Writing Sexy – Sexy Writing

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–  on the perils of rolling with Cousin Id

Whenever I’m asked done of those ‘how did you’ questions about ‘writing sexy’ (which is never defined by the questioner, strangely enough), I often joke that if you can write about perfume or sex, you can write about anything.

This isn’t strictly true, but in an age that has a celebrated UK prize for Worst Sex Scene, I figured I might as well hedge my bets, especially in a book that has so darn many of them, each of them pivotal to the overall story arc, as I came to discover when I revised the book for publication.

The fact is, sex sells. As a favorite arch-villain says in a favorite TV series, everything is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power. (Now you know!)

So one thing my publisher and I agreed upon straight off was to turn the amp up as high as the writer could bear. In this post-Fifty Shades age, the readers who might read my book are becoming more jaded, more blasé and demanding in their judgment of what constitutes a ‘sexy’ book.

Therein lies a treacherous peril. Because of that blasted, wretched, execrable piece of clit lit called ‘Fifty Shades’, its two sequels, and its countless imitators.

Let me start by stating this first: I have an immense respect for the cultural impact of precisely what E. L. James has done: She got women thinking – and talking – about what turns them on to such an extent it’s become a cultural touchstone. I’m far less happy that she has hugely misrepresented the inner workings of BDSM, and in so doing given vast numbers of people all sorts of wrong impressions on how such relationships actually work. And really livid her heroine is such a passive, naïve nincompoop of a cardboard, two-dimensional ‘character’.

Worst of all to my literary mind is the woman couldn’t write it without hauling out the most tired, overexposed clichés in the Oxford English Dictionary. It may be effective, but it sure ain’t pretty… and I only made it through Volume One before I wanted those hours of my life back.

So it follows that any comparisons to that particular collection of prose curls my toes in all the worst ways. That’s not what I set out to accomplish.

I have my own idols of erotic writing and certain standards I try to live up to. Erica Jong, Anne Rice, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Colette, Apollinaire, Pauline Réage, certain passages of Huysmann’s À Rebours and À Bás, Baudelaire’s poetry… I could go on. All of these writers have inspired me to such an extent, they’ve become the gold standard for the kind of writing I felt I could send out into the world without blushing.

Yet in the reviews I’ve received and in the comments and emails that have followed in the wake of Quantum Demonology, that s-word keeps recurring. Sexy.

Thank you. I tried. And this is how.

To begin with, I’m not exactly a blushing virgin. A wide range of experiences has been much more of a bonus that I ever expected. (Thanks, guys!) Interpret that as you please.

Second – and I can’t emphasize this enough – the character of Dev as he’s portrayed in the published book is not based on anyone I know or have ever known. In the first draft, there were many references to a former (toxic) boyfriend I once knew, but you can bet your booties I took every single reference out when I revised it for publication.

Third, in complete opposition to Hemingway’s maxim of ‘writing drunk and editing sober’ and contrary to what you might think, every draft I ever wrote was written in a time of absolute celibacy. If it weren’t, I’d be far too busy to write… 😉

Celibacy does astonishing things to the creative imagination. As Anaïs Nin once noted in a similar context and I’ll paraphrase, when you’re starving on a desert island, you don’t dream of three McDs cheeseburgers, you dream of sixteen course haute cuisine extravaganzas with all the wines to match.

But the biggest caveat in writing ‘sexy’ is this one: it has to fit the storyline, suit the characters as they’re written and the overall arc. Because if it doesn’t, it doesn’t belong in the story to begin with.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, OK, you might think. But how do you write about it?

Thanks to my training as a graphic artist, I’m very keyed into the visual. In other words, I have to see what I write as a movie (NOT that kind) and choreograph it in my head with lights, mood, ambience. I also have to remember that it’s far more erotic to imply and suggest than to spell everything out in graphic and boring detail. The trick is to set one tiny cog in motion in the reader’s mind and watch the domino effect from there. That way, I’m not spelling out s-e-x-y, the reader’s imagination is. Which is far more effective than anything I could write.

