Tag: Writing

Where to Start the Story

One of the trickiest parts of a story is knowing which slice of an infinite series of interrelated events (i.e., the Universe) to look at. You can’t start at the beginning (i.e., The Big Bang), unless the nature of your story is tied to the beginning. Similar case with starting at the other end of things. Most likely whatever story you want to tell can be narrowed down to somewhere within the tiny slice of time that encompasses a single person’s life.

The length of the work you’re trying to create matters here, because IF you’re trying to create a work that spans an entire person’s life, then you really don’t have any more decisions in this regard. Start with their birth, end with their death. Fini.

On the other hand, if you’re trying for a specific word count, that will narrow your search for the start of the story considerably. Even the best writers can only convey so much information in a certain word count, and the lower your word count needs to be, the more precise you’ll have to be when picking your beginning.

Let us say in this case, that you’re writing for submission, and you’re trying for a story that is 3,000 Words or less. That’s pretty limited, depending on what kind of story you’re trying to tell, and what kind of characters you plan to use.

One mistake that many authors make is trying to start their story on a perfectly average day, to let the readers know how things normally are, then to move on to more interesting things from there. Don’t do that. Your readers already know what an average day is–they’ve had quite a few of them themselves.

Start where things get interesting. That way, you’ll have your reader’s interest right off the bat. With a limited word count, you need to get through things quickly, which means rushing through parts of the overall story, while zooming in closely on others. You want to rush through the boring bits, and zoom in on the good bits.

With erotica, that typically means glossing over the character’s entire life and background, and focusing on a single encounter. With horror, it’s basically the same deal. None of the details of the character’s life are worth focusing on, unless they make the story move forward.

It doesn’t matter that your main character’s name is George S. Klein. It doesn’t really matter where he lives, unless the setting is unique enough to warrant a significant fraction of your tiny (3k is succinct, in my  view) word count. If it’s necessary to mention that he was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, then mention it, like I just did. Then move on, as I’m doing.

Most writing advice is telling you to “Show, Don’t Tell,” and that’s good advice except when it isn’t. Sometimes, especially when constrained by word count, it’s better to just tell the readers some stuff, to sum up.

Here’s the start of my story “Past The Bullshit”:

“If we could just cut through all the usual bullshit, and you’d just let me put this in you,” he indicated the thick bulge in his pants. “Well, then you’d know.”

“I’d know what?” She was mildly amused by the man so far, and she sipped her drink to facilitate that feeling.

He shook his head. “There’s only one way to find out.”

It was the wrong line, to the wrong girl, on the wrong crappy night, but somehow, less than an hour later, she was in his hotel room, on his bed, her skirt pushed up to her hips as she let him lick her into readiness.

I could have introduced both characters, and I could have written a dozen pages or an entire book on how and why they ran into each other in that bar, but none of that mattered for the story. All that matters for the story is that this strange man gives this woman a strange and crude line, and against her better judgment it works. Then the action takes place, then the resolution of both the introduction and the action.

All in <775 words, in this case.

Here’s the start of my 2500+ word story The Octopunishment:
Bridget Walsh brushed aside tentacle after sagging tentacle. They were dormant for a time, and this was her only chance to escape. She’d had such chances before, but needless to say, she was still here. Naked and dripping, she climbed up onto the thick layer of rubbery flesh, escaping the sea for a time. She was on the skirt of Kýrios Chtapódi, the Lord Octopus. In order to escape, she had to climb all the way up its enormous body, all the way to the head, which rose like a mountain into the sky.

It isn’t fair. The thought nagged at her once again, but as before, it never did her any good. Yes, it wasn’t fair. Why should it be? Everybody knew that life wasn’t fair; why should afterlife be any different?

I could have started the story chronologically, and taken my time. Under different circumstances, if I needed to pad the word count or flesh out the story more, I would have. I could have started off at the point her life took a fatal turn, the day that Zeus showed up in disguise to the game show she was hosting. I’d have had the opening bit be about her thinking that this one of her guests was weird. I’d have had her insult him (part of her routine), and I’d have shown the man transforming into an angry Greek god who kills her with a thunderbolt. I’d have shown her arrival in the particular Underworld that the king of gods condemned her to.

But the project didn’t call for all that–I wasn’t trying to write a novel. I could have, with this story, and that’s the problem. You have to know what story to tell, which moments are important. In this story, the important moment is a decision that Bridget makes when she reaches the summit of Kýrios Chtapódi, and she has a chance to escape. The character is on a specific journey in this story, a specific challenge, and I started the story where the challenge begins.

Everything else that the readers needed to know, how Bridget ended up where she was, the details of her kinky torture at the hands of the Lord Octopus, and everything else that was necessary for the story, I told in flashbacks here or there as she climbs up the side of this mountainous creature.

Start where things get interesting. You can always backfill details later.

Hobbies, Skills, and Passions

I’ve talked in other posts, I believe, about one of the useful elements in becoming a good or great writer being a fluency in the language of writing. The faster and cleaner you can translate what’s in your mind into what’s on the page, the easier the entire process of writing will be. On a good day, at the right time or times, you’ll be able to write as fast as you can type. If you’re a good typist, you’ll be able to write almost as fast as you can think.

