Fixing Train Wrecks
By Margie Church
What are train wrecks? Manuscripts riddled with passive voice, head-hopping (switching between one point of view and another), excessive adverb use, incorrect dialog tags, and dangling participles.
Most of us have long forgotten our grammar lessons and wouldn’t know a homophone (one of my deadliest sins) from a dangling participle (another sneaky bastard). Your brain must function like a serial killer’s (not a cereal killer) to get your work ready for submission. Whether you edit as you write or do it afterward, if you think one pass is going to catch it all, you’re mistaken. You’re also mistaken if you think it’s your editor’s job to fix your mess. Your editor’s job is to show you where the polish still needs to go.
The following excerpt is from my first book. Damn, I was proud of that accomplishment! That said, it’s riddled with some of the most common writing mistakes. I’ll also mention that this book was edited and published. Give this a read, and then I’ll take it apart and show you where the problematic areas are. I numbered the paragraphs for easier reference.
- For the next two weeks, Allie ignored all of Devon’s emails and phone calls. She found it difficult. Over the past months, she became accustomed to regularly communicating with Devon. She missed hearing from him and even more so, she hated to admit she missed the sound of his voice. All the more reason to put some distance between the gorgeous Brit and me.
- Finally, Devon tracked Allie down at work. She was surprised to see him.
- Devon fired off questions in true lawyer fashion. “There you are! Why haven’t you returned my calls, Allie? You’ve missed our weekly meetings, too. Have you been ill? Have I done something to offend you?”
- Allie heard the hurt and upset in his voice. She looked around, hoping nobody else did. “This isn’t the time or the place to discuss it.”
- Devon shook his head. “Of course not. Where are my manners?” He reached in his vest pocked and handed Allie his business card. “Stop by after work and we’ll talk then, all right?”
- “I can’t, I have another commitment,” she lied. Seeing him again captivated Allie. Even his eyebrows are perfect.
- “Allie, what is the matter? Why won’t you talk to me?”
- “I’ll call you soon. I have other customers now, Devon, if you don’t mind.”
- Devon let out his breath in resignation. “Of course, I understand. I apologize if I made you uncomfortable.” He leaned forward across the counter and spoke for her ears alone, “I’ve missed you, and I won’t wait long.”
- A blush crept up her neck and into her cheeks. Allie nodded.
In paragraph 1: Passive voice sucks the life out of the scene. I’m telling you what Allie did over and over. Regularly, the adverb, is in the wrong position. Verb tense (became) is wrong.
Paragraph 2: There’s a problem with the setting. Where is Allie when this scene opens? That needs to move up. I have a slight POV switch here from Allie to Devon, and more passive voice.
Paragraph 3: In case you forgot his name, I used Devon again. Snore… The sentences are weak and I could use some descriptions to show you his mood.
Para 4: Sentence construction is weak and I’m not showing you a thing.
Para 5: Couple of punctuation errors in there. Did you spot the typo? Pocked. Um, yeah.
Para 6: Passive voice, incorrect dialog tag.
Para 7: In case you’ve forgotten her name or can’t figure out who’s talking, I’ve used Allie again.
Para 8: The second sentence is awkward as heck. Needs smoothing.
Para 9: We start with a sneaky POV switch to Devon, and end with a bad dialog tag. Devon can only let out his breath in resignation if we’re in his POV…and we’re not. Put a period after alone.
Para 10: Another POV switch – this one is tougher to find. Allie cannot SEE the blush creeping up her neck unless she’s looking at her reflection. She can feel it or imagine it’s there.
Wow, for a couple hundred words, that’s a lot of bad writing. Now, let’s turn on that killer instinct and fix this train wreck.
Allie reflected on her feelings while swishing a cloth over a coffee spill. She’d ignored all of Devon’s emails and phone calls for the past two weeks. Her lips turned down. She missed their talks. She’d become accustomed to communicating with him on a regular basis. She missed the sound of his voice even more. That startling admission made her cringe. All the more reason to put some distance between the gorgeous Brit and me.
