Tuesday 27 August 2013

Ethics in Writing

Here and there I've danced around the idea of ethics and morality in writing over the course of running this blog, but I've never taken the time to actually sit down and discuss the topic directly. My articles on dark fantasies and pen name ethics, while certainly within the same ballpark, haven't really addressed the subject of what is and isn't okay to write about in depth.

So, let's dive right in!
I'm sure I've mentioned it once or twice before, but I do not believe that any subject matter should be off limits when it comes to storytelling media. Be it sex, violence, drugs, or adult themes across the board, any topic has the potential to be used in an appropriate, artistic, informative, or just plain entertaining fashion. However, I do believe that all of these topics have the potential to be used in inappropriate, damaging, and irresponsible ways.
In my view, an author has a degree of responsibility towards their readers. This will vary depending on the genre and subject matter they're dealing with, but when a person picks up a book (or engages with any other form of media) they're entering a mutual understanding with the creator that sets up various expectations in their mind. If a story is light and fluffy and fun, the reader is unlikely to take anything that happens too seriously. If it's a quick and smutty erotic romp, they're going to be expecting kinkiness and sizzling sex across the board from start to finish. But if the story is serious, realistic, and poignant, you can bet your money that the reader will be listening intently to a lot of things the writer has to say.

This is a shades of grey topic, and the degree to which this investment by the reader can vary is enormous, but in its most simplistic form this basically means that if an author sets themselves up as a figure of authority, chances are a few people are going to take what they say to heart.
Now, I'm not saying that every reader will necessarily act on what their favourite author conveys to them through their books, but I couldn't sit here with a straight face and pretend that fiction never affects us on a personal level in some way. We've all laughed, cried, and re-examined various areas of our lives because of the stories we've been told. Stories are one of our oldest and most effective learning tools. No author can be completely absolved of responsibility when it comes to what they write under the excuse that "it's just fiction". Fiction can often be just as powerful as a classroom when it comes to putting new ideas in our heads.

Phew, looking back at the paragraph it seems like I'm making stories sound a lot scarier than they are. So what's my point in all of this? Should we never talk about dark or disturbing subject matter for fear of it having a negative effect on our readers?
Of course not. That would be absurd. Let's not forget that learning goes two ways -- it can both encourage and dissuade us from new ideas. This is why, at least in my view, the most appropriate uses of dark and unpleasant subject matter in fiction are either those that present it in such a fantastical or absurd light that it becomes detached from reality (like say, the ridiculously over the top violence in a Quentin Tarantino movie, or a forceful bodice-ripping sex scene fuelled by pure erotic fantasy), or when it takes the material 100% seriously and uses it to tell a cautionary tale.
Good examples of this latter point would be movies like Saving Private Ryan, or books like The Clan of the Cave Bear. Both of these stories deal with horrific violence and incredibly dark themes, yet the thematic purpose of this material is to unsettle and disturb the audience. Quite the opposite of encouraging negative behaviour, these stories make a clear point of illustrating how abhorrent acts of violence are in a way that resonates with viewers/readers on an emotional level.

The flip side to this is essentially propaganda media. Thankfully, not many storytellers in the grand scheme of things are setting out to manipulate their audience in a way that could be construed as morally dubious, but it's still an issue to watch out for. My overall point in all of this is that authors have to be careful in how they present their subject matter. I believe that far more "unethical" writing is a product of negligence than it is of intent. When authors present serious subject matter in a semi-serious light, that tries to be realistic while failing to appreciate the tact required to handle serious topics effectively, then you end up with misinformed and misleading ideas creeping into your work. It's things like weak doormat characters in BDSM novels that never question or stand up to their partners that bug me. Romances that unintentionally glorify borderline-abusive relationships, or realistically presented power fantasies that hamfistedly construe unbridled violence as something to be applauded.

Fortunately, these ideas have pretty limited potential to affect their audience in and of themselves. But having said that, think about how our perceptions of things like weight and body image have been influenced by the media over the years. Not just in advertisements, but through TV, movies, and even books almost across the board. It's hard to argue that widespread portrayals of heroes and heroines as beautiful, slender, well-proportioned individuals haven't had an effect on many of us in one way or another.
Even simple ideas like how you choose to portray your characters can have an effect on your readers, and when these ideas start to self-perpetuate, they have the very real potential to alter how others think and behave.