At this point, one of the big bottlenecks will be what your mental speed limit is: how fast you can make story-creating decisions that fit the characters you’re working with, and that advance the plot in the right direction. As with everything else in writing, this takes practice to get really good at.

Luckily for me, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life playing Dungeons & Dragons.

More specifically, I’ve spent a huge portion of my life as a D&D Dungeonmaster (as opposed to the BDSM kind of Dungeonmaster), running games for all kinds of different players. I credit this particular hobby with a lot of my ability to come up with plots on the fly, as well as my ability to create fictional characters quickly, and my ability to envision the decisions those characters might make. All of those things are skills that one needs to varying degrees when running a tabletop role-playing game.

As with writing fiction, a Dungeonmaster (DM) tries to create or direct a narrative, to tell (with the aid of his players) a kind of story. The Dungeonmaster lays out a general plot, with a beginning, middle, and (assuming not everybody dies along the way) an ending. As with writing, any or all of this outline is routinely threatened by the often unpredictable actions of the characters involved. While the DM has full control over where the story starts, he/she does not fully control how or where the story ends, nor what happens along the way.

This is because the characters make their own decisions. Which often seems to happen when one is writing fiction, particularly fiction of any significant length.

A DM might start the story off in a tavern, intending the characters to roleplay a quiet meal getting acquainted with one another, planning the next day’s journey to the castle or dungeon where the object of their mutual quest lies. The players might choose to pick a fight, either with strangers at the tavern or with each other, and the evening might end with any number of dead bodies, and burning tavern.

The DM’s job is to adapt, to get the story back on track, but also to include the consequences of this event into the overall narrative. Surviving party members will likely be on the run now, to avoid angry mobs and law enforcement, which can be used to increase their incentive to achieve whatever their original goal was, as well as to provide additional possible obstacles that might add to the story.

It’s not so different when writing, sometimes. A writer might think they know where a scene is going, but by the time they’re done writing it, they have to re-adjust their entire outline to account for unpredicted outcomes. This is likely to happen more than once, in a longer story.

This can be frustrating as a Dungeonmaster, so most DMs try to predict ahead of time how and why scenes might go wrong, and to come up with ways of reducing the odds of disaster or major derailment. Instead of starting the scene in the main room of the tavern, for example, the DM might start the scene in a private room, where there are fewer distractions from the DM’s goal with the scene. It’s hard to start a fight with non-player characters (NPCs) when there aren’t any in the room/scene.

The party can fight amongst themselves, but this can be countered by making sure that each of the main characters, the Player Characters (PCs) have compatible backstories that can be used to avoid disastrous in-fighting. Four complete strangers are more likely to pick deadly fights with one another than a group of four people composed of two brothers, one brother’s love interest, and that love interest’s long-time friend who happens to have helped the other brother out of a serious jam on at least one occasion. It also helps if the characters have compatible personalities and overall motivations. That way, if things start to go off course, the DM can guide them back on course by reminding the PCs of their close ties and their mutual goals.

Storytelling is storytelling, and a lot of the skills that one can develop in table-top role-playing games can translate into other forms of storytelling, such as writing. It’s not the only way to develop useful skills, and it’s not even necessarily the best way to do so. It is one of the ways that’s worked for me, and I’ve heard other authors make similar claims.

Then again, writers tend to use their own experiences, and whatever a writers’ experiences are, I’ve heard them claim that those experiences have helped shape and guide their writing.

If you’ve never tried running or playing in a tabletop RPG, but you’re looking for fun hobbies that might help you with your writing, I recommend joining or starting a game sometime. If you have played or run tabletop RPGs, I recommend actively thinking about lessons that you can learn from your RPG experiences that will translate into writing skills, and vice-versa. It’s always nice when our hobbies can sharpen our skills for our passions.

Avatars and Objects

Both “erotica” and “horror” are emotional terms, referring not to any physical actions, but to emotional states. Erotica is specifically art intended to arouse physical desire. Although there are certain physical responses that are a part of this reaction, the reaction itself occurs in the minds of the audience. Horror as a genre is specifically referring to the capacity to instill fear, revulsion, or even terror into the audience. This is something to keep in mind when writing in either genre, because all too often writers and artists seem to focus entirely on the physical elements.

In purely visual mediums, this is understandable. A painting or picture can only do so much to do the things necessary to fully bring the viewer along for a journey. A simple portrait or picture of a nude man or woman might well be all that is required to achieve the intended reaction, but even in such cases there is usually effort made by the artist to convey something other than the pure physical form. Compare nudes sketches or photos that are done for the purposes of simply showing anatomy, versus works designed to arouse. The former is typically informative, but essentially unarousing. The latter is typically much more arousing, and this is due in large part to the emotional information conveyed by the work in question.

Faces in anatomical works are usually blank, neutral, conveying nothing about the subject except perhaps indifference. Faces in erotic works are typically full of various emotional reactions, and this is precisely because that emotional quality is essential to arouse the audience. Humans can be aroused by sheer anatomical close-up visuals, but typically they are aroused to much greater extents when emotions are involved in the work. A naked woman with a completely neutral face and posture isn’t going to do all that much for most male viewers, but add a bit of flush to the cheeks, a bit of a wanton smile, and suddenly any eroticism is greatly multiplied.

