Monday, January 22, 2018

Choosing My Battles, Battling My Choices

Sacchi Green

I’m struggling to remember some light, amusing incidents from an editorial perspective, but continuing personal struggles keep getting in the way, and I really don’t want to go there.

 Hmm. Oh, wait, here’s one example I used just last weekend, when I was on a panel about writing erotica at a science fiction/fantasy convention in Boston. In this case I didn’t choose my battle so much as limit my attack.

A very famous writer/publisher in the lesbian fiction genre had sent me a story for an anthology, at the request of my co-editor at the time. This writer/publisher’s name would certainly be an asset to our book, and the story was okay, but there was one notable phrase she used three times, which in itself would have been cause for raised editorial eyebrows. Not only that, but I had recently seen a discussion on a private web site focused on that genre where several people whose opinions I valued were taking exception—okay, jeering—at that writer’s use of that very same phrase in another book. Time for a bit of editorial diplomacy. I had a casual professional relationship with this writer, nothing personal; she’d used my work in anthologies several times, we’d met briefly at conventions, I’d arranged a couple of readings for a few of our anthologies combined, and she’d participated (staying only long enough to read her own pieces,) and we’d been finalists for a few literary awards (she’d won, I hadn’t, yet.) In any case, I didn’t come down hard and ask her not to use that phrase at all. I chose a semi-battle. “This image is so striking that it shouldn’t be used more than once in a short story. Repetition in this case would diminish any positive effect. Let’s just stick with the first reference.” She acceded, rather grumpily. That particular anthology did go on to win the Lambda Award for lesbian erotica, beating one of hers. I wonder, did her book also used her apparent trademark phrase, “milking her clit?”

Still in a literary context, I think I’ve already mentioned (too often) that I’m in the throes of trying to write a novel, my first attempt, and finding being severely edited by someone else to be hard to take. On the whole I’ve chosen to accede to almost every demand and comment, with a few exceptions, and even to ignore the multitude of deletions, although I do insist on revising the remarkable number of her insertions to phrase them in my own style, even when that fails the “pulp fiction” requirement. My characters don’t roll that way. But instead of agonizing over most of the edits, when a section is done, including the requested re-writes, I copy it, mark the copy “accept all,” and then read through to see what I absolutely have to fix. Never mind what’s been deleted unless it clearly makes the document make no sense.

I’ll just touch briefly on the personal side of my battles, which is where “battling my choices” comes in. The thing is, I can almost never be sure that my choices were right, or, in fact, that there were (and are) any right choices. I’ve mentioned before, I think, that one of my sons has been diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome. Raising any child involves a great deal of choosing your battles, and with neuro-atypical children the battles can expand beyond the child to include educational bureaucracies, etc. The hardest times were when there seemed to be only battles and no real choices. Now things are at a liveable equilibrium, but I’ll always be second-guessing myself, never knowing whether different choices would have made things better or worse, or even been possible.

Now I’m faced with choices that may not be choices at all with regard to my 98-year-old father, who has finally reached the stage where he can’t care for himself and needs more care than I can give—or could I if I really tried? A week and a half ago we moved my father to a nursing home near me, a choice he doesn’t want but accepts because it makes things easier for me. Meanwhile I battle with the choice I’ve made, even though it’s as much a decree from the doctors and physical therapists as a choice.

Kind of makes choosing battles in a literary context seem like a picnic in the park.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Everybody's a Critic

by Jean Roberta

Please forgive the lateness of this post. I've been working my way through piles of student assignments.

I tell myself that other people’s opinions of me can’t pierce my armour. Not any more. Who am I fooling?

I recently got three sets of anonymous student evaluations from my Fall (September-December) classes. The questionnaire asks a lot of questions, to be answered on a scale of 1-5. (Example: How heavy is the workload in this class? How knowledgeable is the instructor? How fair are the grading standards?) Then there is space for written comments.

In all fairness to the hordes of random students who are herded into my mandatory first-year English classes, I get consistently high scores in certain areas. Most of them think I know my subject quite well, and most of them admit that I rarely cancel classes. Many of them say I’m friendly and approachable. This year, a few said they found me funny and entertaining.

Then there are the haters.

