Saturday, June 30, 2012

Some thoughts on traditional publishing

I think there's something to be said for good old-fashioned rejection. Nothing builds character or inspires determination in an artist quite so well as the occasional dose of "anti-affirmation;" be it the stinging rebuke of a revered authority figure we are then bound and determined to prove worng; or the faceless form letter from a prestigious publisher summarily rejecting the fruit of our blood, sweat, toil and tears. To a real writer these things are little more than bumps in the road; we dry our tears, dust off our butts and go back to the writing room, hell-bent on "showing them!"

Unfortunately, this sort of rejection is quickly becoming a thing of the past, and that is definitely too bad.

There was a time in my career when I was quite resentful of those I saw as the self-appointed gate-keepers in the publishing industry; the literary agents and editors who seemed to have so much power over the fate of my work. Why, I wondered, should these people, hanging out cliquishly on the east or west coast with their snobbish prep-school predilections and all-too questionable literary tastes, have the ability to keep me from being heard? What gave them the right to judge me? Who the hell did they think they were?

More recently, the relative ease of self-publication in various electronic formats—e-books, websites—has loosened a brick or two from the elite citadel of traditional publishing. Agents and editors no longer wield the absolute power of artistic life-and-death. There are other ways of getting in and breaking out. Amazon’s Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook—to name only two of many platforms—have ushered in a new Renaissance in the once sleepy world of the independent author.

But every innovation comes with its own share of growing pains. The difficulty now, is that the market is choked with reams of un-vetted garbage, amateurishly conceived, poorly written, sloppily edited—if at all—carelessly formatted cyber-vanity publications, the collective effluvium of a vast literary sewer. The best you can say about it is that trees are no longer being sacrificed for pulp, nor warehouses glutted with pallets of forlorn returns.

Holding my nose at all this, I have found a grudging appreciation for the role of the gate-keeper. In sitting down with a new writer, the best agents and editors would always begin by asking, “So, what do you read? Who are your influences?” This seems almost quaint by today’s standards, when more and more self-proclaimed authors boast about not reading—sometimes not reading at all—ignorantly claiming that to be exposed to the work of another writer might “ruin” them through undue subconscious influence, or somehow sap their amazing personal wellspring of originality. This, of course, is absolute and total crap. Good writers read—often voraciously. Good writers know that there is nothing from which they cannot learn; whether it’s good and offers an interesting example of how to, or bad and clearly demonstrated how not to. 

But some issues go much deeper. A skilled editor skimming a manuscript can almost immediately identify an amateur from the poor spelling alone. This morning I was looking at a sample excerpt from an e-book by a young woman who was complaining that nobody wanted to buy her title. In the second paragraph I found, not once, but twice, the bewildering use of the word “passed” which was, in fact, a careless misspelling of “past.” How could anyone miss something so rudimentary? The editor would have stopped reading immediately, circled the error and popped the manuscript back into the mail, probably not even bothering to include a form rejection. And he or she would have been right to do so; this kind of dilettante manure is a waste of everyone’s time, and it doesn’t matter if “the story is good” or not.

A good writer—a real writer—takes pride in her craft, is aware of every detail in the text, like a competent captain knowing his ship from stem to stern. A real writer strives to attain professional standards, even if perfection is theoretically out of reach. Errors like the ones that made me stop reading that young woman’s sample, ought to have kept her awake at night; haunted her, shamed her, embarrassed her until she hired an editor or read a good book on self-editing. That no one was there to discourage her from going ahead and publishing her title in so unready a state is a sad thought indeed.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review of Fulani's "The Museum of Deviant Desires"

Discovering the erotic writing of Fulani was a sheer, unalloyed pleasure. I left this review on Amazon a week or so ago. Here's a link to the page:

Fulani: The Museum of Deviant Desires

And here's the review:

"What I need" the narrator of Fulani's "Burnout" tells us, "is some startling image that comes from nowhere and burns itself into my brain, my desires, causes instant addiction. What I need is a new mythos of erotica. . ."

I love the way this guy thinks!

Fulani is one of that rare, as yet officially unclassified species of erotic writer, the "meta-sexual;" a delightfully self-referential species noted for its uncanny ability to pleasure open-minded readers with intense multiple "brain-gasms." And there are many to be enjoyed in this collection of short BDSM-centered fiction, informed by everything from Roland Barthes and Stanislaw Lem to Nu Fetish, industrial bondage; flash fiction and on-line piracy; underground music festivals, and those pulpy sexploitation magazines of the 50s and 60s with their lurid cover paintings and thick black "censor bars" redacting all the naughty bits in the grainy photos accompanying the articles.

The eleven very-short stories in this collection are sexy and cerebral; breezy, thought-provoking, laugh-out-loud funny and utterly addictive. Like a big heaping bowl of literary-erotic Lucky Charms; you can't get enough. The multi-colored marshmallow shapes are irresistibly delicious, but the oat-cereal part is actually good for you--who knew? Fulani strikes just the right balance between light fluffy diversion and crunchy intellectual substance, letting his horny inner nerd come out to play the most scintilatingly kinky games; whimsically creating new words and worlds even as he establishes fascinating new paradigms for the next generation of erotic fiction.

