Monday, September 26, 2016

"For the Men and the Women Who Love Them" An Interview with Rose Caraway

Just in time for the release of the new erotic anthology For the Men and the Women Who Love Them on September 26, 2016, here is my interview with editor/narrator extraordinaire Rose Caraway. We talk about the project, about the editing process, about narrating audiobooks, and even a little about the future of the genre. Because of her unique position in the industry, I also wanted to ask Rose some questions that might be helpful to aspiring writers. I think you'll find it all makes for some fascinating reading. Enjoy! (TAS)

TAS: First, let’s talk some about this project, For the Men and the Women Who Love Them—of which I am so pleased to be a part! Where did the idea for an anthology of erotic stories for men come from?
Rose Caraway: The incredible listeners of my Kiss Me Quick’s Erotica Podcast have influenced every single anthology I’ve ever put together. They email and phone-in their appreciation, opinions, questions, and suggestions regularly. My Lurid Listeners have expressed not only their gratitude but their continued hunger for more stories that support masculine desire. The KMQ listening demographic was mostly male in the beginning, but over the last two years, I’ve been getting a lot more feedback from female listeners expressing similar sentiments. Couples started getting in touch, indicating how much they enjoy stories that appeal to both ‘him’ and ‘her,’ and would I be putting together a book? Well, once my husband, Dayv and I felt we were in a position to offer our audience what they were asking for, we took a hike. (Hiking is great for brainstorming.) As we hiked along the lake, we discussed how we’d curate an anthology that acknowledged the scope of male desire while at the same time appealing to our female audience as well. We needed to come up with a book for men, and the women who loved them. The title presented itself.
TAS: Around the time of World War II, the American industrialist Henry J. Kaiser used to say “See a need, fill a need.” (This maxim was borrowed for the delightful animated film Robots with Robin Williams and Mel Brooks a few years ago). Do you have a sense that you’re filling a need here?
Rose Caraway: The short answer is; yes. I absolutely do. I’ve spoken to male authors and what I’ve discovered is that many of them feel quite hobbled professionally; by Amazon, by other writers, and have actually been shamed for their fantasies. Male desire has been branded as too taboo. I didn’t want this anthology to be about fetishizing or exploiting men’s desire nor any particular fantasy. This project isn’t here to shock and awe. That’s not how it was conceived. It certainly isn’t here to represent all men either. For The Men represents a place where masculine fantasy is welcome within the erotica genre. It’s about putting men’s desires front and center in an anthology featuring well-crafted storytelling—both genre-based and literary based.
TAS: Emmanuelle de Maupassant—who also has a story in the collection—did an extensive survey recently, asking male and female erotic writers about their approach to their craft. Do you see significant differences in the way men and women deal with the erotic as writers and as readers?
Rose Caraway: I tip my hat to Emmanuelle for taking such a project on. Yes, I do see differences, but I also see tremendous similarities—tastes, tendencies, fantasies. And that is where my focus lies. I believe that male and female writers can write any gender they set their creative minds to. It doesn’t much matter the sex of the ‘pen.’ Gender, much of the time, has nothing to do with the how a character might behave. Instead of asking yourself, ‘What would a man think?” Take out the ‘man’ part (okay, that sounds ominous.) and give him a name. Instead, ask, ‘What would Kevin think?’ ‘What is Kevin’s personality?’

TAS: I’d like to ask you about the editing process—something that I find endlessly fascinating. I noticed when we were communicating about my story, Making Hay, that you had a very clear sense of what I needed to do to make the story better and more satisfying to readers. You felt that something was missing; that I hadn’t explained one of the plot elements in a way that would sate readers’ curiosity. You actually asked me to add a few more paragraphs—and here, I’d been so careful to stay within the call’s stated word count! I have to tell you that I was extremely impressed by your perception—your sense of what makes a story ‘click’, as well as your desire to turn out a quality product. Your passion really does shine through in your work—and it is infectious.
Rose Caraway: My goodness. Thank you, TAS. You know, there are many fine elements to Making Hay that I adore. And, as a narrator that I greatly appreciated, but we will get to that in a little bit. The edit that I came back for you was well worth going over the word count limit for. It’s incredible what that one little bugger of a question, ‘Why?’ can do for a story. And that is what matters to me as an anthology editor. I love my work and I want readers and listeners to love it too.
You see, a few years ago, I learned the value of beta readers. I sent out my very first short story which I intended to publish, to a handful of carefully selected individuals who were competent, accomplished writers. And, they were all total strangers to me, save one. I asked them specifically, to be honest in their opinions of my work—to give me the double-barrel treatment if necessary. I truly wanted to know what they thought before I put the story up for sale. Well, only one beta reader didn’t hold back, just as I’d asked. He shot my ass with buckshot and. Yes, my heart sank. For something like 2 days, I trudged through every single bright-red Word-tracking notation he made. Tears be damned. When I got to the very end of my document I noticed that my generous, shot-gun toting beta reader had written a final note. It has stuck with me ever since:
Chekhov’s gun. Look it up!!