The most common complaint was that I’m completely disorganized, and I ramble on about irrelevant topics.

According to current rules, I have to plan out my whole semester in advance, and get my course outlines approved by a committee. (Ironically, I now belong to that committee because the English Department has shrunk so much due to government cutbacks that “conflict of interest” seems like an outdated principle.)

At the beginning of a semester, I explain to my classes that first-year English used to be divided into three parts, like ancient Gaul: one-third fiction or drama, one-third poetry, and one-third grammar/composition. By popular demand, non-fiction was added about ten years ago, but composition is still supposed to take up one-third of class time. So if I’m teaching three days per week, I do fiction/non-fiction on Mondays, composition on Wednesdays, and poetry on Fridays. Most students seem to understand this when I explain it aloud after handing out copies of the syllabus.

I try to find the best ways to explain literary and grammatical concepts to students who are unfamiliar with them. So I use metaphors, tell anecdotes, and draw cartoons on the blackboard, all with the goal of enabling students to understand what they read, and express ideas accurately in standard English.

Apparently, this is not what some students see or hear when they sit in the back of my classes, daydreaming, doodling, or sending text-messages on their phones.

One student complained that I spend too much time writing on the blackboard instead of teaching.

Several pointed out bitterly that I cancelled ONE class in the Fall semester, probably because I didn’t want to teach. (Actually, some workmen had to fix my furnace to satisfy the requirements of the government power company, and my spouse said she didn’t want strange men to be in and out of our house all day, possibly letting our confused pets run out to the street. No one else could be found to house-sit, so I explained my need for a day off to the department head, who told me it wouldn’t be a problem.)

Several students complained that I always started the class late. Actually, I was always there on time, according to my watch, but when the class was scheduled to begin, there was always a late student (or 3, or 6) wandering in, so I would start lecturing when I hoped there would be no more distracting arrivals.

Many students complained on the questionnaire that I didn’t spend enough time teaching grammar, which is a hard subject, and then I gave low marks for bad grammar on assignments. Other students complained that I spent too much time teaching grammar in a class that was supposed to be more fun and interesting.

Several students pointed out that I lacked the power to “engage” them, to keep them focused. One critic said he/she would have learned more if I had used Powerpoint instead of writing on slate with chalk or on vinyl with felt marker, as in Days of Yore.

In effect, an alarming number of students seemed to think I’m a boring old woman who has nothing to teach that they want to learn. And I’m a snob, if not a downright bigot, because I give low marks to students who are not fluent in written English. And I never explain what I want!!

Maybe I was especially shaken by these barbs because I had spent the last year (mid-summer 2016 to September 2017) on sabbatical, away from the daily grind of the classroom.

For years, I’ve been alarmed by the unpreparedness of first-year students who didn’t do much writing—or learn any grammar--in local secondary schools, or who were recruited in other countries, and came to Canada with a sketchy knowledge of English. For years, most of my students have asked that their shortcomings be overlooked because they need to get passing grades in mandatory classes. For years, spokespeople for the English Department (usually the department head) have begged the university administration for more resources to cope with the great unwashed horde that needs to learn comprehension and composition skills in a university where English is the default language.

Last year, the English Department voted overwhelmingly to impose a prerequisite (a certain grade point in an English-speaking secondary school, or a remedial class) on students who register for a first-year English class. The administration shot this down on grounds that it would limit students’ “freedom of choice.” Why shouldn’t they pay full tuition to take a course they can’t pass? And then pay again, as many times as it takes?

The push for more remedial composition classes needs to come from the students. I said this in an editorial that ran in the student newspaper in 2015 (which might have been read by five people), and I’ve said this directly to students in my classes. A preparatory class that would increase student literacy and fluency would be easier to pass than a first-year literature-and-composition class, and it would increase students’ chances of passing everything they would take after that. A petition, signed by many students, would probably move the administration more than the usual recommendations from the English Department.

It seems I’m screeching into the wind. The last thing most of my students want is to take another English class. They don’t see the power of the administration, and they probably wouldn’t recognize an administrator if they saw one, even though the expensive suit might be a clue.

