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Sexuality: Endangered Resources and National Treasures

Chapter President Theresa Rogers, Alice Gaines, Me, and Jasmine Haynes
Chapter President Theresa Rogers, Alice Gaines, Me, and Jasmine Haynes

Last Saturday, Jan 10, I participated in a lively panel discussion about erotic writing. Thanks so much to my local Romance Writers’ outgoing events coordinator, Jane George, for putting it together, Chapter President Theresa Rogers for facilitating, and to Jackie Yau for the photos.

And thanks especially to my smart, talented co-panelists, Alice Gaines (who discussed the erotic premise in romance and erotic fiction — and much more) and Jasmine Haynes (who contributed a wealth of experience and savvy about actually getting your stuff sold and read — jeez do I ever need that! — as well as a fine appreciation of research).There was a lot of over-lapping, more discussion than I would have expected about BDSM, and great contributions from the floor.

Pam Rosenthal, the rhetoric of erotica
Me, putting a fine point on it

While as for my contributions: they fell into two main categories.

  • The meat (as it were) of my presentation was an all-too-brief discussion of how to make it sexy on a sentence-by-sentence basis, using what I’d call the rhetoric of eroticism. The notion that you can embody sensation and desire in language is a source of ceaseless wonder and fascination to me, and eventually I want to write down the hows and whys of it all.
  • Secondly, I wanted to accord due respect and gratitude to certain influences and mentors who came from outside the sphere of romance writing — from my early  reading of the Marquis de Sade, to my enthusiastic discovery of “pro-sex feminism” in the 80s, to my encounters with the brave, brilliant minds of the San Francisco’s outlaw sex communities all the way along.

Because while romance has played, and continues to play, a crucial role in the female discussion of sexuality, the ongoing conversation between romance readers and writers can only be enriched by contributions from other spheres. And I’m still trying to understand how my encounters with these individuals and institutions have helped bring me closer to romance and the romance-writing community.

Of course, there’s also a lot of history I’m skipping over here, which I hope to write about later. But for now, here are some resources still going strong. As I look it over, I’m thrilled by the force-of-nature energy and prodigious originality I see and have benefited from. I’m less thrilled, though, about the shrinkage of space for countercultural organizations, as San Francisco rents make creativity harder and more expensive. (More about that back-to-the-future stuff sometime later, as well as a discussion of a book about geek sex subcultures.) Still, what’s still here is terrific. If you have any interest in writing erotica or erotic romance, there’s something here for you.

