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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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erotica

So, when I write in a genre I’m not familiar with……

…….I make a point of reading as much related material as I can get my hands on. As a way to understand the genre I’m tackling, there’s  no better way to get familiar with it than reading as many books and authors as possible. Whether it’s a thriller or erotica or a mystery, each and every genre has its own set of rules to go by. And the more you read and write and follow those rules, the better you get at understanding how to turn them on their head and create something else altogether.

When I was working on my thriller screenplay, I read a lot of true crime and criminology books, as well as thrillers that were similar in nature to what I wanted to write. Thrillers, by and large, are essentially mysteries, but with bigger settings and higher stakes. In some ways, I think I succeeded, and in others, I failed. Because of the vision I’d had originally, I over-complicated certain aspects of setting and character and ended up stretching the credibility of the reality I was trying to establish. With the passage of time, I’ve been able to work out how to correct some errors and strengthen what’s already there.

With my erotic speakeasy story, I’ve read a number of short stories and novels, paying close attention to and breaking down in analytical terms particular scenes. While the nature of these stories is to be playful and sexy and arousing, my interest in reading them was to analyze how these scenes inspired (or didn’t inspire) arousal. It’s word choice, certainly, and how those words are used matters. The right words not only conjure up setting and time, they also have the added duty of creating an emotional connection between you and the characters. If you don’t feel the desire that the characters are feeling, then words were either poorly chosen or poorly placed.

My rule of thumb in knowing if I’ve created the desired effect is how I feel when I’m writing any particular scene. If the scene requires arousal and flirtatious behavior, I’ll know if I’m on the right track by how I respond to it. If the scene requires uneasiness or fear, my heart rate will be affected in a far different manner. And the only way to truly know if I’ve been successful in creating the mood I wanted is how someone else reacts to it.

So far, so good.

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Excerpt: Mum’s the Word

Long Beach, CA.
Fall. 1926.

I stood just inside the main door, my heart thudding heavily against my ribs as I surveyed the lobby. Outside, the faint sounds of the crowds enjoying the carnival-like amusements of the Pike wafted in just below my range of hearing, cutting out when the main door going to the street shut behind me with a firm thud. I jumped, gasping, nervous, then resumed examining my surroundings more closely.

The lobby was shabby and the building itself had been without heat for months. I stared at the row of phone booths on the far side, searching for and finding the last one. There, I would pick up the receiver and speak into it. I wouldn’t need to drop in a coin or dial for the Operator. The person on the other end would know who I was, why I was here.

My name is Mildred Falls, Millie for short, and I had quite literally stumbled onto this place and my new job. Nervous, I swallowed, took a deep breath, then crossed the lobby’s distance and found myself ensconced in the tiny booth. I picked up the receiver, staring at the rotary dial, shivering. My nipples prickled against the satin dress I wore, its fringed hem falling just below my knees under my long coat.

I wore no brassiere, no corset and the barest of underthings. According to my new ‘employer’, such items were not part of the dress code; indeed, it was intimated quite the opposite. Despite the necessity, despite my skills as a typist, I resented that the only work I could pick up was here, in a speakeasy, as a kind of…..of…..hostess. I thought briefly of my younger siblings, at home with a full meal for a change, and shrugged. It was what it was and I either accepted it or sought other employment.

I resisted the urge to adjust my clothing – it would only increase the sensation and I was already highly aware of how the fabric felt against my skin. I was not used to being so acutely sensitive to what I wore. The garters I had on were too small and dug into my hips and thighs, but they did what they were supposed to do – hold up my very poor stockings. I was grateful that the few holes they did have were hidden by my shoes.

It’s scandalous, I thought, grumbling under my breath, the way girls dress these days.

I sighed. At twenty-nine, I wasn’t much older than those girls, who probably would have seized any chance to take the job I needed and now held. Given the loss of my job in a steno-pool the month before, I didn’t see as how I had much choice in the matter.  I had three younger siblings needed to be supported in some way and, given the uncertain state of the economy, a job was a job.

I could not afford to be choosy.

prohibition

So, you’d think writing erotica would be easy……..