To too many students, English instructors who use words that sound like Greek, or Klingon, then hand out failing grades like the Red Queen beheading peasants, are the monsters who prevent students from going home to Timbuktu (or the family farm near Outlook, Saskatchewan) with a university degree. We are the gatekeepers that the students need to get past, and they resent us accordingly.

It hurts, I’ll admit, but for some reason, I still feel called to this work. And I don’t have many years left before I retire, probably when I’m seventy. I have freedom of choice too.

If and when I reach my limit, I could put in my notice immediately. I could be replaced. This knowledge is both comforting and depressing.

For the meanwhile, I’ll soldier on, not expecting any miraculous changes.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

When it just keeps happening, how do you not give up?

by Giselle Renarde

Some people have the energy to fight endless battles. Well, that's some people. That's not Giselle.

When I first started writing, I wasn't so aware of the business side of things. I didn't know how publishing worked, and I didn't need to know. I wrote stories for anthologies, submitted them to editors, and the rest basically took care of itself.

Then, I became aware of ebooks. So I started submitting to publishers and getting rejected, submitting again, getting rejected again, and finally seeing some success in the form of acceptance letters. Happy Days.

But I still wasn't much part of the publishing process.

It was only when a lot of my old publishers went under and I started self-publishing that I learned about things that hadn't even been considerations, previously. Like staying away from certain keywords when you publish erotica, because they'll get your book banned, or at least relegated to an adults-only dungeon--which is so much less fun without the beaded curtains. Why can't cyber-dungeons have beaded curtains? Riddle me that, internet.

Anyway, I've learned a lot over the past... holy shit, five years? Did I really start self-publishing that long ago?  Feels like only yesterday. I feel like a babe in the self-publishing world, while simultaneously feeling like Methuselah for remembering what things were like before Amazon.

What is the point you're trying to make, Giselle?

Thanks for asking. I was getting off-track, there.

The point is, I've seen a lot of corporate censorship of my work. A lot. So much.  Like, it's crazy how much.

If you're an erotica writer, I guarantee someone somewhere is going to ban your books. How can I guarantee that? Isn't it true that only filthy nasty smut gets banned, these days?  Nope. Not true in the least. There are a lot of ebook retailers that refuse to stock erotica on their shelves at all.

Okay. Well. I guess that's their right.

Am I chill about that?  Should I be chill about it?  I don't even know anymore. I've just seen so much rejection. But this is different than the rejections I received as an author submitting my work to publishers. With publishers, if I changed this or that, or if I improved my craft or whatever, there was a chance the next submission might be accepted.

Not so in the case of retailers who don't stock erotica. Better erotica is still erotica. The best erotica is still erotica. And they won't have it. So there's nowhere to go from here. Not with them.

But, like, at least those guys are clear from the outset that they don't accept erotica. They don't sell it. They don't want it.

Is that better or worse than Barnes and Noble, which used to carry every kind of erotica under the sun and now... doesn't?

Here's what happened, if you're not aware: for many, many years, Barnes and Noble sold erotica of all stripes. That includes bestiality. That includes rape. That includes incest and pseudo-incest.

And then, overnight, everything changed.

Barnes and Noble decided they didn't want any of that extreme sexual content on their shelves. Okay. Again, that's their right. It sucks because I was just starting to make good money off Lexi's PI and a few incest titles, but nothing gold can stay.

The thing they did that was super-super-shitty was they actually closed down offenders' accounts. Immediately. Without warning! So one day it's fine to publish anything you like, and the next day it's against the rules and we see that, in the past, you've published content that offends us in the present, so bye-bye account?  That's ludicrous. But it happened.

Don't worry. I've saved the best for last.

The best of the worst has got to be Playster. They didn't want erotica on their shelves, so you know what they did? THEY REMOVED ALL GAY AND LESBIAN CONTENT. For real. This is a thing that happened.

Because everybody knows we queers are bound to sneak not only our gay agenda but also RAUNCHY SEX into everything from sweet romances to cozy mysteries.

If you do a quick google search, you'll notice a lot of the posts around this topic say the issue is "resolved." Which is true in the sense that all those innocent LGBT books have been reinstated on Playster's shelves. But "resolved" in the larger sense? I think not.  LGBT content is constantly being blocked, being banned, being quietly removed while the overseeing bodies hope nobody notices. A public outcry is bad for business, after all.