It may be a small effect that our writing has, but it's not one to be ignored out of hand. At the very least, it's something every author should be aware of in the back of their mind. When dealing with ethically provocative material, make sure you know how, and more importantly why you're choosing to handle it.
An author shouldn't be crippled by the weight of responsibility behind what they write, but it should always be there in the back of their mind, asking them to question, think, and consider.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Wild Challengers Published, and The Next Novel(s)!

Whoop, it's about time! Chapter eight of Wild Instincts is all done and available for purchase on Amazon and Smashwords, with other retailers soon to follow!
Everything is coming together in preparation for the dramatic conclusion in this penultimate instalment of the series, and I really like that snazzy pink filter I picked for the cover.

Lyssa and Thorne are finally together, but their old alpha has no intention of allowing the couple to live happily ever after. With the future of three werewolf packs hanging in the balance, Lyssa is forced to sit back and watch as her decisions threaten the lives of everyone around her.
But her mate is an alpha too, and Thorne's own plans may be enough to keep their newfound friends safe, if only he can embrace his leader's instinct and rise to the challenge. Tensions build as the impending conflict approaches, and Lyssa and Thorne must decide whether to leave their fates in the hands of others, or do everything they can to hold on to what they have.

This of course means that my second serial novel will be wrapping up very soon, leaving my schedule completely clear for work on new projects. With that in mind, I think it's time for another little update on my future writing plans!

In terms of clearing the backlog, I have a couple of things still left to do. My great 2013 re-edit of my earlier material only ever got half-done, so once Wild Instincts is finished I plan on going back to tidy up six of my original titles and re-package them into two bundles focused around BDSM, and kinky paranormal/monster erotica. Three of my worst selling (and least favourite, and most poorly thought out) erotic shorts will be getting the axe and disappearing from my sales lists, as I don't think the time investment in redoing them along with covers etc. is worth it, and I want to make a push towards upping the quality and consistency of my content across the board. So if you want to read the atrociously edited and dubiously purposed Erica's Desire, Erica's Instruction, and The Nympho Girl Next Door, now might be your last chance. I'll probably be pulling them from Amazon and Smashwords within the next couple of months or so. Who knows, one day those titles might reappear in a bundle somewhere, but for now they're going into retirement.

Alongside all of that I'll be publishing the completed Wild Instincts as a standalone novel at some point down the line, but that's likely to happen closer to Xmas. The really exciting news is what new content I'll be working on next. Currently I have two novels in the pre-production stage ready to get going once I wrap up my current eRom. Both of them are really solid, exciting concepts, I feel, and I just can't make up my mind which one I want to focus on.

Option 1 is an explicitly erotic story set in a vague historical/low fantasy setting, with the theme once again being BDSM. This story would be closer to His Darkest Desire in tone, with the focus being more on the sex and sexual exploration of the two main characters than the external plot (although, there will of course be a plot). What I'm interested in doing with this idea is writing a hero and heroine who aren't necessarily particularly good people; they're deeply flawed, damaged, and morally questionable in their actions, but through meeting one another and exploring their darkest sexual desires they're able to slowly understand what makes them tick, and realise that there is something good in each of them struggling to get out with the help of the right partner.

Option 2 will be a loose sequel to Wild Instincts, another eRom focused more on the romance and the story than the sex. It will be set in the same werewolf-infested forest as the first novel, and will star at least one of the existing supporting characters as the protagonist (though who it is, you'll have to wait and see! Hints will be dropped at the end of the first book). Besides that, it will be a completely new story set some time after the original, featuring some of the different werewolf packs and a whole new cast of characters. I really enjoy the werewolf societies and mythos I've been building up over the course of Wild Instincts, and I'd love to return to that setting to tell a new story with this sequel.

So which one do I choose to write? How do I decide?!
Well you know what? I'm not gonna. Variety is the spice of life after all, and I really want to get back to having multiple projects on the go at once. We're still in the very early pre-planning stages, but right now I'm pencilling in both of these novels as projects I want to start work on once Wild Instincts is finished. This'll probably mean an alternating release schedule of chapters split between the two projects, but we'll have to wait and see how it all pans out. At present I don't have any plans to return to writing erotic shorts, as I think I've made the transition into full-length serialised novels pretty firmly now.

So keep your eyes peeled for all sorts of exciting new titles coming down the pipeline in the near future! I've got a lot to be getting on with!

Thursday 15 August 2013

The UK Porn Block

Those who follow UK news will be aware that the government here have recently been pushing a bill to enforce opt-out ISP filtering of porn and other objectionable material nationwide. What this means is that the vast majority of internet users here will have their browsing automatically filtered to prevent access to porn and other adult materials by default. The system can be opted out of by contacting your ISP and asking them to remove your filtering, but will otherwise remain in place.

