Should your characters wear masks?

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

So here we are, in the last few weeks of 2020, with the Covid-19 epidemic still raging. I’ll admit to being surprised. An eternal optimist, I expected the disease would be under control within a few months of its appearance. Instead, the pandemic rages on, worse now in some places than ever. It has radically altered day-to-day life, to a greater or lesser extent, for almost everyone on the planet. Furthermore, even with the encouraging developments related to vaccines, this situation seems likely to continue well into 2021.

Of course, lockdowns and quarantines can actually benefit us writers, more or less forcing us to put butt in chair. I’ve been very productive this year, writing a new novel and starting on its sequel as well as producing several shorter pieces and re-publishing some older work whose rights have reverted. Still, I’d trade it all to go back to life without masks, hand santitizers, contact tracing apps and social distancing.

What about our characters, though? Should we put them through all the (pardon-my-French) crap we’re dealing with in our own lives? If you write contemporary erotica or erotica romance, this is a serious question. Speaking for myself, I never go out of the house these days without two masks – one to wear, and one to give to somebody else who might need one. Should my heroine act the same way? Will readers who have now become accustomed to Covid-induced constraints think our stories are strange or unrealistic – or even irresponsible – if we leave out those ugly and annoying details?

I know that some of the members of the Storytime list have already incorporated Covid-19 into their fiction. We’ve also seen a run of flashers that depend on the special circumstances of lockdowns, working at home, Internet-only socialization and so on. I’ve written one or two myself.

However, I’m not going to include the daily irritations and terrors of Covid-19 into my main body of work, at least not for the foreseeable future. Why remind our readers of all the unpleasantness they’re already facing on a daily basis? Romantic or erotic fiction, no matter how “real” we try to make it, will always include an element of fantasy. It’s hard to imagine something less sexy than a global pandemic. I’d like my readers to forget about that aspect of their lives, at least for a while.

There’s another reason I’m not keen to have my characters wearing masks and worrying about contagion. Books have a potentially long lifetime. Details that are current and immediate now may well seem dated in a couple of years. In 2025, ubiquitous face masks may be viewed as weird. (Indeed, I hope this is the case.) I’d like readers to be able to relate to my work half a decade from now.

My first novel was published in 1999. It is still in print. Originally set in Bangkok in the nineties, it has no cell phones or social media, no Google or YouTube. And yes, it does feel a bit strange to read it now. The last time I edited and republished the book (about ten years ago), I decided to anchor it firmly in time (the year 2000), so that readers would judge it according to that particular era. That process made me very aware of how technological and social aspects of a book can affect the reading experience.

Of course, each of us must make a personal decision on this issue. One might liken it to the question of whether to write condoms into our erotic tales. Some authors feel that this is unnecessary in a genre based on wish-fulfillment. Others believe it’s their job to provide models of safe sex.

Indeed, younger readers who have grown up in the era of AIDS may find my erotica, where condom use is pretty rare, makes them uncomfortable. Alas, AIDS changed sex forever, in a very negative direction.

I pray that the long term effects of Covid-19 will be less damaging to our sexual, social and emotional health. I’d like to believe that’s true – as I said, I am an optimist. In any case, I’m writing my stories for happier days, when the pandemic is a sobering memory rather than a daily challenge.

Pouring Your Soul Onto The Page

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.

People who know me know I write horror and dark fiction as well as erotica and erotic romance. I’m going to meet writer Jack Ketchum in mid-October at the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat. That’s the hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, where Stephen King stayed that inspired him to write The Shining. While Ketchum is a horror writer, what he had to say about digging down into dark recesses of your soul to get to the meat of your characters applies to any genre. This excerpt is from an essay he wrote for the book Horror 101: The Way Forward:

“Dig into the dark mean night of your soul.” Remember Peter Straub’s line in Ghost Story? What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Well, what its it?

What god-awful things have you fantasized doing but would never do?

What’s the worst thing you can imagine actually happening to you? To your loved ones?

What breaks your heart?

Use your damage. Write from the wound.