And here's where I circle back to what I said at the beginning.

Some people have the energy to fight these endless battles. Last year taught me that I'm no longer one of those people.

When I found out what Playster was doing, did it fill me with so much moral outrage that I blogged about it immediately? Sadly, no. It made me depressed, sure. But I sighed and said, "This again?" and I didn't do a thing. Because I've been through this shit so many times, as a queer writer.

And as a queer erotica writer? Well that's a double-whammy if ever there was one.

When Barnes and Noble took down the very books that were earning me the most money, I don't think I mentioned it to anyone. That was another momentary sigh. My battle wouldn't be with the company. My battle wouldn't even be a battle. My process would be to find the next thing that'll earn a buck.

Because a queer's gotta eat.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Art of War (and BDSM)

I had a colleague who was fond of quoting from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Much of what is in that book makes a great deal of sense, even two and a half thousand years later, but my favourite quote is this one:

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting

I think the modern translation would go something like ‘get others to do as you want, but make them think they’re doing what they want.” I suppose it’s even better if the other person is actually doing what they want. Many of my stories feature BDSM relationships, often new relationships where the submissive is just discovering the exquisite magic to be found in pain, and sometimes making those discoveries against their better judgement. In real life, of course, people go into D/s play with their eyes open, those are the rules – safe, sane, consensual – but I like to think a little angst makes for a better story. After all, I don’t write training manuals.

A couple of OGGs ago I mentioned getting back the rights to some of my earlier work. One of those stories soon to revert to me is Sure Mastery, a trilogy whose main female character has more than a few battles to face and she becomes very skilled at choosing when to stand up for herself, then going for it. Ashley contrives to get her abusive boyfriend arrested when he pushes her too far, but finds herself reluctantly submitting to a spanking from an angry Dom she hardly knows. In fairness, on that first occasion she has little choice in the matter (yes, I know, I know), but the next time he suggests he might punish her she’s not having it. This excerpt is Ashley making a stand, and meaning it.

