Today, I’m posting on “Writing Explicitly” at Kate Elliott’s blog – visit, comment!
Evening was in the wood, louring with storm.
A time of drought had sucked the weedy pool
And baked the channels; birds had done with song.
Thirst was a dream of fountains in the moon,
Or willow-music blown across the water
Leisurely sliding on by weir and mill.
Uneasy was the man who wandered, brooding,
His face a little whiter than the dusk.
A drone of sultry wings flicker’d in his head.
The end of sunset burning thro’ the boughs
Died in a smear of red; exhausted hours
Cumber’d, and ugly sorrows hemmed him in.
He thought: ‘Somewhere there’s thunder,’ as he strove
To shake off dread; he dared not look behind him,
But stood, the sweat of horror on his face.
He blunder’d down a path, trampling on thistles,
In sudden race to leave the ghostly trees.
And: ‘Soon I’ll be in open fields,’ he thought,
And half remembered starlight on the meadows,
Scent of mown grass and voices of tired men,
Fading along the field-paths; home and sleep
And cool-swept upland spaces, whispering leaves,
And far off the long churring night-jar’s note.
But something in the wood, trying to daunt him,
Led him confused in circles through the thicket.
He was forgetting his old wretched folly,
And freedom was his need; his throat was choking.
Barbed brambles gripped and clawed him round his legs,
And he floundered over snags and hidden stumps.
Mumbling: ‘I will get out! I must get out!’
Butting and thrusting up the baffling gloom,
Pausing to listen in a space ’twixt thorns,
He peers around with peering, frantic eyes.
An evil creature in the twilight looping,
Flapped blindly in his face. Beating it off,
He screeched in terror, and straightway something clambered
Heavily from an oak, and dropped, bent double,
To shamble at him zigzag, squat and bestial.
Headlong he charges down the wood, and falls
With roaring brain—agony—the snap’t spark–
And blots of green and purple in his eyes.
Then the slow fingers groping on his neck,
And at his heart the strangling clasp of death.
–Siegfried Sassoon, The Old Huntsman and Other Poems, 1918
To My Brother
Give me your hand, my brother, search my face;
Look in these eyes lest I should think of shame;
For we have made an end of all things base.
We are returning by the road we came.
Your lot is with the ghosts of soldiers dead,
And I am in the field where men must fight.
But in the gloom I see your laurell’d head
And through your victory I shall win the light.
–Siegfried Sassoon, The Old Huntsman and Other Poems, 1918
I’m trying to find my bliss.
It’s been so long since I’ve deliberately sought out inspiration on this scale that it feels like something new! I haven’t had time to come up with a totally new project since back in 2007. Ever since then, I’ve been writing from book to book, under contractual demands. It’s freeing to imagine all the different things I could be writing right now; or, at least, after I finish a couple of short-term writing goals from the to-do list.
I’m trying a bit of free-association. What have I written about in the past that gave me great joy? What thrills me when I read about it? What things/situations/events make me eager to write? And can I reduce some of my free association to a list of Things I Like which might coalesce into a new idea?
World War One
losing and finding family
…and the list goes on.
Here are the stories I’ve found so far.
Josh Lanyon’s The Dark Farewell was my favorite of the three. Information page at Samhain. Grieving veteran David Flynn meets spiritual medium Julian Devereux while a serial killer ravages smalltown 1920s America. I wanted this one to be longer!
Less romance-y and more historical fiction/erotica is Lanyon’s Out of the Blue, also available in Kindle format. This one is set while the war is still going on, amid a group of pilots. Again, I wanted the story to be longer; I was intrigued by the characters and wanted to know what happened to the relationship once the war ended; did it continue, or fizzle? But perhaps Lanyon was more interested in relationships under high pressure.
In contrast, the novel-length Whistling in the Dark (Kindle) and print by Tamara Allen is much lighter in tone. It’s set post-war in New York City, with two young veterans. It’s got a lot of fun historical detail, particularly about early, early radio.
Almost every year at Philcon, I moderate the panel on selling fantastic (science fiction and fantasy) erotica. It was interesting this year to note how the panel topics have shifted over time: print to electronic to self-electronic.
For several years, after I first began to publish erotica, just before the beginning of the twenty-first century, at science fiction conventions I would give talks or host discussion groups on selling science fiction/fantasy erotica. I would focus on short stories, in particular selling sf/f erotica to mainstream erotica markets, also discussing sex in science fiction/fantasy in general. Once I’d sold novels, I added in chat about print publication, and my experiences writing erotica for Harlequin.
For the last few years, another local author, Stephanie Burke, has also participated in the Philcon panels; she focuses on electronic publishing, mostly in erotic romance, and talks about how she broke into and continues to sell to those markets.