Humans are social creatures, and we as a species are typically concerned with and affected by the emotions that we see (or project) onto the people around us.

Most commonly, we are sexually aroused by seeing the emotion of sexual arousal in others. That flush to the cheeks can indicate a host of emotions that we associate with sex, from lust to embarrassment, to the kinds of physical exertion that we associate with enthusiastic sexual activity. As a hetero male, seeing art portraying an emotionally neutral naked woman provokes a certain level of arousal, a low-level spark of lust. Seeing art portraying a clothed (or partially clothed!) woman who’s looking at me (or another person in the art itself) with lust in her eyes, in her smile, in her flush, in her posture, can turn that spark into a bonfire.

Horror works the same way, although typically with different emotions (barring various kinks and phobias).

Picture a person being stabbed in the chest with a large knife, but with their countenance conveying complete indifference. Picture their limbs lying neutral. Picture their mouth closed in a lazy line, their eyes half-lidded with a lack of any interest.

Now picture the same stabbing, only with the target’s eyes wide with shock and fear, their mouth forced open by their scream of not only agony, but their understanding that these are their last moments of life, and that those last moments will be filled with suffering. Picture their legs buckling, their arms desperately failing to stop the incoming attack.

Neither of these images is necessarily going to instill you with fear, revulsion, or terror, but surely the second image comes closer to any of those emotions, comes closer to conveying horror, comes closer to doing the primary job that horror as a genre is designed for.

Let’s repeat the experiment with an erotic scene instead.

Picture a naked man and a naked woman. The woman is bent over a table, and the man is standing behind her. He is frozen mid-thrust, his cock half-way into (or out of) her. Their faces are blank masks, and their postures convey no urgency, no desire, and nothing about any kind of internal feeling about the act they’re in the middle of.

Re-imagine the scene.
This time, the woman is wearing a house dress. She is leaning over a kitchen table that has a cutting board with a knife and vegetables on it, as if she has been interrupted in the middle of preparing a meal. Picture her hands bunching the checkered tablecloth. Picture her face flushed with passion, her eyes closed with pleasure, her mouth opening wide with a moan of ecstasy. The top of her dress has been pulled down, exposing her bare breasts. The bottom of her dress has been lifted up, and her panties pushed aside so that the man could eagerly penetrate her.

He’s wearing slightly shabby clothing, as if he’s been working in the yard, and only came in for a break or a drink of water. His hands are on her hips, frozen in the act of frantically pulling her back against him. His eyes are filled with lust, his face red with it. His pants are unzipped and have been pulled down just enough for this spontaneous act of mutual passion.

Stereotypical gender roles aside (or especially included, depending on one’s kinks), which scene was more arousing?

Most likely the latter, because the characters we see in a work of art are our vehicle for this experience, our avatars and objects of desire. If we can see passion, we can feel that passion. Just as if we see fear or pain, we can experience that as well.

It’s the same in written work: a story must be about more than indifferent bodies in order to truly affect the reader. The characters must feel emotions, and these emotions must be transmitted to the readers in order to infect them with the appropriate feelings of fear or desire.

The goal of most art is to affect the audience somehow, and that’s incredibly difficult and rare to do without showing them any emotions within the art itself. Emotions are the key to affecting your readers, and details are the key to showing emotions.

Aaron Gold’s “Don’t Mind If I Don’t” Podcast

My Fucking Day Job keeps my hands and eyes busy most of the time, but my brain and ears are usually bored. I try to make use of this time by listening to audiobooks and podcasts, as well as a variety of music. With the audiobooks, I try to do stuff that will help my preferred field of writing erotica. I bounce back and forth between stuff on business/finance/promotion, erotica, sex/health education, and classic or popular books that can help me learn how the great writers did what they did.

With podcasts, my selection is mostly oriented the same way–all stuff that helps me sharpen my skills as a writer of erotica–but there’s other stuff in there too. I listen to Ted Talks of all sorts, because there are a lot of story ideas in those things, and because I just like learning new things and thinking new ideas. I’ve been listening to the Donkey Banana Show, because somebody I know on Twitter recommended it. There’s a bunch of stuff.

One of my favorite shows is the “Don’t Mind If I Don’t” podcast by comedian Aaron Gold.

The premise of this show is that Aaron picks something that he doesn’t like, then gets people to come on to the show to convince him to like it. He might be indifferent to the subject, simply not getting why it’s a deal to anybody. He might have a negative reaction to the subject, but see some kind of appeal. Or he might hate the subject with a burning passion.

At the beginning of each episode, Aaron gives a rating of 0 (indifference) to -10 (extreme hatred) for how he feels about the issue in question. Over the course of each episode, the guests try to explain to Aaron why he should like the subject, try to convince him to become a fan of it. Aaron explains and explores why he dislikes it. At the end of the show, Aaron gives his new rating to show how his feelings have changed.