Next, I have to write it out as I ‘see’ it in my mind. Most of what put the ‘sexy’ in Quantum Demonology was rewritten and revised a minimum of eight to ten times before I sent it on. Some were just skipped altogether at the time and finally knocked out two hours before the deadline in exasperated desperation and a lot of despair. All of them written with a great deal of pencil chewing, cursing in several languages, teeth gnashing, figurative banging my head on my keyboard and sheer, utter agony – not because I’m a prude, but because it’s the hardest writing you can do, bar none. And if it didn’t work for me, it didn’t work at all.

Strangely enough, one of my readers of draft three mentioned ‘the very depths of depravity’, which surprised me no end. I thought I hadn’t been depraved enough, debauched enough, sawed through that branch of a sure thing hard enough to freefall.

In other words, I felt that somewhere, I wimped out. I feel a little less so now the book is out to judge or condemn, but I do know enough to realize that I could have been far more depraved, except it would have been far less successful as a book if I had.

I’ve received many compliments on that ‘sexy’ book. But the two biggest compliments of all came from two male friends of mine – one a most excellent acknowledged writer himself – when they both said my words had turned them on…

Which means I finally got something right!

How To Feed Your Villain

 

 

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–       & something on how to conjure one

Without antagonists, what would stories be? For one, much less interesting to read. A good (or great) antagonist tends to stick in your mind a long time after the book is finished, because the antagonist(s) moves the story forward, keeps the reader on his or her toes and puts the protagonist(s) through sheer, utter Hell.

If that’s not a recipe for a good time, I don’t know what is.

But there’s a bit more to a villain than simply being the Bad Guy, especially if you’re conjuring him from scratch.

The thing is, it’s all too easy to write a villain. Simply write him bad….with few to no redeeming features and less motivation, and there you have it – fodder for countless Marvel superhero comics.

Except to this discerning reader, villains of that ilk are dead boring to read about, never mind to write.

Back when Lilith Queen of the Succubi popped up out of the ether and gate-crashed my story (It’s not as if I actually invited her along for the ride), I pulled out every single rabbit in the hat to make her as thoroughly evil as possible. But at the same time, I worried that maybe I, too, had fallen in the Marvel trap and made her too one-dimensional, too cartoonish to be entirely convincing. In fact, I felt so bad about it as time went on that I vowed to make Lilith the subject of a prequel (how did she get that way?) just to explicate her. But as I came to discover, Lilith as a character had a definite impact on the readers I had at the time. In other words, maybe I somehow managed to add a few extra shades and layers so she wasn’t all… Evil with a capital E, but more complex than that.

Meanwhile, I have a sequel to Quantum Demonology to write. Another villain to conjure. Only now, we’re dealing with what is technically a monster of a particular – and nasty – kind, so nasty in fact, that there really isn’t much in the way of occult literature on these creatures to go by, and that’s surprising. Or is it?

It’s almost as if my source material has clammed up by unstated agreement.

‘We won’t go there, not mention this creature, simply pretend he doesn’t exist.’

Why?

Could it be because an incubus – supposedly the epitome of all a woman could possibly desire – cuts far too close to those harrowing masculine nightmares of insufficiency?

In which case, I’m rather obligated to explore just what an incubus is… and does!

Are you curious?

Illustration: ‘Burning’ by Boris Vallejo. With thanks to Tiger Powers.

Round Two

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–   the care and feeding of a sequel

What makes a writer? It’s not the fact that you are forever considered weird by people who don’t <cough> have that urge, it’s not that you have a published book and can now write it on your resumé, it’s not even the right to brag at dinner parties when people ask you what you do.

It’s simple. You write. On those days (and there will be many) when the words seem to dry up like laundry on low-humidity days, when the white space of the paper laughs at your audacity, when you’re sick and you’re tired of having to rake the coals of your imagination over the fires of your neuroses, you simply… write a sentence.  And another. Trust me, they do add up after a while.