There's beauty here, however unexpected; the language can be lyrical even as it educes degradation and pain; the poetry of domination and submission set amid dystopian landscapes of industrial decay and urban blight. We wonder if this is what sex will be like in the future. But as the narrator of "Something Different" reminds us;

"Once you know it consciously, it's impossible not to see how the whole of society, economy, psychology is a dense network of sexual signifiers."

It's true. Fulani's stories draw their inspiration from an astonishingly diverse cosmos of commonplace artifacts; vacuum cleaners, toasters, plumbing supplies, burned out autos, melted plastic forms, all weirdly apt when turned to the author's singularly amusing purpose.

Entertaining, sexy, hilarious, often self-effacing, "The Museum of Deviant Desires" is a trenchant critique of contemporary erotic literature with its finger firmly on the g-spot of popular culture; a tasty treat, not to be missed.

Terrance Aldon Shaw

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review of Andre SanThomas' "Ovia"

This review was posted earlier today on Amazon. Here's a link:

Ovia: A Realm of Janos Novel

And here's my review.

What a pleasure to be back in the Realm of Janos, Andre SanThomas' richly-imagined world of erotic High Fantasy. These tales seem to come from a special place in the author's heart, and with "Ovia," the second book in the series, SanThomas demonstrates a growing maturity and confidence, bringing more depth, color and texture to the story-telling; honing and refining her already considerable gifts for beautiful flowing language and vivid, near-cinematic description.

Ovia is barely of age, her training not yet complete, when she is chosen to be the property of Bylar, second man to Kyr, the ruler of Janos. At first the young girl lacks confidence, and this isn't helped by her new owner's attitude. To say that Bylar has been burned in the past by a nightmare of an ex would be an understatement; he is haunted and embittered by that experience, described in the first book, Ielle: A Realm of Janos Novel and now he must struggle with his feelings, overcome his reticence about the past; let go of resentment and purge his heart of so many poisoned memories before he can see the new girl for herself and for what she truly is.

And yet, there are intimations of what might lie in store for these two should their many obstacles be overcome, as in this beautiful passage:

"He released her mouth and cradled her against him, her arms wrapping around his neck even as he tried to get his feelings under control. She was air and sun and water, glistening and flowing. Her hair draped around her, hiding her and revealing her at the same time. He carried her towards the shore. Her naked skin was tight against his own, their warmth flowing back and forth between them."

In "Ovia" the characters and the world around them begin to take on more depth and dimensionality. We are given a fascinating glimpse into the mythology and religion of this realm; something of the philosophy governing society and the harmonious relationship of the sexes. Much of the action centers on the preparations for and execution of an elaborate religious festival and pageant; the story animated by luminous images of erotic dance; swirling masses of bodies swathed in variegated diaphanous fabric. Particularly impressive is the author's eye for the way those fabrics move in harmony with the dancers, her descriptions often assuming the potency of an aphrodisiac. The rituals themselves are unapologetically pagan and overtly, explicitly, magnificently sexual. This makes a most refreshing departure from the tired, chaste dualism of so much contemporary fantasy writing.

The private sex scenes are glorious. SanThomas has imbued her characters with sophisticated inner lives, feelings, conflicts. Her women are not one-dimensional pornographic "objects," but valiant, living, breathing beings with strong wills and deep reservoirs of gumption. Her men, often outwardly macho, are still capable of deep sensitivity and the capacity for change. This is what erotica is supposed to be! Beyond the mere physical descriptions of intimate domination and submission, the author gifts her readers with profound insight into this often-misunderstood form of sex play; what is it to submit to the will of another and at the same time become one with them, yet still retain one's identity as an individual? The certainty of knowing one's place without becoming a mindless sex slave or a faceless drone can in itself become a form of liberation.

My only complaint concerns something the author has left out of the narrative. We are told often that Ovia was chosen before her training was complete--but it is never explained why this was the case. This potentially fascinating and genuinely important aspect of the backstory is glossed over, if not ignored altogether; a serious missed opportunity, not to mention an irritating disappointment. It would have explained much while adding even greater depth to the story--and, let's face it; enquiring minds want to know about this kind of stuff! It is a measure of SanThomas' skill that we are compelled to care so deeply.

"Ovia" is highly recommended. Those new to the series may wish to begin at the beginning with "Ielle," but ultimately, the rewards to be enjoyed in these stories are sumptuous and many, and we look forward to reading more very soon.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Who says sex can't be funny?

Who says sex can’t be funny? There are some people—and most of them seem to spend their time trolling the discussion boards on the cheaper dating sites where all the bitter, petulant prudes go to die—who seem to believe that sex and humor don’t mix at all. (And they wonder why they still can’t find a date?)  But sex really is funny if you think about it; I mean; have you ever taken a really close look at human genitalia? Clearly not the best available evidence for Intelligent Design even if they do suggest that God—should She exist—must have one hell of a wicked sense of humor. Why else would we have been so abundantly “blessed” with such a cornucopia of sheer conspicuous dorkiness?