As if on cue, Devon walked into the coffee shop. Her heart rate increased at the mere sight of him.
He strode to the counter and fired off questions in true lawyer fashion. “There you are! Why haven’t you returned my calls? You’ve even missed our weekly meetings. Have you been ill? Have I done something to offend you?” Uncharacteristic emotion laced his words.
She looked around hoping the busybodies were occupied with something else. She whispered through gritted teeth. “This isn’t the time or the place to talk.”
He drew back. “Of course not. Where are my manners?” Devon produced a business card from his vest pocket, and then handed the crisp white card to her. “Stop by after work, and we’ll talk, all right?”
“I can’t. I have another commitment.” She had to keep up the lie. The truth wasn’t allowed.
“Allie, what is the matter? Why won’t you talk to me?”
“I’ll call you soon. I have other customers.” She indicated that he needed to step aside. “If you don’t mind.”
Devon released a long breath. “Of course. I apologize if I made you uncomfortable.” He leaned over the counter and spoke in a soft voice. “I’ve missed you, and I won’t wait long.”
Heat crept into her neck and cheeks. Allie nodded.
Although the revision is longer than the original, it’s a much better read. It’s alive with actions you see, not hear about. The editing mistakes are corrected.
Test yourself by copying the original excerpt and see what you can do with it. And by all means, ask questions. I’m here to help you understand how to improve.
About the Author:
Margie Church writes erotic romance novels with a strong suspense element, in keeping with her motto: Romance with SASS (Suspense, Angst, Seductive Sizzle). Never expect the same thing twice in one of her books. She tackles subjects and conflicts that aren’t typical in romances. Life is complicated. People are, too. Marrying those concepts makes her work fascinating to read. Margie was 2011 GLBT Author of the Year, and her book, Hard as Teak, was named 2011 GLBT Book of the Year at Loves Romances Café. She is well-known for her BDSM erotic romances as well.
Margie lives in Minnesota, is married, and has two children. Some of her passions include music, poetry, walking on moonlit nights, fishing, and making people laugh. She also writes children’s books under the pen name Margaret Rose.
Keep up with Margie:
Margie’s website: Romance with SASS
Margie’s blog: authormargiechurch.wordpress.com
Margie’s Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.com/Margie-Church/e/B008H7HO4I/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
Erotic Lactation Fetish
The breasts, particularly the nipples, are highly erogenous zones for everyone regardless of gender or sex—and their stimulation forms an essential part of sexual foreplay for many, many people. But for many women, of course, breasts also serve the purpose of suckling an infant for the first few months of its life. The fact that breasts can produce milk has been a source of fascination for millennia and, for some, inspire an erotic lactation fetish (or paraphilia). If stories on the internet are any indication, there are helluva a lot of people playing around with the fantasy of suckling—from both sides of the nipple—deriving a great deal of pleasure from the idea, and/or the act, of giving or receiving milk straight from a warm breast.
Erotic lactation can be part of a BDSM scenario. A submissive woman may be ordered by her dominant partner to be milked, in the same way that a cow may be milked, thus reducing her to the level of an animal. And as with any dominant/submissive relationship, it may be the submissive who is controlling the events and deeply enjoying them—particularly the humiliation involved.
The scenario I come across most frequently combines an infantilism fetish with a lactation fetish: a man or woman has a desire to be treated as a baby. This may mean wearing diapers (and getting those diapers changed), being fed, bathed and otherwise cared for. And for some, this total return to infancy will include suckling from the breast. Much has been written about psychosexual development from Sigmund Freud onwards…but I don’t believe that anyone really knows for sure why either infantilism or erotic lactation fetish occurs.