Go as deep as you dare. Stare into your own abyss and report back. No need to reveal everything – children have to learn how to lie a little, or else they grow up without protection, and so do we writer types. But you need ot embrace the damage as a co-conspirator, as uniquely you, as something you can use. Throw it out there into the light, to a place where it can do some good for others and maybe even for yourself.

You need to be honest. Really good fiction is always an attempt at total honesty. Be true to both the good and the
downright dangerous inside. See them as clearly as you can, use your empathy, search out your characters in your own heart and write them as though they were you. They are you, you know. Every one of them, if you do it right.When I dig down into my soul to get to the heart of my characters, I feel exposed and vulnerable. There have been a few stories I’ve written I decided against publishing because they feel too close. Too personal. Some of the stories I have published make me feel over-exposed. Although a publisher liked the story enough to publish and sell it, I don’t necessarily feel comfortable letting people read it because I feel like the reader will get a glimpse of me I’d rather keep private. My short story Longing in Coming Together: Among The Stars and my novel Don’t Call Me Baby are excellent examples of my picking at a festering wound in my soul I won’t let heal, and I allow everyone on earth to read about it.

Longing is about my fear of growing old and forgetting who I am. Or my husband losing his faculties and losing his memory of me. The story is about a woman whose husband suffers from dementia and he can’t remember who she is. I based the husband on my husband and on a friend who suffers from dementia. I watched this friend devolve from a vibrant and genius-level intelligent human being to a shell of his former self. I don’t like to think about it anymore, but I needed to express my profound distress at watching what had happened to him. Likewise, I am over 50 and my husband is over 60. Aging is very much in the forefront of my mind, and I am terrified of losing the sense of who I am and who he is. I know it’s a normal rite of passage for someone my age, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Don’t Call Me Baby is semi-autobiographical. I deal head-on with two affairs with married men I had when I was in college. What possessed me to do something as self-hating and stupid as that? The book was in part about my fear of losing my identity to another man’s wishes and demands. I watched some of my girlfriends turn from independent and interesting women to creatures who lived to please their boyfriends and fiancés. I didn’t want to turn into a Stepford wife. I was afraid that to fall in love meant having to turn my will completely over to a man, and I didn’t want to do that. So I chose men who were not only unavailable, but who also couldn’t complain when I chose to date multiple men at once. I couldn’t get too close to them, and they couldn’t get too close to me. I’m very much aware of how selfish this all sounds. Catherine Stone, my heroine in the book, is also very selfish as well as a bit pig-headed. She does meet a man who doesn’t interfere with her freedom, and how she learns to trust him is an important part of the book. At that time in my life, I had not yet met that man, and I wouldn’t meet him for several decades.

I’ve noticed the common thread between both stories – my fear of losing the sense of myself. Growing old, losing my sense of myself, ending up alone surrounded by my dozens of cats, and becoming homeless are four of my greatest fears. I’ve looked into them in some of my stories, especially the horror stories.

What are you afraid of? What fears drive you throughout your life? How would you answer Jack Ketchum’s questions? What god-awful things have you fantasized doing but would never do? What is the worst thing you can imagine happening to you? To your loved ones? Use the raw emotions behind the answers to bring your characters to life. Like Ketchum said, you don’t need to reveal everything in your writing. However, you need to know that side of your character to make that person human.

Escapism is a wonderful thing to enjoy, especially in erotica and erotic romance. Every woman who enjoys a good sexy story likes being swept off her feet and taken to a fantasy world. I’ve written escapist fantasies as well. These stories are driven by some of my fears but they aren’t gut-wrenching.  My two erotic fairy tales Trouble In Thigh High Boots (Puss In Boots) and Climbing Her Tower (Rapunzel) as well as my short lesbian erotic romance Like A Breath Of Ocean Blue and my erotic fantasy A Dance Of Ocean Magic fall into this category. The main characters in those stories have their weaknesses and faults, but the stories have an otherworldly and magical quality to them that helps the reader escape her mundane, daily concerns. She can get lost in another fun world for a few hours.

When it comes to raw and uncomfortable emotion, I prefer the realistic approach, even if the story is fantasy or science fiction. If I wonder if the reader will disapprove of me or not like me, I know I’m on the right track. I know the reader may criticize my character’s choices, but those choices led my character down the path toward her maturation. Sometimes that maturation is found through trusting a partner in a vulnerable sex act. At few other times are we more vulnerable than when we are spread out, naked and exposed, before someone we care about. How will your partner treat you? Will you be cared for or abused? It’s all a matter of trust.

