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'07 Authors Insider Tips

by Louisa Burton
Formatting Your Manuscript
Scams / Choosing an Agent
Pitching Your Novel...
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Hard Business
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Where Ideas Come From

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Plotting Erotic Fiction
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Climactic Moments: First Draft
Critique Groups
Revising Your Erotic Story
Finding the Perfect Markets...
Just Submit Already
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Verb Tense Confusion
Coming Up with Story Ideas
Attend a Writers’ Conference
The Fundamentals of POV
Should I Sign That?
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The Perfect Fuck
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The Kingmaker
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The Price of Beauty
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All Worked Up About Hate
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Pondering Porn
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Good Sex: A Physics Lesson
Meet Frankenstein
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Online Threesome Porn

The Cream of ERWA
by Cervo

When I was twenty, I developed an obsession with Norman Mailer and read his various brooding compositions with the religious fervor that young men hold for older drunks. This went on for six months of fanaticism through volume after volume until I came to Advertisements for Myself. I got halfway through the book and said, "Wait a minute, this IS an Norman Mailer's fucking ad for himself, and he isn't that interesting." So I put the book down and never read Mailer again.

I do not propose to advertise myself as one of the authors in Cream: The Best of the Erotica Readers & Writers Association though I am one, nor do I suggest that on some curiously gruesome level I am the equivalent of Norman Mailer. Frankly I think my sentence structure is better ... Cream, however, is so special in its origins, its conception, and its completion that I cannot resist saying something about it. That is quite apart from my own desultory contribution about a kinky amputee dwarf. ["An Evening at Katzenspieler's"] Who would have figured me for writing about a kinky amputee dwarf injured for life in a tragic golfing accident?

In the 50s we had Nobakov's Lolita and in the 1960s the world was treated to Henry Miller in wider publication. We consumed their work dutifully like swallowing a sort of pill. The same may be said of Lawrence Durrell but with less trouble about the pill. The French published the Marquis de Sade as a part of the changing new Marxist face of class-driven European culture. Americans preferred to claim we have no class structure.

However, Americans felt at home with Grace Metalious' Peyton Place. To my mind—as a bourgeois adolescent living in the strictures of a Kansas City suburb—it was actually a great deal more erotic complete with clandestine pregnancies and secretly administered enemas. Her novel invited a fair amount of nose-holding ridicule and lead to three very bad movies and a worse TV series. It was in fact a fairly strong portrait of how Americans thought about and understood sex. It also revealed a lot about our personal and cultural terror of it. It made the erotic impulse central to the business of being human in a culture that did not as yet want to know much about its own erogenous anatomy. Essentially that struggle has continued between those who wish to acknowledge their hormones and those who want to think they have them under control.

Cream is a landmark in a literary exploration that dates back to the Evergreen Press and the aboveground publication of The life and Loves of Frank Harris, and The Pearl. They appeared in the seventies as the literary confessional and inside track on sex. They were followed by the wider publication of Anais Nin, whose eroticism was less aw-schucks-jovial and whose sensual connection to the mystery of the erotic was a great deal more profound. In my mind, it was her writing that opened the door to the centrality of eroticism in literature.. All of these works were important and their publication set the stage if not for the acceptance of erotica as a legitimate part of literature, at least for debating its worth on that basis. Two forces, feminist criticism and the internet forced open the discussion into the main arena of literary and critical discourse.

As Adrienne Benedicks, the creator of ERWA, indicates in her afterward to Cream, when she sallied forth on the World Wide Web for a little raunch and tickle, what she found was the knee-jerk auto sex of porn as most of us once knew it. It was a squealing, sweaty, somewhat athleticised form of narcissistic recreation for the stunted imagination. I call it auto porn. I have listened for years to people saying that such writing is "male-centered." I have nodded with the patient grin I reserve for bigots and idiots.

However , while I don't bother to say it often, I don't think auto porn (you supply the imagination) is inherently male at all. It was what publishers chose to publish because it was how they imagined the readership. The presumption then and now is that men are basicially adolescent troglodytes. It was supposed to be a sure thing. It was not what anyone, men included, wanted to read if there had been something better. The proof of that is the response in the 70s by both men and women to new and more subtle ways of looking at sex in print. Print media are a double edged sword, in that they endure better than the web, but their very nature also can confine.

The web blasted off the lid that had been nailed down with the paper nails of print matter. If you could reach an audience without the burdensome expense of manufacture and distribution, then more people could write and reach more people who wanted to read. Behold ERA (later ERWA) sprang full-blown from the head of Adrienne Benedicks. Governments are now trying to nail that lid back on in order to stifle discourse on many levels. We'll see if they succeed.

What is true of Cream though is that people of unusual talents—and I mean Adrienne and Lisabet Sarai, the editor—found a way to coalesce a vision of the erotic on ERWA so that while all the fiction in Cream is erotica, it is not limited to the subject of sex. That is what truly makes it unique. As a man, I believe that came about because the leadership here was taken up by women. When gender is allowed its full resonance, then the whole spectrum of what it is to be human is available to us as writers and as critics. Eventually, then, also to readers.

We have a responsibility to think about that because it is that broad vision of gender that gets Cream out of the box by a considerable distance beyond the many other erotic anthologies that are now available in print and on line. It certainly expands beyond the grip of orthodox radical feminism. These elements are what make ERWA unique and Cream is the product of that fecundity. Credit for the book belongs to Lisabet. ERWA was created both practically and intellectually by Adrienne. There have been many other contributors to the success of the total endeavor, but these two women are the well-spring and inspiration for Cream. We should honor them.