There are two stories in my Fetish Worship collection about a man named Joel and his desperate quest to find a “mommy”. Joel wants to be twelve years old; he also wants a mommy and is lucky enough to find his ideal partner in a woman named Sally. In “Will you be my Mommy?” Sally hints to the reader that she plans to breastfeed Joel—she has already made it clear to Joel that she loves to have her nipples sucked and bitten. In the followup tale, “I’m sorry Mommy”, Joel and Sally are now lovers; lovers that act out the mother-and-son fetish absolutely seriously. They also have mind-blowing sex within the framework of the fetish, which concludes with Joel suckling milk from Sally.
On the other hand, erotic lactation may have nothing to do with infantilism or other varieties of age play. It can be that one or both participants gets off on suckling from the breast, or being suckled, as an adult.
I’ve read that it’s possible to induce lactation without a woman being pregnant, through routinely massaging the breasts and nipples, by persistent suckling and/or by use of hormones—this would certainly increase the availability of erotic breastfeeding to a wider range of people, including those who don’t plan to have children.
Some people find this type of play highly erotic, and some see erotic lactation as empowering for the woman. Others find the whole idea a big turn-off, whether age play factors into it or not. But regardless of one’s desire to engage in, or with, erotic lactation in real life, it can be an amazing boost to one’s writing; the right mention of a milky breast and a hungry top or bottom can spice up an erotic novel or sex scene, add depth to characterization and dynamics between lovers, or even form the basis of an entire story or novel in itself.
The Weird Ones
Most writers will tell you that they can be struck by ideas for stories at any time or place. This can be a marvelous thing. Knowing that a walk down the street to pick up the mail or a quart of milk might yield the seed of a new story or novel—a whole new world, in effect—is one of the pleasures of the writing life.
But occasionally we’re hit by stories that seem a little…well, different. These are stories that seem unique to the writer’s own psyche and creative makeup, to the point where they seem like personal myths. When the writer in question works in erotica, these “special” stories often contain images and situations that seem to be distillations of his/her most powerful fantasies.
As you might imagine, most writers greet these ideas with a great deal of excitement…but also with some trepidation. Stories like these don’t often fit into specific categories or subgenres, and a lot of times they actually defy paraphrasing or easy description. This can drive you crazy, especially when you’re used to working in category fiction. Usually, when I have an idea for a story, I know what it is and how it might best be approached. A straightforward tale of an erotic encounter between strangers can be handled this way…a genre story that combines noir or otherworldly fantasy with sex can be handled like that. But the “strange” stories don’t come with that built-in instruction manual. Most writers greet them with groans of “How the heck am I going to sell that?”
The first thing to keep in mind when you get hit with a “strange” story is that it is different, and will probably need an unusual amount of TLC. If it seems to need some time to develop, give it time. Similarly, if it cries out to be written immediately, try to accommodate it and see what happens. A lot of times this will result in pages of verbiage that doesn’t stick together as a whole. Set it aside and give it some time to germinate. Normally I find talking through an idea at this early stage can kill the energy, but the “strange” stories sometimes profit from being aired before a sympathetic listener. Sometimes I go through magazines, looking for images that seem to fit into the vision somehow. Other times I just sit back and let the thing percolate. It’s like they told you in Art class; there’s no one way to do it, and you’ll undoubtedly find your own methods.
Once you have, things will probably start moving fairly quickly. Then it’ll be time to ease into the second draft and see what kind of shape the story wants to take. Oftentimes a story that originally felt like something almost indescribable solidifies into something remarkable, using everything you know about fiction writing in ways you might not have thought of trying before. And while easy sales don’t usually pour in, the “strange stories” often have better luck in the market than you would think. It’s amazingly validating to get an acceptance letter for a personal myth.
It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who Knows You – Media Contacts
By Sherry Ziegelmeyer
There’s an adage in Hollywood circles that is very relevant to your own publicity efforts: “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.” This is never more true than when you’re trying to grow an audience for your books. Without media support, all of your publicity and marketing attempts will fall flat.
Start with a media contact list. With this, you can target specific writers, editors and bloggers with whom you can form good working relationships. Once formed, those relationships—and, of course, your own pitch—may convince them to introduce you and your books to their existing audience.