Usually, the number moves closer to zero, because Aaron wants to enjoy more things; part of the point of the show is that he’d like to open his mind, and to find more pleasures in life. Sometimes, as I believe happened with the David Lynch episode, the number moves the other way, and Aaron finds that the more he knows about the subject–or the ways the guests/experts tried to convince him to like it–has pushed him even more toward the extreme hatred end of the spectrum.

Sometimes I agree with Aaron’s view, sometimes I agree with the guests’ views, and sometimes I agree with everybody, but I always empathize with Aaron because I have my own quirks and a long list of dislikes. I have my own hot-button issues, and plenty of popular topics that I hate. Most people do. At the same time, I also–like Aaron–want to enjoy life more, and I think that it’s good for people to have an open mind whenever possible.

Regardless of how it turns out, I enjoy listening to Aaron’s exploration of his own emotions.

A lot of the time, I feel like the guests aren’t doing a great job. They often forget that they’re not there to defend the topic’s general appeal; they’re there to specifically pitch the subject to Aaron in a way (or ways) that will make HIM specifically find more enjoyment in the issue. They don’t always pay attention to his objections, so sometimes they accidentally make pitches/arguments that only play up the factors that anger or annoy him. Other times, they fail to take notice when they hit on something that could seriously sway him, some point that he expresses interest in, but that the guests move on from all too swiftly.

Much of the time, the fans’ or experts’ arguments boil down to “But it’s SOOooo good!”, a blatant emotional appeal that’s not going to convince many people. Other times, the fans or experts come up with fascinating angles or information, things that catch Aaron (and/or myself) off-guard, and manage to change the way he looks at the issue in question. Either way, there are almost always jokes, ideas, and fun moments that make the show well worth my time and attention.

I follow both the podcast (@dontmindpodcast) and Aaron Gold himself (@HeyItsAaronGold) on Twitter, and I recommend that you do the same, as well as giving the podcast a try if you’ve got any free listening time. He’s affable and amusing, but can also be endearingly cranky in ways that I identify with. If you like things, or if you don’t like things, this just might be the show for you!

Do any of my readers have podcasts or audiobooks that they’d like to recommend to me? If so, let me know in the Comments section here. Pitch it to me in a way that’ll make me like it. 😉

In Which I Battle Myself to Write This

“You don’t have to write anything,” I told myself. “All you have to do is to open up a new tab with Google Docs in it.”

Yesterday, I wrote something like 4-6 blog posts, which started catching me up on my goal. I figured I could probably get ahead of schedule today, without much effort. But everything has been effort today.

It hasn’t been a bad day; it’s been an inert day.

I’m not in a bad mood; I’m just effectively paralyzed by… I don’t know what. My mind, I suppose. My ADD is full throttle, so I’m constantly distracted by stuff. I’ll sit down at the computer, and three hours will have passed. What happened during that time?

It’s a mystery.
I looked up obscure shit on Wikipedia. I argued with some twat who was wrong about something stupid, and who won’t learn anything from the experience of me walking them step by step through the echoing halls of their own ignorance. I watched some pointless videos on YouTube. I pissed most of my day away, doing nothing.

And even as I told myself that there was still time to accomplish something productive today, I told myself back that I didn’t want to do anything productive. I want to do nothing. I want to do glorious nothing all day, all week, and for the rest of my life.

It’s a trap that I’ve fallen into before, and it can be hard to get out of.

So I’ve learned to fool myself into being productive. I tell myself that I can always procrastinate later, that I need to do something, just ONE thing, then I can get back to the abyss of mindless online nonsense. Or I can watch something on Netflix. Or I can pet the dogs for an hour. Or I can stare out the window, or at a wall. But I have to do one thing first: I have to open a tab with a blank Google Document in it.

This is a trick, and I know it. Fortunately, I’m stupid enough to fall for it, and I’ve been writing non-stop for over two minutes now. I’ve battled me before, and I know a lot of my weaknesses. A blank page is one of them. I’m compulsed to put something on it, and once I have that something, I’m compulsed to add to it.

My ADD, and my OCDish tendencies can cut both ways, and against my worst judgment, I use them to cut my way slowly forward, to make myself do something productive.

My doubts kick in. Is this even a good blog post?
I parry with my own laziness: it doesn’t matter if it’s good. As I learned in school, “D” means Done.
My anxiety lashes out at me. Am I saying any of this right? What if it nobody knows what I’m talking about? What if it offends people somehow? What if….
I dodge the attacks, using my own procrastination to avoid even thinking about the questions, let alone answering them.

And here I am, 511+ words down, with a minimum goal of 800.

Things are flowing faster now, and I’m getting into the zone a bit. I’m able to type out my thoughts freely. I’m in familiar territory, because I’ve fought myself this way many, many times before. I’m fighting an enemy so familiar that we might as well share the same brain, except the enemy IS my brain, or parts of it.

I spend a few minutes trying to look up an applicable quote, something somebody once said about attaching a yoke to their own lusts. It was an eloquent idea, and a sound strategy, but all I’m getting right now are Bible quotes, and I’m pretty sure none of them are close to what I have in mind.

