Eroticon 2012 – Part 2 – Identity, Anonymity, Sex, Writing

So I head up the stairs, into the reception. Gotta say, Armada House was a perfect location. Edwardian building but purposely designed as a conference venue, and it shows. Having done events back home and here where you have to adapt a venue to your needs, be it an anime festival, a speaker session with lunch, or a dance, being somewhere catered to the needs was really good. Spacious so we could move about freely, but not cavernous that you got lost, with beautiful interiors (seriously, look at the lobby in this link here – I love the carving of the torso and arm holding a rapier on the wall by the staircase).

But I digress. Picked up name tag and goody bag, and what a lovely swag it was too – three paperbacks, discount vouchers, and some nice toys from sponsors Love Honey by way of a little vibrator and a satin blindfold, and a delightful little book of sex tips – that came in a satin bag and I have to confess I was expecting and wanting chocolate when I felt the shape! But am certainly not complaining.

(And now for a cut as I’m verbose, it turns out.)

Breakfast room next – I had already eaten, but there was tea to be had and people to meet. And then I did what I usually do; hover and linger cautiously until I find someone to speak to. This is not something I find particularly easy, and envy people who seem to manage it without worry. That said, the atmosphere in the room was already very friendly, something I mentioned to Innocent Loverboy who I first spoke – he made the very good point that it was the sort of place that people would come to in solidarity, and that largely proved to be true. Also had a chat with Stephen Paine who blogs at Colors of Passion, which I’m going to have to take a better look at – some long detailed posts there about BDSM which look to be most interesting (note, there is currently a post on tentacle porn – which is disconcerting as the CD that arrived the other day had a bonus hidden track about giant squid…ah, that’s synchronicity for you.)

Then of course I managed to find a fanfic writer and fannis reader, Jay and V, to whom I wish I’d said farewell as I spent a good chunk of the morning with them in the Cabot Room for the three sessions in there. First off was the panel ‘Identity, ethics and sex blogging’, with Zoe Margolis, Molly Moore, Lori Smith, and Mina Lamieux, lead by Ruby. I shan’t put down here the three pages of typed notes I took, but it was fascinating hearing about their experiences and how they came to be where they are at now. I’m somewhat in awe of the boldness of putting so much of themselves out there – not just text but photography as well, not something I think I could quite manage.

What was interesting as well was the tension (maybe that’s not the right word?) between the need for a high level on anonymity, and also the need to write and ‘speak’ about sex in a way that creates conversation. Fact is, as soon as you write something and put it online, as Ruby said, you could be found out. And I think the panelists all knew that – certainly Zoe has gone through that already when she was outed as ‘The Girl with a One-Track Mind’. Then again, I suppose, it’s like dear old Wilde says; if one tells the truth, one is sooner or later, bound to be found out. The question, as Molly pointed out, was being prepared to deal with the consequences.

All four panelists were passion about what they did, very passionate, and unafraid in themselves to do it and be out there about it. However, and this is something I discussed with a few people afterwards, there was a great apprehension to fully link their identities to their sex blogging ones as there were other people who might be affected, particularly children. Not having kids, this is not something I ever considered, but it makes perfect sense. I’m lucky to be in a position where I can fairly safely use my own name for writing erotica. It was a decision I made when I had my first publication, and who knows, it may come back to bite me in arse, but my thinking is that if it’s important to be seen to be doing it, then if you can be out, then I’ll be out. Mina made the interesting point that she would gladly tell her mother about the nature of her relationship with her husband (open) and their shared blogging, but then her mother would also be bound by the secret too, which she didn’t feel away fair to put on her.

There was also the fact that when writing about sex, you will inevitably be writing about someone else too (masturbation aside, of course.) It was nice hearing about the techniques they used to disguise people, or that posts were shown to the people they were writing about beforehand, but also more importantly the ethics of it. Zoe made the point she really felt she’d invaded people’s privacy when the book came out, because only a few details were changed, and though no one responded very badly, it was still something she hadn’t considered until then. Moore made the point that as writers we are influenced by so many people that you can’t run everything past everyone – else you’d never get to publish anything – but it was worth thinking about obscuring certain details that identify people in particular relationships.

There was a general sense from all that it was a really damn shame that women in particular cannot be so open about their sex life without being branded a litany of names and labels, or having vast assumptions made about their sexuality. Scarlet French brought up the wonderful point that we might, by closing off that part of ourselves behind a door, keeping our interest in sex away from the rest of our lives, be perpetuating the idea that women should be ashamed of sex. There was a rousing agreement, yet all returned to the point that it was fine if it was just them being affected, but when it was someone else, that was another matter. Moore in particular said that even if she was outed, she would not give it up, for despite not wanting her children to be hurt by judgement of others, she couldn’t justify to them either feeling forced to shut that part of herself down. I found that quite powerful.