I take big, big issue with this. The proposed system is essentially intended to protect children from the dangers of the internet by restricting access to adult material, which is certainly a goal I'm sure many parents would applaud, but the implementation and underlying moral message to this bill deeply concern me.
In a nutshell, the government is sending the message sex is bad and wrong and damaging to youngsters. I fully respect the right for parents to want to keep their children from being exposed to this content, but internet filters are already widely available for families to put in place if these issues concern them. The idea of censoring media on a nationwide level like this sets a disturbing precedent for the government to make moral decisions that should be firmly in the hands of individual families. If this system was opt-in, then I'd be much more supportive of it. Offering an easily accessible route for parents to restrict their children's access to adult material is a absolutely fine, but the fact that this system will be "on" by default is going to result in a situation where many families are subject to this filter without necessarily understanding it.

What bugs me so much about the bill is that it hinges on this idea that censoring or hiding information is a good thing, while perpetuating the idea that sex and sexuality are these taboo subjects that corrupt and damage society rather than enriching it. We should not be shoving porn under the couch and pretending it doesn't exist, we should be encouraging youngsters to have a healthy and well informed perception of sex. A huge amount of my sexual education during my teen years came from the internet. I watched porn, I discussed sex online, I visited sites related to sexual health, and as I got older that curiosity expanded into a genuine interest in sex (beyond the norm), playing a large part in me pursuing my current career as an erotic author.

The argument can of course be made that pornography portrays an unrealistic and potentially misleading (or damaging) view of sex. But to that I say: how is this any different from the way the media portrays any other type of subject matter in fiction? Sex, violence, emotional issues, personal relationships, social attitudes, heck, even everyday conversation are all fed to us via the media with varying degrees of realism. Why is the portrayal of sex so special?
Despite the hypocrisy of deeming porn fit for censorship while still airing graphic violence on publicly funded television, this decision perpetuates the bizarre Victorian attitude that sex is something better seen and not heard; that hiding it away and pretending it doesn't exist will somehow result in a more healthy and well-adjusted society than one that cultivates a responsible and well-informed understanding of sex.

This leads on to the more practical issues of implementing such a filter. No internet filter is perfect. Either it is too lax to accomplish the intended purpose, or it is so tight it restricts access to more sites than intended. How will these filters treat websites related to sexual health? Sexual discussion? Topics on sexual orientation? Gender issues? Will young adults whose parents leave this filter on be able to access the sort of information they need as they begin to experience these issues during their teenage years?
It's a worst-case scenario, but the idea of restricting a teenager's access to this sort of information in the digital age is an absolutely deplorable crime in my eyes. Unfortunately, with reports of the filter being even more strict than originally thought, this state of affairs seems more likely than not.

As a new media person, laws like this hit very close to home for me. While I won't be affected directly by this bill should it go through, the idea of allowing this sort of censorship to perpetuate an archaic view of sex across the nation makes me very sad. We as a society should be beyond this fear-mongering view of the media and how it portrays adult subject matter.

I was very tired when writing this post, so hopefully I managed to articulate my points clearly, but this is an issue I feel very strongly on. We need to grow up and stop treating sex and violence in the media as boogeymen corrupting our youth. Parents and education systems that fail to teach children to understand adult topics are the culprits here.

If you're a UK citizen and feel strongly on the issue there is an ongoing petition here that challenges the ISP filtering bill.

Thursday 8 August 2013


Following on from last week's post on dominance, this week I'd like to talk about the idea of submission, along with how I approach it in my writing.
For me, submission ultimately boils down to the idea of exploring unsafe or unsettling elements of the human psyche within a safe space. Much like watching a horror movie to get scared, or peeking at something from between your fingers, part of us is drawn to the appeal of being vulnerable, exposed, and threatened in some way. Of course, in the real world this is something we tend to avoid at all costs, and with good cause. But within a safe, secure context, and in the hands of a partner we can trust, sexual submission becomes a way to experience a dark thrill without ever having to put ourselves at risk in order to do so.

I talked last week about the idea of control, and how the varying levels of it between partners can create an exciting sexual dynamic in the bedroom. For a submissive, the lack of control is the truly exciting part of sex. Not only does it provide an erotic psychological undertone to the entire situation, but it can lead to some of the most incredibly intense physical sexual responses as well. This is once again verging into personal preference, but similarly to the idea of dominant partners wanting to be challenged, submissive partners wanting to be pushed is perhaps the most keenly erotic element of a dom/sub relationship for me. The ultimate moment of sexual bliss for a submissive (something which you'll probably have picked up on if you've read any of my BDSM stuff!) is being driven to the tipping point of comfort and held there, right on the edge, between intense stimulation and unbearable discomfort.