My story Longing appears in Coming Together: Among The Stars.
Amazon – US
Amazon – UK

Don’t Call Me Baby
Amazon – US

Trouble In Thigh High Boots
Amazon – US

Climbing Her Tower
Amazon – US

My story Like A Breath of Ocean Blue appears in Best Lesbian Romance Of The Year, Vol. 1, published by Cleis Press.
Amazon – US
Amazon – UK

A Dance Of Ocean Magic will soon appear in the erotic anthology Forbidden Fruit, to be published by Sweetmeats Press.

The Romance of the One Night Stand

By Lisabet Sarai

After a solid week of roses and candy,
hearts and flowers, I’m just starting to recover from Valentine’s
Day. When you write erotic romance as I do, you are more or less
required to participate in the romantic frenzy. Over the past seven
days I was involved in two different Valentine’s blog hops
simultaneously. Every email I sent out to readers, every promotional
message or invitation to my blog ended with the obligatory “Have a
Happy Valentine’s Day”. All my publishers had contests dedicated
to love. Every day I received notices of Valentine’s release parties,
Valentine’s chats, Valentine’s treasure hunts, special Valentine’s
prices, et cetera. I spent more than an hour yesterday
collating entries to my own giveaways and sending out notifications
and prizes.

I’m exhausted. Not that I have anything
against Cupid’s Day, mind you. I enjoy a candle light dinner, a glass
of wine, and the intimate aftermath as much as anyone. It’s just that
my notions about romance aren’t exactly conventional. For example, in
contrast to the Happily Ever After crowd, I tend to find one night
stands deeply romantic.

I’m not talking about Erica Jong’s
zipless fuck here, a chance conjunction of bodies with physical
pleasure, and perhaps the shattering of conventions, as its primary
goal. I’m talking about the sense of erotic connection I’ve sometimes
experienced in the arms of a stranger. The one night stands that live
in my memory had a sense of rightness that amplified every sensation.
Two individuals blundering through life, we collided by chance, and
for a brief, beautiful time, we became one creature. Bound by lust,
and perhaps loneliness, together we lit up the night.

Traditional romance celebrates the
concept of soul mates. Some of the lovers who shared my bed just once
seemed to know me so well, I was almost ready to believe in that sort
of destiny. At the same time, bittersweet regret always lingered in
the background, the specter of inevitable parting. The shadow of
pending farewell threw the immediate pleasure and joy into sharp

For me, one night stands are erotic
exactly because they don’t last forever. The transience heightens the
intensity. Rationally, I understand that the magical feeling of
connection may be an illusion. Relationships based on chemistry alone
rarely survive. What if I’m not deluding myself, though? What if this
man really was “the one”? How deliciously tragic to know
that we’ll go our separate ways! And how sweet to imagine an
alternate, impossible future, a future of endless nights, equally
incandescent. The fantasy thrills me exactly because I know it will
never be fulfilled.

No wonder I have such trouble adjusting
to the tropes of romance .

I’ve tried to capture the eroticism and
transcendence of one night stands in some of my short stories (though
reviewing my back list, I’m somewhat disappointed to realize how
few). Perhaps the purest expression can be found in “Shades of
Red”, available in my collection Spank Me Again, Stranger. A
young woman, fascinated by the red light district in Amsterdam, rents
a window for herself. A stranger engages her services, seeking the
discipline her costume seems to promise, and she discovers that
indeed she does have a talent for dominance. The bond they share as
she beats him is not at all what she expected.


He’s shy and grateful afterward. I sit
in the armchair, watching him as he dresses. He’s definitely a
handsome man. When he pulls his wallet from his pocket and tries to
give me a hundred euros, I shake my head.

“Thirty. That’s what we agreed.”

“But you gave me so much – just
what I needed.”

“Never mind. Business is


“I said no. Are you going to start
disobeying me?”