………and, for some, I suppose it is. The set up is simple, the situation clear and the end result is fairly obvious. Also, you could just throw a couple of hot babes and some dinosaurs together and, wow, red-hot Flintstones sex in Bedrock.

The reality, for me, anyway, is a little different. While having far too much fun with the, um, you know, research, I did find myself struggling a little with the actual writing of my erotic tale. Since this is a new genre for me as a writer, I expected it to be a challenge in many ways. Not necessarily with background or snippets of dialogue or even character, mind, but working to describe the sensuality of the setting and what transpires between the two primary characters as they engage in a verbal dance that will eventually lead to the, ah, physical culmination.

I’ve been aware from the beginning that I was very much inside my head, intellectualizing and falling back on logic and structure and continuity instead of leading with my heart, embracing the feeling of what I wanted to do. This was reflected in the Narrator’s voice – she sounded quite prim and proper and kinda boring, if you ask me. Bland, too.

I worried about this, because, as my first venture into this genre, the worst kind of sex is boring sex, even if it’s in the written form (and I’ve read my share – if I have to put the book down during a sex scene in order to figure out the how, the why and the number of partners involved in a diagram, then it’s poor writing). I want to put my best effort out there in any kind of story, thus my research not just about time and place, but in how other writers handled the language of sensuality and intimacy.

Putting that kind of pressure on myself wasn’t helping, as you can imagine. Performance anxiety, I suppose one could call it. I’m not giving up on it – I gave myself a specific challenge and I plan to see it through. But when I went to put what I’d learned into practice, I came up against a wall. Like a stubborn horse, I balked at using certain words, wanted to shade things so that the outcome wasn’t obvious, like it was a mystery or thriller or something.

I have to laugh at myself for that last one – erotica isn’t like a mystery, where red herrings abound, only to reveal whodunnit in the end. Erotica is an intimate journey between two people where the outcome isn’t in question, only the when. (Porn is altogether different – in my opinion, erotica is about intimacy and connecting, porn is about the fuck).

So I push on and do what I normally do – get the bare bones of it out on paper and change what doesn’t work. I’m getting to know the characters as I go along and I’m finding that the Narrator is a bit feisty. I recently wrote a full-blown scene where she blithely issues a challenge to her male lead, which he proceeds to take her up on while in a public place. And this led to back-tracking and fleshing out bits earlier on, so that when I finally am able to place this particular scene into the main body of the story, it’s an ante that’s been upped.

And that’s when I realized what’s actually going on here – I’m circling into the project, not from the inside out, but from the outside in. I’m navigating this story in a way that allows for discovery and more than a little fun and many occasions to laugh at myself.

So maybe writing erotica isn’t so different than writing a mystery, after all. All writing is about discovery and human nature, either of the self or of the outer world, isn’t it?

So, I’m having a lot of fun………

…….with this little project I’d started recently. I’d been contemplating writing in a genre that was outside of my comfort zone for a long while and now it’s finally begun.

I have settled on a time period (the Roaring Twenties) and specific settings (speakeasies, bootlegging), as well as location (Long Beach, CA) and music (Ragtime and Jazz). I’m reading some history about the period, listening to music of the era and poring over photographs, thanks to Google Images and old news articles. I’ve found a couple of characters, the hook to get it started and names that reflect both character and theme.

Sounds like a historical novel of some import, right? Well, no, not really – the genre I’m trying on for size is erotica. I know, I know…… why am I putting so much time and energy in researching and creating background and structure in a story that is typically about one thing – sex? And lots of it?

Because that’s how I roll.

Well, that and because I also believe that erotica is more than just the hot sex – for me, it’s all about the foreplay and the sensuality of the environment, clothing, body language both bold and subtle. It’s about connections between the two lovers – emotional, intellectual, spiritual. In order to know all of that, I have to get to know the characters.

And to know the characters, I have to know the world they inhabit. Thus, reading books on the time period, listening to that era’s music, reading its literature and seeing what it looked like as it was lived.

And guess what? I’ve just written a scene that is fun and flirty and hinges entirely on the characters themselves and how they view each other. It is tantalizing and sexy and utterly delicious.

Much like word play. And creme brulee.

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