“I’ve never done much ironing. Maybe I should just leave that, or practise on tea towels or something…”
He fixes me with a glare, the mossy glint in his eyes chilling. “Practise on your own tea towels if you must, in your own time. But you’re on my time now and I want you to iron my shirts, jeans and bedding. Maybe a sweatshirt or two, whatever’s in there. And anything you ruin gets added onto your debt. Or maybe I’ll just take it out of your hide. Again.” His lips quirk. He’s probably joking. Maybe. But those jibes and veiled threats sting, they hurt me, undermine my fragile self-confidence, every time. And as far as I’m concerned there’s no funny side to this. He needs setting straight.
I take a deep breath, set my shoulders and lift my chin. Best to look the part. And I go for it.
“No, Mr Shore. You won’t. You won’t lay a finger on me again. In any circumstances.”
Now I do have his attention. He regards me quizzically before leaning back in his chair, his booted feet up on the spare seat next to him. That hard emerald glitter is fixed on me. “Do go on, Ashley. I get the impression you’ve something you want to say.” His tone is soft, but I’m not misled by that. I square my shoulders again, I can’t back down now.
I clutch my mug of coffee to stop my hands shaking, but this is my opportunity, maybe the only chance I’ll get to set out my stall, and I need to do it quickly. “You caught me at a disadvantage that first time when you, when you…”
“When I stripped you naked, put you over my knee and spanked you?” he puts in helpfully.
I know my face is beetroot, the very memory of how he treated me that day, how I let him treat me, mortifying. After everything I’ve been through, that I could allow such a thing to happen to me… I stare into my coffee for a few moments, regrouping. But the words are not to be stopped. “Yes. That. I should never have let you do that. You had no right.”
“I don’t remember giving you much choice, to be fair.”
“Well, whatever, like I told you then, I’m not a punchbag or a doormat. Not anymore. I lived with a violent man, a man who thought it was okay to kick me around when he felt like it. Even to rape me. But I left Kenny, and I started again. I’m different now, and I won’t let any man think he’s got a right to hit me just for scorching his shirts. Or for anything. I’ll do my best with the ironing, but if I spoil your clothes I’ll pay you for any damage in cash. But I won’t work for you for any longer than we agreed, and I won’t let you hit me again.”
No? What are you going to do about it then? I wait, defiant, for the inevitable response. And even before he calls my bluff I’m starting to consider, and dismiss, my options. Walk out? To go where? Call the police? Yeah, right. I’ve marched myself into a corner and I’ve no real way out I can see. What an idiot.
And to top it all, my voice was cracking by the time I finished my little speech and I’m horrified at what I’ve let slip. I never intended to tell anyone about being raped, least of all this overbearing bully who came close to doing the same thing to me, only stopping because he doesn’t find me even attractive enough for that. Thank God. But I should never have mentioned it—it’s still too painful to talk about, too personal and too raw. A long silence follows my little outburst. He doesn’t move, but I can feel his eyes on me. Watching, assessing. I wait for his next attack.
Instead, “He raped you? Kenny?” The question is soft, gentle.
I nod. “Yes. Twice.”
“Did you report it to the police?”
Ah, here we go. “No.”
“Why not?”
“I lived with him, slept with him, had sex with him regularly. Who’d have believed me that once or twice it was against my will? And… I was scared of him.”
He nods, doesn’t press me further, seems to accept this explanation. “I knew he was a vicious git. I saw the way he treated you that night. I just didn’t realise… I understand now why you were afraid of Nathan and me when we came to your cottage.” He hesitates, his gaze softening. “I’m sorry for that, and for the way I spoke to you afterwards. I was insensitive and cruel. You are safe here, with me. I hope you can believe that.” He reaches out, tips my chin up with his fingers, gently raising my eyes to his.
I hold his gaze, assertive Ashley back on her soapbox. “Yes, I do believe that. But only because you don’t fancy me. I’m too scrawny, ‘not enough to go around’ I think you said.” The bitter sting of those cruel, dismissive words still bites. Hard. Without thinking about possible consequences I press my point. “And I’m not having any more of that from you either. No more insults, no more belittling me with your personal comments. I won’t let you make me feel small again. Just leave me be, and if you’ve nothing nice to say about me then keep your opinions to yourself, please.”
Gently cupping my chin with his palm, he holds my gaze, his gorgeous eyes now warm, tender almost. And I see respect starting to dawn there. At last, he speaks, his tone low, serious. A hint of admiration there, just maybe.

“Well said, Ashley. You’re right, and I apologise. For the things I said to you, back then and just now. I was rude, cruel, and what I said wasn’t true. The truth is, you’re so lovely you take my breath away—especially naked.”

Monday, January 15, 2018

Battles with Editors - #Editing #AmWriting #TrustYourself

Editors red pen

By Lisabet Sarai

I’ve been publishing erotic fiction for nineteen years now. During that time, I’ve learned two important, somewhat contradictory lessons:

1. My words are not sacred.
2. Editors can be wrong.

When I first began publishing, I tended to think of my stories as artistic creations which would lose their integrity if they were altered. This attitude probably carried over from my poetry. I’d always viewed poems as snapshots of experience and perception. All my poems were written in a single sitting, often in less than an hour, to capture some sudden insight or intense emotion. I never revised them. Editing them afterward would distort the truth they embodied, the essence of the moment in which they were created. Or so I believed.

Hence I resisted my early editors, who wanted to change various aspects of my work. Only grudgingly did I remove the golden shower from the first, Black Lace edition of Raw Silk. I felt that the scene exemplified the D/s dynamic between Kate and Gregory. (It also pushed my personal buttons.) My editor replied, not unreasonably, that a man with an erection could not have managed this. Out it went (though the editor did allow the characters to fantasize about such activities in the indefinite future).

When my pure romance publisher got hold of Raw Silk, even the fantasy reference had to go. Indeed, as an author of erotica I had a lot of difficulty adjusting to the rules of erotic romance, at least as promulgated by this publisher. In their defense, they subjected everything they published to multiple rounds of editing, for both content and format. The overall results were definitely improved over my original manuscripts. Over the years that I worked with them, I received some excellent advice from some of my editors. Others, though, I fought with tooth and nail.

I’ve come to realize that authors need to balance their personal visions of their work with the informed suggestions (or dictates) of their editors. Editors often can see structural and language issues in a story to which the writer is blind. Editors also may have a clearer picture of the target market, so features in a story that conflict with the expectations of that market are more obvious to them than to the author.