The point of the quote–and of this blog entry, if there is one–is that when you understand that you can be your own worst enemy, and when you study this enemy, you can adapt to an extent, and you can overcome yourself. I’ve spent depressingly close to half a century analyzing my own thoughts and actions, watching myself carefully to figure out how I’ve screwed myself up in the past, and how I’ll screw myself up in the future.
I suspect that I’m not the only one who has this kind of problem, the problem of self-sabotage, the problem of being my own enemy.

I suspect that I’m not the only one who uses this kind of solution, manipulating myself coldly toward my own agenda of self-improvement and productivity.

But I also suspect that there are many people out there that don’t have it down as well. I didn’t, decades ago. I get a little better every year. And I wish somebody had told me, had shown me, many years ago how I could fool myself into being more useful in my own life.

As a writer, the first step is always to look at a blank page.

That’s often also the hardest step, because the thought of a blank page is sometimes the scariest thing in the world, something that you’d rather kill your entire day–and even eventually your lifespan–than to face head-on.
So break it down, to the basics.
Set your goals small, starting with opening up a new document.
It’s an easy goal, and you can lie to yourself that it’s the only goal, something worth doing just for itself.

But when you get there, and you’re looking at that big, white Empty, push yourself to go just one step further, just one tiny step, and
Write.

One.

Word.
If you’re like me, that’s the hardest part, the biggest demon you have to slay.
It’s a deceptively complex project (but don’t let yourself catch on to that!), because in order to write that one word, you have to have a sentence or a half-sentence ready. And once you have that first word written, it’s easier to finish that sentence than not. It’s easier to finish that half-sentence than not, and if you have half a sentence, it’s usually easier to finish that sentence than to not.
And once you have that first sentence down, the second sentence will come pretty easily, as will the one after that.
And before you know it, you’re at 1056 words, and even a D means Done.

Not In A Single Word

(The following blog post includes a spoiler for the musical Hamilton)

Bill Cosby once had a popular family comedy show in which he showed off his acting skills by playing a man who was not a serial rapist. In one particular episode of this show, this non-rapist character (Cliff Huxtable) is telling his daughter a story about wanting to learn to play the drums when he was a kid. He’d listened to some records, been blown away by the drumwork, and had eagerly rushed out to find a music teacher so that he could learn how to play the drums just as well as the professional musicians that he’d fallen in love with.

Here’s a 32 second clip of that story, which as far as I can tell will not provide Bill Cosby with any income if you watch it:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPF3qqO1qFA

Young Cliff Huxtable tells the teacher that he wants to (insert un-writable Bill Cosby impression of somebody playing the drums really, really well), and the teacher responds by telling him to take his drum sticks and practice hitting a wood block slowly, like this: Whack…Whack…

The point is that if you want to be great at something, you have to start out small, mastering the fundamentals and the most basic elements of that something. It’s only when you’ve gotten that stuff down that you can learn to put them all together into something great. This applies not only to playing the drums, but to most things, writing included.

This is why grammar and punctuation is important: they’re the fundamentals of writing. If you don’t learn to master those, then you won’t become great. This is because great things can often hinge on a mastery of basic elements.

Most writers want to skip ahead, just like young Cliff Huxtable did. They want to jump right to the fancy stuff, without putting in the years of practice on the fundamentals. I don’t blame them one bit, but learning the fundamentals is important not only because it allows you to avoid embarrassment, but also because it allows you to do amazing, incredible things, to communicate worlds of information with something as seemingly inconsequential as the placement of a single comma.

This is where we get to the Hamilton spoiler(s).

In the musical, Alexander Hamilton marries Eliza Schuyler. One of Eliza’s sisters, Angelica, moves overseas, and she and Alexander maintain regular correspondence by writing letters back and forth. Alexander always begins these letters “My dearest Angelica,” with the comma in the proper position, after “Angelica.”
Until one day he doesn’t.

In the song “Take A Break,” Angelica sings about the importance of that comma, because it changes position:
In a letter I received from you two weeks ago

I noticed a comma in the middle of a phrase

It changed the meaning. Did you intend this?

One stroke and you’ve consumed my waking days

It says:

“My dearest Angelica”

With a comma after “dearest.” You’ve written

“My dearest, Angelica.”

 

Here we have two characters who are in love, and who cannot be together. They cannot directly express their feelings for one another, due to sense of propriety as well as perhaps the pain of putting their feelings to words, when they cannot act on their feelings. Hamilton instead lets Angelica know indirectly how he feels about her, and he does it simply by moving a comma.

Angelica asks, “Did you intend this?”, but my impression from the musical overall is that she knows he did. She’s just experiencing the “I can’t believe he feels this way back” sort of disbelief that can happen when love is requited.

In her heart, she knows. She knows that he loves her, that he holds her in his heart in some ways higher even than his wife: “My dearest, Angelica.”

That one comma placement switches the meaning from a simple and polite expression, from technically expressing that of all the Angelicas that exist, that she is the most dear to him, to a declaration that of all the people in the world–presumably his wife included–Angelica is the most dear to him, the most loved, the most cherished. That slight movement of a comma is the difference between a prefatory acknowledgment that could be skipped over, to something that consumes a woman’s waking days.