  • Center for Sex and Culture: I can’t believe that I haven’t been trumpeting the virtues of this resource and research center to my romance-writing sisters for like ever. My bad, CSC good. Make an honest woman of me by checking out their monthly events at http://www.sexandculture.org for a taste of what they offer. Dr. Carol Queen is one of the smartest, most energetic, and most generally warm and fun advocates of truth in sexuality you’ll ever meet — and I want to give a special shoutout to her Very Educational video, “Bend Over Boyfriend” — which is about,  yes, exactly what you guessed it would be about — and someday I’m gonna put what I learned from it into a novel. As for the Center, go there NOW, because whenever I’m on that block of Mission Street I get this scary feeling that soon its funky little corner building will be swallowed up by yet another gazillion-dollar techie condo. 1349 Mission Street between 9th and 10th, San Francisco
  • Author and impresario (impresaria?) Charlie Jane Anders organizes and curates San Francisco’s Writers With Drinks reading series, (http://www.writerswithdrinks.com), and writes lots — memoir, science fiction, gender politics. She also gives the most deliciously cracked and brilliant introductions anywhere (I’m happy to say I was so honored). Here’s some Charlie, for starters: “Variety is more that just the name of Prince’s favorite girl-singer sidekick. It’s more than just having sex dressed as Alien Greenspan every once in a while. It’s also a Literary Imperative!” And here’s some more Charlie (which is so good I’m afraid if I print it I might not have anything to say when I try to write my own stuff on sexy writing. Oh what the hell, READ IT — at http://io9.com/how-to-write-about-sex-without-being-boring-1605514153
  • Tristan Taormino: “My mission,” Tristan says on her website, http://tristantaormino.com, “is to educate, empower, and entertain people of all genders and sexual orientations through my writing, lectures, workshops, books, and films.” I met her like a million years ago at an open reading at Good Vibrations, when she was just out of college and going places. And she’s never stopped. Susie Bright has called her something like a workaholic pretending to be a sex maniac (though I’ve probably gotten that a little screwy, so don’t quote without disclaimers). In any case, Tristan is scarily, wonderfully productive, and offers a wealth of good, solid information on kink, all things anal, relationships, pretty much whatever…
  • And speaking of productive, let me introduce you to “the moderately acclaimed and ridiculously prolific writer and editor,” as M. Christian describes himself on his website, http://www.mchristian.com, with “more than 400 stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and in fact too many anthologies, magazines, and sites to name.” Chris, as he’s known, is also an editor, publisher, educator. He gives workshops throughout the Bay Area, on everything from online dating to flogging. And he’s the force majeure behind the reading series I’m currently part of, Leather, Lace, and Lust (also featuring RWA member Sue Swift/Suze de Mello) at the Center for Sex and Culture. Stay tuned to my events page for the 2015 schedule.
  • I honestly don’t know that much about the The Erotica Readers & Writers Association, but I do subscribe, and if I were even a bit more prolific, I’d really appreciate their wide-ranging calls for submissions and their publishing advice. Their web page, at http://www.erotica-readers.com, says that they’ve been “online since 1996, …an international community of men and women interested in the provocative world of erotica and sensual pleasures. This website features original erotic fiction, current calls for submissions, and publishing advice for authors, sex toy and adult movie recommendations, and a forum focused on adult issues, activities and relationships.”
  • Cleis Press: When the first publisher of my Molly Weatherfield/Carrie BDSM books tanked, my bookseller husband and a close bookseller friend urged me to send the mss to Cleis. “But aren’t they a gay and lesbian press?” I asked (because the Carrie books, although they have lots of equal-opportunity sex, definitely have a female het sensibility). Anyway, “Yes, they’re a gay and lesbian press,” my two informants told me, “but they’re smart and open.” And yes, they did want to print it, and they’ve done a lovely job with it for more than a decade. So check out their website at http://www.cleispress.com/index.php. And tho in 2002 they thought I was crazy to be writing romance, they publish it now, in many genders and flavors. at http://www.cleispress.com/gosearch.php?textfield=romance&search_type=TITLE
  • And when smart gay people is the subject du jour, who ya gonna call but Dan Savage? His Savage Love sex advice columns are funny, sane, and majorly helpful whether you’re straight or gay; and I weep with joy and awe every time I see a video from the It Gets Better Project at https://www.youtube.com/user/itgetsbetterproject. But what’s important for our purposes here is his take on what gay people can teach straight people about sex at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr8aSXNdb2Y. And in general, running through a golden thread through his later work, how you reconcile your precious urges to rebelliousness with your just-as-precious need to have a life. Which, after all, is yet another thing that romance is all about.
  • While as for Susie Bright, who used to be affectionately described as a cheerleader for sex, but who ought to be recognized as a major player: I’m honored to have had her help and advice over the years — telling me where to send my first erotic novel, and many years later producing the award-winning Audible.com spoken word version. Susie spoke truth to feminism when some parts of the feminist movement didn’t want to hear it, by teaching and encouraging women to write their own erotica back in the 80s. But mostly I want to send you to her spectacularly good, clear, smart, witty writing. Cast your eye over her huge CV at her web page, http://susiebright.blogs.com/susie_brights_journal_/. Pick a book or an essay: there are so many to choose from; they’re all smart and dare I say penetrating. Perhaps most germane to our purposes is her How to Write a Dirty Story (although be warned: when she wrote this early ebook she thought erotic romance began and ended with Robin Shone; trust me, she knows better now.)

 

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