The best way to put together your media contact list is to go online and start searching for websites that specifically run news and reviews related to novelists working in sex-themed and erotic literature, as well as other adult entertainment news outlets.
Read everything on the sites you find. These sites will give you a feel for what type of content they focus on, what they’re looking for from other writers—and whether your book will arouse their interest, or just go into their trash bin.
Once you have targeted a few news outlets, your next step is to get contact information for a real person at that website or publication. Some sites will have a form for submitting news. Some will have a list of editors and writers, including their company email or a phone number. And sometimes you can’t find any contact information on a site at all!
While you’re looking through these sites and publications, be sure to note individual writers who work for them. Once you have a list of the actual content writers, do a bit of research on each one. Read what they’ve written recently for that particular publication. Learn a little more about them from their company profiles, or look up their bios on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other social media.
This research will quite likely pay off. You’ll find out what a particular writer is interested in covering—and that can make or break your initial contact with them. The more closely their interests align with your work, the better received you’re likely to be—and the more they’ll ultimately value you as a news source in the future.
It never hurts to appeal to a reporter with a sincere compliment on what they have done, or how their views on a particular lifestyle topic match yours. Just remember that sincerity is crucial; anyone working in a media-related field can smell false flattery a mile away. Trying to deceive someone on how much you know about them—or agree with them—can turn them off to getting to know more about you.
Now that you have a few names and email addresses, possibly phone numbers (or—heaven forbid—a fax number) from your research, put together an introduction letter that tells these media members who you are, what you write about and how to contact you. There are a few rules that apply here, so pay attention!
Use their full name and title (if they have one at the publication).
Keep it brief.
And above all, don’t try to do a hard sell on why you are the bestest and onliest erotic novelist out there. People in media have heard (and read) it all before and are, on the whole, not easy to impress.
Your next step is to make initial contact with the targeted writers on your list. For this, you’ll need to set aside some time to create a personalized, introduction-style cover letter, for each writer you plan on contacting. You can template parts of this, as long as you are aware each letter will have to change to suit its targeted individual.
The best form of initial contact is along the lines of:
Hi Writer’s Name,
Your article on the backlash from the “50 Shades of Gray” phenomenon, and how it affects new erotic authors, was very enlightening. I wanted to thank you for the information on why sales have stalled for “mommy porn”, while growing for the male, college aged, demographic of readers. You perfectly illustrated why the shift in focus has moved away from feminist-friendly, yet kinky, erotica and why fresh voices are necessary in adult novels.
My name is … and I am an author of erotic books. I wanted to know if I could send you news on my new book releases. If that would be alright, please confirm the correct email address to use for news submissions, so I can add you to my contact list.
Thank you so much!
Your phone, email, website, Instant Message program of choice and handle, et cetera
Obviously, you will substitute the vague references in the sample letter above with the writer’s name and your specific compliment or point of reference to them, your own name and information about your specific writing genre. Always include all of your contact information with the email signature. You want to make it as easy as possible for media people to get in touch with you.
If you only have a phone number as a media contact point, then you can use the above strategy with a few considerations due to the change in format.
Before trying to contact anyone by phone, rehearse what you want to say in advance. If at all possible, practice with a voice recorder so you can hear exactly what you sound like to another person. This gives you a chance to keep your focus on what you want to convey when you call a potential media contact and keeps you from getting sidetracked. It also helps you to edit down your message to 60 seconds or less, without speaking so fast that no one can understand you, in the case you need to leave a voice message for a reporter.
If you are forced to leave a message (highly likely), speak slowly, clearly and repeat your phone number and email at least twice during the message. No matter how easy you assume your email address is to spell and remember, spell it out completely if you are giving it to someone verbally.
If they answer in person (rare, but it does happen), remember to keep the call brief, polite, professional, stay on point with your rehearsed message and most important of all: Listen to what the person you call has to say, rather than focusing completely on what you want to say.