It’s the kind of thing that a writer can only pull off if they know what they’re doing, if they have the right level of authority with their reader(s). If Alexander was always sloppy with his commas, sticking them routinely in strange places, Angelica wouldn’t have noticed the comma’s movement at all. Any deliberate message would have been lost in the general mess of Alexander’s writing.

Instead, because Alexander knew what he was doing–had mastered the fundamentals–and because he had demonstrated his knowledge of the fundamentals often and well enough for Angelica to know that he knew what he was doing, he was able to convey to her an entire world of emotion–not in a single word, but in a single goddamned comma.

That’s why you have to Whack Whack, before you can dit-dit-ditta-dit while you ding-ding-dinga-ding.

I Got Mentioned in the “Loving BDSM” Podcast

 

My Fucking Day Job keeps me pretty busy physically, but not mentally. Consequently, I have long and boring periods of time where I don’t have the opportunity to read, but I am perfectly able to entertain myself by listening to audiobooks and podcasts. I try to use this as an opportunity not just to be amused, but also to further my education on my craft, as well as the world in general. I listen to classic novels, in order to study the great writers. I listen to many modern novels for the same reason. I listen to non-fiction audiobooks on subjects that I think might help me strengthen my key weaknesses as an independent writer: self-promotion and sales. I also listen to a lot of stuff just for ideas, and to broaden my knowledge of the world in general, as well as my knowledge of more specific areas of expertise that can come up in my writing.

One of the podcasts that I am subscribed to is the “Loving BDSM” podcast, by Kayla Lords and John Brownstone. Kayla is, in her own words, “a masochistic babygirl,” and John Brownstone is her Daddy Dom. Their podcast is about BDSM relationships, but is less geared toward the technical details of mechanics and biology, and is more focused on how to form and maintain strong, safe, and loving (if desired) relationships in the context of BDSM and the BDSM community.

I stumbled onto their podcast while searching for more information on BDSM relationships, because I’ve written some BDSM stuff in the past, and plan to write more in the future. Their podcast was useful in this regard, but I also quickly became charmed by the couple themselves, and have become quite a fan.

The Loving BDSM Podcast has a Bonus Section at the end of each episode, where they engage in general chitchat, discuss tangents that didn’t make it into the episode, provide updates about their lives, and so forth. Another thing they do in the Bonus Section is to discuss the postcards that they get from their fans.

I toyed with the idea of sending them a postcard, because I thought it would be nice to hear my own name mentioned in one of their episodes. I got the idea at some point that instead of mailing them a local postcard, I’d try to have a postcard made off of the cover of one of my books. I considered doing this with “Letting Go,” the romantic BDSM novel that I co-wrote with Kelli Roberts, but eventually settled on my story “Satisfied By A Stegosaurus,” because I love that cover in particular, and I thought they’d get a kick out of it.

Then I procrastinated for a long while, and recently decided that it would be simpler to just mail them a physical copy of the book, because it’s one of my stories that is long enough to work with Amazon’s print-on-demand publishing feature. So I mailed them a copy of the book, along with a note thanking them for their podcast.

Then I waited almost a full week to see if they mentioned me on their podcast.
AND THEY DID!!!!

More than just a quick “ we got this thing from Richard Bacula,” they spent a bit of time discussing the book, and Kayla read the back of the book for her listeners. I knew that it’d feel good to hear myself mentioned, but I was surprised at how over-the-top happy it made me!!

It’s a small thing, but it’s one of those things that makes me feel like a real writer. Thanks to working with Kelli Roberts on “Letting Go,” I’ve seen my name in a couple prominent places before. We got a press release on the AVN (Adult Video News) website when the book came out, and a couple of years ago the novel got a mention in Women’s Health Magazine as a way for couples to spice up their love life (i.e., read this book it will make you both horny), and while those were each certainly an absolute blast to see… this mention in a podcast with a much smaller audience than AVN or Women’s Health gave me as big of a thrill, perhaps more.

It’s one thing to see your name in print somewhere, and it’s another thing to hear it, and to hear people talking about your book. Hearing it makes it all seem more real somehow. I wrote a thing. I self-published it. I got a physical copy of the book. I mailed that copy to a couple of strangers. And They Talked About It!!

So I’m in a good mood.

This is the kind of success that is in some ways more important than direct sales, because morale is often at least as important than money when it comes to writing, at least for me.

 

Anyway, if you want to hear what they had to say about my book, you can listen to the entire episode here:
What You Can and Can’t Say in a D/s Relationship LB130

 

(Or just skip to about 59:47, if you just want to hear the part where they talk about me!)

Finding Words And Thoughts

It’s the 19th of May, and my challenge this year is to write a new blog post for each day of the month. So far, I’ve written only TEN blog posts! That’s not great. I need to catch up, and I need to do it fast. I’ve set an 800 word minimum for my posts this month, so if you’re following my blog you should probably expect to see a number of upcoming posts that are short and hopefully sweet, things that I churn out quickly in order to get to the next post.

