sheep of Entranced. Not because I’ve done anything wrong, but because I am a part of the Young Adult imprint at the big sexy romance publishing house. Entranced has a YA imprint called Rush, but most of the books Entranced puts out are of the much more adult and dirty nature.
We have twitter chats where they talk about their steamy love scenes, and I’m worried about my poor characters sneaking out the window. I can’t participate in their cover reveals because the covers are almost naked! And the book blurbs are things my readers are not ready for!
I want my characters to have grownup lives. I want them to live and discover and grow as real teenagers. But I feel awkward being excited about their first kiss when my fellow Entranced authors are playing with bondage. In a group where Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t seem all that dirty, can a story about first love hold its ground?
I would like to think so. Not just because I want my book to succeed. Not even just because it’s a different genre with a different target audience. The sweetness, tenderness, and devotion of first love are things that we all have experienced right along with our first heartbreak. The thrill of the first kiss is just as exciting as dirty things on a bear skin rug.
I mean sure, if you want to throw a little excitement into a YA book, just toss in a bit of non-sexual torture. Maybe catch a few people on fire. Dress someone in leather. But do it all in a PG-13, teen romance friendly way.
I want to branch out, maybe write something a little more risqué for an adult audience. But until The Tethering series is complete, I will exist in a world of (mostly) clothed, non-cursing, behind closed doors, teenaged angst. Who knows, maybe my hero will even make it to second base.
Megan O’Russell is a Young Adult author whose premier novel The Tethering will be released by Entranced Publishing this May. Megan’s author blog can be found at MeganORussell.com, and her humor blog is at lifebeyondexaggeration.com. For more news on The Tethering, follow her on twitter @MeganORussell.
I’ve known it since I was a teenager and it’s been fun. It’s also been a bit confusing. Nobody ever told me to make a choice, but I remember telling my parents and they just sort of laughed it off. I think the words they used were ‘it’s a phase’. That’s pretty much the only time anyone has really challenged my sexuality, and it was a pretty weak challenge at that, but everywhere you turn in the media people seem to have some interesting stereotypes about us bi folks. There’s the idea that we are all big slut cakes (and some of us are, but so are some gay and straight people), there’s the idea that we are cheaters and there’s the thought that we ought to just make up our mind, that it’s just a phase. It’s not. It’s just who I am. I am sexually attracted to both men and women and it’s pretty equal. I chose to marry a man, because I fell in love with a man, but that doesn’t make me straight, it just makes me a married bi chick.
I’ve recently finished a writing book called ‘What it means to be a man’ in which Ben and I have discussions about our sexuality, gender and other issues around those topics. Our conversations are mixed with a story of another couple (closely resembling us) who are forced to deal with issues of sexuality, love and gender in their relationship. There’s a whole section in the book in which I discuss my thoughts on my bisexuality, so I won’t get into that too much here, but what I do want to talk about is bisexuality in fiction, especially in TV (as I don’t have much of a frame of reference for books with bi characters – if you know of any let me know).
I had plans to write this post awhile back and was even more inspired after reading this article, which gives a pretty comprehensive look at bisexuality in TV and how it’s progressing.
Warning: Spoilers for Orange is the New Black & Buffy ahead!
Ben and I recently started watching ‘Orange is the New Black’ (great show) and the main character (Piper Chapman), it seems, is bisexual. Although, the sad fact is, as bi as she clearly is (sexually attracted to both men and women), they just won’t say the word. They call her a former lesbian (even though she still fucks women) and in one episode they vaguely alluded to a ‘sliding scale’ of sexuality, but not once have we heard the word ‘bisexual’. I suppose it might have something to do with the image of bisexuality in a lot of people’s minds, it seems as though it’s a bit tainted. When bisexuality is mentioned I suspect a lot of people think of those chicks in clubs making out with each other to please the men-folk (I was one of those chicks once upon a time and let me tell you it wasn’t just about the men). It seems as though bisexuality is either taken lightly (it’s just a phase) or heavily (all bi folks are cheaters and sluts) and there is no happy medium, no place in the general population’s mind where the bi-folk of the world can live and have meaningful, deep, even monogamous relationships with both men and women. So in light of all that I guess it’s not hard to imagine that the word itself holds a stigma that writers might be afraid of bringing to their story. Maybe they feel labeling Piper bisexual would make her less legitimate? Maybe it would make people less likely to sympathize with her?
Unfortunately for them, I think the exact opposite is true. I think this struggle with sexual identity (her having to choose to be either gay or straight) cheapens the actual struggle of the deeper issue, love.
By not allowing for her to embrace her bisexuality, the writers are keeping her character’s sexuality front and centre and distracting from the actual issue, her choice between two loves. The gender is irrelevant, but what they offer to her, who they are and what they mean to her is not. By keeping the audience in the land of the polarized, black or white sexuality, we are not quite allowed to get over the gender/sexuality issue and dive deep into the actual relationships. Now I’d like to think that most people are educated on different types of sexuality and that most people believe bisexuality is really a thing and not just a crazy unicorn dragon sexuality that is mythical and unreal, but I think it’s unlikely that’s true. So instead of making a statement that bisexuality is real and that Piper’s feelings for both her potential mates are equality legitimate, the general population has to wade through the distracting question of ‘is she gay or not?’ before they get to the actual reality of her situation, the actual issue, being in love with two people at the same time.