So in the interests of preserving my questionable sanity while I sit here praying for the miracles to happen, while the weather is dire and cold and I have nothing else to distract me except Facebook and YouTube, I have been researching and writing sketches for Quantum Demonology, The Sequel.

I thought that would never happen. I though that story as it stands is perfectly rounded, finished and tied with a satin bow. Until I caught the loophole staring me in the face in the last chapter. I can’t tell you why it’s there any more than I can tell you why I wrote the entire story.

I just did.

But at the time and even today, I wondered whether this would be a fluke idea. Would this be it – would I get one good story idea in my life as a writer and then languish a career away by beating a thoroughly dead horse to Amazon and beyond?

Some long time ago, I had a strange and disturbing dream that basically gave me the skeleton of the plot in the QD sequel on a platter, including the antagonist’s name. As writers do, I wrote it down in one of my ever-present notebooks. And then – also as writers do – I promptly forgot about it. The time wasn’t right, the moment not yet, the idea too much of an embryo to survive in the wilds of my imagination.

But all this time later, that cauldron of creativity bubbles away. Since I don’t have anything else to distract me (apart from a massive backlog of overdue reviews, which sounds suspiciously like work, that curse of the thinking classes), since I sit in the Waiting Room for the crazy train to depart, I might as well… be a writer. And write.

Or research, which is also a great excuse not to write. I have a few key locations in place, I have a cast of characters, I even have a new one to fall in love with, as all writers must. I have bookmarks of real estate sites for some of the locations, and I’ve even pinned a few to Google Earth so I can at least get the geography right. I have, as I said, a skeleton of a plot. Actually, it would be more correct to state I have two femurs, a ribcage and a shoulder bone with which to construct it. I’ll locate the rest of those 202 bones as I go.

Only now, the ante is up. Anyone who loves and reads the original book will want to continue their immersion into the world of Dev and his attitude problem. Certain expectations must be met, certain conditions fulfilled, all of them combined adding up to a textbook case of action paralysis that never plagued me during the first draft of Quantum Demonology, because back then, it was just for fun, three readers and the Resident Buttkicker I lived with and read to at the time who never did find out how that story ended.

Tell me my life depends on my prose and my muse will clam up faster than an oyster in New Orleans. Tell me it’s just a game, just for fun, what-the-hey, just give me what you’ve got and do whatever you have fun with, and my muse plants his toothsome derrière in my windowsill to breathe fire on my page, and curls up behind me at night. (We single gals take our thrills where we find them!)

So I’ll just pretend… it’s you and it’s me here. No expectations, no heavy-handed reputation to live up to, just a little fun and games.

Now, let me take you away… to the nighttime cesspits of Hollywood, the sidewalks of New York and a house in Ditmas Park, to a world of extremes, to another writer with too much to prove and an aging rock star who needs a reboot, to a drummer who wants to sell his soul and a woman in mortal peril. Next, let me tell you about the monster who unites them all…

See you there?

An excerpt – The Devil’s Prologue

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My awfully wedded wife had finally discovered how to utterly destroy humanity. It was a plan so simple, so elegant it couldn’t possibly fail, and being who I am, it couldn’t possibly succeed, either. Repercussions, logistics to sort out and questions we all wanted to avoid.

A nightmare enchilada of global proportion. She had to be stopped.

“You don’t think you’re going to stop me, do you? I’d handle your job so much better than you. You’ve gone far too soft these past few years. I’ve been here long enough by now, I know all the technicalities no matter what Saint Peter thinks, and poor Asmodeus needs something constructive to do, he gets bored so easily….”

Lilith paced the floor in front of my chair and thought out loud, but I had already tuned her out. Four thousand years of a miserable marriage will have that effect. As she kept talking and pacing, I just sat back and watched her, watched that long, leggy stride eat up the rug in six steps, watched her turn as elegant as any runway model, blonde hair swinging, before pacing back again.