TAS: So, let’s talk a little about what makes a story work or not work.  Are there certain elements that successful stories all seem to have in common? What ultimately makes a story good or even great?
Rose Caraway: Boy, if I knew the answer to that…
What makes a story work?
Well, I can definitely tell you what doesn’t make it work.
Lack of trying. Giving up.
Does the story pull the reader in?
As much as I hate to vomit clichéd sentiments, I believe that this one holds true, but that doesn’t automatically make it ‘great.’ Good, probably. Hopefully. But not necessarily great. Beta readers are a great resource for this kind of thing.
To me, a great story is one that a reader devours. But what one reader considers great, another might think, ‘meh.’
I think greatness begins with relativity. Can the audience relate to the characters? In Sonni de Soto’s Odd Man, she writes from the second person point of view:
You’ll know the second she sees him, her eyes—sweet and soulful, a brown as rich and dark as the earth—will light up like they used to for you. She’ll rush through the crowd toward him, leaving you to be swallowed up by the throng.
But she loves you.

You’ll stand there—dumbstruck—as they make their way back to you, her hand in his. Your teeth will grind, a sharp screech in your head. Your nails will dig small crescent-shaped resentments into your palm like Braille as your fists form.

You’ll want to hit him. End him.
Shake his hand instead as she makes introductions.
He’ll have a stupid name, something fake-sounding that couldn’t possibly be real. Or maybe a bastardization of a given name. Like Deek or Fin or Wen. Or Rand.

He’ll be bigger than you. Of course.

Comfort yourself in the fact that, at least, you’re better looking.

You think.

He looks…expensive, you’ll think as you take in the muscled wall of black silk and leather. Tall. Dark. Tailored. Manicured. He’ll look like an honest-to-God, spitting-image, leather-bound Dom.

You’ll look like a CPA.

Automatically we are in the main characters head. We are him. The second we begin reading de Soto’s words, we see and feel everything her main character feels because she’s made us participants. To me, that’s a great story. Editors of anthologies are some of the most open-minded people. They have to be. Otherwise, you get a shitty anthology. So, writers should aim to captivate. Immediately.
TAS: How fine a line is there between competent-but-mediocre writing and truly great, memorable writing? Is there a gray area sometimes? What do mediocre writers ‘not get’ that great writers do?
Rose Caraway: I think it comes down to clarity. How clear is the writer’s narrative? A memorable story is obviously one that sticks. We all know that a writer’s craft develops over time if they exercise it. Some writers have a wonderful concept, but they can’t execute a well-developed, realistic, or convincing character, or a working world. The difference between mediocre and memorable writing is the balance of elements within the story. Take Allen Dusk’s contribution, Wayward Drift, for example. His narrative is very relaxed, yet direct. His environment is easily visualized. His character’s movements within the world are easily followed:
Daikyu was the largest gas planet I’d yet encountered. From my perch in the cockpit, I could see alkali clouds storming beneath gleaming lithium rings belted around the equator. Bettie skimmed the ionosphere, struggling against gravity wells to keep her nose pointed toward Nippon, the largest of Daikyu’s eight moons.

“Any Black Armada ships pissing in the kiddie pool?” I asked through a prolonged yawn while stretching my arms above my head.

“There are no vessels bearing the Black Armada call sign,” my ship replied with her breathy, synthesized voice.

“That’s guaranteed not to last long, but I’ll take it. Hail the Kyudo Station when we’re three clicks out, and send them the supply list.”

“Yes. I will complete those tasks.” Her voice was always devoid of emotion. The hull could have been ripping apart, and she would have responded with the same monotone announcement. “May I complete any other tasks for you?”

“Yeah, you can. How about a blowjob? I mean, like a dirty, sloppy blowjob with a lot of drooling and ball sucking.”