I’ve seen this issue arise before. Recently, Ben and I watched all of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (another fantastic show) and there was a character on it named Willow. Willow was a witch who fell in love with a dude named Oz and then later a woman named Tara. As soon as Willow fell in love with Tara, she started calling herself a lesbian. When Oz came back for an episode or two after he and Willow had broken up, it was clear that Willow still had feelings for Oz, but she was in the ‘lesbian’ camp now, so what’s a girl gonna do? To me, it felt as though this label of lesbianism that Willow stuck to herself took away from all the history between her and Oz and it made me mad. It made me feel as though Willow was trying to delete her past, push aside her feelings and forget that she had experienced real love with a man. It made her relationship with Oz feel trivial when I thought it was quite powerful. I found it disturbing that she locked herself so firmly into the role of lesbian that she didn’t leave room for the part of herself that was clearly open to loving men. I think that this is perhaps an illustration of a symptom of the problem of not really understanding, or embracing bisexuality. The idea that people are being forced to choose one side or another without being allowed the possibility that they could have both is really just sad.
These are just two examples of poor representations of bisexual characters, but I suspect there’s more out there. In this world of boxes, I think people are so obsessed with choosing one or the other that they might repress the idea of both.
So how do we combat this misunderstanding of bisexuality? Same as any other misunderstandings are fought. Exposure and education. Bisexual isn’t a bad word, it’s okay to say and actually pretty fun to be. Most of the time my protagonists in my novels are bisexual and I tend to try to make my fictional relationships more about the relationship itself than the sexuality, because I think that’s the thing that matters most. I want the love to be the thing that matters most. Even if it’s unconventional, love is love.
I’d love to see more examples of well represented bisexual characters in books and on TV.
Any suggestions on where I can find some?
Sex is awesome.
It’s dynamic, sexy and it makes things more interesting pretty much every time.
I have recently been writing an novel/la that involves a bunch of sex and I’ve been learning as I go about the ways in which I want to approach it. I don’t read a lot of erotica or romance novels or even loads of stories in which there is a lot of sex, but I’ve still read enough to know what I like and what I don’t.
So here’s Star’s Dos & Don’ts for sex in stories:
Don’t use terms like throbbing member or glistening folds or heaving bosom. I’m sure the first time someone wrote that it was novel and maybe even evocative (probably not though) but by now it’s just dumb.
Don’t make sex sound pedestrian or clinical. Anyone can use the words penis and vagina and tits and ass, but if you use the words too much they’re excessive and if you use them only once in awhile then they can be jarring. There are always exceptions of course, like if you’re meaning to be shocking or you’re writing about medical kinks.
Don’t make sex a toss away. Don’t just throw it in to be evocative, make it mean something. Even if that something is that it means nothing, that’s better than just sticking it in where it otherwise might not belong.
Remember your most exciting sexual experiences, what do you recall? Was it the tension of the moment before the electric union? Was it the thrill of a glance across a room? Was it a subtle gesture? Was it the fun after a particularly cerebral relationship? Don’t be shy, use your experiences and your fantasies to your benefit and focus in on the things that matter most.
Think outside yourself. Now that we have you thinking about your own experiences, think beyond that (unless of course you’re sex connoisseur and have tried everything imaginable). Don’t be afraid of experimenting with orgies and same sex partners, kinks and fantasies. Don’t go overboard (unless you’re writing erotica) but don’t be afraid to add a little extra.
Use sexy language. I don’t mean dirty talk ‘ooh ooh you are such a sexy beast’, I mean find the poetry in the moment. Think about metaphor and rhythm and try to match your tone to the pace you want to achieve. Remember you are a wordsmith and you have free reign over the language, explore it, get sexy and have fun!
Finally and most importantly, investigate the relationships and how your characters interact. Explore more than their physiological feelings in the moment and see what happens. Sometimes the best sex is with someone you’ve known and loved for years, other times that could be fraught with problems. Find out what motivates the sex and that will set the tone. It doesn’t always have to be super passionate and steamy, it can be lonely, painful, meaningful, joyful, fun, desperate. All of this depends on your characters relationships with themselves or others though, so dig in and go wild!
Have I missed a spot?
Let me know!
When I was around 17ish I wrote 25,000 words of a Harlequin novel. I just found it the other day in my old files and started reading it. Hilariously it wasn’t that bad. My main problem though, was the sex. I got to the sex part, they got it on and then I got stuck. I didn’t have a plan beyond the coitus, which was probably pretty silly. There was still the conflict and the dramatic make-up that needed to happen. Instead there my protagonist sits, with a rose in her hands and new love in her heart, awaiting her climax and resolution. It’s kind of tragic really, the unfinished tale of her love with the dashing prince (seriously I think the dude’s actually a prince).
It turns out I’m not really into writing romance novels, I just thought I would try it to see if I could. Although it may not be my passion, it still got me to thinking about all the unfinished business I have lying around. Stories without endings, or unedited tales waiting patiently in the form of 1’s and 0’s. Just sitting on my hard drive. I was spurred to explore my unfinished pile and I found a whole lot of it. Tales of my lustful and daring adventures around the world, stories of magic and immortals and witches. Not all of it is gold, but some of it certainly is interesting and worth recollecting and exploring.
What concepts did I find fascinating in my teenage years? What themes are reoccurring? What can I harvest? What is worth resurrecting?
I encourage all writers, when you have a moment, to reflect. Go back, don’t be embarrassed (hey if I can appreciate my Harlequin you can at least look at your unfinished business). In reflection perhaps we can have the opportunity to recall things that were once important (and maybe still are), we can remember the days when we were at our most earnest (for good or ill), we can maybe mine some gold and if nothing else we can have a good laugh and feel good about the fact that we have grown in style and substance. Because we have grown…haven’t we?
Tell me about your unfinished business!