No matter how you initially contact a media member, don’t expect them to drop everything and respond to you immediately. They’re busy people and don’t have time to reply to every email or phone call they receive—immediately or, sometimes, at all. Give them at least a few days to get back to you.
If for some reason the writer you contacted doesn’t want to be added to your media contact list, thank them sincerely for their time and move on. If you don’t hear back from them after a week, go back to your research and contact another person at that same outlet, using the same tone of message. Since many writers are freelance, the person you found contact information for yesterday may not be at that publication today.
Above all, don’t give up. Your media contact list is an ever growing and changing organism. You may start out with only two or three writers that respond positively to your introduction letter. In many ways, it’s much better to start with a small number of media contacts. Focusing on a few individual writers gives you a chance to develop strong professional relationships with each of them. Once you start to develop working relationships with individual members of the media, that’s when you will begin to understand the nature and value of media contacts: It is all about who knows you, not just who you know.
Do you have specific questions concerning how to generate publicity for your books? Please email questions and comments to Sherry; answers will appear as future WriteSex blog topics.
Sherry Ziegelmeyer is a professional publicist and public relations representative, who happens to specialize in adult entertainment (in all its various forms). She resides in Chatsworth, California, affectionately known as “ground zero of the adult entertainment industry.” When not working on writing press releases, arranging interviews and putting together review kits for her clients (among dozens of other career related activities), she reads a LOT, loves cooking, appreciates beefcake eye-candy, spending time with friends, family and with her assortment of furred and feathered “kids”. Get to know Sherry at blackandbluemedia.com or www.facebook.com/sherry.ziegelmeyer.
Where Story Ideas Come From: With a Little Help from your Friends
As I mentioned last month, the theme I’ve decided to pursue on this blog series is ideas, where they come from, and what they’re worth. Ideas go through a process; they are inspired, they are worked, and then the results are either discarded or displayed. In all of this, my friends play a vital role.
I spend a lot of time on social media. Probably too much…maybe. Because chatting with my friends on Twitter and Google Plus is where I get most of my inspiration. My twitterfolk and google circles are full of fun, kinky people that love to flirt and tease and joke. Not a week goes by that a conversation doesn’t spark something in my imagination.
For example, this past week, a conversation got running on “friend-flashing,” that is, briefly exposing boobs or booty to friends rather than lovers; people talked a bit about good flashes they’d gotten, or given, and that sort of thing. And in the middle of that, the phrase flashed itself in my imagination: “Flash Club.”
And there’s the beginning. The seed. It immediately sprouted, giving me a setting, characters, and a situation ripe with fierce passions. I never would have thought of it just sitting at home staring at a blank computer screen. It was like a crystal dropping into a supersaturated solution; it catalyzed a reaction that made amazing things happen.
I was immediately full of energy. I was going to write this thing and write it big. At the first opportunity, I opened a new file and banged out a quick five hundred words. “Yes!” I thought to myself, “This is happening.”
And then ran into a wall.
What the hell happens next? Where am I going with this? The inspiration I had gotten was imperfect. It gave me a situation, but a situation isn’t a story. It’s the most important ingredient for a story, but those ingredients don’t really cook unless you apply some heat. There has to be some energy there, something that makes things happen, and I didn’t have that. It was tremendously frustrating.
This, for me, is what writer’s block looks like; it comes from not knowing where I’m going, not having a plan, not having an ending or even a middle in mind. I needed to find that before I could continue, and it was killing me.
So, I went back to my friends.
This time, though, it wasn’t the big hodgepodge of Twitter and Google Plus. I sent out a few IM’s to my fellow creatives, to see who had time for a little chat. A few frustrating hours later I was able to get on the phone with Lulu. If you had been listening to the conversation, you probably would have laughed; I said that I needed her for inspiration, but I was doing ninety-five percent of the talking. Sometimes, she could barely get a word in edgewise. I explained the idea, where I was with it, what I had written, and what was missing.