TAS: Along the same lines, is there a difference between a great story and a commercially successful one? (Do you sometimes find yourself having to reject a good—or even a great—story because it doesn’t fit in with the commercial aims of a project?)
Rose Caraway: To me, if it’s a great story, it’s valuable. If it effortlessly conveys its reason for existing, its good. If a story is easy, ‘brain candy’ I like that too. Sometimes readers just want a nice easy (wank) escape. I don’t want an anthology chalk full of stories that challenge me. I like to cruise too, man. Commercially speaking, ‘easy’ seemingly works, but there’s a lot of those for sale. How many paranormal romance shifter books are out there are killing it right now? It feels like too many, good for them. There are writers writing literally for the consumer. I’ve never rejected what I would consider ‘a great story.’ If a submission didn’t quite fit my call, but it blew my socks off, I like to think that I would try to make it fit in the anthology, or save it for another call, or hell, offer to publish it myself. A great story is a great story is a great story. And it wants to be read, but that doesn’t equate to being a commercial success.
TAS: Beyond the stated parameters of any call for submissions, what do you look for first when deciding on what stories to include in an anthology? Is there a sort of instinct you have or a ‘gut feeling,’ or is it something more tangible—more measurable in a conventional sense?
Rose Caraway: This is a great question. The first thing I look for is to see if the writer has followed my call’s guidelines. It’s really the simplest thing, and has no bearing on the craftsmanship of the author, but if a story is posted in the body of their email, I sadly, automatically, pass it by. I dislike doing that, but have and will do it every time. My time is precious. Then I examine the story’s opening. I can tell immediately how well a story is going to be written. But it’s that first page that really determines whether or not I can make it to the end. If the story is going to be worth the public’s time. That opening determines whether a submission is going to be a ‘yes’ or a ‘possible’ or a ‘no.’
TAS: What are some of the things that an aspiring writer can do to ‘stand out’ in a submission call? What makes an editor sit up and take notice?
Rose CarawayFollow the guidelines. Get beta readers.
Before sending off your submission, get your story read by at least 5 beta readers. Sure, you can ask friends or family, but if you really, really want to be a good writer, then you need to bite the bullet. Ask for double-barreled honesty. It’s ridiculously easy to find a beta reading group these days. But you must tell them what you need from them. I personally recommend the Facebook group, The Slush Pile. I CANNOT stress how valuable beta readers are.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing, how many publications you already have. Even Stephen King fucks up. Things get missed. Eyeballs, other than your own are essential. You don’t have time to dick around. When you are ready to email your submission, highlight to the editor, let them know that you utilized beta readers for optimum story quality. I also recommend that you beta read for others.

TAS: Let’s take a few minutes to talk about audio books and the spoken word.
Maybe because I was read to quite often when I was little, the spoken word is extremely important to me. Later, when I was in high school, I listened to a lot of the Talking Books for the Visually Impaired (Gosh! Could I go all fan-geek about some of the amazing narrators on those old phonograph records! Great voices like Arnold Moss and Alexander Scourby reading Don Quixote and Edgar Allen Poe…) and that made me conscious of the importance of the quality of the spoken word. I know that now when I write—and especially when I revise—I try to be very conscious of the physical effects of my words, a quality of rhythm, euphony and flow in the language.
Rose Caraway: I could tell immediately, TAS, that Making Hay was going to be a smooth narration. (My favorite storyteller voice was, Boris Karloff in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I loved David Attenborough and Lawrence Olivier too! Last year I found, Grover Gardner’s narration of Bury My Hear at Wounded Knee. Today, my favorite narrator is Kate Mulgrew. Her narration of NOS4A2 is fucking stellar.)
TAS: My question to you, as someone who wears both the editor and the narrator’s hats, is this: what do you look for—or listen for—in a story? Are there particular elements that ‘speak to you’—as if the story were begging to be read aloud?
Rose Caraway: When I go through the editing process, its automatic that I look for potential narrative hang-ups. I always have an audio audience in mind while editing and writing. The fact is, reading a story is a different experience than listening to one. But it all starts with the words. The better the writing craft, the easier the narration. The better writers don’t usually hear anything from me regarding audio fixes. No matter what, a story must flow easily through its scene transitions. Word repetition and sing-song narrative is bad form in writing, and it is horrendous to narrate (particularly in erotica) because listeners hear it, and it sounds silly, unprofessional. Unless it’s Dr. Seuss, there shouldn’t be anything sing-songy in the text. When we read to ourselves, those types of clunky moments are easier to miss, because inside our minds everything is silent. When a narrator gets hold of the script, we can find some whoppers. Keep in mind as you’re are writing that listeners will hear every cringe worthy rhyme. It’s why I recommend that writers read their work aloud. Another easy tactic for finding this kind of trouble spot is to use the ‘Control F’ function. You might even be interested in trying You shouldn’t have, for example, the word ‘pussy’ eight times in one paragraph. It really shouldn’t be in there more than once. Twice is the absolute limit.
Our dialog should occur seamlessly—naturally, without confusion as to who is speaking. It would surprise you how many times I’ve had to get in touch with an author to ask who is shouting “Fuck!” during orgasms. Internal dialog can be the most challenging to convey through narration, especially if it’s an extensive portion of the story or if it occurs every other line. Between character voices and narrative, if listeners aren’t obviously informed which character is actively thinking, the scene becomes muddied—worse, it loses the listener’s interest. There aren’t italics in narration. Listeners shouldn’t have to work to understand. Concise, clear writing is essential for narration. Generally speaking, when someone is listening to an audiobook, they are doing something else at the same time. They may get distracted while choosing the appropriate washing machine setting to use for their delicates. The point is, we want it to be easy for listeners to slip back into the story. That’s something you did really well in your story, Making Hay, TAS. Your dialog was natural—seamless:
Her brothers called me Blindy because of the patch over where my left eye used to be. Little berserkers were always pestering me, following me around the farm like month-old puppies chasing their own tails, watching without lending a hand, leaning on the fence-rail as I cleaned out the hog pens or tinkered with one piece of machinery or another.