I’ve gotten quite good at doing that kind of thing with short stories, but blog posts are a different kettle of fish. With writing short erotic fiction, especially stuff in the 800-word range, the only thing to focus on is the sex itself. There’s no time to say much else in that kind of project, although other stuff can be squeezed in. With blog posts, it’s all saying other stuff, which is less in my area of expertise than with writing highly-detailed sex scenes.

As I’ve mentioned before, the key to cranking out a lot of writing fast is learning to get out of your own way. You have to push all of your doubts aside, shove your insecurities into the basement and lock the door. You can’t spend time second-guessing or third-guessing everything that you type, because you’ve got to get through the word-count and move on to the next project, then the one after that, and so forth.

This is also where it becomes important to be what they call “fluent in writing.” Writing is a kind of language all its own, different from and more difficult than speech. Being fluent in writing means that the time it takes to translate the thoughts in your head onto the page are minimal. Ideally, you can more or less type out your thoughts as quickly as they occur.

Learning fluency in writing takes time and effort, which is why most writers hand out advice like “write every day” or “keep a daily journal” or so forth, because learning fluency takes a lot of practice. When you first start writing, it’s difficult because you have all this stuff in your head, and it’s hard to get it onto the page properly.
You might envision a tall, muscular, dark-haired man with a mustache, with a basket-hilted longsword on his hip, a cloak on his shoulders, and a top hat on his head, riding a black seventeen-hand Shire stallion with lovely brown eyes that match his light brown leather horse tack. This man is riding quickly, but not at a full gallop, and he’s in a forest of Scotch pine. The full moon is high in the sky, but the forest is still dark. He’s in a hurry to reach his true love, but he’s wary of the bandits that sometimes set upon unwary travelers in this forest.

You might, in your early years of writing, write that down as “James rode Augustus through the woods,” and then be completely puzzled why your friends and family aren’t blown away by what is–in your imagination–a very powerful scene. That’s because you haven’t learned the language of writing yet, so important details were lost in translation.

Fortunately for me, I have wasted decades of my life arguing meaningless minutia with people on online message forums. I started out on dial-up Bulletin Boards, and continue to some degree to this day. More fortunately for me, I have always had in my head an inkling that I wanted to be a writer someday, so as I was typing furiously back and forth with all those people online, I tried to use it as practice. I put forth some level of effort in everything I wrote, trying to make sure that things were well-spelled, well-punctuated, and whenever possible cleverly phrased. The net result of all this is that I am fairly fluent in the language of writing, to the point where I can usually write rather smoothly, with little to no need for serious editing or rewrites. Usually.

Another helpful factor is that I have always been a big reader, and it is always helpful when learning a new language–such as the language of writing–to immerse yourself in that language. The more you drink in, the easier it is to spit back out. You can subconsciously learn all sorts of rules and subtleties of the language that aren’t taught in school, and you find it easier to think in that language as well, minimizing the translation required to put your thoughts to paper.

All of which is to say that when it comes to blog posts, I know that I’m capable of the speed which will be required for me to catch up to my goal, and to complete my May Challenge for this year. The main obstacle will be finding enough material to write about. All the fluency in the world is of absolutely no avail when one runs out of things to say.

Why He Thinks You’re Pretty

You know you’ve wondered.

You’ve probably also worried about it. You might might not think that you’re an utter beast, and you might think that you’re fairly good looking in certain light from the right angles, with the right clothes and the right makeup. You might be confident in your looks sometimes, but at other times you get those doubts, and you don’t understand how he can think that you’re pretty when you’re… just you.

Doesn’t he see your flaws?

Doesn’t he know what you look like when you’re not at your best?

You sometimes feel like an imposter, like maybe when he looks at you he’s seeing somebody else.

And he is.

I mean, he’s still seeing you, but it’s not the same you that lives in your mirror. He’s seeing a you that you’ve never seen before, because he’s looking at you entirely from the outside, without your familiarity, preconceptions, or your doubts. Beauty is a matter of perspective, and his perspective is different from yours.

You’ve had your entire life to look at your own body, and your perspective has been shaped by what you’ve seen. You know that perhaps you used to be thinner. You know that maybe things didn’t develop the way you expected. You look at yourself, and you see everything that you think you should be, and everything that you think you have been, and there’s this whole long history attached to how you view yourself. A history that he doesn’t have.

He has his own history, his own attachments, and his own standards of beauty.

Yes, sure, the beauty standards of the majority of people fall by definition within the mainstream. He probably likes those stunning models and pornstars, probably lusts after them and fantasizes. There are various features that are fairly universally attractive. Yet everybody within the mainstream still has their own personal tastes, their own ideas of what beauty is. Mainstream beauty is Vanilla ice cream. It’s Bud Light. It’s the generic middle of a much, much larger zone of tastes, and it’s the most universally popular in many ways because it’s generic.

The only way to have universal appeal is to be middle-of-the-road in all categories. The more that any physical feature stands out from the crowd, the more divisive it becomes, because tastes vary. Some guys like big breasts, but some don’t. Some like big butts, but some don’t. Some like thin waists, but some don’t. Some like big noses, but some don’t.

And the reverse is also true: for most every feature that many people don’t like, there are people out there who do like it.