There were easy things I could have put into that missing slot. Someone who shouldn’t, falls in love. Someone who shouldn’t, discovers the secret. But those were too easy, too facile. They’d lead to a same-old-same-old story. What else was there? Most importantly, what could happen that was inside the situation? And in that conversation, I found it; the newcomer is the disruption. The newcomer plays their game better than anyone who’s already there.
And I was off.
That’s where things sit at the moment I’m writing this blogpost. The story remains far from fully formed, but I have found my way past that block, with Lulu’s help. I am quite certain that I have everything I need to produce a manuscript with beginning, middle, and end.
But just because I will have an ending doesn’t mean I’ll be done.
At that point, I’ll be recruiting a few more of my friends; beta readers that I trust to tell me just where my story sucks. And it will, because every newly-minted story sucks. But I’ll cover that in another essay; the important point here is that my friends figure strongly in that process as well.
And now for the News from Poughkeepsie, where I toss out an idea that may spark something for you:
Elves, as originally imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien, and imitated in epic fantasy ever since, are noble folk associated with magic and immortality. What happens if that immortality has a price? What happens if immortality is a mantle that prevents aging and disease, but also means the elf cannot procreate? And what if that mantle can be put aside, once, in order to regain fertility, but give up one’s life? What kind of society would that create, and what stories could be told about those people?
How to Fit it In (Ahem…)
Finding the time to write can be a tremendous challenge, even if you love doing it more than anything else in the world. The problem is, life happens—and if you’ve ever gone through one of those annoying periods where clusters of life bombs detonate your schedule, you know exactly what I mean. It becomes increasingly difficult to make time, or even think about making time. (Some people have the same problem with sex.)
Therefore, I suggest that first of all that you drop everything—I mean everything!—and take time to have an orgasm now for the literary benefit of all sentient beings. Get back into your body, now, in the deepest, most pleasurable way, and everything else will fall into perspective after that. Though I’m being a little flippant, I’m not kidding about the value of this. Restore your sense of pleasure and embodiment, and you’ll be able to reorder your priorities.
Secondly, there’s an old behavioral technique called “thought stopping.” It’s meant to keep people from spiraling into endless unproductive loops. The method has been somewhat discredited, so I’d like to suggest a variation called “task stopping.” When crises erupt in chaotic clusters, they often include meaningless, trivial, but somehow urgent and necessary tasks which get sucked into the vortex of this chaos with you. Often these are tasks foisted upon you by people eager to offload their own chaos. They take advantage of your confusion and stress, and before you know it, you’re picking up their dry cleaning for no good reason. Or copy editing their blog, while yours sits neglected in the computer.
Just stop. Say no. Don’t do these things. Don’t even wash your own dishes for a while if you haven’t been writing. Cultivate a benign and slightly fuzzy flakiness when it comes to trivial tasks—your own or other people’s. Become quaintly unreliable. It’s not exactly passive aggression, it’s passive resistance! Do this so you may focus on what is pleasurable, rewarding, and necessary. If you’re a writer, I am willing to bet that writing is, at least most of the time, one of the most pleasurable, rewarding, and necessary things you do.
I’ve found the world doesn’t end if you procrastinate about the small things. Eventually some of them may just dissolve entirely away. And when clusters of chaos pay you a call, you’ll have less stress about your to-do list as you deal with the larger issues—and your regular writing schedule.
Of course, roommates, lovers, and others close at hand may not understand why you are suddenly so unreliable or even sloppy. Just let them know you’re dedicating more of your life and time for your writing and then stay firm in your resolve.
Finally, say yes to writing every chance you get. Five minutes are better than zero. Half an hour is better still. Write in small chunks when you can’t carve out a longer stretch. Find ways to note and track writing ideas that come to you on the fly. Make creative use of your technological devices. Keep your writing momentum going. Make it a game if you have to. Keep it fun. And if you need another orgasm or two as a convincer, go for it!