That being said, I bristled when my editor insisted I replace my (many) semi-colons with em dashes. It took me a while to understand that this was a question of fashion, not correctness. Then there was the editor who wanted to strike every use of “that” to introduce a dependent clause. Every single one. Okay, I was willing to admit I might have overused the construction, but sometimes the rhythm of a sentence required that extra beat. I was selective in my obedience to her dictates.

The editor who believed that any verb phrase that included a form of “to be” was passive, however, I simply ignored. I also rejected changes that put entire paragraphs of flashbacks into the past perfect tense, even though strictly speaking that would be “correct”. Instead, I’d change the first few verbs, then revert to simple past. Otherwise, the text sounded stilted and awkward.

Content-related edits are tougher. Recently I had a story accepted to an anthology of fetish erotica. My tale, in a flashback, shows the birth of the protagonist’s fetish, when he was in high school. The scene includes arousal and masturbation, but no intercourse. The anthology editor insisted that we had to take out any suggestion of underage sex, even solo sex.

I fumed. Finally I gave in, deciding it didn’t make much difference in the story.

Probably the most difficult editing experience I’ve had was my erotic romance The Ingredients of Bliss. My initial manuscripts are normally pretty clean. Rarely did I need more than one round of content edits. In this case, we did four. My editor forced – well, strongly urged – me to excise or rewrite entire scenes.

One problem was that I’d let my imagination take over, and written a novel that was more erotica than erotic romance. My heroine Emily already had romantic attachments to two men, but I found her lusting after the tough female police detective Toni and even the sexy but dangerous villain – a French gangster named Jean the Shark.

The plot required her to seduce the Shark in order to find the drugs he’d stolen from the mob who’d kidnapped her lovers. In my early drafts, Emily enjoyed that process far too much to please my editor! I had to sit on my instincts, suppress my fantasies, and make Emily repelled by him, rather than attracted. I found that tough to do.

The seduction ends in an attempted rape, as the sedative Emily has slipped in Jean’s food to neutralize him fails to take effect. The editor really took a red pen to that scene! Okay, I’ll admit it was pretty raw and violent initially. The toned-down version still gets the idea across. And yes, as effective as the original scene was (in my personal opinion), maybe it didn’t belong in a book billed as erotic romance. Still, it hurt to cut those paragraphs, because I’d felt them so intensely in writing them.

I did draw the line, though, at sanitizing the language. Jean uses some strong epithets when he discovers Emily’s double-dealing, including some racial slurs. I refused to remove these terms. I viewed them as essential details helping to define Jean’s character.

The editing process for this novel was exhausting and demoralizing. I actually considered pulling the submission and publishing it elsewhere. Unfortunately, the book was designed for a particular series of this publisher. Plus it was a sequel to a novella written in the same series, so I would have had to figure out how to reclaim the rights to that book as well.

Did I choose my battles wisely, fighting about the important issues, surrendering gracefully in areas where the changes seemed less damaging? I’ll never know. I’m fairly happy with the way the book turned out (though I still fantasize about an affair between Emily and Antoinette), but it has never sold well. Sometimes I wonder whether readers can sense the tension that went into its production. Can they see the blood staining the pages where my editor and I fought?

Still, my publisher got the last word (though only on their site, not on Amazon).

Reader Advisory: This book contains female dominance and submission, anal sex, public sex, ethnic slurs, threats of violence and a scene of attempted rape.


These days, I’ve switched almost entirely to self-publishing. Guess I’m avoiding the battles, rather than choosing them, but it’s a lot less stressful.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

I Cannot Tell A Lie

by Daddy X

Posting this from a remote cabin in Yosemite National Park.  Hope it makes its way through cyberspace…

I guess I’ve been lucky in not remembering many awkward situations. As I recall, I’ve always been fairly well-balanced and self-assured. Or maybe it’s just my memory, burying those awkward events so I can suppose a better image of myself at this point in life. :>)

I do remember one time things didn’t quite go as planned. I’d been laid off a job in San Francisco and took the opportunity to relocate to coastal Mendocino, out in the sticks. Since I’d been laid off and hadn’t quit my previous gig, I qualified for unemployment compensation until I found another job.