There are many reasons for this, but the biggest reason is simply because our individual ideas of beauty are heavily based in lifelong Pavlovian responses to what we experience. When people are good to us as children, we often imprint on their physical features as representing that goodness.

We are often attracted to people who remind us in some way of our parents, simply because our parents are our models for what people “should” look like. Perhaps your eyes remind him of his mother’s eyes, for example.

We are often also attracted to people who remind us of other people we’ve been attracted to. Perhaps your smile reminds you on some level of his first crush.
But mostly–and increasingly over time–your features remind him of you, of all the things that he likes best about you.

The longer you’re with him, the more he associates your appearance with those good and unique things that you provide for him. Your smile reminds him of all the times he’s made you laugh, and of the way your face lights up when you see him. Your hair reminds him of all the times he’s run his fingers through it during intimate moments. Your eyes remind him of the way you look at him, the way they flash when you’re angry, and so on.

When you look at yourself, what stands out are your imperfections, because anything that makes you stand out as different can (and will be, and has been) used against you by somebody or by the world in general. You see these differences, and they appear ugly to you.

When he looks at you, he’s seeing the best features, the things that he likes about you. Any features that he actually doesn’t like are going to be ignored in favor of the features that he finds pleasing.

More importantly, those same traits that you dislike about yourself because they make you different from other women? He’s likely to like them, because they make you different from other women. It’s the traits that are most uniquely yours that make you stand out, and those are the ones that he’ll most strongly associate with you.

And because he loves you, he’ll tend to love the things that he associates with you, including physical features.

Why I Don’t Review Fellow Authors

I don’t review other authors, not as a rule. This is for several reasons, starting with the fact that many of my fellow authors’ egos are easily bruised. I, on the other hand, went to college specifically to study the craft of writing, and I experienced years of peer review sessions where my work was constantly judged by my fellow classmates. This judgment was not always kind, and was sometimes even brutal.

That was fine with me, and with most of the rest of the serious writers in the classroom, because what we wanted most was to know how we could improve our work. Yes, praise for the things that we did well was important, but we also needed to hear what our areas of greatest weakness were, and how to fix them. That’s not the kind of lesson that we could learn if we were easily hurt by hearing what other people really think of our writing.

Consequently, I’ve built up a callous that many other indie writers often seem not to have.

Another factor is simply my own decades of internal critiques and analyses of various popular works. When I read a book, watch a movie/play/TV show, listen to a song, and so forth, I always come away from the experience with a list of praises and complaints. I vivisect the writings of others, and I discuss writing with other people, and I read reviews. All of which has thoroughly demonstrated to me that audiences as a whole have very different tastes in entertainment, writing included.

There have been many popular works of entertainment or education that I have personally loathed, and have felt were absolutely horribly written. That doesn’t affect their popularity. Likewise, there have been any number of critically panned and/or unpopular pieces of entertainment or education that I have personally found quite enjoyable and/or well-written. Again, my opinion doesn’t affect the overall popularity or success of the work. Just because some people dislike something doesn’t mean that everybody else will, and just because some people think that something is bad doesn’t mean that everybody else will agree.

I’ve learned over time to not take bad reviews very personally, because everybody has a right to their own opinion, but that opinion doesn’t necessarily mean much about how other people might view the same work.

Moreover, there are quite a few works of entertainment that are masterfully written, but that are simply not to my particular tastes, and there are any number of works of entertainment that are poorly written, but that I personally enjoy. Quality is only one aspect of appreciation, and personal taste accounts for a lot.

So when receiving reviews, I tend to take most criticisms in stride simply because I’m not likely to be much affected by one person’s opinion of my work. Not all authors have the same attitude, however, and cannot seem to take my review of their work as simply my personal view of their work, as just Some Guy’s Opinion. They can often take it personally, no matter how politely, and/or gently I try to express myself to them.

For that matter, some authors don’t even want reviews to be gentle, and can take that kind of soft serve response as an insult in its own right. Even when attempting to determine what kind of author I’m dealing with, what kind of feedback they’re looking for, I’ve inadvertently hurt people’s feelings. After reading one author’s work, I asked how they wanted the criticism, if they preferred it to all be super-nice, or more toward the soul-crushing side of things.

Just the fact that “soul-crushing” was a possible end of the spectrum greatly upset this author.

All of which wouldn’t matter much, except that there’s often a lot of drama that goes along with hurting another author’s feelings. Especially as an indie author, I try to avoid feuds and drama with fellow writers. It all gets in the way of accomplishing my goals of writing and selling my own stories. I’ve seen too many other authors get caught up in drama following a review of a fellow author’s work, and I’ve rarely seen it pay off very well.
Even if I was willing to deal with that kind of thing, yet another factor is that I don’t have nearly as much free time to read as I’d like, and I already have a reading list that would take months or years to get through. Adding to that list, only to end up hurting another author’s feelings, is not a particularly enticing opportunity.

In short, I am a picky reader who is likely to find some kind or level of fault in almost anything and everything that I read, and in my experience most indie writers cannot deal well with people pointing out their faults. That’s perfectly fine; I’ll be quite content to avoid reviewing them for that reason.

Of course, there are always those authors who feel insulted when they don’t get reviews at all.