This brief history is by way of illustrating that Cream was not simply a fluke nor a simple exercise in assembling some works to be bound into a single volume. For example there is a whole section of the book devoted to cross-cultural sex. At the time it came up, I found the notion very strange in that sex is , well, sex. I have had a bit of cross cultural sex in my day, and it did not seem that it changed very much regardless of the accent you used in saying, "Not there. To the left" or "go on, deeper."

How that could be important in fiction became clear to me when I read Lisabet's own story in that section. I could see that culture shapes the way in which we physically engage with each other and what touch means across cultural boundaries. The useful mainstay of modern criticism is really that anything can be compared to anything else and the sum will be greater than the parts. As technical advice, that made sense, but when feminism reshaped the entire landscape of criticism, it made the skill of making apt comparisons essential. So as much as Lisabet's is a very hot story, it is also an examination of the meaning of culture and cultural disparity.

What has also emerged from this book is the discovery that far from being an encouragement for dismal hackery, eroticism is a positive force for creative literary style. That is true because at its best, erotica demands of the authors that they search themselves at their deepest and most guarded levels for ways to vividly present sensation and experience. They must do so precisely without indulging in feckless shortcut references to sex like auto porn for one simple reason. Hackery kills the zing. It takes the eros out of the erotica.

Cream has nothing to do with the endless reorganization of form that littered the art world in the 20th century. Being unusual becomes a vacant posture if it is an end in itself, viz. minimalism in visual art. Finally, a fluorescent light stuck on the wall is a fluorescent light stuck on the wall no matter how long you are able to stay awake talking about its stark profundity. Cream is full of all sorts of stylistic inventions which are necessary to tackle the problem of truthfully presenting sex in the larger context of truth in our lives. On the other hand, no one gets extra points just for having gone out of the usual way.

I quote here the opening paragraph of Teresa Wymore's "My Dark and Empty Sky" which reads:

In the lulling hours of the late afternoon, when my sons are with their tutor and my husband is at his office, I usually take tea and sit with my daughter watching the birds along the lake shore, but not today. Today, my daughter is dancing with other well-groomed girls at the Haverton Society, and a woman lies naked in my bed.

Three properties of this paragraph lead back directly to its erotic source. First, the cadence of the sentences is informed by the sensual motion of the water and the beat of the air that are key to the image. Second, it the entire paragraph uses alliteration and assonance to create a sense of tactile anticipation. Third, all the elements of style lead with a delicate, but inevitable, rush to the concluding clause, "and a woman lies naked in my bed." I contend that is the direct product of the erotic nature of the piece. It is neither a conceit nor a contrivance, but leads directly from the nature and spirit of the text. Ms. Wymore is a gifted and facile stylist, but her subject facilitates that.

That brings me to last of my thoughts. What Cream really embraces is that sexuality and eroticism is a constant presence in human life that shapes our perception, judgment and actions as much or more than any other part of our nature. The book does NOT treat it as some sort of peripheral recreation that we do in our spare time. Nor does it present sex as an ineluctable mystery to be divined only by therapists like Dr. Phil, and other vampires. That is true if only for the reason that such a very wide range of sexual tastes, flavors, activities and sensibilities are represented within its covers. Like the canon of Shakespeare, the book essentially argues, "Sex? Go figure?"

Nonetheless, nothing as consuming of the human consciousness as the erotic could possibly be regarded as peripheral given all its splendid forms, appetites and pleasures.. As such then, the erotic deserves as much or more attention from artists, critics and the public as any other aspect of ourselves. To deny it is to do so at our own peril, and these are perilous times. What is more, the erotic is perhaps the feature of our species that is most suited to examination through art both as inspiration and self-discovery. It can be discussed in clinical or historical ways, but to do so is to speak of it at an echoing distance from the experience of the erotic itself. The signal will be blurred; the meaning obscured.

Aristotle contended that all nature is imbued with rhythm, a thought that certainly applies to sex. He held that poetry is endowed with meter which is the art of it. When we flirt, we invoke the others' rhythmic imagination. We wish them to share a dance, a story, a metric pattern of delight in the form of sensual, tactile attention. Thus it seems to me that each of us is the author of our erotic lives. Cream then represents some of the cream that has risen in tasty lushness to the surface of ERWA.

Nor is Cream an endstop exercise. Tonight I am going to hear D. L. King, an active ERWA writer, read segments of her newly published novel The Marrying Kind at Happy Ending a chic counterculture night spot that gets written up in the New Yorker and the Times. Happy Ending is perhaps the hippest place to do such a thing in the hippest city in the world, NYC. None of us as writers owe our artistic lives to ERWA. We most certainly owe it an extraordinary debt of gratitude for providing such a thoughtful and open place to work and strengthen ourselves. Without ERWA many of us would never have found the voices we now have.

To Adrienne and all the rest, deeper thanks than you may fully understand.

March 2007

Cream: The Best of the Erotica Readers & Writers Association

(Thunder's Mouth Press; December 2006; ISBN: 1560259256)
Available at: / Amazon UK / Amazon CA

© 2007 Cervo. All rights reserved. 

About the Author: Cervo (pronounced "Chairvo" as it's Italian) is fifty-something and fairly fit. He lives in a very old, slightly-seedy brownstone neighborhood in New York City surrounded by three dogs, two cats, and three gargoyles. There are also countless birds and squirrels among the figs, apples and mulberries in his garden.
WebBio:  Cervo

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