Well, you know how that goes in a rural area. There aren’t many places to work. So, once I’d exhausted all the legitimate interviews, I started making them up. When a woman at the unemployment office reviewed the form I’d submitted, listing all the places I said I’d been seeking employment, she asked who I had seen at Georgia Pacific Lumber.

 I said something like: “Oh, some woman gave me an application and I filled it out even though she said they weren’t hiring. She said they’d keep it on file.”

The unemployment woman came back with, “Well, my husband is the only one working in that human resources department.” Followed by, “You understand that misrepresenting yourself is against the law, don’t you? You can be prosecuted for that.”

I felt my head begin to swim. Ever since childhood, I’d been prone to passing out from a sudden or intense pain. Apparently, that included when caught in a lie. Gulp!

I said sheepishly, “I’m not feeling very well. I think I need a breath of air.”

She replied, “Yes, I think that’s a good idea. And get your story straight—while you’re out there breathing.”

After several minutes, I went back and asked for a new form. The balls I had! I couldn’t even imagine doing that today.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Awkward is the New Cool

Sacchi Green

As a kid and teenager I used to take being awkward for granted. I wasn’t especially coordinated physically or socially, and I had an off-putting resistance to trying to fit in. Specific instances of feeling (and being) awkward escape me now, for the most part, probably being mercifully repressed by my mind in self –defense, although there are a few fleeting images—does anyone here remember poodle skirts? Those wide -swinging felt skirts with appliqued designs? That was one of my few attempts to be “with it” in the late fifties, when we were all making our own in the 4H Club sewing class, but it looked absurd on my dumpy form. The worst part of a having a nasty boy mimicking my galumphing gait in said skirt was the realization than he was right. I really was that awkward.

I was also obnoxious, on occasion, when I thought I was being witty (as I also was, on occasion) which led to awkward situations. The summer after my junior year in college I scored a gem of a job, a student teacher of English Composition at a summer school for advanced (and rich) high school students. The first night, as all we student teachers met at dinner, I met a young man who I assumed was the other student teacher for my class, since I knew there were two of us. I don’t remember quite what I said—it may have been some dumb thing about competition—but of course it turned out that he was the actual official adult teacher. Awkward is putting it mildly.

The things I can’t remember are, no doubt, the worst. In any case, it never occurred to me that there could be an up side to awkwardness until many years later, and I’m still not convinced. The obvious example is the Book That Shall Not Be Named and its sequels where a clearly attractive and presumably intelligent young woman is portrayed as being, or at least feeling, awkward in the presence of a rich and kinkily dominant man. This quirk has been popular in other books, too, maybe to make the heroine easier to identify with, to make her vulnerable, or to make her submission believable, or, well, because there turns out to be something attractive about awkwardness for some people.

Quite a while before that book came out I’d discovered this for myself. Through my contacts as an erotica writer I’d become peripherally involved in a women’s BDSM club. That experience was extremely educational. I met people who got great satisfaction out of being made to feel awkward, flustered, vulnerable and dominated, and, of course, people who got great satisfaction out of dominating. I even knew some very well who transitioned from one extreme to the other while I knew them. I was too old by then to experiment with submission, or maybe I just never had it in me, and anyway it seemed absurd to submit to someone much younger and there was no one older. But I wasn’t too old to be awkward. I won’t go into details here; if I ever do it will be disguised as fiction; but when I apologized for a particularly awkward series of mishaps and a companion said that she liked her women to be awkward (and by extension, open to punishment) I realized that I was never going to fit into that milieu. But I did get to understand it.

Is the attraction of awkwardness still a thing? From some of the stories submitted to the anthologies I edit I’d say it is, and that’s just as well. We all feel awkward at times, or should, and making characters feel real and relatable is a plus in writing erotic fiction. A good writer can make awkwardness an essential factor in a story. But now and then I get a feeling that awkwardness has become a trope, an overused one. I guess that’s the inevitable fate of any “new cool” development in fiction. But it could be worse. What if narcissism becomes the  “new cool?” Or is that always going to be reserved for the dominant men? Oh no. Bring back awkwardness.