I remember one time I was with this girl who liked to listen to Dr. Dimento’s radio show on Sunday evenings. We were making love and the good doctor was playing the Elmer Fudd rap song by Joe Walsh. I’d never heard it before and started laughing uncontrollably—all the while coupled to my lover. Anyway, the jolly Santa-like shakings of my belly transmitted just the right vibrations to my partner’s pleasure points, and the next thing I knew she’d fainted from the orgasm. I can never hear or think about that song without remembering that most pleasant experience, and laughing out loud.
Frankly, anybody who denies the funny side of sex, probably doesn't have much of a sense of humor to begin with. Such mortals are to be pitied.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Free on Amazon Kindle this weekend

OK, a little shamless self-promotion this evening. I'm happy to anounce that my novel "Last to Leave (Book 1)" will be free on Amazon Kindle this weekend; Friday June 22 through Saturday June 23. It regularly lists for $5.99, so don't miss this opportunity to read it for nothing. Maybe you'll like it enough to download the second novel in the series, "Last to Leave (Book 2)"--that's my marketing strategy, anyway.

BTW, this book has a beautiful new cover, co-designed by none others than the great Andre SanThomas and Sharazade of 1001nights Press. Heck! I'd download it just to drool! :)

Here's the link:  Last to Leave (Book 1)




Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review of James Wood's "Taking Jennifer"

Here's our first review. I wrote and posted this on Amazon yesterday. Suffice to say, if you don't yet know the erotic writing of James Wood, this book is an excellent place to start learning. 

By the way, I very seldom give out 5 stars. There are just too many of those gushy, phony "shill" five-star screeds out there, to the point that very few readers take them seriously anymore. As a writer myself, I can say that I would far rather get an honest, thoughtful three stars than five fake ones. 

Anyway, enjoy my review of James Wood's "Taking Jennifer," five well-earned stars and all!


Brilliant, Introspective, Character-Driven Erotica

"Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art."

This quote from Pablo Picasso, which appears at the beginning of James Wood's "Taking Jennifer", should be the creed by which all writers of literary erotica live and work. Of course, that greatest of modernist iconoclasts was speaking in sharp reaction to the centuries of cruel censorship and Church-State-sponsored repression in the artistic life of his home country. The nude had been effectively banned in Spanish painting for more than five centuries--only Goya daring to buck the tradition; and even he felt compelled to offer a clothed version of his beautiful "Maja desnuda" in a chaste cloud of diaphanous drapery. (Both versions were subsequently confiscated by the Inquisition and labeled "obscene.") Picasso spoke of artistic courage, pride and daring; of artists who do not apologize for their vision, or water down their work in order to please some vaguely imagined audience of prudes. That bold spirit is very much evident today in the erotic writing of James Wood.

"Taking Jennifer" is the second entry in Wood's "Erotic Stories of Domination and Submission" series. Set in the author's familiar North-American fantasy-metropolis of Grand Falls--a scintillatingly cosmopolitan place to be sure--this taut, well-crafted story offers a new scenario from the surprisinly introspective point of view of a passionate female submissive.

The language of this story is never effusive or pretentious; but reminiscent of the finest chamber music, intimate, logical, transparent, without a single note out of place, nor a syllable wasted. Wood has a keen eye for the most exquisite, often unexpected details; who knew, for instance, that the fluting on an upholstered couch could be an aphrodisiac in and of itself? Who but the most acutely observant story-teller would write something like, "she felt his touch as if he were reading Braille upon her body . . ." This is inspired writing.

But the true epiphany to be experienced here is in the author's probing, poignant exploration of his heroine's deepest thoughts and feelings as she suffers the agony of anticipation--more painful than her master's physical disciplines--the long minutes of waiting which seem to her an eternity of unrequited need. Or this;

"It was a strange feeling, offering her wrists up. She always felt the emotion in black and white; it was how it appeared in her dreams . . . The black. The darkness of surrender, the abyss of lost control. When she stepped off that cliff and fell into its depths she felt light and free and hollow. The weightless white. And into the shell that surrender created was poured the hot blood of desire."

This is extraordinary prose by the standards of any genre. With "Taking Jennifer," James Wood has written the kind of story with the power to inspire a generation of talented, courageous erotic authors. Why should this genre, so steeped in the intricacies of deep human emotions, be left to the hacks? "Taking Jennifer" is recommended without reservation.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Welcome to Erotica for the Big Brain

Welcome to Erotica for the Big Brain, a friendly hang-out spot for readers and writers of good, high-quality erotic literary fiction. As I've just "moved in" there's a lot of work still to be done on the look of the place; the decor, the ambiance and all that sort of stuff. Eventually, though, I hope to build something that people will enjoy visiting on a regular basis.

One thing I know for sure is that I will be posting reviews. I love reading and reviewing exceptional books in many genres; but, till now, there really haven't been too many sites where people can find serious, useful, literate reviews of erotica. (Oysters and Chocolate, perhaps?) So, yes, there will be reviews, and, I hope, some friendly discussions about them, as well as the many issues and themes of interest in the often bewilderingly broad category known as literary erotica.

Terrance Aldon Shaw (call me TAS!)