Stuck around then for Maxim Jakubowski’s talking on writing erotica. As he said at the start, there is far too much to cram into just over an hour, but I loved the key tips (taken with a pinch of salt, as Maxim advised…):

  • Writing erotica is like writing any other kind of fiction. (Actually, this point I kind of want to beat into people’s heads – it ain’t that much different from any other genre – this one is the one that is about sex is all.)
  • It being fiction, it must have a story, not just be a contextless sex scene, but engage the emotions and sensations for people tor respond to it.
  • There must be characterisation. This is not a place to just write about the fantasy, but the character must have a background. Also important to get into the character’s heads, but not necessarily by spelling out their thoughts sentence fo sentence – a nice reminder of ‘show don’t tell,’ as a character who thinks with great clarity tends to draw the reader out of the story.
  • Atmosphere is important to convey the sensuality of what you are writing (Maxim is exceedingly good at that – check out his ‘Bottomless on Bourbon‘ for a wonderful example of evoking a city).
  • Be careful with your research – slabs of it read just like that, giant chunks of text thrown in to show your research (tangentially, this is one of the reasons I’m hestitant when people say, regarding the Dragon novel ‘write and put a note to yourself to do your research’ because it really will not work as a novel if the research is not delicately laced throughout rather than thrown into the one place.)
  • The way to get published is to not give up (very good reminder, a very good one indeed!)

Maxim also talked about how he found himself writing erotica – apparently there was too much sex in his mystery and science fiction. Like that’s a bad thing…he also regaled us with the tale of how his novel almost was made into a film with Nicole Kidman (oh man, if Hollywood came knocking offering to buy the rights, I now understand why people would jump at the chance), and I was just so intrigued by the behind the scenes workings of publishing and the film industry – I was perhaps cynically reminded of how much of it is a business as well as a creative industry. I was also amused and delighted to hear that his first Mammoth Book of Erotica almost got pulled from publication by his very shocked publisher, only to find that it was being order by book clubs and became one of their best (maybe even there best!) selling title. There some discussion about the state of the genre now, with the rise of eBooks and self-publishing, which Maxim expressed some apprehension about in terms of the market being flooded and that despite the mutterings of some self-published authors against traditional publishing, there was something to be said for publishing houses editorial process. There was also the inevitable segue about the crap PayPal is throwing at erotica, and it was wonderful to here Maxim question why should we not be exploring the four cardinal sins of erotica, which are underage characters, non-consensual sex, incest, and bestiality. He recommended that in the state of affairs now to show some common sense if wanting to tackle these subjects, but also, cheekily, that there are ways around it.

Another tea break and I went and nabbed a pastry left from breakfast to come back for ‘Convincingly Queer.’ This was led by Aisling Weaver and Josephine Myles, and looked at writing outside of your experience, be it kink, someone of the sex and/or gender not your own, sexuality not your own, etc. We had a brief moment of audience participation where someone was blindfolded, and another’s wrists were tied with a scarf, which was a nifty way of getting people to think about these tings when both gave feedback on how it felt (without sight, the focus shifted to what was being said, and being bound, apparently, has a certain pleasure to it. 😉 )

There were many useful things they both brought up. Aisling recommend a variety of easily found items in the home to try out BDSM practices (most of us have belts, wooden spoons and clothes pegs), and a very simple suggestion if you’re a woman, presumably heterosexual, writing lesbian scenes – masturbate, and pay attention! Josephine offered that whilst if you wanted to write m/m you could watch porn, you had to be careful as it’s a genre constructed for the camera and about the angles to get the best shots, rather than the best ways to be intimate. And here’s another thing worth noting – do your research rather than relying on hearsay regarding gay sex (oh where is that wonderful post about writing sex with reference to the Sherlock fandom – ah yes, here it is!)

Both also recommended either talking to someone who had a better idea than you about what you wanted to write, or failing that, read and research, and that crits were important. It’s an odd thing that this needs to be said, but it seems that even erotica (who knew? /sarcastic font) is hampered by things that could probably be avoided with a little bit of time and attention. One audience member questioned on how much we should be worried about being too accurate, since a number of readers don’t worry or know too much about what is being written, though Aisling did say that readers will critique, and it is important to show due diligence. The point did come up, particularly with m/m writing, that the audience for it was often women rather than gay men, in which case, how careful did one have to be in terms of accuracy, and was the point of the genre actually about playing to female fantasy. I’m still not quite sure what I think about this. I agree with the need to show due diligence, though, and will keep trying, as a writer, to do so. Probably need to start having more of my work vetted though.

There was the point made by a delegate that whilst you might be writing about one gender or sexuality, it didn’t mean that all your male characters must think and act one way, and all your female characters another. And both Aisling and Josephine said that really you should be finding the common humanity of your characters. Which basically is why we write fiction, isn’t it? (Well, one of the reasons at any rate. 🙂 )

Then there was lunch. And then there will be Part 3. Tomorrow.