“Blindy’s sweet on Gunni!” The oldest made kissing noises, and the other two joined in on the chorus, trying to get a rise out of me.

“Your sister’s one mighty fine filly,” I allowed. “Don’t know how she ended up being related to you homely little mouth-breathers.”

“Told ya he was sweet on ‘er!”

“Yeah! When’s the weddin’ gonna be, Blindy?”

“Who needs a wedding?” I pitched a shovelful of muck in their direction just to keep them on their toes. “Besides, a good little worker like Gunni could do herself a lot better’n some old one-eyed rambler.”

“So how’d you lose that eye anyway?” the youngest brother piped up.

“What else?” I said. “Got into a fight over a woman.”

Bull! That’s not what you told us last time!”

“Oh? And what did I tell you?”

“Said a crow come and ate it right out o’ your head—”

“‘Nother time you told us you lost it in a dice game—”

“Other fellow cheated,” I said, half under my breath.

“—time ‘fore that you said it got shot out in the war—”

“Naw! I swear fellas, this time, I’m tellin’ ya true. It was in a knock-down drag-out over the finest pair o’ jugs anybody ever saw.” Except maybe for your sister’s, I thought.

TAS: Can you talk a little about the place of dialogue in an erotic story that’s meant to be read aloud? How important is it? What makes it good—or not so good?
Rose Caraway: It really depends on the story. I personally love dialogue and think characters should speak as often as necessary. What makes it good is if it accentuates the scene or the moment. Especially in erotica where sexy talk is a major turn on. The not so sexy kind of erotic dialog is when it’s ill-fitting or forced. When it has no business being in the story. I will cut dialog if it’s useless. Whether I’m writing or editing, I run a test. If I feel inclined to cut any dialog out, I reread the text without it, to see if it makes any difference in the story. Sometimes, dialog does nothing but hold a story up. If it isn’t informative or if it doesn’t move the story forward, why is it there? If you have a really great line in your head that you absolutely must have your character speak, then make the character and the situation call for it.
In Tamsin Flowers’, Rope Burn, the female character answers with ‘yes’, repeatedly. Ordinarily I advise against that kind of thing, but Tamsin Flowers has been doing this a long time. She sets up her narrative so that it’s obvious that there is tension building, and that her male character’s questions are escalating, so I know exactly how each of those responding ‘yes’s’ should be narrated. No dialog tags required:

I closed my eyes, and he laughed. Gently, and slowly at first, he stroked my inner thighs and the rise of flesh below my belly. His fingers traced a path down one side of my labia and up the other; he teased me until I was panting for him. My hips pushed down against his naked lap and I nuzzled at his neck with my mouth. And as he explored me with eager fingers, I was rewarded with the feel of his cock getting hard again underneath me.

“Will you let me take you out riding and make love to you in the forest?”


“Will you let me eat your pussy in the back of my truck?”


“Will you let me tie you up again, Cally?”


“Will you let me tame you, wildcat?”

“No. Never that, Ray.”