He smiles, puts most of the money away,
and presses a ten and a twenty into my hand. “Thank you. Thank
you so much.” For a moment I think he’s going to kiss me. I wish
that he would. But that moment passes. He reaches for the door,
squeezes past me in the crowded room and is gone, into the night.

I lean back in my hired chair staring
at the bills in my hand. I’m sweaty. My hair has come loose from the
clip and is tangled down my back. My arms ache.

When I unlace my corset, my breasts
tumble out, the nipples as hard and sensitive as ever. I unsnap the
leather panties, drenched and stained from my juices. They make a
sticky noise as I pull them away from my pussy. The ripe smell of
cunt rises, mingling with the bitter scent of semen. I reach for the
vibrator, conveniently to hand in the tiny room. The cool stainless
steel cylinder slides deliciously into my swollen cleft. I flip the
switch to high and writhe helplessly as the vibrations trigger one
ragged, ecstatic climax after another.

Epiphanies? Revelations? I don’t think
he’ll forget this night. As for me, I know that the memory of his
red-streaked buttocks and tear-stained face, my power and his
surrender, will fuel intense orgasms long into the future.

I still feel high as I lock my door
behind me and step into the street. I’m naked under my coat. Every
sensation is frighteningly acute. A random breeze plays in my damp,
bare sex. The smell of spilled beer mingles with the tang of autumn

The alleys are still crowded. I hear
snatches of conversation in a dozen languages, riffs of jazz and rock
and roll. I sense the beat of the men’s hearts as they congregate
around some red-lit rectangle of glass.

A lithe male figure in a turtleneck
brushes past me and my breath catches in my throat. Images flood my
mind, images of pale, pliant flesh, offering itself to me.

It occurs to me, as I make my way back
to my five star hotel and my ordinary life, that perhaps I am the one
who was marked this night.


I defy you to tell me that’s
not romantic.

Sex and Power, Night and Day

Dreams and fantasies—we treat them as if they’re night and day. Night dreams speak to us in inscrutable codes that require the interpretation of Sigmund Freud or a book on dream symbols. On the other hand, our daydreams, sexual fantasies included, are generally read as transparent, a simple expression of will and desire. If you fantasize about being tied up by a billionaire, your husband had better get nervous the next time Bill Gates happens to drop in on your monthly book club meeting.

This literal view is often applied to erotica, sexual fantasy’s bookish sister, as well. Erotica writers (who we all know don leather corsets and thigh-high stockings every morning whatever their sex) write stories about their own experiences. Erotica readers in turn are highly disposed to act out these stories at home. I’ve been told by two different people that all the farm supply stores in Iowa sold out of rope soon after 50 Shades of Grey soared to fame. I suspect it’s an urban legend, but it proves my point. Our society is rather blinkered and literal-minded when it comes to sex.

This might be one reason why some people are hesitant to write erotica or openly share their fantasies. A woman who gets turned on by an aggressive lover obviously wants to be raped in real life and is ambivalent about sexual equality in society at large. If a man likes dominatrix stories, surely the only thing stopping him from signing on with an official domme is the cost. I haven’t yet seen a quick-n-easy explanation for the M/M boom of fiction by women for women (hmm, good old-fashioned penis envy times two?), but maybe that proves my point, too.

By simplifying sexual fantasy in this way, it may seem we succeed in transforming our uncontrollable, mysterious imaginations into something safe and explicable, while reminding us that unbridled sexual urges are weird, transgressive, and often illegal. In any case, it keeps people quieter about the steamy dramas in their heads.

Except erotica writers.

The apparent danger of a more complex, nuanced view of sexual desire is yet one more reason why sexually explicit writing must be denigrated as filth and trash. However, if you read an erotic story (which includes daydreams and fantasies) with a careful eye, I’m sure you’ll find it as rich and elusive and worthy of analysis as any literary short story. Freud already showed that can be done. But the recent attention to (and many would say misunderstanding of) BDSM got me thinking about how power infiltrates this process of reading and writing erotica at every level, even without rushing out to buy up the rope supply at your local feed store.