This year, for the first time I found myself discussing self-publishing at the panel, as well. It seems to be the year of it. I read an interesting article in the Novelists, Inc. newsletter about how cover quality can influence sales of Kindle/Smashwords/etc. books; if you’ve received back the rights to a novel from your print publisher, usually you will need to do a new cover. Some writers have seen significant sales increases simply from getting a new, better cover that looks good as a thumbnail. One of this year’s panelists was L.W. Perkins, a cover artist for numerous small presses and for electronic press Liquid Silver (please note her site is undergoing renovation at the moment; I gave the link for future reference).
I’ve been following reports from fellow writers who’ve experimented with electronically publishing novels or short stories they were unable to sell elsewhere, or that were out of print; sometimes they have significant sales. I’ve been following discussions of using free Kindle downloads to encourage sales of an author’s backlist.
Last year, I didn’t have any of that information. This year, discussion of these possibilities is becoming more and more mainstream.
Please welcome my guest, Rachel Kramer Bussel! Rachel and I met almost a decade back, when we were both reading our stories from Best Lesbian Erotica at Bluestockings in New York City. She graciously consented to answer some questions I had about the process of editing and her latest anthology, Passion: Erotic Romance for Women.
How do you choose a focus for an anthology? How did you choose the focus of Passion?
I try to look at what readers might want to read, what I’m interested in, and what would be fun to work on. I like having a theme but it’s tricky because you don’t want the stories to be too similar to each other, so a theme like passion and erotic romance is wide enough that there’s room for plenty of variety.
I’ve done a lot of kinky anthologies and wanted to try something a little sweeter and more romantic, though there is definitely kink in it. I was surprised to find that it was a challenge to write my own story, “Five Senses,” but it also brought me to a range of new authors who work in the erotic romance field, something I’m looking forward to continuing with 2011’s Obsessed anthology, and another erotic romance book to follow.
How does your original idea for an anthology translate into the call for submissions, and into the stories you eventually choose?
Sometimes it’s a more exact match than others, and that process has gotten refined over time. I put out very detailed calls in terms of what they should look like but regarding content try to leave plenty of room to allow authors to come up with whatever strikes their fancy.
To me the beauty of editing an anthology is that so much of it is based on the writers’ creativity; they always come up with a cool take on my original idea that I never could have foreseen. One great example of that in Passion is Jacqueline Applebee’s story “My Dark Knight.” I know nothing about Renaissance Fair type of play but I didn’t need to to appreciate her story, which also touches on the uncertainty of new relationships, especially where you really like someone and aren’t sure exactly how they feel about you. I look for stories that have a real-life nuance to them, where even if the plot is outlandish, there’s relatable emotion between the characters.
What’s the hardest part of choosing stories? The most fun?
The hardest part is rejecting stories. I hate that, and sometimes it makes me want to quit editing anthologies because it’s not fun at all, but I also know I’ll always be working on new anthologies so I can pass along those calls for submissions.
The most fun part is finding a story that just nails the theme perfectly and is so wonderful I want to read it to everyone I know. Those are the gems and make the very time-consuming process of reading submissions a joy.
How do you choose the order in which stories appear? What input does the publisher have into the final product?
I tend to select the first and last stories as ones that will, respectively, suck the reader in and leave the reader satisfied but maybe wanting a little more, and beyond that, I don’t have a highly scientific ordering process. I add stories as I go over a few months of editing, and at the end may move them around. I like to build up to the more intense stories, but a lot of it, for me, is actually pretty random.
Cleis Press rarely alters the order of the stories, though they do have final approval of manuscripts and sometimes stories get cut for space or if they aren’t quite a fit with the book. I appreciate this attention to detail and think it makes the books truly beautiful, inside and out. They find outstanding cover photographs and work hard to create quality, memorable books.
What was the first anthology you edited? How did that come about?
I co-edited the anthology Up All Night: True Lesbian Sex Stories, and was brought on board by co-editor Stacy Bias. She asked me to help and that book includes stories by Tristan Taormino and L. Elise Bland. That came out in 2004 and then soon after I started editing anthologies on my own, like Glamour Girls: Femme/Femme Erotica and Naughty Spanking Stories from A to Z.
Thanks, Rachel! I’m looking forward to the anthology!
To Robert Ross
Your dextrous wit will haunt us long
Wounding our grief with yesterday.
Your laughter is a broken song;
And death has found you, kind and gay.
We may forget those transient things
That made your charm and our delight:
But loyal love has deathless wings
That rise and triumph out of night.
So, in the days to come, your name
Shall be as music that ascends
When honour turns a heart from shame…
O heart of hearts! … O friend of friends!