She was flawless. Flawlessly beautiful in that twenty-first century porn-star manner that left no room for imperfections, quirks or doubts, and flawless bored me.

Besides, any woman who begins every single sentence with ‘I’ is nothing but trouble. Trust me. I know.

“You don’t understand at all, do you?” I finally said. “For you, it’s all so simple, all so black-and-white, all so nicely categorized into tidy little boxes that say it must be a cinch to do my job. Nothing is that simple, Lilith.”

“Four thousand years, and you still sound like a scratched vinyl LP, don’t you? ‘Nothing is that simple’ ” she taunted. “Bullshit. Just more male chauvinist pseudo-philosophical cant from someone who thinks he’s better than me simply for having a penis…”

Did I tell you that my lovely wife became a screaming lesbian just to spite me? Nothing against lesbians, but spite. Really.

She’s Queen of the Succubi. No coincidence.

The instant before I tuned her out again, my cell phone vibrated in my pocket. It was a text message from Saint Peter.

“God’s study. All done. Wait for it!”

If she only knew what I was planning.

I stood up to leave.

Surprised at the names? The truth would surprise you even more.

Once, you needed to give the personification of evil an evil face, needed to dehumanize and externalize it to make it easier to identify. If your history has taught you anything, it’s that true evil can wear any face at all. Including your own.

Forget the lies you’ve been force-fed since childhood. Forget that I am supposed to be God’s adversary. Like all dogma and most religion, it’s nothing but a select few shining truths wrapped around a hundred million incandescent, mind-controlling lies.

I’ve been called so many different names I can’t take them seriously any longer. Satan, The Devil, Lucifer, Apollyon, The Fallen One, Evil Incarnate, Mephistopheles, Son of the Morning Star, Shaitan, The Adversary – you humans have never lacked imagination. I don’t have cloven feet, do not in fact look or function much different than you should I choose.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I had a wife I needed to destroy before she destroyed humanity. I needed a little human help. Once upon a time the present Queen of the Succubi was human, before she forced herself upon me and refused to let me go.

So Saint Peter was given an assignment. To find a human intelligent enough to do the job, someone amenable to the benefits we could provide, who could handle the inevitable horrors that came with it. Over six billion humans on Earth, and we only needed one.

A woman.  Since nothing destroys a woman like another one.

But if I have to put myself on the line here Saint Peter, I thought to myself as I left Hell behind me and climbed the stairs to God’s study, make sure she’s got a nice pair of tits.

And if you can, please make her a blonde.

☠ ☠ ☠

The Waiting Room

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Writing a novel is such an involved process that most people aren’t aware of that endless gap from writing ‘The End’ until the day you have a bound, printed book in your hand. In an ideal world containing overinflated delusions of grandeur, so the demented writer’s mind thinks, we would get published to instant and raucous acclaim, skyrocketing sales and within two weeks Hollywood would be barking at our doorstep about options and rights.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have some news for you. It doesn’t work quite like that any longer if indeed it ever did.

Quantum Demonology was published for Amazon Kindle on December 6th 2013, and in hardcover through Amazon on December 17th (the official publication date) by the new indie publisher Nigel’s Flight. A Euro-friendly Customs-free version is also available on Amazon UK. Although the plans were underway over the summer of 2013 and the contract was signed in September, neither the publisher, the artist or the author shifted into high gear until mid-October for a variety of reasons none of us could control.

Having said that, three people – the author, the graphic designer/cover artist and the publisher – managed to completely rewrite, revise, polish, edit, proof-read, design, revise, typeset and proof an original manuscript of 212,000 words (give or take a few) down to 190, 210 and get it to press, bound and in a physical bookstore in two months minus one day.

It happened across two continents and nine time zones. I’ve yet to actually meet my publisher in person or the artist. The artist is in Portland, the publisher in Austin, and meanwhile in an obscure garret apartment in an obscure town in Denmark, the author – that would be me – sits at 4 AM on a snowy January night and wonders why the earth hasn’t moved yet.