TAS: Can dialogue mechanics—so essential in a printed story—sometimes get in the way of effective narration?
Rose Caraway: Dialog should only be considered essential if it is indeed, essential. Some stories have minimal dialog. Others are nothing but the exchange of dialog. When I’m narrating I should have a solid idea of a character’s tone. When dialog gets in the way it’s usually indicative of lack of writing skill. Writers should consider why their characters are saying what they’re saying. Again, ‘Why?’
TAS: How do you deal with characterizations, especially in a dialogue-heavy story? If you’re going back and forth a lot between a male and a female character, for instance, how to you effectively differentiate the voices?
Rose Caraway: If the writing is good, my part as a narrator is fairly easy. My ‘performance’ should never be distracting, nor should it overshadow the author’s story. In narrative, there is such a thing as over performing. It can be downright obnoxious. Male and female character’s voices are determined by what’s written. Their traits and personalities. While I don’t possess the vocal range of Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey, I can alter the tempo and texture of my voice. I thank Kate Mulgrew for teaching me that. My goal is to work within my range, and never distract. To perform a cast of characters in such a way that the listener clearly understands who is speaking.
TAS: So, assuming For the Men is a success—and let’s hope so!—do you envision a sequel, or even a series?
Rose Caraway: “Yes. A thousand times yes!”

TAS: Penultimate question, and it’s a great big messy one—sorry! At a time when many experienced and extremely gifted erotic writers are becoming discouraged, sometimes even to the point of dropping out altogether, what future do you envision for erotica as a literary genre? Where are things trending?  Where do you hope they’ll go?
 Rose Caraway: I really appreciate this question, and think it well worth asking. To any discouraged literary writers of the erotica genre; please, don’t give up. Please. And definitely don’t lose heart. Your ‘hearts’ are what make your ability to express the human condition so valuable. You show us strength and vulnerability like no other. I enjoy putting together anthologies that provide both the literary and genre fiction style stories. I specifically look for plot, theme and character driven stories. For me, variety is key.
Sometimes theme grabs me. (Breasted by Landon Dixon):

I clutched Samantha’s huge, creamy-white tits. Squeezed them. Kneaded them. Sucked on the rigidly pointing pink nipples—filled my hands and my face. The babe was stretched flat on her back, on the bed—me on top of her, all over her tits. I’ve got a raging penchant for stacked broads, and this one was double-decker material.

Sometimes a character does. (Labyrinth by Emmanuelle de Maupassant):

Under the moon, he guides her through the garden, towards the tall hedges. The shadows stretch out of sight. She moves as quietly as he, neither wishing to disturb the silence, so laden with possibility.

“All paths lead to the heart of the labyrinth,” he had told her. “There, you’ll find your true desire: what you covet most, or the inhabitants of your nightmares…”

“I’m not afraid,” she’d said. “I know my monsters.”

“If we go in together, you may meet mine.”

As far as trends go, they are like the tide. They are in, they are out. Then, they are back in again. I can say with utter certainty, that through my anthologies, literary erotica will always have a home.

TAS: Last question—the one I ask everybody and never get tired of hearing answered—what advice would you have for new writers, especially aspiring writers of erotica?
Rose Caraway: Reach out to other writers who’ve been in the business a while and whose tastes are similar to your own. Even if you are afraid to, ask for advice anyway, and ask more than one person. (What works for one writer may be total crap for another.)
This goes to new and aspiring writers: It is essential that you get your work out to reliable beta readers. Read your story out loud before submitting. If you are able, get your work copyedited. Follow your editor’s submission guidelines to the letter. Expect rejection. Submit again. And again. And again.
If you are an aspiring writer, start small. Something in the neighborhood of 3k words or less. Start with a short scene, or better yet—build a character. Strive to utilize and understand “the economy of words”. Invest in and read a few anthologies that interest you. It will help you with POV and guide you to finding your own voice. Put time into developing your craft. Social Media is a HUGE time suck. Be picky about which Facebook groups you belong to. It’s okay to say ‘no thank you’. Most groups out there are just noise and distraction—someone else’s agenda. Block that shit out of your life. Don’t worry about jumping into the water and trying to win the race. A good story is a good story is a good story. Get it written.


  1. Superb interview Rose and TAS.
    I'm so excited to read the other stories in this well-conceived anthology.
    Rose - you are always an inspiration.

  2. What a great interview. It was fascinating to gain an insight into how Rose Caraway chooses the work she wishes to podcast, and the invaluable advice she gives to potential contributors to her anthology. And thanks to you, Tas, for asking such insightful questions. Here's hoping that the anthology will be a great success.

  3. Filled with amazing advice. I love that examples from stories are shown as well. Thanks for this!