Here's a little challenge for you to try out if you want an intimately personal example (don't worry, you don't need a dominant billionaire and a sex dungeon for this one): The next time you're working out, or going for a run, or just struggling to drag a heavy bag full of shopping home, push yourself to go just a little bit further than usual. Force yourself to do ten extra seconds on the treadmill, or squeeze out five extra push ups, or hold that uncomfortable position just a few moments past the point of endurance. Then imagine it happening in a sexual context. The physical rush you get from that moment, the mind-numbing almost-panic of knowing your body is on the brink of what it can stand, is the holy grail of sexual submission. It goes without saying that reaching orgasm during a moment like that is utterly incredible. Whether it's accomplished through bondage, spanking, orgasm denial, breath restriction, or any other kind of kinky practice, the end goal is always to reach that tipping point without being driven beyond it into the realm of discomfort. A skilled dom will bring their sub to the edge and reel them back in over and over again, and it'll blow their mind.

Needless to say, this ties in very strongly with the idea of needing/wanting to give up control, but it's a desire that manifests for many different reasons. The sub who needs an evening of catharsis after spending all day in control at work is just as much a tried and true archetype as the sub who has a natural desire to let others take control in all areas of their life.

This leads on to how I like to write submissive characters. I have no doubt in my mind that there are many dominant/submissive couples out there where one partner is an assertive asshole while the other is a timid doormat (and, spoiler alert, it's not always the way around you might expect). However, when it comes to writing, this is something that I feel should be avoided at all costs. Submissive characters should not be timid doormats, and if they are, it shouldn't be without very good reason (such as having an arc that leads to a more confident personality).
Again, this is somewhat personal preference, but my moral compass when it comes to writing points me very firmly away from intentionally glorifying negative or damaging themes in my work. I never, ever want to perpetuate the idea that it's okay for a wife (or husband) to allow their partner to walk all over them because it satisfies a sexual tingle they have deep down inside. Just as I don't believe in writing gritty military thrillers that paint violence as glorious and heroic, I'm not comfortable with erotica that portrays submissive characters as weak and ineffectual. That isn't to say I think it's wrong for a book to ever do either of these things, but it has to be presented in the appropriate context (hint: light and steamy erotica isn't always the best place to be injecting heavy social commentary on sex).

So don't make your submissive characters doormats, but that doesn't mean they have to be strong, outgoing, self-driven individuals either. They simply have to be able to think for themselves. Explore the reasoning behind why they're submissive. In Wild Instincts I gave the heroine Lyssa a very plot-device-y reason for being submissive (one that runs counter to her proactive and self confident personality), but as the series goes on I've hinted at the idea that she needs something (or someone) to help take the weight of the world off her shoulders. She's strong, but brittle, and she needs the help of the right partner to help her bend before she breaks.

A good rule of thumb, and one that applies for any area of characterisation beyond just the submissive/dominant example we're discussing here, is to make it a part of who your character is, but not their defining characteristic. Your character sketch should never just be "Submissive Girl", just as it shouldn't be "Christian Man". Create the character first, then think about why that character is submissive, and tie it in with the rest of their personality. The weakest characters I've written are always those that stem from a two-dimensional archetype that constrains them into a specific role rather than allowing them to grow and take on new traits.

Just like Dominance, Submission is a broad area to cover, and I'm sure there are just reams and reams of essays that could be written exploring the psychological and physical motivations behind it, but this is just my little window into what I think are some of the most prominent aspects of being sexually submissive. It might be an area I return to in the future, and it'll certainly be something I continue to write about in my stories.

And that, for now, is the end of my brief take on Dominance and Submission. Hopefully it was an enjoyable little read!
I'l be back from vacationing next week, so blogging and writing should be able to resume as normal.

Thursday 1 August 2013


Now that I'm away on vacation I thought it might be a fun idea to do a couple of blog posts that delve once again into some deeply sexual subject matter. To that end, I've decided to write two little articles here, one this week and one next week, covering the topics of Dominance and Submission.