After such a massive energy surge, it’s very hard to slow d-o-w-n. It’s like owning a beautiful, brand-new Maserati just screaming for rubber to burn, and it sits in a garage and smolders.

Meanwhile, for reasons I can scarcely explain or articulate, I sit here in what I’ve come to call The Waiting Room. In Quantum Demonology, the Waiting Room is the place where the story ‘times out’, takes a break, and comes to terms with what lies ahead. That’s also a great description for my own present state of limbo, as that force of nature who took a massive chance on an unknown writer (and her own peace of mind) lines up all the metaphorical ducks in the shooting gallery and cleans the Winchester she dearly prays the author will shoot them with.

To be fair, there’s a lot to be said in favor of someone who plans to turn you into the next Charlaine Harris, if not Anne Rice. She knows as I do that I have more sizzling stories up my sleeve.

So as I wait – for the epiphany, for the massive sea change I sense is coming, for all the marvels and wonders ahead, I do what I can to keep myself sane. I map out the sequel, and introduce a few new characters along with Dev and his feisty writer. Some of the characters from QD will be back to wreak havoc with my carefully laid plans. Some facts will be revealed, some events will change, some semblance of plot is emerging in my dreams, in my journal, in the dirty dishwater of my quotidian life.

I wrestle with my other writing, which for whatever reasons seems a bit frivolous now the book is out. I watch an awful lot of BBC history documentaries on YouTube. I entertain my two cats. I daydream. I read. I run mock interviews in my head to come up with sassy answers to silly questions. I pray to Freya, to Sophia, to Providence and Fortuna:

Please don’t let me fall flat on my face. Please don’t let me disappoint. Please let me show just how bright I can burn. Please.

Above all else, I sit in the Waiting Room, which looks a lot like Grand Central Station in New York City, eyeing the clock up above, waiting for my crazy train to be announced.

As surely it will, any day now…

A Transgressional Affair

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Being the true confessions of a (newly) published writer

Someone once said that the problem with a published book of the kind with your name on it, is you can’t take it back. If you’ve written it as “ Anon” or even a pseudonym you can always shrug and feign your innocence. It wasn’t you. Nope. As if.

As if you’d ever write such a §!”#€%&/()=?_∞£¶[ awful collection of questionable prose.

So when I received an offer to have it published by a new publisher who would make this her first book, I toyed for some time with the idea of a pseudonym. If only so I could shrug, smirk and feign my innocence.

But then – such being the perfidious nature of vainglorious writers – my vanity kicked in. It wasn’t as if I had anything to hide, scores of people already knew me by name elsewhere on the web, and down below in that swirling, seething, molasses-black mass of egomania, I wanted the accolades, the acclaim, the solicitous care and feeding of my ego. (I wish!)

Yet far more than anything at all else, I wanted to flip the metaphorical bird at all the skeptics, non-believers, doubters, haters and every single sucker who ever tried to grind me down. I did want to write my own humble ‘Kilroy was here’ on the hallowed walls of literature, I wanted to leave an epitaph behind that said I did this, I wrote that, I cooked it all up out of music, boredom, desperation and the darkness I spent all my life trying to deny I even had.

Only to find I might as well have been as naked as Botticelli’s Venus (if looking nowhere so good) once the book was out on Amazon.

It’s all true. I can’t take it back or deny I had anything to do with it. For every doubt I’ve had along the long journey from out-there idea to hardcover and Kindle edition, for every time I’ve clutched my feline teddy bear and burrowed under the covers wishing the whole nightmare enchilada would just go away and disappear, down below in the Sea of Egomania, I was damn proud of that book, damn proud I did it, and inordinately proud all those so-called doubters and non-creative types who sneered condescendingly and flatly stated ‘they had never had that (cough)…urge’, all those who said ‘Forget about being published. That will never happen.’ – they could all just kiss my Taboo-painted toes, because by Golly, I did it!

And by Golly, I feel so very naked, because… I can’t take it back.

All in all, it’s been – a most transgressional affair.