If you think about it, sex and power have something very important in common. From childhood on, we’re forbidden to discuss either openly. I hardly need elaborate on the fact that sexual information is deemed harmful to minors, but our society’s power structure is equally off limits. As children we’re not supposed to question the authority of our parents, teachers or other adults. Those who do are punished, if not physically as in the past, then by diagnosis of a behavioral problem and medication. And besides, we live in a democracy where everybody is equal, and if anyone is losing the race up the ladder, it’s their own lazy fault, so what’s to critique?

Nevertheless, in the media and our lives at school, home and church, we constantly witness the workings of both sexual feelings and power play, but we can’t acknowledge them honestly. At best, they’re hidden behind safe cliche. Thus, I would argue, these two forbidden elements of human interaction are forced below the surface, into the darkness of night, if you will, and can become suggestively entwined in our imaginations. Erotic stories break one taboo. Erotic power play stories battle two—which is why they may be so compelling.

Equally appealing, for me anyway, is the true pleasure of considering the possible “meanings” of a sexual fantasy and its power dynamics. There are no right answers in this exercise, of course. Rather the more possibilities you can come up, the better.

Take the ever-popular femsub story. The simple reading is that women naturally liked to be dominated by the superior male, and these fantasies are an honest expression of a timeless female desire. I’m a feminist, but to be fair, maybe there’s something to this (especially if you replace “female” with “human”). But take a closer look at someone else’s story or your own, and what else could be going on? Wow, the subordinate partner seems to possess power—less obvious but critical to the game. Because the dominating partner—whether boss or billionaire, duke or doctor—desires the sub and aims to know and please her.

But why stop there? I’m reminded of the controversial scene in Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina where Bone transforms her step-father’s sexual abuse into masturbatory fantasies. Could femsub fantasies be a way to work through the subordination and repression women still face today? If the authority figure is ordering us to be sexual, then we can be obedient good girls by complying while also enjoying sensual pleasure. Could it be that a cool, distant dom also gives us permission to get off without the prescribed romantic relationship making us honest women?

For men, I’ve noticed that delayed ejaculation is a common power play device in erotic stories. What might be going on here? Might it recreate a man’s experience of sexual scarcity and helplessness, his satisfaction fully subject to the only important question on earth—will (s)he or won’t (s)he? Does it play with the reality that everyone, men included, are punished and ridiculed for sexual feelings outside of a very narrow scenario, and god knows exhorted to wait, wait, wait? Yet, doesn’t it also show a very macho self-control over a powerful desire? And the payoff is that we all know when the tension has been building for a long time, the release is all the more powerful.

Of course every fantasy and every story will have its own unique elements—my goal is not to endorse another form of simplification. Rather, I’d like to encourage erotica readers to enjoy power’s slippery lubricant along with the other more visible and tactile varieties. To me erotic stories are much more than a masturbation aid. They are windows to our unspeakable desires within and our complex relationship with our culture’s sexual values and myths without. The mystery of night and the intensity of day all mixed up together.

So bring on the billionare and let the fun begin.

Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman (recently released as an ebook) and a new collection of short
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at

Another Revolution

By Lisabet Sarai

Most people have crappy sex lives.

All right, I will admit that is an
overstatement, intended to get your attention. Furthermore, I suspect
it is less true for the readers of the ERWA blog than for the
population in general. However, the claim is not too far from the
truth. The Durex Sexual Well-being Survey for 2007-2008 found that of
nearly 19,000 sexually active adults from 26 countries, only 44%
reported that they were fully satisfied with their sex lives. 38% of
women surveyed experienced orgasm “only sometimes”, “rarely”
or “never”. Although more than 60% of all respondents reported
having sex at least weekly, the average time for foreplay plus
intercourse was less than 20 minutes. Almost half of the respondents
said they would like to engage in some sort of sexual activity other
than their current practices (though the reported interest in
specific activities such as oral sex, anal sex or BDSM tends to be
around 10% per practice – supporting the old adage about different

The statistics above tend to confirm
what I’ve heard over the years from friends and lovers. Men feel as
though they never get the sex they need. They’re amazed and delighted
when they meet a woman who’s sexually relaxed, assertive and
experimental (like me). Women report that men are selfish or
incompetent lovers who leave them feeling frustrated and used.