The idea of "control" in the bedroom has always been critical to me in my understanding and appreciation of sex. When I talk about dominance and submission, I'm not just speaking in a strictly BDSM Master/Slave context, but rather in a universal one that applies to just about any sexual encounter you can imagine.
There will always be an element of "who's on top", "who's in charge", or "who's taking the lead" whenever we have sex. It won't always be obvious, it won't always even be consistent, but it'll always be there. It's part of what makes up a couple's sexual dynamic, and it's often a large part of what makes sex so exciting (or not so exciting) for many of us.

Traditional sexual roles tend to view the male as the dominant and the female as the submissive, and while I'd venture to guess that this is still generally true for the majority of us, there are plenty of couples out there that buck this trend, and a great many more that dance around it more than they realise.
Dominance can play a part in who makes the first move, who puts the condom on, who has to work to get their partner going, or who clings on tighter in the heat of the moment. It's just as much a part of the minute details as it is part of the more obvious ones.

Anyone who takes an interest in sex culture in general will probably be familiar with the terms Dom, Sub, and Switch (dominant, submissive, and someone who alternates between both). While I'm not really fond of sexual labels like this in general, I pretty firmly identify with being a Switch myself, and I've always been able to appreciate the appeal of both dominance and submission in the bedroom, along with how a little fluctuation in our roles often leads to some very exciting encounters indeed.

One of the sexual themes I use in my writing pretty often is Disobedience; the idea of a sub having a moment (or more than a moment) of uppity resistance to their dom, spurring the sex scene to whole new heights of intensity. This might be coloured by personal preference, but I believe most doms secretly crave a little disobedience in their submissive partners. After all, a thoroughly obedient partner never leaves room for their dom to exercise a little discipline and reinforce their commanding position in the bedroom. This also feeds into the subservient desires of the sub, by demonstrating that their partner will not tolerate any disobedience and reminding them of their place.
The sex scene I wrote in Wild Changes is a textbook example of this. At the climax of the chapter, the heroine Lyssa takes a more confident and provocative role than usual for the express purpose of goading her partner Thorne into unleashing his dominant side and forcing her to submit to him. The submission is what Lyssa craves deep down, but in order to achieve it she ends up taking a more dominant role than usual, at least initially.

This leads on to the second segment of Dominance I wanted to touch on: How to write a dominant character.

Now of course, everything I've talked about in this post so far is pretty much an idealised version of reality for the sake of illustrating my points. In the real world there are plenty of couples who settle into their dominant and submissive roles without ever challenging one another, or subs who challenge their doms and find the response they get less than satisfying, but when it comes to writing we're often concerned with an idealised, sexy, star-spangled version of reality in general.

So what makes a good dominant character? Some authors, unfortunately, believe that a strong/dominant male should simply be a demanding asshole who refuses to bend or compromise, and overpowers his partner with brute force or sheer unstoppable sex appeal. Aside from being an incredibly one-dimensional archetype that doesn't often leave much room for exploration, characters like this are often difficult to like for many readers. I've read plenty of stories that deal with some pretty unappealing (and at times morally reprehensible) "heroes" who fall into the trap of becoming the generic dominant jerkbag who doesn't have anything going for him beyond the ability to satisfy the heroine's desire to be overpowered.

Now don't get me wrong, "generic dominant asshole" is still a sexy archetype to begin working with (it was certainly the template for Elliot Wolf in my Darkest Desire serial), but it needs to give way to something with more depth pretty fast if you're interested in writing anything beyond a short sexy romp, otherwise such characters quickly become tedious and unlikeable.

Secondly; dominance is not simply about brute force or an unwavering will. The deeper side of dominance, the part that tickles your brain and makes you tingle with longing, comes from the subtleties of it. A dom who doesn't need to be forceful has always been the epitome of male sex appeal for me. He can be softly spoken, calm, disarmingly relaxed; but beneath it all there's a hardness and a confidence that compels his sub to obey.
This often feeds into the more psychological side of domination, lending itself well to scenes where the dom asserts himself by forcing the sub to take a more introspective role, guiding them patiently through their own wants and desires rather than pushing them too hard. A good example of this would be a dom slowly spanking his partner, holding his strokes for so long and so teasingly that she becomes desperate, craving the punishment and perhaps actively begging for it as he gets inside her head and toys with her deep-seated desires.

The topic of dominance and submission is a big one to tackle, but hopefully this post has provided some food for thought on both dominance in general and how to approach writing a dominant character. In retrospect I could've split this article up even more to cover the writing side of it in more detail, since we've barely even scratched the surface there, but perhaps it'll be a future topic to cover!

Stay tuned next week for when we slip on the handcuffs and sink into the subject of submission.