Personally I’ve been extremely
fortunate. Through a combination of luck and courage, I’ve had a
wonderful sex life – exciting, diverse and enlightening. I’ve been
blessed with intelligent, sensitive, adventurous partners who weren’t
hung up on the virgin/whore dichotomy, who respected me even when I
shared – or acted on – the filthiest of my desires. I’ve tried
everything on the Durex list of “other” activities, and quite a
lot of other items not on their menu.

On the flip side, I’ve had very few
really bad sexual experiences. Of course I’ve had ho-hum sex, and
I’ve had my heart broken once or twice, but I’ve never been raped or
abused. On the occasions when I’ve ended up with a bastard in my bed,
I’ve known enough to walk away.

For me, sex has been a path not only to
pleasure but also to self-knowledge. Some of my liaisons, of course,
were no more than hot and heavy romps with few metaphysical
implications. What I remember, though, are the encounters that
changed me – experiences of communion, insights into who I was and
what I really wanted, glimpses of spirit peeking through the veil of
flesh. As C. Sanchez-Garcia wrote a few days ago, sex is more than
just instinct or entertainment. The urge to couple and connect is a
fundamental aspect of our humanity.

Because of my personal history, I tend
write erotica that focuses on good sex – joyful, fulfilling,
empowering, and transformative sex. The underlying message in much of
my work is simply that sex can be good for you – both for your body
and for your soul. I want my readers to know and believe that the
sort of experiences I describe are not just some fantasy ideal. They
too can enjoy their sexuality, not just vicariously by reading my
stories, but by being willing to reach out and grab some of that
goodness for themselves.

Earlier this month, Remittance Girl
suggested that both porn and romance are in some sense damaging to
their consumers because they “ultimately leave people constantly
yearning for a reality that cannot exist”. Although I appreciate
her point (as well as its elegant expression), sexual and emotional
happy endings do in fact exist in the real world – not
forever after, of course, but for longer than the brief moment of

My erotica frequently explores this
territory of sexual fulfillment. It’s a far more complex landscape
than one might imagine. Perhaps the critical difference between my
work and the more stereotyped instantiations of either porn or
romance is that satisfaction is never guaranteed. It is, however,
possible. I fervently want to convey that truth.

Remittance Girl notes that refusing to
definitively choose either side of the Apollonian/Dionysian dialectic
is a revolutionary act. I agree. One should not compromise truth for

On the other hand, I personally think
that writing about good sex that ends well is also a revolutionary
act. Many forces in society broadcast the message that if you have
sex, you’ll suffer later, partly because giving in to lust can in
fact undermine the stability that is the “civilized” ideal. A
number of past posts on this blog have commented that for a book to
be categorized as “literature”, sex must be portrayed in a
negative light. Those who indulge in carnality must be punished, by
misfortune or ostracism.

Well, guess what? In the real world, it
doesn’t necessarily work that way. My own life demonstrates that
fact. Considering the way I behaved in my twenties and thirties, I
should be totally miserable – damned, ruined, ravaged by disease,
saddled with feeble illegitimate children, scorned by society.
Instead, I’m solvent, healthy, childless by choice, moderately
productive, a respected member of my community, and in a loving
relationship. Oh, and I’m still close friends with a number of my
former lovers. My mother told me I was destined for hell, and perhaps
she was right, but in the meantime, I have no complaints.

I do write darker erotica sometimes.
Some encounters are destined for tragedy. A number of my stories
conclude with the deaths of the protagonists. A woman is burned at
the stake as a witch. Star-crossed lovers commit suicide rather than
be parted. A jaded sex addict is consumed by an exquisite tentacled
monster. I have played in the interstices between Eros and Thanatos.
Even in those tales, though, there’s some sense of transcendence. On
the verge of death, there’s a weird joy that comes from surrender and
acceptance – a kind of afterglow. I don’t think any of my tales are
likely to leave you feeling depressed.

I enjoy thinking about sex, writing
about sex, dreaming about sex. I suspect this shows in my work.

If the people who read my stories come
to believe that sexual happiness is possible, I’m delighted. If they
want more for themselves – all the better. Maybe that will stir
them to try something new, to move past their fears, to be more
honest with their partners.

That would be the sort of revolution
I’d be proud to support.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


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